Deal Me In, Week 27 ~ “Secret Keeper”

DealMeIn

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

“Secret Keeper” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

Card picked: 3
Found at: Nightmare Magazine

The Story

A girl is supposed to be beautiful. A girl is supposed to have rosy red cheeks and a laugh that makes men wilt to think of her bright future. A beautiful girl will have a beautiful life. An ugly girl slips unseen through secret doors.

The ghost girl was born with a birth defect that, after many skin grafts, has left her face pale and featureless. She has managed through grade school and middle school by avoiding attention, by becoming a shadow, a ghost. Now in high school, she lives beneath the theater stage and dreams of singing. Alas, due to her  appearance, the best she can do is mentor Chrissie, the new girl with the beautiful voice. Their singing lessons are held in a remote girl’s bathroom, the stalls keeping ghost girl from being seen. When Chrissie is given a supporting role in the spring musical instead of the lead, ghost girl’s vengeance is visited upon the less talented, but prettier Aimee and Chrissie has to fill in. All goes well, for a while, until the toll of ghost girl’s mentorship—being completely focused and keeping ghost girl’s secret—becomes too high for Chrissie. And Chrissie also has secrets that the ghost girl is keeping for her.

“Secret Keeper” is an adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera, gender-bent and set in high school, and it works very well. By senior year, the ghost girl is a thing of legend. No one quite remembers the truth about her and every prank and misfortune is blamed on her. By being unnoticed and otherwise forgotten, the ghost girl has access to information and secrets that she uses judiciously to manipulate Chrissie and frame Aimee. But the ending does add a tiny bit of ambiguity to the situation. No one can really hear the ghost girl except Chrissie.

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Review ~ World of Trouble

World of Trouble cover

World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters

There are just 14 days until a deadly asteroid hits the planet, and America has fallen into chaos. Citizens have barricaded themselves inside basements, emergency shelters, and big-box retail stores. Cash is worthless; bottled water is valuable beyond measure. All over the world, everyone is bracing for the end.

But Detective Hank Palace still has one last case to solve. His beloved sister Nico was last seen in the company of suspicious radicals, armed with heavy artillery and a plan to save humanity. Hank’s search for Nico takes him from Massachusetts to Ohio, from abandoned zoos and fast food restaurants to a deserted police station where he uncovers evidence of a brutal crime. With time running out, Hank follows the clues to a series of earth-shattering revelations.

The third novel in the Last Policeman trilogy, World of Trouble presents one final pre-apocalyptic mystery—and Hank Palace confronts questions way beyond whodunit: How far would you go to protect a loved one? And how would you choose to spend your last days on Earth? (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
This is the third book in the trilogy. I enjoyed the first two and I was interested in how Winters was going to wrap up a story set at the end of the world.

What Worked
There are a lot of post-apocalypse stories, but there aren’t many pre-apocalypse stories. I’d argue that’s because the end of the world is the least interesting part of the whole deal. Therefore, if you’re going to set a story at the apocalypse, the story itself has to be solid. Winters does a great job telling a story that would have been good even without an asteroid hurtling toward earth.

The feel of this installment reminded me of the movie Looper. The characters in both act in the inevitable way they should. Both are noir, but take off into a rural setting. I like that juxtaposition. Both also have a speculative fiction future setting that isn’t the story itself.

I’ve said it before but I like Hank Palace. I like his dogged determination and his loyalty. Which is why it’s pretty heartbreaking when he’s wrong about a few things. I’m going to avoid spoilers, but Hank is a little dense at times in this book. It’s understandable, but weirdly disappointing.

What Didn’t Work
The characters in this book take beatings. And stabbings. And burnings. Sometimes, I had a hard time believing that anyone could survive such abuse. I suppose it’s not impossible, but it gives me pause.

What Worked Best
There are so many times when I thought to myself, “Winters isn’t going to pull this off. He’s going to screw up the ending.” But he doesn’t. The meanderings of plot are all justified. The ending is spot-on. I don’t read a lot of series fiction and I finish even less.

I’m going to miss Henry Palace.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, Quirk Books, July 15, 2014
Acquired: Amazon, 5/30/18
Genre: mystery/crime

 

20 15 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books

Review ~ The Floating Light Bulb

Floating Light Bulb cover

The Floating Light Bulb by John Gaspard

MURDER AT THE MALL OF AMERICA

When a magician is murdered in the midst of his act at the Mall of America, Eli Marks is asked to step in and take over the daily shows–while also keeping his eyes and ears open for clues about this bizarre homicide.

