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Review ~ The Bullet Catch

This book was provided to me by Henery Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Bullet Catch by John Gaspard

Cover via Goodreads

Newly-single magician Eli Marks reluctantly attends his high school reunion against his better judgment, only to become entangled in two deadly encounters with his former classmates. The first is the fatal mugging of an old crush’s husband, followed by the suspicious deaths of the victim’s business associates.

At the same time, Eli also comes to the aid of a classmate-turned-movie-star who fears that attempting The Bullet Catch in an upcoming movie may be his last performance. As the bodies begin to pile up, Eli comes to the realization that juggling these murderous situations — while saving his own neck — may be the greatest trick he’s ever performed. (via Goodreads)

I read the first Eli Marks mystery, The Ambitious Card, last August and enjoyed it immensely.  I was impressed by John Gaspard’s use of magic and a magician character in a mystery. Eli is a working magician. He has gigs and he practices his craft, but he’s not Houdini or the Great Merlini. When any part of his sleuthing is reliant on some knowledge derived from magic, the reader has already been made familiar with the concept. After reading a few other magician mysteries in the past year, I realize how difficult gracefully imparting expertise can be.

I’m not generally a follower of series, but I was excited about The Bullet Catch and also, of course, a little apprehensive. Would it be as good? I’ve suffered a couple let downs this year due to overly high expectations. Would this be another? Considering how much I enjoyed the Minneapolis-St. Paul setting of The Ambitious Card, would the movie sub-plot be taking me to Hollywood?

A couple of tricks into The Bullet Catch, I knew all would be well. There is, it seemed to me, more magic in The Bullet Catch thanks to movie subplot. Eli’s classmate Jake has been cast as the once famous magician, Terry Alexander, who meets a tragic end while performing the one trick in magic that may honestly be death-defying. Eli is hired as an unofficial magic consultant by the actor to make sure all goes smoothly on a movie set that is everything but smooth. Gaspard has directed and written about low-budget movies and brings that expertise into this novel as well. Happily, the shooting (of the movie variety) remains in Minnesota.

In general, the mystery in The Bullet Catch is a little more down to earth than the plot of The Ambitious Card. It is maybe even a tiny bit more mundane, but I think that works well. Gaspard also introduces the intriguing Mr. Lime, whom I hope we see again.

Publisher: Henery Press
Publication date: November 4, 2014
Genre: Mystery
Why did I choose to read this book? Second in a series, a series I enjoy!

ripnineperilsecondThis is my fourth and final read for R.I.P. IX!

Review ~ Under Stars

This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Under Stars by K.J. Kabza

Cover via Goodreads

KJ Kabza is back with a second, bigger round of short fiction that’s “Incredible” (Tangent), “Fascinating” (SFRevu), and “Worthy of Edgar Allan Poe” (SFcrowsnest). Featuring his freshest work from the top science fiction and fantasy venues of today, including F&SF, Nature, Daily Science Fiction, and more, UNDER STARS showcases wonders from worlds both here and beyond—enchanted hedge mazes, abandoned cities, programmable cyberneurons, alien overlords, 1,000-foot-high tides, secret dreams, and humanity’s omnipotent future. (via Goodreads)

When I read “The Soul in the Bell Jar” in the pages of The Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 6, I wondered if the setting already existed, if the short story was an “expanded universe” type of deal where an author explores a nook or cranny of the world they’ve already built in five novels. No, it wasn’t. My next question was, “Was it going to be five novels?” ‘Cause I’d totally read that! Sadly, the answer to that question is “no” too, but it’s okay.

It’s okay because K.J. Kabza puts that seemingly effortless world building into all his stories. There is no dry exposition about how any given world works. These stories don’t have time for that. As readers, we are simply put down in the story. We interact with the world as the characters do and feel like we have what knowledge we need. Each story is being told from the speculative fiction culture it’s from without the easy-mode outsider to explain everything. And as lovely as the world-building is, these stories are about the characters.

This is a weighty anthology. Twenty-two stories, only a few of them are 2-3 pages in length, and a section of “poetry.” It’s broken into three sections: Fiction, Fantastic; Fiction, Science; and Limericks, Dirty.

I’m picky about my science fiction, so the first section worked the best for me. “The Soul in the Bell Jar” is here with its gloriously squwicky concept of stitched souls, but I would as easily love to spend more time with the sandcats of “The Color of Sand” or in the dictionary of “Neighbors: A Definitive Odyssey.” Some of the usual fantasy cast are also given a treatment: vampires, trolls, unicorns, and (ahem) dragon riders.

