Tag Archives: Ben Aaronovitch

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Hanging Tree Book 6 of the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch

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Peter Grant is a fabulous character with a wonderful line in dry humour that oils the wheels in this police procedural urban fantasy series. The previous book, Foxglove Summer, was one of my favourite reads of 2014 – would The Hanging Tree maintain this standard?

thehangingtreeThe Hanging Tree was the Tyburn gallows which stood where Marble Arch stands today. Oxford Street was the last trip of the condemned. Some things don’t change. The place has a bloody and haunted legacy and now blood has returned to the empty Mayfair mansions of the world’s super-rich. And blood mixed with magic is a job for Peter Grant. Peter Grant is back as are Nightingale et al. at the Folly and the various river gods, ghosts and spirits who attach themselves to England’s last wizard and the Met’s reluctant investigator of all things supernatural.

At last Peter’s private life seems to be settling down a bit, but when a member of the Tyburn family is embroiled in murder, Peter finds he is not only trying to unravel the crime, but work out exactly where Olivia fits into the puzzle. Because while she might not be lying, she isn’t telling the whole truth, either. In fact, you probably won’t be shocked to discover that not many folks do tell all. As ever, this seemingly sad but routine death by drugs overdose is nothing of the sort – and its consequences reverberate through Peter’s life as well as everyone else at the Folly.

I started thoroughly enjoying this one. Peter, as ever, is sharp and funny and the initial crime deftly draws in a group of folks, some we’ve met in previous books and others we haven’t. So if you’ve never had the pleasure of reading these books before, you won’t be unduly floundering. However, if you’re sensing a but you’d be right. The last book had a case involving missing children which grabbed me right at the beginning. While The Hanging Tree does reveal a couple of major slices of information regarding the overarching story arc with The Faceless Man, I found the pacing somewhat skewed. This major reveal comes at around 73% into the story – and while there is mayhem in spades after that, I did feel by the end that much of the subsequent action was something of an anti-climax.

Ordinarily, this would have been a huge dealbreaker, but Peter’s narrative voice is so dryly funny, it was still an enjoyable, engaging read, though without the punch of Foxglove Summer.
8/10

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Sunday Post – 6th November 2016

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Sunday PostThis is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

bristolcon2016It’s been another hectic week. At the start of the week, I was still recovering from the awesome Bristolcon 2016. Mhairi and I travelled up on the train and once more were enveloped in the warmth of The Friendly Con. It was great to catch up with regulars, though there were far too many people I only got to exchange quick greetings with – the likes of Justin Newland, Sophie E. Tallis, Sammy Smith and Jo Hall. I’m sure there are others I’ve missed out, and apologies for the omission. I had the huge pleasure of meeting Rosie Oliver, who I regularly chat with on my blog. She was one of the participants in the excellent ‘Uncanny Valleys of the Mind’ panel about the possibility of sentient robots. The quality of this discussion was superb with moderator Pete Sutton, Rosie, Kevlin Henney, Claire Carter and guest of honour Ken MacLeod.

Other enjoyable panels included ‘SF & F on the Margins’, which discussed the joys of the small presses, bristolcon1who are providing an increasingly vital role during this time when the larger traditional publishers are finding it tough. ‘The Regiment of Monsters’ panel investigated the contention that too much fantasy lacks diversity and is still stuck in the ‘boys own’ adventures for and about white males. While the panel agreed there was still a preponderance of such fantasy around, there are increasing examples of alternatives to the staple of the plucky group battling overwhelming evil in a quasi-medieval setting. And there was also the delightfully whacky ‘Storming the Castle’ panel moderated by John Baverstock with tyrants (panellists) Ade Couper, Mhairi Simpson, Jacey Bedford and Dom Dulley sporting enough to provide daft ways in which to defend their castles from members of the audience on a dice throw… After that we had no option but to retreat to the bar, where I had one of the best evenings ever. Meeting another blogging friend, Leona was a delight, along with authors Mark Lawrence, R.B. Watkinson, T.O. Munro and G.R. Matthews and the awesome Kitvaria Sarene and Marielle (thank you for those yummy Dutch cookies, which had me falling off the sugar-free wagon – but I can’t be good ALL the time). By the time Mhairi and I staggered back to our hotel room around 2 am, my sides were aching with so much laughing. Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to a fabulous time – I’m grinning as I type at the memory…

Coming back to earth has been something of an effort, though I haven’t had too much time to sit around twiddling my fingers as I was back to teaching again on Monday and Tuesday and on Wednesday Mhairi and I got together for a writing day. On Thursday I was in London for a training day for the CoPE syllabus that Tim is starting to work towards with Sally. We’re now both excited and relieved that we finally have a clear path whereby his exceptional abilities can be formally recognised with qualifications that will help him become an independent adult with a fulfilling career. This week-end I’m grannying.

