Don’t Look Now and Other Stories – Daphne du Maurier

Nu-privi-acum-si-alte-povestiri-Daphne-Maurier-Editura-Univers-1983 I must confess, I expected a lot from this book. With a title like that, I thought, this must be a great book. As it turned out, it really was. There are four stories and I loved them all but one truly stands apart.

Don’t Look Now is about a couple on holiday in Torcello, Italy. What seems like an innocent holiday game of making up stories about strangers begins to be more than that when John and Laura spot two elderly ladies at a nearby table. And when one of them claims to see the couple’s recently deceased child, a girl named Christine, things really get interesting. Told through vivacious dialogue and dropping clues one after the other, the story reaches the end and everything comes full circle, leaving one more mystery behind but providing satisfying closure nevertheless.

The narrator of Not After Midnight is Timothy Grey, a 49 year old bachelor who remembers his fateful trip to Crete and the horrible incident that changed his life. He’s not an unreliable narrator, plagued by bouts of madness concealed into the folds of everyday routine. On the contrary, the accuracy of detail makes him a highly credible story-teller and I couldn’t help but sympathize with him and wishing things had ended on a different note. Timothy seems like the kind of person who’s almost pedantic in his routine. It’s obvious he likes things done a certain way and he highly values his privacy. That is why, when he meets an odd couple – the big, drinking man and his silent wife, he tries to keep his distance. I really liked how the author gave a new spin to a famous snippet of Greek mythology.

A Border-Line Case is about Shelagh, a young woman who tries to find out more about her father’s best friend. The men had had a falling out after Shelagh’s father got married. Her mother can’t stand the man. And following her father’s death in such strange circumstances – he was watching his daughter when it happened – Shelagh decides to employ her talents as an actress to fabricate a story that will allow her to find out the truth. What’s really behind the mysterious, reclusive man living on an island with a few trusted companions? And why does he have a picture of her parents on their wedding day but with himself as the groom? As Shelagh finds herself caught in the mystery, it is Shakespeare who ultimately unlocks the past and reveals the terrifying truth. This is perhaps the most dramatic story in the book and also my favorite.

The Way of the Cross takes place in Jerusalem. A group of people under the supervision of young reverend Babcock visit the holy city. They are quite a mix – the young couple on their honeymoon, an older couple from the high society and their spoiled nephew, a businessman and his wife, and an elderly spinster. It’s obvious from the start that things aren’t as they should be. Reverend Babcock had to take the place of an older and much beloved reverend on this trip, a fact that will have devastating consequences for all in the group. With uncanny precision, the author unveils the insecurities, weaknesses and secrets of all involved. Shocking revelations, betrayal and humiliation follow in rapid succession. Come here all, and have yourselves be stripped to your very soul – this seems to be the motto of the story.

I was fascinated by the stories and only wished there were more in the book. Du Maurier doesn’t waste any time in lengthy descriptions or flowery turns of phrase. Straight to the point using dialogue for the most part, this seems to be the best way to tell the stories. A clever manipulation of clues dropped here and there throughout make them almost seamless. It was not until quite close to the end that I remembered them, and when the ending came it was as unexpected as it was natural. Of course this is how it happened, I told myself, there couldn’t have been a better way. I went back and forth a couple of times, because I had forgotten some of the clues that were vital to the story. Who knew Shelagh’s love for acting and Shakespeare in particular were more than just a literary allusion? Or that a half-god’s legacy would find a new victim in poor Timothy? Or that a strange prophecy of an old blind woman will prove to be so accurate? The characters are exposed, their flaws and hopes and desires revealed. There’s cruelty but also love and vulnerability.
I couldn’t praise this book more. I had no idea such a little gem was hiding in my library. The edition I have is a Romanian translation from 1983 which I discovered one night when sleep was slow to come. If you’re a fan of mystery, I recommend you give this book a try.

My rating: 5/5 stars
Read in February-March, 2016

***

roch
A few days ago I was ver excited to read about a Romanian Writers Challenge on Bellezza’s blog. The challenge is hosted by Snow Feathers, a Romanian blogger, and lasts until 1 December 2016, so there’s plenty of time if you want to join. Coincidence or not, I found out about this event not long after I finished a Romanian book, Why We Love Women, by Mircea Cartarescu, so this event seemed too good to pass up. As soon as I’m done with Dan Brown and the mysteries of the Vatican (I’m about halfway through “Angels and Demons”) and write a review for Cartarescu’s book, I’ll see what other Romanian writers I can read for this challenge.

