Clockwork Phoenix 4 is a collection of 18 stories edited by Mike Allen. Who, I will tell you now, is a master editor. And the authors, all masters as well. This collection is really fantastic. I took my time reading it and was rewarded each time a new story began. You can call it speculative, fantasy, science fiction, but what it is, is good reading. After each story, I was left thinking of the characters and settings which were believable and yet unbelievable at the same time. I’m not always a fan of short stories, and soon after the book arrived, I become a little apprehensive and worried I wasn’t going to enjoy it. I shouldn’t have worried. There are stories in this collection that I’ll go back to again and again. They are so rich and detailed I know I’ll find something new each time I pick up a story.
Not to give away anything, I’ll do a short sentence or so about each because I feel each story deserves a mention. You’ll note I have many favorites.
Our Lady of the Thylacines by Yves Meynard – A Girl learning the value of life from the Lady. A slightly dark tale containing that all important lesson of the value we place on life. This is a great story to start the collection.
The Canal Barge Magician’s Number Nine Daughter by Ian McHugh – Behra is the ninth daughter of the Canal Barge Magician and she is full of the magic her father harnesses for his use. When she finds her magic and learns to use it, all bets are off and she wants out. Fantastic piece — I love stories like this. Blood magic is used in cruel and vicious ways in this story and the world building is amazing. A favorite of mine.
On the Leitmotif of the Trickster Constellation in Northern Hemispheric Star Charts, Post-Apocalypse by Nicole Kornher-Stace – A post-apocalyptic world full of ghosts and the person who collects and catalogues them. I had a bit of trouble following this one but it’s such an interesting concept that I think I will go back and re-read it. A world ravaged yet full of ghosts is appealing.
Beach Bum and the Drowned Girl by Richard Parks – Do the dead get lonely? A drowned girl floating away her days wonders much about the world after meeting the beach bum. There’s a creepiness to this story but not the creepy you think of when you think of ghosts. I think it’s the idea of floating around, never knowing where you’ll land or what will happen that’s creepy. Maybe it’s just the great unknown and how scary it can be or maybe it’s just me. It’s a wonderful story though.
Trap-Weed by Gemma Files – A heart-broken selkie running from loneliness is captured by a collector. I love tales of sea creatures and the magic infused in this story is perfect. It rocks you slowly along bringing you to a bittersweet end that’s a strange metaphor for life and where we should place our trust. A favorite.
Icicle by Yukimi Ogawa – A half human, half snow-woman leaves the only home she’s ever known to look for her father and finds a love she can’t have. Oh, is this one a hard lesson of family life. Heartbreaking and yet wonderful. A favorite.
Lesser Creek: A Love Story, A Ghost Story by A.C. Wise – Two hungry ghosts haunting the world in the only way they know how. This is such a sad story but instead of disliking the ghosts, I just pitied them. When you open yourself to love, you open yourself to heartbreak. So good.
What Still Abides by Marie Brennan – Throw some Norse gods and the undead together and what do you get? This story. It’s told using Germanic derived words, according to the author’s website. Yes, I looked that up. I needed to know. In fact, the language makes this one. It brings it to a whole other level. Reading this one is an experience.
The Wanderer King by Alisa Alering – A post-apocalyptic world of the dead and dying and two women looking for a way out and the king that can get them to a new world. Oh, what a wonderfully sad, terrifying world. It’s brutal and full of menace. A favorite.
A Little of the Night by Tanith Lee – Fleeing from a murder, a man comes upon an evil place, and instead of continuing to run, he feels compelled to search for the source of that evil. He becomes drawn to it. A great, great story. A favorite.
I Come From the Dark Universe by Cat Rambo – Sex in a far off place. A brothel manager takes in a woman who says she came from the dark universe but offers no more. She’s quiet, mysterious, and maybe just the right bit of love needed for another lonely soul. Love in a whore house is so complicated. Eventually, what we come to learn is that there’s a love for all of us, if we’re willing to be patient. It’s hard to describe this as romantic (brothel and all) but it’s the best way to describe this so I’m going with it. It’s my absolute favorite in this collection. It’s one I will read again and again.
