Review ~ The Linking Rings

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

Cover via Goodreads

The Linking Rings by John Gaspard

What does Eli Marks have up his sleeve this time? Well, let me tell you, no matter the mystery, his sleight of hand always does the trick.

Eli’s trip to London with his uncle Harry quickly turns homicidal when the older magician finds himself accused of murder. Not Uncle Harry!

A second slaying does little to take the spotlight off Harry. Instead it’s clear someone is knocking off Harry’s elderly peers in bizarrely effective ways. But who?
The odd gets odder when the prime suspect appears to be a bitter performer with a grudge…who committed suicide over thirty years before.

While Eli struggles to prove his uncle’s innocence—and keep them both alive—he finds himself embroiled in a battle of his own: a favorite magic routine of his has been ripped off by another hugely popular magician.

What began as a whirlwind vacation to London with girlfriend Megan turns into a fatal and larcenous trip into the dark heart of magic within the city’s oldest magic society, The Magic Circle. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
This is the 4th Eli Marks mystery. The first, The Ambitious Card, established Eli as our working magician and amateur sleuth protagonist. I’ve enjoyed the whole series.

What Worked
Gaspard’s details about magic and the social aspects surrounding magicians are always great. Magicians have a strange dynamic of friendship/rivalry which I’m not sure exists in other industries. It’s a lot of fun and adds a certain amount of drama to situations.

The setting of The Linking Rings shifts away from the Twin Cities in Minnesota to London. While the sense of place isn’t as strong, I never doubted Eli and Harry jumping from tube station to tube station as murders happen around them.

What Didn’t Work (as much)
Set in London, this volume of the series doesn’t have one of the relationships that have made the other mysteries work better: Eli’s district attorney ex-wife and her cop fiance.  Without these hooks into the investigation, the clues in The Linking Rings just sort of accumulate around Eli. While he’s instrumental in the climax of the story, solving of the mystery feels abrupt.

Overall
This is a fun, honest mystery. Eli Marks is a great character and I’m hoping that John Gaspard continues to provide magic in future books.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, Henery Press, 01/16/18
Acquired: NetGalley
Genre: Mystery

Advertisements

Review ~ Wuthering Heights

Cover via Goodreads

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Lockwood, the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange, situated on the bleak Yorkshire moors, is forced to seek shelter one night at Wuthering Heights, the home of his landlord. There he discovers the history of the tempestuous events that took place years before; of the intense relationship between the gypsy foundling Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw; and how Catherine, forced to choose between passionate, tortured Heathcliff and gentle, well-bred Edgar Linton, surrendered to the expectations of her class. As Heathcliff’s bitterness and vengeance at his betrayal is visited upon the next generation, their innocent heirs must struggle to escape the legacy of the past. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Twenty years ago (yes, that much), I finished my college education, earning a bachelor’s degree in English. Yet, I had never read Emily Brontë’s only novel. More shameful still (if you have a degree in English), I had attempted to read Wuthering Heights not once, but twice(!), before I decided to jump on board Roofbeam Reader’s Classic Book of the Month Club.

What Worked
I started the year with Moby Dick and I am near ending it with Wuthering Heights, two of the oddest novels I’ve encountered. In the case of the former, I’m rather glad that I never had to read it for a class. It’s too big and there’s too much. I think the only way to do it justice would be to have a semester long class. In the case of the latter, I wouldn’t mind a little guided context for Wuthering Heights because I feel like I’m missing something.

My initial read is that this is a novel about miserable people being miserable to each other.

…however miserable you make us, we shall still have the revenge of thinking that your cruelty arises from your greater misery.

In that way, and this might be considered sacrilege, but it reminded me of Gone Girl. Just full of terrible, horrible people. Even Mr. Lockwood, our entrance-level character, is snarky, peevish, and jealous. The only character worth her salt is Ellen Dean—nanny, housemaid, sane person.

