Guest post – Deb Atwood

Deb’s blog, peninherhand, is full of delicious ghost story reviews. As this is one of my favorite things to read – ghost stories! – you can imagine why I am a fan. Add to this a beautiful photo of her and her dog and you can see why I’m often visiting her blog. As part of my new year resolution of hosting guest posts by bloggers I’ve come in contact over the years, I’m very happy Deb has agreed to be a part of this. Here are my questions and her answers. More guest posts to come in the following months.

debatwood 1. Who are you?

Aside from a year in Utah and another in London, I’m a long-time Californian, earning my BA and MFA here. I’m a reader who maintains a stack of books by the bed. When the stack runs low, I get the shakes. I’m also sort of a research fiend. That’s the great thing about being an author—you get to find out cool stuff about whatever piques your interest, and it doesn’t even have to be for your current project. In my case, that includes studying Korean for five years as well as traveling throughout the “hermit kingdom.” I also picked up factoids about celadon pottery, martial arts, car trunks, samurai swords, adoption, shamanism, and iguanas. Writers are like magpies. We collect shiny bits first and figure out what to do with them later.

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

On my blog I set out to be the go-to girl of ghostlit (okay, maybe no longer a girl). Just like Lucy from Peanuts who sits behind a desk offering advice, I wanted to match readers to ghost novels. Ghostlit fascinates me partly because it’s not actually a genre. You can come across ghost novels in Literary, Women’s Fiction, Mystery, Romance, really any kind of genre you read—yes, even horror—but it can be hard to locate. I review these ghost novels on my blog because I love to read them (and I even wrote one). I’m branching out now to include reviews of young adult contemporary and doglit. I’m currently writing a young adult novel featuring a service dog and finding myself drawn to books covering this new topic as well. I guess I read and review what I like to write. Or is it the other way around?

3. Favorite books/authors/genres.

Age of Innocence/Edith Wharton/historical
Catch 22/Joseph Heller/literary
Emma/Jane Austen/literary
The Madwoman of Chaillot/Jean Giraudoux/drama
Second Glance/Jodi Picoult/women’s fiction
A Single Shard/Linda Sue Park/historical middle grade.

4. Kindle or paper book?

Both are great as long as I’m reading! I like the Amazon feature of downloading 10 % so that I can preview a novel I’m thinking of buying. So handy! If it’s an old book, I love to check it out from the library. There’s nothing like the smell of leather and the touch of fine paper to get me in the reading mood. When I’m doing research, I find it’s much easier to locate a passage or consult the index in a physical book.

5. Three things you learned from a book.

From the opening pages of Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, I learned that prose can be poetry. I learned that forgiveness and redemption are the noblest of themes. And much later I learned that writings inform and interweave with each other and with the past. Alan Paton was so moved by The Grapes of Wrath that he set out to do for South Africa what Steinbeck had done for the Dust Bowl.

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

I would take Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I love this book, and it would make a great companion because of the unique characters and intelligent writing and ironic wit. More than that, though, Neverwhere offers so many connections to mythology, classics, fairy tales, and metaphysics that I could spend hours untangling all the allusions.

7. Best book to use as a doorstop.

My house is almost one hundred years old, so I favor a vintage book, perhaps something in burgundy tooled leather. Paradise Lost would do nicely. It’s big and fat, and if an earthquake traps me in my room, I would have something seminal to read since Paradise Lost has inspired such masterworks as Of Mice and Men and Frankenstein. Plus, there’s a part of me that would like to have John Milton at my feet, a man who was not nice to his daughters. When he knew he was going blind, he taught them to read Greek and Latin poetry. But Milton would not teach his daughters the meanings of these languages, so they sat for hours reading to him without understanding a word.

8. Last book that made you cry.

Meant For You by Edie Claire
I’m not a crier, not generally, though for some reason children working as school crossing guards can prick my eyes with tears – their shiny whistles and stop signs and somber expressions. Meant For You, a work of romantic suspense, does not include crossing guards, but the novel does touch another of my soft spots – the adoption quest. Though Meara has been raised by loving parents, she always wondered about her birth story, and Meant For You proves the perfect medium for the unfolding of her surprising discoveries. My family has been impacted by adoption (and my fiction inevitably references adoption in some way or other), so I was probably already primed for some tears. By the way, they were happy tears.

9. Favorite quotes.

Everyone knows that as one wears pearls, little by little, they become real…And isn’t it exactly the same with memories?

