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What are you reading? — Page 47

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Harper, Sue - The Dark Nest

There must be close to 50 stories here. Each, three pages in length, give or take.
This is not a book to plow through hurriedly, as if fulfilling your reading quota.
Rather, read 1-2 before retiring, or if you need a light breeze to dispel those cobwebs gathered whilst trying to translate that Abdul Alhazred manuscript you chanced upon at Thrift Town.
In “The Growler,” Clarissa’s … ahem … vagina finds her voice, and begins voicing her very strong opinions.
Middling actor Selina stumbles into onstage instability, drawing the attention of a new audience.
Sarah, a clever thing, juggles two suitors in “Doubling Up.” Back in the day, running two or more dates wasn’t an easy trick. They always find out. And when they do …
“The Promontory” finds the lone woman standing on the shore, narrowing her eyes, watching the small boat approach. Behind her, the landscape is nondescript. All she can do is wait.
I’m not even halfway into the contents. The book is filled with brief moods.
This must have been fun for Ms Harper to write, it certainly was to read.

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Collins, Max - Bait Money

First appearance of Collins’ “Nolan” character, criminal loner patterned after Westlake’s “Parker” and Willie’s “Sand.”
After surviving a botched hit, Nolan brokers a truce with Family members who hold a grudge.
He must pay $100K to brother of underboss he whacked years earlier.
Because of a Family contract, no pros will work with him, so he is forced to enlist amateurs.
Plot follows the last heist theme, with a lot of time devoted to establishing the caper.
Good read by a young Collins (age 20) before he placed Allan in his signature.
Followed soon thereafter by a sequel, Blood Money.


Collins, Max - Blood Money

Immediate sequel to Bait Money finds Nolan returning to the Family,
managing a small motel with lounge and pool.
An offer if extended for full reinstatement, a larger establishment to manage,
if he pays a hefty “consideration.”
All too soon, he learns someone found his stash and fled with it.
Guns are oiled, and the hunt begins.
Another fast moving, hard boiled yarn by a very young Max Allan Collins.

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Bruen, Ken and Starr, Jason - The Max

Who knew murder, decapitation, rape (male & female), prison riots, bribery, etc … could be so entertaining?
Big shaggy dog spoof featuring coke addled wannabee Max (aka: The M.A.X.) and his violent sexbomb girlfriend.
Great read of some of the stupidest crime characters.

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McCammon, Robert - A Little Amber Book Of Wicked Shots

Fellow intoxicants, line up your shot glasses.
A trio of stories, each prefaced with one of the author’s fave cocktail recipes.
In “Little Green Gown,” a traveling salesman checks into a swank Birmingham hotel.
New line of shirts and a new territory to start making commission.
In the lobby he sees a young girl. That’s how he likes ’em. Young. Real young.
The longest story, probably a novelette, takes place in Gotham.
“Message From The Overmind” trails the retired hockey enforcer, something of a legend.
Style is hard boiled, focusing on men who deal with pain stoically.
I enjoyed this most of the way, until everything went into fantasy island, then it lost me.
The final bit, “DST, Inc.” sells office politics, career revenge.
And hey, payback’s a bitch, ain’t it?

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Lorrain, Jean - Monsieur Du Phocas

The young, fashionable aristocrat Duc de Fréneuse (before he used the more common, Phocas) falls under the corrupting influence of a cynical, decadent artist.
Fortunately for us, he leaves behind his somewhat rambling journal with a stranger, whom he believes / hopes is of sympathetic disposition.
Drugs, debaucheries, old loves gone to seed, vipers and backstabbers.
Not Pooh Corner, this. Rather Dorian Gray with mentors less elegant than Lord Henry.
This is on par with Huysmans’ “À Reboirs” (I found Lorrain easier reading), and a milepost of the French fin de siècle.
The Tartarus edition has an excellent introduction, with numerous photographs of players of the era.

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Various (Editor: Pardoe, Rosemary) - The Ghosts & Scholars Book Of Mazes

“… a maze by any other name …”
Slightly more than a dozen stories that feel ideal for spring or summer months.
Per the title, these are tales set in or around mazes.
Sinister yew mazes, imperceptible turf mazes, spiral mazes, house mazes.
The center of each promises … treasure or the Minotaur?
In this volume, those who venture into the labyrinth, whether under pale moonlight or warm sunshine, generally do so without the usual laughter or bemused smiles.
No. Malevolence as a force hides in those constructs. Lurking with the patience of eternity.
Read these, then gaze at your own hapless gardening efforts, and consider yourself fortunate.

