Thursday, January 29, 2015

2015 RR - The Hounds of Hell

Oh, happy day! Today I finished the second book from my 2015 Reading Resolution list!

The Hounds of Hell: Stories of Canine Horror and Fantasy, edited by Michel Parry, receives a solid four-star review from me.

Let's begin with the basics. The short stories in this collection all revolve around canines, be they good, evil, spectral, or even real pets. The book I own is the hardcover 1974 edition (I have a soft spot for older books versus newer editions). Most of the stories therein range from the early to mid twentieth century--probably my favorite decades for fantasy and horror.

Some of the stories are entertaining, some pull you right in...and others fall flatter than a pancake. Did I say pancake? No. Something even flatter. A crepe. Stick with me and you'll see.

Let's have a quick roll call, shall we? I'll include the story's title, author, and first sentence, along with my personal verdict.

The Hound, by H.P. Lovecraft
In my tortured ears there sounds unceasingly a nightmare whirring and flapping, and a faint, distant baying as if of some gigantic hound.

KVerdict: Not bad, although Lovecraft 's flowery style does get to me sometimes (I know, the time period...). I have several of his books, but sadly am not a great fan of his work. This story isn't an exception. It's just all right.

Staley Fleming's Hallucination, by Ambrose Bierce
Of two men who were talking one was a physician.

KVerdict: The first of many stories in this collection to have someone stalked by a phantom dog and ultimately get their throat ripped out. *Yawn.*

The Dog, by Ivan Turgenev
"But if you once admit the existence of the supernatural, and that it can enter into the ordinary affairs of everyday life, allow me to ask what scope is left for the exercise of reason?"

JVerdict: An excellent story with a rather slow opening. The Dog has the honor of being the only story to make a chill run through me. Once again, the character is stalked by a dog during the night. This dog, however, is warning him of what's to come...

The Hound of Death, by Agatha Christie
It was from William P. Ryan, American newspaper correspondent, that I first head of the affair.

KVerdict: A nun dreams of things which she believes never existed, but seem more real to her than life. Could she be remembering backwards?--Seeing what's to come? The symbolism, the premonitions, the signs... There is a distinct cult feel around this story, which nonetheless lacks something, as if it weren't completely fleshed out.

Dead Dog, by Manly Wade Wellman
They brought the rebel chief Kaflatala out of the jungle to Father Laboissier's mud-brick house, brought him in a tepoia because he still limped from a Portuguese bullet in his thigh.

JVerdict: Although Dead Dog repeats the premise of a person being stalked at night by a vengeful hound, the African setting, so different from the other stories in the collection, made for an interesting read.

The Dutch Officer's Story, by Catherine Crowe
"Well, I think nothing can be so cowardly as to be afraid to own the truth," said the pretty Madame de B., an Englishwoman, who had married a Dutch officer of distinction.

KVerdict: A ghostly hound wakes up sentries who are asleep on their watch, so of course someone higher up decides to see what happens if he shoots the creature. I don't understand why so many of the characters in these stories feel the need to shoot at dogs.

Vendetta, by Guy de Maupassant
Palo Saverini's widow dwelt alone with her son in a small, mean house on the ramparts of Bonifacio.

KVerdict: This is one of the few stories where the dog is a regular, living breathing pet--trained to kill.

Dog or Demon? by Theo Gift
"The following pages came into my hands shortly after the writer's death."

JJVerdict: Excellent storytelling by Victorian novelist Dora Havers (under a male pen name, of course). Probably what I loved most about this story is the fact that, even though it takes place in 1878 Ireland, the topic of eviction (with all its paperwork and personal drama) is so similar to what could happen nowadays--if you don't include the curses and the phantom killer dog (again).

Louis, by Saki
"It would be jolly to spend Easter in Vienna this year," said Strudwarden, "and look up some of my old friends there."

JVerdict: At first I was a bit disgusted. Murder your wife's beloved pet just to be able to go on vacation? However, once the murder plan is carried out and the truth is discovered, the story deserves a chuckle.

