Friday, September 30, 2011

R.I.P. - The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carré

As they got to the door, Control put his hand lightly on Leamas' shoulder.
"This is your last job," he said. "Then you can come in from the cold."

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is a 1963 spy/crime thriller novel by John Le Carré. The protagonist is an agent called Alec Leamas, working for the British Intelligence Service (referred to as "the Circus") in early Cold War Berlin. He gets called back to London by his spy master, Control, who gives him his last, scary assignment.
When I started reading this book, my first spy novel, I had no idea what to expect. With a continually twisting story line, the book is fast and packed with tension. Anything I reveal under "Summary" could be counted as a spoiler; the book is best read directly and is a must read.
The story is genuinely complicated and seems highly probable. This is what a spy's life is like; each man for himself and no one is a hero. There is no flashiness and no glamour, just dark and touchingly realistic experiences. More than anything else though, the book, coming from an agent himself, sounds a lot like an anecdote, making it all the more involving.
The characters are great, each with a detailed background story. It is not easy to figure out their motives and Le Carré has maintained the suspense throughout the novel; letting us know little at a time, and keeping us wait for more. The relationships are complex but not complicated - the single love story is intricately involved in the plot, leaving many blanks for us to fill. The story is mostly plot based, but it involves some of the strongest characters ever.
The book is not only a thriller, but so much more. I might just have found my new favourite novel.
I wrote this book review as a part of the R.I.P Challenge.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Phantom Rickshaw by Rudyard Kipling

"The weather in India is often sultry, and since the tale of bricks is always a fixed quantity, and the only liberty allowed is permission to work overtime and get no thanks, men occasionally break down and become as mixed as the metaphors in this sentence."

The Phantom Rickshaw is a short story written by Rudyard Kipling and published in 1888 as a part of a collection called The Phantom Rickshaw and other Eerie Tales.

Set in Simla, a popular tourist destination in British India, the story is a first person account of a man named Jack who is haunted by his past. Literally.
This is undoubtedly one of the best ghost stories I have read. The story was slightly weak in places, but I loved how realistically the supernatural element is presented. I also liked the writing style; the combination of witty and eerie. You can (and you should!) read it here.

Short Stories on Wednesday is a weekly bookish meme (and the one thing I have to thank for my growing fascination with short stories) hosted at Risa's Bread Crumb Reads.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


After spending a couple of days exploring the wizarding world of Pottermore, I ended up deleting the spur-of-the-moment squeakily excited post I had written when I first got in.

My wand is a pretty alder with phoenix core, ten and three quarter inches and slightly springy, my familiar is a black cat and I got sorted into Ravenclaw. I never really thought about which house I'd like to be sorted into, and let's be honest here, I do have 'wit beyond measure', so I am perfectly content with the Sorting Hat's choice.

Exploring the first book and reading J. K. Rowling's wonderful additions to it brought back so many memories of when I first read Harry Potter. The story of how Petunia met Vernon, the history of the Hogwarts Express and so on; while exploring each key scene from each chapter you learn something new!

You also get to have your own Gringotts account, a trunk full of things you collect as you read on (it's a wonder how many Chocolate Frog Cards are just lying around the castle) and you get to practice spells, duel and even brew potions.

When it comes to potion making, though, I am no Half-blood Prince. Every time I melt my cauldron or the contents spray all over the place, creating greenish fumes that don't look particularly fragrant, I end up feeling like Neville Longbottom.

With spells, on the other hand, I'm pretty good. A little more practice and I'll be off duelling!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday #15

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic:

Top Ten Books I want to Re-read:

1. Moby Dick by Herman Melville - I read what I thought was the abridged version of this book a long time ago (around the time when I read and liked Enid Blyton) and I hated it. I saw this book in a bookshop years later and realized what I'd read was the original book and it is supposed to be pretty good. I need to re-read it!

2. The Book Thief by Makus Zusak - When I read this book, I just loved it. I want to re-read it to re-love it!

3. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller - I remember loving this book. But it was the kind of thing where you stay glued to a book for twenty hours straight without eating or sleeping; and later it seems very unreal; like the whole thing was just a big dream and you get back to your routine and reading that book is only a hazy memory. (Or, maybe, it only happens to me)

4. American Gods by Neil Gaiman - I just re-read Anansi Boys and it reminded me so much of American Gods that I want to read it again!

5. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - I miss Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs. Okay, I don't really miss Wormtail...

6. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett - Because I am only one re-read short of a thousand reads.

7. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkein - The third time's the charm. When I read this for the first time I hated it. When I re-read it, I liked it. Maybe if I read it one more time, it could convince me to finally read the Lord of the Rings series.

8. On Writing by Stephen King - I do keep reading it over and over in parts. So often, however, that I don't remember the book as a whole at all.

9. Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris - I loved this book and I'd like to be reminded why.

10. The Lives of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones - Haven't read anything by her in a long time and I had enjoyed this book a lot!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Happy Banned Books Week!

Banned Books Week started yesterday; the 24th of September, and goes on, obviously, till October 1. (So, I do realize, this post is a day late.) For this celebration, I have decided to read just two books (e-book format) that have been banned here in India, so as not to add too big a load to my already busy schedule and my already toppling to-be-read pile.

Banned Books Week is a time to celebrate the freedom to read, and that is certainly a freedom I wouldn't give up easy. I'm not fighting for the freedom of expression here. When it comes to movies that show violence or anti-feminism or anti-religious views, or those that offend specific groups of people, the censorship, though not correct theoretically, seems like something I can live with. In particular instances of, say, animals abused for art, I am not that generous. But books - why do you need to ban books? When you take your kid to a museum, you have no choice but to let him watch that poor dog tied up on display! When you put on the television, you cannot help watching that scene where the man hits the woman. But you have the choice to not read a book. I mean, really, I can't see how the Catcher in the Rye can hurt anyone? Bore them to death, may be, but hurt? I don't think so.

There can be like a notice, at the back of the book, you know after the blurb - P.S: May hurt the sentiments of/bother 'some people'. Read at your own risk." Or a parental advisory, say - "Warning! Explicit content, don't read unless first read/reviewed by a parent."

Now, I am not the biggest fan of Indian literature, and I haven't decided which books to read. The first one that came to mind was Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, but let's see. I'll put up reviews once the week is done, of course! Happy Reading!

Friday, September 23, 2011

And then there were seven...

September has been an incredibly bookish month. I started reading the classics, that I'd planned to read in August; I am done reading more than half of the 2011 Booker prize shortlist; I participated in some fun challenges and memes; I received books to review; I read many essays, short stories, and even poems (but more on that later!)

With my birthday right on the third day of the month, I got many wonderful books, without having to spend a single penny on them. And they just kept coming. Until today - and now there are seven. A huge thanks to all the generous gift-givers! Now I own seven books that I am desperate to read. I will have to wait till October to finally get to read all od them, though, considering that I'm supposed to study for my exams as we speak (not that we are speaking right now; but I'd rather write it and explain this than not write it at all.) These are seven of the most awesome gifts I have received in my nineteen years of existence.

One might say I am exaggerating the awesomeness. In which case, I would suggest one to look carefully at the photograph. Yes, that's right; it says The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Followed by the red and green books, that are Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages. Which would mean I am actually understating the awesomeness, for I fear I might start acting like one of those crazy, squeaky fan-girls if I don't. Enjoying J. K. Rowling all over again; now that's something I'm definitely looking forward to. October is surely going to be a hell of a month!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday #14

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic:

Top Ten Books I feel as though everyone had read but me:

There are a lot of books that have hit the bestseller lists, but I still haven't read. But most of those books and the kind which I'm most likely never to pick up. For instance, any Nicholas Sparks novel or the books that fit into the 'paranormal young adult' genre. But there are some books that I could have read by now, along with the thousand other people who read them; but I didn't get around to it. There are the books everyone seems to have read, except, unfortunately, me:

1. Lord of the Rings by J. R. R Tolkien - I am going to save these for some long vacation somewhere down the road.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

3. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

4. The Stand by Stephen King

5. The Tiffany Aching books (from the Discworld series) by Terry Pratchett - I will read them. Soon.

6. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

7. Sandman series by Neil Gaiman - I am still not convinced that I could like comic books.

8. A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin

9. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

10. The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher - From this entire list, I probably want to read these the most!

