Thursday, June 28, 2012

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: More Stories My Mother Never Told Me, by Alfred Hitchcock (ed.)


A collection of 14 creepy short stories by Roald Dahl, Ray Bradbury, and others. The title is apt, as Alfred Hitchcock notes in his introduction that "I am prepared to testify in any court in the land that none of these stories was ever recounted to me in any form by my mother. The reason for this is quite simple. None of them had been written at the time when my mother was telling stories to me." Can't argue with that.

The short story is just about the perfect medium for the eerie and unsettling tale, as it allows the author to linger just long enough to communicate a kernel of horror or unease and often end the story without actually resolving the disturbing scenario depicted.  In my opinion, the best in the genre are usually very short indeed. The stories in this collection tend to hover right around the 10 page mark (just about right for a good creepy short story). Hitchcock promises that the reader is "in for a full gamut of emotional reactions--barring, of course, the tender sentiments, with which I will have no truck."  The book doesn't quite live up to Hitchcock's amusing (and rather charming) introduction, but there are some good stories here.

I particularly liked "Dip in the Pool", "The Arbutus Collar" (my favorite), "Courtesy of the Road", "Remains to Be Seen", and "Slime," but most of the stories here had something to recommend them (though I thought the collection ended on a strikingly weak note with "Simone"). If you're a fan of short horror stories, this collection is worth picking up (unless you already have all the stories in other collections, that is).

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Modern Mephistopheles, by Louisa May Alcott


Struggling poet/author Felix Canaris is willing to do just about anything to make a name for himself. Also, he's flat broke. So when the wealthy and intimidating Jasper Helwyze comes knocking with a tantalizing offer, Felix doesn't even think twice before trading away his freedom for the fame and comfort he's always wanted. Felix soon chafes under Jasper's dominion, and when the old man's machinations lead him to order Felix to woo and marry the naive and innocent young Gladys, Felix balks. But Felix is reluctant to give up the acclaim and prosperity resulting from Jasper's patronage, and it's not long before Jasper gets his way. Jasper then amuses himself by sending his former lover Olivia to distract the vain and handsome Felix while Jasper occupies himself with the intellectual seduction of the virtuous Gladys. Felix has to decide just how much fame means to him, and exactly how much he's willing to give up to get it. Shenanigans ensue.

Like A Long Fatal Love Chase, this is another of Louisa May Alcott's dark and lurid romances. While the story is not nearly as outlandish as A Long Fatal Love Chase (nary a convent nor an asylum to be found, let alone a secret duke or a besotted priest), it is decidedly more psychologically (and spiritually) complex. (Both books are good, but my love for ridiculous, over-the-top adventure led me to give A Long Fatal Love Chase an additional star. That book is bonkers.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre, by H.P. Lovecraft


A collection of 16 stories by the master of classic horror/science fiction/weird fiction.  If you're not familiar with Lovecraft's work, well, shame on you (though I confess my own belated discovery of his genius occurred in the not-too-distant past, so I won't judge you too harshly).

Why should you know and love Lovecraft?  For starters, a lot of really cool people like him--he has influenced a number of writers, including Neil Gaiman (American Gods), Alan Moore (Watchmen), Robert Bloch (Psycho), Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian), and Stephen King (everything), as well as directors Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) and Sam Raimi (Evil Dead) and a variety of metal bands.  Also, the man has left an indelible mark on popular culture, and you'll find yourself catching Lovecraft references in Army of Darkness, Babylon 5, The Real Ghostbusters, Night Gallery, and pretty much every Batman movie ever, just to name a few. You need to know this man's work.

Fortunately, this collection is an excellent means of remedying your tragic under-exposure to to Lovecraft's eerie prose.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Uncle Abner Mysteries, by Melville Davisson Post


This book answers the question "What if Sherlock Holmes were a cowboy?"

The narrator, now grown, recalls tagging along with his Uncle Abner as he solved various 'mysteries' that utterly befuddled the inhabitants of a rural community in western Virginia (eventually West Virginia) at the turn of the nineteenth century. With the state government all but inaccessible across the Alleghenies, it falls to the rather unimaginative justice of the peace to be the arbiter of justice in this farming community. Fortunately, he has the assistance of the perceptive and devoutly Protestant Abner, who is astute (and creative) enough to think outside the box and thus unravels more than a few tangled situations to reach a just (though not always strictly legal) outcome.

So . . . Sherlock Holmes as played by John Wayne.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Garden of Madness, by Tracy L. Higley


It's been seven years since Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind--though the royal family has carefully kept his madness a secret from the people.  His daughter, Tiamat, recent widow of a Jewish prince, would rather remain alone than enter into another loveless marriage.  But with her mother pressuring her to marry a Median prince in order to strengthen the family's political position, her mother in law hoping she'll wed her dead husband's brother and give him an heir according to Jewish law, and the mysterious young mage Amel-Marduk making eyes at her, Tiamat may not have as much say over her future as she would like.  And when one of the palace noblemen is essentially mauled to death, Tiamat begins to fear for her own life . . . and her father's.  Determined to solve the mystery and protect her father--and her family--from those who would seize the throne, Tiamat must recruit the assistance of an elderly Jew with a knack for interpreting dreams and a shockingly narrow-minded view of religion.

The genre of Biblical fiction is one I've tended to avoid--and for good reason.  There seem to be a lot of terrible books out there that fall into this category.  So I started this book with a bit of a skeptical eye.  And, heaven help me, I actually didn't hate it.  I know, I know.  I was surprised, too.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Spurgeon's Sermons on Prayer, by Charles Haddon Spurgeon


A solid collection of 38 sermons on prayer by the prince of preachers, including great prayers of the Bible, the prayers of Christ, and prayer in general.  I don't know that they're his best sermons, but then the book never claims that they are.  Still, they're certainly good sermons, and well worth the read.  Each sermon is about twelve pages long, which makes them just a hair long to read as a devotional, especially since some of Spurgeon's language is a bit dense to the modern reader (though he's a sight more readable than, say, Owen).  If you're looking for something a bit more in-depth than Morning and Evening (or if you just want to read more Spurgeon) but, like me, you're intimidated by the ginormous multi-volume set of his complete sermons, then this might be a good place to start.