Reading the Philippine’s first crime novel

_20170416_111032.JPGIn February, I went to my friend S.J.’s wedding in the Philippine’s. I loved, loved, loved the Philippine’s – the people, the places, the food.

Like most vacations, it was hard coming back. I think it was even harder coming back because we had been surrounded by so much love and happiness from the wedding. I wasn’t looking forward to coming back to a cold, snowy, stark Toronto. In a moment of mourning the end of my vacation, I picked up Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan at the Manila airport.

Smaller and Smaller Circles is often described as the Philippine’s first crime novel. After all, whodunnit detective novels usually hail from cold, rainy Scandinavian countries. But this is actually much more than your classic crime novel. It’s clear that Batacan is using fiction to make a statement about corruption of authorities and how the country’s poor are forgotten.

Batacan’s novel traces the steps two Catholic priest forensic investigators take to find a serial killer is who kills poor slum children and skins off their faces. It’s a bit like the movie Spotlight except both the good guys and the bad guys are priests.

Smaller and Smaller starts off slow but it does eventually hook you. Religion changes the perspective of the investigators and that’s something you won’t find in a Scandinavian detective novel. Batacan also dives deep into the interwoven church and state bureaucracy which is, at times, tedious.

This is a good read and does provide insight into current events in the Philippines such as the rise of Duterte and the conflicted relationship between citizens and a very power church.

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Judy Blume returns for adults

23899174It’s been a hard week watching the U.S. elections. As a Canadian, I wish our neighbours to the south best of luck and suggest that they hide themselves in a good book until they have a better idea of what Trump stands for — and proceed to fight for their rights.

I recently finished Judy Blume’s In the Unlikely Event and thought it was, meh. My mistake is in thinking it’d be anything close to Summer Sisters, Judy Blume’s epic first adult book.

The story centres on a teenage girl named Miri Ammerman growing up with a single mom in Elizabeth, New Jersey in the early 1950’s. In the span of two years, three airplanes out of Newark Airport crash in Elizabeth earning it the nickname, Plane Crash City.

In the Unlikely Event is still full of believable and relatable, adolescent characters who are traversing the trials of growing up. This, Judy Blume will always excel at. But I just didn’t feel enough for the characters and I really didn’t like the ending. The story came up short for me. I’ll just stick to Summer Sisters, thank you.

It probably didn’t help that I took a two week break from reading In the Unlikely Event. I had planned to take it as plane reading materials for a trip to Asia but then decided against it. Who wants to read about plane crashes on a plane?

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The two per cent

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I took a hiatus from reading for fun. It didn’t feel right so I’m glad that’s over. I was studying for this finance test and just couldn’t commit what little free time I had to finishing a novel. I’d look at all the amazing books I had on my shelf and feel a little guilty for neglecting them. And they’d stare back and tempt me. Little bastards.

The first one I picked up again was Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers. I’ve seen this book before but never picked it up because the cover looked boring. Yep, I judged a book by its’ cover. But now that it’s an HBO show, it has newer, dark cover art and I wanted to check it out:

Old cover:
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New cover (it’s 27% off at Indigo right now):

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I’m really glad I did because The Leftovers is an amazing read. In the not so distant future, a whopping two per cent of the world’s population disappears. One minute they’re sitting there and the next, POOF, they’re gone. The rest of the world goes into a mourning and most people think it’s something like The Rapture. But there doesn’t seem to be anything special about the people who are “chosen”. Some of them seemed like a**holes. But then what does that mean for those of us left behind?

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People try to find meaning in non-conventional ways. They’re joining weird cults, leaving their families and painfully trying to let go of the people who have disappeared. They stop buying all sorts of garbage and going to yoga (Perrotta hates yoga).

Perrotta’s characters are believable, relateable and so very broken. I couldn’t put this one down. The ending won’t satisfy most readers but only adds to the uneasiness of the story.

Interview with Robin Spano, author of Clare Vengel novels

Vengel_Dead_Politician_SocietyA while back, I discovered Robin Spano through Wattpad. She writes the Clare Vengel mysteries which are all based in Toronto. They’re great — and you can read the first book, The Dead Politician Society, for free.
What’s more, Robin was nice enough to agree to an interview with me! Unfortunately, I was a jerk and forgot to publish this until now. Sorry Robin! Luckily for you, the entire novel is now out on Wattpad so you won’t have to wait for each chapter to be revealed like I did (the suspense nearly killed me).
Describe The Dead Politician Society in 140 characters. A lighthearted mystery about politicians who are murdered and the people who might want them dead.
Why did you pick Toronto for the setting of this novel? The city and its people seem to play a big part in the story — could this have happened in any other city?
I grew up in Toronto, so it’s the city I know most intimately. It’s also where I lived when I was furious at the local political climate, so opening a novel with a dead mayor of Toronto felt poetically awesome.
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I personally love Clare because she’s so imperfect and insecure. As a young professional, I get that. What separates Clare Vengel from other fictional cops and detectives?
I think you nailed it. She’s different because she’s still learning the ropes of being an undercover cop. In the instruction books for how-to-write-a-mystery-novel, one of the cardinal rules is that the detective is supposed to be excellent at his or her job. I broke that rule.
While I think Clare has it in her to one day be a great cop, I’m more intrigued to watch her struggle toward excellence than I am to start her off as a hotshot right out of the gate. Readers can watch Clare learn and grow in each novel, and the arc of the series is a bit like a coming-of-age story.
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Did your personal politics find its way into your novel? Be truthful now, is there a municipal politician you’ve wished to off?
Yes! And he knows it. David Miller was mayor of Toronto when I wrote this book. While I loved his attitude toward arts and the environment, I felt like his government was screwing over Toronto businesses. (My husband owned a bar, so I felt this quite acutely.) Before he left office, I had the opportunity to meet Miller and explain why he had to go. He’s a mystery reader, so he was curious to read the book that he inspired. Now we’re quite friendly. (From a distance — on Twitter.)
You’re releasing Dead Politician Society for free one chapter at a time on Wattpad. In the words of Utopia Girl: “What’s in it for me, what’s in it for you?”
Dead Politician Society was published in 2010, and now there are two more books in the Clare Vengel series. (Death Plays Poker and Death’s Last Run.) As promotion for the series, my publisher, ECW Press, asked if I’d release the first one free and engage with readers in the process.

So what’s in it for you? A free read. What’s in it for me? I’m hoping to lure readers into the series with this free sample, make them want to follow Clare on her next adventures.