Father Christmas’s Fake Beard by Terry Pratchett

Father Christmas’s  Fake Beard by Terry Pratchett

Have you ever wanted Christmas to be different?

Turkey and carols, presents and crackers – they all start to feel a bit . . . samey.

How about a huge exploding mince pie, a pet abominable snowman, or a very helpful partridge in a pear tree? What if Father Christmas went to work at a zoo, or caused chaos in a toy store or, was even, arrested for burglary!?

Dive into the fantastically funny world of Terry Pratchett, for a festive treat like no other. These ten stories will have you laughing, gasping and crying (with laughter) – you’ll never see Christmas in the same way again.

I purchased a copy of this book for my personal reading. 

As an avid fan of the works of Sir Terry Pratchett this book was a must order just as soon as I saw it come up for preorder. And because I am a sucker for a special edition, I went for the special version of this, complete with a nice red slipcase adorned with a gold-leaf effect design on it.
Enough of that, though, on to the book. My main exposure to the works of Pratchett are his immense Discworld series, a personal favourite of mine. I love the fantasy elements, the humour and the slightly adult jokes and innuendo so subtly placed throughout. So how would I fare with my first try of Pratchett’s work predominantly for children.

Well personally I loved the book. It is filled with lots of fun, humorous short stories littered with Pratchett’s particular style of weaving magic and jokes together so well. This collection of tales is fantastic, ranging anywhere from the woes of a last-minute stand in shopping centre Santa, to a wannabe Arctic explorer making the most of the ice-melting milder weather.

The stories are well written, with a distinctly British flavour to them. Whether it be the style of the writing or the parodying of stereotypical English villages and small towns. Father Christmas’s Fake Beard is a wonderful collection of short stories, my only small gripe being that some of the stories aren’t Christmas themed, which you would easily be forgiven for expecting given the title. But don’t let that stop you reading this book either to your little ones or for yourself.

My rating:


Men at Arms – Terry Pratchett

Men at Arms – Terry Pratchett

“Murder was in fact a fairly uncommon event in Ankh-Morpork, but there were a lot of suicides. Walking in the night-time alleyways of The Shades was suicide. Asking for a short in a dwarf bar was suicide. Saying ‘Got rocks in your head?’ to a troll was suicide. You could commit suicide very easily, if you weren’t careful.” Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms

Men at arms brings things back to the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. And what a story to do it with. I am not going to bother beating about the bush or leaving it to the end to leave my overall opinions on this because. It’s pretty simple – I love it. This is the second or third time I have read this book, and yet somehow didn’t remember as much of it as I expected to. It’s great fun, it brings more of Sam Vimes’ character to the fore, alongside those of Nobby Nobbs, Fred Colon and Carrot the not-so dwarf. We also meet another City Watch regular in the making, werewolf Angua.
So, to the story. The Night Watch has expanded and diversified at the instruction of Lord Vetinari to now include a dwarf, troll and a werewolf. A spate of mysterious crimes including theft of an unknown item and some grisly and hard-to-explain “suicides” (read: murders) spread throughout the city, all as Captain Vimes prepares to relinquish his position in the Night Watch as he prepares for his impending nuptials to Lady Sybil Ramkin.

Deceit, political wrangling and a nefarious criminal or two make for a good old fashioned whodunit story. I love the police procedural feel that it has alongside the now well-honed Pratchett humour. But it also brings in yet more connections to reality. Pressure from certain important members of society on the Patrician tried to divert the tenacious Vimes is not all that far fetched. History has shown too often that power, or money, greases the wheels of society, if not the palms. The inclusive, multicultural direction taken by the City Watch just feels so familiar with the direction the world has taken of late, as does, sadly the tensions between the trolls and dwarves.

There are no dragons, witches, or wizards here. And this book doesn’t need them. Yes, the Discworld is a fantasy series, but this story is so enjoyable, even without the stereotypical fantasy tropes. It does feature dwarves, trolls and a werewolf, but they aren’t what this story is about. To me, even less than the City Watch as a whole, this is the story of Sam Vimes. Who he is and how he works comes through in buckets. And running through it all, Men At Arms tells the story of how the topsy turvy city that is Ankh-Morpork works, where it’s come from, and a glimmer of where it might be headed.

