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What are you reading? — Page 54

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Hodgson, William Hope - Little Aquamarine Book Of Agitated Water

For the most part, this is a well chosen collection of Hodgson’s “watery” tales.
A mix of stories and poems, set out in turbulent waves or still pools.
“On The Bridge” opens, and this could be the night watch of the RMS Titanic. Steaming though dense fog, eyes sharp for icebergs. A thousand souls depend on a split second, accurate decision.
Steer southwards, where the fathomless depths hide many a grim scavenger. In “A Tropical Horror,” one rises from the deep and hauls itself aboard.
“The Voice In The Night,” much anthologized, is justly famous. A devoted couple, lost at sea, clamber aboard an abandoned vessel. Salvation, there are provisions and water. They take note that the ship, stem to stern, seems to be covered in an odious fungus. Well, that should be easily cleaned. Matango fans, this!
Plunder from India brings death and anxiety to a small hamlet. Two recent arrivals are curious about the large marble statue that, some whisper, moves during the night. “The Goddess Of Death,” while not set in the seven seas, does splash to a watery conclusion.

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Walsh, J. M. - A Journal

A journal of word activity. Exercises. Forced structure of word restriction, per day, per month.
Day 1 = 1 word. Day 2 = 2 words. Day 6 = 6 words. Day 22 = 22 words, etc ………
Some of the wordplay is inspired, at times the result resembles haiku. Other times it seems like top hats pulled from the rabbit’s ass.
Midway, Walsh finds a rhythm, recognizes the path, and there are a flow of jeweled phrases that might well find their way into a book one day.
This is a souvenir, a copy of a writing notebook, the equivalent of an artist’s sketchpad.
More rewarding than a vanity project, better than a curio, this is worthwhile in allowing readers to “look under the hood” of a writer’s creative process.
Do not overlook the brief notes following.

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Von Biela, Lisa - Ash And Bone

Eileen, ex jailbird, chances upon the remote coastal hamlet of Cromwell.
She finds a hotel for sale, abandoned but in suitable condition.
An investment of sorts, and Cromwell is a perfect place to lay low.
The story follows a traditional route of a building with a history.
Midway, gears shift. Actually, characters shift. Eileen disappears from the narrative, replaced by newsman Frank, passing through, looking for a night’s rest.
He senses a mystery and roots around, although nothing shattering emerges.
Frank is an inept reporter, and the buried secrets you will pick up quicker than he did.
The book has some interesting elements, but overall it reminds one of the “movie of the week” installment.
Predictable, fills a hole, then done.

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I am reading Wired by Bob Woodward about the life and death of John belushi

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Connell, Brendan - Heqet

Diary, journal, jottings of our narrator: visionary, artiste, street bum.
The repeating arc follows our narrator’s encounters with a timeless enchantress. While these break him from his lethargy, afterward he seems in ruins. Maybe.
He uses, abuses copious amounts of drugs and stimulants, opening his eyes to hitherto invisible dangers, yet blinding him to readily apparent perils.
Throughout, there are a flash of fevered words, concentrated prose poems, leavened with the odd prattle of the deranged street person.
I found our narrator to be unsympathetic and unreliable.
For every stray insight, there are pages where I think his mind is a nest of moldy cobwebs.
Following the novella are stories, fragments, exercises.
“The Sweet Princess Prized” would have made a ripe conte cruel, a hundred years earlier. Spoiled aristocrat sisters, jealousy, envy.
“The Organist” could have come from Huysmans. Holy cathedrals are the battlefields where performers of darkness and light duel in thunderous crescendos.

One of the reasons I bought Heqet was because this collection was hailed as modern decadence.
Curious, I thought. I reside in a time where electorates routinely install liars as representatives and judges.
Where children are massacred weekly in classrooms and citizens no nothing.
What fictions will be transgressive and taboo in an ethically bankrupt society?
Invention pales next to our ugly daily realities. Vitam vivere.