This isn’t to say that the SF stories are chopped liver. There is a lot of tech fun to be had in extrapolating surf culture into the future with a story like “Gnarly Times at Nana’ite Beach.” “Copyright 2113″ does what good science fiction should do: *gently* show how humans might end up interacting with technology (in this case DRM on memories) instead of being preachy and/or pessimistic about it. My favorite story of this section though is “The Land of Stone and Stars,” a poignant tale of loss set in a subtly different world. Again, these stories are about the characters, not the settings, even as fully rounded as the settings seem.

The limericks? Well, they’re limericks. Naughty nerdy limericks. Fun at parties and apparently cons. If I could go back in time, I would have read them between the story sections as a palate cleanser.

Publisher: KJ Kabza
Publication date: October 27, 2014; Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Apple & Kobo
Genre: Speculative fiction.

Deal Me In, Week 43 ~ “[Answer]“

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“[Answer]” by F. Paul Wilson

Card picked: Nine of Clubs

From: David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible

Review: The title of this story is a five letter word. It looks like ROPED, but typed over a few times. This word is the Answer.

Yuppy-wannbe Michael Moulton discovers the Answer when an audio cassette tape is accidentally substituted for his Three Months to Financial Independence video cassette. He calls the company to complain and is told to box up the tape and a replacement will be provided immediately. Immediately isn’t fast enough, Michael listens to the tape before the owner of the self-help company, Dennis Nickleby himself, arrives to retrieve it. There is only one thing on the audio cassette, a garbled word. The Answer.

Nickleby is concerned that Michael has listened to the tape and Michael lies through omission about it. All is well until Michael talks to his stock broker about the strange tape and the Answer. His stock broker misunderstands the conversation and makes a trade for a stock he thought he heard Michael say. The stock soars and Michael realizes that the Answer is always the best Answer to whatever question is being asked. Unfortunately, an omniscient cabal zealously protects its usage. Will Michael be smart enough to use the Answer against them?

This is a decent story, a solid take on what happens when an unwise man gets hold of a magic word. The minor trick of a typed-over word works really well narratively, though I don’t know how you’d pull it off in the digital age. If updated, a CD-ROM and a DVD would make a more likely switch-out than an audio and video tape.

About the Author: F. Paul Wilson is a horror writer I’ve been meaning to read more of for ages. He’s known for The Keep, which was adapted for film in 1983 by Michael Mann, and his Repairman Jack stories/novels.

R.I.P. IX Update #3 ~ More Peril on the Screen

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Check out more R.I.P. IX Reviews

Gone Girl has been pretty big at the box office this October. I haven’t seen it yet, but I did inadvertently watch two movies with Gone Girl connections:
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Zodiac (2007) is one of my Top 10 favorite movies. Top 5 depending on the week. Zodiac is about the less-than-successful investigation of the eponymous serial killer in 1970s San Francisco. It mostly involves police and newspaper men talking to each other about what information they do not have. Despite this–or maybe in light of the helplessness of the characters–there are some wonderfully tense and menacing scenes in Zodiac. It’s also visually beautiful.  Connection: director David Fincher.

Hollywoodland (2006) – Call me crazy, but I like Ben Affleck. I’ve liked him ever since I saw Chasing Amy. Here, Affleck puts in a really nice performance as George Reeves, the man who played Superman in the 1950s. Reeves died mysteriously, and Hollywoodland offers a few theories about his death against the backdrop of a down-on-his-luck private detective played by Adrian Brody. Connection: Ben Affleck.

(Did you know that Ben Affleck has won every Oscar he’s been nominated for? The number is two and neither have been for acting.)

Review ~ Last Winter We Parted

This book was provided to me by Soho Press via NetGalley.

Last Winter We Parted by Fuminori Nakamura, translated by Allison Markin Powell

Cover via Goodreads

A young writer arrives at a prison to interview a man arrested for homicide. He has been commissioned to write a full account of the case, from its bizarre and grisly details to the nature of the man behind the crime. The suspect, while world-renowned as a photographer, has a deeply unsettling portfolio—lurking beneath the surface of each photograph is an acutely obsessive fascination with his subject.

