Book of the Month: Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

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“Discworld Postal” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Discworld_Postal.jpg#/media/File:Discworld_Postal.jpg

As part of the ever popular Discworld series, Going Postal marks the 33rd novel that takes place in the world.  I love the writing of Terry Pratchett and was very happy to return to one of his novels after not having the pleasure of reading one for a long time. His passing this year was felt deeply by his adoring fans.

The book is about a con man with the unfortunate name of Moist von Lipwig, which was never a problem to him because he always used an alias. That is, until his crimes caught up with him and he was given the option of a government job or death. Being a reasonable man, he chose the job figuring that the first minute no one was watching he could slip away and return to his dishonest ways.

However, what he didn’t expect was a magical golem as a parole officer who could track him tirelessly across oceans if the need existed. He learns this the hard way when Mr. Pump hauls both him and his horse bodily back to the defunct post office where Moist has been forced to serve as Post Master.

Half the fun of the book is in the unpredictable and amazing world that Pratchett has created. This post office hasn’t delivered a piece of mail in decades and the backed up mail has been stuffed into every nook and cranny, every spare office and attic space, until immense glaciers have formed.

Moist is determined to make his new job work, but more importantly, he is determined to make a buck or two in the process.

My Review:

It is a delight to read the work of a master who truly excels at his craft. Pratchett has a knack for creating terribly flawed characters who are both charming and charismatic in unexpected ways. They are not your typical heroes or villains, but real people with real issues that are often really funny.

These people are set into a fully fleshed and intriguing world where magic is real but very practical. Discworld is an amazing place and it is clear that Pratchett knows every facet of the place down to the heights of the gutters and species of birds that frequent the financial district.

Prachett is talented enough to make a whole book work with just interesting people wandering around this magical place. However, he has also created a story that is both fresh and fun. There are the dark powers behind the scenes who think they have everything under control – and they don’t. There are the businesses of the post office and the clacks towers, an equivalent of the telegraph, running neck and neck against each other, and there’s Moist who is trying to make the best of it all.

I give this book 5 stars – it is masterfully written and delightfully conceived.

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Book of the Month: Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

night-circusIt can be dangerous picking books from a list and hoping that they live up to the hype. The Night Circus has appeared over and over on book lover Pinterest boards so I decided it would be worth seeing what the big deal was about. I’m glad to say that this is a book that delivers.

Not too long ago I wrote a post discussing what Magical Realism meant. The Night Circus is a terrific example of magical realism. The story takes place in an ahistorical Victorian London and follows the lives of two young magical proteges. These magicians can perform actual magic and not just feats of illusion. These proteges and their masters create the Night Circus – Le Cirque des Rêves, the Circus of Dreams. A reality defying collection of curiosities that is only open from dusk to dawn.

The circus itself is surreal enough to make for intriguing reading. Among the expected acrobatic acts and contortionists there are tents that are full of the impossible. One is a garden created entirely from ice. Another, a cloud maze where you can fall from incredible heights without the fear of being hurt.

The story weaves it’s way through the lives of two magical proteges. Through the years, Prospero the Enchanter and Mr. A.H. have been locked in a rivalry to prove who is the better, more powerful magician.  Their students, Celia Bowen and Marcos Alisdair are the pawns in a dangerous competition in which they have been groomed their whole lives to play. Except, they are never given the rules of the competition. They must push to find what must be done and are never sure what the next step must be.

My review:

It’s not often when a book takes me by surprise. The Night Circus has an otherworldly quality that makes for perfect escapist reading. I was transported into this alternate world where magic is indeed real and palpable and filled with wonder. The story itself is fresh and full of ideas and creativity that haven’t been seen before, which is a feat in itself seeing how most stories I read are beaten dead from over use.

The best part of the book is the circus itself, the wonder and the thrills contained therein continually change and evolve to captivate and delight both reader and the characters that walk the pages.

I recommend this to anyone who likes magical realism, Cirque du Soleil, and surrealism. For those of you who like their fiction to keep both feel solidly on the ground, this might be a touch cerebral for you.

