Deal Me In, Week 51 ~ “The Invisibles”


Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Invisibles” by Charles de Lint

Card picked: Jack of Spades

From: David Copperfield’s Beyond Imagination  (This is the last story from this anthology.)

Thoughts: Some of the stories in these Copperfield anthologies have felt more like short vignettes: weird set up, character dealing with weird set up, no conclusion. And occasionally, some of those stories haven’t been short at all. (I’m looking at you, Jack Kirby/Janet Berliner.) With “The Invisibles,” Charles De Lint writes one of the most complete stories in either of the Copperfield books.

One evening while hanging out at his favorite coffee shop with his friends, our narrator, a painter, sees an invisible woman. Well, she’s invisible to his friends anyway, and to the barista who never takes her order, and to the people on the street who nearly walk into her. Our narrator*, intrigued by her, follows her home. On the street in front of her apartment building, he’s confronted by a kid with powers to disappear in his own way. Our narrator is led down a rabbit hole and inadvertently becomes the “spokesperson” for the invisibles.

My only complaint about this story is that there were a couple of sentences that were really heavy-handed about the “invisible” people–the homeless, service people, etc.–that we encounter all the time. In a story that was deft in so many other ways, I don’t think de Lint really needed to clobber the reader over the head with a message.

*I really need to start paying attention during first person narratives for use of the narrator’s name.

Deal Me In, Week 43 ~ “[Answer]”


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“[Answer]” by F. Paul Wilson

Card picked: Nine of Clubs

From: David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible

Review: The title of this story is a five letter word. It looks like ROPED, but typed over a few times. This word is the Answer.

Yuppy-wannbe Michael Moulton discovers the Answer when an audio cassette tape is accidentally substituted for his Three Months to Financial Independence video cassette. He calls the company to complain and is told to box up the tape and a replacement will be provided immediately. Immediately isn’t fast enough, Michael listens to the tape before the owner of the self-help company, Dennis Nickleby himself, arrives to retrieve it. There is only one thing on the audio cassette, a garbled word. The Answer.

Nickleby is concerned that Michael has listened to the tape and Michael lies through omission about it. All is well until Michael talks to his stock broker about the strange tape and the Answer. His stock broker misunderstands the conversation and makes a trade for a stock he thought he heard Michael say. The stock soars and Michael realizes that the Answer is always the best Answer to whatever question is being asked. Unfortunately, an omniscient cabal zealously protects its usage. Will Michael be smart enough to use the Answer against them?

This is a decent story, a solid take on what happens when an unwise man gets hold of a magic word. The minor trick of a typed-over word works really well narratively, though I don’t know how you’d pull it off in the digital age. If updated, a CD-ROM and a DVD would make a more likely switch-out than an audio and video tape.

About the Author: F. Paul Wilson is a horror writer I’ve been meaning to read more of for ages. He’s known for The Keep, which was adapted for film in 1983 by Michael Mann, and his Repairman Jack stories/novels.

Deal Me In, Week 37 ~ “Indigo Moon”


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“Indigo Moon” by Janet Berliner

Card picked: Three of Spades

From: David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible, edited by David Copperfield & Janet Berliner

Review: This story has a 90s TV movie feel. I can imagine very big hair and shoulder pads. It’s a thriller that takes a supernatural turn, a very 80s-90s thing to do. And maybe this nostalgia is also because I associate movies and fiction about Carlos the Jackal with that time period. The Jackal is one of our main characters and the target of some transformation magic. My one objection is that Berliner draws some direct supernatural lines between Carlos the Jackal and Jack the Ripper. These are two very different types of killers. Perhaps some other terrorist would have been a better fit?

(Quick review this week. I am enjoying some crisp fall weather away from my computer.)

Is This Your Card?

Deal Me In, Week 19 ~ “Dealing with the Devil”


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“Dealing with the Devil” by Robert Weinberg

Card picked: Four of Spades

From: David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible

Review: I can’t sum it up better than David Copperfield in his intro: “Robert Weinberg pits a priest with a carny background against a dead card shark who exists in the real world courtesy of his deal with the devil.” He had me at “priest with a carny background.” Unfortunately, after a couple weeks of Millhauser, I was left a little dissatisfied with the level of detail in this story when it came to poker-playing and card-sharpery. I may also be hyper aware of a certain level of hand-wavery since I’ve spent some time trying to write a decent blackjack scene (which was ultimately replaced by a roulette scene).