~ Jean Giraudoux.

Men have had every advantage of us in telling their story…the pen has been in their hands

~ Jane Austen.

10. Three tips for bloggers.

* Please use black type. When I visit a site with white or red type, I click off right away. White and many other colors are nearly impossible to read and will give visitors headaches.
* Establish an engaging voice. Marti does a good job of this in her blog What Has Been Read Cannot Be Unread.
* Make sure your menu and sign-up bar are easy to navigate.

11. Best/worst blogging experience.

I had a blast participating in my first Armchair BEA. Every morning the facilitators would post a writing prompt related to books. I so enjoyed composing responses to the prompts and having conversations about books with other bloggers. I highly recommend this annual event for book bloggers.

MDb 12. You are also a writer. Tell us more about your book.

A doll…a ghost…a love that transcends time. My women’s fiction novel Moonlight Dancer is about how we are connected in ways we may not know. Kendra JinJu Macgregor, a UC Berkeley student, discovers an antique Korean doll in a dusty warehouse. Once she brings home her purchase, her dog reacts with fear, and items go missing only to reappear. When unexplained events escalate, Kendra seeks the help of Hiro Piretti, the expert in Asian art who sold her the doll. Together they begin to uncover the past of NanJu—a ghost who will soon draw Kendra to war-torn 16th century Korea to right a grievous wrong and prevent murder.

13. What is your writing routine like? Do you have one?

I write longhand on the backs of used manuscript pages or pieces of junk mail. It’s less intimidating to scrawl my words on brightly colored sheets of paper destined for the recycling bin than onto a blank computer screen. Ice water and milky coffee are at the ready. Sometimes I sip boricha, Korean barley tea. Keiko Matsui, Kitka, or Bach play in the background. Then I type onto my ancient, heavy laptop.

14. Three tips for writers.

* Read all the time in as many different genres as you can and observe how writers resolve plot and characterization issues.
* Attend a writing conference or retreat. You’ll come away refreshed and inspired (and tired).
* Move your body. Walk, swing, or take a step or twirling class. Movement, especially back and forth or circular, stimulates the right brain, your creative center. When I have a writing problem to solve, I pose it to myself right before my weekly step class. By the end of class, I have my answer. A train’s rocking motion works, too.

15. What are you most passionate about?

Do I get to choose more than one? I love ghosts and all things Korean, but right now I’m feeling pretty passionate about service dogs. I’m in awe of sniffing dogs like the Belgian Malinois that parachute out of planes to hunt for bombs, and the allergen canines like the Portuguese Water dog who alert their owners to deadly substances. The novel I’m working on features one of the latter that has been trained to detect peanuts. I’m also a sucker for service dog stories, especially those about formerly homeless dogs. Operation Freedom Paws is a wonderful organization in Gilroy, CA that rescues dogs from shelters and places them with veterans suffering from PTSD. Something simple like standing behind a veteran in line at the grocery store to prevent him/her from being bumped and scared by another shopper can make the difference in that vet’s quality of life. I marvel that an animal can sense just what its owner needs and move into position to provide care and protection.

Ask me a question.

Goody! I’m interested to know how you came by your unique name. Delia, a diminutive of Cordelia, appears to be Welsh, meaning sea jewel. How lovely! There’s also a Greek shepherdess by that name. Do you identify with Lear’s daughter or with the shepherdess from Delos or…?

* * *

Thank you, Delia, for the opportunity to introduce myself to your readers! It’s been fun talking about a subject near and dear to my heart—me. I have enjoyed reading your posts and will continue to be an avid follower. Cheers!

Posted in Guests | 24 Comments

Giveaway winner

I’m very happy to announce the winner of my giveaway: Priya from Tabula Rasa!
Congratulations Priya, I hope you enjoy the book!

Giveaway - Letters from Thailand

Posted in Giveaways | 6 Comments

One Lovely Blog Award

lovely When Jade from scatterbooker nominated me for One Lovely Blog Award, I was quite surprised. Thank you, Jade!
As an award nominee (doesn’t this sound important!), there are a few simple rules to follow:

- Thank the person who nominated you for the award.
– Add the One Lovely Blog logo to your post.
– Share 7 facts/or things about yourself.
– Nominate 15 bloggers you admire and inform nominees by commenting on their blog.

