Category Archives: books

Review: ‘The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

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The Strange Case of the Alchemist's DaughterThe Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Imagine “monsters” from science fiction and horror classics written by H. G. Wells, Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Robert Lewis Stevenson working together with Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson and Inspector Lestrade to track down the killers in a string of gory London murders.

Odds are, the resulting story would be a chaotic, unbelievable mess. Or, if the muses were kind and the odds were defied, the resulting story would be a breathtaking and expertly plotted Victorian-era fantasy in which the plots, characters and themes of fictional legends fit together in a believable, wondrous harmony.

Theodora Goss’ muses were kind.

The protagonists of legend believed they could create evolved humans out of bits and pieces of the dead. They failed. The evil scientists in Goss’ story have similar ideas. “The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter” has been assembled from the remains of its legendary predecessors, yet unlike the “monsters” of yore, it is strikingly beautiful, functions elegantly with the well-focused skills of its creator, and contains a radiant soul.

Readers familiar with the original stories will enjoy references to even the smallest of details. For everyone else, no footnotes are required because the story stands on its own.

The plot is complicated and compelling and the pace is rapid and perfectly synchronized with a dash of humor. As a writer, I wonder how Goss created a novel that is better than the works from which it takes it themes. I suspect her precision as a poet and short story writer, her love of fairy tales and folklore, and her long-term research into the “monsters” of literature are factors. But those factors are only bits and pieces of the author’s craft, imagination and creative spirit.

Rather than analyse how Goss turned an accident waiting to happen into one of the best novels of the year, I’m willing to write it off and say: “It must be magic.”

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–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy, folklore and magical realism short stories and novels.

Take our characters into your hearts, minds, souls and worst nightmares

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“Publishing is hard. No doubt about it. But sometimes authors get so caught up in the publishing aspect of the profession that we forget the reader doesn’t give a darn how the book was made, researched, written, published, or promoted.” – Hope Clark

 We really don’t want to tell you all that because why would you want to know that any more than you want the details about how your prospective new lawnmower was made? Instead, we much prefer you knowing that we hope you’ll enjoy a good story and then take our characters into your hearts, minds, souls and worst nightmares.

Hope Clark wants to be persuaded a book has a story that will probably interest her more than that it’s cheap or free or the author’s hard-fought debut novel. I feel the same way.

On the other hand, unless a writer is well known and can fill his or her blog with news about upcoming book signings, conventions and other appearances, or–perhaps–the progress of a feature fill that’s being made from one of his/her books, the rest of us don’t have bookish information to provide in a weekly blog.

So, we talk about the subject matter in our books hoping, for example, that people who love mountain climbing will read a post about it and then see that the author has written a novel with a mountain climbing theme with a plot sounds interesting and a story fits within one of the genres the individual likes. The gurus say that if an author writes weekly posts–or even tweets–that say nothing but “buy my book” s/he is spamming his/her own readers. I agree.

That leaves us with talking about the subjects and genres we love and hoping that our posts attract the kinds of discerning readers who are will see possibilities in our books. However, I’ve learned a few cautionary things about this idea:

Caution

  • Murderers don’t read mystery thrillers about murder and mayhem unless the novelist includes how-to-do-it tips.
  • Using a lawnmower in your story line doesn’t attract people who mow yards or sell lawnmowers.
  • If you whine to prospective readers that writing your latest novel made you insane, they will be too superstitious to buy it.
  • Footnotes attached to everything in the novel you researched (cited with sources) or experienced (cited with names of witnesses) do not “ramp up” your story’s appeal. (I know, Lincoln in the Bardo breaks this rule.)
  • Forget about the idea of committing a sensational crime and then writing a based-on-a-true story novel about it. Most jurisdictions have laws that won’t let you profit from the bad that you do unless you only imagined it.)
  • If you put spells or subliminal messages in your books that force your readers to buy more of your books, it’s probably best not to mention it.
  • Saying your novel is just like the novel of a famous writer will cause (a) more people to read the famous person’s novel,  and (b) people to ask why your novel isn’t also on the bestseller list and the well-known review sites.

