Posted in Readathons-Challenges-Memes, TBRs

20 Books of Summer 2023

I was on the fence about joining Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer this year, but it occurred to me that fun motivation and relaxed structure might be exactly what I need to get some reading done during the worst months of the year. (Worst for me. I don’t get along very well with the sun.)

I am only going to do 10 Books of Summer:
Updated 6/6/23

  1. The Monk by Matthew Lewis
  2. The War Magician by David Fisher
  3. The Blue Bar by Damyanti Biswas
  4. Martin Dressler by Steven Milhauser
  5. Tales of the Marvelous Machine edited by Robet Taylor & Burchenal Green
  6. Through Spaces by K. J. Kabza
  7. Added: The Age of Lovecraft, edited by Carl H. Sederholm & Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock
  8. I See By My Outfit by Peter S. Beagle
  9. Song of the Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown
  10. The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt

Removed: Yes, Chef Marcus by Samuelsson

I’ve got long books, short books, fiction and nonfiction. Heck, I even have two books of short stories. These are all from my shelves, but I am going to the library this week; a title or two might get switched out.

Happy Reading, Everyone! 😎

Posted in Female Author, Nonfiction

#20BooksOfSummer22 Review: Nightmare Fuel

cover: Nightmare Fuel by Nina Nesseth

Nightmare Fuel: The Science of Horror Films by Nina Nesseth

An electronic copy of this book was supplied to me by the publisher.

Last year, I read a book called The Science of Women in Horror. It was a mildly perplexing book. The History of Women in Horrors or The Roles of Women in Horror might have been better titles. It wasn’t an uninformative book, but other than touching on some sociology issues, it was pretty light on science. So, I was a little wary about Nightmare Fuel.

Luckily, there are quite a few ways in which to investigate horror films through science. Nina Nesseth starts with a quick primer on our biological fear reactions and how horror movies use certain tropes and techniques to trigger (or try to trigger) those responses. Chapter two takes a quick sociological detour to examine how horror films often reflect societal fears. (We have, it would seem, spent decades fearing communism . . .) Subsequent chapters look at how horror filmmakers design monster and soundscapes and how different types of horror (slashers, body horror, ghost stories, etc.) affect us in different ways. Nesseth wraps up the book with a lengthy chapter looking at what impact horror movies have on audiences. Do scary movies offer cathartic release or prepare viewers for dangerous situations? Why do people enjoy being scared? And do horror movie lead to desensitization to violence and asocial behaviors? These are all good questions to addressed, even if scientific findings aren’t always conclusive.

Nesseth is an engaging writer with an obvious love for the horror genre. She presents the science at a fairly basic level with clarity and humor. The book covers its subjects with a decent amount of detail. Included are interviews with filmmakers that, while sometimes interesting, don’t add a whole lot. In general, though, I enjoyed Nightmare Fuel. I’ll be keeping a couple of things from it in mind during my Countdown to October.

Posted in Male Author, Novel

#20BooksOfSummer Review ~ The Circus of Dr. Lao

cover: The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney

The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney

As John Marco’s introduction to this edition points out, the plot of The Circus of Dr. Lao is simple: a circus arrives in a small town, puts on its show, and then leaves the small town. The devil, though, is the details.

Dr. Lao’s circus isn’t your usual show. There are no P. T. Barnum elephants and clowns. There isn’t a mirror maze or carousel either, à la Mr. Dark’s carnival. Bradbury was probably influenced by Finney’s novel and Peter S. Beagle perhaps moreso. Mommy Fortuna’s Midnight Carnival shares several attractions with Dr. Lao’s: a satyr, a “sea serpent,” and a unicorn. Dr. Lao does present a peep show too (for sober men over the age of 18) but the subject matter seems rather more like a cultural documentary than a kootch show.

On one hand, the text feels surprisingly modern. Finney plays around a lot with concepts of gender and expectations. Miss Birdsong, the town’s English teacher, briefly considers dressing as a man in order to see what the peep show is all about. Many of the attractions have shifting genders. Dr. Lao, a Chinese man, shifts between erudite educator and broken-English stereotype, based mostly on who he’s interacting with. On the other, this is a novel written in 1934. The word hermaphrodite is used probably more than it should be. Need to know a racial slur? Well, it probably gets casually used at least once within the narrative. And there are definitely some cringe-worthy racial stereotypes at work in the context of the peep show.

Dr. Lao offers no morals at his circus and Finney doesn’t moralize either. Most of the citizens of Abalone, Arizona continue on with their lives unchanged (except notibly for those who don’t follow the rules about the medusa exhibit). I can see myself giving this book a reread in the future after I’ve let my mind mull on it more. Maybe then I’ll come to some conclusions about it.

(This was also book #15 for Beat the Backlog. Ten more to go!)

Posted in Female Author, Novel, Readathons-Challenges-Memes

#20BooksOfSummer22 Review ~ Persuasion

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Recently, there was a bit of a kerfuffle in my corner of the internet over the trailer of a new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. After reading some of the passionate discourse and having liked Pride and Prejudice more than I expected, I decided to add Persuasion to my summer reading list.

