MAD Librarian – Michael Guillebeau

MAD Librarian cover

“Serenity tried.”

Just because the budget for her public library is being slashed again and again, doesn’t mean head librarian Serenity Sweetwater Hammer doesn’t have big dreams about what they could do for the local community if only they did have the money. When the all-important internet bill needs paid, her desperate search for cash uncovers something… strange. Fortuitous. Dangerous?

When money becomes no object, what does a librarian do?

I really wanted to like this book. I love books about books and libraries, and handing power to a librarian sounds like a good idea ūüėČ And of course, it’s a lovely idea that half of the book’s profits go to a library charity. But, alas, concept and reality just didn’t gel for me.

To begin with, the opening chapters – the setting up of the ‘norm’ – are actually quite depressing. Yup, librarians are underfunded. Yup, politicians are vile. But oy, the sexism, the over-the-top aggressive dismissals Serenity faces as she’s expected to produce miracles, just made me grind my teeth. Probably the point, but to be honest I didn’t need to read it again and again.

Nor, actually, did I need the rather out of place sex scene near the end. It’s not too graphic, but it felt very voyeuristic and out of place. Serenity’s marriage subplot really didn’t work all that well for me at all, there was just something clunky about the relationship as written, with overly-perfect cop hubby, Joe Hammer (I mean, really!).

Anyway, the early depressive tone changes to more of a mystery, which does help, but things escalate rather to the point of ridiculousness. The supporting characters don’t help: you’d think distinguishing between the one very young and one very old under-librarians would be easy enough, but to be honest… urm? One had tattoos, one insisted on being called ‘Doom’ – both were very OTT in the ‘anything for the library!’ message.

Overall, I think it was a nice idea, and it was a very quick and easy read. Chapters were very short, a few pages at most, so I suspect a fair amount of those 400 pages were whitespace. However, while I don’t begrudge the reading time, I felt very disappointed that things were only 90%-ish wrapped up, with the first chapter of the sequel included at the end – which I really don’t see me picking up.

NetGalley eARC: 404 pages / 70 chapters
First published: December 2017
Series: first of something, given the sequel’s opening chapter was included at the end
Read from 1st-4th September 2017

My rating: 5/10 – nice idea, but didn’t hit the mark for me

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Foxglove Summer – Ben Aaronovitch

Foxglove Summer cover

“I was just passing the Hoover Centre when I heard Mr Punch scream his rage behind me.”

Following on from a bit of a shock at the end of the previous book,¬†Broken Homes,¬†Foxglove Summer¬†feels like a bit of a deep breath and attempt at a fresh start for Peter – or at the very least, a bit of a holiday as he’s sent to investigate a case outside of his comfort zone, London, and out in the actual countryside. Can a city boy survive in the sticks?!

The case du jour revolves around two missing girls. The Folly – home to the London police force’s ‘supernatural branch’ – has a long-standing onus to make sure such cases don’t involve practitioners, and so Peter is ostensibly sent out to check up on just such a person. Which is a great opportunity to get a little backstory on the Folly and Nightingale, from a former colleague. One of the strengths of the series, for me, has to be that air of mystery around magic falling out of practice in protecting the UK.

Of course, deciding to hang around to lend a hand in the case more or less ‘just because’, it’s not long before Peter discovers that his expertise may well be needed, after all. I mean, just because one of the missing girls has an invisible friend that happens to be a unicorn doesn’t mean that there aren’t really invisible unicorns hanging about…!

I said ‘fresh start’ in my opening paragraph based, I think, on several previously ongoing plot threads being allowed to lie fallow here. Nothing major, but having read the last few books in relatively short order it is noticeable that characters who have been in the last couple of books are suddenly absent – left back in London, no doubt. On the other hand, Beverley Brook has been largely absent for a while, and makes a reappearance here.

There’s still a sense of the by-now familiarity with the characters giving the writing quite a laid-back feel, even more so with so many ongoing plot threads both coming in and at the end of the book. Shifting the location out of London adds a little breath of fresh air to the surroundings (okay, and I was glossing over a tiny bit on all the descriptions of London’s streets, etc!), too.

Overall, I really enjoyed this – might be my favourite in the series to date, and I’m devastated that reading the next one will mean I have to wait for more to be written!

