Friday, October 30, 2020

Out of Body by Jeffrey Ford

Reviewed by Jeanne

Owen is the head (and only) librarian of a small town library which will soon be closed as will the other small town libraries, all gathered into one central library in a larger place.  He’s resigned to the fact, but equally determined to serve his community as best he can for as long as he can.  The library’s Sleeping Beauty mural, a point of pride and nostalgia, is fading and cracking, just like everything else and Owen feels helpless to fix it.  Then Owen’s life of quiet desperation takes a shocking turn when he witnesses a violent act.

 Deeply upset by what he witnessed, Owen’s sleep disturbances return.  He suffers from sleep paralysis, a horrible sensation in which he feels fully conscious but cannot move his body.  It was terrifying then and is terrifying now. . . and all at once,  something changes.

Instead of being trapped inside his body, Owen has the sensation of leaving his body.  He can wander the town in the night, mostly unseen except for the occasional dog or perceptive child who seems to realize that there is someone out there.  It seems almost as if he is alone until he meets another sleeper who explains that while having these OBE (Out of Body Experience) is exhilarating, there is danger lurking in the night:  creatures who hunt for sleepers and will sever the link back to their bodies. Together they begin to explore and discover an old horror lurking in their midst:  something dark and dangerous that threatens not only sleepers but the whole town.

I am not much of a horror reader any more, but when the leaves start to turn and there’s a chill in the air I find myself wanting to read something a little unsettling.  While the same could be said of most of 2020, I wanted something fictional so when Out of Body was ready to go on the shelf, I decided to take a look.  When I realized the hero was a librarian, I was sold.

I have to say there is a lot packed into these 163 pages but I never felt rushed.  The author lingered at times, setting the mood and stage.  I especially enjoyed the scenes where Owen roamed at night, seeing what people are doing, almost like a spirit peeking in at the world of the living.  There is tension and horror, though I felt it was handled well. There are some graphic descriptions but the author doesn’t wallow in them. He also skipped long explanations and speculations about sleepers and I was fine with that.  Oh, sure, Owen and I had some questions, but I have to say it was nice to have a book with a story to tell that got down to business.  Sometimes I feel an author is just padding the book, and that was not the case here. I would have enjoyed getting to know some of the characters a bit more, but overall I was quite satisfied.

Thursday, October 29, 2020




Reviewed by Christy

Horror author Joe Hill has teamed up with DC Comics to curate five limited series horror comics under the banner Hill House Comics. I was able to read four of them so let’s dig in!

Daphne Byrne by Laura Marks, art by Kelley Jones (Oct 20, 2020)

In the 1890s, a young woman struggles with the death of her father, and her mother’s new found interest in spiritualism. While she tries to convince her mother that the medium she visits is a fraud, Daphne is contending with her own terrifying spirit. One that lives within her.

            Of the four, this was probably my least favorite. The story was fine, and the setting was appropriately creepy but it really didn’t do much more for me other than that. I know I’m no artist myself, but I can’t say I was a fan of the art style. The otherworldly creations were fine but when it came to humans, the artwork was sloppy and, to be honest, just unpleasant to look at.

The Low, Low Woods by Carman Maria Machado, art by Dani (Sept 29, 2020)

            Two teenage girls wake up in a movie theater with no memory of the previous few hours. Though strange things seem to happen regularly in Shudder-to-Think, Pennsylvania, the girls are ill at ease and struggle to remember. The town itself is a dying coal town with fires endlessly burning beneath it. For years, the women of the town seem to have memory problems though no one can say why.

            This was an eerie entry and full of body horror: sinkholes appear in women’s torsos, and Skinless Men roam the woods. It reminded me a little of Paper Girls. Not necessarily the plot but the tone, and just the strangeness of it all. I loved the girls’ friendship, and the artwork was appropriately bizarre. A solid read.


Basketful of Heads by Joe Hill, art by Leomacs (Sept 8, 2020)

            It’s the summer of 1983, and June is visiting her boyfriend, an auxiliary officer for a small town police department. When a quiet dinner with her boyfriend’s boss, the sheriff, is interrupted by a violent home invasion, June must take matters into her own hands. Snatching a Viking ax from the sheriff’s antique collection, June discovers that she can now decapitate a pursuer with a single swipe. I mean, yes, her victims continue to talk and be alert after they’ve been beheaded but June will just have to deal with that later. She has a boyfriend to save.

