Monthly Archives: September 2017

Review ~ The Ballad of Black Tom

Cover via Goodreads

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

People move to New York looking for magic and nothing will convince them it isn’t there.

Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father’s head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their cops. But when he delivers an occult tome to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.

A storm that might swallow the world is building in Brooklyn. Will Black Tom live to see it break? (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I like the intersection of music and fiction, especially in horror. I’ve seen lots of good reviews and accolades for this story, including a Shirley Jackson award for Best Novella (2016). Decided to read it despite its Lovecraft connection.

What Worked
Crisp writing. I hadn’t encountered Victor LaValle before, but I’m going to endeavor to read more of his works. I like his style.

The problematic aspects of H. P. Lovecraft’s stories have become a bone of contention for many readers. The inspiration for The Ballad of Black Tom, “The Horror at Red Hook,” is a product of xenophobia and racism. LaValle subverts that story and those themes with such grace and ease that he makes Lovecraft look truly foolish. I’ve read both: The Ballad of Black Tom first and “The Horror at Red Hook” second. There is no contest, LaValle has written the superior story.

I also really appreciate that the age of easy publishing has given novellas have a new life. The Ballad of Black Tom is the right size. In another age, the story might have been expanded into a novel for publication or buried in an anthology. Tor gave it the opportunity to be its own thing.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle Book / OverDrive Read, Tom Doherty Associates, February 16, 2016
Acquired: Tempe Overdrive Digital Collection
Genre: horror

Hosted by Kate and Kim at Midnight Book Girl

Hosted by Andi @ Estella’s Revenge and Heather @ My Capricious Life

Writing Update, 9/27


Poking along with Wicked Witch, Retired. Lately, I’ve been splitting my time between writing WWR and doing a format and editing pass on Eric’s PHYSIC series. Surprisingly, I’ve found that I like working on two projects at once, though I don’t think I’d like *writing* on two separate projects. My intention was to finish the first draft  WWR in October and then switch over to work on the Abbott stories for “NaNoWriMo.”  But, my part in the reading/editing for PHYSIC is winding down, so maybe I’ll start some Abbott reading/editing in October instead of holding off.

For the rest of this week though, along with WWR, I’m going to work on a new cover for Lucinda in the Window and take a look at the formatting with the intention of maybe releasing a new paperback version by mid-October. At very least, I’ll be doing a promo then.

(Pst. If you’re interested getting an email about when I release stuff, I have a very infrequent newsletter for that:)

Down the TBR Hole #3

TBRHole

This is a meme started by Lia at Lost in a Story. The “rules” are:

  • Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf.
  • Order on ascending date added.
  • Take the first 5 (or 10 (or even more!) if you’re feeling adventurous) books. Of course, if you do this weekly, you start where you left off the last time.
  • Read the synopses of the books.
  • Decide: keep it or should it go?

I’m modifying this a little since my to-read shelf is a mess of books that are mostly in storage. Instead, I’m going to look at my wishlist—all those books I add on a whim during my travels around the book blogging community—and weed out the ones that don’t quite sound as good now. The “keepers” I’m going to look for at online libraries or add to my Amazon wishlist.

alt text The Last Love of George Sand: A Literary Biography by Evelyne Bloch-Dano

Do you know how many books by George Sand that I already own that I haven’t read? (Spoiler: It’s more than one.) GO.

alt text Goldenland Past Dark by Chandler Klang Smith

Do you know how many books about circuses/carnivals that I already own that I haven’t read? (Spoiler: It’s more than one.) GO.

alt text Fifth Business by Robertson Davies

Robertson Davies’ Deptford Trilogy has a magic connection and I’ve heard good things about it since adding it to my list. And it’s available through Open Library. KEEP.

alt text Elephants in the Distance by Daniel Stashower

Yes, we’re getting into a portion of my list that is heavily influenced by magic. I’ve read some Stashower in the past and found him to be okay and I have The Beautiful Cigar Girl on my shelf. But I’m KEEPing this one. Way out of print though.

alt text Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini by Christopher Sandford

Oh, this friendship. One of my favorite authors and my 10th favorite magician. I have books on Houdini. I have books on Doyle. Still want to read this one. KEEP.

Anyone have any experience with any of these? Any arguments for KEEP or GO?

Deal Me In, Week 38 ~ “Things You Can Buy for a Penny”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Things You Can Buy for a Penny” by Will Kaufman

Card picked: 10
From: Lightspeed Magazine, Issue 57, Feb. 2015, (link to story)

The Story
I’ve been in the mood for light fantasy lately. Not quite fairy tales or their retellings, but fantastical stories that fairy tale adjacent. “Thing You Can Buy for a Penny” fits that bill.

“Don’t go to the well,” said Theo to his son. So, of course, Tim went to the well. He was thirteen, and his father told him not to. There was no magic in it.

