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The Folly of Expectations: Reading Salema Nazzal’s ‘The Folly Under the Lake’

An article I came across about a secret ballroom built in the 19th century beneath a lake piqued my curiosity and led me to search out more information and photographs about this incredibly intriguing hidden marvel.  The history of Whitaker Wright, his property at Lea Park where the underwater ballroom is located, his shady business deals and eventual suicide when his deception was uncovered seems ripe to transform into any number of plotlines and stories.

The Folly Under the Lake Salema NazzalWhile gathering information for my own story (one that leans more towards Lovecraft than Agatha Christie), I found the Facebook page for “The Folly Under the Lake”.  It hadn’t been released yet and I kind of dismissed it, but as I kept writing and tinkering and going back to search for new information, it kept popping up until finally I bought it.

To be honest, I underestimated “The Folly Under the Lake”.  I didn’t expect to enjoy it and maybe I didn’t want to, so at first, I didn’t.

Initially, I was put off by being thrust into the story through two characters who seemed set up to be a secondary, annoying couple you pity but deep down can’t stand.  From there, too many characters were introduced too quickly where I got to the point I didn’t care who was talking anymore and had no interest in trying to keep them apart.

But I kept reading and they kept talking.  And talking.  And there was a lot of dialogue.  But then I told myself to stop trying to hate the book, to stop trying to look for what was wrong.  I would read a couple chapters and put it down, read a couple more the next night, and during the fourth day, when I was six or seven chapters in, I found myself excited for later when I would get to pick it up and read some more.

While this was not a great book, it nevertheless had me hooked.

Whether it was my interest in the underwater ballroom itself or curiosity over how Walter would be killed, and whether I was right about who did it (I wasn’t), I was excited to keep reading it, pacing myself as I did to tease the story out.

Could “The Folly Under the Lake” have benefited from deeper characterization and more thorough descriptions to build up of this incredible setting?  Definitely.  The book synopsis says the story is set in the 1930s, but I didn’t feel there was anything in the text itself to establish that.  Given that the historical basis for the setting and characters is rooted at the turn of the 20th century, with Whitaker Wright committing suicide in 1904, my knowledge of the background and the claims from the synopsis were always at odds and that left me with a feeling of inconsistency that more attention to setting by the author could have avoided.

But ultimately, it was a fun read and I enjoyed more than I expected I would.  The book did exactly as it needed to keep the reader engaged and moving forward through this little murder mystery, offering up valid suspects in each of the characters that kept you excited to read on and solve the crime.

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A Vintage Cover and a Fresh Approach | Reading Chris Holm’s “Dead Harvest”

Dead Harvest Cover Chris Holm the CollectorI originally picked out Chris Holm’s “Dead Harvest” because of the cover, finding it while searching out cool vintage book covers.  Self-publishing a few short stories through Kindle and Nook means you have to make your own covers, and there’s something eternally cool about the old paperback covers.

So how did picking a book by its cover work out for me?  I’d say pretty well.

The last twenty pages of “Dead Harvest” totally makes this book.  The first hundred are great too.  The ones in-between?  Well, they’re decent.  They keep you going, I’ll give you that.

Those pages keep Sam and Kate stumbling, running, and trying to figure things out, stealing bodies, stealing cars, stealing—sorry, hijacking—helicopters all while dodging demons, angels and the majority of the New York City police department.  While some of it seems unnecessary or excessive (the helicopter), I never hit the point I wanted to put it down, probably due to the back-story of Sam Thornton, the Collector, as we find out a little more, not only his own back-story rooted in the 1940s and why he’s damned to an eternity of collecting souls, but also on the mythology that runs throughout the story of demons, angels, and possession.

It’s Sam’s personal back-story and the relationship between man, demon and angel that all comes together at the end, in those last few pages, and adds a little twist to a story that was starting to feel a little sluggish.  Could this book have stood to lose a few pages?  Maybe a hundred?  Sure.

Am I going to continue reading Chris Holm’s ‘the Collector’ series?  Absolutely.  And not just because of the covers.

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The Adventures of the Actionary | Reading ‘the Damned Busters’

the Damned Busters, Book 1, To Hell and Back Series by Matthew HughesThere’s something addicting about Matthew Hughes’ “The Damned Busters”, the first book in his ‘To Hell and Back‘ series featuring insurance actuary Chesney Arnstruther.  After accidentally summoning a demon and causing the legions in Hell to go on strike, Chesney strikes a strange deal with the Devil and becomes novice superhero the Actionary.  Well, at least for two hours every day with the help of the rum-guzzling demon Xaphan, a weasel-faced demon who’s watched one too many Cagney movies.

There’s something addicting about this book… even while there’s something not good about it.

I realize how that sounds, but I don’t know any other way to say it.  I’ve been struggling with this feeling the entire book.  The story is decent and clever, with a humorous style that channels Douglas Adams without truly capturing the absurdity that perfectly captured the essence life itself that Adams seemed to effortlessly put down upon the page throughout the Hitchhiker’s Guide series.

Perhaps just as Chesney is lost within the world of his comic book idol, Malc Turner aka The Driver, his adventures as the Actionary and the events of the book from the moment he summons a demon on, are intended to emulate that comic book atmosphere with characters that are almost bland in their cartoonish, stereotype roles.

When he smashed his finger with the hammer, did drawing blood cause him to summon a demon, or pass out and dream all of this?  Chesney does seem like someone who might faint at the sight of blood.

Good thing “The Damned Busters” is just addictive enough and ends on a cliffhanger that I can’t help but be interested in the second of the trilogy, “Costume Not Included”.

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