30 November 2009

NaNoWriMo: The End!

Of the month, that is. The novel is still in the second chapter of Part Three, at a grand total of

81,417 words!

(Or 81,686 if you listen to the counter on the website.) And more than 22,500 of them were written in the last four days, including one day of just over 7,000 words ... I think I made up for my days off sick!

And now the writing goes on at a slower pace, and all those bits of real life which got put on hold over the last thirty days (anything not a matter of life and death, basically) can begin again. Including the business of reading and reviewing published novels by other people, rather than obsessing over a very-possibly-never-to-be-published one of my own.

Having posted hardly at all this month, I stand in awe of those people (hello, Bookfool!) who manage to do NaNo and keep blogging at the same time. Though I could probably do it too, if I didn’t spend every spare moment living and breathing NaNo because I find it so addictive ... and because it brings out my latent competitive streak. Having narrowly outdone last year’s total, I’ve already devised a plan for doing even better next year:

I will not let the forums distract me from writing (too much). I will not get sick (I hope). I will do my cover art well in advance so that it can’t serve as an excuse for procrastination for days on end. And I will outline in October.

And now I will go and get some sleep ... and try to work out what on earth happens in the rest of Part Three.

23 November 2009

NaNoWriMo: Day 23

At last I’ve posted a review! I finished it today as a change of pace for my brain, because I think NaNo’s fried it. First, I had my feigning-muteness heroine speak - twice! - and didn’t even notice until the following day. I discovered that there was a black hole in my plot where Chapter 7 should be. When I did start getting Chapter 7 planned, I somehow managed to segue into one of its scenes when I should still have been writing Chapter 6. And I did all these things in under 24 hours.

(I would here like to apologise to anyone in my suburb who was alarmed on any morning last week by the sight of the crazy girl walking toward the station muttering to herself. Rest assured that it was not paranoid ramblings; it was “Could something happen at dinner? No, no, after dinner ... she could meet John on the stairs ... no, in the passage ... and he’s heard about the discovery in the drawing-room....”)

Fortunately such errors seem to have disappeared with the advent of the weekend and more sleep. Well, mostly. Chapter 7, cobbled together in haste though it was, is actually looking pretty darn good now that I’ve struggled through Chapter 10. On the up side, at least when you know a chapter’s gone totally off the rails you’re free to quit trying to write decent prose and just go for speed.

I had hoped to reach the magic 50,000 mark tonight, but first I need sleep. And some answers to those important questions: What happens next? What clue does Alice discover? How will Lizzie’s secret love for John affect my plot? When will Fabian actually start talking to his author?

And why do I keep typing “whickers” instead of “whiskers”?

Book Review: Possession by A. S. Byatt

Chunkster Challenge #2
Classics Challenge #4

Possession In a dusty book once owned by the great nineteenth-century poet Randolph Henry Ash, scholar Roland Michell finds two draft beginnings of a letter. These drafts are surprising, not only because they’ve escaped the attentions of rapacious Ash collector Mortimer Cropper, but because they don’t sound at all like the rather dull Ash with whom Roland is familiar. Overcome by the desire to keep his discovery to himself, just for a while, he smuggles the pages out of the British Library and embarks on some independent research.

His inquiries take him to Maud Bailey, an expert on - and distant relative of - Christabel LaMotte, Ash’s fellow poet and the woman to whom the draft letters were written. Absorbed in the thrill of the hunt for truth, they think they can keep their investigation a secret. But the academic grapevine soon causes various colleagues and rivals, including Cropper, to start investigations of their own. What started as a few scholarly questions turns into a race with not just facts and accolades but invaluable artefacts - literary treasure - as the prize.

Being the bonus book of the Classics Challenge I should have left Possession until last, especially as I knew I faced a last-minute scramble to get everything read and reviewed. But I never was much good at resisting literary temptation. And it had been a whole three years since the last time I read it....

Usually I would wait longer before re-reading something, but I love it to bits (please, book gods, not literally - I’d be devastated if my copy wore out!) Every time I read it stand in awe of the quality of the writing and the complexity of the ideas. And every time I discover something new: some reference I never understood before but now get, some connection to history or other books or another point within this book. It’s a novel that keeps on giving to the repeat reader. This time around, it reminded me of The Mysteries of Udolpho in that it interleaved poetry and prose; but here the poems add to the plot, and the sense of realism is kept by their not having supposedly been composed on the spur of the moment without the aid of quill and paper. As well as poems short and long, there are letters, short stories, and pieces of journals, biography, memoir, and scholarly articles by no fewer than 10 different characters; and every character’s writing voice is pitch-perfect.

Among the cast is one of my favourite fictional antagonists. Mortimer Cropper is a hero in his own mind, but the amoral means he employs to get to his chosen ends (and the fact that he’s a self-obsessed jerk) make him loathed by anyone not on the receiving end of one of his cheques. His refusal - and perhaps inability - to consider that the British might have a greater claim to artefacts of British history than has an American is one of the main components of his villainy, which is somewhat ironic given Britain’s track record with other countries (Elgin marbles, anyone?). His presence turns the quest into a race, and I love seeing some of the elements normally associated with thrillers - the ticking clock, the travel, the heroes’ subterfuge to throw their rivals off track - transferred to so unlikely a setting as academia.

The mystery plot is well organised, with information being revealed at a steady pace and in just the right order. In some instances poems serve as clues and are so well crafted that the reader knows what their significance is even though there isn’t a shred of proof. Although a number of very different characters (and I don’t think you can get much more different than Leonora Stern and James Blackadder) I’m always left with the impression that only Roland and Maud could have put the pieces together to that point; their knowledge of the lives and works of the people they’re investigating is so integral to the process. The connection across the decades is highlighted by the ways in which their actions sometimes mirror those of Ash and Christabel. And it all leads up to one of my favourite fictional endings.

Best of all, this time around I impressed myself - sort of - by finally noticing the symbolism of some of the names. (As pleased as I am, I’m still mentally kicking myself for not spotting it before.) Mottes and baileys are both types of castle fortification, and both Christabel and Maud exist in well-defended isolation; the former in determined independence from the world of men, and the latter in the ivory tower of academia. Being tall and pale and blonde, Maud could almost be said to be an ivory tower herself. (If you know your poetry, you should have no trouble working out the part Roland plays in all this.)

Possession is one of the books I’d urge everyone to read.

