Wednesday’s Book Looks: Evil and Sin and One Weary Conference-Goer…

 

I have a confession, fellow bloggers and blog readers.

I have committed a dreadful cardinal sin.

I quit reading a book before I was even through. (Don’t worry, it wasn’t any of yours!)

The sinned-against book was the first volume of a massive two-volume history book set. I was almost to the end of the first volume (page 700 and change) and I just couldn’t continue with it. It’s not as if the book was dated (although it was), because I’ll continue reading since I’m a historian, and will persevere through the most dry, academic, smelly, and, yes, dated book there is.

Point in case: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57659405-picture-history-of-the-u-s-navy.

I rescued the above book from being tossed in a dumpster.

It’s the perfect manifestation of “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” The book’s cover was godawful. I forgot to upload the picture of the book’s cover when I entered the book into Goodreads, but here it is:

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And it kinda smelled too. The book, not the book’s entry on Goodreads. Not of garbage (I didn’t dig it out of the dumpster) and not even of that old-book smell. But it definitely smelled pretty attic-musty. Or of something else I really don’t want to think about.

But I actually enjoyed reading that book. Some of the captions that went with the pictures were hilarious! I loved when the author(s) did the 1956 version of caption-trolling for some of the naval captains included in the book.

Too funny!

Unfortunately, the Civil War book after the above one was kind of a letdown. The Civil War book even had actual photos (been actively trying to un-see the photos of the horse casualties*)–of Civil War camps, cannons, locations, and participants to liven up the (definitely dated) text and I still couldn’t get into the text portions. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7283408-the-photographic-history-of-the-civil-war-vol-1—the-opening-battles

My focus in grad school was maritime history, and military history often goes hand in hand with that, and I still found the book hard to get into, and so I quit. Maybe it was because the history of the Civil War was written in a glamourizing and glorifying manner, and we all probably know it wasn’t like that at all. Even if we weren’t there.

The photos in the book, at least, don’t “lie”.

Please forgive me for committing such a literary cardinal sin as to not finishing a book! I will atone, I promise.

(And by atoning, I mean taking a nap because I am still tired from attending the absolutely awesome virtual steampunk conference over the weekend. The organisers/hosts must be three times as exhausted as I, a mere attendee, am!)

However, before I do that, I’ll mention another book I read during all this history journeying, which actually had at its core a real cardinal sin, albeit a fictional one. (And, so I don’t commit another literary cardinal sin, possible spoilers ahead.)

But it was no less chilling for all that it was fiction. The circle of friends in S. Gepp’s Sins of the Fathers commit a terrible act in a quest for power and status. (Much like many of the world’s wars, don’t you think?)

As we all can guess, power always comes with a price. And sometimes a twisted sort of redemption.

I enjoyed this novella as released from Grinning Skull Press, and can’t wait experience more of Grinning Skull‘s horror vision.

If you’d like to check out this book and the other literary offerings (pun intended!) Grinning Skull Press has to offer, visit their website: https://grinningskullpress.wordpress.com/.

Now it’s time for full-on immersion into evil!

I read the Breaking Rules Publishing anthology The Hollow: Where All Things Evil Lie (Vol. 3), and not just because my own story was in it. Because, you know, it’s horror! And I love “all things” horror. (See what I did there?)

Check it out here…they’re selling it for a discounted price of $5: https://www.breakingrulespublishing.com/store/p428/The_Hollow_Anthology_Vol_3.html.

I wish I could talk about it a little more thoroughly but I generally read anthologies a second time to fully immerse myself in the individual stories, and Breaking Rules Publishing really picked some great ones. I can say this–it is definitely going to be worth the second read. Especially now that I’m freed up from reading about real-life Civil War horror…I mean, history.

My only critique of The Hollow 3 is that I wish it had a table of contents.

Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m a traditionalist book nerd as well as a book-sinner-against.

So, now I’m going to do what all evil things do after a day of chaos and destruction! Yep, you guessed it…take a nap!

*No horses were harmed in the creation of this blog post.

