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.

THE MAN IN THE SEVENTH ROW by Brian Pendreich

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.

KNOTS AND CROSSES by Ian Rankin

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.

 

CLOUDSTREET by Tim Winton

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.

 

THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY by Alix E. Harrow

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.