Category Archives: The Book on The Nightstand

The books I read.

Hasty for the Dark – Adam Nevill

I’ve been reading a lot of horror lately, most of it short stories. I don’t know what it is about horror that appeals to me. Movies don’t have the same impact – sometimes they give me nightmares, but books are different, more distilled somehow, and also leaving room for interpretation. I’ve read some of Adam Nevill’s writing before – House of Small Shadows, Some Will not Sleep, Before you Sleep, each book wonderful and horrific in its own way. “Hasty for the Dark” is no exception. This is a collection of nine horror stories, some of which I found truly heartbreaking while others left a more subdued impression. I also enjoyed reading about the inspiration for each story in the section at the back called Story Notes. If you’re one of those people who want to know where the ideas come from (like I am) don’t skip this part.

On All London Underground Lines

A commuter’s worst nightmare becomes real when he realizes he’s going to be late for work and there’s nothing he can do. No matter which option he tries, his way is blocked at every turn. All through reading this I got a trapped-in-a-tomb feeling, as if the main character was the only one truly alive in a crowd of people zombified by routine and work. Even the simplest question, like a woman asking him the way to the Piccadilly Line, only serves to underline the disconnect between the people and how you can be truly alone and not understood even when you’re stepping on someone’s toes at every turn. I can see the despair, the futility, the anguish, I can sympathize with the character and at the end of the story I was just glad I never had that experience.

The Angels of London

Frank moves into a derelict building above a closed bar. Alone and trying to survive in a demanding city, he soon feels like he’s beginning to vanish from the world. He gets no mail. He has no friends, no social life. And soon enough he may not even be able to make the rent of his tiny room.

A depressing, abysmal feeling hits the reader right from the start. Spilled garbage, a derelict building, a creepy landlord, weird neighbors, they all contribute to the feeling of being trapped. Just like in the previous story, it feels like the main character has gotten himself into a tight spot and can’t get out. But there might just be a way out. Unfortunately, it involves doing something awful, but Frank, by that time worn down to his survival instincts, might just do it. I found the ending satisfying and sad. I had hoped Frank would be able to move to a better place but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

Always in Our Hearts

Ray Larch drives a taxi for a living. He’s stressed, overworked, and constantly fears accidents. Just reading about his thoughts on that made me anxious and thankful I don’t drive a car.

“We drive because we forget, he decided. We forget pain, we forget fear, we forget the hot-cold paralysis of near misses, we forget consequences. We forget our vulnerability: the very fragility of our bodies.”

Thank God for forgetting.
Unfortunately for Ray, someone did not forget what he did one day while driving his taxi. And as he goes to pick up one strange passenger after another, his destiny slowly becomes obvious and inescapable.
I liked this story. Part of me pitied Frank but the other, more justice-inclined part also felt satisfaction for the penalty he got. A very satisfying ending.

Eumenides (The Benevolent Ladies)

From his first day at work, Jason becomes obsessed with Electra. She’s young, attractive and aloof, and every time Jason sees her he becomes even more infatuated. When he finally summons the courage to ask her out she accepts easily, casually, leaving Jason both nervous and happy. But the best part is yet to come, as Electra suggests they go for their first date at a derelict zoo. Here the fun begins.

Well, this is a horror story and by fun I don’t mean happiness and laughter, but quite the opposite. There will be tears, and screams, and strange sounds, and inexplicable sexual behavior, and everything ties together so well I could not help but cheer by the end. I don’t really know who I was cheering for: the hunter or the hunted. Nor is it very clear to me what the creature in the story truly was and its connection with Electra. Perhaps Electra was a follower, giving in into a disturbing ritual, perhaps she was a lure for unsuspecting and trusty people. Perhaps it is a tale of revenge. Who knows?

The Days of Our Lives

A really twisted tale about a couple and the way they live and show their affection for each other. It’s not what one would call a “normal” relationship. Murder, threats and vicious behavior are part of the daily routine. Roles blur – who’s the victim and who’s the abuser? It’s fascinating, repulsive, pitiable, and at the end of the day, yet another dark story meant to reveal the hell inside the human heart.


