Book Review – The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

Good evening Blogland!

Sorry this is so late, but I procrastinated by talking with out of town family for hours today. Then I helped walk Trevor through some stretches before he got into his workout today. So, here I am ready to talk all about our book club meeting and The Paper Magician.

Last night the book club congregated at Taproot, our favorite local bar with healthy eats and a very laid-back atmosphere. Towards the back of thetaproot building there’s a nook I refer to as the Book  Nook, where the owner (who also was the Officiant at my wedding) put up a ton of shelves with old hardback books from library rummage sales. Coupled with the worn, comfortable couches and custom wood coffee and end tables, it’s the perfect spot to meet.

And everyone showed up! Those of you following along these last couple years know that it’s a rare meeting when everyone’s in attendance and everyone read the book. I was really excited last night.

But, I’m even more excited because everyone was really thrilled with The Paper Magician.

This is the part where  I tell you that there are spoilers ahead. You were warned.

The book is set in the late 1800s, just outside of London. Ceony Twill has just graduated from The Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, in half the time, only to have her hopes crushed. She wanted to be a Smelter, a magician who deals in metal, but instead will be a Folder- a magician bonded to Paper. Print

It’s important to note that once a magician has bonded with their element, all other forms of magic are unavailable to them

While Ceony never really reveals why she wanted to desperately to be a Smelter, she is crushed when she’s delivered to the home of Mg. Emery Thane, who is to be her mentor for the next 2-6 years.

And though he’s younger than she imagined, and attractive in a thin, nerdy way, she’s an absolute brat her first day with him. He knew that Folding was not what she wanted, and he did his damnedest to show her the wonders of Folding, all prepared before her arrival. Paper snowflakes, cut and painstakingly Folded, and then imbued with a chill all of their own. An entire garden of paper tulips, blooming in the wind. Paper birds flitting about the house, and Jonto, a paper skeleton capable of simple butler-esque tasks.

Oh! And, on the second day, after seeing her stroking a small dog collar mournfully, Thane stayed up all night to fold her a small paper dog, who she names Fennel. He’s the size of a terrier, and has all the anatomy of a dog, Folded in complicated patterns and links. That gesture made me cry pretty good.

And so Ceony starts her studies. But, just as she’s coming around to her lot in life, prepping meals and memorizing her Folds, Emery’s ex-wife shows up and rips his heart of his chest. Literally. She’s what’s known as an Excisioner, a magician who manipulates human flesh. It’s a forbidden practice, and one Ceony knows nothing pretty much nothing about.

Ceony’s quick thinking saves the Magician, but only temporarily. A paper heart, no matter how well Folded (her’s wasn’t) can only last so long. So she sets out, against the Magician Councils orders, to retrieve Emery’s heart and save his life.

Using some advanced magic left behind by Thane, Ceony is able to track Lira (the ex-wife) to a secluded cave on the coast, and there she has the  Magician’s heart in a ceremonial bowl of his own blood.

Unsure of how else to get the heart back, Ceony uses her small pistol on the woman, only to find that the Excisioner was able to manipulate her flesh into spitting the bullet out.

This woman means business. But so does Ceony, because she was starting to fall for Emery. And she refused to go home without his heart.

Lira worked some dark magic that sends Ceony into Emery Thane’s heart, and there she’s on the run, fleeing through the chambers of his still beating heart to try and escape the evil woman, as well as find a way out.

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Fanart entered in a competition, Pages of Adventure by Jynette Tigner

Ceony learns a lot about Thane as she travels through his heart. Each chamber has a different theme to the memories. Good memories, bad memories, hopes, and fears are all presented, and Ceony must maneuver through them to find a way out.

I don’t want to give too much away, because I really liked this portion of the book. What a crazy cool way to develop a character, by literally taking a stroll through his heart!

I didn’t expect to enjoy this book so much, especially since it’s so short, only 213 pages. The world building is thin, and the clubbers had some questions in that regard, same as I did. Are Magicians a public fact? How much do magicians earn? How many are there? These kinds of things. We wanted more!

