Fantasy · Humor

Raising Steam

by: Terry Pratchett

Hello! It’s been a bit of a busy month for me – it was my first Christmas away from my family, my grandmother, who I was very close to, passed away, and I moved to Australia for a few months to do an internship.  It’s been super hectic and I ended up wanting something that was both comforting and distracting.  Enter Sir Terry Pratchett’s work, Raising Steam.

Fair warning, this review is going to assume you are familiar with Pratchett and his work.

I’d read about half of it before, but hadn’t finished it.  If you’re not familiar with Pratchett, he wrote this incredible comedic fantasy series, Discworld.  He started writing them in the 1980s and in 2007, announced he had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.  Raising Steam was published in 2013, the last book to be published before Pratchett passed away.

After his diagnosis, Pratchett’s writing underwent a fairly noticeable (to me, at least) change, and so the last five books he wrote are distinctly different than the rest of the series.  (A major part of that, I think, was that he found himself unable to physically write and begin dictating instead.)  The first time I tried to read Raising Steam and Unseen Academicals, I didn’t enjoy them, to be quite honest.*  But I saw Raising Steam at the library and figured, since it was a Pratchett book – and you can still tell it’s a Pratchett book – and I hadn’t read it yet, escaping to the Discworld might be exactly what I wanted.

I ended up really enjoying Raising Steam, once I stopped expecting it to be a Discworld novel.  With the progression of the Alzheimer’s and the dictation, Pratchett’s work became much less pithy and more exploratory of themes and messages.  Dialogue took up a much greater percentage of the story than previously – characters now orated for nearly entire pages, whereas in previous books, speeches were limited to a short paragraph, perhaps two.   There’s a distinct shift from presenting situations and observations to using the characters inner and outer monologues to explore morality, depth, and meaning.  I don’t think his later books are necessarily deeper or more meaningful, nor are they less; they just approach things in a very different way.

Once I had that figured out, I approached Raising Steam as if it were a proper novel, instead of a wild romp that would somehow work itself out in the end (the usual method to approaching a Pratchett story) and it suddenly became much more enjoyable.  The quality of the writing hadn’t diminished; it had just changed in unexpected ways.

The book follows Moist von Lipwig, one of my favorite Discworld characters, as he works with Dick Simnel, a young engineer who has invented a steam engine.  In his normal madcap manner, Moist finds himself leading the charge to bring Ank-Morpork, and perhaps the world, into a new era.  We see nearly the entire cast of Discworld, though some only for a page.

The character development is also unusual for a Discworld novel.  Usually, Discworld characters develop through finding or fighting their destiny or purpose, becoming who they were meant to be for the former and who they chose to become, for the latter.  Development is action focused and actions have immediate consequences.  In RS, however, there’s a lot more focus on the morality and meaning of decisions than I’ve seen previously, especially for Moist.  (Dick’s development is much more in line with classic Discworld characters.)  One quibble: the characters weren’t as distinguishable as they normally are; the long speeches and and exploratory tone meant that many of the characters’ dialogues were extremely similar.

The plot was funny, and fast, but much less rompy and with far fewer threads to track and fit together.  I felt like I had a clear idea of how everything fit together the entire time I was reading, which is not my expectation from Pratchett, at least not on the first read.  It was also, as I said, less pithy.  The humor wasn’t quick and snappy, but rather depended upon ridiculous (but completely believable) scenarios and the normal satire found there.

And now we get to the difficult part.  I’m not sure how to recommend this book – it’s an excellent comedic fantasy, of course, and I recommend it to anyone who loves satire, humor, and/or fantasy.  If you like Pratchett’s writing, you may like this – like I said, the writing is still good, just different.  But it is missing what I consider to be that essential Pratchett-ness, that pithy humor and that sense of the reader simply being along for the ride. In conclusion, all I can say is that the first few pages of this book are representative of the rest of it, so read a few pages if you’re not sure.  And it is amazing that Pratchett was able to put out a book that is still one of the best of the genre while in the grips of a terrible and debilitating disease.

*I felt like such an ass for even thinking this.

Children's · Comedy · Fantasy · Humor

Dragons at Crumbling Castle

by: Terry “the fantastically funny” Pratchett

I am always delighted to find a new Terry Pratchett book.  Pratchett passed away (from Alzheimer’s disease) in 2015 and though inevitably there will come a day when I have read all of his works, I refuse to hasten that day any more than necessary, preferring instead to have his books delight and surprise me in the finding as well as the reading.

