{Book + Short Stories} What Went Back to the Library Today

Took a couple of #RIPXIV / #somethingWickedFall books back to the library today:

Cover via Goodreads

The Small Hand and Dolly by Susan Hill

Two chilling ghost stories from the author of The Woman in Black, both set in crumbling English houses that are haunted by the spirits of thwarted children.

In The Small Hand, antiquarian bookseller Adam Snow is returning from a client visit when he takes a wrong turn and stumbles across a derelict Edwardian house with a lush, overgrown garden. Approaching the door, he is startled to feel the unmistakable sensation of a small cold hand creeping into his own, almost as though a child had taken hold of it. Plagued by nightmares, he returns with the intention of figuring out its mysteries, only to be troubled by further, increasingly sinister visits. In Dolly, orphan Edward Cayley is sent to spend the summer with his forbidding Aunt Kestrel at Iyot House, her decaying home in the damp, lonely fens. With him is his spoiled, spiteful cousin, Leonora. And when Leonora’s birthday wish for a beautiful doll is denied, she unleashes a furious rage which will haunt Edward for years afterward. (via Goodreads)

Read both The Small Hand and Dolly. I enjoyed them well enough, but really don’t have too much to say about them. Neither was as good as the other Susan Hill book I’ve read, The Woman in Black, but that *is* considered a ghost story classic. I probably liked Dolly better because The Small Hand felt a little padded out. Still, some nice reading for autumn nights.

Cover via Goodreads

Poe’s Children: The New Horror edited by Peter Straub

From the incomparable master of horror and suspense comes an electrifying collection of contemporary literary horror, with stories from twenty-five writers representing today’s most talented voices in the genre.

Horror writing is usually associated with formulaic gore, but New Wave horror writers have more in common with the wildly inventive, evocative spookiness of Edgar Allan Poe than with the sometimes-predictable hallmarks of their peers. Showcasing this cutting-edge talent, Poe’s Children now brings the best of the genre’s stories to a wider audience. (via Goodreads)

I find it funny that a this anthology of “new” fiction is over 10 years old at this point… It’s my habit when I go to the library to pluck a couple books from shelves, give some a 10-page test, and maybe read a short story from a random anthology. A few weeks back I picked up Poe’s Children and started reading “Notes on the Writing of a Horror Story” by Thomas Ligotti, since I hadn’t read any Ligotti before. Unfortunately, it was a too long to finish at the library. So, I took it home. I meant to read a few more of the stories, but I only fit in one more. “Notes on the Writing of a Horror Story” was clever with an excellently twisted ending. The other story I read was “The Bees” by Dan Chaon. The setting was great but I thought the ending was a little flat.

Mini Reviews ~ Two Classics

 

Love and Mr. Lewisham

Love and Mr. Lewisham by H. G. Wells

Young, impoverished and ambitious, science student Mr Lewisham is locked in a struggle to further himself through academic achievement. But when his former sweetheart, Ethel Henderson, re-enters his life his strictly regimented existence is thrown into chaos by the resurgence of old passion. Driven by overwhelming desire, he pursues Ethel passionately, only to find that while she returns his love she also hides a dark secret. For she is involved in a plot of trickery that goes against his firmest beliefs, working as an assistant to her stepfather—a cynical charlatan ‘mystic’ who earns his living by deluding the weak-willed with sly trickery. (via Goodreads)

Currently, I’ve been reading Life Moves Pretty Fast by Hadley Freeman, a nonfiction book about movies made in the 1980s. In the chapter about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Hadley makes a point that one of the things that makes John Hughes teen movies special is that they are some of the few movies that address class in America. Indeed, class seems to be something that’s difficult for Americans to talk about. We’re above all that here in the US, right? Anyone can be anything, right? Yeah, well, probably not.