This week I have read:
Frontier – an Epsilon Sector novella by Janet Edwards
Life on a frontier farming planet in the twenty-eighth century has a few complications. The imported frontierEarth animals and plants don’t always interact well with the local ecology, and there’s a shortage of doctors and teachers. The biggest problem though is the fact there are always more male than female colonists arriving from other worlds. Single men outnumber single women by ten to one, and girls are expected to marry at seventeen. Amalie turned seventeen six months ago, and she’s had nineteen perfectly respectable offers of marriage. Everyone is pressuring her to choose a husband, or possibly two of them. When Amalie’s given an unexpected chance of a totally different future, she’s tempted to take it, but then she gets her twentieth offer of marriage and it’s one she can’t possibly refuse.

This is a characteristically engrossing read, full of Edwards’ bouncy prose that pulled me into the story which I read in one greedy gulp and surfaced feeling very happy… They ought to bottle her writing and make it available on the NHS.

Songs of Seraphina by Jude Houghton
songsofseraphineSome battles bleed so much, and for so long, that the earth never truly forgets their dead. Some battles are born of oppression, and some of greed, and some simply because it was written in the stars. Three sisters—Charlemagne, Cairo and Pendragon Agonistes—are sent from America to England to live with their eccentric grandparents after their mother disappears and their father falls to pieces. But before the girls have time to find their feet, Charlemagne is married off to a dead man, Penny takes a nap and wakes up as a boy, and Cairo is swept into a dangerous romance with a man who wants her for more than her considerable charm. With the girls wrapped up in a conflict they barely understand, they don’t notice that their grandmother is transforming, or that the two demigod assassins who took their mother are now coming for them—if one of them can get over his crisis of conscience.

I realised Jude Houghton was One to Watch when I read his stormingly good science fiction novel Autonomy earlier this year – but this amazing take on epic fantasy has very much confirmed his wonderful talent. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a sequel – or I might stamp my feet and DEMAND one.

The Hanging Tree – Book 6 of The Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch
The Hanging Tree was the Tyburn gallows which stood where Marble Arch stands today. Oxford Street thehangingtreewas the last trip of the condemned. Some things don’t change. The place has a bloody and haunted legacy and now blood has returned to the empty Mayfair mansions of the world’s super-rich. And blood mixed with magic is a job for Peter Grant, who is back as are Nightingale et al. at the Folly and the various river gods, ghosts and spirits who attach themselves to England’s last wizard and the Met’s reluctant investigator of all things supernatural.

This sparky, London-based urban fantasy has always had a special place in my heart since I read the first one – and like the rest of his fans, I’ve been waiting very patiently for this book.

My posts last week:
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Imlen Brat by Sarah Avery

Teaser Tuesday – featuring Songs of Seraphina by Jude Houghton

Waiting on Wednesday – featuring The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb

Friday Faceoff – Nomad is a wanderer… featuring The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Shoot for the Moon Challenge 2016 – October roundup

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
#SPFBO Final Round https://lynns-books.com/2016/11/05/spfbo-final-round/ For those of you who don’t know the acronym stands for Self Published Fantasy Blog Off, which is organised by best-selling author Mark Lawrence, where a group of stalwart book bloggers volunteer to take a stack of self published fantasy novels – this year it was 30 each – and whittle it down to a single entry to be forwarded to this final list.

All My Halloweens http://melfka.com/archives/1994 A delightful article by Joanna Maciejewska on her recollections of Halloween celebrations throughout her life so far – and given she’s something of a traveller, it also takes us to a number of different countries…

The This Is My Genre Tell Me Yours Book Tag https://thetattooedbookgeek.wordpress.com/2016/10/30/the-this-is-my-genre-tell-me-yours-book-tag/ Many thanks to Drew for including me in this particular tag. I’m really looking forward to having a go – but as he threw it open to everyone who likes reading, I thought I’d let others have the pleasure of taking part, too.

9 Tips for Novice Spelunkers and Cave Exploration https://roamwildandfree.com/2016/11/01/9-tips-for-novice-spelunkers-and-cave-exploration/ And this, people, is one of the reasons I love the blogging community so much. I can sit at my computer and learn about places and situations I’ll never encounter from the wonderful people who do.

Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

Waiting on Wednesday – 2nd November 2016

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Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine. Each Wednesday you get to highlight a book that you are really looking forward to holding in your hot little hands…

This week I’m keenly anticipating The Hanging Tree – Book 6 of the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovich.

thehangingtree

The Hanging Tree was the Tyburn gallows which stood where Marble Arch stands today. Oxford Street was the last trip of the condemned. Some things don’t change. The place has a bloody and haunted legacy and now blood has returned to the empty Mayfair mansions of the world’s super-rich. And blood mixed with magic is a job for Peter Grant.

Peter Grant is back as are Nightingale et al. at the Folly and the various river gods, ghosts and spirits who attach themselves to England’s last wizard and the Met’s reluctant investigator of all things supernatural.

And the wonderful news is that I only have to wait another day for this one to ping onto my Kindle. Yippee!

London-based Spec Fic Tales – Part 1

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I have the great good fortune to live within easy travelling distance of London. Its landmarks are famous around the world and while it is every bit as vibrantly modern as other capital cities, it also reeks of history with odd corners where you can close your eyes and almost hear Londoners from another age, as they go about their daily lives.

