Tags: book challenge


R.I.P. Challenge book #6, and wrap-up

As I continued to be in a reading mood, I didn't watch any films from my provisional list after all. Instead, while browsing my bookshelves, I picked up this book by Richard Brautigan and discovered the title (The Hawkline Monster: a Gothic Western) was surprisingly apt for this time of year, if not for the Challenge.

But even though this quick read (many short chapters, each starting on a new page) was funny and frequently made me giggle, enough eerily strange things happened in it to make it appropriate after all. This quote from page 46 displays the nice mixture of wacky humour and foreboding:

The road stopped like a dying man's signature on a last-minute will.

It is difficult not to give too much of the plot away, so I'll just quote the back cover:

In the dead centre of the Dead Hills of Eastern Oregon stands Hawkline Manor, an elaborate Victorian mansion, festooned with chandeliers and valuable paintings, and looked after by a giant butler. It is the home of the two Miss Hawklines [Misses Hawkline?], beautiful, generous with their favours — and identical. But it also houses a very unwelcome guest... whom Greer and Cameron, professional killers, are required to dispose of.

I've had a soft spot for Brautigan ever since reading his short story "The Weather in San Francisco", and have read several more of his short stories since. When I came across this novel at the book market a few years ago, I snapped it up immediately. I sort of regretted this impulse buy later on, but now I'm glad I bought it. Brautigan is not to everyone's taste, but I really enjoyed myself.


To wrap up: although I had chosen to do Peril the Third (one book), I have read all four books on my provisional list (abandoning one of them), plus two more.

I have watched none of the films on my list, but I did see several things on TV that qualify:

Belgian TV showed El laberinto del fauno (Pan's Labyrinth). I would call this a grim fairytale, but boston.com placed it on #17 in their Top 50 scariest movies of all time, so I figure it counts. Good film, beautiful art direction, and what I particularly liked about it was that the faun was such an ambiguous character: I wasn't sure until the end whether his intentions were good or evil. 3/5

Belgian TV has also started broadcasting True Blood, but after seeing the first two episodes I decided I didn't like it enough to continue watching.

Dutch TV is broadcasting Sherlock at the moment. I had missed this when it was shown on the BBC and so was taken by surprise by the massive amount of fangirly squee that suddenly erupted around LJ. Now that I know it consists of only three episodes, I'm even more surprised by the level of fandom it has generated so quickly. Anyway, I have seen two episodes so far and it's good, mysterious fun. 3.5/5

And last night I watched the Psychoville Halloween special, by two members of the League of Gentlemen. I had watched and enjoyed last year's series, so made sure not to miss this. It was deliciously creepy.

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These two little trick-or-treaters showing up on the misanthropist clown's doorstep were the scariest in my opinion. They didn't do or say anything, just stood and stared, and stared, and stared, unnerving not only the clown, but me as well. 4/5, and I was pleased to learn there is going to be a second series.

As always, many thanks to Carl for hosting the R.I.P. Challenge! I had a great time.


R.I.P. Challenge book #5

My last book in this year's Challenge is a reread. In 1996 I borrowed Knollekop (Bucket Nut) by Liza Cody from the library, and loved it so much that when I came across it at the annual Centraal Boekhuis book fair the next year, I picked up a copy.

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This was unusual, because I tend to regard thrillers and mysteries as junk food: tasting good (hopefully) while it lasts, but containing nothing but empty calories and therefore leaving you ultimately unsatisfied.

But then, the protagonist is an unusual character: a female wrestler with a night job as a security guard (with two vicious watchdogs, hence the English cover), and supplementing her income by doing shady jobs for various figures, the most important of whom is a Chinese mobster.

I loved Eva Wylie straightaway and I fell in love with her all over again this time around. The story is told from her point of view. In her own words she is big, ugly and mean, but we can tell that underneath her tough exterior she is more vulnerable than she'd have us believe.

The actual plot, which involves Eva doing one job too many and getting caught in the crossfire between two rivalling gangs, isn't all that important. What I loved about the book is Eva's voice, her wry humour and outlook on life, the search for her sister, and the fascinating look into the world of show wrestling.

