Category Archives: Challenges

Reading challenges

Read-along – Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

A while back, one of my friends sold some of his books before leaving Thailand and going back home. He sent me a list and one of the books that caught my eye was Lolita, a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time. It’s a perfect hardcover edition complete with bookmark – he belongs to that group of people who can’t stand the thought of writing on the pages or, God forbid, bending them. Perfectly understandable, as I am the same when it comes to books. The book had been sitting on a shelf ever since, between a copy of Andrew’s On The Holloway Road , which I’ve read, and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, which I haven’t.

Now it looks like I’m finally going to read it. My blogging friend Vishy from Vishytheknight asked me if we could do a read-along and I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity. You’re more than welcome to join. I know December is a busy month so I’m hoping that by posting this in advance anybody who wants to join will have the chance to plan and maybe find the time to read with us. If you have a blog, choose one of the badges. If not, just leave your comments here or on Vishy’s blog.

The rules are simple:

1. Read-along starts December 7th.
2. Reviews will be posted from December 27th – 31st.

P.S. If you would like this story to be a surprise, do not read the introduction until after you’ve finished the book. I made the mistake of reading a few sentences and I think I stumbled on a major spoiler.

Lolita readalong 1

Lolita readalong 2

Posted in Challenges | 11 Comments

R.I.P. wrap up and doing NaNoWriMo again

lavinia-portrait small Today ends the R.I.P. reading event hosted by Carl@stainlesssteeldroppings. Like always, it’s been a lot of fun and I’ve enjoyed my books immensely even though I didn’t read everything I’d planned but that’s fine, there’s always time for that later. I’ve been so caught up in reading that I postponed writing reviews until the last day so I decided to do two mini-reviews for the last two books I read for this challenge.

Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein – The Monsters by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

This book finally provided the motivation to read Frankenstein, so after finishing with Mary Shelley’s famous classic, I dived right into it. If you ever wondered how Frankenstein came to be written and what Mary Shelley’s life was like, this is the perfect book. While the story centers mostly on Mary and on that famous summer night in 1816 that sparked the challenge behind Frankenstein, there’s also plenty of detail about the other participants in the challenge: her then companion and future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and John William Polidori – who went on to write the first vampire novel, The Vampyre.

The Monsters I’m always fascinated by details from famous writers’ lives and how they find their way into their stories. The authors give plenty of details to show how different elements from Mary Shelley’s life may have contributed to the idea behind Frankenstein – an emotionally detached father, a mother she never knew, the pressure she felt to produce a great literary work (being the daughter of famous writers), the tumultuous relationship she had with Shelley, a scientific experiment she heard about involving electricity, and later on the deaths and tragedies that marked her life. The book abounds in such details and I’m sure I wouldn’t have found them as interesting had I not read Frankenstein first. It also describes her connection with lord Byron (through her step sister Claire), her strained relationship with Claire, and Byron’s rise to fame as “the first celebrity”. It was a time of travel and friendship, of connections and betrayals, of joy fraught with despair and ever present money problems. It was a time that inspired incredible work, not only from Mary but also from the other writers who took part in Byron’s challenge. A great book I’d love to read again.

My rating: 5/5 stars

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs

Let me begin by saying I have never read a book quite like this. The story and the pictures (which I avoided looking at until I started reading so as not to spoil my enjoyment) seemed like the perfect combination to create something special. I loved the first part of the book – the grandfather telling fantastical stories to his young nephew, the incredible and unbelievable details about his life as a young man, his decline and death which started a quest for the truth.

Miss P The main protagonist, sixteen-year-old Jacob persuades his father to accompany him on a trip to a desolate island in the hope of finding the house his grandfather talked about in his stories – the monsters he was trying to keep at bay, the bizarre photographs of children he showed Jacob (the peculiars he called them), the “old bird smoking a pipe” who protected the children. And here the story started to lose its spark for me – it wasn’t the time travel, or the strange children with their otherworldly abilities. I’m not sure if I can even pinpoint what exactly it was that threw me off – perhaps the sudden romance between Jacob and Emma, which I felt didn’t really fit with the overall mood of the story. I wanted to know more about the monsters hunting the children and how the children were able to survive in that endless time loop without losing their minds. I wanted Jacob to find a way to live between the two worlds and I felt the story played up a lot on teenager angst and didn’t explore its dark potential to the fullest. But perhaps the answer is in the sequel, which I’d like to read, just to see how the children managed to live in the present and if their special gifts help or hinder them in their new life.