Posted in Challenges, The Book on The Nightstand | 20 Comments

Celebrating – a blog anniversary and an old tradition

05 I completely forgot about my blog anniversary until today when I read Deepika’s post. My blog turned five in January.
Five years seems like such a long time. Even though I’m not as active here as I thought I would, I decided that since this is a hobby and life does get in the way often enough, I will only post when I can and feel like it. If you’ve made this place a regular stop during your browsing sessions, thank you. If you left a comment, know that I really appreciate it.

***

If you come to Bucharest between the 1st and 8th of March, you will see a city in celebration. On these two days, and the days in between, girls and women receive flowers, chocolates and “martisoare”(pronounced “martzishoare”). “Martisoarele” are small brooches to be worn pinned to the clothes during this time, and they come with a red and white little cord. They are a symbol of spring and can also be worn as bracelets. According to tradition, between the 1 and 9 of this month we can also choose a day which is said to foretell how the year will be for us. If the weather is good, we’ll have a great year, but if it’s rainy, our year will be one of challenges and hardships. This belief is said to come from ancient times, before we were conquered by the Romans and became Romanians. An old woman named Baba Dochia (baba means “old woman”) climbed the mountains on the 1st of March and every day she took off one of the sheepskin coats she was wearing. Every day it got warmer and every day she cast away a coat – a symbol of the spring to come.
I’ve missed this tradition. Living in Thailand can mean a blur of months melting into one another. The weather is pretty much the same most of the time (hot) and I would often lose track of the holidays we used to celebrate back in Bucharest.
I also call it a holiday because some companies give their employees a day off.

When it comes to reading, I’m off to a slow start this year. I’m almost done with a collection of four short stories by Daphne du Maurier. “Don’t Look Now and Other Stories” has proven to be a wonderfully bizarre book. I hope to finish it this week and review it soon. The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman is another book which I read recently and should also write about because it’s a beautiful novel, even if it took me a while to warm up to it.

Posted in Updates | 22 Comments

A return to Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights – Weighing on the sequels

I was downtown a couple of weeks ago looking for a pharmacy when I stumbled upon a tiny bookshop with big Sale signs plastered all over its windows. I went in, of course I went in, because well, I was on my own so I didn’t have to drag anybody with me and because it had been a while since I visited a bookstore and because…never mind, we don’t really need a reason now, do we?
As I made my way past the table in the middle and near the bookcases lining the wall, admiring all those books waiting to be taken home, I noticed two things:
1. The books were translations, mostly classics and romance (Dickens, Barbara Bradford Taylor, Jackie Collins among them).
2. Most of the books cost less than two US dollars and they were new and neatly wrapped in plastic foil.

Now I prefer my books in English if that’s the original language the author wrote them in but when I saw these two volumes, I conveniently ignored my preference and bought them. They were, after all, the sequels to two of my favorite classics, and English books are a lot more expensive here in Bucharest. I read the books one after the other and enjoyed them both.

JE Jane Rochester by Kimberly Bennett is the sequel to Jane Eyre. The book begins with a summary of the main events in Jane Eyre and continues with the story of the two main protagonists after their wedding.

Edward Rochester is nearly blind and missing a hand as a result of the terrifying fire that consumed Thornfield. Jane is now his wife, confidante, friend and caregiver. Their relationship is marred by Rochester’s demons – people and events from the past that seem to torment him, resulting in mood-swings and arguments with Jane. His passionate nature and Jane’s reserved one don’t seem to mingle very well. It is only in time and after a few soul-baring conversations that the two manage to truly understand each other. There are echoes of Jane Eyre – a mad woman, a love story, ghost-like visions and tragedy.

I found this story a bit stretched and I’m in two minds about it. Perhaps it was to be expected that the contemporary author would not follow in the same style as the original story. Still, the shade of modernism it brought to the old story made me think that “fifty shades of Jane” would have been a better title. What bothers me is the blurb which proclaimed this to be indistinguishable from the style of Charlotte Bronte. I don’t know if it’s a translation gimmick but I hardly read such boasts without a raised eyebrow. On the other hand, I appreciate that the author wanted to show us what happens after the happily-ever-after and that things are not as neat and romantic as the ending to Jane Eyre implies but somehow this book made me feel like I’ve stumbled onto something I wasn’t supposed to see. Despite all this, I enjoyed the story – Edward and Jane didn’t seem so very different from the characters I read in Jane Eyre and I was glad to read about them once again.

