Book Review – Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett

WHAT’S PLAYING: Janet Jackson featuring Nelly “Call on Me”

This week’s book is Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett.

Everybody wants more time, but one man is about to stop it for good by constructing the world’s first truly accurate clock. The Auditors—spirits who, like Accountants from Hell, try to keep the Universe in order—have decided their task would be much easier if time would just stop. Then they could sort everything out and it would stay that way. So, they hatch a plan to commission the Perfect Clock. It falls to History Monk Lu-Tze and his apprentice Lobsang Ludd to find the timepiece and stop it before it starts. Because if the Perfect Clock starts ticking, Time as we know it will stop. And that’s when the real trouble will begin.

This is one of the darker, more satirical Discworld novels. I’ve been looking forward to revisiting the Monks of History ever since they first appeared in Small Gods. But, the monks aren’t the only familiar faces. Two of my favorite characters, Death and Susan Sto Helit feature heavily. Nanny Ogg has a cameo as Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Not to mention the supporting cast of heroes, villains, yetis, martial artists. And we mustn’t forget the fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse (who left before they became famous).

A superb send-up of science and philosophy, religion and death, Thief of Time provides the perfect opportunity to kick back and unwind.

 

Favorite Line/Image:  Jeremy was completely baffled as to his next move. He’d never been very good at talking to people, and this, apart from Lady LeJean and a wrangle with Mr. Soak over an unwanted cheese, was the longest conversation he’d had for a year. Perhaps it was because it was hard to think of Igor as coming under the heading of people. Up until now, Jeremy’s definition of “people” had not included anyone with more stitches than a handbag.

“I’m not sure I’ve got any work for you, though,” he said. “I’ve got a new commission, but I’m not sure how…anyway, I’m not insane!”

“That’th not compulthory, thur.”

“I’ve actually got a piece of paper that says I’m not, you know.”

“Well done, thur.”

“Not many people have one of those!”

“Very true, thur.”

 

Bottom Line:  Don’t put off until tomorrow what you could do today. Read Thief of Time.

 

Coming Up Next: My Own Worst Frenemy by Kimberly Reid

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Book Review – I am Not a Serial Killer

WHAT’S PLAYING: OneRepublic “Everybody Loves Me”

This week’s first book is I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells.

This is the story of John Wayne Cleaver, a fifteen-year-old sociopath who lives and works with his mother in their family owned mortuary. John believes that he is destined to become a serial killer and follows a strict set of rules to ensure he doesn’t give into his darker urges. When a bona fide serial killer turns up and begins slaughtering innocent victims in his hometown, John decides to use his unique skill set to stop him. But catching the killer may mean unleashing his own inner monster. And if he does that, no one will be safe.

I have one word to describe this book: compelling. John Wayne Cleaver is one of the most disturbing and refreshing protagonists I’ve ever encountered. His analytical mind is perfectly suited to finding the demonic serial killer terrorizing his town, but even he has a hard time figuring out his true motives. Is he really trying to protect his family and neighbors or is his subconscious simply looking for way to satisfy his own urge to kill? Honestly, I found myself more disturbed by the possibility that John may give into to his murderous instincts than anything else. The struggle to find and destroy the serial killer was almost tame compared to the intensity of John’s internal struggle.

I did have a few issues with the book’s structure. John spends the first hundred pages or so trying to identify the killer, so it reads like a mystery. Then, Wells throws in a demonic twist that transforms the book into a supernatural thriller. I must admit that he does a decent job highlighting the conflict between a demon killer with human motivations for his actions and a human boy who is incapable of feeling empathy. Still, the structure didn’t quite work for me. It felt like the author lost control of the story, or ran out of ideas and decided to shift genres in the middle of the book.

Still, I Am Not a Serial Killer is a book that works on many levels and a welcome addition to my library.

 

Favorite Line/Image:  “You’re a great guy, Rob,” I said. He looked at me oddly.

 “…you’re about as important to me as a cardboard box,” I said. “You’re just a thing—a piece of garbage that no one’s thrown away yet…The thing about boxes, is that you can open them up. Even though they’re completely boring on the outside, there might be something interesting inside. So while you’re saying all of these stupid, boring things, I’m imagining what it would be like to cut you open and see what you’ve got in there….The thing is, Rob, I don’t want to cut you open. That’s not who I want to be. So I made a rule for myself: anytime I want to cut someone open, I say something nice to them instead. That is why I say, Rob Anders of 232 Carnation Street, that you are a great guy.”