I *suppose*, prompted by the summary above, I could buy that all this tragedy is set into motion by a woman doing what is expected of her instead of what her heart dictates, but the wheels of dreadful behavior are already set in motion by the time Cathy decides to marry proper Linton instead of mercurial Heathcliff.

What Didn’t Work
Is it just me or is the use of quotation marks a little eccentric? Honestly, this is one of the reasons I’ve had trouble with Wuthering Heights. I’d put it down for a day and lose track of who was doing the narration, even though it was usually Mrs. Dean.  Also, the names just kill me. This genealogy chart helped a lot (linked to avoid spoilers).

What also doesn’t help are relatively good movie versions (adaptation doesn’t seem to be the right word) that leave out all the domestic abuse in favor of telling a romantic tale. With the number of beatings that occur, I’m not sure why this is considered a romantic work. Maybe that’s where my disconnect lies. I expected a great, if tragic, romance. Instead, I got one of the great novels of revenge. As a revenge story, I’m not sure Quentin Tarantino has done better.

Overall
I can’t say I disliked it, but it’s one of those cases where I feel like I’ve read a totally different book than everyone else.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, AmazonClassics
Genre: classics, literary, gothic

The first time I encountered an allusion to Heathcliff:

Review ~ The Prestige

Cover via Goodreads

The Prestige by Christopher Priest

In 1878, two young stage magicians clash in the dark during the course of a fraudulent seance. From this moment on, their lives become webs of deceit and revelation as they vie to outwit and expose one another.

Their rivalry will take them to the peaks of their careers, but with terrible consequences. In the course of pursuing each other’s ruin, they will deploy all the deception their magicians’ craft can command–the highest misdirection and the darkest science.

Blood will be spilled, but it will not be enough. In the end, their legacy will pass on for generations…to descendants who must, for their sanity’s sake, untangle the puzzle left to them. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
This is a reread for me. Sometimes, I get so caught-up in ARCs and the unread books in my “pile” that I don’t let myself reread intriguing books that I enjoyed the first time around. Boy, am I glad I decided to reread The Prestige.

What Worked
I first read it in 2010, about two years before my earnest interest in magic took hold. From the my standpoint as a slightly-beyond-layman, Priest knows his stuff magic-wise. Previously, I didn’t fully appreciate the differences between Borden and Angier’s performance philosophies. The division between dedication to theory and dedication to end-performance still exists in a world  that contains both Ricky Jay and David Blaine.

The voices of the two magicians (and Andrew and Kate in the modern wrap-around) are clear and distinctive. This is something I didn’t appreciate the first time I read the story. I also didn’t fully appreciate the crossing events in the narrative. Basically, we’re given two separate (and incomplete) narratives; first Borden’s and then Angier’s. And that’s it. Despite having two modern characters working to make sense of the narratives, readers are left to fit pieces together without any extra-narrative interference. It’s a nice puzzle of a novel.

What Didn’t Work
We won’t talk about the science…

Also, Andrew and Kate in modern times are the least interesting portion of the novel, aside from the rather tense last five pages.

Overall
I’ll echo what I said in my first “review” of The Prestige: I wish I had read the book before seeing the movie. The movie is much different (how did I forget that Angier started out as fraudulent medium in the book?), but there are two major plot points —the twists—that are paralleled. But now that I’ve also seen the film probably a dozen more times, I’m further impressed by how well the adaptation works. Stakes needed to be higher in the movie. So, kudos to Jonathan and Christopher Nolan for creating a story that is the prestigious twin  of the book.

Publishing info, my copy: mass market paperback, Tor (tie-in edition with a terrible cover, not the cover above), 2006 (orig. 1995)
Acquired: Paperback Swap
Genre: horror, science fiction

Mini Reviews, Vol. 10

alt text The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James

On the heels of WWI, temp girl Sarah Piper takes work as an assistant to two ghost hunters; one posh, one rough, both scarred by the war.