As Eli combs the maze-like corridors beneath the Mall of America’s massive amusement park looking for leads, he also struggles to learn and perform an entirely new magic act. Meanwhile, the long-time watering hole for Uncle Harry and his Mystics pals is closing. So in addition to the murder investigation and the new act, Eli must help the grumpy (and picky) seniors find a suitable new hang out. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
This is the fifth Eli Marks Mystery. I’ve read and enjoyed the previous four; why wouldn’t I read this one?

What Worked
The Setting: Eli is back home in Minnesota after a jaunt to London in The Linking Rings. I really liked Mall of America as a setting with all its Paul Bunyan and Babe kitch. It a fun contrast to murder and mayhem of the plot. 😉

The Magic: As always, the magic is handled very well. Eli inherits (figuratively) not only a gig from the murdered magician, but a stage manager and talented assistant as well. If there are more Marks mysteries, I hope Nimisha becomes a regular character. I’m always in favor of more female magician characters.

What Didn’t Work as Well as Other Things
The Mystery: Don’t get me wrong, the mystery is solid. The clues and connections are all there. Eli figures it out and we build to a thrilling conclusion. But sometimes the mystery takes a backseat to the characters and their interactions. And that’s okay: these are characters I want to spend time with.

Overall
The Eli Marks series features fun characters, magic (the real kind, not the fantasy kind), and great mystery plots. Still going strong after five books.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, Albert’s Bridge Books , June 10, 2018
Acquired: June 14, 2018, Amazon
Genre: mystery

20 15 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books

Review ~ The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton

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

Cover via Goodreads

The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton And Other Singular Tales from the Victorian Press by Jeremy Clay

HOLIDAYMAKER FIGHTS OFF AFRICAN LION IN WELSH HOTEL ROOM

MAN SWALLOWS MOUSE AND DIES

WIFE DRIVEN MAD BY HUSBAND TICKLING FEET

PALLBEARER KILLED BY COFFIN IN GRAVEYARD

LIBERALS EAT DOG

From the newspaper archives of the British Library, Jeremy Clay has unearthed the long-lost stories that enthralled and appalled Victorian Britain.

Within these pages are the riotous farces and tragedies of 19th-century life, a time when life was hard, pleasures short-lived, and gloating over other people’s misfortune a thoroughly acceptable form of entertainment.

Deliciously appalling and deliriously funny, The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton will have you, one way or another, in tears. . . (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
One of my favorite things about the digital age is scanned historical newspapers. Sure, they’re primary sources, but of course with a twist. The press is never neutral and what’s reported is only a subset of what’s really going on. In the cracks are stories like “The Burglar Caught By a Skeleton.”

What Worked
Jeremy Clay does a great job gathering up a selection of the skrewiest Victorian news stories. Think that dumb bets are the invention of the Tide Pod generation? Not so! An “election enthusiast” in 1892 probably died after losing a bet and swallowing a live turtle. And I can only imagine that Aymard traveling from Thoissey to Lyon along the Saone on an ice flow, making pancakes along the way, would be a YouTube sensation. Details may change but many things don’t. Still, I’m not sure I’ve read anything lately that left me so often speechless.

The articles are sorted into categories, each with a brief preface by Clay to get you in the mood.

What Didn’t Work
The only thing to note: this is a dip-in book. Sit down intending to read it straight through and you’ll come away in a muddle. Better to read a couple articles a day and leisurely enjoy them. Most are quite short. In fact, and this is no fault of our editor, many of the newspaper writers ended their stories abruptly, leaving me to exclaim, “…but I have questions!”

Overall
The stories in The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton are sensational, often funny and often gruesome. Occasionally both. I consider it a fun, light read and entertaining glimpse into the Victorian era.

Publishing info, my copy: PDF/Kindle, Thistle Publishing, May 21, 2018
Acquired: date, place
Genre: genre

20 15 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books

Deal Me In, Week 25 ~ “The Jack of Coins”

DealMeIn

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

“The Jack of Coins” by Christopher Rowe

Card picked: 9
Found at: Tor.com

When the man came closer, we saw that he wasn’t a policeman at all. His uniform was something else altogether, something epauletted and braided and polished here and there to a high shine. He made us think of the illustrations from playing cards. The King of Clubs, some of us thought, or the Jack of Coins.

The story is set in a vaguely dystopian police state. Our narrator is one of a band of teenage punks, not yet actual rebels. And Jack, who doesn’t know his real name, does know of other places where things may not be better but are certainly different. The teens take in Jack and in exchange are given a shift in their perception of the world. We’re left wondering exactly where Jack came from—it certainly wasn’t just from across the forbidden park. And maybe he isn’t even *quite* human. He’s certainly unflappable as well as a little naive.