I love the nods to the plethora of TV shows in the police and crime genre that Pratchett employs throughout the book. As a fan of crime and mystery, along with fantasy and comedy, the fusion of these normally very different themes is refreshing and funny. I love the growth of the City Watch characters, and the city itself seems to really come to life in the writing of this book. I think this is my favourite book in the Discworld series so far.

My rating:

Lords and Ladies – Sir Terry Pratchett

Lords and Ladies – Sir Terry Pratchett

“In fact, the mere act of opening the box will determine the state of the cat, although in this case there were three determinate states the cat could be in: these being Alive, Dead, and Bloody Furious.” – Terry Pratchett

As has been mentioned in previous posts, the Witches series of books within the Discworld book series generally aren’t my favourites. So I, somewhat inevitably, read through it in a more stop-start manner. But, when I eventually turned the last page in this, the fourteenth book in the series, I realised I really enjoyed it. This time out, I felt the key characters of Granny, Nanny and Magrat were better developed, and we got to know them better this time out.
20160526_192150Pratchett uses some more fantasy world favourites in this book. Alongside the core group of witches that this book centres on, some of the wizards of Unseen University and a return of Casanunda, the pint-sized lothario first seen in Witches Abroad all make appearances. And then there’s the protagonists of this book – the elves.

All throughout literature of all forms, good and evil has been a major factor of tales, especially in the world of fantasy. In this work, however, the author takes a new spin on things. Glamour and beauty causes a whole lot of trouble throughout this story. Lords and Ladies also deals with the idea of alternate fates and multiple universes where versions of ourselves exist simultaneously, living variations of the same life.

Following on from events in Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies takes a slightly darker turn, while still retaining all of Terry Pratchett’s usual wit and humour. The witches find themselves going in different directions once they return to Lancre, Magrat moving to the castle ahead of her seemingly-sudden upcoming wedding to King Verence II. Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax are left to return to their lives in Lancre.

One theme of this story is the petulance of youth. It deals with the scenario of a gaggle of youngsters thinking they can do and know better than their elders. In this case, a group of girls attempt to become witches, thinking the Lancre coven are a group of silly old women, who know nothing of true witchcraft. They try to cast spells, and crucially, set into motion a sequence of actions, unleashing the elves on the world. With help from the Lancre locals, the trio of witches come together to defeat the elves, sending them packing back to their realm.

Another theme dealt with in this story is the past, and the question “what if…?”. What if things had been different? What if we hadn’t done or said that? Two key characters have history, and one of them wistfully reminisces and wonders about what might have been. It introduces an idea Pratchett uses again, that of the Trousers of Time. The idea here is that there are multiple ways the future can play out for us. It just depends on which leg of the trousers we head down. And in another life, in another world, every possibility that may happen will be happening.

This book did take me a while to read, probably setting myself up to enjoy it less than other books in the series. But I really did enjoy it, it was a fun read, with some fantastic character development. It also brings together figures from multiple of the miniseries within the Discworld. This was something different, helping to remind me that the whole series is interlinked, and shows how well written the books are.

My rating:

Small Gods – Sir Terry Pratchett

Small Gods – Sir Terry Pratchett

“What have I always believed?

That on the whole, and by and large, if a man lived properly, not according to what any priests said, but according to what seemed decent and honest inside, then it would, at the end, more or less, turn out all right.” Terry Pratchett

Small Gods is much like the earlier Pyramids, insofar as it doesn’t really fit into one of the core series’ within the Discworld. At a stretch they are sometimes classified in their own miniseries of Ancient Civilisations. This tale deals with the ideas of religion, belief and morality, and takes place in the empire of Omnia, ruled by the Great God Om.
2016-04-03 20.03.01One of the key threads of the story is that of belief. More important any given god is only as strong as the strength of belief in him. The more believers has, the more powerful they become. Small Gods, aside from being the book title, also refers to what happens to gods with little or no believers – they become small, weak, drifting in the deserts.

This, being the central premise of the book, really caught my attention as an unashamed atheist: that a god can only exist if enough people believe in them. I love how Pratchett deals with religion in this story. That anything that disagrees with the given religion is heretical and must be destroyed. I also like the way religion is described, with its hierarchical structure, and the power wielded at the top. Small Gods shows the intense levels of cynicism that the author viewed the world with, implying the religious books are not the words of the god handed to the prophets, but created by the head of the order to suit their needs.

