Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Review: Hogfather

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The 20th discworld novel, Hogfather, was published in 1996. It's the 4th story around Death, who as always (almost) gives up his true profession to do something else.

It all starts with the Auditors, who are something like arch-enemies for Death and decide to get rid of the Hogfather to bring more "order" to the world. They are able to find an assassin creative enough to pull this off.
The consequences are: 1) Death takes up the role of the Hogfather, 2) Susan gets pulled towards her grandfather's job again, 3) free belief sloshes around, creating a number of interesting gods, fairies and so on, 4) this of course gets the wizards involved.
The showdown between Susan, the Auditors, Death and the Hogfather was a bit confusing to me, but at least I know who won.

Hogfather introduces some new characters and places, like creepy Teatime and the realm of the Tooth Fairy. There are also a lot of nightmarish creatures involved, which is just as well since Susan is a governess now and can deal with those. Oh, and Hex is evolving quite disturbingly...
Fun and entertaining as any Terry Pratchett, and worth the movie it got.

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Sunday, 4 November 2012

Review: Feet of Clay

Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Feet of Clay is the 19th discworld novel Terry Pratchett published, back in 1996. It's also the third book about Ankh-Morpork's City Watch.

Commander Sir Samuel Vimes has settled in his new life as the husband of the richest woman in town, who is also an aristocrat. He's not very happy with his new social circle, though.
Vimes puts a lot of work into the Watch, which by now also employs a number of dwarfs and trolls (to the dismay of Ankh-Morkpork's elite). My new favourite dwarf is Cheery Littlebottom, who is an alchemist. She's a female, but dwarfs don't regularly show their gender... Angua, who tries to hide the fact that she's a werewolf from the dwarf, encourages her, lending her lipstick, earrings and other things, which shocks the other dwarfs, normal people and - most of all - Captain Carrot. Somehow, she reminds me of Abby of Navy CIS, who is also not a regular specimen of the forensic scientist...
When two old men are found murdered, Cheery get's to investigate the murder scenes, but most of her work in this novel is focused on finding how the Patrician is being poisoned every night, despite being severely guarded. There are influential forces at work, who'd like to see him replaced with an easily to guide king.
Other things happening in Feet of Clay include the strange behaviour of the city's golems and Angua trying to break up with Carrot, for his own good. One of these days...

I've always enjoyed reading a good thriller, when you're kept in the dark about the identity of the murderer and are surprised at the end. Located on the discworld, this gets to be funny as well as exciting.
Feet of Clay is well worth the read, although you should probably have read the other Watch novels before, so you know the characters.

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Sunday, 14 October 2012

Review: Maskerade

Maskerade by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Maskerade was first published in 1995 as the 18th discworld novel. It is also the fifth story from the Witches series, which means it is based on folklore or another famous story. In fact, we've switched from Shakespeare to Gaston Leroux or the better known Andrew Lloyd Webber with the Phantom of the Opera.

The book starts with Agnes Nitt from Lancre, who calls herself Perdita and has an amazing voice. She also has lots of body, though, which greatly hinders her career as a singer. Still, she can convince the people at Ankh-Morpork's opera house to let her join due to her talent.
Members of the chorus, like Agnes, live on the premises of the opera house, where Agnes meets Christine, a shallow but beautiful young woman with no talent for singing. During their first night, they switch rooms because Christine hears a voice in hers and is scared. Agnes, although more sensible, can also hear the voice, which wants to help Christine to be a better singer. Imitating Christine's voice, Agnes takes the nightly lessons for her.
Next day, the Opera House Ghost, an institution which used to bring luck to the opera house, requests that Christine sing an important part in the show that night. Since the ghost had started killing people, masking the murders as accidents, his request is obeyed. In secret, though, Agnes is asked to sing the part from the background.
Still, more and more people die in strange "accidents", so it's only lucky Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg are in town. Nanny Ogg has written a very popular cookbook, but receives no royalties, which Granny intends to change. At the same time, they want to see how Agnes copes in the big city, and maybe take her back with them to complete their coven. Two witches are simply not enough.
Agnes avoids the witches whenever she can, but she can't help getting involved in the ghost hunt, since she is the only sensible person in the opera house.

I won't tell you who turns out to be the ghost in the end. If you know Terry Pratchett, you know you can expect a bit of a surprise and a happy ending.
Maskerade was a very enjoyable novel; partly because I like the witches, and partly because it was difficult to guess who the ghost is.

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Sunday, 7 October 2012

Review: Interesting Times

Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interesting Times was first published in 1994, is the 17th discworld and fifth Rincewind novel.

A typical sign that the discworld book you are holding in your hands is about Rincewind is when it starts with the gods playing games, and when the Lady is involved.
This time, she sends him to the Counterweight Continent and against the plans of Fate (once again). Together with Twoflower, his daughters, Cohen and other barbarian heroes, he is set against the five noble families fighting for the throne of the dying Emperor. The poor wiz(z)ard! How will he manage to survive between five armies, a cunning Grand Vizier and the expectations of his companions?

I frequently find myself pitying Rincewind. He never asked for the adventures he gets involved in. He certainly doesn't want to meet Death quite so often (although I like seeing him in a discworld novel).
At the end of FaustEric, it wasn't mentioned where he got to, but Interesting Times finds him on his own on a nice, calm island. Sure, he didn't enjoy it all that much, since it didn't have potatoes, but it must have been better than being magicked back to Unseen University and then on to the Counterweight Continent. I wonder what will happen to him on the mysterious continent he ended up on at the end of Interesting Times...

