Two of the most extraordinary men who ever lived clash in the thrilling novel Houdini vs. Rasputin, set in Tsarist Russia. While performing before Tsar Nicholas II, the world’s greatest escape artist Harry Houdini becomes pitted against a formidable foe: Rasputin, the powerful and sinister mystic. Rasputin has made puppets of the Tsar and his wife Alexandra. To save the nation from ruin, a small band of patriots recruits Houdini to expose the imperial “spiritual advisor” as a charlatan. Houdini wages an epic battle of wits and wills with the charismatic fiend.
The American magician’s daring and ingenuity are put to the test in an adventure that takes him from the grand palaces of St. Petersburg to the frigid wastelands of Siberia. Along the way, Houdini makes allies and enemies of a host of real-life figures, including the mischievous imp Princess Anastasia, the colossal former boxer and royal bodyguard Jim Hercules and the Black Sisters, practitioners of the occult who scheme to use Rasputin for their own ends. Meticulous research brings these people and the Russia of the early 1900s to life.
Rasputin with his bevy of fanatical female followersl.
Rasputin is one of history’s most fascinating villains, at once a barely literate Siberian peasant and a Nietzschean superman, a Christ-figure to his followers and the Antichrist to his foes, a faith healer and a debaucher of enormous sexual appetites. He has at his disposal an army of goons, femme fatales, Gypsies, hypnotized assassins and fanatical members of the mysterious Khlysty cult. However, Rasputin’s greatest strength is his own extraordinary personal magnetism. Gathered around him is a circle of female devotees known as the Little Ladies. To help Houdini bring Rasputin down, the magician’s feisty wife Bess infiltrates this coven.
A still from the Houdini movie serial Haldane of the Secret Service.
As in Houdini’s movie serials, he escapes from one peril after another: buried alive under six feet of snow; trapped in a burning barn by Rasputin’s henchmen; chained to a rack in the medieval torture chamber of Ivan the Terrible. The pace steadily accelerates until Harry’s final confrontation with his nemesis on a frozen river. Houdini did in fact perform for the Tsar and Rasputin did arrive in the capital that same year. Many real events are incorporated into this work of fiction. If you enjoy stories packed with mystery and adventure, blending history with fantasy, check out this book!
Dracul, by J.D. Barker and Dacre Stoker, is an instant classic, the best vampire novel I’ve read since Interview with the Vampire. Its premise is that in his youth, Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, actually went toe-to-toe with the fiendish bloodsucker. The novel is genuinely scary, exciting and enriched by meticulous research that vividly recreates the 19th century Ireland of young Bram Stoker.
We first meet Bram as a chronically ill, bedridden lad in Dublin. He and his siblings are cared for by a peculiar young nanny named Ellen Crone, who keeps Bram alive by mysterious late-night ministrations. Bram and his spunky sister Matilda begin to investigate their enigmatic live-in servant, who is prone to dead-of-night outings and unexplained absences, but after a rash of brutal murders takes place nearby, Ellen abruptly vanishes. Years later, when Bram is 21, he, Matilda and their brother Thornley are forced to confront the evil that Ellen brought into their home and do battle with the undead.
BRAM STOKER, author of Dracula, suffered an unexplained illness as a boy.
Dacre Stoker, Bram’s great-grandnephew, has devoted more than a decade to researching his famous forebear. He travels the world giving presentations on the fascinating facts from he has gleaned from family documents, letters, journals and other sources. In Dacre’s research, he stumbled across an obscure Icelandic edition of Dracula that is quite different from the book we know. In its preface, Bram makes the astonishing claim that Dracula is not a work of fiction, but of fact. That intriguing suggestion fired up Dacre’s imagination. What if Dracula was intended as a warning to the world? Later, he and Barker got a rare glimpse at the original typescript of Dracula with markings and notes indicating that 102 pages had been cut from the opening of the manuscript. This material became fodder for their prequel.
