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Saturday, April 30, 2016

An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet

I'm still trying to catch up on April's reviews, especially of the fantasy I've been reading for Carl's Once Upon a Time challenge.

An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet  is a dark, atmospheric fantasy.  Hallie and Marthe, the two sisters who own Roadstead Farm, wait for Marthe's husband to return home from the recent war.  As the women are about to give up on Tom's return, Heron, a wandering veteran, arrives, and Hallie convinces Marthe to hire him to help get the farm through the winter.

Then the Twisted Things arrive.  Are they following Heron?

Bobet's language is often beautiful and contains fresh and powerful imagery: 

 "His color was coming back, sun-brown instead of pale, but he still looked like he'd watched his house burn down and been fed the ashes."  What a potent description of shock and misery.  

And "There was no light in the smokehouse past the edge of sun creeping around the doorstep, but the knife shimmered like fresh water."

The world building left me curious, but not satisfied.  It is a post-apocalyptic world to begin with, great cities and human progress destroyed in the distant past.  Then there is the strange and never fully explained war with a "Wicked God," who has been destroyed.  Or not.  A parallel world from which the twisted things continue to escape, destroying all they come in contact with.  This Wicked God, parallel world, twisted things concept didn't feel fully realized to me.  More questions than answers.

A distinct and complicated family dynamic is at work involving the sisters.  Are they repeating the "war" between their father and their uncle?  It has long been a family on the verge of disintegrating, but can Hallie and Marthe resolve the conflicts?  Themes of the effects of war on the individuals who fight, of words that linger and poison, and of good intentions that often fail are also intertwined throughout the novel.   

The atmospheric details create an eerie, menacing mood, but the pacing is slow.    In spite of the potential, I never felt  fully a part of this world.  I almost loved An Inheritance of Ashes, but not quite.  It was a near-miss for me, and yet, many of the scenes linger visually.  A book that left me with some vivid images and some questions.

Library book.

Fantasy/YA.  2015.  388 pages.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Two for Once Upon a Time

Last month I read Jeff Wheeler's The Queen's Poisoner (reviewed here) and thoroughly enjoyed it.  This month, NetGalley offered the second in the Kingfountain series:  The Thief's Daughter!

Once again, I immersed myself in the fantasy (and alternate history) of the KingFountain series.  Owen Kiskaddon and Elysabeth Victoria Mortimer (Evie) have grown up, and their childhood friendship has deepened into something more.  King Severn likes and trusts them both, but his plans do not include sacrificing political aims for the happiness of his young subjects.

The alternate history aspect continues in this fantasy when a pretender to King Severn's throne has gathered important alliances that threaten war.  Owen and Evie feel both loyalty and duty to Severn, but what he expects of them requires subjugating their own hopes.

Interesting that the title is The Thief's Daughter because although Etayne, the young woman who is now the King's Poisoner and part of the Espion, has an important part to play, she is not the focus of the novel.  Wheeler has introduced an important character, but reserves her major role for later in the series.

I would recommend reading The Queen's Poisoner first and then following up with The Thief's Daughter just so you can have the backstories of the characters.  I can't wait for the next in the series!

NetGalley/47 North

Fantasy.  May 31, 2016.  Print length:  366 pages.

The Rise of Empire by Michael J. Sullivan is continues the saga of Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn, the warrior and thief who make up Riyria.  All the books in the Riyria Revelations are made up of two novels, each with an overarching storyline, but each book has a sense of completion.  The Theft of Swords (reviewed here) combines books 1 and 2; The Rise of Empire combines books 3 and 4.  

I really like the way the description can again be narrowed down to three sentences:   A puppet is crowned. The true heir remains hidden. A rogue's secret could could change everything.

Oh, poor puppet.  I won't add anything to this in case you decide to read, but this was a worrying aspect for me.

The true heir does remain hidden from the Church of Nyphron and from the reader.  I had several possibilities that came to naught.  

Once more, Sullivan provides well-developed characters, shifting the emphasis somewhat from one set of characters to another as the epic expands.  The secondary characters (I especially like Amilia and Nimbus) are also interesting in their own right, not simply as a means to advance the plot.  

