The Melody of The Music of Razors

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In nineteenth-century Boston, a young doctor on the run from the law falls in with a British confidence artist. Together, and with dire consequence, they bring back to the light something meant to be forgotten.

A world away in London, an absent father, haunted by the voice of a banished angel, presents his daughter with an impossible friend…a clockwork ballerina.

For two centuries, a bullet-removal specialist has wielded instruments of angel bone in service to a forgotten power . . . and now he vows to find someone else to shoulder the burden, someone with a conscience of their own, a strong mind, and a broken will. For a hundred years he has searched for the perfect contender, and now he has found two: a brother and a sister. Walter and Hope. Either will do.

Last night something stepped from little Walter’s closet and he never woke up. Now he travels the dark road between worlds, no longer entirely boy nor wholly beast, but with one goal in mind: to prevent his sister from suffering the same fate as he. Only the creature he has become can save Hope. But is it too late to save himself?

Disclaimer: I’ve written this blog four times and failed to capture my thoughts so if the following seems bouncy it’s because..well..fuck..I don’t think the book has finished processing in my head, or it keeps changing in my head, and when I go back to reference something the words are different.

I will however say this…………..

Some books are made for things. They are made of sunlit beaches, lazy Sundays, train ride, cafes and dinners by yourself. Some are meant for rain, to be shared in book clubs, giggled about over wine with your girlfriends or clutched tight in times of grief.

The Music of Razors is made for midnight and storms and low lit fireplaces. For knives in alleys and whiskey in dirty glasses.

It is not recommended for writers going through a moment of doubt about their craft as it’s a gamble as to whether it will snap you out of it and make you work a lot harder, or it will make you think seriously about maybe doing that accounting degree that your Dad always wanted.

I’ve seen it described as Gaimanesque.

Reviewers and critics love to throw the term ‘Gaimanesque’ around; like it’s somehow become an umbrella genre for anything that’s strange, incredibly well written and that leaves you feeling fucking unsettled. It is a term that limits both Neil and the other writer it’s referring to in my opinion. It’s the box builders in this world trying to make something different fit.

Also, Gaimanesque sounds like a sex position.

It would be more accurate to call it ‘uniqueness’ and The Music of Razors is nothing short of unique. Don’t be fooled by it’s size or innocent appearance. The writing is tight.

“There are two things to remember in this life: That the worst crimes are committed in the name of love, and that everyone makes mistakes.”

You think it’s going to be about angels and demons (the opening pages had me fan girling for freaking joy) and then you find it’s going to be about monsters. Really, mostly, it’s monsters; the ones that protect, that hunt, that wear men’s faces…the ones that you become.

‘Everyone gets a monster. Sometimes they are big, sometimes they are ugly, and sometimes they are nothing like that. But they all look like the one thing that scares you most. And that is how it keeps your nightmares away: it scares them, too. Everyone gets a monster.’

Here there be terrors my friends but something I found the most unsettling was the sheer failure of people, monsters and the Devine alike. God creates an angel that allocates power and leaves it with this burden, Lucifer won’t have him because it’s his fault for putting rebellion into his malakhim DNA. Henry is disappointed by his father as well as Dorian. Millicent is disappointed in Dorian as a neglectful father. Walter and Hope’s parents themselves are turned into monsters through tragedy. Suni’s mother is cold and ambivalent. Walter  and Suni fail Hope in multiple ways.  The book is not afraid to be a Jenga Tower of fucked up failures that all inevitably crash down around everyone.

It’s also about change in everyday shape and form.

‘People change. The interesting ones, at least. You start life as one thing, and become something else. Upgrade or downgrade, it’s all change – it’s all vital-and besides…up and down is all relative to the angle at which your head’s been twisted.’ 

It’s hard to talk about it without wanting to dissect and as I said…I’m pretty sure I’m still trying to figure it all out in my head. The writer in me wants to get my tweezers and scalpel out and start cutting ( ‘Oh ho! I see what you did there Cam…wait..what? where the fuck did that extra appendage come from?’ ) but the cleverer writer part of me knows that it’s not the best way to go about it. Like my other great find of the year Library at Mount Char  it’s going to take a couple of months of thinking about it and mulling over drinks and another re-read to capture all the tricks and find pleasure in all the little parts I may have over looked in a first read.

