Friday, April 29, 2016

Whispers IV edited by Stuart David Schiff

Whispers IV edited by Stuart David Schiff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 182 pages
Published July 1st 1983 by Doubleday Books
Source: Library sale

This is the 1983 anthology for the magazine "Whispers", a collection of up and coming horror short story writers. All the stories here are copyrighted 1982 with 4 of them being previously published in the magazine while the others were curated for this anthology exclusively. This was a very rocky read for me. I had read 4 of the authors before but hadn't even heard of the others. Several of the stories were great but the stories meandered on down from less than great, to ok, to more than one that was a zero-rated dud. But those great ones sure had something going for them because after all was said and done the stories surprisingly averaged out to a solid rounded-up four. A wild and crazy ride.

1. A Night on the Docks by Freff - Delightful story to open the anthology with! Taking place in a time long ago a village is suffering a wasting disease, they only know it must have something to do with a shipwreck off their shores a few days ago. All the children feel something hanging over the village but one can smell an evil and identify it so he goes to the prince of the dockrats. A council is called and all the village children: rich, middle class, poor and orphans meet on the docks to hear the tale and plan to find the evil and destroy it. A reverse on one of those stories where the evil infects all the children in a town, here they are the saviours. Stories with kids are always creepy. Good first story. (3/5)

2. Into Whose Hands by Karl Edward Wagner - Oh, I loved this one! A favourite topic of mine! All about the goings on in a psychiatric hospital under the weekend shift of Dr. Marlowe.(5/5)

3. Out of Copyright by Ramsey Campbell - An unscrupulous anthologist rips off a widow when purchasing her late husband's book collection because of a rare first edition of short stories never reprinted in its entirety by a famed Gothic writer. He gets his in the end, obviously. (3/5)

4. Elle est trois, (la mort) by Tanith Lee - I liked the atmosphere but way too wordy. A French Gothic. (1/5)

5. Come To the Party by Frances Garfield - People can't find a house in a rural setting for a party and eventually stumble upon an eerie party in a gloomy old house. Pretty lame. (2/5)

6. The Warrior Who Did Not Hear by Gerald W. Page - The longest story so far, dived into chapters but not a novella. A medieval-type warrior fantasy. Took a bit for me to get into then a curse is cast upon the main character and it gets a bit spooky but not really very exciting. Just ok. (3/5)

7. Fair Trade by William F. Nolan - This is an ode to the old EC horror stories. A corpse rises from the grave to exact his revenge. Short and sweet. (4/5)

8. I Never Could Say Goodbye by Charles L. Grant - Loved this! I've always wanted to read this author's novels but so far, have only sampled a few short stories. A bit difficult story to summarise without giving anything away, but a melancholy story, and a dark one including loneliness, murder and ghosts.All done in the name of companionship and family. A bit eerie. Good story.(5/5)

9. The Devil You Say! by Lawrence Treat - After seeing Faust a third-rate ball player makes a deal with the devil, not for his soul but for his wife. He soon realises his mistake and figures out a way to cancel the deal. Hardly a horror story but clever. (3/5)

9. Diploma Time by Frank Belknap Long - A tale of a man with a violent temper and subsequent blackouts and paranormal revenge. Good one. (4/5)

10. Tell Us About The Rats, Grandpa by Stephen Kleinhen - A man is checking out his widowed daughter's new man for approval and during the visit tells him and his grandson's a creepy story. Quite chilling! (5/5)

11. What Say the Frogs Now, Jenny? by Hugh B. Cave - A waitress walking home at night. This has a bit of everything. Lonely dark roads at night, murder, revenge, and ghosts. (5/5)

12. The Beholder by Richard Christian Matheson - Very creepy. A man (or perhaps he's more) uses a special set of paints to capture the very essence of young women. (5/5)

13. Creative Coverage, Inc. by Michael Shea - This is the longest story so far, divided into sections and what I'd call a novella. It takes a real-life tragedy that had happened a few years earlier (which takes the reader a little while to figure out what it is) and puts a nefarious pre-planned big drug company conspiracy theory behind it. The ending wasn't that satisfying, otherwise good. (4/5)