This book also throws in atheists and philosophers from neighbouring empires. One premise Pratchett brings up over the course of the book is that of the power of knowledge, and its role in religious war.

The main character, the massively devout Brother Brutha is a wonderful, very well crafted character. While lacking in intelligence, he has a mind like a sponge and an ability to retain almost anything he sees. He pledges unwavering fealty to the Great God Om, even when he is at his weakest, and Brutha learns things that completely change his worldview, and that of his religion. The God Om himself also features heavily as he tries to regain his strength, along the Deacon Vorbis, the villainous head of the Quisition – think the Spanish Inquisition, only maybe more like the Monty Python portrayal!

A very entertaining, funny, and thought-provoking read, Small Gods is one I rate highly within the series – I only find it a shame that both this and Pyramids are the only books of their kind within the Discworld series.

My rating:

Witches Abroad – Terry Pratchett

Witches Abroad – Terry Pratchett

“People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.” – Terry Pratchett

Witches Abroad is the third instalment in the miniseries following Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat, a trio of witches from the mountain kingdom of Lancre. And this book deals with stories, and their importance in the world. It also deals with good and bad, and travel.
2016-02-29 13.01.26Pratchett seems wholly-comfortable with his direction for the series by this stage, and his wit and humor shine through. While travelling the Disc, the witches discuss the possibility of witch airlines using giant broomsticks. They start coming up with names, and Pratchett’s wonderful wit shines through, as the suggestions are puns of real airlines such as Three Witches Airborne (TWA) and Broomsticks Airborne (BA). While the scene isn’t central to the main story it just shows the wit that has become synonymous with the Discworld series, and also shows the wonderful way in which Terry Pratchett merges aspects of the real world into his work.

The main thread of this fun little yarn is all about stories. And more importantly, the power of stories. While we, humans, create stories all the time, do we really control and shape them? Whether that story is the story that is life, or if it is a book we write, how much of them is shaped by us? Or as Pratchett alludes to – do they shape us? A sobering thought, especially for bookworms like myself. I have read many books, and a lot of them have left a mark in some way on me, Some good, some terrifying (thank you Stephen King).

Witches abroad is a wonderful tale, littered with references to classic stories and fairy tales. But the spin Pratchett adds to these is part of the charm. It looks deeper into the stories, adds a little back story to the characters that their original fairy tales never did. Stripped down to its core, this book is a classic good versus evil tale with a healthy dose of fairy tale whimsy. But then the author comes in with the heavy machinery to put his touch on. And in this sense, I don’t mean it in a negative way. He comes in firing on all cylinders with sarcasm, wit and humour that I love about the Discworld series.

In the two previous books featuring the witches, I was left feeling lukewarm. This outing, is very much third time’s a charm! I really enjoy this book – it’s great fun, and I love the injection of beloved fairy tales to the narrative. And on top of this, I am really warming to the three key characters. I felt like I wasn’t quite getting to know the trio of witches fully, but this time out we learn more about them and their lives, and more importantly their very different personalities.

The witches still don’t make for my favourite mini-series within the Discworld books, but compared to the first two books involving them, this is a world apart. At this stage, I am definitely beginning to like the witches more and more.

My rating:

Reaper Man – Terry Pratchett

Reaper Man – Terry Pratchett

“…no-one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away… The span of someone’s life, they say, is only the core of their actual existence.” – Terry Pratchett 

Reaper Man is the next book in the Discworld series, and upfront I am going to give my opinion – I love this book. And that’s no exaggeration. Officially, this great little book sits within the Death series, but it has cameos from the wizards of Unseen University and a few appearances from Sergeant Fred Colon of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch.
wp-1453731647321.jpgThis book moves off in a different direction for Death as a main character, and that for me is a key part of why I really like this story. It brings up the idea of making the most of life. As Pratchett has shown in past appearances, Death has an interest in the human condition, and almost displays slight glimmers of humanity in himself. This, however, presents a problem – Death isn’t isn’t meant to show compassion, interest or any of the other features of the human condition. Death is the end. That’s it. So universal forces are brought in to strip him of his role, his purpose. And his immortality.

