The Sunday Post AKA What’s on My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 4-21-13

Sunday Post
This morning’s newspaper was filled with information about the capture of the second suspect in the Boston Marathon Explosion. There are no words for this. Nothing makes sense about it. But it made people pull together again. One of the Occupy Wall Street groups, The Illuminator, lit up the side of the Brooklyn Academy of Music with the image below. Hope springs.

NY Heart Boston

Past Tense by Nick MarshMoving back to bookish topics, a writer friend asked me to mention that he reached the nirvana of getting his rights back and edited and re-released his books. I was supposed to mention this a couple of weeks ago when they were free on Amazon. Nick, I’m sorry. I have a soft spot for Nick Marsh’s Conduit Novels, Soul Purpose and Past Tense, because Past Tense was one of the first books I reviewed for Book Lovers Inc. (I reviewed Soul Purpose here), because the crew time-travels back to Roman Britain, a period I adore, and because one of the villains is a librarian. We don’t often get to be the bad guys. The books are good fun. Give them a try. (Also, Nick’s day job is as a vet, and he was awesomely supportive last year when my kitty was going through chemo).

The delayed winners announcements from last week. Shelley S. won the copy of Robyn Carr’s The Wanderer. Jennifer K. won one of the $10 Amazon Gift Cards from my Blogo-Birthday. Veronika chose a copy of Ruthie Knox’ About Last Night, and Erin F. picked up a copy of Ruthie’s Big Boy. Joy F. was the big winner. Rafflecopter chose her as the winner of one of the $10 Amazon Gift Cards and the set of Victoria Vane’s Devil DeVere series. Way to go winners!

Slam by J.L. MerrowLast week’s complete recap:

B Review: I Kissed A Dog by Carol Van Atta
Guest Post by Author Carol Van Atta + Giveaway
B- Review: Werewolves Be Damned by Stacey Kennedy
B Review: His Southern Temptation by Robin Covington
B- Review: Stealing Home by Jennifer Seasons
B+ Guest Review: Slam by J.L. Merrow
The Magic Touch Blog Hop

Magic Touch Blog HopThere is still plenty of time to get in on The Magic Touch Blog Hop! It’s open until April 30. I’m giving away a $10 Amazon Gift card, and there are 50 other blogs participating. LOTS of chances to win.

Tomorrow starts another week. Let’s take a look at what’s on tap!

Monday starts out with a laugh riot. Elise Sax will talk about life from her character Gladie Burger’s skewed point of view. And since Gladie Burger is the woman on the spot in her new book, An Affair To Dismember, I’ll have a review of her series-starter, along with a giveaway.

River Road by Suzanne JohnsonOn Wednesday and Thursday, we’ll be visiting one of my favorite cities in the world, New Orleans, courtesy of Suzanne Johnson’s Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series. I’ll be reviewing book 1, Royal Street, on Wednesday and book 2, River Road on Thursday along with an interview with Suzanne.

Friday I should have my review of The Magic Circle by Jenny Davidson along with her guest post. The Magic Circle is a somewhat spooky story about immersion in real-life gaming, and all of us involved in the arrangements got a bit too immersed in real-life and had to postpone this from last week to this week!

Return next week for another exciting adventure of “as the blog turns!”

Past Tense

Nick Marsh’s Past Tense is almost two books in one. The first half of Past Tense is science fiction/horror, and it’s pretty much of a sequel to Marsh’s first book, Soul Purpose (reviewed here). The main purpose of chapters 1 through 44 (or I through XLIV) is to provide a reason for the rest: the marvelous time travel feast that gives Past Tense its name.

The present day bits about the vet Alan Reece and his friends George and Kate, who saved the world from a Lovecraftian-Cthulhu-monster type takeover in the previous book, serve as introduction. The world is going to hell in a handcart again. Alan is not just seeing monsters, he also keeps slipping sideways into a world where Cthulhu seems to be running the place. And this is NOT GOOD.

He’s also being stalked by a couple of guys in ill-fitting suits and rather poor hygiene. When they finally catch up with him, their explanation floors him. They are like him, except from other “Soul Plains”. They are Conduits, with a capital “C”, and so is Alan.

And they are on Earth to help Alan save it, again. Because that last time Alan saved the Earth, he caught the attention of something nasty, and it wants to spoil things at the Soul Plain level, where only Conduits can fix things. Earth wasn’t even supposed to have a Conduit yet, so Alan is special.

About the poor hygiene thing. The other Conduits are just borrowing the bodies of people from Earth. They don’t quite know how to operate the equipment, so to speak. They get the language and general movement, well mostly, but the nuances of hair combing and tooth brushing are pretty much beyond them.

But they can show Alan how bad the problem is. The creature has no physical existence, except what he borrows. But on the Soul Plain level, he consumes Conduits, kills them, and steals their power. And he wants Alan. But he also want the entire Soul Power of the Earth.

