Tag Archives: Jonathan Stroud

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Screaming Staircase – Book 1 of the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud #Brainfluffaudiobookreview #TheScreamingStaircaseaudiobookreview

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This is a series I’d downloaded for my granddaughter, which had thoroughly gripped her – and after starting the story, I could see why…

When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in…. For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions. Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.

This is set in an alternate reality where fifty years ago, ghosts of people who had died in difficult circumstances are now feral. Mostly, they are annoying, manifesting as cold spots, bright lights and leaving uneasy feelings in their wake. But some of the stronger types are able to kill with a touch – and it’s only some ‘gifted’ children who can actually see or sense them clearly. This premise is a brilliant one, producing this dark, clever and often funny ghost story brilliantly narrated by Miranda Raison, who vividly portrays Lucy’s first person narration.

I had previously read and enjoyed Stroud’s wonderful Bartimaeus Trilogy – see my review of The Amulet of Samarkand – featuring an emotionally abused young warlock and a trapped djinni, whose withering and very funny commentary on human behaviour gives this book welcome shafts of humour. Lucy’s sharp-edged observations about her mysterious and brilliant young employer, Anthony Lockwood and his equally brilliant sidekick, George, often had me sniggering aloud as I listened to this one.

But that didn’t stop it being really creepy and utterly gripping when the trio were locked into a lethally haunted house – and very glad that I was listening to this one during the mornings when houseworking. There is the depth of characterisation I have grown to expect from Stroud, along with an exciting and well-paced adventure. The fact that I had already figured out who was doing what to whom before the denouement really didn’t matter – because the mystery was far more about how the heck they were going to survive the experience, anyway.

I’m thrilled to report that I already have the second book in this adventure ready and waiting to be heard – yippee! Far better for my blood pressure and mental health than listening to the catastrophic struggles in Parliament over Brexit…
9/10

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Sunday Post – 24th March, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

This week was the last week of the Spring Term at Northbrook, so I am now on Easter holiday until 23rd April… The final sessions went well on Monday and Tuesday – it’s always a pleasure having a one-on-one tutorial with each student to discuss their writing progress. On Wednesday, Mhairi and I got together – they actually moved to Lincolnshire on Thursday, so we had lunch together in Haskins and spent the afternoon talking. She will be coming to stay next Tuesday, so it wasn’t too much of a wrench, thank goodness…

On Thursday and Friday, I got up late and pottered a bit – did some really pressing admin and answered urgent emails, etc. But other than doing a bit of tidying – nothing much, other than listening to Jonathan Stroud’s The Screaming Staircase which was gripping and fun. On Friday night, I had some amazing dreams and woke up fizzing with creative energy. So after posting my blog, I got down to work and wrote a couple of shorter pieces – one life writing article about our holiday in Venice, back in 2015; and a short story set on Mars and then tucked into the novel. It went reasonably slowly, but I’m pleased with what I wrote – and that’s the main thing.

After a week of gloomy, dank weather, today is glorious, so Himself is outside, painting the fence. Spring is finally here – thank goodness!

Last week I read:
Starseers – Book 3 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker
The mysterious and powerful Starseers have Captain Alisa Marchenko’s daughter, and she will do whatever she must to get her back, even if it means traveling to their stronghold and confronting them personally. Unfortunately, her strongest ally, the cyborg Leonidas, may become a liability since the cyborgs and the Starseers have a long history of hating each other. It doesn’t help that Leonidas and Dr. Dominguez have a mission of their own, one that could jeopardize all that Alisa is fighting for.
I am thoroughly enjoying this series – I like the fact that the narrative powering the story is Alisa’s hunt for her lost daughter. There is plenty of action and snark in this entertaining space opera adventure and I look forward to read the next book very soon.

 

The Porpoise by Mark Haddon
A newborn baby is the sole survivor of a terrifying plane crash. She is raised in wealthy isolation by an overprotective father. She knows nothing of the rumours about a beautiful young woman, hidden from the world. When a suitor visits, he understands far more than he should. Forced to run for his life, he escapes aboard The Porpoise, an assassin on his tail…
This is a retelling of the tale of Pericles – I’m glad I didn’t know the original before I read this, because in many places it follows the story quite closely. Review to follow.

 

 

Knight: A Chronicle of the Sibyl’s War by Timothy Zahn
Nicole Hammond was just trying to survive on the streets of Philadelphia, then she and her partner Bungie were abducted by a race of mysterious moth-like aliens and taken to a strange ship called the Fyrantha. Now she is a Sibyl, a special human that has the ability to communicate with the aliens and their ship, and no one is happy.
And that’s putting it mildly. It is the classic story of the underdog, where an outmatched outsider somehow has to prevail and put right a lot of injustices with insufficient information… I quickly got pulled into the story and really enjoyed it. I’m going to go back and get hold of the first book, Pawn.