So what does the former reaper of souls do know he has time on his hands? He sets out to experience life. Death has always had a curiosity about humans, and their lives, but only when he has a finite amount of sand slowly trickling from the top bulb to the bottom of his life timer, only then does he truly start to live. Much as we tend to do in reality.

But why? Why do we so often wait until we have precious little time left, to make the most of it? Because we are, at the heart of it only human. But with His new found time, Death turns his hand to labour. He makes friends, he lives a life. All the while, the dead aren’t staying fully-dead. Without Death to shepherd them into the great beyond, they are forced to walk the world. And some of them prefer it this way.

This book rates highly for me, as I am a keen fan of the Death subset of stories from Terry Pratchett. He is a likeable character that only gets better the more we see him, and the more subtle human traits he picks up. Throw in the wizards as well and this is a fun travel around Ankh-Morpork and outlying settlements. Once again, the locations feel a bit richer, the characters a little deeper as Pratchett really gets to grips with the direction and future ideas for this epic series.

My rating:

Moving Pictures – Terry Pratchett

Moving Pictures – Terry Pratchett

“The whole of life is just like watching a film. Only it’s as though you always get in ten minutes after the big picture has started, and no-one will tell you the plot, so you have to work it out all yourself from the clues.” – Terry Pratchett

“…inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened.” – Terry Pratchett

Cinema – a place where dreams are made, lived, sold and, quite often, destroyed. We all go to the cinema to be told a story, to escape reality and to explore exotic locales. In short, cinema allows us to live dreams in vivid, high definition and immersive content. As children we almost hope that if we believe in those Hollywood dreams hard enough, they may just come true. Some of us do as adults – I know I’d love to join the ragtag crew of the Millennium Falcon in a galaxy far, far away! For some Hollywood represents a different dream – the chance to make it big, to shoot for the stars and earn all the trappings of fame.
But what about on the Disc? Welcome to Holy Wood – a scrubby hill covered with a small stand of scraggly trees, in the middle of the sand dunes on the coast. It looks deserted, mainly because it is. Except for the sunken city, now home to the fish and lobsters. But as with the Hollywood we know and “love”, it calls out to those seeking fame, fortune, and the chance to make a fast buck.

For years people have packed up and headed out to Hollywood, California with a bunch of clothes, hopes and dreams, and very little else. The dream of becoming the next Marilyn Monroe or James Dean is a very attractive idea. Sadly, it is attractive to many, and only a few will strike it lucky and hit the big time.

Moving Pictures charts the journey of a brilliant, if lazy, young wizard – Victor Tugelbend. He works exceptionally hard at being average, doing just enough to stay enrolled at Unseen University, without having to graduate. Holy Wood calls to him, leading him to make the trip to the fast-growing world of cinema. Although this book sits within the Wizards miniseries, other than Victor, the majority of the wizards have relatively small roles. But this isn’t a criticism of this book – I actually quite like its loose connection to the miniseries while almost serving as a standalone book at the same time.

I like the way Terry Pratchett describes the early days of cinema, starting out with the discovery and creation of the Disc’s version of film – octo-cellulose. He adds to the mystique of film in having its creation attributed to the alchemists of Ankh-Morpork. Throughout the book, Pratchett charts the rise and rise of Holy Wood, in what imagine to be a parody of the growth of its Earthly twin city, with an added comic twist. Think amazing wonder-animals, in this case with the ability to speak; think dashing and brave heroes; think beautiful damsels in distress; think hideous monsters.

The other aspect of this tale that I really enjoy is that Pratchett hasn’t painted an entirely rosey, saccharine view of the Hollywood dream. There is a dark side to the fame and glory sought by the people who visit, where the dreams and greed take hold and the power of Holy Wood turns those dreams into nightmares. The way the birth of cinema is portrayed throughout is brilliantly fun, from its rise to the fall near the end. And any film nut will quickly spot many entertaining parodies of some of the classic films from the heyday of Hollywood.

With Moving Pictures, I felt Pratchett was cementing his vision for this series that had already had strong foundations laid in Guards! Guards! I think overall the latter was a more entertaining story in my own opinion, but this one certainly kicks on with his vision and paving the way for a great number of wonderful stories to come.

My rating: