YouKneeK

My favorite genres are science fiction and fantasy.  Occasionally, I also read horror, thriller, and mystery stories.  For more info about me than you could possibly want, check the "My Profile" link on the right-hand column.

Review: Going Postal (Discworld Book 39 of 49ish)

Going Postal (Discworld, #33) - Terry Pratchett

Going Postal is the first book in the Moist von Lipwig subseries of Discworld, which is also associated with the Industrial Revolution subseries.  In the case of this book, it’s maybe a little more of an “Industrial Counterrevolution”.

 

The post office in Ankh-Morpork has effectively been out of commission for a while, with tons of undelivered letters sitting around.  Meanwhile, over the past several books, we’ve seen the development of a faster and more efficient method of communication called the “Clacks”.  However, lately there have been issues with the Clacks -- mismanagement, downtime, and maybe even murders.

 

The main character, Moist von Lipwig, was a fun character of the “lovable rogue” archetype.  I wasn’t too sure about him at first, but he grew on me as the book went on.  Vetinari also had some good moments in this book.  The story itself held my interest really well.  In fact, I think this may be the first Discworld book for which I actually stayed up a few minutes past my bedtime one night because I wanted to know what would happen next.  I only stayed up about 15 minutes late, but I take my bedtime very seriously so this isn’t a common occurrence for me. :)

 

I enjoyed the ending, and I particularly liked the choices Moist made it the end. 

 

To be more specific, I liked that he looked at the bigger picture and considered the greater good.  He backed off from his original plan that would have effectively destroyed the Clacks until they could be rebuilt, realizing that they fulfill a vital role and also that there were a lot of good people involved in the industry who would suffer.  Instead, he found a way to deal with the corrupt management that was the root problem.

(show spoiler)

 

Review: A Hat Full of Sky (Discworld Book 38 of 49ish)

A Hat Full of Sky - Terry Pratchett

A Hat Full of Sky is the 2nd book in the Tiffany Aching subseries of Discworld.  I really enjoyed this one, maybe slightly more than I enjoyed the first Tiffany Aching book.  It had an equally good story, and I thought it was a bit funnier. 

 

In this book, Tiffany is now eleven and she leaves her home on the chalk for the first time so she can learn how to be a proper witch.  She travels to the mountains where she’ll serve as an apprentice for a witch named Miss Level, who is a bit unusual.  Meanwhile, a power-hungry entity has sensed Tiffany’s power and is about to catch up with her.

 

The Nac Mac Feegles had some particularly funny moments in this book, and I also liked Miss Level.  Tiffany is still a great and likeable character who is easy to root for.  There were also some good messages in the story about being nice to people you don’t really want to be nice to, helping people you don’t really want to help, and doing the things that need to be done even if you really don’t want to do them.

Review: The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle - Philip K. Dick

“Huh?”  That was pretty much my reaction at the end of this book.  The first and only other book I’ve read by Philip K. Dick was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.  I thought that book had a weird ending, but I think The Man in the High Castle out-weirded that one.

 

The general setting is in an alternate reality in which the Axis powers won World War II instead of the Allied powers. Japanese culture is dominant in the U.S.  Nearly everybody speaks and thinks in broken English and uses the I Ching to make decisions and answer questions, while Germans are apparently all obsessed with the Nazi ideal.  In other words, I thought the depiction of other cultures in this book seemed stereotyped, and the choppy English quickly became tiresome to read.

 

I think this book may have been intended more as a vehicle to express ideas than to tell a story.  There are interesting ideas here, and some clever plot elements, but the story itself felt pretty thin to me.  There are several plot threads, one or two of which could be considered the “main plot”, but there weren’t really any tangible results of the events in the book.

 

The main characters weren’t very likeable.  Juliana was just plain loco.  I hated Childan, to the point that I may have told him I hated him out loud a couple of times while reading.  I warmed up to a couple of the others later in the book after I understood them better, but I didn’t get attached to any of them or care much what happened to them.

 

Of the two PKD books I’ve now read, I definitely preferred Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.  Its story interested me more, whereas I was occasionally bored by this one.  I did enjoy some aspects of it, but not consistently.  As a side note, this book has several German phrases that aren’t translated within the book, so it was nice to be able to highlight the phrases on my Kindle and instantly get a translation.

