Note: The summary below is for less than the first hundred pages of a 300-page book. I don’t consider them spoilers, but if you’re a stickler, don’t read beyond this.
There’s quite a lot to like about this book. The author, Stuart Jaffe, was unknown to me before I attended a small science fiction/fantasy con in Chattanooga, TN, in June of 2013. My friends and I met the author, spent some time with him, liked him, and I ended up buying two of his books because they sounded interesting. This is the first I have read. Note: The other author, Cameron Francis, is a magician, and all of the card “tricks” in the book are his. Jaffe and Cameron do a good job of showing card tricks without the use of cards. :)
The main character, Duncan Rose, starts out not very likable. He learned all about magic — especially card-handling techniques — from his great-grandfather, Pappy. But instead of using his skills to make an honest living as a stage magician, he cheats at cards. This backfires on him one night, and his partner in crime, Pancake, who also knows a little about cheating at cards, cheats the wrong people and nothing Duncan does to try to defuse the situation helps. Minor spoiler: Pancake ends up losing his hand to the Russian mob, and the men are told they have to come up with $20,000 before morning or worse things are going to befall them. [White-on-white text; highlight to read spoiler.]
Desperate, Duncan turns to his estranged family and gets no help. They’re all tired of his dishonest lifestyle. As a last-ditch effort, he goes to the one person he can trust: Pappy.
Who turns him down.
In despair, Duncan decides that he is going to have to do the unthinkable: steal from Pappy. Pappy has kept a mysterious, elaborately decorated door closed in his apartment for years, warning Duncan again and again never to open it. But suddenly, whatever might be behind that door sounds like the solution to Duncan’s problems. He opens the door and steps through.
And winds up outside a house in a small city in Pennsylvania. In 1934. He’s wearing different clothes and finds less than five dollars in his pockets. He tries to convince himself it’s all an elaborate illusion set up by Pappy, but quickly realizes that it’s real. For whatever reason, the door is magic — the real thing — and he really is in 1934. His goal: to get back to 2013 and fix things.
He immediately falls back on his one real skill and finds a card game he can cheat at. He discovers he’s not the only one pulling the same scam. He and the other magician, Vincent, team up and cheat some mobsters out of $100, which is a large sum of money in 1934.
Unfortunately, their boss figures it out and comes for Duncan. And makes him a deal: Duncan is to get himself into the local magic club (of which Vincent is the head honcho) and find out their secrets and relay everything he discovers to the mob boss “or else.”
He soon discovers that everyone is after the same thing: a mysterious Vanishing Door act performed by a magician near the turn of the century. An act during which several people actually disappeared. Lucy has drawn a picture of the door, and it looks strangely familiar: a lot like the door in Pappy’s apartment.
Vincent wants the door because he wants the secret of the trick. Duncan wants it because he believes it to be his ticket home to 2013. The mob boss wants it for the power he believes it will give him.
To complicate things, Duncan finds himself head over heels in love with Vincent’s sister, Lucy, and is torn between leaving her in 1934 or bringing her with him back to 2013.
I won’t give away the ending. Suffice it to say that the resolution was refreshing to me. Time travel stories generally have a number of problems, but Jaffe manages to thread that particular needle nicely, and finds a solution that didn’t make me groan and roll my eyes.
The tension is kept high as Duncan must satisfy the mob boss while simultaneously gain the trust of Vincent and the other magicians in the magic club and not betray his growing love for Lucy, and hers for him. The pacing is fast, and you will be kept turning the pages not only to find out how — or whether — Duncan manages to find a solution to all of his problems, but how the love story between Lucy and Duncan turns out.
I enjoyed watching Duncan grow from a likable character to one that finds true love and tries to do the right thing.
The characters are believable, the time travel is nicely handled (although never explained, which I’m fine with), and the resolution is satisfying. Although I did (eventually) see the end coming, it has a certain elegance that I wasn’t expecting from the trope used. (Is that mysterious enough?)
I would recommend the book to those who enjoy magic, time travel, “period pieces,” mysteries, and love stories. It has aspects of all of them, and yet isn’t purely any of them.