H H – The Story of Heathcliff’s Journey Back to Wuthering Heights by Lin Haire-Sargeant is, as you may have guessed by now, the sequel to Wuthering Heights.
I read Wuthering Heights a few years ago and immediately fell in love with the tormented souls of Catherine and Heathcliff. A love like that, strong, willful, obstinate and doomed to tragedy appealed to my need for drama, romance, and a Gothic setting. I always wondered what happened to Heathcliff after he left Wuthering Heights that fateful night and what kept him away from Cathy for so long.

Writing a sequel is tricky, but writing one nearly two hundred years after the original story is even more so.
I was captivated by the narrative told for the most part as a long letter from Heathcliff to his beloved, a day before he planned to come see her and ask her to marry him after which they would go and live together happy for all eternity.
The author reveals the story of Heathcliff’s absence, his rise to fortune and his education as a gentleman, and also the origins of his birth. In this way, it was a quite satisfying read because it answered many questions I had while reading Wuthering Heights. It is obvious, even through the layers of translation, that the author wanted to keep the writing as close to that specific period as possible (the 1800’s) and there is a melody to the words that, while not as perfect as in Wuthering Heights, it is somewhere in the vicinity.

Heathcliff’s benefactor, his education, his carefully constructed plans reveal a cunning nature, perhaps not entirely evil but driven and passionate. There was one moment where I absolutely hated him but considering I had the same feeling when reading Wuthering Heights I say that it was in keeping with the original.
What I found the most interesting was how the story was weaved, yes, that’s the word that comes to mind, in such a way as to include the Bronte sisters, Charlotte and Emily, and even characters and events from Jane Eyre. I can’t say this book is on the same level as Wuthering Heights. When I started reading I told myself I should let go of such hope. But it did provide answers (not all of them) and did so in such a way that they seemed plausible (even if sometimes a bit too convenient) and I read it remembering how much I loved Wuthering Heights.

*I gave 3/5 stars to both books, although Heathcliff’s story deserves more, perhaps another half star.
*Read in February, 2016

Posted in The Book on The Nightstand | 12 Comments

On creativity and the gift that keeps on giving

Last year I read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s a beautiful inspirational book about creativity – how to make time for it in our busy lives and how the act of creation can be so beneficial to us as human beings. I loved the book, it spoke to me on so many levels and it made me think of ways in which I can bring more creativity into my daily routine and get rid of that “I don’t have time” mantra that threatens to take over my life. I think this thought was lurking at the back of my mind the minute I saw the package and it sprung up the minute I saw the wrapping paper.

The package was a Christmas present from my blogging friend, Vishy. It traveled all the way from India and came to me just as I was beginning to think that maybe it got lost somewhere in the deep dark recesses of a storage room, there to die a lonely death. I’m so glad it didn’t. Thank you so much, Vishy!

G1

Inside was this bubble wrapped package with a card. Oh, the suspense!

 

And inside the package, a book I have been looking forward to reading for years – The Mountain Shadow by Gregory David Roberts, which is the sequel to Shantaram, a book I read and loved five years ago. The sequel only came out in October last year. That’s a long time between books…I can’t wait to see if this is as good as the first one.

S

As soon as I saw the beautiful wrapping paper I knew it was perfect for my next notebook cover. Luckily, given the size of the book, a large section of the paper was in good shape so I even had enough for a bookmark. The timing was perfect, as the notebook I usually carry with me has only a few pages left, so this new one is ready to take its place in my little backpack. I always carry a notebook and a pen with me – I find it so much more comfortable jotting things down on paper rather than fiddling around with my phone.

It took me a few days to finish it, working an hour or two a day when I had time. It’s a lot easier to glue paper in the dry, cold weather we’ve been having here, as opposed to the stifling humidity of Bangkok. I’m definitely going to miss this when I get back there. The little string bookmark I used came from a jar of jam. It was wrapped around the lid as a decorative item. The colors – red, yellow and blue, symbolize the Romanian flag. So now not only do I have a new book (and chunky, too at nearly 900 pages!) but also this notebook and a lovely paper bookmark. I can’t wait to use them both.

 

Posted in Handmade | Tagged , , , , , , | 22 Comments

The true meaning of a three star rating

three stars A while ago I had a conversation with an author whose book I read and reviewed and rated three stars. The author wanted to know, why only three? Was there something I didn’t like about the book? So began a back and forth of emails in which I tried to explain my rating. I found the question a bit weird but a part of me understood why the author wanted to know.                  Wouldn’t you, as an author? Wouldn’t I, if I ever publish that fantasy novel I’ve been working on?
The online conversation was very nice and polite – I felt that the author was genuinely trying to discover why I had not given the book a higher rating. As I explained in my emails, there was nothing wrong with the book, but rather with my perception of it. In fact my review was rather on the positive side with the negative being entirely subjective. Still, I thought three stars was a good review for the book and a good review generally speaking and I stand by my decision.