Happy Hour at the Tooth and Claw by Shira Lipkin – A witch who can switch between realities and is happy to play around with the boundaries of love but shies away from her own heart. Zee, the witch, is such an intriguing character and I love how she plays around with everyone else’s heart and ignores her own. It’s a keeper and by that I mean it’s another favorite.
Lilo Is by Corinne Duyvis – Being a single mother of a spider-girl can be interesting, to say the least. Oh, my god. So wonderful. I laughed my way through this one thankful I didn’t need to deal with a spider-girl. Mostly I laughed nervously because spiders completely freak me out. I went back and re-read parts too. Love it. You’re tired of reading this, I know, but, a favorite.
Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer by Kenneth Schneyer – A critic takes us on review of an artist’s work. It’s such a strange story but very interesting. The descriptions make you see not just the artwork but the artist. A good read.
Three Times by Camille Alexa – Do you know what it means to be alive? An entity takes human form to learn what it feels like. Sweet, sad, than utterly heartbreaking. A lovely little gem of a story.
The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly by Benjanun Sriduangkaew – A universe of replicated humanoids each with a role. When one being begins to die, she undergoes surgery only to wake with a chest full of bees where a heart should be. This reminded me of The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. A strange world that not only confuses but fascinates. A great story.
The Old Woman With No Teeth by Patricia Russo – A scribe attempts to note the life of the Old Woman, who constantly interrupts and berates him. It’s amusing, warmhearted, and slightly sad. A good story.
The History of Soul 2065 by Barbara Krasnoff – An extended family gathers for a Seder, and in doing so bring together the universal soul. The history of soul 2065 evolves, and in turn, becomes a most wonderful story. Spanning 70 years, the soul changes but never forgets. An amazing way to end the collection. A favorite.
Ask me what this collection is about and I’ll tell you it’s about life, it’s about love, it’s about tragedy, it’s about the alluring nature of sex, it’s about the feeling of belonging. There’s so much more to these stories than you think there will be. Go and read them. That’s all I have left to say.
Mike Allen shared a copy of Clockwork Phoenix 4 with me for review.
Clockwork Phoenix 4
Edited by Mike Allen
Just a short post today to say Happy Father’s Day to my dad. Hi dad! *waves from here* I hope it’s a great day. Thanks for everything. You’re the best.
Today is a reading and editing day. I have big plans, big plans I say! I’m plan to finish editing two personal pieces and read more of The Last Page by Anthony Huso (so good!). After that, we’ll see.
So, to all the fathers out there, a happy day to you.
This turned out to be a difficult review to write (one of the reasons why it’s taken me so long to post it). After reading The Shunned House, also by Lovecraft, I had very high hopes for At the Mountains of Madness. Unfortunately, I’m torn. I alternately liked and disliked this book and I’m not at all sure what to say about it.
There is one thing this man can do really well and that is freak you out. I read several chapters of this book before bed one night and woke up every hour with the strangest dreams. I stopped reading it in bed after that. While the story is slow, it’s a re-telling of an Antarctica expedition that went bad, it does have some great parts. Notably, the descriptions of alien-like cities, worlds, and creatures left behind. The expeditions to and explorations of these alien cities are some of the most interesting parts of this book. I also enjoyed the descriptions of the equipment on the expedition. I know that sounds boring but it’s not. Don’t forget, this is a recounting of an expedition so these details are important to the story and while they may seem boring, they set the scene, if you will.
What I didn’t so much enjoy was the slowness of the story. I know I should’ve had sympathy for the narrator who was having trouble telling his story but I wanted to poke him and tell him to move it along. The tension does build this way and you do end up wondering what happened because he doesn’t come right out and tell you. He holds back; obviously the story is terrifying for him and re-living the story isn’t something he wants to do. You need to stay with him and listen carefully because those details provide a much larger and scarier picture. The problem for me was that I didn’t have much patience for the character and I wanted to know more about the aliens before he was ready to divulge info. Yes, the story does provide ample time to use your imagination but mine didn’t seem to be working when I was reading. This happens.
