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Quick Notes: Famous Tales of Mystery and Horror by Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe’s first love as a writer was poetry, but he is often known for his short stories which present a cast of peculiar murderers and madmen. I remember reading The Cask of Amontillado during my gradeschool days. I used to read it over and over and, looking back, I think it was that very story which sparked my interest in the murder mystery genre.

Fast forward 20 years later, here I am rekindling my love for Poe’s fictions. Famous Tales of Mystery and Horror is like an reintroduction to me. The book is a collection of five classic stories — all of which masterfully told in only few words.

Here are my Goodreads entries for each of the tales:

The Telltale Heart (1843) demonstrates Poe’s command of language. He has a way of letting you into a madman’s mind.

The Masque of the Red Death (1842) depicts the inevitability of death and man’s reaction when confronted by it.

Fear. Denial. Rage. Poe, in very few pages, has captured the many follies of man in trying to escape death. This story is a reminder that despite the glares and glitters of life, of our piquancy and phantasm, we will always find death more bizarre.

The Oblong Box (1844) presents a common scene in today’s films. I must admit I saw what was coming in this story. Still, Poe’s descriptives are something to behold.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) was the first of Poe’s three tales of ratiocination which introduced logical reasoning as the method of solving a crime. With the creation of C. Auguste Dupin (the world’s first fictional detective), Poe outlined elements that future novelists, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, would adapt and rework.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue was precursored with talks about the game of chess and the mental prowess it requires a player. From then, I knew that it would be a detective story — and, indeed, a well told locked-room mystery it was.

The Purloined Letter (1844) is another story following the exploits of C. Auguste Dupin. It reminds me a lot of Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia with the elements of a missing letter and an anxious important person who wants to obtain it. We get a taste of the power of observation through Dupin, who saw above and below what authorities can. What this story taught me, in the end, was that the best way to keep something hidden is not to hide it.

Overall, Famous Tales of Mystery and Horror is a worthwhile read for every mystery-seeking bookworm out there. Can’t wait to read more of Poe’s works of fiction! 🤩

Book Talk: Portrait of a scared reader

Do you have a book that scares you? It could be of any genre but mostly it’s horror or suspense thrillers that raise some hairs.

Five years ago, on this day, I found and bought this book in Booksale (SM City Cebu). Fast forward to 2021, I still have not finished it.

Why? Nightmares — every. single. time. i. read. it.

I am a sucker for crime thrillers, books or movies. Give me gore, give me blood, give me mystery (so long as there is no paranormal involved). I also love watching and researching true crime stories. I am passionately interested in what goes into the mind of the mad. So, my experience with Cornwell’s Portrait of a Killer honestly came as a surprise. I’ve had countless attempts of continuing the book which resulted to countless of nighttime terror too.

By 2018, I gave up. It’s not about Cornwell’s writing (I am a big fan of her Scarpetta series by the way). It’s just that the scanned letters, the sketches, the newspaper clippings and the police reports — they all felt so close. It’s different when you’re watching things on the screen. Touching the pages with my hand felt like Jack the Ripper breathing on my nape.

Will I ever get over this book? How do you deal with such fear? Hmm…

Book Talk: In defense of Doyle

Many have compared the two volumes of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in terms of quality and singularity. I have read comments stating that its second collection ─ two novels (The Hound of Baskervilles and The Valley of Fear) and two short story collections (His Last Bow and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes) ─ fell deeply short of people’s expectations.

But, I would like to set one thing straight. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has had enough of Sherlock Holmes by 1893. When he wrote “The Final Problem,” Doyle was resolved to kill Sherlock despite the growing demand for his brilliant and remarkable hero.

Why? I see two reasons: first, it was to save himself; second, it was to save Sherlock Holmes.

Doyle did not see himself as a writer in a box. Although the adventures of his Baker Street duo greatly appealed to readers, he continued to explore other genres including fantasy, poetry and historical fiction. Killing off Sherlock had the purest intention, but it unfortunately received the worst reaction. The people of London were utterly disappointed and mad. It took Doyle eight years to give in to their pressures and release The Hound of Baskervilles in 1901 which is the first novel in Volume II.

