The Strings of Murder by Oscar de Muriel

I must admit, I’m a sucker for period deduction, whether it be on TV or in fiction (even the odd non-fiction book). So, I was immediately intrigued by The Strings of Murder, the first novel in a series by Oscar de Muriel featuring the particular English inspector Ian Frey and his rougher colleague Detective McGray.

strings of murder

London is caught up in the Jack the Ripper murders, but the accomplished Inspector Frey has been dismissed from his post at Scotland Yard, his fiancee dumps him, and his family seems to nag him about everything. Finally, he is exiled to Edinburgh–a place he views as being inhabited completely by uncouth Scots–to assist in a murder investigation that might be similar if not identical to the Ripper killings.

What initially drew me was the premise of the murders: a violinist is found eviscerated in a locked room with possible occult signs. The violin, too, is reportedly having once belonged to the Devil and any subsequent owner meets an untimely and disemboweled death.

Promises of the strange and Satanic whet my appetite. The novel also starts out with an enigmatic and gruesome slaying of a family (some of the details drip out later in the plot). The opening is entirely intriguing, but it seems to not have much to do with anything; I’m curious if more information is vital in the subsequent pieces of the series.

I found myself flying through the book following along with the two “odd couple” inspectors. The initial crime is propelling enough and the fact that any other owner of the violin soon perishes is most interesting. However, about midway through, this reader felt as if she were tugging at a rope and not much more came out. The story and characters were, sadly, flat, which is disappointing as the story began so compellingly. It was as if the author cooked up an interesting few ideas in his creative mind, but never really did much with them or connected them. It is a hard task these days with so much top notch period detective entertainment.

With that said, the book wasn’t a disappointment. I don’t think I would carry on with the series as the characters didn’t develop much and the entire book felt like a never-ending series of witness and suspect interviews. What initially piqued my interest (the locked room, Devil violin, and occult) were never wholly formed.

This is a strange case to be sure, because I’m sure there will be plenty of readers who will love this book. Yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t one of them and just wanted the final page to come regardless the solution.

 

 

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

I was hesitant, at first, to review this book, so perhaps this really won’t be a review. This is a book that appears to have universal adulation (if the internet is to be believed) and I so wanted to like it too. It was witchy, magical, and fantastical, or so it claimed. It did have some of these elements but, sadly, it was truly terrible.

Print

It’s been quite a while since I’ve read a bad book; I generally stick to the 50 page rule, but this one really did trick me. The first third is engaging: the plot flowed even with a few bumps and repetitiveness, but the language was compelling and the magic, so to speak, was enough to keep me there (also, after the sad failure of my attempt to watch that horrid SyFy show The Magicians, I was really hoping this book would do the trick to remedy my desire for something enjoyable and magical).

I am baffled by the praise here. Perhaps, the reviewers only read the first third and wisely didn’t finish. The beginning deals with the characters when they’re children and then at some point jumps ahead into adulthood: one is a apocalyptic-type of Silicon Valley engineer that in real life would make me roll my eyes so much they would fall down a sewer drain and the second, Patricia, who had real potential is a “feisty” witch who never is very interesting or magical as an adult….also, there’s something about her being able to understand birds (hence the title, but whatever, really).

The terrible two thirds are twisty and unpleasant. Too much is brought up and it is incredibly opaque. I have no problem with unlikable characters, but I absolutely didn’t care about them. I hoped they quickly perished in whatever future worldwide catastrophe was approaching; at least the book would be over sooner.

I stuck with it because the beginning was promising. It reminded me of the lightness of Neil Gaiman’s writing–as if the reader is in a strange fairy tale of the author’s own making. But All the Birds in the Sky is the biggest con of the publishing schedule for 2016. Avoid at all costs. There are too many books in this world to read. Good grief, was this awful. A huge question I kept wondering was did Charlie Janie Anders even have an editor? Was she just taking four different books she was thinking of and mash them together hoping the reader would be stupid enough to accept this? I have never felt so alone in my opinion (except when I switch over to the 1-3 star ratings on Goodreads).