Dacre Stoker with co-author J.D. Barker
I’ve had the pleasure of attending one of Dacre Stoker’s presentations on Bram, so it doesn’t surprise me that Dracul contains rich and accurate descriptions of the Stoker family members, their home and its surroundings. What I didn’t expect was an engaging mystery, which Bram and his siblings unravel, gradually learning Ellen’s true identity and motivations. One of the great delights of the book comes when we finally hear Ellen Crone’s back story, a tale within a tale that has the flavor of an Irish folktale. Plus, at the heart of the novel—and you’ll find this turns out to be literal—there is a grand love story that spans centuries. (And nope, it’s not Drac pining for a reincarnation of his lost love).
The book is faithful to Dracula, even borrowing the epistolary format much of the story told through the interwoven journals and letters of Bram and his siblings. A challenge of this approach is to make each character’s voice distinct. I’m not sure the authors entirely pull that off, but the writing is lovely, in the gothic style of the era in which the novel is set.
Whitby Abbey, on the Yorkshire coast, is a setting for a critical scene in Dracul.
The supernatural rules line up with vampire lore established in popular culture, yet the authors avoid the usual tropes. Startling visuals help the story feel fresh, for example, when Ellen descends deep into a bog under the moonlight or when a heart in a lab jar abruptly starts beating. Often, we’re baffled as to what is going on—in a good way. We have the same sense that we are dealing with the unfamiliar as did the earliest readers of Dracula. (“He’s scuttling down the castle wall like a spider? What the bloody hell?”) The authors also draw upon esoteric vampire lore that rarely shows up in movies. Most notably, the folkloric belief that suicides may return from the grave as vampires is put to good use.
Arminius Vambery is the “Van Helsing” of Dracul.
Bram and his siblings are aided by a seasoned supernatural sleuth, a worthy predecessor to Dr. Van Helsing yet a quite different type of man. The authors made the inspired choice of recruiting a real-life figure, Arminius Vámbéry, a Hungarian traveler, Turkologist and dabbler in the occult. A far cry from the priestly old Dr. Van Helsing, he is a member of the notorious Hellfire Club, a seeker of sensation and forbidden knowledge, not unlike Dorian Gray in TV’s Penny Dreadful. A man who has seen and done too many things.
World-traveler Vambery dons a Dervish outfit for one of his adventures.
Dacre Stoker’s previously co-authoredDracula: The Un-Dead, a sequel to Dracula. Though a highly entertaining novel, it was not as true to Bram’s creation as the current work. It presented Dracula as he likely saw himself: a romantic, misunderstood Byronic figure not unlike the dreamy hunk Frank Langella played in the 1979 movie.
In Dracul, this IS your great-granduncle’s Dracula. I believe that if Vlad the Impaler really were vampirized this is what he would be like: monstrously cruel and tyrannical. He is even more of a badass than in the original novel, inflicting a form of torture on one character that can only be described as epic. In Dracula, Bram only vaguely alludes to the historical 15th century Vlad Tepes, and we never learn exactly how Vlad went from warlord to vampire. In Dracul, the authors connect the dots in a plausible way.
Take-no-prisoners warlord Vlad the Impaler
Vampire fans will be thrilled by the many Easter eggs, such as scenes set at Whitby Abbey, a locale that featured prominently in Dracula. There is a cameo appearance by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, author of the classic vampire tale Carmilla. The climax of the novel takes place in a “city of the dead” in Germany populated entirely by vampires. Presumably this was inspired by the vampiric ghost town in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1932 German-language film Vampyr. (That movie, every bit as creepy as the silent film Nosferatu, was based on a story by Le Fanu, by the way.)
All in all, I give Dracul an enthusiastic five-stake rating.
THE final showdown in Dracul takes place in a city of the dead similar to the one in the 1932 film Vampyr.
I was delighted to recently learn that fellow horror writer Mark Allan Gunnells lives in Greer, South Carolina, a stone’s throw away from my home in Greenville. What’s more, I discovered, one of his novels is set at the very real Limestone College, 1.8 miles from my door! Intrigued, I immediately downloaded it onto my Kindle.