Doyle knew that the quality of Sherlock’s adventure stories would inevitably decline. Each case required an intricate plot and, in turn, meant a lot of mental work for the writer. Additionally, the public’s demands and his publisher’s deadlines did not make it easier. This is why I empathize with Doyle. He wanted to preserve the greatness of Sherlock Holmes without the influence of fandom.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Volume II revived Sherlock in print, yet some people would say that it did not carry the same fire. Maybe, maybe not. But one thing’s for sure, kudos to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for writing such superb work.

Book Review: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Genre: Juvenile fiction/Coming-of-age
Copy: Paperback
Rating: 🌕🌕🌕🌕🌕

Synopsis: As soon as Anne Shirley arrives at the snug white farmhouse called Green Gables, she is sure she wants to stay forever . . . but will the Cuthberts send her back to the orphanage? Anne knows she’s not what they expected—a skinny girl with fiery red hair and a temper to match. If only she can convince them to let her stay, she’ll try very hard not to keep rushing headlong into scrapes and blurting out the first thing that comes to her mind. Anne is not like anyone else, the Cuthberts agree; she is special—a girl with an enormous imagination. This orphan girl dreams of the day when she can call herself Anne of Green Gables.

Five reasons to read the book:
1) Anne Shirley. If there is only one character I wish I could ever be, that would be the beloved Anne with an E. Everything about her ─ thoughts, words, actions ─ is charming and you just can’t help but fall in love with this little redhead. Anne does not only change the lives of the people around, her but the people reading her story as well.
2) The journey. All the books in this series takes one on a journey of growth. L.M. Montgomery writes poetically, but she does not gloss over reality with it. Many ups and downs are put into spotlight as you follow Anne’s life as an orphan girl, a teen, an adult and, finally, a mother.
3) The cast. You get to meet a number of lively characters throughout the series. Some of them you will like, some you won’t. Some of them becomes your kindred spirit, some will challenge your perception/belief. Some people carry stories that will break your heart while others will give you a glimpse of new experiences. Anne of Green Gables is an amalgam of POVs that you would not want to miss.
4) The lessons. The series teem with lessons about life, love and everything in between. L.M. Montgomery writes realistic dialogues and a lot of points to ponder are exchanged among characters. The lessons, told through Anne’s amusing scrapes and romantic notions, will have you looking at life with a positive disposition.
5) The setting. From the beautiful Green Gables country home in Book 1 to the old Morgan place where the Blythe family finally settled in Book 8, Anne will make you see the beauty of nature and life through her keen eyes and extraordinary imagination. I love how L.M Montgomery took her time with the specifics and details of each location. Definitely a new addition to your list of favorite fictional places.

Highlighted Quotes: (Book 1 to Book 8)
“Dear old world’, she murmured, ‘you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.”

“The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and storytellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.”

“I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”

“That is one good thing about this world…there are always sure to be more springs.”

“It will come sometime. Some beautiful morning she will just wake up and find it is Tomorrow. Not Today but Tomorrow. And then things will happen … wonderful things.”

“There is so much in the world for us all if we only have the eyes to see it, and the heart to love it, and the hand to gather it to ourselves.”

“You were never poor as long as you had something to love.”

“Gilbert darling, don’t let’s ever be afraid of things. It’s such dreadful slavery. Let’s be daring and adventurous and expectant. Let’s dance to meet life and all it can bring to us, even if it brings scads of trouble and typhoid and twins!”

“Even when I’m alone I have real good company — dreams and imaginations and pretendings.”

“I suppose all this sounds very crazy — all these terrible emotions always do sound foolish when we put them into our inadequate words. They are not meant to be spoken — only felt and endured.”

