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What are you reading?

Brantley, Avalon - Aornos

Orpheus myth in the character of Alektor, pining for his bygone beloved, Philomena.
Though barely a slip of a tale, the word choice, as expected, is superb.
Dionysus, who acts as chorus and our guide, has the juiciest lines.
Alektor himself comes across as impulsive, over-earnest, and a bit dim.
The narrative unfolds, and there are turns which I guessed and I imagine you will, too.
Aornos is brief and I read it twice, each time going through it as if it were a play on the stage.
The first telling, I let the characters act as if they were from a Kenneth Branagh enactment.
Next, I went for dell’arte melodrama, characters declaring and projecting, over the top at times (think “Horse Latitudes” by The Doors.)
Neither way was especially gripping. To be honest, the whole thing feels like an academic exercise.
For those curious about this author, Aornos might not be the best entry point.

What are you reading?

McCammon, Robert - The Night Boat

Zzzzzzzz . . . . . .
Scuba diver in small Caribbean island accidentally releases Nazi sub stuck in a sand bar.
Superstitious islanders want that U-boat removed or sunk as soon as possible.
So, of course, the sub gets towed to the local salvage warehouse.
Sooner than you can sing the Horst-Wessel song, Nazi zombies emerge, seeking unhappy snacks.
Shock Waves, a 1977 film with Peter Cushing, seemed the inspiration for this silly saga.
Said flick finished in 90 minutes.
Sadly this took longer to slog through.
Slow going, stereotyped characters, shallow-pool plot.
Sleep, Nazi zombie, go sleep now.
Zzzzzzzz . . . . . . .

What are you reading?

Watt, D. P. - Terroir

Cecilia, early 20’s, wondering what to do with her life, hires on to work the grape harvest at Château Fontaine.
She catches the eye of Marcel, oldest son and heir apparent.
Mutual attraction and hormone driven activity belie a fleeting undercurrent.
Cecilia’s intuition senses a mystery behind the smile, charm, and grace of Marcel, and indeed, of his whole family.
Questions are evaded or glossed over, as are worries.
And slowly, you, like Cecilia, are eased into story that pulls you down like quicksand.
There was a point in this when I sensed a trope, and really worried Mr. Watt might go that route.
For me, at least, he did not, and I enjoyed this immensely.

There is a long passage on the vendange, or grape harvest, and it was bang on.
Several years ago, I participated in a preliminary harvest in Sonoma County.
Ostensibly, this was to check how close the Chardonnay was to maturity.
The bulk of the “pickers” were the affluent and well heeled of Marin and San Francisco.
We picked for a couple hours, finished, enjoyed a sumptuous outdoor lunch. (also in Terroir, and also accurate)
Around us were preexisting case buying regulars, or invitees from a select list.
And no, my wife and I were guests of a “regular,” and there was no repeat invite.

(Note: As soon after I finished reading Terroir, I rewatched Vagabond, along with Éric Rohmer’s Conte d’automne. Diverse views of the wine region.)

What are you reading?

Matovina, Dan - Without You: The Tragic Story Of Badfinger

Extremely depressing book about a legendary group.
Their manager arranged the contract so he was a member, entitled to an equal share of revenue.
Their US business manager, royally fleeced all earning from recordings and touring.
(One of the girlfriends became the template for the blonde girlfriend in Spinal Tap.)
Songwriters Pete Ham and Tom Evans were ignorant they were due royalties for “Without You” which became a well covered standard.
Apple deleted their entire catalogue after tiring of threats and bullying from the business manager.
Warners deleted “Wish You Were Here” after seven weeks due to the manager threatening lawsuits.
“Head First” was similarly halted before it even came out.
In despair, Ham committed suicide by hanging.
Eight years later, Evans committed suicide by hanging.
It’s a long way to the top, and for Badfinger, it was ugly and painful, up and down.
Brilliantly written, hundreds of photos, CD of unreleased material.

What are you reading?