A couple of weeks ago, I was reading a book by Holly Lisle on my Kindle. She was talking about how she would occasionally have to delete many, many words from her novels because she went down a wrong path while writing. As much as 60,000 words, I believe she said.
Wow. That’s a lot of words to scrap.
Welcome to my psyche, ladies and gentlemen! Don’t mind the occasional flashes or thunderous explosions. It’s not a thunderstorm — those are ideas going off. And those cobwebs over in that corner . . . well, I wouldn’t get too close to that. Just in case.
Rereading and abandoning are opposite ends of the spectrum. A book you reread — especially multiple times — is one that is much like comfort food. Perhaps it reminds you of a state of mind you were in when you first read it, or helps escape from a mood you’re currently in because it did in the past. For whatever reason, there are books we come back to again and again.
I have probably reread The Chronicles of Narnia more than any other books. I first read them at age 13, pretty much all in one weekend. I would — to this day — like to go to Narnia. I would leave right now. Anyone got a magic wardrobe? They are my comfort books. Simple characters in a simple world with simple morality. There is nothing too high concept or ambiguous; the fact that most of the books take place during World War II is glossed over. There is right (Aslan, Narnia) and there is wrong (The White Witch, Tashban, pretty much everywhere else). It’s a nice vacation from the real world. (And that’s all I read it for. I purposefully don’t examine it any closer than that.)
The other book I’ve reread the most after Narnia is an omnibus version of F. M. Busby’s The Demu Trilogy. These are just wonderful reads. I find something different each time I read them. Some new insight into a character, some different angle from which to observe human behavior. It distresses me that the books are out of print. I hope they are reprinted someday. My copy is getting a bit worn. I love how, in the books, humanity is portrayed not as a blight on the galaxy or as some Star Trekian ‘noble savages’ who are, alone among all the races in the galaxy, possessed of that oh-so-indomitable human spirit which . . . I have to stop typing now or I’m going to vomit. Anyway, Busby threads a path between the two, and in the end reveals the true standing of man — and other races — in the nature of things, galactically speaking. If you can find a copy and you like hard science fiction, get it.
But what about the other end of the spectrum? When, exactly, does one abandon a book? Why? What are the criteria for giving up?
There was a time when giving up on a book was simply not an option. Once I had a book, once I started to read it, I had to finish it. I still think that way to a large extent, although I’m getting better.
Here are some I’ve abandoned, and why. Most of them with every intent to pick it back up and finish or reread it. Someday.
The Watchmen by Alan Moore (et al). Some of you are thinking right now, “Oh my ever-loving God, what is wrong with this idiot?” Because this is, like, one of the most beloved graphic novels in ever. It supposedly changed the way graphic novels are written. It revolutionized . . . whatever. I have read this up to the same, exact point four times, and then put the book down . . . and it somehow remains closed. That point is where the comic format is abandoned and I come to the first page of prose in tiny letters that fill the entire page like some manifesto. I get about two sentences into that, my eyes glaze, my mind wanders, and I have thoughts like, “You know, the cat needs waxing. I should do that.” I have every intention of finishing it. Everyone I know who has read it looks at me like I’ve grown a second head (I checked; I have not) when I admit that I can’t get through it.
Infected by Scott Sigler. I’ve enjoyed every other book by Scott that I’ve read or heard (he podcasts them). He’s a good writer, and I thoroughly enjoy his work. And, in fact, I thoroughly enjoy this one. But it’s so unbelievably gross and horrific from a physical standpoint (what the character does to himself to escape infection) that I can only read a few pages at a time before disgust makes me have to stop. I stopped reading altogether when I saw what was coming down the line involving the main character’s testicles, and I just can’t bear to even think about what he’s going to do. Gah! Just typing that hurt. Anyway . . . not sure if I’ll ever finish it. Much less the sequel, which I also own.
A Secret Atlas by Michael A. Stackpole. With all due respect to Mike, whose other books that I’ve read I have loved, this one just bored me to tears. I think I got about 50 pages in. None of the characters resonated with me. Their mission (to map the world) didn’t resonate. I still fully intend to read it, because Mike uses it as an example for his writing podcast, but it’ll be forced. Unless I’m in a different state of mind when I re-read it, of course.