            This one was a lot of fun, and my second favorite of the bunch. I loved June and her level-headedness. Would I be as calm if I was 1.) the victim of a home invasion, 2.) had to decapitate someone in self-defense, and 3.) had to deal with their talking, obnoxious heads after? Definitely not. But June, after an initial freak out, rolls with it. I have actually never read anything by Joe Hill before but this comic was really enjoyable, and I liked his wry sense of humor. The artwork was great too; realistic and surprisingly pretty.

The Dollhouse Family by Mike Carey, art by Peter Gross (Sept 22, 2020)

            Little Alice loves the antique dollhouse bequeathed to her by a distant aunt. She uses it as an escape from her abusive father; she is able to shrink down to doll size and play with the carefree doll children until it’s time to go back to the real world. Clearly, the dollhouse is no mere toy. But it is so much older and darker than Alice realizes.

            This may have been the strangest entry but definitely my favorite. The story covers the history of the dollhouse and its owners throughout the ages. Misery seems to follow them, and Alice is no exception. We watch her as she grows from a child taken from her family into a troubled teen, and finally into a mother with a young child of her own. With its span of family generations, it feels like an epic. The back story of this house is truly bizarre but fascinating. I really liked the artwork as well. It’s straight forward but fantastical when it needs to be. There is also intermittent art used to break up the chapters where it looks as if real life dolls were posed in horrible scenarios. The artist for these, I believe, is Jessica Dalva, and they are wonderfully unsettling.

            I have yet to read the fifth comic Plunge, about a lost ship that returns from the Arctic after forty years, but with the track record of these graphic novels, I will definitely check it out. Though I obviously liked some more than others, I think all of these are interesting and worth checking out to form your own opinion.

** I received copies of all of these from Netgalley in exchange for honest reviews. **

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Nevermore: 18 Tiny Deaths, Women's Short Stories, Name of the Wind, Wind Done Gone, Hundred Wells of Salaga, Woman Walk the Line


Reported by Garry

Beginning with a morbid theme – perfect for October — our first reader enjoyed Eighteen Tiny Deaths: The Untold Story of Frances Glessner Lee and the Invention of Modern Forensics by Bruce Goldfarb. Born in 1878 to wealthy parents, Lee was highly intelligent but was not permitted higher education. Lee married, had three children and got divorced, which at that time was scandalous. Her brother, sent to Harvard by their father, befriended another man who became a medical examiner. The three were tight friends, and the medical examiner would tell Lee about some of the crimes that he was helping investigate. He was very frustrated because they couldn’t solve the murders:  the evidence was not preserved correctly and there were no standards of investigation. Lee was very interested in making dioramas, which was a popular hobby at the time. Inheriting money after her parents’ death, she invested in a crime school. In her 60s she started making dioramas of the crime scenes that her medical examiner friend would tell her about. The dioramas were created with an incredible detail level of detail at 1/12th scale. Our reader says that the pictures of Lee’s dioramas are fantastic, all the way down to a little bloody handkerchief on the floor. Now known as the “Mother of Forensics,” Lee’s dioramas were used for teaching, observation, and are still in use today. All of her doll-house dioramas are based on true cases, and some of them are now on display in the in the Smithsonian. Lee called these dioramas “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death”, where their purpose was to “convict the guilty, clear the innocent and find the truth in a nutshell.”

Also reviewed was The Best of Women’s Short Stories which was found to be a very interesting audio book. The collection includes older stories, the themes of which our reader found surprising, especially the story by Louisa May Alcott. This was Volume 3 in the series, and our reader liked it so much, she plans to go back and listen to the others.


Another book reviewed by this busy reader was The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.  It is a science fiction/fantasy book and follows the story of Kvoth. As a child, Kvoth is in a travelling wagon doing plays with is families until his family get killed by a group of magical creatures. The story continues to follow his life growing up with nothing, stealing and robbing in order to survive. The author uses a lot of mythological characters and themes in his writing, which our reader found intriguing.


Next up was The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall. This humorous book is an unauthorized parody of Gone with the Wind, from the viewpoint of Cynara, Scarlett O’Hara’s half-sister by Scarlett’s father and the mammy of the house.  Scarlett is born at the same time, but to the lady of the house and is referred to simply as “The Other.” The Other is treated better than Cynara due to their social standing and skin color.  Cynara is sold to another plantation when she is very young. Our reader points out one passage that struck her in particular:  when Cynara was standing bare breasted on the auction block, and how that moment impacted Cynara for the rest of her life. Sold to a local farmer, Cynara catches the eye of R, the man of the farm, and becomes his mistress. Our reader also pointed out the beauty of the letters that go back and forth between R and Cynara. Overall, she found this book to be very well written, recommends it and really enjoyed reading it. 

