Of closures and lack thereof: A Book Review on Gone Girl

I like books that have concrete endings. It bothers me when a book is open-ended. I must say, though, that those with vague endings are the ones that really get me to thinking for quite a while. A few months ago, I read Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl.” It seemed to have a closure but not quite. It is an intense, multi-layered novel that left me wondering what happened beyond that last page.

The Story

“Gone Girl” paints the picture of a miserable marriage that turned into a vicious vendetta. Nick and Amy Dunne have been married for five years. On their fifth anniversary, Amy goes missing. Amy is much loved by the people around her. She was the inspiration behind the Amazing Amy book series written by her parents. She was a poster child and trophy wife, so to speak. Just like in any crime investigation, the husband is the first suspect when the wife disappears.

gonegirl

Nick is unable to prove his innocence in the first half of the book. He narrates his side of the story in the first chapter then Amy gives her side via journal entries on the next. The back-and-forth narration continues until the big twist happens halfway through the novel. Nick’s poker face before the media, suspicious spending of her trust fund, increased life insurance policy of his wife, and hidden affair put him in a bad light. His guilt becomes so undeniable with mounting evidences sealing his fate slowly but surely.

Amy, on the other hand, is secretly watching all the media mayhem from an isolated motel. She has successfully faked her death and framed her cheating husband. In an unfortunate turn of events, Amy’s newfound friends stole all her cash and left her with nothing. She then sought the help of an old flame who almost worships her. He becomes overly protective to the point of locking her in. The posh mansion becomes a prison that Amy escapes by murdering his poor knight and shining armor. Amy is a crafty liar who leaves no loose ends to prove her guilt.

The story ends with Nick and Amy getting back together in their dysfunctional marriage where each one of them is treading on treacherous ground, moving chess pieces, pulling the strings, until their marriage reaches its inevitable end whatever that may be.

Review

Gillian Flynn created a web of lies and deceit in this novel. Nick excels in lies of omission while Amy puts grandeur and perfection in lying. It’s a story that involves layers of hidden agendas, intricate treachery, and misleading clues.

As a reader, it kept me guessing to the very end. Nick shows innocence and guilt throughout the novel. Meanwhile, Amy’s dark side will catch you by surprise. Her careful planning and perfect execution is both admirable and appalling. From the outside looking in, you will see the daily woes of married life. The lack of communication, boredom, and unmet expectations can slowly erode a once happily-ever-after marriage.

Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn

It is a noir mystery novel on steroids with fingerprints everywhere but pointing nowhere. My search for truth has never been more complex and challenging with this book. In the end, it is a very satisfying yet cumbersome read. Knowing that Nick and Amy are back together didn’t settle nicely with me. If you have a philandering husband and a psycho wife, would you want to be in that marriage? Yet, irony of ironies, they complemented each other and brought out the best and worst in themselves when they’re together.

Amy had these to say about their marriage:

“We weren’t ourselves when we fell in love, and when we became ourselves – surprise! – we were poison. We complete each other in the nastiest, ugliest possible way.”

“All this time I’d thought we were strangers, and it turned out we knew each other intuitively, in our bones, in our blood. It was kind of romantic. Catastrophically romantic.”

Though I think Nick said it best:

“Yes, I am finally a match for Amy. The other morning I woke up next to her, and I studied the back of her skull. I tried to read her thoughts. For once I didn’t feel like I was staring into the sun. I’m rising to my wife’s level of madness. Because I can feel her changing me again: I was a callow boy, and then a man, good and bad. Now at last I’m the hero. I am the one to root for in the never-ending war story of our marriage. It’s a story I can live with. Hell, at this point, I can’t imagine my story without Amy. She is my forever antagonist.

We are one long frightening climax.”

I would’ve preferred that they either parted ways or genuinely reconciled. I like that kind of closure. Gillian Flynn refused to give me that. Instead, she masterfully allowed me to wander and wonder how Nick and Amy’s marriage will thrive or survive. Oh and there’s a baby on the way, which can either be their saving grace or the loose wire that burns them altogether. So yes, it’s worth reading and watching on October 2014 when it hits the big screen. :)

Sacrifice and Redemption: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini is the only author who shames me every time I read his novels. My daily complaints become irrelevant compared to what Afghan people have gone through. So if you need a good jolt of reality, read any of his three novels. “And the Mountains Echoed” is his latest addition to his two previous bestsellers “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns.”  All three were inspired by the history, culture, and life in Afghanistan.

