#15in31 ~ Three Short Reviews

I will be honest: I might be attempting #15in31—reading 15 books in the 31 days of October—but I’m going to be choosing some short works. My reviews? Maybe as short.


A multiple exposure picture (by photographer Dickenson Alley) of Tesla sitting in his laboratory in 1899.

My Inventions by Nikola Tesla ~ Nikola Tesla is one of the most famous and most innovative inventors of the 19th and 20th centuries. A lot has been written about him (one of my favorite books of 2014 was Bernard W. Carlson’s biography), but I hadn’t realized that Tesla himself had written about his life. My Inventions is a collection of articles that were originally published in Electrical Experimenter magazine in 1919 when Tesla was 63 years old.

Tesla is actually pretty readable. Well, at least I thought so, but I *am* used to the company of engineers. These articles were also much more about the inventing than the inventions. Tesla does think very highly of himself, obviously with good reason most of the time, but somewhat incongruously at other times. For example, knowing how wildly over-budget some of his later projects were, I’m skeptical of his claim that he was able to perfectly design an apparatus in his head, without the need for testing.

My Inventions by Nikola Tesla is available online for free!

Left: An older Joseffy with Balsamo, the Talking Skull.
Right: An illustration from the book – Joseffy performing a not entirely accurate Rising Card trick.

The Marvelous Creations of Joseffy by David P. Abbott ~ I got in the mood to read Tesla because I was in the mood to read about Joseffy. Joseph Freud, known by the stage name Joseffy, was a magician and mechanician in the early 20th century. He too was an inventor, not on the level of Tesla, but with a number of patent to his name outside of being a wonder-worker on stage. Published in 1908, The Marvelous Creations of Joseffy is a short treatise on the magician’s signature tricks written by David P. Abbott. It’s an outlier in the world of magic books. It describes the tricks without exposing them. (Most magic books of the era, written by magicians, did explain the methods behind tricks. Fellow magicians have to learn their craft somehow!)  Additionally, the book is illustrated with photographs, but they are slight exaggerations of the actual tricks and sometimes don’t really match Abbott’s descriptions. It’ss a level of misdirection which can probably only be appreciated by magicians.

This is a reread for me. Abbott is the subject of my fiction and Joseffy is probably going to make an appearance one of these days. Joseffy was a bit of a mad scientist and I’m sad that he’s relatively unknown outside of magic history circles. As I noted on Twitter, after reading about Tesla and Joseffy all weekend going back to a book about Houdini seemed rather bland. The Marvelous Creations of Joseffy is also in the public domain, but the version I read is part of House of Mystery, the complete works of David P. Abbott, collected and commented on by Teller and Todd Karr.

Cover via Goodreads

When I’m Dead All This Will Be Yours! by Teller ~ Speaking of Teller, half of the magic duo Penn & Teller…

If it weren’t for Eric, I wouldn’t own this book. Never a browser, Eric took a seat in the humor section at A Novel Idea bookstore in Lincoln, NE to wait while I shopped. I’ve been mostly scouring bookstore for books on magic and Nebraska history. “Nothing,” I stated, ready to leave. “There’s a book by Teller,” he said, pointing. “Where?!” I said, blind.

Of course this book was in the humor section. It isn’t about magic at all. At least not *that* kind of magic. Instead, it’s a quiet and funny little memoir about Teller and his parents. At the age of 50-ish, Teller learns that his father, an artist, tried his hand at cartooning in his younger days. This discovery leads him through his parent’s boxes of art and letters from the 1920s, 30s and 40s before he was born. It’s a charming little book that I was happy to snag. And I didn’t realize it when I bought it, but my copy is signed!

Deal Me In, Week 40 ~ “Weaving the Dark”


Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Weaving the Dark” by Laurie King

Card picked: Queen of Clubs, appropriate for one of this anthology’s few female writers.

From: Trilling Tales, edited by Michael Chabon

Thoughts: In the midst of a lot of very popular YA fiction, I occasionally lament the lack of middle-age stories. I want tales of characters with pasts full of the mistakes made when they were young and, instead of the absent parent, the very present in-laws or the aging parents. Sadly, I suppose this might make for “depressing” fiction… Or not.

Suze has been an adventurer all her life, dealing with all life’s difficulties by leaving the situation for one that’s more dangerous, more emotionally charged. When recently out of an abusive relationship, Suze went backpacking around the world. Faced by the death of her mother, Suze took up skydiving. Unfortunately, now 48 and struggling with glaucoma and her lover’s stroke, Suze has been hobbled. She has to rely on the Christian charity of young Courtney to visit Janna in the hospital and to do most of the shopping and cleaning.

But Suze isn’t entirely useless. She weaves, and while all her rugs and hangings are now monochromatic, they are intricate in their textures. And Suze also decides to solve the mystery of the digging she hears in the woods outside her house at night. That’s were this story turns, not to the “inspirational,” but to the “everything is going to be okay.” Suze, despite everything, can still get things done.