I wasn’t disappointed. The Quarry is a well-crafted, chilling tale, especially impressive because this was the author’s first novel.
The story centers around Lake Limestone, a former quarry and limestone mine near the campus that was flooded decades ago in the 1950s—deliberately, it turns out, by miners who encountered something horrible there. In the present day, the lake is tranquil and idyllic. That’s until a thrill-seeking jock named Dale gets the bright idea of scuba diving to the bottom in the dead of night. He awakens an ancient evil lurking deep beneath the waters and becomes possessed by it. As Dale undergoes a horrific transformation, his best friend and roommate Emilio tries to save him, while trying to unravel the secret of the Quarry.
Though thoroughly modern in its depiction of college life, the story is in the classic horror tradition. In fact, it reminds me of the 1950s flicks my sister and I used watch on TV every Saturday night as kids. Dale’s struggle against his curse is reminiscent of Teenage Werewolf and The Amazing Colossal Man, in which a decent chap becomes monstrous through no fault of his own.
In the 1957 film The Amazing Colossal Man, exposure to atomic radiation causes a man to grow 60 feet tall.
Gunnels has a sophisticated writing style, with lines such as “Like liquid darkness, the lake enveloped him.” When the increasingly sinister Dale laughs, the sound is “like rocks scraping the bottom of a muddy lake bed.” The author milks the inherent creepiness of certain campus locations for all they’re worth, such as the gloomy basement room that houses the laundry machines, dubbed the Dungeon by students. He often creates suspense by withholding information from the readers, leaving them to uneasily ponder what might be coming next. It’s quite far into the story before we find out the exact nature of the menace in the lake—and believe me, it’s far from what you’d expect. Emilio is also nursing a secret of his own.
An enjoyable read and I’m looking forward to checking out the sequel, The Cult of Ocasta.
Holy moly! A denim company is selling designer jeans that are all holes, no fabric — for a whopping $275!
The spanking new No Holes Barred Jeans have been flying off the shelves since they went on sale on Monday, with chic millennials shelling out big bucks for a chance to wiggle into the trendy designer duds.
“Uber-ripped denim is the hottest fashion trend of 2018, and this is the ultimate extension of the fad,” explains fashion guru and podcaster Carrie Jasperkind. “It’s a playful and sexy look that thumbs its nose at societal norms. To today’s young women, rips signify rebellion. They are both a political statement and a fashion statement.”
TREND-SETTER KIM KARDASHIAN
While deliberately ripped jeans date back to the Punk Rock era, the trend has resurfaced with a vengeance in recent years, popularized by major celebrities ranging from Jennifer Aniston to Kim Kardashian. The size of the holes has steadily grown, from slight gaps at the knees to cutouts that now expose large expanses of bare calves, thighs and buttocks.
The head-turning No Holes Barred Jeans, sometimes referred to as “invisible jeans,” have been on the market in France and Italy since February.
“They’re very popular in Paris,” confirmed restaurant owner Jean-Claude Archambeau. “You look through the window and you’ll see a gaggle of girls crossing the street in those pants. At first, they caused many minor car accidents, but people are getting used to them.”
While $275 may sound like a bundle to pay for jeans, there’s a reason why No Holes Barred Jeans cost more than most blue jeans that actually have material.
“The manufacturing process takes far longer for ripped jeans than ordinary jeans, and our technique is particularly labor intense,” explained George Nerkham, CEO of No Hold Barred Jeans. “Jeans are very sturdy by design. To create rips, most companies use machines to sandblast the denim or burn holes using laser devices. High end brands like ours use hand ripping exclusively, which is better for the environment.
“Each pair of No Holes Barred Jeans has been painstakingly ripped by hand by a skilled artisan who uses only sheers and a fabric picker. To individually rip and finish a pair, removing every bit of fabric, can take several hours.”
These “Extreme Cut-Out Jeans” from Carmar Denim, which sell for $168, are more costly to manufacture than non-ripped jeans.