Review: Monstrous Regiment (Discworld Book 37 of 49ish)

Monstrous Regiment  (Discworld, #31) - Terry Pratchett

Monstrous Regiment is the third book in the Industrial Revolution subseries of Discworld

 

The book starts off with our main character, Polly, transforming herself into Oliver.  Yep, she’s chopping off her hair and dressing up like a boy so she can go and enlist in the military.  She lives in a small country that’s always at war with its neighbors.  Women here are not allowed to dress like men or fight.  It is, along with many other things such as cats and chocolate, an Abomination to their god. 

 

This Industrial Revolution book seemed a little different from the previous two because it didn’t introduce a revolutionary new industry.  It was more of a war (or anti-war) book, and a book about prejudice and stereotypes.  It did have some ties to the previous books though, mostly in the form of character cameos.  I liked the story pretty well, and it had some good (if not very original) messages as well as some humor.  It did get over-the-top ridiculous at some points, even for Discworld, particularly toward the end.

Review: The Wee Free Men (Discworld Book 36 of 49ish)

The Wee Free Men (Discworld, #30) - Terry Pratchett

The Wee Free Men is the first book in the Tiffany Aching subseries of Discworld.  Calling it “young adult” might be a stretch since the protagonist is nine and I thought the story seemed suitable for a younger audience.  On the other hand, as with many children protagonists, she probably behaved as if she were older than a typical nine-year-old.  In any case, the story was entertaining enough for an adult to enjoy and I did enjoy it quite a bit.

 

The story is set in a small farming community, where witchcraft is frowned upon.  Tiffany, whose late grandmother was possibly a witch, seems to have some skills in that area herself.  Those skills are put to the test when creatures from another world start showing up near Tiffany’s home.  Without any other witches living nearby, she must try to deal with things herself until more experienced witches can arrive.  Fortunately, she does have a ‘little’ help in the meantime.

 

Tiffany Aching is a good character, easy to sympathize with and root for.  I also really enjoyed the Nac Mac Feegles who are the “Wee Free Men” referenced in the title.  They, and to some extent the talking toad, were a lot of fun. There wasn’t as much satire and puns in this book, but it did have some light humor.

 

A shockingly observant person might notice that my total “book” count crept down again by one number (from “50ish” to “49ish”).  As a reminder, this count includes each individual story on my list, including short stories, for simplicity’s sake.  The other day, I was looking ahead on my list and discovered that Where’s My Cow? isn’t easily available for me.  My library system doesn’t have any copies at any branch, and there isn’t a Kindle edition available.  I don’t want to purchase a physical copy.  Since it appears to be a 32-page illustrated children’s book, I’ve decided that the 5-10 minutes I spent searching for it was probably already more effort than was warranted and I decided to just cross it off the list.  I'm sure it's very cute, but nothing of that length is likely to stick with me very long anyway.

Review: The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book -  'Dave McKean', Neil Gaiman

I really enjoyed The Graveyard Book while I was reading it.  The story and characters held my attention and it was a short, fast read.  Having finished it, I do wish there had been more meat to it.  The story had a reasonably satisfying if bittersweet end, but there were things that could have been fleshed out better and I wish the book had a sequel or two.  I’d really like to see the characters again and find out what happens next for them.  It feels like I was with them for too short of a time.

 

The story begins just after the parents and older sister of the main character, Nobody, have been murdered.  Nobody is a toddler when the book begins, oblivious to what’s going on, and the only reason he isn’t murdered with the rest of his family is because he has a tendency to escape his crib and wander off.  Since the murderer left the door to the house open, Nobody is able to wander out of the house and up the hill to a graveyard where he’s protected and raised by the dead who inhabit the graveyard.  The author was inspired by The Jungle Book, which explains the title.

 

One particular complaint I have now that I’ve finished is that the underlying motivation for the murder wasn’t explained sufficiently at all.  We were given an explanation, yes, but it’s one that brings up more questions than it answers.  There were also great secondary characters in this book, and I wish we had seen more of them and learned about them in more detail.  That’s really my only complaint with this book.  I really enjoyed it, but I was left wanting more.