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Week in Review

The past week has been terrifyingly eventful (book- and otherwise). So much that it made my usual quiet weekend seem quite boring.

I have been following the Man Booker Prize selection this year for the first time ever. I've read only two Booker books before - one I loved and one I didn't love so much. I didn't dare to commit to reading the whole long list but since the short list is only six books, I sort of 'challenged' myself to read it before the prize is announced. Of course, I am already regretting this surge of ambition. I have read these this by now:

1. A Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes - The book was a wonderful read. My only problem was, I thought it lacked a bit in the plot, in that it didn't really have one. I loved reading the narrator's long monologues about memory and time and morality; so much that I wished it was a non-fiction book. I loved the main character's sense of humour and his writing; but it seemed as though an idea was stretched and dragged into a book, to show off a few genius characters and their beliefs. I would call it a great one-time read, albeit with a spectacularly disappointing ending!

I also read Orwell's Politics and the English Language essay (you can read it here) the other day, which I am in no way qualified to review. An excerpt:

Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority. Two recent examples were 'explore every avenue' and 'leave no stone unturned', which were killed by the jeers of a few journalists. There is a long list of flyblown metaphors which could similarly be got rid of if enough people would interest themselves in the job; and it should also be possible to laugh the not un- formation out of existence*, to reduce the amount of Latin and Greek in the average sentence, to drive out foreign phrases and strayed scientific words, and, in general, to make pretentiousness unfashionable.
*One can cure oneself of the not un- formation by memorizing this sentence: A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field.
Apart from that, my sister wrote another of her awesome blog posts which, when compared to my own blog, make me hang my head in shame. Also. I baked cookies. I can't cook; anyone who knows me knows that! But I did, anyway. That's what being bored, sick and alone at home does to people. Anyway, a few burned, but the rest turned out quite alright. I was so happy, and I repeat, so alone, that I ate them up all by myself, except for one that I managed to save for later. That night I proudly presented it to my mom. Knowing my luck, I should have guessed it would turn out to be one of the slightly charred ones. I have to say, I did not deserve the 'Oh, I bet the rest tasted perfectly fine' remark that goes with that pitying smile.

Friday, September 16, 2011

If on a Winter's Night a Traveller

Book Beginnings on Friday is a weekly bookish meme hosted at A Few More Pages. To participate, share the first line (or two) of the book you are reading, along with the author and title. Also share your first impression based on that first line!

This is the beginning of one of hell of a book, which I recently read (in one sitting) - If on a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino :

"You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveller. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, "No, I don't want to watch TV!" Raise your voice - they won't hear you otherwise - "I'm reading! I don't want to be disturbed!" Maybe they haven't heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: "I'm beginning to read Italo Calvino's new novel!" Or if you prefer, don't say anything; just hope they'll leave you alone."

About the book: If on a Winter's Night a Traveller is a 1979 novel by Italian author Italo Calvino. It is translated into English by William Weaver in 1981.

Summary: You (yes, you) go to a bookshop and buy a copy of Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveller. You start reading it, but you realize there is an error. You find the first chapter very exciting, but the book ends there. The book is incomplete, and you exchange it for what you assume to be a complete copy of the same book. Soon, when you read it, though, you realize it's a completely different book. This goes on for quite a while (every even chapter is a different book and every odd chapter is you reading it) and you never finish reading any of the books. Except for If on a Winter's Night a Traveller, which does eventually end, and you do finish reading it!

My thoughts: A book about reading starring... me? I was glued to it. I have never really read a book in second person perspective and I certainly didn't imagine it to be so much fun. It is the most annoyingly witty and interesting book I have ever read. The book had a lot of underlying themes, mostly writing, writers and readers; the book business, media and frauds; all dealt with in a subtle but hilarious manner. It is a wonderful read!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

R.I.P. - The Lame Priest by S. Carleton

"I do not know why, but that black track had a desolate look on the white ground, and the black priest hurrying down the hill looked desolate, too. There was something infinitely lonely, infinitely pathetic, in that scurrying figure, indistinct through the falling snow."