Cameron recently released the novelisation of the game Quantum Break (that he also helped write) and it’s on my list to read regardless of the fact I’ve never played the game because his writing is so damn good. I’m sure his games are fucking magnificent but after reading Music an irrational part of me thinks he needs to be writing more books. Shoot, I could do with a whole book just from the opening chapter of Music.

I heard him on a panel talk about villains…when I walked out of there I was pretty convinced he was one. After taking the time to hang out in his head my opinion on this matter hasn’t changed. He’s the kind of villain that is also a really nice guy at the same time so yeah..watch out for that. Really, keep an eye on him and follow what he does closely. Buy the books and learn everything you can to arm yourself. He’s like a fucked up Pied Piper and The Music of Razors is a song that get’s stuck in you head that you can’t stop listening to.

Seriously, stop reading this blog, do yourself a favour and buy the fucking book ok? Get it here, here and here.

 

Roses and Rot – Thoughts on Art and Faerie

Last weekend I tried to implement a ‘Writing and Study Free Weekend’ and ended up reading Roses and Rot by Kat Howard from e-cover to e-cover.

25732504What would you sacrifice for everything you ever dreamed of? Imogen has grown up reading fairy tales about mothers who die and make way for cruel stepmothers. As a child, she used to lie in bed wishing that her life would become one of these tragic fairy tales because she couldn’t imagine how a stepmother could be worse than her mother now. As adults, Imogen and her sister Marin are accepted to an elite post-grad arts program—Imogen as a writer and Marin as a dancer. Soon enough, though, they realize that there’s more to the school than meets the eye. Imogen might be living in the fairy tale she’s dreamed about as a child, but it’s one that will pit her against Marin if she decides to escape her past to find her heart’s desire.

The book is structured around the tale of Tam Lin with a touch of Thomas the Rhymer. The original story revolves around the rescue of Tam Lin by his true love from the Queen of the Fairies. Here, the tale is retold and traditional roles changed so instead of a loved up couple it’s about sisters. Instead of a wicked step mother, there is an abusive mother who is tremendously well crafted.

I started writing as an escape, as an act of defiance. If I hadn’t had a childhood that had driven me so far into stories, that might never have happened. But I liked who I had become, and I was proud of my writing. Take away one thing, and maybe I don’t get the other.

There are three major themes that play out; fairy tales, family and art. To my reading the main theme is the latter. There are deep thoughts about art woven into the narrative and with the characters staying at an artists retreat its easy to explore the ups and downs and the layers of insecurities and ambitions that artists suffer from. There were times when it felt like a conversation with friends who are artists, the complaints were so familiar. There are things in this book, phrases and other tense moments, that non-artists won’t fully appreciate. It’s a fairy tale for artists with multiple levels of sacrifice and soul searching.

The faeries demand the best artist from the school as a tithe for seven years, after which they will be granted their hearts desire. In most cases its the success of their art and its longevity, the difference in being good and great. There is a manic factor to artists ambitions and it’s illustrated with an uncanny accuracy. I know I won’t be the only writer who feels a little uneasy and awkward when Imogen’s thoughts and desires are reflected in their own. It’s a story that asks boldly – what wouldn’t you do to be a successful artist?

The story also explores how abusive situations can drive a person to art in order to feel in control or to have a voice. Howard’s accuracy in this particular subject is like a scalpel blade to scar tissue. There is even the familiar ‘someone always has it worse’ game that the abused run over in their mind:

 You always tell yourself that there’s someone who has it worse, and if you lived through the abuse, there almost certainly was. There’s a horrible sort of comfort in reassuring yourself in that fashion—maybe you were hungry some nights, but you had food. Maybe you got slapped, but at least you didn’t get beaten. Maybe you got beaten, but at least you never had broken bones. You think of the worst thing that happened to you, and then you think of something even worse than that. If you survived, you always can, and so by pained, contorted logic, what happened to you wasn’t really that bad. Maybe your mother tried to break you, to tell you that you were nothing, that you’d never matter, that you were a waste of her time, but she never succeeded. Maybe you still have scars, but those marks on your skin mean you’ve lived long enough to heal.