At the time I also read the sequel Monkey Wrench, but found that one a little over the top. I see that there is a third book called Musclebound and a series featuring a female private detective, but the only title my library has nowadays is Monkey Wrench, and neither Waterstone's nor ABC stock her books. Liza Cody seems to have more or less dropped off the radar, which is a shame, in my opinion.


There is still some time left until the end of October, but I think I'll use it for watching a scary film or two. :)


R.I.P. Challenge books #3 and 4

These two books were rather a disappointment. I don't have much to say about Erken mij by Esther Verhoef. It was given out as a freebie during last year's "month of the thrilling book", held every June, and has not been, and will most likely never be, translated into English.

Although the prologue was promising, I didn't care for what followed. It turned out to be about rape and its aftermath, which is a subject I try to avoid. Fortunately it wasn't too graphic and at 91 pages it was a quick read.


HostAnyPhotoI bought A.M. Homes' The End of Alice at the time because I thought the title might be a reference to Alice in Wonderland, editions of which I collected, and sure enough the book opens with a Lewis Carroll quote: "A stopped clock is right twice a day." Apart from that, the only other reference I can think of is that the book's protagonist is a paedophile infatuated with a young girl called Alice.

I knew beforehand that the book's subject matter is controversial: a paedophile murderer in his 23rd year in prison strikes up a correspondence with a nineteen-year-old girl who is planning on seducing a twelve-year-old boy. That didn't put me off, but what did were the numerous descriptions of disgusting smells and revolting things that people ate. When it literally made me retch I decided, at around page 100, to call it a day and skipped forward to find out the ending. I am such a wimp.


The good news is that I have now finished all the titles on my provisional list and also achieved my goal of freeing up some shelf space. The bad news is that I couldn't resist the lure of the Kinderboekenweek ("children's book week") and bought two books yesterday! And received another free book as well! I am incorrigible. The good news is that I'm very happy with my acquisitions. And since the good outweighs the bad, I am not sorry.

There are still over two weeks left before the end of the R.I.P. Challenge. The free booklet looks like a fun read, I think I'll use it as a palate cleanser before deciding upon another Challenge book.


R.I.P. Challenge book #2

When I received it as a free book at the time, the only thing I knew about De grot (The Cave) by Tim Krabbé was that the plot involved drug smuggling. Not a subject that holds great appeal to me, and so the book sat unread on my shelf for almost 13 years, until I picked it up for this year's challenge.

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I already knew from Het gouden ei (
The Vanishing) that Krabbé is capable of writing a blood-curdling thriller, but still I was surprised by the high ratings The Cave had received on Amazon, and looked forward to reading it.

I am glad I didn't read any actual reviews beforehand, because most of them turned out to be very spoilerish, and this way I could discover and appreciate the story and structure of the book for myself.

I think "thriller" is a misnomer here. The first chapter, in which a character whiles away the hours until a drug transaction is planned to take place, contains tension enough, but The Cave is actually more a psychological novel about destructive friendship, fate and coincidence, and ultimately very sad.

I didn't find it particularly enjoyable, nor do I intend to reread it at some point, but the last chapters were beautiful enough that they earned the book an extra star.



R.I.P. Challenge book #1

Today I finished They Came to Baghdad, which technically means I have completed the R.I.P. Challenge for this year, but of course I intend to go on and see how far I'll get with my list.

HostAnyPhotoAs I had indeed correctly remembered, this is one of Agatha Christie's spy novels. Like I stated before, I always have great difficulty comprehending spy stories. Whether this is due to missing a necessary gene or simply not having the right amount of brain cells I do not know.

Fact is I find all Christie's spy novels — fortunately she did not write many — rather silly with improbable plots. In this case it's about a group contriving to establish a new world order; not that strange, seeing that They Came to Baghdad was first published in 1951, during the Cold War.

The fact that this genre isn't for me is not the book's (or the author's) fault, but something else I didn't like about it, and which nearly made me give up several times, is that it took one hundred pages before things finally started moving. Since the book only totals 221 pages, that is a very long preamble.

That said, some of the characters were amusing. I particularly liked the archaeologist, who turned out to be a little more observant than everyone was led to believe.

1/5 (yay! some shelf space freed up!)

