Posted in History

2013 ~ A Bookish Summary

2013 Statistics

shelfoverflowNumber of books read in 2013: 63
(Read 37 in 2012)
5 were rereads.
Average rating: 2.96 (out of 5)
Read 2/3 fiction and a solid 1/3 non-fiction.
(80%/20% split in 2012)
71% were by authors I hadn’t read before.
(Up from 50%-ish in 2012)
71% were in some electronic form.

Only 20% were by female authors.
(Down from 40%-ish in 2012)
I read 38 short stories in the first half of the year before I stopped keeping track. About 1/3 of those were by women.

28%  of the books I read had something to do with magicians or spiritualism.

Aside from being bitten by a magic bug, the biggest change in my reading habits in 2013 was my use of NetGalley to read and review books pre-publication. A full third of the titles I reviewed were ARCs. To some extent, I’ve been using NetGalley to sample some genres that I don’t read often, and the results have been a mixed bag. My average rating for ARCs was 2.64 (out of 5) and there were a few ARCs that I did not finish. On the other hand, half of my Best Read of 2013 were ARCs.

Bookish Resolutions for 2014

I generally only make one resolution: I will not buy books in the New Year. This is a resolution which generally keeps my book buying to minimum, but doesn’t do much for my shelves of non-read books. For 2014, I’m changing it up a bit with two resolutions:

Concerning Acquisitions

Read two books I already own before acquiring a new book, “acquiring” defined to include ARC requests and check-outs from libraries. Ideally, I’d like to go 2:1 by book format: Read two physical books before buying any new physical books; read two already acquired electronic books before acquiring new ebooks.

To help set a good habit and/or cultivate a little leeway , I’m going to be joining the TBR Triple Dog Dare:

Hosted by Ready When You Are, C.B.

Read only books in your TBR pile or on your library reserve list as of January 1, 2014 for the entire months of January, February and March. The TBR Triple Dog Dare will end on April 1, 2014.

Clear My “Research” Shelf

I have 17 books, non-fiction and fiction, that are somewhat related to the Abbott/Joseffy project. I should, you know, read them.

  • Dunningers Complete Encyclopedia Of Magic by Joseph Dunninger
  • Houdini on Magic by Harry Houdini
  • The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini by Ruth Brandon
  • The Magician and the Cardsharp: The Search for America’s Greatest Sleight-of-Hand Artist by Karl Johnson
  • World’s Best Card Tricks by Bob Longe
  • The Expert at the Card Table: The Classic Treatise on Card Manipulation by S.W. Erdnase
  • Linking Rings: William W. Durbin and the Magic and Mystery of America by James David Robenalt
  • Facts, Frauds, & Phantasms: A Survey of the Spiritualist Movement by Georgess McHargue
  • The Magician’s Study: A Guided Tour of the Life, Times, and Memorabilia of Robert “The Great” Rouncival by Tobias Seamon
  • David Copperfield’s Beyond Imagination ed. by David Copperfield
  • David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible ed. by David Copperfield
  • The Spirit Cabinet by Paul Quarrington
  • The Magician by Sol Stein
  • The Final Confession of Mabel Stark by Robert Hough
  • Eyeing the Flash: The Making of a Carnival Con Artist by Peter Fenton
  • River City Empire: Tom Dennison’s Omaha by Orville D. Menard
  • A Dirty, Wicked Town: Tales of 19th Century Omaha by David L. Bristow

These are only the physical tomes. After a look at my downloads and bookmarks (at Google Books and Open Library), I have a good two or three dozen other books that might be useful. I have my work cut out for me!

Posted in Readathons-Challenges-Memes

It’s Monday! What am I Reading? (12/30/13)

31Hosted by Sheila at Book Journey

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading is where we share what we read this past week, what we hope to read this week…. and anything in between! This is a great way to plan out your reading week and see what others are currently reading as well… you never know where that next “must read” book will come from!

Happy Monday Everyone!

This week I’ll be celebrating:

On the slate this week:

Lightning Pinkerton's Great Detective: The Amazing Life and Times of James McParland Dunningers Complete Encyclopedia Of Magic

Lightning was an impulse buy when I was in Omaha and an impulse read I started Saturday night. Still working on Pinkerton’s Great Detective. And I’ll be celebrating the New Year with Dunninger’s.

Up next:


Happy 2014! Good Reading to You!

Posted in History, Readathons-Challenges-Memes

Best Reads 2013

John Wiswell at The Bathroom Monologues is hosting Best Reads again. He’ll have a linkup on the 28th and the official hashtag on Twitter is #bestreads2013. Join us! We all need longer TBR lists, right?