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Stargate: Rebellion (Bill McCay)

As a tie-in novel, and a tie-in novel to a movie as flawed as Stargate, no less, Rebellion certainly isn’t a masterpiece. Character development for the returning characters from the film is nonexistent; the terrestrial villains are all one-dimensional and interchangeable; and continuity with the movie is sloppy (Having read the film novelization, I can tell McCay had, too, but hadn’t watched the film itself prior to writing this book.). On the plus side, Hathor is a decent villainess (a little shortsighted, perhaps, but still far more effective and intimidating than her SG-1 counterpart); the insight into the inner workings of Ra’s empire was refreshing; and I much prefer McCay’s cynical depiction of the US military to the naive depiction of SG-1 & its spinoffs. I highly recommend it to fans of the movie who don’t care for SG-1/are interested in a more film-faithful continuation.

★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Divergent Universes
Dreams of a Randy Git-Fiend

Make Off Topic great again.

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Ewers, Hanns Heinz - The Hearts Of Kings

I had finished Ewers’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, including the historical extras found in the fat Side Real Press edition. On Side Real’s website, I found a link to AJNA Bound, and there, this book.
Slim book, nicely presented, with illustrations that match the darkly amusing novelette.
An elderly, perhaps dying, artist summons the Duke of Orléans, son of the King.
He has a life’s work of paintings he wishes to sell, and he informs the Duke that he, acting for the State, will pay his price.
The compositions, as described, and as illustrated, are repellent and yet irresistible.
The young Duke, a stand in for you and I, is slow to grasp exactly what is on offer.
Short decadent tale, told with glee by a madman.

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Copper, Basil - The Black Death

Young architect departs London and buys a partnership with a Dartmoor firm.
Repeatedly he is warned by various residents to keep off the moors.
Mind well, gentle reader, the moors soon draws him.
Copper could write yarns like this in his sleep, and yet this was the last Gothic novel he wrote, similar to Necropolis and The House Of The Wolf.
An old fashioned, atmospheric page turner set, to my mind, in the Edwardian age. (One of the residents notes the fad of the motor car in the city, declaring it will never succeed in Dartmoor.)
Perhaps more suitable in cooler months, but needs must …

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Ackroyd, Peter - The Last Testament Of Oscar Wilde

Oddly enough, I missed this book when it was published.
Then again, I was in profound financial distress in 1984.
Fortunately, while reading Green Book #6 (Swan River), interview subject, David Skal, referenced Ackroyd’s book and I directed my library to retrieve a copy for me.

Mr. Wilde is persuaded to keep a journal during his Paris sojourn.
This comes after the fame, after the trial, the imprisonment, after “The Ballad Of Reading Gaol”.
Written during the final four months of his life, Wilde reminisces on his life from childhood through school, from fame to infamy. Determination, temptations, reckless choices.
Ackroyd shows an uncanny ability to, chameleon like, capture Wilde’s voice, the sharp wit, fond recollections, and the weariness of it all.
(When mention was made of an Edison recording with Wilde speaking, I spent several hours searching for it.)
I found this to be an exceptional book, and consider it to be must-read, perhaps must-own, for Wilde devotees.

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Tweddell, Benjamin - Sermons In A House Of Grief

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things …”

Problem is, childhood connections are often as strong as steel, and impossible to break from.
Controversial Professor Eskola delivers, apparently, his final, firebrand lecture.
Overnight, weariness has become overwhelming. Time to put this career, his second, to rest.
An encounter with an old colleague, childhood colleague, leads to an impulsive journey.
The train rumbles into the past, into a bitter childhood filled with memories that have begun flowering.
This brooding novella, set primarily in backwoods Finnish hamlets, is a troubling one of abuse and worship.
The sect of Kartanoism, with its terrors of the apocalypse, is neither more nor less relevant today.
Nor is the exploitation of children and the stripping of innocence.
Mr Tweddell has unearthed a distant sect (and perhaps still lingering) and given it wings. Black wings.
As always with this publisher, the book is a work of art in itself. Beautiful endpapers, haunting photos.