Moonseed by Stephen Baxter. I just discovered that this is, in fact, book 3 of a trilogy. No wonder I couldn’t get into it. At any rate, I stopped because the situation looked so bleak for the characters and for Earth that I couldn’t see any way out for them, and . . . just never picked it back up after the depressing spiral into awful that it was taking at the time I stopped. Perhaps if I read books 1 and 2 . . .
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. I know, I know. I know this book won All The Awards™. I know it’s awesome and other adjectives of a superlative nature. But . . . I just couldn’t get into it. I found no character I liked. I didn’t buy into the culture. I just didn’t like it. Maybe it was because I was reading it for a book club and not for myself, but for whatever reason, it just didn’t resonate. I hope to reread it some day and see what everyone else found so engaging.
There are several more books on my list. And by ‘my list,’ I really do mean that there is a list. I have a shelf on Goodreads called ‘currently reading but paused’ to store those books. And there are others that are not on that list because I haven’t put them on Goodreads, yet. Dozens. And I intend to finish each and every one of them, if it takes me twenty years.1
What books do you like to reread? Why? What books have you given up on? Why?
- It did actually take me twenty years — or more! — to finish Fire Time by Poul Anderson. I just kept losing interest because it was, for the most part, political, and that bores me to tears. But it was a book, I bought it, and therefore I had to read it.
This book was just freakin’ weird. That is the only word that suffices. Gross, horrific, and disgusting in about equal measure, it was also funny as hell and kept me glued to the pages from start to end. (It was kind of uncomfortable, actually.)
I’m not even sure how to review this thing without spoiling it. There’s this guy named David Wong, and his friend John. They . . . hunt monsters. Like this one monster that’s made of meat. Not in the way that you or I are made of meat, but in a more literal way. Like, it’s a monster . . . made of meat. Like, meat from a freezer, all held together in a disgusting way by a supernatural power of evil.
Which can be vanquished, apparently, by really loud, heavy metal music played on a boom box. Or mint candies with bible verses printed on them.
And there’s a dog named Molly who both is and isn’t a dog. Who can sometimes levitate and talk. Of course, all she says is something about Korrok.
Korrok . . . that would be the big, supernatural evil. Kind of. It’s complicated.
I’m making kind of a mess of this, aren’t I?
Um. There’s also a girl. More than one, actually. Jennifer Lopez and Amy. No, not that Jennifer Lopez. The less said about her, the better.
Amy, though . . . she’s the kind of girl who disappears from inside a locked room for several hours every night, to be replaced by a bag of what looks like fat. And a giant, levitating jelly-fish. Of evil. Only she doesn’t remember where she went.
Look, just read it. Seriously. I . . . just read it.
One of my goals for 2013 is to read more short fiction. This collection definitely fit the bill. I love short fiction, and I love well-done humor. This anthology is nicely balanced. The humor ranges from puns with elaborate set-ups that are a great deal of fun to more subtle humor that doesn’t make you laugh out loud, but may make you chuckle. Evilly, even.
I think there’s definitely something in this collection for everyone, no matter what your sense of humor. The comics are a nice addition I wasn’t expecting, although my one complaint is that they’re awfully hard to read on the Kindle edition. Luckily, I have a print edition, as well, so I can see them there.
I was just looking at the table of contents to see if I could pick a favorite. Harder than I thought.
“El and Al vs. Himmler’s Horrendous Horde from Hell” by Mike Resnick is definitely in the top few. Resnick is one of the masters of short fiction, and this story kept me giggling throughout. Just imagine Albert Einstein as a wizard fighting Himmler . . . and you still don’t really come close. You need to read it.
I also really enjoyed “The Alien Invasion As Seen In The Twitter Stream of @dweebless” by Jake Kerr. If you’re on Twitter, you’ll doubly appreciate the humor.
“The Velveteen Golem” by David Sklar also satisfied by providing an entirely hilarious story that surprised me at the end with a deplorable (meaning really good, in this case) word pun that I should have seen coming but didn’t.
