October 15, 2018

Book Review: Monstrous Devices by Damien Love

Publication Date: October 16, 2018

Source: Vine

On a winter’s day in a British town, twelve-year old Alex receives a package in the mail: an old tin robot from his grandfather. “This one is special,” says the enclosed note, and when strange events start occurring around him, Alex suspects this small toy is more than special; it might be deadly.

Right as things get out of hand, Alex’s grandfather arrives, pulling him away from an attack—and his otherwise humdrum world of friends, bullies, and homework—and into the macabre magic of an ancient family feud. Together, the duo flees across snowy Europe, unraveling the riddle of the little robot while trying to outwit relentless assassins of the human and mechanical kind.

With an ever-present admiration for the hidden mysteries of our world, Monstrous Devices plunges readers into a gripping adventure that’s sure to surprise.

From the first page on - this fast-moving middle grade novel will leave you exhilarated and fascinated. As an adult, I found some scenes to be heart-palpitating, with diminutive assassins and those monstrous robots.  From Prague to Paris, Alex and his sly and secretive grandfather race to discover the secret of these devices - which involves an old Jewish legend of the golem.  I was delighted by Love's evocative descriptions of his various settings and thrilled by twists and turns of the narrative.  I was at once charmed by Alex's witty silver fox of a grandfather but frustrated because he was so close-mouthed about everything that was happening to Alex, even when he was clearly in danger.  The novel ends with questions left unanswered, paving the way for a sequel(s).

"The toy stood about five inches tall and was wonderfully grotesque.  Angry and pathetic-looking, it was made from a cheap, thin gray-green tin, with a bulky torso resembling and ancient boiler, held together with tiny rivets.  Little dials were painted on its chest, as if it ran on steam.  It grimaced with a mouth like a tiny letterbox, filled with a jagged nightmare of ferocious metal teeth.  It eyes were two holes, framing a hollow interior blackness."

October 8, 2018

Book Review: In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey

Publication Date: October 9, 2018

Source: Vine

Failed father, failed husband, and failed scholar, Charles Hayden hopes to put his life back together with a new project: a biography of Caedmon Hollow, the long-dead author of a legendary Victorian children’s book, In the Night Wood, and forebear of his wife, Erin. Deep in mourning from the loss of their young daughter, they pack up their American lives, Erin gives up her legal practice, and the couple settles in Hollow’s remote Yorkshire mansion.

                In the neighboring village, Charles meets a woman he might have loved, a child who could have been his own daughter, and the ghost of a self he hoped to bury. Erin, paralyzed by her grief, immerses herself in pills and painting images of a horned terror in the woods.

                In the primeval forest surrounding Caedmon Hollow’s ancestral home, an ancient power is stirring, a long-forgotten king who haunts the Haydens’ dreams. And every morning the fringe of darkling trees presses closer.

                Soon enough, Charles and Erin will venture into the night wood.

                Soon enough, they’ll learn that the darkness under the trees is but a shadow of the darkness that waits inside us all.

In the Night Wood starts out auspiciously enough (after some telling epigraphs and a prologue) - with our young hero alone in the library of a great estate and finding a very special book.

"The supple leather boards were embossed with some kind complex design. He studied it, mapping the pattern - a labyrinth of ridges and whorls - with the ball of his thumb. Then he opened the book. The frontispiece echoed the motif inscribed on the cover; here he could see it clearly, a stylized forest scene: gnarled trees with serpentine roots and branches twining about one another in sinuous profusion. Twisted, and bearded with lichen, the trees projected an oddly menacing aura of sentience - branches like clutching fingers, a hollow like a screaming mouth. Strange faces, seemingly chance intersections of leaf and bough, peered out at him from the foliage: a grinning serpent, a malevolent cat, an owl with the face of a frightened child."

If this passage does not seduce you like it did me, then there is no hope for you. It represents the dark gothic fairy tale style of In the Night Wood. If this were a children's story, the hero would then be transported into an adventure upon the opening of this extraordinary book. But because this is adult fiction, the boy instead grows up into a "failed" man who suffers a grievous loss. Only then because of his mourning and guilt, does he venture into the Night Wood. By this time, the reader has come to understand that the wood is a metaphor for the landscape of his soul. Also, that the author wants the reader to be aware of Story, with a capital S, as he iterates "Once upon a time" several times and actually begins the novel with a discussion of the purpose of fairy tales as though this were the beginning of an essay. Rather than get lost in the story, as I prefer to when reading, I was made constantly aware of Metaphor.

October 1, 2018

Libreria Acqua Alta in Venice

Libreria Acqua Alta
Calle Longa S. Maria Formosa, 5176/b, 30122 Castello, Venezia VE, Italy
It is a bookshop that could only exist in Venice. A black gondola sits marooned in the middle of the narrow store, as though it had been pulled out of the canal a few steps away with its cargo of novels. Outside more books are held in baskets and wagons.  The Libreria Acqua Alta, as its name expresses, knows full well the danger its wares are in from the sea.  In its courtyards, towers of moldering, waterlogged books serve as a staircase to the street.  Books and water do not mix, and yet this shop sits below street level in a sinking, often-flooded city.

Being inside, looking at the stuffed shelves and barrels makes me uneasy, as I can't help but imagine the nearby sea rushing in and drowning all of it. Like everything else in Venice, the Libreria Acqua Alta's very beauty lies in its ephemeral nature. It is something that should not exist, but does.

A book that only exists in Venice.