Deal Me In, Week 33 ~ “Dark Warm Heart”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Dark Warm Heart” by Rich Larson

Card picked: 8 – My horror suit.
Found at: Tor

Noel caught her wrist, the not-sore one, and folded both hands around it. “I’m sorry about last night,” he said. “I don’t know what’s in my head, sometimes.”

The Story
Kristine and Noel are newlyweds, but Noel’s work collecting the oral tales of the Canadian Inuits has kept him away for an extended time. When Noel returns, after being caught in a freak blizzard, he’s changed. He can’t eat and is obsessed with finishing the English translations of the stories he’s recorded. Kristine is haunted by the phone call she received from Noel after his rescue, of what he told her he saw in the blowing snow.

Larson is very strong with his use of color to evoke the cold throughout this story. I’m kind of glad I read it on a toasty summer day rather than a cold winter night (though the kind of cold and snow that is in this story doesn’t exist in Arizona). Also, I’ve started to think about Readers Imbibing Peril, which doesn’t start until September, and this story was a nice little taste of horror to tide me over.

 

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Deal Me In, Week 27 ~ “Secret Keeper”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Secret Keeper” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

Card picked: 3
Found at: Nightmare Magazine

The Story

A girl is supposed to be beautiful. A girl is supposed to have rosy red cheeks and a laugh that makes men wilt to think of her bright future. A beautiful girl will have a beautiful life. An ugly girl slips unseen through secret doors.

The ghost girl was born with a birth defect that, after many skin grafts, has left her face pale and featureless. She has managed through grade school and middle school by avoiding attention, by becoming a shadow, a ghost. Now in high school, she lives beneath the theater stage and dreams of singing. Alas, due to her  appearance, the best she can do is mentor Chrissie, the new girl with the beautiful voice. Their singing lessons are held in a remote girl’s bathroom, the stalls keeping ghost girl from being seen. When Chrissie is given a supporting role in the spring musical instead of the lead, ghost girl’s vengeance is visited upon the less talented, but prettier Aimee and Chrissie has to fill in. All goes well, for a while, until the toll of ghost girl’s mentorship—being completely focused and keeping ghost girl’s secret—becomes too high for Chrissie. And Chrissie also has secrets that the ghost girl is keeping for her.

“Secret Keeper” is an adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera, gender-bent and set in high school, and it works very well. By senior year, the ghost girl is a thing of legend. No one quite remembers the truth about her and every prank and misfortune is blamed on her. By being unnoticed and otherwise forgotten, the ghost girl has access to information and secrets that she uses judiciously to manipulate Chrissie and frame Aimee. But the ending does add a tiny bit of ambiguity to the situation. No one can really hear the ghost girl except Chrissie.

Spring into Horror Halfway-ish Point

For someone who had no horror on her TBR at the beginning of the month, I’m doing pretty well.

Castle of the Carpathians cover The Castle of the Carpathians by Jules Verne

I’ll be honest, I haven’t really read much/any Verne. I know the basics of many of his more famous Extraordinary Voyage novels (20,000 Leagues Under the SeaThe Mysterious Island), but I haven’t actually read them yet. I ended up quickly reading The Castle of the Carpathians due to a research tangent.

The story is…very slow. 90% of it does not occur in the titular castle. I feel like Verne decided to write a Gothic novel with the intent of explaining all the possible supernatural happening with technology—very pre-Scooby Doo of him. The problem is, Verne’s not a Gothic writer. This book might have influenced the early portion of Dracula. If it did, Bram Stoker massively improved upon it.

The Greatcoat cover The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore

I knew going into this book that it was going to be a somewhat romantic slow-burn ghost story. And I like that sort of thing, but I wish there had been a little more menace to the haunting, maybe a little more of a zing to the ending. On the other hand, it wasn’t an entirely predicable ghost story, which was nice.

The Fifty Year Sword cover The Fifty Year Sword by Mark Z. Danielewski

I’ve sort of been in the mood to reread Danielewski’s House of Leaves, a book I didn’t quite like when I read it the first time, but has weirdly stuck with me. But I couldn’t easily find my copy. When I was at the library I considered  checking out their copy, but then I saw The Fifty Year Sword on the shelf.

It’s an odd size for a hard back. It’s cover it riddled with holes as though made by a big sewing needle (or the miniature sword letter opener I own).  The text in the book is upside down and backwards and written in a free-verse style with many quotation marks (demoting different speakers, it’s explained) and embroidery looking illustrations (our protagonist is a seamstress). The names of most of the characters are strange. While there are shadows of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Drosselmeier in the Story Teller and Shirley Jackson’s “The Witch” in the conceit, I sometimes wish Danielewski would simply tell a story without all the shenanigans. But, I suppose, what else was I expecting…

Deal Me In, Week 15 ~ “A Human Stain”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“A Human Stain” by Kelly Robson

Card picked: 6
Found at: Tor

The Story
Down on her luck, Helen is offered the opportunity to accompany Bärchen, a man she barely knows beyond his propensity for revelry, to his ancestral home to teach his orphaned nephew English for the summer. It shouldn’t be too bad of a job even though Bärchen lives in a remote castle called Meresee, the servants barely do their jobs, and Peter’s beautiful French nursemaid won’t open her mouth except to say oui. After only spending a day at home, Bärchen hastily returns to Munich, leaving Helen to puzzle through the lies and secrets of Meresee.