Rating: A+

15 November 2009

NaNoWriMo: Day 15


That’s how many words I managed to produce in a single weekend. And what a weekend it was. One of my characters changed her name - twice. The manor house spontaneously sprouted a tower. The steward did something I totally did not expect from him. The mysterious owner is being so mysterious that even I can’t see past the imperious facade. A lazy black setter named Balthazar materialised out of nowhere, even though I’m not really sure what a setter looks like. And there’s something stuffed up the chimney in a long-disused drawing room, and I have no idea what it is.

In other words, I’m having a ball.

Rather a long-winded one, though. My efforts to channel the nineteenth-century style have resulted in an excess of nineteenth-century verbosity. It’s taken nearly 20,000 words just to get the poor girl to the spooky manor house; if I keep going like this I’ll still be writing the first draft come Christmas.

But it’s good for the word count. A few more days, not only will I be caught up, I’ll be ahead. Especially as I can hit 1,900 words an hour when I really get on a roll. How many of those words will survive to the second draft remains to be seen; but they sure do boost morale.

Now, I have an invisible presence in the garden needing my attention....

12 November 2009

NaNoWriMo: Day 12

Houston, we have cover art!

The Silent Land

It’s a - can you call something photoshopped if you don’t actually use PhotoShop? - section of a painting by William Merritt Chase. I went to the American Impressionism and Realism exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery in September, saw the original, and thought, “That’s my cover!” I love it when dumb luck goes my way.

And I’m beginning to close the yawning word count gap left by my days off sick. Being still in the earliest part of the novel, where I actually know what happens next, it’s not proving too difficult. But by around Saturday evening I’m going to be very worried. I have the beginning (even if Chapter 1 is a bit of a train wreck). I have a fair notion of the ending, and I’ll have a better one once Alice chooses between Fabian and John. But the stretch between the fourth and penultimate chapters currently bears a striking resemblance to the Nullarbor Plain: there’s almost nothing in it.

I’m trying to convince myself that, as gothics depend largely on atmosphere, a slight shortage of incident won’t matter too much, at least not in the first draft. And I’m hoping that my characters will take over - or at the very least, that I can continue keeping one day ahead in my plot-it-as-I-go outline.

If anyone’s interested in closer observation of the impending literary disaster, front row seats are available on my NaNo profile page.

Booking Through Thursday: Too Short?

Suggested by JM:

“Life is too short to read bad books.” I’d always heard that, but I still read books through until the end no matter how bad they were because I had this sense of obligation.

That is, until this week when I tried (really tried) to read a book that is utterly boring and unrealistic. I had to stop reading.

Do you read everything all the way through or do you feel life really is too short to read bad books?

I feel that life is too short to read really bad books. (And I’ve only recently progressed that far.) I used to read everything to the very end; but now if I feel sure I simply can’t finish a book - and if morbid curiosity isn’t enough to keep me going - I will quit.

I’ve only done so a handful of times in the last couple of years, either because old habits die hard or because I’m good at choosing books. I think mostly the former - I’ve written my share of negative reviews. Quitting a book gives me an uncomfortable feeling of unfinished business. I do think that I need to get better at walking away from bad books; but then writing scathing reviews is so much fun!

10 November 2009

Chunkster Challenge: Withdrawal

Chunkster Challenge

As I just posted, I’ve been unwell for some days and am now seriously behind in my NaNoWriMo wordcount. Hence I’ve been obliged to drop out of the Chunkster Challenge. There’s just no way I can catch up with NaNo, finish another huge book, and produce the necessary reviews for this and the Classics Challenge in 5 days. At least, not if I want to sleep.

I did read three books for the challenge, but only one has yet been reviewed. Links for the pending reviews will be added as they’re posted.

Possession - A. S. Byatt
Bleak House - Charles Dickens
Wives and Daughters - Elizabeth Gaskell (substituted for The Magus because it seemed a shame not to include the biggest book I’ll read all year)

It was fun while it lasted.

NaNoWriMo: Day 10

Wednesday - the day on which I intended to post an update - reminded me of a quote by Neil Gaiman:

When writing a novel that's pretty much entirely what life turns into: 'House burned down. Car stolen. Cat exploded. Did 1500 easy words, so all in all it was a pretty good day.'

In my case it was: got three and a half hours sleep; tree loppers started chainsawing and woodchipping across the road at seven sharp; mother down with food poisoning from the previous night’s dinner I prepared; was obliged to dispose, all by my arachnophobic self, of the corpse of a spider so enormous that had I seen it when it was alive they’d have heard the shriek in New South Wales....

....on the plus side: able to wake from far too little sleep looking fresh as a daisy and put on a convincing show of being fully compos mentis; inherited my father’s cast-iron stomach; nearly finished my cover art; wrote 1,944 fairly easy words before the whole compos mentis thing came to a crashing halt shortly after 6pm. Which made me feel somewhat better about a day that otherwise seemed to be karma’s way of kicking me in the butt in retaliation for cooking a toxic meal and failing to succumb to it myself.

Though as it turned out, it was apparently not food poisoning but something contagious, and it struck me down on Thursday. I spent more than 24 hours sicker than I can ever remember being in my life, and days after that envying the energy levels of snails. The relevant upshot of all this is that I wrote nothing for five days, and as of this morning was 9024 words behind. It’s going to take some serious weekend wordcount heroics to get me back on track.

On a more positive note, it’s starting to come to life. I’ve had objects spontaneously materialise, my heroine (who I feared might be a tad dull) has shown some commendable spirit, and just this afternoon I had a minor plot hole pointed out to me by one of my own characters. By tomorrow evening I hope to have some cover art and an excerpt ready to upload (if the site’s working, which much to my frustration it currently isn’t).

Stay tuned, and wish me luck.

02 November 2009

Weekly Geeks: Weird and Creepy

Weekly Geeks

1) Tell us about something weird, unusual, terrifying, or creepy you've read lately.

2) Tell us what you think. Are things getting a little more weird and creepy than usual, or less? If your choice for the answer to question number 1 was written in a different decade, what does it say about that era? Maybe you think that the weird and creepy is status quo. Or maybe we’re all like lobsters in a pot, and we can’t tell if things are getting hot in here.

1. I’ve read quite a bit of weird, unusual, and creepy (but nothing terrifying) lately for R.I.P. IV - an eighteenth-century gothic classic, a nineteenth-century gothic classic, a twentieth-century ghost story, and a twenty-first century piece of gothic surreality. (And I didn’t even notice until now that I had achieved such a spread of centuries!)