But, ultimately, this story is about Ceony and Emery, and establishing the magic, which is all done very well. The book club agreed, all of them eager to read on to the next books. I already have the rest of the trilogy on the Library Book table, waiting for me to finish up with The Six-Gun Tarot.

So, I very much recommend this book. It’s whimsical, romantic, and cute, but also has some darkness to it that keeps it from being too sappy. You can tell it’s Holmberg’s first novel, but I have every confidence that things get ironed out as she continues to tell Ceony’s story. As it is, I did enjoy the dialogue and the prose very much, and I will admit that I would read aloud to myself in British accents, because I’m a nerd like that.

Don’t worry, only my dog was subjected to it. I was otherwise very much alone.

Anyway, I hope you all give The Paper Magician a shot. It was a ton of fun, and I look forward to reading more from this author.

Until next time, Blogland.

 

BZ

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The Audient Void No. #1 Out Now!

Audient Void 1

The Audient Void No. 1 is now available! Featuring original weird tales and dark poetry from the likes of David Barker, W.H. Pugmire, and K.A. Opperman, as well as works from new authors and poets, AND the revival of Barker’s classic column Ye Olde Lemurian!

I worked on a few of the stories as an Editor, and helped the genius behind it all, Obadiah, with any publishing questions and concerns.

If you like stories from Poe, Bierce, and Lovecraft, then The Audient Void is a wonderfully creepy return to the kind of storytelling that makes you jump at the wind in the trees and keeps you up at night wondering at just how much about the world we really don’t understand.

What could be lurking in the dark? Find out in the pages of The Audient Void.

Support the journal by buying an issue, and if you’re so inclined, we’re now accepting submissions for issue No. 2!

Head over to https://www.facebook.com/TheAudientVoid/ to purchase your copy and to learn more!

audient void contents

 

The Brent Weeks Book Signing

So, yesterday was a writing bust. But, I did get a bit of work done on the Book Club, which is good. Also, I read a ton yesterday. Over 100 pages, while I munched on a burrito from Chipotle. Today, I’ve left the book behind, in the hope that I’ll get some work done if Kvothe isn’t taunting me.

Also, I have to admit that I hit a wall. I wasn’t sure what Jordinn was really going to do next, or how to get him through the scene to move on to the point of the chapter. But, last night, at work, I had an epiphany. I’m ready today. I know what happens next. And I’m pretty excited to write.

I realized, as I thought about what I would blog about today, that I never mentioned how the Brent Weeks signing went.

I very nearly talked myself out of it.

I had time to kill, so I ate Five Guys and read on their patio, the bookstore looming over my shoulder. I’d planned on buying the second book in the Lightbringer series, in show of support for both the author and the Indie bookstore that brought him to Salem. So, I walked the familiar shelves, hunting for the right copy.
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Which they didn’t have. The only copy they had was a $17 trade paperback, and since I have the first book in Mass Paperback, I can’t buy a different printing. It’s wrong.

That was the moment that I walked back out to my car, and put the key in the ignition. I didn’t know anyone who was going to the signing, and no one was going with me. I was alone in a bookstore, waiting anxiously for someone to be friendly, or acknowledge me.

Instead, I’d made small talk with a girl, and found her a very haughty cosplayer. This is the hard part about book signings. There are two types of people that go to Fantasy book signings. There are your average readers, who are quiet and keep to themselves. They wear plain clothes, t-shirts, cargo shorts, and blend in.

And then there are the weird ones. The ones who are completely immersed in the ‘nerd’ counter-culture. They’re typically chatty, to the point of obnoxiousness. They engage others of their kind, and they usually partake in pretentious conversation and debates about Fantasy authors and how much they’ve read, or who they’ve seen.

One of these types boasted that he drove to Seattle to see Patrick Rothfuss. He drove up, attended the signing, and then drove back to Salem. That’s an eight hour round trip.

Now, Rothfuss is awesome. No doubt. But, to me, it’s a little unreasonable to go to all that trouble, when he’ll probably make a stop in Portland anyway.