The novel was filled with social criticism even I understood. What's the use of war? Is a revolution for the people really the right thing to do when you don't know what those people want? And is barbarism actually worse than civilization? Terry Pratchett certainly has his very special way of answering these questions and entertain his readers at the same time.
There is only one question I was not able to answer for myself: why is War's daughter called Clancy? Since his sons are Terror and Panic, I didn't quite get that. Does anybody know?

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Saturday, 15 September 2012

Review: Dead on Demand

Dead on Demand by Sean Campbell

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Dead on Demand is a crime novel describing the repercussions of one single person's desire to see someone dead.
Main character is Edwin Murphy, editor of a London based news paper. He's always put work before private life, and has been living on his own for some time when his wife finally files a divorce. Not only does she want half of his money, she also wants to move to New York with their little daughter.
Edwin cannot let this happen, so he devises a clever murder swap scheme to get rid of his wife, and later the woman who killed her for him, and more, until no connection remains...
Will the baffled police be able to see through his plans in time before he moves to Vancouver for a new job?

Dead on Demand was a project of two brothers. They wanted to see whether they could write (+ advertise + publish) a crime novel together in 90 days. Obviously, they did. Was it worth it?
I've been pondering this question almost since I started reading the book (I got the Kindle version for free), and I still can't say for sure. The problem is that I don't really understand the goal, or maybe it's the definition of "novel" I'm missing here; of a publishable novel, that is.

The story the Campbell brothers created is intriguing, at least for most of the book. It kept me reading. Nevertheless, I could never recommend Dead on Demand to anyone, at least not without mentioning that it's been done in 90 days, because it shows. As I said, the story itself is fine, but the writing is of a quite low quality.
I've seen worse, it's true, but I can't imagine this novel making it to a book store ten years ago. Without eBooks and self-publishing, this would not have worked. Is that a bad thing, though? I don't know. All I can say is that, if you don't mind typos, relics from rephrasing and other mistakes that could easily be repaired by another round of editing, but you would like an interesting plot, read it (especially if it's still free).

For most of the book, I was pretty sure I would give it three stars in the end. At 94%, I had to change it to two. I'll give you three reasons for my rating, one for each missing star, if you want.

Mistakes (in general)
One advantage you get with eReaders is that you can easily mark mistakes and can count them later on. I've marked around 70 instances - real mistakes (like the wrong time used), needless word repetition, lack of comma and stuff that could have been worded better. 70 mistakes on 351 pages means one on every fifth page. A bit much? I think so.
If you want, I can give you some examples, but I don't want this to get too long now.

In the first chapter, Julia is described as an unwilling prostitute. She gets her customers in her own flat, has a pimp and does heroin. She also has a boyfriend, who is not allowed to know about that, and additionally works as a barmaid.
About halfway into the novel, she is killed. From my perception, this can only be a few months after that first description of her. Now, though, she has been living with her boyfriend for two years (they've known each other for four) in that same flat. There is no mention of her pimp, nor of drugs. What happened? I don't know.
At first, I thought there were two women named Julia, but the name of the boyfriend is the same. I don't know if it's just me who doesn't get it. I don't know if I've missed something. Maybe the guy whom Julia wanted to have killed was her pimp? But even then, she's been living with her guy for two years before that happened! How, when she's selling herself to men in there without him knowing?? If there is an explanation, it should be in the book, I think.

The Mistake at 94%
Since Julia was only a minor character and the story went on well afterwards, and since I've managed to live with the mistakes, I still intended to give the novel three stars. After all, it's been done in 90 days, so what could you expect? As I said, I changed my mind to the end of the book. There was this one, absolute terrible mistake.
Actually, I quite admired the Campbell brothers before that. They were playing with a huge number of characters, and keeping the overview must have been hell throughout (it's even difficult for the reader at times). They managed, though.
Right until they confused the name of their Chief Inspector with that of their main suspect. David and Edwin. Very alike, huh? That was the major turn off for me.

Dead on Demand is a crime novel written in 90 days. The lack of time put into it shows in the style. A lot. It also shows in the story at the end. They had to finish it, so they rushed to a final twist. The twist was a nice addition, the rush just sucked.

The characters show little development. Everybody seemed to be quite talented at killing, which I found weird. I never really understood Edwin's motivation, either. OK, getting rid of his wife, I get that, but afterwards...

I've said it before: read it if you don't mind the low quality, but don't expect it to be as good as a book from a professional publisher.

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Thursday, 6 September 2012

Review: Soul Music

Soul Music by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Soul Music, first published in 1994, is the next novel in the Death storyline. Death has, once again, problem with his profession and leaves to seek forgetfulness. He couldn't have chosen a worse time...
His talents are transferred to his granddaughter, Susan Sto Helit, who didn't know of her heritage since her parents, Ysabell and Mort, had a dispute with Death when she was small. Susan has difficulties with her new tasks, since she grew up to be a very sensible abd realistic person and just doing the Duty won't do for her.
At around the same time, a young harp player named Imp y Celyn tells his parents that he wants to be the greatest musician in the world. He leaves home and ends up in Ankh-Morpork, where he starts a band with a troll and a dwarf, whom he met at the (too expensive) musicians guild. When the troll accidentally ruins Imp's harp, they find him a guitar in a mysterious music shop. All of a sudden, music comes alive and brings fame and riches to the Band (With Rocks In). But don't the famous die young? It's all Susan can do to keep Imp, aka Buddy, alive and singing...
In the end, Death has to return to save the day, the discworld, and his most faithful servant.