And the Mountains Echoed

And the Mountains Echoed

Summary

The novel starts with siblings Abdullah and Pari travelling to Kabul with their father. They thought they were there to simply visit their uncle Nabi, a chauffeur to a wealthy man named Suleiman Wahdati. It turned out that the Wahdatis are unable to bear children and Pari is the solution to that problem. The siblings were separated and this event branched out to different story lines involving the characters in the novel.

Afghan refugee children

Afghan refugee children

As the story moves along, you will find yourself caught in a web of relationships—a sibling rivalry between two sisters, one being more beautiful than the other; a homosexual tension between an employer and his employee; an unstable mother-daughter relationship; a strained friendship between an Afghan expat and a girl refugee; and an unlikely friendship between a landlord’s son and a peasant.

The novel comes full circle with the reunion of Abdullah and Pari but not in the way that most readers want or expect but it is closest to what happens in real life.

Review

At the core of this novel is the sacrifice that family members are willing to make for the sake of their loved ones. The growth of the characters in this multi-generational novel is what makes it more engaging. The tension between their past and present pulls the reader deeper to their journey of self-discovery and individual redemption.

I would’ve preferred a parallel growth in the lives of Abdullah and Pari in the course of the novel instead of having it summarized in the end. Pari’s life was given more focus than Abdullah’s although both were characters were equally significant in the story. Other than that, it is a masterpiece that rips your heart and pierces your soul. “And the Mountains Echoed” is a novel that beautifully juxtaposes loyalty and betrayal, morality and corruption, kindness and cruelty, hope and despair.

Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini

Hosseini depicts human suffering and triumph so eloquently and painfully that it made me want to reach out to the characters and hold their hands throughout the entire novel. He is a master storyteller who knows how to blend reality and fiction in a way that awakens empathy on his readers. He removes you from your selfish little world by taking you to a place beyond your reach but nonetheless ever so real.

Blending the old and new: Inferno by Dan Brown

I love books that are full of intrigue, mystery, and suspense. Dan Brown is one of those authors who do this in the most clever way. Despite the letdown of “The Lost Symbol” (for me, at least), I still eagerly anticipated the release of Inferno a couple of weeks ago. So if there’s anything you need to know about this book, it’s this: Dan Brown redeemed himself a million times with this new book and every single page is worth devouring. :) Although certain allusions in the book sparked outrage among a lot of Filipinos, I think it’s important that one reads “Inferno” entirely in order to make an objective opinion. I will deal with that later on. Allow me first to give you a glimpse of Robert Langdon’s latest adventure while trying my best not to give any spoilers. :)

Inferno by Dan Brown

Inferno by Dan Brown

Amnesia in the midst of global crisis

Robert Langdon, famous American art historian and symbologist, woke up in Florence suffering from amnesia. He had no recollection of what happened to him the past couple of days. He was told by his doctor Sienna Brooks that he was shot in the head. As if this disorientation was not enough, Langdon found himself running for his life with a hired assassin trailing him eager to finish the job. The cat and mouse chase was further complicated with Langdon’s urgent mission which he could not remember. Brooks showed him a device which turned out to be a map that led to more disturbing clues. All of the symbols and road maps were patterned after Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno.”

Map of Dante's Inferno

Map of Dante’s Inferno

Later on, Langdon discovered that he was sent to discover where a certain biological weapon was hidden which when unleashed could result in a global catastrophe. The exquisite beauty of Florence and Venice coupled with the magnificence of Istanbul made searching for answers more breathtaking and enigmatic in Dan Brown’s new book.

Hagia Sophia Church in Istanbul

Review

“Inferno” is the perfect blend of literature, art, and history made believable in fiction form. The timeless poetry of Dante was forged so well with the modern times which resulted in a haunting yet satisfying reading experience. Something that I missed in “The Lost Symbol” which I found again in “Inferno” was the unpredictability and edge-of-your-seat plots that truly captured my attention. Compared to his previous book which for me was just a bunch of compounded symbols waiting to be translated, “Inferno” has more depth and soul to it. It is more socially relevant, too, as it dealt with issues such as over population and shortage of resources.

