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What are you reading? — Page 57


Various (Editor: Diniz, Alcebiades) - Et Sic In Infinitum

Three tales from Raphus Press, along with a back catalogue indicating a prolific output.
Jonathan Wood’s “The Self’s Dark Monograph” eyes the book dealer / collector, whose obsession plagues his sleep. Dreams of books – lost, forgotten, imaginary – stack like dust covered tomes in moldy, dark rooms.
“On The Art” by John Howard and Mark Valentine, asks …
So how do you find the obscure bookshop? Not the one devoted to felines. Nor ones specializing in travel books.
No, the sorts that won’t even have a listing in Google. The ones whose very obscurity means it might, just MIGHT, carry something truly unique. Something our narrator has been seeking for years.
Brian Evenson’s “Lancastrer” catches up with the small tie author. No, he is not a household name. He sells just enough to keep trying. Every year, on the road for a few months, the pointless meet & greets, talking to empty faces, signing books, shaking hands.
Exhausting himself, for what? The futility of immortality?
The ground shifts in Lancaster. Which one? They are all the same. The man with the black beard and homburg hat, he is there – then he is not – then he is back.
Our writer senses an ugly joke is unspooling. Knows one public reading too many might finish him. Unless he can steal the moment.


Various (Editor: Palmer, Eric) - Monterey Pop Festival 50th Anniversary Interviews

A collection of interviews and recollections commemorating the 50th anniversary of the festival.
More or less average attendees here, no musicians, critics, organizers. Primarily folks who bought tickets, or crashed the gates, or merely sauntered the booths and fairgrounds.
Recollections are mixed. Revealing memories include the patrolman who relished the peaceful vibe. The amateur photographer who lucked out and launched a career. Or Owsley’s cousin, who shared family stories.
Other interviews betray the untrustworthiness of memory. Otis Redding did NOT sing “Dock Of The Bay” there. Buffalo Springfield did NOT sing their protest hit, “Love The One You’re With”. And no one was able to see Bessie Smith at the Monterey Folk Festival in 1963.
This document (available as a pdf) is best for people who have viewed the concert documentary over and over. And for those who regard Monterey Pop as THE festival, eclipsing all others.


Duffy, Steve - The Faces At Your Shoulder

A fistful of long stories. From the unearthed creature, to the original bargain dealer. From the den of lions to the utopian world of the future.

“The Oram County Woosit” caught my attention straight off. Oram, well, Mr. Duffy is simply disguising Orma in the middle of West Virginia. And Peck’s Ridge? Shoot, that’s gotta be Peck’s Mill where my father lived for forty years.
The yarn is a pulpy nail-biter, too. Swinging from West Virginia to Alaska then back again. No Mythos pastiche here, although HPL would smile.

Casting back to bygone Hollywood, “The Soul Is A Bird,” arrives in ultimate luxury, the Duesenberg, followed by the exiting star. What would you give to be famous, to bed wealthy, to stay forever young? Or to simply stay alive?

I wrote about the Southern Gothic tale, “The Psychomanteum” before, so I’ll just echo what I wrote previously. Mother is a faded belle, highly strung, riddled with delusions. In her childhood, she had fashioned a construct, as well as a pact, with her brother – her precious brother – the golden son. When he mysteriously summons her, Mother hurries her family back to the plantation.

Set in 1939, restless with uncertainty, “Futureboro” is one of the favorite exhibits of the World’s Fair. A gleaming, perfect future that ordinary folk can aspire towards. Except, beneath the surface, the electrical / mechanical is skewing badly. Seems the future ain’t what it’s supposed to be.
Neither is humanity.


Tuttle, Lisa - Riding The Nightmare

A new Lisa Tuttle collection is pretty much a must-buy for me.
Stories here range from the 190’s to recent.

“Bits & Pieces” is an unexpected delight. After each casual encounter, Fay discovers a missing part left behind. Foot, arm, passive, not so passive. Better, she can connect them!

“The Mezzotint” speaks M. R. James. This clever take hears Mel, our protagonist, declare she has never seen that picture before. “Don’t give it too much thought,” her new partner suggests. Of curious disposition, however, is Miss Mel.

