Deal Me In, Lunar Extra ~ “The Birds”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Birds” by Daphne du Maurier

Card picked: An Ace

Thoughts: It’s funny how bent out of shape readers sometimes get about book-to-movie adaptations. Fidelity to the source material is usually the sticking point, but I wonder if it’s only at the extreme ends of the faithfulness spectrum that readers are happy. On one end is an adaptation that is extremely faithful. The characters, the setting, the plot are all what the reader knows. In the middle, there are adaptations that fall short. Maybe a character was added, or a new subplot was introduced. Maybe the actors don’t look like they should. These deviations usually leave readers hating the film. On the other end, there are adaptations like The Birds.

The Alfred Hitchcock directed film is based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier, but it’s really only based on the underlying concept of the story by du Maurier. In both, for reasons unknown, birds en masse begin viciously attacking people. The film is set up the coast from San Francisco in the early 60s. It veers close to being a romantic comedy with Tippi Hedren as a free living socialite and Rod Taylor as a handsome home-body lawyer. But then, the birds attack and the whole thing becomes a tense, well-made catastrophe survival film.

Du Maurier’s story takes place in Cornwall. The main character is Nat, a veteran of WWII. Due to war-time disability he has a pension and works on a farm half-time though he does seem able-bodied. On the third of December, the weather turns and the birds start acting strangely. With air raid experience (even at publication date, the end of WWII wasn’t even a decade in the past), Nat knows what to do to keep his family safe. The frigid east wind is given as the explanation as to why the birds have gone against their nature. That might have been as good of an explanation as anything for the inexplicable horrors that Europe had recently endured.

Which is better? It’s like apples and tomatoes. Both are fruits. Both are delicious. But maybe we like them both because they *are* different rather than because they are similar

Review ~ The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Cover via Goodreads

A very young woman’s first job: governess for two weirdly beautiful, strangely distant, oddly silent children, Miles and Flora, at a forlorn estate…An estate haunted by a beckoning evil.

Half-seen figures who glare from dark towers and dusty windows- silent, foul phantoms who, day by day, night by night, come closer, ever closer. With growing horror, the helpless governess realizes the fiendish creatures want the children, seeking to corrupt their bodies, possess their minds, own their souls…

But worse-much worse- the governess discovers that Miles and Flora have no terror of the lurking evil.

For they want the walking dead as badly as the dead want them. (via Goodreads)

“It’s beyond everything. Nothing at all that I know touches it.”

That’s a gutsy way to introduce your horror story, Mr. James…

The Turn of the Screw seems to be one of the end-alls of ambiguity. The governess, our narrator, is perhaps unreliable. She’s young, inexperienced, and finds herself isolated in an incredibly unfamiliar situation. Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper, tells her about the lurid goings-on of her predecessor and one of her young charges is expelled with little explanation. Is it surprising that her imagination primed on Gothic literature (she mentions The Mysteries of Udolpho by name) might run away with her? Or…does it?

James hits many of the gothic tropes. Our disenfranchised governess is properly stuck in her job and feels pressure to do well. Bly, the house, is seen as something of a barrier; one that keeps the governess in her place, but also as something that the children seek to be free of. Mrs. Grose is  the inverse of the helpful servant. She knows half-tales and often she seems to be the densest material on the planet. Once again, the  main action of the story is set in the past, though only removed by a few decades.

One of the things I find most uncomfortable about The Turn of the Screw is a detail I would have missed if I hadn’t gone back to reread the prologue. The story comes to an abrupt conclusion, but Douglas–the storyteller in the prologue–claims to have known the governess, that she was his sister’s governess. Which, not to spoil the end of the story, means that the governess was not held responsible for any wrong-doing. Douglas also claims to have enjoyed walks with the governess while at home from school himself. Which brings to mind, to me anyway, the walks that Miles and Flora took with miscreants Quint and Jessel. That’s the ambiguous bit that I’m going to chew on for a while.

Publishing info, my copy: Public Domain, Kindle edition
Acquired: Amazon.com
Genre: Gothic horror

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Deal Me In, Week 34 ~ “Flash”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Flash” by Loren D. Estleman

Card picked: Six of Diamonds

From: Murder on the Ropes, edited by Otto Penzler

Thoughts: While I know that everything here is supposed to be done for my enjoyment and I do love reading, blogging sometimes feels like obligation. I was inordinately happy when I drew this week’s story and discovered that this short story was indeed short. I’m now doubly happy because it was *good* too.

