I first heard of Eric Czuleger on the Pseudopod horror short story podcast. His story "Immortal LA" was written specifically for that podcast, and was...moreI first heard of Eric Czuleger on the Pseudopod horror short story podcast. His story "Immortal LA" was written specifically for that podcast, and was released around July 5 of 2013. I so enjoyed the story that I purchased the book containing the story.
Then I promptly forgot about it for months. I'd see it on my Kindle and wonder what it was and why I had it. Finally, given its relatively short length, I decided to 'get it out of the way' quickly.
When I read it, I remembered the story on the podcast, and how much I enjoyed it. In this book, that story is called "The Vampire Andy." The stories are all gritty and raw and not at all "pretty." The vampires aren't sexy and smooth. The angels aren't perfect beings of light. The werewolves (if that is indeed what those were) aren't trying to seduce sex out of pretty people. Satan is actually a pretty polite guy.
These are not light fare. These are serious stories soaked in blood, sweat, and tears. They are the stories of deeply troubled and flawed (and, at times, brave) men and women. And each of the stories is good in its own right.
The only things that detracted from my enjoyment were the frequent grammar errors, homophone confusion, and punctuation misuse that peppered not only the stories, but the interludes between wherein the millennia-long history of Los Angeles is given. Some of it I can write off to formatting errors in the creation of the Kindle version of the book. Others could easily be fixed by professional editing. Some of them were negligible; some caused me to have to reread the same sentence several times to understand what was probably meant.
The interludes weren't as interesting to me as the stories, themselves. They could have been, but they felt hurried. Tacked on. You could enjoy the book without reading them at all -- just read the stories themselves, and you don't have to know all the background if you don't want to.
That I'm giving the book four stars in spite of the detractions should tell you how much I enjoyed the stories. I think Mr. Czuleger definitely has talent, and I'll be looking for his name in the future.(less)
The premise: We have a serial killer who kidnaps his victims and then sends out an email spam exhorting people to email it to ten friends, and they mail it out, and they mail it out . . . and if one of those friends of friends of friends happens to be one of his friends, he won't kill the victim. If he doesn't get the spam back, the local police receive a package: the victim's lower jawbone, boiled and polished.
Now, on top of this, throw in a main character whose wife is taken by this killer, but the police never receive a jawbone. Neither, however, is she released, so of course, they police suspect him. And throw in a man who confessed to the murders, but who can't be the killer, because he's never left his hometown. And throw in another man who confesses, and ends up serving time for the crimes. And two seemingly unrelated murders. And family secrets. And betrayals. And a twisted cast of characters, any or all of whom are probably capable of being this Vacation Killer.
The pace is good, the characters are believable, and the situations are believable.
I can't say too much else without massive spoilers, and I don't want to do that because I enjoyed each new revelation too much to deprive others of that same sense of discovery. :)
I will say, however, that I did not figure out who the killer was until it was revealed in the text. But I wasn't at all surprised.(less)
Are you tired of sexy, hot vampires who gaze at women for, like, a milisecond before said women rip their clothes off to throw themselves at him? Are...moreAre you tired of sexy, hot vampires who gaze at women for, like, a milisecond before said women rip their clothes off to throw themselves at him? Are you tired of werewolves who basically do the same thing, only hairier and more bestially?
Then this book is for you. Meet Earl the vampire and Duke the werewolf. Earl and Duke are basically good-ol' boys who, through bad luck, became undead. They're aren't hot. They aren't sexy. They aren't even particularly nice or smart. But they have a knack for solving people's supernatural problems, and that's what gets them into trouble when they pull into Gil's All Night Diner for a bite to eat (for Duke).
This was a fun read. There were a few things that annoyed me about it at first, such as the main characters' propensity for using one another's names more often than people in real life do. Luckily, that didn't last long.
The pace is good, with a few curve balls thrown in. Both the vampire and the werewolf lore in this book is not what you'd expect if you're into the more traditional mythology, but it's consistent and explained well, and makes this Martinez' own mythos.
It was a satisfying, fun, quick read, and I look forward to reading more by Martinez.(less)
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 r...moreNote: 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: (view 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. (hide 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 not-very-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.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Full disclosure: I know the author, Lauren Roy. She and I attended the same writers workshop in 2012. That had a lot to do with getting the book in my...moreFull disclosure: I know the author, Lauren Roy. She and I attended the same writers workshop in 2012. That had a lot to do with getting the book in my hands. It, however, had nothing at all to do with either my rating or this review.
Note: There are some very mild spoilers. I didn't flag the whole review "Spoilerific" because these are spoilers you'll encounter in the first few chapters.
For a debut novel, this is very strong. One of the better ones I've come across. The premise is simple: Night Owls is a book store in a college town where students hang out until the wee hours. The owner, Val, happens to be a vampire. Not a very old one, but old enough. She's been through a lot, and came to this small town to get away from all the big, hairy problems. To live peacefully, selling books, collecting rare books, and going about her unlife.
Until circumstances land those big, hairy problems right in her lap. A rare book with dangerous magic in it arrives at the bookstore in the wake of its owner's murder by Jackals, which are kind of like a cross between a vampire and a werewolf, but not as cuddly. Vampires and Jackals hate one another. More like loathe. And in Val's old life, she used to hunt Jackals down and kill them. Now, they want that book. Val's fine with giving it to them, if it will get them to leave her alone.
The problems start when one of her young employees accidentally reads the book . . . and the magic enters him instead of remaining in the book. The Jackals now want the young man, and will stop at nothing to get it.
Note: those aren't very big spoilers. Those are, like, chapter 3 spoilers at best.
I enjoyed the book thoroughly. It has good, believable, sympathetic characters who have strengths and weaknesses, and lives that don't seem to have just begun on page 1. The magic is believable and neither over- nor under-powered. The vampire lore is different to an extent that we only brush lightly in this first book. And the Jackals are, as far as I know, Lauren Roy's own invention. The world feels richer than is shown in this novel, and it's clear that there's more going on than is told in these pages.
The pacing is wonderful. The book is filled with action, but not so relentless that I felt out of breath. Nor are there lulls during which I was tempted to flip forward to find out when it was going to get moving again. In other words, just right.
A larger story is hinted at, tantalizingly, in this first novel, and there are definitely sequels coming. And I will eagerly pick them up. As I said, I bought the book because it was by a friend. I read the book because it was enjoyable. And I'm rating and reviewing the book because I think you will like it, too, if you like urban fantasy, vampires, shape-changers, magic, action, adventure, dark secrets, and a good dose of humor.(less)