The Lame Priest is a gothic short story by Susan Morrow Jones (S. Carleton), first published in December 1901.

The story opens as the narrator is walking back to his cabin, a little shack in the woods, after a trip to the nearby village. On the way, he sees a strange priest in a black robe running hurriedly towards the village. He looks gaunt and desolate and has a limp. Back in his cabin, the narrator meets his friend Andrew, an Indian, who warns him about the wolves and the strange things that might be hiding in the woods. And when the narrator runs into the lame priest again, the priest gives him a similar and equally cryptic warning. Soon enough, the strange prophecies seem to take shape, as a lone wolf starts preying on the villagers' children.

The Lame Priest is beautifully written. I loved the air of mystery, which is there right from the first page. Though the writing isn't outright scary, it is distinctly eerie. The setting is wonderful, the descriptions are vivid and you are involved in the story from start to finish.

You can read this story here. This review is a part of Peril of the Short Story from the R.I.P. Challenge. You can read more short stories on Short Stories on Wednesday at Risa's Bread Crumb Reads.

Mr. Nancy (American Gods)

Someone asked me which my favourite Neil Gaiman book was and I immediately thought of an old man wearing yellow gloves, with a wheezing, cackling laugh and a faint West Indian-ish twang in his voice. Anansi Boys. I am re-reading it right now.

We all know Anansi as the trickster Spider-god brought to America by the African slaves. I first 'met' Mr. Nancy in his checkered suit, smoking a thin cigar in Gaiman's earthbound-deities novel American Gods. And then in Anansi Boys, as the father of Fat Charlie Nancy, the one who spends his entire life chasing women, embarrassing his son, Fat Charlie, and then drops dead on a karaoke stage following a particularly hilarious performance.

Mr. Nancy, the humorous story teller, doesn't have much stage time in American Gods, but he does have a strong presence. He is fun, and relaxed and has the best lines.

"They don't look very friendly," said Nancy. "A story's a good way of gettin' someone on your side. And you don't have a bard to sing to them."

As for Anansi, well... (I couldn't say it better if I tried)

"Olden days, all the animals wanted to have stories named after them, back in the days when the songs that sung the world were still being sung, back when they were still singing the sky and the rainbow and the ocean. It was in those days when animals were people as well as animals that Anansi the spider tricked all of them, especially Tiger, because he wanted all the stories named after him.

Stories are like spiders, with all their long legs, and stories are like spiderwebs, which man gets himself all tangled up in but which look so pretty when you see them under a leaf in the morning dew, and in the elegant way that they connect to one another, each to each.

What’s that? You want to know if Anansi looked like a spider? Sure he did, except when he looked like a man.

No, he never changed his shape. It’s just a matter of how you tell the story. That’s all."

The increasing gossip about the American Gods HBO series is making me wonder who they will cast as Mr. Nancy. And despite the numerous online votes for Morgan Freeman, I just don't see him pull off an Anansi. Speaking of which, I am really looking forward to this series, if there is going to be one, for a lot of the other awesome characters like Laura, Low-key, Mr. Jacquel and Mr. Ibis and Sam Black Crow.

Character Connection is a bookish meme hosted on The Introverted Reader.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Grey Gentlemen by Michael Ende

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme hosted at MizB's Should Be Reading.

"The great cities of long ago lie in ruins, together with their temples and palaces. Wind and rain, heat and cold have worn away and eaten into the stonework. Ruins are all that remain of the amphitheaters too. Crickets now inhabit their crumbling walls, singing a monotonous song that sounds like the earth breathing in its sleep."

Who doesn't like a nice children's book (though I wouldn't classify this as only that) once in a while? The Grey Gentlemen (original: Momo) is a 1973 fantasy novel by German author Michael Ende. I have just started reading the book, but it already seems wonderful!

