blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Dreadful Beauty – L.M. Rapp

A girl undergoing a terrifying transformation goes on an epic quest to find a refuge from her ruthless father.

Nymphosis, a disease that turns Humans into Chimeras, is ravaging the land of Gashom. The More-Than-Pure, determined to protect themselves, have seized power and enacted segregationist laws. 

The daughter of a high dignitary, young Neria learns she is afflicted by the very disease her father is determined to eradicate. Forced to surrender her privileges, she must flee her home in the capital and traverse the strange wilds to seek refuge with her fellow kind. 

Will she have the courage to fight oppression to emancipate the Chimeras from the yoke of the More-Than-Pure?

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Interview with the author

On writing:

How did you do research for your book?

The research took place mostly on the internet. A word I stumble upon while writing can instantly turn into several hours of reading. 

Which was the hardest character to write? The easiest?

None of the characters were easy to write about, but certainly the most difficult was the tyrannical father. I read three different books about serial killers before I began to understand the reasoning of a psychopath. 

In your book, you describe the gargoyles’ people. What made you use elements of Gothic architecture for creating these characters?

During a visit to Notre Dame de Paris, I was able to admire the sculptures of gargoyles that adorn its facade. Their mere presence evoked a fabulous universe and served as great inspiration in my novel. 

Where do you get inspiration for your stories?

The ideas seem to me to be floating around, in books, events, and encounters, and that it is enough to sit for long hours in front of a computer screen and concentrate on arranging them in a new way.

There are many books out there about chimeras. What makes yours different?

The story follows a family and a people through a tone that is both intimate and epic, which is rather unusual in this kind of literature. The plot captures the struggles of humanity through a fantasy lens, making it both digestible and thought-provoking.

What advice would you give budding writers?

Don’t give up! Remember that this journey takes time and you won’t find all the answers from the start. Find yourself a smart, professional, and gentle literary advisor who can guide you in the process.

If you could put yourself as a character in your book, who would you be?

I think I would like to be Matar, the Pedler. I envy his freedom and independence, despite the difficulties he faces in his life. 

Do you have another profession besides writing?

I have had other professions in the past, but writing has become my main focus at the moment. I still practice and teach aikido, which actually turns out to be really useful when I write combat scenes. 

How long have you been writing?

I’ve only been writing for five years, but I’ve been reading every day for as long as I can remember, which certainly helped me a lot.

Do you ever get writer’s block? What helps you overcome it?

Never. I think the writer’s block happens when you force yourself. I take the first topic that comes to my mind and I write only about what strikes me as exciting. I make no judgment during the first phase of writing. I let the ideas flow. 

What is your next project?

I will soon publish a thriller about a woman who decides, after a divorce, to take over her parents’ farm: a return to nature that does not go as planned. I also just started writing a science fiction book.

What genre do you write and why?

I choose the story first. The genre follows. I don’t force myself to create series. I think that having fun while writing increases the chances that the reader will have fun too.

What is the last great book you’ve read?

Lately, I’ve read Philip Roth’s Human Stain. I found the beginning of this book stunning and the scenes taking place around the main protagonist and the university’s life incredibly well done. 

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?

My favorite compliment is that once started, it’s difficult to put the book down.

How are you similar to or different from your lead character?

It’s a difficult question. I’m too close to her to tell. The similarity would be that she doesn’t give up easily. That being said, I find her more stubborn than I am.

If your book were made into a movie, who would star in the leading roles?

Odeya Rush for Neria, the heroine.

Lior Raz, for the Pedler

Lior Ashkenazi, for Valterone, the ruthless father.

What were the biggest rewards and challenges with writing your book?

It was incredible to see a world coming into life out of my mind. The greatest challenge was to make it right—to find the right balance between all the elements.

In one sentence, what was the road to publishing like?

It’s a difficult, but worthwhile road.

Which authors inspired you to write?

Tolkien, Barbara Pym, Kazuo Ishiguro, Camus, Albert Cohen, Proust, Baudelaire and many others.

What is something you had to cut from your book that you wish you could have kept?

I regret nothing because I hope to use these discarded parts for a sequel.

On rituals:

Do you snack while writing? Favorite snack?

I don’t usually snack because it distracts me. But I drink green tea to stay alert.

Where do you write?

I write mostly in my studio, but I also like to write on the go, in coffee shops, hotel rooms or in my car.

Do you write every day?

Six days a week.

What is your writing schedule?

I’m a morning person, so I usually start writing as soon as my youngest daughter leaves for school. I write at least two hours a day, sometimes more, and Iusually keep the afternoons for other activities, like publishing and marketing.

Is there a specific ritualistic thing you do during your writing time?

I just sit down and look at my computer screen, my hands ready on the keyboard and my mind traveling.

In today’s tech-savvy world, most writers use a computer or laptop. Have you ever written parts of your book on paper?

No. I’ve just drawn a diagram for the protagonists’ relationship and a map.

If you’re a mom writer, how do you balance your time?