14. The Dancer in the Flames by David Drake - My favourite! A soldier in Cambodia is doing a little stunt by sparking a small piece a napalm which burns briefly but in it he sees a woman who looks like a Cambodian woman he saw get accidently burned in a village they napalmed. This woman calls out to him in French to come to her. Is this his guilt? Must surely be? But the twist ending is oh so wonderfully out of left field you 'd never see it coming and amazing. Freaky! (5/5)

15. The Reflex-Man in Whinnymuir Close by Russell Kirk - This is a longer story set in about the 1600s, pseudo-written from remaining pages of a manuscript so it's rather old-fashioned language and about ghosts or witches or perhaps both, I don't know. I've tried to read it three times now and my mind just will not focus. Too dry and boring for me. (0/5)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Beauty by Connie Gault

A Beauty by Connie Gault
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 336 pages
Published February 10th 2015 by McClelland & Stewart
Source: Review copy from Penguin Random House Canada

I enjoyed this book. It was a quick and easy read for me. I liked the characters and this was important as it is an entirely character driven book. The plot is fairly simple. Set during the depression, in Saskatchewan, a poverty-stricken 18yo girl leaves one evening from a town hall dance with a stranger in his Roadster. I really enjoyed the narrative technique which I found rather unique. Each chapter is titled after a town that the couple journeys through. First, we are introduced to a resident of the town and then Bill and Elena will cross paths with them. The glimpses of all these secondary characters are very intimate and while the "beauty" of the title is Elena we become attached to the others as well. The story meanders back and forth between the various towns until twenty years later in the fifties when we see the same people, some of them came out of the depression with better lives, others not so much. It is a lovely, flowing, character driven story with no real action, which is ok, I don't need plot-based novels. My main problem with the book was its upbeat tempo, there was no real crisis, the one major plot point that needed to be answered was left dangling and the ending was too hopeful. I've read other depression era Canadian prairie literature and had expected stark reality over this optimism. Not bad but not what I had anticipated.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Fatal Jealousy: The True Story of a Doomed Romance, a Singular Obsession, and a Quadruple Murder by Colin McEvoy & Lynn Olanoff

Fatal Jealousy: The True Story of a Doomed Romance, a Singular Obsession, and a Quadruple Murder by Colin McEvoy & Lynn Olanoff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Paperback, 288 pages
Published January 28th 2014 by St. Martin's True Crime

Source: gift

An intriguing read about the life and crimes of Michael Ballard, a mass murderer, who killed four people at once and had one further convicted murder he had served time for, committed in his late teens. The authors give emotional character portraits of the victims through the words of family members which is a compelling technique and appreciated in a true crime novel. There is nothing sensationalistic in this portrayal of the case even though at times it does give a fair accounting of the nature of the violence. The authors do have an agenda though and I found that not to my liking; I prefer to read unbiased accounts of crimes. The authors set out to use this crime as an example of the need for parole reform in the state of Pensylvania. There are some chapters which give the history of failed cases of violent offenders who were paroled only to kill again. Micahel Ballard fits this profile. I give them props for going into the full neuropsychological exams of Ballard and while legally sane he was also extensively brain damaged. The authors' agenda was to prove that Pennsylvania is lax in giving death sentences and Ballard's death penalty was a win for the people. Thus, their book ends with that sentence. More on the aftermath would have been appreciated. An unbiased approach would have discussed whether extensively brain damaged people *should* even be put to death for their crimes. Sane people (which Michael was/is) are responsible for their crimes but a book like this that actively comes across in support of executing all violent offenders regardless of mental health comes off cold and unbalanced in its representation of the "truth".

Monday, April 18, 2016

Goosebumps: Ghost Beach & Planet of the Lawn Gnomes by R.L. Stine


Ghost Beach by R.L. Stine
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Paperback, 119 pages
Published 1994 by Scholastic
Source: Thrift store

Goosebumps (#22)

Good One! Great classic ghost story. Like a typical Goosebumps, action from start to finish with cliffhangers at the end of every chapter. This has lots of twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat. I had some ideas but must admit it kept me guessing until the end. The conclusion is a perfect shock ending. Not all Goosebumps are equal but this is among the great ones.

