September has this way of sneaking up on me. I always tell myself at the end of the RIP challenge to be better prepared for next year’s, and once again, I’m surprised by all the RIP VIII posts on my blog reader! And so it is on this suitably gloomy morning that I present my RIP VIII post.

So once again, RIP is on!

Dark Fantasy.
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above. That is what embodies the stories, written and visual, that we celebrate with the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event.

And I’m joining in Peril the First:


Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (the very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be King or Conan Doyle, Penny or Poe, Chandler or Collins, Lovecraft or Leroux…or anyone in between.

This year I’d like to try out some new-to-me writers

And here’s the pool:

A Place of Execution – Val McDermid
Indemnity Only – Sara Paretsky
Heart Shaped Box – Joe Hill (I loved his Locke and Key graphic novel series but have yet to read his novels)
Niceville – Carsten Stroud
The last policeman – Ben H Winters
Alice in Zombieland – Gena Showalter
Aunty Lee’s delights: a Singaporean mystery – Ovidia Yu
The ghost bride – Yangsze Choo

Not new-to-me authors

A Grave Talent (Kate Martinelli #1) – Laurie R King (I’m a fan of her Mary Russell series, and am curious about this series set in SF)
A monster calls – Patrick Ness
Joyland – Stephen King
The accursed – Joyce Carol Oates
Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth – Chris Priestley
Mister Creecher – Chris Priestley
Burning your boats : the collected short stories – Angela Carter


And probably more to come! Can’t wait!

My Cousin Rachel

This image of Grace Adler (Debra Messing) – and sometimes Bobbi Adler (Debbie Reynolds) – kept popping up as I sped my way through Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel.

Probably not something one sees in the same sentence often.

Argh there were so many moments when I just wanted to shake him up, wake him up to the realities so blindingly obvious to everyone, especially the reader. And then you know, do the ‘told you’ song and dance.

But of course he knew it all. In hindsight that is. He tells the reader so in the first chapter.

I suppose I should start at the beginning.

“We were dreamers, both of us, unpractical, reserved, full of great theories never put to test, and, like all dreamers, asleep to the waking world. Disliking our fellow men, we craved affection; but shyness kept impulse dormant until the heart was touched. When that happened the heavens opened, and we felt, the pair of us, that we had the whole wealth of the universe to give.”

Philip Ashley, orphaned at a young age, has been brought up by his older cousin Ambrose. The two of them are so close, that Philip has become like him:

“Well, it was what I always wanted. To be like him. To have his height, his shoulders, his way of stooping, even his long arms, his rather clumsy-looking hands, his sudden smile, his shyness at first meeting with a stranger, his dislike of fuss, of ceremony.”

Philip is heir to the estate as Ambrose is single and childless. And Du Maurier is careful to set up the household as a rather masculine one, devoid of feminine charms.

So it is to everyone’s surprise that Ambrose, on a tour of Italy, meets Cousin Rachel, a distant relative born and brought up in Italy and now a widow with “a load of debts and a great empty villa”. But as she is a “sensible woman and good company”, Ambrose writes that they are spending plenty of time together. And some months later tells Philip that they are married.

Philip is rather horrified at the thought, feeling more alone than ever before. And pretty much resolves to detest Cousin Rachel: “One moment middle-aged and forceful, the next simpering and younger than Louise, my cousin Rachel had a dozen personalities or more, and each one more hateful than the last.”

But the tone of Ambrose’s letters change. They become strained and suspicious. And worried Philip heads to Italy to find the truth. And there he learns that his dearest Ambrose is dead, of a brain tumor, according to Rachel’s doctors.

He returns home, now master of the estate. And learns that Cousin Rachel is headed to his very shores. He is still determined to hate her, and continues to build up this villain, this ogre in his mind. But they meet and he does not know what to make of this diminutive, charming woman who threads her way into his life, his household.

I would like to say more but I think the rest of it is perhaps best discovered on your own, as I had a wonderful time doing so myself. I pretty much spent wee reader’s nap time racing my way through the second half of this book. This book just kept me wondering, what next? And there was also plenty of: ‘nooooooo! Don’t do that!’ and ‘Are you crazy?’

So it was frustrating.

Not that it was a difficult read, but because I felt so invested in the story, in the characters (perhaps I felt for this motherless youth, for his naivety?), that I just was so exasperated by what seemed like all the wrong decisions.

And du Maurier leaves us at the end, still wondering. Was Cousin Rachel really that diabolical? Or were they all just victims of rather unfortunate circumstances?