My rating: 3/5 stars

My R.I.P contributions:

The Unpierced Heart

Interview with the Vampire – Anne Rice / Frankenstein – Mary W Shelley

This House is Haunted – John Boyne / Sepulchre – James Herbert

The Quick – Lauren Owen

Deliver Us from Evil – movie review

Dracula Untold – movie review

I also went over to and felt inspired to write some flash fiction:

Night Terror (the beginning)
Untitled vampire story (the middle)

NaNo pic And just like one great event ends, another begins. NaNoWriMo starts in less than two hours and I’ve decided to participate this year as well. If I can manage to stay awake past midnight long enough to get a few hundred words in, that would be great. Last year I had a really great time and wrote a story I really liked, even though The End came a few months later. This year I’ve decided to continue in the same genre, fantasy and horror. What greater way to celebrate Halloween than to write a scary story? I don’t know if the world needs another vampire/wizard story but I know I need to write it. Wish me luck.

Posted in Challenges | 6 Comments

Dracula Untold (2014) – a movie review

Vlad Tepes I must have been in primary school the first time I saw a picture of Vlad Tepes and that was long ago, before the vampire craze. It was a history lesson and I stared at the figure on the page, the aquiline nose, the hooded eyes, the headgear that looked like something between a hat and a crown, the black hair falling in ringlets on his shoulders. I thought he looked fierce, a true defender of our nation, a great leader, a thorn in the side of the Ottoman Empire. He punished his enemies by impaling them on wooden stakes. He was a hero among Romanians long before Stoker made him famous.

Years later when I moved to Thailand people asked me if Dracula was still alive and if he really drank human blood. I resisted the impulse to tell them he was alive and well, resting in his coffin in my basement. He does like to visit, just to spice up his menu, I should have said with a wicked laugh. What I said instead was no, he’s just a legend, dead long time ago. But is he really dead? It very much looks like the movie industry keeps trying to bring him back to life.

hr_Dracula_Untold_2 It’s the 21st century and here he is, resurrected on the screen, given a new name, a new face, and a new haircut – more like Lord Byron than the original ruler of Wallachia from the 15th century. After watching the trailer, I had the impression I’d already seen the whole movie but being a great fan of vampire movies, I couldn’t miss it. To my delight, I was happy to see there were still a few surprises left.

The movie mixes history and fiction into a tale meant to portray Vlad, the Wallachian prince, as a ruler willing to sacrifice himself for his family and country. Vlad had been a political prisoner of the Turks for a few years when he was young, and when a Turkish emissary came asking for a tribute of one thousand boys including his son, it felt like history was repeating itself. Determined to defend his people, Vlad found there was a way to get what he wanted but that came at a heavy price.

I loved the movie. Luke Evans did a great job of portraying the anguish and indecision, and later on determination of Vlad in defending his own. I was particularly interested in the names – Vlad’s wife, Mirena (which sounds a lot like Marina, a Romanian name), his men – Dumitru, Petru, Cazan, Simion, all old-fashioned Romanian names; even Vlad’s son – he was called Ingeras, which in Romanian means “little angel”, although the English pronunciation sounded nothing like its Romanian equivalent. It wasn’t his real name, of course, just like Mirena wasn’t his wife’s real name, but it added a more familiar touch to the story.

If you expect this to be an accurate historical tale, you’ll be disappointed. The history is there but reworked and retold in a seamless way. There are many differences between the real story of Vlad and the way it was depicted in this movie – his wife’s death for instance; the fortress where he and his family sought refuge from the Turks was Cozia monastery in the movie, but while such a place does exist and is indeed quite famous among Romanians, the movie was probably alluding to the palace Vlad had built to serve as a defense point, Poenari. I understand why this name wasn’t used. For once, its pronunciation in English greatly differs from its Romanian name, while Cozia does not. Vlad’s betrayal by his allies was also worked into the story in a way that fit in perfectly – superstitions and later on allegiance to the pack of vampires he had created, both played a role in his near demise but there was also the nod to Bram Stoker’s novel that ultimately saved him from destruction.