If you smashed The Turn of the Screw into a H. P. Lovecraft tale, but gave it a female protagonist with agency and wit, you’d have something like “A Human Stain.” It’s a chilling tale, well-told.

The Author
I’m fairly unfamiliar with Kelly Robson, but she’s had a bunch of publications in the last few years. In fact, her first novel just came out!

Review ~ The Ramshead Algorithm and Other Stories

This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review. (And trust me, if he knew about the extended metaphor in this review, he probably would have thought twice about asking…)

Cover via Goodreads

The Ramshead Algorithm and Other Stories by K.J. Kabza

Ramshead Jones has a billionaire father, a dysfunctional family, and a shocking secret nestled in the hedge maze in his backyard: Earth’s only portal to hundreds of other realities. When Ramshead’s unwitting father decides to rip the hedge maze out, Ramshead is forced to use dangerous magic to move the portal before it’s destroyed, too—unless the deadly maze of other family secrets that come to light destroys him first.

In THE RAMSHEAD ALGORITHM AND OTHER STORIES, sand cats speak, ghost bikes roll, corpses disappear, and hedge mazes are more bewildering than you’ve ever imagined. These 11 fantasy and science fiction stories from KJ Kabza have been dubbed “Sublime” (Tangent), “Rich” (SFRevu), and “Ethereal” (Quick Sip Reviews) and will take you deep into other astonishing realities that not even Ramshead has discovered.

Cover design and interior illustrations by Dante Saunders. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Ages ago, I reviewed a Best Horror of the Year anthology that included Kabza’s “The Soul in the Bell Jar” (also included in this collection). I’ve been a fan ever since.

What Worked
Short story collections are like a box of chocolates. Sure, looking at the glossy bonbons, you don’t know which is going to be coconut cream and which one is, uh, pink, but you do roughly know what you’re getting when you buy a box of Whitman’s or Russel Stover. Such is the case when you pick up a collection or anthology—a certain quality author or editor is going to provide certain quality stories, despite inevitable pink cream equivalent. The way to avoid that is to buy a better box of chocolates. The Ramshead Algorithm, my friends, is a box of top-end Godiva.*

Every story in this collection is excellent. I had read over half of them in the past between Kabza’s self-pubbed collection Under Stars and some of his more recent publications. I decided to reread them in order to have the full experience of the collection. I noticed certain details (gardens, hedge mazes, ruins, and oceans) that repeat throughout as well a theme of searching and finding which I might have missed if I had only read the new-to-me stories.

I believe in my review of Under Stars I mentioned how well-done the world building is and I want to reiterate that. The short story form necessitates brevity, but every detail in these stories creates the world, whether the flash fiction-sized “All Souls Proceed” to the novella “You Can’t Take It With You.”

What Didn’t Work
My one and only beef was that I had scheduled out the stories from this collection not realizing that the final one in the collection “You Can’t Take It With You” was indeed a novella of a hundred pages. My entire reading schedule was messed up and it was basically my own darn fault.

So, there is nothing that didn’t work.

(Btw, “You Can’t Take It With You” is what Ready Player One would be without the nostalgia nods every .5 seconds. And this story is the better one.)

Overall
Readers might be interested to know that Kabza is a LGBTQ+ writer and some of his characters are LGBTQ+ as well. If your doing a diversity-in-reading challenge, sure, go ahead, this is a great collection to add to your pile. But, please, don’t let that be the only reason you decide to read The Ramshead Algorithm. Read it because who doesn’t want a box of Godiva?

* Okay, I’ll admit it, I have pretty middle class tastes and Godiva is what comes to mind when I think of classy chocolates. With a little googling, Godiva does make it to many “luxury” lists. Plus, most people have heard of Godiva while many of the other Swiss/French/etc. chocolatiers don’t really roll off the brain. But if you have a favorite high-end chocolate, go ahead and substitute it.

Publishing info, my copy: PDF, Pink Narcissus Press, 1/16/18
Acquired: 10/10/17
Genre: fantasy, science fiction, a dash of horror

Deal Me In, Week 50 ~ “Gentlemen”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)
(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Gentlemen” by Craig Spector and John Skipp

Card picked: 10
From: The Architecture of Fear, edited by Kathryn Cramer

The Story
Generally, this anthology has been a little light on stories that centered on architecture—actual buildings. Maybe I had an out-sized expectation of how the hauntings would play out; I often fall victim to my own disappointment. “Gentlemen,” though, does not disappoint. It’s haunted place: a dive bar bathroom. Not only do Spector and Skipp take advantage of the low hanging gross-out fruits, but provide a truly eerie setting.

Alas, the story was a bit lacking. David, our hapless protagonist, is in love with LeeAnn, but is firmly in the friend zone. This story was written in 1989 before the term “friend zone” was much of a thing. LeeAnn calls on David whenever her romantic relationships go south. And on this particular night, she calls David to a bar filled with awful people and having a curious bathroom in the basement. While he seems to become infected or possessed by the forces that exist in the bathroom—that urge him to BE A MAN—there’s a social aspect that is lacking. David’s bad behavior can be explained away by whatever has taken over, which is actually not very scary.

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