My edition isn't the Kindle version, but the paperback -- I hate that GR combines editions, but what can you do? Gah!
Arabella, Lady Engleton, the dowaMy edition isn't the Kindle version, but the paperback -- I hate that GR combines editions, but what can you do? Gah!
Arabella, Lady Engleton, the dowager of the de Birkett family, has for the last 65 years of her life devoted her energies to restoring the de Birkett's fallen fortunes, with very little in the way of results. She's pinned her hopes on the family's longevity on her young grandson Henry, age 20, whose mother died when he was three, and who's been in Arabella's care ever since. Her goal is to
"somehow set the Family on its feet again, enable Henry to wear his coronet in the House of Lords and look his peers in the eye without the stigma of poverty hanging round his head like some disreputable halo."
So, as the novel opens, Arabella seems to have hit on a marvelous scheme for ensuring that Henry will be well provided for and that the de Birketts will continue to maintain their place among their noble peers. She has called a "Family conclave," bringing anyone connected by blood or marriage (however tenuous that connection may be in some cases) together at their home in Mount Street, London. Her idea: to insure all of their lives up to twenty thousand pounds. That way, when the policies mature, young Lord Henry should find himself with well over forty thousand pounds to "sustain his position in the world and his dignity in the House of Lords." God help anyone who doesn't agree, like poor old Uncle Alfred, who is "leaving his little bit to charities," because death has a funny way of making an appearance -- along with a new will leaving it all to Henry. And the body count begins to rise, slowly but surely. I mean, seriously -- they all should have figured out that this was just a very bad idea.
One would think that the "deadly dowager" would be happy at this juncture, but no, that's not quite all that is up her sleeve. While young Henry's fortune is being planned (and, if you'll pardon me, executed), Arabella has other plans for her young grandson that involve marrying into a wealthy family to better secure the de Birkett position and lineage. The problem is that Henry's already in love with Dora, and well, to the Lady Engleton, his choice is simply not acceptable.
So now people may be thinking "oh great. You've just wrecked the whole plot, the whole storyline, the whole book, in fact," but the truth is that I haven't given away any more than the back-jacket blurb reveals. The fun is actually in waiting to see what our dear, deadly Arabella is going to do next, as well as meeting the truly ingenious characters in her orbit. As Mark Valentine has written in his introduction to this novel,
"Greenwood took care to provide an (as it were) full-bodied supporting cast"
aside from "the book's eponymous assassin," and the resulting ensemble makes for great fun, as does the lovely satire on class in 1930s England. There is also budding romance here which normally I don't care for, but here it works and is another reason for all of the out-loud chuckles coming from me that kept coming the entire time I was reading this book.
I know murder isn't supposed to be funny, but well, sometimes it's just refreshing that way.
While the 1930s may not be everyone's favorite period for crime reading, The Deadly Dowager was just plain absolutely delightful -- farcical, yes, in its own way, but I defy anyone to read this and not laugh at some point during this novel. Crime light, indeed -- a perfect summer read to toss in the beach bag, lay back and totally enjoy. I just loved it. ...more
The first of the official summer reads, you know, the kind where I just kick back on my patio and read and let the story take me where ever it's goingThe first of the official summer reads, you know, the kind where I just kick back on my patio and read and let the story take me where ever it's going to go. Nothing scholarly here, just a good, relaxing, blend of pulpish, old-fashioned creepiness. This book consists of three interconnected and atmospheric stories that in each case take the characters and the reader into the thick woods near Kinderhook, "a retiring town in New York's drowsy upper reaches," founded in 1609 under the Dutch.
The focus here is on the Schermerhorn clan, which, since the oldest times has "mediated" the "liminal space" between "invisible hidden things" and the earthly realm, and in 1821, Katrina Schermerhorn is left to continue the family tradition. Some of the locals view her as a witch, and warn strangers not to go near her secluded home; she sees herself as a healer, a skilled naturalist, and "one who possesses spirit power." The Schermerhorns have also long possessed the secrets of forbidden and very powerful knowledge, and in the first story, "The Witch of Kinderhook," it is this knowledge that drives a would-be necromancer named Carver to seek her out for his own bizarre purposes. The other two stories continue the saga of the powerful Schermerhorn women descended from Katrina; in the next one (also set in the 19th century) "Lord of All High and Hidden Places," a certain Professor Hildersham, who has made his life's work the study of the fertility deity known as the Horned God, finds an assistant in the form of student Alice Schermerhorn. Her task is to locate any old tomes that might have bearing on his research; he, much like Carver before him, has no idea what he's getting into when he decides he must possess certain dark knowledge. The third story, "The Role of Old Blood" (early 20th century), features newspaper reporter Jim Scordato, who is currently seeking the whereabouts of a missing wealthy businessman whose last known contact is with an artist we know only as Ms. Schiaparelli. She, of course, is the start of his search, and he soon finds himself with a different focus altogether.
