R.I.P. V wrap-up!

15 November, 2010

This year’s R.I.P. V Challenge flew by quicker than I expected. Although I did complete the requisite number of books, I still wanted to read more and dive into the whole dark and gothic feel of approaching winter with my whole being. But I think my mind was on too many other books.

My original list of books I was planning to read for R.I.P. V had six books. So what did I end up reading? Check it!

The Killer of Pilgrims by Susanna Gregory
Cemetery Dance by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley
The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest by Stieg Larsson
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
Seeking Whom He May Devour by Fred Vargas
The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox

Looking back on what I’ve read, I’m actually impressed that I read 4/6 books on my original list (I didn’t manage to fit in Steven Erikson’s Deadhouse Gates and Attica Locke’s Black Water Rising) plus 3 extra. Go me! And I enjoyed every single one of them:)

At least we know we can look forward to all the fun again next year because I’m definitely doing it again! Thank you Carl aka Stainless Steel Droppings for hosting this amazing challenge. Now to start compiling my list…

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I’ve been trying to be good and read one book at a time. However, with this monster of a hardback, it would really do no favours to my frozen shoulder to lug it around London every day. So it stays on my bedside table for me to read at night. Which means that sometime I forget to read it if I’m distracted by the internet or the telly. Hmm. There must be a better solution to this problem. However, The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox is SO GOOD that even if I let a few days slide by before picking up from where I left off, it doesn’t matter. I am continually impressed by the quality of his prose and the way he kept me hooked. There was a constant feeling of uneasiness and I have to admit I felt apprehensive throughout most of the novel. There’s something of the Victorian sensational novel about his writing which reminds me of the best of Dickens and Collins and I can’t stress enough how much I enjoyed the book. If only it was smaller, lighter and not in hardback, I’d have carried it everywhere with me.

The Meaning of Night is a tale of revenge between two schoolfriends who have taken differing paths in life because of an act of betrayal at Eton. Both boys are brilliant in different ways but one hides a malevolent nature that no one suspects. Subtitled A Confession, Cox’s novel is dark, full of secrets about families, birthrights, betrayal and revenge. And his prose is so smooth you won’t even notice it’s a hefty 600 pages long.

Edward Glyver is hellbent on revenge. His adversary is Phoebus Rainsford Daunt, treacherous schoolfriend, who seems to be touched by fate and goes on to a glittering literary career without even having to raise a sweat. Added to that he’s in line to be made heir to a great estate, an estate which seems to have some sort of connection with Glyver. Glyver, who left Eton prematurely and lost his chance to go to university spent many adventurous years travelling the world and gaining an informal education. As his fury grows, will he manage to trap Daunt? And to complicate the matter further, Glyver falls in love with Emily Carteret, a childhood friend whom Daunt is pursuing. There is something about the character of Edward Glyver, the protagonist, that you just can’t help identifying with and you keep hoping that things will turn out alright for him.

So many of you have said how much you loved this novel (especially Teresa of Shelf Love). And I agree totally. I have to say that Cox’s prose is beautiful and flows so smoothly I can hardly believe this was his first novel. It reminds me greatly of Charles Pallisser’s The Quincunx: The Inheritance of John Huffam which was reminiscent of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and Dickens’ Bleak House which, although over 1000 pages long, kept me and my friends enthralled in our early twenties. However there weren’t as many dastardly wicked villains in The Meaning of Night but more circumstances-of-fate events. It also reminded me a lot of The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber which I didn’t love so much. Partly because I couldn’t empathise with the main character Sugar. But I think I’m in the minority here.

As you can imagine, I cannot wait to read the loose sequel, The Glass of Time. I am only sad that Cox is no longer around to write more novels.

I read this for the Thriller and Suspense Challenge 2010 and just in time for the R.I.P. V Challenge.

* Forgot to add this is another one down for the TBR 2010 Challenge. Hurray!

You may recall I really enjoyed Fred Vargas’ first Inspector Adamsberg mystery The Chalk Circle Man when I read it last year for R.I.P. IV. I’d also read The Three Evangelists which was my first foray into Vargas’ books and loved it too (although it’s separate from her Adamsberg books). So you can imagine my excitement in going back and reaquainting myself with the enigmatic Commissaire. For me, the main draw of her books is Adamsberg but her mysteries are pretty convoluted and it’s interesting to see how she untangles all the clues and does the reveal. So I was expecting more of the same and settled down to read it. But what’s this? Seeking Whom He May Devour isn’t set in Paris and Adamsberg doesn’t do his thing until almost half way through the book. I kept reading to see what was going to happen, slightly apprehensive that I may not like it, but Vargas once again delivers and I finished the book thinking what a bloody good writer she is. I’m excited to see what she will pull out of her sleeve next in the third book, Have Mercy On Us All.