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Ward, C. E. - An Unheavenly Host

Recent title from Sarob Press may prove irresistible to M. R. James aficionados.
Eight stories here, all supernatural or black business off in the corners.
Mr. Andrews inherits Oakgrove Fennell Hall, hoary estate with a troubled history going back to the Civil War. In “Autumn Tale” the orchard still retains the taint of gunpowder and blood, although the new owner is a confirmed scoffer.
After the large and mid-sized churches have been tallied, researched and catalogued, the ministry types turn their gaze toward the leftovers. “The Chapter House Windows” features Lyeminster Church. Modest, unassuming, save for the stained glass, painted over, along with interior statuary, unfortunately broken and, to be candid, unpleasant looking.
“Sons Of The Father”, a lengthy yarn, has roots with the RMS Titanic. This is a slow descent of a personal journey and character study, with an ending anticipated yet unexpected.
“11334” is a sequel to James’ “The Tractate Middoth”. The affluent man, successful, accustomed to the word “yes” purchases Bretfield Manor. Half of the acreage is to be sold off and developed. The crumbling estate shall be knocked down. Once – he can find men willing to set foot on the grounds. Country folk, superstitious lot, he decides. First, however, something needs to be done about all those spiders.

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Brossard, Chandler - The Double Dealers

Went into this novel stone cold, finished half aware of events and characters.
Brossard shuffles characters and settings abruptly. The story / stories come across as snapshots of early 1960’s New York, and most of the players are idlers.
Few seem to visibly work. Hawkins is a college professor, Carter is institutionalized.
Harry leads a dual identity as bored husband and lower class thug.
Other characters hide another self behind masks. Hawkins, the professor, with desires or aspirations to mix with the white intellectuals, who aren’t necessarily intellectual.
Margaret, heiress, with transgressive sexual desires and perverse glee in trying to shock her (deceased) grandparents.
Carter’s wife Janine and friend Rand. Outwardly, they want the best for him. Yet so long as Carter is within the asylum, they can freely roll in the sheets.
The pages flick throughout between wandering souls and petty amusements.
A biting satire that reminded me at times of Dawn Powell’s Turn, Magic Wheel.

I particularly recommend the new edition by Corona \ Samizdat.
Lively in-depth introduction by Zachary Tanner, and an afterward by Iris Brossard, talking about her parents, their combative relationship, as well as a few anecdotes, funny, bitter.

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Read Hook Line and Sinker, now reading It Happened One Summer

I’m just a simple man trying to make my way in the universe.

Star Wars has 3 eras:The eras are 1977-1983(pre Expanded Universe), (1983-2014) expanded universe or (2014- now) Disney bought version. Each are valid.

Important voice tool:
https://originaltrilogy.com/post/id/1472151/action/topic#1472151

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Barker, David & Pugmire, Wilum - The Revenant Of Rebecca Pascal

An adventurous romp through veiled Arkham.
Richard Pascal inherits the home of his famous Aunt Rebecca, as well as a couple million dollars. (Always keep in touch with those relatives, kids.) He also inherits a persistent coterie of her old admirers. Well, Aunt Rebecca had been a movie star.
Only thing, these devoted fans keep hinting there was more to the grand dame, a darker, possibly sinister side.
Richard, unlike most Horror rubes, is not the curious looky-loo. More power to him, I say. Mind your own business and avoid rumors and gossips. Nevertheless, Richard is troubled by unsettling dreams, charged, highly erotic fantasies involving … sorry, these are too distasteful to write here.
Tidying up, cleaning house and the mental cobwebs, he finds – well – a secret door.
Throughout, a light, tongue in cheek humor pervades. This is not Lovecraft, this is an amusing tall tale.

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Moore, James - Homestead

Kathy takes up sketching again. Something creative, as her life seems in a rut.
Pick up the children after school, make dinner, clean house, be a loving wife.
Also sympathize with her friend Tina, whose husband is cheating.
Sketching, however, she starts incorporating faces of disappeared children.
Years ago, when she was a child, there had been a string of missing children.
The community was small, isolated, police never found clues.
Yet as Kathy sketches, dreams begin to intrude, then memories bubble up.
A brief novella of secrets buried under daily banalities.
The ending leaves a lot to be desired. It feels like Mr. Moore hit his word count and quit.
“Homestead” is a slow burner that finally vents, but leaves a major question unanswered.
Despite my left handed review, this Cemetery Dance book is readily available and is profusely illustrated.

