Posts Tagged With: Terry Pratchett

Books: Sci-Fi and Fantasy for the Winter

Winter Reads

Thanksgiving is officially over (it went very well, thank you!) and I finished putting up my Christmas things on Sunday.  It’s cold here – in the 40s – and I’m hoping it quits soon because I own, like, 2 sweaters that are actually warm and weren’t bought for pretty.  Next weekend is when all the Christmas events start happening in my town.

There’s no way it will snow here, though.  So in the absence of actual snow, I need literary snow.  And for some reason, all my favorite winter books have a fantastical component.  Here are three that you should read, if you like this sort of thing:

Landline: A Novel, by Rainbow Rowell: Georgie McCool has always put her career as a scriptwriter front and center, and her husband Neil has picked up the slack.  When she and best friend Seth have the chance to pitch the script of their lifetime, if they can write it in five days, Georgie knows Neil will be upset.  But he’ll probably roll with Georgie’s assessment that they can’t bring the girls to his family’s house for Christmas like they planned.  Georgie didn’t forsee that Neil would be more than pissed.  He takes the girls to his parent’s house, leaves Georgie in California, and then is strangely unavailable.  Frantic, Georgie calls Neil from an old rotary phone in her bedroom to find that she’s dialed 20 years in the past.  But can she save her marriage from decades away?

Wintersmith (Tiffany Aching), by Terry Pratchett: Tiffany Aching accidentally joins the dark mummer’s dance, and then has to contend with Jack Frost, who thinks she’s his new girlfriend.  Embarrassing snowflakes in Tiffany’s shape, a cornucopia spilling out all sorts of things you just don’t want, the Nac Mac Feegles, and relations with the human boy Tiffany has a thing with are just some of the problems she faces.  But now that Tiffany has dethroned the goddess of spring, will Summer ever come again?

The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin: Genly Ai has agreed to go as an emissary to the planet deemed Winter to see if he can get them to join the ecumenical society of planets.  It is first contact, and Genly is more than aware that he could be killed or imprisoned.  Winter is a world where most humans there are genderless until they mate, and over the course of a lifetime can be both male and female.  The planet is as unforgiving as it’s icy landscape, with a strange code of behavior called shifgrethor, and Genly is getting nowhere with his quest.  He places his trust in Prime Minister Estraven, who is then accused of treason and cast out of the kingdom.  But Genly and Estraven meet again in a work camp on the outskirts of civilization, and together they undertake a perilous journey over icy wastelands so that they can be free.


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Spring Reading List


The students have graduated.  We were afraid it was going to rain on them, and so there were white tents all across campus.  It mostly just looked cloudy and miserable without any drops falling, though.  The students at Scripps get their diplomas amid a grove of trees, and I’ve never seen a prettier graduation.  Chapman’s is this weekend, and Brian will be working it.  The weekend after, my sister will be getting her hard-won Art degree.  It hardly seems like two years since I was up on that platform myself, but it has been.  It’s funny how life changes and doesn’t all at the same time.

There have been a bevvy of parties at my friend Emily’s house the last couple of weeks.  We are a snowball group of friends who met in high school and then grabbed kindred spirits in college and after to round us out a little more.  Most of us have a travesty of a car full of trash, attended community college, don’t have any idea what we want to do with our lives, and have struggled to pay the bills sometimes (often).  We hardly ever get together, but it has been twice in three weeks, and another party at her house this weekend.  There is never anyone like that group.  I was sitting on the couch next to my friend Lilo listening intently to the ratio of guano to ash to compost she puts on her tomatoes when she stopped mid-explanation.

“I just want to say that I’m so glad you’re as interested in this as I am, and I love you guys,” she said.  So I think we all feel it.  There’s no one quite like that collection of people for being so in sync with each other.

My tomatoes are going gang-busters, all except for one that died.  I’ll be investing in tomato cages soon, and I found out that Armstrong has navy-blue ones that would match my front door.  That may need to happen, since they’re in my front yard and all because of the gopher situation.