In Seeking Whom He May Devour, we are in the Mercantour region of France, amongst villages and sheep and the wolves that cross over from Italy. Lawrence Johnstone is a Canadian wild-life photographer and expert who is keeping track of a family of wolves. He’s in two minds about leaving France because he’s fallen in love with the country and with Camille Forestier, a musician cum plumber, who has finally decided to stay in one place with Johnstone. When sheep start turning up gashed and dead, rumours start to abound about a monstrous wolf on a killing spree. When Camille’s friend Suzanne is savagely killed, Camille and her friends decide to track and hunt down this killer. Suzanne had spoken of a werewolf. In deep, dark Mercantour, can such a thing really exist? Adamsberg, on the other hand is in Paris, trying to evade a young woman who is out for revenge. Somehow everytime he flicks on the TV, news of the slain sheep seem to jump out at him. He needs to go into hiding but also decides to see what this is all about. He has also caught a glimpse of his lost love Camille on tv. As Camille and her friends draw their net tighter, things become complicated and she needs to bring in someone special to help her sort out the problem. The only person she can think of she doesn’t want to meet. But Adamsberg, with his uncanny sixth sense is nearby and he comes to Camille to untangle the mystery before the killer can kill again.

Have I whetted your appetite? I want to say so much more, but it’s a mystery and you really should go into this blind. For me the biggest draw is Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg. It’s refreshing to find a character who may not be perfect but is so unconcerned about what anyone thinks of him and just goes about solving problems by thinking deeply and following his instincts and without locking horns with everyone around him. There’s something deeply human about him.

You can probably read this book as a standalone, however I recommend that you start with The Chalk Circle Man just to get a deeper flavour of Vargas’ creation.

I read this for the Thriller and Suspense Challenge 2010 and R.I.P. V Challenge.

The Ninth Circle by Alex Bell

23 September, 2010

I confess I picked this book up because of its alluring cover. I’m just a sucker for beautiful covers and this one was particularly gothic and evocative. However, I borrowed this months ago from the library but didn’t seem to get a chance to read it, and I was going to return it unread (I know, don’t judge me!) but decided I’d just read it a little while I waited for my lunch to be assembled. And I found it to be different. Different from what I expected, different from other books of the kind, just different. But very good. So I returned another book (also unread) and renewed this one.

The Ninth Circle is Alex Bell‘s debut novel. But it doesn’t read like one. It’s assured tone, smooth delivery and constant suspense keeps you turning the pages. I don’t think I felt bored or that there was any unnecessary sentence in the novel.

Gabriel Antaeus wakes up one morning lying in his own blood with a sore head and no memories. There’s a bag of money, a clean apartment and lots of books about heaven and hell on his bookshelf. As he tries to piece back his memories and get back his life, he is plagued by strange dreams and visions of a sinister burning figure. Apparently he is all alone in this world and he doesn’t like it. He makes a friend in Zadkiel Stephomi whom he is unsure whether to trust and who seems to know more than he lets on. He finds himself a neighbour to Casey, a pregnant teenager and he keeps seeing visions of a woman who is desperately trying to get away from him. Who is he and will he find out before his nightmares get the better of him? And what is the Ninth Circle?

I was continually surprised by the twists in this tale. Although I guessed a few things, Bell’s novel truly is accomplished stuff. The chapters are short and written in the first person. There is a fresh honesty to Gabriel’s character and we feel his loneliness and pain the same as he does. His confusion, disorientation and revulsion with anything immoral or bloody makes you question what he truly is. And his constant referral to and visions of angels and demons are puzzles that you try and tease out but are continually confounded. The Ninth Circle is the closest circle in hell to where Lucifer is bound, the ultimate resting place for traitors and betrayers. Bell’s allusions to Dante’s The Divine Comedy and Goethe’s Faust make the mystery more compelling, and I have to say that it was a true pleasure to read. But Bell doesn’t just let you get comfortable with the classical ideas of heaven and hell. She gives it a good twist and chucks in some modern bits. I don’t think I’ve read anything like this in recent years.

If you like your fiction religious with a touch of controversy, relativism and the fantastic, search no more. This is wonderful fiction: strange, erudite and passionate. And nothing like The Da Vinci Code and its ilk. I can’t wait to read her next book, Jasmyn.

This is a perfect book for Carl’s R.I.P. V Challenge.

Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child‘s mysteries featuring FBI Agent Aloysius Pendergast is one of my favourite mystery series. Although set in modern day New York, there is an old world feel reminiscent of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes or Caleb Carr’s Dr. Laszlo Kreizler. But there is also a bit of the X-Files about it too. I like.

Cemetery Dance is the latest offering coming soon after the events in The Wheel of Darkness in which Agent Pendergast travels to deepest Tibet with his ward Constance Greene, traumatised after her near brush with death. The Wheel of Darkness comes just after the conclusion of a story arc featuring Pendergast’s diabolical brother Diogenes (Brimstone, Dance of Death, The Book of the Dead called the Diogenes trilogy and which should be read in order) but Cemetery Dance can be read as a standalone. I like reading things in orders so I would recommend you go and check out Relic, the first of Preston & Child’s novels featuring Agent Pendergast and Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta just so you can slowly appreciate what makes him so fascinating.