A ship is adrift in a storm. There are people inside but none alive. How did they die? Why did they die? Who killed them?
This was my favorite story in the whole collection. The description filled me with wonder, revulsion and fear. The details are amazing, every word driven home and rich with meaning. As I was reading I was dreading finding out what happened, yet wanted to know. This push and pull, the constant war between fear and curiosity, the instinct to cover my eyes and at the same time peek through my fingers, this is what I love the most about Adam Nevill’s stories. The answer is there, within the story, and yet it feels deliciously incomplete, like a tale told in riddles. As a reader, I find there’s nothing more satisfying than a story you feel is perfect yet it leaves you wanting more.

Call the Name

Cleo is slowly losing her mind. Her mother and grandmother before her, they both did. That’s how they died, and Cleo feels herself walking the same path. She has no choice. But I could not help but wonder if Cleo wasn’t sane after all, just carrying a great secret, one that would claim her life in the end. Now in a nursing home, Cleo feels the world unraveling. She’s still lucid enough to talk and write coherently, but these periods of time are followed by infinitely darker ones as the truth of what is coming, of what humans will have to face because of their irresponsible behavior on this planet, is getting closer.

I liked the idea behind the story, but I will not say more on that as I don’t want to spoil it. The only issue I had with the story was its incredibly descriptive narrative, scientific in parts. I have the urge to skip these portions in stories but I didn’t this time because while I didn’t like it that much, I can appreciate the feeling of truth it brings to the story. This feels like an incredibly detailed and well researched piece.

White Light, White Heat

Have you ever felt like a robot, working long hours in a tiny cubicle, surrounded by people yet forbidden to reach out to any of them?
The unnamed character works for a company he despises, just so he can pay the rent for a room he shares with a drunk. Jobs are scarce, money is tight and good food is a luxury. Everybody in the company lives in fear of the white envelope, for that means they’re fired. There is no hope, no joy and seemingly no escape. The only way he can face another soulless day is by gazing into the box housing The Reliquary of Light. By doing so, he can reach a state of happiness and contentment that can sustain his soul for another day. But what happens when his worst fear is realized and his only solace is taken away?

“A silent furnace of anxiety and dissatisfaction dressed in a white shirt. That was me, sitting before a computer monitor with my face reflected in the screen, same every day, year after year after year. My features were made ghoulish by the glow of the monitor that I longed to smash my head into.
I was one of many. Call us Legion.”

My God, what a cruel, heartless story this is! It made me want to scream in frustration and pity and anger. Its dystopian quality, the apparent futility of life itself, there’s not going lower than that on the horror scale. This is modern horror in the literal sense of the word, for what can be more crushing than knowing your chance of survival drops drastically the day you’re out of a job?

Little Black Lamb

An elderly couple begins to experience memories that don’t belong to them. This alters their life in significant ways, some interesting and some downright evil.
I was a little confused by the end and could only guess at the horror unfolding on the page. I wanted things to be clearer, yet I can appreciate the mystery. As usual, I am torn.

It has become obvious to me that these stories are not straightforward, not all of them anyway. If you want the answers spelled out for you, this might be a bit of a challenge, but if you love a mystery set in an amazing, descriptive setting, then this book is perfect.
Many thanks to the author for sending me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

My rating 4/5 stars
Read in October – November 2017

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A Stephen King fest: The Dark Tower, It, Gwendy’s Button Box

The weekend The Dark Tower came out in cinemas here I watched it twice. As a long time fan of Stephen King’s writing, I’ve waited with increasing excitement for what I imagined was going to be nothing short of a perfect visual translation of the seven books that make up the original series. Then I read a few reviews online and I’m glad I did. I should have known that it was not really feasible to squeeze seven books into a ninety-five minute movie. People were complaining the movie was not faithful to the series, that it was too different. They were right, and I was glad I was forewarned because it would have been disappointing to go to the cinema expecting an epic tale. But the movie worked, because it wasn’t really The Dark Tower in its splendid world-crossing, ka-tet camaraderie and trying adventures.