I think of all of them, Jody Lynn Nye’s “The Worm’s Eye View” and Ferrett Steinmetz’s “One-Hand Tantra” were my favorites. Nye’s story is a good hard sci-fi story that manages to weave humor into it in a way that doesn’t detract from the science fiction. Kudos to her for that.
Steinmetz’s story…ah, what I can say about this that won’t get me banned from Goodreads? :) “Hilarious!” That works. I mean, who knew masturbation could be a magical power?
You’ll definitely find something here to tickle your funny bone.
On the Quillian Chronicles, each time we present a story, we follow it up with an interview with the author. My interview is now live, if you have any desire to hear it. :)
I loathe the sound of my own voice. But I think everyone does. So . . . there you have it. Go. Listen. Download. Share. But only after you share the story as well. :)
Well, there were a few problems and episode 12 with my story was delayed a while, but it’s up, today. I would really appreciate it if you’d follow this link right HERE and download and listen to my story. :)
It’s just under 43 minutes long, including the intro and outro. John Lambert did a great job making my raw audio file sound good, and I couldn’t be more delighted with the music he chose (Skye Cuillin by Kevin MacLeod) for the episode.
I misread a pronoun at one point and referred to my dragon as “she,” but hopefully you can overlook that. :)
Squee! Go download! And listen! And share! :)
I am taking a needed break from Facebook, right now. I was spending time on there I should have been using for writing. I think I might go back after the election season is over. I’m . . . so very, very done with it.
And I have been writing. I re-visited my “B Is for Bard” story from last NaNoWriMo and came up with an Actual Ending™, toward which I am now writing. I’m trying to end my Fairy Tale Private Eye story. I’m idea-wrangling several other stories, as well as my newly redesignated first novel in the PCIU Case Files series. (It was formerly known as the second novel, but the previous first one needed to be third, so two is now one and three is two.1)
I’ve also been reading and making progress in a couple of books I’d been neglecting.
And I’ve been listening to podcasts. I have a crap-ton of them on my iPod, including a new-to-me writing-oriented one called The Creative Penn, hosted by Joanna Penn. I mentioned it before (here). Since then, I’ve heard a few more, and it’s definitely a keeper.
Now, “James Chartrand” is a pseudonym. “James” is actually a woman. He “came out of the closet,” as it were, in December of 2009. After about three years of being successful and presenting a male persona to the Internet.
Go read that blog post that explains why Chartrand chose that pseudonym, then come back here. It’s a very enlightening read.
There are a few things that I just don’t get. Why does it matter whether someone is male or female when it comes to writing? Chartrand said that she would often submit the same ideas as her real name and as James, and they’d be accepted and even praised as James, but not as her real name.2
How is this still happening? Seriously, how is this still allowed to happen? Maybe I’m just naïve, but I thought things were better than this. I thought the writing was what mattered, not whether the author has breasts or a penis. No wonder so many female authors use just their initials! (J. F. Penn (Joanna Penn, herself), J. K. Rowling, C. J. Cherryh, V. C. Andrews, P. D. James, A. C. Crispin, A. J. Orde, E. E. Horlak, B. J. Oliphant (the last three are all Sherri S. Tepper), D. C. Fontana, J. D. Robb, K. A. Applegate, C. S. Friedman, S. E. Hinton . . . the list goes ever on.)
But aside from that, one other thing surprises me a lot about this particular “outing.” After Chartrand was revealed to be female, her male fans/clients/readers took it pretty much in stride. But the women . . .
She said in the interview that by far the worst reactions came from women. For instance, this blog post by Amanda Hess. Not to say she’s/they’re not somewhat justified, if what Hess says in her blog is accurate. She does make it sound like Chartrand went too far in her pursuit of coming across as masculine, going as far as to do to other women what had been done to her, and that is inexcusable.
My point is that it shouldn’t matter. Honestly, I find myself looking for male characters in science fiction and fantasy because I can identify with them more, but I don’t let that stop me from enjoying female main characters. In the urban fantasy subgenre, it’s mostly female main characters, and I’m fine with that.