Of course, H. G. Wells isn’t American and Love and Mr. Lewisham isn’t set in the States, but the issues of class in this novel are just as relevant. Lewisham chooses love over practicality. He’s not rich enough to support Ethel while he finishes his education. In effect, he marries down in an effort to help her rise above her station. (He saves her from having to work for her stepfather who runs a mediumship scam, which is why this story originally piqued my curiosity.)  Lewisham and Ethel’s relationship almost doesn’t survive. Honestly, not a lot happens in this book. It doesn’t matter to me; I really enjoy Wells’ writing style.

Publishing info: originally published 1899
My Copy: ebook, Project Gutenberg download
Genre: literary

Lady Molly of Scotland Yard

Lady Molly of Scotland Yard by Emmuska Orczy

Mystery readers and fans of detective fiction and the police procedural are in for a real treat with these twelve interlaced stoires featuring Lady Molly, head of the Female Department at Scotland Yard in and around 1910. Lady Molly is an ace sleuth and the Police Chief’s secret weapon when faced with perplexing and unsolvable cases.(via Goodreads)

I was listening to a podcast a while back (and I don’t remember the name of it because my usual podcast app tanked) and it mentioned that Baroness Orczy, of The Scarlet Pimpernel fame, also wrote some mystery stories featuring a female detective. Right up my alley!

These stories are definitely a response to Sherlock Holmes. Lady Molly has an extraordinary intellect and is assisted by a devoted “normal” person, Mary, who writes about the cases. Lady Molly isn’t a consulting detective. Notably, she works for Scotland Yard, but it seems that she’s mostly called upon when the male workforce is stumped. She then uses her feminine intuition and social savvy to solve cases. Refreshingly, most of the cases do have a sort of female twist to them. They’re not necessarily about domestic problems but they’re more concerned with marriages and property.

Sadly though, the problem with using “intuition” to solve cases is that, narratively, it looks like really good guessing. The reader isn’t given enough information to solve along with the story. (At least I didn’t find this to be the case. It could be argued that I lack a lot of feminine anything.) It isn’t really until the last story in this collection that Lady Molly looks even remotely fallible, and that story is the most satisfying of the bunch.

Publishing info: publisher, 1910
My Copy: Browser-based, http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/orczy/molly/molly.html
Genre: mystery/crime

Spring into Horror Wrap-Up & Mini Reviews

April was a little…off for me. Or maybe, rather, I was a little off in April. I didn’t get going on Camp NaNoWriMo and my reading was kind of here and there. Even Dewey’s Readathon was sort of flat.

On the horror front, I only read one thing on my initial TBR: Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart and *that* I started on the 28th! Looking back over what qualifies for Spring into Horror, though, I didn’t do too badly.

I'll Be Gone in the Dark cover I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

If “scary” is really the only qualification for Spring into Horror, this nonfiction work should certainly count. I gave it a full review a couple weeks back.

Hammers on Bone cover Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw

This is the first in Khaw’s Persons Non Grata series. I read the second one, A Song for Quiet, as my first book of the year. I really enjoyed it, but I think I liked Hammers on Bone even more.

Generally, I don’t care for Lovecraft or the Lovecraft mythos. Also, I  have never been fond on noir mysteries/thrillers. But Khaw writes with so much easy flair that I really want more of this combination. At the heart of the story is our private investigator, John Persons. He’s a monster. No really, he’s an eldritch horror in a human skin, but one with more wit and warmth than any other hardboiled dick.

Hellbound Heart cover The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker

Like Stephen King, I like Clive Barker in smaller doses. His novels get a little too… baroque. But in short story and novella form, I think his world building works much better, allowing for our own imaginations to happily do work.

The Hellbound Heart was the basis for the movie, Hellraiser. The movie is pretty close to the book. This isn’t surprising since Barker wrote and directed it. It has spawned nine (!) sequels, but it’s interesting to note that Pinhead, the films’ signature villain, is only one of the Engineer’s retinue. I think what really stands out for me is how grounded in a place the story is, even though it could take place anywhere. The house, Frank’s room, these are all given the weight that would be part of a haunted house story.