The themes of slavery continues with our next book:  The Hundred Wells of Salaga by Ayesha Harruna Attah. This book describes the devastating effects the slave trade had on African communities, following the lives of two women, Aminah and Wurche – one poor and one noble. Aminah is picked up in a slaving raid and is marched to the Ivory Coast to be sold. Along the way another black person buys her for his farm. She stays there for a little while, but she gets back to Salaga where the slave trade is going on and is bought by Wurche and lives in her compound. The story is about their lives and how while different, they are both enslaved by what is going on in Africa at that time. The book does a very good job of describing how complex the Ghanaian society was at that time and how broken it had become. Attah is from Ghana herself, and our reader says that this, her third novel, is very good.  


Our final reader discussed Woman Walk The Line: How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives edited by Holly Gleeson.  This book is a series of essays by women connected to the music industry about the great women who influenced the genre, including one by Alice Randall (author of the previously mentioned The Wind Done Gone.) The writers of the essays talk about the women in country music who they admire and how their songs have affected their lives. This book is a Radio Bristol Book Club pick and will be discussed on-air on November 19, 2020. Listen at 100.1 FM or stream online at

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Magic of Marie Laveau: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans by Denise Alvarado

Reviewed by Jeanne

Marie Laveau is a near mythic figure in New Orleans. Her name appears in songs, in stories, and even in movies as a mysterious woman of power and magic.  Did she really exist? If so, who was she?

Alvarado, a Creole scholar and Voudou practitioner, examines the historical records and comes up with answers.  She traces what is known about the life of the real Laveau, and offers informed speculation in places.  For example, there were actually two women known as Marie Laveau; most believe that one of her daughters took her place after her death, but she had several daughters. 

Laveau was born in 1801 in New Orleans, a free woman of color.  Her husband, Jacques Paris, was a free man of color, but after his death in 1820 she became the domestic partner of a Frenchman, Dominick Duminy de Glapion (depending on the record, the spelling varies). Only two of her fifteen children lived to adulthood, both daughters; and in following French Catholic tradition, both had the first name of Marie.

More interesting to me was the discussion of the history of voodoo/voudou/voodun.  With roots in Africa, there are several variations; arguably the best known are Haitian voodoo and the New Orleans/Louisiana.  Laveau was a staunch Catholic, and melded Catholic practices and beliefs into her brand of voodoo. In some cases certain saints seem to be identified with African counterparts, reminding me of the way that the Romans adapted local religions into their own belief system.

I appreciated the way that Alvarado addressed other researchers and reports in her book. Insofar as possible, she used original records and the earliest reports available to try to form a picture of Laveau, including sometimes sensational newspaper accounts.  She looked for the earliest possible accounts, including material gathered by Zora Neale Hurston who was an anthropologist and folklorist as well as an author. I liked the way that Alvarado acknowledged others’ work in the field, even when she disagreed with their conclusions.

The book has a wonderful bibliography at the end, giving a wealth of sources for an interested reader to check.

However, the history of Laveau takes up only part of the book.  The rest is devoted to describing how to set up an altar and how to perform various rites and rituals.  She informs readers that if they have trouble acquiring some of the ingredients to contact her through her website and also refers them to her other books, which are more about the practice and less about the history.

My quibbles with the book include the lack of an index and a glossary.  Alvarado seems to assume the reader already has some knowledge of the religion and sometimes introduces terms without a thorough explanation.  She will also use alternate spellings for the same concept, depending on which version of the religion is being referenced (Haitian, New Orleans, African) which I found confusing.  And I must admit I still don’t have a clear understanding of some of the differences, especially how Laveau voudou differs from New Orleans.  I also kept getting confused as to which spelling went with which version (voodoo/voudou/voodun) and the difference between Voodoo and Hoodoo. The fault is probably with me; I felt it would have helped if I could have referred back to a particular section at times but without an index that proved a bit time consuming.

If you are looking for a non-sensational, well researched treatment about the life and faith of Marie Laveau, this would be a good choice.