Saturday, July 22, 2017

Goodbye....and Hello

Don't get all excited -- it's not what you think.

I'm moving this blog with a little help from my friends:



Follow me to my new blogging home: Time Enough At Last on Wordpress

Anyone have any thoughts or suggestions about moving old posts? I would like to have everything all in one place, but it seems like a lot of work to move stuff. Maybe there's an easy way? Your comments are welcome.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

DMI2017, Week 28: "Pit Stop" by John Floyd

Another week, and the Seven of Clubs is keeping me in the pages of Mississippi Noir, but honestly I feel like Brer Rabbit in the briar patch with it, so I'm good. (Bonus points for catching the reference there.)


And just for fun, here's a different take on the obligatory playing card image for this week:


This week's story, "Pit Stop," is told from the viewpoint of Anna McDowell, a young mother traveling with her two young children. They're on their way to Nashville to visit Anna's sister-in-law and they make a pit stop at a quickie mart. While there, they are accosted by a carjacker, but Anna has the wits and the self-defense skills to outsmart and overcome her attacker. The policeman who comes to get the information about the attack turns out to know Anna from years before, and he makes a cryptic remark: "Lightning can strike twice in the same place." Anna's daughter Deborah is intrigued by this remark and wants to know what it's about.

Anna tells a story about a Saturday during her college years, when she drove from Jackson, Mississippi to Starkville in order to attend a football game. She was traveling with her boyfriend Woody, but it was an uneasy trip because there was a serial killer (nicknamed the Night Stalker) on the loose. Worse, all the killings had taken place on the highway on which Anna and Woody were traveling. Before leaving Jackson, they see a policeman friend of theirs, Jack, who convinces them to take a hitchhiker named Mary with them. Mary turns out to be a nun (at least, she says she's a nun), and Anna is uneasy about this as well, because no one knows if the Night Stalker is a man or a woman. Maybe it's Mary...


During the trip the three of them happen to stop at the same quickie mart at which the story starts, and a series of unsettling events begins to take place. Mary suddenly disappears, but leaves behind a bracelet that she said she never took off. Woody tells Anna something that she knows is a lie, but is he purposely trying to lie, or just misinformed? Woody travels along this highway often for his job, and he's big and strong -- is he perhaps the Night Stalker?

I'm definitely not giving away any spoilers, but suffice it to say that this is a well-written story with lots of twists and turns. Of course Anna and Woody do meet up with the Night Stalker on their trip, and the explanation of who it is, is suitably satisfying. The story-within-a-story also gets wrapped up in a satisfactory way.

Rating: 5 stars, for the excellent writing and plotting.

Deal Me In 2017 is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

High Summer Readathon Plans


As she does every year, Michelle at Seasons of Reading is hosting the High Summer Readathon beginning today and running for the next two weeks, culminating in a 48-hour Christmas in July readathon the last weekend of the overall readathon. Well, this sort of thing is completely irresistible to me, so of course I signed up.

High summer means different things to different people, I suppose. Where I live, it means the onslaught of near-100% humidity, mosquitoes, and hurricane season. Other places it means the weather is finally getting nice. Here's how Matthew Arnold put it (from the poem "Thyrsis"):

Soon will the high Midsummer pomps come on,
Soon will the musk carnations break and swell,
Soon shall we have gold-dusted snapdragon,
Sweet-William with his homely cottage-smell,
And stocks in fragrant blow;
Roses that down the alleys shine afar,
And open, jasmine-muffled lattices,
And groups under the dreaming garden-trees,
And the full moon, and the white evening-star.


And here's even more summery Arnold goodness, from "The Scholar-Gipsy":

Here will I sit and wait,
While to my ear from uplands far away
The bleating of the folded flocks is borne,
With distant cries of reapers in the corn—
All the live murmur of a summer's day.



When you've said that, you need say no more!