7 facts or things about myself:

1. I love coffee but if I have it in the afternoon, chances are I’m going to be up until very late. Like right now when I’m writing this and it’s nearly 1 a.m..
2. I have a mango tree in the little green space I call “garden”. And since it’s the mango season, I’ve been eating mangoes for nearly a month. It is possible you can have too much chocolate (sadly) but you can never have too many mangoes (fortunately).
3. I love all animals, even when I find a snake wrapped around the electric cables. Luckily they don’t wait around, though I did manage to get a picture once or twice.

snake 4. I enjoy spending time on my own, just going to the bookstore or watching a movie, or simply staying at home and reading. But I also like to socialize occasionally. Finding the perfect balance is the key to my sanity.
5. I love wooden carvings.
6. I love traveling by train. I used to do that a lot when I was younger, not so much now.
7. I’ve recently started making notebooks. I made one for a friend as a gift and I hope to make more this year.
notebook2

15 bloggers I’m nominating for this award:

1. Caroline @https://beautyisasleepingcat.wordpress.com/
2. Vishy @https://vishytheknight.wordpress.com/
3. M—-l @http://outgoingsignals.com/
4. Deb Atwood @http://peninherhand.com/
5. Brian @http://briansbabblingbooks.blogspot.com/
6. TJ @http://mybookstrings.com/
7. Athira @http://www.readingonarainyday.com/
8. Priya @http://peskypiksipesternomi.blogspot.com/
9. Andi @http://estellasrevenge.blogspot.com/
10. Vasilly @https://classicvasilly.wordpress.com/
11. Olduvai @https://olduvaireads.wordpress.com/
12. Lynn @https://lynnsbooks.wordpress.com/
13. Dolce Bellezza @http://dolcebellezza.net/
14. Carole @http://pearlsandprose.com/
15. TBM @http://50yearproject.wordpress.com/

Don’t forget to enter my anniversary giveaway. Valid until Monday the 19th.

Posted in Meme | 27 Comments

Blog anniversary – thoughts & giveaway

Four years ago when I started this blog I thought I’d do a blog anniversary post every year. To my surprise however, I realized this is only my second such post. What happened to the other years, I have no idea. Most likely I was too caught up in something else and just forgot about it.
Photo source

Four years feels to me like a really long time. I have met some interesting people, made friends I regularly talk to, and discovered amazing books I would probably never have come to on my own. And I learned a lot – about sharing a reading experience, and about blogging, which brings me to my next idea. The other day I was reading a post on Lynn’s Book Blog, To comment or not to comment and I thought about it for a while because this is an idea I’ve had for a while but never actually put down in writing.

What is the etiquette of blogging?

Now internet has given us this amazing space to play in and we don’t even have to leave our homes. Our blogs have become our living rooms if you will, and strangers come by to see what’s new, what books we’ve added to that shelf and what bookish adventures got us all excited. Most people read, some even leave a comment. I’d like to think I was a good host – maybe not that fast in replying (life and time difference can get in the way) but definitely trying to answer every comment and being grateful to the people who took their time to leave one. And part of being a good host and blogger is to visit and leave a comment in return. Not every blogger I’ve visited has done the same, and for a while it bothered me. Don’t I deserve the same courtesy? Are the books I write about so uninteresting that people don’t have anything to say? I’d like to think not.
I know some people are shy, some think everything’s been already said so why leave another similar comment, and some just can’t be bothered. I know I read blogs I rarely comment on but if a blogger comes and leaves a comment on my blog I definitely try to return the favour. I don’t see it as an obligation. I see it as being polite. It’s all part of the blogging experience.

It is true that some blogs get 30-40, maybe even more comments a day, and to answer each one and visit every blogger would probably take hours. I don’t expect that to happen, as I’d rather have that blogger writing a new post rather than answer my comment. This I understand. But most of the blogs I’ve been to are not like that. Do I return to those blogs? Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. And sometimes I leave a comment and sometimes I don’t. One thing I’ve learned, though, is that if you want people to come visit your corner of cyberspace, you have to be prepared to do the same and sometimes you might have to make the first step.

Giveaway - Letters from Thailand On a slightly different topic, I decided to celebrate my blog anniversary with a giveaway. Choosing a book for this purpose was not easy. If you’ve been a regular visitor you know I love horror but maybe that’s not something everybody enjoys so while I was at the bookstore perusing the shelves, I remembered a book I read years ago and loved. You can read my review of it here.