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Ashton, Rosemary - 142 Strand

Physical address of John Chapman, writer, publisher and editor of the influential Westminster Review.
A quarterly, it was an outlet for progressives and radicals, questioning Victorian society and Faith.
Incubator of Victorian titans including Thomas Huxley, Herbert Spencer, Marion Evans, James Froude, Harriet Martineau, too many more.
As a journal of intellectual thought, WR never made money.
Indeed, countless pages are devoted to Chapman’s unceasing quest to find backers and donations.
Chapman himself is inspiring as well infuriating.
He possesses vision, but lacks focus. Rather than mend faults, he makes excuses. In financial matters, he is totally hopeless. He holds his wife in contempt, cheats on her with several women.
For all that, he kept the Westminster ongoing for 40+ years.
Ashton’s book is informative, though chronology proves a merry skip-around.
Readers leap ahead five or ten years, then swing back, only to touch upon earlier incidents.
Most of the “names” are bygone and may be forgotten save by English majors and Victorian fans.

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Bassoff, Jon - Corrosion

The first section of this slams like a fist to the side of your head. Joseph Downs, disfigured combat vet, exits his truck, broken down this side of nowhere. There’s a bar, there’s always a bar.
Inside, a women is being abused, beaten, while residents mind their own business. Downs doesn’t. He intervenes and the squalid tale starts going tick - tick - tick.
This is hard-boiled, full Noir, and the most ferocious part of the book.
Second section harks back seven years. Benton Faulk, high school misfit. Ma dying in a lonely room, Pa, self-taught scientist, trying to concoct a cure amongst a room full of rats.
Benton’s home is a hothouse of guilt, betrayal, obsessive desire.
For all this, I wish the author had not named that kid Faulk since it leads me to think of Faulkner and Southern Gothic, of which this reeks, even though these are mountain residents.
The two characters, Downs and Faulk, are damned and doomed. Page by page, you wonder how much is delusion, how much is warped madness, and how much is Fate.
Fate, nudging these characters this way and that, yet always towards each other. Pushing the encounter, pushing them into the tight dark confines of rotten air and sorry chances.
For a first book, solid.

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Aadland, Florence - The Big Love

Part tell-all slice, part defensive explanation.
Mrs Aadland recounts daughter Beverly’s years as Errol Flynn’s final girlfriend.
Wide-eyed gullible (Mr Flynn drank? Did drugs?), yet also calculated (Beverly will be the next Mrs Flynn).
Popular in its day and critically well received, Aadland’s memoir is inexplicably OP at present.
I had sought this on and off for years, and after watching the recent Kevin Kline film searched harder.
Will interest Flynn fans, though the film used this book as a template and will be easier for most to find.

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Boyd, Daniel - Easy Death

Action layered, tongue-in-cheek, robbery caper set during winter blizzard. Circa 1951.
Plus one, narrative told from multiple points of view and in jumbled chronological order - though with dates and times in each chapter to help guide the reader.
Plus two, intelligent characters, most with a droll sense of humor.
Plus three, the caper goes wrong in numerous directions and for almost all parties.
Negative, the lead character uses syntax akin to a hillbilly Yoda. Not affected dialect, just peculiar phrasing that was noticeable.
A romp of a seasonal story, nevertheless, that scatters in several directions but connects nicely by the end.

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Roscoe, Theodore - The Wonderful Lips Of Thibong Linh

Fairly old book has been in the shelves for years, finally getting around to reading.
A trio of 1930’s Pulp adventures.
The first, “On Account of a Woman,” follows an intrepid pair, a Yank and Australian, as they spy a haunting statue, fiercely guarded by an Arab tribe. How much would museums pay for this, they wonder. Well, they wonder pretty high and plan to steal the female statue. The best laid plans, however.
Published in 1936 in Adventure, this strikes me as more clearly aimed at juvenile readers, with fisticuffs and hijinks aplenty.
Next, “The Voodoo Express,” a cracking adventure set in Haiti. Legendary gold, a forgotten express train, a treacherous voodoo priest. Oh, what men will endure once they discover their fellow man has access to untold riches. Lengthy tale is evocative of the jungle and a page turner.
The closer is “The Wonderful Lips of Thibong Linh,” set in French controlled Vietnam and Cambodia. A Legionairre is given a secret document to take to Hanoi. Previous couriers have been murdered, so he decides to take a circuitous route. Instead, he rescues the beautiful Thera, priestess of the goddess, Thibong Linh, who is the key to – you guessed it – untold wealth.
Another romp through exotic jungles, with some masterful twists.
Theodore Roscoe provides forward and afterword.
He was also still alive when I purchased my copy, and I like to think he got a couple of dollars.