A twisted homage to C. Augustus Dupin unfolds in “After The End.”

Forming new friendships can be difficult, especially if you are an introvert. And an opera lover? “The Wound” features one of the more surprising and unusual twists I have read in years.

Night Visions 3 was where I first I read “The Dragon’s Bride.” I did not recall reading the story, until the end when one scene popped with clarity.
For this collection, Tuttle has revised and expanded this brooding tale.
Isobel has been summoned to her aunt’s in England. Even as her own mother presses her to visit, Isobel stalls, then detours into New York. Something about her aunt, about an unremembered experience when she was there as a child, fills her with dread.
Fate, however, coaxes, pulls, and draws her closer and closer to the dragon.

A diverse collection, inventive throughout, and a lot of fun.


Collins, Wilkie - No Name

Highly unexpected, not to say awkward, and certainly uncomfortable.
At least for the sisters Vanstone, who, upon the sudden death of both parents, discover said parents were not exactly married. Meaning sisters Norah and Magdalen, legally, are out of the will.
The inheritance new falls to their father’s estranged brother.
The narrative rapidly shifts to young Magdalen, she of a theatrical bent, who hatches a series of schemes and shenanigans to gain back part of the money.
For fans of Victorian literature, there is plenty to enjoy here. Particularly a few of the minor players, including the genial swindler, Captain Wragge, and the competition, the avaricious Virginie Lecount.
Well plotted, although eighteen year old Magdalen often seems too experienced in light of her youth and previous (sheltered) existence.
This is a good choice for those who have read Mr. Collins’ more popular titles and are curious about others.


Duncan, Andy and Ellen Klages - Wakulla Springs

Up around Apalachicola, jungle oblivion, pre-kudzu. Home of a crystal clear pool of unfathomed depth. Perfect for Hollywood productions.
This novel divides into four sections, four decades. The 1930’s, when Johnny Weissmuller films another Tarzan adventure, swimming and diving in Wakulla Springs. This is Jim Crow Dixie, which Tarzan neither understands, nor sympathizes with.
Come the 1950’s, a young boy, son of one of the maids, watches eagerly as underwater shooting begins on the Gillman, later titled, “The Creature From The Black Lagoon”.
The final two sections are brief returns of characters, now in the 1960’s and 2000’s. A highlight of this portion is a wry, cantankerous interview with Cheeta. Other retired stars may be interview shy, but Cheeta is not one for discretion, no sir.
Both writers provide a lengthy introduction, discussing genesis and process. The book is neither Fantasy nor SciFi, but a golden hued back glance at times that were not necessarily golden.


A book about Columbine which I think will be a great asset in my MSW classes

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:


Pengelly, Irwin - Rubbings From Second-Hand Books

Most peculiar work here. Slim volume filled with a mash of found fiction and flash fiction.
Jottings found on the covers of second hand books. Only the ghostly impressions, mind you, not actual ink on covers.
Grocery lists – contact info – equations – dash of poetry – rants – curses – pledges.
Sandwiching the “treasures” are the author’s musings and interpretations regarding the public hysteria that ensued.
The unleashed madness of a core group of readers who believe something greater, if not altogether sinister, lurks in the random scribbles.
I generally dislike this sort of found writing, but it does add more information about the Peninsula for those who read Broodcomb Press.


Deininger, Keith - The Hallow

James is a soul adrift. College dropout, now laboring at a Thrift Town knockoff. After his car dies, he starts the whole take-the-bus then walk-the-rest-of-the-way thing.
Yes, been there, as many of us have and can identify with. Sucks, man.
James, though, cannot seem to set aside any wages to fix his car. Shoot, the money just seems to vanish without thought.

That, in a way, is the underlying theme of this novella. How things simply vanish, slip away. Quick one evening, dead the next. The invisible veil between.
A relationship with buddy Vance hurtles in one trajectory, while another with new girlfriend Annie goes in another.

Far be if for me to make such a comparison, yet there are echoes of Aickman in this overlooked DarkFuse release.


