Sunday, August 14, 2022

 


The Hollow Places, by T. Kingfisher. Saga Press 2020

I’m not sure whether to call this book a horror story, science fiction, or fantasy. Whatever it is, I loved it.

Freshly divorced and still gob-smacked by this fact Kara goes to live with her aging and eccentric uncle Earl. Earl’s not just your average eccentric; his home is also a museum of weird things: the Glory to God Museum of Natural Wonders, Curiosities, and Taxidermy. It’s a tourist spot; people come to see the Fiji Mermaids, Jackalopes, human skulls, posters about Big Foot and aliens, and dioramas of stuffed mice reenacting the end of The Empire Strikes Back. The deal is she will help with the museum in exchange for rent. She’s good at it; she helped out there as a teenager and is used to the bones and stuffed elk head that her grandfather puts over her bed because he knows it was her friend when she was a kid.

When grandpa has to go get knee surgery, Kara is sure she can handle the musuem on her own. Right up until she notices that someone has knocked a hole in the sheetrock in one room. She enlists the aid of the barista next door, Simon, a gay thrift-store, Mad Hatter, goth- to fix the hole. And pretty much as soon as he starts he discovers a very large problem- there is a hallway behind the hole. Which would be fine, except… there is not really anything behind that room. It’s a place that cannot be there.

Of course they enlarge the hole so they can investigate. The more they see, the weirder things get, until they know they are in another world. A world of water, small islands of sand, metal bunkers on the islands, and willows. Lots and lots of willows. Think Algernon Blackwood amount of willows.

This book is seriously creepy. The can’t be there world looks innocent at first, until they start to explore. This is Twilight Zone extended to movie length territory, the biggest fear (to me) being ‘what if they can’t get back”. But there is more to fear than just that; there are things that are just wrong. The book is also seriously funny; Kara and Simon make a great, practical team dealing with the horrors but they also react to fear with humor, which I can relate to. I loved the characters, I loved that there was no love interest thrown in the mix, and I really love that, even though it’s a stand alone as far as I can tell, it could easily be made into a series. I mean, Kara does live in a museum of the weird, and people send them new stuff all the time…. Five stars.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

 

 Bloodlust, by David Longhorn; Mortlake Series Book 3. ScareStreet, 2021



I seem to be reading this series all out of order. No wonder I get confused!

In this installment of the adventures of Marcus Mortlake, the professor at St. Ananias College, Cambridge, finds himself meeting a woman from his past: Cassandra. He was a young man when they met; she was way out of his league and seemed to go out of her way to connect with him. When she took him to meet the leader of the cult she’d joined, Nathanial Crowe, things go terribly wrong, and Cassandra and Crowe are presumed dead.

Mortlake, as well as his mentor, Monty Carrington, posseses supernatural powers. They are far from alone in this; the local police force knows about and uses them when cases show signs of supernatural activity. So Marcus is called in when people start being found exsanguinated, little thinking he’s meeting his old nemisis – who didn’t used to be a blood sucker.

The first part of the story moved slowly, moving between past and present. There is an assortment of supernatural talents and beings in this series and several are presented here, on both sides of the confrontation. I found the last part of the book more interesting than the first, although it went by rather quickly. I would have liked a bit more of a give and take, but I could see how it had to be presented as Marcus having only one chance.

I really like Mortlake, Monty, and the policemen they work with. I found Crowe more annoying than terrifying, but really loathed Cassandra. All as the author meant! Four and a half stars; one half star off because of the tedium of the flashback.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

 

Tavern of Terror: Short Horror Stories Anthology. Volume One. Scare Street, 2022


A collection of a dozen tales of horror, which all have in common Hannigan’s bar and it’s bartender, Harry. Half of the stories are by Ian Fortey, with a couple by Sara Clancy, a couple by Simon Cluett, and one each by David Longhorn and Kevin Saito.

While the stories are all good, some are more sci-fi than horror. I don’t have a problem with that- I read both- but some folks might be disappointed by that. What did disappoint me was that only the first couple of stories really involved Hannigan’s; in the rest of the stories, it barely rated a mention. And I swear I’ve read a lot of these stories before. Still, like I said, the stories are all well written and have great ideas in them! Four stars; I had to take a star off for not using Hannigan’s well.

 1920s Fashion: The Definitive Sourcebook, by Charlotte Fiell. Welbeck, 2021


This book presents almost 500 pages of 1920s fashion. It is almost all pictures, though, so calling it a sourcebook is a bit of a misnomer. A visual sourcebook, yes. But with less than a dozen pages of text you don’t learn much about how fashion was changing and how it fit into the changes in life itself during the time. But all the images are either photos or drawn pages of advertisement from the era, so it is a huge resource for modern artists, designers, costumers, and social historians. Many of the images show the clothing from the rear as well as the front shot, which makes them invaluable for costumers. Four and a half stars, because I would have liked to have seen more text.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

 A Haunting in Hartley – Haunting Clarisse Book 2, by Janice Tremayne. Kindle Direct Publishing, 2020. 


