Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Review: ‘The Paris Mysteries, Deluxe Edition’ by Edgar Allan Poe

I’ve known of Edgar Allan Poe for years, even before I had ever read any of his tales. His presence looms over the Gothic genre and not many are able to reach the same level of beauty and darkness. I had read once that Poe was the originator of the detective genre but had never thought to read these stories for myself until Pushkin Press’ new edition came across my computer. Thanks to Pushkin Press and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 3/20/2020
Publisher: Pushkin Press; Pushkin Vertigo
Three macabre and confounding mysteries for the first and greatest of detectives, Auguste Dupin
An apartment on the rue Morgue turned into a charnel house; the corpse of a shopgirl dragged from the Seine; a high-stakes game of political blackmail - three mysteries that have enthralled the whole of Paris, and baffled the city's police. The brilliant Chevalier Auguste Dupin investigates - can he find the solution where so many others before him have failed?
These three stories from the pen of Edgar Allan Poe are some of the most influential ever written, widely praised and credited with inventing the detective genre. This edition contains: 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue', 'The Mystery of Marie Rogêt' and 'The Purloined Letter'.

In The Paris Mysteries are collected the three stories that created the detective genre. You will recognize it immediately. The reclusive genius, his best friend who is just a tad slower, the mumbling detective who tries his best, the outlandish crimes. It feels like coming home, in a way. Since we have been spoiled by countless Sherlock Holmes adaptations over the past few years, I hopefully can’t be blamed for occasionally mistaking Auguste Dupin for Holmes himself. The ease with which these stories flow is amazing when you consider that they are the first. Many authors aim for this, but they also have many examples to follow and imitate. Poe was the first and his talent shines through each of the three stories.

First is ‘The Murders of the Rue Morgue’, in which we are first introduced to Dupon and his companion. They live in joint repose, walking the streets at night and meeting no one. Until, that is, a gruesome and unexplainable murder is committed. I can’t lie, when we got to the resolution I had to put the book down for a second. It was outrageous in the most hilarious, apt way. ‘The Mystery of Marie Roget’, the second story, is fascinating in a completely different way. It is based on the real case of Mary Rogers which took place in the USA, and is moved to Paris in the story. Poe used writing the story to try and understand the mystery of Mary Rogers’ disappearance and death himself. The real crime itself still goes unsolved to this day. The third story is ‘The Purloined Letter’ in which, as the title suggests, a letter is stolen from a high-ranked royal. Elements of it will appear very familiar to Sherlockians, and there was even a film adaptation in which Holmes solves this case.

Poe’s writing in these stories is brilliant, in the way Arthur Conan Doyle’s is, in that he manages to not make it boring when someone rambles on for page after page about minute details. It is still gripping, still interesting to see just where Poe and Dupin will take us. The setting of Paris is also lovely, as it feels appropriately melancholy and beautiful for a Poe story. Furthermore, these stories don’t cut down on the gore of the detective genre. There are slashed throats, blood stains and drownings. Something interesting I read is that the three stories allow Poe to explore three different settings; the streets in the first story, the outdoors in the second, and the private sphere in the third. It’s fascinating to think of the stories from this perspective, as each leads to a different kind of deduction and a different kind of answer. The only potential downside to reading The Paris Mysteries is that the stories were so central to the genre that their elements are now almost too familiar. Thankfully, the first story has an enormous twist that will carry you through all the other elements.

I give this collection…
4 Universes.

Fans of Poe will need little convincing to give this collection a try. They are great stories and beautifully presented by Pushkin Press in this edition. If the detective genre is your thing, you have to read the one who started it all!