Like book reviews? Here are a few of my others:

Book of the Month: Redshirts by John Scalzi

91Hx5ImdhzLThis month I ventured into a new and unfamiliar land where reality collided with fiction in a fun and thoughtful way. In the Star Trek universe the sad fact exists that if you are wearing a red shirt and are sent on an away mission, chances are you are going to die.

Scalzi’sRedshirts takes this truth and turns it on it’s head. The crew start asking questions when they notice the abnormally high death rate on their vessel. Crew who aren’t in the officer line have watched their friends leave on away missions never to return. They have learned it’s best to avoid the senior officers at any cost. Being found by one certainly means being assigned to another of these deadly away missions.

Another Star Trek truth that Redshirts makes fun of is the magic box that solves the most insanely complex problem the same way that a microwave heats food.  You insert the correct samples, set the timer for slightly less than when the catastrophe is going to occur, and wait patiently for it to finish. The data it produces is then taken personally to the bridge and presented to the captain, always stating that there is some sort of random made up problem. This is when the captain dramatically looks over the data and within seconds solves the problem, showing just how awesome of a hero he really is.

There are several more of these little gems hidden inside the book, if you want to find them, I suggest you read it.

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Our main character, Dahl, is one of these minor members of the crew who are often targeted. The older crew don’t warn him of the dangers in an attempt to save their own skins and he is assigned to an away mission where he barely survives. When he returns, he wants answers and he demands to be told everything. This line of questioning leads him to the mysterious Jenkins, a hermit who has sealed himself into the utility passages of the ship. Jenkins has a crazy theory that logically explains why the ship works like it does. It’s the alternate reality created when Star Trek was written. Every death, every dramatic rescue, every inconsistent part of their world is there because some writer has invented it to make entertaining television.

Dahl comes up with an insane plan to get it all to stop, and it involves jumping dimensions.

***

My Review:

I got a kick out of this book. For anyone who likes Star Trek but finds some of the science and story lines far-fetched, this book is a joy ride. It’s written in a very direct and to the point way, not wasting any time to dwell on the scenery or the deep internal turmoil of the characters.  What I found most unique is that the characters start to become self-aware that they are indeed characters being written. If you like light sci-fi parodies, discussions on inter-dimensional theory, and paradoxes, this is a great book for you.

However – reader be warned. There is a fair amount of rude language sprinkled throughout, enough to make it rated a solid R. There is also casual innuendo, violent (but humorous) death, and an absence of a bad guy. Although I didn’t find it a problem, some might not like the three-part coda ending where after ending of the principle story, there are an additional three sections that explore what happened to three of the minor, but significant characters.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Month – The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

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When an author’s name keeps coming up over and over, at book clubs, at conferences, at critique groups, you know there is something special about what they create. Neil Gaiman is one of those authors. This month I explored his book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

In this book, an unnamed middle-aged man returns to his childhood neighborhood and finds a mysterious draw to visit an old friend’s house. While he is there he remembers a strange event that happened when he was a boy.

Short on cash, the narrator’s family rents out his bedroom and he must share a room with his younger sister. One of their renters commits suicide in the family car. His death allows a supernatural being to enter the world and strange things start happening.

The narrator goes to his friend Lettie Hempstock’s house at the end of the lane for help. Lettie agrees to help and takes the narrator with her to bind the supernatural spirit back into her own world. In the process, the being sticks the narrator in the foot and anchors a pathway back to the human world in him.

The being returns in the form of the caretaker, Ursula Monkton, that the narrator’s family has hired so that the mother can return to work, proving that the most terrible of terrors is the one that is hiding in your own home and no one believes you about. Ursula is manipulative and soon bends the family into loving her, everyone except the narrator, who she turns the family against.

With the Hempstock’s help, the narrator is able to defeat the villanous Ursula, but it comes at great price. To save the narrator the pain of remembering they alter his memories so that the event is more like a dream that quickly fades.