Rowe does a nice job of some quick and dirty world building for this fairly short story. Coins (as in the Jack of Coins) have been used as a card suit in the past and is still used in tarot. Funny thing, this story involves card throwing and it’s the second time this week that I’ve run into that in my reading. Therefore, you know I have to include a video of my favorite card thrower, Ricky Jay.

Review ~ Fall of Man in Wilmslow

Fall of Man in Wimslow cover via Goodreads

Fall of Man in Wilmslow by David Lagercrantz, trans. George Goulding

From the author of the #1 best seller The Girl in the Spider’s Web—an electrifying thriller that begins with Alan Turing’s suicide and plunges into a post-war Britain of immeasurable repression, conformity and fear

On June 8, 1954, Alan Turing is found dead in his home in the sleepy suburb of Wilmslow—an apparent suicide. Investigators assumed he purposely ate a cyanide-laced apple because he was unable to cope with the humiliation of his criminal conviction for gross indecency. But Leonard Corell, a young detective constable who once dreamed of a career in higher mathematics, suspects greater forces are involved. In the face of opposition from his superiors and in the paranoid atmosphere of the Cold War, he inches closer to the truth and to one of the most closely guarded secrets of the Second World War–what was going on at Bletchley Park. With state secrets swirling in his mind and a growing fear that he is under surveillance, Corell realizes that he has much to learn about the dangers of forbidden knowledge. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Alan Turing was an interesting guy and I’ve been wanting to read more about him since being pretty disappointed with the movie The Imitation Game. Unfortunately, I think I originally believed that this was a nonfiction work, which it isn’t.

What Worked
Lagercrantz does a good job with the setting. He needs a repressed, tattered, paranoid 1950s England, and that’s certainly what we get.

The book also slips into some rather lengthy passages about mathematics that aren’t too confusing, though I’m only assuming that the information is correct. The main character, Corell, studied mathematics in his past, and his delves into the subject seemingly give him some insight into Turing. It’s an interesting way to look into the character of Turing, though I’m not sure it was entirely satisfying for someone (me) who wanted more of a factual character sketch.

What Didn’t Work
It took the majority of the book to get to the actual plot—a noir-ish bit of spy story. Yeah, the mathematics is a great way of getting to know Turing, but it ended up being a bit long.

I also didn’t quite buy Corell’s character development. It felt too rushed, squashed into the last forty pages of the book after being in a holding pattern. As is always the case with translations, I wonder if some of the occasional clunkiness of Corell might be due to English word choice.

Overall
Regardless, this book did pull me along. If you don’t mind some digressions into mathematics (as a philosophical endeavor), give it a try.

Publishing info, my copy: trade paperback, Vintage, 2017
Acquired: Won this book from Goodreads, 3/31/17
Genre: literary fiction, mystery

20 15 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books

Deal Me In, Week 24 ~ “Bog Girl”

DealMeIn

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

“Bog Girl” by Karen Russell

Card picked: 4
Found at: The New Yorker

I don’t remember if I recognized Karen Russell when I added this story to my deck. Her novel Swamplandia! has been on the periphery of my TBR-eventually list. In this case, Swamplandia! will probably be bumped up the queue. One of the best reasons to read short stories is to get a taste for a writer you’re not familiar with.

The young turf-cutter fell hard for his first girlfriend while operating heavy machinery in the peatlands.

The girl that Cillian, the turf-cutter, falls for is a bog girl, a preserved corpse thousands of years old.

I’ve read a couple of magical realism novels this year and I was once again thrown into a off-kilter world where Bog Girl retains her slightly blue skin, coppery hair, and enigmatic smile  despite being exposed to the air. Also, Cillian is allowed to take her home. His mother isn’t pleased.  She’s afraid that Cillian will screw up his young life over the love of a girl, though instead of getting her pregnant, what if he decides to do something rash like going to the bog with her to stay?

Everyone else is pretty chill with Cillian’s silent girlfriend. She becomes rather popular at his high school. The in-crowd girls like her because she’s thin and will wear anything they give her. In fact, one of the things that Cillian like most about her is that she will silently, and smilingly, agree with his future plans.

Of course, everything changes one night when Bog Girl wakes up…

The writing is beautiful. While this story is sometimes uncomfortable, it doesn’t reach the level of unease that a Joyce Carol Oates story might.