The Making of Star Trek II the Wrath of Khan. When i unboxed it and unwrapped it i noticed how thin the book was and was disappointed. I was hoping for a JW Rinzler size making of book, oh well.

I haven’t finished it yet apparently they did new research using Meyer’s papers and had access to deleted scenes the original making of book didn’t. They make remarks on them.


Gissing, George - Private Papers Of Henry Ryecroft

One of my battered veterans, purchased decades earlier.
My edition is a leatherbound Modern Library from the 1920’s.
I find it altogether fitting for the text.

Ryecroft would be Gissing’s alter ego, faring better than the author. Ryecroft receives an unexpected inheritance and is able to retire to the countryside. There he observes, recollects, contemplates.
An older soul, our character is selectively nostalgic, possibly like many whose days are numbered.
The book is packed with quotable lines, and I include a fistful.
This may be better for seasoned readers, older than 50 perhaps, who can handle Victorian prose.

“It is because nations tend to stupidity and baseness that mankind moves so slowly; it is because individuals have a capacity for better things that it moves at all.

“Man in not made for peaceful intercourse with his fellows; he is by nature self-assertive, commonly aggressive, always critical in a more or less hostile spirit of any characteristic which seems strange to him.

“Ah! The books that one will never read again. They gave delight, perchance something more … yet never again shall I hold them in my hand; the years fly too quickly, and are too few.

“I know just as little about myself as I do about the Eternal Essence, and I have a haunting suspicion that I may be a mere automaton, my every thought and act due to some power which uses and deceives me.

“Once more, the year has come full circle. And how quickly; alas, how quickly! Can it be whole twelvemonth since the last spring? Enjoy the day, and, behold, it shrinks to a moment.”


I’ve begun re-reading The Chronicles of Narnia, this time in publication order. Several years ago, I took out a Narnia omnibus from the library which was arranged in chronological order and read it that way, being too young and ignorant to know any better. I can’t undo that mistake, unfortunately, but hopefully enough time’s passed since then that I can revisit the books from this different perspective and come away with a new appreciation.

“The Anarchists are right in everything; in the negation of the existing order and in the assertion that, without Authority there could not be worse violence than that of Authority under existing conditions. They are mistaken only in thinking that anarchy can be instituted by a violent revolution… There can be only one permanent revolution — a moral one: the regeneration of the inner man. How is this revolution to take place? Nobody knows how it will take place in humanity, but every man feels it clearly in himself. And yet in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself.”

― Leo Tolstoy


Bridges, Thomas C - The People Of The Chasm

Dick is a brilliant engineer, and, as it turns out, a crack pilot.
Alas, when he is taking brother Monty on a test flight, powerful winds blow them into France.
Their rescuer proves to be an extremely wealthy man, whose son disappeared in Antarctica a few years earlier.
Within a few chapters, our intrepid young heroes and wealthy benefactor arrive at the South Pole.

High adventure follows, with deadly creatures, a lost civilization, and a pillar of fire!
Breathless entertainment from 100 years ago makes a decent palate cleanser after heavy reading.

Warning to cynics: Dick and Monty are relentlessly, cheerfully upbeat.


Garton, Ray - 411

Kaitlin works in the information call center. Answers questions that lazy phoners cannot look up.
One shift, replying to another, “where is the nearest …” Kaitlin overhears a murder – double murder.
Paranoia kicks in when she fears she just might be next.
By-the-numbers thriller feels like cobbled together scenes and clichés from cheap TV.
Is there a single original idea? No. Nada. Zip.
Our author could, at the very least, have made an effort, instead of this regurgitation.
Don’t waste your time, unless you have a hearty appetite for warmed over reruns.


Vardeman, David - Suddenly, This Summer

1966, Roberta toils in the stacks. Librarian in a small Iowa town.
She had nursed her invalided / hypochondriac mother for years, until Mom died, followed by Roberta’s brother’s suicide.
Such is the backstory – the period of thankless normalcy – until the serial killings begin.
Understand, Roberta is convinced she knows the killer‘s identity, convinced it is someone she knows personally.
And she sets out to bait him, trap him, kill him.
Vardeman’s novel lulls you, tightening the narrative screws every few pages.
Roberta takes risks, endangers her life even, as she herself grows loopier by the day.
When a mass murder of nurses occurs in Chicago, her stability shakes for good.
Gripping psychological thriller, quite outside the normal tropes.
Fans of this author typically scoop up new titles immediately.