At first I thought the movie was a distillation of the books, a paring down to their very essence. It reminded me of that time years ago when I watched a modern reinterpretation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in which all the actors wore pajamas. Was it good? Yes, it was. The words were there, the story was there, but it was different from the play. And yet in many ways it was the same.

The basic story of The Dark Tower is summed up in the first sentence of the first book, The Gunslinger:

The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.

Roland, the last gunslinger, is trying to prevent the man in black, Walter, from destroying The Tower. Should The Tower fall, chaos and destruction would follow. The seven books (plus one he wrote as a stand-alone) give a detailed account of Roland’s journey to the Dark Tower, of friends he makes along the way, of the epic quest which is one of many he has undertaken before, all with the same purpose, all ending the same way.

I’ve read The Dark Tower books so many years ago that I can only remember fragments, so an in-depth comparison is out of the question. What I did not expect was this: the movie actually picks up where the last book left off – and here I don’t want to spoil it for you so I won’t go into details. Let me just say that when I got the end of that last book I felt cheated and incredibly frustrated, but in retrospective there couldn’t have been a better ending.
In the movie, the cast is reduced to three important characters – Roland the gunslinger, the boy Jake, and Walter, the man in black and Roland’s nemesis. Jake’s dad was a fireman who died on the job – here I couldn’t help but wonder if that was a nod to Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 or to Joe Hill’s recent novel, The Fireman (Joe Hill is King’s son). Maybe it was both or maybe neither.

It’s obvious the movie was made to accommodate a large audience. People who are new to Stephen King’s work will get a good vs evil action movie with nice special effects and a good story line. Long time fans, those who have read the books the movie is based on, will get so much more out if it (or less, depends on who you’re talking to). For me it was a pleasure to spot references to Christine, It, and The Shining. A passing reference to Oy, a dog-like creature with limited speech abilities, was but a fleeting sequence, but I was happy it was there. I remember Oy in the books – he was one of my favorite characters and I was heartbroken when he died.

By far my favorite parts in the movie were those when Roland said the gunslinger’s creed, something that to me sounds like a cross between a mantra and a prayer. Just seeing that on the screen, after having to imagine it when I read the books, made the movie worth watching. In fact, that was what made me love it. Idris Elba gave a great performance as Roland. I remember being excited when I read about him being cast in the role of the gunslinger. He did not fit with the image I had in mind but I like surprises. He did not disappoint and neither did Tom Taylor who played Jake, one of the members of the group that joined Roland on his quest to the Dark Tower.
As usual, King’s references to pop culture – guns, moral values, soft drinks, medicine, physical appearance, were a nice touch and I loved them all. You should see Roland’s face when he drank a can of soda for the first time. That made me laugh.

Many thanks to richysmalls via Instagram for allowing me to use his art. The entire picture is hand made using dots. Amazing, isn’t it?



Not long after I watched The Dark Tower, another Stephen King movie adaptation made it to the big screen. IT, based on the novel with the same name, is about a group of seven children who call themselves The Losers Club, who band together to fight the evil that is haunting their town. The evil is Pennywise, a clown who’s been kidnapping children and who appears to each of the seven children in the shape they fear the most.

I’ve read IT too long ago to remember many details and it wasn’t one of my favorite King novels. I found it disturbing, which is an understatement when it comes to King’s books, but this one even more so because it involves children. I’m glad one of the scenes in the book didn’t make it on the big screen. It would have been awful.

The movie is not your family-friendly type. There’s blood and mutilation and dirty jokes told by some very young boys. The most disturbing part for me was the woman in the painting which makes a couple of appearances, and that was far creepier to me than Pennywise himself. At least with him we know he’s supposed to be an evil entity, but that painting was something so unexpected it made me nearly jump out of my skin. I thought the children actors did a great job, especially Sophia Lillis in the role of Beverly Marsh, the only girl in the Losers Club. My favorite parts were the interactions between the seven friends. I look forward to the next installment which is going to be about the children who grow up and come back to their town to rid it of Pennywise once and for all.