2. Given that I’m only 25, and that my reading habits are, shall we say, chronologically diverse, I don’t feel qualified to answer this question. I haven’t been reading adult books long enough, and recent books have formed too small a portion of my literary diet, for me to hold much of an opinion on publishing trends. There do seem to be a lot of weird/spooky/supernatural books out there of late; but then there are a lot of books out there. A certain percentage of those are bound to contain some kind of otherwordly element.

Most of the weird and creepy I’ve read would have been published within, say, the last twenty years; but that could simply be the result of literary life-spans. I’m hardly likely to read something that’s out of print and lost to obscurity. And the weird and the creepy in literature have been around for a long time. The Victorians loved their ghost stories. Gothic novels were first making readers’ hair stand on end more than two hundred years ago. Shakespeare had the Weird Sisters and Caliban.

And since I adore creepy tales of all times periods ... I’m glad that there are centuries of spookiness to choose from.

01 November 2009

Book Review: Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Classics Challenge #3

Macbeth While travelling, Scottish nobleman Macbeth is met by three witches who predict, among other things, that he will become king. Macbeth is sceptical, but when the first part of the prophecy comes true, he sees no reason why the rest shouldn’t also. Nor does his wife; indeed, when the current king stays at their castle she encourages Macbeth to make the prediction a reality. Killing for a throne turns out to be easier than keeping it and the witches haven’t finished with him yet.

For the first time I’ve re-read something that was required reading in high school English. You really do appreciate literature much more without the threat of an essay hanging over your head. And it’s testament to how much I’ve come to appreciate Shakespeare that I chose to read anything carrying memories of Year 9.

I have to feel a little sorry for the historical Macbeth, as Shakespeare’s depiction is ... well, not the most flattering. The theatrical Macbeth is a rather weak man, pushed by the stronger personality of his wife into seizing the throne by murder, necessitating other crimes to retain his ill-gotten crown. Neither one stops to look closely at the witches’ prophecies, taking for granted that they’re as straightforward as they seem and falling headlong into the perils of heedless and excessive ambition. Like any good prophecy, there are hidden snags, and they come true in unexpected but perfectly logical ways; and Macbeth’s inner tyrant in unleashed along the way. I haven’t quite decided whether the witches simply revealed what portents came to them, or knew all along what the result would be and perhaps even intended to cause Macbeth’s rise and fall.

Lady Macbeth fascinated me when I first met her and continues to do so. She’s one of the most compelling women in literature - encouraging, aiding, and abetting murder to secure her husband’s advancement and through his, her own. When she discovers that she is not in fact able to cope with the path she’s embarked on the results are dramatic. Even though she’s one of the bad guys I do pity her just a little for her fate.

As well as one of the great villainesses, Macbeth contains a number of highly memorable images: the procession of phantom kings, "Out, damned spot!", Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane, and the appearance of Banquo’s ghost. (Phantom kings ... a ghost ... almost R.I.P. IV material!) And for anyone wary of Shakespeare, it has the advantage of being short.

Rating: A-

NaNo Is GO!

I resisted the temptation last year, but this year I caved: I’ve sat up to begin my NaNoWriMo novel at the stroke of midnight! I had intended to supply myself with a proper outline and written notes this year, but we all know where good intentions go. I have too little plot, undoubtedly too little research, but an abundance of enthusiasm which I hope will compensate for the shortcomings. (I also have a last sentence to aim for, which puts me one up on last year.)

The blog will roll on while I have my head in the nineteenth-century clouds; my backlog of pending reviews will make nice warm-up exercises to begin my writing day. There’s the Chunkster Challenge to finish ... somehow. And there will be updates, rants, and self-congratulation as applicable.

Now I’m off to start writing! Having watched Psycho this evening I’m hoping some NaNoing will get the image of Mrs Bates out of my head before I try to sleep....

(If you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is ... it’s a form of mass insanity in which thousands of people around the globe attempt to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. Crazy? Of course. Fun? Hell yes!)

31 October 2009

Classics Challenge 2009 Wrap-Up

Classics Challenge 2009

Since the challenge blog only specified reading the classics, not reviewing them, I have technically completed the challenge even though I have five half-finished reviews. (Blame NaNoWriMo. I do.) My selections were:

Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen (A-)
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë (A)
Possession - A. S. Byatt (bonus) (A+)
The Red Badge of Courage - Stephen Crane (B)
Bleak House - Charles Dickens (A-)
The Metamorphoses - Ovid (B+)
Macbeth - William Shakespeare (A-)

Aside from my tardiness, an unqualified success! Seven books and nothing lower than a B. I read about the American Civil War for the first time; added another century - the 1st - to my list of centuries I’ve read works from (nine and counting); I finished a novel by Dickens; and I ventured back into the realm of Books I Was Forced to Read in High School. I also had a perfect excuse to re-read some old favourites.

Review links will be added over the next couple of days as the reviews are finished and posted.

Many thanks to Trish for providing one of my favourite pre-NaNo distractions!

30 October 2009

R.I.P. IV Challenge Wrap-Up


Reader imbibing peril indeed! In the last two months I have (vicariously) been trapped in haunted castles in mediaeval Europe, learned of a friend’s horrifying transformations, gone on a body-snatching expedition, discovered dark family secrets in the mountains of Spain, been pursued across England by a malevolent supernatural force, and made a deal with ... well, I’m not quite sure with what. Something not entirely human, certainly. I’m a little envious of my northern hemisphere co-participants - such tales demand dark autumn evenings and chill winds whistling round the corners of the house. But reading them surrounded by warmth and sunshine is still a lot of fun. (And now some of my northern hemisphere readers are doubtless a little envious of me!)

To complete Peril the First, I read four books:

The Mist in the Mirror - Susan Hill (C+)
The Mysteries of Udolpho - Ann Radcliffe (B-)
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and other tales of terror - Robert Louis Stevenson (B-)
The Angel's Game - Carlos Ruiz Zafon (A-)
After a trip to the library at the start of the month I decided to substitute The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl for one of the above, but it was a DNF for me - it was printed in a too-thin typeface that I just couldn’t read. The other books I started were much better choices, even if The Mist in the Mirror frustrated with too few chills and too many loose ends, and Udolpho with more excess verbiage than Henry James (and isn’t that saying a lot?).

At long last I got to meet Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and make my acquaintance with the story behind the saying. Its fame has proved its undoing, taking away the shock of discovery. No such worry with The Angel's Game; for once I actually managed to lay hands on the latest bestseller in reasonably quick time and only had to avoid a handful of reviews on other blogs to keep all the surprises intact.