I particularly like the intriguing premise of Langdon’s amnesia and his recurring visions. His supporting cast surprised me and made me gasp repeatedly. You know how it is when your mind just screams “What the?!?!” I experienced that many times and it is very gratifying for a reader like me! :) This book is very much reminiscent of “Angels and Demons” in terms of technique except that this one is better. Dan Brown used the right amount of intrigue to reel you in, the perfect dose of suspense to keep you hooked, and just the ample amount of pressure to urge you to finish it. :)

Dan Brown

Dan Brown

The Gates of Hell

Yes, the Philippines was mentioned in “Inferno” and the phrase “gates of hell” was stated in relation to it. However, you have to read the context when it was actually said by the character. Sienna Brooks, the female doctor I mentioned earlier, went on a humanitarian missions trip to the Philippines. She went to Manila where the city was accurately described by Dan Brown. She got overwhelmed by the number of people in the city particularly the poor and the hungry she was trying to help. She had a panic attack and ran as far as she could. Brooks ended up in a place, which we would most likely call as a “squatter’s area.” She was horrified to see the overlapping shanties, the poor living conditions, and the pungent smell of human excrement all over the place made her think, “I have entered the gates of hell.”

That being said, the allusion is but a mere reaction to what she saw which was seemingly a god-forsaken place. The conditions were so awful it seemed like she saw hell. The author did not refer to the entire country as the “gates of hell” per se. So chill, fellow countrymen. :) I suggest that you read the book in its entirety before passing judgment. It is too great a book to pass up just because opted you to listen to hearsay.

With that, I quote Dante and invite you to open the pages of “Inferno.” :)

“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

Pages turned in 2012

Despite being the year with the least books read, 2012 has been a great book year for me. I loved almost every book I read and I’m really hoping that this year will be just as amazing. Although I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs that I will post around five more books before the end of the year, I miserably failed to do so. :( I’ve been busy putting on different hats especially in the last quarter of 2012. The hands-on mommy hat and the homemaking hat took most of my time. Reading took a back seat toward the end of the year but the great thing about books is that they’re the most patient friends. They don’t complain when they get neglected. They understand when you need to prioritize other things. They don’t need to talk because they can read between the lines. More importantly, when you go back to them they welcome you with open arms and a great story at hand. :)

Having said that, allow me to introduce you to my awesome BFs (book friends) last year. :)

Top picks for 2012

Top picks for 2012!

I’ve read a total of 19 books last year but I think “1Q84″ and “Clash of Kings” should count for three books because they’re over a thousand pages! Haha! Long novels are challenging to read but they are usually the ones that take you to places you never thought possible. :)

More great books!!!

Great reads from amazing authors!

I have to mention that reading Andy Stanley’s “The Grace of God” is one of the best reading decisions I made last year. Learning about God’s grace in its purest and simplest form is very enlightening. You don’t have to believe in God to read this. Just knowing about how grace is shown and experienced will more than compensate the curiosity of any searching soul. :)

“When the Elephants Dance” is like a breath of fresh air. Reading a Filipino author after being so used to foreign authors made me appreciate our culture all the more. It inspired me to read more Filipino authors this year! It’s a different reading experience when you know exactly where the places are and what the local nuances mean. :)

I fell in love with John Green's books <3

I fell in love with John Green :)

John Green knows exactly how a teenager’s mind is wired. His books portray teen protagonists that mirror what almost every young adult experiences. I’m a young mom, eons away from my teenage years, but his books cross different ages and it speaks uniquely to anyone who picks up his books.

Can't get enough of Dystopian novels!

