Deal Me In, Week 16 ~ “Long Odds”

20140105-160356

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Long Odds” by Stuart M. Kaminsky

Card picked: Ten of Diamonds

From: Murder on the Ropes, edited by Otto Penzler

Thoughts: When boxer Archie Moore receives a threat–go down in the third or else–he hires private detective Toby Peters to find the extortionist.

I think this is one of the first straight-up mysteries in this anthology. It’s pretty simply told in a mildly hard-boiled style. Toby Peters is a series character for Stuart Kaminsky, and you get the feeling that Peters and his dentist office roommate/side kick are a comfy pair of slippers for the author. I didn’t recognize the name while reading, but I have a Kaminsky/Toby Peters title on my magic-related fiction wishlist. My only beef with “Long Odds,” and maybe this is a problem of short fiction mysteries, is that the end was fairly abrupt in a “and no questions were asked” kind of way.

Archie Moore was a real person. He had one of the longest professional careers in boxing (1935-1963) and holds the record for number of career KO wins (131!). He is the only fighter to have had bouts against both Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali. This story happens early his career, but using Moore as a character gives the tale more weight. Moore isn’t the type of guy to take a dive and he has a few things in his past that make him leery of police. Kaminsky made a good choice.

Review ~ Who is Magic Babe Ning?

Who is Magic Babe Ning? by Ning Cai

Cover via Goodreads

Asia’s top female celebrity magician ‘Magic Babe’ Ning talks about her 10 years in the tough world of magic showbiz; an age-old industry traditionally dominated by men.

Experience the real life adventures of this multi award-winning, world magic record-breaking, jet-setting illusionist as she unmasks the Magic Babe. Ning reveals how the shy teenage girl transformed herself into magic’s wild child and became a 2-time FHM cover girl, embraced by international media and respected by professional peers worldwide.

Ning shares for the first time her journey of quirks and struggles, betrayals and disappointments, fears and personal demons. She speaks candidly of her cancer scare at 21, which physically scarred her face but also changed the entire course of her life. (via Goodreads)

The best memoirs are by people who have lived out-of-the-ordinary lives. Ning Cai would qualify. In her 20s, she became the most famous female magician in Singapore. She set records, started businesses, and even co-wrote a travel book. She and partner J C Sum specialized in mega-illusions and endurance tests. And at the undisclosed age of probably early 30s-ish, she retired from the world of magic.

Who is Magic Babe Ning? is very much Ning’s own exploration of who she is. In Robert-Houdin style, “Magic Babe” is a construct she created to play the part of Magic Babe Ning. “Magic Babe” is a sexy, risk-taker while Ning is the quiet nerd with a distinctly spiritual side. I would say that her want to emphasize how normal she is probably keeps this book from being a truly great memoir, though my expectations for the book might have been a little off. This isn’t a grand tale of magic or even the modern magic industry. Some of that’s there, but it take a backseat to the explorations of a young woman who has been given some extraordinary opportunities.

And that’s the best thing about Who Is Magic Babe Ning?. It takes a certain amount of courage to re-evaluate what’s happening in life and take a different course if needed. That’s a great lesson for anyone.

Publishing info, my copy: Marshall Cavendish, 2015, trade paperback
Acquired: Amazon
Genre: Memoir

Deal Me In, Week 15 ~ “Electrification”

20140105-160356

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Electrification” by Mikhail Zoshchenk

Card picked: King of Hearts

From: Online

Thoughts: One of the shortest pieces I’ve read for Deal Me In this year.

During the 1920s, there was a massive plan to “electrify” the newly formed Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic. Lenin believed that modernity could be brought to the whole of Russia through electricity for everyone. Zoshchenk’s little parable is about a couple whose building is recently hooked up. In the bright light, they see just how depressing their surroundings are:

In our room, for instance, we had a sofa. I’d always though it wasn’t a bad sofa – even quite a good sofa! In the evenings I used to sit on it. But now with this electricity – heavens above! Some sofa! Bits sticking up, bits hanging down, bits falling out. How can I sit on such a sofa? My soul protests.