Some action packed adventures, the threat of a rising storm, characters that continue to develop, and the great banter between Royce and Hadrian--all kept me glued to the "pages" as I whirled through this one.


High Fantasy.  2011.  Print length:  802 pages (but remember it is actually two books).

Two more fantasies for Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

That Darkness and The Emperor's Railroad

That Darkness by Lisa Black is a tale of forensics and vigilante justice.  I liked this description by Chandra Claypool, "Dexter meets Bones."

A vigilante cop who murders those who deserve it.  You won't find that part questionable.  

In spite of the forensic detail, the book has a kind of surface feel.  I couldn't get involved with either of the main characters, and although I certainly don't advocate vigilante justice, it is hard to feel any sympathy for the victims.  Since the victims are so despicable, the idea of a moral question is lessened.   

Evidently the first in a new series featuring Maggie Gardiner and Jack Renner.  I probably won't follow up on this one.

NetGalley/Kensington Books
Mystery/Thriller.  April 26, 2016.  Print version:  336 pages.

The Emperor's Railroad is a post-apocalyptic, dystopian novella.  

A zombie plague, knights and angels (?), a mechanical beast, protected compounds....  

The story is told in retrospect by Abney, who was a twelve-year-old boy fleeing with his mother from a town overrun by zombies at the time of the story.  Now, Abney is an old man, but his stories still carry weight.

Abney relates how Quinn, a wandering knight, aids Abney and his mother on their journey to a place of safety.  There are some interesting elements to the world that Haley has built, and he obviously has a larger picture in his mind; he has, however, focused on this one little episode, this journey in which Quinn accompanies Abney and his mother.

I'm not a great fan of novellas, although this one has the feeling of being part of a more overarching storyline that would reveal more about the situation of this post-apocalyptic world.  


SciFi/Fantasy/Dystopian.  April 19, 2016.  Print length:  176 pages.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Epic Fantasy by Michael J. Sullivan

Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan was a great example of epic fantasy!  It is the first in The Legends of the First Empire trilogy, and sadly I will have to wait another year for the second book.  

I'm saving my review of Age of Myth for later because it won't be published until June 28 (thank you, NetGalley),  but I'm going to mention it now because...

As soon as I finished Age of Myth, I ordered Theft of Swords, Book One in the Riyria Revelations trilogy by the same author.  

As different as the time period and the characters are from Age of Myth, the world is the same.  

I love this description:  They killed the king. They pinned it on two men. They chose poorly.

 A three sentence summation that intrigues, yet leaves out all of the highlights of conspiracy and adventure.  That leaves all the satisfying details for the readers to discover for themselves.  

Indeed, "they" did choose poorly when they decided to pin the king's murder on Royce Melbourne and Hadrian Blackwater, a professional thief and a warrior who make up the Riyria, a two-man organization that can be hired to steal, implicate, and in some cases, assassinate for a price.  

The opening was a little slow, but after that, the pacing is excellent.  A fantasy with swords and sorcery, a monk, a hidden prison, a hidden heir, elves and enchanted monsters, a corrupt church--a book that is both fun and suspenseful!  I will definitely be reading more by Mr. Sullivan.  Although I will have to wait for the sequel to Age of Myth, I intend to indulge in the author's other series.


Epic Fantasy.  2011.  Print length:  694 pages.

Two more for Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge!

I Let You Go by Clare MacIntosh

Just to let you know, the title is written in sand and after reading the book, I like the cover better than I did initially.  

I Let You Go was a surprise.  Expecting a pretty normal police procedural/mystery, I got more than expected.

It is somewhat rare to find a book that truly surprises me. Plenty that take an unexpected turn or two, some twists that I didn't expect, but when I look back, I realize they were telegraphed in some way.

The book begins with the shocking hit-and-run death of a five-year-old boy.  That gets your attention.  The mother is heart-broken, blaming herself.  She let go of her son's hand for a moment to wipe the rain and her hair from her eyes, and Jacob ran right in front of a car.  The entire community, including the police, are outraged that the driver failed to stop and give aid.  Instead, the driver fled the scene and there were no witnesses.  The mother can't even describe the car with any certainty. In the dreadful mob mentality that often occurs, some blame the mother for letting go of Jacob's hand.

