Moonlighting

A Book to Warm Your Toes on a Cold Winter’s Night

Laurence Housman, an Englishman who lived from 1865-1959, was mostly known as a playwright, often with a somewhat scandalous bent. He also wrote a delightful collection of original fairy tales titled Moonlight & Fairyland. Along with the stories are 16 fabulous full-color illustrations by Pauline Martin, inset on glossy paper (see snaps below).

Housman has a nice feel for the fairy tale form. The stories are sweet, sad, creepy, violent, scary, funny, and entertaining. He understands that fairy tales are guilty pleasures, like candies, that should be gobbled up and enjoyed. As some of you know, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with folk and fairy tales over the past few years, having written many of my own. I’m happy to add Housman’s wonderfully produced volume to my bookshelf. This was a gift from a friend. Publication date 1978.

(Rating: Fairy Tales Are Like a Box of Chocolates!)

Brain Benders

I’m once again moonlighting as a film reviewer. Both of the following are free on Amazon Prime and two of my favorites that I watched in January. If you’re up for a bipolar evening of movies, watch them back-to-back.

housegames-1House of Games is an interesting little grifter film from 1987, written and directed by David Mamet, about a gang of small-time con men just trying to make a living. You can see the wheels of Mamet’s duplicitous mind in motion as the story builds, and the do-gooder psychiatrist played by Lindsay Crouse becomes the mark. It’s fairly early work for Mamet. He had only a few screenplays under his belt before it, but this is his directorial debut. The acting is surprisingly awful, so bad that it actually added to my enjoyment of the movie. I’m guessing some of this was intentional as Mamet wanted to give the film the feel of early noir. But wow! Crouse is a nightmare in this movie. Drop it on your watch list just for fun.

(Rating: Don’t Burn the Popcorn!)

steeltoes-1On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Steel Toes. This film, released in 2007, set in Montreal, is about a skinhead who brutally murders an immigrant and must own up to his crime. If you can stomach the violent opening scene, you’re in for a fascinating debate between the angry skinhead full of rage and hate, and the compassionate Jewish lawyer who chooses to defend him in court. David Gow wrote the screenplay and the original stage play upon which it was based. The performances are riveting, with both leads showing incredible range. A very relevant movie in our current social climate, well worth watching, contemplating, and discussing.

(Rating: Emotional Roller Coaster!)

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2018 Reads: Exceptional Books

I thoroughly enjoyed Carissa’s post about her favorite books of 2018. It’s a great list of exceptional work. Read on!

Rubbish Talk

Hi, Nerdies! And Happy New Year!

Before I say anything, there is one thing that you should know about me. It is that I am a complete control freak, thus I categorize, categorize and categorize. Categorizing is basically what I do for living. So be aware of highly incessant categorizing ahead! #lol

I read 39 books last year, 12 of them are exceptional, 10 of them are less exceptional, and the rest of them (17, to be precise) are downright fun. And for obvious reasons, I want to blog about the 12 exceptional books first. I’ll cover the second and the third category in separate posts.

And one more thing, please pardon me for this interminable commentary.

I divided my recommendation into three sections: Must-read which is pretty much self-explanatory; Recommended books which are the books that I think will provide meaningful reads; and Personal Favorites which are my own…

View original post 1,147 more words

Another Year of Book Buying Begins!

One of my favorite local St. Pete hangouts is Haslam’s Book Store. I never seem to tire of browsing and buying used books there (or anywhere else, for that matter). Sometimes, the rattier the look and smell and feel of the books the better. Here are my first three hits of 2019. All of them wonderfully well-worn, as you can see.

Pseudo-People is a collection of science fiction android stories originally published in 1965. It includes tales by Ray Bradbury, Harry Kuttner, Isaac Asimov, Richard Matheson, and more. Most of the pieces were originally published in the 1950s. Classic stuff. I was surprised to find a page for it on goodreads. If you want to check it out, here it is.

(Rating: A Rocket Blast From the Past!)

Lewis Shiner was, for a while in the 1980s, one of my favorite authors. I first fell in love with his short stories. I held onto his novel Deserted Cities of the Heart for a long time as a treasured artifact from when I was learning how to write fiction. It was originally published in 1988. I’m not sure what happened to my copy. I probably loaned it out and never got it back. I can’t wait to re-read it — after 30 years! (Sigh.)

(Rating: The 1980s Weren’t All Bad!)

Zane Grey is well known as the master of the western genre. Most people are familiar with his novel Riders of the Purple Sage (1912), which has lived on in film and print. But it was The Mysterious Rider that caught my eye in the bookstore. I dashed through it in a few sessions of casual late-night reading. The language, style, dialogue, and especially the characters and their sensibilities were delightfully reflective of the Old West as well as Grey’s own time (original publication date 1921). I was surprised to find an annotated version of it on Kindle. Read and enjoy!

(Rating: Just for Fun!)

One Last Quickie

From the Department of Misleading Headlines

I wanted to write one last blog before the end of the year, so in the spirit of our shrinking 2018 timeline, I’ll make it a quickie.