The husband’s solution is to try and spruce the place up. He spends quite a bit of money on whitewash. His wife, she has a different solution.

This is a satire aimed at communism: “light” would bring dissatisfaction to the Russian people when they finally “see” their surroundings. Generally, I’m not a fan such, which often makes Russian literature a challenge for me, but Zoshchenk is quick and funny. This is might be the most charming satire of communism I’ve ever read.

Review ~ Rebecca

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Cover via Goodreads

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
So the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter remembered the chilling events that led her down the turning drive past the beeched, white and naked, to the isolated gray stone manse on the windswept Cornish coast. With a husband she barely knew, the young bride arrived at this immense estate, only to be inexorably drawn into the life of the first Mrs. de Winter, the beautiful Rebecca, dead but never forgotten… her suite of rooms never touched, her clothes ready to be worn, her servant – the sinister Mrs. Danvers – still loyal. And as an eerie presentiment of the evil tightened around her heart, the second Mrs. de Winter began her search for the real fate of Rebecca… for the secrets of Manderley. (via Goodreads)

When I started reading Rebecca, Eric looked at the cover (the same edition as above) and stated, “That doesn’t look like the sort of book you read.” Despite its sort of romancy cover, I assured him that it was a classic of gothic fiction. Anytime I mentioned the book on Twitter or Reddit, it was greeted with positive responses; more replies than I’ve ever gotten about anything else. I went into Rebecca with no preconceived notions aside from it being one of those classics that I hadn’t gotten to. It came up as a part of the (now defunct) Gothic Challenge and Read-a-longs* and I jumped at the excuse to bump it up my to-be-read list.

Yet, this novel is not at all what I expected.

The narrator is very much what I’d consider a YA character. She is, of course, young. She’s still attempting to figure out where she belongs; asking those questions about who she is supposed to be, who might love her. This isn’t a terrible thing, but she is prone to flights of fancy. Constant flights of fancy. By the end of the book, it feels like every single scene had played out at least once in her head before the actual event. And I found that tedious. She’s also somewhat petty. I get annoyed with stories that are somewhat dependent on a character taking things the wrong way.

I’m also a little disturbed by the fact that our narrator actually seems to have an interest before marriage–sketching–which is inexplicably put aside for no good reason once she reaches Manderley. She’s fairly aimless until she’s called on to stand by her man at the end of the book. Is that horribly romantic? I…guess. I can understand that she’s thrown by her change in position and spends much of her time unsure of how to act, made worse by the circumstances, but she’s really sort of a non-person until the end. This is less a criticism of the book and more of a confession of confusion about why it’s so beloved.

I did like the gothic aspects of the book, although past the halfway point when nothing much had happened, I did go online and “spoiled” the twist for myself. (I’m generally unfazed by spoilers. For me, it’s the journey.) The secrets were nicely kept, with little hints here and there about what’s going on. There are issues of class and heredity throughout. Mrs. Danvers, a servant, proves to be the most powerful character. Manderley, in good gothic tradition, is a character itself. In fact, for me, it’s the best aspect of the book. If I wanted a fictional place to walk, Manderley would be it.

Publishing info, my copy: Avon Books, 1971, mass market paperback
Acquired: Paperback Swap, I believe.

* Books Under the Bed, the blog that was hosting the challenge, has been deleted. But I guess I’ll keep on reading from the list since I’ve become interested in the genre.

Deal Me In, Week 14 ~ “The Fatalist”

20140105-160356

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Fatalist” by Mikhail Lermontov

Card picked: Three of Hearts

From: Selected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976; also available online

Thoughts: “The Fatalist” is the closing section of Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time. I haven’t read the entire five parts yet, but this story is a curious endpoint.

After an evening of gambling, talk among a group of Russian Army officers turns to the question of predestination (as will happen among Russian Army officers after an evening of gambling, I guess). Our narrator, Pechorin, does not believe in predestination. Vulic, a fellow with a passion and no talent for gambling, wagers that Pechorin is wrong. Vulic takes a gun down from the wall and primes it. Anyone who’s heard of Russian roulette knows where this is going, although the gun in question is not a revolver and this is the first instance of such a feat in literature. A moment before Vulic pulls the trigger, Pechorin is absolutely certain Vulic will die that night. I won’t say if he does or not, but the events of that night and the next morning cause Pechorin to become a fatalist:

I prefer to doubt everything; such a disposition does not preclude a resolute character; on the contrary, as far as I’m concerned, I always advance more boldly when I do not know what is awaiting me.