The police do their best, but the investigation is tough with so little to go on.  Frustrated, DI Ray Stevens and Kate, a new recruit, continue the investigation on their own time when, after 6 months, their superior officer demands they close the case.

Jenna Grey, devastated by the accident, simply picks up and leaves Bristol, taking next to nothing with her. She travels to a remote Welsh village where she rents a small,   dilapidated cottage and struggles to overcome her anguish and her nightmares of the accident.

Jenna is sometimes frustrating in her grief and her need for isolation, but she does eventually make friends and after a year, begins to contemplate actually living again.  I want to mention that because the book was compared to Gone Girl which has no likable characters, no genuine friendships.  MacIntosh does have likable characters, flawed, but in most cases likable.  This is not a book that puts distance between the reader and the characters, not a cold analysis of personalities or facts.  There are layers and layers in both MacIntosh's characters and plotlines.

One of the best crime/mystery novels I've read in a long time.  Highly Recommended.

NetGalley/Berkley Publishing Group

Police Procedural/Psychological/Mystery.  2014; May, 2016.  Print length:  385 pages.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Say You're Sorry and Jade Dragon Mountain

Say You're Sorry by Michael Robotham is, as usual, a worthy addition to his Joe O'Loughlin series.  I've read 7 of his Joe O'Loughlin books and one excellent stand-alone:  Life or Death.  The books are generally pretty dark, and this one is no exception.  Two young girls disappear and are never found.  Three years later, Joe and his daughter are visiting Oxford and he is called in on the vicious murder of a man and his wife.  In the same time frame, a young woman's body is discovered frozen in a local lake.  

Robotham keeps the suspense palpable.  There are so many things I like about this series:  the protagonist has Parkinson's, his sidekick -Vincent Ruiz, the suspense, the pacing.  What I like less: the brutal and bizarre nature of many of the crimes.  

I'm quite committed to Robotham's books, but I could do with a little less malicious evil.

Library book.

Crime/Police Procedural.  2012.  433 pages.  

Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart is a debut novel set in China in 1708.  Li Du, formerly an imperial librarian in The Forbidden City, is now an exile making his way through the provinces.  He finds himself in Dayan, an outpost on the Tibetan border, where his cousin is the magistrate.  Li Du's  purpose is to get his papers checked before crossing into Tibet.  His cousin the magistrate also wants Li Du to move on quickly as Li Du's exile has caused the entire family to lose face.  

The city is in the midst of preparations for a ceremony in which the Emperor is to summon an eclipse.  The magistrate wants Li Du gone before the Emperor and his retinue arrive; Li Du's eagerness to leave is also evident.  

However, when a Jesuit astronomer is found murdered, both the magistrate and Li Du must adjust their plans.

The pace is leisurely.  Li Du investigates the murder without any modern methods.   His great skills in listening and observation lead him closer to a solution, but the method is slow and precarious. Everyone has secrets, most turn out to be unimportant, but some secrets are potentially disastrous.

Hart has introduced  a compelling character in Li Du and placed him in the fascinating milieu of the Qing Dynasty, an important transitional era.  The Kanxi emperor's initial fondness for the Jesuits, the conflict between Jesuits and Dominicans, the greedy eagerness of the East India Company to gain a foothold in China (unsuccessfully at the time) all add interesting elements to the story.

The language is often rich and poetic in a manner reminiscent of Chinese poetry and paintings:

"The Lady Chen's family wine is famous.  Plums...tasting of poetry."

A line from the description of the mountain mists:  "The next break in the cloud framed a waterfall, a still, silver column too distant for him to perceive its tumbling energy."

Lid Du accidently knocks a basket with his foot, spilling some peppers to the ground "where they glowed like setting suns."

As the first in a projected series, Hart has done a fine job. The ambience of the setting is vividly imagined; the characters of Li Du and Hamza are deftly handled and ready for further development and backstories; the historical elements are fascinating.

Library book.

Historical Mystery.  2015.  321 pages.