Vlad’s reputation as a ruthless killer is the main idea of the story, but while showing a field of impaled corpses might sound gory, I felt the movie wasn’t playing up on the bloody scenes but showed them as a gruesome act done to repel the enemies rather than a thirst for human blood. His transformation into a vampire is shown in beautiful detail without being overdone. I also liked that it was supposed to be gradual and up to some point, reversible, which is something I don’t recall seeing in other vampire movies. The one who gives him that choice, an old vampire portrayed by Charles Dance makes it clear what the consequences are so Vlad is aware of what he has to lose (and gain) if he decides to stay a vampire.

Overall this was a well done vampire movie. The special effects, the colors – gloomy weather, rain – the clothes and background, all contribute to create a version of a story that makes Vlad a more sympathetic character and less of a bloodthirsty driven monster. The open ending leaves room for more to come and I look forward to watching the sequel.
This is a perfect movie to watch for R.I.P., a reading event hosted by Carl@stainlesssteeldroppings.

lavinia-portrait small

Posted in Challenges | 11 Comments

The Quick – Lauren Owen

Victorian London. An old and crumbling house, two orphan children raised by an elderly aunt. A love story, smothered before it has time to grow, and a terrible secret carefully kept for long years. Vampires.

The Quick James and Charlotte Norbury grow up in the family’s great house. Their mother is dead, their father absent most of the time until he comes home to die of an unknown ailment. Raised by their aunt, they live in her house and they separate when James goes to school and then to London. He’s a writer, and spends his days scribbling poems and working on a play. He meets Christopher Paige and they share rooms together, forming an interesting friendship that later turns into something more. They are vigilant but can’t escape the knowing look of Christopher’s brother, Eustace, who threatens James. Soon after, James and Christopher are attacked by vampires and only James survives. He is taken to the Aegolius, an exclusive club for gentlemen – a dark, decadent building, its inhabitants a curious mix of men, most of them in their youth, but wearing clothes that had gone out of fashion a few generations back. Their purpose is not very clear at first, but as their new leader becomes more interested in his newly acquired powers, their plan begins to take shape.
After their aunt dies, Charlotte is worried by the lack of news from her brother. She goes to London to find him but when she does she will have to resort to all the courage she has in order to bring him home safely. She gets help from a strange crew of people – Arthur Howland, who owes James his life, Adeline and Shadwell, united in their grief, a mutilated vampire, and a band of vampires known as the Alia.

The novel starts slowly and at first focuses on James and Charlotte. Other characters come into the story, their roles more or less defined but all important nevertheless. There’s Mould, whose fascination for research in all things vampire gives him quite the reputation and a nickname: Doctor Knife; Porlock, the woman who takes care of Burke, the mutilated vampire; Treadwell, the lone old servant of the Aegolius; Edmund, the new chairman of the club who has grand plans for an expansion; Liza, the vampire child, apparently the lone survivor of her group.

There are details scattered here and there in the story with no apparent purpose until they begin to shift and connect with one another. Right at the beginning of the story there’s an elaborate description of a room wallpapered with an owl design. I often wondered why the author gave it so much attention but later on in the story it becomes obvious it’s not just because it was pretty. The mystery behind the name of the book is revealed later on, and only after that I realized the blurb at the back refers to the name of the book and not to…something else.

The story is peppered with information about vampires – the un-dead or undid – and while it sticks to some well known facts like their dislike for silver and holy water, it also introduces more unconventional details like being able to walk during the day, drinking alcohol mixed with blood, and being able to feel the cold, despite standing next to a blazing fire.
It was also a very pleasant surprise to see the names of famous writers, poets and characters – Oscar Wilde, Wilkie Collins, Shakespeare, John Donne, Sherlock Holmes.

