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review 2018-11-19 18:30
THE FREAK SHOW MURDERS AND OTHER STORIES by Fredric Brown
The Freak Show Murders - Fredric Brown

Despite my taking such a long time to read this relatively short collection of mysteries, I enjoyed it quite a bit!

 

These mysteries were originally published back between the early 40's and the early 50's. As such, they contain language and slang of the time. This made them even more of a hoot than they otherwise would have been.

 

Most of the stories here are light in nature, other than the title tale and one other SEE NO MURDER. I didn't have a chance at solving any of these crimes, but I still had a great time reading these mysteries, especially THE FREAK SHOW MURDERS. (This tale came with a little glossary of carney-speak that made me giggle a bit, especially the description of "cooch" and the "cooch dance".) Brown knows how to plot a good mystery while still keeping his quirky sense of humor and bits of dialogue.

 

Thank you to my friend here at Booklikes, Tigus, for the gift he sent me a while back, which included this book. (I apologize for taking so long to read it!)  I really enjoyed it and I like looking at the cover too. This book will have a prominent place on my shelf so I can gaze at it from time to time.  I appreciate your gift, good sir!

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review 2018-10-29 06:33
Daughter of the Burning City (audiobook) by Amanda Foody, narrated by Emily Woo Zeller
Daughter of the Burning City - Amanda Foody

Sorina has spent most of her life working in the Gomorrah Festival, a city-sized traveling carnival, as the adopted daughter of the Festival's proprietor, Villiam. Although Sorina is the first known illusion-worker born in a hundred years and will eventually become the Festival's next proprietor, she doesn't feel particularly special. The blank areas of skin where her eyes should be mark her as a freak, even within Gomorrah. And although Villiam is kind and always finds time to talk to her, he doesn't seem to be putting serious effort into training her to be his successor. There is much Sorina still doesn't know about how Gomorrah works.

In addition to Villiam, her adopted father, and Kahina, Sorina's mother figure, Sorina has her other family members, her various illusions. Over the years, she has created several illusions so complex that they appear to almost be real people. Each of them was specifically designed to fulfill a role - Sorina's uncle, bossy older sister, annoying younger siblings, etc. - but each of them also acquired traits that Sorina didn't plan, special "freakish" abilities. They all add a bit of stability to Sorina's life, until one day she discovers something she hadn't thought possible: one of her illusions has been murdered.

Who would have killed an illusion? How did they manage it? Sorina doesn't know who to turn to. Should she trust Villiam, who believes that the killer is an outsider trying to harm him, the proprietor, through her? Or handsome Luca, who believes the killer is someone within the Gomorrah Festival?

I'll start off by saying that the only reason I listened to this was because I needed something I could use for my "Creepy Carnivals" square in Booklikes Halloween Bingo. Even just in the description, there were aspects of this book that didn't appeal to me. The entire setup sounded a bit ridiculous, for one thing, and Sorina's "family" reminded me too much of James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge's The Dangerous Days of Daniel X, a truly terribly YA book. I also rolled my eyes at the whole "first illusion-worker born in a hundred years" thing.

Daughter of the Burning City turned out to be both tedious and gross. I mean, I didn't like the whole "Sorina created nearly all of her friends and family members" aspect, but I didn't expect it to be quite as awful as it was. And the murder "investigation" was just a joke.

I was halfway through the book before anything resembling an on-page investigation started. Villiam swore he was doing a "full investigation," but I couldn't see how that could possibly be true considering that the victims were cleaned up and buried soon after their deaths. Sorina's investigation with Luca wasn't much better. Honestly, it seemed like they were randomly questioning people. I vaguely remember Luca saying something about Gomorrah residents with particularly special abilities (or more than one ability?) being more likely murderer candidates for some reason, but in practice it really just seemed like they were talking to people to fill the time and make Sorina feel like they were doing something useful.

I'll admit that I never figured out the killer's motive on my own, but the killer's identity was such a cliche that I managed to guess it about 15% in, and the oddities in their behavior just kept stacking up. I wasn't impressed at all with the murder mystery storyline.

The romance didn't start off well, but it gradually improved...until it suddenly became one of the top grossest YA romances I've read in a while.

When Sorina and Luca first met, there was some stereotypical "he's so good-looking, but he can't possibly be interested in a freak like me" stuff. Then Sorina learned that Luca was *gasp* not interested in sex. The character who initially told Sorina this said it like it was the most freakish thing she'd ever heard of, and Sorina herself seemed to have trouble wrapping her brain around the idea. After hearing this info about Luca from at least two separate people, Sorina had a conversation with Luca in which she declared the two of them friends, received a lukewarm response, and then decided to kiss him out of the blue. When he didn't respond favorably, she assumed it was at least partly due to her own freakish lack of eyes rather than the fact that she'd forced a kiss on him without his consent and with the knowledge that it might make him uncomfortable.

In a much shorter amount of time than I would have expected, Luca decided that he was okay with kissing Sorina. He explained that he needed to get to know a person before he could feel interested in them (demiromantic?). Considering that he'd also said that he'd never been put in this sort of position before and had never really thought about it, I wondered how he knew the exact words to describe all of this - his panicked confusion felt more real than his later explanation and his sudden willingness to passionately kiss Sorina.

I eventually adjusted to their romance, even though I wasn't a fan of the way it started. However, a revelation late in the book made it all skin-crawlingly gross. This is where I get into major spoiler territory.

At one point, Sorina learns that Luca is actually one of her illusions. Various machinations caused her to forget about his existence, and, if things had gone as planned, Sorina would never have met him again and they'd have lived entirely separate lives. But of course that didn't happen.