King excels at using description that avoid sight. She also conveys the situations that Suze is confused by as well as the one’s she’s comfortable in. I did feel like Suze’s background had been bolstered to make her current actions more reasonable. I’m not sure if that makes sense from a reader point of view… Writers often go back to add details, but the trick is to make it seem like those details were there all along. Some of Suze’s adventures felt more like credentials.

About the Author: I knew the name was familiar, but I couldn’t place it and I knew I hadn’t read anything by Laurie King previously. Ms. King is the author of the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series of mysteries which have been on my will-eventually-read-some-day list.

Is This Your Card?

It’s possible I’ve posted this trick, this video in fact, before. Or maybe I’ve watched it so many times that I don’t remember what I’ve posted at all. Whatever the case, it’s a good trick and applicable to queens of any suit.  And if a magician is going to do patter, let it be patter like this.

Review ~ Psycho

Psycho by Robert Bloch

Cover via Goodreads

Norman Bates loves his Mother. She has been dead for the past twenty years, or so people think. Norman knows better though. He has lived with Mother ever since leaving the hospital in the old house up on the hill above the Bates motel. One night Norman spies on a beautiful woman that checks into the hotel as she undresses. Norman can’t help but spy on her. Mother is there though. She is there to protect Norman from his filthy thoughts. She is there to protect him with her butcher knife. (via Goodreads)

Norman is 40-something years old. He’s overweight, has bad eyesight, and an interest in the works of Aleister Crowley and P. D. Ouspensky. He’s a bachelor who lives with his mother and owns the Bates Motel. Mary Crane, on the run after stealing $40,000 from her employer, finds Norman to be odd. He fixes sandwiches for her, but becomes loudly angry when she suggests that maybe his mother would be better off in a hospital. To calm down after his meal with Mary, Norman has a few drinks. Unfortunately, Mother has other plans.


Anthony Perkins as a clean-cut, dishy 28 year-old Norman Bates.

If you know the movie, you know there are a few differences between the above and the more popular version of the story. The skeleton of the story is the same, but I have to say, the screenplay is a much tighter, more effective way of telling the story.

This is a reread for me and this time I was looking at whether Robert Bloch’s Psycho had the marks of Gothic fiction. It has some of the elements of Gothic: the house (which is less prominent in the book), the family secrets, the insane relative kept away from the public, but it really only sidles up to Gothic. It instead takes a bit of a detour into  the post-modern pursuit of psychology. Still, maybe that’s what Gothic is in the 20th century…

Publishing info, my copy: Tor, mass market paperback, 1989
Acquired: Probably at a Waldenbooks in the 90s.
Genre: horror

gothic september


Deal Me In Lunar Extra ~ “The Little Maid at the Door”


Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Little Maid at the Door” by Mary Wilkins Freeman

Card picked: A Ten

From: Found Online via Paula Cappa’s post


Joseph Bayley and his wife Ann ride from Salem to vote in the election in Boston. Though the scenery around them is beautiful, they are only caught up in their own fear. The Proctors have been arrested for witchcraft and the couple must ride by the Proctor’s house. Every single thing in the woods incites panic. Was that a goat in the bushes or the Black Beast of Satan? And those yellow birds? Maybe they were just yellow birds or maybe they were Goody Proctor’s familiars gone to report to Satan himself about two innocents riding through the woods! This section of the story is told mainly in dialog and that really amps up the feeling of paranoia.


As they pass the Proctor’s house, Joseph thinks he sees Goodman Proctor and Goody Proctor, who are currently in jail. Ann only sees a little maid at the door of the house, who looks like their dead daughter Susanna. They ride past, unmolested, but Ann contrives a way to go back to the cottage. Is the little girl the ghost of their daughter? Or maybe an image contrived by Satan to woo Ann from her husband? Surely, it couldn’t be young Abigail Proctor left to fend for herself after her mother, father, and sister were taken away…

About the Author: An educated woman, Mary Wilkins Freeman produced dozens of short stories in the in the late 1800s and early 1900s, many of which combine the domestic and the supernatural.


Deal Me In, Week 39 ~ “Dream Street”‘


Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Dream Street” by Mike Lupica

Card picked: Jack of Diamonds

From: Murder on the Ropes edited by Otto Penzler

Thoughts: Back in ’59, Vinny Tavernese was the winner in one of the most famous boxing matches of all time when Augusta “Dream Street” Stone forfeited the match between the fourteenth and fifteenth rounds. Despite quitting, things play out well for Dream Street. Being the Beauty to Vinny’s Beast, he goes on to have a small film career before disappearing from the public eye. Life doesn’t treat Vinny as well. Injuries from boxing are catching up to him and he’s worried about how many things that he forgets. But one question nags at him: Why, so close to the end of the match, did Dream Street forfeit? Had he been paid to take a dive? Had there been some injury that no one knew about?

“Dream Street” is a well-written story, strong on characterization though low on plot. If I were more of a sports person, I might have recognized the name Mike Lupica; he’s a rather prominent sport journalist. I wonder if the match between Mike Tyson and Andrew Golota was inspiration for this story. Golota informed his corner that he would not continue between the second and third rounds, much to the chagrin of Tyson and the crowd. (And all my knowledge of this is based on a Google search.)