Anyway, before any of this happened, I was sitting in my car, planning to go home and save myself the misery of batting off these ‘nerds’ with a stick. But, as I texted Trevor to see what his plans were, he already had his evening booked with a friend. And he encouraged me to stay, promising that I would have a good time.

So, I stayed. And you know what? I had a really great time.

Yes, I met the cosplay girl, and, while friendly, she was a bit uppity. We chatted briefly, but I was relieved when we sat a row apart. I nodded a ‘hello’ to a familiar face from Escape Fiction. I think she’s one of the owners, but she’s usually behind the counter, and always chatty about what book I’ve bought. But, she also is a touch weird, and looks like she’s probably done a little too much meth.

Not an uncommon look in Salem.

There were a few friendly faces. The quiet, ‘normal’ ones. We acknowledge each other, but we don’t engage. I’m good with that. And so I sat, with my lap-full of Brent’s books, waiting for the show to get on the proverbial road.
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I didn’t know what to expect. I’d only read half of Week’s first book, ‘The Way of Shadows’. I’d liked it, but I was reading it when we moved to Oregon, and life was a bit hectic then. I never finished it, but I purchased the rest of the Night Angel Trilogy, and the first book of the Lightbringer series, ‘The Black Prism’.

What I didn’t expect was Brent’s great sense of humor. He’s a large guy, in a teddy bear kind of way, and he reminds me a lot of my first Starbucks manager. And that’s a really good thing. Now, this is an author who creates concrete magic systems in completely new worlds, like Sanderson, but his writing style is very different. Weeks comes off as almost irreverent. His writing is quick paced, the learning curve for his magic is extreme, and his characters are bold and mouthy.

I like it.

And now that I’ve met him, I get it.

So, he introduces himself, the book he’s promoting, and overall is very warm, genuine, and happy to be there. He mentions that, most authors do a reading, usually from the book they’re promoting. But, he wasn’t going to do that. He’d come up with something better.

He took the characters from the Night Angel Trilogy, created a basic plot, and wrote his own Choose Your Own Adventure story. And by show of hands, the thirty or so of us present, decided our fate.

It was brilliant! It was engaging. He did voices for the characters, and mocked us when our decisions had less than ideal consequences, which was often. He even made a great joke at Salem’s expense, and we all booed him, good-naturedly, of course.

By the end of his ‘reading’ I was all smiles. If the event had ended there, if he’d packed up and said, “Smell ya later Salem!’, I would still be glad I went. But, there was a raffle for t-shirts, and then a Q&A. And then he sat down to get to signing.
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A friend of his manned photo duty, while his wife, who is lovely, took the books, and set them on the table for him. As seems to be the book signing custom, I sat, we said hello, and I introduced myself. He asked if I had any questions, and I said ‘no’.

In my defense, I hadn’t read enough of his work to have a good question, so I opted for no question at all. The ‘photographer’ was baffled at this. He looked at me and said, “I’ve got like five, if you want to ask him one. He won’t answer them for me!”

We laughed, and I said, “Well he won’t answer them now! He knows they’re from you.” Brent laughed. “Seriously, dude,” I continued. “Talk about missed opportunity. I was standing right over there!” I pointed to the line. Brent laughed more, and I smiled big.

And the above photo is the result. So, imagine my smile when I tweeted these photos, and he favorited them.

So, yes, I had a great time. And yes, I want to read more of his books. Author events attract a weird mix of people, but generally, we’re all well-intentioned. We just want our two minutes of exposure. Our small moment with someone we admire.

Now, if only I can be half as witty the next time Brandon Sanderson comes through…

All right, I’m off to get some work done. Wish me luck!

BZ

The Literary Crevices of Salem, OR

I finished reading ‘The Name of the Wind’ yesterday. I toted the book around with me for the rest of the evening, unwilling to relinquish it to its place on my bookshelves. In fact, it’s still sitting on the kitchen counter, waiting for me to decide I’m ready to put it away.

