Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Review: Gallows Hill-- a Salem mystery by Rory O'Brien

Review: Gallows Hill
by Rory O'Brien


review by Michelle Souliere

When I picked up Gallows Hill, a murder mystery that takes place in the nearby and small-but-infamous town of Salem, Massachusetts, I wasn't sure what I would find within. It turns out that the book is an excellent, fast-paced police procedural mystery, as opposed to the New England cozy one might first expect from the location.

This is not to say that the location is not at the heart of this story. While it remains in the background, it is the constant, as it must be for the people who live their everyday lives there. It is this familiarity with the town that draws us in. It is a familiarity that cannot be faked, it must be given, and author Rory O'Brien gifts us with it gracefully and without us even realizing it.

That is because our attention is on the murder that has been committed, and a murder in Salem plays on a centuries-old history that lends itself to an innate alteration of context and meaning. The most innocent turn of phrase cannot be turned on one's tongue without exposing buried layers of hatred and madness from the Puritan witch hunts that went before.

While on the surface the murderer appears to play with Salem's historic triggers by placing the corpse on historic Gallows Hill, and scrawling pentagrams on the victim's palms, underneath this facetious drama lies a playing-out of ancient Salem family threads in a story all too modern, all too tied to the past.

O'Brien reels the reader in right from the start. There is no fluff in this story, no lingering too long on teashop scenes or lurid witchy ritual. The characters are each their own selves, clearly painted without the feel of cliché. Through them, the reader’s eye is turned to Salem's bare everyday heart, glimpsed clearly as each twist of the story plays out against the trapping of the town’s ever-present tourist kitsch. This is all done quite adeptly by O'Brien without any obtrusiveness. By the end of the book, the reader feels like they know Salem and its history, without quite knowing how they were told about it.

But – does the reader know who the murderer is?

Fans of "In the Woods" by Tana French and those who relish the wry and dry wit embedded in Jan Willem van de Wetering's Amsterdam mysteries will be as happy with this tale as I found myself to be.

P.S. BTW, this review was incredibly hard to write because I didn't want to give anything away about the story! So I had to focus on other elements of the writing instead. GO AND READ!!!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Review: Burstein's "Lincoln Dreamt He Died"

Review of:
Lincoln Dreamt He Died: The Midnight Visions of Remarkable Americans from Colonial Times to Freud by Andrew Burstein

Lincoln Dreamt He Died is a smorgasbord of compelling and seldom-seen examples of very personal dream accounts reaching far back into our country's past. However, it stretches much further than that by tying those dreams into the very fabric of early American history.

What makes this book stand out from other dream books I've read (such as Brian Hill's Gates of Horn and Ivory) is that it is not an anthology. Instead, it is an intense and in-depth look at how Americans perceived their dreams, and how that viewpoint changed over the years as the country grew and matured.

Drawing from journals, letters, and various publications either recounting dreams or discussing opinions about dreams, author Andrew Burstein excerpts and synthesizes the widely varied material into a thread which follows the life of dreams in the minds of early American women and men.

How did early Americans respond to dreams? Did they dream, overall, similarly to how we dream today? Did dreams have real effects on their world?

As an amateur historian and folklorist I found this book absorbing. It represents a refreshing new outlook on the roots of the American viewpoint. You can tell how deeply Burstein immersed himself in the project by the way he occasionally refers to themes and patterns that aren't obvious on reading chapters for the first time -- and speaking personally this is not a drawback, as I'd rather go back and reread sections to really get a grasp on what the author’s point is, than to read the book once-through on a surface level only (which so many of those dream anthologies are delightfully geared to allow).

If you are interested in early American social history, and curious about how the internal world of dreams tied into and reflected the external world of centuries past, by all means, pick this book up. It is a fascinating window on the tandem worlds of the inner and outer lives of our predecessors.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A little Brautigan

A wee bit of poetry for your enjoyment this cold Thursday afternoon:

Have you ever had a witch bloom like a highway
on your mouth? and turn your breathing to her
fancy? like a little car with blue headlights
passing forever in a dream?

This is from Richard Brautigan's Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt, wherein he waxes poetic in his own inimitable way.