 

Wednesday’s Book Looks: The Four S’s: Supernatural, Sisters, Scotland, and Synchronicity!

*possible book spoilers ahead* (None of these are affiliate links, and weren’t requests for reviews.)

It’s probably something to do with the recent time change here in the United States, but I have been feeling especially discombobulated and spacey this past week or so. I’ve been slogging through my social media at a snail’s pace, and my work and writing schedules are all out of whack. (Plus, I REALLY don’t like eating while it’s still light out!)

So, off into the darkness we descend!

The First S: Supernatural!

Okay, so back A LONG TIME AGO in the 1990s, vampires were all the rage. As much as we goths pretended to be too dark and spooky for the more…romantic?…stylized?…view of vampires, we loved Anne Rice. (But, you know, vampires are MONSTERS.) I didn’t even mind Tom Cruise as Lestat in the movie version, but probably because I only knew him as Jack from the movie Legend previously.

Vampirism, though, had shifted from monstrous (and damned) creatures of the night that we related to as like misfits into something more mystical and otherworldly. The “damned” had evolved into alluring creatures that were admired, not despised, and I reckon maybe we wanted to feel like that for a while.

For a very little while. Because TV cameras and news crews descended onto the clubs, to capture the “depraved” shenanigans of this sub-subculture Vampire movement.

So, it was a real treat to read a collection of vampire stories that didn’t involve sparkly vampires as written for the next generation(s). And it’s a collection of bloody tales that could have been complete moldy vampire cheese, but, luckily for me, wasn’t.

Anyhoo, The Vampire Connoisseur took me right back to those days where I both felt shunned by mainstream society (Oh wait, I still feel like that!), and felt a longing to be immortal and therefore immune to pangs of emotion and the nibblings of a conscience and the ravening bites of aging. (Full title: Todd Sullivan Presents: The Vampire Connoisseurs)

Here, most of the vampires within are unequivocally monsters, either via their own awareness, or through the awareness of the characters that observe them. And sometimes the death at the hands of the monsters is welcomed, as illuminated by the arc of the stories.

And sometimes the vampiric monsters are creatively reimagined, as in Priscilla Bettis’s tale “The Sun Sets Nonetheless” which had the double spook factor of being set in the state where I live. [Earthquakes, tornadoes, and now mysterious blue-skinned “creatures”?!?!?! Maybe Priscilla Bettis will let me camp out in her (completely imaginary and fictional) back yard in Virginia, where they only seem to get the occasional rogue hurricane! *wry laugh*]

Pick up a copy of Todd Sullivan Presents: The Vampire Connoisseur on Amazon https://bookshop.org/books/todd-sullivan-presents-the-vampire-connoisseur/9781649050090 or on Bookshop https://bookshop.org/books/todd-sullivan-presents-the-vampire-connoisseur/9781649050090.

And, if there’s something I love as much as REALLY GOOD vampire stories, it’s GHOST STORIES! Here in Kansas, we had storms and grey skies and fierce winds wailing outside the window and the only thing lacking to read Ghost Stories for Starless Nights by is a crackling fire! And toasted marshmallows, of course! (But a little ghostie told me that you can find virtual haunted campfires over at Haunt Jaunts. But that may just be a pesky poltergeist starting rumours! https://www.hauntjaunts.net/virtual-haunted-campfires-2021-line-up-and-schedule/#Virtual_Haunted_Campfires_2021_Cost)

Sadly, the starless nights here are not due to the storms or anything else natural or supernatural but to the obscene levels of light pollution here in Wichita, but at least I can escape into the atmospheric and haunting world(s) of Ghost Stories for Starless Nights. Join me around the fire, won’t you? https://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Stories-Starless-Nights-Publishing/dp/B088N4WKL5

The Second S: Sisters!

Speaking of romantic notions, I, when I was real young, wanted a sister so badly. Especially a twin sister. I had a pretty lonely and isolating childhood, and I thought that having a twin sister would have given me a ready-made friend. (I blame Trixie Belden, Little Women, and even Anne of Green Gables with all that “kindred spirit” blather.) Once, I dreamed of a girl that lived in the attic and I swore that she was real. So did a psychic who did a reading for a family member once. I at least had an imaginary sister. For a little while, anyway.