Bottom Line:  An interesting, disturbing read.  

Coming Up Next: Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett

Unleashing the Book Dragon

WHAT’S PLAYING: Prince “Guitar”

Last week, a couple of friends came over for dinner to celebrate the removal of my braces. Liquor was flowing freely and everyone seemed to be having a good time. That is, until I glanced across the room and saw one my friends reaching for my signed copy of American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

Now, I’m not one for spontaneous action. In fact, I tend to overthink things. But one look at my friend’s greasy, pizza-sauce covered fingers reaching for one of my favorite possessions….

Well, to put it mildly, I went apeshit.

I don’t know what scared my friend more, the primal roar that emerged from my throat or the sight of me charging across the room with murder in my eyes. Either way, he backed away from the bookshelf with both hands in the air.

Unfortunately, I was moving too fast to stop.

In my defense, it was signed. By Neil frickin’ Gaiman. Later I found out that he was actually reaching for my signed copy of Snuff by Terry Pratchett.

I damn near threw him off the balcony.

I’ve always been something of a hoarder when it comes to books. I can’t help it. Being surrounded by books makes me feel calm and safe—which is odd since my house is a firetrap in the making. Good books, bad ones, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, all have places in my library.

Lately though, I’ve gone from simple hoarder to full on psycho book dragon. For every signed book I have, I have another unsigned “reading” copy. When my book collection outgrows my current living arrangements, I simply move to a bigger place. I keep my signed copies prominently displayed, and have been known to just sit there and stare at them with an intense pleasure that anyone but a true bibliophile would find a little creepy. And—as my unfortunate friend discovered—I will physically attack someone if I feel my books are being threatened.

The good news is that my friend forgave my little outburst and we can laugh about it now.

But the next time he decides to reach for one of my books, I won’t be so gentle.

My Book a Week Challenge: Book 1

WHAT’S PLAYING: Alison Krauss “Down to the River to Pray”

I decided to kick off the challenge with one of my favorite books in which three witches make the Godmother an offer she can’t refuse: “Witches Abroad” by Terry Pratchett.

When fairy godmother Desiderata Hollow dies unexpectedly, she leaves Princess Emberella in the care of the other – evil – godmother, Lilith. Now it’s up to Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick to save a city and make sure that the princess doesn’t marry the handsome (frog) prince.

“Witches Abroad” is about many things: good and evil, free will, balance, but it’s mostly about the power of stories. Of course, any writer can tell you about the power of stories, how they affect us in ways we can’t explain. Make us feel things, change the way we look at the world and each other. This is one of those stories.

This book delves into some of our favorite childhood stories and turns them inside out. Little Red Riding Hood is an obnoxious brat and the big bad wolf is neither big nor bad, just a wolf tragically altered by a demented fairy godmother obsessed with stories and happy endings. As Terry Pratchett put it: “Lilith held a mirror up to life, and chopped all the bits off life that didn’t fit…”

Dive into this book and you’ll find several of your favorite stories waiting for you: including The Hobbit, the Three Little Pigs, the Wizard of Oz, and Sleeping Beauty.

The thing about Terry Pratchett novels is that I always walk away feeling smarter. The writing is superb, full of real-world allusions and tongue-in-cheek humor, all of which is great. I leave them entertained, but also wiser. The way he takes universal truths and couches them in humor is awe-inspiring.

Favorite Line: “Listen, happy endings is fine if they turn out happy…You can’t make happiness…all you can do is make an ending.”

What I Learned: Stories should be like life. Love, laughter, tragedy, horror and humor, all blended together to make life worth living. Any story worth telling should make us think, feel, laugh, cry and cheer. They should show us life as it is and how it should be. Anything else is just words on a page.

Coming next week: “The Enchantress of Florence” by Salman Rushdie

The First Ten of Fifty-Two Books for 2012

WHAT’S PLAYING: Lil Wayne “How to Love”

So, last week I decided to read a book a week for an entire year. It’s not really about the number; it’s about reconnecting with one of the most important things in my life: reading.

