Thrills and Chills at Skeleton Creek

(First published on Manila Bulletin, Students and Campuses section)

Something sinister is bubbling beneath the surface of the backwater town of Skeleton Creek, and best friends Ryan McCray and Sarah Fincher appear to have stirred it. Ryan and Sarah are convinced that Skeleton Creek is harboring secrets, and they are determined to get to the bottom of it, even though there are forces that want to stop them at all costs.

This is the premise behind Scholastic Press’ latest multimedia venture, following the phenomenal success of its interactive middle reader series 39 Clues, which had readers collecting clue cards and playing online games in the hunt for the Cahill family treasure. This time around, Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman introduces readers to a new multimedia format: video books.

“Books are having a harder time holding the attention of a wired youth culture. iPods, cell phones, movies, the Internet, video games, and television are distracting even our best young readers,” states Skeleton Creek creator Patrick Carman. “I developed Skeleton Creek for ten to sixteen year olds who have grown up with YouTube and MySpace for one reason: I want them to read. While there will always be plenty of room for traditional books for young adults, publishing has to think outside the box in order to bring back many of our young readers.”

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The Fire and the Hornet’s Nest

Last week, I decided to finished reading the rest of the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson.

I found the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo an engaging read — it took a while to get into the story but absolutely compelling when it hit the groove. I admit I was a bit apprehensive about the rest of the series, because I kept hearing opposite opinions about it. One side emphatically insisted the series gets better in books 2 and 3, the other side insisted, with equal gusto, that the first book was the best of the bunch.

I liked the first book enough that I thought I’d miss out if the next two books did turn out to be better, so I went ahead and got myself the next two books in the series. There were no more trade paperbacks available anywhere (my TGWTDT s a trade paperback) so I settled on the UK mass market paperbacks, which looked like they had better paper and binding than the first, and they’ve held up pretty well through the first reading — spine creasing not so pronounced — although now they’re crying out for me to “upgrade” them. I hope bookstores would restock the trade paperbacks; I don’t know how long I can resist getting the nice hardcover set tempting me from the bookstore window!

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo



I’ve always wanted to read Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — I’ve actually had a copy sitting on my shelf for several months now, but for a while there was some hype about it and I wanted to wait for it to dial down a bit. And then when I was looking for a book to read this weekend, the chartreuse cover got my attention so I finally took it out of its packaging, covered it in protective plastic (of course), and started to read it.

Originally written in Swedish, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first book in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. The novel has won multiple awards, including Sweden’s Glass Key Award in 2006 for best crime novel of the year, the 2008 Boeke Prize, the 2009 Galaxy British Book Awards for Books Direct Crime Thriller of the year, and the 2009 Anthony Award for Best First Novel.

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I’ve never read any James Patterson books, but I see them everywhere, from the bargain bookstores to the promotional displays of latest releases. I’m not so much into genre writers, but in the past couple of years I’ve learned to try all sorts of reading material, even those I don’t normally read, just to keep it interesting.

I got a promotional reading copy of James Patterson’s Private, and I felt I was due for a break after reading the mind-boggling Left Hand of Darkness for the June book discussion, so I immediately latched on to a light read.

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A Swashbuckling Thriller

Back in my first semester at my university (don’t ask how many years ago), I took up fencing as a PE (phys ed) requirement, and for someone as “allergic” to sports as I am, I actually enjoyed the class and was passably competent at it.

Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Fencing Master (book 57 of 2009) appealed to me not only because I find his writing intelligent; I’ve also always found fencing terribly romantic — the proprietary rituals rooted in honor and courtesy; the graceful thrusts and parries combined with a dance of intricate footwork and sprightly movement; the melodic clink of meta foils; and the immense satisfaction of making contact.

In this mystery thriller, the fencing master is Jaime Astarloa, a distinguished gentleman who is a throwback to the olden days, even in 19th century Spain. He is the master of a dying art, upholding the virtues of honorable duel at a time when pistols were fast becoming the weapon of choice and fencing was evolving into a recreational sport.

Don Jaime lives off a modest income from his few remaining students, and leads a peaceful existence, engrossed in perfecting an irresistible sword thrust, until the fiery, violet-eyed Adela de Otero shows up on his doorstep and applies for his tutelage. Grudgingly, Don Jaime takes on his first female pupil, and gets more than he bargained for as he finds himself entangled in a grand web of intrigue and deceit, and he must rely on his old-fashioned values and the ancient art of fencing to keep himself alive.

At 212 pages, The Fencing Master is a fast read, a mix of rich, languid text; highly detailed swashbuckling sequences; and political discourse.

This is the third Arturo Perez-Reverte book I’ve read; I enjoyed The Club Dumas (on which the movie Ninth Gate — starring Johnny Depp — was based) and The Flanders Panel also. I like reading Perez-Reverte’s works because he writes with flowing, florid sentences that take you into the heart of the action. Perhaps this is the Spanish sensibility towards romance showing, similar to Carlos Ruiz Zafon‘s writing, albeit Zafon is the more lyrical of the two.

I also like how Perez-Reverte can write credibly about a variety of subjects — The Three Musketeers and De Umbrarum Regni Novem Portis in The Club Dumas; chess in The Flanders Panel; and fencing in this book, not to mention a host of other novels that carry other motifs. I appreciate the research he undertakes for each novel because they don’t appear halfhearted or contrived.

I love Don Jaime’s character — elegant, refined and upright, never compromising his values nor his genteel ways. I found it sad that he appeared to be born into the wrong era, with his dapper, turn-of-the-century suits; the old house adorned with dusty memorabilia; empty fencing gallery displaying rusty swords; and his passe art.

He laments:

“Duels with foils are rare events, given that the pistol is so much easier to handle and does not require such rigorous discipline. Fencing has become a frivolous pastime… Now they call it a sport, as if it were on par with performing gymnastics in your undershirt.

In this century and after a certain age, dying a proper death is becoming increasingly difficult.”

The hitch with reading Perez-Reverte’s novels in succession, though, is being able to detect a formula in his writing. He likes a lengthy exposition, peaking sharply and falling fast too. He also likes to gamble with shocking twists towards the resolution, which don’t always pay off.

Despite this drawback, I still find Perez-Reverte to be one of the better writers in the spectrum of multiple-book mystery writers. I still have a bunch of his books in my TBR, and I look forward to reading them in the future.

My copy: trade paperback, mooched from the UK

My rating: 4/5 stars