Buying the sequel will help. I spent most of my day off loitering the stacks of Salem’s various indie bookstores. That’s one of the things that enamored me to this small city. There is no Borders, no Barnes and Noble, not even a Walden’s Books in one of the malls.

But, there’s The Book Bin downtown, which has new and used books spread over two floors. Being downtown it tends to cater more toward the older generations, with a large selection of literary and general fiction.

The Book Bin Downtown

The Book Bin Downtown

But, they have a second location, just down the street from my work, The Book Bin East. This location, formerly Borders, caters more to my generation, with sprawling shevles crammed with Sci-Fi/Fantasy, both new and used, and a children’s/teen lit section that rivals any big chain.
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There’s The Book Habit, which is tucked away beneath a restaurant. Only used books live there, stacked two deep in horizontal rows on the shelves. They don’t even use a computerized register, and their organization and inventory are both mysteries. I only visit the ‘Habit’ when I’ve got the time to kill on an adventure in book hunting.
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The Paperback Exchange sits on a one-way street, in an old building whose windows are thick with the dusty grime of novels left neglected for too long. This store is probably my least favorite. It feels like sifting through the forgotten remains of someone’s former life. Dirty. The pricing makes no sense, and often can’t be found. I once stacked up a pile that, according to the numbers penciled onto the title pages, should have cost me upwards of $20, but once at the register the clerk/owner/hoarder told me the total was $14.

To this day, I’m not sure how she came to that total. The books are cheap there, and occasionally you’ll find an unexpected gem tucked away in some cobweb encrusted corner.
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Across the river I discovered The Reader’s Guide, a wonderful store in West Salem. They have new and used books, and today I found a real gem there; a hardback copy of ‘The Way of Kings’! I tore it from the shelf and cradled it against my chest, as if hugging a long lost child. Needless to say, I bought it, and at a steal of a price, $14.

This store is in a great location, but the building doesn’t have a proper sign. Instead there’s a hand-painted “Books” at the top, and then A-frame signs on the sidewalk. It looks rickety and sad, until you walk through the door into a wide room filled with shelves, all organized, with the spines all neatly facing out. I was quite pleasantly surprised.

Just one glimpse into the large store.

Just one glimpse into the large store.

About 20 minutes outside of Salem, in the tiny town of Independence, is a great little bookstore called Second Chance Books. It has a similar feel as The Book Habit, though a bit better organized. I don’t go there as often as I’d like, but if I find myself with a bit of free time, I’ll go there, pick out a book or five, and then grab a slice of pizza from the shop next door.
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And then there’s my favorite. The bookstore that hid from me for two years, right under my nose. Ultimately, the search for ‘The Wise Man’s Fear’ led me back here, to the place where I found ‘The Name of the Wind’. Back to Escape Fiction.
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This bookstore is something special. It’s a sprawling combination of warehouses, dedicated solely to fiction. There are about 8 different rooms, all bursting with different genres, and all organized neatly. But, there’s a quaint imperfection, some shelves housing novels in the usual, upright fashion, and some others stacked horizontally.

There’s magic in the twisting walkways defined by the placement of floor to ceiling shelving, a similar magic that can be found in the books themselves. It’s a place that makes my nerve endings light up, and at once soothes my soul and makes my heart race. They carry used fiction almost exclusively, but have an entire room dedicated to new Sci-Fi/Fantasy. It was here that I found the book I’d spent the better part of three hours hunting.

I’ll admit that I was holding out for a used copy. ‘The Name of the Wind’ had called to me, found me, and demanded in its own bookish way that I take it home. I wrote about it recently, claiming it full of magic.

I went to the Book Bin East on Monday, knowing I would need to find the sequel soon, but all their copies were new, and bound so tightly as to make flipping the pages difficult, as if the book were reluctant to share Kvothe’s story with me. I put each copy I touched back on the shelves.

And each store I visited today was the same. Either they didn’t have a single copy or it was new and secretive. There was no magic. But, in Escape Fiction, I found a copy that had promise. It’s still new, but it has the faint spark of magic, a hint at becoming what it’s predecessor is.