The most important tribute any human being can pay to a poem or a piece of prose he or she really loves is to learn it by heart. Not by brain, by heart; the expression is vital. George Steiner

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Two Mysteries and a Coming of Age Story

The Strings of Murder by Oscar de Muriel is a locked room mystery that will have you thinking of Poe and the Rue Morgue investigation.  

Inspector Ian Frey has problems.  A shake up at Scotland Yard has his position in jeopardy, his father is a bully, his older brother is sly and devious, and his fiancee has just ended their engagement. What else could go wrong?

Why, he could be sent to Scotland, the land of the primitive and uncouth Scots.  For Frey, an arrogant snob, this is tantamount to perdition.  To make matters worse, his partner is "Nine Nails" McGray, who heads the unusual department for investigating the supernatural.

The two mismatched protagonists allow the author to make fun of both characters and of some of the cultural views of the Victorian period.  A touch overdone, perhaps, but as this is the first in a new series, hopefully the author will make adjustments that tone the exaggerations down a bit.  It has potential.  :)

NetGalley/Pegasus Books

Historic Mystery.  May 2, 2016.  Print length:  412 pages.

Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen is a novel about families and communities, a beautifully written coming-of-age story.  Pulling you in slowly, Quindlen concentrates on the small world that Mary Margaret (Mimi) Miller inhabits--her family, friends, and her initially limited understanding of the threat of imminent domain.

The government wants to flood the valley, but they are not in a great hurry.  Some folks don't believe it will ever happen, but as the years go by, and the valley experiences serious flooding, more and more families agree to sell.

It is a slow book, a quiet book, and there is not a great deal of action.  Quindlen develops the characters and the daily routines and personalities of those who live in the small community of Miller's Valley.  

The story is told from Mimi's point of view as she looks back on her childhood in the '60's, through high school and college.  In the present, she reviews the history of her family and of the slow acceptance that their town will become one of "drowned towns."   

NetGalley/Random House

Literary Fiction.  April 5, 2016.  Print length:  273 pages.  

The Anatomist's Wife by Anna Lee Huber is set in Scotland in the 1830's and features Lady Kiera Darby, an artist who was forced by her husband to attend dissections and make drawings.  After her husband's death, people discover that Kiera is the artist behind the drawings and call her unnatural.  Offered sanctuary by her sister and her husband, Kiera attempts to stay out of the public eye, but a murder causes more accusations against her.  

If you like Deanna Raybourn's Lady Julia Grey series, you might enjoy this book which offers a mystery and a little romance.  It is the first in the Lady Darby series, and I will read another to see if there is more depth in the next installment.  I had some problems with several things that did not seem appropriate for the 1830 time period.  Sometimes, though, an author has to get her feet a little wet before characters and settings begin to gel, so I'll check with the library for Mortal Arts which sounds interesting.

It was entertaining, but I like Imogen Robertson's series with Harriet Westerman and the reclusive anatomist Gabriel Crowther better.

Library book.

Historic Mystery.  2012.  369 pages.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Nuevel

Sleeping Giants

I'm really not sure what to say about this one.  It did keep my interest, and yet it never felt even slightly plausible.  This from a reader who can be persuaded to believe in vampires, ghosts, aliens, witches, zombies, and more.  

From the book description:  "An inventive debut in the tradition of World War Z and The Martian, told in the cutting-edge cadences of interviews, journal entries, transcripts, and news articles, Sleeping Giants is a literary thriller fueled by a quest for truth—and by a struggle for control of earthshaking power.

A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square-shaped hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand."

I was certainly interested enough to keep reading, and yet...I never really felt involved.  Told largely in the form of interview transcripts by a mysterious, manipulative interrogator, the interviews follow the main characters.  I like this technique, but still couldn't get over the premise.  Then after finally getting to the end, I discovered there is no end.  A cliffhanger for a proposed trilogy.

Reviews on Goodreads are overwhelmingly positive.  My personal response is that for me, it was interesting enough for me to want to know what happened, but not enough to continue reading the next book.  Which will probably end in another cliffhanger.

Read in September, 2015.  Blog review scheduled for April, 2016..