The version I borrowed from the library had an introduction by China Mieville, a favorite author of mine. But thanks to schedules and the library wanting their books back, I didn’t have the chance to read his breakdown of the story which I think would’ve gone a long way for me in thinking more deeply about the story itself. I was saving it for the end and never got to it since it took me longer to read than anticipated. I’m thinking I might need to request this again to read that introduction.
I still want to read more Lovecraft though. Is there something you’d recommend?
At the Mountains of Madness
By H.P. Lovecraft
The Modern Library
A small English village sustained by coal mining and strange superstitions is slowing sinking into the mines that crisscross under the village. It’s a rather bleak place. When a child and his parents go missing, the local constable, knowing his limitations and resources, asks Scotland Yard to help. He wants to uncover what happened to the family and figure out if the eyeball found by a young girl in a bird’s nest belongs to one of the missing.
When Inspector Day and Sergeant Hammersmith arrive from Scotland Yard, they are stunned by what they find and it’s not just the eyeball that has them confused — no one in the village will talk about the family or anything else for that matter and there’s a strange sickness taking over the place. Some are willing to blame it on superstition and others seem happy to pretend everything is normal. Day wants answers but meets a solid wall of silence in the form of Blackhampton’s residents. Hammersmith has the same luck when questioning people and unfortunately seems to be coming down with the same strange illness afflicting almost half the village. Calvin Campbell, a visitor to Blackhampton that no one knows, but oddly everyone seems to trust, becomes a focal point for Day’s investigation but he can’t pinpoint any connection and Campbell, like the rest of the residents, won’t talk.
The Black Country is Grecian’s follow-up to The Yard, the first book in the Scotland Murder Squad series. Even though this is the second book in a series, it stands on its own just fine. Grecian creates an eerie atmosphere from start to finish, and I have to say, and without giving anything away, the killer here is creepy and unexpected. I didn’t want to believe it but there it was fitting in perfectly with the dark overtones of the book. In fact, I like when that happens and I find myself surprised. Grecian didn’t let his characters off easy and as a reader I appreciate that.
The village of Blackhampton is the perfect setting — far away but not completely uncivilized yet cocooned enough to hold tight to old superstitions. The coldness of the people is much like the weather and the aloof way they deal with the disappearance of a well-known family is telling. Even the offhand way they think of the mines and the fact that the village is slowly sinking into the very thing that sustains the place and is slowly killing its residents tells you what sort of place it is. Day and Hammersmith aren’t prepared for the living in this place and yet it’s the dead that brought them there. Something is very wrong with not only the place but the people.
Then there are the secrets. Everyone in Blackhampton has something to hide be it an affair, a past, or a murder. People go missing in Blackhampton and there’s always a reason given and a reason accepted by the residents. It’s interesting to see how the village manages to block out change and progress yet holds dearly to old beliefs that no longer hold any ground.
Grecian’s first book made my to be read list when it came out. I didn’t get to it but jumped at the chance to read his second. I’m glad I did because it’s a satisfying read and I plan to go back and follow-up on the first book. It defiantly deserves a look. If you enjoy dark mysteries, The Black Country is worth a read.
The Black Country
G.P. Putnam’s Sons
There’s a club by our house called the Black Cat. On Friday nights, they do a Doctor Who happy hour. Basically, you get a beer, find a seat, and watch an episode of Doctor Who in the back bar. This week’s showing was the Planet of the Ood. My husband, admittedly, not a fan of the show, went and enjoyed it (at least he said he did). About five minutes in, he leaned over and said, “Wait, isn’t this your favorite Doctor?” Yes, it was the 10th Doctor. I smiled, “Yep, he’s my favorite!” He nodded and then said, “He’s wearing red cons.” Yes, yes he is. It was a good evening.