Dystopian novels are too good to resist! :)

I’m a dystopian addict. I love how authors can come up with different dystopian plots and how the books I’ve read last year took it a notch higher than the previous ones I’ve read. These are not “Hunger Games” wannabees, mind you. They are compelling, intriguing, and riveting in their own unique way. :)

Some light reads from bestselling authors :)

Some light reads from bestselling authors :)

Of course, my year wouldn’t be complete without reading the latest books from mainstream bestselling authors. I’m the kind of reader who needs a break from emotionally heavy books that made me hyper focused for days. Thus, I pick up a light read in between. Sophie Kinsella never fails to crack me up! Haha! I have to say that Mitch Albom did a good job with “The Time Keeper.” It’s a lot better than his recent books and it hits closer to home. :)

There you have it! My 2012 reading companions in a nutshell :) What does your list look like? :)

Revisiting the Cemetery of Forgotten Books

After more than a decade of waiting, my reader radar sounded its deafening alarm, alerting me that Carlos Ruiz Zafón finally released “Prisoner of Heaven,” the sequel to his epic book “Shadow of the Wind!” So I did what every eager beaver bookworm does, I went to the nearest bookshop and grabbed a copy of “Prisoner of Heaven.” I feel like I’m the 10-year-old Daniel Sempere, the protagonist in “Shadow of the Wind,” holding one precious book from the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. This time, I’m holding its sequel! I read the book in roughly five hours but divided into two days (had to squeeze it in between my mommy duties). I was actually surprised that the book was only 278 pages long!

Before I move on with my review, let me just say that if you haven’t read “Shadow of the Wind” then you’re missing out on one of the best modern literary books of all time. Zafón has probably mastered the art of Gothic fiction. His three books in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series—The Angel’s Game, Shadow of the Wind, and Prisoner of Heaven—are all filled with mystery, intrigue, noir, and unbridled romance.

The Story

“Prisoner of Heaven” follows the life of Daniel Sempere who is now married to Beatriz. He continues to manage the Sempere & Sons bookstore with his father and his close friend Fermin Romero de Torres. It was Christmas time and sales were not picking up in the Sempere bookshop. The seemingly uneventful season became alive when a grim-looking stranger appeared at the store. He bought the most expensive book and left it for Fermin with a strange dedication:

For Fermin Romero de Torres,

who came back from among the dead

and holds the key to the future.

This ominous visit led to a series of discoveries about Fermin’s life at the Montjuïc prison. Zafón’s description of this Spanish version of Alcatraz somewhat reminded me of Christopher Nolan’s “The Pit” in Dark Knight Rises. In this isolated no-escape prison, Fermin’s story intersected with the lives of two mysterious prisoners—the prolific writer David Martin and the guile Sebastian Salgado. He also came face to face with the vile prison governor Mauricio Valls and was even used against his will to extract information from the two inmates. The sinister events at Montjuïc prison later on unveiled the story behind the death of Daniel’s mother Isabella.

The novel ends with a cliff hanger that begs for the fourth and final installment in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series.

Review

You might probably be wondering what it is about Zafón’s novel that’s worth reading. For me, his pervasive storyline that highlights the significance books and the relevance of writers to society is what made me swoon over his books. I believe every bibliophile should read one of his novels!

Now back to my two cents worth. Filled with secrets from the dark alleys of Barcelona, “The Prisoner of Heaven” is a novel of truth and deception, love and lies, corruption and integrity, survival and demise. It’s like peeling off an old wallpaper to find out the original painting behind it and discovering that there’s so much more to the image you exposed.

There are certain authors that have a distinct voice and Zafón is one of them. As I was reading this novel, I knew that I was reading raw Zafón. I can only imagine how beautiful it must be to read his novels in Spanish! His narration and descriptions reminded me so much of “Shadow of the Wind” and “The Angel’s Game.” The way he romanticized the landscape of Barcelona while juxtaposing its lurking darkness was enthralling. The riveting suspense was addicting to the point where you’d feel the urge to eat all the remaining pages of the novel.

The ending was a total prequel to the final installment in the series. My head was screaming for a closure but then that’s what penultimate novels are supposed to do. I don’t know how long I’ll wait again for the sequel but I’m sure it’s worth the last trip to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.

Angelology: The Rise of Fallen Angels

“Angelology” is a novel of cosmic conflicts and earthly battles. Filled with historical, biblical, and mythological references, author Danielle Trussoni weaved an intriguing story of a young nun named Evangeline and her journey to unveiling the world of Nephilims—the hybrid offspring of humans and fallen angels.