I can’t help but compare My Cousin Rachel to Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger. Both having similar situations – ownership of a manor, tangled relationships, webs of deceit. For me, My Cousin Rachel was a better read, perhaps because I did not despise the narrator (Philip) as much as The Little Stranger‘s Dr Faraday. And in both books, the reader is left hanging. There are conclusions of a sort, but plenty of questions left unanswered. But in the case of My Cousin Rachel, I found myself turning back to the front of the book and starting the first chapter over. And then finding all these hints and clues that Du Maurier had dropped along the way. I think I would have reread this all over again, except for the fact that it was due back at the library… perhaps this just means I need my own copy?


This is my third read for RIP VII

The Little Stranger – halfway-ish

“They seem to pride themselves on living like the Brontës out there, cauterising their own wounds and what not…”

I am so behind! And on my first readalong too…

So we were supposed to have read at least half of Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger by 11 September, and so I daringly started the book on that very day. It’s the 13th of September and I am almost (just almost!) halfway there.

And yes, things are finally happening!

That’s the thing about reading for RIP. There are high expectations. Of goosebumps and chills running down the spine while reading. But with this book, that didn’t happen for quite a while. And to be honest, it’s not all that creepy. At least not yet.

Waters takes a very gradual route, introducing us first to the Hundreds Hall (once “an absolute mansion”) and the fading Ayres family and Dr Faraday’s childhood connection to this landed gentry of a family (his mother was a nursemaid). He gets called to treat the Ayres’ maid who is supposedly suffering from a gastric ailment but learns she is afraid – of the house. This gets dismissed rather quickly and Dr Faraday begins to wheedle his way in with the Ayres (his boyhood self probably chuckling with delight every time he gets to have tea in the parlour with Mrs Ayres herself). The daughter Caroline is the strong one. The son Roderick was injured in the war and that is Faraday’s key into the Hall – he offers to give the limping Rod weekly treatments, purportedly for a paper he’s writing. The Ayres family is struggling with the upkeep of their estate, selling off land, making do with just one maid… ah the life of the not-doing-too-well.

Anyway, so somewhere before we hit the 100-page mark, the Ayres host a party with their new neighbours and the neighbours’ spoilt little girl gets mauled by the amiable dog Gyp.

Unexpected but not very creepy, you’re probably thinking.

And so it seemed, until Roderick confesses to Dr Faraday what he’s been experiencing lately, a malevolent thing that is trying to hurt him, playing tricks on him, and just truly hating hating him. He calls it an ‘infection’.

There are strange burn marks on the ceiling and the walls of Roderick’s room. And he’s been getting into all kinds of scrapes and bruises. Then that mysterious fire. Nobody quite understands it. Everyone thinks he’s just overstressed with the management of the failing estate, or perhaps it has to do with his war wounds.

It’s funny that I’m now at this point in the book where all seems nice and normal again. The doc and Caroline are inspecting the new housing being built on the grass-snake field, meeting the man with the half-cooked sausages for fingers. So I’m wondering what’s going to happen next.

RIP is back!

RIP or R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII is here!!!

I’m excited!

I guess you can tell that by the exclamation marks.

Anyway, as Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings explains:

“The purpose of R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII is to enjoy books and movies/television that could be classified as:

Dark Fantasy.
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.”

So once again I am going with Peril the First

Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (the very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be King or Conan Doyle, Penny or Poe, Chandler or Collins, Lovecraft or Leroux…or anyone in between.

And it feels like I’ve been unconsciously reading towards this event, racking up quite a few Sherlock Holmes stories like The Hound of the Baskervilles and the surprisingly creepy Cold Earth by Sarah Moss, where a team of archaeologists on a dig in Greenland face the inhospitable landscape, terrifying dreams and a worldwide catastrophe. Plus I have been (ahem) re-watching Buffy and watching Fringe with the husband (at night, which isn’t the best of ideas).

At any rate, I’ve read those books already so they probably don’t count.

Instead, I’m thinking of reading:


Talulla Rising – Glen Duncan (I quite enjoyed The Last Werewolf)

My Cousin Rachel – Daphne du Maurier (there is always a need to read a du Maurier)

The Woman in Black – Susan Hill (I say this again and again but this year is the year I am actually reading this book)

The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters (this is a readalong hosted by The Estella Society)

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs

The Apothecary – Maile Meloy (I saw this in the children’s section at the library a few months ago and thought it sounded interesting – plus it has a great cover)

I’m sure more books will find their way onto my list, but that’s it for now!