 

In the well resides the wet gentleman, who is magic, who will grant a wish for a penny, or maybe more, or maybe less. “Things You Can Buy for a Penny” follows several generations of Tim’s family and their bargains with the wet gentleman. As one might expect when wishes are on the line, the negotiations need to be done carefully.

I’ve read quite a few stories from this issue of Lightspeed, but haven’t posted about most of them. This has definitely been my favorite (with two left on the roster).

Perilous Updates, Week 3

Peril of the Short Story

“William Wilson” by Edgar Allan Poe

From comparatively trivial wickedness I passed, with the stride of a giant, into more than the enormities of an Elah-Gabalus.

This is my first reading of this story. I haven’t come across too many doppelganger tales. Poe does this one up pretty well although without the uncanny terror I expected. Instead, we have the tale of William Wilson—not his real name—and the double that seems to haunt him through life.

Wilson first encounters his double in boarding school. They are not friends; the original Wilson plays pranks on the second while the second offers advice (presumably on better living). The two boys share the same name and after some time, the second Wilson seems to take on the look and mannerisms of the first. Unnerved, Wilson leaves school. The second Wilson continues to dog the first, ruining the first Wilson’s plans over and over again. Finally, in Rome, first Wilson accosts second Wilson, stabbing him fatally. But is the second Wilson the only one “murdered”?

Obviously, this tale can be taken as allegory. The second Wilson can be seen as the first’s conscience, stolidly foiling plans to do immoral and illegal things. But it’s also a Poe story full of Gothic architecture, creeping around sleeping people, and Roman fetes. Even before the doppelganger shows up, Wilson seems to suffer from a great deal of self-loathing, which makes it really hard to be confronted with one’s double. I also found Poe’s mentions of race and environment interesting in relation to Wilson’s behaviors—both are important. Other crunchy bit: details on cheating at cards.

Continue reading

Review ~ Bird Box

Cover via Goodreads

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Something is out there…

Something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.

Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remain, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now, that the boy and girl are four, it is time to go. But the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat—blindfolded—with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. And something is following them. But is it man, animal, or monster?

Engulfed in darkness, surrounded by sounds both familiar and frightening, Malorie embarks on a harrowing odyssey—a trip that takes her into an unseen world and back into the past, to the companions who once saved her. Under the guidance of the stalwart Tom, a motley group of strangers banded together against the unseen terror, creating order from the chaos.

But when supplies ran low, they were forced to venture outside—and confront the ultimate question: in a world gone mad, who can really be trusted? (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Horror genre. Lots of people I know really like this book.

What Didn’t Work (for me)
This is a case of cilantro AND werewolves for me and that’s my fault. Often, when I read a book blurb, I focus in on one or two things that sound really interesting to me and ignore other things. In the case of Bird Box, I had zeroed-in on a mother and her children living in an abandoned house with something outside that could drive them insane.

My mind jumped to the story I’d like from that situation: from the children’s perspective, who have grown up with outside darkness as normal, how is that for them? What if (in a spectacular conjuration of a werewolf) they’re mother is just imagining that there is something outside? See, that’s not what Bird Box is, so I can’t fault it for not being what I wanted.

As for cilantro, I don’t really care for post-apocalyptic. I have a hard time suspending my disbelief well enough and for long enough buy the whole world falling apart. There was way too much counting-cans-in-the-cellar survivalism for my taste. I’m also particularly not a fan of Lovecraftian know-it-go-mad tropes.

I didn’t mind that the big bads of this novel were never explained, but I found the climax to be too much of a coincidental convergence of factors and the actual end to be a bit flat.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle/OverDrive Read, HarperCollins, May 13, 2014
Acquired: Tempe Overdrive Digital Collection
Genre: Horror

Hosted by Kate and Kim at Midnight Book Girl

Hosted by Andi @ Estella’s Revenge and Heather @ My Capricious Life

It’s Monday, What Are You… (9/18)

…Reading?

Bird Box Chicago Magic: A History of Stagecraft and Spectacle Slade House

As expected, it didn’t take me long to get behind on my big, annotated Dracula, so that’s going on the back burning for the moment. I’m about a third of the way through Bird Box and I don’t know what I think. I didn’t expect so much of a post-apocalypse/survivalist vibe. Not a genre I’m keen on. I’ll also be reading Chicago Magic, which I picked up through my newly acquired hoopla access. I derailed an entire day looking though hoopla’s catalog. I’ll probably also start Slade House this week after I finish Bird Box.

It's Monday! What Are You ReadingIt’s Monday! What Are You Reading, hosted by Book Date!

…Doing?

We’re finally in the midst of break from the heat. (I hesitate to say we’re done with the heat.) Daytime temps are still around 100F, but the nights have been down in the 70s. So much nicer. And therefore, it’s time for more Halloween in my work space.

What Was I Doing?