However, the sisters in Tochi Onyebuchi’s War Girls are sisters in the most complex, complicated, powerful, and real ways. And the world they navigate–a 2172 Earth ravaged by climate change and military conflicts–provides an equally harrowing setting for the two young women.

War Girls not only captures the bond of sisters but also the heartbreak of that powerful bond.

And it made me want a sister even more, despite all the complications and pain that seems to be involved.

War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/War-Girls-Tochi-Onyebuchi/dp/0451481674 and on Bookshop https://bookshop.org/books/war-girls/9780451481672

The Third and Forth S’s: Scotland and Synchronicity!

I have wanted to live in Scotland ever since the 90s, when I visited. Finances and cats and a lack of more shrewd and focused life planning have complicated the issue, but at least I got to take a tour of the Glasgow School of Art before the terrible fire. (<—loves Mackintosh)

So, when I read The Cracked Spine (Scottish Bookshop Mystery #1) by Paige Shelton I just about died! Essentially a woman who works in a museum in WICHITA, KANSAS gets the job offer of a lifetime to work in a rare BOOKSHOP in EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND and, well, I think there’s a mystery involved somehow. But all I could think about was THAT’S ME!!!!! Well, a me in another life, anyway. And I was torn between loving every word of my alternate universe and being supremely envious of my own alternate self! Mock jealousy aside, it was such a lovely, hopeful, escapist read! In my next life, I’ll be sure to have more clear vision of who I am, and how to build a life and make choices to nurture and preserve that innate self.

The Cracked Spine on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Cracked-Spine-Scottish-Bookshop-Mystery/dp/1250057485/ and on Bookshop https://bookshop.org/books/the-cracked-spine/9781250118226

On the heels of reading that book, I had a dream where I was hanging out with a soulmate-type person and they liked me exactly how I was. It was a very pleasant dream.

So, to sum up, supernaturally spooky adventures, “kindred spirit” sisters, Scotland and synchronicity, and hope for a “maybe someday” that’s all my own.

Black CATastrophy Writing Prompt: Puppy Love

 Gone

 

                                                              Puppy Love

They found the bike propped up against the wall, but Allison was gone.
“Dammit, I knew I should have never got her that bike.”
“Dad, it’s not the city anymore. She’ll be okay.”
“I know, it’s just…”
“Yeah, I miss Mom, too.”
Samuel gave his son a side hug. “I love you, Marius.”
“C’mon, Dad. Let’s find her before she stumbles across a backwoods meth lab.”
“Ha, ha.” He watched his son load the bike into the back of the SUV. Hard to believe he’s already a senior.
“We’ll hit all the stores on Main Street before they close. Then head over to the dog park, then—”
“Then we’ll swing by the trailer, then the community pool, then out to the farmhouses on the outskirts. Can I drive?” Marius asked.
“When you get your own car.”
None of the store owners had seen Allison.
“Next stop, the diner,” Samuel said. His son was too busy texting to answer.
“Hey, Rhonda, seen Allison today?” Samuel asked his boss.
“No, hun, not since you all were here for Sunday brunch. She missing again?” Rhonda inched closer. “You just need a good woman to look after you all.”
He could smell peppermint Schnapps on her breath. “We’re doing okay.”
“C’mon, Dad, it’s going to be dark soon.”
“You all just let me know if you need something.” Rhonda patted Marius on the head.
Samuel hustled Marius out the door.
“Seriously, Dad, a head pat? Please tell me you don’t like her.”
“Why not? She’s a good woman.”
“Now I know you’re full of shit.”
“Watch your mouth, son.”
Their laughter stopped when they got to the trailer and saw Allison on the steps.
“Oh, no, she’s got Mrs. Wilson’s dog.” Samuel said.
“Daddy, look. I have puppy friend.” Allison stood, the dog struggling to get free.
“Dad, what’s all over her dress?” Marius said.
“Hopefully just mud.”
“It’s all in her hair, too.”
“Sweetie, that puppy is Mrs. Wilson’s.”
“No, daddy. Is mine.” Allison held the dog even tighter.
“Allison, we’re going to get hamburgers at Charley’s. Mrs. Wilson is going to watch the puppy while we eat. Okay?”
Allison smiled crookedly. “Okay, Daddy. Then we go get puppy, if I’m good?”
“I promise.” Samuel gently took the dog from her. “Now, go with Marius. He’s going to get you all cleaned up.”
Samuel carried the dog over to Mrs. Wilson’s trailer and knocked. The tin door squeaked open.
“That girl of yours stole my dog again?” Mrs. Wilson flicked her cigarette into a bush.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m very sorry. Allison doesn’t understand when she does something wrong. And she just loves dogs.” Samuel said, as the dog ran inside.
“So you keep sayin’. Next time, I’m gonna call the police.” Mrs. Wilson slammed the door.