Lee, Edward - Brides Of The Impaler

Ha ha ha. So, I grabbed a title off my shelves at random.
I rarely do that. Last time I did that, I selected Eddie Lee’s Witch Water.
That turned out to be his attempt to emulate M. R. James, borrowing heavily from “The View From A Hill,” packing it with sexual escapades. Mr. Lee’s pastiche was, my goodness, regrettable.
Anyway, Brides Of The Impaler.
Straight off, in the intro, Lee credits favorite influences, such as film directors, Jess Franco and Jean Rollin. Once the novel gets going, we meet a lawyer named Jess, and a priest, John Rollin.
Hard-nosed attorney fleeces the Catholic diocese of adjoining property.
He and his voluptuous girlfriend, who makes trendy Goth-ish dolls, move in and spawn like crazy.
Add a quartet of trashy homeless women who worship Romanian accented nun.
Add a detective who investigates a grisly series of impalements.
Did I mention sex? Multiple configurations? Well imagine more! Mr Lee did.
Yes, back in the day, I had purchased several Lee titles, for when I had time in the world to read.
Like now. What a muffin. Ha ha ha.

What are you reading?

Hodgson, Barbara - Opium: A Portrait Of The Heavenly Demon

Richly illustrated, glossy book on smoking poppies.
Lots of pages wandering notorious “Chinatowns,” the cultivation and trade of opium, not to mention tons of ink scribbled by authors. Hopeless addicts and annoying do-gooders.
Also poets, painters, thrill seekers, the lost set.
Lurid paperback covers grace several pages.
For me, the best were terrific vintage adverts.
Yer kid giving you trouble? Give 'em candy laced with narcotics!

What are you reading?

Crisp, Quentin S - Graves

An obsession with death. Death and afterwards.
After decay and putrefaction, is there a metamorphosis, a transfiguration? Does the soul endure? And what is the soul? A construct of memory?
Damien dwells on these matters, along with similar depths.
He becomes a nurse, working at the crossroads of existence and expiration. He bears the cross of intelligence, often more a burden than a blessing.
Unlike the majority, his overwhelming curiosity compels him to activity.
This is a novel rich in thought, vivid with details. Not a page turner, either, as many passages demand reflection and contemplation.
I will likely read this again, as I suspect multiple readings will be rewarding.

What are you reading?

Farmer, Philip Jose - The Evil In Pemberley House

What a pile of poo. At least mercifully brief at 200 pages.
American girl - distant relative of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam D’arcy - inherits famed country manor.
The house apparently has a ghost who haunts the master/mistress three midnights every year.
Other relatives in the family tree include Lord Greystoke (AKA: the Jungle Lord), as well as the Duke of Holdernesse, so Holmes is involved - or at least his notes are consulted. Oh, and the family doctor is Dr Augustus Moran, grandson of Colonel Sebastian Moran.
Far be it from me to omit, this is also a bodice ripper, and there are several passages of stripping, whipping and squeezing.
This read like very bad fan fiction to me, yet I must confess, other readers adored it.
The mystery aspect was poorly developed.

What are you reading?

Various (Editor: Beech, Mark) - A Miscellany Of Death And Folly

Tales of the Reaper, or those reaped, and meditations on the other side of Life.
“The Bone-Cage Blues” catches the newest arrival in Skull Town, who literally tumbles out of the sky. Nor does she belong, though rectifying that, well, there’s the rub.
Scenes of death, grotesque and hidden, are glimpsed in rare stereoscopes. Watt’s “Székely’s Last Plate” is a warning to would-be observers. Just how much do you want to see?
A trio of essays act as indexes, glossaries, or entries. One lists omens and superstitions (eg: black birds, cracked mirrors) and other things to avoid, to keep the sharp scythe at bay. Another offers brief snapshots of one of Death’s nemeses, and the activities she performs to protect her neighbors from their final breath. A third essay delves into tawdry commerce. Not so much the high cost of dying, but rather the expense of mourning.
The day was cloudless, warm. The ambitious, though shallow, man had taken a shortcut, and then, fatigued, stretched out for a midday nap. Perhaps one should not take a shortcut through a cemetery. Perhaps one ought not sleep on a grave. For there may be consequences. In Enciso’s, “A Monument,” there are indeed consequences.