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Review: 'Too Much: How Victorian Constraints Still Bind Women Today' by Rachel Vorona Cote

It's hard to walk a fine line between having a personality and being "too much", especially if you're a woman. You're supposed to laugh at jokes, but if those laughs turn into snorts you're out. You should definitely enjoy cooking and baking and fine cuisine, but don't stuff your mouth. And please only let an elegant tear drop down your cheek, not the torrents of tears and snot that might show actual emotion. Since I feel this balance I knew Too Much would be the book for me. Also, how gorgeous is this cover! Thanks to Grand Central Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 2/25/2020
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Lacing cultural criticism, Victorian literature, and storytelling together, "TOO MUCH spills over: with intellect, with sparkling prose, and with the brainy arguments of Vorona Cote, who posits that women are all, in some way or another, still susceptible to being called too much." (Esmé Weijun Wang)
A weeping woman is a monster. So too is a fat woman, a horny woman, a woman shrieking with laughter. Women who are one or more of these things have heard, or perhaps simply intuited, that we are repugnantly excessive, that we have taken illicit liberties to feel or fuck or eat with abandon. After bellowing like a barn animal in orgasm, hoovering a plate of mashed potatoes, or spraying out spit in the heat of expostulation, we've flinched-ugh, that was so gross. I am so gross. On rare occasions, we might revel in our excess--belting out anthems with our friends over karaoke, perhaps--but in the company of less sympathetic souls, our uncertainty always returns. A woman who is Too Much is a woman who reacts to the world with ardent intensity is a woman familiar to lashes of shame and disapproval, from within as well as without.
Written in the tradition of Shrill, Dead Girls, Sex Object and other frank books about the female gaze, TOO MUCH encourages women to reconsider the beauty of their excesses-emotional, physical, and spiritual. Rachel Vorona Cote braids cultural criticism, theory, and storytelling together in her exploration of how culture grinds away our bodies, souls, and sexualities, forcing us into smaller lives than we desire. An erstwhile Victorian scholar, she sees many parallels between that era's fixation on women's "hysterical" behavior and our modern policing of the same; in the space of her writing, you're as likely to encounter Jane Eyre and Lizzie Bennet as you are Britney Spears and Lana Del Rey.This book will tell the story of how women, from then and now, have learned to draw power from their reservoirs of feeling, all that makes us "Too Much."
In many ways this book is a bit of an inspiration for someone like myself. I like to consider myself a bit of a pseudo-academic, especially since I'm currently nowhere near a university or academia in general. I love reading into texts, analyzing them, figuring out what role they play in our lives today and how they reflect our lives then. Too Much does a lot of that, looking into various Victorian texts, both literary and non-literary, to find out why we still seem to hold true to certain ideas and ideals that were popular then. Aside from this, it is also a blend of research and memoir/autobiography. Carmen Maria Machado released her masterful autobiography, In the Dream House, earlier this year, laying bare how we look at ourselves dependent on the stories we tell and have access to. Vorona Cote does this to a certain extent as well and although her story is perhaps more familiar to many than Machado's, Too Much only occasionally hits similar high notes.

Unfortunately, Too Much left me a little confused at times. The subtitle as well as the introduction heavily prioritize the book's link to Victorian constraints and literature specifically and yet much of the book focuses on different eras and sources, whether it is Jane Austen, pop idols from the 2000s or the movie Heavenly Creatures. Vorona Cote's idea of 'too muchness' never quite crystallized enough for me to take it beyond a hashtag. It's something all women will be able to identify with, but aside from celebrating it there doesn't seem to be a lot we can do with it. Similarly, a lot of the analysis in Too Much is recognizable because it is no longer outrageous. Britney Spears' breakdown in 2008 is no longer a punchline, Angel Clare is hated by everyone and Ramona beloved. Somehow I wish Too Much went further than it does, either dedicating completely to what its subtitle suggests or to being an autobiography.

