BooksOfTheMoon

The Amazing Maurice & His Educated Rodents (Discworld, #28)

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 4 stars

Riffing off the story of the Pied Piper, here Pratchett has more animals become intelligent after hanging around Unseen University too long. First it’s the rats, and then Maurice, a cat. The rats may be clever, but Maurice is streetwise. They band together, along with a stupid-looking-kid™ to do the old plague of rats trick on unsuspecting towns, but in Bad Blintz, they find something very unexpected, and very dark.

Maurice is a fun character. While I’m not their biggest fan, Pratchett really gets cats and he writes a good one. The rat Dangerous Beans, on the other hand, is at least partially well named. As Darktan realises, he makes maps of the earth, while Dangerous Beans makes maps for the mind. He thinks the thoughts that the others don’t. He’s an idealist, and a visionary and a naive young thing. He’s a wonderful creation.

In the character of Malicia, Pratchett takes another swipe at those who get too carried away by stories and storytelling. This was a central theme of Witches Abroad and while it’s somewhat less subtle here than it was in that book, the point is well made, and the character is very fun to read.

I think this was the first Discworld novel “for younger readers”, preceding the Tiffany Aching books. I’ve put ‘for younger readers’ in quotes since at times this book can feel very dark, covering, as it does, topics including faith, its gaining and loss, ageing, hate and man’s inhumanity to anything it considers ‘other’. Despite this, it retains Pratchett’s trademark lightness of touch and humour. An older (or less sensitive younger) child will devour this, as will adults.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552546935
Publisher: Corgi Books
Year of publication: 2001

Love Among the Chickens (Ukridge, #1)

By P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: 3 stars

Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge descends upon his friend Jeremy Garnet and persuades him to come to the country and help him farm chickens. Whilst there, Garnet falls in love with a nearby resident but love’s course never runs smoothly. And while Garnet is wooing (or, at least, trying to woo) the young lady, the chicken farm goes from calamity to calamity.

This is very early Wodehouse and I found myself skipping entire pages in frustration. I just didn’t like the character of Ukridge. Unlike other (later?) creations, he has all the flaws of a Wodehouse character, but none of the compensations; he’s not charming, just boorish, arrogant and completely self-absorbed. Thank goodness he’s not the protagonist of the book; it would have been too much to take. Thankfully, large chunks of the book are focused on Garnet and his love life which is much more like the Wodehouse we know and love, coming up with a plan Jeeves himself would have been proud of (and then dealing with the consequences when it went horribly wrong). That’s the only reason this book is scoring as highly as it is from me.

Book details

Publisher: Herbert Jenkins
Year of publication: 1906

The Adventures of Sally

By P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: 3 stars

I enjoyed this book, focussing on Sally Nicholas, who’s just come into an inheritance, and her adventures, starting with a holiday in Europe where she meets Ginger Kemp, who’s a good egg but who can’t seem to hold on to any work.

It’s interesting, in that there are more clouds in these particular sunlit uplands than I’m used to with classic Wodehouse. Not necessarily many, but it feels like he was trying to add a bit more depth (and even pathos?) to his writing. Paragraphs where Sally muses on the nature of men’s focus on success to the exclusion of all else, or the (more than one) references to suicide bring this into relief.

But there’s still a lot of humour, and Wodehouse’s patented absurd characters, not to mention frightful relatives (an uncle, this time, rather than the more traditional aunt) and it wouldn’t be Wodehouse if it didn’t all get untangled by the end.

Book details

Publisher: Herbert Jenkins
Year of publication: 1922

Matilda

By Roald Dahl

Rating: 5 stars

Matilda was always one of my favourite Roald Dahl books as a child, and after seeing the musical recently (which is rather marvellous, by the way, and if you get the chance, you should go and see it), I was inspired to re-read the book. I’m very pleased that it holds up very well to adult reading, and still made me laugh as much as it did when I was young. It’s got the trademark Roald Dahl darkness as well, which is just delicious, most obviously in the character of Miss Trunchbull, but also in Matilda’s neglectful parents, who think that books are pointless and who fail to see anything special in Matilda herself.

A fantastic book, that well deserves its place in the canon.

Book details

ISBN: 9780140327595
Publisher: Puffin Books
Year of publication: 1988

Space Opera

By Catherynne M. Valente

Rating: 4 stars

I have very definite feelings about this book. I feel that I need to read it again before I come to any solid conclusions. This book was sold to me as a lightweight Eurovision-in-space. Instead, it starts as slightly poor Douglas Adams pastiche, settles into something very readable but occasionally not just punches you in the feels, but gives them wedgies and steals their lunch money.

