A to Z Reading Challenge

REVIEW: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

A short story about a woman who’s staying in a crumbling old mansion for three months. While her physician husband is out of the house almost every day, she spends her time in the room with yellow wallpaper. She becomes almost obsessed with the sinister patterns of the wallpaper as she struggles to deal with her nervousness and loneliness.

I listened to The Yellow Wallpaper on audiobook and it was narrated by Harriet Walter. I shan’t lie, the only reason I borrowed this book from my library was because of its title. I’m taking part in the A-Z Reading Challenge where you read a book starting with each letter of the alphabet and I needed a book that started with “Y”. But I’m happy I borrowed and read it as it was a very interesting read.

Told via the unnamed woman’s diary entries, The Yellow Wallpaper is a weird and creepy short story. At the beginning of the story the woman is very anxious and potentially has postnatal depression as she mentions she and her husband have a baby, though it’s mostly looked after by her husband’s sister, so she can rest. She’s jittery and spending so much time in their bedroom with the yellow wallpaper has her unsettled.

The way the wallpaper is described makes it sound like it’s alive, but only she can see what is trapped inside the patterns. She has been isolated by the people who are supposed to care for her and because of that it makes her anxieties worse and perhaps makes her slowly lose grip on reality.

The Yellow Wallpaper is a captivating and creepy gothic short story. The way the story progresses, and its ambiguous ending makes one unsure whether or not it is a “proper” horror story, but there’s certainly some horrifying imagery in it. 4/5.

Advertisements

MINI COMIC REVIEWS: Jessica Jones Vol. 1, Tales of Suspense: Hawkeye & the Winter Soldier and FABLES: Cubs in Toyland

Jessica Jones Vol. 1: Uncaged! by Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Gaydos and Matt Hollingsworth

Newly released from prison, Jessica Jones has got a lot of problems. Her latest client wants her to investigate her husband, who thinks he’s from another universe, and Jessica’s own husband, Luke Cage, wants to know where their daughter is. Jessica’s got a lot on her plate when a new threat appears, one that wants to destroy all heroes.

I liked how this book managed to keep Jessica Jones and her story relatively grounded, while still having cameos from other superheroes like Jessica Drew aka Spider-Woman and Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel. It made Jessica and her PI business a part of the wider superhero world, but it also shows how Jessica is constantly fighting against the title of “hero” and being a part of that world.

Jessica and Luke’s relationship is strained, but I did enjoy seeing it and I hope they can work things out. Jessica has given a lot up to do what she thinks is the right thing, and it’s meant keeping a lot of secrets from the few people she cares about.

The main story in Jessica Jones Vol. 1 was interesting but I wasn’t that scared or intrigued by the main villain as I couldn’t really get their motives. This might have been something

I liked the art style in Jessica Jones, and I loved the monotone colours, it really set the tone of the story. While I didn’t love this comic, it does enough to make me want to continue the series to see how Jessica can possibly sort her life out. 3/5.

Tales of Suspense: Hawkeye & the Winter Soldier by Matthew Rosenburg, Travel Foreman and Rachelle Rosenburg

The Black Widow is dead, but someone is killing her old enemies one by one. With a broke heart and a bloody trail to follow, Clint Barton aka Hawkeye is looking for answers. The only place he might get them is from another of Natasha’s ex-boyfriends, Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Solider. Will Clint and Bucky be able to trust each other enough to get to the truth, or is the truth deadly and out to get them?

I really enjoyed this. It’s a sequel to everything that happened with Secret Wars, Captain America apparently being an agent for Hydra and a lot of bad stuff happening, but you really didn’t need to know any of that to read and enjoy this comic. I only knew the concept of Secret Wars and haven’t read any myself, but this book does enough to give you all you need to then enjoy these characters and their interactions.

I’m a big Clint Barton fan and I really enjoyed how he and Bucky interacted. It was great how in the fist issue it’s told from Clint’s point of view and then the second issue is from Bucky’s, giving you an insight into both of their minds. They both don’t like each other but they have a common goal in finding out what’s going on with Natasha’s past. They have some really funny moments, and Clint is his idiot but capable self which I loved.

I liked the art style and the colours too for the most part, though some facial expressions were a bit overexaggerated for my taste. Tales of Suspense: Hawkeye & the Winter Soldier is a really fun, character-driven mystery and I’d love to read more about Clint and Bucky’s reluctant partnership. 4/5.

FABLES: Cubs in Toyland by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha and Gene Ha

Theresa has a lousy toy boat that she doesn’t really like but it talks to her, encouraging her to run away to a land that she can be Queen of. Theresa travels to Toyland, where broken-down playthings dwell. Wooden, metal, plastic or stuffed, they’re all looking for a queen to fix their bodies and their realm. But these toys are broken in more ways than one. As Theresa’s family search for her, including her wild brother Dare, what will become of her when she discovers the truth about Toyland? And what will staying in that realm cost?