Pain and art goes hand in hand and as a tithe its the emotion that Faerie feeds off…the greater the pain or emotion the better it is.

Maybe you lived, once, a life full of secrets. Ones you could never tell, not because you didn’t know the words, but because you had learned, time and time again, that the words didn’t matter. People would rather believe a pretty lie than an ugly truth, and you were always the one who wasn’t believed. So you learned the power in silence, and in secrets. Maybe you still look over your shoulder, but at least you got away. And after all, if you’d had a childhood that was different, one that didn’t always feel like walking on knives, maybe you would never have found your voice. If you hadn’t been forced to swallow your words, you would have never learned the power in speaking them. This is what you tell yourself. This is how you keep breathing. This is what happily ever after means.

Creating art has a way of cutting you deep even as it heals you. Like magic it always has a price.

My only criticism of the work is I would’ve liked to see more of Faerie..not because it’s necessary but because I’m fascinated how every writer describes it differently.

A thought provoking beautiful book and highly recommended to anyone who needs and artistic brush with the fae. Be careful what you wish for.

The Blessing of Dark Things

Twitter can be the unexpected giver of delightful gifts and random connections. A fortnight ago I saw a photo shared by Laini Taylor of a parcel she’d received containing a copy of Dark Things by urban fantasy writer Sukanya Venkatraghavan. I read the back cover of the photo and thought ‘Gosh, that sounds like my cup of tea.’

Oh how little I knew what I was about to discover:

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Somewhere on Prithvi, a mortal survives a supernatural attack. In the dark realm of Atala, an evil goddess prepares to do the unspeakable. And a Yakshi finds herself at the heart of an other-worldly storm.

Ardra has only known life as a Yakshi, designed to seduce and kill men after drawing out their deepest, darkest secrets for her evil mistress Hera, queen of the forsaken realm of Atala. Then, on one strange blood moon night, her victim, Dwai, survives, and her world spins out of control. Now Ardra must escape the wrath of Hera, who is plotting the unthinkable, ready to throw the universe into chaos.

To stop Her, Ardra must find answers to questions she hasn’t dared to ask before. What is the significance of the blood moon? Do Gandharvas and Apsaras exist or are they as much a myth as the sky city of Aakasha? Who is the mysterious Dara and what makes Dwai impervious to her powers?

Combining fantasy with the rich tapestry of folklore, Dark Things is a strange fairytale wrought of intrigue and enchantment, of shadows and secrets, of evil and those who battle it.

For starters I know surprisingly little about Indian mythology and this book ties in a lot of different myth tales. My ignorance of the root stories added to my intense enjoyment of the reading. As you all know myths and folk tales are my passion so to be able to be drawn into something so new was a continuous source of wonder.

I’ve started talking (argh fan girling) Sukanya on Twitter who much to my delight has become my spirit guide of book recommendations and an advice giver on where to start wading into the rich and varied world of Indian folklore. Its opening up new worlds and ideas for me which my story teller heart is feeding off like a Yakshi on a secret (see what I did there).

Alright, back to Dark Things.

Those of us who read a lot of paranormal fiction know there is an ocean of succubus books out there. To set the record straight this story is on a whole different level. It’s not simply a book about a succubus who rebels against her maker, or falls in love with a human, or fights to stop a terrible tyrant. It’s a story thats focal point is stories and the power of secrets.

A concept that really spoke to me in the story is that of the Untellable Secret- something that if spoken the hearer and the teller are never the same again. As someone who has carried the burden of such a thing I know the gravity of the secret that binds Ardra, Dara, Hera and other characters together. Some secrets leave a stain, they shape who and what we are and what we become. Once told they are like a drop in the ocean and you can’t stop the ripple effect they have. It is also a story of memories of things lost but not forgotten. I’ve got strong memories linked to frangipani flowers so this symbol within the story also really spoke to me and helped set the scene.