If I wasn’t borrowing this from the library, I would have certainly chucked it out of a window no lower than the third floor of a building.

 

The Witch Who Came In From The Cold: A Long Cold Winter

This selection is an intriguing one: it comes courtesy of Serial Box, which appears to be a new publisher. With serial entertainment coming back into vogue–podcasts, television, documentaries–it seems a ripe time for traditional fiction publishing to hone in on the action.

witch who came in from the cold

Serial Box only provided an ARC of the first installment of the multi-part series, so I am of course only able to comment on episode one.

I was particularly taken with the premise–1970s Prague at the height of the Cold War and espionage, but to make it a whole new story, the spies are witches and sorcerers. Besides the synopsis, the idea of a serialized story told by a handful of different authors was also intriguing. (Also, for good measure, I’m a fan of Lindsay Smith’s short story Doppel, which I reviewed here a couple of years ago).

For a first installment, the story didn’t do enough to completely draw me in until the latter half. It was a bit muddled and I found myself going back to the beginning and starting again.

Too many characters were introduced and flung around, and the nary bit of witchcraft that the title alludes to is opaque at best. I was also disappointed with the fact that Prague, an excellent setting for such a story, was not really part of the narrative (beyond the fact that it certainly was a place filled with spies and dissidents post-WWII).

However, with all that said, the story did clear up in the final third of this initial episode and moved more clearly at its already breakneck speed. I wondered if it was a hard start out of the gate because it’s a story told by multiple authors who then will have to pass the story off to another. Is it that they stuffed too much in to their introductory bit because they wanted so much introduced to the reader so they would keep reading? I think so. But I think it backfired. I wish the publisher would have provided another episode or two, so I could properly envelop myself in the story and dig deeper into the review, because, even with my critique, I still think it has the capacity to be an entertaining tale.

I would certainly recommend having a gander at the first episode (especially, since Serial Box is offering it on their website for FREE or for your Kindle for 99 cents). I’ve been in a magical mood lately and I was hoping for a bit more from this; although, it might pick up as the series moves along. With the first installment, the story is a general one of spies, and the sprinkling of the fantastic is too limited. If you subscribed to the story through Serial Box’s website or app, there is an audiobook version that accompanies the text. Much to my dismay, however, if you download the free app, there is no immersion reading (meaning you can’t read the text with the audiobook narrating).

Another concern of mine is, since the story had a hard time hooking me, I am feeling less likely to pony up the pretty pennies for the remaining episodes, which are priced at $1.59-$1.99 through their website, including the audio. It is a bit of a bummer for readers who have Kindles, because Serial Box does not have a Kindle app, and the only way to download is to pay Amazon $1.99, minus the audio. I like Serial Box’s premise, but certain logistics still need finessing.

I don’t ever use star ratings, but since this text was a bit more difficult to review and I think I came across harsher than I intended, I hope the star system will help those on the fence.

3/5 stars

Among Others by Jo Walton

I’m not quite sure how this particular novel came to me, but it was recent and it was much needed. I had just finished up some lovely reads suggested to me by a co-worker who is a passionate lover of books with good taste. When I was done with her few recs, I went back into a slight reading slump (I had previously fell victim to a tiresome acute slump in the latter part of 2015…ugh.). I needed something escapist and magical, and although Among Others takes place in reality the tinges of magical realism were so pleasurable.

among others

“You can never be sure where you are with magic.”

I must say that I am a true sucker for novels written in epistles (Dracula, Dracula, Dracula), and Among Others is told entirely in diary entries by 15-year-old Morwena Phelps, or just abbreviated Mor, during the school year of 1979-1980.