I’ve been a member on Goodreads for nearly six years. In that time I read and rated a number of books based on the system available on the site. If you’re not familiar with it, here it is:

*did not like it
** it was ok
***liked it
****really liked it
*****it was amazing

So, three stars was not “I’m not sure if I like this book and I’m still making up my mind” but “liked it”. That’s it, I liked it. Isn’t that good? Is it bad? Does it mean I didn’t quite make up my mind? No. It means I liked it. Sure, there were parts I liked less, but the overall impression was good. Would I read another book by the same author? It’s entirely possible. After all, as you can see below, Stephen King’s books fall into both categories and I’m a huge fan. So I went back to my reading list on Goodreads and searched for books I rated three stars. Here are some of them:

three star books

2010 A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway
2011 Weaveworld – Clive Barker
2012 Anatomy of a Disappearance – Hisham Matar
2013 Joyland – Stephen King
2014 Love Minus Eighty – Will McIntosh
2015 And The Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini

 

and five star books

2010 After Dark – Haruki Murakami
2011 Fahrenheit 451- Ray Bradbury
2012 The Yellow Wallpaper and Selected Writings – Charlotte Perkins Gilman
2013 Dracula – Bram Stoker
2014 The Shining – Stephen King
2015 The Farseer Trilogy – Robin Hobb

Here are my questions for you, book lovers and reviewers: what does a 3 stars review mean to you? Is it good, is it bad, is it in between? Would this rating make you click away, in search of a higher rated book? Would you read another book by an author whose book you rated 3 stars? Do you rate the book thinking about that emotional connection or do you try and look at it with a rational mind? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Posted in Wandering Thoughts | Tagged , , , , | 29 Comments

The Great Hall – flash fiction


I wrote this for the Random Flickr Flash Fiction Challenge I found on terribleminds. After finishing the entire piece in one go, I went back to look for the photo on Flickr to post here, but it was gone. That will teach me to save things first. These things are elusive. No matter how hard I tried I could not find that photo but I do remember the title which is also the name of this story.

*Edit: After seeing Deepika’s doodles I asked her to draw one for this story. I’m very pleased with how well it reflects the image I had in my mind. Thank you, Deepika.

 

The Great Hall

That is the strangest thing, Jack thought as he made his way through the undulating sea of people heading for the subway. In his hand he had a crumpled piece of paper he’d picked up from the street, maybe even right outside his favorite coffee shop which sold his favorite coffee, black with the tiniest bit of sugar, which he desperately needed on this, the least favorite day of working mankind, Monday. He could actually feel the hot liquid making its way though his benumbed veins, and grateful, took another sip. He had managed to peel the paper from his left shoe with an embarrassed grin, realizing the annoying swishing sound he’d heard behind him did not belong to anybody but himself. Well, at least it wasn’t toilet paper. In fact, the picture intrigued him.

He threw the empty paper cup into the nearest bin and descended into the open mouth of the subway station.
He found a not-so-crowded corner in one of the cars and after waiting for his fogged glasses to clear, proceeded to study the piece of paper carefully.

The Great Hall My God, he almost said out loud as he scanned the image with the shocked expression of someone who’s seen the exact same picture but couldn’t quite remember when or where. He looked closer, trying to see as much detail as possible, swaying with each jolt of the subway train making its way into the belly of the city. In a way, he felt he was descending into the very bowels of the earth and into that mysterious room that he was sure he’d seen somewhere but couldn’t quite remember where. The stark white of the black and white tiled floor, the arched doorways, the ascending stairs, three doors, one open just a tiny bit – at this stage he brought the paper closer, trying to see if there was someone holding open the door. There wasn’t. The high ceiling supported by white beams, the small chandelier , the long table pushed into the far right corner, all this made Jack feel as if he was watching one of those hypnotic images that looked like something but were actually something else.