I didn’t find Pennywise all that scary. Sure, he has some teeth worthy of a creature from Alien but to me he’s just a weird clown. What I found scary (apart from that weird-looking woman in the painting) was the way the adults behaved towards the children – an overbearing mother, a harsh teacher, a sleazy father, they were the true aliens (I will not call them monsters, except maybe for the father, who made my skin crawl).

It’s interesting that Pennywise’s lair is in an old abandoned house. I remembered a similar construction in The Dark Tower, which serves as a portal to another world. The building were nearly identical in my mind but then I’ll have to wait for the movies to come out on CD so I can take a closer look.


Gwendy’s Button Box

I was looking forward to reading this book for two reasons: the first and obvious one because it’s Stephen King and I’d read almost anything he writes, and the second because I was intrigued by the other author name on the front cover – Richard Chizmar. He is the founder of Cemetery Dance magazine (in 1988), and Cemetery Dance Publications (in 1992) which has published several of King’s books.
Whenever I see two names on the cover of a book I wonder whose voice is going to be the prominent one. I haven’t read anything by Richard Chizmar, but I can say this book had King’s unmistakable easy-going style with dashes of humor all over it. The man can spin a story like no other author I’ve read before.

What would you do with a box with magical powers? Would you take it? Would you destroy it to remove temptation?
This is the story of a young girl, Gwendy, who’s given a box by mysterious Mr. Farris. Gwendy is reluctant to take anything from a stranger at first, but Mr Farris can be quite charming and persuasive. It’s not just a regular box that he gives her, but one with powers. A sort of Pandora’s box with instructions and buttons you can push. Some of those buttons can be used for good. Others can do some nasty things. And the box gives out treats, sweet delicious treats. Who wouldn’t want to spend time playing with it?

It’s obvious that what happens in this book goes beyond being just a story. Sometimes you push a button just to see what happens. Sometimes you get it right, and sometimes you make a mess. And you learn things, not only about the box but about yourself and your limits.
As usual I loved King’s pop culture references, especially the one right at the beginning about women’s bodies.

The media says, ‘Girls, women, you can be anything you want to be in this brave new world of equality, as long as you can still see your toes when you stand up straight.’

Aldous Huxley, you will live forever.

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Catherine, Her Book – John Wheatcroft

I really think you should read “Wuthering Heights” before you give this book a try. It will make a lot more sense if you do.

“Sometimes I lay in the loft of the barn. Sometimes I lay in the dimple of the shade. Sometimes I lay in the fairy cave under Penistone Crags. Sometimes I lay, gasping for breath, under the black water of the pool at the bottom of the gorge. I was always alone, wanting Heathcliff.”

“Often I burned and shivered together, fire within, wind without.”

This is one of the books I bought a couple of months ago at a library sale. I’ve been working my way through the pile, saving this one like a fine morsel to be tasted and enjoyed later. When that time came I devoured it in a few days, pacing myself even though I wanted to rush through the story like the storm on a summer night. The old fashioned writing style (which I love and crave every now and then) called for a slowing down of my reading, something I was reluctant to do.

At a little under 200 pages, the book tells about a segment from Catherine Earnshaw’s life after she marries Edgar Linton and moves to Thrushcross Grange. She’s not a happy bride, even if Edgar appears to be the perfect husband. She longs for Heathcliff and the days they spent together. A love like theirs, burning with an unquenchable fire, cannot allow one to live a domestic life, apart from the other. In an attempt to find something to fill her days with and banish the demons that torment her, Catherine starts transcribing her old diary, pages and pages of scribbling jotted down in the margins of old books. It’s her story, detailing her relationship with Heathcliff , and the bond they developed over the years.

