Spring into Horror Halfway-ish Point

For someone who had no horror on her TBR at the beginning of the month, I’m doing pretty well.

Castle of the Carpathians cover The Castle of the Carpathians by Jules Verne

I’ll be honest, I haven’t really read much/any Verne. I know the basics of many of his more famous Extraordinary Voyage novels (20,000 Leagues Under the SeaThe Mysterious Island), but I haven’t actually read them yet. I ended up quickly reading The Castle of the Carpathians due to a research tangent.

The story is…very slow. 90% of it does not occur in the titular castle. I feel like Verne decided to write a Gothic novel with the intent of explaining all the possible supernatural happening with technology—very pre-Scooby Doo of him. The problem is, Verne’s not a Gothic writer. This book might have influenced the early portion of Dracula. If it did, Bram Stoker massively improved upon it.

The Greatcoat cover The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore

I knew going into this book that it was going to be a somewhat romantic slow-burn ghost story. And I like that sort of thing, but I wish there had been a little more menace to the haunting, maybe a little more of a zing to the ending. On the other hand, it wasn’t an entirely predicable ghost story, which was nice.

The Fifty Year Sword cover The Fifty Year Sword by Mark Z. Danielewski

I’ve sort of been in the mood to reread Danielewski’s House of Leaves, a book I didn’t quite like when I read it the first time, but has weirdly stuck with me. But I couldn’t easily find my copy. When I was at the library I considered  checking out their copy, but then I saw The Fifty Year Sword on the shelf.

It’s an odd size for a hard back. It’s cover it riddled with holes as though made by a big sewing needle (or the miniature sword letter opener I own).  The text in the book is upside down and backwards and written in a free-verse style with many quotation marks (demoting different speakers, it’s explained) and embroidery looking illustrations (our protagonist is a seamstress). The names of most of the characters are strange. While there are shadows of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Drosselmeier in the Story Teller and Shirley Jackson’s “The Witch” in the conceit, I sometimes wish Danielewski would simply tell a story without all the shenanigans. But, I suppose, what else was I expecting…

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Deal Me In, Week 15 ~ “A Human Stain”

DealMeIn

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

“A Human Stain” by Kelly Robson

Card picked: 6
Found at: Tor

The Story
Down on her luck, Helen is offered the opportunity to accompany Bärchen, a man she barely knows beyond his propensity for revelry, to his ancestral home to teach his orphaned nephew English for the summer. It shouldn’t be too bad of a job even though Bärchen lives in a remote castle called Meresee, the servants barely do their jobs, and Peter’s beautiful French nursemaid won’t open her mouth except to say oui. After only spending a day at home, Bärchen hastily returns to Munich, leaving Helen to puzzle through the lies and secrets of Meresee.

If you smashed The Turn of the Screw into a H. P. Lovecraft tale, but gave it a female protagonist with agency and wit, you’d have something like “A Human Stain.” It’s a chilling tale, well-told.

The Author
I’m fairly unfamiliar with Kelly Robson, but she’s had a bunch of publications in the last few years. In fact, her first novel just came out!

Review ~ All the Crooked Saints

All the Crooked Saints Cover via Goodreads

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

Here is a thing everyone wants: a miracle.
Here is a thing everyone fears: what it takes to get one.

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I won this from Midnight Book Girl(s) during Bloggers Dressed in Blood. YA isn’t usually my thing, but I was intrigued by sort of magical realism vibe going on in the blurb.

What Worked
I love a good setting and the place and time of Bicho Raro, Colorado, in the desert in 1962 are intrinsic to the story. Pirate radio stations are a thing of the past and the desert is as much of a character as any person. Both transported me to an arid, harsh, but beautiful land full of darkness and stars, owls and soundwaves.

There is a heightened type of narration in All the Crooked Saints and it took me about two-thirds of book to figure out what it reminded me of: Wes Anderson. In a Wes Anderson film, each character has a place and a default way of acting, sometimes in a slightly absurd manner. Crooked Saints has that with the myth-making of Peter S. Beagle and a dollop of telenovela drama. To be fair, this is something that could have gone poorly for me if I hadn’t been in the right mood.

It’s a lovely bit of fairy tale with characters working their way through the mysteries of tradition and superstition in a world where magic does exist.

What Didn’t Work
There are a lot of characters. Not all of them get a lot of page time—which is fine—but many of them don’t get too much of a different voice either. The world is peopled, but much of the Soria family sounded and felt the same to me.

Overall
I really enjoyed All the Crooked Saints. It was a well-needed injection of gentle fantasy into a fairly dull bunch of March books.