A tranquil life threatened

Entrusted by her father to the Franciscan Order of Perpetual Adoration at a very young age, all that Evangeline knew about the world were confined in the walls of St. Rose Convent. Her mundane life was shaken when she received a request from art historian Verlaine to do research in the convent’s archives. It was through that inquiry that she discovered a correspondence between the famous philanthropist Abigail Aldrich Rockefeller and their former mother superior, Mother Innocenta.

As Evangeline discovered more letters, Verlaine found himself running for his life. Apparently, the person who commissioned him for the research was a Nephilim who came from the oldest and strongest family of their kind. Meanwhile, Evangeline’s unyielding curiosity led her to a series of conversations with an old nun, Sister Celestine, who took her deeply to the world of Angelology.

The past revisited

The novel took a different turn with the flashback story of Sister Celestine and her friend Gabriella Levi-Franche. The story of these two characters provided the indispensable background needed for the plot to move forward.

Albeit long, I found this part very engaging. As a reader, I felt the dedication and passion of the characters come to life in the perilous events that transpired in these chapters. The training of these two previous students under the Angelological Society and the dangers they faced along the way were filled with riveting and disturbing events that build up one after the other. This was also the part where the myth of Orpheus, the dangerous terrain of Bulgaria, the biblical nuances of Angelology, and the interplay of deception with Nephilims all merged to form the solid connection that completed the missing piece in the life Evangeline.

Facing divine enemies

The battle continued as Evangeline finally discovered her role in this centuries-old feud between humans and Nephilims. Alongside Verlaine, Evangeline came into contact with the members of the still-standing Angelological Society and a very significant relative.

Fast-paced action, relentless search for artifacts, and spontaneous confrontations with the Nephilim army packed the latter chapters of the novel. This masterpiece ended with a sequel-worthy scene that leaves the reader craving for more.

A new approach to the supernatural realm

“Angelology” is not your typical thriller. It’s theology, mythology, and mysticism all woven into a fictional story that produced an exceptional plot.

However, Evangeline as a protagonist only found her significant place in the novel when it was about to end. The character of Gabriella was even stronger and more influential in the entire course of the narrative.

Danielle Trussoni is a great storyteller. She knows how to keep her readers seeking for answers as the novel progressed. She developed the story intricately but not to the point of confusion. She made the facts work so well with fiction that it almost felt real to a certain extent. This book truly satisfied my literary appetite for a good mystery-thriller novel.

I picked up this book last year and my long wait is finally over now that the publisher announced that the sequel “Angelopolis” will be released on January 2013! Plus, Will Smith’s production company Overbrook and Sony Pictures will be working on the film version of “Angelology”! Can’t wait for both! :)

This book is FRAGILE: Handle with Care

What will you do if your child is so fragile she can break her bones while she’s sleeping? How will you take care of your little one who can suffer fractures due to a mere sneeze? These are the everyday dilemmas that Charlotte and Sean O’ Keefe face about their daughter Willow. In “Handle with Care,” Jodi Picoult, one of my favorite authors, took me once again into a journey involving sensitive and moral issues that can make or break a family.

After reading this book, I had to pause and psych myself to detach my emotions from the characters I’ve grown to love. It had that rare grip on me as a reader. I have to agree with Stephen King on this. This is Picoult’s best novel by far since “My Sister’s Keeper.” Here’s what he has to say:

“You men out there who think Ms. Picoult is a chick thing need to get with the program. Her books are an everyone thing, and the current offering — about a little girl whose bones are so brittle that they break almost at a puff of wind — is her best since My Sister’s Keeper. It’s a legal/medical thriller, but at bottom it’s a story about the American heart of darkness: a small-town marriage under stress. Picoult writes with unassuming brilliance and never descends into soap opera.”

—Stephen King

The Story

Willow was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI) or the brittle bone disease. Despite being extremely fragile, Willow was a genius. She loves blurting out trivia every now and then. She reads during her recovery period after a bone break. Her personality more than compensates for her sickness.