 

AUDIOBOOK – The Screaming Staircase – Book 1 of the Lockwood and Co series by Jonathan Stroud
For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions. Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.
This may be presented as a children’s book, but the writing and premise kept me gripped throughout – and it was quite creepy enough, thank you very much… I’m delighted that I already have the second book in this excellent series to tuck into. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 17h March 2019

Review of Satellite by Nick Lake

Review of Bloodfire – Book 1 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper

Review of Nimbus – Book 3 of the Psi-Tech novels by Jacey Bedford

Friday Face-Off featuring Death of Kings – Book 6 of The Saxon Stories series by Bernard Cornwall

Review of Dreadnought – Book 2 of the Lost Colonies series by B.V. Larson

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

The Art of the Book Event: 9 Tips https://writerunboxed.com/2019/03/23/the-art-of-the-book-event-9-tips/ I’d like to think that authors take this on board – to avoid disappointing long-suffering book fans and so that they, too, enjoy these events…

Midspring https://inesemjphotography.com/2019/03/23/midspring/ And why wouldn’t we celebrate the coming back to life of the countryside with Inessa’s fabulous photos?

Shiver Me Timbers! A Series Shake-Down – Part 1 https://thecaptainsquartersblog.wordpress.com/2019/03/20/shiver-me-timbers-a-series-shake-down-part-one/ As the Cap gives a rundown on outstanding book series, I’m sure we can all relate. How do you handle it when you realise you have started faaar more series than you can ever complete?

A Short Analysis of Emily Dickinson’s ‘Wild Nights! Wild Nights’ https://interestingliterature.com/2019/03/18/a-short-analysis-of-emily-dickinsons-wild-nights-wild-nights/ A poem I didn’t know from this accomplished poet…

Throwback Thursday: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgeson Burnett https://lynns-books.com/2019/03/21/throwback-thursday-the-secret-garden-by-frances-hodgson-burnett/ I really like the sound of this meme. We spend a lot of time discussing new books or more recent releases – I love the idea that we can now also highlight and celebrate gems we read years ago that someone else might also like…

Many thanks for taking the time to comment, like and visit my blog – I am still trying to catch up – thank you for your patience. In the meantime, have a wonderful week!

Friday Faceoff – Hell is Empty and all the Devils Are Here…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week we are looking at covers featuring demons. I have chosen The Amulet of Samarkand – Book 1 of the Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud. Though strictly speaking Bartimaeus is a djinni, not a demon…

 

theamuletofsamarkandThis offering was published by Disney-Hyperion in 2003. You get a sense of the creature’s age (he is 5,000 years old) and his sharp, sly humour that pings off the page. I love the fact he is sideways on and evidently taunting us with the precious amulet. Pity about the lettering.

 

theamuletofsamarkand1This version was produced by Corgi Children’s in 2004. Again, Bartimaeus dominates, this time looking very much like a gargoyle. I’m not sure I like the sepia look, but I do love the lettering on this cover.

 

theamuletofsamarkand2This edition was published in 2004 by cbj Verlag. The overall design is the same as the previous version, but I far prefer the dark colour palette, which I think gives the cover more eye appeal, though this time around I think the font is disappointing.

 

theamuletofsamarkand3This edition was published in 2007 by Le Livre de Poche. This is the runner-up for me. I love the drama of the backlighting and the backdrop of the library as Bartimaus appears in Nathaniel’s circle for the first time. My favourite is the first cover – it’s the wicked grin that sells this one for me. A suitably memorable cover for a wonderfully memorable series. Do you agree?

Favourite London Spec Fic Tales – Part 2

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There are a number of science fiction and fantasy – mostly fantasy, it has to be said – which are set in London, an amazing city, thick with history and yet still buzzing and vibrant. I have already suggested a number of well-written, quality series that use London as an effective backdrop in Part 1 and here is now the next section of the article, which would have been far too long had I published it in one go.

The Laundry Files by Charles Stross
This is another ongoing series that is a solid favourite – I love the way this long-running series has theatrocityarchivesdeveloped to date.