That being said, I’m having a hard time getting started. The idea of reading fifty-two books is ambitious to say the least. At the same time, fifty-two is a paltry number compared to all the novels I want to read.

So to make things easier, I’ve narrowed the list down to the first ten. I’ll be posting reviews on each one, depending on when I finish them. Some of these I have read before and want to revisit. Others are new additions to my ever-expanding library. But they all have one thing in common: masters of the craft wrote them, people I hope to emulate in my own writing some day. (And please, remember that I’m reading these books as a consumer. Not a critic.)

1.Witches Abroadby Terry Pratchett

Bet you saw that one coming. This is one of my favorite Discworld novels, and I can’t think of a better way to kick off the New Year.

2.The Enchantress of Florenceby Salman Rushdie

This is a new addition. I’ve heard great things about it, and I’m a huge fan of his writing. I can’t wait to read it.

3. “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden

Lyrical prose, haunting imagery, and a strong protagonist. Toss in an epic love story set amidst World War II, and you have a book worth revisiting.

4.The Handmaid’s Taleby Margaret Atwood

No reading list would be complete without this unnervingly realistic portrayal of a dystopian future.

5.Poison Studyby Maria V. Snyder

A friend of mine recommended this one. I don’t usually go in for fantasy-romance novels, but she insisted I give it a try.

6. “The Princess Bride” by William Goldman

I grew up watching the movie. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the book was so much better.

7.Everything is Broken” by John Shirley

Another favorite author — not to mention a kick ass mentor – this is John Shirley’s latest. It’s scheduled for release on January 24. I’ve already pre-ordered my copy.

8. “Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman

I am ashamed to admit that – while I am a rabid Neil Gaiman fan – I have yet to read this one. An oversight I intend to remedy soon.

9. Luka and the Fire of Life” by Salman Rushdie

The first repeat on my list, but not the last. I picked this one because I wanted a kid’s book on the list, though from what I hear, this book is so much more than that.

10. “Butcher Bird” by Richard Kadrey

Tattoos and demons and witches, oh my! An excellent choice to round out the list. (Plus, I’m kind of digging the ink.)

And there you have it. The first ten of my fifty-two books. What about you? What’s on your must read list for 2012? (If you have any recommendations, I’m open to suggestions.)

I’ll be honest. I don’t know if I’ll be able to pull this one off, but no matter how many books I read – fifty or five – the important thing is that I’ll be reading.

Best New Year’s ever!

Why You Should Get Lost in Discworld or How Terry Pratchett Changed My Life

WHAT’S PLAYING: AdeleLovesong

I received a strange package in the mail last Monday, but because of work and the general chaos that is my life, I didn’t get a chance to open it until the night before Thanksgiving. Imagine my surprise when I opened the envelope to reveal a signed copy of Terry Pratchett’s latest Discworld novel “Snuff”.

Cue happy dance!

Happy Dance

After jumping around and screaming for about twenty minutes, I settled in and started reading. Bedtime came and went, chores went undone, and phones and e-mails unanswered.  (Sorry, Dad.) I finished it around 3AM, and fell asleep still wanting more.

Now, I could tell you how great the Discworld books are. Funny, relevant, and brilliantly written, they are an awesome combination of fantasy, humor and satire.

Instead, I think I’ll tell you how these books changed my life.

When I was nine years old – per a custody agreement drawn up before I was even born – I left my home on the reservation and moved in with my father. I still visited my mother fairly often, but it wasn’t the same as living with her. I was something of a loner before I left the rez. After, I became down right reclusive. I rarely spoke and spent most of that summer in my room, only coming down for meals or at my father’s insistence.

Problem was that I didn’t speak English very well. I could barely string three words together.  So, that fall, my father enrolled me in a Catholic school that specialized in teaching ESL (English as a Second Language). I excelled at math and science, but my grasp of the English language remained sketchy at best. Truth is, I didn’t want to learn. I already spoke one language fluently. How many did I need?

