Blackfern Girls – A Revew

Blackfern Girls by Elizabeth YonI have been an Elizabeth Yon fan ever since I read her short story in the compilation Echoes in Darkness. Now she has a book out all her own, and it is an atmospheric feast. Blackfern Girls stands as a testament to Yon’s ability to create a world which surrounds you in total macabre believability. As you read the four stories that make up this collection, you are drawn into the characters, the stories, and the overall feel of what is going on in this haunted rural area.

The delectable stories in Blackfern Girls range from the slightly creepy to the totally unnerving. What they have in common is not only a regional basis, but an expert’s characterization and world building. You will be drawn in by sweet little girls only to be repulsed back by their seeming evil. The shock of the evil would not be possible if you failed first to believe in the innocence. You will start to agree with a disbeliever, only to be shocked at the depth of her belief. Again and again, what you have come to understand will be turned on its ear.

If there is one area of these stories that fails for me, it is the lack of closure. While each of the tales in the book builds a fully realized world, the story it contains doesn’t seem to me as well realized. Don’t get me wrong, I am all in favor of leaving the reader of a story with some mystery and decisions to make for themselves, but the stories don’t even seem to go that far. They leave us hanging. Waiting. Maybe that is what Yon intended, but it doesn’t work me, and I am left holding for the final note. But I will keep waiting because I really enjoy these stories and the characters.

My one quibble should not stop you from enjoying Blackfern Girls. In fact, this compilation is a perfect companion to this Halloween week and a marvelous example of a fine writer’s skills. Not only that, but it is a true bargain on Amazon. Go buy it now. Go! It is only available on eReader at the moment, but I have been assured by the publisher, Bannerwing Books, that it will be available in dead-tree format next year. And yes, I plan on purchasing that hardcover to proudly display on my shelf and to remind myself how artfully atmosphere, characterization, and downright creepy can be done.

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Catherine at British Car Day

Yesterday was the British Car Club of Charleston‘s British Car Day car show. (That was a mouthful!) Anyway, I was very pleased that at this 30th anniversary show Catherine took home first place in her class. No, it really doesn’t bother me that she was the only one in her class, because in reality she is in a class by herself.

By the way, for those who don’t know, Catherine is a 1966 Vanden Plas Princess. She has less than 34,000 original miles on her. For more pictures of Catherine just go to this gallery.

To understand my sentimentality towards the award it helps to know that I was one of the founders of the car club, its first president, and that I put on that first British Car Day show 30 years ago. What a long strange trip.

Anyway, here are pictures from the show – https://plus.google.com/photos/111586244029690756195/albums/6074659268941963633

1949 MGTC

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Review of The End of the Sentence

The End of the Sentence is amazing. The End of the SentenceNot only is this well crafted novella a great read, it is also a fitting companion to the autumn winds of October and the upcoming Halloween.

On the face of it, this is a short book about a man running from his past and looking to build a new future. That future turns out to not be what he thought it would be when when he encounters ghosts, murderers, and monsters far out in small town Oregon. But that is only the face of it, and there is more. Oh so much more.

In equal parts ghost story and murder mystery, horror tale and modern fantasy, the authors have woven a story out of elements so familiar that they feel like our own history, but they have threaded these among circumstances so foreign, and at times horrifying, that we recoil. After recoiling though, we must look back and, with the author’s firm hand upon our shoulder, we are drawn back in, and deeper in.

The themes of loss and redemption, grief and hope, abandonment and determination arise again and again to intertwine with every character we meet. These are themes familiar to us all, so familiar that we can forget they are traits of other people’s tales as well. And we may also forget that each of us may respond to circumstances in ways both different and perhaps horrifying.

In The End of the Sentence, Maria Dahvana Headley and Kat Howard have created a wondrous tale of a new American mythology. I anxiously await whatever they will come up with next.

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The Drowning Girl

If we The Drowning Girlare to disappear into the novels we read, if we are to become one with the characters and the story, what happens to us as readers when the subject is insanity? What if the main character, the primary focus and the book’s narrator is a schizophrenic with a dubious grasp on reality? This is the case with Caitlin R. Kiernan‘s The Drowning Girl, and it makes for a very good but troubling read.

As I read this work of dark fiction, I often wondered why I actually kept going. Was I enjoying the book? Was I drawn into the story? Or was I intrigued by the language and imagery? All of those were true to some extent, but not quite enough to keep my going. I am not one of those people who finishes a book just because I have started it. I am actually quite harsh in my practice of giving up on novels that don’t hold my attention. But that was it, no matter what else I can say of The Drowning Girl, it certainly held my attention.