“Well, that was life. Gladness and pain…hope and fear…and change. Always change! You could not help it. You had to let the old go and take the new to your heart…learn to love it and then let it go in turn. Spring, lovely as it was, must yield to summer and summer lose itself in autumn. The birth…the bridal…the death…”

“Time is kinder than we think,’ thought Anne. ‘It’s a dreadful mistake to cherish bitterness for years…hugging it to our hearts like a treasure.”

“It is never quite safe to think we have done with life. When we imagine we have finished our story fate has a trick of turning the page and showing us yet another chapter.”

“Being frightened of things is worse than the things themselves.”

“The body grows slowly and steadily but the soul grows by leaps and bounds. It may come to its full stature in an hour.”

“Dream after dream comes true—or rather is made true by persevering effort.”

Final Thoughts: Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montomgery’s classic eight-book series, will forever be my favorite go-to read. All thanks to its hopelessly romantic, impulsive and overly dramatic red-headed heroine, Anne Shirley. This beloved Anne with an E heightened my love of the natural world and opened my eyes to the little things in life that truly matter. It reminded me the importance of love, friendship, family and chasing my dreams with enthusiasm, colorful imagination and fierce passion. Throughout the entire series, I felt like I grew with Anne. I was able to see life through her poetic eyes and take her delightful musings with me in the real world. Whenever I am short on motivation to move forward, I turn to Anne of Green Gables for a dose of positivity, inspiration and insight.

Have you read Anne of Green Gables series? Did you like it as much as I did?

Book Talk: Tsundoku in times of “addutucart”

Did you buy a book again? Have you read the books you bought last week? Last month? Last year?

I have seen how COVID-19 brought a significant boom in ecommerce — at least on my side of the Earth. Despite the tough economic times, the pandemic has drastically shifted people’s buying and selling behavior. Digital technologies, especially mobile devices, made it easier to locate (goods/services), transact (without breaking social distancing measures and taking the risk of catching the virus), and obtain (needs/wants).

But before I get tempted to stray off topic, I’d like to talk about this one subject that concerns me as a reader. And probably you, too!

Tsundoku. Described by BBC as the art of buying books and never reading them. A Japanese word whose morphology combines “tsunde” (to stack things); “oku” (to leave for a while); and “doku” (to read). While it illicit no negative opinion in Japan, Tsundoku is often viewed incorrectly by others. It is, at times, confused with the obsessive collecting of books for the sake of building a book collection. But at the heart of Tsundoku is the intention of reading — an intent so intense that leads to its eventual collection.

I find it interesting to think about the potential of this habit in times of “addutucart” (a word phonetically coined by Lee Minho during Lazada’s 11.11 sale). When adding to cart and checking out items are just few clicks away, what is there to stop a curious book lover?

Three things come to mind:

1. Cash – Like it or not, money will always be a limiting factor to our needs and wants. I’m all support for “do it for happiness” — so long as it’s your hard-earned money — but we must be conscious, still, that our spending would not overtake our savings.

  • Here are some tricks that I personally use as a bookworm on a budget:
    • Track your spending (set a monthly budget for books so you won’t go overboard)
    • Opt for pre-loved books (aside from a sentimental POV, used books are also the financially and environmentally healthier choice)
    • Patience is a virtue (though I don’t exactly follow the 30-day rule, I give myself few days to find cheaper alternatives or to make sure if I really, really need/want that book)
    • Give yourself some space (stay away from temptations: bookstores, marketplace, online stores)

2. Trust – While technology made it easier to acquire what we need, it has also made it easier for other people to deceive. Scammers are on the rise and we find ourselves developing trust issues. Thankfully, ever since I started buying books online, I haven’t met one yet.

3. Guilt – Tsundoku brings with it a sense of guilt whenever books start to pile up and rest longer on the shelf. It’s sad, almost depressing, when we find our curiosity nicked by our moods, the busyness of the real world, and pressure from others and our own.