Every few years he returns to visit, and every few years he is allowed to remember the experience once more only to forget once again the moment he walks away from the house.

There is, of course, much more to the story than this. If you want a more complete synopsis you are welcome to go visit the wiki page.

My Review:

There is a reason that so many people talk about Neil Gaiman’s work, especially around writing circles. He has a talent with language that makes the prose flow beautifully across the page. The ideas that he chooses to weave into each story are unique and intriguing and make the reader question their own realities.

Gaiman’s books are short, making them easy to start and finish in a long evening. Which is a good thing because once you pick one up you won’t want to put it down.

I loved the Ocean at the End of the Lane and can’t wait to pick up another of Gaiman’s books. I recommend this title to those who love well written prose, good vs. evil, and practical magic. Those who don’t like magic, even in small, easy to digest portions, might not like this book.

Book of the Month: Everneath by Brodi Ashton

9413044This month’s book, Everneath, comes from fellow Utah native Brodi Ashton and is the first in the Everneath series.

Twilight fans rejoice! I have found a perfect novel for you. It is loaded with teenage angst, and I mean ANGST. The main character, Nikki Beckett, is in high school when her mother is tragically killed by a drunk driver. Her resulting depression, paired by the belief that her boyfriend has cheated on her, drives her into the lethal clutches of Cole, an Everliving.

Every 100 years the Everliving must feed on the energies of a human host and then that host falls prey to the tunnels, a hellish place where the host is drained of all emotions until they cease to exist. The feed takes 100 years, but in the alternate space of the Everneath time works differently so only six months pass on the surface. The host can choose return to the surface for six months before the tunnels claim them, that is if they can remember any of their life before. Most don’t.

Nikki is an exception. Not only does she survive the feed without aging, she remembers Jack, her boyfriend, and is compelled to return to him. She now has six months to reclaim her life before the tunnels come for her once again. Paired with Jack, she must find a way to survive, and even thrive.

As I said before, this book is perfect for all those Twilight fans out there. There is a supernatural element in Cole, however instead of being a traditional vampire, Cole is what many would call a psychic vampire.  He feeds on the energy and emotions of those around him. There is a troubled love triangle between Cole, Nikki, and Jack, not unlike Jacob, Edward, and Bella. There is a lot of high school drama and as a perk there are nice mythological elements and nods to the myths of Persephone and Eurydice.

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Coolest picture ever.

However, like all books, there are elements in Everneath that might drive readers crazy. Nikki is very similar to Bella, she’s very passive and has a very simple character arc. Her recurring debate is whether to go with Cole and become his queen in the Everneath and have to engage indirectly in his vampire-y ways, or to let the hellish tunnels come and eat her soul. She spends most of the book flip-flopping between the two choices, that is when she isn’t flip-flopping between Jack and Cole.  Jack is the leading quarterback and football prodigy, a personal pet peeve of mine and many readers like me.  Why does the romantic lead always have to be the quarterback? Stereotypes people! Another stereotype is found in the trampy cheerleader who tries to destroy Nikki and Jack’s relationship. Oh, and did I mention that Nikki is devastatingly attractive? Thankfully, she’s not also a cheerleader.

I recommend this book for teenage girls who like a good angst-y story of love and loss. If that’s not you, read at your own risk.

Book of the Month: Existence by David Brin

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Some books are meant to sweep readers away into another world where they can live another life. Then there are those books that exist on a different plane where the concepts are foreign and bizarre and it takes hundreds of pages to start understanding what is actually happening.  Existence is one of those books.

If I were to compare it to other books I’ve read I’d call it Cloud Atlas meets Ender’s Game. It is similar to Cloud Atlas because it combines a handful of storylines that all have a few sparse threads in common. The characters come from vastly different walks of life and most of the interest lies in trying to figure out what’s actually going on. It takes hundreds of pages to find links between the different storylines. It resembles Ender’s Game, not in the edge of your seat thrill ride, but the way that the author introduces his philosophies and ideas about the vast unknown.