When it comes down to it, I don’t even know why I read what I read, much less how to write something that somebody else will read. My reading habits are all over the map, so how anyone would include me in their target audience is beyond me. Most advertising/promotion software has probably figured out by now that the words “free” and “cheap” really turn me off. I suppose it’s possible that the NSA/CIA/FBI track the books I read and sell that information to publishers. If so, thanks for spying because I keep coincidentally finding plenty of wonderful stuff to read.

As for my own writing, I write about what interests me and hope that I’m not the only person on the planet who finds such stories fascinating.

Malcolm

Since so many people love fast food, I based my latest e-book short story, “En Route to the Diddy-Wah-Diddy Landfill While the Dogwoods Were in Bloom” on fast food. So far, McDonalds hasn’t agreed to included a copy with each Happy Meal.

 

 

Summer listening for cheap hotels with bad TV service

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In this word from your sponsor (me), I thought I’d mention–just after getting back from a one-week vacation–that when you collapse into your hotel room after a day of sightseeing, you need entertainment. But, sometimes there just isn’t anything to watch on TV except the Weather Channel.

The answer: audiobooks. Here are some for your list:

Editorial Review: Wanda J. Dixon’s warmth and gorgeous singing voice are superb in this story about Conjure Woman Eulalie, which is told through the voice of her cat and spirit companion, Lena. Dixon zestfully portrays Eulalie, who is “older than dirt” and is kept busy casting spells, mixing potions, and advising people–that is, when the “sleeping” sign is removed from her door. Most distinctive is Eulalie’s recurring sigh, which conveys her frustration with Florida in the 1950s, when Jim Crow laws and “Colored Only” signs were routine. Dixon’s Lena is fully believable when she spies around town and reports to Eulalie that rednecks have raped and murdered a young women. They almost escape until Eulalie persuades a witness to come forward. Listeners will marvel at the magical realism in this story and benefit from the helpful glossary of the charming local dialect. S.G.B. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile

 

Editorial Review (Excerpt): “Kelley Hazen performs the narration in a solid voice that is exhilaratingly fresh and young and old sounding as appropriate. Her accent is accurate and captures the essence of each character perfectly. I found her voice mesmerizing and comforting at the same time.” – Audio Book Reviewer

Reader Review: I like it when kids are smarter than adults in stories like this. It gives me hope. The author ‘s writing had a ‘Peter Pan’ feel to it – not that it reads like ‘Peter Pan’ but it’s a kid being powerful and doing something positive. And there is also a magical ‘The Secret Garden’ kind of feel in here.The kid is powerful because she can see & hear the beauty and the magic in Nature. This audiobook has the coldest, scariest ghost voice in the world and also the wonderful open, free and uninhibited voice of ‘Emily’. AND the voices of birds and much more. The widest range of voices I’ve heard from a narrator. And all seemed real, not forced. I believed it – I believed this could happen.

 

Editorial Reviews:

Told through the narrative voice of Lena, Eulalie’s shamanistic cat, the fast-paced story comes alive. The approach is fresh and clever; Malcolm R. Campbell manages Lena’s viewpoint seamlessly, adding interest and a unique perspective. Beyond the obvious abilities of this author to weave an enjoyable and engaging tale, I found the book rich with descriptive elements. So many passages caused me to pause and savor. ‘The air…heavy with wood smoke, turpentine, and melancholy.’ ‘ …the Apalachicola National Forest, world of wiregrass and pine, wildflower prairies, and savannahs of grass and small ponds… a maze of unpaved roads, flowing water drawing thirsty men…’ ‘…of the prayers of silk grass and blazing star and butterfly pea, of a brightly colored bottle tree trapping spirits searching for Washerwoman…of the holy woman who opened up the books of Moses and brought down pillars of fire and cloud so that those who were lost could find their way.'” – Rhett DeVane, Tallahassee Democrat