The ending was quite easy to spot, not at first, but in the last few pages of the book. After all, according to an interview on YouTube, the author is currently working on a sequel and frankly I would like to see what happens to James in the coming book, and how many characters from the first book make a comeback. Also, it would be nice to find out more about his father and the cause of his death. That particular detail is something that’s been nagging at me since the beginning of the story.

lavinia-portrait small This has been an interesting book. I finished it in two days, during which I mostly read and didn’t do much else, holed up in the house in a state of near hibernation. It’s been great to be able to do that and this book was good company and a great choice for this year’s R.I.P, a challenge hosted by Carl@stainlesssteeldroppings until the end of October.

My rating: 3.5/ 5 stars

Read in October 2014

Posted in Challenges | 8 Comments

This Hause is Haunted & Sepulchre

lavinia-portrait small

This is the last month of R.I.P. a reading event hosted by Carl@stainlesssteeldroppings. Last post was about unusual people. This week is all about unusual houses and those who inhabit them.

This House is Haunted – John Boyne

Eliza Caine lives with her father in London. It’s 1867 and one autumn evening, in spite of his persistent cough, Mr Caine convinces his daughter to go with him and see Charles Dickens read from his work. Not long after that, Eliza’s father dies, his sickness being exacerbated by the bad weather.

This House is Haunted Alone and grieving, Eliza decides it’s time for a change. She accepts to work as a governess at Gaudlin Hall, an estate in Norfolk where she has to take care of two young children, Eustace and Isabella, who live in a great house in need of repair. The children’s parents are nowhere to be found, and it takes a while before Eliza finds out the truth from the family’s lawyer, Mr Raisin. It’s a process accomplished in stages, and as more clues point to the right answers, Eliza is convinced somebody in the house is trying to kill her, just like it killed the governesses before her, all except one. She doesn’t know who it might be, but it’s obvious she’s not welcome to stay – great gusts of wind, invisible hands that push her from behind, cold water that turns hot, and that’s not all. But why would someone go to such lengths to get rid of all the governesses at Gaudlin Hall? What secret lies entombed in the great house? And why do the children keep saying they’re not allowed to leave?

The similarities to Jane Eyre abound – the unattractive young governess, alone in the world, coming to take care of children, unexplainable events meant to frighten her away, a handsome man Eliza begins to have feelings for and a few other clues that are best savored fresh. The language is a shade more modern but still striving to stay true to the time period. A good book, not as sinister as I’d hoped, and a little predictable at times, but quite enjoyable nevertheless.

My rating: 4/5 stars

Sepulchre – James Herbert

After reading The Rats recently, I couldn’t resist buying this when I saw it at the bookstore.
The Sepulchre is a mystery with a lot of creepy thrown in, which is just the way I like it. It’s a fun book, a page turner that mixes bits of religion and history into an otherwise modern day story.

Sepulchre Halloran is a bodyguard hired to protect a man named Felix Kline. Just how important Kline is to the company that hired Halloran is very clear, though the reasons are kept a secret at first. Kline knows his life is not safe, although he doesn’t know who might want to harm him. The only place he feels safe is Neath, an old house in a secluded area, and he decides that’s where he’ll spend the weekend, and Halloran has no choice but to follow him.

An old house with a lake nearby – a place far from prying eyes might seem like the perfect place to hide. But the lake is populated by strange creatures yearning to get out, there’s a pack of jackals roaming the grounds, there are locked doors and subterranean passages, and a lodge where the keeper lives, even though nobody has seen him. Before long Halloran finds out the enemy is not far away but as he begins to suspect Kline’s entourage and business partners, he finds out it’s not men with guns he has to protect his client from but something much more sinister. Everybody is a suspect: Monk, his bodyguard, the two Arabs catering to Kline’s every wish, his Polish driver with a peculiar taste for certain food, even his young assistant, Cora.

Herbert gives a lot of background detail about the lives of these characters and lets the reader know exactly how everybody came to work for Kline. That’s the part I enjoyed the most. As their background is revealed, the reader can get an idea of what kind a man Kline really is. His changing moods, his persuasive powers, his hypnotic voice, make him a formidable adversary but Halloran is more than a match.
Halloran is a mysterious character himself – there are glimpses of his childhood throughout the book but they only made me wonder even more about the man. An interesting fact – in Stephen King’s The Shining, there’s also a character called Hallorann, and both of them are fighting on the side of good.
An entertaining story and an easy read, this definitely won’t be my last James Herbert book.