By the time he raised his eyes from the paper, he realized his stop was behind him and he was going to be late for work. He got off the train and went and sat down in one of the red plastic chairs on the platform. He felt a sudden craving for another cup of coffee to shake him out of the lethargy. But the coffee only made him remember the coffee shop and then the paper which he was now gripping into a tight fist. He looked around at the people walking, standing, sitting, talking on their phones, but he could not focus on them too long. With a shudder he realized where he’d seen the image.
But it’s not possible. He shook his head, dashing a furtive look to his right where an elderly gentleman was reading the paper. He had an unlit pipe in a corner of his mouth and gave Jack a quick look before returning to his reading.

Jack felt himself sweating despite the cold draft of air that signaled the approach of the subway train. He shivered and looked at the paper again. This time the floor was dirty and looking closer Jack thought he could see black footsteps leading to the barely open door. He raised a hand to his forehead, pushing his slippery glasses all the way back to the base of his nose. The footsteps were actually coming from the door towards him and with a shudder Jack remembered where he’d seen the image. The whole thing looked like a scene from The Shining, and it could have very well been from the damn book, he thought. He was sure now that he’d never seen this image in real life, that it had been just how he had imagined one of the rooms in The Overlook Hotel to be when he’d read the novel, years ago. A mad thought flickered somewhere inside his brain and Jack was almost afraid the mad man with an axe in his hand – or maybe a fire hose (remember the fire hose, Jack?) had come out of that door and was well on his way to murdering him, this Jack, the other Jack in this world who wanted nothing than to drown his horror in the black comforting abyss of a big cup of coffee, sugar be damned.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. After a few minutes, when he’d called his boss explaining why he couldn’t come to work – Mr Holloway seemed to be perfectly reasonable and sympathetic to hearing his feeble excuse of catching a cold, yet another anomaly to add to the day – Jack decided to head back home and go straight to bed.
He had no memory of the way back. He must have crossed to the other platform, got on the train and by some miracle this time got off at the right station. He must have walked back, past the coffee shop, never mind the thoughts of coffee, and straight to his condo. Somehow he made it to the door of his apartment on the twelfth floor, turned the key in the lock and got in. Before his eyes stretched the impossibly shiny black and white tiled floor, and the doors, three of them, just like in the picture, were all halfway open. He searched frantically for the crumpled paper in his pockets, even on the back of his shoes, as if that could ward off the evil he felt rising from the magnificent solitude of the room, but it was gone.

Posted in Flash Fiction | 12 Comments

Some thoughts on 2015 and a “best books” list

winter 2016 -1 I’m writing this from a cold Europe, with an empty mug of chamomile tea next to my laptop. I’m still on this continent for a while, and winter, a season I was never fond of, has finally arrived. It was fun to feel the snow under my boots for a couple of days hours but now I long for t-shirts and the stifling heat of Bangkok. I managed to lean out the window and take a phone pic of snow, right before my fingers froze and my teeth started chattering. Summer is definitely my season.

I can’t believe it’s been almost a year to the day since I wrote my Plans and dreams for 2015. I started last year with a list of things I wanted to do. Maybe I was a little too ambitious – looking back now I can mark as done less than half of them: I’ve submitted two short stories (and got my first rejection letters), had 12 lovely guest bloggers (one for each month), and started a scrapbook/diary, which I will continue in 2016. I didn’t learn how to drive, or take more pictures (unless phone pictures count; do they?), did travel a bit but not to new places, Bukowski and David Foster Wallace are still on my TBR list along with “more poetry”. This year I’m not as expansive and many of my goals center around writing. We’ll see how that goes.

As for books, 2015 was an interesting year. I finally read Kafka and Remarque as part of German Literature Month and I can’t wait to read more of their books. I was a little afraid of Kafka, imagining this is one of those classics one should read but may not necessarily understand – so glad to finally find out how accessible and enjoyable his short stories were; I loved The Metamorphosis so much it’s going to be on my list of best horror stories forever! I was a bit apprehensive on reading war novels but Remarque swept all my doubts away and really impressed me with his powerful, emotional writing.

Goodreads tells me I’ve read 34 books. More than half of them are either horror, fantasy, or a combination of both. These are the best of 2015:

1. The Farseer Trilogy – Robin Hobb (links)
2. The Tawny Man (another trilogy) – Robin Hobb
3. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer
4. The Verdict and Other Stories – Franz Kafka
5. A Time to Love and a Time to Die / The Black Obelisk – Erick Maria Remarque
6. The Ruins – Scott Smith
7. Haiganu–The River of Whispers – Marian Coman
8. The Forgotten Garden – Kate Morton