As I read Sukanya’s words I felt like someone with a kindred spirit was telling me a story over tea (black, strong and floral). “Listen up Know it All,” Sukanya says to me,”I’m going to tell you something that you’ve never heard before so be quiet, pay attention and try and keep up.” It’s presumptuous of me, I know, but all I could think was; Finally, here is someone who really gets it, who believes in the power of storytelling and the old tales, who will understand what I’m trying really hard to do…we want to write the new myths. The kind of stories that tease the back of your imagination because they feel like they are a story you once knew and have forgotten. They aren’t the kind of stories where everyone gets out alive, where the lovers are always triumphant or the heroes don’t pay a massive price for being a hero.

There is a deep melancholy sense of loss in Dark Things…all the characters feel it on some level. They don’t want to be the heroes but they are the only ones that can be.

After I finished reading it I knew I was going to suffer from the worst book hangover. I cleaned the house as cleaning is when I work out the messy problems in my brain. I’m melancholy. I’m undone. I’m hardcore in love with a Gandharva. I fear for the next book I pick up because I know that whatever it is I’m going to be disappointed. It’s not it’s fault.

I don’t think I’m writing this review very well because I know I haven’t finished processing. I know there are things I’ve missed and I’m going to have to re-read it again in a few months time so I can appreciate the finer flourishes. It’s hard to find an urban fantasy book with such complex storytelling.

Okay, I’m going, but I’m going to leave you with my favourite paragraph of the book, from an enchanted Forest of Fireflies:

“A story is only as true as you believe it to be,” said Dara. “A myth is only as wondrous as the imagination of the people who pass it down through the ages. I don’t know if the story of the sun, moon and stars is true. I don’t know if the stars were once cold, in a time before time was even born; I don’t know if the Sun pines for the Old Moon, my mother. But I know this – the universe is full of strange,beautiful stories, some untellable, some forgotten, and some written in a language that nobody can read, not even the Gods. These stories exist because the universe does, and the universe blazes on because these stories keep it alive. You and me, are the stories. We live and so does the universe. One does not exist without the other.” 

Defending YA: My Recommendations Round 1

Recently I stumbled across an article (one of many out there on the topic) about YA Fiction and why, as an adult I should be embarrassed about reading it. I’m not going to lie, I got rather ranty about it on my Facebook page. Maybe it’s because recently I decided to rewrite the first book I ever wrote, Eastern Gods and Western Wars. I started it when I was about 1 6 and finished by 19. I was a young adult when I wrote it and so I’ve tried to keep that voice but clean it up so it’s readable. I was surprised to find I still love the story and the characters. I also wrote it because YA wasn’t what it is now when I was a teenager (late 90’s, early 00’s) and while I know books out there had to exist in the genre, I couldn’t find them. So I wrote my own.

  1. I believe in reading whatever the fuck you like whether its YA, literature, fiction or fantasy tenticle porn- I don’t care- as long as you’re reading something it counts, and you shouldn’t listen to any loud mouth who wishes to push their opinions and shame you out on your choices.
  2. I’ve read some amazing YA in the last year, stuff I desperately wish was around when I was a teen, and so I’m ready to step up and defend the genre.

Instead of Hulking out and picking the article, and that opinion in general, to pieces and peeing on the remains, I’ve decided to meet the negative with a positive and offer up the best YA I’ve read in the last year or so in a series of blogs over the next few weeks. I’ll try and keep it spoiler free but be warned, I’m talking about series’ in whole as well as stand alones.

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Laini Taylor – Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy

‘Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.’

BAM! How’s that for an opening?

Okay, first off is Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy. To give you a bit of back ground I hadnt read any YA in a while when I picked this one up. I had looked at the first book on and off until I caved in and bought it and damn, aren’t I glad I did.

This series is about Karou, a beautiful blue haired girl that is raised by creatures from another land, Elsewhere, who deal in teeth and magic. At the beginning of the series she balances art school in Prague and working for Brimstone. Enter a pissed off angel Akiva and Karou’s life gets turned upside down with repressed memories, intense love and bloody action thrown into the mix.

Ancient battles between Angels and Chimaera, other worlds, resurrection magic. Hell, this series has everything I love going for it. It spans across two worlds as Akiva and Karou try to honour their own people, each other, and try and bring about an impossible peace. It’s Romeo and Juliet but in a fresh, unconventional and non-sappy sort of way. If you’re looking for Twilight, this isn’t for you.

