Fiction Reboot: Friday Fiction Feature

Welcome to Friday!

This week’s feature comes from reader suggestions. Stephen Gallagher, author, reader and recent interviewee, has passed on some of his favorites to share–thank you, Stephen!

And as always, a thank you to Tabatha, research assistant extraordinaire, for compiling the Friday Feature.

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First is Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, by Genevieve Valentine, which doesn’t resemble steampunk so much as Gothic in the tradition of Poe and Mary Shelley. This steampunk-flavored circus story begins with a disturbing undertone, like an out-of-tune calliope, and develops in hints and shadows. Touring a drained postwar world, the Mechanical Circus Tresaulti rarely visits a city twice in anyone’s lifetime; borders are lax, and lives are short. The circus’s performers have no time for training, instead undergoing terrible trials in the ringmaster’s workshop to gain their skills. Enter the “government man,” who dreams of bringing back the order and security of the old world and wants the ringmaster to help him. She shares many of his dreams but mistrusts his offers of alliance. The drama and climax come not from the rivalry between the two but their similarities as they decide how to use their powers and who will suffer the consequences. Fans of grim fantasy will love this menacing and fascinating debut.

The next one up continues the circus theme with an insider’s view on what makes the freakish and the normal. Geek Love is the story of the Binewskis, a carny family whose mater- and paterfamilias set out–with the help of amphetamine, arsenic, and radioisotopes–to breed their own exhibit of human oddities. There’s Arturo the Aquaboy, who has flippers for limbs and a megalomaniac ambition worthy of Genghis Khan . . . Iphy and Elly, the lissome Siamese twins . . . albino hunchback Oly, and the outwardly normal Chick, whose mysterious gifts make him the family’s most precious–and dangerous–asset. As the Binewskis take their act across the backwaters of the U.S., inspiring fanatical devotion and murderous revulsion; as its members conduct their own Machiavellian version of sibling rivalry, Geek Love throws its sulfurous light on our notions of the freakish and the normal, the beautiful and the ugly, the holy and the obscene. Family values will never be the same.

The last of our Gallagher-inspired features for today is Tim Lees’ Frankenstein’s Prescription, a new story that brings back the favorite old favorites of religious, scientific, and personal quandaries of Mary Shelly’s original…

Hans Schneider is a drunkard and a womaniser; everyone agrees he’s heading for a bad end. When he kills a fellow student in a duel, he finds himself banished to an isolated rural hospital, far from the pleasures he desires. There he meets the mysterious Dr. Lavenza, and learns about Frankenstein’s prescription-the secret of eternal life. Together, Schneider and Lavenza set out to collect the missing pieces of the formula. But they are not alone. From Germany to Rome, from Rome to Paris, to the failed and wretched Eden of an all-too-human God, a dreadful creature follows in their wake, bringing destruction wherever they go. Poor Schneider wants an easy time: drink, women and good company. Instead, he finds himself beset by ghosts and madmen, in a world where music brings the dead to life, and even the most terrifying monster can prove strangely sympathetic . . .

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For a more upbeat/comedic turn to this week’s selections, we bring you: Harry Lipkin, Private Eye: A Novel by Barry Fantoni. Meet Harry Lipkin, the world’s oldest private detective: part Sam Spade, part Woody Allen, all  mensch. Harry Lipkin is a tough-talking, soft-chewing, rough-around-the-edges, slow-around-the-corners private investigator who carries a .38 along with a spare set of dentures. Harry specializes in the sort of cases that cops can’t be bothered with, but knows where to find good chopped liver for a fair price. He might not be the best P.I. in Miami, but at 87, he’s certainly the oldest. His latest client, Mrs. Norma Weinberger, has a problem. Someone in her home is stealing sentimental trinkets and the occasional priceless jewel from her; someone she employs, trusts, cares for, and treats like family. With the stakes so low and blood pressure that’s a little too high, Harry Lipkin must figure out whodunit before the thief strikes again.

Last but not least, something cute and cheesy (and yes, chosen for the title): in case 87 year-old P.I.’s weren’t enough:  I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats by Francesco Marciuliano. (Interestingly, this was recommended to me by my local independent bookseller…and by my cat-sitter. For different reasons though, I gather).

Cat lovers will laugh out loud at the quirkiness of their feline friends with these insightful and curious poems from the singular minds of housecats. In this hilarious book of tongue-in-cheek poetry, the author of the internationally syndicated comic strip Sally Forth helps cats unlock their creative potential and explain their odd behavior to ignorant humans. With titles like “Who Is That on Your Lap?,” “This Is My Chair,” “Kneel Before Me,” “Nudge,” and “Some of My Best Friends Are Dogs,” the poems collected in I Could Pee on This perfectly capture the inner workings of the cat psyche. With photos of the cat authors throughout, this whimsical volume reveals kitties at their wackiest, and most exasperating (but always lovable).

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