Overall, though, “Dealing with the Devil” is enjoyable, not challenging, and a bit predictable. Basically, it was perfectly suited to a Saturday afternoon after a trying week.

About the Author: I’m generally familiar with Robert Weinberg as an anthologist, notably the fun 100 Little series of horror and mystery stories.

Deal Me In, Week 18 ~ “The Barnum Museum”


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“The Barnum Museum” by Steven Millhauser

Card picked: Two of Diamonds

From: The Barnum Museum


Less of a story and more of a detailed description of a Barnum Museum that doesn’t quite exist and the people who are drawn to it.

Not what we’re talking about. (Image by GK tramrunner on en.wikipedia)

In reality there are two Barnum Museums. If you google Barnum Museum, the primary result is a beautiful building in Connecticut that P. T. Barnum had built to house the Bridgeport Scientific Society and the Fairfield County Historical Society. Unfortunately, the societies didn’t survive financially. The building was closed in 1943 and reopened in the 1960s as a museum to Barnum the man.

The Barnum museum that Millhauser is alluding to is Barnum’s American Museum. Built in 1841 in New York City, it housed attractions both educational and sensational. The five story museum displayed both the Fiji mermaid and had an aquarium big enough to house a white whale. Chang and Eng were on “display” a room away from historical dioramas. There was a lavish theater where performers of every type put on their acts. It was criticized by the morally upstanding for its spectacle. It was immensely popular with everyone else. It dramatically burnt to the ground in 1865.

This is more like it.

Millhauser’s story is kind of a mashup of these two museums. His Barnum Museum still stands and architecturally has some of the attributes of the Connecticut museum, except in greater quantity and more fantastical. The displays, or rather inhabitants, are more mythical too. Three mermaids in a pool, a griffin in a cage, and a man with a flying carpet are among the detailed recitation of attractions. Steven Millhauser is joining Bret Easton Ellis in the pantheon of authors who can bring an enormous amount of detail to bear. The controversy surrounding Millhauser’s Barnum Museum is not whether it’s morally questionable to gawk at bare-breasted mermaids, but rather, if such mermaids are real as they seem to be, would such wonderment make the world outside the museum meaningless? And if they’re fake, are they still not wonderful due to the amount of effort that goes into such deception? (I’d say that the answer to that second question is a test as to whether a person appreciates or hates knowing the secrets behind magic tricks.)

Millhauser does give us one named character, but we only spend a few hundred words with her. Hannah is shy, mousy, and intelligent, and she becomes a frequenter of the museum. Like others, she seems to be seeking knowledge from the fantastical, or the lies behind it all.

Review ~ A Study in Silks

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

A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Holloway

Cover via Goodreads

Evelina Cooper, the niece of the great Sherlock Holmes, is poised to enjoy her first Season in London’s high society. But there’s a murderer to deal with—not to mention missing automatons, a sorcerer, and a talking mouse.

In a Victorian era ruled by a council of ruthless steam barons, mechanical power is the real monarch, and sorcery the demon enemy of the empire. Nevertheless, the most coveted weapon is magic that can run machines—something Evelina has secretly mastered. But rather than making her fortune, her special talents could mean death or an eternity as a guest of Her Majesty’s secret laboratories. What’s a polite young lady to do but mind her manners and pray she’s never found out?

But then there’s that murder… (via Goodreads)

There is a lot going on in this book. Steampunk London. Forbidden magic. Sherlock Holmes’s sister’s daughter whose father was part of a traveling circus. To her credit, Emma Jane Hollaway eventually does a good job juggling all that.

While the novel is 500+ pages, and the beginning of a trilogy, most of these elements are introduced in the first chapter in the background while Evelina Cooper, our magic-using tinkering heroine, sneaks around her friend’s house. It’s a lot. Add to that a scrambled timeline at the beginning as we catchup with other events that are going on at the same time as the murder of a house maid. I’m not sure it’s the most elegant way of organizing plot. Thankfully, the rest of the book isn’t as loopy. After about the 45% mark, the action picks up and the story starts moving.

I’m not much of a fan of YA, which this is. Much time is spent on Evelina’s presentation into society and a love triangle between her, her “aristo” friend’s brother, and a guy she grew up with in the circus. All of the above are concerned about their places in the world. It’s all very emotional and tortured, and is an aspect that felt was over-wrought. I would have been happier if the story was more firmly about the murder, the forgeries, and the blackmail. You know, the good stuff.