BTW, looking for the cover of this particular edition online I came across Delicious Death, a wonderful website dedicated to Agatha Christie's works and containing a large collection of covers from all over the world.


R.I.P. Challenge V

Lately I've been trying very hard to get my reading mojo back, and it looks like I've finally succeeded. Not a moment too soon, because it turned out there is an R.I.P. Challenge being held after all. Carl's announcement for R.I.P. V was just a little later than usual.


Not wanting to scare my r.m. away again by being overly ambitious, I've decided to do Peril the Third: reading one book between now and 31 October that fits into one (or more) of the following categories: mystery, suspense, thriller, dark fantasy, gothic, horror, supernatural.

Most of the books on my provisional list appeared on last year's list as well. I picked these because they do not seem too challenging (and also because I hope to be able to free some much-needed shelf space):

Christie, Agatha: They Came to Baghdad — personally I tend to associate Christie's cosy mysteries with comfort reading rather than with nail-biting tension, but IIRC (I read this a looong time ago, in Dutch) this is one of her espionage stories, a genre I find more confusing than anything

Homes, A.M.: The End of Alice — third time lucky?

Krabbé, Tim: De grot (The Cave)

Verhoef, Esther: Erken mij ("acknowledge me") — a short thriller

I like the newly added Peril on the Screen. In previous years I have already unofficially watched films in keeping with the theme, so this year I intend to participate in this Peril as well. My provisional list:

Images (Robert Altman, 1972) — I watched this at least 30 years ago and the only thing I remember about it is Susannah York looking into a mirror and being very, very confused

Memento mori (Tae-Yong Kim & Kyu-Dong Min, 1999) — Korean horror

Tideland (Terry Gilliam, 2007) — one of the blurbs calls this a poetic horror film

Looking forward to starting the challenge. The first month is almost over already, so I'd better get cracking.


R.I.P. Challenge books #1 and #2, and wrap-up

Well, I managed to complete the R.I.P. Challenge by the skin of my teeth, or, as the literal and more appropriate translation of the Dutch saying goes, by hanging and strangling.

I have to confess my heart wasn't really in it this time around. To be sure, these past two months my attention has been taken up by ghosts, werewolves and vampires, but they featured in a TV series (Being Human) and a film (Let the Right One In) rather than in books. (Although after seeing the film I have put the book, by John Ajvide Lindqvist, on my reading list.)

Because I still wanted to complete the challenge I picked two of the shortest books on my list.

Book #1, The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski, is about a woman who falls asleep on a chaise-longue and wakes up in 1864, almost a hundred years earlier, in the body of another woman. How to get back to her own time?

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usIt left me feeling rather blank. When I finished it I had actually no idea whether I liked it or not. I guess I felt slightly disappointed and found the ending a bit unsatisfactory. In my opinion Penelope Farmer handled the same subject matter better and with more logic in her book Charlotte Sometimes. Still, I give it 3/5, because I do want to keep it for now, and maybe reread it at some point.

Book #2, Het heksershol by Joost Hiddes Halbertsma is an odd little folktale about a man who sells his soul to the devil, the adventures he has, the tricks he plays, and his eventual bad end.

Upon Googling I found a review in English, focusing on the folkloristic aspects, here. I also discovered that Halbertsma, who died in 1869, is a rather big name in Friesland, with him and his brother working in the same field as the Grimm brothers in Germany. However, I thought this tale was only mildly amusing at best. 2/5, but I'm keeping it because I do like the cover illustration and frontispiece by Jaap Kuyper, plus the fact that, exactly 44 years and 1 day ago, my mum received this as a birthday present from her brother-in-law's parents. Their note is still in the book.


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When I first saw the announcements for Carl's R.I.P. IV I thought, "Nooooo! Go away, I don't want to know about it yet! It's still summer here!" but barely a week later the weather has definitely changed. We have had more rain, the temperature has dropped several degrees (in my house too, finally!), and I'm slowly getting in the mood for autumn, and this book challenge.

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I have had a look at my bookshelves and decided to do Peril the Second; reading two books of any length between 1 September and 31 October that fit into one or more of these categories: mystery, suspense, thriller, dark fantasy, gothic, horror, supernatural.