I’ve also read three non-fiction books which I loved and recommend to all creative people out there – Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman, The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron, and Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert. Strangely enough, I ended up not writing reviews for any of these three but that’s because I found it difficult to say anything that would show just how much I liked them.
On the first day of the year I woke up in my old bedroom at my parents’ house and grabbed the book on the nightstand which proved to be The Rake by Mary Jo Putney. I normally stay away from romance because I find it so cheesy and predictable, but this proved to be a light read and I really liked the guy in the story. Right after I’ve read a Romanian translation of short horror stories by authors like Algernon Blackwood, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft and two Romanian authors, Oliviu Craznic and Serban Andrei Mazilu. Some of the stories I’ve read before but most of them were new and I was sorry to get to the end.
I’m really looking forward to reading more of Robin Hobb’s trilogies this year. I started The Liveship Traders months ago but put it aside when I found out I was coming back to Europe for a few months. I would also like to read The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King and hopefully get to a few classics. I really miss reading a nice chunky Gothic novel.

What about you? What books made your “best of 2015” list? What are you looking forward to in 2016?

Posted in Updates | 24 Comments

Guest post – Bina

When I first saw Bina’s avatar, a guy’s picture and a girl’s name, I was intrigued. And then there’s her blog name, ifyoucanreadthis which always makes me want to come up with a clever ending (still working on that one, but maybe you can help). I had seen her comments here and there on the blogs I visited but not until recently have I really started to get a closer look at what she writes. It turns out I missed some great posts because she reads a lot of books I haven’t read but want to – Life after Life by Kate Atkinson being one of them (maybe next year!). So when I asked her to be my guest for this last month of the year, she graciously agreed and these are her answers. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. Thank you, Bina, for answering them.

1. Who are you?

Hi! My name is Bina and I’m from Germany. Currently, I’m finishing my thesis in the field of Cultural Studies. When I get away from the desk, I love going out for dinner and a movie, running and popping by my parents to play with the cats. This year I’m also trying to bake the tastiest bread. #Reallifegoals

2. Why do you blog and what is your blog about?

I started blogging ages ago, just to have a place to collect my thoughts about the books I read. Though most of my friends read a bit, I couldn’t subject them to the intense bookworm life I aspire to. So, now I take it out on all of you, the book blogging community is the loveliest corner of the web. I don’t really read one genre particularly, though mysteries are my comfort genre. I also like to keep the blog pressure free. Meaning you’ll often have to deal with rambling and unedited posts, but I need to keep it apart from thesis writing.

3. Favorite books/authors/genres.

I love mysteries, especially cozy crime by Agatha Christie, some social justice nonfiction and a lot of what I read falls under the very general umbrella ‘fiction.’ This year, I’ve really gotten into sci-fi and fantasy and discovered the amazing Nnedi Okorafor – Binti was a favorite of mine this year. But basically, give me diverse literature with strong female characters, and I’ll read anything.

4. Kindle or paper book?

E-books aren’t my favorite way of reading, but the last couple of years I’ve used my Kindle frequently. This year I joined an e-book flatrate service just to have a wider selection of books available and have been getting a lot of use out of it. It means reading on the tablet, which strains my eyes a bit, but with a badly stocked library and small budget it’s worth it. Though my first choice will always be the real paper book!

5. Three things you learned from a book.

I learned that it’s okay that book love sometimes leaves a book in tatters (Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman), I learned to make my own sourdough starter (Das Brotbackbuch by Lutz Geissler) and learned more about how the wave model of feminism makes invisible the contributions of Women of Color (No Permanent Waves by Nancy Hewitt).

6. Best book to take with you on a desert island.

The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. Amazing world-building and each book takes you on a long journey. Also, finally available in one huge tome!

7. Best book to use as a doorstop.

I have a huge copy of five Daphne Du Maurier novels in one book. But I like it too much to put it on the floor.

8. Favorite quotes.

“Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity for our existence. It forms the quality of light from which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.”

(Audre Lorde)

“It doesn’t matter. I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books.”

(Jo Walton)

“The sort of twee person who thinks swearing is in any way a sign of a lack of
education or a lack of verbal interest is just a fucking lunatic.”

(Stephen Fry)

9. Three tips for bloggers.

1. Comment on blogs you like.
2. Respond when people comment on your blog.
Those are most important, I think, interaction makes you part of the community. Lurking, sadly, does not.
3. Have fun!

10. Best/worst blogging experience.

Oh there’s been so many good ones! Meeting good friends early on and keeping in touch through all the changes in the blogging world (Remember Vox.com, Vishy?). Hosting a read-along with JoV of Bibliojunkie). Every. Single. Comment!
I haven’t had bad blogging experiences really. Sometimes I had to take a break from blogging because of my workload. That sucked a lot.