Bob Howard is a low-level techie working for The Laundry, a super-secret government agency. While his colleagues are out saving the world, Bob’s under a desk restoring lost data. None of them receive any thanks for the jobs they do, but at least a techie doesn’t risk getting shot or eaten in the line of duty. Bob’s world is dull but safe, and that’s the way it should have stayed; but then he went and got Noticed. Now, Bob Howard is up to his neck in spycraft, alternative universes, dimension-hopping nazis, Middle Eastern terrorists, damsels in distress, ancient Lovecraftian horror and the end of the world. Only one thing is certain: it will take more than control-alt-delete to sort this mess out…

The first book in this series is The Atrocity Archives.

 

 

Spellcrackers.com by Suzanne McLeod
thesweetscentofbloogThis is a sparkling series with a fantasy PI who pings off the page. I need to get back and catch up with this series!

My name is Genny Taylor. I work for Spellcrackers.com. It’s a great job, pays the rent, lets me do the thing I’m good at – finding magic and cracking it – and the bonus is it’s run by witches, which stops the vamps from taking a bite out of me. When Mr October, a sexy calendar pin-up vamp, is accused of murdering his girlfriend, an old debt is called in and Genny is forced to help prove his innocence, risking her job and the protection it offers – and threatening to expose her own dark secrets. Searching for the killer plunges Genny deep into the hidden heart of vampire society. It’s not long before she realises that she and Mr October are both unwitting pawns in a centuries-old power struggle between London’s non-human communities . . . and it’s not just her own neck that’s at stake, but the lives of all London’s supernaturals. My advice is to start with the first book The Sweet Scent of Blood.

 

The Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud
Nathaniel is a boy magician-in-training, sold to the government by his birth parents at the age of five theamuletofsamarkandand sent to live as an apprentice to a master. Powerful magicians rule Britain, and its empire, and Nathaniel is told his is the “ultimate sacrifice” for a “noble destiny.” If leaving his parents and erasing his past life isn’t tough enough, Nathaniel’s master, Arthur Underwood, is a cold, condescending, and cruel middle-ranking magician in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The boy’s only saving grace is the master’s wife, Martha Underwood, who shows him genuine affection that he rewards with fierce devotion. Nathaniel gets along tolerably well over the years in the Underwood household until the summer before his eleventh birthday. Everything changes when he is publicly humiliated by the ruthless magician Simon Lovelace and betrayed by his cowardly master who does not defend him.

Nathaniel vows revenge. In a Faustian fever, he devours magical texts and hones his magic skills, all the while trying to appear subservient to his master. When he musters the strength to summon the 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus to avenge Lovelace by stealing the powerful Amulet of Samarkand, the boy magician plunges into a situation more dangerous and deadly than anything he could ever imagine.
This intelligent, well written trilogy may feature a wise-cracking genie, who is the main protagonist – but it is for older children, as the jaw-dropping climax left me wrung out… The first book is The Amulet of Samarkand – see my review here.

 

The Newbury and Hobbes series by George Mann
theaffinitybridgeThe entertaining steampunk detective series has also grabbed me as I’ve enjoyed the progression of the characters.

Welcome to the bizarre and dangerous world of Victorian London, a city teetering on the edge of revolution. Its people are ushering in a new era of technology, dazzled each day by new inventions. Airships soar in the skies over the city, whilst ground trains rumble through the streets and clockwork automatons are programmed to carry out menial tasks in the offices of lawyers, policemen and journalists. But beneath this shiny veneer of progress lurks a sinister side. For this is also a world where ghostly policemen haunt the fog-laden alleyways of Whitechapel, where cadavers can rise from the dead and where Sir Maurice Newbury, Gentleman Investigator for the Crown, works tirelessly to protect the Empire from her foes.

When an airship crashes in mysterious circumstances, Sir Maurice and his recently appointed assistant Miss Veronica Hobbes are called in to investigate. Meanwhile, Scotland Yard is baffled by a spate of grisly murders and a terrifying plague is ravaging the slums of the city.

The first book in the series is The Affinity Bridge.

 

The Skyscraper Throne series by Tom Pollock
This gritty, urban fantasy has London singing off the pages as a magical personification that I found thecity'ssonenthralling.
Running from her traitorous best friend and her estranged father, graffiti artist Beth Bradley is looking for sanctuary. What she finds is Urchin, the ragged and cocky crown prince of London’s mystical underworld. Urchin opens Beth’s eyes to the city she’s never truly seen-where vast spiders crawl telephone wires seeking voices to steal, railwraiths escape their tethers, and statues conceal an ancient priesthood robed in bronze. But it all teeters on the brink of destruction. Amid rumors that Urchin’s goddess mother will soon return from her 15-year exile, Reach, a malign god of urban decay, wants the young prince dead. Helping Urchin raise an alleyway army to reclaim his skyscraper throne, Beth soon forgets her old life. But when her best friend is captured, Beth must choose between this wondrous existence and the life she left behind.