With graduation there comes the semi-annual posting of the reading list.  I have read a lot of smut this time, and I’m not sorry.  But I would like to remind you of our invisible non-binding pact that you don’t judge me for my reading habits.  This list encompasses February, and you HAVE to read romance novels in February (we’re ignoring the fact that some of these stretch in to May). That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  Anyway, enjoy:

  1. How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman – Goodman has experience living it all, and her personal insights were fascinating and invaluable. I was left with a massive appreciation for simple modern things.  It’s not often I can’t put a non-fic down.
  2. The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro – Why are the jerks in romance novels always amazing in bed? I liked this one.  It had a mystery component, beautiful writing, and Degas.  The mystery was predictable, but it still felt tense.  Good beach smut, 4 ½ stars.
  3. The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley –The story didn’t feel important, but it was fun to see the characters I knew. I found myself wanting to keep reading so I could be in the forest with them.  Also, Marion kicks ass.  That’s awesome.
  4. Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer – Exactly what I was expecting, although the brother is a bit annoying and I wish there was more romance (they ignore each other until she’s not his ward anymore). But fun, if you can put aside their first meeting.
  5. Venetia by Georgette Heyer – Supposed to be one of her best, and I enjoyed it A TON. I wish I could just slice out that first meeting of the two main characters, though. Otherwise the book is perfect and I enjoyed it heartily. Okay, more than heartily.
  6. The Diviners by Libba Bray –Naughty John gives me nightmares, and everything just gets creepier the farther into the book you go. But Evie is delightful, incorrigible and the 1920s slang is perfection.  I can’t stop thinking about it.
  7. What to Expect Before You’re Expecting – I’m sure this is full of good advice, but I’m cranky with the cutesy terms. We’re all adults, for God’s sake.  We can have sex.  We don’t need to be TTC (wink!) or do the Baby Dance.  Please say I’m right.
  8. The Ultimate Guide to Writing Persuasively – for work. Filled with a lot of branding stuff that might have been helpful for a less well run fundraising machine (we have it handled at Scripps), but the letter writing portion was useful.
  9. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell – Good, because how can a Rowell novel not be good? But this one left me heartbroken.  Eleanor’s family life is SO messed up, and watching her try to deal while falling in love hurt so much.
  10. Paris In Love by Eloisa James – A series of social media snippets refined and divided into chapters about her sabbatical in Paris. Easy to read and put down, sweet enough to pick up again.  I wanted to live in Paris forever, I didn’t want it to end. Also, may not be able to stop reading her books.
  11. Duchess In Love by Eloisa James – A cute premise, and it quickly turns into a crazy farce in a country house where you aren’t totally sure how it will all turn out. 4 Beach Smut stars.
  12. The Duke is Mine by Eloisa James – Although the book was definitely good, I felt like it wasn’t quite up to James’ usual standards. The kidnap scene in France at the end wasn’t my favorite thing.  But altogether worth it.  I would say 3 1/2 Beach Smut stars.  Okay, maybe 4.
  13. Three Weeks with Lady X by Eloisa James – Not as X-rated as it sounds. The heroine’s name is Xenobia.  But I liked it especially for that, and for Xenobia’s independence.  She’s my favorite of James’ heroines so far.  5 Beach Smut stars.  Okay, maybe 5+
  14. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins – A sweet novel set at a high school for Americans in Paris. Has a dreamy boy named Etienne, rocking friends in Atlanta, and lots of France.  Nothing too unexpected, but solid and well written.
  15. Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins – I’m IN LOVE with Lola. She’s hilarious, with the best fashion sense.  Her story is unusual, her boyfriend the perfect jerk, and Cricket next door the perfect complement to her.  Better than “Anna,” and it’s tough to be better than “Anna.”
  16. Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins – These just keep getting better and better. “Isla” was my favorite by far.  Loved the Barcelona bits and Josh too.  Sexy painting scenes.  Go read it.  That’s all I have to say.
  17. Potent Pleasures by Eloisa James – Oh man, I can’t stand the name. The novel was generally good and fun, with a good premise.  But the hero exhibits some scary, angry tendencies that made me balk a little.  Still good Beach Smut.
