Review ~ Unholy Land

This book was provided to me by Tachyon Publications via NetGalley for review consideration.

Unholy Land

Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar

From the bestselling author of Central Station comes an extraordinary new novel recalling China Miéville and Michael Chabon, entertaining and subversive in equal measures.

Lior Tirosh is a semi-successful author of pulp fiction, an inadvertent time traveler, and an ongoing source of disappointment to his father.

Tirosh has returned to his homeland in East Africa. But Palestina—a Jewish state founded in the early 20th century—has grown dangerous. Unrest in Ararat City is growing; the government is building a vast border wall to keep out African refugees. Tirosh has become state security officer Bloom’s prime murder suspect, while rogue agent Nur stalks them through transdimensional rifts—possible futures to prevented only by avoiding the mistakes of the past.

via Goodreads

It is actually really hard to review Unholy Land after reading its afterword by Warren Ellis.

Unholy Land is one of those lovely books that starts out presenting itself as one thing, and mutates into another almost without you seeing it.

In a way, that’s spot on.  This book starts with a “what if.” What if a Jewish state had been founded in Uganda? It was a scheme in the early 1900s, but one that was never acted on. And, if you’re familiar with Lavie Tidhar’s style of writing, this what if is a tasty morsel. Tidhar’s forte is in providing settings that you feel like you’re walking through, sweating in, having dinner and drinks at. It’s even better when the setting is a mash-up of cultures and technologies.

But I disagree that Unholy Land‘s transformation, from an alternate world noir to a more politically charged thriller,  occurs without notice. Tidhar does things that are designed to put the reader off-kilter. Point of view changes happen not only between chapters but within scenes. Memories shift for characters. It’s obvious early on that something more is going on than originally meets the eye. This isn’t a comfortable book despite my wanting to spend time in the world. I enjoyed it, but I also feel like I’m going to need to reread it. And that’s not a bad thing.

Publishing Information: Tachyon Publications, November 2018
My copy: Kindle ARC
Genre: science fiction

Advertisements

The Black Cat, No. 2, November 1895

Welcome to the second issue of The Black Cat and the Black Cat Project! While this issue weighed in with the same number of pages, fifty, it was a story lighter and all together felt shorter. Also, the stories didn’t feel as strong. Here’s to hoping that issue no. 3 is a return to form.

Stories

“A Calaveras Hold-Up” by Roberta Littlehale

Littlehale takes us to the Sierra’s in the 1880s once again with another western-romance. Billy Owen is a man with a questionable past. (His gun is named Betty…) Rudy Field is the preacher’s daughter. Billy never had a chance and falls in love with Rudy. Alas, his attempt to go straight isn’t providing “something to live on,” in the words of Rudy’s father. So Billy plans one last heist… It doesn’t go well. I enjoyed this story more than last month’s “In the Gold Time.”

This is also my runner-up for favorite of the month.

“From a Trolley Post” by Margaret Dodge

A man stands waiting for a trolley in Boston on a drizzly, windy day. Bored, he is entertained by the antics of a boy from Texas and an organ grinder’s monkey. The ending of this story might be tragic, but we miss it because the man’s trolley finally arrives. Couldn’t find much on Margaret Dodge other than she had a few stories in a few magazines around 1900.

“An Andenken” by Julia Magruder

Ethel is a lovely young painter taking a working summer holiday in the Alps. She is intrigued by the murals in the village and the andenken, or roadside memorial pictures. While the artwork is crude, it has great heart. Ethel meets the painter, Anton, and endeavors to give him lessons. Unfortunately, Ethel is engaged and Anton believes that she is more than just his teacher. Julia Magruder had my favorite story of issue no. 1 with the deliciously gothic “The Secret of the White Castle.” This story doesn’t hold together as well.

“The Man from Maine” by J. D. Ellsworth

This is a humorous tale about a man on a long train train observing some of his fellow passengers, especially the man from Maine.  The man from Maine is the picture of Yankee frugality and abstinence. But he will play some card if gambling isn’t involved. And he will take a pull on a flask—for medicinal reasons only, of course. Alas, he does seem to be ailing quite often.  Is this the same J. D. Ellsworth that wrote Reading Ancient Greek? I don’t know.