The thing I loved the most about this series is the relationships and the chemistry of the characters. Karou is raised as a human and her interactions between her  and her human best friend Zuzanna as well as the object of her affection Mik (first date recorded beautiful, hilariously, in short story Night of Cake and Puppets). Their conversations are so real, funny and warm, its no surprise most of the reviews you read comment on them.

The series goes through some big themes and if you are a fan of urban- fairytales/ Pans Labyrinth/ epic fantasy seriously give it a go. It is ‘older’ YA, the flashy genre name New Adult would be appropriate here, with characters out of high school. Laini Taylor is an amazing writer, I was often stunned by the beauty of some of her sentences, perfectly executed. My particular favourite paragraph from Book 1 reads as follows:

“It wasn’t like in the story books. No witches lurked at crossroads disguised as crones, waiting to reward travellers who shared their bread. Genies didn’t burst from lamps, and talking fish didn’t bargain for their lives. In all the world, there was only one place humans could get wishes: Brimstone’s shop.”

Laini sets scenes with a strong voice imbuing magic in around you in a fairy tale of angels and monsters. It’s something I wish I had written because its so damn good. I went though this series one after the other, I couldn’t stop myself. It’s complex story telling, things aren’t magically neatened up and she’s not afraid to pull her characters through some serious shit.

If it sounds like your thing, give it a go, you won’t regret it. Find her here

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Books Of Magic

I love reading books about magic of all stripes and stamps, the more original the better.  Over the last 12 months I’ve read some great fiction so I thought I would share my favourites that I am sure I will find time to read again and again.

The Peter Grant Series – Ben Aaronovitch

I was drinking ale in a medieval pub in Estonia (Old Hansa) when I was recommended the first of this series ‘Rivers of London.’ I love urban fantasy and this interesting mix of crime and magic was irresistible from the first page. Ben Aaronovitch’s knowledge of London streets, history and heart is impeccable. As you read it you can really tell that he deeply loves this sprawling metropolis. Newbie police officer and protagonist Peter Grant has an encounter with a witness of a crime only to learn that he had been inter61oYoZzwsdLviewing a ghost without realising. The story and world grows as he’s introduced to Nightingale (my personal favourite in the series) and inducted into the Folly, the magical crimes unit of the London police. I won’t give away spoilers but I have a tendency to gush about this series. Its sharp, clever, engaging and I really love the history that is woven into it. The Rivers are formidable characters in their own right and it’s a delight to watch as they engage with Peter throughout the entire series. Aaronovitch’s creatures are incredibly original and it really delves into using magic to kill or maim and the costs of that. There is the seduction of magic and what it can be used for, and the hands that it should stay out of at all costs. The supernatural demimonde is an incredible lesson in world building and urban fantasy writers should use this series as an example of it being done well.

I went through all of the Peter Grant books like a crack addict. One of the great things about it that is hard to do well as a writer, is that Aaronovitch’s explains the magic without robbing the joy of it. If you love crime and magic this series is worth your time and money.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu – Susanna Clarke 

I need to admit something here…I am obsessed with Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Fiercely. Deeply. And in ways that I can’t fully explain. So when I approached this book of short stories it was with equal parts eagerness and hesitation. This is due to the fact that Susanna Clarke wipes my writer soul across the floor every time I read any of her words. They wrap themselves around my mind and fill it full of wonder and sheer joy and make me want to hide in a corner somewhere until I recover. With illustrations by Charles Vess its a beautiful book visually as well.

Okay so enough fan-girling (for now)…this is a series of short stories based in the world Clarke created for Jonathan Strange and Mr tumblr_m2s5xmSc2I1qbk98go1_500Norrell. Jonathan himself turns up in The Ladies of Grace Adieu and I couldn’t help but squeal as I’m a stone cold Strangite. These are  tales of magic, wonder and the malicious and lingering presence of the Fae. These are not the beautiful cuddly creatures of so many paranormal novels. These are established very quickly as a different breed entirely. They are a capricious species who don’t particular care what harm they can cause in the human world. They are not the kind of Fae you want to fall in love with. The only one that shows any kind of decency (in a backward manner as is their way) is Tom Brightwind when he uses magic to build a bridge in Thoresby, not to benefit the town so much as distract them while he seduces the mayor’s wife. Mary Queen of Scots makes an appearance in a way that will cause you never to look at embroidery the same way. The delight for me in the collection (there was more than one) is when Neil Gaiman’s town of Wall turns up in ‘The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse.’ As a fan of Stardust and The Duke I laughed in glee at his frustrations and ultimate solutions.