All three stories are really quite engaging, focusing on the strengths of the women in this clan. The women, in fact, are the strongest characters portrayed here. In all three tales, the belief in reason and science help guide the men to their respective fates; normally reason and science are good things in the "realm in which you and I live," but have absolutely no place in a realm of gods and deities, "the cosmos of invisible, hidden things."
There is most definitely a lot of obvious Lovecraft influence here (for example, old gods, the skin-covered old tomes and even a mention of The Necronomicon), but to the author's credit, this is not a pastiche nor is this story explicitly derivative. The author has definitely put his own spin on things here and he does it well. As far as writing goes, overall the author's done a good job -- he throws you into atmosphere right away, and the uneasiness and the creep factor doesn't let up between stories. While on the whole I appreciated the literary tone he employs here, I must confess that I inwardly cringed when I saw the word "ecosystem" being used in the 1820s setting; a bit of research revealed that the term wasn't coined until 1935. That seemed to me to be just sloppy. Oh well.
Put this one in the beach bag, sit under your umbrella and enjoy. Definitely fun and deliciously creepy -- as I said earlier, just perfect for a summer read....more
Another one that hits the high notes of my own shrieks of delight, My Bones and My Flute follows the story of the Nevinson family in 1930s British GuyAnother one that hits the high notes of my own shrieks of delight, My Bones and My Flute follows the story of the Nevinson family in 1930s British Guyana. Along with the chronicler of this story, Milton Woodsley, one by one the Nevinsons fall victim to an old curse that threatens to lead them to their doom. The first symptom they notice is eerie flute music that no one else can hear, but this is only a prelude to the horrors of what's coming next.
Like most of the books I read, My Bones and My Flute can be read strictly for its surface value -- in this case, a creepy, mysterious ghost story where the tension ratchets over the course of the book -- or for people like me who want to dive deeper, there's certainly plenty of food for thought lurking beneath: race, the immense power of the jungle landscape, Guyana's troubled slave past, and much, much more. If you decide to check out this book, do not under any circumstances read the introduction, since it pretty much reveals everything and would kill the suspense and the tension.
No matter how you choose to read it, My Bones and My Flute is a fine ghost story that had me flipping pages until I'd finished, and it is so very well done that without hesitating for a second, I immediately picked up another of Mittelholzer's Caribbean novels. My only issues: there are some pretty overwrought, overwritten sections in this book that are almost laughable and the ending sort of left me with a few more questions, but on the whole, it is one that serious readers of older supernatural stories will not want to miss. Quite frankly, I feel like I hit paydirt when I discovered this novel, and I can't wait to read the next one, Shadows Move Among Them. If you're into rare and obscure finds, this one should most definitely be a part of your library. ...more
I really, really liked this one. It's so twisted! I thought it was a crime novel but no way -- this is a very dark book overf catching up once more.
I really, really liked this one. It's so twisted! I thought it was a crime novel but no way -- this is a very dark book overflowing with paranoia, one that seriously played with my head.
When I got to the end of this book, my first reaction was a very jolting "what?" but in the space of a couple of seconds, it changed to "ah, I get it." Saint Peter's Snow was originally published in 1933 by Austrian publisher Paul Zsolnay, whom the Nazis labeled as a "Jewish" publisher, causing many of his writers' works (including that of Perutz, also living in Austria) to be banned in Germany. I mention this little tidbit of information because it might help to put the book in historical context, which is very important in this case, and also so that anyone who may be interested in Saint Peter's Snow won't have the "what?" reaction I did because I'd completely forgotten about it. Enough of that, now briefly to the book.
I was seriously caught up in this strange book from the beginning because as the novel opens, the main character, Georg Amberg, has evidently been in a deep coma, and on coming out of it, has lost his memory. First, what he thinks he remembers and what he's told is the reason why he's laid up in a hospital bed are two different animals; second, he thinks he's been there five days but he's been told it's been five weeks, and third, he's absolutely positive that the hospital porter attending him is a disguised Prince Praxatin, "the last of the house of Rurik." Huh?? So right away the reader feels a sense of disorientation along with the main character, and that feeling continues throughout the rest of the book. The story then launches into Amberg's recollections about the time leading up to his hospitalization, but the reader doesn't quite know if this is a product of his damaged memory or if what he's saying is actually what happened. It's a balancing act where the reader walks a fine line -- you have to decide if what Amberg remembers is actually true and if you go that route, then you have to wonder why the doctors, nurses and others may be trying to insist that he's delusional. It's an interesting scenario, for sure, and I found myself trying to find clues to support both sides of that argument, and there are a number of them scattered here and there throughout this story.