After reading, I began crawling through history’s rabbit hole of Alma Kartano and Tilda Reunanen, ending with the congregation Mansion.
True faith is ever the hard path.

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The Making of Star Trek the Wrath of Khan. By Allan Asherman. I wish someone would write a new making of book with all the available information that now exists. Or maybe even the deleted scenes and workprint being officially released by Paramount. The book is okay for its time. I guess i’ve been spoiled by the Rinzler books for the Star Wars trilogy and Indiana Jones. And now i want books like those for Star Trek and James Bond film series.

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Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary (Marcus J. Borg)

IMHO, Borg makes a very compelling case for who the historical Jesus was and what his message really was about. Everyone who conflates conservative Christianity with Christianity in general — believers and non-believers alike — should read this for a new perspective.

★★★★★★★★★☆

Divergent Universes
Dreams of a Randy Git-Fiend

Make Off Topic great again.

Author
Time

Various (Editor: Valentine, Mark) - The Far Tower: Stories For W.B. Yeats

Homage to, inspired by, celebrations of the mystic and poet. Two roles that are missing today.
Early on, a family connection enables a young scholar to examine unfinished manuscripts. With unsettling consequences.
Next, in “Daemon Est Deus Inversus,” the prodigal son, a bitter wastrel, inherits the family home. And he finds messages from the past, which the modern era no longer leaves. Letters.
“The Shiftings” peers through an open door, from this world, if there is such a thing, and into the next.
The staircase beckons in “The Property Of The Dead”. Rising almost imaginably, the treads end under blinding moonlight.
There are other tales, all of high quality, including an engrossing Reggie Oliver, which afterward had me going, “Huh? That was fey.”
Therein is my difficulty. Most of these works slide along the border of faerie or fey, not the Disney sort, either. As an individual, I am observant, but I am not remotely “sensitive”.
Editor Valentine and writer Antonia bookend this collection with two insightful essays on Yeats.
Those more attuned with worlds outside our own will find greater depths throughout this collection.
This is also a beautiful book, gorgeous design, wonderful to hold.

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Ankerich, Michael - Dangerous Curves Atop Hollywood Heels

Entertaining volume of fourteen biographs on Silent film actresses.
Straight off, author Ankerich said he was going offtrack. He was not covering Pickford, Clara, sisters Gish and Talmadge, Theda. He was heading into forgotten territory.
I am a slight cinema buff, and that includes the Silent era, but I was only familiar with Barbara La Marr and Marie Prevost.
Most of these girls (and most were girls, enjoying success in their early twenties) were worked to death, and found solace in booze, philandering men, and double edged notoriety.
For the majority, their ends were pretty squalid.
Packed with photos, this makes essential, if perhaps specialized, reading.
Aside from typos and the usual “lack of editor” errors, the lure has to do with filmographies.
Yes, there are complete listings of anywhere from 30 - 120, depending on how busy the girl had been, but no marking of what was still available. Since roughly 70% of Silents are lost, it would be nice to know what I have a reasonable chance of finding.

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The Dreaming Jewels by Theodore Sturgeon

The first novel by Theodore Sturgeon. A little rough around the edges as is to be expected of an author’s first work. But an entertaining read with interesting characters.

originaltrilogy.com Moderator

Stepping softly in a danger zone…

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Pinborough, Sarah - A Little Magenta Book Of Malevolence

With four stories, a trio of essays, and a couple of extras at the end, this is a choice sampling.
“Snow Angels” takes place in a Cancer Ward for the very young. Inside, hardened onlookers and resignation. Outside, fresh air and the bite of winter.
In “The Nowhere Man,” Amy disappears into a back fold. Sour faces declare she ran away, that she is little more than a shirker. Her brother, however, catches a faint ripple left behind.

Once upon a time, she had been one of the loveliest in the kingdom. Perhaps she had been vain and boastful, perhaps her pride had been fierce. Perhaps it had been love. Men were troublesome.
Who remembers? So much time had washed by.
“The Screaming Room” finds “her” (Medusa, Euryale, Stheno) in a reflective mood, recalling gaiety, admirers, and song.
She lives isolated, though from time to time, a presumed hero will arrive, sword in hand.
The weave of memory and beguilement, with a lulling, dark expectation, turn this into a delicious retelling, given by one who rarely receives her due.
Oh, and the songs, the songs will stay with you.

Though this went OP instantly, the press updated me that they intend to reissue this as ebook and audiobook.