I've read Soul Music in German before, but enjoyed the English version more. Translations can only get you so far (although I've also heard that 50 Shades of Grey is better in German)...
Anyway, Death is always an amusing character to read about, especially when he tries to be human, and it's almost sad that the main focus of this novel is on music, the Band and CMOT Dibbler making money (and failing horribly in the end). It lacks the usual philosphical component of Death novels.

Again, what I admired most about Soul Music was the continuity. I think it's amazing how Terry Pratchett doesn't make mistakes, even though he is working with only remotely connected storylines in his different discworld novels. There are always connections, guest appearances from characters of older books, and it always fits. J.K. Rowling didn't even manage that in seven books for just one story.

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Monday, 20 August 2012

Review: Men at Arms

Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ah, I'm back at Terry Pratchett, and back in the British Books Challenge 2012.

Men at Arms (first published 1993) is discworld novel number 15, and the second focused on the Night Watch. It is set about a year after Guards! Guards!, where Captain Vimes and his crew were up against a huge dragon. This time, the enemy is not even of flesh and blood.

It all starts with the crazy mind of an aristocrat (and assassin), who wants a king for Ankh-Morpork, and who, by coincidence, recognises the current heir, who happens to be... well, present at all times anyway. In order to remove the Patrician and the current Guild structure, he steals the most deadly and dangerous weapon in existence: the gonne (I believe I don't have to explain to you what it is). It was invented by Leonard of Quirm and ordered to be destroyed by the Patrician, but instead it was kept in the assassin's museum. And it has a mind of it's own...
As more and more corpses - planned and accidents alike - turn up around the city, the Night Watch has to try and come to terms with the proceedings, as well as getting used to ethnic minorities as new recruits and the loss of Captain Vimes, who is going to be married and will be retiring in the process. Lucky for them that they have Corporal Carrot, then, who has a way of owning the city and bringing people to act as good as he believes them to be, so he can quell even the strongest of upheavals.

As someone who has enjoyed many a good murder mystery, I can definitely recommend Men at Arms to fellow readers. The plot is a thrill - as well as the usual Terry Pratchett funny - and ends on quite a surprise.
For me as a Terry Pratchett reader it was also great, because there were a lot of old acquaintances, mostly from Moving Pictures: Gaspode the talking dog, Ruby (Detritus' girlfriend), and even (if only with a small role) Mr. Silverfish of the alchemists. I guess you can read and enjoy the book even if you haven't read Moving Pictures before, but it's so much more fun to see how the old faces are never forgotten.

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Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Review: Inheritance Cycle

Hardcover and Paperback

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I started on the Inheritance trilogy (for back then it still was planned as such) shortly after the first volume, Eragon, was published, so it must have been around 2003. I enjoyed it, which is why the first three volumes are hardcovers in my personal library (normally, I wait for the paperbacks, because they're more comfortable to read, and cheaper). I guess the long wait for the fourth part made me forget about the whole series, since I was very surprised to receive it as paperback as a gift last Christmas. It was only this Summer's vacation that gave me the chance to read them all again.

Before I really bother you with my opinion of the series, let me give you a short long overview of the story (no, it is not entirely free of judgement or unnecessary comments).
It all starts with a boy called Eragon, who grew up at his aunt's and uncle's, because his mother left him shortly after his birth. Of course, this - and the mystery about his father's identity - is of great importance later. Eragon is off hunting in the mountains (which nobody but he dares enter) when a blue stone appears before him. It is accompanied by a huge explosion, which drives Eragon's prey away. He returns home with the stone, hoping to buy some meat with it instead, but nobody wants the thing.
It turns out pretty soon that it is not a stone at all, but a dragon egg - easy to recognise when a dragon suddenly hatches out of it. In Eragon's world - Alagaësia - only one dragon still exists: Shruikan, the king's dragon; suddenly discovering one outside the king's reach can only mean trouble. Still, Eragon touches the dragon hatchling and is bonded with her. He cannot bring himself to abandon or kill her, so he secretly brings her up in the woods behind his family's farm.
Of course, it cannot last. Two servants of the king - the Ra'zac -  appear in his village, asking questions, and he is forced to flee with the dragon, whom he named Saphira. His uncle is killed by the Ra'zac in the process, but luckily his cousin, Roran, is not home when it happens.
Eragon wants to kill the Ra'zac as revenge for his uncle's death, so he leaves with the old "storyteller" Brom, who helps him make a saddle for Saphira, and starts teaching him in fighting and magic while travelling. In the end, the Ra'zac kill Brom, who is replaced by Murtagh as Eragon's companion on the road.
Since he is unable to defeat the Ra'zac in his current state, he travels on to join the Varden, a group of rebels hiding from the evil king. Once there, it turns out Murtagh is the son of one of the king's followers (long dead), and later we also learn that he is Eragon's half-brother (his father was Brom, though).
What follows after all this are lots of fights, alliances with elves, dwarves and Urgals (huge, war-loving creatures), and more battles.

After the first book, the storyline is split to follow not only Eragon, but also Roran, who turns out to be a great warrior, and Nasuada, the leader of the Varden. Just to sum up a few key points:
Eragon and Roran manage to kill the Ra'zac, Nasuada manages to lead the Varden to battle against the Empire (and is all the while attractive enough to ensure Murtagh's assistance), and Roran saves his whole village and later many of the Varden besides.
In the end, Eragon - still a teenager - is the most powerful man in Alagaësia, which prompts him to leave the country with Saphira and a bunch of dragon eggs discovered between the battles. End of story.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Vacation Notice and Review: Always Remember to Tip Your Ninja

Lords and Ladies was the last book I read and reviewed for the British Books Challenge this month. I'm leaving for a two-and-a-bit weeks vacation early on Friday. There will be almost no internet access, and, anyway, I had planned to read my way through the four Eragon novels while away. Since they don't count towards the challenge and I - as already mentioned - won't have much internet, there will be no updates on goodreads or reviews here.