From the back cover:

When the original Thai version of Letters from Thailand appeared in Bangkok in 1969, it was promptly awarded the SEATO prize for Thai Literature. Thirteen years later, it was translated into English to reach a much wider readership. Today, the book is still considered one of Thailand’s most entertaining and enduring modern novels, and one of the few portrayals of the immigrant Chinese experience in urban Thailand.

About the giveaway:

– It runs from today, 15th January, until Monday, the 19th (midnight Bangkok time).
– Leave a comment with your name and email address.
– Recommend a book.
– The winner must respond to email within 24 hours. If not, I will choose a new winner.

A big thank you to all who have made a regular stop here and also to new visitors. Every comment is important and I appreciate your time and your ideas.

Good luck in the giveaway!

Posted in Giveaways | 25 Comments

Best books of 2014

2014 was a good reading year. Fifty books read, forty-one reviewed, a few abandoned halfway through. This was a great year for horror books, and being my favorite category it will also be the longest.

BEST HORROR (I will include Gothic here as well.)

The Shining – Stephen King
This is the best horror book of the year. I’ve waited a long time to read it, don’t ask me why – maybe it was not the time, maybe some other book got in the way, but when the sequel, Doctor Sleep, came out, I knew the time had come so I read them both. The Shining was by far the best of the two. I still think about that fire hose with shivers down my spine.

Interview with the Vampire – Anne Rice
I’ve read a few books from “The Vampire Chronicle”, back when I didn’t know this was a series, but “Interview with the Vampire” stands out. Not only did it make me love vampire stories even more, but it made me want to read the entire series, in order this time. And with the recent addition of a new book, Prince Lestat, it looks like my journey through the land of vampires won’t stop anytime soon.

The Beckoning Fair One by Oliver Onions – a gem for fans of haunted houses stories. I don’t know why I didn’t review this one but I remember reading it and being lost in the story, just like the main character got lost in that old London house. And the creepy part is that I could see this being an entirely plausible thing.

Frankenstein – Mary Shelley is another book I had my eyes for a long time thinking “one day…”. That day came when I got a copy of The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler. Both of them amazing books, the former for its story, the latter for the details about the writers and poets that were connected with Mary Shelley. I’d love to read them both again at some point.

House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill
Hailed as “Britain’s answer to Stephen King”, I must admit this time the description wasn’t just a catchy trick. Nevill’s book brought me not only hours of delightful reading but some interesting twists and good horror scenes as well. Plus, reading about stuffed kittens all dressed up and taking tea is really creepy, believe me.

The Rats by James Herbert
This was Herbert’s first novel and it packs a good story with some disgusting scenes, so if you’re squeamish I’d say don’t go there. But if you love a fast-paced story and are not afraid of the dark (and rats), by all means, go in. Don’t forget your flashlight, though.

Shadow on the Sun by Richard Matheson – horror in the Wild West. Short and to the point, this is one story I enjoyed a lot and I expect it won’t be the last Matheson book I try.

BOOKS ABOUT WRITING

On Writing by Stephen King is a second (or maybe third?) read for me and a great book I can see myself reading again. There’s a lot of detail about King’s life, how he came to write, how he printed his first newspaper, his childhood, the accident that nearly killed him, and how all this made him into the writer he is today. It feels more like a biography than a writing book but as I am fascinated by details about writers’ lives, I thoroughly enjoyed this. Plus, in case I haven’t mentioned this a hundred times already, King’s storytelling is the reason why horror is my favorite genre and he is my favorite writer.

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg is a lovely, inspirational book, with emphasis on how-to and many great tips and some interesting writing exercises. This book has a lot of heart and offers plenty of encouragement for writers. I’ve read this during NaNoWriMo last November and it got me through some rough patches. Perfect for when you feel like you could use a pep talk.

BEST FANTASY

The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker is the absolute winner in this category. I loved both main characters and followed their story with a curiosity that never lost its pace. Beautiful writing, well-told story, great setting. I really can’t ask for more.

BEST BOOK/S PART OF A SERIES

This year I’ve read a few books that are part of a series. Robert McCammon’s “Speaks the Nightbird” and “The Queen of Bedlam”, the first two books in the Matthew Corbett series, were the ones I enjoyed the most. This historical fiction was amazing – great characters, good story and plenty of mystery. I’m very excited to read the rest of the books in this series.