Review: The Science of Discworld II: The Globe (Discworld Book 35 of 50ish)

The Globe: The Science of Discworld II: A Novel - Terry Pratchett, Jack Cohen, Ian Stewart

My reaction to the second Science of Discworld book is similar to my reaction to the first.  As before, the book alternates between short, fictional chapters that tell a Discworld story and longer chapters that discuss real-world (mostly) science. 

 

I enjoyed the fictional chapters.  The story was pretty entertaining, but it made up the smaller portion of the book.  The science parts, as with the first book, focus heavily on theory and origin topics whereas I would have preferred a heavier emphasis on more practical topics.  No doubt other people prefer it exactly the way it is.  There were definitely parts that interested me, and parts that made me chuckle, but there were also a lot of parts that induced yawns.

 

I also found it rather repetitive.  At least a couple things were repeated from the first book, and there were some themes that the authors went on about over and over.  Religion seems to be a particularly favorite topic.  Even though I agree with most of their points about religion, they really overdid it, especially when considering it was also discussed quite a bit in the first book.  To totally misuse a metaphor, I wanted them to stop preaching to the choir and spend more time on actual science.  And, for people who don’t belong to this particular choir, I can imagine they would be even more annoyed.  Trust me, repeating something over and over isn’t influential; it’s just irritating.

 

Skimming through some reviews over on Goodreads, I don’t see many people who had a similar reaction, so maybe it just boils down to me being the wrong audience for this set of books.  In any case, I plan to skip the last two science books.

 

In the header, I’ve changed my series book count from “53ish” to “50ish”.  This accounts for the two Science books I don’t plan to read, plus another book I had on my list that I realized isn’t actually a Discworld story and wasn’t written by Pratchett: Mrs. Bradshaw’s Handbook.  It didn’t look terribly interesting to me, so I scratched it off the list also.

Review: Night Watch (Discworld Book 34 of 53ish)

Night Watch - Terry Pratchett

Night Watch is the 6th book in the Watch subseries of Discworld

 

Surprisingly, I enjoyed this one pretty well.  I say “surprisingly” because, as I’ve said in other reviews, Vimes often gets on my nerves.  This book focuses on him very heavily, more than any other book since the first Watch book.  However, we see more of the sarcastic and clever aspects of Vimes which I do enjoy and far less of the bitter, woe-is-me, self-destructive aspects which drive me crazy.

 

This is a time travel story.  Vimes accidentally gets thrown back in time, to a point shortly after he had first joined the Watch.  History of course gets changed, and now he has to make sure events happen that will keep his future in-tact.

 

It wasn’t a completely riveting story, but it had its fun parts.  Some of those fun parts came from seeing various other Discworld characters at an earlier stage in their lives and learning what they were like before the series began.  I particularly enjoyed meeting a younger Vetinari, a character I’ve enjoyed since he was first introduced.

Review: The War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds (Atria Books) - H.G. Wells

The War of the Worlds is a classic alien invasion novel written by H. G. Wells.  I think it would be difficult for a present-day science fiction reader to be completely blown away by this book when we’ve inevitably read or watched many similar types of stories.  However, it was still entertaining and it held my interest well with only the occasional dry spot.

 

I think what helped the story feel more “fresh” to me was the time period.  It’s set at around the same time as it was written – in the late 1800’s.  Most of the older science fiction books I’ve read have been set in the “future” as imagined by the author.  With this book, I had the fun of visiting a time period I don’t often see in my science fiction reading.  Since the author was living in that time period, it felt pretty authentic.  That, combined with the matter-of-fact tone the story is written in, almost made it feel like I was reading about a historical event that they forgot to teach us in school. :)  The technology of the time played a definite role in how things played out, particularly in terms of the limited transportation and communication options.

 

The writing style, as I said before, was very matter-of-fact.  It was written as a first-person account of events, focusing mainly on the events the narrator experienced.  There are also a couple chapters that tell part of his brother’s story to expand the view of what happened in areas further away from the narrator.