It is a fabulous backdrop for science fiction and fantasy tales – J.K. Rowling’s use of King’s Cross Station is just one of a long line of authors setting their stories in a familiar and much-loved public arena. Of course, not every setting then acknowledges that mention by putting up a sign for tourists pointing out where Platform 93/4 is positioned. Below, I have listed some of my favourite science fiction and fantasy reads that are set in London, drawing on the unique vibe of the place…

Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch
My name is Peter Grant. Until January I was just another probationary constable in that mighty army forriversoflondon justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service, and to everyone else as the Filth. Then one night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, I tried to take a witness statement from a man who was dead, but disturbingly voluble, and that brought me to the attention of Chief Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England. Now I’m a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard, the first apprentice in fifty years, and my world has become somewhat more complicated.

This introduces the first book in this delightful series where London’s rich backdrop is used very effectively as an appropriate setting for Grant’s fantastic adventures. The first book, Rivers of London, starts the series – see my review here.

 

 

The Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka
fatedAlex Verus is part of a world hidden in plain sight, running a magic shop in London. And while Alex’s own powers aren’t as showy as some mages, he does have the advantage of foreseeing the possible future–allowing him to pull off operations that have a million-to-one-chance of success…

This excellent series, which starts with Fated – see my review here – is set in a grim world where mages predate on each other with some really scary skills, goes on getting better with each book. It’s currently one of my favourites.

 

 

 

The Shadow Police series by Paul Cornell
Detective Inspector James Quill is about to complete the drugs bust of his career. Then his prize suspect Rob Toshack is murdered in custody. Furious, Quill pursues the investigation, co-opting intelligence londonfallinganalyst Lisa Ross and undercover cops Costain and Sefton. But nothing about Toshack’s murder is normal. Toshack had struck a bargain with a vindictive entity, whose occult powers kept Toshack one step ahead of the law – until his luck ran out.

Now, the team must find a suspect who can bend space and time and alter memory itself. And they will kill again. As the group starts to see London’s sinister magic for themselves, they have two choices: panic or use their new abilities. Then they must hunt a terrifying supernatural force the only way they know how: using police methods, equipment and tactics. But they must all learn the rules of this new game – and quickly. More than their lives will depend on it.

This is a dark fantasy offering, full of angst and tricky magic – the first book in the series is London Falling – see my review here.

 

The Matthew Swift series by Kate Griffin
amadnessTwo years after his untimely death, Matthew Swift finds himself breathing once again, lying in bed in his London home. Except that it’s no longer his bed, or his home. And the last time this sorcerer was seen alive, an unknown assailant had gouged a hole so deep in his chest that his death was irrefutable…despite his body never being found. He doesn’t have long to mull over his resurrection though, or the changes that have been wrought upon him. His only concern now is vengeance. Vengeance upon his monstrous killer and vengeance upon the one who brought him back.
This is an amazing series – I love Griffin’s writing and the extraordinary start to this great adventure is A Madness of Angels, see my review here.

 

 

 

The Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin
This is spin-off series is set in the same world as the Matthew Swift books. I love this one – and my straysoulsabiding regret is that there are only two books in this series. I’m hoping that Griffin might want to take a break from writing as Claire North and revisit Sharon and her self help group.

London’s soul has gone missing. Lost? Kidnapped? Murdered? Nobody knows – but when Sharon Li unexpectedly discovers she’s a shaman, she is immediately called upon to use her newfound powers of oneness with the City to rescue it from a slow but inevitable demise.
The problem is, while everyone expects Sharon to have all the answers – from the Midnight Mayor to Sharon’s magically-challenged self-help group – she doesn’t have a clue where to start. But with London’s soul missing and the Gate open, there are creatures loose that won’t wait for her to catch up before they go hunting.

The first book is Stray Souls – and the special extra with this series is the laugh-aloud humour, see my review here.

 

The Onyx Court series by Marie Brennan
midnightnevercomeEngland flourishes under the hand of its Virgin Queen: Elizabeth, Gloriana, last and most powerful of the Tudor monarchs. But a great light casts a great shadow. In hidden catacombs beneath London, a second Queen holds court: Invidiana, ruler of faerie England, and a dark mirror to the glory above. In the thirty years since Elizabeth ascended her throne, fae and mortal politics have become inextricably entwined, in secret alliances and ruthless betrayals whose existence is suspected only by a few.

As you can see from the blurb, this is a historical paranormal series – the first book is called Midnight Never Come, see my review here.

 

 

 

The Age of Aztec – Book 4 of the Pantheon series by James Lovegrove
This is the only book in this intriguing godpunk series that is set in London – and for my money, is my ageofaztecfavourite so far. I thoroughly enjoy Lovegrove’s smooth writing and this is one of my favourite books of 2012.

The date is 4 Jaguar 1 Monkey 1 House – November 25th 2012 by the old reckoning – and the Aztec Empire rules the world. In the jungle-infested city of London, one man defies them: the masked vigilante known as the Conquistador. He is recruited to spearhead an uprising, and discovers a terrible truth about the Aztec and thier gods, but a Detective, Mal Vaughan, has been put on his trail and the clock is ticking. The clock is ticking. Apocalypse looms, unless the Conquistador can help assassinate the mysterious, immortal Aztec emperor, the Great Speaker. But his mission is complicated by Mal Vaughn, a police detective who is on his trail, determined to bring him to justice. See my review here.