(side note: we had some Brautigan arrive this week! Delicious.)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Review: Chain Saw Confidential

Signed copies available at the Green Hand Bookshop!
As a longtime horror movie fan, this is one of those books that I never thought to ask for, but when they announced its publication, I could hardly wait for it to come out. After devouring it in three sittings, I can say I was not disappointed. Quite the opposite. This book is a horror fan's delight.

There are certain horror films whose position in the pantheon of the genre are as solid as the stone pedestals we horror fans place them on. These are the films whose effect and mastery of that effect are undeniable. Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of them.

This book wholly does the film justice. Gunnar Hansen is not just a pretty face who starred as the original Leatherface in the 1974 film Texas Chain Saw Massacre. He is also a published author who has written page after page of non-fiction and poetry over the intervening years. In other words, when you read this book, you are reading Gunnar's writing, not that of a ghostwriter -- which is not to say he did this all alone.

One of the tremendously interesting features of this book is the input from the other cast and crew members that worked on the movie. Not content to simply rely on his own recollections, Gunnar smartly contacted everyone he could, and interviewed them in-depth about their recollections, in effect generating a panoramic view of their group's experiences that hot summer in Texas. Because of his hard work putting all of this together, all these little details metamorphose into a real story that is surprisingly pleasant to read (in spite of all the incoherent and horrific details). Without his labor of love, such an account might never exist. For that we thank him.

The book is filled chronologically with page after page of Gunnar's individual recollections, which parry back and forth with those of the rest of the cast and crew. Everyone has their own take on strange and favorite details from the experience. Everyone also has their own blanks spots where they rely on the others to fill in the gaps, because the filming was excruciating and exhausting, and very little of it made sense at the time. But after all the chaos and agony, the important thing about the movie (which thankfully came out through the editing in the final version), was this: not only was all that suffering palpable in the film, but also, more importantly, it was transmuted into something that shines its dark and brilliant light from the screen even today.

The book as a whole continues this tradition of craftsmanship. Gunnar is an excellent writer, adeptly weaving his own memories in with the others', working from a solid foundation based on thorough research into the historic facts and figures. This volume, published by the folks at Chronicle Books, is beautifully designed and bound (yes, it has an honest-for-real sewn binding). For the uber-geek, it has a bibliography and a serious index. Even its chapter titles are entertaining and hearken to the dark heart of the film.

Gunnar adds his autograph to its future permanent
home -- she was headed to a tattoo artist next!
The one last fascinating element of the book is Gunnar's attempt to assimilate what Chain Saw means now. Leatherface pops up everywhere in memes and tropes. The chainsaw has come to embody a singular type of horror in movies and at haunt attractions all over the world. But most fascinating of all is the fact that despite the film's deeply traumatic effect on people, the fans still respond in the end with an outpouring of love for the people who were involved in it to an extent that boggles the mind.

I highly recommend this book to anyone fascinated by movie-making, to anyone who wonders what the heck all the fuss over the Texas Chain Saw Massacre was about, and to those who shake their head at that question, because they just know.

Copies of the book are available at the Green Hand Bookshop -- SIGNED copies! :D A perfect gift for the horror film fan in your life... or yourself!!!

I am lucky enough to have signed copies at the shop because I had the pleasure of being Gunnar's local retail representative during the weekend of November 9th and 10th at the Coast City Comicon. For two days, I got to hang out with Gunnar and his wife Betty, selling his book and chatting with them about all sorts of things. They came down to Portland from their home up the coast near Bar Harbor, Maine, where they live full-time, and have for some years now. Gunnar was selling signed photos from his movie appearances, and on Saturday he participated in the Chainsaw Chili Cookoff at the Comicon with a number of other contestants. His chili was the only chili that was traditional Texas style, without any real bean quotient. I heard it was DELICIOUS!!!
A weekend with Gunnar!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Holiday hours: CLOSED on Sunday Sept 1 for Labor Day!

Labor Day is upon us! This is just a quick note to say that the shop will be CLOSED on SUNDAY SEPT. 1 for the holiday, and will resume regular hours after that. Hope you all had a great summer!!! :D

Come see us for First Friday Artwalk at the end of the week on Sept 6th, when our exhibit of Eric Hou's newest series of work will be opening, from 5:00-8:00pm!

Our regular hours are:

Tues - Fri 11:00am-6:00pm
Saturday 11:00am-7:00pm
Sunday 12:00pm-5:00pm

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

ReaderCon 2013: Fredric Brown panel

As I did last year when I attended ReaderCon (http://readercon.org), a speculative-fiction focus convention in Burlington, MA, I attended quite a few interesting panel discussions, during which I took notes. In case any of you might be interested in what some of the current discussions among authors and editors are like in the field, I’m going to post a series of my notes here on the blog! Enjoy…!

The second panel I attended was on Friday, July 12, at 11:00am when I sat down to be schooled on The Works of Fredric Brown as discussed by the panel of:
-- Eileen Gunn (leader)
-- Donald G. Keller
-- Diane Weinstein
-- Jacob Weisman
-- Gary Wolfe


The premise of the panel was this:
“Fredric Brown, the winner of the 2012 Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award, is remembered largely as a mystery writer, but his influence on SF was immense. His story “Arena” was adapted on Star Trek and paid homage to by Joanna Russ; his mordant short shorts like “Knock” and “Answer” have entered the folklore of the field; and his novels What Mad Universe? and Martians, Go Home pioneered comic SF. He was perhaps the only SF writer of the early 1950s to predict, in The Lights in the Sky Are Stars, that a successful space exploration program in the 1960s would be virtually abandoned by the 1990s. This panel will explore his achievements and lasting legacy.”

-------------------

I attended this panel because I know little about Fredric Brown, but he was definitely a blip on my reading radar. One of the first large lots of books I bought for my shop was from Ronnie Bennett, who was packing to move back to the other Portland (OR). Even though she ruthlessly culled hundreds of books from her extensive personal library for the move, I vividly remembered her adamant refusal to part with her copies of Fredric Brown novels, including her longtime favorite, Martians Go Home! I had always dismissed Martians Go Home as some sort of flimsy Disney romp, and was surprised by Ronnie's attachment to the novel. She explained to me that the book was wonderful, the author brilliant, and I nodded and filed away the information until I stumbled across this panel discussion listed on the ReaderCon agenda and realized that now was the time I could illuminate myself on the topic of Brown and his works!

Eileen Gunn (SF author and editor) led off with a brief introduction to Brown, who died in 1972. While notable for his science fiction work, Brown's avid fans knew that he also wrote excellent mystery novels as well, striding between the two genres with aplomb. And with his ability to switch between genres, he also possessed a deeper ability to flip between the light and dark side of his work.

Donald Keller (SF&F editor and critic at the New York Review of SF and elsewhere) pointed out that Brown's first novel was published in 1949.

Jacob Weisman (editor, founder of Tachyon Publications) told us that there is a daffiness to Brown's work that explodes off the page, like a modern Lewis Carroll. (NOTE: This is a very apt description, since the first Brown book I read after this panel was a copy of Night of the Jabberwock, one of his mysteries, which is laden with Lewis Carroll chapter epigraphs and textual references. I picked it up at Bob Eldridge's table, and when I mentioned that I had never read Brown before, he pushed it at me and said, "Take it! Read it!")

Diane Weinstein (previously longtime Weird Tales assistant editor, art editor at Space & Time) mentioned that Brown always posed questions in his stories -- what if? He excelled at puzzle stories and wordplay.

Gary Wolfe (SF editor, critic, and biographer) discovered the works of Heironymous Bosch via the first Fredric Brown paperback he read, Honeymoon in Hell. He felt that Brown possessed a dark, pre-Dickian view of the world. (NOTE: a.k.a. Phildickian, referring to the tandem playfulness and paranoia found in the SF worlds of Philip K. Dick)

Brown was one of the first authors to talk about the eventual abandonment of the space program.

The panel highly recommended Brown's "Nightmare" series of short stories.

Eileen Gunn talked about how Brown's work was deceptively simple. (NOTE: After reading Night of the Jabberwock I can testify to this!)