My rating: 4/5 stars
Read in September, 2014

Posted in Challenges | Leave a comment

R.I.P. – Interview with the Vampire & Frankenstein

RIP 9 badge This September I’ve read four books for the R.I.P challenge, one of my favorite events of the year hosted by Carl@stainlesssteeldroppings. I’m still working on the reviews for the other two – This House is Haunted, by John Boyne and Sepulchre by James Herbert, hopefully to be ready sometime next week. In the meantime, here are my thoughts on two famous classics.

Interview with the Vampire – Anne Rice

This has been on my TBR list for a really long time. I was saving it for this challenge, but was a little afraid that it might not be as good as I hoped it would. Having watched the movie years ago (it was probably the first time I noticed Brad Pitt), I felt the book didn’t have a lot of new things to offer. I’m so glad to have been proven wrong.

One thing I wasn’t prepared for is how rich the language is, how with only a few words the author can convey a feeling, and how that translates so much better in writing than on screen.

IV 3 The story begins with Louis, a vampire, being interviewed by “a boy”. In the space of one night, Louis recounts his life, how he was made a vampire, and what followed after that.
Louis was twenty-five and living in Louisiana at the end of the eighteen century. His life as a human ended when Lestat, an old (in age only, not in appearance) and experienced vampire decided to make him immortal. Through constant manipulation, he was able to keep Louis with him and by giving him a vampire child, Lavinia, he created the illusion of a family. But Lavinia, trapped in a child’s body for years on end did something that upset the precarious balance of their life together.

Lestat and Louis are two very different types of vampire – while the older one is selfish, ruthless and given to sudden moods, the younger has an analytical mind and is constantly tormented by his conscience. His need to understand what he is, his disdain for his own immortality, his newfound appreciation for the briefness of human life set him apart from Lestat. When he meets other vampires, after years of searching, he discovers they are not actually what he hoped they would be, with the exception of Armand, who seemed to be the kind of companion Louis was looking for.

What makes the story unique is the introspection of its characters. Both Louis and Lavinia are capable of analyzing their existence, of trying to see past the terrifying idea of being a vampire, of wanting more out of their life. They want answers, they want to understand their nature and its mysterious powers. It is what sets them apart from Lestat who only seems concerned with manipulating them for his own interest.

This book was a great surprise. Not only did it show an unexpected facet of the complex life of a vampire, but its array of powerful emotions made it so much more than just a vampire story. It questions immortality, love, sexuality, the meaning of life and what makes one human. I have read other books from the Vampire Chronicles but I don’t remember being as moved by them as I was by this. It makes me want to read the whole series (of which this is the first book) in order. I want to find out what happened to Louis and what made Lestat such a detestable character. And to make things even more exciting, there’s a new book coming out next month – Prince Lestat. A perfect little gem to add to my TBR list.

My rating: 5/5 stars

Frankenstein – Mary W. Shelley

Frankenstein, like Interview with the Vampire, was one of those books that I told myself I would read “one day”. That day came when I downloaded a copy from projectguttenberg and started reading it on my tablet. I do not know if it was the fact that I was reading from a screen – although I find my experience is greatly influenced as much by the book itself as by the writing within its pages – but I managed to read most of it in a day when power was out for a few hours and I could spend time reading without the constant temptation of social media.
When I read from a screen, the words fly. Somehow my brain focuses less on the words and more on getting to the next page. I don’t know why, but with a physical book I can concentrate on the words more closely, I feel the object in itself is a tangible thing, whereas the electronic format is stripped of that emotional charge and therefore more difficult to absorb.