The Howling Tower, by Fritz Leiber
The sound was not loud, yet it seemed to fill the whole vast, darkening plain, and the palely luminous, hollow sky: a wailing and howling, so faint and monotonous that it might have been inaudible save for the pulsing rise and fall; an ancient, ominous sound that was somehow in harmony with the wild, sparsely vegetated landscape and the barbaric garb of the three men who sheltered in a little dip in the ground, lying close to a dying fire.

JJVerdict: The protagonists of this story, Grey Mouser and Fafhrd, are the protagonists of a series of short stories. The Howling Tower starts off a bit slow, and the point of view is so distant it's at times difficult to grasp, but once the action begins it's a tale full of imagination that I won't mind reading again.

The White Dog, by Feodor Sologub
Everything grew irksome for Alexandra Ivanova in the workshop of this out-of-way town--the pattens, the clatter of machines, the complaints of the managers; it was the shop in which she had served as an apprentice and now for several years as seamstress.

LVerdict: This is probably the flattest story in the entire collection. The beginning is all right and promises something like revenge or at least a good fight between Alexandra and a Tanechka, the youngest seamstress. What follows, however, is just awful. I'll just explain it, so if you don't want any spoilers please stop reading here. After being called a dog by Tanechka, Alexandra goes into a rage and returns home, where she ponders her existence and the round, full moon. There is ambiguity about whether or not she is a shape shifter. Driven by a force stronger than her will, Alexandra tears off her clothes and runs outside, where she lies on the ground and howls at the moon. Two neighbors see what they believe is a massive white dog, so logically (¿?) they run out and shoot it...

"The discharge of a rifle sounded in the night air. The dog gave a groan, jumped on its hind legs, became a naked woman who, her body covered with blood, started to run, all the while groaning, weeping and raising cries of distress. The black-bearded one and the curly-headed one threw themselves in the grass and began to moan in wild terror." THE END

Seriously? Put some Nutella on that crepe and serve it to me hot.

The Hound, by William Faulkner
To Cotton the shot was the loudest thing he had ever heard in his life.

KVerdict: I could have enjoyed this American South story more if the writing weren't so disjointed. There are several passages--especially descriptions of places and series of actions--where it seems the author just skipped over entire sentences. I don't know if this style is intentional to fit the protagonist, but it made for a confusing read.

The Emissary, by Ray Bradbury
Martin knew it was autumn again, for Dog ran into the house bringing wind and frost and a smell of apples turned to cider under trees.

JJVerdict: An excellent story told in an excellent voice--probably, my favorite from the collection, in fact. Little boy Martin is perpetually sick and bed-ridden, but his faithful Dog tells him everything of the outside world through the smells and brambles (and other stuff...) he brings back in his fur. The ending had a very strong Pet Sematary feel to it, which was juuuuust fine.

The Hound of Pedro, by Robert Bloch
They said he was a wizard, that he could never die.

JVerdict: Another excellent story revolving around wizardry and black magic, this time in 1717 Mexico. The depictions of violence and cruelty are exceptionally vivid in this one, so it's not for the faint of heart.

The Whining, by Ramsey Campbell
When Bentinck first saw the dog he thought it was a patch of mud.

LLVerdict: Horrible! Awful! I never want to read this again! When I began reading this collection, I had some reservations as I was worried that some of the stories might depict cruelty to a "real" (not phantom, not satanic) dog. This story fed my fears. And of course, the protagonist loses his marbles in the last line or two. How convenient. Nope.

The Death Hound, by Dion Fortune
"Well?" said my patient when I had finished stethoscoping him, "have I got to go softly all the days of my life?"

JJVerdict: Once again, an excellent story told by an excellent storyteller, Violet Wirth, "the most influential female occultist since Madame Blavatsky." The Death Hound features occult detective Doctor Taverner, who uses his wit and a dose of white magic to thwart an attempt at mental assassination. How come I never heard about this author or this character before? *Runs off to find more Taverner stories!*

And that concludes my analysis of The Hounds of Hell. Overall, it was an enjoyable read, though the topic of killer dogs did become a bit repetitive (I can't blame anyone--it's a collection of stories about killer dogs!). The best result of reading this collection is that now I know more authors and more characters I can look up. Doctor Taverner, here I come!

Would you like to read The Hounds of Hell?