Little, Bentley - Indignities Of The Flesh

Referencing Machen’s Hieroglyphics, this is a collection of reading matter.
Stories neither horrific nor frightening, nor particularly memorable. Any of them would be suitable for Readers Digest.

From teeth brushing to whacking the piñata to crafting gingerbread men to foiling Disney thugs.

“Even The Dead” stands out as a melancholy tale, while “Pray 4 Baby” sets up a tone of dread in the stifling desert.

If this had been a paperback, I would have left my copy in any airport terminal for the next curious reader. In a phrase, this is a travel read. Disposable.

A few years ago, gushing readers compared Mr Little to Stephen King.
I don’t see it.


Various (Editor: Beech, Mark) - Unquiet Grove

Dark events set in the greenwood, well deep in the forests, far away from any footpath, let alone roadway. A world thronged with aged trees, whose perceptions of humans range from indifference to apprehension to hostility.

While out inspecting his estates, Mr Hopking died unexpectedly at age 47. He had been a talented, if eccentric, horticulturist. 150 years after his death, swathes of his grounds flourish still, resisting developers. In “The Secret Plantings Of Bostick St. Leonard” a descendant unwisely attempts to unravel bygone mysteries.

The city family relocates to the less hectic countryside. The new home, bought for a song, is in disrepair. Meantime, none of the locals will say why it is called “Burnt Orchard”. While wife and son succumb to the drowsy spell of the area, husband Nat resists and observes in growing anxiety.

A chance encounter with a doddering, semi-retired colleague, launches Dr. Suffling along a trail to modern paganism. “At The Roots” finds him drawn into a strange world of transmutation.

“The Dark Ballet Of The Trees” proves to be one of the bleakest works in this collection. An asylum for the mentally or emotionally damaged, run by a theatre impresario. Times are harsh, however, in what appears to be wartime Britain. Everything is impacted by the Blitz. Restrictions and money woes push several players into a corner, where anger and resentment inflames into rage.

A fateful encounter between one of the Fair and a young girl with a streak of witchery. ”In The White May”, both pocket something of an agenda. While they neither outright lies – both withhold. A haunting tale that lingers longer after the pages close.

“Uhripuu” journeys to the remote forest. Finland, buried under snow, where wilderness is being ravaged by a devastating fungus. Science, unable to reach a solution, invites a folklorist to listen to old tales, perhaps find a remedy in arcane legends. Another story of untrustworthy characters, hidden motives, with, perhaps, parallels to modern plagues – or ongoing pandemics.


Harsch, Rick - The Skulls Of Istria

Diatribe, travelogue, brutal exposé of preening humanity.

Our narrator, a self described defrocked academic, enters as a drunken barfly, jabbering away at the man seated across the table. Who may, or may not, understand English.
No matter. The silent companion comprehends the key element: sit listening and the drinks are free. Sorta like the free meals with preaching inside the Salvation Army mission.

The breeze of words soon blows into a gale.
Our narrator, once worked for a doctorate, despite a distracted work ethic. Dashing across a series of unfinished books ~ concepts launched then discarded for fresh novelties. Likewise, females.
As he wanders across the continental USA, then into the Balkans, he finds his forte.

The soured observer.
Tourists, for example. “… the inadvertent recorders of their own doom, voracious photosnappers waging their undeclared war of attrition against magnificence, stunting vengefully what promises elude them,” or “American tourists always think that to step out of west Europe is to step into war.”

A barely whispered lament is how, as the Balkans become more touristy, the rest of the planet becomes more Balkan.
Endless conflicts, petty and writ large. Species human, treacherous liars and murderers. Even the well meaning hide blood soaked hands.

Don’t be put off. This is a roller coaster of a book. Read it, brush up on your Balkan history, reaffirm your place in the Great Parade.