I’m a mom, but my daughters are quite grown up now. So it’s less of an issue, although I have the best focus time in the mornings when everybody is still sleeping or busy.

Fun stuff:

If you could go back in time, where would you go?

I would like to be able to move in time according to my research. For example, take a leap into antiquity to observe the hotels of that era. It would be amazing if we could see everything in person instead of relying on archaeological digs or writing found on the internet.

Favorite travel spot?

New York

Favorite dessert?

I try to cut off sugar, so no dessert for me please.

If you were stuck on a deserted island, which three books would you want with you?

I’d take Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Barbara Pym’s Some Tame Gazelle, and Proust’s In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower.

What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you? The scariest? The strangest? 

I was kidnapped by aliens who looked like Buster Keaton. Just kidding… I live a quiet life, like many writers I suppose. Most of my adventures take place in my head.

What’s the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?

I hesitate between leaving France, my birth country, or having three children.

Any hobbies? Or Name a quirky thing you like to do.

The main ones right now are Aikido and basketry. I like making sculptures or baskets with branches I find in the garden.

If there is one thing you want readers to remember about you, what would it be?

I’d prefer they’ll remember my books. That’s where I store the most important things I have to say.

What is something you’ve learned about yourself during the pandemic?

I love silence and quiet, but the pandemic was too much, even for me.

What TV series are you currently binge-watching?


What is your favorite thing to do in summer?

Swimming and eating mango.

What song is currently playing on a loop in your head?

“Eem rak taskimi” by The Idan Raichel Project

What is your go-to breakfast item?

No breakfast. I started intermittent fasting a few years ago and I found it keeps my mind clear until the first meal of the day.

What is the oldest item of clothing you own?

A fox fur collar that belonged to my great-grandmother. My mother passed it down to me. Even though I oppose the use of animal fur for clothing, I can’t get rid of it.

Tell us about your longest friendship.

My friend Sylvie lives in France. I met her in high school and even though our paths parted, every time we speak on the phone or meet (rarely), it’s like we’re immediately back in the old days. 

Who was your childhood celebrity crush?

When they were first released, Star Wars and Indiana Jones were some sort of revelation. And Harrison Ford was the handsome cool hero in both of them.

L.M. Rapp has lived in different countries and practiced several professions: dentist, web developer, artist, aikido teacher, farmer. Eager to learn and discover, she uses her experiences to enrich her stories. She has also written a thriller, Of Flesh and Tears.

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One moment, she had been enjoying the security and comfort of her family home. The next, she was left helpless in a deserted square. An oil lamp rested in Neria’s hand. A clay container, filled with a greenish-yellow liquid. A wick, coiled within its heart, snaked up to the groove that guided it into the open air. A flame danced on its tip, a paltry defense against the darkness of that night, one of those gentle nights that often follow the heat of the day. The moon watched her with a wry smile.

Neria suddenly felt she was going to collapse, crumpling like a sheet that had fallen to the ground. Without the warmth of the hand curled inside hers, she would have indeed done so. She remembered the last time she had seen Arhel’s hand, crimson and reaching out of the covers. Who knew what the disease would do to her? But before she succumbed to it, she would save Anaëlle.

She breathed in, then out, and took a step forward. Her aching limbs strained at first, but after a few minutes, she was walking briskly, her head bowed like a servant, the child in tow. First, she had to find the secret passage her mother had told her about and cross the wall of the High District without going through the ever-guarded gates.

She came to a dead-end and saw the dried-up well and a withered pistachio tree lined with shrubs of rosemary leaning against the perimeter wall. It concealed a narrow, low opening. She went in first, crawled into a tunnel bereft of cobwebs and emerged behind an olive tree, also surrounded by shrubbery. Crouching down, she peeked between the branches. No one was there. She called to Anaëlle in a hushed voice, the child joining her. They emerged from their cover and arrived on the street. Before long, they had made their way to an impoverished part of town they had never been to before. The hovels were huddled together, separated here and there by narrow, randomly arranged passageways. The first on the left… The second on the right…

“Hey there, little lady! Where are you off to in such a hurry?”

Three guards had concealed themselves in a nook to drink to their hearts’ content.

“Lady Yarine’s sent me on an urgent errand.”

She hoped they would be too drunk to do anything and turned away. She tried to maintain her composure, a technique that had worked for her that morning. Yet heavy footsteps came ever closer behind her before her arm was seized by a coarse grip.

“You’ve got more than enough time to come give us a little cuddle.”

One of the guards looked at her, a yellow smile spread across his brown beard. He reeked of alcohol and nauseating filth. She tried to pull away from him, but his grip tightened.

“Stay still or we’ll give you a good hiding. It’ll go better for you if you don’t put up a fight, believe me. Leave the kid here and come on.”

The two others approached.

The lamp fell and shattered. Neria took out her knife and stuck it in the arm restraining her. The guard howled in pain and let go of her.

“You’re going to regret that you whore.”

