Review – Beyond Bizarre – Frightening Facts and Blood-Curdling True Tales

Beyond Bizarre –
Frightening Facts and Blood Curdling True Tales

Author: Varla Ventura
Weiser Books
2010
ISBN #978-1578634644

“History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”
James Joyce

“Beyond Bizarre – Frightening Facts and Blood Curdling True Tales” gifts us with some very strange facts and stories! It is the kind of book that you can pick up, peruse for a few minutes, and put back down, satisfied that you have had a good time, and that you might have even learned something!

The book is divided into thirteen chapters, covering such things as Haunted Hollywood, On the Road: Tales From Haunted Highways and Byways, Murder, She Wrote, Bag of Tricks, and Naturally Strange.

We read about sea creatures (such as the Mighty Kraken), and pick up such gems as pirates wearing gold hoop earrings not as a fashion statement, but so that they could afford to be buried, and that that they imbibed alcohol in copious quantities while at sea because the water was not drinkable.

We also read about the Comisky curse – a curse that followed the then owner of the Red Sox, and was thought to have begun in 1910 with the opening of Comisky Park. Then there was Banjo the Clown that was allegedly hired by a British socialite to kill her stepson and her husband’s ex-wife. He thought better of the offer, though, and reported it to the police.

West Virginia has the world’s only known haunted amusement park (it is on private land, and accessible only by appointment. Serial killer John Wayne Gacy was dubbed the “Killer Clown” because he worked as an entertainer at children’s parties. All of the “Little Rascals” cast seem to have come to a bad end!

Heidi Fleiss edged into her career as a madam when she went to work for Los Angeles’s Madame Alex to pay off a gambling debt. Then there are the celebrity superstitions, such as rocker Meat Loaf traveling with two stuffed bears, Tiger Woods believing in the power of red, and Shania Twain appearing at venues with her own bomb sniffing dog.

There is a lot more to go in this book! Scary bits, interesting bits, pieces of history, interesting bits for cocktail conversation, small tokens that can be expanded on and added to a story (writers will understand what I am talking about here!).

One last thought – pirates used nicknames so that government officials couldn’t prosecute their relatives on land!

© July 2012 Bonnie Cehovet

Review – The Book of the Bizarre – Freaky Facts and Strange Stories

The Book of the Bizarre
Freaky Facts & Strange Stories

Author: Varla Ventura
Weiser Books
2008
ISBN #978-1-97863-437-8

The inside cover states that this book was designed for the depraved, outlandish enough for the eccentric, and freaky enough for even the hardest trivia nut. I might amend that to add writers who are looking for tid bits to add some zest to their work, someone setting up a trivia party (you don’t have to be a trivia nut to set up a trivia party), or someone who is looking for a book they can read for five or ten minutes, put down, and come back to at a later date.

By nature, this book is about the bizarre (otherwise why advertise and promote it as such). It is also well written, interesting (all 303 pages), and broken down into thirteen categories so that finding what you are looking for is relatively easy. The categories include History’s Mysteries, Coincidence Or Synchronicity, Dia De Los Muertos, Passing Strange, The Vapors, and The Dark Side of the Moon. The bibliography at the back give both book sources and online sources, so if you want to do some tracking down on your own – you are welcome to do so!

From the back cover, we find out that Rod Stewart (yes, THAT Rod Stewart!) was a grave digger at one time, that the Bible is the number one book stolen in the U.S. (I don’t even know if Bibles are still pro forma for hotels any more – but I would guess that is where a lot of the theft occurred.) Ulysses S. Grant’s wife’s psychic premonition saved Grant from the bullet of John Wilkes Booth.

Each freaky fact is placed into a paragraph that reads like a short story. Most of the material will be easily recognized. The stories that I was really attracted to included The Magical Skull of Doom, Stonehenge, the Tower of London, a checklist for signs that your house may be haunted, Animal Apparitions, The Flying Dutchman, the Palace of Versailles, the holy Grail, A Memphis Belle, Origins of the Ouija, Fibonacci Flowers, Diamond Jim Brady, Isadora Duncan, The Ghost Ship, British Witches Stop Hitler’s Army, Lady Godiva’s Ride, the Cumaean Sybil, the Amy Fisher Story, Florida’s Female Serial Killer, Black Widow’s, Ouija Magic, Night of Terror, Premature Burial, and Jung and His Patient.

Another really cool sound bit was on what manner of death creates a ghost. The list included murder, suicide, accidents, broken hearts, greed, and lack of proper burial (or desecration of the burial site).

Not a book for everyone, but a definite find for those that are interested in freaky facts and strange stories!

© July 2012 Bonnie Cehovet

Vampyre – A Tale

The Vampyre –

A Tale

Author: John William Polidori, Varla Ventura

From the Magical Creatures Series

Weiser Books

2011

eISBN #978-1-61940-001-6

Every day brings me something new about the digital publishing world! I was totally surprised when I was asked by Lisa Trudeau from Weiser Books if I would like to review one of their digital books. Actually, she asked me if I wanted to review two digital books – one from each of the new paranormal digital book collections that Weiser Books is developing – “Magical Creatures” and “Paranormal Parlor”. I found this to be very exciting, and so I said yes. In the process I found out that there is a special Adobe reader (free download) for digital books. How far digital publishing has come, and how far I have come! When I first started reviewing e-books, I found it difficult going. I did develop a process for doing digital reviews, and am feeling much more comfortable with it.

