Tag Archives: Dressed

Review ~ The Seance

The Seance by John Harwood

Cover via Goodreads

Wraxford Hall, a decaying mansion in the English countryside, has a sinister reputation. Once, a family disappeared there. And now Constance Langton has inherited this dark place as well as the mysteries surrounding it. Having grown up in a house marked by the death of her sister, Constance is no stranger to mystery, secrets, and the dark magic around us. Her father was distant. Her mother was in perpetual mourning for her lost child. In a desperate attempt to coax her mother back to health, Constance took her to a seance hoping she would find supernatural comfort. But tragic consequences followed, leaving her alone in the world– alone with Wraxford Hall. Saddled with this questionable bequest, she must find the truth at the heart of all these disappearances, apparitions, betrayal, blackmail, and villainy, even if it costs her life. John Harwood’s second novel delivers on the great promise proven by his first with this gripping mystery set in the heart of Victorian England. (via Goodreads)

I wish I could remember where I came across mention of this book. It happened in October, because it wasn’t in my What Else in September post and I haven’t known about it longer than that. When I saw it was available from the Phoenix Digital Library, I nabbed it without realizing that I had read Harwood’s The Ghost Writer.

The Seance starts with a quote from Elijah Farrington’s Revelations of a Spirit Medium. I wasn’t expecting this book to automatically ground itself in the non-paranormal, and while I was looking for a good creepy read, I wasn’t disheartened by that. I wasn’t disappointed either. The Seance is full of atmosphere. It starts slow, but by the end I was talking to the book, trying to convince the character that their plans were bad, bad ideas. In some books, that reaction might indicate frustration with characters; that the characters are acting stupidly. In The Seance, it felt more like inevitability. The characters had no choice except to do what they were doing.

After re-reading my impressions of The Ghost Writer (it’s been over five years), I have to say that The Seance seemed much more solidly put together than Harwood’s first novel. That great Hammer horror feel is still there–a set piece of the novel is a suit of plate mail in a ruined manor surrounded by dark misty woods and the plot is labyrinthine–but the events of The Seance are more clear, even when one of the characters is being deceptive.

The Seance was pretty much the perfect book for me to read last week on the heels of a pretty disappointing similar book. (The review of that book will be up in a couple weeks.) I wasn’t entirely sold on Hardwood before, but I’ll be taking a look at The Asylum in the future.

Genre: Gothic horror.
Why did I choose to read this book? Well, I am writing about seances and stuff.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Heck, yeah!
Craft Lessons: More mysterious suits of armor.
Format: In-Browser ebook.
Procurement: Greater Phoenix Digital Library

Bloggers Dressed in Blood

Review ~ Magic

Cover via Goodreads

Magic by William Goldman

Starting out as a boy in the Catskills, Corky develops into a brilliant and famous magician whose long-hidden secret and expert skills attract dark forces intent on destroying him. (via Goodreads)

A.) That summary is…not great. The crux of Corky as a character is that without Fats and his ventriloquism act, he’s a pretty poor magician. That’s his secret. As for dark forces, well, I guess. Maybe. Can madness be considered a dark force?

B.) I was really surprised that I didn’t own this book when I looked for it earlier in the year. I like William Goldman. I like the short, screwy horror novels of the 1970s. How had I not read or acquired this book previously?

Magic has the perfect first line for any book about or touching on stage magic: “Trust me for a while.”  Maybe that’s a good first line for any book period. Writers and magicians both ask for just a little trust before leading the audience down a path.

The novel begins with some journal entries labeled as Police Exhibits. These set a very sinister tone for the rest of the book. I had seen the movie version of Magic with Anthony Hopkins many years ago and mostly remembered the plot, but Goldman’s execution of it in novel form (he wrote the screenplay as well) is unsettling. As unsettling as ventriloquist’s dummy. There were a couple times during flashbacks to Corky’s childhood that were a little slow, but they’re paid off well enough later in the book.

A solid, seasonal read.

