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Maskerade by Terry Pratchett

When I asked my partner how to best get out of a motivational rut, they recommended reading a book that you know that you will enjoy. In fact, they specifically said to read the next Discworld on my list. Given that this was Maskerade, the next book in the Witches sub-series, it was hardly an onerous decision.

Following Magrat’s marriage at the end of Lords and Ladies, the witches are now missing the Maiden from their trinity, left with only the Mother and the… Other One. Remembering that a girl from Lancre, Agnes Nitt, had previously shown promise as a witch, and concerned that Granny Weatherwax may go Black Aliss without the right mental stimulation, Nanny Ogg decides to recruit her as their new Maiden. Meanwhile, Agnes, styling herself as Perdita, has travelled to Ankh-Morpork to try and make her way as an opera singer. Whilst at the opera house, she has to deal with providing the voice for a colleague with no actual talent of her own, and rumours of an Opera Ghost murdering members of the troupe.
It was lovely to see Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg again, and I think I need to thank my partner for pointing out the obvious for me. There was something comforting about seeing them at their best, terrifying entire stagecoaches of people and poking their noses into situations where they aren’t wanted, but soon prove to be needed. Agnes had technically been introduced in an earlier Discworld novel, but this felt like a proper introduction. While I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her, her realisation that, while she desperately wants to be a part of the opera world, she will never quite fit in was unexpectedly difficult to read for me. It was a bit more real than I had prepared myself for, those echoes of being the fat nerdy girl at school. I’ll be interested to see how Agnes develops further down the line.
The stuff at the opera was an entertaining backdrop, with some nice nods to Phantom of the Opera, but I wasn’t as enamoured with the setting as I have been with some of his other pastiches. I think, having studied opera briefly at university and occasionally watching it, that Pratchett did himself a disservice by not going over-the-top enough. I was kind of expecting there to be more balls-to-the-wall insanity and disappointed that it wasn’t there.

An incredibly entertaining pastiche of opera and the wonders that can happen when thoroughly sensible people come along and try and make sense of things. I feel like it could have been more over-the-top, but it’s always great to see Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg cause havoc. 4.5/5

Next review: Blue Angel by Phil Williams

Signing off,
Nisa.

K-ON! College by kakifly

It’s been a while since I last read K-ON!, and after a reasonably intense book, I thought that I could do with something a bit lighter and fluffier. And there’s nothing in my library quite as light and fluffy as that.

K-ON! College follows Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Tsumugi as they go through their first year of university. Now having to deal with living away from home and being independent, they join the University’s Light Music Club in order to continue playing together. At their dorm they meet another first year band who seem to be setting up to be close rivals.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure where this was likely to go, given that the fourth volume ended on a pretty definitive note. Focusing solely on the older members of the band looked to be a good idea, as the university setting does fit well with the new theme that this volume brings to the fore. The introduction of the rival band, made up of the ultra-serious guitarist Akira, energetic drummer Ayame and shy bassist Sachi, force the group to consider how far they want to take music. Do they want to continue playing together as a hobby, or do they want to knuckle down and try to become professionals? It’s not a route that I was expecting from something that has until now been reasonably silly and inconsequential, but I think it worked well with the general growing up theme that university naturally brings. It’s not tied up by the end of the volume, but I think I’m okay with that. I certainly didn’t finish my first year of uni and know with absolute confidence where I was going, so it would seem weird if it had all been tied up.
The new characters are cute enough, although they act mainly as foils for one another. Ayame and Sachi become fast friends with Ritsu and Mio respectively, and it’s nice to see them interacting with people who are a bit closer to them in temperament. In contrast, Yui attaches herself to Akira, who can charitably be said to assume babysitting duties, although there is some grudging respect there. I think this was the relationship that I liked most, for two reasons. First, it’s always fun to see someone utterly lost for words at the chaos that is Yui. Second, Akira is just so damn sweet that seeing her come out of her shell is nice to see.