NetGalley/Random House

Science Fiction.  April 26, 2016.  Print version:  320 pages.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Letters and Poetry

I'm always browsing topics I'm interested in, and lately, to no one's surprise, I'm fascinated by correspondence.  Letters written during wars, letters to strangers, letters from authors; they can be delightful and funny, wise and foolish, full of sorrow or joy.  

Recently, my browsing led to The Letter You Always Wanted to Write, published by The Guardian.  These are some "Wow" and thoughtful letters about topics that are extremely personal, but that will have resonance with almost anyone.  I wish I were so articulate in expressing gratitude or in honestly explaining my feelings, positive or negative.

And poetry.  I love poetry, but over the years, my reading and rereading of poems--that was a habit for most of my life--has declined.  I mean to remedy that.  My favorite poems are the ones I've read for decades, since I was a child, really, and reading my mother's poetry books, most of which were beyond my abilities.  No matter, I fell in love with poems.

My knowledge of more modern poets, those who have written mainly in this new century, is more limited, but that's OK.  There are volumes of poems by the poets I love, enough to keep me occupied.  

I know many of you love the poems of Mary Oliver, and I found this article that gives insight into her private life and is a kind of love letter to her partner of 40 years.  

 "Read poetry every day of your life. Poetry is good because if flexes muscles you don't often use enough. Poetry expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition. It keeps you aware of your nose, your eye, your ear, your tongue, your hand, and above all, poetry is compacted metaphor and simile. Ideas lie everywhere through the poetry books, yet how rarely have I heard teachers recommending them for browsing."
-Ray Bradbury

A timely reminder.

I've been enjoying myself lately, choosing poems to include with my letters and lines to include on postcards

This morning, I received an email from author Howard Eisenberg, the author of the Guess Who series of poetry books for children.

Here is an example from Guess Who Zoo: 

(a little sample…)I sun myself upon the rocks
I wear no shoes. I need no socks.
The only school I ever see
Is a school of fish.
That’s lunch for me.
My furry skin’s so warm, it’s said
That I can make icebergs my bed
The circus puts me in its shows
To spin beach balls upon my nose.

Grownups applaud and children cheer
When I do back flips on my ear
For me though it is no big deal
It’s really easy for a __________.
The poems are enjoyable and fun for children and adults and would make great gifts.

Parents' Choice Award      

And from Adorable Scoundrels:

Mothers will certainly appreciate these short (and totally accurate) poems!

  • Holding-PatternHolding Pattern
    Why am I pushing this stroller
    Holding my toddler? Looking harried?
    I had no idea when I bought it
    She’d prefer to be carried.
  • Emily-PostscriptEmily Postscript
    Can’t find it in Miss Manners’ book
    But I’ve a hunch
    You should leave a very big tip
    When you take a toddler to lunch.
  • Unholy-RollerUnholy Roller
    He will not use the potty.
    He is stubborn on this issue.
    But loves going to the bathroom
    To unroll the toilet tissue.
You can find out more about Howard here.  

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

A Man of Genius by Lynn Rosen

A Man of Genius  by Lynn Rosen 

An ambiguous tale with two sources, Carlyle Richards and Arthur Dolinger.  

Arthur Dolinger, a senior partner in his law firm, assigns Carlyle Richards to convince the widow of a revered architect to have an unexpected codicil to his will read aloud.  So far, the widow has refused, asserting that her husband's original will (which leaves his famous home Upuna Rose to her) is all that matters.

Unhappy with her assignment in the first place, Carlyle finds herself enchanted with Upuna Rose and the beauty of its style and surroundings.  She is also instantly drawn to the widow, but cannot understand Elizabeth's reluctance to have the codicil read aloud to her.  If terms aren't met, Elizabeth will forfeit Upuna Rose. 

Some years later, Carlyle finds Arthur Dolinger seated alone at a business retreat and tells him that she is still uneasy about the entire situation that transpired.  She tells her story, and  intrigued and curious, Arthur decides to delve into his own memories and attempt to solve some of the mysteries surrounding Samuel Grafton-Hall and the codicil to his will.  Was a murder actually committed?