I found this one in the children’s section of the library, as I was searching out His Dark Materials, and, of course, I checked out it immediately.  I’ve said before that I prefer Pratchett’s adult works to his children’s, and while that’s true, his children’s book are still whimsical and absurdly funny adventures worth looking in to.  This particular book is a collection of short stories Pratchett wrote early on his career, reworked a little before publication as a book.

Dragons at Crumbling Castle contained stories from The Carpet People but there were plenty of other stories as well. I really loved the short story format; the quick reads meant the stories were intently focused on plots and absurdities and they made for a great laugh.  Plus, I read this during a 3-day research workshop, so the short stories were about all my brain was up for.

While the writing was simple and the structure much clearer than Pratchett’s normal style, it didn’t feel like I was reading something that was only intended for children.  Rather, it felt more like an all ages-type writing – clean and structured for kids, but cognizant of the fact that adults exist and might indeed be reading this very book.  Very Pratchett-lite; I could feel the zaniness and humor that I associate with him, but the plot lines were much simpler and the characterizations that I so love just weren’t there.

The stories also go everywhere, from King Arthur’s court to a tiny speck of dust to a living room carpet to a time traveling bus.  I think this was probably the best showcase I’ve read of Pratchett’s ability to set you up in a familiar plot line and then, in the blink of an eye, whiz you somewhere completely unexpected and leave you laughing.  Not every story does this expertly – these are some of his earlier works, after all – but many of the stories.  The stories do vary more than a typical collection of short stories work.  All of them work, but some work uproariously well and others just made me smile a little and turn the page.

I loved the illustrations – simple, funny, and very fitting.  I didn’t like that some words were written in a illustrative font; for instance, “huge” might have been written in giant, bold font, and “waggle” was always written in font with offset letters.  But I could imagine this making the book really fun to read out loud with a child.

If you’re not a fan of absurdist humor, simplistic writing, or thematically loose collections of short stories, then, alas, this might not be the book for you. If you have a child in need of some humor or if you want some funny, easy-on-the-brain short stories,  I would highly recommend Dragons at Crumbling Castle. If you are, for any reason, interested in Pratchett’s craft and his development as a writer, I would strongly recommend this book.  I think there’s a lot of insight to be gleaned from these works into how he developed his wonderful voice and style.

Classics · Comedy · Fiction · Humor · Romance


by: Jane Austen

I love rereading books by listening to the audio books but I often struggle to find books narrated by women.  I don’t know why, but there are times when I strongly prefer to listen to a woman’s voice over a man’s and while I have plenty of podcasts that fit the bill, it’s harder for me to find audiobooks.  But I decided, after listening to Pride and Prejudice, that I should continue with my Austen adventure and downloaded Emma.

Emma, is, of course, a classic novel by Jane Austen. Written in Georgian-Regency times (thanks Wikipedia!), it follows the titular character through the perils of matchmaking, romance, and growing up.  My audiobook was narrated by Juliet Stevenson, who was really excellent. Her voice is elegant and has just the tiniest hint of merriment.

When I first read Emma, I was in early high school.  I only read it the once, so while I knew the plot, I really wasn’t prepared for all the comedy I’d missed the first time around.  I had to stop myself from laughing out loud more than once, and I’m sure that I walked around grinning like a fool while listening.  Austen pokes fun at her characters dryly and deservedly, though kindly.  I missed a lot my first read and I remember thinking the plot dragged a bit.  Now, when I can appreciate the subtle satire and the ridiculousness of the scenes, I didn’t think it dragged at all, even though not much happens in the story.

It’s a cohesive story and solid plot, but what I loved best are the individual scenes that can stand on their own.  My favorite scene involved two rather self-absorbed characters, one quite good-natured, engaged in a conversation where each is determinedly wresting the subject back to their favorite brag every time they speak. I was thoroughly entranced and amused the entire scene – it felt real, funny, and I could definitely think of a few people who it reminded me of!  It could have been taken from the story and read just as a scene and been just as satisfying.

Like all Austen books, some of the references and subtle pokes haven’t aged as well – a very few, but there were times when something was clearly supposed to be obvious and I had no clue what was being referenced.  And, of course, there’s a lot of subtlety and unspoken context going on in the novel, as in any Austen novel.

I will say, the ending did feel like it dragged on a bit and then, when it did end, it felt rather abrupt.  It was particularly noticeable because I was listening to it; I couldn’t start skimming over the last bit after I knew the major problems were resolved.  Austen thoroughly ties up every plot line, perhaps a tad too neatly and leaves the reader completely satisfied.  Her characters are believable and engaging. Overall, despite the more complex language, it’s a great escapism novel.