Men writing female main characters or women writing male main characters . . . it’s all part of what we learn to do as writers: Writing the Other.3 If we didn’t learn to do that, all our characters would be just like ourselves. I would only have middle-aged, upper-middle-class white male characters with no hair, a cat, and a southern accent. Jim Butcher would never be able to carry off Murphy, Molly, Mab, the Leanansidhe, or Susan, all of whom are wonderful characters. J. K. Rowling’s main character was not only male, he was substantially younger than she. But Harry rang true to me, as did Hermione, Ron, Draco, Dumbledore, Hagrid, Molly, Tonks, and the other 300 characters she brought to life.
Just because she has ovaries doesn’t make her unable to write about a male character. And just because Butcher has testicles doesn’t make his female characters any less believable.
It’s what writers do.
The funny part of all this is . . . I have considered using G. D. Henderson as a “pen name” just for that ambiguity. Precisely because the lion’s share of urban fantasy authors are female, and to fit into the genre, it might actually be best (Jim Butcher, Stefan Petrucha, D. B. Jackson (a pseudonym for David B. Coe), James R. Tuck, and Simon R. Greene (among others) notwithstanding) for me to be ambiguously gendered.
And that’s just . . . weird.
I guess there’s a lot more work left to go before people stop injecting prejudice into everything. If you don’t read a book or blog because of the gender — or race, religion, sexual orientation, or anything else — of the author, you’re missing out on some great writing.
- Third base!
- I had a boss back when I worked at a steel mill in Alabama. This particular boss started out having morning meetings where he would talk to all four of his department of computer programmers equally: me, another man, and two women. Then slowly, over a few weeks/months, he scooted his chair more and more into the room until he was sitting in front of the two women, talking only to me and the other man. Rather than calling him on it, we decided to ram it down his throat. “Sue” (not her real name) made a suggestion, one morning (from behind him), and he hated it. Shot it down as no good and unworkable. Later, “Joe” (not his real name, either) suggested exactly the same thing . . . and our boss loved the suggestion. Couldn’t praise it enough. Then Sue called him on it. He turned red, left the room, and didn’t say a word to any of us about it.
- Google that phrase. Seriously.
When I was accepted to Viable Paradise, one of the many pieces of information available to us was a list of suggested reading recommended by the instructors. Unsurprisingly, the instructors’ own works featured prominently on this list.1 Now, I knew who all of them are, but I had only ever read anything by Elizabeth Bear and Steven Gould before.
I quickly bought one of each instructors’ works for my Kindle. Or two in a couple of cases. I tried to pick first books in series or standalone novels when possible. I mean, I don’t know about you, but if I walked into, for instance, Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indy shoots the sword master with his gun, in no way could I make sense of the movie. I feel the same way about book series. Don’t ask me to start reading at book 5 and try to make sense of what’s going on. I need context.
You probably already know what happened based on the title of this post. There isn’t one dud in the lot. I have thoroughly enjoyed every single thing I’ve read, including the book of essays. Most of these are books I wouldn’t have given a second look at in the book store. Not because the cover art isn’t eye-catching or the authors not well-known enough or the blurb ineffective.
Because I simply have so many books on my to-read shelf that it groans audibly when I come into my library (read: my third guest bedroom) with new, unread books. I have three seven-foot sets of book shelves on one side of the room, piled floor to ceiling with books. The middle shelves of all three are loaded with the books on my "to-read" list. Those are also stuffed. Across the room, I have another tall shelf also stuffed with books (mostly hardback), many of them also unread. In my bedroom is another, small (only three feet tall) metal shelf stacked high with all unread books. In the office where I sit typing this post is another shelf, this one stacked with unread professional books (books on programming and the like; not all that fun to read).
And then there’s Kindle. I could write a whole post on that subject by itself.
With all those unread books calling out to me, I find it hard to convince myself to pick up books by unknown (to me) authors. But in this case, I was motivated by something else.
And now, I have to continue reading these new(-to-me) series, as well, because I have to know what happens.
Yep. I’m gonna need a bigger shelf. Or two. Or maybe three . . .
- This is not a conceit. If we’re going to receive instruction on how to make our own writing better from a group of professional writers and editors, it makes sense to have sampled their work so we know if we even like that instructor’s style. Maybe someone finds out that they can’t stand an instructor’s style, and they know to weigh what that instructor says differently than the advice of someone whose style they do like.