Unabridged Poe cover Poe & Short Stories

I started my Edgar Allan Poe read-through in April. Mostly I’ve read through some of his early poetry. While that includes the classic “Alone,” it’s also some not-so-great poems.

I’ve also been reading through an anthology of mystery stories by Baroness Orczy (the writer of The Scarlet Pimpernel). They feature Lady Molly of Scotland Yard, an early female detective.

Review ~ A Song for Quiet

A Song for Quiet (Persons Non Grata, #2)

A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw

Deacon James is a rambling bluesman straight from Georgia, a black man with troubles that he can’t escape, and music that won’t let him go. On a train to Arkham, he meets trouble — visions of nightmares, gaping mouths and grasping tendrils, and a madman who calls himself John Persons. According to the stranger, Deacon is carrying a seed in his head, a thing that will destroy the world if he lets it hatch.

The mad ravings chase Deacon to his next gig. His saxophone doesn’t call up his audience from their seats, it calls up monstrosities from across dimensions. As Deacon flees, chased by horrors and cultists, he stumbles upon a runaway girl, who is trying to escape her father, and the destiny he has waiting for her. Like Deacon, she carries something deep inside her, something twisted and dangerous. Together, they seek to leave Arkham, only to find the Thousand Young lurking in the woods.

The song in Deacon’s head is growing stronger, and soon he won’t be able to ignore it any more.

Why did I choose this book?

Undeniably, H. P. Lovecraft was very influential to the genres of horror and fantasy. He was also racist, xenophobic, and antisemitic. I like the concept of all the people Lovecraft took exception to jumping into his sandbox and adding wings to his castles. I really enjoyed Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom and had heard that Malaysian writer Cassandra Khaw’s A Song for Quiet is another worthy addition to this genre niche.

Ladies of Horror Fiction challenged readers to make their first read of 2019 a female horror author—it was the perfect “excuse” to read A Song for Quiet.

So, what did I think?

Khaw imbues her writing with rhythm which is very appropriate when the main character is a jazz musician. I also enjoyed the little Lovecraft subversions: things like a white cowboy character being described as simian and Arkham being a progressive enough place to allow a black female business owner.

Khaw also does a good job giving shape and physicality to what can often be vague cosmic horror. It’s easy to duck the unimaginable, but Deacon’s visions and the Thousand Young are good and gory. I also like that there is some small measure of hope in this story. I plan on reading more horror this year, but I am a little worried. I think that I have less patience for hopelessness these days.

I enjoyed A Song for Quiet so much that I’m going to have to read Hammers on Bone, the first book on the loose series, in the near future. The first features John Persons, a minor character here, who isn’t quite a person. I am intrigued.

Other Info

Genre: horror
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Release date: August 29, 2017
My copy: OverDrive Read via Tempe Library

Review ~ The Valley of Fear

Cover via Goodreads

The Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle

A coded warning sends Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to a country retreat, where they follow a perplexing trail of clues to unmask a murderer — and to break the stranglehold of a terrorist cult. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories are some of my favorites. I’m doing a reread of the stories, many of which I haven’t read in a long while, in their narratively chronological order. (This was not my idea—Noonlight Reads set this challenge at the beginning of last year. I wasn’t able to take part then, but I decided to give it a shot starting this year.)

What Worked
Like A Study in Scarlet, The Valley of Fear is split into two parts, the second of which provides background and is set in the United States. What works best is, of course, the initial Holmes mystery. It even provides some Moriarty context, although within the chronology of Doyle’s writing, this story comes over twenty years after Moriarty’s debut (I think) in “The Final Problem.”

What Didn’t Work
So, in 1893 , Doyle writes what he hopes will be his final Holmes story, “The Final Problem.” Just to make sure, he kills Holmes off. He’s tired of the franchise and wants to move on. The public, though, has an insatiable appetite for Holmes (we still do, it seems).  Doyle eventually writes The Hound of the Baskervilles, a retro story, and then officially brings Holmes back from the dead in 1903 in “The Adventure of the Empty House.” Another decade after that, Doyle is still writing Holmes…

In the narrative chronology, the story immediately after The Valley of Fear is “A Scandal in Bohemia.” The second Holmes story published (I believe), “Scandal” is one of the most beloved Holmes mysteries and for good reason. The language and the story sparkle. In comparison, the Holmes portion of Fear feels workman-like and the melodramatic American section feels like a story Doyle would rather be telling.