“The Vampyre – A Tale” was originally published by John William Polidori in London in 1819 (Sherwood, Neely and Jones). Note that this book was published some seventy years before Bram Stoker’s Dracula!

The cover for this edition shows a sepia print of an aristocratic gentleman holding a rose up to the side of his face. Very spooky from the get go! The presentation here is not just the story – several of Polidori’s short writings are included. There is a short note by Polidori referencing a very well known gathering at a lake house outside of Geneva in the summer of 1816, with guests that included Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelly, Mary Wollstonecraft (Shelly), her sister, and Polidori. Lord Byron handed out pen and paper, with instructions to write ghost stories. The groundwork was laid here for some incredible writing, including Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein, A Modern Prometheus”, Percy Shelly’s “Fragments Of A Ghost Story”, and Byron’s “Fragment Of A Novel”, which became the basis for “Vampyre – A Tale”.

A note from Varla Ventura cautions the reader that this is a gruesome, fearsome tale. It is a creeping of shadows from Polidori’s mind to that of the reader … forevermore.

“Extract Of A Letter From Geneva” gives the reader a great deal of background information about the area surrounding Geneva, the houses, who lived in them, and the emergence of women as a force in the writing world. He also speaks of how Lord Byron interacted with the people around him – which was really very strangely.

In the Introduction, the foundation is put down for the superstition upon which this work is based. It was considered to be It was relatively common in the east, especially amongst Arabians. It came intot he Greek mythos after the advent of Christianity, and took its present form after the division of the Latin and Greek churches. There is a very interesting account from the London Journal in March of 1732 of a case of vampyrism in Madregya, Hungary.

The story of the vampyre thus begins, with the description of a nobleman who stood apart from others. His face was a “deadly hue”, which caused him to be invited to all of the parties being given, simply because he was different. Also because of his “winning tongue”.

Enter a young orphan gentleman (with one sister) by the name of Aubrey. He was handsome, wealthy, and very much a romantic. Aubrey met the gentleman of the “deadly hue” (Lord Ruthven), and proceeded to turn his story into a romantic vision. Upon finding out that Lord Ruthven’s affairs were “embarrassed”, and that he was about to travel. Aubrey convinced his guardians that it was time for him to do “the tour”, Upon learning of this, Lord Ruthven asked Aubrey to join him,which he did.

Aubrey noted several things about Lord Ruthven, not the least of which was that he gave freely to the idle and the vagabond, but not to those who were virtuous, but in reduced circumstances. However, it was soon seen that the money given had a curse on it – those who received it came to a bad end. Lord Ruthven also sought out vice in all forms, with the thought of joining in. He was cruel by nature, and had a poor influence on those he became involved with.

In Rome, Aubrey received letters from both his sister and his guardians. His sister was gracious, his guardians were insisting that he immediately leave the company of Lord Ruthven, due to his lack of character. Circumstances surrounding Lord Ruthven’s attentions towards the daughter of his hosgtess cause Aubrey to do just that.

Aubrey found his way to Greece, where he met a young girl who fascinated him, and told him tales of vampyres. Out in a storm, he was faced with such an energy. He was rescued, but the young Greek girl died. Aubrey then fell into a fever,cursing Lord Ruthven. To his astonishment, when he came out of the fever, Lord Ruthven was in the same house, and had taken care of him during his illness.

Aubrey proposed to Lord Ruthven that they travel tot he parts of Greece that neither had seen. On their travels, Lord Ruthven is killed by bandits. Aubrey then returns to England, to his ancestral home, to live with his sister. It was also time for his sister to be presented to society. Who should appear at his sisters coming our but Lord Ruthven! Aubrey was bound not to tell the story of Lord Ruthven’s death, so what was he to do!

Aubrey took his sister home, and shut himself up. His condition deteriorated rapidly, to where he was walking the streets like a beggar. After a time, he realized that he had left his friends in the company of Lord Ruthven, and he returned to society. Aubrey’s guardians placed aphysician in the house with him to take care of him, as his mental state was not good. After a year, his mind begins to get better. He learns that his sister is to marry the Earl of Marsden. Upon talking to his sister, he sees a locket at this sisters throat. Opening it, he finds the image of Lord Ruthven – the man she is going to marry. Aubrey’s sister does marry Lord Ruthven, and Aubrey dies. Having warned his guardians about Lord Ruthven being a vampyre, the hasten to save his sister, but are too late.

This is a nicely pieced together story about not just the loss of innocence, but the deliberate destruction of it. Lord Ruthven affects everyone he comes into contact with in a negative manner, including the romantic Aubrey. The writing perhaps reflects its time – a great flow of words, a distancing from the reader, and a lack of attention to specific details. However, I did enjoy the presentation, and the story itself. It was perhaps too short, but it was interesting.

The character of Lord Ruthven – cold, yet aristocratic – is the stuff that stories are made of! He is a monster, but he is also smart and sophisticated. The vampyre mythos seems to take second place to the evil within, to the lack of moral anything. Great reading! I would not mind attending one of these evenings at the lake house!

© October 2011 Bonnie Cehovet