  18. Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horowitz – a re-read. There is peeing on buttons for authenticity, a Civil Wargasm, and much spooning.  Not to mention the horrifying ham… Brian asked me to stop laughing, because I was shaking the bed.  I think it might even get funnier the second time.
  19. The Forgotten Sisters by Shannon Hale – Oh, I love her so much. The ending wasn’t what I thought it would be, in the best way.  Miri trying to adjust to life in the swamps, and Peder’s pursuit of her, the secret even the sisters don’t know… the whole thing was absolutely right.
  20. Rags and Bones by Various Authors – A collection of tales you know (fairy and common short stories), re-told by awesome people. They’re weird.  Like, really weird.  Like gave me nightmares weird.  I’m not sure I liked it, but I can’t stop thinking about them.  So that says something, right?
  21. The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones – Nice to be back in Chrestomanci Castle again, but I can’t say I thought it was as good as Charmed Life or Christopher Chant. Gammer is hilarious, though, and so is Nutcase the cat who walks through walls. Worth it if you like Chrestomanci stuff.
  22. A Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James – I can’t tell you why I loved this book, but I did. Probably it was those horribly behaved purse dogs.  But it might also have been the dresses, or the prince in the castle or the fireworks.  It was practically perfect and gets 5 Beach Smut stars.
  23. Cotillion by Georgette Heyer – Unexceptional although not one of my favorites. It’s hard to say the heroine is dumb when she concocts such good schemes, but she is a bit.  Freddy has to save her most of the time.   I also didn’t feel real passion on either of their sides, just friendly affection.
  24. Meet the Austins by Madeline L’Engle – I fell in love with A Ring of Endless Light when I was younger, and it was nice to know there were more stories about the Austins. A sweet book about 1950s life in a big family.  It reminds me a little of LM Montgomery’s “Anne” books in tone.
  25. The Moon By Night by Madeline L’Engle – Nice to be camping out in the world of the Austins, but it was my least favorite book of the bunch so far. I didn’t like Zachary, and I felt like the message of the book was largely unrealized.  I wasn’t sure what it was About (with a big A).  I still enjoyed being in the world with the family, though.  Can’t beat a wedding!
  26. The Young Unicorns by Madeline L’Engle – I haven’t gotten to A Ring of Endless Light yet, but this book gave me SO MUCH hope it would hold up now that I’m older. It was great.  Blind Emily is capable, and it’s a mystery that thickens because everyone is trying to protect everyone else.  At times the scenes felt too unreal, but it was suspenseful and well written.
  27. What to Expect the First Year by Heidi Murkoff – I was hoping to wait until I had a kid to edit Revolution where the main character has a 6 month old. But in the place of experience there is research.  Well-written and helpful for what many things with an infant should look and feel like.  I’ll have to rely on babysitting and imagination for the rest.
  28. The Sh!t No One Tells You by Dawn Dais – Read this for ditto the reason of above. It was fhilarious, but it wasn’t very helpful for research as it dwelt a lot on the modern mother’s experience and not on child development. Still, I enjoyed it even while I cringed (in a good way?).
  29. The Princess Bride by S. Morgenstern – A re-read. I forgot how much I liked this book.  I’ve seen the movie so many times that it feels so familiar, while also feeling so much deeper and more intricate.  And funnier.  I’m a fan.
  30. A Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L’Engle – It holds up way better than I thought it might. In fact, I’m as in love with this book as ever.  I was more frustrated with Zachary this time, and more upset that Vickie didn’t put him in his place sooner.  But everything about this book speaks to my adolescence (in tone, not fact), and it’s GOOD.
  31. Troubling A Star by Madeline L’Engle – I felt like Adam became a different person in this book, and someone I liked less. I also didn’t love the flashback structure where we know from page 1 that Vickie is on an iceberg dying, but not why.  But the writing was beautiful and the story suspenseful.  Would ultimately recommend.
  32. Four Nights with The Duke by Eloisa James – Pretty great, really. I liked that Mia was a writer, and the relationship the Duke had with her nephew – so funny.  I did feel like the crisis at the end was a little quick and predictable, but otherwise great.  Beach Smut Rating: 5 stars.