I think that's about all I'll say for the time being except for the fact that the word "sinister" can most definitely can be applied to this book, along with twisty, dark, and strange. If anyone's at all interested in trying this novel, don't read anything that may spoil it. The back-cover blurb, in my opinion, gives a bit too much away, but I will repeat and agree with the part that says
"Saint Peter's Snow is a conspiratorial, politically charged tale of suspense about the mysterious workings of memory, and the lies we choose to believe."
It's also a highly-satisfying novel I can recommend to anyone who, like me, loves obscure fiction. Kudos to Pushkin Vertigo for another winning reprint. ...more
I've posted about this book, along with the two others mentioned here (which should actually be read together for a more complete pictureread in April
I've posted about this book, along with the two others mentioned here (which should actually be read together for a more complete picture) at my reading journal. If, however, you're at all interested, Treherne's account will still make sense without having to read the others, since he quite deftly summarizes both memoirs without leaving out anything important.
After he had read various accounts about the strange mystery of the disappearing Baroness that took place on the small island of Floreana in the Galapagos archipelago in the 1930s, the author decided that he would "set out to follow the clues and solve the mystery." Using accounts by two women who were there at the time (Floreana, by Margret Wittmer and Satan Came to Eden: A Survivor's Account of the "Galapagos Affair", by Dore Strauch, the author also turns to outside, independent accounts to try to figure out what actually happened. He also examines whether or not the death of Dore Strauch's lover Friedrich Ritter was an accident or a murder. It's a sordid and twisted set of tales, and definitely a book worth reading if you're into historical true crime.
I can just picture someone somewhere reading the back-cover blurb of this book where it says "The Queue is a chilling debut that evokes Orwellian dystopia, Kafkaesque surrealism,..." and wondering why he/she should read it if it's done before. Well, it's certainly true that there are a lot of books that focus on people faced with the absurdities of a totalitarian government, but in this book, what strikes me is how optimistic some people are in believing that despite everything, if they just wait long enough, the state will take care of their problems. Never mind that the Gate, the bureaucracy which is the unseen "absolute authority" in this unnamed country, is never actually open to the citizens -- although rumors abound as to when it might open, people have been waiting long enough for help that a huge queue has formed and continues to increase in size while nobody ever seems to move. Meanwhile, the Gate continues to issue laws dictating that people will need permission from the state for an ever-growing number of activities, some as absurd as can be, but people continue to wait with some measure of hope for what they need. And it's in the queue, really, where life goes on -- there are rules to be followed, commerce taking place, religious activities and activists, protests going on, and information being disseminated -- so that at some point, the queue becomes a society in its own right.
There are a number of other stories here in this novel, and it hits on so many things thematically, but I'll leave those for others to discover. And as I said, while there are certainly any number of books out there that explore this sort of thing, this one is certainly different than most others I've read. Looking at what other people have to say, The Queue is garnering some excellent reader reviews, although one reader called it "decidedly dull," with an ending that isn't "conclusive." I will say that this book is not an easy read in the sense that answers/explanations aren't handed to you on a plate, and that it does take a fair amount of patience to read, for which in my opinion, you'll be rewarded. At the same time, as I read it, images were just exploding in my head, which is a good thing and to me the sign of a well-written novel. For me, it was a serious page turner, a book I didn't want to put down for any reason.
recommended. And it's definitely not same-old same old, which is an added bonus. ...more
I seriously believe that I must have been the only person on this planet who wasn't a huge fan of Tremblay's first book A Head Full of Ghosts. This onI seriously believe that I must have been the only person on this planet who wasn't a huge fan of Tremblay's first book A Head Full of Ghosts. This one, Disappearance at Devil's Rock, while not perfect, was much more to my liking. Let's just get this out of the way up front -- I am not a huge fan of what I call "teencentric" novels so I didn't love this book. However, to be very fair, it turns out when all is said and done to be suspenseful, atmospheric and tragic all at the same time. Aside from the elements of mystery and suspense, it also reflects the emotional devastation of a family suffering from loss and what they do to cope.
