READ THE WORLD – Guatemala: Trout, Belly Up by Rodrigo Fuentes

Translated by Ellen Jones

Six interconnected short stories that provide glimpses into the life of Don Henrik, a good man who is constantly struck by misfortune as he confronts the harsh realities of farming life.

The majority of the short stories are told in the first person and you are given very few clues to figure out who this character is and what their connection to the other stories and characters are. Characters, or at least their names, pop up in multiple stories and the stories aren’t exactly in linear order. They jump around in Don Henrik’s life. Sometimes he is the focus of the story while other times he’s only mentioned or appears for one page and that’s it.

There are no speech marks used throughout the stories and this took a little time to get used to. There’s often large paragraphs where someone talks multiple times, as they are moving or taking a swig of beer, so I needed to pay attention so I could follow what was speech and what was action.

The stories paint a lovely picture of the Guatemalan countryside, with the fields, forests and rocky outcrops, but it never glosses over the difficulties of rural life. There’s the problems with crops failing to grow, water not flowing where it should but then there’s also the threat of violence from merciless entrepreneurs and hitmen, who will do anything to get what they perceive is owed to them.

At 97 pages, Trout, Belly Up is a short story collection that I read in one sitting. I think it works better that way as you see how each story or snapshot is a part of someone’s life and how the characters relate to one another. I believe this is the first short story collection I’ve read where the stories are interconnected and I liked that form of short stories more. Even though the stories are between 10 – 30 pages long each, because they’re connected, they paint a richer picture of the setting and the characters you follow.

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Z is for Helmut Zemo

It’s the last day of the A-Z in April Challenge and I’m going to end it with a villain that arguably damaged the Avengers the most. Pre-Thanos that is.

Helmut Zemo is a former soldier from Sokovia, who wanted to avenge his family’s death during the Sokovia incident. He wanted to do this by destroying the Avengers, but knowing he was just a man going up against superpowered people, he had to be smart about it.

And that’s the thing, Zemo is really very smart and a brilliant strategist and manipulator. He’s patient, knows how to put a plan together and stick to it, while using the latest developments in the world e.g. the Sokovia Accords, to his advantage.

You could say that Zemo’s plan wouldn’t have been as affective if Steve had told Tony about his parents’ death before being forced to watch the footage of it. if Tony had known there’s probably less chance of him flying off the handle. But Steve didn’t tell Tony, and Zemo’s plan to destroy the Avengers worked.

I think Zemo was a brilliant villain and he’s one that actually achieved what he set out to do. He destroyed the Avengers by turning the two main leaders of the team against one another. He broke the Avenger a part. Friendships were destroyed, some members of the Avengers were on the run and wanted by the UN, and the rest were just hurt and alone.

I think he’s a fascinating villain and I’m pleased that he’s still alive. I think he’d be a great villain to make an appearance again at some point in the future. Although, he’s played his best hand with the secrets about Tony’s parents’ death. Unless he’s managed to dig up something else on various members of the Avengers, I’m not sure he would have the same impact. Maybe it’s because I like Daniel Brühl so much so would like to see more of him in the MCU.

REVIEW: Avengers: Endgame (2019)

After the events of Avengers: Infinity War the universe is in chaos as half of all life has been wiped out. Those that are left behind struggle to move on and assemble once more to try and undo Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) actions and bring back those they’ve lost.

Avengers: Endgame is incredible. This film is so impressive in terms of plot, character and spectacle. There are so many surprises in Endgame. There’s twists and turns and what you could call fan service moments, but the way the film never manages to lose its way is admirable. It is three hours long, but you don’t notice that runtime at all. There are quieter moments in the film but that’s when it’s more character-focused and they are no less compelling than when these characters are trying to save the universe.

Compared to Infinity War which, while there were stakes it was also a lot more jovial film, Endgame is definitely more character focused. That’s not to say there isn’t action sequences or jokes or exciting moments, but after the events of Infinity War, the characters who survived are not who they once were. They have all experienced loss, they are all hurting, and they are all going through the various stages of grief – with some getting stuck on certain stages longer than others. The characters don’t just brush off what happened and that makes the catastrophic loss of life even more affecting.