It is the story of a little girl named Momo, who lives alone in the ruins of an amphitheater. She is poor and alone, but special; she has the gift of listening. When the Men in Grey try to take over the city, it is up to Momo to stop them!

Monday, September 12, 2011

What makes a book a "must-read"?

Musing Mondays is a meme hosted at MizB's Should Be Reading. This week's musing is:

What is the one (or maybe two) qualities a book must have for you to pass it along to your best friend as a "must-read"?

Of course, the book depends on the person I am recommending it to. If it were my sister, I'd recommend every book I love; because she'll also love almost all of them! But that's not the same with my friends. I tend to read rather genre-specific books these days - mostly fantasy or science fiction. And they tend not to like them. So, for my friends to like the book, the first requirement is that the book does not belong to either of those genres!

Usually, what I tell my friends to be a"must-read " has a different or new or unique plot. Not like your usual mysteries, crime stories, classics, romances or horror stories. The last book I really forced my best friend to read was Life of Pi by Yann Martel. (Isn't this cover absolutely beautiful?) And the next book I am going to make her read is The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

R.I.P. - Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Another book I read as part of the R.I.P. Challenge.

"It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs." - Victor Frankenstein

Summary: It does seem pointless to give this book a summary. Anyway, the book opens with a couple of letters written by Captain Robert Walton to his dear sister Margaret. Their ship is trapped somewhere near the North Pole and there the voyagers come across a miserable, emaciated man. This man is Dr. Victor Frankenstein and he has a terrible story to tell.

As a scientist, Viktor Frankenstein is fascinated and inspired by ancient philosophers, the likes of Cornelius Agrippa. After years of crazed work, Frankenstein succeeds in manufacturing an actual living being. Terrified of the effects of his actions, he abandons the creature. Years later, the monster returns with a vengeance. The book is concluded by Robert Walton in his letters.

My thoughts: After a while, I have to admit, I got tired of the romanticism. I didn't like that there is no focus whatsoever on the scientific realism of the book. I always thought Frankenstein's monster would be, well, a monster. But the creature is a lot more human than I had imagined. His story of the way he learned his way around this world, the way he learned to speak and how he sought after his creator; it sounded somewhat far-fetched to me.

“Nature decayed around me, the sun became heatless; rain and snow poured around me; mighty rivers were frozen; the surface of the earth was hard and chill, and bare, and I found no shelter.” - Frankenstein's Monster

I did like the theme; an outcast, born a romantic, turned into a monster by his surroundings. I loved the detail with which the book is written. The book is very character oriented. Of all the different perspectives in the book, the ones that I really enjoyed were Robert Walton's letters and when Frankenstein's Monster told his story; I loved the imagery. I was slightly disappointed with Dr. Frankenstein. I suppose he might have been intended to be the weak man that he was, but reading the entire book from his painfully dull perspective was frustrating.

Then again, Frankenstein is one of the earliest 'science fiction' novels and Mary Shelley wrote this book when she was nineteen. I won't call it bad, because it's not. I admit I found the book a bit annoying. But other than that, it is a good book, and a must read!

Happy Pet Remembrance Day!

The second Sunday of September happens to be National Pet Remembrance Day. I am not entirely sure what "nation" the name refers to. Even so, do you really need a reason to remember your awesome pets? If someone says it is Pet Remembrance Day, well, here I am all ready to celebrate it.

I love pets since as far back as I can remember; and I have also had pet cats since right about the same time. Whoever decided cats are shrewd or wily or scary, clearly didn't know what he was talking about. I adore cats. Now, I can either write a long post describing exactly why I love cats and end up sounding like Mrs. Figg. Or, I can post this:

He appeared at our doorstep one day, with no sign of a mother or sibling-kittens. Of course, we took him in, and fed him. The little kitty decided to stick around. So, we let the him sleep in this small basket in our kitchen. He loved that place. He grew up to be quite a loyal young cat. But he never grew out of sleeping there. Here, more than a year old, the big tom cat that he was, he could hardly fit in there. It didn't bother him one bit.

