THE GHOST COURT by Winfield H. Strock III

Lovely little short story about a teen who commits suicide after being rejected by his prom date, and finds himself taken to court by another ghost who has been haunting the teen’s home, and is claiming the teen is mooching in on his territory.

The ghost court judge, who turns out to be Samuel Clemens, gets involved to make a decision about who get to haunt this property.  To earn his haunt he must prove his life sufficiently tragic. To do that, he and the judge revisit the most embarrassing moment of Richard’s brief life, prom night.

It was a very short story, and I liked it enough to actually wish there were more of it, that it was longer.  Great creative idea that a ghost can be legally evicted from his haunt.  I like clever ideas like that.  And, spoiler, here.  No, the young man does not come back to life.  Sorry.


Basic plot:  Roy is a film fan. He loves the cinema.

Maybe he loves the cinema a little too much. Lately, things have been going wrong. He settles into his favourite seat to watch an old movie, but he’s not seeing what he expects to see. No matter the film – The Graduate, Brief Encounter, The Magnificent Seven – he finds himself sucked from his seventh- row seat into the heart of the action on the big screen.

Roy’s everywhere. Playing lead roles in dozens of classic movies. A fantasy come true? 

You don’t have to be a movie buff to enjoy this story of a movie buff who begins to see himself in various roles on screen, with the movie character even being called by his name.  Flashbacks to his childhood and going to the movies with his dad, and some nostalgic reminiscences of various movies sweeten the pot.  It is a gentle story, and yes, there is a plot buried in there among the memories, and it is a good one, too.

It has a bit of the fantastical because, I mean, really, have you ever seen yourself on the silver screen?

Very nice.  I liked it a lot.


Detective John Rebus: His city is being terrorized by a baffling series of murders…and he’s tied to a maniac by an invisible knot of blood. Once John Rebus served in Britain’s elite SAS. Now he’s an Edinburgh cop who hides from his memories, misses promotions and ignores a series of crank letters. But as the ghoulish killings mount and the tabloid headlines scream, Rebus cannot stop the feverish shrieks from within his own mind. Because he isn’t just one cop trying to catch a killer, he’s the man who’s got all the pieces to the puzzle…

Another damaged middle-aged cop who drinks too much and has a painful past, a divorce and a somewhat estranged pre-teen daughter mystery series.   Yawn.

He has a seriously f**ked up history in the army where he was brutalized in training, and now his partner from that time is haunting his nightmares.  I found it all overly dramatic, improbable, the kind of thing where you narrow your eyes and look askance at the perpetrator of this and then make a couple of other “Oh, reallly?” kinds of faces before closing the book.  Noir thriller, sub category damaged cop trope.



I read this quite a while ago and couldn’t find my review to link to and darn if it was nowhere to be seen!  I now have a fuzzy recollection of writing it, and something happened and my entire review got erased before I could post it, so here I am trying to put together another post of a book I read maybe a year ago.  I can’t remember what I had for breakfast, let alone dredge up a sprawling plot (I do remember that much) of a story from the dim annals of my mind.

Official Plot Description:  Struggling to rebuild their lives after being touched by disaster, the Pickle family, who’ve inherited a big house called Cloudstreet in a suburb of Perth, take in the God-fearing Lambs as tenants. The Lambs have suffered their own catastrophes, and determined to survive, they open up a grocery on the ground floor. From 1944 to 1964, the shared experiences of the two overpopulated clans — running the gamut from drunkenness, adultery, and death to resurrection, marriage, and birth — bond them to each other and to the bustling, haunted house in ways no one could have anticipated.

The book chronicles the aching, bitter, crude, and sweet fortunes of two Australian families, the Lambs and the Pickles, from 1944-64. Brought together by need, greed, tragedy and a mysterious Other, the families’ stories collide and spring away over the years. They live in the same rotting mansion, separated by thin walls and different ambitions. The families’ regard for each other alternates between disgust and wonder, passion and forgiveness as their children and their backwater state of Western Australia grow up and away. T he universality of his themes and the recognizable nature of his characters give us  working class families who would be at home in Appalachia, the timber forests of Oregon, the fishing villages of the north Atlantic Coast.