But enough of that -- what am I reading during this readathon?
  • I will be finishing Sense and Sensibility for the Jane Austen Read-All-Along at James Reads Books;
  • I will be finishing The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins for my Classics Club list;
  • If I finish those two (which will be a feat), I'll use a random number generator to pick another title off my Classics Club list, since I am quite a bit behind on it.
  • For the Christmas in July weekend, I plan to read:
    • The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories by P.D. James (just four stories, so this should be entirely manageable)
    • And something from my obscenely long TBR list on my Kindle: Christmas is Murder by C.S. Challinor
I'll keep you posted on my progress!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

DMI2017, Week 27: "Moonface" by Andrew Paul

    

For this week's short story, the Six of Clubs served up a mildly disturbing story by Andrew Paul, from the collection Mississippi Noir. Seems as if I'm having something of a run on stories from this collection, as often happens with Deal Me In, but I certainly don't mind because most of the stories in this collection are quite good.

The story's action centers on a man nicknamed "Moonface" by the kids at the school where he works on the cafeteria serving line. His real name is Yitzhak Cohen, and he's a Holocaust survivor. They call him "Moonface" because of the ugly circular scars visible all over his body. The unnamed narrator of the story, a high school kid, has multiple run-ins with Moonface, because as it turns out they both have their eyes on Nicole, a senior cheerleader.

After one too many humiliations at the hands of both Moonface and Nicole, the narrator decides that Moonface needs to go. He makes his way to Moonface's trailer on the edge of town, with no real plan in mind, and finds out that he has already lost Nicole -- Moonface and Nicole are clearly in an intimate relationship, one which her father then finds out about. So now there's ANOTHER person who has it in for Moonface, and the story spirals downward from there. As it turns out, the narrator does indeed play a pivotal role in getting rid of Moonface, but not at all in the way that he might have envisioned.

Rating: 5 stars; this is one of those stories that gradually sucks you in and begins raising the suspense as you watch the characters make one bad decision after another. An excellent read!

Deal Me In 2017 is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

DMI2017, Week 26: "Quitters, Inc." by Stephen King

This week the Six of Spades brought me another oldie but goodie from the pages of Night Shift.

  

Richard Morrison is a typical American businessman -- he smokes, drinks, and eats too much. One day he meets an old friend, Jimmy McCann, in an airport bar, and Jimmy looks great. He has stopped smoking, and he tells Morrison that it's due to the help of a fantastic place called "Quitters, Inc." They guarantee to help you quit smoking, and although he's skeptical, Morrison takes one of their cards from Jimmy. The only problem is, Jimmy can't talk about what Quitters, Inc. does to be so successful.

The business card resurfaces a month or so later, and Morrison decides to pay the offices of Quitters, Inc. a visit. He's introduced to a case manager named Vic Donatti. He tells Morrison that they employ no special techniques to help people quit smoking -- that they are pragmatists. What Morrison finds out only too late is, the pragmatic approach involves things like electric shocks, administered to his wife first, and then him, whenever he slips up and smokes a cigarette. And they'll know, because they will have him under constant surveillance. Further infractions would involve his son being visited by thugs to rough him up. And if Morrison gains weight as a result of stopping smoking (as most people do)? Well, Quitters Inc. has a pragmatic approach to solving that as well. At the risk of a spoiler, I chose the image of the Six of Spades above as a clue to what that approach might be.

Rating: 5 stars; "Quitters, Inc." is an entertaining but highly creepy story that shows King's ability to effortlessly weave an engrossing tale.

Deal Me In 2017 is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

John Dies at the End by David Wong

I haven't done a regular book review in some time here. Some weeks, it's all I can do to post a Deal Me In short story review. (And recent history asserts that even THAT was too much for several weeks in a row.) Recently I've been posting short reviews of books I've read on Goodreads, and that was OK for a while. But now I feel the need to write something longer on books.

It's unfortunate, however, that the book I choose to resurrect regular book reviews with is this one, mainly because it's a very hard book to describe to someone else. It's no understatement to say that John Dies at the End is one of the most unusual books I've read in a very long time. Evidently it has quite a cult following, and a movie has been made from the book. (It's on my Netflix queue, so I'm eager to see if it makes a little more sense than the book.) But I have to admit that it seemed a little uneven to me, and it would probably benefit from a rereading, if I had that kind of time (which I don't).