What book should I strike off my list next? I was thinking about reading The Vision by Dean Koontz, merely because it's completely different to what I just read. However... I remember the first pages being so sappy... I guess I'll have to soldier on through it, right?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Revamping an Earring Holder

A little paint goes a long way.

Recently, I went down to my local Claire's and bought a ton of stud earrings (3x2!). I've got a total of five holes in my ears (had more but took them out due to constant infections), which means I regularly use studs...and sometimes lose them. So I bought about 30 pairs of earrings the other day, and then got home to this:

This is the earring holder I bought in my wild teenage years (yup, still have it!)--minus the earrings, of course. I'm a bit sick of the bright orange, not to mention the hideous rainbow flower. I have the urge to shout out "power!"

Instead of chucking this and buying another one, how about we revamp what we already got? All you need is a can of spray paint, some glitter, superglue and rhinestones!

Here we go. I chose a nice matte teal spray for the base:

It was an ugly, rainy day out on my balcony...

Be patient as the paint dries and make sure to
cover up all the nooks and crannies with several coats!

Here's the finished paint job, but how about we give that flower a little extra bling?

I spread a thin layer of superglue over the petals and dumped some glitter on there. Yeah! In hindsight, I should've put a piece of paper under this in order to save the excess glitter but I was too excited and it slipped my mind. Always think things through, people!

Add a pretty yellow rhinestone as a final touch!

Here we go: a revamped oldie, ready for a brand new life of joy and bling! We really don't need to throw out old things, now do we?

How's it look? I absolutely love it! Have you revamped any of your old favorites?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

2015 RR - Johannes Cabal the Detective

Driven by guilt and a little bit of shame, I recently resolved to finish reading all the unfinished books in my home library.

The first book I can happily and with a great sense of completion strike off the list is Johannes Cabal the Detective by Jonathan L. Howard.

Back in the day, I happened across the prequel, Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, in my local bookstore (which is great since I live in Spain and the English novel section of my nearest bookstore is usually packed with gaudy best-sellers I'm not inclined to read). I thoroughly enjoyed the read and fell in love with the antihero protagonist, his vampiric brother, and the magic involved in their adventures. There was a slight hiccup nearing the end of the novel, though: the author suddenly shifted full point of view to the so-called antagonist (a police officer), and my God was it dull!

Nevertheless, I finished the novel and was thrilled to hear a second part would soon come out. Johannes Cabal the Detective is the first and only novel I've ever--EVAAARRR!--pre-ordered on Amazon.

When the lucky book finally arrived, I jumped right into it, but unfortunately I abandoned all hope at around chapter eight. Well, it's 2015 now and it's time to give the novel a decent ending.

I finished reading Johannes Cabal the Detective last night. Final verdict: all right, but lacking much of the charm from the first novel (probably because the antihero's brother doesn't appear). What's more, as the title blatantly points out, this novel is a whodunit crime investigation--and that just ain't my cuppa tea.

Let me go through some highlights, and some hurdles. Hurdles first!

In my opinion, the entire novel suffers from a lack of focus. The author is just so utterly long-winded! The point of view jumps all over the place at all times, which doesn't help, either. I've had to reread several sentences more than once because I continually got lost in circuitous sentence structures. I believe a one-paragraph example is sufficient to give you a sense of the prose:

  "Well, Herr Harlman," said Cabal as he fitfully considered escape plans without any general enthusiasm. The whole concourse was surely dense with assorted secret policemen just itching for an excuse to kick his spleen into sausage meat. The fact that he was being treated to coffee rather than being bundled into the back of an unmarked van by several burly servants of the state armed with overactive thyroids and lengths of rubber hose implied that the covert machinations of Senza were handled with rather more civility than those of its neighbours, as well as subtlety. He could barely believe that he had so utterly failed to spot the trap. Therefore, he decided, he would wait for the scale of the operation he had wandered into to become apparent before giving and bright ideas for escape serious consideration. "What happens now?"

[Pages 292-293 of my 2011 paperback edition]

Yes, that is all presented as one giant paragraph, with a tiny bit of dialogue tacked onto either end.