But in spite of all this down to earth-iness of his characters, they all carry that whiff …. no, make it a snortfull … of the surreal, the comic, the very, very strange, and that’s why you keep turning the pages. Not only to find out what happens next, but to answer the question you keep asking yourself:  WTF?

I loved this book.  Wish I hadn’t lost my first review.  It was ever so much better than this one.



Because there are ten thousand stories about ten thousand Doors, and we know them as well as we know our names. They lead to Faerie, to Valhalla, Atlantis and Lemuria, Heaven and Hell, to all the directions a compass could never take you, to elsewhere.

If we address stories as archaeological sites, and dust through their layers with meticulous care, we find at some level there is always a doorway.  A dividing point between here and there, us and them, mundane and magical.  It is at the moments when the doors open, when things flow between the worlds, that stories happen. 

I learned that her people had no number higher than ten thousand, and claiming there were ten thousand of a thing meant there was no purpose in counting them because they were infinite. 

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

This novel is a creative, haunting and original story. The main character, January, is a young girl who finds a magical book that takes her on a journey through hidden doors into other worlds. In search of her family and of herself, January tries to piece together her past. This fantasy or magical realism book was a fun-ish read, but a little too YA to really grab me.

So many people really loved this book, that I feel churlish in confessing my lack of interest, but yeah, magical portals into other worlds, with stereotypical villains in this world, and a well worn trope about a love spanning many worlds didn’t have the zing I would have liked.

Oh well.  But nicely written, nonetheless.


DIRT MUSIC by Tim Winton

One morning Luther Fox is observed poaching by Georgie Jutland. Chance, or a kind of willed recklessness, has brought Georgie into the life and home of Jim Buckridge, the most prosperous fisherman in the area and a man who loathes poachers, Fox above all. But she’s never fully settled into Jim’s grand house on the water or into the inbred community with its history of violent secrets. After Georgie encounters Fox, her tentative hold on conventional life is severed. Neither of them would call it love, but they can’t stay away from each other no matter how dangerous it is, and out on White Point it is very dangerous.

Set in the dramatic landscape of Western Australia, Dirt Music is a love story about people stifled by grief and regret; a novel about the odds of breaking with the past and about the lure of music. Dirt music, Fox tells Georgie, is “anything you can play on a verandah or porch, without electricity.”

Fox lost all his family — a brother and sister-in-law, and their two kids — in a car accident the year before.  Georgie, a nurse, feels she has always been a savior of broken men.  Her SO is a widower of only a few years.   Georgie is the black sheep of her wealthy family.

Filled with poetic descriptions of Western Australia, the landscape is almost a character in its own right, but the real story, not even the love triangle around which this is told, is a story of the town and its attitudes toward others, and its violent history.  It is, in part,  a story of redemption.

Winton is one of the foremost Australian writers, and it is easy to see why.


THE STAGES by Thom Satterlee

He trusts everyone, when he shouldn’t trust anyone.

How does a man with Asperger’s Syndrome step out of his office, leave behind the safety of his desk and books, and embrace the world he’s always kept at arm’s length?

All his life, Daniel Peters has hidden behind his reputation as one of the world’s best translators of the iconic Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. When his beloved ex-girlfriend and mentor dies under odd circumstances and a priceless Kierkegaard manuscript goes missing, Daniel turns out to be the last person to have seen her alive. To clear his name, he must leave the safety of his books and venture out into the streets of Copenhagen.

A murder mystery, a fine description of life as a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, periodic interesting descriptions of how a translator works, and a story about family secrets.

Lots of fun, interesting, and I learned that Danes eat potato chips with a fork!  Gadzooks.

The title is from Kierkegaard’s Stages on Life’s Way.


