Nightmare Magazine, issue 94

Nightmare Magazine, Issue 94 (July 2020)Nightmare Magazine, Issue 94 by John Joseph Adams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Carlie St. George’s “Spider Season, Fire Season” is the stand-out story of this issue for me – the intersection of domestic violence, ghosts, spiders, and setting operated together in some serious spooky action. Adam R. Shannon’s “We Came Home from Hunting Mushrooms” is a tight slice of tragedy. I’ve never really read Joe R. Lansdale before, and was surprised how much I liked the creepy thrill of the classic horror chase in “The Folding Man,” when I usually avoid stories about inexhaustible relentless pursuit. Ama Patterson’s “Hussy Strutt” was too real to read, and oh so important for the same reason. I’m glad it ended with empowerment, and I’m sad that Patterson is gone.

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The Likeness (Dublin Murder Squad, #2) – Tana French

The Likeness by Tana French

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tana French is masterful at character work, as always, keeping me right on the edge of like and dislike for nearly every character in this novel, in a deliciously gratifying way. I was swinging wildly between sympathy and suspicion the whole time, and she just kept turning those screws. Even on the occasions when the “big reveal” or turning point moments seemed to drag on for just a little too long, I realized afterwards (sometimes immediately, sometimes not for another chapter or two) that what I was experiencing was impatience for relief from the excruciating tension and the emotional payoff, not frustration with boring or overblown writing. And she always got to the emotional payoff, even when it didn’t come at the expected moment. The complexity of Cassie’s mental and emotional landscape, the messiness and strain of the situation she’s in, the pendulum of her desires and goals, all imbued with a twist of the Gothic, made for one satisfying read.



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Waters of Versailles – Kelly Robson

Waters of VersaillesWaters of Versailles by Kelly Robson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“You are a striver.”

I loved this scene. Usually I hate it when a story that’s otherwise leaning toward literary states what it’s about, but I loved this, I think because striving is the protagonist’s guiding principle, and he tries so hard to hide it. Every person in the court is striving and pretending they’re not. And by making this statement so baldly, it allowed everything else room to breathe. I wasn’t on an emotional journey with Sylvain to admit he was striving (that was pretty fucking obvious). I was along for the ride as he reached his limits, realized what all this striving was costing him and everyone else, admitted what he really wanted. All stories are about someone wanting something, and the revelation of the story was Sylvain’s suppressed desires.

Also, this is a dramedy about toilets set in a court that reached new absurdities of behavior. In short, this story is fantastic.

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Magic for Liars – Sarah Gailey

Magic for LiarsMagic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. I adore Sarah Gailey, and loved American Hippo. While I enjoyed reading Magic for Liars, it didn’t surprise me very much. I think the magic-school setting overtook the L.A. noir elements, so it didn’t feel like the true genre mash-up I was looking for. I will say, the ending is depressing af, and that nailed the noir mood.

I recommend Magic for Liars to those who like character-driven detective stories, magic school settings, sibling relationships, and adult-coming-of-age stories.

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Readercon 30

I spent the weekend soaking in books, writing talk, and friends at Readercon 30 in Quincy, MA. Check out this beautiful souvenir book, with Charles Vess cover art:

souv book

Both guests of honor—Stephen Graham Jones and Tananarive Due—are horror writers, so the programming was heavy on horror. I attended panels on ambiguity and vagueness in horror, haunted houses, cultural hauntings and African American history, and horrors of being female.

I went to readings by Sonya Taaffe and Stephen Graham Jones, and I attended Stephen’s Guest of Honor interview. He’s a treasure, deploying a cunning sense of wit while saying outrageous and true things.

Other panels I attended (and enjoyed!) include “Old Punks Read New Punks,” “Outgroup Reviews of #ownvoices Work,” “Lloyd Alexander, Existentialist,” and the delightful, “I Don’t Know Why I’m on This Panel,” where the Readercon 30 programming committee put five panelist together and didn’t tell them why, and they spent the hour hilariously searching for commonalities and connections. I attended because I liked all the panelists as people, liked their work, or both. At one point, they trash-talked the “greats” (like Heinlein and Lovecraft) they thought were worthless, and that three minutes made the panel. Jeffrey Ford is sassy and sarcastic; he said about Lovecraft, “I can’t even get to the moral outrage because I fall asleep before I get there!” I’m excited for next year already, because he is Guest of Honor alongside Ursula Vernon.

I bought 8 books

books I bought

and I’m 15 pages from the end of Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching already. But the book I was most excited to find is this pristine hardcover of Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose:

Briar Rose hardcover

I read this book twice when I was young, first when I was about 10 or 11, and again two or three years later, because it haunted me. I didn’t remember anything about it except how it made me feel. In the intervening 20 years, I’ve again forgotten nearly everything about the story except those sad and haunted feelings. When I spotted this hardcover with a flawless dust jacket, I wanted it immediately. The dealer had already told me the price was reduced because it was the last day of con, so I flipped it open to see how much this would cost me:

cost of book

Not bad, I thought, especially with a discount. And its signed! I flipped forward to look at the signature on the title page. When I saw the inscription, I knew I wasn’t leaving the convention without this book:

inscription

I don’t recall exactly when I read this book for the first time, but it was likely 1994 or 1995. Jane Yolen signed this to another Elisabeth in another time, but the book came to me yesterday with a message I need, at a time when the country I call home is setting up concentration camps for a different people but with the same outcome.

This time—I promise you, Jane—I’ll remember.