The Speculative Fiction Crew

1414 by Peter Clines – What I assumed would be a horror novel was instead a Lovecraftian sci-fi story with enjoyable characters. I was especially impressed with the female cast. They were smart and capable and individual.

Whom the Gods Would Destroy by  Brian Hodge – Speaking of Lovecrafitian, Whom the Gods Would Destroy was probably the creepiest thing I read this year. Hodge mixes science with the occult. What is an incredibly technologically advanced being to us other than a god? And what if that god is truly amoral? These are unsettling questions.

In the Company of Thieves by Kage Baker – With this anthology, I was dipping into a sci-fi world that I knew nothing about. This could have gone poorly. Instead, I got immortals that aren’t emo, and the mortals  that get wrapped up in their hi-jinx. These stories are enjoyable, but gently tinged with melancholy.

If one word could sum up the Spec-Fic Crew, it would be surprise. Science fiction/fantasy were in the minority for me this year and my choices were pretty random. I came away with a great group of books and that is a little amazing. I’d like to think that it wasn’t just luck; that there is a whole slew of good adult spec-fic waiting to be gobbled up.

The Classic

Selected PoemsSmoke and Steel & Slabs of the Sunburnt West by Carl Sandburg

“I have ransacked the encyclopedias
And slid my fingers among topics and titles
Looking for you.”

Reading Carl Sandburg is as close to the early 1900s in the Midwest as I can get without building a time machine. The sights, sounds, smells. Urban and rural. He makes me homesick for somewhere that isn’t quite my home.

The Gothics

The SeanceThe Seance by John Harwood – Prophetic visions? Check. Crumbling manse? Check. Hidden diaries? Check. Spiritualism and bizarre science experiments? Check. This novel has all the makings of the best Hammer horror film ever. Reading Harwood’s novels is like being led through a cemetery after dark. You know there’s nothing there that can hurt you, but it doesn’t mean you’re not scared.

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield – Subtitled “A Ghost Story,” this novel is probably the best fantasy world I’ve had the privileged to live in for a while. Truly, Setterfield builds her slightly magical world up around the reader in the narrative of Bellman’s life. It’s a quiet, gray world.

I love a good haunted house story, but I think the soul of gothic literature is the haunted person. These two novel present ghosts that are not entities, but histories. We all have histories…

The Magicians

Obviously, the biggest “genre” of literature I read this year involved magic. Fiction, non-fiction, related subjects. I didn’t care. I don’t care. I still have a shelf full that I haven’t gotten to.

Magic Shelfie
“Magic” Shelfie – With other research materials.

The Ambitious Card by John Gaspard – I love novels with a solid sense of place and this mystery put me smack-dab in Minneapolis/St. Paul. The magic and mystery were both solid. The characters were fun and well-handled. It was one of the few contemporarily set pieces of magic fiction that I came across this past year. I’m looking forward to another Eli Marks mystery in the future.

Carter Beats the Devil by Glen by David Gold – My favorite fiction novel of the year. It took me a while to get into this story, but I’m glad I did. I came to love the characters, even if they are full of faults. It’s fiction that lives in history and that’s something I want to read more of and to write as well. When I finished it, I didn’t think it was a book I’d want to reread. But it stuck in my head. Now, I own it and if I reread anything in 2014, it will be this book.

The Last Greatest Magician in the World: Howard Thurston versus Houdini & the Battles of the American WizardsHiding the Elephant and The Last Greatest Magician in the World by Jim Steinmeyer – I joked before that half of my 2013 top ten list would be Jim Steinmeyer. I ended up reading four of his books and all were good. All could be on this list, but I picked two. Steinmeyer loves his subjects and it’s not hard to be enthusiastic too. These books have taught me a lot about magic (Hiding the Elephant) and magic history (The Last Greatest Magician). They’ve also been pretty instrumental in furthering my thoughts about how we use narratives. Magic tricks are performed within the flow of a narrative and are backed by the narrative of their history. There are even narratives, true and false, told in order to explain illusions.  Many magicians have their own history as well as the history they create for themselves. Magic is a veritable onion of stories.