The 21st century didn’t work for him. He was drawn to it because that’s where Alan was, but the 21st century doesn’t believe in much anymore, not on a superstitious level. This being needs to be worshipped to manifest. People need to believe in him. So he’s gone back into Earth’s past.

And that’s where the second “book” comes in. The creature has manifested in Britain, during the late period of the Roman occupation, in a fort on Hadrian’s Wall. In order to stop him, Alan has to go back to that same period to stop him from changing whatever piece in history he changed to trigger the wrong turn in history.

Alan has to occupy someone else’s body, just as the other Conduits do. Alan’s spirit, or soul, or Conduitness, or whatever, travels back and occupies the body of a medicus, a surgeon, on the Roman frontier in Britain at around 177 A.D. This glimpse into the life in Roman Britain is absolutely fascinating.

Even better, although worse for her, one of the creature’s minions mistakenly believes that Kate is the Conduit and sends her back to the same place and time. Kate occupies the body of a slave girl.

Between Alan and Kate, they are able to observe Roman life from top to bottom.

Their mission, which they must accept, is to prevent the assassination of the future emperor Commodus. Bastard that Commodus was, his place in history was necessary in order for the Roman Empire to fall at the appropriate time.

The only way they may be able to accomplish this seemingly impossible task is to convince a loyal and rational Roman Centurion that his commander is already dead and that his best friend is a time traveler. Can they do the impossible in time?

Escape Rating B+: I am of two minds. The set up with the part in the 21st century at the beginning, was necessary, but I wanted more of the part in the past. I adored the story once it moved to Roman Britain. Alan’s perspective on life in the fort really shone. It was so ironic that he found his place in life nearly 2,000 years before his birth. And he knew it couldn’t last.

And Kate, trying so hard to hold up at the absolute bottom of society’s ladder, reminding Alan that his current privilege rested on the backs of people like her, on slavery.

The historic bits reminded me a lot of Judith Tarr and Harry Turtledove’s excellent Household Gods. This was a marvelous book about a woman whose spirit travels back to live on the Danube frontier of the Roman Empire at the same time period as Past Tense.

There’s a slight hint of the Star Trek Original Series episode City on the Edge of Forever in Kate’s relationship with Lucius the centurion. She wants to save him, to the point where she writes herself a message the second they get back to the 21st century, which she already knows she will find and read at the beginning of this adventure, but he will still attack first and die. And it’s necessary to save the future. And she grieves.

For more of my thoughts on Past Tense, take a look at Book Lovers Inc.


Review: Past Tense by Nick Marsh

Format read: ebook provided by the author
Release Date: October 28, 2010
Number of Pages 238
Publisher Immanion Press
Formats Available: paperback, ebook
Purchasing Info:Goodreads, Author’s Website, Amazon, Immanion Press, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords

Book Blurb:

Alan Reece, an unassuming animal doctor from the West Country, was surprised to discover that he had become the link between reality and the strange world beyond. Unfortunately, ripples from his unwitting transformation have freed a dark and terrible creature from its improbable prison.

My Thoughts:

This was originally posted at Book Lovers Inc.

Past Tense reminded me of the old “Doublemint Gum” commercial. Because it was two, two, two books in one.
And you might think that’s a terrible joke, but it fits with the snarky tone of the first part of the book. Fully realizing that everyone’s taste in both humor and snark varies widely. And wildly.

The beginning of the book takes off about a year after Marsh’s first book, Soul Purpose, left off. It’s not necessary to read Soul Purpose in order to enjoy Past Tense, but if you like British humor of the Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy school, you’ll enjoy Soul Purpose.
(If Ford Prefect had picked up Tristan Farnon from All Creatures Great and Small instead of Arthur Dent, he might have sounded something like Alan Reece, except that I remember Tristan as being lazier, but I digress)
The point is that Alan Reece hopes that he’s going crazy. Because the alternative is that he’s got to save the world again. He keeps slipping sideways into an alternate world where large purple tentacled creatures like something out of H.P. Lovecraft are running things. Alan’s already saved the world once, he thought he could go back to his normal, boring life as a small animal vet.

If Past Tense were only about Alan saving the world from the latest incarnation of the Cthulhu Mythos, it would have been an okay book. But that isn’t the heart of the story.
When Alan saved the world the first time, he stirred up something. And its bad. And it wants the Earth. Of course it does, or we wouldn’t have a story.
In order to save the day, Alan has to go back in time, to the frontier of Roman Britain at the end of the Empire. Actually around 177 A.D.
How does he do it? He gets some help. Alan is special. He’s a Conduit. He’s responsible for the Soul, capital S, of the Earth. Earth isn’t supposed to have one yet. It figures.
Conduits from two other Soul Plains have come to Earth to help him stop the big evil, by teaching him how to send his soul back into the past to stop that big evil. The mechanics really didn’t matter.
What made the story for me was life in Roman Britain. Oh did that part ever work! Alan got dropped into the body of a medicus, a surgeon, just as the poor bloke was about to perform surgery on someone. Alan got the language and the skills, and working on a human turned out to be not that much different from a large animal, without anethesia!
But wow! Figuring out what he needed to do to stop history from going wrong, while living a life he really enjoyed. This part was terrific.