Kindle: 385 pages / 16 chapters
First published: 2014
Series: Peter Grant / Rivers of London book 5 (of 6, so far)
Read from 16th-19th August 2017

My rating: 8.5/10

Broken Homes – Ben Aaronovitch

broken homes cover

“At twenty-three minutes past eleven Robert Weil drove his 53 registered Volvo V70 across the bridge that links Pease Pottage, the improbably named English village, with Pease Pottage, the motorway service station.”

Despite finding the previous installment –¬†Whispers Under Ground – a little disappointing in terms of the overall series, it did leave me keen to just keep going with this, the next book. And I’m glad: we’re back on form here, with an exciting story involving magic, dryads, and 1970s architecture, but also feeling up-to-the-knees in the ongoing storyline of the lives of Peter, Lesley, and Thomas Nightingale. There’s also the return of a familiar face or two from the previous book!

You definitely need to have started at the beginning of the series,¬†Rivers of London, to really enjoying this installment, I’d suggest. The story itself is… not slow, exactly, but a little measured, so having enough knowledge to find the ongoing character development interesting is needed. Things take their time in coalescing, but gradually the layers build and everything ends with quite the bang!

I said in my review of the previous book that it was starting to feel a little more settled that this is an ongoing series. Here, I’d suggest that the author is starting to settle into it a little further, himself.¬†Still, it’s a slightly odd read when I come to try and write about it. What happens is intriguing, but I suppose there’s still that ‘middle book’ kind of a feel, low on revelations, per se, with much of the excitement left til the last moment – and hints at more to come.

So while I’m still loving the series, I still can’t bring myself to rate any individual book higher than I am.

Kindle: 357 pages / 20 chapters
First published: 2013
Series: Peter Grant / Rivers of London book 4 (of 6)
Read from 27th July 2017

My rating: 8/10

Whispers Under Ground – Ben Aaronovitch

whispers under ground cover

“Back in the summer I’d made the mistake of telling my mum what I did for a living.”

What could be more London than the underground? Ben Aaronovitch picks up those myths surrounding the oldest railway tunnels, and hands them to cop turned trainee magician, Peter Grant. Starting with a body on the tracks, of course!

Despite my love for this series, the third book in the installment felt a little bit of a filler for me, somehow. There is a sense of the series being ‘secure’ now, established, and this means the pace slips in favour of just enjoying being with the familiar characters. Which is great – especially Leslie, still fighting – but lost some of the tension for me. I found the new characters a little flat (although at least two of them will return), as is the overall mystery – again, your mileage may vary – with the pacing just a bit… hmm.

But, my complaints are really only testament to how great I find the series as a whole. They really are about the characters – Peter, Leslie, Nightingale – and I loved little snippets about the latter starting to slip out. He’s in danger of being more interesting than our lead and narrator, but then Peter is so self-deprecatingly funny and puts a lovely scientific head to work on his magical studies that the pairing is too perfect to complain.

I finished this and immediately picked up book 4 in the series, despite my usual ‘eke them out’ mentality. I’m glad I don’t have to wait for the next one – at least for a few more books – so taken as a slowish bit in the middles of the series, this is still a lot of fun.

Kindle: 419 pages / 29 chapters
First published: 2012
Series: Peter Grant/Rivers of London book 3 (of 6 to date)
Read from 20th-25th July 2017

My rating: 7.5/10 – not quite up to the standard of the rest of the series, imo

Colony – Rob Grant

“Eddie O’Hare considers himself to be the unluckiest man in the entire cosmos. And, bluntly, he’s got a damned fine point.”

After a computer error gets Eddie onto the radar of some unpleasant hit men, he’s more than keen to take the opportunity to swap places with a bloke who quite looks like him but is about to spend the rest of his life jetting off into space. Mankind is off to colonise the stars, you see, but it will take generations of onboard pioneers to make it.

Which is fine: Eddie’s lifespan is about to be measured in floors, vertically, if you get my drift, so just about anything is preferable.