11. What are you most passionate about?

Social justice, family and friends, chocolate.

12. Last book that made you cry.

I try not to read books that are likely to make me cry. Still haven’t read The Fault in Our Stars. But one I read this year was so perfect and beautiful, I did tear up: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

CAM00459

Posted in Guests | 15 Comments

Haiganu. The River of Whispers – Marian Coman

Haiganu and its author

Haiganu and its author

It’s been a few weeks since I read the book and I’m still in love with it. I love the glossy gorgeous cover, the off-white page color, the drawings, the cover art, but most of all I love the story. As a fan of horror and fantasy (Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and Robin Hobb are among my favorite authors) I often wondered if there was a Romanian author who would take elements from Romanian mythology and/or fairy-tales and use them to tell a magical story. To my pleasant surprise, such an author does indeed exist.

“Haiganu. The River of Whispers” is the first volume in “The Cursed God” trilogy. It’s a story that uses elements from a famous Romanian fairy-tale about Harap Alb (which is also the name of the story) – the son of a king who travels to his uncle’s kingdom to be crowned king. On his way there he falls prey to an evil man who takes his place, swears him to secrecy and has him fulfill some dangerous tasks, one of them being the killing of a deer whose bejeweled skin and especially his head are supposed to hold some of the biggest and never before seen precious stones. Harap Alb manages to overcome all the obstacles with the help of some unusual friends who posses incredible talents that come in handy in time of need. All ends well, as the hero of the tale resumes his rightful place and he lives happily ever after. But that’s the oversimplified version.

Marian Coman, the author

Marian Coman, the author

Haiganu is the name of the hero in this new tale. Proud and defiant, he wants nothing to do with the mortals, spending his days in solitude, away from them. He is one of the Great Ones, a god with a single eye, cursed to wander the earth, never to find rest but to forever be tormented by the voices in his head. Voices of mortals, each with his own predicament, crying, cursing, shouting, all in pain, a never-ending stream of lamentation. Until one day he hears a voice that is different from all the others. It’s the voice of Zourazi, a child with wizard blood in his veins. Suddenly Haiganu has a purpose, to find this child, an orphan taken from his family and forced to serve his master, the cruel Dekibalos. With the help of Moroianu and his spells, Dekibalos is building the Orphans’ Army, comprised entirely of children whose only purpose is to kill and eat the flesh of their enemies. It’s a cruel world, bloody, tormented, on the precipice of change, where griffins are more than just a means of transportation and the secrets of the great wizards not as safe as they once were.

The author combines elements from the story of Harap Alb with bits of Romanian history and to this he adds a dash of horror to create a new world that has all the makings of a great fantasy. This first volume felt a lot like warming up. We get to know the characters, there are a few twists and turns but it feels as if the great mysteries are yet to come. Reading this I was reminded of Robin Hobb’s “The Farseer Trilogy”; the two stories seem to have some things in common – the ability of some of the characters to bond with animals (I particularly loved such a scene that is described with exquisite detail in Haiganu), and the prisoners of war that are captured, transformed into soulless beings and used with the only purpose of destruction.

Gaudeamus International Book Fair

Gaudeamus International Book Fair

I loved the book. I had to re-read the original story of Harap Alb because it’s been so long since my last reading and I’d forgotten some of the details. I’m glad I did because it helped me understand how the author used the original story to forge something new. My only complaint is that I’ll have to wait another year for the next volume to come out. So far it’s only available in Romanian but I’m hoping that one day soon it would be translated so more people can enjoy it. And with it, the story of Harap Alb. It would be useful so see where it all began.
I had the pleasure of meeting the author at a book signing during Gaudeamus International Book Fair last month. We chatted a bit, he signed my copy and I took some photos. It was one of the best days I had this year.

My rating: 5/5 stars
Read in November 2015

Posted in The Book on The Nightstand | 20 Comments

Reading Erich Maria Remarque for German Literature Month

German Lit Month big
November was German Literature Month, an event hosted by Caroline@Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy@Lizzy’s Literary Life. I’d like to thank them for devoting their time to such a great event. I’ve wanted to participate for years and I loved all three books I managed to read.
I’m a little behind with my reviews, trying to carve slices of time to write and succeeding only today in finally putting my thoughts together. My first contribution to the event was a short collection of stories by Franz Kafka which can be read here.