 

This is the first selection of my favourite London-based speculative fiction – have you read any of the books in these series? What did you think of them?

My Outstanding Reads of 2014

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Before I start, perhaps you should know how I’ve arrived at this decision, after reading 143 books and writing 126 reviews during the year. To make the list below, the books either blew me away at the time – or have lodged in my brain and rearranged my mental furniture in some way. There are a couple of books by the same author – I make no apologies for that. One of those authors, Jo Walton,  should be a whole lot better known than she is, given the breadth of her writing talent and the sheer quality of her work, while the other is simply an extraordinary writer at the top of her game. So in no particular order – here they are, my outstanding reads of 2014…

Glass Thorns – Book 1 of the Touchstone series by Melanie Rawn
Cayden Silversun is part Elven, part Fae, and part human Wizard. After centuries of bloodshed, in which Cade’s glassthornsWizard kin played a prominent role, his powers are now strictly constrained. But in the theatre, magic lives. Cade is a tregetour, a playwright who infuses glass wands with the magic necessary for the rest of his troupe, Touchstone, to perform his pieces. But alongside the Wizardly magic that he is sure will bring him fame and fortune on the stage is the legacy of the Fae within him. Troubled by prophetic visions of not only his future but the fates of those closest to him, Cade must decide whether to interfere, or stand back as Touchstone threatens to shatter into pieces.

It is always enjoyable and intriguing to read something that stretches the genre in a different direction – and Glass Thorns certainly does that. Apart from the fact that it has many elements taken from Fantasy – a Late Medieval/Early Modern historical feel, complete with horse-driven conveyances; a number of races rubbing shoulders, including Elves, Wizards, Fae, Trolls, etc; women relegated to a subservient role – there are also aspects of this book that would fit quite happily in a hard science fiction read. The denseness of the world and close attention to detail is a delight – I also loved the two other books I’ve read in this series, Elsewhen and Thornlost and I’m looking forward to reading the fourth book Window Wall, due for release in April 2015.

Dominion by C.J. Sansom
dominionTwelve years have passed since Churchill lost to the appeasers and Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany after Dunkirk. As the long German war against Russia rages in the east, the British people find themselves under dark authoritarian rule: the press, radio and television are controlled; the streets patrolled by violent Auxiliary Police and British Jews face ever greater constraints. There are terrible rumours about what is happening in the basement of the Germany Embassy at Senate House. Defiance, though, is growing. In Britain, Winston Churchill’s Resistance organisation is increasingly a thorn in the government’s side.

Civil servant David Fitzgerald has been passing on government secrets after the tragic death of his son. While his wife Sarah is increasingly suspicious of the late nights and week-end stints in the office. But as events sweep this middle-class couple up into the political mincing machine, they cross paths with Gestapo Sturmbannfűhrer Gunther Hoth, brilliant and implacable hunter of men…

What must be jumping out at anyone interested in reading the book, is that the event where Sansom’s version of history diverges takes place twelve years previously. So he has to construct a completely different world that emerges after Britain’s surrender. As Sansom is an accomplished historian, his version of this world makes fascinating reading and in amongst his deftly realistic worldbuilding, is the tense thriller that pings off the page. This book keeps creeping back into my head at all sorts of times – even when I’d rather it didn’t…

Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
These are the acclaimed Man Booker prizewinning books about Henry VIII’s bully boy Thomas Cromwell, who wolf halloversaw the dissolution of the monasteries. Mantel instantly had me off-balance with her present tense, third person deep POV when we first meet Cromwell being beaten by Walter, his drunken father, and he is lying on the ground trying to summon up the will to move. So Mantel quickly gains our sympathy for her protagonist – but rather than chart his adventures in Europe where he spent time as a mercenary and scholar – we then jump to when he is in Cardinal Wolsey’s employ and establishing himself as a man of substance.

bringupthebodiesThe biggest problem for Mantel in choosing this period of history, is that many of us know the progression of events all too well – so how to pull us into the story and keep us turning the pages of these door-stoppers? Well, the use of present tense throughout gives both these books pace and immediacy. While she certainly charts the major events in Henry’s constant struggles to persuade the Pope to annul his marriage to Katherine in favour of Anne Boleyn, it is Cromwell’s musings and highly personal take on what is going on around him that bounces off the page. I was absolutely gripped by these books – the writing is extraordinary.

However, I would also say that many folks have found these books initially difficult to get into, so my firm advice would be to persevere if you aren’t immediately hooked – it really is worth it.

The Crossing Places – Book 1 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths
Ruth Galloway is a forty-something archaeologist who lives on her own at the edge of Saltmarsh in an isolated cottage thecrossing placeswith a couple of cats. I found her character immediately appealing and realistic. Her concerns about her weight and her single status struck a chord with me – and I suspect many other female crime fans. This series is evidently going to be something of a partnership between Ruth and Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson. So did I also feel an affinity with the other main character? Yes. Nelson is clearly a complicated personality and – unlike Ruth and many other detectives in other series – he is a family man with two daughters and an attractive wife. I am looking forward to seeing how this all plays out during the series. The other powerful factor in this book is the stunning backdrop – the salt marshes.