Jacob Weisman mentioned Brown's tendency to write about ordinary people, again like Philip K. Dick's use of the "average Joe."

Diane Weinstein talked about Brown's direct style, and his use of color (many of his Nightmare series have color themes)

Gary Wolfe recommended a biography of Brown by Jack Seabrook, although it focuses more on Brown's mystery ouvre. (title: Martians and Misplaced Clues: The Life and Work of Fredric Brown)

Donald Keller described Brown's tendency to open books with a very everyday feel, and no real hint of later complexity in the plot.

Diane Weinstein mentioned that the Twilight Zone TV show used a lot of variations on Brown's stories (and I think someone else mentioned that the Outer Limits did the same).

His most famous television trope is the "Arena" episode of Star Trek, which was based on his short story of the same name.

Eileen Gunn expressed that Brown’s work for her embodies the SF of the 1930s and 1940s.

At this point the panel kindly related their favorite Brown titles for our benefit.

DW: “Something Green,” “Arena,” What Mad Universe (very PKD).

JW: Martians Go Home!

DK: The Lights in the Sky Are Stars (which he read as an absolute tragedy from the human point of view)

EG: Martians Go Home! had a delicate premise. "He goes away when you push him," Eileen said. She reiterated her fascination with his stories about linotype machines. (NOTE: which detail of course made me NEED to read him ASAP!)

Eileen Gunn wanted to know -- did the panel think that Brown was responsible for the way people view science fiction today?

GW: His fiction was ABOUT fiction! Meta-fiction! (e.g. Martians Go Home!). He did hang out a lot with mystery writers.

DW: He was not a mingler, though.

JW: He hung out with Mac Reynolds.

DW: He influenced Sturgeon and Bloch especially.

DK: The Prisoner television series was influenced by his work.

JW: Brown has permeated the culture so completely that most screenwriters, etc., don't necessarily realize that they are being influenced by his existing ideas.

GW: He wrote the shortest SF story ever: "Knock." This is a two sentence story, placed within the framework of another short story. Quite simply:
“The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door...”
Proto flash-fiction!

JW: Michael Swanwick is the current author best at dropping you right into the story ("the hook" is right there at the start). He says he has so many stories he wants to write that he doesn't have time to mess around writing drawn-out fiction.

EG: Eileen said that she herself doesn't write with the knowledge of what the end of her stories are. The story passes the "how am I going to get out of this?" point and somehow resolves itself as she writes. Knowing the ending would mean she is then bored and won't bother to finish writing the story, as it's moot!

JW: Brown had a short active career, then health problems set in during his 50s. He started writing in his 30s for trade publications, etc.

(NOTE: His bibliography can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fredric_Brown_bibliography)

NESFA (New England Science Fiction Association) has published an anthology of his complete SF stories, From These Ashes:
http://www.nesfa.org/press/Books/Brown-1.html

Q&A

An audience member asked if the panel had any recommendations for fans of Brown who were looking for similarly interesting fiction:

Michael Swanwick’s short story collections (Cigar Box Faust et al) were suggested.

Also, some of Brown’s mystery stories have been collected by Bruin Books in an omnibus edition titled Miss Darkness: The Great Short Crime Fiction of Fredric Brown, and Haffner Press http://www.haffnerpress.com/) is taking pre-orders for 2 mammoth volumes of Brown’s non-SF short stories and novels, which will arrange all these mystery, horror, noir, western, and detection tales in chronological order.

Swanwick’s The Periodic Table of Science Fiction was also recommended, as well as his collection The Sleep of Reason, which is based on Goya’s Los Caprichos etching series.

NOTE: Two of Brown’s pieces that were recommended at some point during all the discussions which sounded particularly interesting to me were 1) the short story “Nightmares in Yellow” and 2) the novel The Lights in the Sky Are Stars.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

In a Hautala Vein

I have two announcements to make for fans of recently-lost Maine horror author Rick Hautala.

First of all, I have copies of Rick's autobiography The Horror -- The Horror available in the shop now, for those of you (like myself) who prefer ink and paper to electronic books. This book is only available by a fluke -- according to Rick's wife Holly Newstein Hautala, "He wrote it in 2009, unbeknownst to me, and I found a hard copy with his hand edits after he died. Characteristically, he must have decided nobody would want to read it and deleted it from his hard drive. It’s reminiscent of King’s ON WRITING, but with that special Rick Hautala perspective."

I can testify that, especially for those of you who knew Rick, reading this book is like being able to have one last conversation with him. His voice comes through on every page, with typical humor and openness. Thank you, Holly, from rescuing the pages from the recycling bin, and thank you to Crossroad Press as well for bringing this into print! It is an unexpected gift that drives back the shades of mortality a wee bit.

If you're not in the area, and you prefer an electronic version (a steal at $2.99), please order directly from Crossroad's website:
http://store.crossroadpress.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=696

In addition, the folks at JournalStone Publishing are releasing a 2-volume anthology titled Mister October, dedicated to the memory of Rick Hautala. 100% of the profit generated by book sales will go to the family. Please consider ordering a copy for yourself if you're a horror fan!

You can pre-order directly through JournalStone's site:
http://journal-store.com/fiction/mister-october-an-anthology-in-memory-of-rick-hautala/

The collection looks great. It is tremendously heartwarming to see so many folks in the horror genre, big and small, set ink on the page in memory of a friend we all miss so much and lost so suddenly. Here's a list of all the great contributors, including among their number Rick's widow, Holly Newstein, and his son Matti Hautala:

Volume I Contributors:

Neil Gaiman – FEEDERS AND EATERS, Graham Joyce – UNDER THE PYLON, Matthew Costello – A GUY WALKS INTO A BAR, Michael Marshall Smith – HELL HATH ENLARGED HERSELF, Chet Williamson – FIGURES IN RAIN, Elizabeth Massie – AS YOU HAVE MADE US, Peter Crowther – THOUGHTFUL BREATHS, Matti Hautala – NEVER BACK AGAIN, Mark Morris – A GIRL, SITTING, Richard Chizmar – BLOOD BROTHERS, Stephen R. Bissette – LITTLE BROTHERS—PORTFOLIO, Joe R. Lansdale – TIGHT LITTLE STITCHES IN A DEAD MAN’S BACK, Yvonne Navarro – CRAVING, José R. Nieto – lXCHEL’S TEARs, Duane Swierczynski – LIFE DURING DEATH, Gary A. Braunbeck – AFTER THE ELEPHANT BALLET, Craig Shaw Gardner – OVERNIGHT GUEST, Jack M. Haringa – SPRINGFIELD REPEATER, Tom Piccirilli – CONJURER—BOOK I: THE GRIEVE, F. Paul Wilson – THE YEAR THE MUSIC DIED, Jonathan Maberry – PROPERTY CONDEMNED—A Story of Pine Deep, John M. McIlveen – PLAYING THE HUDDYS, Weston Ochse – CRASHING DOWN, Glenn Chadbourne, Morbideus W. Goodell

Volume II Contributors:

Clive Barker – TOM REQUIEM, Peter Straub – LITTLE RED’S TANGO, Jeff Strand – HOLOGRAM SKULL COVER, Thomas F. Monteleone – LUX ET VERITAS, J. F. Gonzalez – DEVOTION, Stephen R. Bissette – INN CLEANING, Christopher Golden – BREATHE MY NAME, Lucy A. Snyder – MAGDALA AMYGDALA, Sarah Pinborough – THE BOHEMIAN OF THE ARBAT, Brian Keene – JOHNSTOWN, Kevin J. Anderson – ROAD KILL (A Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. story), Tim Lebbon – JUST BREATHE, Nancy A. Collins – CATFISH GAL BLUES, Kim Newman – ILLIMITABLE DOMINION, Sarah Langan – INDEPENDENCE DAY, Rio Youers – THE GHOST OF LILLIAN BLISS, Jack Ketchum – HOTLINE, John Skipp – THE LIGHT OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS, James A. Moore – WAR STORIES, Amber Benson – IT’S…, Nate Kenyon – THE DREAMCATCHER, Holly Newstein – KRISTALL TAG, Rick Hautala – GHOST TRAP, Cortney Skinner, Glenn Chadbourne