Two John Gaskins

Gaskin, John - The New Inn Hall Deception

One tale concerns an old slight, one of those childhood resentments we grow out of and laugh about.

Another is of the legacy. A gift from the hitherto indifferent, if not hostile, relative.

“Faces In A Garden” … well … there are carved faces, as well writings in the garden. The new landowner, tackling heavy overgrowth, makes some puzzling discoveries.

The real centerpiece is the titled novella, “The New Inn Hall Deception.”
Treasure mislaid, misidentified, misappropriated. Rare coin and rare plate inform the tunnel vision of the collector, and the greed of the sanctimonious.
Two settings. The cloistered professorial world, and the neglected, perhaps abandoned, forlorn church in the wastes.
A dollop of the macabre muddles the proceedings and pushes most of the characters into corners.

Gaskin, John - Time Of Passing

An elegiac assortment of, if not eerie tales, then tales skirting the supernatural. A melancholy tone pervades this, as well, as the author has stated this may be his final collection.

The title story is of the weathered lock-keeper and the young man in his charge. College boy, and not
particularly keen on work. Resentment and ignorance prove a lethal mix, especially after sunset.

The new Bursar, one Mr Flynn, wants the ancient graveyard removed – excuse me, relocated – to make room for a parking lot. Most efficient, and yet, “The Stone Guest” is a warning about shifting the dead, and their gravestones.

“The New Member” is a supercilious sort, buying his passage into a privileged club, more concerned with status instead of decorum. A humorous affair, reminding readers to pay attention to clauses.

Rev Danby, retired minister, locked in a stagnant, if not loveless, marriage, has one passionate hobby. Collecting antique silver. He purchases a rare Tudor piece, despite murmurs of a dark history. “The Return Of Fire” … well, collectors are so often deaf, dumb and blind.

“The Sea” closes the stories. Young child Brian travels via train to Scotland. During a moment’s pause, he catches a vie of the sea that is magical, unforgettable and haunting. So haunted, that over the decades, in trip after trip, he searches for and cannot find that sea vista. Memory or enchantment?

A noteworthy assortment, and if this is the last outing, a fond farewell from Mr Gaskin.


Various (Editor: Keenan, Vince) - Noir City Annual 15

Fifteen years already. Wow. And the contents continue to mine a rich vein.

Straight off, what I want, new discoveries. Argentinian Noir. Films from Viñoly Barreto and Fernando Ayala. Each one tempting enough to start me hunting.
“Merry X-Mas” does a nice overview of Cover-Up (1949), which I have seen. A light-hearted, breezy Noir, and well suited to Christmas.

Three articles veer into music for or tinged with Noir. One profiles Paul Roberts, composer, musician, artist. Another interviews Melissa Errico on her recent release (for me, her voice needs another decade of cigarettes and alcohol). The third is of a self-promoting wannabee.

Profiles include William Holden, Stanley Baker and Veronica Lake. I have Lake’s autobiography, and can attest that the article is concise and accurate.

Harry Popkin – never heard of him. Yet, he built an empire of boxing, burlesque and B-films, including D.O.A.

Stateside, his films can be tough to track down, but the essay on Claude Chabrol lists some of the highlights to place on your want list.

Note: I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. These Noir City Annuals do not stay in print long. The limited number print run only benefits aging aficionados and collectors. Publisher Eddie Muller really ought to offer p.o.d. reprints for future generations.


Esquinca, Bernardo - The Secret Life Of Insects

The land of the dead. Where old gods sense their time of return is nigh. Where Aztec dancers pound the turista square by day, yield the nights to forces more ancient.

Dragan’s wife purchased the baby chair at a deep discounter. The chair made odd noises. Curious, Dragan read the print on the back. Ligotti Industries. “The Wizard’s Hour” follows Dragan in his search for the maker of the chairs, and the shaper of dreams.

Other dreams intrude on the writer. He could seek therapy, drugs, yet either may stifle his creativity. In “The Paradoxical Man” he decides to seek a solution at the Order of the Crow. And his nightmares worsen.