 

Although the story held my interest, there were certain aspects of it that I wasn’t thrilled with, and that I tend to complain about when they come up in other books.  This book has those one-dimensionally evil, invading aliens that never hold too much interest for me.  There’s also a bit of that “run, find refuge, danger approaches again, run again” circular pattern that I usually find tedious.  I wasn’t as bothered by these things in this book, though.  I think that was a combination of how short the book is, combined with the interesting time period in which it was set which added a different element to the story than what I’m used to reading.

Review: The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (Discworld Book 33 of 53ish)

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (Discworld, #28) - Terry Pratchett

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents is the first young adult Discworld book.  It was a short book, and a cute story, but I thought it was pretty substantial in terms of both plot and messages.  The plot was certainly more substantial than many of his adult Discworld books.  I didn’t think there was quite as much humor, but it had its funny moments.

 

The basic premise is that some of the rats in Ankh-Morpork, after eating magical rubbish dumped by the residents of the Unseen University, have become intelligent.  They can talk in human speech, read, and think rationally.  Maurice, a cat, has gained similar abilities.  Maurice is, like most cats, opportunistic.  He finds himself a “stupid-looking kid” who can play a pipe, and starts up a scam with the rats and the kid in which they all travel to various towns, the rats freak out the residents, and the stupid-looking kid plays the pipe and pretends he’s charming the rats into leaving the town.  For a fee, of course.  The story begins as they approach a new town where they plan to execute their scam.  Things don’t go as planned.

 

I enjoyed the story pretty well.  It had some fun characters, both of the human and non-human variety.  I particularly liked Maurice, of course!  Even though this may seem like a weird comparison to anybody who has read both books, I kept having flashbacks to Watership Down.  The books are very different in most ways, but there were some similarities in tone and even a couple similar events.  If I hadn’t read Watership Down so recently, I doubt I would have had the same reaction.

Review: The Last Hero (Discworld Book 32 of 53ish)

The Last Hero - Terry Pratchett, Paul Kidby

The Last Hero is the seventh book in the Rincewind subseries.  It’s actually an illustrated novel, the first one I’ve read.  It was only available as an illustrated version (unlike Eric which I read in a non-illustrated format), and I do think some of the illustrations were important to the story.  If nothing else, the ending might not make much sense without the corresponding picture.  The reader could probably guess what it showed if they’d been paying attention to the story, though.

 

The story itself is short, but cute.  Cohen and his horde of heroes are on a quest, and their heroic shenanigans might destroy the entire Discworld.  A variety of familiar characters get involved in trying to prevent this and, naturally, Rincewind gets dragged into things against his will.  Sort of.

 

I’m not a very visual person, so illustrations don’t usually do much for me.  Despite that, I still enjoyed the pictures in this book.  I particularly enjoyed seeing illustrations for the various characters I’ve read about over the past many books.  I can’t say too many of them actually looked the way I had pictured them in my mind, but they were still fun to see.  The Rincewind illustrations in particular were great.  The one on the cover is funny, but not very representative of the others.  The other Rincewind illustrations throughout the book all show him with this perpetual frown and a dejected look that made me laugh every time he showed up in a picture.

 

I don’t normally include pictures with my reviews but, seeing as how this is an illustrated novel, I thought it would be fun to show one of my favorite pictures in the book. :)

Review: Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice (Wisehouse Classics - with Illustrations by H.M. Brock) - Jane Austen, H.M. Brock

Although I loved reading from an early age, I didn’t usually enjoy the classics we were required to read for school.  In my adult years, I’ve mostly avoided them aside from several science fiction and fantasy classics.  As a result of a conversation in a thread on another site, I decided to read one classic per quarter, not counting the SF&F classics I would have read anyway.  Four classics per year may not sound like much, but it’s an easy commitment to keep and it’s better than my previous rate of 0 per year.  So, Pride and Prejudice was my first pick.  I chose it in large part because I had never read anything by Jane Austen and because I often see her work referred to favorably, so I’ve been curious about it. 