While the pricey jeans may soon grace the derrieres of millions of American college students, models and Hollywood starlets, experts say they may be frowned upon in offices. And most high school students had better think twice before donning a pair, educators warn.
“This sounds like a violations of our dress code,” said a high school principal in Greenville, South Carolina. “We don’t allow holes above the knee.”
Copyright C. Michael Forsyth
If you enjoyed this satire, check out C. Michael Forsyth’s collection of way-out news parody, available on Kindle and in other eBook formats.
The ongoing battle between the NRA and high schoolers may soon be over. A new compromise has been proposed that would allow shooting inside school buildings, but only with a special license and during a specified season.
“I think that people of good conscience can come together on this issue,” says moderate Neil Gradeaker, founder of the #letsmeethalfway movement. “Young anti-gun activists want schools to be gun-free zones. The NRA wants many people in schools to have guns. The license idea splits it down the middle.”
According to the compromise measure, anyone could apply for a special permit to discharge a firearm within a school building, just as many citizens now obtain hunting licenses. While it’s expected that primarily teachers, coaches, school nurses, janitors and lunch ladies would get the licenses, parents, former students and other visitors who might hope to be the “good guy with the gun” would also be eligible.
“The only current students who would be eligible are seniors who have demonstrated responsibility, have no record of misbehavior and have maintained a GPA of 3.0 or higher,” Gradeaker reveals. “The season would begin in mid-October, when students have had time to settle in and run through early April.”
Gradeaker came up with the middle-of-the-road approach because he was tired of seeing his Facebook friends argue back and forth about gun control.
“It always came down to, ‘You’re stupid,’ ‘No, YOU’RE stupid!’” he explains.
Not everyone agrees that the compromise is a good idea.
“Having a ‘hunting season’ for school shooters is not the solution,” fumed one teenage gun-control activist.
Some Second Amendment crusaders are also taking potshots at the proposal.
“Gun owners shouldn’t need a special license to protect kids on school property,” one declared. “And who’s supposed to protect them before the season begins and after it ends?”
Beloved cartoon hunter Elmer Fudd
Copyright C. Michael Forsyth
If you enjoyed this news satire by fiction writer C. Michael Forsyth, check out his collection of incredible stories, available on Kindle and in other eBook formats.
In Meji, Book One, the epic adventure story of two brother begins.
By C. Michael Forsyth
Meji, by Milton J. Davis, is a powerful novel packed with human drama and pulse-pounding action that vividly recreates the glorious kingdoms of long-ago Africa. It is heartbreaking that the book, available at MVmedia, hasn’t received the attention it deserves, and that most African-Americans have never heard of it, because it’s on a par with many Pulitzer-prize-winning novels such as The Color Purple.
The saga begins at a moment of high drama when the Great Wife of the king of the Sesu people struggles to give birth. Her twin sons survive, but in their society, twins are considered an abominations — and must die. From the first scene in which the boys’ father bargains for their lives with the chief shaman, the drama steadily intensifies, the conflicts mount, the stakes keep rising, page after page and chapter after chapter. Separated soon after birth, the “cursed” twins Ndoro and Obaseki are raised in radically different civilizations and bound for very different destinies, one to become a legendary warrior, the other a powerful sorcerer.
Interwoven with this main story line are subplots involving characters from several kingdoms with distinct cultures: mighty warriors, noble kings, medicine priests, queens who, through craftiness and seduction, are the powers behind the throne. Like Game of Thrones, the point of view shifts between characters from chapter to chapter. As in that popular series, court intrigue figures prominently as dynasties wrestle for dominance. There’s as much backstabbing as there are exciting battles.
Author Milton J. Davis
The story takes place on the continent of “Uhuru” and the kingdoms are fictitious. But the world is clearly the product of years of research into every aspect of African culture in late medieval times — the political systems, the religious beliefs, the trade, the weapons, the clothing. The author’s sure-footed descriptions of these things always ring true. Yet one never feels overwhelmed by detail. There isn’t a wasted word or wasted scene, no fat, just all lean muscle. The pace is fast, often exhilarating.
