Angel Mage

I entered a giveaway for a chance to win an advanced copy of Angel Mage by Garth Nix. Well, I’m happy to say I won said copy and quickly read the book so I could write this post for you. This is the first book I’ve read by Garth Nix. I first heard of him through my wife, who had read his Old Kingdom series when she was younger and raved about it to me when we were first dating. Her copies sit on our bookshelves but remain on my TBR list (I will read them eventually, I promise). 

“More than a century has passed since Liliath crept into the empty sarcophagus of Saint Marguerite, fleeing the Fall of Ystara. But she emerges from her magical sleep still beautiful, looking no more than nineteen, and once again renews her single-minded quest to be united with her lover, Palleniel, the archangel of Ystara.Angel Mage

It’s a seemingly impossible quest, but Liliath is one of the greatest practitioners of angelic magic to have ever lived, summoning angels and forcing them to do her bidding. Four young people hold her interest: Simeon, a studious doctor-in-training; Henri, a dedicated fortune hunter; Agnez, a glory-seeking musketeer; and Dorotea, icon-maker and scholar of angelic magic.

The four feel a strange kinship from the moment they meet but do not suspect their importance. And none of them know just how Liliath plans to use them, as mere pawns in her plan, no matter the cost to everyone else . . .”

Angel Mage is a standalone novel and was a great introduction to his work. This book is a neatly wrapped, satisfying adventure. However, the world Nix created is rich and could potentially spawn future stories if he chooses to write more. I have always been interested in angels as supernatural/mythological figures. Nix takes the concept of angels and uses them in an interesting way by having their influence within reach of the characters in this world but they do not physically manifest in their own right. This allows a form of magic to be present, but the cost to call upon the angels also limits its use.

There are five main characters throughout this book. The first, Liliath, almost reads a villain from the start and this makes her interesting, but I quickly came to like the other four as they are introduced. There are not any clear lines between heroes and villains or good and bad in this story and I enjoyed being able to decide for myself how to connect everything together. I also enjoyed trying to figure out the motivations and intentions of each character as the story progressed.

Nix partly dedicates this book to Alexandres Dumas and states this story was influenced by Dumas’s The Three Musketeers. This influence can be seen throughout the swashbuckling adventure found within the pages of Angel Mage, but only as a fun allusion picked up by those familiar with the work of Dumas.

If you are fan of Garth Nix, like fantasy, or enjoy sword fights and monsters, you will like Angel Mage. The recommended age range is 14 and up, but I think this story would be okay for younger, ambitious readers. This book is expected to release on October 1st, 2019. Pick up a copy or check your local library.

Happy Reading.

As You Wish

Inego Montoya

As You WishAs You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes and Joe Layden is the endearing memoir about the making of the beloved movie. I listened to the audiobook version as read by Cary Elwes with guest voices by costars Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, and Mandy Patinkin, Norman Lear (producer), Rob Reiner (director), and author/screenwriter William Goldman. To put things simply, if you like the movie The Princess Bride, then you will enjoy this book. It is filled with fun stories about the making of the movie as well as anecdotes about the cast and crew. The production seemed to be a blast, though of course there were a few hiccups (and memories are often gilded with fondness).

I would recommend the audiobook specifically (I borrowed it from my local library), since it is read by Cary himself and everyone listed above chimes in to discuss their own little stories or point of view about a specific event. Cary does great voices when quoting his friends in the production (my favorites being Andre and Rob Reiner), and it is just an all-around great way to take in these stories. I learned a lot about different actors in the film, especially Andre the Giant who seemed like such a fun guy with an amazing take on life. I had no idea Robin Wright was so young while on the set (the mere age of 20), as well as Cary Elwes (who turned 24 while filming).

To show my age here, I wasn’t even alive when this movie was first released in 1987. So I don’t feel in the wrong here for not knowing much about the movie or its production. I was surprised to hear that it did not do well in theaters upon initial release. This is probably because by the time I watched it for the first time, it was already an internationally beloved film. How could it not be? With so many incredible moments and memorable lines, who wouldn’t love this quirky film? It’s…Inconceivable

Right? Well, it seems the marketing departments didn’t know quite how to tell the world about this satirical fairy tale that pokes fun while being its own kind of serious with sword fights and giants and the Pit of Despair and the rodents of unusual size. After all, it is all read from a grandfather to his grandson. How could they not adequately tell the world of a movie that doesn’t fit into any one genre or aimed at any particular demographic? Well, they struggled to say the least and the movies theatrical release suffered for it. But the world came to love it for what it was and it has become one of the best-known films on the planet. I was surprised to hear that the movie was considered impossible for the longest time in Hollywood. Either no one knew how to do it or it built a bad reputation of attempted productions that failed before they started. Rob Reiner took it up and just did it. From this book, he made it seem easy too. I’m sure much was glanced over or missed since this text takes place from primarily Cary’s point of view, but it turned out better than I think anyone could have hoped.