Okay, so, yes, it is Space-Eurovision, with an annual galactic song contest to relieve tensions in the galactic community, with the added twist that to avoid recurrence of the sentience wars (in which we, who are People, want to kill you and take your stuff because we think that you are Meat) any newly discovered apparently sentient species has to prove their sentience by not coming last in the Galactic Grand Prix. That in itself is a fascinating idea, giving species the chance to prove themselves by moving the watching fans enough to not come last: to prove that you have and can create empathy.

I nearly didn’t get that far though. The first couple of chapters nearly put me right off. On a first read, they felt like the book was trying (and trying too hard) to be Hitchhikers, and that’s not an easy thing to do. The tone settled down after Decibel Jones, former Brit-pop glamgrinder and the one chosen, along with his band, to be the Last Best Hope for Earth, was introduced and I started to enjoy it a lot more. I get the feeling though, that upon rereading, those first chapters would probably resonate a lot more.

Neither Decibel, nor his bandmate, Oort St Ultraviolet, are particular likeable, but that’s sort of the point. They’ve been through the system, have been chewed up and spat out the other end. They’re damaged goods, struggling to cope without the third member of of the band, Mira Wonderful Star. They make the sort of mistakes and arguments that two people who love/hate each other would do and try their best not to get killed before the main event starts (Rule 20, it’s all about Rule 20).

And between all the glam, and the silliness and really weird alien species, Valante has a lot to say about us. About whether we deserve that last shot at all, about the sort of people we can be at our best, and at our worst.

So, what did I think? I think I need to read the book again. But until then, it left me with a lot to think about and a whole bunch of slightly bruised feels.

Book details

ISBN: 9781472115072
Publisher: Corsair
Year of publication: 2018

The Wee Free Men (Discworld, #30; Tiffany Aching, #1)

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 4 stars

Another world is colliding with this one and nobody can or will do anything about it. Nobody, that is, except Tiffany Aching. Tiffany Aching who makes good cheese; who hits monsters in the face with a frying pan; and who has the First Sight and the Second Thoughts (much more useful than the other way around). With the help of the Nac Mac Feegle and a book on sheep diseases, Tiffany ventures into the other world to stop the Queen and to save her baby brother.

It’s been years since I first read this book and I had forgotten just how ‘witchy’ that Tiffany is right from the start of the series that begins with this book. A sensible girl who does what needs doing and who stands up to Granny Weatherwax.

For me, the Feegle are as much stars of this book as Tiffany. They could be a parody but in Pratchett’s hands they become more than that. They’re a wonderful creation (especially the swords that glow blue in the presence of lawyers) and a lot of fun.

There’s one line in particular that stands out as totemic of what Pratchett tries to invoke in all of us and which brought a lump to my throat: “Them as can do, has to do for them as can’t. And someone has to speak up for them as has no voices.” Pratchett reminds us with this single line what we’re like when we’re at our best and what we should strive to be.

Book details

Publisher: Corgi Childrens
Year of publication: 2003

Meddling Kids

By Edgar Cantero

Rating: 3 stars

I loved the elevator pitch for this book (basically: Enid Blyton meets H. P. Lovecraft). A group of Famous Five-esque teenage detectives grow up and go back to revisit their last case – it was just a guy in a mask, as always… wasn’t it?

I enjoy the story itself, but like other reviewers on GoodReads, I found the author’s literary ticks distracting. The occasional dropping into screenplay format and meta-textual awareness of being a piece of fiction grated and, for me, didn’t add anything to the story. I found the changes in format and sly winks at the reader distracting and they pulled me out of the story.

The story itself is enjoyable. I read a lot of Enid Blyton when I was young, and loved to see those tropes taken apart and re-examined here (with a bit of Scooby Doo thrown in), as well as the supernatural element. The characters felt real enough to keep me going, despite the author’s antics, with Andy, Kerri and Nate all being drawn well enough to be sympathetic despite their various flaws. Tim(my) the dog was my runaway favourite character though.