The entire cast are amazing. The relationships these actors have made in real life, make the character relationships even more poignant and every character gets their moment in the spotlight. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) gets more screen time and character development compared to previous films, and Renner really gets to show not only what a great actor he is, but also what a layered character Clint Barton is. Captain America (Chris Evans) is more central to the story compared to Infinity War and Paul Rudd gets to show off his dramatic skills as Ant-Man while still never losing who that character is.

Avengers: Endgame is the finale to an eleven-year, twenty-two-movie saga. It’s the culmination of all the films that have come before it and it manages to pay homage to them while still being a satisfying conclusion – the third act really is indescribable and is unlike anything we’ve seen before in a film of this scale.

Really Avengers: Endgame does mark the end of an era. While the MCU will no doubt continue, Endgame is the finale to this story arc and what a finale it is. 5/5.

FYI I will post a probably very long spoiler-filled review of Avengers: Endgame in the next week or so. I have a lots of thoughts and feelings to get out.

Y is for Ho Yinsen

When you look back on the MCU, one minor character that really has had a lasting effect on a hero is Ho Yinsen. He is such an important character!

Yinsen was held captive with Tony Stark in Afghanistan and it was Yinsen who saved Tony’s life. He’s the one who put an electromagnet in Tony’s chest, stopping the pieces of shrapnel getting to his heart. Yes, Yinsen’s version was with a car battery and once Tony was on his feet, he figured out how to make the system better with a miniaturised arc reactor, but Yinsen came up with the way to save Tony’s life first.

Yinsen was intelligent, he was a scientist and surgeon and he could speak multiple languages, so he was more than capable to help Tony build the first Iron Man armour. He helped motivate Tony to resist their captors and do something about the terrorists having so many of Tony’s weapons. “Is this the last act of defiance of the great Tony Stark? Or are you going to do something about it?” was just the sort of no-nonsense pep talk Tony needed. Yinsen was also incredibly brave as he willingly sacrificed his life so Tony could escape.

Tony went and saved the villagers of Gulmira, Yinsen’s village, once he’d made the Iron Man suit. I’m not saying Tony wouldn’t have saved any village he heard about on the news, but there were definitely more of a personal stake there for him. Yinsen’s last words to Tony was not to waste his life and I like to think Tony took that to heart.

X is for Xtras

X is always a difficult one for the A-Z in April Challenge. In previous years I’ve written about the X-Men or Charles Xavier but as they are not a part of the MCU (yet anyway) I’ve had to cheat a bit this year. These are all the extra characters who I love that got pipped to the post by a different favourite.

Clint Barton
Now some of you who have been following my blog for a while might’ve been surprised not to see Clint featured in my A-Z of favourites this year, because Clint Barton is my ultimate favourite whether that’s in the MCU, comics or animated TV shows. But I had featured him in my Favourite Characters A-Z in April in 2016 so I thought I’d give some other favourites the time to shine. I do still love him a lot though. He’s funny and highly skilled but he’s still a very breakable human on a team of superhumans and I love that about him.

Michelle “MJ” Jones
There’s a lot of cool characters in Spider-Man: Homecoming but I did have a soft spot for Michelle even before it was revealed that she’s going to be the MCU’s version of MJ. She’s weird, smart and funny. I like how she’s a bit of a social outcast who likes her own company, but she still finds friends. I’m looking forward to seeing more of her personality come through in future films.

Nick Fury
Fury is the ultimate spy and I love that about him. Having Samuel L. Jackson in the role was one of the best decisions ever made in regard to the MCU. He brings all these layers to Fury. Fury can be funny (loved seeing more of that side of him in Captain Marvel), cutting, secretive and very smart. His secrets have secrets! One of my favourite sequences in the entire MCU is when Fury’s car is attacked in Winter Soldier, I just love seeing Fury being the action hero/spy that he is even though he’s climbed the ranks of SHIELD.

Hela
You got to love a female villain that causes death and destruction with style. I like how Hela’s back story doesn’t excuse what she is. Yes, her father used her to take over different worlds and defeat their enemies, but that death and destruction was still in her nature. She wants to rule Asgard and get what she thinks she deserves and uses her intelligence and magic to do it.