A bit more on the thoughtful side as the cast have to learn independence in their first time spent away from home. The new characters are cute enough, with Akira stealing the spotlight with ease. It’s as cute as ever and if you’ve made it this far, you’re unlikely to stop enjoying it here. 4.5/5

Next review: HOPE Engine by Andrew Lynch

Signing off,
Nisa.

Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett

Returning to Discworld for this review, I was somewhat torn. On the one hand, it’s Discworld, so it’s going to make me laugh and probably think as well. On the other hand, Interesting Times is part of the Rincewind sub-series, which is by far my least favourite. So the question was more how it stacked up against the other Rincewind books, rather than would I enjoy it.

A strange message arrives in Ankh Morpork, originating in the insular and secretive Agatean Empire of the Counterweight Continent. In the note, a plea is made for the Great Wizzard to travel to the Agatean Empire is made, to save the country from a terrible fate. So of course, the Unseen University send Rincewind, the only idiot to misspell it like that. And so the least magical wizard on the Disc finds himself running away from power-hungry warlords waiting for the current Emperor to die, and a polite if incompetent revolutionary group who believe that he can lead them to successful political change.
So I can say for certain that Interesting Times is by far the best of the Rincewind books so far. This is mainly due to two factors. The first is the conflict that Rincewind finds himself inserted into this time. An obvious fantasy analogue to the Chinese Revolution, minus the child emperor that they had in the real world, there’s a nice black vs grey morality going on. Because while Lord Hong and the other warlords are obviously evil and perpetuating a broken system, the Red Army who aim to be rid of them aren’t necessarily all sunshine and rainbows. There’s a section that I really loved, where the Red Army have an opportunity to assassinate the Emperor and Rincewind is dead set against it, because of course it’s a trap. When he argues that there’s a high chance that they’ll die, there’s a revolutionary who retorts that the cause is bigger than their lives or the lives of their countrymen. And it really stuck with me, because of course Rincewind is horrified and can’t understand why you’d value a cause above people’s lives. Considering the times that we live in, where there are whole countries who are divided along ideological lines, I feel like this should be an attitude that is taken to heart more often.
The second factor is Cohen the Barbarian and his Silver Horde, a group of barbarians who are firmly in old age. They were absolutely hysterical every time they appeared, especially considering that they were apparently trying to learn how to be civilised in their old age. They were the exact counterpart needed to balance out Rincewind’s cowardice and made up for the Luggage not being as big a part.

A pleasant surprise considering how much my enjoyment of the Discworld books has always been tempered whenever Rincewind was involved. But with Interesting Times, I think Pratchett finally got all the elements together to make Rincewind’s adventures actually work. The conflict at the Agatean Empire is more nuanced than expected, and the Silver Horde are a fantastic way to invite chaos into everyone’s nicely planned coups. 4.5/5

Next review: The Automation by B. L. A. & G. B. Gabbler

Signing off,
Nisa.

K-ON! Volume 4 by kakifly

It’s been a while since I read the last volume of K-ON!, and after an intense few books, it seemed to be the right time to finish off the main bulk of the series.

K-ON! Volume 4 follows the club members in their last months at high school. Now that the older club members have to focus on studying for university entrance exams and class activities, Azusa has contend with the fact that they’ll soon be graduating and leaving her alone.
This volume definitely felt more poignant compared to previous volumes, given the emphasis on partings and new beginnings. In particular it was good to see Azusa given the space to grow and try feeling things out. Related to that, Ui and Jun are featured a bit more as they look to continue the club after Yui and the others leave for university.
While I’m looking forward to the epilogue volumes looking at the older cast members at university and the new blood continuing the club at high school, K-ON! Volume 4 feels like a good place to end the series. It’s looking forward to a bright future and it’s maintained its warm and fuzzy feeling through to the end. I don’t know that the epilogues will add anything that is absolutely necessary, but K-ON! isn’t a series that you can get truly tired of.

A cute place to end the main bulk of the series, K-ON! Volume 4 continues to do what the series is good at. Not sure what the last two volumes will add, but I’m hopeful. 4.5/5

Next review: Never Die by Rob J. Hayes

Signing off,
Nisa.