About the Author: Mike Lupica, in addition to a sports commentator for the New York Daily News and ESPN, has also written a couple of biographies and quite a few sports novels for youngsters.

Gothic September ~ “The Fall of the House of Usher”

gothic septemberGothic September is hosted by Michelle at Castle Macabre. Visit for all the details!

“The Fall of the House of Usher” is firmly Gothic. It starts with the House, crumbling into the tarn and clearly doomed by the zig-zagging fault that extends from roof to foundation. Roderick Usher even believes that the house has sentience. The “House” of Usher also refers to the family line, which Gothic novels are often very preoccupied with. Secret lineages are the order of the day, but in the case of the Ushers, it looks like their line will end with Roderick and his twin sister, Madeline.

The narrator is an old friend of Usher’s, called upon to journey to the family’s manse to provide cheer to the ailing Roderick. In comparison to the narrators of “Ligeia” and “The Cask of Amontillado,” this one is quite sane and offers commentary about his own mental state as well as Usher’s.

Usually, it’s the women who get the detailed description, but this time it’s Roderick Usher who gets the full Poe treatment:

…an eye large, liquid, and luminous beyond comparison; lips somewhat thin and very pallid, but of a surpassingly beautiful curve; a nose of a delicate Hebrew model, but with a breadth of nostril unusual in similar formations; a finely moulded chin, speaking, in its want of prominence, of a want of moral energy…

In fact, Madeline is strangely absent. She too is ill, given to fits of catalepsy, but our narrator doesn’t seem too concerned about providing her with cheer. He thinks he sees her pass through Roderick’s room, but he doesn’t follow her. She does die and Roderick decides to inter her in a copper-lined room of the house to avoid possibility of premature burial (although being left in a copper-lined donjon doesn’t seem to be much better). Days pass and both Roderick and our narrator start feeling a little jumpy. One night, during a strange electrical storm, we see Madeline again and the House of Usher finally falls…

ripnineperilshortThis story also counts for RIP X!

#RIPX ~ Peril in SPAAACE!


In Space No One Can Hear You Scream

That, of course, is the tagline of the movie that kicked off one of the scariest, most suspense-driven science fiction franchises of all time: Alien. In horror, isolation and the unknown are prevalent themes; ones that can be explored well in science fiction.

To bring this around to my RIPX celebration, here are a few perilous sci-fi offerings that I’ve enjoyed lately.

Aliens3: The Novelization by Alan Dean Foster

I don’t listen to too many audio books, but I wanted add some RIPX spice into my life while I did silly things like dishes and laundry. This is the novelization of the oft-maligned third Alien movie. Personally, I think the movie is pretty okay, directed by one of my favorites, David Fincher (Se7en, Gone Girl). The story adapted by Alan Dean Foster isn’t half-bad either. The slam-dunk factor here is the narrator, Lance Henriksen. Henriksen is known for his many genre rolls as a character actor, including Bishop in Aliens and Aliens3.

Ghost Ships

The sea-faring age had ghost ships, vessels that had met strange and mysterious ends and continued to sail without a crew and brought doom in their wake. Space-faring science fiction has often taken that concept and blended it with the horror theme of meddling with forces beyond human understanding.

Event Horizon (1997)

A rescue ship is sent to investigate the Event Horizon, a space vessel that had disappeared seven years prior. Event Horizon, unbeknownst to the general public, had been fitted with an experimental gravity drive that creates an artificial black hole in order to interdimensionally travel long distances in space. The rescue party finds an empty ship. The last video log graphically depicts the insanity of the previous crew. Is the Event Horizon haunted? Or has is breached dimensions better left unknown?

This is a pretty tense film. Featuring Sam Niell (Jurassic Park), Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix), the acting is solid and so is the direction by Paul W. Anderson. It isn’t for the faint of heart though. Some of the most disturbing footage is only flashed for a few seconds, which leaves plenty of room for your mind to fill in the gaps.

The Black Hole (1979)

I’m going to admit it right now, this film might only be scary to me, and five year old me at that. The Black Hole was released in 1979 by Walt Disney Productions. I was a big Star Wars fan at the time (a fan of any science fiction, really) and my grandpa thought to to see it would be a perfect outing. (Grandpa and I went to see pretty much every Disney release/rerelease.) While it included a couple of cute, anthropomorphized robots, it was also Disney’s first PG release. I ended up having a few nightmares about the scary, anthropomorphized robot that ends up in “hell” with its creator on the other side of the black hole… (This didn’t stop me from owning a read-and-play record/book combination that I’m sure drove my parents up the wall as much as I played it.) On rewatch, the ending is still a little discomfiting.

Neil deGrasse Tyson has called The Black Hole the least scientifically accurate movie ever, but I wonder if he’s taking into account that it was made in 1979. It does have the distinction of having the longest computer generated sequence ever (up until that time) included in its opening titles.