So, yesterday I learn, like the rest of the planet, that there is to be a new Doctor. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I heart Doctor Who, even when I don’t always think the show is at its best. I was slow to love the 11th Doctor. Not because he wasn’t good (some may not agree but I think Matt Smith was a great embodiment of the Doctor) but because he wasn’t the 10th Doctor. I do love me some David Tennant. In the end, I came to love the 11th Doctor, and in a little way, believe that bow ties are cool. I still can’t get on board with the fez though… Now, there will be a new Doctor. *sigh*
Well, here’s to looking forward to the Christmas special, a return of the 10th Doctor, and a thank you to the 11th Doctor for making it so much fun. Hats off to you, Matt Smith, for joining in the fun as Doctor Who.
Today, I’m off to watch the USA vs. Germany soccer game. Funny story about this, my husband spent yesterday morning frantically searching for tickets. He finally found some good seats and we met up with a friend and off to the stadium we went. Traffic was a nightmare. Construction made it worse but we finally arrived at 2:15 for a 2:30 start ready to run to the gate tickets in hand. As we pulled into the parking lot, a large sign alerted us to the fact that the game was indeed today, Sunday, and not Saturday. After laughing off the mistake, we decided a drink was in order. Today, we plan to actually be there on time. On the correct day. Yeah…
With that, I wish you all a happy Sunday.
Lately, I’ve noticed a strange trend in my reading. Well, not really that strange but I’m doing something I don’t do, normally, anyway. It seems, by some strange combination of luck and the work of the subconscious mind, I’ve been reading a fantasy book and following it up with a historical fiction read. Weird, right? Well, no. These are two genres I read quite a lot of — they make up the bulk of my reading in fact so it’s not at all surprising to me. It’s probably not surprising to anyone that looks at what I read either. So, let’s take a closer look together shall we.
Since the end of March (I’m not going to bore you with the whole list), this is what I’ve read:
At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft
Clockwork Phoenix 4 edited by Mike Allen
Palisades Park by Alan Brennert
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell – DNF
Silent on the Moor by Deanna Raybourn
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
The Shadow of the Sun by Barbara Friend Ish
The Inquisitor’s Wife by Jeanne Kalogridis
Before the Storm by Melanie Clegg
Questing Beast by Ilona Andrews
The Black Country: A Novel of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad by Alex Grecian
Advent by James Treadwell
I’m slightly shocked by how few books I’ve read so far this year, but beyond that, (slow reading, it’s another post) I started noticing what I was doing in regard to book choice. I just finished reading Blood Sisters by Melanie Clegg which is historical fiction and I’m planning to pick up Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht next which puts me back in the fantasy realm. I have no idea how this started, or even why, and there’s always a why somewhere, but I like it. It’s refreshing and I don’t feel like I’m overdosing on either or my favorites. I’m going to see how long this lasts but now that I seem to be aware of what I’m doing, I wonder if that will change. Don’t you hate when that happens and you unintentionally ruin a good thing you had going…
Ever notice anything weird/strange/odd about your reading habits? Wanna talk about it?
I’ve been over the vampire thing for a bit but every once in awhile an old school one finds me and I can’t help but read it. While looking on the Gutenberg Project for some horror recently, I found this one. Let me tell you, there’s nothing like a Victorian, Gothic, psychic vampire.
Reginald Clarke is a man everyone loves. He’s talented in every way and people crave his company. Artists flock to him and he takes in writers, musicians, and painters to his home. But something happens to all these talented people — they soon leave him with nothing, not a trace of the talent they arrived with. A young writer staying with Reginald, and for all purposes, under his spell, figures it out and tries to get out from under Reginald’s enchantment.
The House of the Vampire is good and creepy and the type of vampire story I want more of. There’s no blood and certainly no sparkling going on here. Let’s all take a moment to be thankful for that. It’s an interesting concept, a psychic vampire, and frankly one that’s more terrifying, in some ways, than an actual blood sucking vampire. This is someone stealing who and what you are. Taking it for himself and using it to his advantage until there’s nothing left of you. You are a shell of a human being with nothing to give or take from anyone. Think about that.
If Wikipedia is correct, this short story was written in 1907 but it feels younger than its 100 + years.
The House of the Vampire
By George Sylvester Viereck
Gutenberg Project Ebook