Book review: “Unseen Academicals” by Terry Pratchett
Book Reviews / February 12, 2013

And behold, this book focuses on a school for wizards. By now Unseen University will be well known to followers of this series. It is the alma mater of the nebbishy wizard Rincewind, whose adventures were heavily featured in the earlier books of this series. Its Librarian is an orangutan who can give the word “Ook” a wide spectrum of meanings. Its Archchancellor is a rugged, bullmoose type named Mustrum Ridcully. It has a chair of post-mortem communications, a branch of magic otherwise known as “the dark arts.” It has a super-computer powered by an ant farm. And it has a complex body of traditions that, somehow or other, keep the sun in the sky and U.U.’s walls covered with ivy.

Book review: “Snuff” by Terry Pratchett
Book Reviews / February 8, 2013

According to Fantastic Fiction, this is the 39th novel of “Discworld”—taking all the novels featuring Tiffany Aching, Granny Weatherwax, Rincewind, Death, the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, and whatnot in one heap. It’s an amazing achievement, especially given that I was hoaxed into believing that Terry Pratchett was done writing them half a dozen books back. After all these books about a flat world balanced on the backs of four huge elephants perched, in their turn, atop a giant tortoise, Pratchett continues to break open new territory, find new depths, and conjure a unique blend of thrills, laughs, fantasy-world-magic, and real-world social commentary out of them.

Book review: “The Scarecrow and His Servant” by Philip Pullman
Book Reviews / January 29, 2013

This book by the author of “The Firework-Maker’s Daughter” and “The Ruby in the Smoke” combines a fairy-tale concept with elements of the picaresque novel. That is to say, it presents a hero from humble origins, making his way through a corrupt world in a series of funny, ironic adventures. Seemingly set in Italy around the time of the Napoleonic wars, this story pokes fun at the foibles of people in an age quite different from our own – but not so different that we don’t feel the satire poking at us!

Book review: “The Cockatrice Boys” by Joan Aiken
Book Reviews / January 29, 2013

This story is about an invasion of monsters that brings civilization in Great Britain crashing down. These creatures, of unknown origin, come in many varieties from bycorns, footmonsters, kelpies, and trolls to snarks, gorgons, basilisks, and telepods–this is only a partial listing, mind you. Nevertheless, they are grouped under the general term of Cockatrices, and it is to battle the Cockatrices that the Cockatrice Corps is formed. Armed with snark masks, kelpie knives, and ray guns, they set out on the stellar-powered armored train Cockatrice Belle to battle the beasties and bring needed supplies to the scattered remnants of the British race.

Book review: “The Eye of the Forest” by P.B. Kerr
Book Reviews / January 28, 2013

Book Five of “Children of the Lamp” continues the series’ ABC-order sequence of titles. Brought to you by the letter E, it’s such a fun book that you’ll hope the pattern holds through all 26 letters of the alphabet. In this installment, teenage djinn twins John and Philippa Gaunt visit the moist, mysterious rain forest of the Peruvian Amazon, together with their resourceful Uncle Nimrod, his ex-thief butler Groanin, and other friends—including, naturally, one who is a traitor.

Book review: “The Rose and the Ring” by W. M. Thackeray
Book Reviews / January 25, 2013

This hilarious fairy-tale spoof was written as a “fireside pantomime,” to amuse a group of English children between Christmas and New Year while staying in an unnamed European city. Moreover, it was published under the pseudonym “Michael Angelo Titmarsh,” if you please.