Publishing info, my copy: hardback, Scholastic Press, 2017
Acquired: 11/15/17
Genre: fantasy, YA

Deal Me In, Week 13 ~ “The Dust Enclosed Here”

DealMeIn

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

“The Dust Enclosed Here” by Kage Baker

Card picked: 7
Found at: Infinity Plus

The Story
Will Shakespeare is a holographic educational entertainment exhibit at Southwark Museum’s Globe Restored. He is programmed to recite certain sonnets and soliloquies that are still allowed by the Tri-World Council for Integrity, to marvel at the technology of the modern world, and to encourage patrons to visit the Gifte Shoppe on their way out. But unlike a simple program trained with the works of the Bard and some scholar-agreed-upon personality traits, Will yearns to create new material and remembers a time when he had the freedom to do so. Will’s programming, it would seem, is different and maybe even illegal. And it might just take the hacking efforts of a strange and equally improbable boy, Alec, to let Shakespeare write again.

I’ve enjoyed just about everything I’ve read by Kage Baker, which makes me wonder why I haven’t read more of her work. This story was included in the collection Black Projects, White Knights: The Company Dossiers, so I assume that it’s part of Baker’s Company series. Now, I’ve only read a different collection of Company stories, In the Company of Thieves, back in 2013. I’ve found that you really don’t have to be familiar with the world to enjoy any of the related stories, though it probably helps. I kind of imagine that Shakespeare’s memories being part of the holo-program and Alec “setting him free” is a sideways plot to undermine whatever totalitarian government had put something like the Council for Integrity in place.

Deal Me In, Week 11 ~ “Retro Demonology”

DealMeIn

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

“Retro Demonology” by Jana Oliver

Card picked: A – Finally a club!
Found at: Amazon freebie

The Story
This is an introductory short story for Jana Oliver’s Demon Trappers series.

Riley is the seventeen year-old daughter of a prominent demon trapper, out on her first solo capture. The demon is a minor one, a biblio demon. Biblio demons like tearing up books and, uh, spraying green urine all over the place. It’s currently annoying a “retro” couple. Retros in this world are people who have decided to live as though they are still in another era—in this case the 1970s. The demon was attracted by a copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost, but is also menacing a collection of Doors albums. This being Riley’s first solo capture, she’s nervous, but things go rather well. That is until the demon gets loose during the car ride home. Actually, things don’t even work out too poorly then: Riley avoids a car accident, gets out of her traffic ticket, and even manages to easily recapture the demon.

While the story gives a taste of the Demon Trapper world, it doesn’t do a lot plot-wise. As concerned as Riley was about the assignment, the stakes were pretty low. Actually, I wish the details would have meshed together a little better. Seeing a biblio demon doing something really nasty at a bookshop, maybe, instead of spit-balling a page of Milton would have been more harrowing.

Deal Me In, Week 9 ~ “Thirteen Steps in the Underworld”

DealMeIn

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

“Thirteen Steps in the Underworld” by Su-Yee Lin

Card picked: Ace
Found at: Tor.com

The Story
*peers suspiciously at her list of stories and her cards*
Another story about a married couple. Maybe I always have this many stories about married people in my Deal Me In selections, but right now I’m noticing every one I come across. After all, marriage is a fairly common thing…

This is, not surprisingly considering the title, a tale of a man entering the underworld to find his wife. Unfortunately, our protagonist is not Orpheus. He’s a high school chemistry teacher from New York. He goes about entering and serching the underworld in as rational a manner as possible. He makes lists. He tries to make his way logically even as he starts to forgot things like his own name. In the process, we learn about his relationship with his wife and her death. It’s a lovely, bittersweet story.

The Author
Su-Lee Lin is a talented short fiction writer, whom I was utterly unfamiliar with. Luckily, I have lots of opportunities to become more familiar with her works!

Tangentially
The first section of the First Nights music classes at edX covered Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, which is a retelling of Orpheus and Euridice. Below, from the class, is Act II, given an English language translation. We start with news of Euridice’s death:

Deal Me In, Week 8 ~ “Three Questions”

DealMeIn

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

“Three Questions” by Amy Aderman

Card picked: J ~ Fantasy genre suit
Found at: Daily Science Fiction

The Story

The bean nighe is never wrong. She sits by a stream, washing the clothes of those soon to die. The water runs red with blood but the stains never fade. If you are bold, she will answer three questions but she will ask three in return; only true words must fall from your lips.

I’m pretty sure I was attracted to this story due to the title: who doesn’t love a fantasy about three questions (or three wishes)? This is a flash story and all the context and background comes from the questions asked and answers given by the narrator and the bean nighe. It’s a nice piece of work.

In “Three Questions,” the narrator asks about her impending wedding; the bean nighe asks about her first husband. Oddly, half of my Deal Me In stories this year have had to do with marriages or married couples.*  Have there been lessons in fiction for my 18th year of marriage? I haven’t decided yet.

* (I didn’t post about Mark Twain’s “Eve’s Diary” a couple weeks back because, man, Twain’s satire requires some mental overhead.)

The Author
Amy Aderman is a librarian and a folklore enthusiast. Her novel The Way to Winter is a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.”