“A Wedding Tombstone” by Clarice Irene Clinghan

An “angular schoolgirl of fifteen” listens to her grandmother tell the story of Melindy Barbour’s wedding tombstone. The Barbours were an aloof family that lived in Ragged Corner. Mr. Barbour committed suicide while in prison. The son, Mortimer, and his mother were unusually close. When she died, Mortimer kept to himself until lovely Melindy McAllister arrived in town. The two fall in love, but a shadow is cast on their marriage by a tombstone with Melindy’s name on it. Clarice Irene Clinghan has a couple of ghost stories to her name as well as a novel, That Girl From Bogota.

My favorite of the month.

“The Other One” by A. H. Gibson

Caleb Parton, a wealthy eccentric former wine merchant living in the hills of West Virginia, tells Mr. Hope (who works for a bank) the Poe-esaque story of his rivalry with Judson Pickford. The story is creepy, but Gibson rushes his gotcha ending. Is this the same A. H. Gibson that wrote Hydraulics and its applications? That A. H. Gibson would only be age 17 at the time of this publication, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

“Stateroom Six” by William Albert Lewis

A tale told on a river boat about a gambler and a toddler put into his charge who ends up with a bundle of money when the gambler is shot dead. Very short and anecdote-like.

“Her Eyes, Your Honor” by H. D. Umbstaetter

A young woman is on trial for the brutal murder of another woman. All the evidence is circumstantial, and the crowd firmly believes that hot-shot lawyer McWhorter will prove her innocence. But strangely, he doesn’t provide much defense at all… The second story from The Black Cat‘s illustrious editor and another zigger of an ending.

Advertisements

No new advertisers in issue no. 2.  American Hair Cloth Company of Pawtucket, R.I. had the whole back page.

Want to read for yourself?
Here’s the link to Issue No. 2, November 1895

Or find out
More about the Black Cat Project

Review ~ Surviving the Angel of Death

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

Surviving the Angel of Death

Surviving the Angel of Death by Eva Mozes Kor & Lisa Rojany Buccieri

Eva Mozes Kor was just 10 years old when she arrived in Auschwitz. While her parents and two older sisters were taken to the gas chambers, she and her twin, Miriam, were herded into the care of the man known as the Angel of Death, Dr. Josef Mengele. Subjected to sadistic medical experiments, she was forced to fight daily for her and her twin’s survival. In this incredible true story written for young adults, readers will learn of a child’s endurance and survival in the face of truly extraordinary evil.

The book also includes an epilogue on Eva’s recovery from this experience and her remarkable decision to publicly forgive the Nazis.Through her museum and her lectures, she has dedicated her life to giving testimony on the Holocaust, providing a message of hope for people who have suffered, and working for causes of human rights and peace.

Summary via Goodreads

In a way, this is a hard book to review. Eva Mozes Kor’s story is amazing. Her will to survive, to keep herself and her sister alive, at 10 years-old(!) is extraordinary. If it were fiction, I would say that it is completely unbelievable. The entire thing. Rounding up entire populations for incarceration or elimination? Twins saved by a deranged doctor intent on performing dubious medical experiments on them? This is the stuff of third-rate dystopian fiction. But it isn’t fiction. This is a true account of what humans can do to other humans. Remembering that Kor’s account, and the innumerable other holocaust accounts, are real is what’s meant when we say never forget.

According to the epilogue, Surviving the Angel of Death is a YA version of Kor’s previous memoir, Echoes from Auschwitz. To me, it didn’t feel “YA” while I was reading it. The writing and organization of the book and clear and good, though maybe not stylistically outstanding. Kor felt that getting her story into younger hands was important. After her marriage and immigration to the US, she relates that it was difficult to tell her story because most people didn’t really have a frame of reference for the holocaust. It wasn’t until the 1978 TV miniseries The Holocaust that she had a basis from which to speak. To me, it seems strange that people might not know, but even I, who read The Diary of Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel’s Night in school, don’t know all the stories.

I read Surviving the Angel of Death right after finishing a book called The Coddling of the American Mind. The authors of that book present three fallacies that they believe people (Americans especially) are falling victim to. One of these fallacies is “the world is a battle between good people and evil people.” It would be easy to read Eva Mozes Kor’s memoir and say, “That isn’t a fallacy. Look at the evil she overcame!” But the antidote to the good/evil fallacy is to remember that we have everything in common as humans.

In 1993 I traveled to Germany and met with a Nazi doctor from Auschwitz, Dr. Münch. Surprisingly, he was very kind to me. Even more surprising, I found I liked him.