See you in August!

Always Remember to Tip Your Ninja: And Other Maxims for the Clinically Absurd
Jeremy C. Shipp

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Always Remember to Tip Your Ninja is a collection of more or less funny slogans. It was entertaining enough for three quick lunch breaks, but I'm happy I got it for free. I have to say I never buy books without a story to them, though, so it might be just me.

Some of the "maxims" were really funny, others were quite dumb, and some I simply didn't understand.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Review: Lords and Ladies

Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lords and Ladies is the second discworld novel originally published in 1992. Overall, it's the 14th book, and the fourth from the witches storyline.

The first thing that surprised me here was that it does, in a way, stand on it's own, but there is a review of former books, especially Witches Abroad, the previous witches novel. Lords and Ladies picks up the story of Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick at their arrival in Lancre, when Magrat is informed that she will be married to King Verence II. soon. She doesn't really mind, but is of course very upset because she has apparently no choice in the matter; even the wedding dress has already been ordered without consulting her. Still, that is nothing to an argument she has with Granny Weatherwax, prompting her to give up witching and move into the castle even before the wedding.
It's only Granny and Nanny Ogg, then, who discover that someone had been dabbling with magic at the Dancers, an old stone circle protecting Lancre from Fairyland, which isn't at all as people think it is. They try to prevent the worst, but in the end, elves come through, taking over the kingdom. To really own the land, though, the Queen of the Elves has to marry the king, and Magrat won't have any of that... Neither would the other two witches, of course, but both are distracted by, well, men.

To me, Lords and Ladies was special because I've already read the much younger Tiffany Aching series, which starts with another invasion of the elves. It is very different from this one, but I remember that it was mentioned somewhere that Granny Weatherwax once got rid of the Queen, but wouldn't say how. Now I know.
Another thing that sets this novel apart from the other witches novels is the behaviour of Granny Weatherwax. She is uncertain, confused and a bit weak, absolutely not her usual self. And she has been planning ahead, manipulating people... To be honest, she reminded me a lot of Dumbledore (you know, Harry Potter). It was interesting to watch/read, and what made it even better were hints at her past.

Important guest roles this time were: Ridcully, current Archchancellor of Unseen University, together with the Bursar, the Librarian and Ponder Stibbons, Reader in Invisible Writings. Then there was Casanunda, the second greatest lover in the world and Nanny Ogg's flirt from Witches Abroad. On a side note, Mr. Ixolite the Banshee (from Reaper Man) is also mentioned.
Who is totally missing this time, though, is Death.

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Friday, 6 July 2012

Review: Small Gods

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thirteen is my favourite number. Small Gods is the thirteenth discworld novel, but not my favourite, despite being very good. It was published in 1992.

Imagine being a small god, out in the desert... You need believers, to become strong, to get out of there. You find someone, a shepherd, and he spreads believe in you, starts a religion that makes you strong. Strong enough to fight other gods.
But, you don't care for people. They are only good for believing. Giving you power is their only purpose.
And then, one day, you come down to earth as a mighty bull, to trample some unbelievers... Only you're not a mighty bull but a small tortoise with no power at all. What would you do?

It takes the Great God Om three years in the desert before he gets to Omnia, his country. Since shape forms personality, he has almost forgotten who he is, but here is faith, believe to remind him of his identity. It also explains why he's a tortoise: the Great God Om has only one believer left, a novice with a strange mind and slow thoughts. He needs him; he has to stay alive, has to continue believing, maybe convince others...
The religion around the Great God Om is still going strong, but people believe more in the Church and the Quisition than they believe in their God. This is the way all gods go, eventually. Om puts up a fight, and, who knows, maybe having been a small tortoise for a while will change him...
And then, there is the last paragraph. Suddenly you hope that there are more people like Brutha, even here, somewhere.

Small Gods is a satire on religion. It is also a satire on politics, philosophy and warfare. It is a quite accurate description of people, as well.
Guest stars this time are Death, the Death of Rats and the Librarian. Is there any discworld novel at all which doesn't feature Death?

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Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Review: Funeral Of Figaro

Funeral Of Figaro by Ellis Peters

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Funeral of Figaro, by Ellis Peters, was first published in 1962 as "operatic whodunnit", as it says. It tells of the events at Leander Theatre, near London, and the murder of one of the best Figaros in the world, right during the fourth act. The theatre company are a very tight-knit group, held together by Johnny, who started all this after the war. It's his war activities, smuggling goods and people, and not always strictly for his country, that bring him trouble with this Figaro, who doesn't belong to the original crew. That Johnny's teenage daughter seems to be interested in the man, who is as old as her father, doesn't simplify matters at all. But those are not the only motives for the murder, and Johnny certainly isn't the only suspect...
Detective Inspector Musgrave, who was in the audience as the crime happened, dives head-first into the investigations, using his time at the theatre to comment on the plays probably more than he comments on the case. No wonder everyone is happy to see him go once all is cleared, the man who prefers Wagner to Mozart!

Yes, I took another break from my Terry Pratchett quest. I found Funeral of Figaro at a jumble sale and, being a huge fan of Ellis Peters, was delighted to learn that she was British and I could include her in the British Books Challenge.
If you'd ever care to ask me for my favourite author, I'd have to name three: Terry Pratchett for his wit and the wisdom in his words, Oscar Wilde also for his wit and for almost making me cry in public, and Ellis Peters (or Edith Pargeter), whose talent with words and descriptions I deeply admire.
I read Funeral of Figaro during two five-hour train rides, almost unable to put it down to get some rest. If you've never read one of Ellis Peter's novels, but want to give her a try, this might be a good place to start.