Just to add a bit to the back-cover blurb:
A scenario that is frightening for any parent starts this novel, with a phone call at 1:28 a.m. at the Sanderson home. There is much truth in the statement "No good news ever calls after midnight," and in this case, the news is beyond bad. It seems that Elizabeth Sanderson's son Tommy, age 13, has gone missing. He'd been staying overnight at the home of Josh Griffin, one of his two best friends, but now he's simply vanished into the woods of Borderland, a park whose edges are very close to Josh's home. Along with their friend Luis, they'd taken their bikes to the park a number of times, hanging out at Split Rock which local kids refer to as Devil's Rock, doing typical boy stuff -- joking around, fantasizing about zombies, talking about the Minecraft world they'd created, etc. -- just regular things that signal nothing out of the ordinary for these kids. A search is launched based on what Josh and Luis (the third member of this trio of friends) reveal about that night, but as time moves on the case drags with no results. Elizabeth, of course, is devastated, along with her young daughter Kate and her mother, riddled with guilt and missing Tommy enough to where she begins to actually imagine his presence in their home. At this juncture, we would seem to be reading an ordinary story of a child's disappearance, but then the author does something very cool here, introducing some really weird phenomena that help to ratchet up the tension bit by bit. Taken together, these events begin to call into question not only the other boys' version of events of the night of Tommy's disappearance at Devil's Rock, but to Elizabeth's surprise, they also reveal something about Tommy's state of mind about the earlier loss of his father. That's all I'm willing to divulge because what happens until we get to the truth of things is so bizarre and so strange that telling would certainly wreck things.
Disappearance at Devil's Rock is a slow burner of a story where the action sort of happens in waves. In between the events that take place at Elizabeth's house, in between Elizabeth's grieving and trying to hold things together for her family, we are made privy via flashbacks to little bits and pieces of the days leading up to Tommy's disappearance. This is a good move, and I like this sort of piecemeal approach to the truth, because really, it tends to raise a lot of questions in my mind. Including the bit about the Fox News commentators (and social media) was also a good move, because as everyone knows, ignorant people pointing fingers instead of offering anything in the way of sympathy or help is what news media and internet trolls are good at, and sadly they are a part of everyday life these days. Really, there are a number of good moments here, but then there are also places where I had issues. For example, sometimes the boys' conversations got old and repetitive to the point of sheer boredom. I was so sick of the word "hardo" after a while -- I get that the author is writing teen boys here, but less would have been so much more. I also didn't care for the way he wrote Kate -- the spunky, fearless little sister bit didn't quite work for me. And, after certain revelations about the strange occurrences in the family home, the story sort of dragged along until the last part of the novel when boom - things pick up in a big hurry at which point everything pops to end in a satisfying way.
The bottom line is that I have mixed feelings about this one. I'll just say that while I found it a bit flawed writingwise and too much on the edge of becoming a YA novel for my taste, the mystery at its core is pretty good and satisfyingly (and tragically) resolved. Once again, I feel like the fish swimming upstream because this novel is getting uber-rave reviews, but well, it is what it is. ...more
Whoa. Awesome book. My thoughts coming soon after I catch up with all of posts I still need to make for other books. I was told to read this one beforWhoa. Awesome book. My thoughts coming soon after I catch up with all of posts I still need to make for other books. I was told to read this one before reading Despair. I can see why. ...more
First and foremost, a big thank you and virtual hug to Anna at Snuggly books, who 1) gave me something to look forward to when she first told me thatFirst and foremost, a big thank you and virtual hug to Anna at Snuggly books, who 1) gave me something to look forward to when she first told me that this was book was going to be published and 2) sent me a copy.
It's not often that I read a story that begins with a queen giving birth to a frog, but that definitely happened here in the final story, "The Mandrake." I shouldn't have been surprised -- the one before that, "The Princess Under Glass," had a young girl stuck between life and death floating downriver on a barge, and the one prior to that one, "The Marquise de Spôlete" (a personal favorite in this collection), takes on a rather twisted and (I'm pleased to say) messed-up version of one of Lorrain's favorite subjects, Salome and the head of John the Baptist. And it gets better. I know this will sound kind of dumb, but reading this book is the mental equivalent of walking through a museum of curiosities where you don't know what's going to be coming at you around the next corner but you do know that whatever it is, it's going to be good. And I mean really good. Really, really good. Another thing: anyone familiar with Lorrain's novel Monsieur de Phocas is going to see a number of echoes between the two books, for example, the man who can only truly love the dying, masks, "the gaze," exile/displacement, hypocrisy, narcissism -- the list goes on.