Now let us speak more softly, as respect demands it, of the Raven King. The final tale in the series, ‘John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner’ is mentioned in passing in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell but here we have the account in its entirety. I loved the Raven King and his looming omniscient presence in Jonathan Strange so it was great to have this story added into the collection.ladiesofgraceadieu I would dearly love it if Susanna Clarke would write a story just about the Raven King but she is definitely an author who knows her own mind on these things. Her writing has no unnecessary bits. Every part has a point and a purpose. As a writer I have this compulsion to pull apart stories I love to see how they work but I have learnt to tread carefully with Clarke. Once you see the tricks your admiration just grows until you are feeling like the ultimate fraud to even try and step into the profession. It can be said that her Victorian style of writing is not for everyone but for those who love Austin and the Bronte’s and want something like it with a magical twist they should look no further than Susanna Clarke.

The Magicians- Lev Grossman 

There is an old saying of ‘Good writers borrow, great writers steal’ and going into this series I can see why many people have mentioned it after reading this trilogy. Comments and headlines often say things like ‘Hogwarts for Adults’ and ‘a sort of terrifying Narnia.’ There are definite elements of truth in both comments.

The trilogy begins when protagonist Quentin Coldwater receives an invite to attend a prestigious college of magic, Brakebills. There is the typical shenanigans of drinking and fucking and pushing boundaries that teenagers are known for but this isn’t the total focus of the first book, its only really the first third. Quentin can be a dislikable character, depressive, needy and emotional but its not hard to believe an ultra intelligent and privileged kid could act in this manner. The real story starts to kick off when he and his friends discover a way into Fillory, a magical land from a series of books Quentin loves.1408_SBR_MAGICIAN_COVER.jpg.CROP.original-original

As with the Peter Grant books I won’t give away too many spoilers but there are things that this series does really well.Firstly that magic really comes with a price and its always a personal price. Julia, one of the most excellently crafted characters I’ve seen in a long time, suffers deeply when she isn’t accepted into Brakebills. She has to live with the knowledge that not only is magic real but she’s been purposefully denied the opportunity to learn it. She forges her own path and in many ways I see this trilogy not so much about Quentin but about Julia. She isn’t about to cry over things as Quentin has a tendency to do, she is made of sterner stuff and hunts magic and learns it on her terms. She suffers great personal  costs and to me her journey was the most engaging.

Secondly, even though there are obvious Narnia overtones Grossman seriously makes Fillory, his Narnia,  100% his own. The clock trees are an original favourite of mine. This land isn’t ideal. Its damn frightening majority of the time. I also loved the libraries of history seen in the third book of the trilogy. I love a good magical library.

This series is a strange beast and for months afterward I couldn’t decide if I intensely loved it or hated it. Readers of the series seem to fall into one category or the other. I loved it, but its a complicated love. Grossman didn’t set out to write a story with a likeable protagonist, he can be a darn right piece of shit when he wants to be, but can’t everyone? I still wonder if the book is about the pointlessness of wishing for things to be better all the time instead of enjoying what you have…or that dissatisfaction comes from within yourself and not the world or wonder around you.Even with the knowledge of magic and other worlds Quentin still struggles to be happy or satisfied and that would frustrate a lot of readers. It’s jaded in its way but I still believe its worth the read because there is so much in this series that is awesome. There is terror, wonder, love, pain, suffering and magic. It’s violence is sudden and visceral. Magic is not safe and to abuse it is to court pain. Grossman has tried to be realistic in his approach to the magical, how modern teenagers would probably approach it, and in that way he is making a social commentary. I will read it again because there is much that can be overlooked with a single reading. I am looking forward to what they do with the TV series and I hope they don’t soften its edges.

So there we are folks…they are my top picks. I need to do another blog on YA, including a magic series in that category, but these are the best magic books of 2015 in my opinion. They are the ones that  have really stuck with me for a variety of ways. I hope you give them a go.