Midge is former boxer, now working as a bodyguard for a…well, we’re never told that his employer is a mobster, but he does have the ignoble nickname of Jake the Junkman. Midge’s boxing career ended when he *didn’t* take a dive in a twelve-round match. He’d been offered the money, but his opponent was actually too good. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it looked to the boxing commission. Midge found himself with debts, scars, hearing loss, and one good suit, an electric blue number, when Jake Wassermann hired him. Now, a few months into his employment and already in debt again, one of Wassermann colleagues buys Midge’s debt. All he wants from Midge is a favor.

In eight pages, Estleman tells a great story and let’s us get to know the big lug that is Midge. And a goodly bit of those pages is about suits: Midge’s blue “flash” versus the gray and brown tailored suits Mr. Wassermann would prefer that he’d wear. Telling details, a short story writer’s best friends.

About the Author: One of the things that I love about mixed anthologies is reading a story that I like by an author that I’m unfamiliar with and realizing that the author has a huge catalog of works, a few of which are already on my read-one-day list. Loren D. Estleman has written a few Sherlock Holmes pastiches (already on my list), several detective series, and Westerns as well (which are probably going on to my list).

Review ~ The Rise of the Indian Rope Trick

The Rise Of The Indian Rope Trick: How A Spectacular Hoax Became History by Peter Lamont

Cover via Goodreads

We assume that the Indian rope trick is a piece of ancient Hindu magic. But think again: it is actually the product of a hoax which appeared in the Chicago Tribune in 1890. This wonderfully researched, playfully written book takes us on a journey through Victorian society where we discover the interest in magic of Charles Dickens; Alfred Russell Wallace; Edward, Prince of Wales; Lord Northbrook and Charles Darwin. We learn how in an age of reason the British came to love all things Oriental and how the legend of the rope trick came to be perpetuated throughout the 20th century as fanatical public figures and aristocrats went to India in search of it and returned claiming to have seen it being performed. This is a charming history book filled with colourful characters, known and unknown, all of whom pursued an obsession. Some were respected members of society, some were incredibly eccentric and utterly deluded. It is set against the background of Victorian society and shows how the writing of history itself can perpetuate myths and legends. (via Goodreads)

The Indian Rope Trick: A fakir throws a rope into the air. Or maybe chain, or maybe a simply a ball of twine. Or maybe he entices the rope skyward through the use of music played on a flute. A young boy climbs the rope, maybe willingly or maybe after an argument with the fakir, and disappears. After a while, the boy reappears and climbs back down the rope. Or reappears in a basket on the ground. Or maybe, the fakir shouts for him and, when the boy doesn’t return, the angered fakir draws his scimitar and climbs the rope himself. After bloodcurdling screams, the dismembered limbs of the boy are thrown to the ground, to be reassembled and resurrected by the fakir after returning to earth. All this is done in the open air.

This is a legendary trick. Literally, it is a trick based mostly in legend. What is considered an ancient magic of India is barely more than 125 years old, the product of Orientalism and a “hoax” article that went the equivalent of viral for the late 1800s/early 1900s. While the original Tribune story was widely syndicated, the correction was not. When the trick was refuted by some of the best skeptics and magicians of the time, many travelers to the Mystic East recalled actually seeing the trick performed. Unfortunately, memory is terrible to rely on for actually remembering things and many of the witnesses were “remembering” an event that happened in the far past. Lamont notes that the above story became more fanciful the further in the past the reminiscence.

The Rise of the Indian Rope Trick is also a book about history and how writing about history and using other works about history can be misleading. Part of the problem with the rope trick is that historians in the 1800s weren’t necessarily using primary sources when writing about India. Their point of view was skewed by writers who wished India to be seen either as a place full of superstitious natives (that Imperialism could save) or a place full of wondrous miracles (that could save the Empire from the downer of science).

Lamont is probably the second funniest non-fiction writer I’ve read, after Mary Roach, but I wish Rope Trick had been a little more intuitively organized. There was a bit of repetition that I think could have been avoided by going at it chronologically. Also, despite the blurb, this book is about the trick, not really about the personalities. Still, a solid read and I’ll be on the lookout for Lamont’s other books.

The Modern Rope Trick:

Publishing info, my copy: Abacus, 2004, trade paperback
Acquired: Paperback Swap
Genre: Non-fiction, magic
Previously: Read Magic in Theory, co-written by Peter Lamont, earlier this year.

Review ~ October Faction, Vol. 1

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

October Faction Volume 1 by by Steve Niles and Damien Worm

Cover via Goodreads

The October Faction details the adventures of retired monster-hunter Frederick Allan and his family… which include a thrill-killer, a witch, and a warlock. Because sometimes crazy is the glue that binds a family together. (via Goodreads)

I had given up on requesting comics/graphic novels through NetGalley because ePub is a craptastic platform for viewing graphics of any kind. But in the case of October Faction, it was the art that drew me like a moth to the Adobe Digital Editions flame.

