Book Review: Hogfather

Here on this planet, Christmas will soon be upon us, and you can hardly miss seeing the image of jolly old Santa Claus. But on Discworld (a flat disc on the back of four elephants, on the back of a turtle), the end of the year is celebrated with Hogswatch, and children put out meat pies and turnips for the jolly Hogfather, who delivers presents in his sled pulled by four enormous boars. So I decided that Christmas time was the perfect time for a reread of Hogfather by Terry Pratchett.

Hogfather centers on Susan, who is trying very hard to be normal, even though she happens to be Death’s granddaughter (by adoption). She even got a job as a governess, and is determinedly proper and refined, although she does have a poker ready to hand to bash bogeyman and other monsters of childhood. But then on Hogswatch Eve, the Hogfather comes down the chimney…and despite the false beard, Susan promptly recognizes Death, who has inexplicably taken on the job. Has the old skeleton finally lost it, or is something more going on? Meanwhile, the Guild of Assassins has received a very mysterious contract, and assigned it out to Teatime (pronounced Teh-ah-tim-eh, though no one gets it right), a problematic student who makes assassins nervous. Continue reading “Book Review: Hogfather”

Weighing Down the Shelves…

Before I get to the actual focus of this post, just a note about novel news!  Last week I told you The Storyteller and Her Sisters was available for pre-order on Kindle.  If Kindle’s not your thing, you can now pre-order other ebook formats through Smashwords!  All ebooks will be delivered, and the paperback will go on sale, on October 10th.

Now on to other business…

I’m really dreadful at keeping up with Top Ten Tuesday (even though it’s such a cool meme!) but every so often I see that they’ve done a neat topic I’d like to write on…so even though it’s Friday, and even though this was the topic for several weeks ago, today I’m going to write about the Top Ten Authors I Own the Most Books By.

1) Edgar Rice Burroughs: 56
It helps that he was extremely prolific.  There’s probably still a good 15 books I don’t own.  Though perhaps I should point out, of my 56, 54 of them work with the same two plots: the hero is castaway or the heroine is kidnapped, or both.

2) L. M. Montgomery: 47
You expected this one, right?  That breaks down into 21 novels, 12 collections of short stories (200 total stories), 6 volumes of her journals (7, but one is an abridged version of 2 others), 3 books of letters, 2 books of poetry, 2 collections of early writings, and 1 autobiography.  And…that’s going to stay as-is because there’s nothing else to buy, until someone digs out another archive and publishes something new.  (Though I also have two biographies and two collections of critical essays…) Continue reading “Weighing Down the Shelves…”

Witches and Phantoms and Opera, Oh My!

I think we know that I madly love retellings of The Phantom of the Opera…and that Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series claims the “Funniest Book” spot on my End of the Year Rankings every year…so what could be more perfect than Maskerade, a Discworld retelling of Phantom?

I was inspired to pull this off my shelf recently after reading I Shall Wear Midnight, with its cameos from Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg.  This is my…third?  fourth? read of Maskerade, and it stays just as funny on repeated visits.  Although my poor paperback now has a crack in the spine–which I kind of enjoy, because it’s cracked on my favorite page!  I feel like that’s a cliche that rarely actually happens…

Anyway!  Maskerade focuses on Granny and Nanny, who are coming to the unfortunate realization that you just can’t have a coven of only two witches, having recently lost Magrat as their third.  The only eligible girl in Lancre is Agnes Nitt–but she recently departed for the bright lights (and strong smells) of the big city of Ankh-Morpork, determined to reinvent herself.  Agnes wins a role at the Opera House due to her prodigious voice–but not a starring role, due to her prodigious size.  She is befriended by the wonderfully, incredibly idiotic Christine, who can’t sing but looks good in an evening gown.  When Christine’s mirror starts talking to her she insists on switching rooms with Agnes, and Agnes finds herself the recipient of music lessons from a mysterious man in a mask.

Meanwhile, the Opera’s new owner is very perturbed to find out that the entire Opera Company accepts the existence of a masked ghost who writes notes and gives directions and, in a recent development, kills people.  Granny and Nanny, from the most altruistic motives possible of course, decide that something is a bit off in Agnes’ letters home, and they must depart for the big city to investigate.

And there is mayhem and Death and hilarity and Phantom references and mad little notes with five exclamation points and suspicious cookery and sometimes most of those things all on one page. Continue reading “Witches and Phantoms and Opera, Oh My!”