To be fair, I haven’t finished reading Existence, yet. It’s long and requires focus and persistence to keep going forward. I can see why many people recommend it, Brin possesses a deep understanding of his world and a keen intellect which is demonstrated in the distinct characters that each play a role in the story.

Do I like it? Yes and no. Yes, the world is fascinating and I really want to see what will happen. I like the questions it asks about the nature of existence and the possibility of life on other worlds, and how to communicate with said life. And no, it’s slow going and almost too intellectual to be a read in a way where the reader can feel truly immersed. The story is so fractured among the different characters that the reader only gets a taste of what’s happening before being shoved somewhere else. To fracture it even further, between each chapter are different seemingly random essays on different facets of existence, discussions between scientists, or meandering thoughts of an autistic person.

I’m looking forward to finishing, nothing would make me happier than for the story to unfold into a brilliant and hard-hitting climax that gives the reader what they came for!

Have you read Existence? Come share your thoughts in the comments!

Featured Artist: Danielle E. Shipley

For this month’s featured artist I’ve chosen the inventive and feisty Danielle Shipley. Danielle and I became acquainted when we were both part of the same fantasy anthology THE TOLL OF ANOTHER BELL, published by Xchyler.  Not only does she write terrific short stories, she also writes novels and posts all sorts of cleverness and snark over at her blog Ever on Word. Trust me, go check it out and follow, it’s bundles of fun.

Now for the part you’ve all been waiting for – The cover reveal of Danielle’s latest offering!

Surrogate Sea Launch Week Tour Pics, Novella

The Surrogate Sea is the sixth installation in the Wilderhawk Tales series and follows along in it’s predecessor’s fairy tale footprints. There are princes and princesses, kings and kingdoms, and magic found in the strangest places.

About – 

The Surrogate Sea is about the pursuit of love and the many misunderstandings that can take place along the way. Young Princess Liliavaine has outgrown her childhood love and seeks a man with whom she can make a life with. However, her childhood love has feelings of his own and instead of dimming with the years, it has only grown stronger. The interaction of these two causes ripples throughout the entire world, including the realms of the elemental beings that rule over air, water, and land.

In this world, it is possible to mix humankind with elemental kind. Liliavaine’s sister wed the lord of the moon himself. In fact, one of the other books in the series deals with the bout of insanity caused by looking into the moon’s face. One of these elementals is Muirigan, the great sea who falls in love with a prince.  However, she is trapped by her own beaches and cannot seek him out. She finds another to take her place (thus the title, the Surrogate Sea) and the problems spiral out from there. Throw in a spiteful South Wind, and you have quite a story.

Surrogate Sea Launch Week Tour Pics, Excerpt

Surrogate Sea Launch Week Tour Pics, Review

I love a fanciful and innovative fantasy story and so The Surrogate Sea was a delight to read.  My favorite aspect of the book are the interactions of the elemental characters with the human folk.  Danielle excels at making fascinating and well-rounded characters, this is especially true when it comes to her more magical characters.

I’m not crazy about complicated love triangles, but I know a good one when I read one, and this one has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing how it’s all going to work out.

There is always a concern when reading a book in a series without reading the earlier books. I hadn’t read the earlier books in the Wilderhawk Tales and so there were several references in this book that I didn’t fully understand, only because I hadn’t read their stories.  However, the book is well enough constructed that it is still very readable without having to read the rest of the series first.

Overall I give the book 4 out of 5 stars – The beginning starts slow as we wait for all the characters to be re-established and re-introduced. The true heart of the conflict isn’t revealed until much later.  Once you get there then you can’t put it down.

If you like fairy tale stories, love triangles, unique magic, princes and princesses, and a whole lot of mischief, then this book is sure to please.

I received a copy of Surrogate Sea in exchange for an honest review.

Surrogate Sea Launch Week Tour Pics, Author

While you’re here check out Danielle’s Linkies: Website ~ Blog ~ Facebook ~ Twitter

Want to buy The Surrogate Sea? Here are some handy links!

Surrogate Sea Launch Week Tour Pics, Giveaway