Planet of the Lawn Gnomes by R.L. Stine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Paperback, 154 pages
Published October 1st 2012 by Scholastic
Source: Pawn shop

Goosebumps: Most Wanted (#1)

The "Most Wanted" series features favourite villains from the original Goosebumps series. Stine gives an author's introduction to the book and the series. I haven't read too many of them yet so didn't get the nostalgia value of meeting up with the Lawn Gnomes again that other readers will but this was a good story if not great. Jay has moved in the middle of summer and in his new neighbourhood right away, he feels something's not right. Things just get weirder and weirder. Having a proven record of being a trouble maker he's not going to sit by quietly; rather he is eager to find out what is really going on by breaking curfew rules and sneaking around. It's apparent to the reader that we're not on Earth anymore, but the clues keep the reader guessing: is it all a dream? an alternate reality? a different planet? a weird penal colony? is Jake mad? has he been captured by aliens? the thoughts are endless that run through your mind. The final solution wasn't as creepy as I had expected it could be but the final chapter does a doozy of a shocker and leaves you with a smile on your face thinking you could never have seen *that* coming! A good one.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Inmate 1577 by Alan Jacobson

Inmate 1577 by Alan Jacobson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Published July 19th 2011 by Premier Digital Publishing
Source: Purchased from Kindle Store

Karen Vail (#4)

It's been several years since I read book three in this series but it only took me pages to remember why I liked it so much. Karen Vail is a fantastic character, very sarcastic and not very likable but smart as a whip. She's an FBI Profiler called out to California to work on a serial killer case involving an unsub who tortures and violently rapes elderly women then kidnaps, kills and displays the husbands at tourist sites. Bodies are racked up faster than the coroner can get them to the morgue and the killer starts sending Karen personal texts. What's cool with this entry is it has tie-ins with the infamous 1962 Alcatraz escape and flashbacks every other chapter to the 1960s following a fictional inmate who is wrapped up with the historical characters and events. A fast-paced, action-packed thriller with twists and turns that keep you guessing until the end. Loved every word! I'll be continuing on with this series soon.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Paperback, 272 pages
Published October 15th 2014 by W. W. Norton & Company
Source: Purchased

3.5/5. I bought this after reading a couple of memoirs on the funerary and undertaking business wanting more about the cremation end. Plus I'm just very interested in death and funerary practices. The book was very interesting though did contain a lot of repeat information for me. The author spent an awful lot of time on embalming which I think I would need to be there physically to learn anything new at this point. Her details on cremation were by far the most interesting parts of the book as was the medieval death history which she majored in at college. She believes in western society going back to being comfortable with death and giving up on the pomp and circumstance of funerals. She believes there needs to be some sort of ritual one believes in surrounding a death ceremony and it is on these counts I agree with her even though she is a secular humanist and I am a devout Catholic. I like her ideas and love the idea of combining the traditional natural death burial practices with the already practiced Catholic Funeral Masses; cutting out the funeral home services and upselling would put us back to a starting point of free to low cost funerals. The only thing I was disappointed in was the promised humour. I didn't think she was funny, at all and I love dark, gallows humour. Just not hers, I guess. Secondly, while her information was interesting, as a memoir she doesn't have enough experiences to reflect upon maturely enough. I told myself this last time I read a memoir by a young person, but I have to remember not to read memoirs written by 23-year-olds. Even though I haven't reached the age yet, I think a person should have lived at least half a century before they have experienced enough to reflect on life. I'll be keeping this for my collection of "death" books though as it's the only thing I have specifically on cremation and it is a good read, especially if you are entirely new to the subject.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Blood in the Soil: A True Tale of Racism, Sex, and Murder in the South by Carole Townsend

Blood in the Soil: A True Tale of Racism, Sex, and Murder in the South by Carole Townsend
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 232 pages
Published April 12th 2016 by Skyhorse Publishing
Source: egalley via edelweiss

A good read if a bit unorthodoxly written for a true crime. This is the story of Joseph Paul Franklin, the man best known for shooting pornography king Larry Flynt, but he was a genuine serial killer by the time he added Flynt's shooting to his roster. The book is about Franklin but Flynt's shooting does take up a chapter and beyond that point can't help but become a major part of Franklin's life story. This was a totally fresh introduction to a serial killer for me as I'd not seen the movie made about Flynt some years ago. Franklin was a racially motivated killer, a brutally abused child who tried to find somewhere to belong. He first tried Christianity but could only settle on the Old Testament God, his hatred for Jews conflicted with that moving him on to neo-Nazi groups, the KKK, and the like but found them all talk and no action. He then found his mentor and mission when he read Mein Kampf and decided to eradicate all mixed-race couples, blacks, and Jews. He didn't mind pornography per se, but Flynt hit his list when he started featuring mixed-race couples in his "filthy" magazine.