Genre: Horror
Why did I choose to read this book? Looking at magic fiction, like Goldman, like 70s horror.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yep. It was a fast read.
Craft Lessons: Goldman does a few non-standard things that work, but I’m not sure a newbie can get away with being structurally unconventional.
Format: Good old-fashioned mass-market paperback.
Procurement: BookMaze

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Saturday Cinema – R.I.P. Magic, or Magic Dressed in Blood

Ticket3As might be obvious, I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading and other “research” into the subject of magic. Between Grand Guignol theater and spiritualist acts like the Davenport brothers, horror has lived close to magic for a long time and both have always been close to my heart. It certainly hasn’t hurt matters that the signature trick of Joseffy (one of the magicians I’m writing about) was  Balsamo the Living Skull. He also had a disembodied rapping hand and caused a stir in a department store when he and it went shopping for a new cuff…


Growing up in the 70s and 80s, popular magic was on the tamer end of the spectrum with the likes of Doug Henning and David Copperfield on television. Seeing Penn and Teller on Letterman was…surprising. (The good bit starts at about 2:30 with a long set up.)

It should be noted that the classic sawing an assistant into halves wasn’t done until the 1920s, but didn’t gain popularity until a pretty woman was added to the mix. Without even realizing it, I’ve included no women being dismembered in this collection of videos. Kevin James and his half-assistant has a little fun with Vin Diesel on The Johnathan Ross show.

Fellow The Illusionists, Dan Sperry nearly killed Sharon Osborn (with laughter) with his Life Savers and dental floss routine on America’s Got Talent, but I rather like his take on the classic dove production:

Speaking of classic, Neil Patrick Harris and Jonathan Levit performed Jim Steinmeyer’s Palingenesia, a recreation of Thomas William Tobin’s 1872 illusion. at the 9th Los Angeles Conference on Magic History in November 2005.

But back to spiritualists and a magician I grew up with: David Copperfield included a version of the spirit cabinet in his 1995 TV special.

If you wait long enough, everything that is old is new again.

Bloggers Dressed in Blood


Bloggers Dressed In Blood Mini-Challenge: Freeze It!

Bloggers Dressed In Blood Mini-Challenge: Freeze It!

Hosted by

Midnight Book Girl

Joey on Friends used to keep The Shining in the freezer because it scared him so much. For this challenge, I want you to share what book you’ve read that’s worthy of being put in the freezer and why you found it scary.

I don’t get too creeped out by books. Usually. Often, the scare will be situational, like when I was reading The Haunting of Hill House in college. My third-floor dorm room was right across from the stairway. I was reading the part when the entity in the house slams against the walls outside of Eleanor’s room when a group of floor mates returned from a raucous night out. I nearly jumped out of my skin…

But there is a book that did leave me very unsettled:

In the Dark

Nothing much happens to Jane Kerry, a young librarian. Then one day Jane finds an envelope containing a fifty-dollar bill and a note instructing her to “Look homeward, angel.” Jane pulls a copy of the Thomas Wolfe novel of that title off the shelf and finds a second envelope. This one contains a hundred-dollar bill and another clue. Both are signed, “MOG (Master of Games).” But this is no ordinary game. As it goes on, it requires more and more of Jane’s ingenuity, and pushes her into actions that she knows are crazy, immoral or criminal–and it becomes continually more dangerous. More than once, Jane must fight for her life, and she soon learns that MOG won’t let her quit this game. She’ll have to play to the bitter end.

Semi-omniscient MOG and Jane’s moral slide weirdly threw me for a loop. Maybe because the story starts in a library, something of a sacred place for me, or maybe because Jane’s just so normal, but whatever the case, Richard Laymon really wound me up with this book.

This Mini-Challenge is part of Bloggers Dressed in Blood, a month-long celebration of all things horror. Sign-up, link-up! Do it, before you regret it.
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Review ~ Mrs. Poe

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

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen

Cover via Goodreads

It is 1845, and Frances Osgood is desperately trying to make a living as a writer in New York; not an easy task for a woman—especially one with two children and a philandering portrait painter as her husband. As Frances tries to sell her work, she finds that editors are only interested in writing similar to that of the new renegade literary sensation Edgar Allan Poe, whose poem, “The Raven” has struck a public nerve.

She meets the handsome and mysterious Poe at a literary party, and the two have an immediate connection. Poe wants Frances to meet with his wife since she claims to be an admirer of her poems, and Frances is curious to see the woman whom Edgar married.