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Vardeman, David - An Angel Of Sodom

Who let this guy loose?
The opening title story is a wild read and an avalanche of deranged images. Fifteen year old Jackie weighs 342 lbs, his knockers are the envy of most girls. Under his belt lurks his mantool, buried beneath folds of flesh. Folds that prove resistant to hygiene, so they waft like only body stench can.
Such is merely the opening of a painfully funny novella.
Within weeks, however, Jackie experiences “growing up” lessons, and his outlook detours into a sadder perspective.
Oh, the novella is written without commas or quotes. Yeah, yeah, the author is being artsy.

“… I’ve always had to do the wrong thing to find out what the right thing would have been …”
So sighs Mrs. Windbourne, pondering her quietly misspent life. She has struck up a conversation with a new friend in “Stomboli” as their cruise ship circles the volcanic island of the same name. Both females, one insecure, the other incisive, drink cocktails on deck, and their exchanges grow ever more irrational and incoherent.

The next outing bears a conversational tone, with a repetitive narrative style. Meaning a phrase or sentence is echoed in varying degrees. This repetition, for me, became like an annoying coworker.
Anyway, “A Young Guy And His Career” might just as well be Detection 4 Dummies. One morning, Wally decides he is a detective. He posts an advertisement, and lands his first case within 15 days. From there, the tale moseys from Pigge to pig. I kid you not. A satire on hard boiled dicks and the Great American Way, if a little hammy.

“Tramp On The Street” is another long tale. Opening paragraphs resemble a standup monologue. Our narrator’s mother has just died – so – doing as you or I, he heads to the local saloon.
The usual table, the usual cronies, spouting alcohol soaked wisdom and philosophy. Much of your sympathy here may depend on your thoughts on the human race.
There are one or two interludes where our narrator, Kap, leaves the table and reflects. Situations, observations, paths untaken. Mr. Vardeman enters more serious territory here, before stepping back and returning to sarcasm de jour.

This is not a collection to trot through or to read solo, one story after another. The author’s voice has a “samey” quality, and I found it best to space these between stories or novels by varying writers.

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Stardust by Neil Gaiman, saw the movie ages ago so I forgot it for the most part, and always wanted to read the book.

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Finally breaking out a copy of The Silmarillion that I bought long ago. Rings of Power has honestly surprised me with how good it is, and I want to dive into some Tolkien lore again.

Developer/Sysadmin in Ohio, USA

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Samuels, Mark - The Face Of Twilight

Shadowy amble from the underbelly to a corrupted borderland.
Ivan, middling writer of poor selling books, is forced to relocate after his dirt cheap digs go up in flames. Typically, the replacement flat is pricier, cramped, and in worse condition.
At least the neighbors seem quiet. Or anti-social. Particularly Mr. Stymm.
Researching for a new book, Ivan prowls internet sites devoted to abandoned London. Ruined buildings, empty warehouses, shuttered subway stations. Now, following Ivan, we descend.
For readers of Samuels’ Glyphtrych, this novel resonates themes found in “Sentinels” and “The Vanishing Point.” The first burrows into the neglected subterranean world, while the second observes self negation and mental entropy caused by the glass teat.
Ivan, almost alone, recognizes a subtle overthrow, although like most horror narrators he seems completely incapable of doing anything aside from fitfully watching.
Midway, the narration downshifts and the tempo dawdles.
The “replacement” undercurrent looms larger, and those who perceive this as a real and ongoing reality will read this as worst dreams come true.