“A simply riveting read from beginning to end, ‘Eulalie and Washerwoman’ is very highly recommended for both personal reading lists and community library General Fiction collections. – Julie Summers, Midwest Book Review

“Narrator Tracie Christian’s spirited style is ideal to portray the fantasy world of conjure woman Eulalie Jenkins and her shamanistic cat, Lena, who live in Florida in the 1950s. Christian captures Eulalie’s shock when she learns that Jewish merchant Lane Walker, who’s always traded fairly with the local African-Americans, is being forced to give up his store to the Liberty Improvement Club, which forbids serving blacks. Lively descriptions of Eulalie reading possum bones and casting spells; tender scenes with her old beau, Willie Tate; and feline Lena’s communication with Eulalie via secret thought speech add to the local atmosphere. S.G.B. © AudioFile 2017

 

Editorial Review: Narrator R. Scott Adams’s rapid-fire delivery mirrors the speech of fast-talking old-style newshound Jock Stewart. Listeners need all their skills of concentration, or they’ll miss the story’s wit and even the occasional clue. Sea of Fire is a missing racehorse, but the mystery of his whereabouts sometimes seems merely incidental. The story is high on humor but light on plot–a vehicle for sex, cigarettes, steak, and zinfandel. Stewart, a print journalist, is a likable dinosaur in a changing world. Adams’s timing is perfect, but a second listen is recommended to catch what is missed first time around. C.A.T. © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine [Published: APRIL 2015]

Happy listening,

–Malcolm

 

 

 

En Route to the Diddy-Wah-Diddy Landfill While the Dogwoods Were in Bloom

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Coming soon from Thomas-Jacob Publishing, a new Kindle short story in the Stories from Tate’s Hell series.

Background of the Story

Diddy-Wah-Diddy is, perhaps, the best known of Florida’s mythical places. The original story about a hidden-away town with unlimited food was among the folk tales collected by Zora Neale Hurston while working with the Federal Writers Project in 1938. Hurston wrote that Diddy-Wah-Diddy was “reached by a road that curves so much that a mule pulling a wagonload of fodder can eat off the back of the wagon as he goes.”

Bo Diddley further popularized the legendary town in his song “Diddy Wah diddy” recorded for Checker Records in 1955. You can find an unadorned re-telling of the original folktale in Kristin G. Congdon’s Uncle Monday and other Florida Tales. “En Route to the Diddy-Wah-Diddy Landfill While the Dogwoods Were in Bloom” is a re-imagining of the town in modern times.

Description

Every spring, fast food junkie Peter Martin packs his wife, Mary, and son, John, into his SUV and crisscrosses the back country of the Florida Panhandle searching for Diddy-Wah-Diddy, a legendary town offering travelers all the free food they can eat. Mary thinks they’ll never find it. John draws maps to show where they’ve been in years past. John has more hunches than fleas on a hound dog about the town’s location. More often than not, they get lost.

This year, they find Diddy-Wah-Diddy. It’s better than they expected. They begin to eat more than they should. Then Peter has a horrifying accident and disappears. While the powers that be treat Peter’s fall from grace as business as usual, Mary and John wait for him, and while they wait they keeping eating all they can eat.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” both of which are magical realism enmeshed in Florida’s folklore and racial injustice.

 

How often do you re-read your old books?

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  1. Never because I don’t know where they are.
  2. Once in a while whenever I can get them away from the dog.
  3. Whenever I find then hidden at the houses of friends who “borrowed” them.
  4. Are you crazy, who has time to re-read old books when so many new books are published?
  5. Whenever my stack of new books runs out and the next Amazon shipment is days away.

My answer to this hastily thrown together set of questions is #5. When I read a great book the first time, I think, “I’ll remember all of this forever.” When I re-read it ten or twenty years later, I’m amazed at how much I’d forgotten.

Biltmore House Library

Returning to a favorite book is like having a new conversation with an old friend. I don’t re-read books as often as literature professors because many of them read books again every time they teach them in a course. While some literary criticism is interesting, I seldom read it, even when it focuses on the books on my selves I like the best. I don’t like being skewed away from my impressions of a book over time by reading what others have said them.