Laurinda longed for Raúl, enough to cast a spell on him. Fate, though, does play those cruel jests. “Come To Me” finds Laurinda continue with the magic, even as results grow ever direr.

In the world of urban sprawl, frantic bustle, the grinding jaws of technology, one might assume there is no place for older gods, particularly Pan. On the contrary, in “Pan’s Noontide” it soon become apparent others are not convinced of the ordained dominance of technology, and they toil determinedly to revive a forgotten cult.

There are several illustrations enhancing the stories (not just random images).
An imaginative collection, especially for those who may have wandered Mexico’s streets by night, who have witnessed the dance, who have sensed the violence and sacrificed still simmering under the mask.

As of this review (2023 11 07) there remain signed copies for the HC, at NO additional charge. Please, support presses such as Valencourt, who go the extra length for readers, and buy direct.


Joshi, S T - Something From Below

Well – actually the something is from beyond, perhaps above and beyond,
A meteorite. Which somehow finds its way deep into the coal mine.
After the unexplained death of her Pa, college grad Alison, chemistry major and rural oblivion escapee, reluctantly returns to the homestead, digging for answers.
Locals are close lipped, no one knows nuthin’. She perseveres, and we get this novella.
Mr Joshi keeps this potboiler a low simmer, although there ain’t much by way of meat or vegetables in this SciFi / Horror stew.
Talking, asking, theorizing, guessing, footwork, midnight excavations.
The story leans against HPL’s “The Colour Out Of Space”, and the conclusion feels like hashed goods.


Selvin, Joel - Monterey Pop

If memory serves me correctly, this came out in 1992 in conjunction with the 4 CD / 4 cassette box set from Rhino Records.
Book and music were not packaged together, but it was understood they complimented each other.

Mr Selvin takes a chronological approach to the festival.
The genesis, feverish planning, a day by day survey of artists and set lists, aftermath, final thoughts.
In addition, this is packed with photos. Black and white, as well as color, by Jim Marshall.

There is a pronounced Northern California bias, along with a scornful dismissal of anything Los Angeles.
Nonetheless, this is an enchanted book, a souvenir of the flash of a moment.

Better would probably be two documentaries: Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop (1968), and the American Experience’s “Summer Of Love” (2007). (Selvin’s comments in the latter remain crabby and cranky.)
In this book, he cannot bring himself to acknowledge that the vacuous, superficial Angelinos that he loathes so much, actually pulled the festival off.


Howard - Valentine - Possessions And Pursuits

Young Lord Clyro comes across a relic in Istanbul. He is drawn to it. The item, a mirror, exerts an almost supernatural pull, and yet it seems a holy piece. A portal into a higher plane. While churches often attempt to reflect the house of God, the relic offers a glimpse of the city of God.
No sooner has Lord Clyro returned to England when claimants and would-be possessors begin circling.
John Howard’s novella weaves through the impoverished gentry, the arrogant collectors, scholars, servants and those sensitive to the magic.

As ever was, the new head has determined to limit the annual pagan festivities. While seemingly harmless, the very notion of pre-Christian celebrations rankle. Rayment is an outsider, not a participant, yet in “Masque And Anti-Masque” he bears witness to the stealthy contesting.

By accident – no – say chance, or Fate, Phillip encounters the operator of “The Prospero Machine,” one of those coin-operated gadgets that dispenses a fortune card.
The cards themselves offer veiled predictions, advice, charms.
Phillip, impoverish poet (are there ever rich poets nowadays?) is hired to pen new mantras and wisdom for the next ream of cards.
Those who still puzzle over Mazzaroth will be caught in this spell.


Connell, Brendan - The Heel

Mitch peddles wampum; tribal trinkets to souvenir shops, tourists and rubes.
He works on a dodgy commission, sometimes legit. Business is alright for an idle existence, which suits his lack of ambition.
The rest of his days and nights are devoted to the restless pursuit of female loins and petals.
In this pulp romp, Connell channels Bukowski, then filters the proceedings through Russ Meyer’s lurid lens.
Situations and descriptions exaggerate into laugh out loud nonsense.
Hardly a masterpiece, but wildly over the top trash.