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Ostermeier, R - Therapeutic Tales

Maladies and possible treatments for those on the Peninsula.
The practice is counseling. The practitioner, newly arrived in the community, is more observer and has no doctoral degree.
The first story, “Conkertop” treats a young girl, more a child really, who spent nights in the deep woods and was returned home “altered”. There was a grove of trees, yews, in a circle. To draw the girl from her silence, perhaps learn what occurred, the counselor uses a shadow theatre.
The second patient is akin to the malevolent leader, or perhaps everyone else in group is simply terrified of him. Treatment involves homemade dummies. As it turns out, those who fashion good puppets are inferior ventriloquists. Likewise, shoddy puppets are helmed by brilliant speakers. Then there is “Rubby” apart, disruptive, unsettling the dynamic. We observe what the practitioner does not.
Physical complaints, not mental or emotional, dominate in “The Ulfsson Chapel.” Patients suffer skin disease, which I will compartmentalize into psoriasis. The rumor mill of afflicted share the legend of a mysterious treatment, fiendishly expensive, given by who knows who, methods unknown, at an undisclosed location.
Nevertheless, Ilsa is desperate, despite telling herself, over and over, ‘don’t hope’.
The Isle Of Salt is not so remote that Ilsa soon realizes the location. Treatment, however, involves being rendered unconscious. Surrendering control. Hoping.
Seven stories, treatments, in this collection, though one seems more gauntlet. As with any therapy, success varies with individuals. From glowing success to bitter failure to agonized uncertainty.

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Various (Editor: Staley, Shane) - DarkFuse #1

First collection of the DF press’s novella series makes a good representation.
“She Sleeps In The Depths” by William Meikle is the most traditional story, harking back to the pre-gore era. A maddening song, an insistent earworm, drives Fallon north. Towards an answer? Or worse.
Michael Penka’s “Better Heard And Not Seen” is a late night riff on the ‘monster under the bed’ phobia. In this case, the monster in the closet.
“Jaws Of Life” by E. G. Smith should delight fans of rural depravities, those who felt that somehow the film Deliverance omitted too much.
Day-trippers, beware those Open To View showcase houses. Especially if they are in the middle of nowhere, and if there are no other fellow prospective buyers about. Even more so if the site is surrounded by ten foot razor wire fencing.
Gary McMahon’s “Netherview” sets up a solid horror thriller, only to quit mid-stride. Quit, full stop. I’m rolling my eyes at him and the editor for allowing this unfinished splop.
Winter, Montana, late night, deep snow, that’s where Clay saw it. That thing, the beast that carried away his wife from the wreckage. Not to be seen again.
Christopher Fulbright’s “Children Of The Horned God” is a rarity, a horror western. Fine sense of place, deft strokes to draw a handful of characters. And friend, the Western code abides – a lone man with a gun, thirsting for revenge. The ending is a mite fuzzy, yet it is an ending proper like.
Like I said, this is a solid introduction to DarkFuse, and a book that is ALWAYS findable at a fair price.

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Lloyd, Rebecca - Drowning In The Sky

Canny selection of stories from an author I often have problems with.
Jeff and Pat leave London for the countryside, partly to aid son Lennie, who had his own difficulties in the city. The problem with Faulsway is there are no children Lennie’s age, no one to make friends with. Until he encounters the unsavory “Ringers”.
“For Two Songs” is a conversation between two self-effacing souls. Primarily Eliza, talking about childhood with her sister, Donna, passionately beloved by their father. Eliza was scorned. How unfortunate that Donna’s time was so brief.
The chance encounter on the bus, the underground, the pavement. Throwing a baleful gaze of venom and hatred. In “Dark Contaminator” our narrator spies the evil eye, then spontaneously gives chase.
“Teuthida” gives a wry observation of a boyhood chum, one who later becomes the famous, if reclusive author, Henry Lawncroft. No middle name is given though one suspects it begins with “P”, making his initials HPL. Here, good grief! the phobias parents inflict on their children.
Rural horror, American Gothic (mid America?) saturate “Bogieman,” told in slight vernacular. Home is isolated, I would hazard a guess somewhere in the Ozarks. The son navigates between his warped brother and completely insane, religious zealot of a mother.
For me, so many of Lloyd’s works never seem to finish properly. Mood, setting, atmosphere, characters, let down with insufficient resolution. Thankfully, most in this book conclude.
An enjoyable group. Thanks to the author, thanks to the publisher.