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Hardy, Kate - Londonia

A futuristic (borderline dystopian) novel, just the sort of book I normally shun.
Nevertheless, my curiosity overcame my misgivings.
The woman is in rather a fog.
Her memory is tatters; she doesn’t know where she is, or even her own name. When asked, she studies the charm around her neck and replies, “Hoxton.”
In this sprawling book, we accompany Hoxton as she navigates greater Londonia, still recovering from a technological meltdown several lifetimes earlier.
Hoxton becomes a “finder,” rooting out baubles for the idle pampered gentry in the fortified Cincture.
Unlike most futurist dystopias, Londonia is not all gloom and despair. Citizens are genuinely trying to make a go of it. Barter and trade, rather than slaving or factional warfare.
This is a hopeful book. The story is a highly entertaining one.
There is a brief glossary at the back for the odd word here and there. Knowing a touch of French would not hurt. I’m surprised there was scant Gaelic, though perhaps Londonia was easier for Parisians to reach, more difficult for the Scots.
Years ago, a sadly missed bookseller would have called this a thumping good read.

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Wilkinson, Charles - Splendid In Ash

Wilkinson can be a troublesome author, utterly baffling at times.
Splendid In Ash, for me, is a collection of disorienting examples.
Luke has been invited to a gallery exhibition. “In The Frame” follows his uncertain journey through an undesirable neighborhood. Near the end of the lane, the point of view shifts, as does our perception of Luke.
This is what Wilkinson does; loosens the moorings, thereby eroding conceptions.
“Absolute Possession” catches the unhappy aftermath of a successful gold-digger. The victim, her husband. Discarded. His victories seem those of empty principles. Worse, he has found himself stranded in a new shire, where principles have neither meaning nor value.
“Drawing Upon The Breath” is a darker tale. Newcomers have taken up residence in the village. Secretive and taciturn, they make no attempts to ingratiate themselves. Rather, in their wake, outlanders snap up houses, to the misfortune of those clutching the lower rungs.
“The Absent Member” is a missing colleague of the gentlemen’s club. An explorers guild. The one who most notices his absence, and possibly related infuriating changes, is a tiresome wannabee. This, like so many of the stories, reveals a sardonic sense of humor, as Wilkinson springs a multi-folded joke at the end.
“Might Be Mordiford” is a fresh take on the heist, the caper, and the aftermath. The anxieties of seclusion, of lying low. And yet, do you really want to hide out above the post office? Where a stream of transients and faded men mutter a dribble of meaningless words. Half hints that you strain to connect. Until too late, the significance uncoils in a malicious reveal.

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I’m reading The making of Superman. I just finished the making of Star Trek II. And had previously finished the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Star Trek II’s making of book was utterly disappointing. Other than the section on the Special Effects and how they went through the different permutations with the screenplay, there was very little useful information gleaned into the films making.

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Egan, Beresford - Pollen

The progress of the cultivated decadent.
Cynicism takes effort. When it is unfashionable, the cynic is despised, or worse, pitied. When it becomes fashionable, the cynic becomes “mainstream” and, chances are, despises himself.
Rebellion, in the long game, is highly overrated.
Lancelot Daurimer, idler, stunted painter, casual spendthrift, finds himself low on resources, ambition, any sort of possibilities, actually.
He “rents” rooms from Anna Beryl (Cleontine) who is older, more experienced, to be blunt, out of his league.
Lance, though a reprobate, possesses the grace of the predator which, from the time of Caesar, is beguiling to women.
While drawn to Cleontine, he targets Lady Marylyn, young, innocent, shielded by middle class conventionality. Targets her and decides to ruin her, to rot her from within.
Pollen is a delicious, dissolute pleasure. Manners and situations feel like a cross between the fin de siècle of the 1890’s and the bankrupt carcass of the Jazz Age just before the Great Depression.
Egan comes across as the bastard nephew of Oscar Wilde, and I mean that as a compliment.
His wordplay is impeccable and engaging. The book is an extremely fast read, propelling the reader in a galloping rush.
Additional pleasure comes from several illustrations by Mr. Egan.
The most discouraging aspect of Pollen was that It was written in all of three months, which leaves me dumbfounded.

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I read Dune when I was a kid, but now I’m reading it again in preparation for the new movie. Either I don’t remember it well, or more likely I’m just getting more out of it as an adult.