  • Whenever I feel guilty for my habit, here are four things I remind myself with
    • Do what makes you happy
    • Read at your own pace
    • Books are a lot cheaper than a psychotherapy session
    • It’s your hard-earned money

Tsundoku has always been around even before COVID. I hope we don’t let this misplaced guilt stop our curiosity of the worlds inside every book. I hope we continue to cultivate this love of reading in our own little circles. Be a good-natured bookworm. Keep reading and tick off your TBR list. Addutucart those books you’ve been itching to read! 🤓📚

Quick Notes: The Hound of Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A book titled The Hound of Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on a table with a cup of coffee

Genre: Mystery/Crime/Detective
Copy: Paperback
Rating: 🌕🌕🌕🌖

Quick Notes: The Hound of Baskervilles is the third of four novels in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s canon of Sherlock Holmes. I won’t write how superb this book is for I know I will just be repeating what most people have already said. Instead, let me just point out two aspects which made this particular story unique to me.

1. Dr. John H. Watson – Sherlock Holmes’ best friend and confidant. The romantic and often sentimental medical doctor that perfectly complements the emotionally-detached and analytical consulting detective. The ordinary against the brilliant.

Despite being wrongly perceived (and portrayed) as being a fool in most tv/film adaptations, Watson’s role is undoubtedly crucial to every Sherlock Holmes adventure. He serves as both a storyteller and a shock absorber of Holmes’ uncanny deductive flair for the reader. I personally find the few stories in which Watson plays a minor role (or none at all) a little lacking and dry. This is one reason why I enjoyed The Hound of Baskervilles.

In this novel, we get to see a little more of Watson in action. He sets out to solve (try) a crime ─ on his own ─ even just for a short period of time. We follow him as he simultaneously employs Sherlock’s methods and his own in search for clues. And although, Sherlock gets to hammer down the mystery in the end, this book made it apparent that there is more to Watson than meets the eye.

2. The setting – The Hound of Baskervilles is one of the few stories that uproots readers away from 221B Baker Street. Instead of a warm, comfortable sitting room, it takes you to the cold, wet English moor with nothing but fogs, bogs and fire-breathing hounds. With an added Victorian air and a touch of supernatural, this book stands out from the rest of Doyle’s detective stories.

I have mentioned in Book Talk: Books or movies? A reader’s dilemma. that I prefer watching the adaptation first over reading the book. And I’m glad I did so because a lot of the scenes were changed in the films that I wouldn’t have enjoyed had I known the original plot. Of the three versions I have seen ─ 1939, 1959 (unfinished) and 2012 ─ the latter took a complete turnaround. It was enjoyable nonetheless, thank you Benedict Cumberbatch, but definitely not the movie you’d want to see if you’re looking for Doyle’s original plotline.

Overall, The Hound of Baskervilles gets two thumbs up from me! A great read after a month of craving for Sherlock Holmes. 😀

Book Review: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Genre: Fiction
Copy: Paperback
Rating: 🌕🌕🌕🌖

Short Synopsis: Humbert Humbert — scholar, aesthete and romantic — has fallen completely and utterly in love with Lolita Haze, his landlady’s gum-snapping, silky skinned twelve-year-old daughter. Reluctantly agreeing to marry Mrs Haze just to be close to Lolita, Humbert suffers greatly in the pursuit of romance; but when Lo herself starts looking for attention elsewhere, he will carry her off on a desperate cross-country misadventure, all in the name of Love. Hilarious, flamboyant, heart-breaking and full of ingenious word play, Lolita is an immaculate, unforgettable masterpiece of obsession, delusion and lust.

What I liked:

1. The plot. The ingenious way Nabokov toys with the reader’s mind. You get a self-confessed madman — a scheming pedophile who has a taste for young girls. And not just any other younglings at that. Humbert Humbert did not find Lolita sexually attractive because of her beauty and wit (which are almost non-existent), but because she is a nymphet. An ideal combination of childishness and preadolescence.

As Humbert presents the story of his affair with Lolita in first person, this is where Nabokov’s brilliance as a writer shows. Humbert comes across as an intellectual and romantic, detached and fixated. He is both ashamed and proud of the steps he takes to gratify his passion (or obsession). The moral and emotional conflicts that Humbert goes through are so human that he could trick you into thinking that, perhaps, what he has done is excusable. While I personally was wary of Humbert most of the time, there was one instant that I had to rethink ─ is this really love in a very weird form? But then, when you see through his manipulation, you get pentapod monster (his own words) not a man.