Posted in Anthology, Female Author

Review ~ In the Company of Thieves

This book was provided to me by Tachyon Publications via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Cover via Goodreads

In the Company of Thieves by by Kage Baker


Espionage, time travel, and affairs gone terribly wrong define this final collection of Kage Baker’s stories in the Company series. The employees of Dr. Zeus Incorporated have discovered a nearly foolproof recipe for success: combining time travel and immortals. The Company, a powerful corporate entity in the 24th century, specializes in retrieving extraordinary treasures out of the past, gathered by cybernetically enhanced workers who pass as ordinary humans. Whether a client wants a jewel worn by Cleopatra, an original Shakespeare folio, or to make a baby with the genes of Socrates and Marilyn Monroe, Dr. Zeus can make dreams come true. The one rule that cannot be broken is that the recorded particulars of history cannot be changed. Functioning with extreme stealth and caution, the Company strives to avoid the curiosity and greed of everyday people, which proves to be more difficult than anyone could have foreseen. Included in this exciting collection are four previously uncollected stories, “Mother Aegypt”—a classic tale of Transylvanian intrigue, and “Hollywood Ikons,” a brand-new story from a collaboration with Kage’s sister, Kathleen Bartholomew. (via Goodreads)

Before I picked up In the Company of Thieves, I was mostly unfamiliar with Kage Baker and her Company series. I’d heard her name within the context of awards, but hadn’t read any of her fiction that I recall. (It’s possible that I’ve read a short story or two by her in the past without noting the author.) I also seem to lack reading comprehension when it comes to NetGalley book descriptions. It didn’t occur to me until I started reading that this was A.) an anthology and B.) set within an already existing setting. How much would I be hampered by not knowing what’s going on? The answer, thankfully, was that I wasn’t *too* lost, though the first half of the anthology was occasionally tough going.

The first story, “The Carpet Beds of Sutro Park,” is Company-light. Ezra, the young protagonist, is not exactly a roaring success in the land of Company operatives. Bio-mechanical manipulations have left him in an autistic-like state. Ezra’s job is to be a recorder of San Francisco throughout history. He watches the rise and fall of places…and people. It’s quiet and lyrical.

The next story, “The Unfortunate Gytt,” was the least successful for me. Marsh, our POV character, isn’t a member of the Company, but is included in their heist of Gyttite. Not being too much in the know about the Company and still not being given much context, I was generally a bit confused. I was game for the setting though: the Victorian Gentlemen’s Speculative Society.

“The Women of Nell Gwynne’s” continues with this Victorian sub-setting and brings in a huge dollop of sci-fi tech in the midst of corsets and polite euphemisms. It’s the longest piece of the collection with a large section of background for Lady Beatrice, a fallen but still courageous women. From looking at the cover, I was expecting the entire books to be like this. While it was an entertaining story, it was nothing like the next, “Mother Aegypt.”

I can’t quite remember the last time I had as much fun reading. “Mother Aegypt” is occasionally bittersweet, but with a POV character like putzy braggart con-man Barby Golescu, comedic situations abound. This story has a vampyr that likes corndogs and tonics for chickens. Those alone would probably sell the anthology to me. But, I was still without context for a few things and didn’t quite understand how this was a Company story. Until the last two stories.

“Rude Mechanicals” and “Hollywood Ikons” feature Lewis and Joseph, one story from each’s point of view. Both are Company men and, finally, I  get a good firm explanation about what it’s all about. Twice. The stories are arts heists, of a sort. Despite the cover blurb about “functioning with extreme stealth and caution,” these escapades are a comedy of errors. These immortals are, more or less, people with faults and proclivities as well as heightened strength and senses. There’s very little morose moaning about immorality because both enjoy their jobs, except when their jobs suck, which, you know, happens to all of us.

Baker’s characters are great. They’re witty with good strong voice. There is also a great sense of place, especially in the tales set in 20th century California. I’m interested in reading the Company novels, but that is certainly the setting that I’d like to see more of. As for the science fiction aspects, they’re not given any sort of science explanation in this volume. Time travel, as a contrivance, is a tricky thing. Luckily, I was really too busy enjoying myself to pick at whether it’s a sound premise or not.

Genre: Time travel-ish speculative fiction.
Why did I choose to read this book? Was looking for some current SF.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes
Format: Kindle ebook/Adobe Digital Edition
Procurement: NetGalley

2014 Sci-Fi Experience

Posted in Readathons-Challenges-Memes

It’s Monday! What am I Reading? (12/23/13)

Hosted by Sheila at Book Journey

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading is where we share what we read this past week, what we hope to read this week…. and anything in between! This is a great way to plan out your reading week and see what others are currently reading as well… you never know where that next “must read” book will come from!

Happy Monday Everyone!

Yesterday was the beginning of Wilkie in Winter:
Hosted by The Estella Society

So this week I’ll be reading:

The Frozen Deep (Hesperus Classics) The Adventures of the Ectoplasmic Man Pinkerton's Great Detective: The Amazing Life and Times of James McParland

Merry Christmas!