  33. The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchet – This book is just about the funniest thing I’ve ever read. Their swords go blue in the presence of lawyers.  And Tiffany Aching!  Such a great, strong heroine.  I couldn’t get enough.  I’ll definitely be getting more Discworld books.
  34. Lives on the Boundary by Mike Rose – About teaching people labeled as remedial. Very interesting perspective, and reads like a memoir.  I found it fascinating, especially because he showed so adeptly that “mistakes” in a lot of cases were people seeking to grow and not knowing how.
  35. Up The Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman – So great, and so interesting in the way it was narrated through school paperwork. You got to really love the kids, and really hate the inept administration.  But it was lovely chaos.  Lives up to its reputation for sure.
  36. A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchet – I do love Tiffany. The other girls in the wannabe “coven” are sort of awesome, and so is Miss Level (all two of her).  I liked Wee Free Men better, and wasn’t as horrified as the Hiver as I’m sure I should have been.  But I’ll 100% download the next.
  37. Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale – A re-read.  Oh, I love this book so.  I am trying to figure out why, and it might be that Charlotte’s neuroticism matches my own.  Or maybe it’s her hilariously quippy Inner Thoughts.  But put murder and fake Jane Austen together, and it’s magic.
  38. How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis – So good. I couldn’t put it down, and now my TBR list is gigantic because there are heroines in there that I didn’t know.  She and I felt so differently about many of the books, but that was interesting too.  A lovely wade through literature.
  39. Enchanted Glass – This book is just so ordinary, and that’s what I love about it. There are computers and trainers, and motorcars that get stuck in ditches.  But there’s also the weredog, and all the black figures in the garden, and so much everyday magic.  I’m jealous.  And I want to live there.
  40. Wintersmith by Terry Pratchet – I’m not 100% on board with the sentient cheese, but I loved everything else about this novel. I lost it in a fit of giggles when the Feegles freak out about Tiffany’s disapproval.  It’s nice to see her older, and Jack Frost is such an awkward beau.
  41. My Faire Lady by Laura Wettersten– Predictable story line, and more like what working at a summer camp is like, not a Renaissance Faire (I know, I’ve done it). But I couldn’t put it down, so that says something.
  42. The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Anderson Brower – Lovely, slightly salacious and VERY interesting, but with a touching quality too. It makes presidents seem like humans, and even covers the Obamas, which surprised me.
  43. Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat – A re-read. I NEVER get tired of this book.  Mowat is hilarious while also being touching about lives and ecology.  His description of the wolves is also just great.  They get to seem like people, or maybe adorable pets, even while they’re not.
  44. Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner – Such an odd book. Things don’t really ever happen in it, but it’s nice just the same.  The excitement happens at the very end, when the devil shows up.  I enjoyed it and would recommend it, but it wasn’t what I thought it would be.
  45. Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett – Cute, and I really love Esk a lot. Why is Pratchett so hilarious? It reminded me of Ursula K. Leguin’s A Wizard of Earthsea a bit, but not entirely.  The gender banter was especially good, as was the old person romancing.
  46. The Fine Art of Truth or Dare by Melissa Jensen – A cute book, and unusual. Ella is obsessed with a fictional (but handsome) dead guy, trying to move past a horrible scar on her shoulder, and full of spunk.  About secrets, and dealing with them, or being one.
  47. The Last Train Home by Renee Wendiger – It was alright. The writing was simplistic, and the asides in parenthesis were distracting.  But the topic was so fascinating that neither seemed to matter all that much.  Orphan trains might be my new obsession.
  48. I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett – I felt like the epic quality of the prophecy and things was lost in the shuffle of crazy. I enjoy the shuffle of crazy in Pratchett novels normally, but this crazy didn’t seem to serve the story as well as in other novels.  Still amusing, and a good read.
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Book Reviews: Tiffany Aching and Other Witches