2. No pornographic sex. I know Lolita has been frequently described as an erotica but some people tend to overlook its beautiful prose. Nabokov writes about sex in the language of metaphors and figures of speech. While contemporary novels are filled with explicit descriptions of sexual acts, Lolita introduces a one-of-a-kind orgasm through Humbert.

“I entered a plane of being where nothing mattered, save the infusion of joy brewed within my body. What had begun as a delicious distension of my innermost roots became a glowing tingle which now had reached that state of absolute security, confidence and reliance not found elsewhere in conscious life.”

3. It gives you glimpse of a predator’s mind. If we look at the sexualization of women then and now, not much has changed. Lolita shows a clear picture of the schemes that are often used by abusers. When those accused of sexual crime defend themselves, they often say “she wanted it” or “she started it.” They consciously or unconsciously misinterpret a laughter, soft voice or tensed hands as gestures of consent.

Reading the book is a tough journey (for me especially as an ISFP) but a good one. It’s the kind of read where I had to constantly remind myself not to draw hasty conclusions because of my principles, politics, personal reservations and emotions. I had to look beyond the romanticism and be critical at how the characters are portrayed. At how pedophilia is being normalized. At how women are being objectified.

What I didn’t like: Nabokov did a splendid job. Too good that his work still reflects the plight women continue to face up to this day. There are still many who romanticize Humbert’s depravity and many who blame Lolita for being naïve. The world is still filled with enablers and complicit to the crime.

Favorite quotes:

“Human life is but a series of footnotes to a vast obscure unfinished masterpiece”

“We live not only in a world of thoughts, but also in a world of things. Words without experience are meaningless.”

“We loved each other with a premature love, marked by a fierceness that so often destroys adult lives.”

“Life is just one small piece of light between two eternal darknesses.”

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.”

“I shall be dumped where the weed decays, And the rest is rust and stardust”

“We all have such fateful objects — it may be a recurrent landscape in one case, a number in another — carefully chosen by the gods to attract events of specific significance for us: here shall John always stumble; there shall Jane’s heart always break.”

Final Thoughts: If age is just a number, what makes Humbert and Lolita’s relationship seem wrong? Would you see through lust if it was clothed in love? How would you draw the line between the two? There were a lot of irony and moral conflict to digest in this book. Kudos to Nabokov (again) for a thought-provoking read. But like what I said when I finished it last May, I don’t agree with the featured comment on the cover from Vanity Fair. It was far from being convincing or a love story to begin with. No, no. It was calculated rape.

Quick Notes: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Genre: Modern Classic/Dystopia
Copy: Paperback
Rating: 🌕🌕🌕🌕🌖

Quick Notes: “Are there any questions?”

To some, this might just be an ordinary statement of inquiry. But to those who have read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, these four words carry too much weight.

Originally published in 1985, Atwood’s dystopian novel takes readers to the fictional Republic of Gilead. It follows Offred, a Handmaid assigned to a high-ranking commander and his wife. In an age of declining births, Handmaids are valued only for their capability to procreate. They are held prisoners — stripped off their past and future. They are forbidden to read, write, or interact with the outside world. They are meant only to bear children for their assigned commander and failure to do so warrants death.

The story ends with Professor Pieixoto’s final line, “Are there any questions?” To me this seems like a rhetorical question asked not to get an answer but instead to emphasize a point. It forces us to question our role as witnesses — both of Offred’s tale and of our own history of oppression.

Do we forget and stay silent? Do we remain neutral and indifferent? Do we stand up and fight?

The Handmaid’s Tale, told in simplistic prose, is a clarion call for upholding women’s rights to take control over our own bodies, choices and lives. With the current political climate, this book is definitely a must-read.


This post first appeared in Writers Quote Wednesday: Are there any questions?

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