Griffiths evidently knows and loves this landscape and has it as a character in its own right, particularly during the climactic scenes where the dangerous surroundings heighten the drama and tension during the denouement in a classic showdown that manages to provide plenty of surprises. Let’s hope the upcoming television series does this book justice.

The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
Well, this is fun! I loved the whole idea – including the Gale family tendency to interbreed to strengthen their magical enchantment emporiumbloodline, and the fact that it takes a different direction depending on gender. As Huff doesn’t go into any major detail about the uninhibited sexual exploits within the family, the fact that a normal major taboo is crossed due to a magical imperative just underlines the sense of ‘other’. I would have been a lot less comfortable with this aspect if she’d chosen to provide a lot of gratuitous detail around said exploits – but she doesn’t. It was particularly enjoyable to read a punchy, urban fantasy where the power lies with the elderly females – the infamous ‘aunties’. As someone who finds herself rapidly approaching the same role within my own family faaar too quickly, it was gratifying to read about women of a certain age who were a significant force to be reckoned with.

As for Alysha, herself – Huff has depicted a feisty, enjoyable heroine who is busy trying to find her feet within a powerful family without cutting herself off from their support or love. Again, refreshing to read. So many protagonists, male and female, don’t seem to have much in the way of family ties, allowing them to fully immerse themselves in whatever arcane adventures that come their way without having to consider anyone near and dear to them. Her reaction to the rapidly escalating troubles surrounding the Emporium makes for a riveting, memorable read – and the bonus is this is the first of a series.

Fortune’s Pawn – Book 1 of the Paradox series by Rachel Bach
œF$¿Æ‘$8Òò¤»däå¸R8BIDevi Morris isn’t your average mercenary. She has plans. Big ones. And a ton of ambition. It’s a combination that’s going to get her killed one day. But not just yet. That is, until she gets a job on a tiny trade ship with a nasty reputation for surprises. The Glorious Fool isn’t misnamed: it likes to get into trouble, so much so that one year of security work under its captain is equal to five years anywhere else. With odds like that, Devi knows she’s found the perfect way to get the jump on the next part of her Plan. But the Fool doesn’t give up its secrets without a fight, and one year on this ship might be more than even Devi can handle.

Written in first person point of view, Devi is a wonderful protagonist. A driven, adrenaline-junkie, she spends her earnings on wicked weaponry and a shielded suit that she loves far too much, to the extent they all have names. She also likes the odd drop and playing poker. I loved her – and her impulsive character that gets her into regular scrapes. Given that many of my favourite reads were quite grim, this mapcap adventure provided plenty of thrills and spills which didn’t stick in my memory as much as the general feeling of fun. It’s not a comedy, but there was more than enough energy crackling off the page to have me turning the pages with a grin on my face.

Farthing – Book 1 of The Small Change trilogy by Jo Walton
In a world where England has agreed a peace with Nazi Germany, one small change can carry a huge cost… Eight farthingyears after they overthrew Churchill and led Britain into a separate peace with Hitler, the upper-crust families of the ‘Farthing set’ gather for a weekend retreat. But idyll becomes nightmare when Sir James Thirkie is found murdered, a yellow Star of David pinned to his chest. Suspicion falls, inevitably on David Kahn, who is a Jew and recently married to Lucy, the daughter of Lord and Lady Eversley of Castle Farthing, but when Inspector Peter Carmichael of Scotland Yard starts investigating the case, he soon realises that all is not what it seems…

As ever, Walton braids the apparently cosy into something different and when you’re lulled into a false sense of security, she pulls the rug from under you. The familiar backdrop here is the classic country house murder. Guests are staying over – mostly the ‘Farthing set’, with the inevitable alliances and enmities, both political and personal. Inspector Carmichael and his loyal sidekick, Royston, set about the task of unpicking the various secrets of all the likely suspects. The investigation in alternate chapters is described in third person viewpoint, harking back to those Agatha Christie whodunits we all know and love.

But by far the strongest voice in the book, is that of Lucy Kahn. She bounces off the page with her first person narrative, told in a slightly breathless, chatty style that is so vivid, I actually dreamt of her… Her love for her husband shines through – as does her disgust for her peers, whom she regards at best as useless, after being educated by a thoughtful, egalitarian governess. And her wary hatred for her powerful, unscrupulous mother. This is the first of an excellent trilogy and I highly recommend it. Walton should be read. A lot.

How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
how to train your dragonHiccup and his friend Fishlegs join a group of boys and set out to catch and train a dragon to be initiated into their clan, the Tribe of the Hairy Hooligans. Those who fail will be exiled forever, so will Hiccup and his small, disobedient dragon manage to avoid this miserable fate?

The whole tone and feel of this book is a delight – Frankie enjoyed the pictures and loved the humour. There is a lot going on, here with plenty of wordplay and puns within the names of the Viking characters and their dragon pets, but there is also a really strong, well executed narrative arc packed with action and suspense. Several times, I found myself reading far longer than I’d initially intended because we both wanted to know what would happen next. As anyone who visits this blog will quickly realise, I’m an enthusiastic reader and consider myself fairly sharp at recognising how a story is likely to progress – but any predictions I made about this particular book were wrong. I simply didn’t know where Cowell was going to take the story after the initial setup – even though I also know the film very well.