Who was Nelly, the trusted servant at the Wuthering Heights, and why is Mr Earnshaw so fond of her and Heathcliff while barely acknowledging his daughter Catherine and son Hindley? And why does he allow Joseph, who’s little more than a servant, to constantly preach about the wrath of God while verbally abusing the young children at every opportunity?

Catherine, who has an astute sense of observation, stumbles upon and sometimes only guesses at the mysteries surrounding the Earnshaw family – the tomb on the family estate, a tiny physical resemblance, an accidental witnessing of a lovers’ meeting. Wheatcroft skillfully fills in some of the gaps that bring more closure to the story in “Wuthering Heights”. The biggest mystery, however, concerning Heathcliff’s birth and parentage, is at best suspected but never confirmed. Heathcliff himself remains a secluded character, viewed mostly through Catherine’s eyes. Their relationship is tumultuous, passionate and dramatic. Sexuality plays a significant role and some passages are quite graphic. While not as intricate in action as “Wuthering Heights”, the story provides plenty of drama and anguish.

Not one to give up on a book because of bad reviews, I didn’t even check for the Goodreads rating first. When I did, I was surprised to see the book didn’t get much love. But that’s ok, it got plenty from me. I thought Wheatcroft managed to write a sequel that answers plenty of questions while at the same time leaving some things shrouded in mystery. Where did Heathcliff go during the 3 years he was away from Wuthering Height? Who were his parents? How did he become rich? And why, in the name of love, didn’t he just declare his feelings for Catherine and marry her? Actually I may know the answer to that last question if Catherine’s suspicions prove right. But that’s quite a big “if” and I’m not entirely convinced. Like in “Wuthering Heights”, there are patterns to this narrative as well. It was enough to partially satisfy my craving for answers but not quite enough to lay it all in the open. If you’re a fan of “Wuthering Height”s and would like to revisit your favorite characters, give this book a try.


I was curious to find out more about the author. John Wheatcroft (I love this perfect old fashioned name) was born 92 years ago today. What a coincidence that I finished writing this review on his birthday! I would have liked to write to him and tell him how much I enjoyed his book but I was late by a few months. He died in March this year. He was an American writer and teacher who served in World War II. “Catherine, Her Book”, was published in 1983 but Wheatcroft’s work has started appearing in print since 1967 – “Prodigal Son” – and the most recent, “The Portrait of a Lover”, in 2011.

My rating 5/5 stars
Read in July 2017

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The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood

When everything goes to hell, sex and booze is all we want.

I came to this conclusion after reading “The Heart Goes Last” in which Atwood describes a dystopian world quite close to reality. Charmaine and Stan are a young married couple trying to make ends meet after a big financial crash left them with no jobs and living in their car. Charmaine found work in a bar (because, after all, when everything goes to hell, sex and booze is all we want) and Stan’s main occupation is to make sure nobody steals their car. It’s a derelict existence. It’s survival. It’s not much of a life. That is until Charmaine sees an ad on TV in the bar where she works. There is a city named Consilience/Positron and anybody can apply to live there. There are jobs to be had, a free house, food and clothes, everything that was taken away by the crash. A clean bed with ironed sheets! Heck, a bed! Even that seems like a dream. The catch: once you’re in, you can’t get out. But Charmaine is a “glass full” kind of person and she wants in. Why wouldn’t she, when every night she sleeps in fear of her life as the violence has escalated and she’s always afraid of being beaten or raped or God knows what. So she convinces Stan and they get in.
For Charmaine, it’s a perfect place. She finds comfort in routine, in the cleanliness of the house, in cooking meals, in doing her job. It’s a routine, yes but this is so much better than their other life. So, so much better. Until it isn’t.

There is so much going on but things really start to get weird in the second half of the book. It’s like this book has double personality – half grim, half really funny. It was really depressing to read the first half and I seriously considered giving up but then I hoped things would pick up later. No city is perfect, especially one that’s so perfect on the outside. I imagined the place looked like in the video for “Chained to the Rhythm” by Katy Perry. Even the lyrics match. I wanted to quote them here but I’m not sure it’s allowed.