I should add that RIP VII runs from September 1st through October 31st. Let the creepy reading begin!

A discovery of witches

As a child, I believed in vampires.

It was a mixture of both fear and excitement. Part of me was all, hey, vampires are cool. They live forever. The other part of me was thinking, wait… that means I’d have to feed on blood for the rest of my life??

Of course that was more about the western vampire than the Chinese vampire. I mean, have you seen those Chinese movies with vampires? They stick out their arms in front of them and hop. Hop hop hop. I kid you not. Here’s a picture. Or two.

There they go hopping, although usually it’s with arms outstretched.

Back to the western vampire. They are always portrayed as these charming, enigmatic creatures, are they not? Perhaps not in some tales like The Strain and The Passage, which are more zombie-like and parasitic and frankly quite gross. But I guess I’m talking about the beautiful vampire, the kind portrayed by Brad Pitt, long haired, gorgeous. Or somewhat gorgeous. Somehow I remember him being more good-looking than that? Teenaged eyes or something I guess?

And here is that charming vampire again, this time in A Discovery of Witches. He’s not just charming, tall and well built, he’s rich, he’s French, he’s well read, and an academic/scientist! What more could you ask for?

Ok so I kinda fell for him too. Because if this book were just about Diana, witch and not-witch (she is the last of the Bishop witches – who were one of the original Salem witches – but refuses to use magic) I wouldn’t have finished it. She’s occasionally irritating and quite childlike at times. She’s also an academic who’s visiting Oxford, her topic the history of science. And a bit too smug about it: “What got me away from Madison was my intellect. It had always been precocious”. I felt like taking that mystical magical book that is the focus of this book and conking her on her noggin with it. It also helped that the story opens in a library, but not just any library but the Bodleian.

“Bewitched books? Daemons following you? Vampires taking you to yoga? Witches threatening a Bishop?”

There’s something for everyone in A Discovery of Witches. Witches, vampires, daemons, magic, alchemy, science, history, evolution, and yes, yoga (Now that would be an unforgettable movie scene)…. Yeah, go on, stuff them all in there. That’s right. But essentially it is a romance between a witch and a vampire. I suppose there might be comparisons to Twilight etc (or so some reviews on GoodReads seem to suggest) but I’ve yet to read that so I am blissfully ignorant.

A Discovery of Witches was a relatively fun read. I’ve been trying to figure out what would be the autumn/Halloween equivalent of a beach read? A trick-or-treating read? I.e., the book to read while waiting for trick-or-treaters with candy? The winter-storm read? I.e. here in the bay area it’s all grey and gloomy and a little chilly thanks to an early winter storm that’s got the Weather Channel and the media all in a tizzy. I have to warn you that it’s not all that action-packed so it might not be for everyone. And as I mentioned earlier, you just want to give it some time because Diana is around a lot in the beginning. Too much. It does have a fantastic vampire in Ysabeau, who was probably my favourite character (she’s the male vampire’s ‘mother’). I would say that it would probably make a great RIP read, especially since it ends on Halloween. Oh! More importantly, it’s the first of a series. I didn’t know that until I was halfway through! And when I finished it, I wondered, why oh why must they always leave things hanging? That’s the thing about series isn’t it? Oh well. I’ll see if the next one will be worth reading…

Red herring please. Hold the mustard

Mysteries. They’ve always been a….a… erm… mystery to me.

Until, that is, dear Flavia de Luce emerged.

While I would like to think that I am quite an adventurous reader – fiction? sure! Science fiction? Sure! Fantasy? Sure! Non-fiction of various kinds? Sure! – there are two sections of the library that I’ve never quite ventured to: Westerns and Mysteries. I also don’t really read romances but that tends to be filed under Fiction in most libraries….

Anyway, so back to the mystery of Mysteries. I’m just not quite sure why I’ve never quite bonded with them. Because there’s good stuff there like Agatha Christie and Laurie R. King, and… Patricia Highsmith? There are plenty of others I can’t think of right now, and in the first place, don’t really know much about. Please enlighten me in the comments, do!

Then there was Flavia. This eccentric precocious 11-year-old with a passion for chemistry, poisons and sleuthing, whose sisters torment her, whose father mostly ignores her, who is sometimes too smart for her own good, has won me over. She is very much a take-it-or-leave-it kind of character – you either love her or you don’t. But I’m guessing that with the success of this series, it’s more of the former.