The author interviewed lead Detective Michael Cowart extensively and with his permission, writes this book from his point of view, alternating with chapters written in the all-knowing perspective about Franklin, often, the author admits, putting thoughts into his head, which she feels justified doing from her extensive research of his letters and interviews. This, of course, has to be taken with a grain of salt, but it is compelling and makes for interesting reading. Frankin admits to killing 22 blacks and jews and it was ultimately the conviction for killing a Jewish man in a death penalty state which saw him put on death row and legally murdered by the state by lethal injection in 2013. Worth a read, especially as an introduction to the case, if you're unfamiliar with Joseph Paul Franklin as I was.

Monday, April 11, 2016

London's Glory: The Lost Cases of Bryant & May and the Peculiar Crimes Unit by Christopher Fowler

London's Glory: The Lost Cases of Bryant & May and the Peculiar Crimes Unit by Christopher Fowler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

ebook, 238 pages
Published March 29th 2016 by Alibi
Source: egalley via netgalley

Bryant & May (#12.5)

The book starts off with a couple of excellent short essays on why we like fictional crime stories as readers which are humorously spot on and also the author comments on his Bryant & May books. Next follows a cast of characters with ample descriptions which I found fantastic as a newbie to this series! The author introduces each story with a short backstory on where the idea came from. I love collections that take the extra effort to introduce each story as it makes the experiences well worth it for the reader. As I had never read the Bryant & May series before, I found this collection a wonderful introduction to them. References to their previous cases are made which will make reading these a different experience for a fan but as a newbie it only made me want to know them more. I found them a lovable, bickering pair of detectives who work 'peculiar crimes' and I'm very much interested in adding this series to my reading list. Getting the first book, "Full Dark House", on my tbr right away!

1. Bryant & May and the Secret Santa - B&M are called to a department store to check in on the death of an 11yo boy who fled earlier in a panic after visiting the Santa and rushed into traffic meeting his death. This was fun! I especially enjoyed the word play and bantering between B&M. I'm really looking forward to the next story. (4/5)

2. Bryant & May in the Field - On a more serious tone than the first story, though a bit of the wit is still there. This is a puzzle-style mystery. A woman is found dead centre in the middle of a field in winter with her throat slashed. Authorities are stumped because the only footprints in the snow are those of the victim going towards her body, and those going to and from by the dog-walker who found her. B&M do some logical sleuthing to find the strange and peculiar answer to how and by whom she was murdered. (4/5)

3. Bryant & May on the Beat - Very short and very clever! (5/5)

4. Bryant & May in the Soup - Going back to the '50s, this case has the detectives looking into a man suddenly dying during an epidemic of London Fog. Nifty puzzle but not as good as the others so far. (3/5)

5. Bryant & May and the Nameless Woman - A striking woman walks into the offices and announces to May that she will be killing a man (provides picture) in a week. A week later said man is found drowned in a private club's swimming pool and the last person seen leaving the building is waiting in the interview room requesting to speak only to May, it is the woman who refuses to give a name. A man who gets his and we kind of hope the woman will get away with it. (3/5)

6. Bryant & May and the Seven Points - This is a creepy, rather gruesome tale of a missing MI5 agent and a carnival with a sideshow attraction. I figured it out but that didn't make it any less creepy or fun. Bryant and his housekeeper were more involved in this one. I'm really liking these characters! (4/5)

7. Bryant & May on the Cards - This one is a bit longer than the others, but also not quite as good though still fun. An ex-Army, ex-convict's wife leaves him for better pastures and then he gets framed for her murder. Seems she got herself into an even bigger mess than when she was with him. This features mostly May. (3/5)

8. Bryant & May Ahoy! - A classic "country manor" mystery, only the place where everyone is congregated here is on a yacht. The owner's wife has been poisoned, and can only be saved if doctors can find out what she was poisoned with. Of course, the poisoner must be one of the persons aboard the yacht and Bryant and May must sleuth out the perpetrator before time runs out. Some fun language play from Bryant as he goes on about where various old-timey sayings come from. (4/5)

