Review ~ Duped

This book was provided to me by Perseus Books via NetGalley for review consideration.

Duped: Double Lives, False Identities, and the Con Man I Almost Married

Duped: Double Lives, False Identities, and the Con Man I Almost Married by Abby Ellin

From the day Abby Ellin’s went on her first date with The Commander, she was caught up in a whirlwind. Within five months he’d proposed, and they’d moved in together. But there were red flags: strange stories of international espionage, involving Osama Bin Laden and the Pentagon. And soon his stories began to unravel until she discovered, far later than she’d have liked, that he was a complete and utter fraud.

When Ellin wrote about her experience in Psychology Today, the responses were unlike anything she’d experienced as a reporter. Legions of people wrote in with similar stories, of otherwise sharp-witted and self-aware people being taken in by ludicrous scams. Why was it so hard to spot these outlandish stories? Why were so many of the perpetrators male, and so many of the victims female? Was there something universal at play here?

In Duped, Abby Ellin plunges headlong into the world of double lives. Studying the art and science of lying, talking to women who’ve had their worlds turned upside down, and writing with great openness about her own mistakes, she lays the phenomenon bare. It is a strangely relatable trip to the fringe of our normal world. You’ll come away with a new appreciation for just how strange and improbable our everyday lives really are.

Why was I interested in this book?

A hobby subject for me is magic, and the basis of magic is deception. I’ll also cop to being fascinated by con men, especially someone like Frank Abagnale (of Catch Me If You Can fame), who seemed to be very proficient at having multiple lives. Granted, just like the mirrors, invisible threads and gaffers tape of magic tricks, con men are not at all glamorous. That still hasn’t satisfied my want for tales of people being duped.

What Did This Book Do Well?

Abby Ellin is very upfront about her experience being duped despite the stigma attached to it. No one wants to believe that they can be deceived by someone close to them. It is easy to perceive that as a personal failing that should be so easily avoided.

Ellin is also very curious about why people lie, how people are deceived, and what the aftermath is for all involved. She found that for herself and others, being duped is a form of trauma. She also talks to dupers and how their lives play out once the truth is known.

Her intentions for the book seem very ambitious.

What Didn’t This Book Do Well?

To a degree, I had an expectation for this book which was different from what Duped actually is. I was hoping for a crunchier, more scientific investigation of deception.

Ellin presents many anecdotes (including her own) and touches on many theories and studies, but only the stories get any real attention. For example, in the chapter “In God We Trust—Everyone Else We Polygraph,” Ellin mostly writes about attending a deception detection workshop without really telling much about the content of the class and writes about talking to a polygraph expert without really giving much background about polygraphs. Everything is treated in a fairly shallow, pop science manner.

I also felt that the anecdotes skewed heavily toward male liars. I supposed that’s not surprising considering Ellin’s experience, but I was hoping that eventually there would be a step toward a more objective tone. Also, while I’m not a particularly political person, I feel some of her references to the current administration aren’t going to age well.

Overall

Duped is a mixture of compelling memoir and pop science with a little bit of self-help narrative mixed in, but it isn’t an organized deep-dive into deception.

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Writing Update, 1/16

2018 ~ What Happened?

2018 was an interesting year.

In 2017, I came away from WesterCon with a bunch of creative energy. Unfortunately, by the end of the year, I had ground out on the novel I was working on* and was feeling pretty dismal again. Eventually, I switched gears to work on a project conceived, in fact, at WesterCon: an anthology of classic/public domain stories that featured automata.

I read a lot, I thought a lot about it (to the point of actually writing some introductory material for each section), and then I hit a slight snag with how I wanted to publish it. In the end, I decided to just put it up for free. If you’re interested in classic works of science fiction, Our Past in the Uncanny Valley is available for free at my webpage.

Uncanny Valley immediately led to two other things.

First, I learned to format Kindle ebooks using HTML. It makes for a much cleaner, nicer looking ebook. I did it for Uncanny Valley and then I converted most of Eric’s and my other ebooks. (Only PHYSIC and the Weordan books haven’t been switched over.)

Second, I decided I wanted to “clear my plate.” I’d had the first in a series of novellas about 95% done for quite awhile. For marketing-type purposes, I had been sitting on it until I finished a couple other stories in the series. The thought was either to release them separately in quick succession or group them together as a larger book. But neither of those things had happened in the previous year, nor did they look likely to happen in the near future. So I decided, “What the heck!” and put One Ahead: The Case of the Sorrowful Seamstress up on Amazon. Good call? I don’t know. Mentally, I felt lighter.