As Frances spends more and more time with the intriguing couple, her intense attraction for Edgar brings her into dangerous territory. And Mrs. Poe, who acts like an innocent child, is actually more manipulative and threatening than she appears. (via Goodreads)

If I have any sacred cow, it’s my thoughts surrounding Edgar Allan Poe and his works. Honestly, my theories are pretty mundane. He is one of those people who, despite being very intelligent and insightful in some subjects, just can’t get his life together. His finances are a mess. His love life is a shambles. His professional life teeters on the verge of collapse. Poe was a depressive and an alcoholic and life didn’t treat him very well besides.

The promise  of Lynn Cullen’s Poe fit into my thoughts. Unfortunately, the Poe she gave me was pretty bland. The reader is told, over and over again, that Poe is mad, bad, and dangerous to know, but he’s never really shown to be that way. The Poe of this novel is clean and sober. Aside from a few cutting comments to critics, he’s quiet and reserved. In one scene, he saves a kitten from a group of bullies. I’m not saying that Poe can’t have these qualities, but if our heroine is swooning about what a bad boy he is, we should probably see that first.

In general, the first half to two-thirds of the book is very repetitive. Over and over, Mrs. Osgood laments about her writer’s block, her poverty, her philandering husband. The encounters between Poe and Osgood are nearly the same until they finally kiss. The main twist of the plot didn’t come from nowhere, but it culminates in a rather befuddling series of events, especially since our Edgar has been recently established as the savior of kittens.

The other thing that bugged me about Cullen’s writing is the historical name-dropping. I’m sure that Baltimore in 1845 was a pretty happening place. Presumably, writers and other creative types got together salon-style to interact. Two writer characters in this setting probably knew plenty of people whose names we recognize 170 years later. But when Sylvester Graham, the inventor of the graham cracker, is given a paragraph to expound on the benefits of an organic diet, apropos of nothing particularly related to the plot, and Herman Melville is given a few lines about sailing in the Pacific, it starts to feel like every research tidbit ended up in the novel. It starts feeling more like a Who’s Who than details included to give depth to the setting. There would seem to be a line between good details and way too many random details. I don’t know where that line is at, and as writer I should probably investigate it more. For me, Mrs. Poe strayed over that line.

Genre: Historical fiction.
Why did I choose to read this book? Was interested in a Poe novel.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes.
Craft Lessons: There’s such a things as too many historical details.
Format: Kindle ebook
Procurement: NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

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I read this a while back, but I’m still going to link up the review here and there. 😉

Fright-Fall Readathon 2013 & Bloggers Dressed in Blood

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril and Gothic September were the beginning. October only gets better!

Fright-Fall Readathon 2013

Hosted by Michelle @ Seasons of Reading

All you have to do to participate is read at least one horror/scary book.  For the faint-hearted among you, it can be a spooky mystery, a scary thriller, or something classically gothic.

I’m currently working on The Seance Society by Michael Nethercott. Thus far, it hasn’t been too spooky. I’m hoping. Next up: A White Room by Stephanie Carrol. I’ve heard good things about it. Back up book: Magic by William Goldman. Yes, I’m going to rely on the author of The Princess Bride to get me through a horror challenge.

The Seance Society: A Mystery A White Room Magic

Bloggers Dressed in Blood

BloggersDressedInBloodtestJoin Steph at The Fake Steph and Danielle at Mercurial Musings and Kate at Midnight Book Girl for a month full of bookish terror and delight!

Bloggers Dressed in Blood begins on October 1, 2013.

Huge Pile of Bloody Loot!

Book bloggers Steph, Danielle, Kim, and Kate hosted Bloggers Dressed in Blood. A simple idea: Have fellow bloggers link up posts about the spooky goodness we partook of during the month of October. The prize package included, from The Fake Steph, chocolates, fake bloody fingers, and a huge pile of books!

(plus Final Exam by A. Bates, Summer of Fear by Lois Duncan, and stack of R.L. Stein books)

And from Mercurial Musings, a shiny Kindle Touch!

One randomized roll later, I won this huge pile of loot! The books arrived last week and the Kindle yesterday. This is my first experience with a Kindle. I must say it’s a nice little piece of equipment. I’ll probably have a comparison post between it and my Sony in the near-ish future.

A great big Thank You to the awesome Dressed in Blood Bloggers! Even if I hadn’t won, I really enjoyed participating.