Personally, I’m more like Pechorin’s friend Maxim Maximych (a more prominent character in early parts of A Hero of Our Time): “…in general he does not care for metaphysical discourses.” I’ll make an exception for Lermontov.

About the Author: I know Lermontov’s poetry more than his prose (something I’ll probably say about many of the Russian authors). He sort of stepped in to fill the void after Pushkin’s death and is known as Russia’s great Romantic.

Deal Me In Lunar Extra ~ “The Invisible Girl”

20140105-160356

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

I was very indecisive when picking my Deal Me in Stories, so I added an extra “Lunar” twist.
For each full moon, I’ll be reading a horror story written by a woman.

“The Invisible Girl” by Mary Shelley

Card picked: A Jack

From: Online at Gutenberg Australia

Thoughts: This is another tale that borrows some gothic tropes, if lightly. Our narrator isn’t the person directly involved in the story, but heard it from an old woman after he seeks refuge in a curious “ruined” tower that has a lovely painting called “The Invisible Girl” in its upper room. Further, this narrator is set in the early 18th century, not in Shelly’s early 19th. Since the old woman is telling a story that happened many years before *that*, we could place the main events of “The Invisible Girl” near the time The Castle of Otranto was written (although the events of Walpole’s novel occur centuries in the past). I wonder if this shifting a story backwards in history is meant to excuse some of the actions of the characters. Sir Peter and his widow sister treat Rosina terribly, but they are people of the past. Surely, people of the present behave more humanely. (Also in the land of Otranto connections I’m probably making up, we also have a heroine with a somewhat Italian sounding name.)

But anyway, the story: Henry, the son of Sir Peter, falls in love with Rosina, an orphan who lives on his father’s estate. Henry and Rosina have grown up together; of course they love each other, but since she has no heredity of note, the couple keep this love secret. All is well until Sir Peter’s sister moves in. She susses out the truth, sends Henry away and besmirches Rosina’s honor. Sir Peter sends her away and she presumably dies in the woods. Sir Peter, we are told, might feel badly about this, but Shelley’s not very convincing when she says so. Henry finds out his love is dead and decides to find her body. Instead, his boat is caught in a nasty storm and is led to safety by a mysterious light in a tower. When he asks nearby folks about it, they tell him the Invisible Girl is responsible. Which of course leads Henry to wonder, is the Invisible Girl the spirit of Rosina?

There’s a twist ending to this tale which I thought was quite nice. Paula Cappa originally posted about this story in October of 2013.

About the Author: Yes, *that* Mary Shelley. She wrote more than Frankenstein. A lot more! This is the first short story I’ve read by her, but it probably won’t be the last.

Deal Me In, Week 13 ~ “You Don’t Even Feel It”

20140105-160356

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“You Don’t Even Feel It” by Lawrence Block

Card picked: Three of Diamonds

From: Murder on the Ropes

Thoughts: Keisha’s husband Darnell is a junior middleweight champion. After being married for twelve years with three daughters, Keisha was under the impression that Darnell would retire. He intends to, but not until after another two fights. He knows he can win these fights and tie-up another two belts. He’s in good health, at least on the outside. Keisha, though, notices his forgetfulness and the way he’s started to slur his words. “Getting hit upside the head? You don’t even feel it,” Darnell assures her, which isn’t reassuring at all.

This was not a great story. Boxing is, basically, a sport where two men* do damage to each other until one man can’t take it anymore. This leads to complications for everyone involved: the boxers, the boxing industry, and boxing fans. “You Don’t Even Feel It” handles this without any complexity and in a somewhat preachy manner. It doesn’t even scratch the surface.

*And women too. It will be interesting to see if any of the stories in this anthology include women.