The descriptions of the novel refer to moral decisions and whether or not genius should be excused of crime.  By genius alone should consideration be granted?  While it is true that moral questions concerning excusable genius are called into play and beg deliberation and reflection, I found the most interesting questions to be more in the line of "are things done to us?" or "do we allow (or choose, as Arthur mentions) these things to be done?"   

It is a fascinating novel, dealing with the egotistical, but visionary architect Samuel Grafton-Hall, his wives and lover, his hubris and self-inflated personality, his total inability to consider others, except in relation to himself.  Help or hindrance?  He has no deeper emotional connection to another human being.

The story moves from past to present, focusing on two characters at a time (for the most part) with one character always being the flamboyant, egotistical Samuel.

I think it is inescapable that Rosen drew partly from events in the life of Frank Lloyd Wright, but Samuel Grafton-Hall's story is more Gothic.  

I was engrossed from beginning to end.  User or used, who lived, who died, status quo or criminal liability?   

Scheduled for April 6, 2016.

NetGalley/Una Publications

Psychological/Mystery.  April 15, 2016.  Print length:  246 pages.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Tumbled Graves by Brenda Chapman

Tumbled Graves:  A Stonechild and Rouleau Mystery

I've enjoyed every single book in this series, and this one is no exception.  Fortunately, you don't need to have read the previous books in the series because Chapman is one of the authors that can give you any background you need without you having the feeling of an information dump.  On the other hand, this is an excellent series and starting at the beginning is always more fun.

Each new book, so far Chapman has released one each year, stands alone, but also adds a little to the character development and background--keeping the characters vital and dynamic.

A young mother and her daughter go missing.  Jacques Rouleau's ex-wife is dying, so he relies on Kayla Stonechild and Paul Gundersund to handle the case.  Adele Delany's husband seems frantic, but as usual, he is on the suspect list; when Adele is found dead and the child still missing, Ivo Delany comes under even closer scrutiny.

There are a lot of secrets to uncover in this one.  Some are hinted at in subtle ways, others surprised me.  

In addition to the murder of Adele Delany, the personal lives of the familiar characters are undergoing sea changes.  Rouleau deals with his ex-wife's impending death; Kayla Stonechild is finding her guardianship of Dawn under threat; and Paul Gundersund continues to struggle with his own personal relationships.

Read in September, 2015.  Review scheduled for April 4, 2016.


Police Procedural.  April 27, 2016.  Print length:  376 pages.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Snail Mail (cross post)

(This is a cross-post from my other blog)

OK--I know that I said I was happy that A Month of Letters was over.  And I was.  Then I saw Write_On's campaign for 30 Letters in 30 Days.  I had an entire month since A Month of Letters to write letters at my own pace.  So...maybe.  

I couldn't find anything about having to put the letters in the mail each day, only that the 30 letters be written.  So I could write a couple of letters or postcards and put them all in the mail at the same time.  I think.  I'm also assuming that postcards count.  If I do it, they will for me.  

Here's the thing, April is National Letter Writing Month, and I can set my own personal goals.

Check out Lindsay's blog,  she has some wonderful images
National Letter Writing Month!  I plan to use some of them!
So...whether or not I meet Write_On's goal of 30 letters or not (and I'm going to try), I have several ideas for letter writing this month.

*  I had printed a poem I thought a friend would like to send in my next letter.  Then I realized it was April and National Poetry Month!  So instead of waiting, I stuck the poem in an envelope with a short note and put in the mailbox.

*  Realizing that this serendipitous combination of celebratory months could work for me, I decided to send a poem (or lines from a poem) with every piece of correspondence this month.

 *  I'd love to attend one of Naomi's letter writing parties.  For goodness sakes, Melbourne even has a Snail Mail Social Club!   

*  Another idea is to write a few letters to strangers including a short poem and leave them in various places.  Maybe one in a library book, since I need to return my current bag of books....

*  The USPS has some great ideas and new stamps!

Outgoing Mail:

This went out on Thurs.

Below is my first April letter.
I had already sealed it when I thought 
about sending a poem,
but she will get a poem in the next one.

I decided not to save this poem for Penne's next letter,
and so it went out on April 1, too.
I taught this N. Scott Momaday poem years ago
and thought Penne would love it.

Go Postal!  Write someone a letter this month!