Cats are kind of stupid and very adorable and lovable, which anyone who bothers to take care of one would say! Happy Pet Remembrance Day!

(Neither of the pictures of the cats - no, they're not the same cat - was taken by me. Thanks to those who did - you know who you are - for capturing such cute moments!)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Children of the Street by Kwei Quartey

I received this book in exchange for an honest review through Netgalley.

“In the world of homelessness, poverty, and desperation, you fight for survival, and there are no polite limits to the fight.”

Children of the Street is a mystery novel by Kwei Quartey. It is the second book (after Wife of the Gods) in the Inspector Darko Dawson series.
Rating: 4/5

Summary: Darko Dawson works as an inspector in Accra, the capital of Ghana. He has seen a lot of things in this brutal place, laced with poverty and unemployment. Yet something about the latest series of murders makes them much worse. Street children are turning up dead, each body mutilated and thrown away in the exact same way. All the deaths seem to point to one killer. It is up to Inspector Dawson to figure out if it is some sort of a ritual killing or the job of another psychopathic serial killer. But the list of suspects isn't short, as this murderer isn't the only bad thing roaming the dark streets of Accra. Everyone's got skeletons in their closet.

My thoughts: I loved the book right from the cover design. I haven't read the first book in the series, so I wasn't sure what to expect. The book did have a rough start for me. What struck me as odd were the sudden and many gory details. The writing seemed repetitive and there were a few page-long descriptions that were almost entirely unnecessary! The story did catch pace, though, and it was a soon a smooth and enjoyable read.

Considering how little I know about Ghana or even Africa for that matter, I thought the author painted a very complete picture; with all elements, the good and the bad! What I loved the most was the story had no villain and hero, as such. Every had problems and secrets and regrets. The characters were strong, and dark in a way which (and this is a huge compliment coming from me) reminded me of Stephen King's books. I felt the plot slack a couple of times, but the characters never became even remotely uninteresting. Their secrets and lives so intricately stringed together became for me, the highlights of the book. I can think of very few mysteries that aren't almost completely focused on the plot.

I can't wait to read more books by the author. Meanwhile, I definitely recommend this one to all mystery and crime fiction fans or anyone in search of a short, exciting read!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Book Beginnings

Book Beginnings on Friday is a weekly bookish meme hosted at A Few More Pages. To participate, share the first line (or two) of the book you are reading, along with the author and title. Also share your first impression based on that first line!
This week I started reading Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and I loved it right from the first line!
Here's why:

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
‘Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’
He didn’t say any more but we’ve always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that.

I think I know a little something about being "unusually communicative in a reserved way!" I just love how simple, swift and communicative the writing is - I am thoroughly enjoying the book, you will too!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

R.I.P. - Metzengerstein: A Tale in Imitation of the German

Metzengerstein is Edgar Allan Poe's first published short story.

Summary: The families Berlifitzing and Metzengerstein of Hungary have been rivals for centuries. Legend has it that the reason is this prophecy:

“A lofty name shall have a fearful fall when, as the rider over his horse, the mortality of Metzengerstein shall triumph over the immortality of Berlifitzing."

The story begins when one night, the stables of today's Berlifitzing family catch fire. At that same time, in his own castle, Baron Frederick von Metzengerstein notices the horse in the tapestry suddenly look alive. The painting depicts a Metzengerstein while dead at his feet, fallen from his horse, is a Berlifitzing, whom he killed. Only a few minutes later a ferocious and demon-like steed is found by the Metzengerstein guards. The horse is fiery and energetic, and has the letters "W.V.B" branded on its chest. News later reaches the Metzengerstein family that Count William von Berlifitzing died in the fire. Baron Frederick decides to keep the monstrous horse, unknowingly setting the prophecy in motion.

"In the glare of noon - at the dead hour of night - in sickness or in health - in calm or in tempest - the young Metzengerstein seemed riveted to the saddle of that colossal horse, whose intractable audacities so well accorded with his own spirit."