He stands accused of murdering two women—both burned alive—and will likely face the death penalty. But something isn’t quite right, and as the young writer probes further, his doubts about this man as a killer intensify. He soon discovers the desperate, twisted nature of all who are connected to the case, struggling to maintain his sense of reason and justice. What could possibly have motivated this man to use fire as a torturous murder weapon? Is he truly guilty, or will he die to protect someone else?

The suspect has a secret—it may involve his sister, who willfully leads men to their destruction, or the “puppeteer,” an enigmatic figure who draws in those who have suffered the loss of someone close to them. As the madness at the heart of the case spins out of control, the confusion surrounding it only deepens. What terrifying secrets will this impromptu investigator unearth as he seeks the truth behind these murders? (via Goodreads)

My expectation when reading a mystery is that I am going along with the investigator as he/she solves the case. Sometimes, as a reader, I know more than the sleuth. The enjoyment of that situation is in seeing how the investigator will catch up, or how they’ll avoid the peril I see coming. Generally, when reading a mystery, I believe I shouldn’t know substantially less than the protagonist. I should have seen what they’ve seen, heard what they’ve heard. If the fictional investigator makes a leap of logic, it should always be based on what has been shown to the reader.

Last Winter We Parted is told in the form of first person narration by the young writer and through the archived documents surrounding the murder case. Unfortunately, these archives have no context for the reader. If it’s a letter, we don’t know who it’s from or to, information that is presumably available to the narrator. There is even one archive written in first person, not by our narrator, with no context other than “archive.” At least, I think this is the case. Honestly, the structure was a little confusing and obfuscatory. The matter wasn’t helped by a pretty poor Kindle version of the ARC. By the end, the vague pieces are put together for the reader, allowing for no sense that I could have ever figured it out without it being told to me.

And all this is a shame. The labyrinth of photos, fires, philosophy, and doll fetishist that Nakamura leads the reader through is genuinely unnerving. The crux of the tale relies on a tension between beauty and grotesque, but the narrative itself gets in the way.

Publisher: Soho Press
Publication date: September 21, 2014
Genre: Horror thriller


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Magic Monday ~ Pepper’s Ghost

MagicMonday

I like Mondays. On Monday, I am refreshed from the weekend and exhilarated by the possibilities of the week ahead. I also like magic. I like its history, its intersection with technology, and its crafty use of human nature.  I figured I’d combine the two and make a Monday feature that is truly me: a little bit of magic and a look at the week ahead.

With Halloween fast approaching, maybe you have a spare piece of plexiglass and want to create your own spooky illusions. Make: presents a great DIY explanation of the classic illusion, Pepper’s Ghost.

 

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What Am I Reading?

This week I’ll be finishing Under Stars by KJ Kabza. I didn’t want to read too much of it during the readathon because, when I binge-read an anthology, it all munges together in my head. I’ll also be starting Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson for The Book Smuggler’s readalong.

What Am I Writing?

My goals to round out the year are to have 33K on the draft of Luck for Hire by the end of October, 48K by the end of November, and 60K by the end of the year. I’m sitting at 27K right now.

I thought about doing a rebel-style NaNoWriMo, but on second thought I don’t think I will. I’m going to stick with my new philosophy of not doing All The Things. The weird bit about being an introvert in an extrovert dominated world is that I often think that I should be able to do all the things extroverts do. There’s a lot of energy associated with NaNo, but for me there is also a lot of energy suck. It goes beyond spending too much time on the forums or Twitter; it’s an actual drain.

On the Blog

I’m going to be deviating from my usual blog schedule for the next couple weeks to fit in the reviews and special things that are going on. Heh, I bet you didn’t even know I *had* a blog schedule!

Deal Me In, Week 42 ~ “The Fall of the House of Escher”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Fall of the House of Escher” by Greg Bear

Card picked: Nine of Hearts

From: David Copperfield’s Beyond Imagination

Review: I could not get through this story, despite its intriguing title. Maybe it was because I was reading it during my 17th straight hour of readathon-ing yesterday. Maybe it’s because I have trouble with allegories, which, with character names like Cant, Shant, and Musnt, this probably is. Or maybe I’ve been reading an anthology of speculative fiction stories that are so deftly written that this story felt very clumsy in comparison. If you’re going to allude to Poe and spend time describing architecture, man, you need to be lush in your language. This fell short.

I feel bad bailing on a story which is obviously challenging, but I’m also an adult who can put it aside for a day when I’m not actively annoyed by it. Some other time, “House of Escher.”

About the Author: Greg Bear is an SF writer that I’ve been aware of for years, but have never read.