Eva Mozes Kor, Surviving the Angel of Death, pg 131

That Eza Mozes Kor was able to forgive what had been done to her, that she found peace in that forgiveness, is maybe what shouldn’t be the most extraordinary thing of all.

Deal Me In, Week 47 ~ “John Charrington’s Wedding”

DealMeIn

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

“John Charrington’s Wedding” by Edith Nesbit

Card picked: Q
Found at: Grim Tales @ ProjectGutenberg

May was sitting on a low flat gravestone, her face turned towards the full splendour of the western sun. Its expression ended, at once and for ever, any question of love for him; it was transfigured to a beauty I should not have believed possible, even to that beautiful little face.

Edith Nesbit’s Grim Tales collection has been on my TBR-eventually list for quite some time. Without even realizing it, I’ve now read the first two stories in order from Grim Tales! I read “The Ebony Frame” back during Gothic September and now I’ve read “John Charrington’s Wedding” for Deal Me In. Both were suggested by different sources.

Nesbit’s style is fairly straight-forward and both of these tales are on the domestic relationship side of horror. In “The Ebony Frame,” the protagonist becomes enamored with a woman in a painting. In “John Charrington’s Wedding,” John is so devoted to May that he promises to return from the dead if she wants him to. We all know how that’s going to turn out, don’t we?  I’m now wondering how the next grim talein the collection will play out: “Uncle Abraham’s Romance.”

Review ~ Memoirs of an Elusive Moth

Cover via Goodreads

Memoirs of an Elusive Moth: Disappearing Nightly with Harry Blackstone and his Show of 1001 Wonders by Adele Friel Rhindress

Harry Blackstone presented a full-evening production called the Show of 1001 Wonders. It lived up to that billing, as a stage-filling spectacle combining spectacular illusions, magnificent costumes, gorgeous girls, a corps of assistants, humor, dancing, and intimate conjuring, into a magnificent stage production. Blackstone toured North America ceaselessly and by 1947, after over four decades entertaining the public, was unquestionably one of America s greatest and best-known magicians. It was in that year, at the age of 17, that Adele Friel was swept into Blackstone’s world of magic. She joined the ranks of his show unexpectedly, making the transition from solo song-and-dance act to one of Mr. B’s gorgeous girls in the blink of an eye. It was a decision that would change her life. For the next three seasons, she trouped with Blackstone, playing an integral role in his show, both onstage and backstage. Memoirs of an Elusive Moth gives readers a rare and intimate first-person account of one of America’s greatest touring magic shows. Laid bare in its pages are many of the secrets behind Blackstone s magic, as well as details of life in the theater, behind the scenes, on the road, and more all told here for the first time. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Books about and by female magicians and magician’s assistants are fairly rare (at least in my experience). And, honestly, I’m almost more interested in assisants’ stories. In big illusions, it’s really the assistant who does a lot of the work. So, I was pretty happy to pick up this book fairly inexpensively earlier in the year.

What Worked
Memoirs of an Elusive Moth is an eloquent, though brief, accounting of Adele Friel Rhindress’s time working with Harry Blackstone’s Show of 1001 Wonders. I had originally slated this book for later in the month, but for NaNoWriMo, I’m writing a character who ends up as a magician’s assistant, so I decided to bump it up. Rhindress’s story and the one I’m writing are not the same, but hers definitely gives mine some context. One of the things that I was surprised about was how quickly Rhindress was included in the show. She was pretty much hired and in the show as soon as costume fittings were done. I would have thought that a little more training would be required to be a “box jumper” in a huge 1947 magic stage show.

Rhindress doesn’t rub shoulders with many other magic celebrities, as seems to happen in magician memoirs, but instead she gives a better view of what happens behind the scenes. The secrets behind a few illusions are mentioned; something to be aware of if you’re sensitive about those sorts of things. Rhindress also learned a little sleight of while traveling with the troupe.

One of weaknesses of Donald Brandon’s …Memoirs and Confessions of a Stage Magician was a lack of dates and chronology. Memoirs of an Elusive Moth avoids this problem. Rhindress was helped by a diary kept by her colleague Nick Ruggiero.

What Didn’t Work
Really, the only thing I wanted was more. The writing is better than competent. The books is a well-made hardback with plenty of photos. Alas, it’s only 116 pages!

Overall
I really enjoyed learning more about magic behind the scenes in the late 1940s-early 1950s. I’ll have more about women in magic in Monday’s #NonFicNov “Be the Expert/Become the Expert” post.