I never read past the first book, but I have an acquaintance who is a Dune fanatic, so I know some of what happens. I plan on continuing the series.

I also recently read the first three Foundation books. Very easy read and extremely interesting. Got my imagination really going as good sci-fi/fantasy should. Hope they do it justice with the new series.

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Marvick, Louis - The Friendly Examiner

“Death behind us, death ahead of us. Ruins above ground, and tombs underneath.” (from V2)

Enlightenment vies with religious dogma and superstition in an isolated village beset with mysterious and horrifying deaths.
M. Sperling is sent to Heilbrunn to investigate, ascertain the truth, and dispel any cobwebs of irrational fear.
The initial volume (and these are all slim) sets us into the Age Of Reason, circa 1760, with M. Sperling, agent for the Society of the Men of Letters (think the Republic of Letters), setting forth to verify reports from another member.
This playful tale serves to introduce Hippolyte Sperling, as he must deal with an ill-garbed, ill smelling hag who shares his coach, and then face a deadlier presence waiting at the far shore.

The second volume probes the disappearance of a key member of the Society. Denis Diderot.
Ostensibly toiling on his ”Encyclopedia” the philosopher is drawn into the cult of tombs.
More members of the Society are introduced and several narratives unfold as M. Sperling delves into the subterranean underbelly of society.
This was my favorite volume, and the one I found problematic. It ends with a cliffhanger, and what turns out to be a false trail. I found this puzzling, if not irksome. The road not traveled and whatnot. I long for a mild edit.

The third and perhaps final volume unveils a savior / scoundrel. Franz Mesmer. This episode, featuring Mesmer either as emissary of new science or honey tongued deceiver, contains a fair amount of action. Indeed, high adventure bookends this tale!
These are works of illumination – and darkness. Of understanding – and ignorance.
Of those who attempt to improve our daily situation – of those who would diminish our potential, enslave us to their will.
Fortunately, The Friendly Examiner is set centuries earlier. Current society has progressed beyond such warfare and our freedoms are secure.

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Campbell, Ramsey - A Little Green Book Of Grins And Gravity

To be honest, this could be renamed, as it is on the running headers, The Enigma Of The Flat Policeman.
This was an unfinished draft by a talented thirteen year old, who, at the time, was devouring books by John Dickson Carr. A year or so later, he discovered Lovecraft and set course in another direction.
So, how is this novella?
It is immature, derivative, and maddeningly interesting.
What fascinates are the interspersed editorial comments, trying to elaborate on the young author’s influences, reactions, relationships.
Obviously written decades later, it is clear that more than a little thought went into these. Perhaps the old master still has fondness for the young writer.
The insights are generous. For tentative writers, the comments regarding what sources and wellsprings were drawn from, are enlightening.


Campbell, Ramsey - Ancient Images

Old fashioned creep yarn about suppressed horror film starring Karloff and Lugosi.
When a print surfaces, it immediately disappears and the owner is found dead.
A friend begins investigating and discovers a trail of death. Most of those involved with the film had died under mysterious circumstances.
Of course, she firms her resolve to find that film, despite mounting warnings!

Campbell works with hints, suggestion, and the half seen.
His work is not the compact, blood soaked style still in vogue in one arm of modern Horror.
This work, from 1989, owes quite a bit to Basil Copper’s “Amber Print” a decade earlier.
Before that, however, was M. R. James’ “The Mezzotint”.

Sideshow thread of gypsy caravan never worked into the plot properly for me.
Found the main character clueless and ignorant, making fool decisions.
Poor resolution.


Campbell, Ramsey - Scared Stiff

Not as in fear firms your resolve, or when frightened, stand straight!
Stiff, as in, did you know your codpiece swelled to a jumbo when you were scared?
Seven tales of horror and carnality, and not soft focus, veiled, slow motion rompings.
Less romance, more rape. Little passion, accent on penetration.
Campbell mixes cruelty, revenge, disappointment, resignation.
To my mind, the best stories bookend the collection.
“Dolls” occurs in the past, in a rural setting, where pagan circles gather.
“Merry Way” lures a disenfranchised, naïve city innocent to the pleasures of the Maypole.
My copy was illustrated throughout by J. K. Potter.
Text and art are something between erotica and porn.

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Dune. Prepping for the movie.

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.”

Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death