In addition to enjoyably funny cartoon drawings and riveting storyline, Cowell also added some extras for those who like to immerse themselves in her world. Frankie wasn’t remotely interested in breaking off and examining the copy of the book stolen from the Meatloaf Community Library called How To Train Your Dragon, written by Professor Yobbish, or checking out any of the dragon stats dotted throughout the book. But then, she is all about the story. However, for any child who appreciates these details – it’s a great addition. All in all – I’ve become hooked into Cowell’s world and am now in the process of buying the audio editions narrated by David Tennant so she can enjoy them when I’m not around to read them to her. And the bonus is that I can also listen in to Hiccup’s latest adventure.

My Real Children by Jo Walton
The day Mark called, Patricia Cowan’s world split in two.my real children
The phone call.
His question.
Her answer.
A single word.
‘Yes.’
‘No.’
It is 2015 and Patricia Cowan is very old. ‘Confused today’ read the notes clipped to the end of her bed. Her childhood, her years at Oxford during the Second World War – those things are solid in her memory. Then that phone call and… her memory splits in two.

This book is different from anything else that Walton has written – but then books with a storyline like this aren’t exactly crowding the bookshelves. There is a sense of ambiguity about the whole business – Patricia is suffering from dementia and has been battling with it for some time. So… is this a complex illusion brought about by a damaged brain? At this point, the two alternate lives seem to collide – she gets muddled as to which nursing home she is living in and although she hasn’t yet mixed up the children, she knows it will only be a matter of time. The impact of her different lives doesn’t just affect her family – the world is quite a different place and I found this to be a fascinating consequence.

Walton is excellent at summoning up the feel of an era and I was intrigued to note how nostalgia steadily drifts into alternate history, as political events increasingly diverge from our own timeline. Focused as I was on Patricia’s personal story, it took a while for the penny to drop – but when I went back and reread the sections, I was able to appreciate the subtlety Walton employs with occasional mentions of events, before the shock of the major crisis which changes the whole political backdrop forever…

Hav by Jan Morris
havJan Morris is a renowned and respected travel writer with such books as Venice and Europe an Intimate Journey under her belt. The first half of this book, then known as Last Letters from Hav, was first published in 1985 and it wasn’t until after the 9/11 effect rippled around the world, shifting political and cultural stances, that Morris considered writing a follow-up charting that type of changes she’d noted while travelling to actual places.
So she wrote the second section and the book in this form was published in 2006. I have something of a soft spot for well-conceived imaginary places – but this is a tour de force. Morris has not only written extensively about the physical geography, describing the buildings and topographical features – she has also provided a vivid historical and political backdrop.

During the first section of the book, Hav is a comparative backwater. Athough situated geographically between East and West, it is a cultural and political melting pot with a number of immigrants from France, Turkey, Greece, China, India – as well as the mysterious indigenous cave-dwelling population… She captures Hav’s faded splendour and idiosyncratic customs, many originating centuries ago when Hav was part of the Silk Route and Venice had a series of warehouses backed by powerful merchanting families to protect their valuable assets. Though I constantly had to remind myself as I got caught up in the welter of small details Morris continually drops into her narrative – Hav doesn’t exist.

All this is impressive enough – but for me, the genius of this book is what happens in the second half after the Intervention. Morris revisits Hav and charts how it has changed since the… um – Intervention. No one would be stupidly crass enough to use the word invasion… This is another of those remarkable books that have impacted my  inscape with its clever, thought provoking premise.

Half a King – Book 1 of The Shattered Seas trilogy by Joe Abercrombie
Born a weakling in the eyes of the world, Yarvi cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a half a kingdeadly edge. Especially when his father and older brother are both slaughtered by a neighbouring lord and he suddenly finds that instead of continuing with his training to become a trusted advisor to his brother, he is the one who will be the next king…

I loved the world, the perfect narrative pacing and the character progression. We have a salutary demonstration at the end of the book as to just how much Yarvi’s experiences have shaped him – once more leaving me open-mouthed with surprise. I’m not the target audience – and while I regularly read YA books with huge enjoyment, I’m normally conscious they are written for a less experienced reader, so I tend to give the author a pass on some of the less subtle writing. No such pass is required for Abercrombie. This is a delight. Accomplished, enthralling and has this non-YA reader desperate for more.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
signatureofallthingsThis housebrick of a book charts Alma’s life from the day she is born, 5th January 1800, right up until her very old age. And it is a life full of contradictions – brought up in a fabulously wealthy household, she nevertheless is taught strict obedience, frugality, attention to detail and rigorously schooled by her Dutch mother. An only child, she is suddenly presented with an adopted sister when she is 10 years old – a dainty, beautiful girl who is everything Alma is not… Despite being the daughter of a wealthy man, she is not besieged by suitors as a young girl – although there is one man who she has fallen in love with. And I’m not going further because to do so would be to lurch into spoiler territory. Suffice to say that it would be all too easy to turn this book into a heartbreaking melodrama – there is certainly the material to do so.