My patience was rewarded. The gloomy Orwellian atmosphere was dispelled. There were prostibots, Marilyns and Elvises, vampire references, a prison, and teddy bears. The blue, knitted ones, the kind you’d give a child. But oh, how Atwood twisted that into something disturbing and hilarious. It’s very likely next time I’ll see one in real life I’ll burst out laughing.

I enjoyed following Stan’s thought process as he was faced with some hard decisions. Charmaine was tough but in a superficial way – she seemed like a no-nonsense woman when it came to making sacrifices and it was entertaining and at times scary to watch how far she would go and the lies she would tell herself so she could keep what she had. There’s some trauma in her past but it’s only hinted at, a possible explanation to why she seemed so willing to accept anything to stay in Consilience/Positron.

I found interesting the duality of things – the city for a start, Consilience/Positron has a double name because everybody lives a dual life: for one month they live in their beautiful houses, then other month in prison. The irony does not escape me.
Life in prison is seen more like a succession of chores: there’s a laundry section, a knitting circle (for knitting blue teddy bears), even exercise classes. The city is soon to be franchised, there’s big money to be made and possibilities are endless. Just like possibilibots, life-like sex robots that are being made in the city. Because when the world goes to hell, yes, sex and booze is all we want. And maybe headless chickens, just because it’s better if we don’t have to decapitate them in order to eat them. More humane.

It’s interesting that Atwood sees only two possibilities: either a harsh life where everything is volatile, your job, your money, your transport, but you at least have your freedom, or a secure, sedate, domesticated version of a life where you get what you want but you’ll have to follow the rules. However, the human race being what it is, unpredictable, rules are broken and things really go to hell. There is no middle ground, unless you’re willing to compromise because every bit of comfort and happiness has a price. And you pay and pay and pay until there’s nothing left of you to pay with, no dignity, and no personal freedom.
Some of the things I saw coming but they were still entertaining to read and they had a satisfying twist. There are endless topics for discussion but that would mean giving away more of the plot and I’d rather not do that. I recommend it if you like dystopian fiction with a lot of swear words thrown in.

My rating: 4/5 stars
Read in June, 2017

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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


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.

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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

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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

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Mr Mercedes & Finders Keepers – Stephen King

Mr Mercedes Mr Mercedes is a departure from the usual shiver-inducing stories of Stephen King that I am used to. There are no spirits or other supernatural elements. For once, this novel doesn’t feel like a piece of fiction written for the delight of horror fans, although King has written some novels that are not horror. Nevertheless, when I say Stephen King my mind goes straight to Needful Things, Salem’s Lot, Misery and of course The Shining, one of the scariest stories I have read.
In spite of that, Mr Mercedes, King’s first hard-boiled detective novel (the first in a trilogy), still manages to infuse the reader with a sense of uneasiness. It’s a very real uneasiness, because it feels so anchored in reality it’s scary. Perhaps King has decided that some monsters are real. This is the fictional story of one of them.

Bill Hodges is a retired detective who spends his days watching TV and playing with his father’s gun. The idea of suicide is never far from his mind, if only he had the courage. But one day he receives a letter that shakes him from the torpor he had been steadily sinking in. It’s a taunting letter involving an unsolved case. Suddenly Hodges has something to wake up for in the morning.

Brady Hartsfield is an apparently ordinary guy working two jobs which provide him with ample opportunity to study the people living in the neighborhood and their habits. His relationship with his alcoholic mother verges between that of a dutiful son and something else. Something not quite right. But then, there are plenty of things not right with Brady, and King is masterfully showing the readers just how messed up this character is. One of the things I like about King’s villains is how he manages to make them sympathetic to the reader to some degree. It’s a murky zone – I want to hate the guy for what he had done and also what he plans to do, but in a tiny corner of my mind I can’t, not completely. Brady is a meticulous planner – what he has in mind is destruction, and he doesn’t care what happens after. Unfortunately for him, his careful planning backfires a few times. Luckily for him, this also creates problems for his enemies, so all is not lost.