The first book in the series is The City’s Son – see my review here.

 

 

The Magnificent Devices series by Shelley Adina
magnificentdevicesThis is a steampunk, alternate history romp, featuring a feisty protagonist – and if you think it starts off reading like a typical period romance, do keep reading because it suddenly turns into something so much more intriguing…

London, 1889. Victoria is Queen. Charles Darwin’s son is Prime Minister. And steam is the power that runs the world. At 17, Claire Trevelyan, daughter of Viscount St. Ives, was expected to do nothing more than pour an elegant cup of tea, sew a fine seam, and catch a rich husband. Unfortunately, Claire’s talents lie not in the ballroom, but in the chemistry lab, where things have a regrettable habit of blowing up. The first book in the series is Magnificent Devices – see my review here.

 

 

 

The Night’s Masque series by Anne Lyle
This is an historical genre mash-up, with a dash of science fiction thrown into the alternate world, whichalchemistofsouls gives an intriguing backdrop to the storyline.

When Tudor explorers returned from the New World, they brought back a name out of half-forgotten Viking legend: skraylings. Red-sailed ships followed in the explorers’ wake, bringing Native American goods–and a skrayling ambassador–to London. But what do these seemingly magical beings really want in Elizabeth I’s capital? Mal Catlyn, a down-at-heel swordsman, is seconded to the ambassador’s bodyguard, but assassination attempts are the least of his problems. What he learns about the skraylings and their unholy powers could cost England her new ally–and Mal his soul.

The first book in this entertaining series is The Alchemist of Souls – see my review here.

 

 

Triumff , Her Majesty’s Hero by Dan Abnett
triumffThis is standalone genre mash-up swashbuckler has a premise that doesn’t bear too much close examination – but I found I didn’t really care, because it’s such fun…
Sir Rupert Triumff. Adventurer. Fighter. Drinker. Saviour? Triumff is a ribald historical fantasy set in a warped clockwork-powered version of our present day. A new Elizabethan age, not of Elizabeth II but in the style of the original Virgin Queen. Throughout its rollicking pages, Sir Rupert Triumff drinks, dines and duels his way into a new Brass Age of Exploration and Adventure. Read my review here.

Review of The Amulet of Samarkand – Book 1 of The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud

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This book was recommended to me by my niece as one of the best YA fantasy series that she’d read.

A young magician’s apprentice, Nathaniel, secretly summons the irascible 5,000 year old djinni, Bartimaeus, to do his bidding. The task is not an easy one – he must steal the powerful Amulet of Samarkand from Simon Lovelace, a master magician of unrivalled ruthlessness and ambition. Before long, Bartimaeus and Nathaniel are caught up in a terrifying flood of magical intrigue, rebellion and murder.

Katherine was right – this book is excellent. The world Stroud depicts is actually a grim one – magicians are ruthless and deeply amuletunpleasant as they rule over the commoners with a sense of entitlement that is creating widespread dissatisfaction. One of the reasons they are that way, is because they are plucked out of their family surroundings at five years old and apprenticed to a magician, who may be sympathetic and understanding of a young child – or may not… Which is what happens to Nathaniel, who ends up living with Arthur Underwood, a magician of middling ability. But when he says the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong people – there are catastrophic consequences…

The humour in the book is supplied by Bartimaeus, a djinni, who is summoned by Nathaniel and whose first-person cynical commentary on the human characters in the book extend to a series of amusing footnotes. It is a measure of the strength of the characterisation and story arc, that Stroud mostly manages to make this particular device work – despite the fact that Terry Pratchett has made it his trademark since he started writing the Discworld series longer ago than I care to remember…

A lot of the tension in the story is provided by the anger and dislike Bartimaeus feels towards Nathaniel, who has enslaved him by summoning him to do his bidding – and Nathaniel’s own fear caused by the fact that Bartimaeus has learnt his name, and can use it against the young magician. Nathaniel is no Harry Potter – he is precocious, ambitious and vain. It is his pride that causes the initial mess which spirals out of control – and that same dogged determination that also drives him to continue forward, whatever the consequences. He is an intriguing anti-hero and I found the ending interesting, with a couple of compelling dangling plotlines leading me to turn immediately to the next book in the series, The Golem’s Eye.

And if the sequel is the classy, accomplished read of The Amulet of Samarkand, then I will be settling down to devour the book in one demon-like gulp…
9/10