Overall
End of the day, The Valley of Fear *is* Sherlock Holmes and it does add to the cannon with Moriarty tidbits. It’s a bit better than many of the secondary works that will come later when Doyle finally does write his last Holmes story.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, public domain, originally published 1914
Genre: mystery

Mini Reviews, Vol. 12

alt text The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E. T. A. Hoffmann

E. T. A. Hoffmann wrote some weird stuff. This is his most well-known work (written in 1816), though most people are more familiar with the ballet than the original story. The ballet smooths out some of the weird, like the seven-headed rat king, to present a more family friendly fantasy. The original is a little darker and a lot bloodier. Definitely worth revisiting come Christmas time!

alt text The Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum

I have a confession to make: I don’t really like the movie version of The Wizard of Oz. As a movie it’s always felt big and loud to me, even though I can appreciate that it’s quite good for 1939. So, as a kid, I never read the Oz books. Since the Tin Man is more or less and automaton, there are other clockwork men further in the series, and the first one was kinda fun, I’ll be dipping in and out of the series for a while.

alt text The Chronological Man: The Monster In The Mist by Andrew Mayne

Man, the beginning of the month was rough for me DNF-wise. I dumped a couple books off my TBR challenge list. But I settled on The Monster in the Mist. It’s was a mostly fun, steampunk-ish adventure that ran a little too long with its action scenes. The next in the series sounds way over the top, so I’m going to pass on it.

alt text Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

If I had a time machine, I would go back and tell myself to go see this at the theater. Arguably, the best thing about the original Blade Runner is its setting and this sequel, despite some apprehensions, nailed the setting. Plus, it’s the film for which Roger Deakins (my favorite cinematographer) finally won an Oscar. I really should have seen it on the big screen.  I’m not sure I buy the plot and I didn’t care for Jared Leto as the villain, but Ryan Gosling was spot-on in the role of K. (I seem to prefer Gosling in roles where his character is fairly unemotional. See also, Drive (2011).)

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Mini Reviews, Vol. 11

alt text Baker Street By-Ways by James Edward Holroyd

I found this slim paperback at Book Vault, out in Mesa. I didn’t realize that Otto Penzler, whom I know as an editor of mystery anthologies, had put together a collection of Sherlockania in the mid-90s. I’d be interested in other volumes even though this one was a little uneven.

Originally published in 1959, the tone is very “boys-club.” Holroyd grumbles repeatedly about how fed-up his and his friends’ wives are with their Sherlock hobby.  He also doesn’t bother to attribute a quote to an “American woman writer.” Perhaps I should know who he means, but not even Goggle could come up with the mother of the quote.

There are a few good crunchy bits, mostly concerning London geography. The book could have used a few more maps though.

 

alt text The Box Jumper by Lisa Mannetti

My interest in this novelette featuring Houdini was stoked when it was nominated in 2015 for a Shirley Jackson Award. Houdini and “psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic“? Yes, please!

Alas, it mostly didn’t work for me. The story is told through eyes  of Leona, an assistant to Houdini. She’s not the most reliable narrator and that always bugs me. Still, several of the scenes were quite unsettling.

alt text Anything But Ordinary Addie by Mara Rockliff (Author), Iacopo Bruno (Illustrations)

One of my favorite books of last year was Adelaide Herrmann: Queen of Magic, edited by  Margaret B. Steele. This book was directly inspired by that biography. It is a beautiful over-sized picture book for young readers. I’m not super keen on every book needing to be a mirror for the reader, but I would have loved a book about a red-haired female magician. The excitement and empowerment is amped up for a younger audience, but it certainly captures the spirit of Adelaide Herrmann.