Throughout, the old poem by Frye, which, sadly, I have heard far too many times, echoed.
“… Do not stand at my grave and cry;
“I am not there, I did not die.”

What are you reading?

Lloyd, Rebecca - Mercy

The first clutch of stories are not what I would define as uncanny or strange, but rather, to paraphrase Mr. Bukowski, tales of ordinary madness. In this book, however, not so ordinary.
“Mercy” is narrated by an obsessive soul, nurturing a shrine of love, who explains his routine with detailed rationale.
The broken couple gradually circle around each other, drawn by habit and need, in “Salsa.” A friend, Janet, acts as onlooker, though she seems in the corner, leashed with her own restraints.
The builder of kites works quietly, while his eyes evaluate youthful trespassers in “The Meat Freezer.”
70 odd pages in, and new neighbors work to restore a neglected house, and repair their relationship. “What Comes” is the first tale of real unease or disturbance. on several levels, that seeps like a stain that cannot be washed clean.
In “The Bath” young John tries to help the reclusive couple. The pair are long married, though close mouthed, to the annoyance of the inquisitive. Eventually, John makes it past the front door and gazes on secrets, eccentricities, and a wet afternoon mystery.
“Gone To The Deep” is lengthy, and a satisfying release from the half glimpses that have come before.
A mounting tale of a sea spray triangle. The haunted island fisherman, torn between his passionate mainland lass and the bewitching song of the waves.
All make worthwhile reading, yet this collection never caught fire for me.

What are you reading?

Prokudin-Gorskii, S.M. - Photographs For The Tsar

An excellent reference I consult whenever reading about pre-Revolutionary Russia.
Prokudin-Gorskii traveled Russia in a specially fitted Pullman coach, photographing the populace and wonders of the land.
Nicholas II approved this and was genuinely interested, though funding for the project ran out in 1917.
Prokudin-Gorskii was a pioneer in color photography (very expensive), and the book is full of images from 1906-1917.
That world, and the people in it, the villages, the buildings, the very landscape, vanished into the Great War, the Revolution, the Civil War, the Red Terror.
Luckily, his photos are easily found online.

Yes, you could Google around for images, but I have added a couple below:

Pinkhus Karlinskii, 1909

Greek tea gatherers, Kurdistan

Schoolboys with Rabbi, Sammarkand

Peasant women in the Ukraine

More? Larger? Go here –

What are you reading?

Oliver, Reggie - Sea Of Blood

Packed sampler containing many of Mr. Oliver’s best works, recommended primarily to North Americans* curious about him.
This is weird fiction at its best. Tales unpleasant and unexpected balanced with many that are steeped in black humor. Quite a few more circle around the theatrical sphere. Yarns of touring actors, rotten houses, hangers on.
Readers of M.R. James will be on familiar ground and will enjoy.

  • This generous, 400 page collection is readily available stateside, and more affordable that the lovely Tartarus editions. For those outside of the states, U S Postal rates are appalling.
What are you reading?

Various (Editors: Murphy, Damian and Ghetu, Dan) - Wound Of Wounds: An Ovation To Emil Cioran

A collection of riches here, whether you are a follower of Mr. Cioran or an indifferent skeptic.
Snapshots include Thompson’s account of an encounter between Cioran and God (the Almighty wearing the skin of J S Bach) which brews cheerful cynicism with laugh out loud humor.
Mr. Isis exhibits the zoo of the extinguished and the malcontents, observed by an audience of the listless and the bored.
Rhys Hughes offers a suicide. An elaborate device of giddying complexity, and not without a fistful of chance. Rube Goldberg, shooting craps with the Reaper, would chuckle at this.
Wood’s “Dead Engrained Skin” left me reeling. Perplexed, baffled, I felt as if I were trapped in a stalled elevator with an overwrought madman philosopher. Gems of insight wash past in a cascade of words. To mangle the author, a tale best read, then “eschewed,” with the bitterest coffee.
The undead philosopher, one Mr. Cioran, debates meaning and existence in “The Funeral Cry.” He also acts as ferryman between the bigoted small town and the cruel metropolitan underbelly.
“The Infinite Error” catches a grand evacuation, poised before the selfsame ‘infinite error.’ Everything - nothing. Exuberant release, infernal blockage.
Charles Schneider mocks the writer. Frustration, indecision, doubt. He omits the joy during those rare times when words array in splendor. Then again, oh, how fleeting such joy is.