********

Later that evening, Samuel made sure the childproof locks were set on the front door. At least she couldn’t wander outside at night.
“But what if there’s a fire,” his wife said to him, in his head.
“I tried my best, Janine,” he whispered, as he poured himself some Scotch. After a couple of sips, he took the glass to the desk in his room. He pulled out a glossy pamphlet from the drawer. “I’m so sorry, Allison.” Salty tears mixed in with the whiskey taste in his mouth.
The next morning, Samuel dropped his son off at school.
“Allison not coming to school today?” Marius asked.
“Nope, we’re taking the day off. After yesterday, I’d better keep an eye on her. Figured we’d go get pancakes. Can you get a ride home after band practice?”
“Sure, Jessica’s mom can drop me off.”
“Pancakes?” Allison said from the back seat. “Chocolate chip?”
“You betcha. All the chocolate chips you want.”
After Allison had her fill of pancakes, Samuel drove her to the state psychiatric hospital that Allison’s doctor had recommended.
“Daddy, where are we?”
Samuel unloaded her suitcase. “Sweetie, you’re going to go on a vacation.”
“Are there puppies inside?” Allison asked.
“Let’s go see, shall we?” He held her hand tightly while he led her up to the white building.

********

He got home well ahead of Marius. There was a dog sitting on the front steps of the trailer porch. At least it’s not Mrs. Wilson’s dog.
“Shoo,” he said, and the dog took off. The trailer was so quiet. He turned on the TV and then took a new bottle of Scotch and a glass from the cabinet. The house was still too quiet. He turned up the TV volume. Some old action movie.
He poured one drink, then another. Then a third. His hands hadn’t stopped shaking, but at least he wasn’t crying anymore. Have to be strong for Marius.
Five o’clock, and the winter darkness started to close in. Someone started yelling in the movie. Then a cacophony of barking dogs erupted from the television. I don’t remember dogs in the movie. How much Scotch did I drink? He shook the bottle. Almost empty.
He squinted at the TV, but the picture was blurry. He turned it off. The yelling stopped but the barking persisted. No, it was more like howling, now. He fumbled with the childproof locks and opened the door. Animals streaked from the small porch into the shadows.
“What the—” He took the flashlight from the shelf by the door and shone it into the darkness. Dogs. Hundreds of dogs. Some even looked like wolves. And they had stopped howling. Instead, they were growling. Growling and snapping as they sprinted forward. Samuel stumbled backwards and fell, dropping the flashlight.
“I’m so sorry, Allison,” he cried as the dogs closed in.

*********

“Hi, Marius.” Allison hugged her brother. “Are we going to go get pancakes?”
“Yes, Allison, pancakes with chocolate chips.”
“Then home?”
“Yes, home. But only after we get you a puppy from the shelter.”
“Puppy.” Allison clapped her hands. “I love puppies.” Her smile was no longer crooked.

 

–Willow Croft

Writing Prompt Link: https://blackcatastrophy.com/2017/12/03/black-catastrophy-writing-prompt-16-gone/.