If you like things to happen in your novel, clear and straightforward writing, or a hot ‘n’ steamy romance, this, unfortunately, is probably not the book for you. If, however, you like old-fashioned and sweet stories, you love absurd but realistic humor, or you’re just looking for a book to read in a garden with a glass of wine, then I strongly encourage you to give Emma a read.

Comedy · Fantasy · Humor

Coyote Blue

coyote blueHi guys! Long time, no post – but I’m finally getting back into the swing of things. (Summer has been insanely busy!) My latest read was Christopher Moore’s Coyote Blue.  

I’ve read and reviewed Moore before and he is a hilarious author, though he can be a bit hit and miss for me – sometimes I can’t put his books down and sometimes I can see that they’re funny but I don’t actually have a reaction to it.  This one hit the spot.  

It’s the story of Sam Hunter, a Crow (the Native American, not the bird) who left the reservation at a young age and became a successful insurance sales man in Santa Barbara.  Unfortunately, Sam’s spirit guide is the trickster Coyote, who decides to enter his life in a major way. 

I read this after a bit of a Native American book kick (The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian and Navajo Weapons, both excellent) and it rounded out the trio rather well.  It’s a fictional work (the other two are quasi-fictional and non-fiction) and though Sam’s relationship with his Crow heritage is focused on, the focus comes more on his spiritual connection and reconnecting with who he is, rather than what it actually means to be Native American or exploring Native American traditions in detail.  

I also liked that Moore pulled from a tradition that is largely ignored in the literature scene, though I can’t say I learned a large amount about the Crow people or their religion. However, Moore did use it to explore something that is both familiar and foreign to every American without romanticizing the culture or othering his main characters.  They were the same wacky everyman that Moore generally writes about.  Sam’s struggle with his heritage and going home, while unique to his situation, is something most people can identify with. (Though, generally not with a crazy spirit guide leading the action.) 

That being said, I did like Anasazi Boys more in terms of using a religious or folklore tradition not usually scene within Western literature.  Coyote Blue was still really good, though, don’t get me wrong. 

The plot was fast-paced but not terribly convoluted.  I had an easy enough time following it and by about halfway through the book, I had reached a “can’t-put-down” state of reading.  Moore used flashbacks and storytelling to great effect – though I like short legends interspersed throughout, I’m not a huge fan of flashbacks but his usage didn’t bother me.  

The characters were actually very well-done.  I wanted to hate Sam, but instead found myself rooting for him.  Calliope should have come off as annoying but instead came off as sympathetic.  And Coyote – you wanted to pity him but rather found yourself amused by his bravado.  Some of the side characters were a little too caricature-ish for my tastes, but they didn’t play prominent enough roles for me to get annoyed by it. 

The humor was good, though expect it to get a tad crude or violent at times (nothing too horrible!).  There are a few one-liners you’ll want to quote to your friends and more than one scene where I found myself chuckling in public, though not outright laughing.  

Overall, if you like comedic fantasy and you’re looking for something bright, funny, and a bit different, you should definitely check this out! If you’re into a humor that’s more wit and wordplay than zany wackiness, or if a hard-to-like main character isn’t your thing, then, alas, this may not be the book for you! 

Humor · Nonfiction

American Savage

american savage

by: Dan Savage

Dan Savage is the author of “Seattle’s Only Advice Column”, Savage Love, which focuses on questions about relationships love, sex, and more sex.  I have a secret addiction to advice columns, and his is one of my absolute favorites, from the wacky questions he tackles to his favorite piece of advice – DTMFA (dump the motherfucker already.) He’s not the type to wrap hard messages in a sweet and gentle delivery; he’s a “tell it like he see it” sort of person and I really enjoy that.  Not to mention, that’s a rarity on advice blogs! (Alison, from, which you absolutely should be reading if you’re not, also does a great job of not sugarcoating, though with much more finesse than Savage.)

Anyway, this is Savage’s 3rd-ish book*.  It’s more a collection of essays, with each chapter devoted to a separate topic, than any sort of comprehensive non-fiction.  Savage is very honest, so if you’ve been interested in a controversy he’s been involved it, the latest two are given an entire chapter and you can read all about his experience and thoughts.  It’s pretty interesting.

Other things covered are equal marriage rights, healthcare, monogamy, abstinence-only sex ed (spoiler alert: it doesn’t work), politics, being GGG, and a very heart-wrenching chapter on his mother’s death.