This book was much too much of a romance for me. Sarah’s spends an overage of time believing that her beau (Matthew, the rough one) hates her for no real good reason and that she must never tell him how she feels for no good reason. The ghost story was passable, somewhat predictable. The Haunting of Maddy Clare was an audio book and the narrator’s portrayal of Matthew was disconcerting.

alt text Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Emily Carroll “tells” five stories of isolation and dread akin to Grimm’s fairy tales.

With a limited color palette and drawings that are by turns stark and detailed, these are new tales of old-fashioned creepiness. The stories and art evoke a coldness, a darkness that seems perfect for fall and winter reading. Through the Woods was an impulse pick-up for me for during readathon and it was the highlight. Might even become a yearly Halloween read.

Review ~ Bird Box

Cover via Goodreads

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Something is out there…

Something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.

Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remain, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now, that the boy and girl are four, it is time to go. But the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat—blindfolded—with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. And something is following them. But is it man, animal, or monster?

Engulfed in darkness, surrounded by sounds both familiar and frightening, Malorie embarks on a harrowing odyssey—a trip that takes her into an unseen world and back into the past, to the companions who once saved her. Under the guidance of the stalwart Tom, a motley group of strangers banded together against the unseen terror, creating order from the chaos.

But when supplies ran low, they were forced to venture outside—and confront the ultimate question: in a world gone mad, who can really be trusted? (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Horror genre. Lots of people I know really like this book.

What Didn’t Work (for me)
This is a case of cilantro AND werewolves for me and that’s my fault. Often, when I read a book blurb, I focus in on one or two things that sound really interesting to me and ignore other things. In the case of Bird Box, I had zeroed-in on a mother and her children living in an abandoned house with something outside that could drive them insane.

My mind jumped to the story I’d like from that situation: from the children’s perspective, who have grown up with outside darkness as normal, how is that for them? What if (in a spectacular conjuration of a werewolf) they’re mother is just imagining that there is something outside? See, that’s not what Bird Box is, so I can’t fault it for not being what I wanted.

As for cilantro, I don’t really care for post-apocalyptic. I have a hard time suspending my disbelief well enough and for long enough buy the whole world falling apart. There was way too much counting-cans-in-the-cellar survivalism for my taste. I’m also particularly not a fan of Lovecraftian know-it-go-mad tropes.

I didn’t mind that the big bads of this novel were never explained, but I found the climax to be too much of a coincidental convergence of factors and the actual end to be a bit flat.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle/OverDrive Read, HarperCollins, May 13, 2014
Acquired: Tempe Overdrive Digital Collection
Genre: Horror

Hosted by Kate and Kim at Midnight Book Girl

Hosted by Andi @ Estella’s Revenge and Heather @ My Capricious Life

Review ~ Universal Harvester

Cover via Goodreads

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

Jeremy works at the Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa—a small town in the center of the state, the first “a” in Nevada pronounced “ay.” This is the late 1990s, and while the Hollywood Video in Ames poses an existential threat to Video Hut, there are still regular customers, a rush in the late afternoon. It’s good enough for Jeremy: It’s a job, quiet and predictable, and it gets him out of the house, where he lives with his dad and where they both try to avoid missing Mom, who died six years ago in a car wreck.

But when a local schoolteacher comes in to return her copy of Targets—an old movie, starring Boris Karloff, one Jeremy himself had ordered for the store—she has an odd complaint: “There’s something on it,” she says, but doesn’t elaborate. Two days later, a different customer returns She’s All That, a new release, and complains that there’s something wrong with it: “There’s another movie on this tape.”

Jeremy doesn’t want to be curious. But he takes a look and, indeed, in the middle of the movie the screen blinks dark for a moment and She’s All That is replaced by a black-and-white scene, shot in a barn, with only the faint sounds of someone breathing. Four minutes later, She’s All That is back. But there is something profoundly unsettling about that scene; Jeremy’s compelled to watch it three or four times. The scenes recorded onto Targets are similar, undoubtedly created by the same hand. Creepy. And the barn looks much like a barn just outside of town.

