Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Discworld series comes to an end (and 24 other books) - books 76-100 of 2015

I rounded out 100 books with the last Discworld novel. I was glad that such a wonderful book from an author who's had major impact on my life got that spot.

Those preceding it are a mixed bag. The post starts out with a lowlight, but ends on a high note. Can't ask for much more.

As an aside before I get on with this, as I'm now being shared by Aus GLAM Blog Bot and has had a substantial increase in traffic as a result, I intend on having all posts on here at least somewhat related to professional matters. Books well and truly pass muster, but when I'm ready to start photo, craft or personal blogging again, I'll have to think up a name for a second blog. I'll be sure to let those who want to find it know where it is!

76. 22 dead little bodies - Stuart MacBride

Starting on a sour note, I'm afraid. I chose this novella as a potential candidate for a book presentation that I give regularly as part of a program at work. My regular fiction reading doesn't really suit there, so I've been picking a few books for this. Doesn't hurt to broaden my reading, after all.
22 dead little bodies is a short book from Stuart MacBride that stands as an independent story but links into his Logan McRae series. We have ourselves a detective who feels like he's being left all the undesirable jobs while his colleague grabs all of the interesting or high profile ones for her own glory. It felt like it was trying too hard to be gritty, rough-edged and crude. In this book, dysfunctional personal relationships and icky behaviour and attitudes are abundant. I don't expect characters to be perfect - that's boring - but this lot just got on my nerves. The first half or so of the book was the worst, it did improve a bit beyond that after some of the character pettiness abated. I have no intention of reading any more though, if this book was any longer it wouldn't be on the list, because I wouldn't have deemed it worth the time.

77. A short history of stupid - Bernard Keane, Helen Razer

If you've been thinking that news and politics have been overflowing with an abundance of stupidity and sub-par thinking then Bernard Keane and Helen Razer will be agreeing with you. They've gone further, and analysed what exactly this stupidity is, why it has happened and re-examined some of the most spectacular examples of stupid with evidence and thought. It's also a very well referenced book that could be used as a starting point for further personal thought on the subject.
I was nearly put off by the first chapter, the example it all hinged on was from a TV series that I'm a few years too young to have a proper understanding of. I'm glad I didn't let that put me off though, because the second chapter was fantastic. The enjoyment and interest on my part continued to fluctuate throughout, but on the whole it was good reading, especially the chapters by Bernard Keane. I particularly enjoyed his chapter on paternalism, and found the examination of 'safe spaces' by Helen Razer particularly interesting. I'd recommend this to those who are interested in perspectives on how our society functions today.

78. Paradise city - Elizabeth Day

This is another book I chose because it might be a good one to present before an audience. This time, I found a good one.
Paradise city is written from four perspectives. The lives of Howard Pink and Beatrice Kizza are linked by Howard's commitment of a dreadful act right at the book's opening. Esme Reade, a journalist, connects to the story as she follows the story of the unsolved disappearance of Howard Pink's daughter some years ago. Carol Hetherington's link is not immediately apparent, but as the story goes on an idea begins to form... and surely enough, her story links in with the others. Howard is not forgiven or excused for the act he commits, and yet the narrative allows him to still be human, rather than a mere antagonist. His daughter's disappearance has affected him deeply. This never makes what he did okay, but it does make it believable.
This was well-written and an interesting read. I wouldn't rank it as one I find exceptional on a personal enjoyment level, but those who enjoy contemporary real world settings with a focus on character development will enjoy it.

79-80. Copyfight and Letters of Note

Please see my blog post on these two books and the thinking they inspired. Spoiler: they're both great.

81. A slip of the keyboard - Terry Pratchett

Articles within this book are drawn from writings throughout Terry Pratchett's career, from his earliest journalistic writing and throughout the life that followed. They largely centre on his writing career, especially Discworld, and how said career developed, though there's quite a lot else too. There's excellent commentary on fantasy and unsurprisingly, his writings on Alzheimer's and the right to die are thoughtful and deserving of a wider audience. As is usual with single author collections, I found some parts more interesting than others.
Those who have enjoyed Terry Pratchett's books will find this an excellent insight into the person behind the books, those who haven't will still find plenty worth reading.