In the 1930s, in a small town in the Australian bush, Father Grimaldi is sent to the basement of the church to retrieve an old cross. While down there, he encounters a malevolent spirit who offers him a deal with the devil- literally. Decades later, Harry and Clarisse are sent to the ghost town so Harry can do some research. Upon arrival, they find that the town subsists mainly upon weddings taking place in the old church, and tours by Paranormal Jack, a ghost hunter.

Intrigued by- but skeptical of- the ghost tour, Harry signs up for an extra tour after the main one. This one involves spending the night in the cemetery. Clarisse refuses- she’s had one run in with the paranormal (in the previous book, The Girl in the Scarlet Chair) and doesn’t want another. The next day, Paranormal Jack is killed and his belongings- including many boxes of the papers he’s collected in his ghost hunting- are stored in the church basement- the basement where Harry has been assigned a room as his office. This gives Clarisse a reason to enter the basement- and puts her in range of the spirit.

The plot thickens at this point, flashing back to the 30s and back again to present day. A lot of crimes from the past emerge. What starts out as a regular ghost story turns into something more. In the end, it reminded me of a fairy tale- a deal with a devil, three tests to be faced. It has a decent structure, although some things could have used more explanation- to say which things would be spoilers. Auto-correct seems to have had its way with alarming frequency. Four stars.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

 Balsamic Dreams: A Short but Self-Important History of the Baby Boomer Generation, by Joe Queenan. Henry Holt and Company, 2002


 

This book sounded like a funny read; I’m used to seeing Boomers (yes, I was born in 1954, so that’s me, too) slagged on the internet but usually not in a humorous way, so I thought this would make a nice change.

I was disappointed. Yes, some of it is funny- very much so. But he repeats himself from chapter to chapter. And, while he’s funny, he’s mean spirited. He may be a Boomer himself, but it’s obvious he despises a lot of his fellow cohort. He seems to think that being ‘cool’ is all that most of us think about, but we are hardly the only generation to do so. Witness man buns, midnight bike rides, young folks who are every bit as organic and holistic as the original hippies, the reverence for Mid-Century Modern, and a renewal of thrifting for style, not just for economics. The trends for growing one’s own fruit and vegetables (something almost mandatory for the Greatest Generation), as has macrame, crafting your own possessions, and vegetarianism. And the majority of the truly toxic (as opposed to just stereotypical) Boomers are in the upper-middle class; those of us in the lower economic levels didn’t go into arbitrage, turn into stock manipulators, or develop companies that destroyed the environment. We didn’t go from driving a VW to driving a giant SUV, we just changed to driving an old Subaru when the VW parts dried up. Yes, there are those of us at all economic (and toxicity levels) who liked Tapestry and CSN&Y. But despite his sneering at ‘cool’, he himself seems to have never done anything just for fun- heaven forbid he should listen to music that isn’t cool, or wear a T-shirt just because he still likes Emerson, Lake, & Palmer. He’s like the bully in high school who never actually hit anyone, but just threw barbed witticisms at his victims.

Even though he’s a Boomer, he wants all of us Boomers to get off of his lawn. Two stars.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

 


Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood, by Mick LaSalle. Thomas Dunne Books, 2000

The author is calling the five years between when talkies became the thing and the enforcement of the Production Code- 1929 to 1934. It’s a time that many don’t even know existed; they think that strong women who had sex, had out of wedlock babies, got divorced, didn’t exist until the late 60s. Two women in particular embodied the woman of the era (five years barely constitutes an era!): Greta Garbo and Norma Shearer. Now, everyone who has even a passing interest in film knows Garbo’s name, but many don’t have a clue who Shearer was. She was intensely driven and consistently strove to break barriers in film; she wore thin, close fitting costumes with no underwear, she had roles where she did the things women in real life were doing but weren’t considered ‘nice’. The fact that she was married to Irving Thalberg, boy-wonder producer at MGM helped; he gave her the green light for the movies she wanted to do.

Shearer and Garbo were the flag bearers, but they opened the way for many, many other female actors. The pre-Code era was the era of actresses: Mae West, Barbara Stanwyck, Dietrich, Loretta Young, Constance Bennett, Jean Harlow, and many more started their film careers during this era. The characters they portrayed were, as the title says, complicated women. They were women with choices, until the characters who were given the okay during Code years. During the decades of the Code, if a woman had sex outside of marriage she had to be punished- she died, got thrown in jail, lost her children, or found herself out on the streets. Women had to take whatever men dished out; they were martyrs to marriage and motherhood. If they had careers, they had to give them up or at least make them second to their duties as wives and mothers, and never have more success than their men did.

I found the book very interesting; I’ve been a fan of old movies ever since I was a kid. I knew vaguely about pre-Code movies, but didn’t realize how much was done during those five short years. The book gives both the history of the pre-Code years and the biographies of Garbo and Shearer- especially Shearer. She dominates the pages. And I can see why the author chose her as his icon of the era; while many thing of Mae West when they think about this era, her first movie wasn’t made until 1932. It was fun to read about this era but sad that the Code came into being; the movies weren’t just about sex but about women having their own lives and destinies rather than being appendages of men. They were about how women were really living their lives after the changes of the roaring 20s. They had careers, they didn’t put up with cheating husbands, they gave their opinions. The were complicated! Five stars.