AMAZING WRITING

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke, Volume I, Volume II and Volume III

From my review:

“It took me a while to get immersed into the nineteen century England, and the story was slow going at first. The omniscient narrator adds a lot of detail, and a somewhat annoying amount of lengthy fictitious footnotes which I read because I did not want to miss any detail that may come up in the story later on (I do like the explanations but preferred they were somehow integrated into the story itself). One can feel immersed in the time period, the language does a very good job of conveying the atmosphere, down to the Dickensian cast of characters very aptly named….”

Glaciers – Alexis M. Smith

From my review:

“At just under 180 pages, the book is nicely paced and the writing easy to read. Its melancholy tone and beautiful writing convey a sense of fragility that is both compelling and profoundly marked by sadness. It’s almost as if we know something dramatic is going to happen while at the same time we can’t hope but wish that Isabel finds the happiness she deserves.”

The Bloody Chamber – Angela Carter

This is part of the review I wrote. While I may seem dissatisfied with the writing, it certainly was memorable.

“The writing is rich and intricate, perhaps a bit too much, like the lilies cloying the atmosphere with their perfume in The Bloody Chamber – at times I felt like being in a dense jungle without a machete to make my way through. While I can appreciate the opulence of the language, there were moments when I wished for a cleaner, less intricate way of telling the story.”

The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye – A.S. Byatt

From my review:

“Byatt’s prose is anything but simple and in this last story its construction is intricate, layered, there are vivid descriptions of colors and smells, of sensuality, and it pulls the reader right in from the first sentence. It is also the kind of prose that you have to work for to fully appreciate, but the reward is well worth it.”

Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

From my review:

“I was shocked to discover how much I liked the writing, for in admitting such a thing I would have to admit I liked at least an aspect of the book. I hated the very idea the book was based on, because for me it’s just a story of abuse, of a life torn out of its way. On the one hand I admire the way the words slide down the page so magically until they remind me of what they are saying and then a shudder of repulsion replaces that admiration. Is it possible to love the writing and hate the story? Perhaps this is after all, the ultimate allure of Lolita, this combination of style and story that can leave the reader fascinated and somehow feeling dirty at the same time.”

What wonderful books have you read in 2014?
Please leave a link with your comment so I may come and visit (and add to that never-ending TBR pile!).

Posted in The Book on The Nightstand | 17 Comments

Plans and dreams for 2015

New-Year-Quotes-Make-mistake...changing-yourself-changing-your-world A new year begins with hope. Some of us make plans – to enjoy life more, to get fit, to help others or try new things. They all sound wonderful to me. Except, they are too general. So before I set out to write my own list of dreams and hopes (I won’t call them resolutions), I decided to get specific.

I’m in two minds about to-do lists. I like writing down the things I should do, while at the same time dread having to look at them over and over again, a reminder of what still needs to be done. The glass is half empty, I know. But it’s also half full, isn’t it? Well, as I was toasting to the new year and thinking about beginnings, I decided a list is necessary, a tabula rasa, wiped clean of last year’s wishes and dreams (which I can’t really remember since I didn’t write them down), ready to receive this year’s, something I can look back to a year from now and say yes, I’ve done that, and that one, too. And so on to the last one. I wish!

1. Write more. More blog posts, not necessarily more book reviews. I think I’ve done pretty well in that department; definitely more stories (6 is a good number), and finish my second NaNo novel which is about ¾ done at this point.
2. Submit at least two short stories and a novel for publication. I need to re-read my novel again and see what needs to be changed before I send it out there.
3. Have guest posts on my blog. I’d like to host one blogger/writer each month. Still working on the details.
4. Make a scrapbook/diary from beginning to end. That means buying the paper, cardboard, glue and all the rest and actually making the thing from cover down to the last decorative detail. I’ve made a small notebook as a gift for a friend, and I was quite happy with the result, but what I have in mind will be a bit more challenging.
5. Read Bukowski, an author I’ve wanted to read for a long time.
6. Read “The Pale King” by David Foster Wallace, because it looks like the kind of book I would never pick on my own (I didn’t, a friend raved about it so I bought it thinking I do need to challenge myself, because if it were up to me I’d probably never step out of the horror-fantasy-fairytale “kingdom”).
7. Travel to a country or at least a place I’ve never been before.
8. Read poetry.
9. Move more – walking, yoga, jogging, at least 3 times/week. I’m actually anxious to get back to it since a jogging-related injury has forced me to take a break for the past couple of weeks.
10. Dust off my camera and take photos. This will go very well with my scrapbook idea.
11. Learn how to drive. Last year I learned how to ride a bicycle; better late than never, right? It was neither easy nor terribly difficult but I had to fight my biggest enemy, fear, and that kerb I steered too close to a couple of times.