THE WEIGHT OF INK by Rachel Kadish

Set in London of the 1660s and of the early twenty-first century, The Weight of Ink is the interwoven tale of two women of remarkable intellect: Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam who is permitted to scribe for a blind rabbi, just before the plague hits the city; and Helen Watt, an ailing historian with a love of Jewish history.   

As the novel opens, Helen has been summoned by a former student to view a cache of seventeenth-century Jewish documents newly discovered in his home during a renovation. Enlisting the help of Aaron Levy, an American graduate student as impatient as he is charming, and in a race with another fast-moving team of historians, Helen embarks on one last project: to determine the identity of the documents’ scribe, the elusive “Aleph.” 

At almost 600 pages, you would think you would get bored slogging through all those pages.  You would be wrong, ever so wrong.

It uses the structure of alternating plotlines from an historical period and from the current time period.  In some books,  this technique is annoying and doesn’t seem to quite work, but in The Weight of Ink, it surely does.  Its two stories, OK three stories, are about London right before and during the plague years of the mid 1600s, the historical issues of religion and its kings, some of which kicked out all the Jews, and others of which welcomed them back, and what it was like to live there as a Jew in that era, and what it was like to be a woman in that era, and about the modern day world of academe and how historians think about and treat historical literary finds, and about the private lives of two modern day people, a young male post grad trying to find himself, and an about-to-be-retired historian of some note, and what has gone before to make her who she is.

Fabulous book.  The title is from a musing of the 17th century blind rabbi, who mourns the now lost ability to write his thoughts, “I came to understand how much of the world was now banned from me — for my hands would never again turn the pages of a book, nor be stained with the sweet, grave weight of ink….”

The phrase also represents the weight the written word has to bring to live historical times and the lives of those who lived them.

INLAND by Téa Obreht

In the lawless, drought-ridden lands of the Arizona Territory in 1893, two extraordinary lives unfold. Nora is an unflinching frontierswoman awaiting the return of the men in her life–her husband, who has gone in search of water for the parched household, and her elder sons, who have vanished after an explosive argument. Nora is biding her time with her youngest son, who is convinced that a mysterious beast is stalking the land around their home.

Meanwhile, Lurie is a former outlaw and a man haunted by ghosts. He sees lost souls who want something from him, and he finds reprieve from their longing in an unexpected relationship that inspires a momentous expedition across the West. The way in which Lurie’s death-defying trek at last intersects with Nora’s plight is the surprise and suspense of this brilliant novel.

In long alternating chapters, Obreht tells the stories of the outlaw and Nora and, through them, tells a greater story of the settling of the West, the land of the Indian tribes and former Mexican territory, prospectors, farmers, ranchers, outlaws, lawmen, soldiers, the women who raised families or tried to.

Although many reviewers refer to this work as a ‘western’, it did not seem to be that so much as a historical novel set in the American west, complete with camels!  It has a lot of the earmarks of Obreht’s first work, The Tiger’s Wife, which you can read about here.   I think it is the kind of book you either love or hate.  I loved it.


Jenny Offill’s heroine, referred to in the book as simply “the wife,” once exchanged love letters with her husband postmarked Dept. of Speculation, their code name for all the uncertainty that inheres in life and in the strangely fluid confines of a long relationship. As they confront an array of common catastrophes – a colicky baby, a faltering marriage, stalled ambitions – the wife analyzes her predicament, invoking everything from Keats and Kafka to the thought experiments of the Stoics to the lessons of doomed Russian cosmonauts. She muses on the consuming, capacious experience of maternal love, and the near total destruction of the self that ensues from it as she confronts the friction between domestic life and the seductions and demands of art.

The style is an offering of brief snippets of life-as-lived that build a beautiful collage of the narrator’s existence. Sprinkled with scientific facts, philosophical quandaries and literary quotes,  it avoids a straightforward surface telling of the story that instead progresses through abstract connections to better occupy the mind and soul of her narrator.  It is a kind of literary scrapbook of musings, quotes and insights which took me a while to submerge into, but once there, became compelling in its own way.