Publishing info, my copy: hardback, Squash Publishing, 2011
Acquired: Amazon, May 27, 2018
Genre: memoir

Deal Me In, Week 44 ~ “Abraham’s Boys”

DealMeIn

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

“Abraham’s Boys” by Joe Hill

Card picked: 9
Found at: Fifty-Two Stories

“Do you believe in vampires, Max?”

Rudy was on his knees in front of an ottoman across the room. He had hunched over to collect a few papers which had settled there, then stayed to look at the battered doctor’s bag tucked underneath it. Rudy tugged at the rosary knotted around the handles.

When it came time to read Dracula during my senior year of high school, it was a reread for me. So, while still following along with the class, I decided to read Dracula and pay attention to how insane Dr. Van Helsing is. If there weren’t vampires, zealous Abraham Van Helsing could almost be a villain.

In “Abraham’s Boys,” Joe Hill plays a what if game. What if Mina marries Van Helsing after Johnathan dies? (No details on how *that* happened.) What if they have two sons? What if they move to America before Mina’s also unfortunate end? What if… maybe… there are no vampires even though the old man teaches his sons that there are?

Oh, that this story would have been picked last week, but hey, who says the Halloween spirit can’t continue on? The ending is pretty hair-raising and offers no answers. I haven’t read much Joe Hill; this is definitely my favorite of his works thus far.

Review ~ Nothing to Devour

This book was provided to me by Macmillan-Tor/Forge via NetGalley for review consideration.

Nothing to Devour cover

Nothing to Devour by Glen Hirshberg

Librarian Emilia is alone in a library that is soon to close its doors forever. Alone save for one last patron, his head completely swathed in bandages, his hands gloved, not one inch of skin exposed. Emilia feels sorry for him–like her, he is always alone.

Today, he sees, really sees, Emilia.
What he does to her then is unspeakable.

Thousands of miles away, another victim rises—a dead woman who still lives. Sophie is determined to protect the people she loves best in the world—but she is a monster.

To Jess, it doesn’t matter that Sophie was once as close to her as her own daughter. It doesn’t matter that Sophie’s baby died so that Jess’s grandson could live. It only matters that Sophie is a vampire.

Vampires can’t be trusted.
Even if they love you.

Aunt Sally loved all the monsters she’d created in the hundreds of years since she died and rose again. She loved her home in the bayou. When her existence was exposed to the human world, she didn’t hesitate to destroy her home, and her offspring, to save herself. Herself, and one special girl, Aunt Sally’s last chance to be a perfect mother.

These people are drawn together from across the United States, bound by love and hatred, by the desire for reunification and for revenge.

In their own ways, they are all monsters.
Some deserve to live.
Some do not. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Glen Hirshberg is currently my favorite horror author.

What Worked
One of the strong points of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire was its themes of family set among a group of monsters. That novel (and its sequels) only barely scratches the surface in comparison to Glen Hirshberg’s Motherless Children trilogy, which concludes with Nothing to Devour. As a Gen X writer, it’s not surprising that Hirshberg begins with a base of found family on which to build his monsters.

In the aftermath of Good Girls (book 2), Jess flees with  her grandson and the remaining survivors, including orphan Rebecca, to a remote island in the Pacific northwest. What she establishes isn’t quite family, but it’s all she, and they, have. Their relationships are a contrast to Emily’s strong family ties, though she is trying to grow-up and away from her parents. That’s before her “Invisible Man” intervenes.

Don’t misunderstand, this trilogy isn’t all family drama. Not in the least. Hirshberg doesn’t shy away from shock and gore. He just makes sure you care about the characters first.

What Didn’t Work
I really wish I would have reread Motherless Child and Good Girls leading up to Nothing to Devour. This *is* the final book in a trilogy. It doesn’t stand alone and its cast is large enough that I didn’t entirely remember who was who at the beginning of the book.

I also still maintain that Hirshberg does his best, most unsettling, work in shorter forms. While these novels are solidly horror, they lack the gnawing chills of stories like “Struwwelpeter” or “Mr. Dark’s Carnival” (from his collection The Two Sams).

Overall
I had pretty much put a stake into vampires as a good literary monster before Motherless Child. The entire Motherless Children trilogy is a great resurrection of the trope.

Publishing info, my copy: Epub, Tor, release date: Nov. 6, 2018
Acquired: NetGalley, 7/24/18
Genre: horror