Meanwhile, Alan’s friend Kate got sent back too. By accident. And got to see Roman life from the bottom. As a slave.
Alan and Kate have a mission to complete in the past. They have to make sure history stays on the right course. It takes them a while to figure out what they’re supposed to do. And when they do figure it out, they almost blow the whole thing.
The Emperor’s son is touring Britain. The young man in question is Commodus. Yes, that Commodus, from the movie Gladiator, which hasn’t happened yet. At this point, he’s still a vain young man who hasn’t become emperor. But he has to. He has to become emperor and dictator and general all-around asshat so that the Roman Empire falls when it’s supposed to.
But if he dies in Britain too soon, the result will be that the Empire lives and becomes a world-wide theocracy with the Cthulhu-type monsters in charge. Can’t let that happen.
Alan and Kate decide to trust Alan’s best friend, the Roman Centurion Lucius. Of course, Lucius isn’t Alan’s best friend, he’s the medicus Anicius’ best friend. Alan’s trust is almost misplaced. But after the evil creature masquerading as a Roman Praetor attempts to arrest this loyal Centurion, Lucius throws his lot in with them after all.

I wish I could give Past Tense two separate ratings. The second half of the book, from the second they get to the past, is 4 stars or better. The ending is a tear-jerker for Kate. The first third is 3 stars.

PhotobucketI give Past Tense 3.5 stars because the finish is so good.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Soul Purpose

There must have been a generation of veterinarians who thought it would be just like James Herriot’s practice is All Creatures Great and Small. Herriot probably has a lot to answer for. Alan Reece, the vet in  Nick Marsh’s Soul Purpose (and its sequel, Past Tense) certainly didn’t expect that his practice would mostly be either mind-numbingly boring or involve being called in the wee hours in the morning because something horrible to a poor cow in a cold and mucky barn. And the middle-of-the night calls are always in barns. And always about cows.

But our story begins when Alan’s middle-of-the-night farmer call involves a perfectly normal birth–of a completely transparent calf. The calf is transparent, but its organs are quite visible through the skin. The farmer is also quite visibly certain that something is not right, but is too shocked to give his fears a name. Alan can’t believe his eyes, so he does something both stupid and brave, which turns out to be typical of him. He touches the transparent calf–and it becomes a normal calf.

By the next morning, after almost no sleep (not atypical of mornings after Alan has been on call) Alan wants to forget the whole thing. The farmer calls and says he doesn’t want to mention the visit again. Ever. And Alan is more than agreeable to that.

There are a couple of problems with this plan. One problem is that the transparent calf was not either Alan’s or the farmer’s imagination. It really happened. And the force that caused it, well, let’s just say it more than noticed Alan’s intervention. And now, it’s noticed Alan. In fact, there’s a voice talking to Alan, and Alan is trying to pretend that he’s not hearing it.

But Kate brings in her cat Roger, and Kate can see the person or force behind that voice. Kate has always been able to see souls, and now, she sees lots of them surrounding Alan. Kate has another problem. Kate’s a physicist, and she’s been running computer models on the new ion accelerator that’s scheduled to start running in Kent in a week or so. Her models show that the ion accelerator will bring about the end of the world. Really. Scientifically.

And that’s just what the voice in Alan’s head is predicting.

There’s one other person involved in this. George is Alan’s housemate. George works for a magazine, Mysterious World. Mysterious World covers paranormal phenomenon, and usually everything that George finds is a complete bust. Until he goes to see a strange fireplace at a pub, and guess what? The fire is transparent!

Escape Rating B: This is a hilariously snarky genre-bender. It has elements of horror, but also some urban fantasy and science fiction thrown in. Alan and his friends are terrific fun, so I’m really glad there’s another book. I want to see how they do now that they know each other. And how everyone puts their life back together, since they totally chucked everything in this one. But all in a very good cause.

I did figure out who the bad guy was way before the end.

Did Trevor (Kate’s ex) have to caricature every stereotype of the male librarian, and was it necessary to launch into a “why Alan fears libraries and librarians” in the middle of the book? Really? Can librarians possibly be as scary as demon worshipers and zombies? (And yes, this question is relevant in context)

There’s a nod to P.D. James’ Children of Men, or at least I saw one. YMMV. Some bits even reminded me of the classic horror videogame Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem not an exact correlation, but I wasn’t sure of that until the end.

If Ford Prefect had picked up a vet instead of Arthur Dent, this is the sort of horrific journey that might have resulted. And if this reference makes sense, you’ll have fun on this trip.