What are you reading?

Keene, Day - League Of The Grateful Dead

Collection of hard-boiled short stories written for 1940s era pulps.
Sharp paced plots, smart mouthed guys, dealing in hot lead and a quick uppercut.
Most were private eye cases, back when the job was glamorous and paid real dough.
A lot of fun, including some great titles such as “Dead: As In Mackerel.”
Beach read when you don’t want to plow through 700 pages of teenagers realizing they are turning into their parents and will live another 60 years, or enduring another memoir of some fossil griping about how painful their childhood was. Oops, was that the grown up teenager?
League Of The Grateful Dead was cheap entertainment, not enlightenment.

Day Keene had been popular in the 30s, as well, but under his own, very Germanic name.
Once WWII commenced, he shifted to a pseudonym and never went back to his original.
In an interview, Jerry Garcia once said the band had gotten their name from a forgotten magazine story.

What are you reading?

Dilke, Lady - The Outcast Spirit And Others

Long ago, a lady leaned over lofty balcony and beheld a company of knights.
Their upraised lances resembled a forest of ivory, and at the center was the most beautiful prince.
Behold the world of Lady Dilke, stories set in a romanticized Medieval era.
Nothing is fair in the kingdoms, however. Curses, dire prophesy and ill fortune are the lot of all.
Lady Dilke did not favor happily ever afters.
I particularly enjoyed the two longer tales, “The Hangman’s Daughter” and “The Triumph Of The Cross.”
In the former, a young noble matures with no estate, wealth or honor. Unknowingly, he forms a relationship with the hangman’s daughter, and all the ill luck that entails.
In the latter, a sorceress unthreads a royal couple, leading a kingdom to war.
Should you be in the mood for the morose fables, then these are for you.

What are you reading?

Cave, Hugh - The Mountains Of Madness

Old school horror by the last pulp master.
Cave was 93 when this came out, his final novel, and it felt like a throwback to the past.
Dan leases a coffee plantation in Haiti and stumbles into voodoo.
A female protagonist arrives, researching an ancestor and she gets the voodoo, as well.
Much was predictable, and the writing style reflected another era.
“What was Dan doing here?” or “Again and again, how did he get from New York to St Joseph?”
Cave does a nice job of pointing clues in different directions, and keeping the reader involved.
Short at 150 pages, but about right for a pulp novel back in the 40s.
Nice finish to a long, long career.

What are you reading?

Ghahwagi, Karim - The Liminal Void

Three souls wear witness to, and record, high crimes and atrocities.
While some crimes may be against the state, and others are vendettas or rivalries, the majority seem to have been inflicted by the authority. The Regime.
The tone is Kafka and Orwell, the domain utterly totalitarian.
How is the narrator even permitted to engage in the archiving of knowledge dangerous to the state?
Therein hangs the novella, as the trio journey from one secure location to one remote.
While broken into a handful of chapters, I still found this a churn to navigate.
The prose was … no, the syntax, the word arrangement and sentence sequence was what I found murky to read and interpret.
On reflection, I decided this must be by design, as other works I have read by Ghahwagi were easier.
If deliberate, I wondered how thin is the border between stylistic flourish and mannerisms.
Sammy Hagar fans, take note: I did not count, but the word “crimson” must be used forty times or more.
Should someone suggest leitmotif, I will shrug and agree.
I was not so much disappointed as puzzled by my reactions to this.
Other Ghahwagi works I have enjoyed greatly.

What are you reading?