This is my provisional list:

Danielewski, Mark Z.: House of Leaves

Halbertsma, Joost Hiddes: Het heksershol ("the witches' den") - inherited from my mum; according to the introduction, this Frisian folktale is a mocking ghost story

Homes, A.M.: The End of Alice - from last year's list

Kafka, Franz: Het slot (The Castle)

Krabbé, Tim: De grot (The Cave) - from the same author as the chilling Het gouden ei, which was filmed as Spoorloos/The Vanishing (not to be confused with the awful American remake)

Laski, Marghanita: The Victorian Chaise-Longue - from last year's list

Verhoef, Esther: Erken mij ("acknowledge me") - a short thriller

and, depending on whether I can get my hands on them at the library (they are forever taken out):

Summerscale, Kate: The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

Waters, Sarah: The Little Stranger

But first I have to make a start with The Progress of Love by Alice Munro. Back in May I agreed with Anna from Anna's leesreis that this September we would finally read Munro. We both have had a copy of one of her short story collections languishing on our respective shelves for far too long.


R.I.P. Challenge books #6 and #7, and wrap-up

Yesterday I finished book #6, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. I liked it, but not as much as I did Coraline.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usAfter someone has murdered his family, a toddler is taken in and lovingly raised by the inhabitants of an old graveyard. "Bod" is to stay there until he is grown and it's safe for him to go and live in the outside world (because his family's murderer is still out there and wants to finish the job).

The first chapter and last two chapters were very good, I thought. The ones in-between felt a bit uneven. There were some improbabilities that bothered me: f.e. when Bod goes into town to sell a jewel, because he needs money to buy something for a friend. He is 8 years old, has never been outside the graveyard, has never seen money or shops — how would he know where to go, what to say, what to do? Also, in his reasoning he often seemed older than he actually was.

I thought it was a pity that none of the dead were really scary. Even the ghouls were rather comical, with the Bishop of Bath and Wells giving me a right Blackadder moment. The only threat to Bod's existence is posed by living people. It gave me the impression that the book was written for a slightly younger age group than Coraline was.

I didn't much care for Dave McKean's illustrations, I think I would have preferred Chris Riddell's (was that the UK edition he did?). Something I did like: the way the dead are introduced by what's written on their headstone, f.e.:

'Bod's left ankle was swollen and purple. Doctor Trefusis (1870-1936, May He Wake to Glory) inspected it and pronounced it merely sprained.' (p.96)

All in all I give the book 3/5.

#7 is not a book but a short story. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson is a mere 6 pages long (in print-out). I read it this morning, so officially it doesn't count I guess, but let's pretend that in the U.S. it was still 31 October, even if it was after midnight.

I already knew The Lottery from a film I saw on TV, but even if I hadn't I would have seen what was coming from a mile away. Still, it was a good story. I've nothing to say about it that hasn't been said a hundred times before. 3/5

So this wraps up the R.I.P. III Challenge for me. This was my initial list:

Shirley Jackson: We Have Always Lived in the Castle — read, 3/5
A.A. Merritt: Burn, Witch, Burn! — read, 2/5
Poppy Z. Brite: His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood and other stories — read, 1/5
Shirley Jackson: The Lottery — read, 3/5

Albert Sánchez Piñol: Nachtlicht (La pell freda/Cold Skin), and
A.M. Homes: The End of Alice — still going to read these two, as I may not wish to keep them and desperately need to make some room on my shelves

Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White — saving for winter
Marghanita Laski: The Victorian Chaise-longue — saving, for the next R.I.P. Challenge perhaps?
W.F. Hermans: De donkere kamer van Damokles (The Darkroom of Damocles) — saving for now

Not on my list, but also read (and bought, ack!*):

Chris Priestley: Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror, 3/5
Neil Gaiman: Coraline, 4/5
Neil Gaiman: The Graveyard Book, 3/5

Also watched the TV film of The Woman in Black — not as scary as I had hoped/feared, but very atmospheric and nicely done; 3/5.

Having so many books as yet unread, or read so long ago that I don't remember a thing about them, I am rather spoiled for choice. A challenge like this helps to narrow down my choices. I really enjoyed the R.I.P. Challenge and I'd like to thank Carl for hosting it. I hope to join again next year!