82. Radiator Days - Lucy Knisley

I discovered this on a library shelf, I hadn't previously known it existed though I've read quite a lot of Lucy Knisley's books. This is a collection of very early work widely variable in both quality and subject matter. Without further ado, I recommend sticking to the more recent stuff.

83. Embroideries - Marjane Satrapi

As I inserted the cover picture of this book, I couldn't help but feel like the women on it were waiting for me to tell my own, slightly cheeky or scandalous tale...
From the author of Persepolis comes another autobiographical work, a collection of stories told by Iranian women as they sit down together (without men) over several cups of tea. The stories shared centre on the experiences of women, particularly regarding sex and sexuality and their relation to culture and society. It leaves the reader with plenty to think about.
For those interested, I'd recommend reading Persepolis first, although it isn't strictly essential the context will help.

84. Sandman Omnibus II - Neil Gaiman et. al.

As with volume one, this was a very heavy and very excellent read though some parts of it were much better than others. There's not a lot more I can say that won't spoiler, so I'll hold myself back. If you have an interest in graphic novels and want to see just what they can achieve this series really must be on your list. If you're not up for 3-4kg books, you might want to consider the individual volumes though...

85-86. Death: The high cost of living; Death: The time of your life (Death, Vol. 1-2)

A spin-off from the Sandman series with Death of the Endless as the focal point instead of Dream. During Sandman it was revealed that death spends one day a century as a mortal human - the first volume details one such day. In the second the consequences of bargaining with Death are looked at while re-visiting characters Hazel and Foxglove who were seen several times during Sandman. Death, the character, doesn't appear as much in this one though plays a central role. In general I enjoyed this two volume series and found it time well spent but didn't find it had the same strength as the Sandman series. There's some manga that's been written around the character too, but I haven't managed to get my hands on it as yet.
I'm looking forward to reading Sandman Overture when I can and hoping that it re-caputures the magic that this series didn't quite manage.

87-89 & 92. Spider's thrash, Dirge,  The cure and One more time (Transmetropolitan, Vol. 7-10) - Warren Ellis, et. al.

Transmetropolitan is another of the how-haven't-I-read-this-before graphic novel series. I guess I'm making amends of a sort lately. I shall endeavour to continue that. I discussed the first six volumes of this series in a previous post, in the final four the series continues excellently. It has a way of finishing up a volume with a big cliff-hangery question, but with a panel that puts a wicked grin on the face of the reader. Several middle volumes of the series, including Spider's thrash felt like a slump to me, but at the end with all of the past threads being pulled back together and firmly yanked, the strength came back, and how. Through the power of words and relentlessly seeking truth Spider brings about change and deals with those who'd bring him down in spectacular fashion, all whilst still being his vulgar, vice-laden self.
When recommending graphic novels this isn't one I'd often suggest to the beginner reader - it's trickier to follow than many if you are unfamiliar with the how-to of reading comics and it's also one in which people will find something to object to if they want to. For those who've enjoyed comics, especially those that are a touch subversive, however, it gets a hearty recommendation from me.

90. Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula (Victorian Undead, Vol. 2) - Ian Edginton, Davide Fabbri

Dracula, Jekyll & Hyde and The adventures of Sherlock Holmes come together in this horror comic mash-up. After Moriarty's zombie destruction in the first volume, London has been rebuilt with many modern conveniences to the great joy of the populace. Amidst this, a worried colleague of Dr Jekyll calls upon Sherlock Holmes and the Demeter comes into port sans crew but with a strange cargo of boxes. I enjoyed the first in the series immensely but found this one didn't stand up to the first. It wasn't bad, but it's hard to read an okay book with the expectations of a wonderful one behind it. The Jekyll & Hyde elements were executed well but I didn't feel Dracula was handled as well it might have been. Nevertheless, I'm still up for another volume if DC publishes more, Frankenstein would be the most obvious candidate, but it'd also be great to explore some of the lesser-known Victorian horror titles.