Rachel Vorona Cote is very passionate and almost uncomfortably honest throughout Too Much. She shares ruthlessly from her past, whether it is her own infidelity or the horrors of being a teenager at a preppy school. Because of this honesty, a trigger warning does also need to accompany this book as one of the chapters, entitled 'Cut', deals with self-harming. It is one of the most autobiographical chapters in Too Much and at times I found myself cringing at what almost felt like the glorification of self-harming. Too Much can be read in such a way that it gives women the go-ahead to be as selfish and self-destructive as they desire. I do not believe this is what Vorona Cote intended. Rather she means to point out that the restrictions we face leave us constantly wondering who we are, second-guessing and repressing ourselves. This is a good message and something to be aware of, but it is also not new. On top of that, books like Too Much sometimes walk a fine line between celebrating women who stand out and are Othered and shaming women who are seen as more compliant. It is a difficult balance and I don't know whether it has been successfully struck by an author yet. At times Vorona Cote veers rather too much towards the latter.

I give this book...

3 Universes!

Overall, I was fascinated by Too Much until I ended up questioning it. I wish that it had gone further in truly assessing what lies behind the restricted behavior and the way it affects different women. Instead it left me with many questions that I'm sure I will be finding answers for over the years.

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Review: 'Warriors, Witches, Women' by Kate Hodges

In my life as a woman so far I have frequently strove to be both warrior and witch, to varying success. In my quest to be thus, I have frequently been in need of a role model, of inspiration. A book like Warrior, Witches, Women would have gone a long way to help me out. Thanks to Quarto Publishing Group, White Lion Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 3/3/2020
Publisher: Quarto Publishing Group; White Lion Publishing
Meet mythology’s fifty fiercest females in this modern retelling of the world’s greatest legends. 
From feminist fairies to bloodsucking temptresses, half-human harpies and protective Vodou goddesses, these are women who go beyond long-haired, smiling stereotypes. Their stories are so powerful, so entrancing, that they have survived for millennia. Lovingly retold and updated, Kate Hodges places each heroine, rebel and provocateur fimly at the centre of their own narrative. Players include: 
Bewitching, banished Circe, an introvert famed and feared for her transfigurative powers. 
The righteous Furies, defiantly unrepentant about their dedication to justice. 
Fun-loving Ame-no-Uzume who makes quarrelling friends laugh and terrifies monsters by flashing at them. 
The fateful Morai sisters who spin a complex web of birth, life and death. 
Find your tribe, fire your imagination and be empowered by this essential anthology of notorious, demonised and overlooked women.
Hodges displays a wide variety of women, warriors, goddesses and witches in her book. Some of them, lke Circe, I knew, some, like Ame-no-Uzume, were completely new to me. The mythology that comes down to us can be very whitewashed the way that the Grim fairytales were in later editions. No more hacked off toes, no more dancing in hot-iron shoes. Hodges gives us the tales straight up with relish, not hiding away the odder or more unusual parts of mythology. Whether it's the double-edged sword that is Kali or the life-giving gifts of the White Buffalo Calf Woman, each of the women mentioned in Warrior, Witches, Women has left an imprint on a culture or a society. Hodges tracks how their stories have changed and evolved, both for the better and the worse, and what impact they have today.

Warriors, Witches, Women covers 50 different women, goddesses, spirits, messengers, from all over the world who each receive a page or two in which their tale is told. Alongside this are stunning illustrations by Harriet Lee-Merrion. There is a timeless simplicity to them which I found very affecting. I would love to frame these and hang them up in my house. The cover is, clearly, Medusa, and the colourful calm that Lee-Merrion brought to play is beautiful. WWW would make a perfect coffee table book, to be picked up by a little girl or boy, bored of the conversation happening around them. To me, it felt a little bit like a gateway, a first step into reconnecting with some of the mythology we have forgotten or never been told. Here is a whole range of stories, ready to be explored. I took notes, I Googled, and I listened to the songs recommended at the end. By the end of Warriors, Witches, Women I felt enriched and surely there is nothing more you could ask for?

I give this book...