This graphic novel has been sitting on my shelves for years. A friend bought it for me for Christmas one year, but I had never gotten around to reading it as it’s Volume 18 in the Fables series and thought I wouldn’t be able to follow the story without reading the previous 17 volumes. Recently I did some googling and as everyone seemed to say this was a standalone volume I gave it a go.

I do agree it’s a standalone. I could follow the story and the various characters and their relationships easily enough, though there were the few odd moments that seemed to be tied to the larger story that I was unaware of.

The magic system and how all the characters are versions of the classic fairy tales is interesting. Cubs in Toyland was surprisingly sinister and dark at times – these weren’t the fluffy Disney-versions of the fairytales we all know. There were some bloody and violent moments too, which were even more disturbing as they featured young children.

Maybe it’s because I didn’t have as much of a connection to the characters as I hadn’t read the previous volumes, or maybe just the story wasn’t for me, but I did find Cubs in Toyland a bit of a slog to get through, especially the last 40 pages or so. I just didn’t really care to find out how the story would end or if Theresa would be OK. 2/5.

REVIEW: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and James Lee. Both of her parent’s want her to fulfil the dreams they never could. Lydia is dead in a nearby lake. Her family doesn’t know that yet. And when they do, it will shatter everything they thought they knew about Lydia, and each other.

I attempted to read Everything I Never Told You a couple of years ago for the #DiversAThon but only got about 50 or so pages into it as I couldn’t connect to the characters and the story didn’t grab me. This time, I listened to the audiobook narrated by Cassandra Campbell and I found the story easier to consume via audio. I think that’s because while the story is told from multiple points of view there’s also an omniscient feel to the narrative voice. For instance, there’s moments when it comments on the future, or makes an observation that a character couldn’t have known at that moment.

There’s a mystery element to Everything I Never Told You as you don’t know how Lydia died, whether it was suicide or if there was someone else with Lydia on the lake. But it’s not as if a character is being an amateur detective trying to solve it, instead it’s more about the repercussions of Lydia’s death on her parents, her older brother Nath and her younger sister Hannah.

One thing I did like about this story was that it featured a biracial family. James is Chinese-American, and Marilyn is a blonde white woman so there’s interesting commentary on how their relationship is seen from the outside and also the pressures placed on Lydia and her siblings for looking so different to their peers. Everything I Never Told You is set in the 1970s in a small town in Ohio so there’s no one else but the Lee family that looks “out of place”. It also explores the sexism of the 1960s and 70s as Marilyn dreamed of becoming a doctor and as she tried to pursue that dream, men in her university classes would persistently make comments and her own mother expected her to find a husband and settle down rather than have a career.

Everything I Never Told You is frustrating in a way because the whole Lee family is terrible at communicating with one another. No one tells anyone how they really feel about something, what they want to do in their lives, or even honestly share how their day was. They are all putting on a front in different ways, talking to each other in half-truths and bottling up everything they feel they cannot say.

Everything I Never Told You is mostly a study of a family. A family who has suddenly experienced something tragic and are all grieving differently. There’s a distance between the reader and the characters due to the narrative voice, however that does fit in well with this book as the characters are distant from one another too. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Murders in the Rue Morgue And Other Stories by Edgar Allan Poe

A collection of three short stories, two of them are The Murders in the Rue Morgue and its sequel The Mystery of Marie Rogêt which are creepy and gruesome mysteries. The third is The Purloined Letter which is mystery about a seemingly simple case.

I had an interesting time with this short story collection. It was the first time I’d read any Edgar Allan Poe and I flew through, and really enjoyed, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, but I found the other two stories a real drag.

All three stories are told from the point of view of an unnamed narrator. His friend Dupin is an amateur sleuth so when there’s a crime, he narrates how Dupin gets involved and how he might solve the case. Dupin’s explanations of what happened is where the stories lost me. They’re really long and in depth, with page long paragraphs that I found myself getting lost in as his explanations didn’t intrigue me. They seemed like a way to show off how clever Dupin was but there was never enough to make me like the guy.

The events of The Murders in the Rue Morgue are horrifying and there are a lot of vivid descriptions on the crime scene. Those sequences, in all the stories, are the most compelling. It’s the explanations that ended up boring me instead of making me interested in finding out whodunnit.

These short stories reminded me of the works of Arthur Conan Doyle and E.W. Hornung. The style of writing and story-telling is quiet something but unlike Sherlock Holmes or A.J. Raffles, Dupin isn’t a charismatic protagonist that I almost instantly took a liking to.

I’m not sure if this was a good introduction to Poe but at least I can now say I’ve read The Murders in the Rue Morgue. 2/5.

REVIEW: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

Set in France during the 1620s, young d’Artagnan looks to join the King’s Musketeers where he meets Athos, Porthos and Aramis. Soon the four of them become firm friends and they have adventures across the country as there’s many plots afoot.

Every August Rincey from Rincey Reads on YouTube hosts a month long readalong of a large and maybe intimidating classic. This year it was The Three Musketeers, a book that’s been on my shelves for at least ten years, so this readalong gave me the push to finally read it.