It’s a race against time that plays nearly to the end of the novel, as Hodges tries to avert a disaster that is going to destroy many lives. Two people are helping him, Jerome and Holly, unexpected allies in this battle against evil. Ultimately, this is what this novel is, good versus bad, those who try to destroy lives and the ones who try to save them. It’s a good action packed thriller, and my only complaint is that this is a little too close to real life. People are shooting each other these days, planes crash, bombs go off, and terrorist attacks are not just a thing of imagination. This is real, this is the world we live in. For my part, I’d rather read about a haunted hotel or a loved one come back from the dead. Or even a crazy fan willing to kill for the books they love. Which brings me to the second book in this trilogy:

Finders Keepers Finders Keepers

John Rothstein is living his old age on a farm in New Hampshire, when one night three masked guys break into his house and steal his precious treasure, his notebooks that contain a lot of unpublished material written since he went into seclusion, years ago. Now it’s 1978 and just like Annie Wilkes in the famous novel Misery, Rothstein is about to meet his greatest fan.
This time however, there will be no prisoners, and this time Rothstein’s greatest fan is a guy, Morris Bellamy. Morris has a plan – to steal the writer’s notebooks and perhaps discover another novel about the famous Jimmy Gold, the character who made Rothstein famous. Morris isn’t happy with the way things ended for Jimmy Gold. He is, in fact, quite upset and disappointed, but then maybe the notebooks will reveal what he had been hoping for – a comeback of his favorite character as the former badass that he was.

Things veer off course for Morris, and the carefully constructed ambitious plan falls by the wayside. The irony, Morris thinks as he spends the best years of his life locked up, is that he isn’t even jailed for what he did that night but for something he doesn’t even remember doing.

Years later, when he gets out of prison, all he can think about are those notebooks and how he’s going to read them, unpublished material read by only one pair of eyes: his. But what he doesn’t know is that once again, plans don’t work out the way you want to just because you want them to. And Morris is still the same guy, stopping at nothing to get what he wants, not caring if people might get hurt in the process. Morris Bellamy’s obsession had become his life goal.

Like in Mr Mercedes, there is a part of me that doesn’t like the bad guy but also a part that pities him. I love books totally and completely, I love being lost in a story, and I could see (to some extent) why Morris did the things he did just to hold in his hands the work of a beloved author. I feel that this is the very idea that sits at the foundation of this story. Like in the first book, King doesn’t shy away from unpleasant scenes – if you’re squeamish about graphic scenes you’ll be uncomfortable at some point in reading this book.

There is no strong connection between these two stories – the only thing they have in common is three of the characters who now work together to solve a new case. These characters have an emotional connection but knowing their background is not necessary to enjoy this story. In fact, I’d say that I liked Mr Mercedes more because I felt the suspense King created was dispersed in good doses throughout the story and the finale was worth waiting for. King also left room for more creepiness to come, so it didn’t feel like a finished story. Finders Keepers however, feels complete.
I’m really looking forward to reading the third installment in this trilogy, End of Watch. One of the characters from Mr Mercedes is going to make a comeback and I can’t wait to see how it will all end.

*Read in July-August 2015
*My rating: Mr Mercedes 4/5 stars                                                                                                Finders Keepers 3/5 stars

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The Artificial Anatomy of Parks – Kat Gordon

Anatomy of Parks The Artificial Anatomy of Parks is the story of a family secret. Tallulah Park gets a phone call from the hospital. Her father has had a heart attack and is now unconscious. She decides to go and see him.
It is clear early on that Tallulah did not really get along with her father, and so the story begins, alternating between events from Tallulah’s childhood and the present, where she is working as a waitress, living in an old building and trying to avoid her relatives. Her father’s ill health is the reason she decides to once again come back and see her family, even though she’s been away from them for years. Why she’s stayed away for so long is explained in the end as is almost everything else.