Remarque A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1954) is the first novel by Remarque that I’ve read. It starts with a rather graphic description of the ravages of war, of dead bodies and smell and the horrible weather that changes the human flesh in a way I didn’t really want to know but became fascinated with from the first page.
The main character, Ernst Graeber , is a German soldier who, after two years spent fighting in the war, finally gets a two-week leave to go home and see his parents. But home as he remembers it is no more. His parents’ house is a heap of rubble, as are quite a few of the houses nearby. He tries to adapt to this new reality, nurturing the hope that somewhere his parents are safe and one day he will see them again. When he meets Elisabeth, things don’t look so bleak anymore. Suddenly the two weeks that seemed like an eternity before, now seem too short to spend with Elisabeth.

Can a lifetime be lived in fourteen days? Can happiness and love blossom on the wasteland of war? Is living a normal life possible? I found myself pondering these questions as page by page, Graeber becomes more and more a person and less a character. He’s compassionate and he questions the part he had to play in the war. The conversations he has with Elisabeth are full of depth and meaning and sometimes they’re quite philosophical. Questions about life and death and the futility of it all, the disillusion of war, the reality behind what he’s been told on the front and what actually happened back home, it all becomes a living nightmare. But Remarque gives Graeber resources to keep on living and the wisdom to appreciate whatever morsel of goodness he finds.

What I liked the most was the dialogue. It gives the story a real and urgent pace, sprinkled here and there with humor, something I did not expect to read about in a war novel but there you go, it’s there and it’s done in such a way that it adds even more depth to the story. Many times I stopped and wondered at the passages showing the cruelty, the hope, and the ability of the characters to climb right back from the abyss of despair. It wasn’t an easy novel to read, but Remarque doesn’t let things get too bleak – an unexpected turn here and there, help coming from strange places, and the extraordinary beauty of the words make this truly a book to remember. And I’m sure I’ll remember the abrupt and beautiful ending. It could not have stopped any other way but I still have mixed feelings about it.

The Black Obelisk (1956)

Having liked “A Time to Love and a Time to Die” so much, I immediately dived into “The Black Obelisk”. This book is set in 1923-1924, a time when war was a thing of the past but its effects were still very much palpable. Inflation was running every business into the ground, and for those working for the funeral house Heinrich Kroll & Sons staying abreast was done with the ability of a juggler performing at the circus.
Georg, the owner, and Ludwig, the main protagonist, work together, trying to stay in business. And dying is a profitable business after all, says Remarque with an irony present from the first page. It is clear this book is a lot lighter, more than slightly ironic and a lot more humorous than “A Time to Love and a Time to Die”. The characters have their own idiosyncrasies, and they each play their part in something that resembles more of a spectacle than anything else. Eduard, the owner of the restaurant Walhalla, who once sold coupons to his customers thinking this will bring him more money, only to have inflation ruin his plans; Wilke, the carpenter who made coffins and sometimes slept in one; Isabelle, the young lady living in an insane asylum; Lisa, the temptress, married to a horse butcher; Knopf, the former general who comes home drunk in the evening, and Gerda, whose relationship with Ludwig made me remember that of Graeber and Elisabeth.

Ludwig is an idealist; a World War I veteran, he clings to his beliefs, keeping himself apart from the new world of greed and speculation. Because of this his relationships with two women don’t last. Through his conversations with Genevieve Terhoven, or “Isabelle” as she likes to call herself, he is as close to love as he can, but Remarque adds a twist to this story – the young lady is a schizophrenic and their relationship anything but simple.

I enjoyed this novel as much as the first but for different reasons. While “A Time to Love and a Time to Die” is somber for the most part, and more introspective, it is clear that in “The Black Obelisk” the author created a more relaxed atmosphere where humor plays a bigger role, and the conversations verge on cheerful at times, only to be punctured by the achingly heartfelt exchanges between Ludwig and Elisabeth. The black obelisk that gives the title to the novel is real and as I often wondered about its role in the story, it is at the very end that it is made clear. I have to say I love Remarque’s endings even if I wish they were different; the novels feel complete, and Remarque trades open endings for something with more substance, giving plenty of answers and not much ambiguity.
I’d be hard pressed to choose one book over the other. I liked both. The writing is superb, the dialogue is perfect, his characters believable and likeable. Unfortunately I can’t quote from my favorite passages since the books I read were Romanian translations, but there were so many! I would like to read more of Remarque’s work – perhaps his famous “All Quiet on the Western Front”. He’s rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors.

*Read in October-November 2015
*My rating 5/5 stars for both books

Caroline’s review

Posted in Challenges | 14 Comments