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Review ~ The Thief of Always (and the thief of my weekend)

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The Thief of Always by Clive Barker

Cover via Goodreads

Master storyteller and bestselling novelist Clive Barker creates an enchanting tale for both children and adults to cherish and retell. The Thief of Always tells the haunting story of Harvey, a bright 10-year-old who is suffering from the winter doldrums, and of a creature who takes him to a place where every day is filled with fun, and Christmas comes every night. (via Goodreads)

A week ago last Sunday, I received a key to participate the EverQuest Landmark closed beta. I’ve been a casual player of EverQuest and EverQuest 2 for years, but was only mildly interested in playing Landmark, the crafting sandbox precursor to EverQuest Next. Did I want to play something that’s still a little buggy and not fully functional? The key gave me a week to play around and, on Friday when the free week was nearly over, I plunked down $20 to continue harvesting and building. Next thing I knew, thieves of time that are computer MMOs had done a number on me. It was Sunday and I hadn’t read a word in 48 hours. Queue the audio books. I hunted up some audio books specific to the Once Upon a Time challenge. I figured, I’m playing in a fantasy world (roughly), why not listen to some fantasy fiction?

My first selection is a tad on the horror side, but still solidly in the land of fables. We begin in February, a gray beast of a month, with Harvey, a good kid who is terminally bored. He is the perfect target to be tempted by Mr. Hood and the Holiday House. Of course, there’s a catch and Harvey realizes that being a good, bored kid isn’t the worst thing. Despite the potential Bradbury feel of a 10-year-old learning to value time and mortality, this *is* a Clive Barker story. There’s some blood and gore. There are dead cats. There are scary, uncomfortable moments. Story-wise, the final confrontation between Harvey and Hood goes on maybe a little too long. The stakes alone are enough to make the battle important, not it’s number of rounds.

This is a “reread” for me and I own the hardback. The main disadvantage to listening to it is not having Barker’s lovely, creepy illustrations.

Media preview

After a week, this is what I had built in Landmark. It needs more flowers.

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Deal Me In, Week 15 ~ “Disillusion”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Disillusion” by Edward Bryant

Card picked: Four of Hearts

From: David Copperfield’s Beyond Imagination

Review: Jack, an investigative reporter, and Ingrid, a fellow journalist and Jack’s lover, are assigned an exposé: the death of magic. Jack throws himself into his work, secretly filming the Great Mandragore’s act and carefully figuring out how each trick is done. Unfortunately, Ingrid is not cut out for this sort of story. Knowing the secrets behind the tricks sends her into a depression and ruins her relationship with Jack. Of course, the assignment isn’t what is seems and Jack’s boss at Real World magazine has ulterior motives.

After about three pages of this story, I had reservations. Characters weren’t acting in ways that people act. I feared this was a flaw in the writing, but in fact, it was a feature. Bryant has a very good reason for Jack and Ingrid being the way they are which isn’t evident until the last act of the story. I do wish there had been a little more background. After Eric Lustbader last week, who gives almost too much story, this tale seemed rushed.

This story deals with an issue I’ve come up against time and time again when reading about magic. Reveals and exposés, do they “kill” magic? For many people, knowing the secret behind a magic trick ruins the illusion for them. This is most of the reason why the “magicians never tell their secrets” rule exists.* This story was written in 1995-ish, before Fox’s Breaking the Magician’s Code series and the ease of rewatching clips of tricks on YouTube, and posited that revealing a magician’s secrets would pretty much ruin him and many people’s sense of wonder. Personally, I’m never disappointed to know the trick of the trick. To some extent, I appreciate magic more after knowing how much work and ingenuity goes into it. And despite reading yet another post on the decline of magic earlier this week, I don’t think audiences are so jaded that they aren’t at least sometimes still amazed.

* Regarding professional secrets, there is an interesting layered aspect to intellectual property rights within the magic community. At the bottom are tricks anyone can buy at a party store; at the top are things like Mr. Copperfield disappearing national monuments.

About the Author: Though fairly prolific, I haven’t read too much of Edward Bryant’s works. I’m mainly familiar with him in relation to Harlan Ellison, with whom Bryant has collaborated.

Is This Your Card?
After finally getting a more magic-driven story and one heavy on a magic “issue,” I’m sad that I don’t have a card trick for the Four of Hearts! Instead, I’m going to leave you with perhaps my favorite trick ever. This is Teller’s take on the classic Miser’s Dream.  I suppose it should be titled The Miser’s Dream of Gold(fish).

