Posted in KidLit, Male Author, Novel

Double Review ~ The Houdini Box & Now You See It

The Houdini Box by Brian Selznick

Cover via Goodreads

Victor is forever trying to escape from locked trunks, walk through walls, and perform any number of Houdini’s astonishing magic tricks…without success. Then — amazingly — he actually meets his idol, and begs Houdini to explain himself. A mysterious locked box is the magician’s only answer, and Victor is left to wonder: Does the box contain the secrets to the most famous magic tricks ever performed? (via Goodreads)

Brian Selznick made me cry over my least favorite magician.*

This is the first Brian Selznick book I’ve read. I’ve been strongly encouraged to read Hugo and I will. I will! I swear! I came across The Houdini Box at Open Library and figured I’d give it a no-risk try.

It’s a lovely little book. It’s for kids, but there’s a little something for adults in it as well as a grown up Victor remembers to enjoy the things he did as a child. The illustrations are evocative and humorous. There is obvious love for the subject matter, everything is tinged with just a little bit of fantasy. Maybe I’ll buy this for one of my nephews for Christmas sometime, if they take any inclination toward magic.

* (How can Houdini be my least favorite magician? Strangely, I’ve never been much of a fan. I appreciate his talent, as an escape artist and more so as a self publicist, but there might be two reasons for my…dislike is too strong a word. “Least favorite” is probably too strong too. Let me put it this way: If I were making a list of my top twenty magicians, Houdini would be #20, but he’d never get knocked out of the twentieth spot.

First, I don’t care much for magic that is trumped up as being dangerous. I know that, generally, it’s not. If a magician says, “I’m going to do this very dangerous trick; I could die during it.” The focus is not on the trick, it’s the potential fatality. If a magician let’s me sketch in the amount of danger he or she may be in, just the facts, I’ll probably believe myself more.

Second, I recently realized that I have this awkwardness about Houdini. It comes from, I think, the fact that the initial photos that I saw of Harry Houdini, probably from a fairly general book on magic history written for 8-year-olds, are of him undressed and in chains. I’m not a prude, but it didn’t seem that, as a kid, I should be taking interest in an undressed man in chains! Deep seated, totally irrational; I like Houdini more now that I’ve gotten that out of the way.)

Genre: KitLit
Why did I choose to read this book? It was short, it was free, I hadn’t read any Brian Selznick.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes.
Craft Lessons: Take a little license sometimes, when it makes the story better.
Format: Online browser-based scan.
Procurement: Open Library

Now You See It . . . by Richard Matheson

Cover via Goodreads

Maximillian Delacorte was once the world’s greatest stage magician. Now a recluse, suffering from a mysterious disease, he lures his family and associates to his lonely estate for an afternoon of magic, madness, and revenge. Bodies appear and disappear without warning, severed heads speak words of hate, and nothing is ever quite what it appears. As grisly tricks lead to ever more surprising twists, not even the Great Delacorte can tell where illusion ends—and murder begins. (via Goodreads)

Hadn’t realized that this was an Open Library book too. Obviously, I’m availing myself of the service.

I’ve been looking around for other magician novel and I was surprised to find that Richard Matheson had written one. Further, I was intrigued by his concept of a magician’s mystery house–a home, literally, tricked out with secret passages, hidden rooms, and other setups for illusions. I realized that, from my Scooby Doo watching days onward, I’ve unabashedly loved this kind of thing.

Being pretty much a “one-set,” this novel would have made a great William Castle film. It has all the over-the-top ghoulishness and back-stabbing reversals of something like The House on Haunted Hill. Unfortunately, I found the ending really weak. It’s a rather short novel, and it felt like Matheson was under a page count crunch. I wish there had been another fifty pages and a proper ending.

Genre: Mystery
Why did I choose to read this book? Intrigued by a Matheson magician mystery.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes.
Craft Lessons: Don’t rush your endings.
Format: Online browser-based scan.
Procurement: Open Library

Posted in Readathons-Challenges-Memes

The Beat the Heat Readathon

BeatHeatRAT banner

The Beat the Heat Readathon runs from July 29th through August 11th 18th. What does this readathon entail, you ask? Well, read as much or as little as you want – the main point is to READ! You set your own goal, and for two weeks you read as many books as you can/want to reach your goal! Sign up at Auntie Spinelli Reads or Phantasmic Reads. You may join whenever you like, but to be eligible for our grand prize giveaway, you must sign up by August 5th.


A two week readathon! A test of stamina!

Actually, I was kind of looking for a readathon (Bout of Book is *so far* away) when I heard about this one through Aleksandra’s Corner. I think I’m going to keep it pretty low key, but I do get more reading done when I keep track. My goal is going to be 1000 pages.

Update: Even though I’m still lagging a bit, I’m adding another 500 pages to my goal. That should well take me through The Glorious Deception and probably into Harry Houdini’s A Magician Among the Spirits.