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Friday, 22 June 2012

Review: Witches Abroad

Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Witches Abroad was first published in 1991 and is the twelfth discworld novel. As you can probably guess from the title, this novel is third in the witches line. It focuses, like Wyrd Sisters before, on Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick.

This time, old Desiderata Hollow, who was not only a witch, but also a fairy godmother, dies and leaves her wand to Magrat, asking her to travel to a faraway city called Genua and prevent a story from happening. Knowing the older witches, Desiderata forbids them to go and help her, so that they do exactly that.
Throughout their travels, the three witches get famous - in a way that makes the people they've met a lot more careful around "helpless" old women. Closer to Genua, they also get involved in stories - animals and people acting unnaturally to fulfil their roles in different well-known fairytales. They prevent the stories from happening and instead help the people. Genua, though, has been turned into something resembling a fairytale kingdom by Lilith, Desiderata's sister fairy godmother (they always come in pairs), whose real name is Lily... no, I won't say.
Now the witches have to help Ella, who doesn't want to marry the prince, but the story requires she should. Magrat replaces her at the important ball, where it turns out the prince is actually a frog. Magrat flees in terror, of course leaving a glass shoe behind. Luckily, that shoe doesn't fit her, but Nanny Ogg...

To give you a short overview: We have three witches travelling to foreign parts (with Nanny Ogg speaking "foreign"). We have Magrat as fairy godmother who doesn't know how her wand's supposed to work. We have a voodoo witch, the best gumbo cook in Genua. We have animals turned into humans and humans turned into animals. We have Casanunda the dwarf and Death as guest stars. We have a showdown between headology and mirror magic. And we have stories.
Terry Pratchett has a lot to say on the subject of stories, and quite a bit of it is done through Granny Weatherwax. The witch doesn't like stories. They force you to be something you are not. They expect animals to think, they expect people to be happy all the time. They are dangerous and hard to stop once someone feeds them...
Stories are a parasitical life form, warping lives in the service of only the story itself.

I think I was reading this fast, right? I enjoyed it quite a bit, too. The witches are fun, and I loved the guest appearances.
There's a lot to be learned from Witches Abroad, about magic and stories and how to best help people (and about Granny Weatherwax). Stars don't care for your wishes, and magic doesn't make things better.
The invisible people knew that happiness is not the natural state of mankind, and is never achieved from the outside in.

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Friday, 15 June 2012

Review: Reaper Man

Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I bought Reaper Man at a jumble sale, last year or maybe the year before. This is the third time I read the book, and I couldn't put it down. In cases like this I think that not being able to put down a book isn't necessarily caused by wanting to know how it ends. For me, it's knowing how it ends and wanting to read - no, experience - it all again. Really good books can do this to you.

Reaper Man is Terry Pratchett's eleventh discworld novel, and was first published in 1991; it's also the second in the Death story line. In it, the so-called auditors of reality decide that the death of the discworld has to be replaced, seeing that he has developed a personality. So, when Death finds his own life-timer counting the seconds to his ceasing of existence, he leaves his realm to spend his remaining life time with the living (to great dismay of his servant, Albert). Under the name of one Mr. Bill Door, Death is hired as help on the farm of old Miss Flintworth, just in time for the harvest. Here, he experiences feelings, and sleep, and dreams, for the first time.
While he is away, though, things start going wrong all over the discworld. With no one to take the dying to the netherworlds, life force is building up, finding outlets wherever possible. One person extremely affected by this is the wizard Windle Poons (whom we've met in Moving Pictures as the oldest wizard at Unseen University), whose time has come to go. Upon dying, he ends up in a blackness, with nowhere to go except back to his dead body, which he does. Being a zombie isn't easy, though: you have full control over all bodily functions (by the way, how does the spleen work?) and when you've been looking forward to being reborn as a woman, spending the afterlife in your own dead body is no alternative. The other, alive, wizards at Unseen University are more than willing to help Windle die, but as none of their approaches work, he ends up at the Fresh Start Club, with other un-deads and people generally un-welcome in society.
Finally, while Death confronts the new death (wearing a crown!) to reclaim his job, Windle, the Fresh Starters and the wizards have to save the city of Ankh-Morpork from the consequences of superfluous life force.

Terry Pratchett is good at humour. It's what he is most famous for.
How often do people mention his talent for suspension and drama, though? Reaper Man is one of the discworld novels with this dramatic, touching, heart-breaking turning point that is so important for a good story.
The secret is, he won't leave you with that. A discworld novel always ends with something funny, relaxed, witty. For the balance of things.

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Monday, 11 June 2012

Review: Moving Pictures

Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Moving Pictures is the first in the so-called "Industrial Revolution" line of discworld novels. It was published in 1990, the same year as Eric, and is a wonderful satire on Hollywood and the film industry.
Main characters in this story are Victor Tugelbend, who devised a very intelligent system to fail exams at Unseen University "good enough" not to be thrown out, and Theda 'Ginger' Withel, who just wants to be herself, as big as possible. They are both drawn away from their day-to-day lives by a wild (and dangerous) idea - the same idea which helped the alchemists invent the 'clicks' (as in movies) and which made Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler a very successful producer (because he knows how to advertise). They all meet at Holy Wood, a hill between dunes and close to the ocean, which hides from them a civilisation long gone...
Victor and Ginger notice that something is wrong about Holy Wood (and it's not because of the talking animals that hang around there). Well, them and the wizards in Ankh-Morpork, who have a device that shows where reality is unravelling, and how much. Only they don't know what it does, and like Victor and Ginger they only figure it out at the last moment - just in time to save the discworld from the Things from the Dungeon Dimensions?