Then I had a new idea and, like a person who doesn’t already have three-ish other unfinished series and another half-finished book*, I started a new mystery novel in November for NaNoWriMo.

*That would be Wicked Witch Retired. I’ll get back to it.

2019 ~ What’s Going to Happen?

Well, currently, I’m working on the novel I started at the end of last year. I don’t have a title yet. I’m referring to it as Jane Anderson Mystery #1, so apparently I have high hopes for my magician’s assistant sleuth. Second draft has been going a little slow. Reading my journal from last year, it seems a January slump isn’t unknown to me. But this week is looking pretty good.

A goal I’d like to have this year is to quickly switch to working on other projects if I get too bogged down in a particular one. (And hopefully not spawn other projects.) I have the tendency to “work” on something by doing nothing. Shockingly, this leads to not much getting done. I have formatting left to do on existing books. I have two other Uncanny Valley-style public domain things that pretty much just need covers. I have other One Ahead stories. I have Wicked Witch Retired to finish. (My mother would also like to see the second Aleister Luck book…)

I should consider myself lucky: I have lots to read and lots to write.

Magic Monday, 1/14/19


I like Mondays. I also like magic. I figured I’d combine the two and make a Monday feature that is truly me: a little bit of magic and a look at the week ahead.

Today’s bit of magic comes via Dean Carnegie and his Magic Detective blog. Last week, he featured a guest post by Ron Pearson about his upcoming play Minerva, Queen of Handcuffs. The play is opening in Edmonton, Canada and sounds wonderful. Minerva was a female escapologist and a contemporary of Houdini’s. Dean gave Minerva her own post back in 2017.

The video below is of Miranda Allen, aka Tianna the Traveller, the young lady who plays Minerva.

It’s Monday! What am I…

…reading?

Duped: Double Lives, False Identities, and the Con Man I Almost Married
Trilby
Laurant: Man of Many Mysteries
  • Duped: Double Lives, False Identities, and the Con Man I Almost Married by Abby Ellin – I should have this finished up by mid-week. Intending to post a review on Wednesday.
  • Trilby by George du Maurier – And then I’ll read the January installment of Trillby. I’m looking forward to it.
  • Laurant: The Man of Many Mysteries by Gabe Fajuri – Then a jaunt into magic!
  • Short stories: “In a Wide Sky, Hidden” by William Ledbetter, a Sherlock Holmes mystery, and more from The Black Cat.

…doing?

Well, I got the last of the Christmas decorations down early last week and the apartment is back to being a plain, old apartment again.

AB league started last week. We won our first game. I realized that I am the oldest woman in either division this time around, though not the woman with the most experience. I did cover the 16 year-old on the other team during the last point that didn’t matter. (It was hard cap and we were already up by two.) Should be a fun team and with some skill, so I can’t ask for much more than that.

Getting back to writing this week. Did I say that last week too? I’m afraid to look back… I plan on doing a writing post on Wednesday.

What *was* I doing?

#DealMeIn2019, Week 2 ~ “A Dog’s Story”

“A Dog’s Story” by Gardner Dozois

Card Picked: 3♥
From: The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July-August 2017

He was old, and his hip hurt him these days, and he had long ago quit bothering to bark at cars, but his still-restless spirit wouldn’t let him go to sleep without tasting the night…

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a tale titled “A Dog’s Story” in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. There are some fantastical elements to it, but also a dollop of horror.

During the course of his night wanderings, Blackie finds the body of a murdered young woman in an alley. She reminds him of his special human Emily, who has been gone for several years. It’s implied that Emily has died; Blackie’s current human has been listless since Emily has been gone, but as a dog, Blackie only know that there is no more Emily. He decides that some justice should be done for this woman. His nose isn’t good enough to track the killer, nor would he be able to attack the man once he’s found, but Blackie is old enough to know other animals, like Talking Pete, a geriatric cat who knows many languages and can talk to the city’s rats. Through favors and deals, justice will be served.

This is a slip of a story, only just over 1500 words. (I love that F&SF includes word counts.) I can imagine that other writers would do more with the other animals, but indeed, this is a dog’s story and Blackie gets all the screen time.

Review ~ A Song for Quiet

A Song for Quiet (Persons Non Grata, #2)

A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw

Deacon James is a rambling bluesman straight from Georgia, a black man with troubles that he can’t escape, and music that won’t let him go. On a train to Arkham, he meets trouble — visions of nightmares, gaping mouths and grasping tendrils, and a madman who calls himself John Persons. According to the stranger, Deacon is carrying a seed in his head, a thing that will destroy the world if he lets it hatch.