But Gilbert turns this book into so much more than that. In amongst her duties as her father’s secretary and administrator, Alma is a bryologist, which means she studies mosses. And her work brings her into contact with other naturalists and lithographers – including Ambrose…

As well as becoming engrossed in Alma’s life, I was also fascinated by Prudence, her adopted sister. Though neither girl bonded with the other, their paths cross in ways that profoundly affected each of them, and indirectly, leads to Alma’s restless travelling at an age when most of her contemporaries are settling down to a life of placid routine. The wealth of historical detail; the state of Tahiti at the time, when the native people are still reeling from the epidemics that ripped through the population; Gilbert’s iron grip on the pacing and narrative tension that ensured that the story pinged off the page… This is a masterpiece.

The Martian by Andy Weir
I’m stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Earth. I’m in a Habitat designed to last 31 days. If the themartianOxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the Water Reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So yeah. I’m screwed.

That is the blurb in Mark Watney’s viewpoint – typically laconic. Several of the reviews called this a 21st century version of the Robinson Crusoe story, and it neatly sums up the first section of the book. Like Defoe, Weir is very keen on demonstrating all the fixes and lash-ups that Watney resorts to. But being an astronaut on a NASA space program, the ingenious ways he manages to avoid death involve a great deal more technology and scientific knowhow than Robinson Crusoe had to grapple with. Weir had to dive into a truly brain-bulging amount of research in order to get this level of detail and apparent plausibility. Although I’m no scientist, nothing jarred – not his reaction or the relationship with NASA.

However, if Weir had kept the story going at that level, I would not have stayed engrossed right to the end. The narrative pacing is pitch perfect – despite the plethora of detail, Weir never loses touch with the fact that he is telling a story. It’s a triumph and worth a read by anyone – including those who don’t generally go near science fiction.

Foxglove Summer – Book 5 of the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch
foxglovesummerWhen two young girls go missing in rural Herefordshire PC Peter Grant is sent out of London to check that nothing supernatural is involved. It’s purely routine. Nightingale thinks he’ll be done in less than a day. But Peter’s never been one to walk away from someone in trouble, so when nothing covertly magical turns up he volunteers his services to the local police who need all the help they can get.

But because the universe likes a joke as much as the next sadistic megalomaniac, Peter soon comes to realise that dark secrets lurk under the picturesque fields and villages of the countryside and there might just be work for Britain’s most junior wizard after all.

Well this is fun! Grant is taken right away from his natural stamping ground and deposited in amongst strangers who are battling to find two girls who have disappeared. After the high drama at the end of the last book, I’d feared this book might feel a tad flat – but the scene change and innate tension caused by the nature of the case meant Foxglove Summer hits the ground running and just goes on gathering momentum, making it a joy to read.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
Harry August is on his deathbed again. No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry first 15 lives of Harry Augustalways restarts to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a live he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes. Until now.

As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. ‘I nearly missed you, Doctor August,’ she says. ‘I need to send a message.’

This is the story of what Harry does next – and what he did before – and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.

North is visiting a very familiar science fiction trope – that of the trans-human who has shifted into something different by dint of having lived so long. The big difference is that trans-humans as depicted by the likes of Alastair Reynolds and Greg Bear owe their longevity to scientific development, while Harry August and the handful of other returnees he encounters during his lifetimes, owe their existence to a genetic quirk. As a kalachakra, after he dies, he goes straight back to the year of his first birth – 1918 – and relives his existence, with the memories of his previous lives impacting on his choices and decisions. For my money, Harry August is the most effectively depicted post-human I have yet encountered. While never forgetting his difference, North has managed to still make him sufficiently sympathetic that I really empathised and cared about him – a feat, as he has become something other than fully human and is certainly not particularly cuddly or even likeable at lot of the time. What we get is a fascinating exploration of what it is to be human and the effects of determinism – how far can Harry influence or alter the events in his lives – alongside the cracking adventure story that steadily evolves.

Review of Foxglove Summer – Book 5 of the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch

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I’ve enjoyed this series – see my review of Rivers of London here – so was looking forward to this next slice of Peter Grant goodness – particularly as the twist at the end of Broken Homes had my jaw dropping and Mhairi Simpson sending me sweary text messages… Would this next instalment sustain the quality?

foxglovesummerWhen two young girls go missing in rural Herefordshire PC Peter Grant is sent out of London to check that nothing supernatural is involved. It’s purely routine. Nightingale thinks he’ll be done in less than a day. But Peter’s never been one to walk away from someone in trouble, so when nothing covertly magical turns up he volunteers his services to the local police who need all the help they can get.

But because the universe likes a joke as much as the next sadistic megalomaniac, Peter soon comes to realise that dark secrets lurk under the picturesque fields and villages of the countryside and there might just be work for Britain’s most junior wizard after all.

Well this is fun! Grant is taken right away from his natural stamping ground and deposited in amongst strangers who are battling to find two girls who have disappeared. After the high drama at the end of the last book, I’d feared this book might feel a tad flat – but the scene change and innate tension caused by the nature of the case meant Foxglove Summer hits the ground running and just goes on gathering momentum.