“Reading List”

Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids
The Ambitious Card (An Eli Marks Mystery, #1)
Tricks Of The Mind
The Glorious Deception: The Double Life of William Robinson, aka Chung Ling Soo, the "Marvelous Chinese Conjurer"


After Week One: 491 pages
After Week Two: 1018 pages  Victory! For two weeks, at least.
After Week Three: 1457 pages Close, but no cigar.

Finished three in-progress books. Read one cover-to-cover. Read 3/4ths of another. Not too shabby for a three weeks.

Continue reading “The Beat the Heat Readathon”

Posted in History

The Writerly Reader Goes to Comic Con

Chris with Storm Trooper
Chris with Storm Trooper

Back in January-ish, our friend Chris proposed that we all go to Comic Con. Eric and I have been meaning to take another trip to San Diego, and Chris spiced up the deal promising a comfy air mattress and easy transportation to the convention center via the light rail (or trolley, as they call it in CA). And, lo, after a nail-biter morning spent procuring the possibility to purchase badges, it was so.

(The process of getting Comic Com badges is an adventure in itself. When they say, “Press the Green Button in the email we sent you at exactly 9am on such and such a day,” they aren’t messing around. And the virtual queue of 30,000+ people to get badges was only a taste of things to come.)

Chris was a good as his word: the air mattress was uber-comfy and the trolley station was a block away.  Thursday, we had our first taste of what is quintessentially Comic Con: Lines.

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On Friday, we aimed lower and hit some of the smaller panels. And “camped” a couple of rooms. We sat in on a panel about B movies with Leonard Maltin while waiting for the Epic Fantasy panel with Melissa de la Cruz, Christopher Paolini, Daniel Abraham, Brandon Sanderson, Robin Hobb, Raymond Feist, and Django Wexler.

The blurry cast of Vikings.

After dinner and sitting through a rather befuddling panel about an animated series  based on the Mahabharata, we saw Vikings! While less blurry in real life, this is the actual panel and not on a big screen. We had a good-ish seat! We did see Travis Fimmel (far left) on the way back from dinner. I might have taken a picture except that it was while we were crossing a not-entirely-closed-off downtown street. I am much more cautious than the other people that did stop him for a photo.

There is a lot to Comic Con beside the panels. The exhibit/merchant hall was full of vendors and artists and other fairly awesome exhibits. On Thursday, I got Brom to sign one of my books! On Friday, we picked up a special edition Vikings comic. On Saturday, I nabbed a few advanced reading copies from several publishers.

The entirety of downtown San Diego was decked out as well including a bunch of off-site exhibits that we didn’t delve into. Buses were decked out in Dracula ads and the light rail cars shilled for the Agents of SHIELD. One of the trolley stops had all of the signs written in Dothraki (from A Game of Thrones).

I didn’t take nearly enough pictures.

Posted in Anthology, Male Author

Retro Review ~ The Line Between

Cover via Goodreads

The Line Between by Peter S. Beagle


The long-awaited sequel to the popular classic The Last Unicorn is the centerpiece of this powerful collection of new tales from a fantasy master. As longtime fans have come to expect, the stories are written with a grace and style similar to fantasy’s most original voices, such as J. R. R. Tolkien, Fritz Leiber, and Kurt Vonnegut. Traditional themes are typically infused with modern sensibilities—reincarnated lovers and waning kings rub shoulders with heroic waifs; Schmendrick the Magician returns to adventure, as does the ghost of an off-Broadway actor and a dream-stealing shapeshifter; and Gordon, the delightfully charming “self-made cat,” appears for the first time in print, taking his place alongside Stuart Little as a new favorite of the young at heart. This wide-ranging compilation contains sly humor and a resounding depth that will charm fans of literary fantasy. (via Goodreads)

Literary fantasy. What funny terms we make up for genres! Anyway, here’s what I wrote in my original post from Dec. 4, 2006:

I bought this book for “Two Hearts,” but I think my favorite story of it was “Salt Wine.”  Maybe it was because I read it yesterday while feverish, and I can’t stop thinking about how great a film it would make, if the movie-makers could get it right.  There aren’t enough mermaid stories in the world.  I’ll give Beagle one thing if anything, he always knows how to strike the perfect note between beauty and the terrible.

Great if you loved The Last Unicorn and especially if Schmendrick and Molly are your favorite characters.  Still, great if you want a solid collection of fantasy tales, both modern and classical.

Posted in Anthology, Mixed Anthology


This book was provided to me by Gallery Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Carniepunk, featuring Rachel Caine, Rob Thurman, Seanan McGuire, Jennifer Estep, and Kevin Hearne

Cover via Goodreads

The traveling carnival is a leftover of a bygone era, a curiosity lurking on the outskirts of town. It is a place of contradictions—the bright lights mask the peeling paint; a carnie in greasy overalls slinks away from the direction of the Barker’s seductive call. It is a place of illusion—is that woman’s beard real? How can she live locked in that watery box?

And while many are tricked by sleight of hand, there are hints of something truly magical going on. One must remain alert and learn quickly the unwritten rules of this dark show. To beat the carnival, one had better have either a whole lot of luck or a whole lot of guns—or maybe some magic of one’s own.