Mor’s leg is crippled and she walks with the aid of a cane. This is all the result of some dastardly situation with her mad mother six months prior that left her mom shoved off to an institution and the death of her twin sister who also went by the nickname Mor.

She’s wrenched from her home in Wales where her family and the faeries live to be packed off first to a children’s home and then to her father and his sisters in England, who she’s never met. The controlling and wealthy sisters think it’s best to send Mor to a boarding school (of course the school leaves something to be desired, but she soon find solace in all of the books–including her father’s love of sci-fi and fantasy–and a group of new friends of fellow readers and librarians.

Through Mor’s diary, moments are told quite easily, but there is always a sense that something else–especially, the previous six months with her mad witch mother and twin sister–is not quite exactly as it seems. England is not nearly as magical as Wales with its landscape scattered with faeries of all sorts.

It’s really the strong, imaginative writing of the author Jo Walton that allows for the magical realism to pleasurably flow so easily. It was a snap to get enjoyably lost in Mor’s world even if it was pretty much our world. It is Mor’s imagination that makes the reality magical.

Has anyone else read this novel? When looking up info afterward, I saw that it was the Winner of the 2011 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the Winner of the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

I’m onto another Jo Walton novel called My Real Children, which so far is excellent, but at times heartbreaking and devastating. Lately, I’m trying to read only one book at a time so I can be totally involved, but I might need something to cut the tragic parts of the novel. It is unbelievable and I can’t wait to see how it ends, but I find I need a breather because of some of the events happening to the main character.

Any other escapist, magical books to recommend? My Goodreads TBR list is mightily growing.

 

 

Hauntingly Beautiful: Ghosts, Ghouls, & Good Books

Christmas is almost upon us and for some reason the spooky feeling we all crave during October somehow vanishes beneath all of the holiday card glitter. But not for me, I say! (and I’m sure there are plenty of you out there that agree; I might not be commenting lately, but I’m still reading my favorite bookish blogs; I know what you people like.)

I’m one of those people that always has many tabs open in their browser. I can’t quite close the two that show this pseudonymous photographer’s new work of derelict houses called Hauntingly Beautiful. I saw a quick clip on the BBC that’s worth a watch, along with a few of his photos on his website.

 

*

Although, Nina at Multo (Ghost) has fantastic folklore and spooky content year-round, she has been posting her annual Winter Tales: ghosts, haunted houses, and creatures abound. She kicks off this year’s with Number Ninety

*

The graphic novel Three Shadows has been sitting on my night stand for far too long, but I’m hoping that the long weekend will free up some time to give to it,

“Three shadows stand outside the house – and Louis and Lise know why the spectral figures are there. The shadows have come for Louis and Lise’s son, and nothing anyone can do will stop them. Louis cannot let his son die without trying to prevent it, so the family embarks on a journey to the ends of the earth, fleeing death.”

*

Many thanks to everyone who read and recommended some really great podcasts from my last post. I immediately began investigating (and subsequently binged listened) all of the ones listed. Even after listening to the creepy podcasts recommended, I did some internet sleuthing and loaded up my podcruncher with even more based on the comment recs. Here’s a quick rundown for those interested,

  • The Black Tapes Podcast
  • Tanis
  • Limetown
  • The Message
  • Knifepoint Horror
  • Criminal
  • The Leviathan Chronicles*
  • Imaginary Worlds*
  • Wormwood: A Serialized Mystery*
  • The NoSleep Podcast*
  • 99% Invisible (okay, maybe not exclusively spooky, but Helen recommended the Ouija episode)

*These are queued up but haven’t had a chance to listen.

***Also, for Spotify users, did you know they have loads of audiobooks, radioplays, etc. I recently listened to Christopher Lee read Dracula.

*

I am sure everyone has a Goodreads account that is ever growing and shaming you for not being even close to catching up to it. I’ve recently added 3 titles.