Unlike Pride and Prejudice, I was relatively unfamiliar with the story of Persuasion and perhaps my reading suffered for that. The cast of relations and relatives was somewhat dizzying to me. I lost a few threads, I feel, after about to75% mark. I probably would have fared better if my brain could put more concrete attributes to names (which having watched a film adaptation of P&P before I read it allowed me to do).

I can definitely see where things in the recent movie trailer are striking wrong notes for Austen fans. Anne seems to be the constant, solid one in her family, probably not prone to jelly mustaches. “Now we’re worse than exes, we’re friends” also seems to be a big bone of contention and, yeah, I don’t know where that sentiment is in the novel. Director Carrie Cracknell implies that the trailer paints a potentially inaccurate view of how the movie actually is. I guess the world at large, or at least people with Netflix subscriptions, will find out in a couple of weeks.

Personally, I found it to be a fine story, but Austen doesn’t have quite enough setting details for me to truly love her work. I do think that filmmakers can bring a lot to her stories, whether in faithful adaptations like the 1995 (or 2005) Pride and Prejudice or very modern updates like 2022’s Fire Island.

Tangentially, Persuasion was published posthumously in 1817. I never fully realized that Mary Shelley and Jane Austen were publication contemporaries.

Posted in Male Author, Nonfiction

#20BooksOfSummer22 ~ Hiding the Elephant

cover: Hiding the Elephant by Jim Steinmeyer

Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear by Jim Steinmeyer

Hiding the Elephant is perhaps the polar opposite of Psychic Blues. Jim Steinmeyer loves stage magic. He loves the history of it and the nuts and bolts (sometimes literally) of how tricks work. He’s also a good writer, able to present both things in tandem. Which, by the way, if you are a reader who does not want to know how tricks are done, this isn’t the book for you. Hiding the Elephant presents some magic history through the lens of one trick: Harry Houdini’s disappearing an elephant in 1918 at the New York Hippodrome. A lot of cabinet mysteries are described in detail. While many of these tricks are on the older side, we are talking about magic from the turn of the 20th century, some of the concepts are still used in modern magic.

This is the second book about stage magic that I wanted to reread this summer, as a magic refresher. It was one of the first magic history books I’d read back in 2013 and it was fun to revisit it after reading a dozen or so more books about “golden age” magic, including Steinmeyer’s book on Howard Thurston (The Last Greatest Magician in the World).

Posted in Male Author, Nonfiction

#20BooksOfSummer22 ~ Magic in Theory

cover: Magic in Theory by Peter Lamont & Richard Wiseman.

Magic in Theory by Peter Lamont & Richard Wiseman

The full title of this book Magic in Theory: An Introduction to the Theoretical and Psychological Elements of Conjuring. The name is almost as long as the book, but it’s pretty crunchy nonfiction. This is probably the third time I’ve read it straight through and have referred to it occasionally when writing magician characters.

Magic in Theory doesn’t address how specific magic tricks are done. Rather, it offers nine categories of magic effects (appearance, vanish, transposition, transformation, penetration, restoration, extraordinary feats, telekinesis, and extrasensory perception) and how audience perception can be swayed by various forms of misdirection. It also has a lengthy chapter on how these concepts are different when presented in a pseudo-scientific way, rather than a stage magic way. Wiseman and Lamont readily confess that these theories are not a be-all or end-all of how to perform magic, but I find the categories helpful.

I originally bought my copy of Magic in Theory in December of 2014 (probably with birthday money) about two years into reading about magic and magicians. Probably not for a casual reader, but if you’ve watched enough Fool Us, and don’t mind thinking about how magic tricks are done, it might be of interest.

Posted in Male Author, Novel

#20BooksOfSummer22 ~ On Stranger Tides

On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers

Channeling past summer blockbuster fun, I decided that I’d kick off 20 Books of Summer with Caribbean adventure and undead pirates: On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers.

Yes, the book was loose inspiration for the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film. I haven’t seen the movie. I jumped ship on that franchise after the third film (I think), after very much enjoying the first one. That I can’t remember whether I’ve seen At World’s End is indicative of my philosophy here: I can forgive many sins for undead pirates, but even I run out of grace.

On Stranger Tides starts out pretty well. Jack, a young man bent on avenging wrongs to his father, is waylaid during a trip to Jamaica by pirates and pressed into their service. He also becomes wrapped up in the doings of a father taking his beautiful daughter to the Fountain of Youth for nefarious purposes. The first half of the book is concerned with traveling to the Fountain and avoiding the ghosts and insanities that plagues the path. It’s creepy and reminded me somewhat of Hodgson’s “The Boats of the ‘Glen Carrig'”. Unfortunately, the second half of the book is mostly a chase with Elizabeth becoming everyone’s McGuffin. It’s repetitive and, after giving Elizabeth a personality earlier in the book, disappointing. (I will admit that, while this is definitely not the Elizabeth of the films, my opinion of the character is probably colored by the movies.) There are also some instances of thick exposition and twist coincidence at the end that didn’t feel very earned.

Beat the Backlog: I purchased On Stranger Tides on Aug. 22, 2017 as a Kindle ebook.
20 Books of Summer: This is book #1 of (hopefully) 20.