Fr In spite of this disadvantage, there were a few pleasant surprises – the beginning of the story, for instance. I knew the general idea behind the story of Frankenstein – a human given life by scientist Victor Frankenstein, an experiment which went terribly wrong, not necessarily because of its completion but because neither the creator nor the created were prepared for the consequences of that act. I was not familiar with how Frankenstein came to tell his story and I’m glad that was a surprise; I will not reveal it, because if any of the readers of this blog plan to read the book, it’s better left unspoiled.

I found myself intrigued by the dilemma behind this extraordinary experiment – is the creator responsible for his creation, especially when that creation is a living, breathing creature? Or is he (or she) exempt from responsibility once the act of creation is completed? To make a parallel with Interview with the Vampire, wasn’t Lestat also responsible for Louis and Lavinia? Was it not his duty to educate them about the kind of beings they were turned into? But Victor Frankenstein, like Lestat, chose to ignore that responsibility and tragedy soon followed.

Even though his creation is called “monster”, it was difficult to condemn a man whose only wish was to live among people and experience compassion, friendship, love. His efforts to adapt to such a world were catastrophic – without guidance and no friend to lean on, he was constantly judged by his terrible looks and impressive stature, and wherever he went he inspired either fear or extreme anger. I pitied him and thought his maker could and should have guided him in the strange new world he suddenly found himself living in.

With no memory of life before the moment he woke up in the scientist’s lab, the “monster” was exposed to an environment he knew nothing about. Through observation and self-education he managed to understand the harsh reality, even teaching himself to speak and read, and could also present a compelling argument in a conversation, but his sheer size and general appearance rendered his efforts useless. Would he have been able to live a better life had Victor Frankenstein listened to his plea and made him a female companion? Would he have kept his promise of living in seclusion, far from the world of men, not harming anyone ever again? Or would the scientist’s fear of giving life to two such extraordinary creatures have been proven true?

Frankenstein’s creation brings up another question – can a man capable of showing emotions and intelligence but having a disturbing appearance live a semblance of a normal life among other people? Or is he forever condemned to be judged by his looks alone before he can even open his mouth? In a world obsessed with beauty I find this question more poignant than ever.
I felt empathy towards Frankenstein’s “monster”. Even this label – monster – makes me cringe, as I do not see him as such, but as a human brought back to life and thrown out into the world to survive on his own. His actions were terrible and tragic, and yet I couldn’t but blame Frankenstein for his blindness, for even if he was a learned man and a scientist, he lacked one of humanity’s most basic emotions – compassion.

My rating: 4/5 stars

Posted in Challenges | 3 Comments

Deliver Us from Evil (2014) – movie review

Deliver us from evil Demons. Possession. Exorcism. Death. Faith or lack thereof. Just a few words that would be perfect to describe this movie. A New York police officer (Eric Bana) and his partner (Joel McHale) become entangled in a series of weird cases. They are helped by a Catholic priest (Edgar Ramirez) to get to the source of the evil that seems to connect the cases they’re working on.

I’ve been waiting for this movie, thinking it would be perfect for R.I.P.. I even bought a ticket for seat number 13. The left armrest was broken, and halfway through the movie the white cloth on the headrest two chairs over flapped gently in the breeze of the air-conditioning. There was one other person sitting at the end of the row, far away from me, so that was a bit ghost-like. It made me smile.

The movie itself is neither better nor worse than your average horror movie. It even has a couple of funny moments, but what I found the most interesting was the reference to a song by The Doors, which played an important part in the overall plot of the movie. The imagery was disturbing and quite well done, still, I found sounds and half covered faces a lot more sinister than the blood.
I liked that the exorcism scene wasn’t over the top, like the one they filmed in jail, where a demon had taken over the body of a woman. That was a bit too overdone and it lost some of the creepy potential. The contorted face and noises almost made me laugh. This one, however, was just enough to get the point across and quite convincing.
Another bonus point goes to the characters played by Ramirez and Bana – the priest has his sins, and so does the cop, and in confessing them they are stripped of the aura of perfection. They might be heroes, but they are flawed nevertheless.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, there are scratching noises on the floor and under the bed, and considering I’ve seen this movie the day after writing the beginning of a story with plenty of scratching noises, I try to tell myself that this is just a silly coincidence.
Overall, this is a good movie. Definitely not as grim as Silent Hill for example, but with a mix of elements that work well together. As for the horror factor, it falls somewhat in the middle. Not too soft but not that scary either.