It’s always something of a balance when an author chooses to make his backdrop another character – if he’s not careful, said character starts to invade the action with description that silts up the pace. And urban fantasy always needs plenty of pace. There have been times in this series where Aaronovitch has struggled to keep this balance – but in this book he’s cracked it. The setting is depicted through Grant’s sharp, city-bred eyes with plenty of verve, making it bounce off the page and as the supernatural element becomes more apparent, there is an increasingly sinister twist to what we feel at first is perfectly ordinary. The heatwave provides yet more tension as the countryside swelters in heat that British bodies and buildings aren’t designed to deal with – let’s face it we’re only set up to cope with drizzle in this country.

The storyline gripped me from the first and didn’t let up. As ever, Aaronovitch reveals the faultlines in modern British society – the growing social divide and racism within the village is clearly shown as Grant and the rest of the police toil to find the missing girls. There is a cast of interesting characters who are also caught up in this adventure – unlike many supernaturally gifted protagonists, Grant doesn’t set out to annoy his superiors. While he is all too aware of some of the systemic failures of the organisation, he spends time and effort conforming to the guidelines and strictures while working within the police. I enjoy his constant referral to these guidelines, which give a far more realistic edge to the police procedural aspect of the book than other contenders.

And, of course, those of us still reeling after the denouement in Broken Homes are also watching a wounded Peter Grant. Nightingale’s suggestion that he pop down to Herefordshire in the first place is prompted by a concern for Grant – and a sense that he could do with getting away, even if it is only for a day… The situation continues to unfold throughout the book and this is again, a storyline that I love – and applaud Aaronovitch for continuing to show how one dramatic and horrifying occurrence in the first book goes on reverberating for those around them. All too often in urban fantasy, terrible events occur to get us plenty of drama – and within the space of a book the whole situation somehow rights itself and everyone carries on. Not so this series…

In short, for my money, this is the best book of the lot. And that’s saying something, because Aaronovitch is a fine writer whose success with this best-selling series is rightly deserved. And if your taste runs to well-written urban fantasy – or you started this series, but felt some of the subsequent books slightly lost their way, then get hold of Foxglove Summer. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.
10/10

Review of Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

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It isn’t that often I come across London-based Brit fantasy – as it happens, I was reading this as poor old London was still reeling from the depredations of a bunch of thieving mongrels. I’d pounced on this offering with some anticipation, particularly when I read Ben Aaronovitch’s c.v. The man is an experienced screen writer, with a number of tie-in novels under his belt – not that you’d need the biog on the back cover to tell you that. Just open up the book and read the first two paragraphs and you know you’re in the hands of someone who knows what he is doing…

riversoflondonMy name is Peter Grant. Until January I was just another probationary constable in that mighty army for justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service, and to everyone else as the Filth. My only concerns in life were how to avoid a transfer to the Case Progression Unit – We do paperwork so real coppers don’t have to – and finding a way to climb into the panties of the outrageously perky WPC Lesley May. Then one night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, I tried to take a witness statement from a man who was dead, but disturbingly voluble and that brought me to the attention of Chief Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England. And that, as they say, is where the story begins.

Now I’m a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard, the first apprentice in fifty years, and my world has become somewhat more complicated. I’m dealing with nests of vampires in Purley, negotiating a truce between the warring god and goddess of the Thames, and digging up graves in Covent Garden – and that’s just routine. There’s something festering at the heart of the city I love, a malicious, vengeful spirit that takes ordinary Londoners and twists them into grotesque mannequins to act out its drama of violence and despair.

The spirit of riot and rebellion has awakened in the city, and it’s falling to me to bring order out of chaos – or die trying. Which, I don’t mind telling you, would involve a hell of a lot of paperwork.

There you have it – a quirky, enjoyable adventure with lots of pace and humour, which nicely leavens the gorier moments. Peter is a coolly unflappable mixed-raced young Londoner with a very low boredom threshold, who is good at thinking on his feet. His laconic narrative, along with the long suffering observations about the labyrinth of police paperwork and procedures adds an extra twist of enjoyment to this tightly plotted piece of supernatural high jinks. As this is the first book in a series, I think Mr Aaronovitch has been very savvy in starting off in chirpy mode as in my experience, these urban fantasy serials tend to get progressively darker in tone. Just think of the difference in feel between Storm Front and Ghost Story in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, for instance.  Peter’s relationship with his enigmatic superior Detective Inspector Nightingale has clearly got legs. For starters, they live in a spooky neo-Gothic fortress, complete with a creepy housekeeper, (think Mrs Hudson with sharp teeth…) and a running gag about the odd combinations that turn up in the packed lunches.

One of the major characters in this book is mentioned in the title – London. Not only does Aaronovitch use some of the major tourist sites as backdrops to some of his set pieces, he also casually drops in actual café names and walks his readers through real neighbourhoods. In addition, he has woven the city’s history into this very contemporary tale – a really neat trick, as London’s past is part of its everyday richness. The patina of history lies as thickly as the traffic fumes along many of our capital’s streets – and Aaronovitch deftly mines this historical treasure trove to underpin his tale of mayhem and chaos. All in all, this is an enjoyable and accomplished novel, crackling with energy and humour and I forward to reading the next book.
10/10