Looking back over this year’s selection, it’s struck me that all are set in western Europe and all are historical, mostly nineteenth and early twentieth century. Next year I’ll aim for a greater variety of time and setting, but as my justification for adding another challenge to the pile this year was NaNo inspiration the choices were appropriate. Now that I’ve finished reading about historical supernatural horrors, I get to go and inflict some on my heroine!

Carl, you’re a legend for devising this challenge!

Book Review: The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

R.I.P. IV Challenge #4

The Angel’s Game David Martín’s great ambition is to be a writer. When he gets the chance to write a noir serial titled The Mysteries of Barcelona he grabs the attention not just of the reading public, but also the mysterious Andreas Corelli, a Parisian publisher who uses an angel emblem and seemingly has the ability to make the impossible become real. Years later, David has taken over a sinister, decaying mansion where he churns out pseudonymous thrillers and dreams of the lovely but married Cristina. When he needs help, Andreas Corelli obliges, but in return David must produce a very specific type of book. Not such a simple task, when the police are watching him, people are dying, and the question of what became of the mansion’s previous owner keeps distracting him. David Martín and the late Diego Marlasca share more than just initials - they both made a deal with Corelli, whose motives and plans are highly questionable and from whom it might not be possible to walk away.

I began this - the first companion piece to The Shadow of the Wind - with high and barely restrained expectations. And although it took me a while to warm up to David I wasn’t disappointed. The Cemetery of Forgotten Books made a welcome reappearance (I would love to spend time in that place!) as did Sempere & Sons bookshop, one generation earlier. It also shared the theme of a young man unravelling a mystery while overcoming his greatest weakness; but while Daniel Sempere’s besetting flaw was cowardice, David’s was cold-heartedness. This initially made him a little hard to like, but did provide some great snarkiness, especially when Isabella showed up. He didn’t want a protégée, and he really didn’t want one who would entrench herself in his house and clean it to within an inch of its life, but that’s exactly what he got and I loved every word of their verbal sparring.

And they share Barcelona. The city is a spectacular backdrop, and obliterates any notion of Spain as perpetually sun-drenched. Eerie mansions, a labyrinth of books, a witch’s hovel, dingy apartments, and of course a cemetery ... they’re all the types of location that would fit easily into The Mysteries of Barcelona. Even when nothing particularly spooky is happening, you know that in a setting like that the characters can’t remain safe for long; something will have to happen. And something always does.

It takes some time for the mystery to really get going, as it centres around Corelli and his game and there’s a fair bit of set-up required to establish his presence in David’s life. But when it does ... it was baffling, at times unnerving, and came with plenty of action. And that smell.... Even after finishing it I was still baffled, but in a “Wow!” way. Closing the book was like stepping out of a mirror maze, suddenly back amidst the everyday and wondering what had been real and what not. I know that one day I’ll have to read it again in the hope of figuring out just what was going on when it all went strange(r).

Rating: A-

Fractal Friday: Nebula


27 October 2009

Book Review: The Mist in the Mirror by Susan Hill

R.I.P. IV Challenge #3

The Mist in the Mirror After having spent nearly all his life abroad, James Monmouth returns to England, the country where he spent the first five years of his life and of which he has no memory. He plans to research a book about the explorer Conrad Vane, who has long fascinated him and whose travels he has retraced. From the moment he arrives at London’s Cross Keys Inn, odd things begin to happen. Seemingly trivial matters terrify him. A strange boy stands in the street gazing at him. And person after person advises him stay well clear of anything concerning Conrad Vane.

I did feel a chill while reading this ... but that was because the aircon on the train was overdone again. I didn’t find it particularly creepy. Initially it was all too subjective: Monmouth was, by his own admission, getting freaked out for no reason by things unlikely to alarm anyone else. Later, when clearly abnormal phenomena began to appear, it was hard to believe that he was truly scared by them, as regardless of what he felt at the time, he kept going with his enquiries afterward. Being a first-person story, if the character relating the events keeps shrugging them off it’s an open invitation to the reader to do the same. And I didn’t altogether like Monmouth; surely, after receiving that many warnings, a person of sense would have returned to London and boarded the next ship out of there.

On the upside, it’s fabulously atmospheric. Monmouth begins his account with a passage that echoes the opening of Bleak House with rain instead of fog, and you know at once what sort of tale you’ll be reading. From dank inns to ancient college buildings to a dilapidated manor house, the settings fit the genre perfectly. The malevolence quotient increased at the end (perhaps it wasn’t the aircon after all....) but there were too many loose ends that never came close to being explained.

Rating: C+

15 October 2009

Book Review: Behold, Here's Poison by Georgette Heyer

Behold, Here’s Poison When a servant finds Gregory Matthews dead in his bed, it’s believed to be natural causes. And natural causes it would have remained, if his dragonish sister Gertrude Lupton hadn’t declared it impossible that there could have been a weak heart in her family, and demanded a post-mortem. When it transpires that Gregory was poisoned, there’s no shortage of suspects for Inspector Hannasyde and Sergeant Hemingway to investigate. His siblings, siblings-in-law, niece, nephews, and neighbour all stood to benefit by his death, either materially or just by getting rid of an unpleasant nuisance. So to, perhaps, did the mysterious "Mr Hyde"....

For some inexplicable reason I was surprised when the victim’s first appearance was as a corpse. It’s happened in numerous books that I’ve read, but still, in a classic-style whodunit I was rather expecting to be able to play spot-the-victim and study everyone’s opportunity before being presented with a body. Still. It certainly got things off to a dramatic start, even if it did prevent Gregory from being as well-defined as the other characters. Although there’s well over a century between them, it was impossible not to think of Heyer’s Regency characters - this group was just as eccentric as any in her romances, and while not all of them were likeable they were a lot of fun to read about. Especially Randall Matthews, who took great delight in always doing or saying precisely the most objectionable thing in any situation. It could be highly entertaining to have a Randall in one’s family - so long as his barbs weren’t directed against oneself.

I felt very pleased with myself for identifying the means by which the poison was delivered pages before the detectives did, which compensated for my utter inability to identify the person who used it. The motive was almost too much of a surprise, but it did fit in with what had been uncovered about Gregory Matthews’s character. Not sure, though, about the eventual romantic pairing....

Rating: B

Booking Through Thursday: Weeding

We’re moving in a couple weeks (the first time since I was 9 years old), and I’ve been going through my library of 3000+ books, choosing the books that I could bear to part with and NOT have to pack to move. Which made me wonder…

When’s the last time you weeded out your library? Do you regularly keep it pared down to your reading essentials? Or does it blossom into something out of control the minute you turn your back, like a garden after a Spring rain?