What I could not get past was that Sorina had created Luca. Foody tried to smooth this over via Luca telling Sorina that her more person-like illusions always had aspects of themselves she didn't expect. She'd never planned any of their "freakish" abilities, and many of them had private lives she was unaware of. Luca claimed that their romance was perfectly fine because he'd chosen to be with her. What Foody never addressed, however, was the fact that all of Sorina's illusions perfectly aligned with whatever role she'd assigned them to fulfill. Venera was her best friend, because that's what Sorina created her to be. Nicoleta seemed fine with being Sorina's "bossy older sister." And Luca, meanwhile, was created to be Sorina's lover. No, he didn't turn out quite as planned, but in the end he slid right into his assigned role just like all the others.

(spoiler show)

Was consent really possible in a situation like this?

Emily Woo Zeller's narration didn't improve my opinion of this book. She tended to sound overwrought, which I suppose fit Sorina well, but all this did was make Sorina grate on my nerves more. Her voices for the various male characters often sounded cartoonish, and I disliked Nicoleta in large part due to the waspish tone she used for her.

This wasn't a good book in the slightest, but at least it netted me the bingo square I needed, so that's something.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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text 2018-10-03 17:17
A Bulky Stack
Antarctic Navigation - Elizabeth Arthur
Carnival: A Novel - Rawi Hage
Washington Black - Esi Edugyan

Mostly, these days, I'm preoccupied by reading selections from the CanLit prizelists,

 

I've just finished Rawi Hage's Beirut Hellfire Society (longlisted for the Giller, shortlisted for the Writers' Trust and Governor General's): the story of Pavlov, who has inherited his father's responsibility for the dead.

 

The Hellfire Society attends to the bodies of those who have been abandoned, witnesses their burning and, on occasion, carrying out the wishes of those who have passed him instructions. Set in Beirut and in the surrounding mountains, this is a grim story but not a bleak one.

 

Hage's other novels, Carnival and DeNiro's Game and Cockroach, all consider lives on the margins, lives that might be overlooked, and he inhabits his characters with tremendous sensitivity and grace. These are not comfortable stories to read, but these are parts of the world in which life is not comfortable: essential, challenging stories.

 

Now I'm reading in a flurry: Paige Cooper's stories in Zolitude (longlisted for the Giller and shortlisted for the Goveror General's), Sheila Heti's Motherhood (shortlisted for the Giller), and Esi Edugyan's Washington Black (nominated for everything, or so it seems). 

 

Short stories, a strange hybrid of fiction/memoir, and a historical novel by the author of Half-Blood Blues: this is quite a demanding mix but an interesting one. 

 

Last, but not least, Elizabeth Arthur's Antarctic Navigation has been on my shelves, unread, since 1994, but it is just wonderful: slow and dense and snowy: I am lost in it, in the best way. 

 

With October in mind, I've also read the first few pages of Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone and Charles Palliser's The Quincunx, but these are getting the short end of the proverbial reading stick for now. 

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review 2018-10-01 21:49
The Franchise Affair / Josephine Tey
The Franchise Affair - Josephine Tey

Robert Blair was about to knock off from a slow day at his law firm when the phone rang. It was Marion Sharpe on the line, a local woman of quiet disposition who lived with her mother at their decrepit country house, The Franchise. It appeared that she was in some serious trouble: Miss Sharpe and her mother were accused of brutally kidnapping a demure young woman named Betty Kane. Miss Kane's claims seemed highly unlikely, even to Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, until she described her prison -- the attic room with its cracked window, the kitchen, and the old trunks -- which sounded remarkably like The Franchise. Yet Marion Sharpe claimed the Kane girl had never been there, let alone been held captive for an entire month! Not believing Betty Kane's story, Solicitor Blair takes up the case and, in a dazzling feat of amateur detective work, solves the unbelievable mystery that stumped even Inspector Grant.

 

I read this book to fill the Country House Mystery square of my 2018 Halloween Bingo card.

This was my first Josephine Tey, but it will certainly not be my last. I thoroughly enjoyed this twisty little mystery. Although it is nominally part of the Alan Grant series, Grant appears in the novel as a secondary character. His thunder is stolen by a bachelor lawyer, Robert Blair.

I thought Tey did a masterful job of describing Blair—a man of a certain age who has never married, never left his small town, and never left the care of his aunt with whom he shares a home. When he receives a plaintive phone call from Marion Sharpe, asking him to come to her country home, The Franchise, he initially wishes that he’d left the office five minutes earlier and had missed the call. He is shaken out of his overly comfortable routine—into a portion of the law that he is less familiar with and dealing with people and events that he is not familiar with.

It is marvelous to watch Blair rise to the occasion, to become more aware of his community, his surroundings, and himself. His kindness to Marion & her mother was above & beyond the call of duty and I ended up liking him very much.

The twists & turns were well written, the motivations of those involved revealed, and the mystery eventually solved. Now I just want to know how Blair’s visit to Saskatchewan to his sister turned out!

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review 2018-09-29 00:18
Carnival Of Fear
Carnival Of Fear - J.G. Faherty

For any small town a traveling carnival is a huge event. This traveling carnival is a little different because not everyone will survive this one. This carnival's Castle Of Horrors is the real deal. Aliens, zombies, vampires and werewolves. They're all here and waiting for the unsuspecting townspeople.  When JD Cole and the other kids from the local high school entered the castle they thought it would be fun, instead they have to count on each other to survive.

 

Carnival Of Fear by J.G. Faherty is the type of book that to me shouts: "Read Me Now!" Monsters, a traveling carnival and a bunch of teenagers who can't get along, what's not to like? This book was really a mixed bag though, it kind of felt like a YA novel but with more violence. It has its moments though, I liked the idea that all these kids from different social backgrounds had to work together to survive and because of this they grew and changed. On the bad side there was so much going on in this book it bordered on ridiculous. If you can suspend your disbelief though this is a fun book.

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