So how to summarize this book? Well, for starters, David Wong is the pseudonym of Jason Pargin, who is the executive editor at Cracked.com, which is your first clue about what kind of book this might be. Read his Wikipedia page for the interesting back story of how all this came to be.

The action of the story takes place in [Undisclosed]. (This is what it's called throughout the book.) There's a pair of protagonists, John and Dave, and they have some special powers that allow them to do all kinds of things, not the least of which is to see and interact with creatures and other entities from other dimensions -- what we might otherwise call monsters, although as the events of the book play out, that word is way too simplistic for these things. John and Dave have these powers due to a drug-like substance called "soy sauce." It appears out of nowhere in small metal canisters that are cold to the touch even in the middle of summer, and when you take it, it changes you in all kinds of strange ways.

"Soy sauce," NOT "soy sauce."

Oh, and there's also a dog, Molly, that figures prominently in the plot, but she has an annoying habit of exploding, among other things. In fact, many of the characters in this story keep dying in odd and interesting ways, but they keep coming back. There's also issues with time and the order of events in this story, which doesn't surprise the reader once it's made clear that more that one dimension is involved. But I have to say that it can be very confusing at times.

Molly can even drive.

The upshot of the plot, without giving too much away, is that there is a being from another dimension who goes by the name of Korrok, and who is very interested in taking over the beings and worlds in this dimension. To do this, he sends all kinds of monsters to achieve this purpose, as well as taking control over ordinary people, turning them into various monsters.

Even though my brief synopsis sounds truly like the hottest of hot messes, this is a pretty funny book, even if the humor is often black humor. And it's definitely not like anything else I've ever read. I have to admit that the author was very inventive with what could have otherwise been an ordinary story. And along the way, he manages to work in some pretty interesting philosophical questions that arise from the events of the story.

My major problem with the book is that I feel like it began well -- funny and weird and intriguing -- and ended pretty well (with some major revelations that I simply didn't see coming) -- but the middle part of the book seemed disjointed, or even sort of like filler. This is why I think I might like to read the book again, to see if I just missed something in the middle that would make more sense now that I know the basic arc of the story.

Rating: 4 stars; I'm glad I read this unique book, even though (spoiler) John does NOT die at the end.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

DMI2017, Week 25: "On the Hill" by Elizabeth Spencer

This week I successfully got back on my Deal Me In reading schedule, pretty much. The deck of cards dealt me the Four of Hearts, which sends me back to my list of Mississippi authors (in honor of the Mississippi bicentennial) and a story by Elizabeth Spencer. I read another story by Spencer earlier this year ("A Southern Landscape," Week 12), and this story, "On the Hill," was very different from that one. I suddenly realized that she has the distinction of occupying two spots on my roster of Mississippi authors, along with Faulkner and Welty. That was not by design -- I think it was more about what was available to me in terms of reading resources, although I did buy Starting Over, the collection in which we find this story, specifically for Deal Me In this year.

  

The title of this story refers to the location of the house of Barry and Jan Daugherty, recent transplants to the small town of Eltonville. They are a bit aloof and more than a little mysterious, but everyone who's anyone in town loves to attend their elegant dinner parties.

Eva Rooke and her husband Dick are some of the Daughertys' guests, and Eva especially begins to be sucked into something of an obsession about figuring out who the Daughertys really are. This is because she sees certain things that make her wonder just what exactly is going on. One day she sees Barry coming out of the Holy Brotherhood of Jesus church, a strange cult on the edge of town. On another day, the Daughertys' son Riley shows up at Eva's front door after school, saying that his mom has gone away and he can't get in his house. Upon investigation, Eva discovers that Jan is inside the house, apparently drunk and passed out. The story gets more and more enigmatic from there, with Eva never really figuring out what the Daughertys were all about, even long after they suddenly move away.

Rating: 4 stars; I liked this story even though I feel like I didn't really understand it. I am still relatively new to Spencer's writing, and I enjoy her style. In this story, she also did an excellent job of pulling the reader into Eva's thoughts, curiosity, and confusion about the Daughertys. I still plan to read more of her work.

Deal Me In 2017 is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.