Or do you simply not get rid of books? At all? (This would have described me for most of my life, by the way.)

And–when you DO weed out books from your collection (assuming that you do) …what do you do with them? Throw them away (gasp)? Donate them to a charity or used bookstore? SELL them to a used bookstore? Trade them on Paperback Book Swap or some other exchange program?

The last time I culled by book collection was also in preparation for a move ... i.e. seven years ago. Since then it’s been steadily expanding to fill all the available shelf space. Given that shelf space is finite - and in my case rapidly running out - a second cull will have to take place in the near(ish) future. Probably I’ll put it off until I have so many books stacked on the front of the shelves that I can hardly get to the books behind.

When the inevitable day comes, what I do with the weeded-out books will depend on their condition. Since a lot of my collection was acquired second-hand some will undoubtedly be fit only for a return to the charity from whence they came. Any that are in good shape I’ll take to a second-hand bookstore I know which accepts trade-ins. Which won’t really help in the matter of shelf space, but since the new acquisitions will go straight into the TBR box their effect won’t be felt for a while. And as it’s essentially a way of getting new books for free, I can justify it on the grounds of its being the economical option :-)

08 October 2009

Weekly Geeks

Weekly Geeks

Take a look at your blog as if you were someone who has never seen a blog before. Imagine they are looking for something specific. Could they find it? Could they find YOU again? Be able to contact you? Would they understand your jargon?

With these questions in mind, start making your blog more reader friendly.

I’ve had vague thoughts of blog improvement percolating in my brain for a while now. I’ve even started acting on them: I’m currently going through my archive unifying the formatting and adding ALT tags to everything. Beyond that ... I have a large list of little things to think about.

META tags, as suggested, are top of the list, probably followed by a lot of reading of Blogger Help to get me started on the rest. (Despite appearances, I’m not great at coding.) I want to overhaul some of the things done in haste as part of the Blog Improvement Project at Sophisticated Dorkiness (the reviews index, the additional personal information, the "Best Of" list); the vision I’m toying with is a row of links beneath the header. Assuming, of course, it’s possible to turn a header into an image map....

I’m also considering switching to either my given initials or a "proper" pseudonym, now that NaNoWriMo has me taking my writing more seriously. Trouble is, that could necessitate changing the URL.

One thing at a time....

01 October 2009

Book Review: The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

R.I.P. IV Challenge #2

The Mysteries of Udolpho Strange happenings seem to follow Emily St Aubert. Missing necklaces and music of no apparent origin are just the beginning. When she is orphaned and left in the charge of her aunt, said aunt soon remarries and Emily’s new uncle, Montoni, takes them both to his Italian castle. Inside Udolpho mystery and danger lurk in all quarters. If it’s not Montoni trying to railroad her into marriage to the obnoxious Count Morano, it’s sinister figures roaming the ramparts or - far worse - the ghastly object concealed behind a black veil.... Emily’s hope of taking possession of her father’s estate and marrying the dashing Valancourt are looking more remote by the day.

While mulling over what to write in my review, two words came to mind: Literary bipolar. Udolpho has a bad case of it. It’s one of the classics gothics ... but large stretches of it aren’t gothic at all. It’s set in the sixteenth century ... and walks and talks like the eighteenth century. Emily St Aubert faints at the drop of a hat (or a black veil, as the case may be) ... except for a few moments of such strength that I felt like cheering for her. It’s got plenty of seemingly supernatural horrors ... but the only scary things in it are patently real. Sometimes I wanted to scream from the sheer tedium of it ... and then something thrilling would happen. Trying to define it is like trying to knit with spaghetti.

I think the only way to read it is to forget all notions of what a gothic novel, or a historical novel - or a novel at all - is meant to be. Give yourself up the surreality of it all: the insubstantial characters, the fainting fits and melodrama, the elaborate explaining-away of everything seemingly supernatural, the eccentric pacing that varies from snail speed to warp speed. If you can do that, you should have fun. I did, at times; but just as often I wanted to shake someone - either character or author. When Radcliffe gets into scenery-painting mode, or Emily begins wilting under the weight of her sensibility, it can get unspeakably dull. (Though it is livened by a few moments of unintentional comedy when other characters think Emily’s about to keel over, and leap into action accordingly.)

As far as spooky occurrences go, it’s not a creepy book, even before everything is accounted for. The chilling thing for me was Emily’s powerlessness against those around her. The Montonis were bad enough; but even the Count of Villefort rattled me with his insistence on knowing what was best for her. With friends and relatives like those, who needs a ghost? Maybe it would have been eerier had I really cared for the women being threatened, but there’s not a single three-dimensional character among them, Emily is frequently exasperating, and I was hoping a ghost or whatever would make off with her chatterbox maid Annette.

Dull bits and flimsy characters aside, it’s worth reading just to gain a new appreciation of Northanger Abbey.

Rating: B-

Library Loot

Library Loot button

The Poe Shadow
The Duchess
The Sisters Who Would Be Queen
Victorian London
A History of the World in 6 Glasses
Lancaster and York

The Poe Shadow - Matthew Pearl (perfect for R.I.P. IV)
The Duchess - Amanda Foreman
The Sisters Who Would Be Queen - Leanda de Lisle
Victorian London - Liza Picard
A History of the World in 6 Glasses - Tom Standage
Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses - Alison Weir

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg.

30 September 2009

Book Review: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Banned Books Challenge

On the deck of a ship moored in the Thames, Marlow regales his companions with another of his rambling stories. This one tells of how he signed up with a Belgian company to venture into the jungles of the Congo. Having heard much of a trader named Kurtz, he makes his way upriver to the trading station, only to find that the dark continent has brought out something very dark in Kurtz.

I closed this book feeling as if I needed a dozen extra IQ points in order to properly digest all that I had just read. Much of its significance was lost in Marlow’s torrent of words, and I don’t know whether I’m more annoyed with Conrad or myself. Is he not clear enough, or am I not smart enough? And my confusion is all the greater because I’m sure that if I try to write about it I’ll only end up confusing everyone else.

Bafflement aside, I did enjoy it, particularly the sense of unease and anticipation created as Marlow inched his way along the river. I was getting quite impatient for Kurtz’s arrival well before he showed up, which in a novella of under a hundred pages is quite an achievement. On finally meeting him I didn’t find him as compelling as I had expected, or as Marlow did. The most interesting thing about him was the sense that he should have meant more to me than he did. It’s a book that cries out for a re-reading in a few years, when I can give it the time and attention it needs to reveal itself properly.