Review ~ Houdini: The Handcuff King

Houdini: The Handcuff King by Jason Lutes (Writer), Nick Bertozzi (Illustrator)

Cover via Goodreads

Harry Houdini mesmerized a generation of Americans when he was alive, and continues to do so 80 years after his death. This is a “snapshot” of Houdini’s life, centering on one of his most famous jumps. As Houdini prepares for a death-defying leap into the icy Charles River in Boston, biographer Jason Lutes and artist Nick Bertozzi reveal Houdini’s life and influence: from the anti-Semitism Houdini fought all his life, to the adulation of the American public; from his hounding by the press, to his loving relationship with his wife Bess; from his egoism to his insecurity; from his public persona — to the secret behind his most amazing trick! And it’s all in graphic form, so it’s fresh, original, and unlike anything previously published about this most fascinating of American showmen. (via Goodreads)

Quick read last week; quick review this week. I can’t do a better job summarizing than the above. The storytelling is good and I appreciated the attempt at making Houdini flawed. Like Nikola Tesla, the world wants to make Harry Houdini an uber-hero. This is never the case with anyone, no matter how famous and lauded. Lutes also did a good job showing the some of the behind-the-scenes people involved in the act and the Houdini publicity machine. (Working entirely on one’s own is another aspect of hero-ization.)  The art was good, especially illustrating the underwater parts of the stunt. An enjoyable read.

Publisher: Hyperion
Publication date: April 1st 2007
Genre: Graphic novel, biography
Why did I choose to read this book? Interest in magic and therefore Houdini

Deal Me In, Week 14 ~ “16 Mins.”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“16 Mins.” by Eric Lustbader

Card picked: Two of Hearts

From: David Copperfield’s Beyond Imagination

Review: Finally, a story with a magician! My hope with these Copperfield-edited anthologies was that there’d be stories with magician characters. This is the 9th from the anthologies that I’ve read, the second penned by Eric Lustbader, and, finally, a magician!

The 16 Mins of the title is a reference to Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame quote. The narrator (do I ever learn her name? *skims story* I don’t think I do) is a young woman with a very special talent. She can make things disappear, briefly, and reappear somewhere else. She takes a no-name magician under her wing and recreates him as Randy Gold, the world’s greatest escape artist since Houdini. Unfortunately, Lustbader gives meaning to “fame monster.”

The narrative is laid out pretty simply. I liked that Lustbader held back the exact method of Randy’s signature escape until the end of the story; it gave it a “how *are* they doing it” aspect. The narrator compares herself with Henry Higgins (or rather Rex Harrison) in My Fair Lady, but really she’s the one with the really sucky, abusive past. Randy, formerly Ralph, was just a mediocre magician that was resign to that life.

Is This Your Card?

I’m on a roll picking stories with associated card tricks!

Review ~ Dolores Claiborne

Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King

Cover via Goodreads

For thirty years, folks on Little Tall Island have been waiting to find out just what happened on the eerie dark day Dolores Claiborne’s husband died — the day of the total eclipse. Now, the police want to know what happened yesterday when her rich, bedridden employer died suddenly in her care. With no choice but to talk, Dolores gives her compelling confession…of the strange and terrible links forged by hidden intimacies…of the fierceness of a mother’s love and its dreadful consequences…of the silent rage that can turn a woman’s heart to hate. When Dolores Claiborne is accused of murder, it’s only the beginning of the bad news. For what comes after that is something only Stephen King could imagine…as he rips open the darkest secrets and the most damning sins of men and women in an ingrown Maine town and takes you on a trip below its straitlaced surface. (via Goodreads)

I’m not a huge Stephen King fan, but there are things that I think he does very well. I like his shorter works, and I think his stories are better with a small-ish cast of characters. And, maybe surprisingly, I think his less supernatural stories are better. The dark side of human nature provides ripe enough meat for King, really.

I had seen the movie years previous to picking up Dolores Claiborne in a pretty crappy paperback copy from the library’s sale corner. I was interested in seeing how King laid out this story. I had no idea that the book was a continuous first person narrative by Dolores herself. No chapter breaks! It’s a mild literary stunt, but King pulls it off. The dialect didn’t bug me either.

The plot, while low on supernatural elements, is dark and a bit unnerving. It’s a solid book and I liked it more than I thought I would. Gerald’s Game is a semi-related and I’ll probably check it out soon.

Publisher: Signet
Publication date: December 1993
Genre: Horror
Why did I choose to read this book? Just in the mood for some Stephen King.

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Deal Me In, Week 13 ~ Fat Man and Little Boy

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Fat Man and Little Boy” by Gary Braunbeck

Card picked: Seven of Clubs – a wild card.

From: Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury, ed. by Sam Weller and Mort Castle

Review: Short and very Bradbury in tone. This is a snapshot from a future in which the overweight and obese are exiled to their homes until they become “aesthetically agreeable.” The story is told from the perspective of a little boy who illicitly brings food to a very fat man. The fat man doesn’t care to ever rejoin society. While we’re not given specifics, the little boy is an outcast too, perhaps too intelligent and too quiet for his peers to tolerate. The fat man, on the verge of his last meal, tries to impress upon the little boy the importance of striving forward and being unique. Upon the fat man’s death (he commits self-euthanasia), he gives the little boy the financial means to do so.