Do you have any plans for this year? Maybe something you’ve never tried before or something that didn’t get done last year? I’d love to hear what challenges you’ve set yourself for 2015.

Posted in Updates | 18 Comments

Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita readalong 1 I postponed reading Lolita for quite some time. I wanted to, yet something kept me back. Finally, when Vishy said he got the book from a friend (what a coincidence, so did I) and wanted to read it, we decided to do a read-along. His review can be found here.

I started reading Lolita with more than my usual curiosity. It was, after all, a classic. It was, after all, my first Nabokov, and it was, after all, a book about a subject I had heard and read just enough to fan my curiosity even more but not enough to know exactly what was going on. So I began.

Minor spoilers ahead!

Lolita From the first page Nabokov manages to establish closeness with the reader, like a friend who talks about an event that irreversibly changed his life. For better? For worse? We don’t know yet. The story begins with Humbert talking about his childhood – his distant father, dead mother, and the first girl he fell in love with. It’s a buildup. We are supposed to like Humbert; he is, without a doubt, very adept at portraying his early life in such a way as to make the reader sympathize. Poor Humbert, deprived of a mother’s love, in love with a girl who dies young, living his days dreaming of what could have been. Until he meets Dolores Haze, or Lolita as he likes to call her. Until then, Humbert, admirer of nymphets to such an extent that he goes to the park so he could be near them and see the girls playing, was too shy and possibly too afraid of consequences to approach them. But Lolita, she of the “tender dreamy childishness and a kind of eerie vulgarity, stemming from the snub-nosed cuteness of ads and magazine pictures, from the blurry pinkness of adolescent maidservants in the Old Country (smelling of crushed daisies and sweat); and from very young harlots disguised as children in provincial brothels; and then again, all this gets mixed up with the exquisite stainless tenderness seeping through the musk and the mud, through the dirt and the death, oh God, oh God”, she is not like all the others. From that moment on, Humbert plans his way to her. A boarder in her mother’s house, he warms (or worms, it works just as well) his way into the small family until fate very conveniently delivers the girl right into his waiting, lusty hands.

And Lolita? Well she is not the sweet innocent I thought she was, and her experience in certain matters was an unexpected twist in the story for me, but still, she was 12 years old and Humbert but a few years shy of 40. She flirts, and teases, and seems to want to be near Humbert until he is all she has left. Her mother’s death leaves her an orphan, and Humbert manipulates her into thinking life without him as her guardian could be very difficult. Lolita accepts the situation at first, but after a year of traveling and posing as the dutiful daughter during the day and unwilling mistress at night, Humbert finds things slipping through his fingers. He guards her jealously, and with just the right amount of bribes, promises and threats, manages to keep his nymphet, until she finally gathers the courage and breaks free. It does not end well. Not for Lolita, and not for Humbert, who writes his memoirs in prison, waiting to be tried for murder. Did he kill Dolores Haze, his Lolita? Yes and no. Her demise, tragic, like her life, may be the result of Humbert’s influence. I strongly believe that.

As for Humbert, I started the story liking him, or at least the way he wrote it. He knew what demons haunted him. He tried to stay away from them, or rather to indulge in his fantasy in such a way that no one would come to harm. He even got married.

“It occurred to me that regular hours, home-cooked meals, all the conventions of marriage, the prophylactic routine of its bedroom activities and, who knows, the eventual flowering of certain moral values, of certain spiritual substitutes, might help me, if not to purge myself of my degrading and dangerous desires, at least to keep them under pacific control.”

It didn’t work out. That was the moment I began to dislike him and it just went downhill from there.
I was shocked to discover how much I liked the writing, for in admitting such a thing I would have to admit I liked at least an aspect of the book. I hated the very idea the book was based on, because for me it’s just a story of abuse, of a life torn out of its way. On the one hand I admire the way the words slide down the page so magically until they remind me what they are saying and then a shudder of repulsion replaces that admiration. Is it possible to love the writing and hate the story? Perhaps this is after all, the ultimate allure of Lolita, this combination of style and story that can leave the reader fascinated and somehow feeling dirty at the same time.