I’ve been reading a lot of Terry Pratchett lately.  Someone introduced me to a lovely infographic on where to start his books.  Discworld is so diverse that it’s impossible to know where to start, and very intimidating.  But the infographic made it alright.  Also, after reading several of the books, even as part of a series, I can say you should just dive in wherever looks good to you.  Everything I read would stand on it’s own.

I started with the Tiffany Aching books: The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, and Wintersmith.  There’s one more, I Shall Wear Midnight, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.  And then I picked up the first of the witches books, Equal Rites.  To say I’m a fan is an understatement.

First of all, I have a thing about men who write women.  Most men do it very badly, especially in the Fantasy genre.  The women in Terry Brooks’ “Magic Kingdom” books, for example, are a very good approximations of females.  But there’s something not quite right about them, although it’s hard to put a finger on what.  The same can be said of all the women in The Lord of The Rings (although I LOVE Tolkien second to none), anyone in the Wheel of Time series, even The Princess Bride a bit.  Don’t even get me started on Piers Anthony…

Pratchett doesn’t have that problem.  His women are WOMEN, real and accurate.  They care about domesticity, even while they strain against it.  They’re each powerful characters in a matter-of-fact way.  It also doesn’t hurt that he’s wildly funny.  I wholeheartedly approve, and I’ve been disturbing Brian’s sleep because I have to keep reading them into the small hours of the night, and I can’t help laughing out loud.

So here they are in more specificity:

The Wee Free Men:  My only criticism of this book is that Tiffany seems much more mature than your average nine year old should be.  Other than that, the book is perfect.  She uses her annoying little brother as bait, and then when he’s captured, takes on fairyland with nothing but an iron frying pan and a bunch of small pictsies (the Nac Mac Feegles) who are vulgar, drunk, and hilarious.  They have awesome names like “Rob Anybody,” “Daft Wullie,” and “No’-As-Big-As-Medium-Sized-Jock-But-Bigger-than-Wee-Jock Jock.”

It’s a story full of dreams and fairy queens; and a young girl’s need to live up to the reputation of her grandmother (who was probably a witch).  Tiffany herself is so spunky and practical that she is one of the best YA heroines I’ve read.  I would 100% recommend this book in every way.

A Hat Full of Sky: Not as good as Wee Free Men, I don’t think, but still pretty great.  Tiffany’s magic attracts the attention of something called a Hiver, which wants to take over her body and live as a mean, horrible version of herself.  She’s eleven now, and living in a different city with a woman named Mrs. Level who is actually one person split into two.  It sounds strange, but somehow it works.  The coven of witches with “no leader” is great.

The Feegles are back, and funnier than ever.  It seems like they’re hilarity is more for show than for actual plot furthering, but I do have to say that the dialogue while they’re all glommed together in a suit of clothes so they can pretend they’re a full sized man is just golden.  Especially everyone’s complaint about being the knees.  It’s sort of nice to see Rob Anybody coming into his own as a leader, too.

Full of much worthy stuff, and well worth the read, but not as tight as the other Pratchett novels I’ve read.

Wintersmith:  This was another of my favorites.  Tiffany is thirteen now, and studying with a Miss Treason, who is utterly delightful (if the adjective “delightful” can be applied to someone deliberately trying to seem nefarious).  She’s scary, and uses magic props from a catalogue to set up a haunted house-ish place in order to gain respect from the inhabitants of her village.  She takes Tiffany to the Dark Morris dance one night, and Tiffany gets swept up in it; dancing with Winter even though she isn’t supposed to.  The Wintersmith falls in love, and starts doing all sorts of embarrassing things like making snowflakes and icebergs in Tiffany’s image.

The Feegles are back in all their glory, along with an inexplicable sentient cheese.  The cornucopia is also pretty amazing, dumping hundreds of thousands of things you definitely don’t want into the house.  My favorite thing in the whole novel is all the “waily, waily” from the Feegles when Tiffany starts performing The Pursin’ o’ the Lips, and The Tappin’ o’ the Feets.

The end also feels inevitable and perfect.  I’d say it fully earned the awards it won.

Equal Rites: A hilarious comedy of errors, of sorts, where a wizard gets word that there will be an Eighth Son of an Eighth Son born in a small town and passes his staff on, but the Son is actually a Daughter instead.  She’s sort of forced to become a wizard.  The staff is temperamental, and  Granny Weatherwax is such a great character.  I got gleeful when she starts to make a bit of a romance of things with the head wizard.

Eskarina, or Esk, (the Daughter) is a stubborn girl.  She ends up entering the wizard academy as a servant, but still manages to learn a lot and ultimately saves the day.  Pratchett has such a way with character that you can forgive him a bit of density in his magical theory, even when she and the main wizard character come up with things that are utterly incomprehensible.  Did I mention that the librarian is an orangutan?

10/10 would read again.   And incidentally, if you’re looking for a well written essay by Pratchett on gender in fantasy, there’s a great one here:

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