In one riveting sequence, young Nboro accompanies the veteran warrior Shange on a cattle raid. As I read, it struck me that this was as realistic, well-told and moving as the soldiers’ trek in Norman Mailer’s classic war novel The Naked and the Dead. But unlike Mailer, who served in World War II, Davis never experienced a cattle raid, nor could he have dug up all the needed details in any book. The scenes are written with the authority of someone who has immersed himself so thoroughly in research that he can extrapolate from it to build an entirely believable world.
One critical ingredient of great fiction is that the heroes are flawed and the antagonists are fully realized humans, not flat stereotypical villains. That’s the case there. One key character betrays his king and family, but in the chapter that leads up to that fateful decision, sympathy is built up for the character and we fully understand his actions.
Davis’s writing style lives up to his storytelling and the dialogue is highly memorable. Each character has a distinct voice.
“I am no demon,” Ndoro tells Shange at one point. To which the warrior responds, “That is the thing about demons. A Sesu does not know if he has one inside him. I think all men do. It is what makes us brave and gives us strength.”
I was delighted to hear that the book will be soon be-released in a single volume with Meji, Book Two in a single volume. Hopefully this time at bat, the book will get the attention it merits.
Feisty adult movie actress Stormy Daniels, President Trump’s alleged gal pal, has won the hearts of millions of Americans. The overnight sensation is so popular, some voters now believe our hot-to-trot commander in chief should kick his wife Melania to the curb—and make the super-sexy porn queen his next First Lady!
“Stormy is not only younger and hotter than Melania, she’s much wittier and more personable–and unlike Melania, she was born right here in America,” enthused one ardent member of team Stormy. “She’s a savvy businesswoman who came from nothing and made it to the top, which is what this country is all about. She would make an unconventional and fascinating First Lady.”
This wouldn’t be the first time President Trump has traded in a spouse for a newer model. He cheated on first wife Ivana Trump and divorced her in 1992 to marry mistress Marla Maples, then cheated on Marla, dumped her in 1999, and married model girlfriend Melania.
Wife No. 1 Ivana Trump
Wife No. 2 Marla Maples
“If history is any guide, Mr. Trump is due for an upgrade,” points out a Capitol Hill insider. “Melania is 47 and showing wear and tear. Stormy is 38. She also bears as a closer resemblance to his daughter Ivanka as the President himself noted, which is a real plus in his book.”
Most Americans had never heard of the bosomy bombshell until the story surfaced that she and the Prez had a steamy affair. While furious fans of the flamboyant billionaire have raked her over the coals for sullying their leader’s reputation, observers give her high marks for wit in the face of adversity. When one Trump supporter blasted her as a “scank” on Twitter, she calmly tweeted back, “The correct spelling is skank.”
Stormy has won numerous prestigious awards in her industry, including Best New Starlet, Best Breasts and Best Performance in a Safe Sex Scene. The actress was inducted into the AVN Hall of Fame in 2014. What’s more, her brains match her beauty. She’s also an award-winning screenwriter and director. While it may be hard to imagine the bottom-baring blonde rubbing shoulders with Washington big wigs, she’s no stranger to the political scene. Stormy launched a campaign against Republican Senator David Vitter in Louisiana in 2010.
If Trump marries Stormy, she would be the sexiest First Lady in U.S. history.
However, defenders of Melania insist it’s too soon to count her out. They note that the Slovenian immigrant was given special permission to enter the United States because of an unspecified “special talent.”
“That suggests that she’s sort of a genius in one area,” says a voter who wants Melania to hang onto the First Lady job. “And remember, Stormy is no spring chicken either. Porn sites now describe her as a MILF.”
What do you think? Do you belong to team Melania or team Stormy?
If you enjoyed this political satire by C. Michael Forsyth, check out his books here.
C. Michael Forsyth is the author of "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Harry Houdini in The Adventure of the Spook House,""The Blood of Titans," "Hour of the Beast" and "The Identity Thief." He is a Yale graduate and former senior writer for The Weekly World News