First, for those of you who love short fiction as much as I do, my last literary journey of the year is Ottessa Moshfegh’s Homesick for Another World. It’s a fabulous short story collection filled with quirky characters in search of their own perfect worlds. The stories are often as odd as the people who inhabit them. I love how creepy the author makes me feel inside my own skin as she explores the inner workings, troubled minds, and secret longings of her characters. Fans of the bizarre hiding inside realism will quiver with joy.

(Rating: Forgettable Title but Great Book!)

One for the Road

If you read my short story “The Baron and His Floating Daughter” in the Nov/Dec 2018 Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, you might be interested in checking out the interview F&SF posted a few days ago on its blog site:

(Rating: Happy New Year, Friends!)

Winter Wonders and Spiritual Blunders

Discover (or Rediscover) the Joy of Wonder

This month, I invite you to celebrate your sense of wonder with one of the best books I’ve read all year, Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction. In fact, it took me all year to read it. Not because it wasn’t wonderful. It was! But rather, it’s one of those books that taps so deeply into the creative process you’ll want to read it slowly, in bits and pieces, and not necessarily in chapter order. This book is far more than an instructional manual for writers. Its highly visual presentation celebrates the writer’s wandering and wild mind and our need, as imaginative thinkers, to be both artistically free and disciplined. In keeping with the holiday season, I’ll call it a nutcracker for the analytical brain. A great Christmas gift for yourself or the creative writer in your family. Or me, for that matter, since I borrowed it from a friend, and now I have to return it. Interesting note: By the time I finally finished reading the book, the publisher released a revised and expanded edition

(Rating: Delightfully Mind-Blowing!)

Upstate NY is a Great Place for Stark Landscapes and Bleak Stories

I oughta know. I grew up there. And Christmas is a fine time of year to perseverate over God, religion, faith, what we believe in, and why we believe it. So, in the spirit of self-examination, I’m recommending a super depressing little indie drama called First Reformed, released earlier this year, starring Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried. I loved the way the movie began as one thing, stumbled into something weirdly awkward, and then rolled headlong into the entirely unexpected. Hawke plays the reverend Ernst Toller, a deeply troubled man, running away from his tortured past, only to discover that his past and God are both conspiring to destroy him. It takes a perfect storm of inner and outer conflict, and a fair bit of coincidence, to trip this guy’s wire, but it’s a helluva trip. This is not a holiday movie by any means, but I invite you to take a step back from the consumerism of the season and watch this film. Think about where you fall on the spectrum of hope and despair, which I think is what this movie is really all about. You can view it for free on Amazon Prime. Interesting note: Don’t be too disappointed that Hawke’s stylish movie-poster goatee does not appear in the film. 

(Rating: Break Out the Jim Beam!)

Wicked Italians, Jewish Lore, and American War

NickWickIf you’re a true coffee lover like I am, I’m sure you get a kick out of discovering new brews. Nothing goes better with reading and writing than a good cup of java. In November I found Wicked Joe, a family owned coffee company that appears to be both socially conscious and Earth friendly.  They offer several varieties. I tried their Wicked Italian (naturally!)—organic fair trade, whole bean, dark roast—and brewed it French press style as recommended. (Rating: Delish!)

November’s Reads

AWJK

While enjoying Wicked Joe’s delizioso Italian dark roast, you might as well pair it with some savory Jewish folk tales. Jonathon Keats delves into ancient Jewish lore in The Book of the Unknown: Tales of the Thirty-Six. You won’t need a course in Judaism 101 to get a kick out of these short fantasy tales of unruly magic and the truly bizarre. Just an open mind, a vivid imagination, and a willingness to suspend all manner of disbelief.
(Rating: Great fun!)

No book could be more timely than Omar El Akkad’s American War, offering a speculative glimpse into the next American Civil War (circa 2074). What will become of our society if we can’t put an end to our anger, hatred, and divisiveness? Akkad’s extrapolation, frightening as it is, is probably not the worst case scenario. If you’ve been following the decline of American politics and civil discourse lo these recent years, this novel won’t make you feel any better about it, but it’s a thought-provoking journey nonetheless.
(Rating: Go there if you dare!)

Monsters and Blondes

MC-Frankie

October gave me two great books. First, hats off to Mary Shelley and the 200th anniversary of the novel Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus. If you haven’t read the book in a long time, get the recent Penguin edition that reprints the original 1818 text with a new intro. Then, as a companion piece, watch the National Theatre’s live stage play on the big screen, Frankenstein, 2018 Encore. I saw it with friends at The Little Theatre during my visit upstate. You might need to hunt around for a theater that’s showing it, but it will be worth the effort. Promise!

I became a Michael Connelly fan a few years ago, and he’s now my favorite working writer of detective fiction. I’ve been knocking off his books in no particular order. I recently read The Concrete Blonde, a Harry Bosch novel, the third if you’re counting (originally pubbed in 1994). It’s one of the best I’ve read in the series so far. If you aren’t familiar with Connelly, check out his work, and read this exquisite feature piece in The Guardian

fsf-11-2018One final note to my cherished few readers. Here are the ordering and social media links for the Nov/Dec F&SF where my Italian folktale “The Baron and His Floating Daughter” appears. It’s a great issue. Enjoy!