*It had not been my intention to buy more books, and having no place on the shelves for these three, I made a firm resolve not to add to the pile until I had gotten rid of a respectable number. Next thing I know I'm reading an email by Persephone Books informing me that the new catalogue and Biannually are on their way and my first reaction is "Ooh! Ordering time!"
Somebody save me.


R.I.P. Challenge books #3, #4, and #5

Book #3, His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood and other stories, reconfirmed my idea that Poppy Z. Brite is not an author for me. I do not want to read graphic descriptions of decay, rotting corpses and burrowing maggots. Gore makes me nauseous. The last of the four stories, "How to Get Ahead in New York", was the least unpleasant, and that is the nicest thing I can say about it. Out it goes. 1/5

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usBook #4, Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley, was not on my initial list, but after reading Cornflower's great review I immediately ordered a copy for myself.

During the school holidays Edgar often visits his uncle, who lives in a house beyond the woods and knows many scary stories. The book relates one of those visits. The structure is simple: after an introductory chapter in which we meet Edgar and his uncle, each chapter consists of a cautionary tale linked to one of the many objects in Uncle Montague's study, and a preamble to the next object and tale. Gradually the reader begins to sense that all is not well in Uncle Montague's house, and that the tales may actually be more than just stories.

Inevitably in a collection of tales some appeal more than others. My absolute favourite is "The Un-Door", very creepy and scary. A story like "The Gilt Frame", on the other hand, felt rushed and sketchy to me. While I found most of the tales quite original, "The Path" seemed strangely familiar, as if I had seen a variation of the story on TV once, but as I only thought that after I finished it, it may have been a "déjà-vu" trick of the mind.

Priestley writes with a subtle sense of humour. The illustrations by David Roberts are very atmospheric and fit the tales perfectly. Overall I give the book 3/5.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usBook #5, Coraline by Neil Gaiman, was not on my initial list either, but I had heard good things about it and when I saw the cover of the Subterranean Press edition on Quixotic's blog I fell in love. (Yes, I know it looks creepy and corpse-y, but the double image reminds me of a playing card, and I collect playing cards.) After some deliberation (because £30 is rather expensive for a book you don't even know you'll like) I ordered it from Amazon UK and waited. And kept waiting. When two weeks after the estimated arrival date the book still had not arrived I ended up getting a refund rather than a replacement, because it had gone out of stock in the meantime. I couldn't find it in Canada either (to console myself I bought The Graveyard Book there) and eventually bought a very good second-hand copy for about half the price from an American seller via Amazon UK. I thought I wouldn't get it in time to read for the challenge, but it arrived in less than a week, right after I finished Uncle Montague, so perfect timing.

Coraline's parents are busy with their work and don't pay her much attention. The neighbours are friendly enough, but can't even get her name right and insist on calling her Caroline. One day when Coraline is bored she discovers that the brick wall behind an unused door in her flat has disappeared and the door now opens onto a dark hallway. Through it she enters a flat that looks almost exactly like her own, but more interesting. She meets her other parents there, two people with buttons for eyes who would love nothing better than for Coraline to come and live with them for ever and always. They want to sew buttons on her eyes too, which is where Coraline draws the line and leaves. Back in her own flat she discovers her parents have disappeared, abducted by her other mother, and the only way to get them back is to return to the other flat once more. There she will need all her courage and resourcefulness to outwit her other mother, rescue her own parents and the lost souls of three children that had been captured before, and return safely home.

I loved this book. I devoured it in one sitting, and can see myself re-reading it soon in order to catch all the details that I missed the first time around due to reading too greedily. I've seen complaints elsewhere that there are no layers to the story, and that not everything is explained. I wasn't bothered by any of that. Not all questions need to be answered, I like it when things are not spelled out but left open to the interpretation of the reader.

One gripe: never before have I seen a book printed on such ultrawhite paper. I don't know if this is the paper normally used by the Subterranean Press, but if it is, stop doing so people! It looks downright tacky. Off-white or cream-coloured paper looks much better and is easier on the eyes. That said, I'm not such a sourpuss that I detract points for the paper a book is printed on, so I give it 4/5 (finally!).

Up next: The Graveyard Book.