Hey, everybody. Well, mostly to the everybodies who are in Atlanta, GA, and will be over the weekend after the 4th of July. That would be the 7th and 8th. Specifically, Saturday the 7th of July.
You see, that’s when Karin Slaughter, the author pictured to the right (or above, depending on how this gets formatted), will be kicking off her signing tour for her latest release, Criminal.
Now, I don’t make it a secret that I love science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels. In fact, those are the genres I choose to write because those are the genres I cut my reading teeth on, and what I primarily like to read.
But I also read thrillers, historical novels, non-fiction . . . I just don’t talk about it a lot. I’m about to change that.
I am a member of a writers group — we call ourselves the Forum Writing Group — and have been for just a smidge over four years. The group has existed for very close to ten years, and we’ve always met in the Barnes & Noble at the Forum (hence our name) in Norcross, GA.
For seven of those years1 (as well as our fearless leader can recall), Karin Slaughter has been kicking off her tours with this Barnes & Noble. She’s local to Atlanta, and she could pick just about any store in the city and they’d be glad to have her. She comes to this store primarily because of our group.
The store sets aside a good-sized area, sets up chairs and a lectern for Karin, and she reads a selection from her latest book, then chats with us for a while, answering questions. Our group is generally well-represented, and we ask her questions about writing, publishing, plotting, characters, where she gets her ideas (Authors love this question. Really. No, really.), etc. She tells stories about her time spent researching for her novels by riding with the GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigation), and other fun stuff. She answers the questions and tells the stories with wit and humor. She not only looks a tiny bit like Ellen DeGeneres, she has a similar sense of humor. I really enjoy her annual visits to the store, even if it usually does mean an evening of no critiques.
After the Q&A, she signs books until everyone gets their copy signed. And then she typically comes up to the coffee shop inside the store and sits with our writing group for at least a little while, and visits.
So, like, think of that thing you do that you really like to do, that you’re maybe not professional-level at, yet, but you want to be, and then you get the chance to sit and talk with someone who is internationally known for doing what that thing is. Even for 20 minutes.
I would be happy about just that aspect, but it just so happens that her books are actually really good, too! So, you know, it’s like a whole bonus kind of a thing! :)
My first time at one of her signings was in 2008, and the newly released book was Fractured, which is the second book in her series of stories involving GBI agent Will Trent. She read part of the first chapter . . . and had me hooked.
But it was the second book in a series, and she had another series. What else was I to do? I got the hardback signed, then went to get her other books. I read them all, one after another, enjoying each one fully. By the time I read Fractured, I knew I was a solid fan.
Her style is engaging, her pace just right, her characters believable, likable, and flawed.2 Her plots are logical and believable. Give her first book Blindsighted a read. It’s good stuff.
I could continue to gush — and under normal circumstances, I probably would — but the point of this post is to get people to come out to the store. Why? Well, it would be great if there are a lot of people there for Karin (there usually are enough that some end up standing and the children’s section of the store is full of adult fans of a thriller author), but also because Karin is also a huge — and I do mean huge3 — advocate for public libraries. Her appearance at the store on Saturday, July 7th is a joint event for the B&N store and the Gwinnett County Public Library System. The store will be donating a portion of their sales to the GCPL.
So, to sum up: Not only will you get a good book signed by the author, you will get to hear her speak and help the Gwinnett County Public Library at the same time.
So, what are you waiting for? Huh?
Oh! I should maybe give the time and address. That might help.
Barnes & Noble with Gwinnett County Public Library
Talk & Signing
5141 Peachtree Parkway
Norcross, GA 30092
Store #: (770) 209-4244
Come early to get a decent seat. Come prepared to ask questions. Come prepared to enjoy yourself and get a good book to read as well.
- Does it feel like this is one of those math word problems? A train leaves New York at 40 mph and a tomato in Kansas grows at the rate of 4cm every 3 days. When will the restaurant in Dubuque get the tomato to slice for sandwiches? There won’t be a quiz.
- I could just kick Lena for some of her bad choices!
- When you see Karin, you’ll understand why this is a complete scream. I mean, it’s really funny. Really.