Book details

ISBN: 9781785658761
Publisher: Titan Books Ltd
Year of publication: 2017

Leave it to Psmith

By P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: 4 stars

As fond as I am of Wodehouse, I’ve managed to never encounter Psmith (the P is silent) before. However, he’s quickly introduced as a dapper young man, in need of employment (anything but fish) but with impeccable dress sense and a can-do attitude. It’s the usual Wodehouse froth, but with an extra layer of action on top. Involving a “borrowed” umbrella, impersonating poets, diamond necklaces and even a pair of crooks, Psmith gets stuck right into the middle of things, all while trying to avoid the watchful eye of the Efficient Baxter.

Wodehouse characters are charming caricatures. This book doesn’t change that at all, but it doesn’t need to. I already know and love the inhabitants of Blandings (yes, even Rupert Baxter) and Psmith fits right in, as he tries to woo the library cataloguer whilst trying to bring a happy ending for his old pal Jackson (with a little light theft thrown in for good measure).

As always, there are double-crossings, misunderstandings and improbably complex plots, all with lashings of Wodehouse’s trademark whimsy and humour. I know what I want from a Wodehouse book, and they invariably deliver. I’d happily leave my problems to Psmith.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841591254
Publisher: Everyman
Year of publication: 1923

Jingo (Discworld, #21)

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 5 stars

There’s xenophobia in the air in Ankh-Morpork, and the old warmongers are dusting down their swords; it’s up to Commander Vimes of the Watch to sort things out. It’s been many years since I last read Jingo, and, to be honest, it’s depressing just how relevant it still feels. PTerry was far too prescient with this one, his Ankh-Morpork of this period feels very much like post-brexit Britain, but alas, we don’t have a Sir Samuel or a Lord Vetinari to swoop to our aid.

However, despite all that, PTerry never forgets the story, first and foremost. This is a great fun book, overflowing with wit and humour. It’s really the first time we get to spend some time with Lord Vetinari, and, I think, our introduction to Leonard of Quirm. Vimes is filled with the righteous anger that, well, makes him Vimes and Death makes his obligatory cameo. There’s also the Disorganizer, the Disc’s answer to a smartphone, with added confusion about universes, which I sort of love. It’s the constant cheerfulness of the thing, just trying to do its best in a world where people just don’t read the manual!.

I guess the constant freshness of the book is a reminder that war will probably always be with us. As long as there are people like Prince Cadram and Lord Rust and people willing to line up behind them and march for a nebulous thing like a flag, we’ll have conflict and ignorance. But I hope there will also be the Vetinaris, working quietly in the background to smooth things over and correct misunderstandings before they turn into something bigger.

Book details

Publisher: Corgi
Year of publication: 1997

The Fifth Elephant (Discworld, #24)

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 4 stars

I haven’t read this book since the first time round, but a friend has been re-reading the Discworld books and suggested I give it another go. Re-reading it has reminded me what I disliked the first time round – Colon’s field-promotion and the Carrot/Angua angst – but also reminded me how good Sam Vimes is when he’s at his best.

There’s a new Low King of the Dwarves being crowned in Uberwald and the Patrician sends his Grace, the Duke of Ankh, aka Sam Vimes of the Watch, as his ambassador. But being Sam Vimes, he can’t keep his nose out of a crime, even when it’s as far off his turf as this. Soon he’s being sucked into politics that could have ramifications throughout the continent, and old, stale ideas are being brought kicking and screaming into the Century of the Fruitbat.

As I say, that’s good bit, Vimes getting stuck into a crime, failing to be diplomatic and generally being a clever bugger. The less good bits are much smaller in number, but obviously stuck with me. The idea of putting Colon in charge of the Watch has comedy gold written all over it, but it doesn’t feel that way, it just feels sad. It’s a perfect example of the Peter Principle, as acting-captain Colon relies on clamping down on the minutiae to cover his own incompetence. While the story moves back to the city more infrequently as the book goes on, it was enough to keep me away from it for years.

There were several of the little things that Pratchett is always so good at that I missed from before, from the name of Leonard’s deciphering machine to Vetinari’s desire for a code that is merely fiendishly difficult, not impossible, to crack.

The stuff with the dwarves and their lack of recognition of genders other than ‘dwarf’ felt a lot more smoothly handled here than it did in Raising Steam, and it was nice to see Cheery back, and the idea that freedom includes the freedom to not wear a dress resonates even more today.

So all in all, a better book than I remember. 3 1/2 from me, rounded up (Vimes’d go spare if I rounded down…)

Book details

ISBN: 9780552146166
Publisher: Corgi
Year of publication: 1999

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