My rating: 7/10

Posted in Challenges, Movies | 6 Comments

The Unpierced Heart or The Whores’ Asylum – Katy Darby

RIP 9 badge Last weekend I went to a second hand bookstore to sell some of the books I’ve had for a long time. They had been exiled to a box for many years, for lack of space (and interest, I admit, though not all) – their pages turning brown and spotty with humidity – as newer or more desirable copies have been slowly filling my two bookcases. Unless I win the lottery and buy a villa with a capacious library, I must, from time to time, exchange the old for the new.
I went there with a list of books I wanted to read, by Robert McCammon, James Herbert and Shirley Jackson, but was unable to find them. What I got was something I hadn’t been looking for, and as it turned out, a very nice surprise.

The name of the book and its author are new to me, but the blurb at the back and the first few pages that I read made me fall for it on the spot. I spent two days reading it, in a kind of half-awake state that only a good book can give, the kind where you wish time could stop until you got to the end.

The Unpierced Heart Described as a “Gothic romance”, it begins with the story of Edward Fraser who, fearing his death is near, is writing to his son, Stephen. He has a tragic tale to write, that of Stephen’s mother and of his dear friend Stephen Chapman, after whom his son is named. Told mostly from his perspective, it is a tale fraught with tragedy and poisoned by evilness. In true Victorian style, it has an array of characters ranging from fallen women and brutal, vicious men, to artists, doctors and university students; ambitions are shattered, lives destroyed by sickness and revenge, and above all, a great love story.

Edward and Stephen were students at Oxford in 1887 when they met and formed a lasting friendship that was unbroken even in death. They made an interesting pair, a Sherlock meets Watson type of camaraderie founded on common interests such as debating various topics – Edward was studying to be a clergyman or possibly a professor, while Stephen was an exceptional medical student dedicated to the field of obstetrics. When Stephen was offered the opportunity to work at a shelter for reforming fallen women, he was able to bring his passion for his work to the aid of those unfortunate and shunned by society.
That is how he met Diana, a young woman whose beauty had shattered lives and left behind nothing but sorrow. Edward knew about Diana’s disreputable past and warned his friend, but Stephen was too in love to care. But all was not well when the lies Diana had told in the past came back to haunt her present, and the truth became difficult to see behind their tangled web. Was Diana the unscrupulous woman Edward thought her to be, a femme-fatale bent on ensnaring the young and unsuspecting for a respectable place in society, or was there something more to the story?

The book is divided into five parts, with each part dedicated to a character, four men and a woman, their stories connected. Edward is the main narrator, but Stephen and Diana get to tell their own version as well in the form of letters, which gives the whole story an intimate feeling. The language is true to the period, the turns and flourishes making for a perfect immersion in the Victorian era.

I liked this book very much. There are no ghosts here but there’s a dungeon, a half-mad villain, death, and star-crossed lovers. The pace is quick, the mysteries abound, and the end, tragic. I liked the characters, the two friends most of all, and admired Stephen for his strength and for never giving up on his friend. He made his own mistakes along the way but tried to atone for them as best he could. I also liked the references to mythology in the explanation of how the young woman came to be named Diana (not her real name). If you’re a fan of novels set in Victorian times, this is a great choice.

Although I had many other books lined up for R.I.P IX, this goes to show, and not for the first time either, that plans can change out of the blue. The Unpierced Heart fits in perfectly with the requirements for this reading challenge – mystery, thriller, gothic.

Some of my favorite passages:

“Chapman confessed to me once that he believed in neither salvation nor damnation, unless it was upon this earth, in our hearts; in this life. Once, I thought this meant he could not be saved. I am no longer that blind an unyielding man – but even when I was, I should gladly have swapped places with him. I imagined that my spotless soul would descend and his rise, and perhaps, when we passed, there would be a moment of recognition; no more. And now I wonder whether he was not right, after all; for I can imagine no damnation more absolute and no Hell bleaker than a world without love in it.”