K-ON! Volume 3 by kakifly

I was feeling in the mood for something quick and a bit cute before a few books that were likely to take a bit more time to complete, so I settled on K-ON! Volume 3. It was a good thing too, considering that I ended up heading home early from work feeling thoroughly ill and miserable.

K-ON! Volume 3 picks up from where the last volume left off, with the majority of the Pop Music Club’s members finishing their second year and entering their final year of high school. With graduation looming, Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi have to start considering where they want to go for university, while Azusa has to face the prospect of being the only remaining member come the start of the next school year.
As I haven’t been feeling great today, it was nice to read something safe and predictable. If you’ve been following K-ON! so far, it’s safe to say that you know how it goes now. There aren’t quite as many jokes about eating cake instead of practising, but it’s still more focused on the domestic than the music side of things. There’s a sense of things starting to come to a close, as there’s a lot of baton-passing shown, both inside and outside of the club. There’s also a bit more focus on how it is run as a club, with more mentions of things like club budget and requests for things like air conditioning.
The characters are still great, and this volume the reader gets to see a bit more of some of Azusa’s classmates. Ui’s already been introduced in an earlier volume as Yui’s doting and hyper-competent younger sister. A new addition to the cast is Jun, who really admires the club whilst they’re on-stage, but can’t bring herself to join as she thinks that they’re a bit lazy and embarrassing day-to-day.

If you like the previous two volumes of K-ON!, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll like the third. A bit more of a focus on the actual school side of things, and more of a spotlight on characters that are likely to join the club once the older members leave for university. 4/5

Next review: Under Ordshaw by Phil Williams

Signing off,
Nisa.

Soul Music by Terry Pratchett

So I’ve been in need of a bit of normality recently, considering that my husband injured himself quite badly. As such, I apologise to those authors from TBRindr who may be waiting on a review and browsing my blog, I’ve been a tad distracted. In any case, I wanted something familiar, so Discworld it was.

Soul Music follows a few different groups of people. Following the deaths of his adopted daughter and former apprentice, Death wishes to forget and avoid the process of grieving. Taking on his duty in his absence is his granddaughter, Susan, who has been raised largely away from her grandfather, in the hopes that she won’t have to take up the family business. In one of her first jobs as Death, she comes across Imp y Celyn, a humble bard who has vowed to be the greatest musician in history, and in doing so has unwittingly made a pact with an eldritch guitar. And, of course, because his music is now somehow magical, the wizards get involved as several of them start acting unusual after being exposed to the music’s power.
Several years ago, before I ever picked up any of the Discworld novels, by best friend convinced me to watch the cartoon adaptation of Soul Music. I remembered a couple of things about it when I started the book that it stemmed from. First, that Death will always speak with Christopher Lee’s voice, because there has never been more perfect casting. Second, that this was the introduction of Susan, who I seemed to like at the time. Other than that, I couldn’t really recall a great deal about the plot, only enough to know that I was really looking forward to reading the original source material. As such, I was a bit disappointed that it still doesn’t beat Mort for best novel about Death so far. Much like Lords and Ladies though, that’s not because of bad writing, but because the competition from other Discworld novels is so high. And there is so much to recommend Soul Music for. Susan is a bit more stiff than I remember her, but is still likeable and interesting to watch in Death’s role, though she doesn’t get as caught up in it as her dad did in Mort. Still love Albert, although his presence is fairly minimal in this book. The Death of Rats is properly introduced, and I love it so much. Probably the best part about Soul Music though is the way that the rock music community is so thoroughly and lovingly lampooned, with targets ranging from Elvis to overenthusiastic fans to bands who have spades more passion than talent, and, always my favourite, a surprising number of references to The Blues Brothers.

Not as good as Mort, but that doesn’t stop Soul Music from being a fun romp, poking fun at everything rock and roll, from Elvis to Hair Metal. Definitely worth a read, especially if you’re a fantasy and rock fan. 4/5

Next review: The Woven Ring by M. D. Presley

Signing off,

Nisa.

Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett

After the ludicrous time that I had reading Demons of the Ocean, I fancied going back to something a bit more familiar. Discworld it was then. About as ridiculous, but actually on purpose, so it almost doesn’t count.

Men at Arms returns to Ankh-Morpork’s City Watch at a rather strange period in their history. In the lead-up to his wedding/retirement, Sam Vimes has to deal not only with three new recruits (Cuddy the dwarf, Detritus the troll and Angua the w-(oman?)) that the Watch has been forced to take on to improve their ethnic diversity, but with a series of strange events that the Assassins’ Guild have been very keen for him to ignore. As tensions rise between guilds and between species, the Watch have to find out what they intend to be when times are tough.
I loved Guards! Guards!, so I was really looking forward to Men at Arms and I was not disappointed in the slightest. Perhaps the thing that surprised me most was the unexpected moments of seriousness that are sprinkled throughout. Rather than feeling out of place though, they give the members of the Watch a lot of depth and nuance that was mostly missing from their previous instalment; the only aversion to this is Corporal Nobbs, who does get development only for it to make him more absurd. In particular I liked the development that Carrot received, who has mostly gotten past his naive veneration of the law and is now sly enough to follow those laws closely enough that it puts a spanner into everyone else’s plans. At the very least, it was entertaining to watch. There was a bit of development for Vimes that I liked more, but it does have to be seen first-hand really.

A vast improvement on Guards! Guards! and that’s saying a lot coming from me. I have a feeling that the City Watch books could become my joint favourites with the Witches. 5/5

Next review: The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich

Signing off,
Nisa.

K-ON! Volume 2 by kakifly

While not as draining as Blood Meridian, I did feel in need of something lighter and fluffier after finishing True Grit, and so I went to the same source as I did for the former novel. K-ON! is pretty much the apex of cute, funny shenanigans with a minimum of plot, so it seemed like the perfect thing to dip into to rest my brain a bit.

With a new volume comes a new character. Azusa Nakano is an aspiring guitar player who decides to join the Pop Music Club after hearing a recording of the club’s first concert. She is particularly keen to meet the lead guitarist of the group, as she was really inspired to meet a musician of such skill. How will she react when she sees how the group truly is?
So the obvious thing to mention is that if you didn’t like the first volume of K-ON! then there is little chance of you enjoying the second, because it’s very much more of the same thing. There’s jokes about how the club seems to be more an excuse to drink tea and eat cake. There’s jokes about the teacher being less mature and weirder than she wants to be. And then there’s Yui’s weird propensity for either excelling or failing spectacularly depending on what it is that she’s concentrating on at that point in time. It feels very comfortable, if that’s what you’re looking for.
The main difference for this volume is the addition of Azusa, a first-year to the main group’s second-years, and she feels like a definite breath of fresh air. She’s kind of a nice foil to both Yui and Mio. With Yui there is a brewing rivalry of sorts, as while Yui is spacey and doesn’t know the specific terms for musical techniques, she does have an uncanny ability to pick them up enviously quick. And with Mio, there seems to be more of a traditional senpai-kohai relationship, except that they’re both so adorably dorky and awkward that it’s an incredibly bumbling example of the relationship. Azusa’s presence does also mean that there are a few more scenes that focus on them practising and performing, which is nice.

All in all, if you weren’t keen on the first volume, this second one provides more of the same. A new character and some additional focus on the musical side of things is nice, but you definitely know what you’re getting when you read K-ON! 4/5

Next review: Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper

Signing off,
Nisa.

K-ON! Volume 1 by kakifly

After the long and draining read that was Blood Meridian, I was in the mood for something a lot lighter in tone. Enter the first volume of K-ON!, a series that comes highly recommended to me by my husband. Since I like what I’ve seen of the anime adaptation, and I needed something short, sweet and relatively harmless, it seemed like the perfect choice.