Having finished with the tenth discworld novel now, I must say that what I love and admire most about the whole series is the recurrence of characters. I've met CMOT Dibbler, and of course Detrius, before, and the next novel puts old Windle Poons right in the middle of its plot, after he's been introduced in Moving Pictures. Discworld characters are - in general - a weird and funny bunch, and it's great fun meeting them all again from time to time, as minor characters to another story.

For a conclusion on Moving Pictures I want to mention that I definitely didn't get all the movie references, and probably misunderstood a lot of them (after all, the book is 22 years old). Nevertheless, the novel made me laugh a lot, and the grand final was again grand.
I'll leave you with one of my favourite quotes from the book: "Just when you need to save the world, there's a world for you to save".

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Friday, 25 May 2012

Review: Eric

Eric by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eric, first published 1990, is the ninth discworld book, and the first published as illustrated novel. Sadly, the Kindle version I was reading included neither the illustrations by Josh Kirby, nor the alternating page titles of Eric and Faust. It is also a Rincewind novel.

If you've read the older books revolving around the inept wizard, you already know that he has vanished to the dungeon dimensions in Sourcery. Now he gets a chance to come back - a one in a million chance, to be exact. They always work.
Eric is only a boy, but he is obsessed with summoning a demon to get three wishes: to live forever, to get the most beautiful woman of the world, and to be the ruler of the world. Instead of a demon, though, it's Rincewind who appears in the circle and has to play the role of a demon. He is quite surprised, in fact, that snapping his fingers has any effect at all...
Oh, and the effect it has! Rincewind and Eric are taken to an empire in Klatch, where the people are waiting to meet the ruler of the world - to complain. Only, complaining in an annoyed tone of voice is not their style, they're more the torture and kill types. They are rescued by the Luggage, of course, and with another finger snapping end up in a big wooden horse.
In Pyramids, the thing with the wooden horse was already extensively covered, but here's a short summary: Ephebe and Tsort are Terry Pratchett's parody on the Trojan war. In this war, though, the civilians try selling food to fighting soldiers and the Luggage gets to chase a lot of people. Before snapping his fingers again, Rincewind meets his ancestor Lavaeolus, who invented the horse and all tactics surrounding it. He can't bring himself to tell him that a long, 10 year journey lies before him...
Then Eric and Rincewind end up at the beginning of the universe, to have a nice chat with the creator (who creates an egg and cress sandwich for the wizard). To live forever means to start out at the beginning... But not with Rincewind! He makes Eric reverse his summoning of him, taking them both to hell.
How they escape from there as well, and what bureaucracy can do to hell, I'll leave up to you to find out.

So, what can I say about the book? It had Rincewind, the Luggage, a stupid teenager, Death, demons... Some references reminding me of Good Omens and a lot of travelling to strange places. I know some people really disliked Eric, but I enjoyed it as much as the other discworld novels I read so far.

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Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Review: Guards! Guards!

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Guards! Guards!, first published 1989, introduced another new set of characters to my personal discworld universe: Captain Vimes and the rank of the city watch.
The book covers and unites multiple story-lines: the one of Carrot, a human raised by dwarfs, who is sent to the city to be with his own kind, and who applies at the city watch to do good. At the same time, a secret society aims at overthrowing Ankh-Morpork's ruler, the Patrician Lord Vetinari, in order to install a manipulable king. They do so by summoning a dragon, using a book stolen from the library of Unseen University and diverse stolen magical items. As anyone who read, for example, the wizard novels can deduce from that: the Librarian is not happy.
The main focus of Guards! Guards! is on Captain Vimes, though, who stops his alcohol abuse in order to be able to get rid of the dragon and protect his city. It's a somewhat clichéd police story, that, but nicely done and quite in discworld style. Together with the rest of the - mostly incompetent - city watch, the Librarian and Lady Sybil Ramkin, breeder of pet swamp dragons, it's Captain Vimes who tries to stop the dragon after the secret society lost control over it and it became king of Ankh-Morpork (amazing what concepts people can wrap their minds around).

Quite a bit of the story is based on the way people believe in stories and sayings - how to recognise a king, one-in-a-million chances, the behaviour of dragons... That makes up most of the novels charm: a mirror to the stupidity of people. Plus, there's dragons and I learned about L-space.
Satire, humour, dragons and L-space - definitely a book worth reading.

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Monday, 7 May 2012

Review: The Virgin Student

The Virgin Student by Virgin Student

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I took another short break from my goal to read all discworld novels. A Goodreads review on The Virgin Student had caught my eye by coincidence, so I took a day off from Terry Pratchett to read it.

The Virgin Student originally was a blog, turned quite nicely into an eBook. The blog was started in summer 2005 by an Oxford student who had just done her finals. Being 21 and still a virgin, she decided to go on a quest to lose her virginity before leaving college in three weeks time. The blog quickly became popular, partly because of the way the author described the dates she went on to find the right guy, partly because, well, she advertised her virginity on the internet!

The Virgin Student was a very interesting read, especially thanks to the comments of the blog's readers, which were included. It's not only the tale of a girl trying to lose her virginity. It is also about what sex actually is, with many a heated discussion about lesbians, virginity, oral sex and the big O.
Personally, I was surprised how naive a girl of 21 could be in times of the internet, but that's just the charm of the book. Had she known more about sex, it would have been a lot less interesting to follow her journey of self-discovery.