“It is through you that my life has gained purpose and sweetness. These are words fathers do not say to their sons, nor husbands to their wives, yet they should be said, and often; for love is the pearl beyond price, the divine gift, which raises us above our weak and imperfect selves and burns with a hard, astonishing flame against death’s darkness. The grave is cold and silent enough, and soon enough in coming. We ought not to be cold and silent too.”

My rating: 5/5 stars
Read in August-September, 2014

Posted in Challenges | 10 Comments

R.I.P. IX – intro post

RIP 9 badge My love, she sleeps! Oh, may her sleep
As it is lasting, so be deep!
Soft may the worms about her creep!
Far in the forest, dim and old,
For her may some tall vault unfold-
Some vault that oft has flung its black
And winged panels fluttering back,
Triumphant, o’er the crested palls,
Of her grand family funerals-
Some sepulchre, remote, alone,
Against whose portal she hath thrown,
In childhood, many an idle stone-
Some tomb from out whose sounding door
She ne’er shall force an echo more,
Thrilling to think, poor child of sin!
It was the dead who groaned within.

(Edgar Allan Poe – excerpt from “The Sleeper”)

I’ve been waiting for this event to start for months now, but when I saw Carl’s post this rainy morning I still could not believe it. Surely, it’s not September yet, I said to myself and rushed to check the calendar. It may not be September but this doesn’t mean we can’t start early. This makes me very, very happy, because I’ve been choosing my books all year and watched them lovingly, wondering which I should read first. So I sat down to write this post to the sound of Sister of Night by Depeche Mode which is a dark, dark song, and perfect for the occasion.

If you’re new to this, R.I.P. is short for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril, a reading event which takes place every year from September 1st to October 31st. During this time you can read anything from these categories:

Dark Fantasy.

You can also watch movies that fall into these categories and there’s even a read-along of “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson hosted by The Estella Society. I’m hoping to join if I find a copy of the book this weekend.
Many thanks to Carl for hosting this event – in its 9th year now, and may it go on for many more – and to Abigail Larson, the artist who created the gorgeous badges.

These are the books I would like to read, plus Frankenstein by Mary Shelley which I found on and so I’ll be reading it on my tablet. I’m probably not going to be able to read them all, considering that two of them are short story collections (and quite chunky, too) but one can only hope.
Now, the question is, which should be first? Any suggestions?
Are you taking part in R.I.P. this year? What are you planning to read?

RIP pic 1

Posted in Challenges | 20 Comments

Once Upon a Time – Wrap up

onceup8200 small Today is the last day of the Once Upon a Time VIII Challenge that Carl has been hosting every year from March 21st until June 21st on his blog over at Stainless Steel Droppings. Any books that fall into any of these categories: fairy tale, folklore, fantasy and mythology, can be included in the challenge.

I had a great time participating this year and managed to read nine books and watch one movie, and also co-host Angela Carter Week together with Caroline@Beautyisasleepingcat.

I read about djinni (in two books!), a golem, angels, fairy tale re-tellings, a quest for immortality, fairies and genies (the kind that come in a bottle) and a half woman-half bird character that traveled with a circus. The only book I didn’t finish was Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov, and that’s because there were many versions of the same tale and it got quite boring after a while so I decided this is the kind of book I would dip in now and again rather than try and read it all at once.

My favorite book was The Golem and the Djinni – most of all because I didn’t know much about these two fairy tale characters and this book brought them together in a very original and interesting way. This is also one of the best books I’ve read this year and would recommend it to everybody.
A big thank you to Carl for hosting this challenge; I can’t wait for September, when it’s time for R.I.P.
Here’s a list of my reviews and this is Carl’s review site for the event:

Frozen – movie review
The Golem and the Djinni – Helene Wecker
Poison – Sarah Pinborough
Fate – L.R. Fredericks
The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye – A.S. Byatt
Angelology – Danielle Trussoni
My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me – FORTY NEW FAIRY TALES edited by Kate Bernheimer
Dreams & Shadows – C. Robert Cargill
The Bloody Chamber – Angela Carter
Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter

Did you participate in the challenge this year? What was your favorite book?

Posted in Challenges | 14 Comments