91, 93-94, 97-99. Welcome to Lovecraft, Head games, Crown of shadows, Keys to the kingdom, Clockworks, Alpha & Omega (Locke & Key, Vol. 1-6) - Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez

Locke and Key came well recommended, and to the various people who did so, thank you. Locke and key is an original horror/fantasy series with a lot to offer the reader. As the series begins, the three Locke children live through the horrific murder of their father and as they are still trying to deal with the aftermath, move to the historic family home, Keyhouse. The youngest, Bode, finds a key that opens a door which separates anyone who walks through from their body - and after many years dormant, evil stirs...
The first few books establish a sort of pattern, which is enjoyable. Right as you get nice and settled in, the pattern is smashed and then things really start moving! As the protagonists learn more and cope with the consequences of bad decisions and disaster after disaster the story really grips the reader as it barrels on to a grand conclusion. When I got the last three books I sat down with a pot of tea and read them all in one wonderful marathon reading session.

95. The shed that fed a million children - Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow

Starting with a spur-of-the-moment trip two brothers made to drive to Bosnia-Herzegovina in a second hand Jeep a charity a charity was born, taking over the family shed that had once hosted a billiards table. As Scottish International Relief it provided aid to devastated and displaced people in the Balkan Wars and homes to abandoned and orphaned Romanian children with AIDS. More recently it has undergone another transformation into a global organisation and is known to the world as Mary's Meals. This charity operates on the principle of one daily meal in a place of education, where the charity provides the infrastructure and materials, but the execution is the responsibility of the school communities. Mary's Meals now feeds more than a million children every day and those who have been supported by it have had opportunities opened up.
This book is written by the founder and CEO, a man very much driven by a strong faith as a result of experiences in his teen years. He has had the good fortune of very supportive friends and family and has consequently been able to change many lives. His faith is strong and drives his ambition, but he does not allow this to inspire discrimination or expectations in the delivery of programs. I have a great deal of respect for that.
This is a light read that is interesting, uplifting and thought-provoking.

96. Death most definite (Death Works, Vol. 1) - Trent Jamieson

Australian urban fantasy, especially that set in Australia and written for an adult audience, is very thin on the ground - asides one other book I've got on the bedside table and a volume of short stories this is about all I've found so far. So when I found this I definitely wanted to give it a go. Steven is a pomp - psychopomp - who guides the souls of the dead to the afterlife. It's a profession that runs in his family, most of whom work for a company that does this work throughout Australia. When his colleagues and superiors are murdered, he goes on the run and investigates the who, what and why of this case - and finds that a localised apocalypse could be imminent.
This book was okay, but lacks the polish and writing quality of my favourite series. There's also a reason why the word 'psychopomp' in general and the word 'pomp' specifically haven't caught on throughout. Every time it comes up it's a distraction, it sounds like something fluffy popping into existence. If you've enjoyed urban fantasy in the past, by all means give it a go. I wouldn't use it as a genre introduction though, it's just not strong enough for that.

100 - The shepherd's crown - Terry Pratchett

When the notification that The shepherd's crown was ready for collection arrived I was very excited - I have been looking forward to this book for months. But once I had it in my hand I also experienced a sort of sadness, knowing that this was the last time I'd get to read a Discworld book for the first time. I sat down to read it, and was careful not to rush. I started while waiting for dumplings (who has time to cook when there's a book like this waiting?) and continued through a train ride and at home. I avoided rushing but still finished up the book in a single evening before I had to put it aside and give myself time to process thoughts and emotions. As with many of the Discworld books, there was a message - several really - to the reader and they are worth thinking on.
I won't detail the plot for you, because a major development was spoilered for me by a review I stumbled across, and I don't want to do it to someone else. I was initially surprised that there was another Tiffany Aching book as I shall wear midnight felt like a conclusion. But this really makes sense.
In an afterword it's explained that Terry Pratchett didn't finish this book as well as he would have liked - there was more to add and polishing to do. In many places in the book that's visible, I felt that the conversation with Death was one of them. Sub-plots have the ends tucked in rather than tied off, and occasionally the writing is not at the usual standard. This doesn't stop me being very grateful that this book was published, it might not have been perfected but there are some profound and beautiful moments, and the sense of humour is sharp. It certainly won't stop me recommending it, and the rest of the Discworld series to anybody looking for a good book or forty-one.

Thank you, Terry Pratchett.


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