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Sunday, 6 May 2012

Review: Pyramids

Pyramids by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is a terrible thing, having your believes destroyed by truth. Sometimes, it is even more terrible to see that you were right.

Pyramids, first published 1989, follows young Teppic, only son of king (Pharaoh) Teppicymon XXVII. He has decided to get his education outside of the small desert kingdom Djelibeybi, so he travels all the way to Ankh-Morpork to join the Assassins Guild. The book starts with his final examination, telling his story in flashbacks as he succeeds.
Shortly afterwards his father dies and the kingdom calls him back home. Suddenly, he has to get used to the old ways of the kingdom again, and he discovers that being king isn't at all as he expected. For example, he doesn't seem to have anything to say.
When the erection of the greatest pyramid ever build (for his father, even though he doesn't want one) tears the whole valley along the Djel out of reality, Teppic, who is not present then, has to make up his mind whether or not he is going to try to go back and save it. Meanwhile, in the kingdom's new reality, all that was ever believed there becomes true, and citizens and priests alike come to realise that it is much more comfortable believing in gods you cannot see (especially the ones with too many heads or legs).

Before I started with Pyramids I didn't know there was an Ancient Civilisation line in the discworld novels. I enjoyed the book immensely, the greatest mathematician of the world was good fun, and the criticism of religion and the unwillingness to let go of the old ways rings very true. Plus, the slow motion climax of the story would have been worth the special effects Oscar, if only it had been in a movie.
Even if you are not interested in diving into the whole discworld universe, you still should give this specific volume a try.

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Friday, 20 April 2012

Review: Wyrd Sisters

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wyrd Sisters is the second discworld book about witches, published (1988) only a year after Equal Rites, which first introduces Granny Weatherwax. Personally, I liked Wyrd Sisters a lot better than Equal Rites, and that's not only because it contains daggers, ghosts, kings and more, although all play a major role in the story.

Yes, the story. It goes as follows: King Verence of Lancre is killed by Duke Felmet, his cousin, via persuasion of his wife. A faithful servant manages to rescue crown and child of the king and bring both to the three witches that live in this country: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat. They decide to become his godmothers (including good wishes for the child) and then give it away to travelling actors, in whose props-box they also hide the crown.
Duke Felmet, going crazy with the terrible deed he has done, not-so-secretly hates the country he now rules (as duke, for there is no crown to make him king), and the country hates him. It asks Granny for help, but witches don't meddle. The witch in question only changes her mind when Nanny Ogg is brought in for torture and the people lose their respect for witches. With a clever trick from a well-known fairy tale, she speeds up the whole story. But beware, not all things go as planned when the heir finally returns...

Wyrd Sisters is a whole book of fun, stories and headology, with an extra spicing of love and destiny. It is also a great reference in case you always wanted to learn more about how storms learn, think and listen.

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Monday, 9 April 2012

Review: Sourcery

Sourcery by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I must admit that I'm growing quite fond of Rincewind, the inept wizard. It's a pity he tends to disappear, or probably die, at the ends of his novels. I never know whether or not he will be back.

Anyway, Sourcery (first published 1988) is about the eighth son of an eighth son (wizard) of an eighth son: a sourcerer. They are very, very powerful, sourcerers (= sources of magic), and also very rare. There is a reason why wizards don't have much, or any, contact with women... And it can get worse when the sourcerer's father wants revenge for being banished from Unseen University for having fallen in love.
Rincewind, together with Conina (the daughter of Cohen the barbarian) and the Luggage sets out to save the Archchancellor's hat, symbol of wizardry, from the sourcerer, only to find that the hat has plans of its own, which could lead to the Apocralypse, the end of the world. In order to stop the oncoming mage war, Rincewind has to kill the sourcerer, a ten-year-old boy who is forced to help wizards rule the discworld.

As always, Rincewind goes about the business of being an involuntary hero using his rodent-like talent to escape death and arguing with his consciousness about what should be done in contrast to what would be sensible to do. To make matters worse, he (and the Luggage) both fall in love (symptoms: sweaty palms, hot sensation in stomach, skin of chest made of tight elastic, someone running hot steel into spine), which leads to the Luggage getting seriously drunk and lost.
In addition to Rincewind and the Luggage, the novel is populated with weird and funny characters. There's Conina, forced to be a heroine by genetics but wannabe hairdresser, Nijel the Destroyer, a wannabe hero, and Creosote, a rich wannabe poet. They all have their own to contribute to save the discworld from destruction when the Gods vanish and the Ice Giants return.

Sourcery was a lot of fun to read, finally making Rincewind one of my favourite Terry Pratchett characters. You shouldn't read it without having read the other Rincewind novels first, though.
Compared to the last discworld book I read, there was a lot less repetition this time, which made me all the more happy. I'm already looking forward to the next book (and regretting slightly that I'm going by publishing order, since I want to know how Rincewind gets back)!

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Saturday, 17 March 2012

Spring is here!

I have many things in my head, but not writing. I started with the next flash, and I am planning to continue or even finish it this weekend, but I won't make any promises.
Underwater, I wrote drowning,
I used to be such a good swimmer,
but for now my head is in the clouds...