I must admit at this point that I have not read the book The Princess Bride by William Goldman. It remains in my to-be-read pile and I know I’ll get around to it eventually. I’ve heard people say not to bother since the movie is so good and considered better than the book. Goldman wrote the screenplay so of course I wouldn’t feel any guilt if I never got around to reading the book, but I enjoy seeing the differences between the books and the films. It is very rare for a film adaptation to be better than the book, but it does happen, and I think I’ll make my own opinion in this case.

I think anyone who has never seen the film would like this book, but of course knowing the film first makes it that much more enjoyable. I had a strong urge to watch the movie again upon finishing this book. I think I may have a deeper appreciation for the film now knowing what I have learned. I can better enjoy each character and actor performance. I can look at certain scenes differently such as the epic sword fighting scene, which takes place after the climb up the Cliffs of Insanity (actually filmed at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland where I visited last year). I know exactly which scenes were filmed after Cary broke his big toe. There is so much more I can enjoy while watching the film now. So many little tidbits of information I can revel in knowing, but of course it is just as fun to sit back and enjoy the film for the masterpiece it is. As for this book, it is a glimpse behind the curtain. A glimpse filled with so many heartwarming tales it could even compare to the film it details, but let’s not get into the chicken or the egg argument.

Happy Reading.

The View from the Cheap Seats

neil-gaiman-the-view-from-the-cheap-seatsThe View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman is a book of selected nonfiction that is, simply, a delight. I picked this book up when it was first published. I’d come across one of Neil’s tweets that listed all the independent bookstores in America that would have signed copies of the book upon release. I scoured the list and found there was one bookshop in my state, the state of Missouri, that would have them, and to my outstanding luck it was just down the road from where I worked. The bookstore, Main Street Books located in St. Charles, would receive 10 copies. The day it came out, I took my lunch hour a bit earlier than usual, and went down to see if I could grab a copy. My luck held out and I nabbed one of the few. I was uncertain how many other fans may have been privy to the information of first edition signed copies of Neil’s new book. I wasn’t sure if many people in the area were Neil Gaiman fans. After purchasing my copy I remember wondering these things and, if my memory serves correctly, I spread the word so people knew. I brought the book home with me after work and subsequently read the first handful of pages, about 50, and for some reason did not pick it up again.

Until two weeks ago when I was about to catch a flight home from a vacation in the Dominican Republic. I had a paperback book I’d been reading on the vacation and on the first flight back, but the second flight would be dark and my eyes wanted a rest from the dry, circulated air of the airplane, so I downloaded the audiobook of The View from the Cheap Seats from my library back home through the convenient app. The audio-book version is read by Neil himself. This was my first audio-book experience and I’m glad to say it may have been the perfect introduction for me to this format. I listened to the book for the entirety of the flight home. I began listening to it on my commute and sometimes while at my desk working. I recently finished it, while doing yard work, which is why I am writing this recommendation. Or rather, I am recommending this book to you now not simply because I finished it, but because I think it is a great book and it is filled with fun and is extremely informative.

This book is filled with material that spans decades and talks about a great many things. It talks about writing, writers, music, books, people, the importance of art, the importance of genres and different types of storytelling including comic books and film. This book is filled with Neil’s experiences and his experience. There is a lot to be learned.  A section of this book contains a plethora of introductions. Introductions that were written by Neil for other books. Introductions that will inevitably provide you with a decent amount of books to add to your list to read, as I have added to mine.

Neil talks about a great many people in this book. Well, he had talked about them a long time ago originally and the pieces of writing were chosen to be included in this volume. If I had read this book back when it was first published, I would have known about Gene Wolfe long before I first discovered him. I have not read any of Gene Wolfe but his books are now on my list, and I am looking forward to reading them. I hate to say I first discovered Gene Wolfe when news of his passing was released a handful of weeks ago. Reading about who he was and what he wrote made me fond of this man I never knew and, now, will never know. I read an article that Neil retweeted claiming it was a good article about Gene. I wish I would have known about him earlier. He lived only a few hours drive from where I live now and I’ve already daydreamed my way into a world where I read his books long ago and fell in love with them and actually made a trip to meet him. Something I’ve never done. I’d be hesitant about doing so even in the dream, but he would be nice as so many have said he was.