A Visit to Discworld to Finish the Story of Tiffany Aching

I found myself with a slight crisis recently, short on books and still waiting on holds, wandering the shelves of my tiny local library looking for something to carry me through the week…and was delighted to stumble upon I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett.  Discworld is the one series I somehow feel no pressure to finish–it’s too big and too rambling and I just dip in at random whenever I feel so inclined.  But the Tiffany Aching subseries as always felt much more self-contained and continuous, so I have been meaning to finish that off.

The final book in the sub-quartet presents Tiffany Aching at sixteen, still new to her role as Witch of the Chalk, but settling into the position.  But Tiffany’s dance with the Wintersmith in the previous book has awoken an ancient evil–one who hates witches.  With hostility towards witches rising throughout the land, Tiffany must find a way to fight through the fear and prejudice to confront its root.  And that while dealing with the upcoming wedding of Roland, her some-time beau, and the sometimes harmful help of her devoted allies, the Nac Mac Feegles.

I love the way Pratchett has presented Tiffany’s growth throughout the quartet.  She has always been someone who does what needs doing, from rescuing her little brother from a Fairy Queen in the first book, to the unglamorous witch work of caring for the ill, elderly and forgotten in this final book.  Tiffany has gained wisdom and confidence all along the way, but like life, it’s often been a few steps forward, a stumble or two back, a redirection and a new leap ahead.  Tiffany’s not only learned how to fulfill her role, she’s very consciously had to figure out what that role is, and how she wants to fulfill it.  Pratchett has done a masterful job of keeping Tiffany always the same person, while growing her throughout the series.

And then there are the Nac Mac Feegles, the Wee Free Men, the drinking, fighting, carousing, honor-bound (but always their own interpretation of honor!) clan who swore loyalty to Tiffany as the Hag o’ the Hills and will stick with her through thick and thin, no matter how many times she tells them to go away.  I love how well Tiffany understands them by now, and her back and forth with them is hilariously brilliant.  For instance, she’s somewhat less than surprised–and remarkably calm–when Daft Wullie sets fire to her broomstick in midair, and staunchly denies responsibility while holding a lit match…

I also appreciated that Rob Anybody, the Nac Mac Feegle chief, did get one moment of more depth.  The Nac Mac Feegles, basically, are never serious…until the humans try to dig up the Nac Mac Feegle hill, and for just a moment we glimpse a very real fear and anger from Rob Anybody about his wife and children.  I’m not sure I really want more than one serious moment from the Nac Mac Feegles, but one was perfect.

Having read other Discworld books, I enjoyed a cameo for Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg.  It’s always fun to see familiar characters from a different perspective, and I liked seeing them through Tiffany’s eyes–still the same characters as when they tell the story themselves, but with maybe a little more awe mixed in.

Pratchett’s books are all the more remarkable for being hilariously funny, while sharply insightful in their satire.  Here he personifies a familiar and particularly ugly side of human nature, the hatred of the Other simply because they’re Other.  Or as was said in another fantasy story, “we don’t like what we don’t understand; in fact, it scares us” (Beauty and the Beast, “The Mob Song”).  There it was against the Beast; here it’s against the witches, and there’s an added subtlety in the sense that part of the hatred comes because people know that the witches do what needs doing–what people guiltily realize they ought to be doing themselves and aren’t.

I already own all the City Guard Discworld books, and I think I need to start collecting the Tiffany Aching books.  They’re both my favorite kind of comedy–we have one stable, complex main character to ground us and guide us through the constant hilarity of everyone else around them.  This book was a wonderful end to the quartet, hilarious, insightful and deeply satisfying.

Author’s Site: http://www.terrypratchettbooks.com/

Other reviews:
Tethyan Books
Escape Pod
Book Aunt
Anyone else?

Buy it here: I Shall Wear Midnight

2013 End of the Year Round-up

A new year means it’s time to look back at how the reading has gone for the past year!  Challenge results were posted yesterday, but today let’s look at the best and the worst, and a few more random categories besides.  As usual, links go to my reviews.

1) Best Book  –  It’s a good year when I have a hard time choosing a Best Book!  I read a lot of books by favorite authors and finished a lot of wonderful series, giving me a LOT of choices here.  I’ve had to separate this out into several sub-listings…

1a) Favorite Character  –  This one goes to Samwise Gamgee of The Lord of the Rings, most particularly in The Two Towers.  He’s not exactly a new character, since I’d seen the movies years ago, but the books were new reads.  And as wonderful as Sam is in the movies (and I do think Peter Jackson and Sean Astin have as much to do with my love for this character as J. R. R. Tolkien does) my very favorite Sam moment isn’t in the movies.  It’s right near the end of The Two Towers, when he thinks Frodo is dead and even though he desperately doesn’t want to do it, he decides to take the Ring to Mordor himself.  It’s beautiful.

1b) Best Romance/Romantic Couple – Easily taken by Heir to Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier.  There’s a dark hero with a good heart and a heroine who has to find her hidden strength.  Two of my favorite archetypes, and their romance is just lovely.

1c) Most Anticipated Reread – My most anticipated read of 2013 was The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente.  I liked it a lot, but I felt that I couldn’t take it in fully on one read–so now I’m very much looking forward to reading it again.

1d) Hardest to Put Down – Marillier makes the list twice by also bringing in this one with Well of Shades.  She has a tendency towards un-put-down-able final hundred pages, but this one outdid any of the others.  The heroine gets into dire straits and meanwhile characters are futzing about and doing other things and I was desperate for a rescue scene and…well.  It was one of the more intense reading experiences of the year.

1e) Most IntriguingSpeaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card was hard to put down in a different way, not so much the frantic emotional page-turner but rather a book that made me deeply curious, and also offered perhaps the most interestingly alien aliens I’ve encountered.

1f) Loveliest Writing Style – This is kind of an odd category, but it really is what I loved about these particular books: The House on Durrow Street and The Master of Heathcrest Hall by Galen Beckett.  It’s like the best of Austen and Bronte (Charlotte), plus fascinating magic!

1g) Best Nonfiction – I don’t usually read much nonfiction, but I did read The Gift of Wings by Mary Rubio, a biography of L. M. Montgomery.  It was my third attempt to find a good LMM biography, and was all that I might have hoped for.  Truly wonderful and fascinating.

2) Worst Book  –  I am happily drawing a blank here.  I read some books that were only so-so and plenty that were good-but-not-great, but nothing really dreadful enough to qualify for Worst…a happy situation!

3) Most Disappointing Book  –  This one pains me because I so (SO) love Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series…but I think that may be exactly why I was disappointed by Six-Gun Snow White.  It’s a great title, right?  And it is what it sounds like, a Western version of “Snow White.”  Only it was far darker and a far more experimental writing style than I was expecting.  Someone else with different preferences would probably like it just fine, and even I didn’t dislike it exactly…but it wasn’t what I hoped for.

4) Most Unlikely Read – None of my books this year really seem all that unlikely to me, because I know the story behind them…but you might find it more surprising that I read Walden by Henry David Thoreau, as well as Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Armin.  That second one is an autobiographical and mostly plot-less account of a woman’s planning and enjoyment of her garden, originally published in 1880 or thereabouts.  This might be less surprising if I mention that it comes up frequently in L. M. Montgomery’s journals as a favorite book…

5) Most Satisfying Read -There’s an easy and probably obvious tie for this one, as it is highly satisfying to have finally read The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, as well as Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.  Collectively, they were the four most-intimidating-but-still-want-to-read books on my mental list of someday-reads for many years!

6) Can’t Believe I Waited Until 2013 to Read It  Lord of the Rings would be a possibility here, except that I don’t actually find it all that strange that I waited a long time to tackle those!  So instead I’m putting Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, because I really DON’T know why I waited so long to read something by Pratchett and Gaiman together, especially when I’d heard it recommended many times (and it was brilliant!)

7) Most Hilarious Read  –  I’ve accepted that this category is simply owned by Terry Pratchett, who has been my most hilarious read for the past three years.  So this one could go to Good Omens, only that was already #6, or it could go to The Last Hero…but I think even funnier was Wintersmith, mostly because of Horace the Cheese!

8) Most Looking Forward To in 2014  –  There are four series I’m caught up on and waiting for new books in, plus I expect Tamora Pierce to put out a new Tortall book next year…but it’s not really that hard to choose.  I’m most looking forward to Valente’s Fairyland 4, especially after the cliffhanger at the end of the third one!

What were your best or worst of 2013?  Or feel free to answer any of the other questions!

Dancing with the Wintersmith

Terry Pratchett is one of those authors I read on a fairly regular basis, and always have a good time with!  Most recently, I read Wintersmith, the third book in the Tiffany Aching subseries of Discworld.

Tiffany is a 13-year-old apprentice witch of considerable promise (and modesty).  She attends a Dark Morris dance, welcoming winter, and can’t resist jumping in–which brings her to the attention of the Wintersmith, the spirit of winter, who finds himself suddenly enamored of this human girl.  Dealing with the chaos and destruction caused by the Wintersmith’s attempts at wooing requires all of Tiffany’s strength and ability, as well as help from senior witches Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, from the fighting, drinking and swearing Wee Free Men, and from bookish and good-hearted Roland, who is not Tiffany’s young man.

I think I enjoy the Tiffany subseries so much because, like the City Guard subseries, they give me a sane main character (Tiffany and Vimes), surrounded by wildly eccentric characters.  Tiffany is a wonderful heroine who has been growing into her abilities (and perhaps more importantly, her identity) throughout the series.  I mentioned above she has promise and modesty, but it’s really more complicated than that.  Tiffany always does what’s needed, and doesn’t see anything remarkable in that–even if it’s rescuing her brother from the Queen of the Fairies, or confronting the Spirit of Winter.  I love a character who is flawed enough to not always do the right thing, but to always try to do what’s needed.

The other witches are wonderfully eccentric and unique, from Miss Treason who deliberately made herself a legend, to Annagramma, a somewhat New Age witch who thinks it’s all about rituals and beads.  Then of course there’s Granny Weatherwax–witches don’t have a leader, and Granny is the leader they don’t have–and Nanny Ogg, warm and cheerful and practical about all things, like using a Cornucopia of Plenty to stock the larder.

The Wee Free Men, also called the Feegles, are at their usual wild state of hilarity, endlessly cheerful and enthused, shouting and rushing about and eager to do whatever is needed to help “the big wee hag.” I love it when they attempt to sing “Row Your Boat” while crossing the River Styx, “at every possible speed and tempo and with no regard at all for the tune,” annoying Death not a little.

The funniest feature of this book may be Horace, a very lively Lancre Blue Cheese.  He’s adopted by the Feegles, given his own bit of tartan, and does his best to hum along with the singing.

Roland also gets some nice scenes in this book.  He’s not Tiffany’s young man (in rather the way Granny is not the leader of the witches) and he has to step up to be the Hero in the story, even though he’s only ever used an imaginary sword, and learned swordplay from a book.  He has some truly awful aunts and I am hoping for more of his story in the next book…

If I have one criticism of this book, it’s the first chapter.  Chronologically, it covers events which should slot in between Chapter Twelve (of Thirteen), and I frankly don’t know why Pratchett decided to start there.  It made me thoroughly confused, and wondering if I’d missed a book in the series.  So–if you begin this and don’t know what’s happening, keep reading.

Anything else…have I said much on the plot?  The plot is good, perfectly engaging and exciting in spots–but it’s more important as a vehicle for the wonderful characters and high hilarity Pratchett is so good at!

My recommendation: don’t start the series here…but do start the series. 🙂

Author’s Site: http://terrypratchettbooks.com/

Other reviews:
Tethyan Books
Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Reviews
Feeling Fictional
Anyone else?

Buy it here: Wintersmith

What Are You Reading, Sci Fi Edition (sort of)

itsmondayI think it’s about time I checked back in on the What Are You Reading meme from Book Journey…and this is good timing, since I have plans.  We’re launching on the Sci Fi Experience from Stainless Steel Droppings, after all!

I’ll be starting the Experience off today with some Star Trek viewing.  In the book realm, I first want to finish off Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett, third book of the Tiffany Aching subseries of Discworld.  I’ve never felt much concern about finishing Discworld (despite my two-year effort to complete series), but the Tiffany books feel more tightly woven into each other than other Discworld subseries, so I am trying to complete those four.

What Are You Reading Sci FiAfter Wintersmith, I plan to go on to The Masterharper of Pern by Anne McCaffrey, a first read for the Sci Fi Experience.  By the time I finish that, I will most likely have watched all relevant Trek and be ready for the next stage of The Great Khan Adventure, reading The Eugenics Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh, Volume One.

And somewhere in there I plan to finish a collection of essays, The Intimate Life of L. M. Montgomery.  I have officially run out of new-to-me writing by Montgomery herself (including novels, short stories, letters, journals and poetry).  This collection included a comic journal she co-wrote with a friend over several months.  It was, to my knowledge, the last of her writing I hadn’t read–at least until they make available any other currently-unpublished writing!  In the meantime, I’ll probably keep looking for essays and biographies.  I had doubts about this particular collection because I read a previous book by the editor and found her conclusions exceedingly far-fetched, but so far this set of essays has been well-reasoned and engaging.  I’ve got about four left I hope to finish reading soon.

So much for my plans…what are you reading?