To give you an idea on how fragile Willow is, here’s an excerpt from Charlotte’s narration:

Your first seven breaks happened before you entered this world. The next four happened minutes after you were born, as a nurse lifted you out of me. Another nine, when you were being resuscitated in the hospital, after you coded. The tenth: when you were lying across my lap and suddenly I heard a pop. Eleven was when you rolled over and your arm hit the edge of the crib. Twelve and thirteen where femur fractures; fourteen a tibia; fifteen a compression fracture of the spine…twenty-three happened in your sleep; twenty-four and twenty-five were a fall forward in the snow that snapped both forearms at once…twenty-eight happened during a sneeze; twenty-nine and thirty were ribs you broke on the edge of the kitchen table.

(quote shortened)

Charlotte and Sean O’ Keefe were the most dutiful parents Willow could ever have. Charlotte had to give up being a pastry chef just to take care of her while Sean had to work double shifts as a police officer to pay for their insurmountable medical bills. Aside from her parents, Willow had a stepsister Amanda, who despite being helpful, had secret struggles of her own.

Their trip to Disney World was the turning point of the story. Willow slipped inside an ice-cream parlor and broke both her femurs severely which could lead to internal bleeding. The family didn’t even make it inside Disney World, they all went to the hospital to rush Willow. Upon arriving at the emergency room, Charlotte asked Amelia if she brought the letter. Whenever the O’ Keefes go out they bring the letter from Willow’s doctor saying that she had OI. Unfortunately, Amelia forgot. She got overwhelmed with excitement that she forgot to get the letter Charlotte asked for. This mistake led to the arrest of their parents for being suspects of child abuse.

A lot of people are not aware of OI which is the very reason why they had to bring the letter all the time. Willow’s doctor could not be reached by the hospital and so the social welfare had no choice but to put Amelia in protective custody and Willow in hospital arrest while their parents were in jail. They were eventually released and the family went home but Willow was placed in a spica cast for four months which made it impossible for her to move on her own.

Coming back from Florida, Charlotte consulted a law firm so they could sue the people who harassed them and took their kids in custody. Basically, all she wanted was to be paid financially for the damages they incurred during their stay there not to mention the embarrassment they experienced. After much interrogation, the lawyer said they have no case against the people in Disney World or the hospital. However, they can have another case that can give them huge financial gain. They can file for a wrongful birth lawsuit.

A wrongful birth lawsuit implies that if the mother had known during her pregnancy that her child was going to be significantly impaired, she would have chosen to abort the fetus. It’s a medical malpractice suit that can be filed against the ob-gyn for failing to disclose the condition of the child. Winning this whopping $8-million lawsuit would mean a lifetime of comfortable living for Willow. This would’ve been easy for Charlotte if this did not entail two things: declaring publicly that she would’ve aborted Willow had she known her condition AND suing her ob-gyn who was her best friend.

Review

This novel is a web of questionable medical ethics, conflict of interests, moral obligations, unspoken truths, and dubious motives held together by a mother’s unwavering love for her child. Every part of this novel is believable. I understand how enticing it is to have the future of your child secure and I also know how gut wrenching it is to lie in front of your own child. You’ll discover in this novel how this situation affected all the members of the O’ Keefe family as it was told by each member of the family including Piper, Charlotte’s best friend. Big decisions such as this can make or break a marriage, a friendship, and an entire family.

I love the way Jodi Picoult made the tension so gripping and the emotions of the characters so riveting without coming across as sappy. I wanted to jump inside the pages of the book and scream at Charlotte. I wanted to shield Willow from all the pain. I wanted to tell Sean to control his wife. I wanted to tell Piper to just loan Charlotte money. A good novel makes you want to meddle with the story and be involved in the conflicts set before you.

This book has its shortcomings, too. The recipes in some of Charlotte’s chapters were distracting for me. Although I understand that she’s a pastry chef, I was more eager to move on with the story instead of reading recipes. However, I know that readers who love to cook will love those parts. I had mixed emotions about the ending. It got me thinking for a while and so many questions lingered in my head.

Overall, this is a book that has the right amount of everything. Picoult knows when to pull back when the plot thickens too much. She can put your emotions in a situation that you find yourself becoming so fragile like Willow who can break at any given time. It’s too good to put down once you started it. So if you’re looking for a book that will shake you to the core, then open your doors to the O’ Keefe family…but you have to handle them with care.