There will be no ignoring the disturbing scenes on the videos. And all of a sudden, what had once been the placid, regular old Iowa fields and farmhouses now feels haunted and threatening, imbued with loss and instability and profound foreboding. For Jeremy, and all those around him, life will never be the same . . . (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Was cruising the horror section at the elibrary and was attracted by the cornstalks. Iowa? Creepy videos? These were both selling points (or rather borrowing points).

What Worked
Iowa and creepy videos were also the best things about Universal Harvester. This is a book with a very strong sense of setting (small rural towns) and a good peg on the people who live in them. There is a certain biographical short hand that can be given to each other, if you live in a state like Iowa or Nebraska (where I’m from), based on where you live. To live in Ames or Des Moines or Omaha is different from living in Nevada, Cresent, or Giltner. But you might know someone who moved to the “big city” or maybe your college roommate was from a farming town, so you suddenly have connectedness to those people and those places.

Part one of this book is about that dynamic and the very unsettling videos that Jeremy finds. For a while, we’re not given too many details about the videos except that they really throw Jeremy, and other characters, for a loop. Are they stuff films? Something Blair Witch-y? A deadly VHS video curse that needs to be passed on? The cover blurb (and, well, the title of the book) seems to imply some sort of cosmic horror. The point of view of the story is a very removed first person omniscient with a narrator who occasionally comments, somewhat intimately, on the events in the story, but doesn’t seem to be a character in the story. It is rather disconcerting.

What Didn’t Work…
Everything that wasn’t Iowa or creepy videos. The last two-thirds of the book somewhat explains what’s going on…somewhat. We flash back a generation for the history of a character that we have barely met and follow through her personal tragedies which in some ways mirror the tragedies in other character’s lives (notably, the loss of mothers). There was some level of menace to this, but mostly it was fairly unremarkable in comparison to the first third of the book.

Overall
The through line of the plot doesn’t quite work for me. Despite the long character histories, there are really very few answers given about what happened—why the videos were made, why people chose to participate in them, why they were spliced into random VHS tapes. Any conclusions I came to are nebulous. I’d say, if you’re looking for a literary novel that has a slight tinge of horror to it, this might be for you. I was really expecting something different.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle/Overdrive, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, February 7, 2017
Acquired: Tempe Overdrive Digital Collection
Genre: literary, horror

Hosted by Kate and Kim at Midnight Book Girl

Hosted by Andi @ Estella’s Revenge and Heather @ My Capricious Life

Mini Reviews, Vol. #9


My 20 15 10 Books of Summer efforts crashed pretty hard. I was going to make a last valiant effort during Bout of Books, but alas:

I ended up in digital libraries like some sort of ebook junky. So, here’s a wrap-up, not of 20 15 10 Books of Summer, but of what I ended up reading instead.*

alt text Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown

As a kid growing up in the Midwest in the 80s, I don’t think there was any escaping the reach of pro wrestling. Even before he was the brute squad, one of the most recognizable “faces” in the wrestling industry was that of Andre the Giant. This is a no-nonsense graphic biography of Andre Roussimoff, warts and all. It’s also a nice snapshot of the world of professional wrestling as a business and an entertainment.

alt text Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell is my ultimate slump-buster. Don’t know what to read? In a mood? Rainbow Rowell. But, I didn’t like Landline as much as I have her other books. I loved the voice of it, but the characters and plot didn’t do it for me. In the end, it didn’t feel like the story went very far.

alt text The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee

So, I stumbled upon a book recommendation engine. “What should I read next?” That sort of thing. I plugged in The Last Unicorn (not what I just finished, but my favorite book of all time) and The Silver Metal Lover was the top of the list. And it was available through the Open Library, so…I thought I’d give it a go.

A YA dystopia, it is not my kind of book. Jane, our young protagonist, feels everything so acutely. She breaks away from her rich, controlling mother through the love of a good…robot. Despite the kind of ridiculous title, there’s not a lot of sex. Which is just fine. Instead there’s a ton of drama and peril. Maybe more sex would have been better.

* I did go 6/10 for my 10-ish Books of Summer, which isn’t a passing grade, but is actually better than I thought before I counted.