One of the things I think I’ve learned from this book is to go out and make more connections with people. Neil tells stories of how he first met many authors who would become lifelong friends, and I am inspired to get out and make some friends of my own. I lack friends who write and I want to have more discussions about writing and I want to have even more discussions about life from the ever-observant type of person who is often a writer. Neil’s story of meeting Diana Wynne Jones seems to be mere happenstance, but what an incredible chance it was and even more incredible how quickly they became friends. I first discovered Diana Wynne Jones after finding out the Hayao Miyazaki film Howl’s Moving Castle was based on her book of the same name. I quickly read the book and loved it and added many more of Diana’s books on my list to read. Even so, Neil gave me another book of hers to add to my list. One I’d never heard about until he talked about it in this volume.

He talks about many people he has met throughout his life and he talks about books that inspired him and he really talks about the books that influenced him as a boy. He talks about his journey into becoming a writer of fiction that began in journalism. He talks about how he wrote Good Omens with Terry Pratchett by mailing each other floppy discs and calling each other over the phone. Much of what he talks about is nostalgic. Things he discusses have changed since he first wrote about them. The world is much different now that it had been back then. He talks about changes occurring in the comic industry well before comic-book movies became a worldwide phenomenon. The book is not outdated by any means. It is filled with life and love and stories.

There is much to learn from this selected nonfiction. There is much fun to be had. It is inspiring whether you read it in print or listen to Neil’s melodious voice read it to you. It doesn’t matter if you yourself are a writer or not. I dare say it is interesting even if you aren’t even interested in books. This volume is filled with experiences. Yes, many of which mention books and are related to story-telling, but he talks about music and people and things he believes in. These writings are themselves stories, and collected in a way to become something even more.

Happy Reading.

Day of Empire

Day of EmpireDay of Empire by Amy Chua was a book I picked up simply to learn more about how societies and empires were formed, how they maintained their power, and what led to their destruction. This was all research for a potential story where an empire would be prominent and I felt the need to learn more so as to have realistic elements in the fictional society I want to create. I learned a lot from this book and it made me think about many things as well. The book covers a large history, starting from the Persian empire and ending with the current United States (as of 2007 at least, when the book was published). Many of the chapters do not go in-depth into each of the empires discussed or the book would be a million pages, but it does provide a lot of information about how the empires were formed and how they came to end in fairly general terms.

However, what I thought most interesting was Chua’s thesis that these empires grew and thrived on tolerance. Relative tolerance in some fashion. A trend I noticed was religious tolerance was what caused some of these empires to become as large as they did. When other parts of the world were persecuting people due to religion, those people would flee to an area where they could practice their beliefs without fear. Many of the empires were also formed from violence and military strength. Some from economic and trade power. Chua claims that tolerance is what helped create each of the world powers, and intolerance led to their decline. I am non-religious so I do not know much about the histories of religions, but I thought it insane how much of history has been dictated by religious disparities. So much hate and war. So much persecution and destruction. It has been an issue through seemingly all of human history and unfortunately it continues even today. I could go further on this topic with my own opinions, but let’s get back to the book.

I knew a little about Rome and almost nothing about the Mongol empire. I never knew how the Ottoman empire was founded or even how the English empire grew out of the Dutch empire. Needless to say, this book has a ton of great information and it made me want to delve deeper into some of the empires it discusses. History can be fascinating and it has been a long time since I’ve read a history book (especially one that was not assigned reading). It was refreshing since I read many fictional books of mainly the science fiction or fantasy variety. I like to learn and history is the best area to learn from. I think I’ll start incorporating more history books in my reading line-up from now on.

After covering several empires and several thousand years of humanity, Chua spends the final few chapters in the 1900’s and ends with present day (as of 2007) America where she predicts what other nations may come to rival the hyper-power that is the United States. This book in already 12 years old and many of the things stated are somewhat dated, but one thing I can’t help but think about is Chua’s claim that powerful nations begin to fail when they become intolerant. Today’s political climate has become quite intolerant. I know there have always been issues in this area, and that many different peoples have been persecuted throughout the history of the United States. From the Irish to the Japanese to African Americans to Muslims just to name a few. I fear this trend will only continue.

As individuals it is easy to be nice to others and get along without violence or even arguments. It is harder to manage or govern large groups of people in towns or cities or countries. But aren’t populations made from individuals? My personal history has been quite different than anyone else’s I’m sure. I was taught what hatred is but I was not taught to hate. I honestly believe people can live in peace even if they disagree on many issues or big topics. I hope that one day we, humanity, can find a way to stop killing each other and simply live and grow together. To build a world where the lowest standard of living means access to clean water and no empty stomachs. But again I digress from the book.

There is much to learn from history and I learned many things from this book. About governments and governing practices that work and don’t work. About many different areas of the world and different times. Looking at the history of the world from a distance, or over a great amount of time, makes it seem a little more simple, but it also gives a world-view of humanity where you can see trends that persist even today. If you’re up for learning some history, I’m sure this book will have something you did not know previously.