See what I have to deal with here? Extreme cases of wordiness such as this, plus a whodunit theme which has never really interested me, are the two main reasons why I abandoned Johannes Cabal the Detective. Am I glad I reprised my read? Sure! The author and the protagonist deserve that much. To be honest, now that I've completed this novel I'm actually toying with the idea of tackling the third book, Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute. At least the title sounds more up my alley.

Now for the novel's highlights!

Johannes Cabal continues to be a fascinating sick bastard of a man. He's the typical antisocial supercilious antihero, and that's what I simply adore about him. His eccentric and generally chill-inducing personality aside, he's fighting for a very personal cause--an excellent cause which I won't reveal here, but which just goes to show that even cold-hearted bastards can have a shred of humble humanity in them.

Jonathan L. Howard might be long-winded and at times frustrating (at least to me), but he is also an excellent author with a delicious range of vocabulary. Howard has a spellbinding way of explaining the inexplicable. Here's an excerpt that had me completely hooked:

  The room stank like a laboratory fire, and the thick chemical fug made Miss Barrow's eyes sting. Cabal ignored it all, his own eyes screwed shut as he chanted and chanted a seemingly endless litany of inhuman words from an inhuman religion. They were awful words, incomprehensible to her, but jagged, ugly things that he spat out like stones and razors. That he knew them by heart did not escape her, and she feared him for that, for it showed depths in him that opened into the abyss. Nor did he hesitate when Cacon's heels began to rattle on the floor, his legs spasming like the galvanised corpse of a frog on a school science bench. It was death, but it was in reverse, and the most obscene abrogation of the laws of nature she could ever imagine. Life did not return easily to the carcass, but was bullied and coerced, and what little dignity there is in death was torn and tattered by this sordid reversal. Cacon seemed to swell with something that was just close enough to life to serve, but equally, she sensed in her every fibre that it was a poor sort of stopgap and that it would leak away again soon enough. When Cacon started to shake and suck in ragged, dry breaths, she shuddered with revulsion, but she could not stop watching.

[Pages 250-251]

Yes, I'm aware this excerpt is another massive single paragraph, but this one held my attention through and through and wowwie, Batman! *Round of applause.*

Overall, I would give Johannes Cabal the Detective a 3.5. Not bad, but it could have been better if many things had been more to-the-point.

HarpyMax has some excellent Cabal fan art.
First book off my list! Yay! I think I'll go for something completely different next. How about... The Hounds of Hell, Stories of Canine Horror and Fantasy?

Monday, January 19, 2015

2015 Reading Resolution

Happy New Year! About three weeks late but oh, well... Better late than never, right?

Let's get straight to today's business: my 2015 Reading Resolution.

Here's a picture of my library:

As you can see, it's quite packed. I have well over two hundred books, and unfortunately some of them are still unread. So, for this year, I resolve to...

Here are the unlucky unread (for this selection I'm not counting my collection of antique books because I don't want them to fall apart):

Note: I will add links to reviews as I finish reading the books.

Never started:

- Lightning by Dean Koontz
- Velocity by Dean Koontz (I'm not a big fan of this author...)
- The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Modern Classics of Science Fiction, edited by Gardner Dozois
- The Hounds of Hell, Stories of Canine Horror and Fantasy, edited by Michel Parry
- Foundation and Chaos (The Second Foundation Trilogy) by Greg Bear (Sent to me by mistake by an Amazon seller.)

Abandoned before finishing:

- Johannes Cabal the Detective by Jonathan L. Howard (I absolutely loved the first book but couldn't get into this one.)
- The Vision by Dean Koontz
- Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card
- The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman
- The Shelters of Stone by Jean M. Auel
- The One-Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Johansson (It was horrible.)
- The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (not in the photo)

Recent acquisitions:

- The Princess Bride by William Goldman
- A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
- Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

I think I got my work cut out for me! Just this list contains sixteen titles, plus I recently began collecting the Fullmetal Alchemist Kanzenban Edition graphic novels (up to number five), so I think this year will be packed with reading. That's good because, to be honest, I barely read anything last year since I was so busy writing. This year isn't an exception (I have to publish Making Time!), but I promise to make an effort and step up to the challenge!

Which book should I strike off this list first? Have you read any of these? I think I'll begin with one I left halfway through... Hmmm... Maybe the Johannes Cabal one... What about you? Do you have any reading resolutions for 2015?
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