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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! 🤩

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. 😀

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?

Quick Notes: The Poet by Michael Connelly

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

Quick Notes: Stephen King was on point when he said that the ending was unexpected. The succession of plot twists. The revelations. The truths — and lies. It was all carefully weaved into a story that played like a movie in my mind.

Like Dean Koontz, Michael Connelly’s novels are often seen in Booksale. For years, I have been curious about his works but it took a pandemic for me to pick his book. I initially bought this one for four reasons: 1) the title, 2) the lure of Edgar Allan Poe, 3) i’m a sucker for crime thrillers, 4) it’s cheap. After the first 100 pages, I knew then that there are far more better reasons why anyone should read this book.

The Poet is unique in a sense that the main POV is seen through the eyes of a journalist whose beat is death. Not a police investigator like Montanari’s or a forensic pathologist like Cornwell’s who directly deals with murders. This book gives you a glimpse of how reporters, the local police and the FBI work together (or not) in solving a case. I like how Connelly takes time to build the thrill and explain the curiosities surrounding the scenes without dragging the story. The killer’s life is gradually revealed in bits and pieces BUT just when you’ve settled with catching a pedophile, Connelly delivers a series of unexpected twists. I was Jack turning to see a gun pointed at my head. I did not see that coming.

Would I read more of Michael Connelly in the future? Definitely yes. Would I read the sequel (yes, there is)? Probably. Because after all the guessing and profiling characters on my own, there is one thing I got right: The Poet got away!

Quick Notes: Congo by Michael Crichton

Genre: Science fiction/Thriller
Copy: Paperback
Rating: 🌕🌕🌕🌖

Quick Notes: My first foray into the written world of Michael Crichton was Congo. James, who loves the man as much as Dan Brown, never missed to mention his works whenever we talk about books. So I guess this is where curiosity killed the cat but satisfaction brought it back comes in.

The 1980 sci-fi novel centers on an expedition searching for rare blue diamonds and investigating the mysterious deaths of a previous expedition in the dense tropical rainforest of the Congo. At first I was worried that I’d be stuck in the complicated science and technical jargon but as it turns out, Crichton is a great de-jargonizer. I found myself immediately engaged in the story that capsulized science, history, and geography in each and every page.

Congo left me emotionally, mentally and morally disturbed. In a simple story, it raised provocative questions that I found hard to answer.

To what extent is animal cruelty? Is it limited to performing experiments/animal research? How about throwing lobsters on a boiling pot? Sticking pigs on bamboo poles? Exterminating rats? Do ALL animals have rights or just a selected few? Does man get to give them the reason to stay alive as a species?

These questions led me to reflect on our deeply ingrained habit of meat eating, on the equality among animals, and man’s idea of speciesism. I know there are multiple sides to these multifaceted issues, but what do you think?


This post first appeared in Writer’s Quote Wednesday – Iron and Ironies

Quick Notes: The Orphan Choir by Sophie Hannah

Genre: Horror/Paranormal fiction
Copy: Paperback
Rating: 🌕🌕🌓

Quick Notes: After three days dawns, I have finally “completed” my goal which is to read a paranormal fiction.

The Orphan Choir is a very easy read. I don’t have issues with unlikable characters like those of Gillian Flynn’s, but Sophie Hannah’s Louise takes some getting used to. She complains a lot and whines about everything which is borderline irritating. And her husband is… nah, never mind him.

As for the book, I think it was more of a psychological suspense rather than a horror story. More than half of the pages were spent to build a tension that was lost in the end. Although I intentionally picked The Orphan Choir knowing that it is not a hardcore horror novel, I would have like to experience a little more horror and less of Louise. The paranormal encounter (if you consider them ghosts and not hallucinations of a deluded woman) only happened in the last few pages.

Plot-wise, there were inconsistencies and gaps. I believe it’s an OK introduction to the genre — not too creepy for scaredy cats like me. However, I think I still need to try other horror books to confidently say that I have read out of my comfort zone.

Got any book recommendations? 🙂

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