My thoughts: This is the first time I have read anything by Poe (apart from listening to and not understanding the Raven once, a long time ago.) I really liked the prose. That something so modern was written more than a hundred years ago seems amazing. The tale, like the subtitle says in some prints, is argued to be a subtle mocking of the typically German gothic writings. While it is only argued (and not definite) and I am certainly no expert; I did detect a slight satire.

I loved the authority the narrator has over the text. He is almost a part of the story (as opposed to a silent observer) and is the only one left standing, at the very end. The key theme of the story, as is hinted to us very early in the story, is the general belief of those times in Metempsychosis, or transmigration of the soul.

I liked the eeriness of the story and do see myself reading more of Poe's famous short stories. Meanwhile, you can read this story here. This review is a part of Peril of the Short Story from the R.I.P. Challenge. You can read more short stories on Short Stories on Wednesday at Risa's Bread Crumb Reads.

WWW Wednesdays #2

WWW Wednesdays is a meme hosted at MizB's Should Be Reading. To play along just answer the following questions:
1. What are you currently reading?
2. What did you recently finish reading?
3. What do you think you'll read next?

1. What are you currently reading?

I am on the verge of finishing Frankenstein by Mary Shelley with only the last twenty pages remaining. I started reading The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald. I am also reading the short story Ms. Found in a Bottle by Edgar Allan Poe.

2. What did you recently finish reading?

I read Carrie by Stephen King a couple of days ago. I also finally finished reading Helter Skelter - The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi. My first true crime novel, and I have been reading it since June! I read Poe's short story Metzengerstein today.

3. What do you think you'll read next?

After The Great Gatsby, I plan on reading Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. I also want to read Peter Straub's Ghost Story this month!

What are you reading?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

R.I.P. - Stephen King's Carrie

Carrie is Stephen King's first novel (published in 1974) and is one of the most frequently banned books in schools. I never did read Carrie, because I always thought I wouldn't like it. Why? Because I already knew most of the story. With three movies and one horrible spin-off, it is hard not to know most of the story. That shouldn't stop you from reading the book, though. Actually, you know "most of the story" within the first three pages of the book...

"Carrie glared at him with sudden smoking rage. The bike wobbled on its training wheels and suddenly fell over. Tommy screamed. The bike was on top of him. Carrie smiled and walked on. The sound of Tommy’s wails was sweet, jangling music in her ears."

Summary: Carrie White lives in the small town of Chamberlain, Maine. Being a high school outcast, she has no friends and no life. She is victimized by her schoolmates and abused by her over religious mother. It all becomes too much one day when, after her gym class, in the showers, Carrie gets her first period. Since her mother never bothered to tell her what exactly a period is, Carrie assumes she is bleeding to death. The shock, coupled with a bunch of girls screaming at her, disgusted, telling her to "plug it up" triggers a power in her she never knew she had. This extreme outburst is enough for Carrie White to take control of her (till then only involuntary) telekinetic abilities. What follows is a chain of events leading up to one disastrous night, which is later popularized by the media as the Black Prom.

"What happens if there are others like her? What happens to the world?"

My thoughts: Like with most of Stephen King's books, you feel yourself becoming a part of Carrie. It is a quick read and I loved the unique narration. The book is written in the form of newspaper clippings of the Chamberlain incident, science journal articles about telekinetic abilities, personal stories of the Black Prom survivors and book excerpts, all stringed together by the actual happenings in the form of a story. Starting with the first newspaper article, you know what happened in the town. What you don't know, is how it got to that. Why did the odd teenage girl described in the articles do whatever she did and more importantly, how? You hear the story from so many different perspectives, scientific and personal, that it's hard to figure out the truth. That's part of the magic! You get to pick your own conclusion on the story.

Most of the characters are your regular high school stereotypes. Still, what I love about Stephen King's books is the characters, and he hasn't done anything short of a great job with these. From Carrie White to the (almost) real protagonist Sue Snell, the book has some wonderful, albeit slightly dramatic, characters. And if not anything else, King has nailed the horror element; the "makes-you-wish-you-hadn't-read-it-at-night" horror element.

