Friday, February 08, 2008

Making Money by Terry Pratchett

Moist von Lipwig is bored...... very bored. He has turned around the Post Office to such an extent it can run without him and his girlfriend is off rescuing Golems. Even dabbling in his old thieving skills has not take the edge off his boredom. At the same time Lord Vetinari has a problem. He needs someone to run the Royal Mint, and the bank next door. Lipwig seems to be the very man for the job but as always, the path never runs smooth for the dashing conman. The Mint is running at a loss, the chief Cashier may be a vampire and there's a mad scientist in the basement. If that's not enough the Assassins Guild, the family of the previous chairman and an old business associate are out to kill him. Oh and he must find time to take the chairman for his daily walkies. Can the Discworld's most likeable conman turn things around or will he finally be on the end of a noose and a short sharp drop?

This is Pratchett's second adventure starring Moist von Lipwig and is the third in his series of books that seem to be based on inventions (the newspaper, the postage stamp and the bank note respectively). All in all this is the 31st Discworld novel. I have immensely enjoy Pratchett's take on the world and his humour and am a fan of his work. Unfortunately the downside to Pratchett's talent is my high expectations of his work, which this book failed to live up to.

Don't get me wrong, this is a perfectly readable book and has some absolutely superb moments (I don't think anyone will forget the scene involving Mr Fusspot and the secret room). Yet I found these moments were strung out by some pretty boring storylines and dialogue. I can remember after the first few chapters wondering when the story would get going as it seemed to take forever to set up the various parts of the plot. In some ways it was a little too much like 'Going Postal', in the sense that Lipwig has to invent a new concept to keep the institution afloat, previously the postage stamp and in this case the bank note. I felt there was a bit too much of Vetinari in the book which made appear less omnipotent and mysterious. Some of the plot points made my head hurt (I still don't understand quite how the golems were able to save Lipwig's bacon). There were glimmers of the Pratchett I know but sadly not enough for me.

It was the minor characters in the book that really made it for me like Topsy, Mr Fusspot, Gladys, the wizards and the guards. The minor characters are the staples of many a good Discworld novel. We know most of the minor characters through previous books and so Pratchett isn't required to build up their character through the book as we already know it. It is definitely one of the strengths of the series.

It hasn't put me off Discworld in the slightest and I look forward to the publication of his next book in later this year (codenamed ‘Nation’ I believe and out in the UK in September). I wouldn't recommend this to anyone who is trying Pratchett for the first time and would instead suggest Colour of Magic, Guards! Guards! or Soul Music. It is worth reading if you are a Discworld fan as there is a likelihood that some of the plot points will effect plots in his future Discworld novels. Readable but not a book I'd be bothered about reading again.

*3 stars*

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

The Five People You Meet in Heaven – by Mitch Albom

Eddie's 83rd birthday began like most days, he went to work as usual. Alone with no family and no friends Eddie's whole life is Ruby Pier, as it has been since his youth. Yet a freak accident on one of the rides causes Eddie to risk his life trying to save a little girl. In his final moments he feels two small hands.

When Eddie awakes he finds Heaven is not the Garden of Eden as promised in the Bible. Instead he has to meet with five people who have helped shaped his life. Some he knows, some are strangers, but they all have wisdom to impart. As Eddie visits each of these people's chosen Heaven he slowly begins to understand his life on earth and how it ended.

Not everyone is comfortable with death and the thought of what comes after. I admit to being one of those people who seem to think about death and am interested in thoughts and cultural reactions to death. I remember writing a paper at university about death using both anthropological and archaeological examples of how people deal with death. I also remember my tutor commenting that the paper was so well researched and explored that they felt I had an unhealthy obsession with the topic! So for me, this book was right up my street.

There are so many different ideas about what happens after you die from those that believe there is no life after death, to various ideas about heaven and finally reincarnation. Life after death can be a really good topic for an author as the ideas they can explore are many and varied. Yet it can also be fraught with difficulties. It can be too easy to write a life after death story which doesn't challenge the read and is just a story that happens to be set in an afterlife rather than another country or on another planet. Sometimes authors can get too caught up in the philosophical and forget the storyline altogether. Albom is guilty of neither of these. The book is extremely readable, has a clear story but it manages to be thought provoking.

This is an excellent book to read if you have recently lost a loved one. It makes you realise that their life will have touched so many others, some of which you'll know about and others that you won't. It made me realise that everything has a purpose, and that even the tiniest actions have lasting effect. It also left me with the hope that no life is a wasted life and that even if you feel you don't understand your life and why things happen that it will all eventually become clear to you. It could be a wonderful source of discussion which might help you through your grief.

Albom doesn't push 'God' too much in the book, which as an atheist I was grateful for. Instead the story hangs on Eddie and the five people he meets and the reader is not required to embrace Christian ideology. Don't get me wrong, there are references made to God from time to time, but he is not a central character by any means.

There are many themes which Albom explores in this book other than life, death and fate. Family, war, work, prejudice, and love are all explored along with the concepts of punishment and redemption. As you reach the end of the book you, like Eddie, are beginning to understand why many of the aspects of his life ended up the way they did. You also find out whether or not Eddie managed to save the girl, a fact he needs to know if he is to gain ultimate peace.
This book is not meant as a light hearted holiday read and shouldn't be relegated to that pile of books. Instead you should make the time for it and be prepared to read something that will challenge you as much as it entertains you. It will certainly draw you in, I almost got off at the wrong stop when I was reading this because I was so engrossed! I would definitely recommend this to anyone who feels ready to explore the themes of this book.

*4 stars*