The guards now surrounded her. She threatened them with her bloodied weapon. She couldn’t believe she’d been so stupid not to have stabbed him in the stomach. Her assailant barely seemed bothered. She spun around, Anaëlle clinging to her clothes. The girl was sobbing.

One of the men drew his sword, “Drop the knife or I kill the kid.”

Neria’s hand trembled. The knife fell on the dusty ground with a dull thud.

“Run, Anaëlle, get out of here!” 

The wounded guard threw himself on her, seized her elbow, slipped behind her, and choked her with his good arm.

The child, small and spirited, ran away. Just as Neria thought she was going to make it, the man with the sword grabbed her mid-flight.

Neria struggled, hitting the arm that choked her. His hold tightened. Her mouth gasped but the air would not come, and her movements weakened. Suddenly, the guard holding her let out a yowl of pain and released her. She collapsed, heavily panting gulps of air on all fours. Her assailant lay there with his throat slit. The coarse, black-nailed hand that moments before had clamped down on her arm now clawed at the earth. The corpse’s glassy eyes stared up into the starry sky. His red tongue in his gaping mouth, his fleshy lips, his fat cheeks swallowed by his beard… like a giant sea urchin washed up from the sea, his insides hanging open. A shrill cry rang out and she covered her ears.

A monster, half-man, half-beast, had ripped open another guard and had now set its sights on the third. The remaining guard was still holding Anaëlle hostage and keeping the beast at bay with his sword.

While the tiger and guard danced their macabre dance, Neria, still on all fours, fumbled for her knife. She grasped its hilt, ran towards the soldier, raising her weapon, a wild howling in her throat. The monster took advantage of the diversion to pounce on its adversary. Neria sheathed her knife, picked up the child who had fallen to the ground, and fled, pursued by screams of agony.

The construction of the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris started in the 12th century. At the beginning, water flowed from the roofs onto the streets, splashing the walls of the building. Gargoyles in the shape of fantastic winged animals appeared in the early 13th century. They served as gutters and became decorative elements inspired by the medieval bestiary.

Portrait of a man – 1957 “I have a great interest in madness, and I am convinced art has much to do with madness,” Jean Dubuffet

On a trip, about ten years ago, I admired these motionless and threatening gargoyles without the faintest idea of the journey they would later take me. Premier and medieval art seem to possess an evocative power that the more modern arts, bogged down in their technicality and theories, have lost. I’m not sure that, as the painter Dubuffet wrote, “Art has much to do with madness,” but clearly art, like fairy tales, often finds its inspiration in our fears and anxieties.

Bored Gargoyle of Notre Dame de Paris

According to art historian Michael Camille, “To protect himself from the demons he is charged with sculpting, the medieval artist mocks them.” No doubt that the attentive observer will be able to perceive, barely masked by ferocity, a sense of saving humor. For isn’t it through humor that we tame our fears?

I myself have developed an obsession for these magical creatures. They have crossed time and borders. From superstition and religious beliefs, they have invaded popular culture and can be found on the Internet, in archaeological or modern art museums, fantasy books, Marvel movies, Disney cartoons, Japanese manga, video games, and elsewhere.

In ancient Greece, the word Chimaera referred to a hybrid creature capable of breathing fire, a lion with a goat’s head and a serpent’s tail. Such a mosaic of animals leaves one dreaming. Dracula seems so conformist in comparison.

Manticore of a medieval bestiary

The manticore, a legendary monster of Persian origin and imported in Europe by a Greek doctor, has the body of a red-furred lion, a man’s face, and a tail with poisonous spines that it projects on its prey – preferably human. It devours them, bones included, thanks to its three rows of teeth, going from one ear to the other. It symbolizes evil. Over the years, it seems to have evolved into the Sphinx. Of all these characteristics, the mouth is the most frightening to me. Human-like at first sight, until it opens wider and wider to reveal too many sharp teeth… 

Ancient Nue versus modern one

The Japanese have their Nue with the head of a monkey, the limbs of a tiger, the body of a tanuki and the tail of a snake. Now it stars in a Baruto anime. 

Forg, cover detail of the French version. Don’t be fooled by appearances.

I decided to paint these hybrid creatures, to invent some of my own, and to tell their stories. In the 19th century, Violet-le-Duc added chimeras to the roofs of the Notre Dame de Paris cathedral. They received a lot of praise at the time and inspired me to create a gargoyle people, fierce, mischievous, and tender. 

I’ve only brushed this vast and complex subject, and I’m sure that you too have your favorite chimera. Which one do you prefer? Which one scares you the most? 

My thoughts: this was an interesting book featuring gargoyles and chimera, hybrid beasts often found in ancient mythology. Neria is a bit of a spoilt brat to begin with but she has to find her inner strength when her mother sneaks her and her niece out of the house to protect them from her father’s cruelty as Neria starts to become the very thing she has been taught to fear – a chimera. Her niece can see the future – mainly the actions of her own parents, but that too puts her in danger.

Change can be literal but also metaphorical – Neria might be shifting into a different form but she also has to change her world view and become strong enough to fight back against her father and his cruel, murderous policies that would see her killed.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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