As for it being challenged/banned on grounds of racism, so far as I could see all that means is that Marlow held, to an extent, the opinions of his times and the word “savages” was used. It was the powers that be in the company, not Marlow, who despised and exploited the Africans, and they weren’t portrayed flatteringly for doing so. Even those who merely failed to understand local life were shown as fools. And I got the impression that Kurtz would have lost it in any situation where he was so isolated from Western civilisation and mores for so long; that it was something within himself, not the “savagery” of Africa that affected him.

Rating: B

24 September 2009

Book Review: The Figure in the Carpet and other stories by Henry James

The Figure in the Carpet In “The Author of Beltraffio” a young man secures an opportunity to visit an author he greatly admires. Mark Ambient’s seemingly idyllic home contains a family strained by tension. When his guest attempts a well-meaning intervention, something finally gives. A house party allows Paul Overt to get close to his literary hero in “The Lesson of the Master.” As well as Henry St George, he also meets Miss Marian Fancourt. But Paul’s new mentor has his own opinions on the place of women - even intelligent ones - in a writer’s life. On a holiday in Switzerland in “The Private Life” actress Blanche Adney sets out to persuade Clarence Vawdrey to write her the role of a lifetime. Clarence is curiously vague on the subject of his writing, even claiming to have been working on a new piece when his fellow guests know he wasn’t anywhere near pen and paper. But if Clarence is odd, Lord Mellifont might be odder still.

In “The Middle Years” a novelist who suspects his own years are coming to an end is meets a young doctor who has to choose between tending to his new friend and the chance of wealth. Another novelist passes away in “The Death of the Lion,” leaving a magazine journalist in an awkward predicament. He had appointed himself a kind of guard dog to Neil Paraday, preserving the peace of his final months. Now he wants to oversee the publication of Paraday’s last work - but there’s a catch. In “The Next Time” Mrs Highmore and her brother-in-law Ralph Limbert are writers with opposite problems. She has made a successful career out of writing, but longs for a splendid failure to make her reputation. He needs the money a best-selling novel would bring, but can never manage to produce anything but brilliant works that no one buys. A journalist wants to know the deeper meaning in the collected works of Hugh Vereker - the unifying pattern, “The Figure in the Carpet.” Trying to find it unleashes a comedy of errors. Another journalist is drawn into a battle of wills with the editor of the Cynosure over an article on the late author “John Delavoy,” with the dead man’s sister caught in the middle.

Yes, there is a theme here - writers, writing, and the literary life. And on these topics Mr James and I shall have to disagree. His characters and their works are all so highbrow and serious. Personally I read for entertainment and information, not an intellectual uplifting; and my own literary aspiration is to be an escape from, not a reflection of the highest truth of, real life. There is, of course, a place for erudite literature; it just doesn’t happen to be in my reading neighbourhood. So “The Next Time,” where quantity of sales and quality of work don’t - can’t - coexist, irked me, as well as seeming snobbish.

Although the collection is built around “The Figure in the Carpet” my favourite by far was “The Author of Beltraffio.” The smallest words and actions carry a wealth of significance and speak volumes about the characters. It’s suspenseful, laden with a sense of impending doom - it’s so clearly a situation that is too tense to remain static - and ranks among the top short stories I’ve read. “The Private Life” I think I’ve met before, in a collection with The Turn of the Screw; I enjoyed the chance to re-read it while focussing on the literary rather than the eerie aspect. (On the whole I prefer the latter.)

Several of the remaining stories - “The Lesson of the Master,” “The Figure in the Carpet,” and especially “The Death of the Lion” carried a final twist that livened them up considerably. In fact if the beginnings and middles had been more interesting (and in the case of “The Lesson of the Master,” shorter) they could have been highly amusing. (And if the narrator of “The Death of the Lion” hadn’t struck me as arrogant for taking it upon himself to organise Paraday’s life.) But together with “The Middle Years” and “John Delavoy” they reminded me of a long-ago family road trip which included the opal-mining town of Lightning Ridge. There might be a gem waiting for you at the end - or not. Either way, you have to go through some pretty barren country to get there.

Rating: C

22 September 2009

Book Review: Nana by Émile Zola

Nana At the Variétés Theatre, a new star is about to be launched upon the stage. Nana can't sing and isn't much of an actress, but she has some indefinable something else - something men can’t resist. Tired of having to keep the appointments made for her by a local procuress, Nana sets out to live life on her own terms, in a succession of guises - actress, live-in girlfriend, mistress, courtesan. Men throw themselves at her, women look down at her, servants fleece her, and her new lives never quite work out. Her avaricious longing for attention, and for money and the things it can buy, see to that.

In a way it’s inapt that the play in which Nana first appeared was set on Mount Olympus; she would have made a better Kali (Hindu goddess of destruction) than a Venus, judging by the trail of financial catastrophe she left behind her. The book’s opening, set at the play’s opening night, is brilliant; Zola pulls the same trick on the reader as theater manager Bordenave does on his audience, dropping hints and stirring up curiosity about this new sensation and deferring her appearance as long as possible. When Nana did show up I was underwhelmed, but then I’m not male. And it’s not easy to forget that this is a book written by a man, with a male audience in mind. There are numerous overblown descriptions of Nana’s good looks, lush flesh, and various states of undress, and when she spends time in a abusive relationship the beatings only make her more beautiful (a major “What the -?” moment).

I’ve long known I have little patience with fictional women who make idiots of themselves over the wrong men; now I know I have just as little when the genders are reversed. At the height of her career men are queuing up for the privilege of being ruined by her, happily throwing away everything they possess in terms both of money and common sense. And I despised them for it. I didn’t think much of Nana either; whenever I got close to liking her she behaved like a spoiled brat, or did something spectacularly spendthrift, or neglected her son, and I went right back to being annoyed by her.

Fortunately for my patience, this is more than just a story. The early description of a newspaper piece makes that clear, telling the tale of a fly that rises from the gutter to spread filth and corruption amongst the respectable folk. (Subtle as a sledgehammer, really.) I could almost pity Zola; what a cynical view of society he must have had to write such a condemnation of it. Men make fools of themselves, wives betray or dominate their husbands, and only the whores are likeable. My favourite, though, was Rose Mignon, a married actress who carried on profitable affairs with her husband’s consent; she could have made a more interesting protagonist. But less symbolic.