The mad ravings chase Deacon to his next gig. His saxophone doesn’t call up his audience from their seats, it calls up monstrosities from across dimensions. As Deacon flees, chased by horrors and cultists, he stumbles upon a runaway girl, who is trying to escape her father, and the destiny he has waiting for her. Like Deacon, she carries something deep inside her, something twisted and dangerous. Together, they seek to leave Arkham, only to find the Thousand Young lurking in the woods.

The song in Deacon’s head is growing stronger, and soon he won’t be able to ignore it any more.

Why did I choose this book?

Undeniably, H. P. Lovecraft was very influential to the genres of horror and fantasy. He was also racist, xenophobic, and antisemitic. I like the concept of all the people Lovecraft took exception to jumping into his sandbox and adding wings to his castles. I really enjoyed Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom and had heard that Malaysian writer Cassandra Khaw’s A Song for Quiet is another worthy addition to this genre niche.

Ladies of Horror Fiction challenged readers to make their first read of 2019 a female horror author—it was the perfect “excuse” to read A Song for Quiet.

So, what did I think?

Khaw imbues her writing with rhythm which is very appropriate when the main character is a jazz musician. I also enjoyed the little Lovecraft subversions: things like a white cowboy character being described as simian and Arkham being a progressive enough place to allow a black female business owner.

Khaw also does a good job giving shape and physicality to what can often be vague cosmic horror. It’s easy to duck the unimaginable, but Deacon’s visions and the Thousand Young are good and gory. I also like that there is some small measure of hope in this story. I plan on reading more horror this year, but I am a little worried. I think that I have less patience for hopelessness these days.

I enjoyed A Song for Quiet so much that I’m going to have to read Hammers on Bone, the first book on the loose series, in the near future. The first features John Persons, a minor character here, who isn’t quite a person. I am intrigued.

Other Info

Genre: horror
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Release date: August 29, 2017
My copy: OverDrive Read via Tempe Library

Down the TBR Hole 17

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.

The Amazing Harvey: A Mystery

The Amazing Harvey: A Mystery by Don Passman

It’s a mystery with a magcian characters. If it weren’t a little hard to find, I probably would have already bought it! KEEP.

Born of Illusion (Born of Illusion, #1)

Born of Illusion by Teri Brown

She’s an illusionist, her mother is a renowned medium, and oh, I didn’t realize that this was set in Jazz age New York. But it does have a paranormal aspect… KEEP, since it’s available on Hoopla.

Mr. Fox

Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

I don’t remember why this book was on my Wishlist. It might be good, but I don’t think it’s anything I’m ever going to get to. GO.

The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini

The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini by Bruce Macnab

I have a few Houdini books. I’m kind of tired of Houdini. This is about his early career, but do I need to know more about his early career? GO.

Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day

Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory

I usually don’t fall for a cover, but I *really* like this cover. Fantasy and magical realism short stories? Sounds like a future Deal Me In list. KEEP.

Magic Monday, 1/7/19


I like Mondays. I also like magic. I figured I’d combine the two and make a Monday feature that is truly me: a little bit of magic and a look at the week ahead.

I figure the New Year is a good time to revive my twist on celebrating the first day of the week: Magic Monday.

To kick off the year, let’s start with Eric Chien’s award-winning Ribbon routine. It’s on the longer side, but well worth it.

It’s Monday! What am I…

…reading?

Duped: Double Lives, False Identities, and the Con Man I Almost Married
Ashes to Ashes: The Songs of David Bowie, 1976-2016
Don Quixote
  • Duped: Double Lives, False Identities, and the Con Man I Almost Married by Abby Ellin
  • Ashes to Ashes: The Songs of David Bowie by Chris O’Leary
  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
  • Short stories: “A Dog’s Story” by Gardner Dozois for Deal Me In, “The Disappearance of Lady Francis Carfax” by Arthur Conan Doyle, some tales from The Black Cat.

…doing?

It’s finally starting to feel like the holidays are over. With New Year’s Eve and Day on Monday and Tuesday of last week, it was kind of easy to ignore the rest of the three day “week.” Even (especially?) working from home, it can be easy to fall into a vacation trap.

This week, I’m looking to get back to writing in a more regular manner and generally get back into some sort of schedule. And AB League starts! Between the holidays and colder weather (it’s been in the 50s!!!), I didn’t play much ultimate in December. The holiday goodies are taking their toll on my waistline.

What *was* I doing?