And with A Red Herring Without Mustard, the third book in the series, the fun continues. Fun perhaps isn’t the right word when there’s an attempted murder of a gypsy fortune teller and then another corpse turns up in their sleepy village. But it is a light enjoyable read. It’s not the sleuthing that I enjoy reading about but Flavia’s insights into her late mother Harriet’s life, her interactions with the amusing Inspector Hewitt as well as the other personalities, and the 1950s setting in this English village.

This is one mystery series I can’t wait to read more of. Could you recommend me another?

This is my third read for the RIP VI challenge.

The Terror

I’d forgotten how dramatic lightning can be.*

It was around 830 on a Friday night. The husband had come home not too long ago and informed me that a thunderstorm was on its way. Wee reader was asleep upstairs and I was headed up myself with Dan Simmons’ The Terror in hand. The moment I stepped from the family room into the dark corridor, lightning flashed, and threw everything into a sudden heart-stopping illumination. I stepped back into the lit room and put the book back down as the sky thundered away. I didn’t have the heart to read it anymore! Yeah I’m the kind who doesn’t watch horror movies, and is too chicken to read this book on a stormy night.

I finally picked it up again the next day, in broad daylight. And was swept up in this… well I don’t know what to call this book. Is it historical fiction? Kind of, as it is based on Sir John Franklin’s Arctic expedition on the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror to traverse the last unnavigated section of the Northwest Passage. However, there is also a bit of a horror-fantasy aspect to The Terror, which was nominated for the British Fantasy Award in 2008. As if being stranded (the two ships are stuck in ice) in the frozen desolate Arctic wasn’t enough (goodness, how horror-movie like is scurvy? Blood oozes from everywhere!), Simmons throws in a monster. A huge beast that seems to stalk the crew wherever they go. And a tongue-less mysterious Eskimo girl who has joined them onboard.

“In addition to the insidious night and the even more insidious creeping cold, the cold of death, Goodsir realized, the cold of the grave and of the black cliff wall above the Beechey Island headstones, there was the noise; the surgeon had thought himself accustomed to the groan of ship’s timbers, occasional creakings and snappings of supercold ship’s metal in the dark of two winters, and the constant noise antics of the ice holding the ship in its vise, but out here, with nothing separating his body from the ice except a few layers of wool and wolfskin, the groaning and movement of the ice beneath him was terrible. It was like trying to sleep on the belly of a living beast. The sense of the ice moving beneath him, however, exaggerated, was real enough to give him vertigo as he curled more tightly into a feral position.”

It’s not your typical shiver-inducing read but I reckon The Terror has its place among the RIP lists. It has its creepy moments, not just due to the great beast that stalks them but also thanks to human nature – and perhaps that makes it even more creepy. The men die slowly, from starvation, from disease, from the extreme conditions, and also from the monster. And that is why it’s such a monstrously big book. Because there are a lot of characters, some of them better flesh out than others, such as the admirable Captain Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier, and the doctor Goodsir whose thoughts feature in his diary entries. And here is where I really admired Simmons, for he manages to make the men distinguishable, memorable.

And there is the fascinating mystery of polar exploration. I have to admit being pretty determined right from the start that I would like this book. Polar exploration is a minor fascination for me. I mean, what drove these men out there, to the unknown? And when they were barely equipped to cope with the conditions? Woolen clothing, for instance, which hardly ever dried. Canned food that was rotting away! It makes me grateful that I am sitting in my house, in a T-shirt and shorts, in 85 degree weather.

The Terror was exciting, suspenseful, a little creepy and strange. However, the last section didn’t seem to quite fit in all that well with the rest of the book though, and threw me off slightly. But I’d still say that it was worth ploughing through.

* funny how lightning can make the news here. Back home in Singapore, every storm (and there are too many) is a sound and light show. It always terrifies me to walk home from the bus stop in the rain, clutching my umbrella, hoping I wouldn’t be as unlucky as to be hit by a falling branch or worse, lightning itself.


The thing about being a parent is that weekends are no longing about the doing nothing. Because the feeding, diapering, soothing, playing, they still go on. Of course the husband is around more and he can handle more of that while I do other things, but there are always things to do. Things that are easier to do when there’s someone else to watch wee reader. Like tidying up and making freezer meals.

I know I’m stating the obvious here but I guess that it wasn’t all that obvious to me before wee reader arrived some 5.5 months ago! It’s just amazing how he’s changed our lives, our routines, our own bedtimes and eating schedules.