 

I did enjoy it quite a bit.  It’s full of sarcastic humor, sometimes very subtly expressed and sometimes not.  Elizabeth’s father was particularly amusing, and provoked my most uproarious outbursts of laughter.  He had some major flaws, of course, and maybe I shouldn’t have found him as funny as I did, but he really was hilarious.  Elizabeth herself could be quite funny also.  Jane grated on my nerves at times but, in general, I either liked the characters or else I was at least amused by them. 

 

I think this proved to be an accessible starting point for reading classics, with a straight-forward story that left me free to focus more on the writing style and the customs of the time.  Pride and Prejudice was published in the early 1800’s, and the language was definitely a bit different from today’s language, but it was easy to understand in context.  Even completely unfamiliar terms such as an “entail” were given enough context for me to understand what they meant.  By the time I finally looked up more info, I didn’t learn much more than I had already figured out on my own, although it was nice to get the confirmation and see things described a bit more concisely.

 

The biggest difficulty I had in the beginning was with keeping the characters straight.  In that era, people were usually addressed and referenced formally, using their last names.  There were multiple characters with the same last name since they were members of the same family, and sometimes I had to re-read passages to make sure I knew who was doing and saying what.  I had far less confusion once I got far enough into the story to have a better handle on who the different characters were. 

 

If this same story had been told in a modern setting and with modern language, I doubt I would have enjoyed it nearly as much.  I’m not crazy for romance novels, which is essentially what this book is.  I’m sure it influenced many of the common romance plot elements found in books today, and I definitely recognized some of them from the romances I read in my youth.  At least plot devices like “the big misunderstanding” and “assuming the worst” are somewhat less annoying in a setting where people didn’t speak as openly about things as we do today.  It makes the whole thing a little more believable.  Those same devices in modern books, where the characters talk about anything and everything except the one piece of info that would cut the whole story short by 200+ pages, annoy the heck out of me.  Either way, the romance aspect of Pride and Prejudice was not the main draw for me and was in fact a bit too sappy for me at the end.  What I really enjoyed was reading what the characters did in their day-to-day lives, how they interacted with each other, what constituted “civility”, and, of course, all the sarcasm.  It was almost like having the chance to visit and learn about a new culture.

Review: Thief of Time (Discworld Book 31 of 53ish)

Thief of Time (Discworld, #26) - Terry Pratchett

Thief of Time is the fifth and final(!) book in the Death subseries of Discworld.  I’ve always been a little iffy on this subseries, but I think this was my favorite of the five books.  The general story is that an Auditor has commissioned a clockmaker, Jeremy, to make a special clock.  What the Auditor doesn’t tell Jeremy is that this clock will supposedly have the power to stop time, bringing an end, or at least a permanent pause, to the Discworld. 

 

Death didn’t actually get that much page time in this book.  Maybe that’s partly why I enjoyed it.  I like Death in small doses, when he’s being funny or clever or profound, but he starts to grate on my nerves in larger doses.  This was especially true in the first three books where he essentially shirked his responsibilities and let other people take up the slack for him.  Meanwhile, he went off and had what would be considered a mid-life crisis if he were a human.  Happily, Death has seemed better-grounded in these last two books, so I’ve started enjoying his character more.

 

In this book, we finally get a chance to learn more about the Auditors.  Unsurprisingly, Susan shows up again.  I enjoyed most of her sections, especially the ones at the beginning.  I also really liked the characters of Lu-Tze and Lobsang who take up a large portion of the story.  They’re mostly just your stereotypical well-respected and mysterious monk with his exceptionally clever but impatient apprentice, at least at first, but they were fun characters.  The master/apprentice portrayal is a common plot device in fantasy, but it’s one that I tend to enjoy. 

 

I expected this book to earn 4 stars up until maybe the last 25% or so, at which point I started to lose interest in the story.  Somehow the climatic events were the most boring parts to me, I think because it went too far into “random chaos” territory at times.  In the end, I decided on a rating of 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 on Goodreads.

Review: The Truth (Discworld Book 30 of 53ish)

The Truth - Terry Pratchett

The Truth is the second book in the Industrial Revolution subseries of Discworld.  The first book had been Moving Pictures and was one of my least favorite, so I was very pleasantly surprised by this one.  I enjoyed it quite a bit. 