Rating: C+

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesdays

It's Tuesday, Where Are You?

I’m treading the streets of Soho in 1854, hunting the source of a violent outbreak of cholera. The scientific establishment is convinced that epidemics are caused by miasma - bad air - but I hope to find evidence to prove my theory that cholera is carried in the water.

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

As Snow and Whitehead made their calculations that Wednesday, they were still thinking in double-digit figures. They would soon discover that those numbers were shockingly optimistic.

Both from The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson, p. 155.

17 September 2009

Book Review: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and other tales of terror by Robert Louis Stevenson

R.I.P. IV Challenge #1

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde The lawyer Mr Utterson is worried about the will of one of his clients, which specifies that in the case of his death - or disappearance - everything is to go to a man of whom Utterson knows nothing. His concern grows when his cousin relates a tale of witnessing the callous behaviour of the beneficiary, plus evidence to suggest that the despicable Edward Hyde has some kind of hold over the respectable Dr Henry Jekyll. Utterson, fearing blackmail or worse, begins to make enquiries and finds himself investigating murder, disappearance, and a man who has apparently died of horror....

Based on the illicit activities of Burke and Hare, “The Body Snatcher” tells of a young man’s entanglement in the world of resurrection-men and murder. Already on the wrong side of law due to his own part in the corpse trade, Fettes has no choice but to overlook any doubts as to the provenance of the merchandise delivered to the anatomy rooms. But even when you’re used to handling criminals, corpses, and killers, there are some things that can still terrify you.

And in “Olalla” a wounded English soldier travels deep into the Spanish mountains to recover his health. His strange new landlady has extracted an agreement that he will keep to himself and let the family do the same, but curiosity about the residencia’s peculiar inhabitants overcomes prudence. Especially when he sees Olalla, who seems to be the only sane member of a family that’s long since gone mad.

It’s ironic that the passing of the phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” into the vernacular, to describe any person with a double life or two sides to their personality, has both ensured the story’s continued fame and wrecked the suspense. There’s no mystery, no shock on discovering that Jekyll and Hyde are one; the only thing in question is how it will end. (And how it is that, at times, Jekyll’s mind manages to function in Hyde’s body.) What I found most interesting was the psychological aspect - the need to balance those facets of one’s personality which contradict each other, and the consequences of letting either one take over; and whether evil can ever truly be suppressed.

“The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” carries the stamp of the nineteenth century as clearly as the face of Edward Hyde does the taint of evil. The instinctive revulsion people feel for him just by looking at him reminded me of the long-dead theory that one could identify a crook from appearance alone; that criminality would betray itself in the face. (Which in turn reminds me of the anecdote I once read of a scientist who created numerous composite photographs of jailbirds in the hope identifying the distinguishing characteristics of the criminal face. Unfortunately for him, the closer to the mathematical average a face is, the more attractive it is perceived to be; hence he was constantly frustrated by the fact that the “average” criminal was far too good-looking!) The description of Hyde as“ape-like” and his degradation as something primitive - the suggestion that evil is incompatible with true civilisation - dates it. It’s also an unflattering portrait of Victorian morality. By his own admission, the darker side of Jekyll’s nature never led him to do anything bad, merely “undignified.” It was his own too-close adherence to the prudery of the day which led him to create Hyde and precipitate all which followed.

“The Body Snatcher” made me briefly nostalgic for the ghost stories I devoured fifteen or so years ago; the beginning and the end particularly were just as conventional as those of the tales I read as a child. But the story of Fettes’s long-ago encounter with the unearthly has a good eeriness to it; and I have to confess to a morbid fascination with the history of the resurrectionists. Wave the words “Burke and Hare” under my nose and I’ll jump to read what’s on offer. And I liked this, even if Burke and Hare didn’t appear, their customer Dr Knox was only mentioned in passing, and my interest was chiefly historical.

There’s an abundance of Gothic strangeness in “Olalla” - a crumbling fortress-style house in a remote part of a foreign country, a once-great family fallen into ruin, madness, locked doors, strange noises, even the obligatory dark and stormy night. To the doctor’s generalised account of the family’s oddity, concrete facts are added one by one as the narrator meets his hosts and explores the residencia and grounds as much as he dares. This story also deals with the concepts of being able to tell evil by its face, and an evil nature being a throwback to some long-past generation. Olalla’s vision of herself was more unnerving than the plot; and it’s not something I’ll soon forget.

Rating: B-

15 September 2009

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

The squire was put out; and when he was put out he had a trick of placing his hands on his knees and whistling softly to himself. Molly knew this phase of his displeasure, and only hoped he would confine himself to this wordless expression of annoyance.

From Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell, p. 261.

14 September 2009

Banned Books Challenge

Banned Books Challenge

I didn’t say “no more challenges” after signing up for R.I.P. IV ... but I should have. However, I’m a just little annoyed (read: incensed) at the moment with those who would dare to think that, because they don’t like something, it shouldn’t be available to anyone else. (And with spineless politicians ... and Queensland wonders why southerners see it as a behind-the-times backwater....)

Ahem ... *steps down from soapbox* ... so I’m in the mood to flout the Moral Majority by reading a banned book.

Yes, you did read that correctly: a banned book. With so much other reading to do I have - for once - taken the prudent course and elected to read only one, slim, book that I’m bound to read this month anyway:

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
... courtesy of the Banned and Challenged Classics list; contested on grounds of racism.

05 September 2009

Book Review: Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong

Death of a Red Heroine When the body of a strangled woman is pulled from a disused canal, the investigation falls to the Shanghai Police Bureau’s special case squad by accident - one of its members is the only detective available to take the call. When he learns what has happened, Chief Inspector Chen Cao decides to postpone handing the case over to another squad. After all, his promotion over the heads of older men has ruffled a few feathers, and what better way to prove oneself in the Homicide Division than by actually solving a murder?

The victim is soon identified as Guan Hongying, a national model worker who seemingly lived for her job and the Communist Party. Commissar Zhang, who’s acting as adviser (meaning he’s past retirement age but too high-ranking to be obliged to exist on a pension) insists that the case is political, but Chief Inspector Chen is not convinced. He and his assistant, Detective Yu - with some suitable prodding from the women in their lives - go digging for the private life that surely existed. What they find leads straight to a prime suspect with connections in the highest echelons of Shanghai politics, and a lack of obvious motive. When word gets out he and Yu find themselves suddenly required elsewhere - like out-of-town conferences and traffic control. And Internal Security is already watching Chen, thanks to concerns as to whether some of the poetry he’s published might be ideologically ambiguous. But Chen has acquired a sense of kinship with Guan Hongying, and he’s not about to let political considerations get in the way of bringing her killer to justice.