I’ve seen a lot of different adaptations of The Three Musketeers, I saw some of the episodes of the relatively recent BBC series and I’ve seen a whole host of the various films that have been made over the decades. So, going into The Three Musketeers, I could remember bits about the characters, their relationships, and the story but it was really interesting to learn more about them and get the whole story.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Tristam Summers and it was a great audiobook that sucked me in and I’d definitely recommend it as it made the story fly by and wasn’t as intimidating as the physical book might’ve been.

The main plot of The Three Musketeers takes a while to reveal itself, instead focussing on introducing all the characters and their loyalties. I was surprised how much of the focus of the story was on d’Artagnan, especially the first third. He was definitely the main character rather than the titular three musketeers themselves. Athos is the musketeer with the most backstory, I personally found Aramis kind of snarky and frequently hilarious (he’s my favourite musketeer) but he and especially Porthos were left in the background for the majority of the book.

Once everyone’s been introduced the story moves along at great speed. There’s political intrigue with some people supporting the King, or more specifically the Queen, while others stand by the Cardinal who has he’s own goals. He’s a shady character who seems to have eyes and ears everywhere so when d’Artagnan and the musketeers have a mission, they have to very careful as to who they trust.

The female characters aren’t treated particularly well which is a shame and is potentially a sign of the time it was written. Milady de Winter is a fantastic character though and I would read a spinoff or a prequel about her. She’s a spy and an assassin who uses men’s idea of her, that she can be nothing more than a weak, delicate woman, in order to complete her mission and in some cases get away with murder. She’s brilliant and her interactions with both d’Artagnan and Athos were always interesting.

I loved The Three Musketeers. It is a proper action-adventure with some political intrigue and romance sprinkled through it as well. The characters, especially d’Artagnan, ends up in a completely different place compared to where they started, and I could never have predicted where the story goes even though I’ve seen various film adaptations. The Three Musketeers is just a lot of fun. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Philippines: Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan

The body of a young boy is found dead in the landfill in a poor district outside of Manilla. His face has been cut off, and his heart and genitalia removed. The police are stretched thin and are unsure of what to do, but as another boy, and then another boy, is discovered with the same injuries, the police need help. Father Gus, a forensic anthropologist, and Father Jerome, a psychologist, are asked by the Director of the National Bureau of Investigations to help the police in their efforts to track down the killer before they strike again.

Set in the late 1990’s there are quite few subplots in Smaller and Smaller Circles. There’s naturally the main plot of these murders and the police’s attempts to solve the case with the help of Father Gus and Father Jerome, but there’s story threads about the police and the Catholic Church too. The fact that the police in the Philippines don’t have good filing systems or good communications with the various departments places a major role in the story, and then with regards to the Church there’s a priest that Father Gus believes is using his power and influence to get away with abusing young boys he has access to.

Father Gus and Father Jerome are both compelling characters and are both smart in their own ways. They make each other better, bouncing ideas off one another until they might get a clearer idea of any patterns or motivations regrading the killer and their victims. Their easy camaraderie is great to read about and it’s fun to see how they manage to juggle working at a university and all the things that come with that like marking papers and getting funding, and with helping the police on serious crimes.

Smaller and Smaller Circles is a well-paced mystery as you as the reader have the same amount of information as the police and Father Gus and Father Jerome, and when they do have a suspect they spend the time trying to catch them and get concrete evidence. This makes the final part of the book tense as you wonder whether they’ll get to the killer before he kills again. Also, it means the ending isn’t rushed and various characters do have some form of closure.

Smaller and Smaller Circles is a bit gruesome. The bodies are described vividly but clinically and there’s some unsettling characters too. It’s not too scary or creepy and instead is a good mystery that’s set in a place where crime stories aren’t usually. In fact, Smaller and Smaller Circles is credited with being the first Filipino crime novel. It brings in the politics and socio-economics of the Philippines into the story in a way that fleshes out the setting and characters but isn’t something you need to have prior knowledge of to see how a lot of these characters lives are affected by forces outside of their control. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Indonesia: Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash by Eka Kurniawan

Ajo Kawir is one of the toughest fighters in the Javanese underworld. He’s fearlessness is powered by a painful secret – he’s impotent. When he meets the fearsomely beautiful bodyguard Iteung, he falls in love. But can he ever make Iteung happy if he can’t get it up?

Translated by Annie Tucker. Trigger warning for rape, violence and sexual language.

When Ajo is a young boy he sees a violent sexual assault and ever since then he could never get an erection. This leads him to be a bit odd, talking to his penis and imagining it replies to him.

Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash is a relatively short book and the way its written makes it easy to get through. It does have chapters, but it’s told in short snapshots, that are maybe a page or less, and there’s a lot of page breaks. This makes it easy to get through, but it adds a bit of distance between the characters and the reader.

The first half of the book follows Ajo’s childhood and meeting Iteung and the second half is set a decade later when he’s a truck driver. While it’s got these two distinct halves, there are mentions of future events in the first half of the book, so this blend of time periods can be a little disorientating.

Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash is an odd mixture of romance and black humour that won’t be for everyone. It has larger than life characters who often get into outlandish situations and the story manages to be both surreal and tragic.