Two things that I really enjoyed about this story: First, while morbidly obese and bed-ridden, the fat man doesn’t seem to regret his actions. Instead of warning the little boy, “don’t become like me,” the fat man’s message is more like “be yourself and don’t apologize.” Despite society’s impositions, the fat man lives and ultimately dies on his own terms. Second, every time the fat man speaks of food, it is in the context of something in the world outside his house.

“The crunch of pizza crust sounds like the crackle of distant lightning in the middle of a summer’s night, when you were still young enough to dream that Martian spaceships were hiding up there.”

In this way, Braunbeck give the fat man history and shows that though food has effectively imprisoned the fat man, it’s also his freedom. Not bad for a six page story.

About the Author: I mostly know Gary Braunbeck as a horror writer and was expecting a story more along those lines. The cool thing about Ray Bradbury, and therefore an anthology of Bradbury inspired stories, is that there are so many ways to go. Fantastical Martian landscapes? Check. Creeping horrors just around the corner of your imagination? Check. Nostalgic tales of childhood? Check. Thought experiment dystopias? Check. I expected creepy from Braunbeck and got something a little more along the lines of a nostalgic tales of childhood, set in a dystopia. I’m not complaining. It was very deftly done.

Is This Your Card?

Review ~ The Revenant of Thraxton Hall

This book was provided to me by St. Martin’s Press & Minotaur Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Revenant of Thraxton Hall: The Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by Vaughn Entwistle

Cover via Goodreads

Arthur Conan Doyle has just killed off Sherlock Holmes in “The Final Problem,” and he immediately becomes one of the most hated men in London. So when he is contacted by a medium “of some renown” and asked to investigate a murder, he jumps at the chance to get out of the city. The only thing is that the murder hasn’t happened yet—the medium, one Hope Thraxton, has foreseen that her death will occur at the third séance of a meeting of the Society for Psychical Research at her manor house in the English countryside.

Along for the ride is Conan Doyle’s good friend Oscar Wilde, and together they work to narrow down the list of suspects, which includes a mysterious foreign Count, a levitating magician, and an irritable old woman with a “familiar.” Meanwhile, Conan Doyle is enchanted by the plight of the capricious Hope Thraxton, who may or may not have a more complicated back-story than it first appears. As Conan Doyle and Wilde participate in séances and consider the possible motives of the assembled group, the clock ticks ever closer to Hope’s murder, in The Revenant of Thraxton Hall by Vaughn Entwistle. (via Goodreads)

One of my favorite movies is Ghostbusters. For me, it’s a nearly perfect ridiculous comedy, one I’ve gained more and more appreciation for as I’ve gotten older. I first watched it when it came out on cable, probably in 1985 when I was 10 years old. In 1986, The Real Ghostbusters cartoon was added to the Saturday morning line-up. While it featured the same characters and the same situation, it’s a softened, more out-right comedic show designed for a younger audience. Egon is blond and Slimer is a good ghost. I appreciated it, then and now, but it’s not *really* the same thing as Ghostbusters. The Revenant of Thraxton Hall presents a version of Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde that feel like caricatures that could be a fun buddy team in a cartoon-style adventure. That’s not a bad thing. Unfortunately, The Revenant of Thraxton Hall isn’t entirely successful pulling that off.

In his Author’s Note, Vaughn Entwistle admits that he doesn’t let facts get in the way of a good story. The historical timeline is flexed. Doyle published “The Final Problem” in 1893. This is when the story is set. Daniel Dunglas Hume (Home in the story) died in 1886. The Society for Psychical Research probably did not have its very first meeting ten years after its formation in 1882. Yet, I’ll agree with Entwistle. The mixture of these elements makes for an interesting set-up. Some of the other liberties taken don’t pan out as well. I’m not usually one to complain about female characters, but Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick was, in reality, a proponent for the education of women and a leading figure in the Society for Psychical Research. To have her be just another woman fawning over Oscar Wilde and dashing Lord Webb left me kind of cold. In general, the Society was pretty toothless, barely bringing in any skepticism. The story could have been told without them. (Granted, if you’ve read any of the real Society’s studies, you’d realize scientific rigor often suffered.) Little historical details really bugged me as well. References like “the culprit is invariably the butler” and “a conjuring trick performed at a child’s birthday party” are not quite right for 1893.

There were a couple of times in the last third of the book when a few of the characters acted in strange ways with no plot reasons. The crux of the plot seemed to be rushed together with some leaps of logic. Unfortunately, the aspect that worked the least for me was Oscar Wilde. The character seemed too frivolous to be going, willingly, on this adventure even if he is Doyle’s friend. Now, if he had truly found himself entangled in it? That would have made more sense.

I really wanted to like this story. There were a lot of interesting elements. Maybe too many. Maybe a few things were still hammered out between ARC and publication, but it just didn’t feel cohesive enough.

Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication date: March 25th 2014
Genre: Historical fiction, horror.
Why did I choose to read this book? Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde go to a seance.

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