These are some of my favorite passages. The first one I read over and over again, as I imagined it, not as the simple act it really is, but as something beyond that, the ordinary transformed by extraordinary words.

“I set out two glasses (to St. Algebra? To Lo?) and opened the refrigerator. It roared at me viciously while I removed the ice from its heart.”

“There and elsewhere. Hundreds of gray hummingbirds in the dusk, probing the throats of dim flowers.”

“And presently I was shaking hands with both of them in the street, the sloping street, and everything was whirling and flying before the approaching white deluge, and a truck with a mattress from Philadelphia was confidently rolling down to an empty house, and dust was running and writhing over the exact slab of stone where Charlotte, when they lifted the laprobe for me, had been revealed, curled up, her eyes intact, their black lashes still wet, matted, like yours, Lolita.”

My rating 4/5 stars
Read in December 2014

Posted in Challenges, The Book on The Nightstand | 5 Comments

The end is near

And I’m not talking about the world.

Today should have been the last day for our read-along of Nabokov’s Lolita. However, my co-host Vishy and I have decided to postpone it to next weekend, so if you’d like to join us, you still can. I have to admit I did finish the book but haven’t written a review yet – it’s hard to think about marshalling my thoughts into coherent words to express the beauty and perversity of this book at this time of the year.

I did however, spend some time in the kitchen for a traditional potato salad. My Thai writing still needs a lot of practice but I think you can guess what I tried to say with those butchered gherkins.

This year I’ve managed to read 50 books (not counting one which I abandoned halfway through). It’s been a good reading year and I discovered a couple of very interesting series, but more about this in a future post, next year.

Happy New Year to everyone, may 2015 be full of great surprises and amazing books!

Potato salad

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The Vagabond Vicar – Charlotte Brentwood

Christmas has come and gone but if you’re in need of some literary sugar to go with your morning coffee and those chocolate cookies you could give this a try. Perhaps you need something short and light before tackling that big chunkster that’s been sitting on your bookshelves for months now. If so, dipping into a bit of romance might be just the thing.

The Vagabond Vicar Young cleric William Brook, who dreams of preaching in faraway lands, has to contend himself with the position of vicar in a small village. Cecelia Grant, local beauty and artist, dreads the time when she will have to put her artistic dreams on hold in order to satisfy her mother’s wish that she marry into money. Two people unhappy with the decisions that have been made for them try to find their way out of their constraints but end up finding that those constraints might actually not be that bad. But does love conquer all?

Set in a small village in the Regency period, this is a good depiction of a time when a good reputation can be damaged by a secret, when young women pregnant out of wedlock are ostracized and being of a noble and rich family carries a lot of weight. Husband-hunting mamas, complacent fathers, condescending relatives, a society divided by money and social position, all these are present in the story, giving it an Austen-like aura. The dialogue is simple; the writing – while trying to be true to the time, is devoid of too many flourishes, which to be honest, I wanted more of; the story moves along at a brisk pace.

Normally, I’m not a romance fan. I like my stories darker, with more than a pinch of suspense and possibly with death lurking in the shadows. Drama, twists and sudden turns, secrets and dangerous situations, this is what I enjoy in a novel. Some purple prose doesn’t hurt either. While some of these ingredients can be found in The Vagabond Vicar, this is an easy to read, sweet and pretty straightforward novel. I would have liked to get to know the characters better, to have more details about William’s family and Cecelia’s mother, also the arrogant and careless Mr Barrington (according to the author, a sequel about Mr Barrington might be a possibility). There were a couple of twists at the end but mostly you can see where the story is going. Perhaps this forms the backbone of a romance novel, perhaps my love for horror has made me hungry for something more substantial to dig into. However, if you love a light romance story, you wouldn’t be wrong in choosing this little novel.

I got this book from the author, in exchange for an honest review. You can find more details on her website. The Vagabond Vicar is her first novel.

My rating: 3/5 stars
Read in December 2014

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The Dragonbone Chair – Tad Williams

The Dragonbone Chair I had wanted to read fantasy for a while but every time I stop in front of this particular section at the bookstore, I feel overwhelmed. Where to start? Most books there are part of a series and I don’t want to start a ten-book story only to give up after a volume or two, or worse, to find out book number six is not even out yet. My dilemma was solved when a friend gave me the first two volumes of Tad Williams’ “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn”.