I bent to grab the book, and impatiently flipped through it at random. The binding was tight, but flexible. It promised to loosen up if I only gave it a chance. The words leapt at me from fresh, silken pages and again the smell wafted up at me. That familiar scent of printing and paper and glue. And though this copy lacked that warmth that comes from years spent read on patios and dinner tables, and in the wee hours under a blanket, they smelled of something else.

These pages held a fresh, clean smell. An eager smell. I cupped the book in my palm, and despite being over 300 pages longer than the first novel, it fit the same way, my thumb locked into the ‘O’ in ‘Rothfuss’, spine in my palm, and my fingers wrapped comfortably around to the back.

Used books tend to hog all the magic, but occasionally a new book is born with a hint of it. I’ll be honored to help ‘The Wise Man’s Fear’ gather its own worn version of magic.

And so my day was spent exploring the literary crevices of this town I now call home. Then I ate lunch and read about 85 pages of my find. I was hoping to write, or maybe edit today, but my time is running out. Tomorrow I work some weird hours, but Friday I should be in, and finally able to sit down to write.

I’m still excited for this story, and scenes are coming to me as the characters continue to develop. I will admit that the writing has been ridiculously easy this far, and though I fully expect for that to come to an end, I won’t fret about it.

When the writing gets hard, you just keep writing. Right?

I’m also excited about the edits I’m working on, although retyping and printing is looking like less and less fun. But, I’ve got a few people eager to read the second draft once it’s ready, and I’m just as eager to get it cleaned up for them. I could use the feedback.

Anyway, I’m off to work on editing a chapter while I wait for Trevor to show up. See you Friday, Blogland!

BZ

Snow Day and Good News!

So, months ago, while I was still finishing up my first novel, my last short story was published. “Fallen Star” found a home with Torrid Literature, and I couldn’t have been happier! The story was placed first out of the three fiction pieces in the issue, and instead of only being available online, this Journal actually has printed copies! I was convinced this meant I was moving up in the world.

Then, I posted, sometime in the fall, that due to being published in their Journal, I was nominated for their Hall of Fame. I posted here, and on my Facebook pages, asking for votes. But, admittedly, I didn’t keep up with it. So, I want to take a moment to thank those of you who navigated the tricky voting system to click next to my name. I really, truly, appreciate it.

Last week I received an email from Torrid stating that all voting for the Hall of Fame had concluded, and that they would be notifying the inductees shortly. I read the email quickly and then deleted it. I forgot about it entirely as near-record snowfall doused Salem in a panic. Businesses closed down for the weekend as the roads were covered in over a foot of snow. We had to leave my car at the in-law’s house, because we couldn’t get it up the hill to our apartment, and all day Saturday chains or traction tires were required to drive in town. So, we dug the Kia Soul out of the snow at the bottom of our hill, and Trevor fought with the poor little transmission until the car was magically out on the road. We drove carefully up to the corner pizza shop on Saturday, had a few slices and a beer each, and then went home to build a snowman behind our back  patio. The snowman was followed by a snowball fight that Trevor decidedly won, and then snow angel making, at which I was better. It was the perfect snow day.

So later we’re making dinner, pulled pork nachos, when I check my email. One new message from Torrid Literature. What? And sure enough, folks, the readers voted my story as their favorite in that issue! I still can’t quite believe it. The other two stories were very good. Much more hard hitting and thought provoking than mine. At least, that’s what I think. ‘Fallen Star’ is such a subtle, and comparatively quiet piece. I just can’t wrap my head around it! 

So, what does it mean to be a member of the Torrid Literature Hall of Fame?

Well, I get a certificate, which is pretty cool. They list my name on their website, along with a bio listing my publication credits and my blog address. Also, they will announce all of this themselves on their website and via their social media. It’s all very exciting! And of course, this is just one more feather in my proverbial cap. Another anecdote to add to my portfolio. And that is something to be proud of.

So thank you readers! I literally could not have done it without you!

 

BZ