My favorite room at Asheville, North Carolina’s Biltmore House is the library. My library wouldn’t look this good because I buy mostly paperbacks. They don’t wear as well or look as nice on shelves that climb all the way to the ceiling. As it turns out, some of my paperbacks are so old that the pages fall out when I read them. Suffice it to say “Perfect Binding” (the style used for most paperbacks) isn’t perfect. The glue deteriorates over time.

I’ve probably re-read this series of novels more often than any other. Fortunately, my copy isn’t as beaten up as this old edition on Amazon.

I doubt that any of my old books are worth a lot of money, so you won’t see my name attached to a newsworthy sale of a book at a famous auction house. In addition to the favorites I’ve owned for years, the most dear are those that were once owned by my parents or grandparents. They speak to other times and other places, but re-reading them occasionally is almost like a psychic experience because my imagination tells me what my relatives thought and felt when they once read the words I’m seeing years later.

Every time I re-read a book, I discover something new about the story or about me. Sometimes I remember where I was when I first read it. Sometimes I’m disappointed because I no longer like the story and I see that I’ve changed from the person I was when I thought it was the best thing I read “that year.” However, the books I turn to again and again are always a special pleasure because through luck or magic or the author’s skill, they have kept their excitement, sense and relevance.

Perhaps some of you have found some of the same things to be true whenever you took an old book off a shelf and enjoyed it again.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “The Sun Singer,” “Sarabande,” “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire,” “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” “Mountain Song,” and “At Sea” in addition to numerous Kindle short stories.

 

 

Summer Sale – Two Free Books

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To celebrate the arrival of summer, my companion novels Mountain Song and At Sea are free on Kindle June 22 through June 26.

Mountain Song

David Ward lives in the Montana mountains where his life was impacted by his medicine woman grandmother and his utilitarian grandfather. Anne Hill suffered through childhood abuse and ultimately moved in with her aunt on the edge of a Florida swamp. Their summer romance at a mountain resort hotel surprises both of them. But can they make it last after the initial passion wears off and they return to their college studies far apart from each other especially after an attack on a college street changes Anne forever?

At Sea

Even though he wanted to dodge the draft in Canada or Sweden, David Ward joined the navy during the Vietnam War. He ended up on an aircraft carrier. Unlike the pilots, he couldn’t say he went in harm’s way unless he counted the baggage he carried with him. As it turned out, those back home were more dangerous than enemy fire.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is also the author of Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman.

Review: ‘Murder on Edisto’ by C. Hope Clark

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Murder on Edisto (The Edisto Island Mysteries, #1)Murder on Edisto by C. Hope Clark
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This well-written and highly readable mystery/thriller is marred only by the fact that it begins with a formulaic set-up for novels of its genre: A tough-as nails woman, who went north for her career, experiences a devastating personal loss, escapes from continued threats to herself and her son, and runs home to her parents low country town in South Carolina for recuperation and solace only to find herself caught in the middle of a crime spree.

No sooner has she moved in to her family’s long-time Edisto Island beach house, than her next door neighbor–and old friend from her childhood–is murdered and an odd series of break-ins begins in the tightly knit community. Clark does a good job building the suspense. Almost everyone in the community appears to be a suspect–including the police.

Callie Morgan’s experience as a Boston detective sergeant gives her plenty of reasons to wonder whether or not the local police department is capable of solving such crimes. While the police acknowledge that her experience as an ex-cop might provide them with valuable help, her continued nightmares and jittery nerves make them wonder if she is, as one man says, “damaged goods” and too flighty to be taken seriously. Even her teenage son wonders if her head is on straight. On top of that, some residents suspect her of the break-ins since they began on the day she moved into the beach house.

While there are strong men in the book, ramping up multiple possibilities for romance, suspicion, arguments about police procedures, and “being rescued,” the author allows Callie to slowly find herself. And that makes for a very satisfying conclusion.

Malcolm 
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