This was definitely a great way to kick-start the R.I.P challenge (though my planned kick-start book was Frankenstein, which I am not done reading.) Carrie is an amazing book and a must read for every Stephen King fan and anyone who enjoys getting completely freaked out!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Book Blogger Hop

Book Blogger Hop is a weekly meme hosted every Friday at Crazy for Books. You have to answer a question every week. This week's question:

“What are you most looking forward to this season – A particular book release? Halloween? The leaves changing color? Cooler temperatures? A vacation? (If your next season is other than fall/autumn, tell us about it and what you are most looking forward to in your part of the world!)”

Where I am, there is no fall, and no nice autumn-ey weather. We have a lot of rains, wet roads and traffic jams. So, what I am looking forward to, is some quiet time at home with a constant supply of coffee and a couple of books!

Speaking of books - I am desperately looking forward to read 11/22/63, a science fiction novel by Stephen King, set to come out in November; a seemingly exciting story about a time traveller, who attempts to stop John Kennedy's assassination!!

Other books I want to read are a new legal thriller by John Grisham called The Litigators, which will also be out in the bookstores later this fall; and the much discussed novel 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, which will be out in October.

And of course, Snuff, the 39th book in our beloved Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. It will be out in October. According to Wikipedia, Pratchett announced that Snuff is 'the next adult Discworld book' and will be 'based largely around Vimes'. Yay :)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Man Who Hated People by Paul Gallico

"Milly turned her head for an instant and looked out over the audience. The sensitive eye of the television camera picked up a curious trembling about her lips, and then, twice, blinding shafts of light splintered from her cheeks like tiny exploding diamonds."
The Man Who Hated People is a short story by Paul Gallico. It is the story which the 1953 American film Lili is based on. The story was first published in the Saturday Evening Post, and it was later expanded into a novella called Love of Seven Dolls.

"He was cruel to her, harsh and spiteful. Yet he had given her the greatest happiness she had ever known - in a world he made himself."
Milly is a young girl and one of the cast of the popular television show, viewed and love by people of all ages. It also happens to be a puppet show, and Milly is the only human star, working along with six glove puppets. Crake Villeridge is a slightly abusive, misanthropic man and the creator of the show. The story starts as Milly makes her final, farewell appearance on the show. She feels horrible about it. Milly loves the puppets and the fantastic world of the show. But that isn't the real reason why she can't bear the thought of leaving what seems to be the "Never-never-land of the mind".
The story isn't amazing, I suppose it could have been better - but it is pretty wonderful the way it is. I haven't seen Lili. Nor have I read Love of Seven Dolls (I would like to read it though). Both the novella and the movie might just be better than this short story, but it has a wonderful effect on you. I loved how you become a part of the story and begin to know and judge the characters in so few pages! I think, whatever the story loses in terms of plot, it gains it in the language and the flow. The story is beautifully written and worth a read.
I liked Paul Gallico's books related to cats, and I do have a soft spot for all cat-loving-authors (like Diana Wynne Jones or Terry Pratchett). But I think with books like these, he might become one of my favourite authors!
Short Stories on Wednesday (let's make that Thursday for this week!!) is a meme hosted at Risa's Bread Crumb Reads. You can read the story here!

R.I.P. Challenge

I found this challenge over at Adventures in Borkdom. It is a yearly challenge hosted at Stainless Steel Droppings. The purpose of the R.I.P (R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril) Challenge is to read and enjoy books that could be classified as: Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror, Supernatural. R.I.P. VI officially runs from September 1st through October 31st.

I am officially signing up for Peril the First, which means reading four books of R.I.P. literature. And since I started reading Frankenstein today, that can be my first read. Though I might add a few Perils of the Short Story and Perils on the Screen!!

Update: I started the challenge by reading Carrie by Stephen King. I'll link the reviews here as and when I post them!

Peril the First:

1. Carrie by Stephen King

2. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

3. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John Le Carre

4. Ghost Story by Peter Straub

Peril on the Screen:

1. The Nightmare Before Christmas

2. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Peril of the Short Story:

1. Metzengerstein by Edgar Allan Poe

2. The Lame Priest by S. Carleton