Short blurbs excerpted from Goodreads,

  • The Girl From the Well: A dead girl walks the streets. She hunts murderers. Child killers, much like the man who threw her body down a well three hundred years ago.
  • The Screaming Staircase: When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in . . .For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts.
  • The Ghost Hunters: Welcome to Borley Rectory, the most haunted house in England. The year is 1926 and Sarah Grey has landed herself an unlikely new job – personal assistant to Harry Price, London’s most infamous ghost hunter.

*

Woohoo! I think I am officially tapped out of spooky offerings for deep December. For those, who are too full from eating to even consider reading–really?–there is always the horror-comedy Krampus.

Loving and Listening to LORE Podcast

I am an unabashed lover of podcasts (I think I’m not alone in this sentiment). Although, I am very picky. I only listen to a few and I think I’ve boiled down what makes me automatically lose interest in so many: 1) bad recording equipment, 2) the host’s voice, and 3) lack of storytelling abilities or the simple but crucial talent of being able to keep a conversation going.

Screenshot 2015-12-05 at 11.54.34 AM.png

For a few months, I’ve had the newish Lore queued up and ready to go, but because of my aforementioned hesitance to new listening options, I sadly let it sit.

But as I was trying to de-stress yesterday, I slipped into a warm bath and began to listen.

Aaron Mahnke, a writer himself of the supernatural, produces and hosts this really excellent endeavor. Besides avoiding the above mentioned technical curmudgeony, Mahnke clearly does research for each episode’s topic. They last roughly 15-20 minutes and are released every two weeks (I will be impatient once I’ve caught up and realize I have to wait… impatient child, I can be). The lore which the podcast is titled from is both clearly documented events and the peripheral monsters that we don’t quiet see clearly.

What had me first going was that I found out that Mahnke covered the 19th Century New England vampire panic I had just recently read about, along with the lycanthropic tendencies of a wealthy German farmer. He investigates what goes bump and glows in the forest or the persistent infatuation we have with mental asylum (one episodes covers the institution that HP Lovecraft was influenced by).

The podcast creates a mood. The stories are told without glorifying the macabre and squeezing out bloody details like a tabloid (although, there is plenty of unpleasant and gory happenings).

medusa.jpg!Blog.jpg

As of this typing, I’ve breezed through about eight episodes so far. I just did some internet sleuthing on Aaron Mahnke and he has a few novels published (As a lover of the strange and scary things forests can hold, I am particularly curious about his 2014 book Consumed).

Has anyone else listened to Lore? Any other suggestions? I also am keen on Bookfight, Serial, The Bugle, How Did This Get Made, and the occasional This American Life. I’ve tried giving Welcome to Night Vale a chance, but more often than not, I find it tedious which definitely outweighs the fewer amusing bits. I have also sadly given up on This is Horror, because of the host’s voice; I know, I’m awful but I just can’t do it.

post script I use Podcruncher on my phone, but Lore is also available to listen to straight on the website.

post post script For those interested in the podcast but are deaf or hard of hearing, Aaron Mahnke does the brilliant thing of posting transcripts. (I had a acquaintance in grad school who was deaf and I remember her lamenting the fact that she often couldn’t access certain podcasts because of the lack of transcripts).

post post post script I have never once cared about the music played on a podcast and couldn’t care less when the hosts gives this info, but the music here is truly wonderful and he offers the list for every episode.

The Proust, nay, Froust Questionnaire

n. Proust, or more like the Froust Questionnaire (as in Fake Proust)

Reading Horizon: Three vastly different titles and genres. 1. The Poet and the Vampyre, 2. The Enlightenment of Nina Findlay, and 3. On Myself and Other, Less Important Subjects.

Listening: A toss up between Metronomy, Sylvan Esso, and the Sleep playlist on Spotify, which I’m oddly listening to at 9:30 in the morning.

Day dreaming: Snorkeling and sleeping (maybe, not at the same time).

Audiobooking: PG Wodehouse and the Jeeves stories.