Then one day, a nun handed me an old, dog-eared copy of “The Color of Magic”. It took me over a month to finish it, but after that, I was a goner. I decided that if I had to learn English to read books like that, then I would learn. Six months later, I had reached “proficient” level. Two months after that, I was fluent. My love of reading didn’t end with Discworld – over the years, I discovered Twain, Gaiman, Shirley, Norton, McCraffrey, Lackey, and so many others – but it began there. And the result is that I now get to make my living doing the two things I love most: chemistry and writing.

Don’t get me wrong, not everything is roses. There are mornings I wake to the gray and featureless void of depression. When the very act of breathing is a struggle and I feel about as worthless as tits on a telephone pole. It’s on these days that I force myself to look for pleasure in small things: a funny movie, an uplifting piece of music, a hot shower, even a spoon of ice cream. (To paraphrase Raymond Carver: eating is a small, good thing in a time like that.)

And, of course, a good book.

The Discworld novels saw me through my first transition from reservation life to the mainstream. Ten years later, they helped me cope when I lost my twin brother, and my fiancée five years after that.

I’m not saying that reading is some sort of magical cure for depression. It’s not. But, you have to admit that a world in which books like “Snuff” or “The Color of Magic” exist can’t be all bad.

What about you? What cheers you up when life gets  hard? Friends? Family? Music, art, or books? Where do you find your little wonders, your small pleasures?

Stories not only shape our perceptions, but can also shape our lives if we let them. They remind us that there is no such thing as a hopeless cause, that we can all be better if we choose. If they’re really good, stories can leave us feeling uplifted and a bit wiser.

And that is no small thing.

Recharge Your Writing

WHAT’S PLAYING: Elvis PresleyPolk Salad Annie

The Outage is almost over, and it’s been a hell of a month. Between insane work hours and class, I haven’t had much spare time. I spent most of my days off cleaning, shopping and doing laundry. Worse, the stress was taking a toll on my writing. Instead of churning out 5 or 10 pages a night, I was lucky if I wrote 5 or 10 words. Even the quality of my writing suffered, and try as I might, I couldn’t make it better. Frustrated by my lack of skill, I usually wound up deleting the few precious words over which I had spent the last few hours sweating.

When it came down to it, I just didn’t want to write. It wasn’t fun anymore.

Then something happened that changed everything. A massive snowstorm swept over New England, dropping up to 24 inches of snow in one night. The drive into work usually takes about 40 minutes, 35 if there aren’t any cops around. That night, it took three and a half hours – one of which was spent waiting while emergency crews cleared away downed trees, power lines, and cars in various states of distress – and I didn’t even make it to work. Instead, I found myself stranded at a bed and breakfast roughly ten miles away.

Here’s a picture taken the next morning:

After the roads were clear, I drove home only to find that I had no electricity. That meant no laundry, no classes, and no writing. After a few minutes of feeling sorry for myself, I got into a pair of my fuzziest flannel pajamas, jumped into bed and started reading. Soon, I was lost in a Discworld novel, not caring that I was out of milk or that my closet looked as though it belonged on an episode of “Hoarders”. I didn’t think about all the things I should have been doing. I just read.

When the power came back on a few hours later, I kept on reading, only stopping for a hot shower and a fresh pair of pjs. As soon as I had finished Sir Pratchett’s book, I reached for another favorite by Neil Gaiman. That snow day was one of the best I’ve had in a long time.

Needless to say, my shopping and laundry never did get done, and my house remained a mess. What did happen was my passion for writing came back. I felt renewed. I plopped down in front of my computer and wrote for the next six hours. I’d forgotten what it felt like to create entire worlds and fill them with flawed, interesting people. Reading books by people who have mastered the craft brought it all back. All I could think was, “I want to do that too.”

The fact that I will probably never be as good a writer as Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman or John Shirley or Patrick Rothfuss or hundreds of others doesn’t matter. What matters is that writers like them inspire people like me to create and dream. Their words have seen me through poverty, illness and heartbreak. What about you? What do you turn to when your passion for writing, for life, diminishes? Movies? Music? Books? Poetry? Who is your go-to muse?

Who or what you turn to isn’t important. The next time you feel blocked: you’re out of ideas or the words just won’t come, step away from the computer and visit with your muse. If you’re anything like me, you’ll come away with a renewed sense of purpose and awe that’s all consuming.

Just don’t wait for a snow day to do it.