Having, some weeks ago, been unimpressed by the amount of armchair travelling I’ve done, especially in Asia, seeing a crime novel set in 1990 China was far too good an opportunity to pass up. As I read it I could almost smell the pork buns and pollution; for one average-size novel it opened an extraordinary window through which to observe all things Chinese: Traditional culture, Communism, the emerging free market, history, legends, food, crowded urban life, and gorgeous poetry of all eras. It was impossible not to be impressed by the vibrancy of a city where most people had barely a few square metres to call their own and the state could exert an unnerving amount of control. Which could include assigning people to jobs regardless of location or qualifications ... which is how Chen ended up in the police. What I loved about him was his determination to do the best job he could, regardless of whether or not he liked it, and keep his love of literature alive by moonlighting as a poet and mystery-novel translator (an example there for all of us who’ve chosen careers for practicality rather than preference).

It says a lot about the quality of the characters that I was left with a soft spot for even Commissar Zhang and Party Secretary Li, with their emphasis on politics (and political expediency) and solving crimes by relying on the people. Watching their interactions and inner dilemmas was just as rewarding as seeing the murder being solved. The case changes them; they change each other; and they don’t always make the easy or expected decisions. (And I do love it when male police officers need a woman or two to explain the workings of the female mind and nudge them in the right direction. It’s sort of endearing, that they can’t understand us sufficiently on their own.) I’m delighted that this is the first in a series, because I want to read about them again.

All this, and a great mystery, too. Although she hardly appears except as a corpse or a photograph, Guan has as strong a presence in the novel as any of the living characters. Largely this is due to Chen’s identification with her; you can see her life through his, and through the differences between them. The pace doesn’t flag as the case shifts from a dead end, to an active investigation, to a circumstantial case with no motive, to a case where the only loose end is what might happen. (When the good of the Party is prone to trumping everything else, things are unlikely to end as neatly as they do in Ruth Rendell’s Kingsmarkham.) It’s a felony perfectly fitted to its place and time, and its resolution comes with a good dose of irony.

There was only one thing I didn’t like, and that was having to set the book aside and go mentally rummaging through my home town. At one point Chen renewed contact with a certain lovely librarian he’d known in his university days, and who, alas, left the country for a temporary position at the Canberra Library. Uh ... might one possibly mean the National Library? That’s the only candidate I could think of, and I’m quite sure there are no archives I’ve forgotten. Though I’ll grant that the overwhelming majority of readers would be blissfully unaware that any mistake had been made; it’s just bad luck that this particular reader/reviewer happens to be a native of that particular city.

Rating: A-

04 September 2009

Book Review: A Start in Life by Anita Brookner

A Start in Life Ruth Weiss’s life revolves around books - the ones she lectures on, the ones she reads, and the one she’s writing about the female characters in Balzac’s novels. Towards the end of another day, the same as all her others, she begins to reflect on how she has come to lead a life ruined by literature, and to remember a time when things still had the potential to turn out differently....

What follows is almost more an interlocking set of character portraits than a story. There is a progression of events moving forward in time, but it’s all very low-key and concerned mostly with the natures of Ruth, her bookseller father George and actress mother Helen, their housekeeper Mrs Cutler, and various other people who enter their orbits. And for what it is, it’s good. They may not do much, but those characters are the sort to linger in your imagination well after the last page. (How much I’ll remember about their actions is another matter.)

Yet whenever I needed time for something other than reading, this book was always the first of my current reads to be laid aside, and the last to be picked up. For a mere 176 pages it took an inordinately long time to finish. One reason was the lack of tension - you know from the start how Ruth’s life is going to turn out. Another was that it failed to provide any of the three main things I look for in a book - closer acquaintance with the classics; information; or escapism. I strongly suspect I would be entirely content in the confines of academia (preferably a historical archive somewhere). I also suspect that if that were possible, my studies would absorb as much of my existence as Ruth’s did of hers. So I read about Ruth and her small quiet life, and thought There but for the fact I studied science go I.

And speaking of literature - I’m sure an acquaintance with Balzac would have helped. On the up side, he’s now on my vague list of authors to read one day.

Rating: B-

R.I.P IV Challenge

R.I.P. IV Challenge

There was a heatwave here recently - Monday last week it was 35oC. I think it fried my brain. Why else would I be signing up for another challenge when I have several going already, and eleven books out from the library, and a heap of reviews to write, and I’ve just started a book with over 900 pages that will take me several weeks to finish?

Book mad, me. Although ... given that my NaNo project this year is a gothic, doesn’t it make perfect sense to get in the right mood with all literary things eerie?

There - I’ve justified it!

I have - of course - gone for Peril the First: Read Four books of any length, from any subgenre of scary stories that you choose. Since I’ve got two out from the library to be read this month, I’m sure I can do it!

My reading pool:

The Panic Hand - Jonathan Carroll
The Mist in the Mirror - Susan Hill
The Secret Woman - Victoria Holt
The Mysteries of Udolpho - Ann Radcliffe
A Sicilian Romance - Ann Radcliffe
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and other tales of terror - Robert Louis Stevenson
The Angel’s Game - Carlos Ruiz Zafón
And anything else apt that makes its way into my library bag during the next two months.

Is there a Reading Challenge-holics Anonymous anywhere out there?

Fractal Friday: Festival


03 September 2009

Library Loot

Library Loot

Behold, Here's Poison
The Figure in the Carpet
The Good Mayor
Death of a Red Heroine
The Mysteries of Udolpho
Naked in Death
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
The Keys of Egypt
The Ghost Map
Georgette Heyer's Regency World

Behold, Here's Poison - Georgette Heyer
The Figure in the Carpet and other stories - Henry James
The Good Mayor - Andrew Nicoll
Death of a Red Heroine - Qiu Xiaolong
The Mysteries of Udolpho - Ann Radcliffe
Naked in Death - J. D. Robb
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and other tales of terror - Robert Louis Stevenson
The Keys of Egypt: The Race to Read the Hieroglyphs - Lesley and Roy Adkins
The Ghost Map - Steven Johnson
Georgette Heyer's Regency World - Jennifer Kloester

And one re-loot, due to my being a little otherwise occupied this month:

Nana - Émile Zola

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg.

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776