So it’s taken me a while to write this review – a whole week to be exact. And I have to warn you, it’s a terrible one. Partly because my mind is elsewhere. But also because I’m just not sure about this book.

For I was so sure that Chocky was a reread.

In secondary school in Singapore, we did John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids (not Day of the Triffids as I originally recalled it as!) as part of our literature class. I remember quite enjoying it and heading to the school library with my classmate to check out Wyndham’s other books. We borrowed what we could and savored them all. I was so sure that Chocky was part of that collection. Now I’m not. Or perhaps it was something that didn’t stick in my teenaged mind?

It’s not going to stick in my mind today either, unfortunately.

Anyway here’s the synopsis from Good Reads:

Matthew, they thought, was just going through a phase of talking to himself. And, like many parents, they waited for him to get over it, but it started to get worse. Mathew’s conversations with himself grew more and more intense – it was like listening to one end of a telephone conversation while someone argued, cajoled and reasoned with another person you couldn’t hear. Then Matthew started doing things he couldn’t do before, like counting in binary-code mathematics. So he told them about Chocky – the person who lived in his head.

After reading that I thought, hey, creepy kid, that’s rather RIP-ish, no? And I guess it kinda was, especially when I thought of how I would feel if that were my boy. Well, except I wasn’t creeped out. I read this with a sense of detachment, I didn’t care for Matthew, plus his parents just irritated me. And when I finally finished it, I just wasn’t up to writing a review of it. Obviously that’s not going to encourage anyone to read this book! However because of my fond memories of really enjoying Wyndham’s work those years back, I’m going o give him another try. Perhaps revisit Day of the Triffids and see how that stands up.

Joining RIP VI

It is an appropriately gloomy foggy morning to be writing this post. I have been hesitating about joining another challenge this year, as my reading speed is far from the usual, thanks to a certain wee fella. But my Google Reader feed is just overflowing with all these posts about RIP VI, and I try not to read them, but I can’t help it! The selections are so tempting. The artwork is gorgeous, as always. And the theme ever such fun:
Dark Fantasy.

So here I am, jumping into the fray with my list:
Poe’s Children The New Horror: An Anthology – edited by Peter Straub
The woman in black – Susan Hill
Ysabel – Guy Gavriel Kay
Jamaica Inn – Daphne du Maurier
A discovery of witches – Deborah Harkness
In the Woods – Tana French
The last werewolf – Glen Duncan
The Midwich Cuckoos – John Wyndham
Chocky – John Wyndham
The terror – Dan Simmons
The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

So I am going to try for Peril the First, where four books is the goal. Better start reading!

A Graveyard for Lunatics

Well call me confused. When I saw the title (A Graveyard for Lunatics – can you blame me?). I thought, ooh that looks perfect for RIP V. And it does begin rather promisingly:

“Once upon a time there were two cities within a city. One was light and one was dark. One moved restlessly all day while the other never stirred. One was warm and filled with ever-changing lights. One was cold and fixed in place by stones. And when the sun went down each afternoon on Maximus Films, the city of the living, it began to resemble Green Glades cemetery just across the way, which was the city of the dead.”

And then I read a bit more, and confusion arises as I realise, waitaminute, this isn’t a city of the dead, it’s a studio city, as in Los Angeles, as in Hollywood. Hmm ok…. not so sure now.

So….our unnamed narrator (really a fictionalised version of Ray himself) is a scriptwriter, hired to write his dream project, a horror movie, working with his friend and model maker Ron. But it’s not a straight up job. There’s a bit of a creepy enough element to the book, which opens on Halloween eve at midnight, with the narrator venturing into the depths of the Green Glades cemetery, after receiving an anonymous note. There he discovers a body who looks like the founder of Maximus Films, who has been dead for many years.  Is it a body? Is it just a prop? And some other weird things happen that leads him right in the middle of a whirlwind of intrigue.

So it’s a kind of mystery, right? And that sort of counts (checking the RIP V Challenge page…. and yes it does!).

Ok, while I love the previous works by Bradbury that I’ve read, I wasn’t too fond of this one. It’s is a very different book from anything else of his. The mystery part of it was fine enough, but I’m not all that familiar with Hollywood of the 1950s, which this book is a love song to.

It was only after I finished the book that I realised it was part two of a series! It was preceded by the novel Death Is a Lonely Business, and followed by Let’s All Kill Constance. Would reading the first book have made a difference to my opinion of Graveyard for Lunatics? I’m not all that sure.

This is my fourth read for the RIP V Challenge.