 

 

In this book, newspapers are introduced to Ankh-Morpork.  Meanwhile, there’s a plot against Lord Vetinari (yes, another one!) to frame him for a crime.  The story was funny and interesting, with some deeper commentary sandwiched within the silliness.  I really liked the main character, William de Worde.  Since the story is set in Ankh-Morpork, we also see some other familiar characters from the various subseries.  Most of the page time goes to William, though, or to the people involved in carrying out the Vetinari plot.

Review: Death's End (Remembrance of Earth's Past Book 3 of 3)

Death's End (Remembrance of Earth's Past) - Cixin Liu, Ken Liu

This was the final book in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy that began with The Three-Body Problem.  Reading the trilogy was an interesting and mostly fun experience.  

 

The story didn’t at all go where I had expected based on the end of the second book.  I think, if I’d let things simmer in my head for a day or two before jumping into the third book, my natural “yeah, but what happens when…” thoughts would surely have led me to guess one of the main catalytic events and better predict some aspects of the story.  I’m glad I didn’t let it sit, though.  It was more fun to just stay on the ride and let the rollercoaster jostle me around and surprise me.

 

For me, this book was the fastest-paced out of the three and it had some of the coolest ideas to read about.  One thing that contributed to its faster pace was the beginning.  The first two books took a few pages to hook my attention, but this one sucked me in immediately because it confused me.  The story itself made sense but, at first, I had absolutely no idea how it related to the trilogy.  Trying to guess how it would all tie in kept me fully engaged.  There were a few slow spots here and there in the middle but, for the most part, the various twists and turns in the story held my interest well. 

 

I would caution that this trilogy doesn’t wrap everything up with a neat bow and a happily-ever-after ending.  In a story where I become really invested in the characters, this kind of an ending would be more bothersome to me.  This story, on the other hand, is much more about the ideas and the plot.  Because of that, I was content with the ending and thought it was very interesting.  I’m glad this series was translated to English and that I had the opportunity to enjoy it.

Review: The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth's Past Book 2 of 3)

The Dark Forest - Cixin Liu

This is the second book in the trilogy Remembrance of Earth’s Past, following The Three-Body Problem.  I enjoyed it quite a bit, I guess about equally as well as the first book or possibly a little bit more.  It had a few stretches where I had trouble maintaining my interest, but it also had some really great and interesting concepts that inevitably pulled my attention back to the book.  I also loved the ending, which caught me by surprise and left me very eager to read the next book. 

 

I can’t even hint at the plot without spoiling the entire first book, so I’ll just say that it picks up with the type of events you’d expect.  However, the story is fairly twisty and there are several surprises throughout.  There were some things I had more-or-less figured out on my own, but there were other things that completely surprised me.  It’s often a rather bleak story, but that just made the hopeful parts of the story seem that much brighter.

 

This book features mostly (but not completely) different characters.  As with the first book, the characters were interesting and believable, but the plot is the bigger draw here.  I did get slightly more invested in the characters than I had in the first book, but not extremely so.  I had a few quibbles with some aspects of the plot, particularly with Hines’ part of the story, but not as many as I did with the first book. 

 

One thing I did have more trouble with in this book was the names.  Surprisingly, I never had any trouble with them in the first book, but this book had a few too many names that seemed similar to my uneducated American eyes.  Zhang Beihai, Zhuang Yan, and Chang Weisi particularly gave me trouble.  There were also some characters who were related and so had the same surname, which is written first.  All in all, I was able to keep it straight thanks to the reference at the beginning of the book and my Kindle’s search feature, and it got easier as I got further into the book, but I expended more effort on name tracking than I normally do.

 

My last comment is about the ending, so it will have to go behind spoiler tags:

I was surprised when an apparent resolution to the conflict was reached by the end.  I had seen in the chapter headings that the book only covered about half of the expected time until the fleet from Trisolaris arrived, and everything seemed so bleak up through almost the end, that I didn’t expect anything to get resolved in this book.  Although I enjoyed this story, I wasn’t feeling very enthusiastic about having it dragged out for two books, so the end was a pleasant surprise and I thought it was done very well.

(show spoiler)

 

I look forward to seeing where the story goes in the third book.

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