9. Bryant & May and the Blind Spot - A change of pace as this one is written from the pov of Janice Longbright a detective sergeant at the PCU who goes on assignment with a security detail watching the French ambassador's wife while on a shopping trip. She uncovers sloppy work on behalf of the security department but ends up crossing a dishonest cop. May is present and Bryant makes a cameo. A peek into a character who is part of the books. (3/5)

10. Bryant & May and the Bells of Westminster - A trip back to the 1960s for a case B&M couldn't solve twice which involved a group of mod. young ladies and a dead crusty old politician in a locked library. There's mention of more to this case. Wondering if this is referencing one of the novels? Fun. (5/5)

11. Bryant & May's Mystery Tour - Bryant calls May to meet him at a bus stop and as they take a tour bus he explains the murder case they've been called in on and how he's figured it out and that they will be arresting the perp. in an hour, giving May time to slowly figure it out as well. (3/5)

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Winemaker Detective Mysteries #11: Tainted Tokay by Jean-Pierre Alaux

Tainted Tokay by Jean-Pierre Alaux
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Paperback, 181 pages
Expected publication: April 16th 2016 by Le French Book
orig French 2006
Source: egalley via edelweiss

Winemaker Detective Mysteries #11

Perfect as always! This series is always fresh, bringing us something new and different each time. Book 11 features Alexandre as a main character! She's been a member of Benjamin's staff since book 1 but has only ever been mentioned or appeared in a few scenes the entire series. This story has two concurrent plots and one of them featuring her and Virgile! Meanwhile, something completely different is in store for Benjamin with the introduction of some international intrigue as he and his wife take a trip to Hungary and get mixed up with a gang of identity thieves. I really had a blast with this volume in the series and found the information on the Hungarian desert wine, Tokay, fascinating. My favourite cozy mystery series.

Friday, April 8, 2016

A Mind of Winter by Shira Nayman

A Mind of Winter by Shira Nayman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Paperback, 332 pages
Published May 1st 2012 by Akashic Books
Source: received a review copy from LibraryThing review program

I liked this book. I really didn't know what I was getting into when I started as the publisher's description of a "literary psychological thriller" gave me visions of something this is completely not. I was very smitten, though. The book is indeed literary and psychological but there is no thriller. There is a secret which is easily put together by the reader if not during, then certainly by the end of part one. I'd say the main theme here is misconceptions. Coming to your own conclusions about people and then acting upon those misconceptions without ever gathering the courage to face the truth until it's too late. This is historical fiction set a few years post-WWII (1951, to be precise) with some flashbacks to the war years. It's told from different narrative points of view that don't come together until the final part.

First, we're introduced very briefly to Oscar. He has a problem and a secret. This is the mystery of the whole. Part One then takes us to Shanghai and is the story of Christine, opium and child prostitutes. She mentions Oscar occasionally. Part Two goes back to America and is the story of Marilyn, who is a regular visitor to Oscar's weekend country parties. Oscar is never the main character, though. Barnaby is. He plays a major role in Part One and Part Two, being the lover of both Christine and Marilyn. Part Three is Oscar's story which brings everything together.

The psychological character portraits of these deeply disturbed people are what drives the book. The plot is interesting but I easily figured it all out before it unraveled. What kept me going after part one was to find out what happened to Christine as she doesn't come back until Oscar's story brings everything together again. This is a dense book and wasn't an easy read for me, meaning it was slow. Not because I got bogged down or anything but, honestly, I think because there are few chapter breaks. I didn't find the book exciting and yet I found it intense. Since it is told in a nonlinear storytelling I wouldn't recommend it unless you're used to that type of narrating. Myself, I'd like to read her other works. One other novel and a collection of short stories.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

There Was an Old Woman by Hallie Ephron

There Was an Old Woman by Hallie Ephron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 293 pages
Published April 2nd 2013 by William Morrow
Source: egalley via edelweiss

An intriguing mystery with well-developed characters. I almost want to call this a cozy but it isn't, not quite. The mystery was pretty easy to unravel but I found myself interested in the characters, especially the relationship between the sisters and their mother. As well as the side story of their aging neighbour. History plays a major theme throughout in many roles as main character Evie is an historical preservationist by trade and finds past places and stories crossing her path as she tries to deal with her mother's sudden terminal illness, perhaps murder. Not a thriller by any means but a pleasant page-turner, nonetheless. I'd certainly read the author again.