On the up side, one thing that actually can keep me focused is... Origami. I know that's not what this blog is about, but you'll get a photo anyway. Maybe I should consider blogging about paper folding as well... On the other hand, I wouldn't know what to say, sine I'm only just following other people's instructions and not inventing my own stuff. Creativity is something I do with my head, not my hands.
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Friday, 16 March 2012

Review: Pike's Quest

Pike's QuestPike's Quest by K.J. Bennett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pike's Quest, self-published by indie author K.J. Bennett in October 2011, is a fantasy novel set in the far future, after mankind has – almost – destroyed the earth. Here, in the age of the New Dawn, a fish-faced boy named Pike is destined to be a hero and save the world from... Well, never mind, I want you to go and read the book, so don't expect details!
I was warned before I started reading that there would be a lot of that so-called English or British humour which I always thought I enjoy. And I did! Only that I realised I probably don't get is as much as I thought. That being said, here is my opinion of the book.

I really enjoyed the beginning, the description of Pike as a kid, the irony with which he is mobbed. It made me laugh a lot, and then I got tired of it.
I really enjoyed the ending; it had the grand final battle which you expect in a fantasy adventure. It kept me glued to the screen of my eReader.
It's just the middle part which makes writing this review a bit difficult: I don't understand it. More precisely, I don't understand the characters. The story line is very clear and well laid-out, the pace with which everything happens is, probably, a bit rushed, but you don't have to stretch, right? The characters, though...
There's Pike, who is told by a warlock that he is destined to be a hero, and although Pike neither wants to be one or thinks he could be one, he goes on a quest guided by a talking sparrow. Why? Because he is told that it is his destiny. Maybe that's meant to be satirical, in fact I hope so. Otherwise, it would just be a lack of character development.
Pike is not the only character I don't understand. Some scenes, some actions throughout the book, really threw me off, because some character did something that didn't fit the personality I thought that character had. To me, it looked like it was done simply because the storyline required it.
I think the characters that populate the world in the New Dawn are interesting, funny, weird – all you need for humorous fantasy. I'm just not sure, because I don't think I really got to know them, and that's a pity.

Overall, I enjoyed Pike's Quest. It was funny. It was clever. Maybe it was too clever for me. I think you should judge for yourself. It's not expensive, and it is worth it.

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Saturday, 10 March 2012

Welcome to the Dream World

"every person's imagination is a little different"
was the perfect reason to delve a bit into the magical dream world, to which Anne contributed as a child and into which Brian vanished, to become the successor of Norbert, the guardian who is doing the story-telling in Sixteen. (I had to link to the Wikipedia article, because it's so funny that there is one! I browsed it briefly and learned that Norbert is not even doing any story-telling, because there's no plot involved. Oh well.)
I had wanted to explore it a bit more with you for some time, explain what it actually is and how it works. I know this is not really flash fiction, as it doesn't tell much of a story. I'm sorry if that irritated you. Maybe it helps imagining a huge dragon flying over his world, with you on his back, giving you an introductory tour?

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Thursday, 1 March 2012

Review: Mort


Mort by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mort (first published 1987) is the first Death novel in Terry Pratchett's discworld series. The book follows Mort, a youth consisting mostly of elbows and knees whom his parents send to seek apprenticeship. None of the regular people want him, but just when he is about to give up, Death enters the scene. His offer is reasonable, especially for a boy like Mort, who is eager to learn the secrets of the universe.
Death takes him shopping in the big city before they settle down at his realm outside of time. There, Mort meets Albert, Death's faithful servant, and Ysabell, Death's daughter (adopted). They don't get along all that well, like teenagers of opposed sexes often do, but Mort is busy taking care of Binky, the horse, and accompanying Death on Duty anyway.
When Death decides to take a few days off, it's Mort's turn to take care of the Duty, and he massively fails when confronted with a beautiful princess and her assassin. He kills the assassin instead of letting the girl die, causing reality to break apart, while Death is busy learning how to be more human and less anthropomorphic personification. With only Ysabell and maybe Albert as support, Mort has to decide if and how to make up for his mistake.

I've long been a fan of the Death of the discworld and therefore enjoyed reading Mort immensely. The story is filled with interesting characters like the princess Keli, a young wizard called Cutwell, and of course Death, Albert, Ysabell and Mort himself. Guest stars, by the way, include the wizard Rincewind and the librarian of Unseen University.
The novel offers an appealing storyline, throughout which we can watch Mort - and partly also Ysabell - grow up. It ends in a furious battle of life and death between Mort and Death, but the outcome will of course not be revealed here. Let me just say that it came as a surprise, but at the same time didn't surprise me at all.
If you are a fan of humorous fantasy stories flavoured with a young love story, you could definitely read this book and not be disappointed.

There is one thing, though, caused by the British Books Challenge 2012 and my goal to read all discworld novels, that is starting to annoy me. In Mort alone were at least three mentions of the slow light of the discworld. This was also mentioned in all previous books, and I really, really want to say "Yes, I know, stop telling me!" So, maybe it's a good thing I'm having an unplanned hiatus at the moment, reading K.J. Bennett's  Pike's Quest, which I got for free last week. Since the author is British, expect a review of that next!

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Sunday, 26 February 2012

Look, I'm Back!

Busy times are busy, but I try to leverage everything that is demanded of me, by myself and others. During the few sparse, awake and creative moments I had last week, I contemplated a bit more Nadiya's life and decided to give her a partner.
Now that I come to think about that, I get the feeling that my flashes are all a bit too heterosexual... I hope nobody gets offended by that! The specific experiment in Fifteen needed to be heterosexual though, since it's also about the good old way of producing offspring.

Prompt fifteen was
""Fear not," he said, in a voice as soft as silk"
which I liked for the topic I chose, but found difficult to include anyway. Having that as the first sentence of a conversation and then a "he" saying it is quite unusual.
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