In Cemetery Dance, journalist William Smithback and his wife Nora are savagely attacked on their wedding anniversary. D’Agosta and Pendergast must find out who or what perpetrated the crime, especially since the assailant is someone who has apparently killed himself two weeks earlier. As the case becomes increasingly stranger, Pendergast must turn to his encyclopedic knowledge of the rituals of voodoo and Obeah to catch the cunning perpetrator who seems to have risen from the dead.

Like the other books in the series, I really enjoyed reading this one, but it felt slightly less thrilling after the rollercoaster ride that was the Diogenes trilogy. I did learn quite a bit of the dark arts of the Bayou, and Agent Pendergast was as stylishly brilliant as usual, but I thought it could have been fleshed out a little more. However, I have no quibbles regarding the style and prose, it’s slick, easy to read and well written. The contrast between the easy, confident style of Pendergast and the brash yet heartfelt D’Agosta, struggling within the police hierarchy and mourning the loss of his friend, was nicely balanced. I don’t know why, but you can’t help caring for these characters.

I am now eagerly awaiting their next installment, Fever Dream, where Agent Pendergast will be uncovering the the mystery behind the tragic death of his wife Helen many years ago. What he had thought was an accident no longer seems so. Can. Not. Wait.

I read this for the Thriller and Suspense Challenge 2010 and R.I.P. V Challenge.

As a long-time fan of Susanna Gregory’s Matthew Bartholomew series, I always look forward to reading each new book as though I’m greeting old friends. Does that make me weird? Of course it doesn’t! The Killer of Pilgrims is Bartholomew’s 16th outing as medieval physician cum sleuth in 14th century Cambridge. One of the reasons why I love Gregory’s mystery series so much is because she uses her extensive knowledge of history and the history of medicine in her novels. Who doesn’t want to know the historical difference between a physician and a surgeon? That medieval physicians treated you by first drawing up a horoscope? Or that only barbers and butchers were allowed to perform surgery? Or that washing your hands too much made people suspicious of you? Of course you do. And everything you’ll read about medicine and cures are true (trust me, I studied the history of medicine.)

I must confess I no longer read Gregory’s books so much for the mystery, which are not too intricate, but more for the rich social history of the period. Gregory uses real-life historical figures that she fictionally expands and her Cambridge is colourful, smelly and dangerous. And her characters are funny, hysterical and, although exaggerated, describe the many prejudices and fears that were all too prevalent at the time in a country slowly recovering from the plague.

In The Killer of Pilgrims, Bartholomew is busy teaching his pupils at Michaelhouse College (later to become Trinity College), tending to his predominantly poor patients and trying to prevent any outbursts of violence between the rival hostels and colleges of Cambridge. The town has also seen a spate of robberies of reliquaries, souvenirs from pilgrimages that people keep on their person to ward off evil and heal sickness. The students of the hostels and colleges have been competing with each other with pranks that have resulted in a few deaths. The university has also organised a game of camp-ball between the Carmelites and Gilbertines for which Bartholomew will act as the official physician, a job he doesn’t relish because of the violence involved. In this busy period, a dead body is found in Michaelhouse’s grounds and Bartholomew is once again called upon by his friend and colleague Brother Michael, the University Proctor, to be his official Corpse Examiner. Put in a half-finished roof, a deluge of rain, an empty pantry and a rich evil old lady who requests Bartholomew to tend to her toothache, and you get a complicated and deadly yet very merry romp through medieval Cambridge.

As always, I recommend you start right at the beginning with A Plague on Both Your Houses which sets Matthew Bartholomew and Brother Michael firmly in medieval Cambridge’s social scene. I guarantee you’ll come away with a healthy respect for today’s physicians.

Many thanks to Little Brown who kindly sent me a copy of The Killer of Pilgrims to review.

I read this for the Thriller and Suspense Challenge 2010 and R.I.P. V Challenge.

RIP V is here!

1 September, 2010

When I started blogging last year, I joined two challenges, Dolce Bellezza‘s Japanese Literature Challenge and Stainless Steel DroppingsR.eaders I.mbibing P.eril (RIP) Challenge. Both were exciting, fun and made me some new bookish friends and although I’ve joined a lot of other challenges in the meantime, I’ve been particularly looking forward to joining these two again! I was just lamenting the end of summer as chill winds sweep across London, but R.I.P. V will surely cheer me up because 1) I get to make another list of books to read and 2) I get to read books in some of my favourite genres. So double yay!

This year I will be participating in Peril the First where I will need to read FOUR books from the following genres: mystery, suspense, thriller, dark fantasy, gothic, horror, supernatural. I suspect I will be reading more mysteries, maybe a dark fantasy and possibly a gothic/horror/supernatural title in time for Halloween.

I’ve come up with the following for my selection which may change:

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (I’ve been waiting to read this for a year now)
Seeking Whom He May Devour by Fred Vargas (looks like I’m still on my French kick!)
Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson (the second volume in the Malazan Book of the Fallen sequence because it’s very, very dark fantasy)
Cemetary Dance by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (lots of gruesome stuff but Agent Pendergast is so hot)
The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox (a Victorian, gothic mystery)
Black Water Rising by Attica Locke (murdery and mystery in 1980s Houston)

So, will you be joining us? And more importantly, what will you be reading?