We have all seen paintings or photographs that we admire. Artwork that makes us think and asks us to examine with a critical eye. We can appreciate the art, but we wouldn’t necessarily call it beautiful or want it hanging on our living room wall. The work is important. The artist is talented. But, there is no way we would want to stare deeply into that vision every day. This is precisely the literary sculpture that Kiernan has wrought.

The main character and narrator of this book, “Imp” to her friends, is having trouble coping with events in her life. This story is her coping mechanism.  From the first page of The Drowning Girl, we are thrown into Imp’s world of double meanings, facts versus truths, and interpretation through examination and exploration. Everything we come across in the story is not what it seems, even the tale itself. Every person or object or event has at least two meanings and just as many or more truths. People are both male, female, and both. Single events happen not once but twice, then maybe not at all. Reality is a matter of perception, and perception is a state of mind. And most importantly the mind is volatile and subject to change.

The novel’s story of mermaids, werewolves, murders, suicides, and the collapsing and expanding of relationships is actually secondary to the darker story of how our minds, and especially the minds of those with mental illness, play tricks on us while laying themselves out as truthful. The horrors of the book lie not in the foul creatures and horrendous acts of the characters, but in the manipulations of perception and remembrance.

This dichotomy within one’s own self is what makes the book so fascinating but also makes it disturbing. It is like staring at a mirror too long, or dwelling on a certain word so long that it loses its meaning and becomes nonsense. I cannot honestly say that I enjoyed this book, because enjoyment is the wrong term for the reaction. But I honestly enjoyed how the book made me think and feel and question, even though the doubts induced will be hard to shake. Those thoughts have taken root in the most permanent but volatile of all places, my mind.

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Pictures of Charleston Rail

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a book about railroads in Charleston with lots of great photographs would be priceless, right? Well with a little help from the folks here in town, and maybe a few spread further away, that is what I am hoping for.

Charleston South Carolina Arcadia PublishingI am working with Arcadia Publishing, coincidentally located here in Charleston, to produce a book for their Images of Rail series. This is not going to be a dry history, but a look into how the railroads and streetcar lines in Charleston really fit in with local life and helped to shape that life. To that end, I am looking for old photographs that might be used in “Charleston Rail”.

Do you have a photograph of a great uncle waving from the streetcar on which he was a conductor? Do you have a snapshot of the old Seaboard Air Line Railway station at Grove and Rutledge? Maybe you even have a few pictures of relatives coming in to town at Union Station that burned in the forties. Anything like this would be of interest.

The importance of family collections cannot be overemphasized. Vintage photographs become increasingly fragile and by scanning and reproducing them in a book, they become available for all to see. While postcards are great, and well loved, what I am looking for here are actual photographs. They have to be out there somewhere – in trunks, in photo albums, or hanging on the wall.

So please, if you have anything you think might be of interest, just let me know. I would love to talk with you. Shoot me an email, give me a call or jump me in the street. If you choose the latter, please be gentle.

And if you are interested in the book, stay tuned and I will let you know when it comes out. If you subscribe to this site, you will be one of the first to know.

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A Bookman’s Tale

Bookman's TaleA Bookman’s Tale: A Novel Of Obsession by Charlie Lovett is one of the first books in a long time that compelled me to stay up late and read at every free, and some not free, moment I had. I was totally enthralled by the combination of books, history, romance, and dysfunctional personalities. I must say that I nodded my head knowingly a few too many times at the personality quirks of the main character, the bookman, Peter Byerly.

Is this something peculiar to those drawn to books? Is it such a standard trait that we are loners, prone to anxiety, and attracted to not only the lore but the physical characteristics of old books? The worst problem with this novel, if it can be seen as a problem, is that it has reinvigorated my interest in book collecting and has already been the catalyst to a good number of new purchase. I even started measuring my study this evening to ascertain whether or not I have enough room to add another book case. And for those keeping count, that would be a fifth case within that room.

If you are interested in books, in English history, in a good mystery, or a bittersweet love story, I would highly recommend A Bookman’s Tale. Along the way you may just learn something about Shakespeare and the exciting, yes really, world of rare books. I eagerly await Charlie Lovett’s next book. Luckily I don’t have long to wait; First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen is due out in just a few weeks. Yes, I have already ordered my copy.

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