Most of those plot elements, while secret from our protagonists, are unraveled rather quickly to the reader. We’re given enough points of view to see pretty much all of the story. Most of the suspense in the book is about *how* Evelina will figure things out more than *if.* While the first of a trilogy, A Study in Silks ends in a fairly satisfying manner. The main mystery is solved, other threads are left loose.

I’m always very dubious in YA stories of young people that are very competent at many, many things. At age 19, I knew pretty much nothing about every thing. Even if she is Sherlock Holmes’ niece, Evelina is an accomplished acrobat, well-read, and able to machine tiny animal automata. If she were in her 30s, I could buy it. That would be a steampunk story I would read. Apparently, her magical talent is substantial as well, a hook into the next book.

Uncle Sherlock does put in an appearance, but he’s a pretty bland Holmes. Evelina worries often that Holmes will accidentally ruin her friend’s family due to connections with a crime. That is a flaw that is out of character for the Holmes of Doyle canon.

The world-building was decent, for as many irons as there are in the fire. Occasionally, though, I felt like Hollaway was trying to be a little too clever with the cogged-out inventions. A paper shredder made of multiple flourishing Edward-Scissorhand-style shears isn’t practical. At all. Ever. There is a reason most objects are designed the way they are regardless of how they are powered.

I’m not enough of a fan of YA or of urban fantasy steampunk to read the rest of this series. I found A Study in Silks to be a fairly serviceable book, which I did enjoy in parts, but it didn’t sell me on the next 700 pages.

Genre: Mystery, Steampunk, Urban Fantasy
Why did I choose to read this book? Was willing to give it a try.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes, though it took a while to get going.
Format: Kindle eBook
Procurement: NetGalley



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

Carniepunk, featuring Rachel Caine, Rob Thurman, Seanan McGuire, Jennifer Estep, and Kevin Hearne

Cover via Goodreads

The traveling carnival is a leftover of a bygone era, a curiosity lurking on the outskirts of town. It is a place of contradictions—the bright lights mask the peeling paint; a carnie in greasy overalls slinks away from the direction of the Barker’s seductive call. It is a place of illusion—is that woman’s beard real? How can she live locked in that watery box?

And while many are tricked by sleight of hand, there are hints of something truly magical going on. One must remain alert and learn quickly the unwritten rules of this dark show. To beat the carnival, one had better have either a whole lot of luck or a whole lot of guns—or maybe some magic of one’s own.

Featuring stories grotesque and comical, outrageous and action-packed, Carniepunk is the first anthology to channel the energy and attitude of urban fantasy into the bizarre world of creaking machinery, twisted myths, and vivid new magic. (via Goodreads)

As a fan of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, I was intrigued by an anthology that endeavors to collect carnival stories with an “urban” fantasy bent. Carniepunk contains fourteen stories. Half are stand-alone stories and half are set within the worlds of recent, popular urban fantasy series.

The best of the anthology are from the former category. We start with Rob Thurman’s “Painted Love,” which provides a creepy nod to Bradbury’s Illustrated Man. Hillary Jacques’s “Recession of the Divine” is also a standout, mashing up Greek myth and carnivals with a dash of murder mystery. The best, though, is saved for last. The anthology closes with the exquisite “Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lonely Sea” by Seanan McGuire. The story isn’t very “urban” but it is beautiful and bittersweet.

The other half of the stories, the ones set in preexisting urban fantasy worlds, would probably be better appreciated by someone wider read in that genre than me. While most do an okay job of bringing a new reader up to speed, the occasional exposition gets a little tiring. It also felt like many of these stories relied on the set up, “Favorite character from your favorite series goes to the carnival! Hijinx ensue.” Again, this is probably a lot of fun for readers that follow those series. For someone that doesn’t, the stories don’t seem to take enough advantage of the carnival setting.

One exception is “The Three Lives of Lydia” by Delilah Dawson. It is a “Blud Short Story,” but Dawson doesn’t bother explaining what that means, at least not at first and not at length. The main character and the reader are both thrown into the story, float or swim. Her steampunk world and theatrical characters seem utterly made for a mystical carnival.

The best stories of this anthology are very good. Even if you’re not a heavy reader of urban fantasy, this anthology is worth a look.

Carniepunk is set to be released July 23, 2013 by Gallery Books. (Reviewed early due to travel next week.)

Genre: Urban fantasy
Why did I choose to read this book? Carnivals? Urban fantasy? Sounds good to me.
Format: Kindle eBook, Adobe Digital Edition
Procurement: NetGalley