Writing: Longhanding….typing…..longhanding.

Obsessing: This news story.

Brainstorming: Three ideas for stories.

Procrastinating: Need to send out new fictions to literary journals.

Watching: The DVD for Interstellar as it looks at me with shame as I continue not to watch it.

DisappointingInherent Vice

Édouard Manet Illustrates Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven

A friend who knows my reading proclivities, emailed this my way. And how delighted I was when I saw it. I hope other Edgar Allan Poe fans will enjoy, too. In a French language edition of The Raven translated by Stephane Mallarmé, black and white illustrations by Édouard Manet accompanied the text.

Raven_Manet_D2

You can also view more here.

Brain on Books

So busy. So very, very busy. Barely able to read a lick of text. I do hate when everything gets chucked to the side. I don’t feel very much like myself when I’m not reading or writing, and there has been way too much of that lately. However, I’ve been getting back into a routine and I’m writing writing writing (excitement!). Sadly, though, I’ve become one of those people that doesn’t read. How is that possible?! (wait, let me backtrack, I have been able to listen to a few books via audiobooks).

How does one unplug their brain? The galleys are stacking up and the publicists are chomping at the bit. While I try to figure out how to unplug my brain from the Matrix, I leave you with this photo of a skull on a pile of books. Odd, yet somehow fitting.

skull on books

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

If you’ve already heard of Paula Hawkin’s debut novel The Girl on the Train, you’ve no doubt heard the marketing publicity comparing it to Gone GirlIn a way it’s a fair assertion: 1. a woman goes missing, 2. unreliability of narrator, 3. husband is scrutinized and 4. the publishing timing is not that far off from the success of both the book and film adaptation of the latter. Yet, I think it would be incorrect to lump them together.

girl on the train

 

It’s more like a Hitchcock film. The majority of the plot is relegated to the train itself or a small neighborhood right outside of London. The main narrator is entirely unreliable and she is constantly doubting her own memory–or lack thereof–of what she might have seen, along with others cutting away at her POV.

The Girl on the Train is a book more concerned with telling the story of the women–three to be exact. Where Gone Girl, even when focused on the missing “girl,” was clearly concerned with the husband.

Rachel is a divorcée whose ex-husband still lives in their once shared house, but now with his new wife–who he had carried on an affair while previously married–and their baby girl. Rachel takes the train every day in and out of London, the same commute that takes her past her husband’s house. She also watches another couple, imagining their names, ambitions, and lives. Even though Rachel is so concerned with watching and dissecting, there is one overwhelming point about her: she’s a fall down drunk. Her memory is a wispy thing that flits out of her mind; nothing is nailed down and when she might be the only witness to a possible crime, no one, including herself, initially takes her seriously.

The book is a page-turner, simple as that. When the POV changes to two other women, I wondered why, but it builds, oh, it builds. Hawkins planned this plot. It wouldn’t have been successful otherwise and like any solid Hitchcockian thriller worth its salt, there are multiple red herrings and possible villains (I half-expected Cary Grant to just pop out at any time).

My qualms were few and easily quashed. I was curious how the editor allowed the first few pages. They were mundane. Classic examples that you hear all book people talk about as something to avoid. Unless the readership has been living under a rock, the audience can be trusted to understand what train travel entails. I would’ve had my trusty red pen strike those dull pages describing the train interior, etc. I almost recommend skipping them, but they are so few, so just power through to get to the action.

Rachel is unreliable, infuriating, and compelling. Her choices and actions are so cringe-worthy at times, I couldn’t help but keep one proverbial eye open waiting for her downfalls leading to the reveal. The book would have benefited from some fat trimming, but it seems that most English-language books these days are poured to the brim instead of leaving a little out.

This book is enjoyable all around, but definitely so for those readers who like a solid thriller with unanticipated and unexpected turns.

Has anyone else read this? I had a long-haul flight recently and it was perfect for passing the time!