Brewer, Gil - A Taste For Sin

Jim works at a liquor store. To make ends meet, he boosts cases now and then, hoping his boss doesn’t notice.
Enter customer Felice. Nothing but firm curves under a black shirt, hitched high. White blouse, mostly unbuttoned, beckons with more moist delights.
Felice and Jim begin to yield to the electric charge between them, even though Jim knows she’s poison.
She’s 17, she’s reckless, she has a temper, she has a husband.
Yeah, that husband thing. Still, he works at the bank, he works nights, he has keys.
Jim is another of Brewer’s male losers. Guys transfixed stupid by hot snatch.
Oh, Jim comes up with a plan! Details and timetables so nothing - nothing - can go wrong.
The book hurtles at a frenetic pace, matching the Jim and Felice‘s activities every time they rip each others clothes off, which is often.
For tales of low rent lust and insane capers, Brewer is my go-to favorite.

What are you reading?

Insole, Colin - The Rhododendron Boy

Childhood remembered.
For many of our adult years, our early days seem buried, if not forgotten.
In old age, those ghosts often return unbidden.
For the blissful, the shroud of nostalgia deceives with lollipops and laughter.
Others recall with startling clarity, ugly behavior, suffocation, and the brittle veneer of happiness.
In this, our narrator is in his 60s, perhaps older, revisiting events – an event – when his course took the errant path.
This is a terrible story of building unease, as misremembered characters saunter and stumble in a young girl’s rambling sing song.
Almost from the onset, there are shadows. Off in the corners, out of focus, their shape ungrasped.
And yet, like all horrors, more may be exposed by the end. Because you want to look.
They will crawl down your throat and disgorge their secrets.
Even on a first read, this is powerful and disturbing.
The book itself is a gorgeous piece of art. Deceptive, however, a siren who beckons into a bleak world.
The fragrance of Helen Vaughan lingers in this.

Last web series/tv show seen

Thanks, guys.
I have the remaining Witcher episodes of S01, so I’ll probably watch.
Being based on a series of books tempts me more. Original series based on writing rooms, I shun.
Don’t know about Witcher S02 and beyond. Looking at Wiki, it appears the books have concluded.
Usually, I stick with shows one season, maybe two.
I watched all of Game Of Thrones, and God do I wish I hadn’t.

Last web series/tv show seen

The Witcher
I have watched one episode of “The Witcher,” and it seems like a YA version of “Game Of Thrones,” albeit heavier on magic and monsters.
I’m on the fence with this, and would appreciate comments from other OT members who have finished S01.
One song in particular drew me to the series and it has become stuck in my head, so some of you may want to beware.

Last movie seen

I would be happy if someone could excise the Rico-Ibanez-Barcalow triangle.
Nothing satirical there, just teen pap.
Not sure what bonus footage was in the DVD. The “extra” I returned to was always the commentary.
The third film has the power suits, but, if I recall properly, insufficient budget to show a company of troopers wearing them.
No, I never had an issue with the satire.
Moreover, should someone incorporate 45’s “space command” comments into an edit, then excellent, most excellent.

Last movie seen

I hesitate posting reviews here, which would resemble a flood
Nonetheless, this is a recent one and a suggestion for editors.
Believe me, I have searched for no-nonsense version. Where is Maniac when you need him?

Starship Trooper - 1997 - 6/10

Near-future Earth finds itself at War with planet Klendathu.
A few whisper we were the provocateurs, infringing on Klendathu territory.
Hardly cause for them to annihilate a major Earth city!
Patriotism surges, high schoolers enlist, and, whether they remember their training or not, few soldiers survive.
Intense battle sequences coupled with black satire aid this flawed SciFi.

I saw this theatrically and I remember how, at work, we jeered the soap opera romances, clichéd boot camp, and the deadly accuracy of bug farts against the sneering fleet.
Aside from Rasczak and Carl, most characters are ignorant fools, including the top brass.
Still, over the years I’ve rewatched this … what …a dozen times? More? The pezhead and his guilty pleasure.
I speed through the Rico-Ibanez-Barcalow twaddle, linger over Dizzy, and ask myself why, oh why, oh why, has no one in the fan-edit world ever given this gem an adult overhaul.