I loved this book.  It was a fast read, and it was funny enough to make me laugh, yet sincere enough to be more than a collection of comedic rants. It gave Savage an unexpectedly human dimension and, though the book is part of his public persona, sure, you walk away feeling as if you understand him as a person rather than a public figure.  My favorite chapter dealt with cheating and monogamy; I already knew that Savage and I had similar views but hearing his thoughts expanded and dealt with fully resonated with me.

I don’t think this book is going to change anyone’s mind on anything, except as it gives a sense of humanity to a public gay person, which can be important.  But if you already agree with many of Savage’s opinions and are looking for ways to organize and develop your arguments, or explain your feelings, than this book is probably a great read for you.  Even if you don’t agree, if you’re interested in seeing the reasons behind his stances, Savage is crystal clear throughout the book about why he feels the way he does. It just didn’t strike me as particularly persuasive – I don’t think the intent of the book was to get converts.  But maybe that was just me?

Anyway, if you’re looking for a fun read full of rants and left-leaning political opinions that will make you laugh, you should definitely read this book.  If you’re looking for a serious political treatise, though, you might want to give it a pass.



*Depending on how you count; a/k/a I was lazy and Wikipedia did not provide an easy answer.  Savage heads up the It Gets Better Project, an outreach effort to LGBT kids who are being bullied or ostracized or who feel forced to hide their sexuality.  There’s an amazing book he edited – hence the -ish – and a whole bunch of YouTube videos and if you know anyone who you think could use support, definitely leave a link or a the book around for them to find.

Children's · Fantasy · Humor

The Carpet People

carpetpeopleby: Terry Pratchett

The Carpet People is Terry Pratchett’s very first book – kinda.  It was the first book he ever published but after he made it big – long after this was out of print – people started trying to find it.  So he went back and reread it and then he rewrote it as a 40-ish successful writer.  In the introduction, he says it is not the book he wrote at 20 but also not the book he would have written at 40. Which makes it a fascinating book to read, if you’re curious about his development as a writer.

Though the writing is unmistakably Pratchett’s, it doesn’t actually have many elements of a Pratchett book.  Oh, you still find the humor and the occasional Pratchett funny truism, just on a much smaller scale.  The plot is extremely straightforward and easy to follow, with no big surprises or moments where suddenly everything makes sense.  The Pratchett-ism I really missed was the characters – those characters who really should be caricatures or even stereotypes but somehow end up being fully developed characters – Corporal Nobbs and Sergeant Colon, for instance.  Or Lord Vetinari.  There were none of them in this novel, though you can see the inklings of that development in a few of the characters.

That isn’t to say the characters aren’t good; they are.  They’re pretty well-developed, given the simplicity of the story and the plot.  It’s enjoyable and quick-paced and it doesn’t have the moral that most Discworld novels have, hidden deep inside, which makes it a little more escapism reading than Pratchett’s novels usually are.  I mean, there are inklings of a moral here and there, but it didn’t make me think and laugh simultaneously the way most of the Discworld novels do.

It’s the story of the Munrung tribe, a people who live peacefully in the Carpet, and the troubles that suddenly beset them.  Mostly, it follows their leader, Glurk, and his younger brother, Snibril, as they attempt to lead their people to safety after the coming of the Fray.  Glurk is brave and Snibril is clever. There are other characters – wise, some, mysterious others, and a requisite few are evil.  It is, now that I think of it, a little formulaic; not subversively so, either.  That being said, it was easy to get caught up in the novel -it was a great adventure to go on!

The best thing about this novel was the world building.  The implication is that the whole world is set in someone’s living room carpet. It was so much fun to think about! From the details to the overarching narrative, Pratchett did an excellent job of drawing the reader into the world – and maybe making them think twice before carelessly trodding on their living room floor.  If you’ve got a vivid imagination or just love to revel in someone else’s, I would recommend this book in a heartbeat.  It is not only a fairly quick read but engrossing and delightful to think about.

It’s also a children’s book, or at least that’s how I would classify it.  Simple, exciting, imaginative and age-appropriate, with excellent drawings interspersed throughout.  And I realize I’m comparing it somewhat negatively to his other works, but I truly enjoyed reading it and would do so again without hesitation.   It was a book to get lost in, for the sheer fun of reading and ignoring the realities of the world.

If you love imaginative adventures, are looking for a book to read out loud with your kid, or are interested in Pratchett’s earlier work, I would definitely check out The Carpet People.  If you’re into Pratchett’s book because of their witty social commentary, if you like your adventures bloody and tense, or if you’re a big fan of complex, surprising characters, than alas! this may not be the book for you.