K-ON! follows Yui Hirasawa in her first year of high school. When she’s frightened into joining an extracurricular club for fear of becoming a NEET after high school, she joins the Pop Music club, assuming that it will be an easy ride. Unfortunately, her new club members assume that she can play the guitar, an instrument she has never touched in her life. But with determination, she and her new friends may be able to turn this failing club around.
I was after something gentle, and K-ON! certainly delivers on that. There isn’t really much in the way of driven plot, but then that’s pretty much a staple of the slice of life genre. What the genre sacrifices in plot and serious conflict, it makes up for in characters, and K-ON! definitely has that in abundance. So the core of the cast is made up of the four members of the Pop Music club. As mentioned above, there is Yui, the inexperienced main guitarist. She’s sweet and energetic, but nowhere near the brightest bulb in the box. There’s Mio Akiyama, the studious and painfully shy bassist, who more or less has to adopt the straight man role out of the group. Self-appointing herself the new club president, despite having none of the qualifications necessary for such a role, is Ritsu Tainaka, the audacious prankster on drums. And finally, my current favourite, Tsumugi Kotobuki, the wealthy keyboardist who is outwardly the perfect gentle lady, but is more than a little risque in her thoughts. There are also some secondary characters, but the one that stood out most for me was the teacher acting as their club adviser, Sawako Yamanaka. She only agrees to advise the club after they threaten to reveal her past as a member of the Pop Music club during its speed metal period, at which point you realise that her sweet, gentle nature is just a mask for someone mildly terrifying. It’s a beautiful moment.
This volume covers the first year of the club, in which they mainly mess around and treat the clubhouse like a tea-room while Yui tries to get the hang of playing the guitar. It’s cute so far, and I especially like what I’ve seen of them actually playing music, complete with comically terrible lyrics for their first original song. I’m a little sad that it does take a bit of a back-seat to your standard slice-of-life high school stuff, but I’m hoping that it will get a bit more music-focused as Yui and the others get more confident with their instruments.

Very cute and fluffy. Not a great deal of plot, but that’s not really why I picked it up. Will definitely be picking up the next volumes in the future. 4.5/5

Next review: Dead Beat by Jim Butcher

Signing off,
Nisa

Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett

After the debacle that was A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, I wanted something that I could recover with. And my immediate reaction was Discworld, where I could both read something new and yet guaranteed to make me happy. Since it was a Witches book, I was really looking forward to this next installment.

Lords and Ladies picks up when Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick return home from their extended travels following Witches Abroad. Magrat returns to find that her sweetheart, King Verence II, has already started preparations for their wedding. Perturbed by how suddenly and imminently she will become Queen of Lancre, she has a falling out with Granny and throws herself into learning how to act like royalty. At the same time, Granny and Nanny are concerned that the standing stones keeping the Fair Folk at bay may be weakening.
While the Witches are probably my favourite of the Discworld sub-series, I thought that Lords and Ladies was a bit weak compared to the previous installments of the series. Not that this makes it bad, it’s just hard to match a corker like Witches Abroad. By itself, there really isn’t anything that that I can criticise about Lords and Ladies, it just has very tough competition.
One thing that I absolutely love is Pratchett’s depiction of elves. Considering that the Discworld is a riff on traditional fantasy tropes, he could have modelled them on the graceful and wise elves that you get in things like Lord of the Rings or D&D. But instead he went for the properly old-school elves that steal your children, and I just love that. It adds just the right amount of threat and eeriness. Additionally, I really liked the touch about how the average person in Lancre perceives the elves. In comparison to Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, who know just how awful elves are, the rest of the population has gradually forgotten the creepy, child-stealing part of elves and they only really remember the glamour and the pretty laughter. It was a nice touch.

I do love the old-fashioned child-stealing version of elves, so it was really cool to see them in the Discworld. Lords and Ladies isn’t the best book out of the Witches sub-series, but that doesn’t matter a whole deal considering how stellar the series is as a whole. 4.5/5

Next review: Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy

Signing off,
Nisa.

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