The story isn’t too shabby either. Frederick Allan was a monster hunter in his younger days, but now he finds himself surrounded by those very monsters, and they’re his family and friends. In the first five issues in Volume 1,  I didn’t get too much of a feel for the kids and his wife and their backstories, but those are stories for other times.

The art, of course, is what I enjoyed most. The brightest colors in the pallet are blood red and sepia. The backgrounds are a grungy combination of collage and watercolor, the characters sharp and angular. It provides a great October atmosphere. Why was I reading it in July?!

Publishing info, my copy: My Adobe Digital Edition edition doesn’t have a title page. Grr. Arg.
Acquired: NetGalley! Individual issues of October Faction are available where comics are sold. Volume 1 will be available August 11th.
Genre: Horror

Deal Me In, Week 32 ~ “In the Cart”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“In the Cart” by Anton Chekhov

Card picked: Nine of Hearts

From: The Portable Chekhov, edited by Avrahm Yarmolinsky

Thoughts: Schoolmistress Marya Vasilyevna wishes for a different life, away from the eternal humdrum of traveling to town, by cart, and corruption that permeates her school system. On her way to Vyazovye, she and her wagon driver are passed by young, handsome Hanov. She entertains the notion of being his wife, how different life would be and how different her life was before her parents died.

There isn’t much to this story, but the writing, even in translation, is deft and lyrical. There’s a reason that Chekhov is considered one of the premier short story writers. In a simple vignette, Chekhov touches of class and politics and the way that people often ignore the beauty around them.

Review ~ The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Seven

This book was provided to me by Night Shade Books via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

The Best Horror of the Year Volume Seven edited by Ellen Datlow

Cover via Goodreads

For over three decades, Ellen Datlow has been at the center of horror. Bringing you the most frightening and terrifying stories, Datlow always has her finger on the pulse of what horror readers crave. Now, with the seventh volume of this series, Datlow is back again to bring you the stories that will keep you up at night.

With each passing year, science, technology, and the march of time shine light into the craggy corners of the universe, making the fears of an earlier generation seem quaint. But this “light” creates its own shadows. The Best Horror of the Year chronicles these shifting shadows. It is a catalog of terror, fear, and unpleasantness, as articulated by today’s most challenging and exciting writers.
(via Goodreads)

In The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Seven, Ellen Datlow once again skims the cream to introduce fickle readers like me to some of the shining stars of the horror lit world. There are twenty-two stories in this collection, two less than last year’s volume though I don’t remember so many longer works included in Volume Six. Not quite half are by female authors.

There seemed to me to be several board categories of stories:

For example, quite a few serial killers as narrators with Angela Slater’s “Winter Children,” Gemma File’s “This is Not For You” (which includes the conceit of a murderous virago cult), “Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8)” by Caitlin Kiernan, and my personal favorite of the group “Wingless Beasts” by Lucy Taylor for desert gross-out factor. (Hadn’t realized that this group contained so many female authors…)

A couple of stories involved crime with law enforcement or detective involved. “The Atlas of Hell” by Nathan Ballingrud features an occult investigator named Jack Oleander, whose further adventures I would happily read. Rio Youers’ “Outside Heavenly” had a lot of True Crime feel to it, though with a much more supernatural conclusion.

I’m always a sucker for horror comedy and I got a kick out of Stephen Graham Jones’ “Chapter Six,” which asks the question, what would a pair of academic rivals do after the zombie apocalypse?

There were also a bunch of cosmic horror/forbidden knowledge tales. “Allochton” by Livia Llewellyn provides a semi answer to my question about the intersection of domestic and cosmic horror as a company wife is wooed by strange qualities in the geography around her. Laird Barron’s “The Worms Crawl In” also takes us out into the forest to meet doom.

Rhoads Brazos’s “Tred Upon the Brittle Shell” and John Langan’s “Ymir” both pull from ancient mythologies and both involve physical decent as well, although Dale Bailey’s “The Culvert” doesn’t go as deep into the earth, but leaves us as lost in a shifting labyrinth.

Two stories that I really enjoyed involved a more historical touch. “A Dweller in Amenty” by Genevieve Valentine involves the ins and outs of a sin eater and Keris McDonald takes us back to academia as a museum worker learns about Innocent Coats in “The Coat Off His Back.”

One last stand-out: “Depertures” by Carole Johnstone, creepy and gory and set in an airplane terminal. It excellently combines the mundane with the uncanny.

Publishing info, my copy: eARC in Kindle and ePub formats
Acquired: via Edelweiss
Genre: Horror

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