This book was a mixed bag for me. I liked the skipping back and forth in time – the narrator, Tallulah, has an engaging voice and the breaks in her story come at the most interesting points, something I found equally intriguing and annoying. It’s like someone is about to tell you a secret but suddenly the phone rings and the moment is lost. There are plenty of moments like that throughout the story which only made me impatient to get to the end. There are family squabbles, a strained relationship between Tallulah’s mother and her father’s sisters, and then there’s Jack, her father’s brother, whose return after a long absence causes turmoil within the family and brings about a tragic incident.

Tallulah seems apathetic for most of the time, and I did not find her a particularly likeable character. After going away to live by herself she seems almost lifeless and I couldn’t help comparing her with her father, a seemingly cold and uninteresting man who seemed to do anything in his power to avoid spending time with his daughter. Later on in the story I felt pity for her, for the tragedies she had to go through, and a tiny bit of admiration for the way she had managed to survive, but overall I wished I liked her more. Uncle Jack was the real mystery of the book, and the part he had to play in Tallulah’s life. It seems that even if he tried to do good, all he was able to do was to bring about more heartache.

From dealing with abuse to anatomical references concerning the workings of the heart (my favorite part), this novel manages to be somehow heart-warming and almost indifferent at the same time, an odd combination which works startlingly well overall.
There is a mystery to be revealed at the end but the part that is finally revealed is easy to see coming because of all the events leading up to it. The other part, the most interesting part concerning a death, is left unanswered and I’m still thinking about it because I felt there was no closure. On one hand I agree that not everything needs to be resolved in a novel but on the other hand I really wish I had the answer to this one. But then, thinking back to the name of the novel, this seems like a fitting way to end the story.

I got this book from the publisher, Legend Press, in exchange for an honest review.

My rating: 3/5 stars
Read in June 2015

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Gone Forever: a Get Jack Reacher novel by Scott Blade

Nothing to Lose by Lee Child was one of the first books I reviewed on this blog back in 2011. It was a fun book to read, despite a few issues I had with the main character. Still the idea behind the story, this Wild West cowboy of modern days traveling all over America solving cases appealed to me, and that is why when author Scott Blade emailed me and asked if I would like to read his novel I was curious enough to say yes.

First of all, I must say I was relieved to see the story is about Jack Reacher’s son and not about Reacher himself. That was a bonus point. I’m not sure I would have liked to read about a known character from another author’s point of view.

Get Jack Reacher Cameron Reacher is Jack Reacher’s son. His mother, a small town sheriff, dies when Cameron is eighteen, leaving clear instructions as to what path her son must follow. He, like an obedient son, does as he is told, leaving behind the town he grew up in, on a quest to find his father. Just like his father, he walks and occasionally hitchhikes until he reaches a small town where a man is desperately looking for his missing wife. The only problem is, nobody seems to remember her and someone in the town wants the husband gone or dead. Cameron decides to help and in the process he survives some pretty impressive life threatening situations. One in a jail cell involving a rope was my favorite because I did not see how he could get out of it which obviously he had to otherwise the book would just end with the main character dead. In fact, this is the appeal of this story, the ability to surprise. The writing is straightforward, and at times becomes technical, with a lot of information about guns that I wasn’t particularly interested in but other readers who know a lot more on the subject will probably appreciate. Detail is one thing this book abounds in. At times it felt like Cameron was a little too fixated on things – like how many minutes and even seconds it took him to do certain things, how he could tell the time without looking at a watch, and how he was always keeping his calm and never got beaten up by anybody. Sure, he was a massive guy, with long black hair and hands like a “human gorilla”, something Blade insisted on a little too much (I got the point early on) and everybody was afraid of him except the people who gave him a ride.
Also, I got a chuckle out of seeing that he named one of the characters Ann Gables.

Overall this was a good thriller with plenty of action and an interesting character. The author did a good job of creating a background that was believable, and in this way tying the story back to Jack Reacher. I’m curious to see if Cameron finds his father and what happens when he does. I just hope it won’t take ten novels to find out.
Many thanks to the author who provided me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars
Read in June 2015

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