Simon (Seoman) is an orphan boy growing up in the castle kitchens of King John Presbyter, under the ever watchful eye of Rachel, the Mistress of Chambermaids. He’s awkward and feels out of place, until doctor Morgenes, a learned man at the court, takes him under his protection. But before Simon could learn about the art of magic from his tutor, the king dies, the court is plunged into turmoil, and Morgenes is killed, not before entrusting the boy with a sheaf of papers and helping him get out of the castle.

Simon decides to undertake a dangerous journey to Naglimund, where Prince Josua, whom he helped escape, is gathering forces to fight off the new king, his own brother, Elias. On his way he saves the life of a Sithi, one of the Fair Ones; makes friends with Binabik the troll and his wolf, Qantaqa; meets Miriamele, the new King’s daughter; has a few close encounters with death, and arrives at Naglimund, only to start on another quest. This time he must help retrieve a sword that could tip the balance in the coming war between Prince Josua and his brother. He is accompanied by a motley band – men, a troll, a wolf, and a few of the Fair Ones. Their path goes through mountains and ends up in a cave where they find the sword, but also a dragon, and some of the group do not survive.

It took me almost four months to finish this mammoth of a book. At 912 pages, not including the appendix, it was quite the undertaking. The only other book closer to this length was Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke with 1,006 pages which I read in January. One chunkster to start the year with, another one to end it.

Two hundred pages in, and I wished things would go a little faster. When it did pick up, little by little I began to realize this was so much like The Lord of the Rings that I started to match the characters – I found Gimli, Legolas, Saruman, Gandalf and even Aragorn. I also have a pretty good idea of who Frodo is. I liked The Lord of the Rings and by all rights I should enjoy this as well, but I find my enthusiasm greatly diminished if I can see where the story is going. Even some of the scenes were the same – a path going up the snowy mountains, a cave inhabited by the dead, a land guarded by a fantastic creature, a mirror that can show things to come. And to top it off, there was Ineluki, the Storm King, a great being from long ago whose dreams of power had changed him into a maleficent creature bent on ruling the world.

With the exception of a handful of characters, I could not keep track of the vast array of people described in the book. After a while I gave up on trying to remember who was fighting for whom. Some of the names were difficult to read – Heahferth, Gwythinn (I kept reading Gwyneth), Elvritshalla.

There were some things I did like – the mystery surrounding Simon’s parentage; the shadowy League of the Scroll, a secret organization Morgenes belonged to; the names of days and months, slightly altered but still recognizable (Tiasday, Udunsday, Drorsday; Novander, Decander, etc.); the religious undercurrent reflected in some of the names – Elias, Josua, Simon, the sign of the tree; and magic. It was fun to see Simon’s progress, from a humble scullion to an important character in the new world slowly taking shape. After him, Binabik and Qantaqa were my favorite characters. The troll has a very distinctive voice and his connection to Simon evolved into a beautiful friendship.
I can safely say I have mixed feelings about this book. The writing is beautiful, and I enjoyed reading about Simon’s adventures so perhaps it’s foolish of me to give up on the story now. Volume two is definitely slimmer and if I am to believe the author’s words at the beginning of book one, I should keep going. Yes, maybe volume two would make for a good start to a new year.

Author’s Warning:

The Qanuk-folk of the snow-mantled Trollfells have a proverb. “He who is certain he knows the ending of things when he is only beginning them is either extremely wise or extremely foolish; no matter which is true, he is certainly an unhappy man, for he has put a knife in the heart of wonder.

*

Dotor Morgenes:

‘Books’, Morgenes said grandly, leaning back on his precarious stool, ‘ – books are magic. That is the simple answer. And books are traps as well.
‘Magic? Traps?’
‘Books are a form of magic – ’ the doctor lifted the volume he had just lain on the stack, ‘ – because they span time and distance more surely than any spell or charm. What did so-and-so think about such-and-such two hundred years agone? Can you fly back through the ages and ask him? No – or at least, probably not.’

*

Binabik the troll:

‘Then, let us be considering knowledge like a river of water. If you are a piece of cloth, how are you finding out more about this water – if someone dips in your corner and then pulls it out again, or if you are having yourself thrown in without resistance, so that this water is flowing all through you, around you, and you are becoming soaking wet? Well, then?’

My rating: 3.5/5 stars
Read from August to December

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