Happy Reading.

The Handmaid’s Tale

handmaids_taleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood popped on my radar a few years ago when it was being adapted for television. I didn’t know much about it at the time and only learned a few tidbits before I decided to read the book. All I really knew was that the main character was a woman who was considered special because she could bear children in a world where that was supposedly rare, and that it took place in a dystopian future. I do like dystopian novels, but what really made we decide to read this book was Margaret Atwood herself. She didn’t personally recommend it to me (though I wish I could meet her). I took her Masterclass on writing a few months ago. She did use this book as a case study for a few instances, but I came to find her as a person simply charming. I’d never read anything by her and didn’t now much about her before this class, so I thought I’d read The Handmaid’s Tale to see if I would like her writing. I almost chose Oryx and Crake but it was book one of a trilogy so I decided to save that series for later. It has joined my extensive to-read list.

I do not include spoilers about the story itself, but I do describe aspects of the dystopian society, which could be considered spoilers. So…*Spoiler Warning*

The Handmaid’s Tale was first published in 1985 and tells of a world where the United States is changed into the nation of Gilead via a military coup with a deeply religious foundation. The issue of declining birth rates had already been taking place and various other issues are alluded to such as mass nuclear contamination in many areas and the reduction of sea life to near non-existent levels. So basically the world was declining drastically before this takeover. Many people were persecuted and exiled. Many tried escaping when things got really bad, but this book focuses on a Handmaid.

Women are all segregated into classes and men have dominant roles in the new society. A Handmaid is a woman who has the potential to give birth and they are, as Atwood describes, essentially just a walking womb. They have a special role in this society but are also held to the highest standard. They are surrogate mothers in a society that opposes in-vitro fertilization.

Needless to say, this book can be disturbing. The little information we get about the gradual change of the society is what, I think, was one of the most frightening aspects. The Constitution gets suspended and life goes on as usual, but small changes start to occur. Then larger ones. Some people try to resist but are suppressed quickly and often lethally. What I think is so disturbing is that this drastic change of society by a large, violent group is very realistic. I like to think something like this could not happen, but Atwood dispels that doubt with her descriptions. The society itself and the way women are used is also quite disturbing. Women are reduced to nothing but their biological abilities. They are used as cooks and to run households if they cannot bear children, but outside of that they have no liberties. They are practically sentenced to death if they are deemed non-compliant. Men also have to watch their backs, but they can still live somewhat normal lives with a certain level of freedom.

One thing that did take some getting used to was the first-person character who also acts as narrator. There are very few quotation marks used in this book. I think many people have a hard time with this since there are instances where they are used but most of the time they are not used even when a conversation is taking place. As I said, it took a little bit to get used to it. Once I was, it didn’t bother me much. I think the lack of the quotation marks makes the descriptions and scenes actually stronger or more disturbing. It’s a style choice. Some like it, some don’t. I personally did not think it was a big deal.

Atwood shows her mastery of the craft in this book with her pacing. She builds her dystopian world and makes it intriguing despite its horrors, but she also provides information about the characters and changes to the society in small bursts throughout the story. Therefore, you are always learning more and getting questions answered as you read.

Great dystopian stories often read as timeless (and also allude to a war going on somewhere in the background of the story). This one can be ‘dated’ to the 1900’s or after fairly easily, but it reads timelessly as if the story could take place not far into our future. Dystopian stories are, I think, supposed to show us of a possible future that we should absolutely try to avoid. They are often extreme futures. But more importantly they comment on the world we live in (or the issues of the time they were written). This book is definitely a commentary on gender in society. It comments on many other things as well, such as sex, but the core is gender disparities. I guess you could almost compare this book to Brave New World. At least, to say that the societies are opposites. You could say the society in this book took great steps to prevent what would possibly become the society we see in Brave New World. Instead of rampant drug use and orgies and ‘everyone must be happy,’ we get an authoritarian Big Brother where sex is only an act that should be used to create life and love or any other abstract feelings should be suppressed. So…yes, it’s more like 1984. 

I recommend this book because, as most dystopian books do, it makes you think about society in various ways. This book is a bit more disturbing than others, but for a purpose, and I think it is disturbing because it is hitting close to home on many issues we see today. Issues that were probably more prominent in the 1980’s. It is meant to make you think. Not about some fictional future but of our current issues and our past. To make us look closely and see what we may have been previously ignorant of. Hopefully, it will expand your mind and let you see the world you live in a little more clearly. Hopefully, it will encourage you to help make the world a little better off than it currently is.

Happy Reading.