As Brian Stableford, the editor and translator of this collection notes re the overlap/fusion of Naturalism and Symbolism in "examining the psychological roots of amorous attraction, and particularly its apparent paradoxes, perversities and abnormalities..."
"No other writer of the fin-de-siècle undertook a more elaborate exploration of those apparent paradoxes, perversities and abnormalities than Jean Lorrain, and no one else went as far afield in the search for discoveries of that curious kind than he did."
I haven't read too much in the realm of fin-de-siècle literature, but after reading a novel and these short stories by Jean Lorrain, I think I trust Stableford's judgment. While I'm not going to talk about individual stories here because it is such a treat to have discovered them on my own, I will say is that for me, there's not a bad one in the bunch and each one is a separate little work of art on its own. One thing a reader might notice is that there is a clear divide in this volume. While all as a whole reflect Lorrain's fascination with "strange and wayward amour," the "Naturalistic stories": "Sonyeuse," "The Unknown Woman," "The Lover of Consumptives, "The Soul-Drinker" and "Ophelius" have a more contemporary feel; after that, there are the more supernatural tales, the contes, some of which are labeled as "Bohemian tales." To put the last eight in some sort of contemporary perspective, it's sort of like reading Angela Carter's excellent The Bloody Chamber - the subject matter is different, but the characters are there to be examined, their depths to be plumbed.
While personally I think everyone should read this book, it's really going to appeal more to readers of dark, strange fiction who don't mind sitting and mulling things over after reading each story. It is definitely a thinking person's book and one to read ever so slowly so you don't miss a single word, a single nuance. I love this author and I especially love this collection of strange yet compelling tales that kept me up night after night (in a good way) reading. ...more
Gilded Needles is without a doubt one of the darkest, creepiest tales of revenge that I've ever had the pleasure to have read.
The setting of Gilded NGilded Needles is without a doubt one of the darkest, creepiest tales of revenge that I've ever had the pleasure to have read.
The setting of Gilded Needles is New York, 1882. The first thing that struck me on opening the book was the most excellent panoramic view of the city as the old year changes into the new. The author provides us here with a glimpse across the spectrum into what's happening at that moment, giving us a peek at the lives of "... the poor whose poverty was such that they would die of it," the "criminals whose criminality was no final guarantee against the poverty they tried to escape," the "mildly prosperous and moderately respectable," and finally, for the "very rich who needn't trouble themselves with respectability." But most importantly for the purposes of this book, there is the "Black Triangle," a "little space that lies west of MacDougal, between say Canal and Bleecker Streets." It is a place where "horror festers," located "within half an hour's walk of the most fashionable houses of the city." It is in this small slice of the city that "Black" Lena Shanks and her family run their criminal enterprises; everything from illegal abortions, receiving stolen goods, selling dead bodies, you name it. However, the denizens of the Black Triangle aren't limited to the poor or the criminal -- it is also a favorite locale for the more "respectable" citizens on its outskirts for gambling, picking up prostitutes, and whatever other pleasures they desire that are definitely not found say, in Gramercy Park.
It is just one of these "respectable" people who sets this story in motion. Young Benjamin Stallworth is having his fun slumming in the Black Triangle, when he notices Lena. She recognizes his eyes, remembering the time when a certain Judge Stallworth sentenced her husband to death and had her children taken away while she also went to prison. In the meantime, the Judge and his son-in-law, Duncan Phair, have decided to build their political and social clout by trying to take down the criminals and exposing the "evils" of the Black Triangle, publicizing their efforts in the newspaper. But while the plan seems to be working, one particular event sends Lena and her family over the edge, and now she's looking for revenge. And it definitely isn't going to be pretty. The novel goes back and forth between the Shanks family and the Stallworths, who really don't help themselves with their own arrogance and their lack of understanding of human nature.
Gilded Needles is written in a way that reminds me so very much of the 19th-century "city mysteries" novels I've read, exposing the city's dark, seamy underbelly and scratching off the veneer of respectability among the upper classes. McDowell has captured the style of this sort of old novel while making it his own; he is one of the best dark fiction writers whose work I've had the pleasure to have read. Gilded Needles is seriously one of the most horrific non-horror stories I've read in a while -- bleak, very Dickensian and well, let's just say that it's definitely not for the faint of heart. At the same time, it is absolutely one of those books that once picked up will not easily be put down, and to be honest, I was still shaking after I'd finally turned the last page.
I highly, highly recommend this one -- a definite no miss for readers of dark fiction and historical crime fiction....more