Rocket
Rocket is probably my favourite out of the original Guardians of the Galaxy crew. He’s sarcastic and mean and pushes people away because he’s not used to being cared about. But when he does get close to his friends, his family, he loves them deeply. I think the animation that brings Rocket alive is incredible as I’ve often found myself getting teary eyed over that damn raccoon.

W is for Wanda Maximoff

I really do love Wanda a lot and I especially like how she’s grown into someone who’s more comfortable in their powers and who they are as the series has progressed.

I do think Wanda should be held accountable for her actions. In Civil War it’s clear she’s not ready to be out in the field and so while she did save a lot of people, she inadvertently hurt and killed others. However, she’s still learning and trying to do the right thing and atone for her mistakes.

Wanda is seriously one of the most powerful characters in the MCU. I think she’s up there with Thor and Carol with regards how powerful and potentially dangerous they are. I mean, she held back Thanos who had five Infinity Stones at the time while simultaneously destroying a sixth Infinity Stone! She’s so strong and badass and amazing! But as well as being a badass, she’s sweet and caring and loving too.

I’ve got to take a moment to mention one of my favourite character dynamics in the MCU – Wanda and Clint’s relationship. He’s like a surrogate dad to her and I love how they talk to one another and protect each other in battle. Wanda’s way stronger than him with her powers, but because of her past she isn’t so confident or aware of the world compared to Clint so they can help each other out when they need it. Also, I totally believe Wanda’s has gone and babysat Clint’s kids while he and his wife go out for dinner more than once.

READ THE WORLD – Spain: The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Pulp fiction writer David Martín is holed up in an abandoned mansion in the heart of Barcelona, desperately writing story after story while becoming increasingly frustrate and disillusioned. When he is approached by a mysterious publisher, Andreas Corelli, makes him an enticing offer David leaps at the chance. But as he begins to research and write this novel, and after a visit to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, David realises there’s a connection between his book and the shadows that surround his dilapidated home, and maybe his publisher might be hiding secrets of his own.

The Angel’s Game is set in the same universe as The Shadow of the Wind, but I don’t think it matters if you haven’t read that book or if you haven’t read it for a while. I read and reviewed The Shadow of the Wind four years ago so naturally I can’t really remember much about the book, but the only connections I noticed was the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and the dilapidated tower home the main character in this novel came to live in. (After writing this review I googled the series and realised that The Angel’s Game is in fact a prequel to The Shadow of the Wind though apparently each book in the series is supposed to be able to stand on its own from the others, so it really doesn’t matter what order you read them in.)

Set in the 1920s and early 1930s, The Angel’s Game really makes use of both the time period and the city its set in to add to the mystery and eeriness of the story. Not being able to get hold of a character, or instances of mistaken identity are rife, and both increase the tension at key moments. The city of Barcelona truly becomes a character in its own right in The Angel’s Game. The narrow alleyways, abandoned houses, tiny shops and the often-bleak weather, makes the city a wonderful setting for a gripping mystery. The descriptions of the city are vivid making the few times characters venture elsewhere, even more stark and different to what we already know.

David is an interesting man. He’s often unlikable as he pushes away those who care about him when he’s obsessed with writing and is unsure how to love or be loved in return. He’s always had affection for the daughter of a friend’s driver, Cristina, but circumstance and society keeps them a part. His reluctant friendship with Isabella, an inspiring writer who is many years younger than him is surprisingly sweet and while their relationship isn’t without its troubles and miscommunications, their honesty with one another is truly needed by both of them.

The mystery of the tower house, its previous owner and what happened to them kicks in about the third of the way through the book. Andreas Corelli seems to be connected to it all though it takes a long time for David to figure things out. David becomes obsessive, both about his writing and the secrets his home holds, looking for reasons behind the deaths and strangeness that appears to be following him. The Angel’s Game is told in the first person from David’s point of view, meaning that as the story progresses and things get weirder, you begin to doubt what you’ve been told so far as David’s grip on reality seems to slip.

I shan’t say I picked up all the threads of the mystery before they were explained to me, nor that I totally understood the ending, but that didn’t make me like this story any less. The Angel’s Game was a very readable book and the whole gothic take on Barcelona fully pulled me into the story. Would it have been nice if the story wasn’t quite so convoluted and weird? Yes, but it’s still a book that I ended up enjoying more than I remembered enjoying its predecessor. 4/5.