4 Universes!

Warriors, Witches, Women is a beautiful introduction to the sheer volume of amazing myths and legends around women. Let it inspire you to look further and to discover some fo that rebellion and rule-breaking within yourself.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Review: 'The Silent House' by Nell Pattison

I've worn glasses since I was six and being ever so slightly blind has let to plenty of scary moments where I didn't see a bike rushing at me, misjudged the distance between two steps in the dark, or couldn't quite figure out if that shape was my coat or a man standing in the corner of my room. Because of these experiences I was immediately drawn in by the blurb of The Silent House. Thanks to Avon Books UK and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 3/1/2020
Publisher: Avon Books UK
If someone was in your house, you’d know . . . Wouldn’t you?
But the Hunter family are deaf, and don’t hear a thing when a shocking crime takes place in the middle of the night. Instead, they wake up to their worst nightmare: the murder of their daughter. 
The police call Paige Northwood to the scene to interpret for the witnesses. They’re in shock, but Paige senses the Hunters are hiding something. 
One by one, people from Paige’s community start to fall under suspicion. But who would kill a little girl? 
Was it an intruder? 
Or was the murderer closer to home? 
This mystery will keep you up all night – perfect for fans of The Silent Patient and Cara Hunter
What is best about The Silent House is that it took a different approach to the usual crime procedural. Our protagonist, Paige, isn't a police detective or a brother/sister/mother/uncle of the victim. Rather, she is a part of their community, the Deaf community. Paige is called in to interpret for the witnesses at a shocking murder scene. She keeps her ties to the witnesses through the Deaf community a secret for as long as she can, needing to know the details, wanting to be involved. But of course danger lurks around every corner for those that try to get involved. In some ways, The Silent House reminded me of the film Hush, in which a murdered tries to break into a deaf woman's house to kill her. Hush is a brilliant movie because it uses its premise to surprise and shock the viewer in new ways. Similarly, The Silent House allows for a different look at the usual set-up of a thriller while also bringing some diversity to the usual cast of a thriller.

What carries The Silent House for most of it is the intriguing set-up and the freshness of its premise. Pattison chooses a tight-knit community that keeps largely to itself. As such, all the possible suspects and witnesses of The Last House know each other, including our protagonist Paige. This means that with her keen eye she can pick up a lot more than the police may be able to. After threats to her own and her sister's safety, Paige and Anna decide to try and solve the mystery themselves. Some of the choices made by characters in this novel feel at odds with common sense, but it is undeniably a fascinating read. The Silent House is structured in such a way that we follow Paige day to day, but get chapters interspersed that count down to the murder. On the day it all gets we resolved we also reach the chapter that explains exactly what happens. It is a nice way of building up the suspense, even if it did become a bit much that every throwback chapter tried to set up a new potential murderer.

Overall The Silent House is very enjoyable. The pace picks up considerable in the last third of the book, but Pattison builds up her world convincingly. There were a few occasions on which we were told rather than shown, which led to some of the characterization feeling rather weak. I don't want to veer into spoiler territory, but Paige's history is rife with loss and difficulty which affects her in her present as well. All of these things seem to combine to an overwhelming backstory and yet they're only occasionally addressed to explain some of Paige's choices. There's also a very sudden almost-romance which I found very hard to believe in or care about, which was a shame since it was clearly there to heighten the personal drama for Paige. This meant that I wasn't always as engaged with Paige herself, but still found myself intrigued with the resolution of it all. Towards the end I started seeing the twist coming, but it was still mostly satisfying, even if it felt like Pattison tried to tie together every single loose story thread in a single scene.

Although it may sound like I'm nit-picking The Silent House, I read it in a single reading and was engrossed by it. It was a great way to spend a Saturday and it made me see the inventiveness that trademarks thrillers and mystery novels.

I give this novel...

3 Universes!

The Silent House is a gripping, quick thriller that introduces its audience to a whole new community. Pattison brings some interesting twists and turns to the story, even if some of it doesn't hold up to closer scrutiny.