Featuring stories grotesque and comical, outrageous and action-packed, Carniepunk is the first anthology to channel the energy and attitude of urban fantasy into the bizarre world of creaking machinery, twisted myths, and vivid new magic. (via Goodreads)

As a fan of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, I was intrigued by an anthology that endeavors to collect carnival stories with an “urban” fantasy bent. Carniepunk contains fourteen stories. Half are stand-alone stories and half are set within the worlds of recent, popular urban fantasy series.

The best of the anthology are from the former category. We start with Rob Thurman’s “Painted Love,” which provides a creepy nod to Bradbury’s Illustrated Man. Hillary Jacques’s “Recession of the Divine” is also a standout, mashing up Greek myth and carnivals with a dash of murder mystery. The best, though, is saved for last. The anthology closes with the exquisite “Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lonely Sea” by Seanan McGuire. The story isn’t very “urban” but it is beautiful and bittersweet.

The other half of the stories, the ones set in preexisting urban fantasy worlds, would probably be better appreciated by someone wider read in that genre than me. While most do an okay job of bringing a new reader up to speed, the occasional exposition gets a little tiring. It also felt like many of these stories relied on the set up, “Favorite character from your favorite series goes to the carnival! Hijinx ensue.” Again, this is probably a lot of fun for readers that follow those series. For someone that doesn’t, the stories don’t seem to take enough advantage of the carnival setting.

One exception is “The Three Lives of Lydia” by Delilah Dawson. It is a “Blud Short Story,” but Dawson doesn’t bother explaining what that means, at least not at first and not at length. The main character and the reader are both thrown into the story, float or swim. Her steampunk world and theatrical characters seem utterly made for a mystical carnival.

The best stories of this anthology are very good. Even if you’re not a heavy reader of urban fantasy, this anthology is worth a look.

Carniepunk is set to be released July 23, 2013 by Gallery Books. (Reviewed early due to travel next week.)

Genre: Urban fantasy
Why did I choose to read this book? Carnivals? Urban fantasy? Sounds good to me.
Format: Kindle eBook, Adobe Digital Edition
Procurement: NetGalley

Posted in Female Author, Novel

Review ~ Cobweb Bride

This book was provided to me by Norilana Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cobweb Bride by Vera Nazarian

Cover via Goodreads

Cobweb Bride is a history-flavored fantasy novel with romantic elements of the Persephone myth, about Death’s ultimatum to the world.

In an alternate Renaissance world, somewhere in an imaginary “pocket” of Europe called the Kingdom of Lethe, Death comes, in the form of a grim Spaniard, to claim his Bride. Until she is found, in a single time-stopping moment all dying stops. There is no relief for the mortally wounded and the terminally ill….

While kings and emperors send expeditions to search for a suitable Bride for Death, armies of the undead wage an endless war… A black knight roams the forest at the command of his undead father … Spies and political treacheries abound at the imperial Silver Court…. Murdered lovers find themselves locked in the realm of the living…

And one small village girl, Percy—an unwanted, ungainly middle daughter—is faced with the responsibility of granting her dying grandmother the desperate release she needs.

As a result, Percy joins the crowds of other young women of the land in a desperate quest to Death’s own mysterious holding in the deepest forests of the North…

And everyone is trying to stop her. (via Goodreads)

I will recuse myself. I did not finish this book. I quit reading at the 40% mark.

I really wanted to like this book. The conceit is an interesting one: Death wishes to take a bride and until she is found, no one will die. The injured in battle do not die. The sick do not die. Butchered livestock do not die. It’s potentially a horrific set-up and excellent fodder for a fairy tale. Unfortunately, the story falls into a sort of no-man’s land between fable and historical fantasy.

Nazarian’s weakness to me seemed to be in trying to give the story real-world scope. The juxtaposition of real places and people with fictional kingdoms is jarring and, at least within the context of the first 40% of the book, not needed. I don’t need references to France and Spain and Louis XIV to feel the peril of the situation. The real world doesn’t need to be in danger for me to care about characters. Peter S. Beagle never mentions what world The Last Unicorn takes place in; the sea that Hagsgate is next to is never named (that I remember).

The thing that stopped me reading, though, was that the non-supernatural working of the world struck me as wildly unbelievable. The political machinations varied between high school gossip and soap-opera melodrama. If you’re writing fantasy and you’re including politics, you have to get the politics right. Or at least close to right. It’s an aspect that isn’t based on magic or the supernatural, but on behavior and practicality. There are, for example, many good reasons why a nobleman, even a minor one, would not be chosen as a deep-cover spy. They are not the reasons illustrated in the story.

I was disappointed that this book was bogged down in poor world-building instead of allowed to be a potentially excellent story.

Genre: Fantasy
Why did I choose to read this book? The set-up seemed interesting.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) No. You have to get non-supernatural world-building semi close to correct.
Format: Kindle ebook
Procurement: NetGalley

Posted in Uncategorized

Not here. There.

I suppose after well over a year and a couple false starts, I can safely say that my blogging home is now found at The Writerly Reader. It's mostly a reading journal, but lately with more writing and movie stuff added.