Posted in Readathons-Challenges-Memes

2014 Reading Challenges

I always have good intentions when I sign up for challenges. My 2013 challenges…didn’t go so well. Regardless, I can’t resist.

Progress will be tracked on my 2014 Challenge Page.

TBR Pile Reading Challenge

TBR Pile Reading Challenge, hosted by Bookish

Any genre, length or format of book counts, as long as it is a book that’s been sitting on your shelf for some time now. Short stories and novellas are OK, too! Only books released in 2013 and earlier! NO 2014 ARCs and 2014 fresh-off-the-press releases allowed!

My level: 1-10 books – A Firm Handshake
I’m going with anything I bought in or before September last year.

Horror Reading Challenge


Hosted by Midnyte Reader

Horror can be subjective. The events of one experience may be horrific to one person and not to another. But for the purposes of this Challenge let’s be a little selective. Think terror, dread, and fear. I would really love this Challenge to be a meaningful exploration into the Horror genre. Just because a vampire could be scary does not mean that every book that includes one is right for this challenge. We don’t necessarily have to go for the gore, but let’s go for the throat and get our scare on!

My Level: 6-10 Horror Books – Brave Reader.
I sorted through my Goodreads books and shelved the horror books I own.

Indie Fever

Hosted by b00k r3vi3ws by DDS

Read and Review as many Indie (Self Published) Books as possible during this year.

My Level: 1-24 New Authors – Amateur
I find that I am now and indie author myself and have downloaded many indie books in the past, which are gathering virtual dust in various file systems.

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Hosted by Historical Tapestry

Any kind of historical fiction is accepted (HF fantasy, HF young adult,…)

My Level: 10 books – Renaissance Reader
I was going to go conservative with the five book level, but I might best that by end of February.

The 2016 Summer Olympics Reading Challenge

Hosted by Tanya of

GOAL To read books set in each of the countries that won a GOLD MEDAL in the 2012 Olympics, or written by authors from these countries – all prior to the start of the next Olympics scheduled for August 4, 2016.

Posted in Male Author, Novel

Review ~ Death from a Top Hat

Death from a Top Hat by Clayton Rawson

Cover via Goodreads

Freelance scribe Ross Harte is working on an essay about the sad state of the modern mystery novel when a scream comes from the hallway: “There is death in that room!” Harte finds a trio of conjurers trying to get into the apartment of his neighbor, the mysterious Dr. Cesare Sabbat, famed occultist and, for the past few minutes, a corpse. They break down the door to find Sabbat lying in a pentagram, face twisted from the agonies of strangulation, but with no bruises on his neck. All the doors were locked, and the windows drop straight down to the river below. Only an escape artist could get out of that room, and Sabbat knew quite a few. To make sense of this misdirected muddle, the police bring in the Great Merlini, an illusionist whose specialty is making mysteries disappear. (via Goodreads)

I’m developing an affinity for amateur magicians. It’s interesting what sorts of “day jobs” they have. David Abbott ran a loan business. Joseffy, not quite amateur since he performed on stage for 15 years, retired to electrical engineering. I just picked up the book, Linking Rings, about W. W. Durbin, who was a politician and lawyer as well as a prestidigitator. Clayton Rawson was a writer and illustrator and one of the founding members of the Mystery Writers Association.

Rawson’s familiarity with magic and the magic scene of the 20s & 30s is obvious. While he doesn’t give away any magic secrets, he doesn’t engage in utterly vague explanations of how illusions are achieved. His fiction is also sprinkled with fact. Footnotes (yes, there are footnotes) refer to real volumes (mostly) and when Rawson puts together an annual S.A.M. shindig, Al Baker is the MC and Joseffy, John Mulholland, and Bernard Zufall are the opening acts on the bill. Even the Mechanical Turk has a cameo.

Unfortunately, Death from a Top Hat is not to my taste. I don’t think I’m much of a fan of hard-boiled mysteries. There is a repetitive quality to the narrative that started to bore me at about the two-thirds mark. Between little bouts of action, the characters spend most of their time rehashing events and clues. Harte is a mostly invisible narrator, Inspector Gavigan is our somewhat ignorant skeptic, and Merlini is enigmatic until the end when all the pieces are put together. The mystery itself is well done. Everything is…fairly…plausible. The style just didn’t work for me.

Genre: Hard-boiled mystery.
Why did I choose to read this book? Magic! Mystery!
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes, but it was a bit rough toward the end.
Format: Hardback
Procurement: Tempe Public Library
Bookmark: Checkout receipt