Of course, he’s got absolutely no idea who he’s trying to pretend to be, and as it turns out the package is not exactly as sold. Finding out he’s a bit of a nasty, unliked sod is only the first of Eddie’s misidentification problems…

There’s a lot of fun and things to like here, at least in the beginning. Eddie’s bad luck is indeed atrocious, and he manages to get into worse and worse scrapes through misheard conversations, not understanding who he’s pretending to be, or knowing a thing about the mission he’s signed up for. The first hundred or so pages are a fun little farce.

However, part three opens some nine generations on – in a 5-generation journey, so quite the feat – when Eddie is awoken from a kind of stasis (did I mention this was penned by one of the¬†Red Dwarf writers?) to discover all sorts of things didn’t go to plan. Luckily – well…! – the population of the ship has forgotten how to read, giving Eddie a priest-like power to decipher the strange hieroglyphs, like “Exit”, “Airlock”, and the like. He’s also able to see the effects of the first-generation policies, such as family-inherited careers – leading to a religious fanatic of a science officer, the least holy priest ever, and a teenage captain who gets to name the planet they might just be about to fly into, “Thrrrrp”. And that’s the polite one ūüėČ

Things do start getting more than a little ridiculous from this point, but what’s been a fun read is hugely let down by a rather abrupt and unsatisfying ending. I’m not sure if the author didn’t know where the story was going, or if he’d just hit either his wordcount or his deadline, and scurried to wrap things up. Either way, disappointing.

Hardback: 290 pages / 47 chapters
First published: 2000
Series: none
Read from 8th-10th June 2017

My rating: 5.5/10 – disappointing ending, but before that it’s very easy to read if very daft

Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch

“It started at one thirty on a cold Tuesday morning in January when Martin Turner, street performer and, in his own words, apprentice gigolo, tripped over a body in front of the West Portico of St Paul’s at Covent Garden.”

I think it’s fair to say I’m always on the hunt for a ‘new¬†Dresden Files‘, which is a terrible expectation to put on any book/series. I think, though, I might just have stumbled across something pretty close, with the added benefit of a droll British sense of humour ūüôā

PC Peter Grant isn’t too happy that he’s about to graduate¬†from ‘thief-taker’ training to a dull police clerical role, when an encounter with a strangely see-through witness at a murder scene propels him into a rather more secretive department. Yup, the London police force has a supernatural branch! It’s a bit less X-Files – well, okay, it’s a lot like the X-Files, come to think of it, given that it’s one rather strange bloke not taken all too seriously by his¬†peers.

We follow Peter’s initiation into the ranks of magic¬†while two cases require juggling: the inciting murder and a wave of violence that seems to spread out from it in a rather familiar kind of a pattern, and a bit of a disagreement between old Father Thames and sexy newcomer Mamma Thames. Yup, those ‘rivers of London’ have actual personifications, and they’re certainly not damp squibs!

I thought the two threads balanced each other wonderfully, and really allow for Peter’s role to start to form. The magic system is excellently introduced: not too powerful, definitely not easy, and with a down-to-earth approach to the big questions like, “Do magic and science interact?” (yes, not always well), and “Why are magic spells always in Latin?” (because the people who wrote them down were trying to sound clever, more or less ;)).

If there’s a single thing I’m not sure about it’s the sweeping statements about a culture not the author’s own (or mine, so my opinion isn’t hugely valid). As a wannabe writer I’m well aware of the need for diversity in books, but¬†I do wonder a little at what point it veers dangerously close to stereotyping. This added just a mild discomfort for me at certain points, but your mileage may vary.

That said, I thought this was a brilliantly fun romp. Usually books so London-centric as to make the city a character are a bit of a turn off to me (as a non-Londoner Brit, it can be wearing!) but the author’s love of the city comes over well without all that centre-of-the-known-universe smugness. Just a lot of giggles, a bit more gore than I was expecting, and a well developed story. More, please – and oh, look: book 6 is just out. Excuse me while I go catch up ūüôā

Kindle: 400 pages / 14 chapters
First published: 2011
Series: PC Peter Grant book 1
Read from 7th-15th November 2016

My rating: 8/10

Doughnut – Tom Holt

“One mistake,” Theo said sadly, “one silly little mistake, and now look at me.”

I¬†sometimes wonder why I keep reading Tom Holt books, when I invariably find them disappointing. Possibly even more so since the revelation that the wonderful, dark and twisted, KJ Parker books are flowing from the same pen. All I can suggest is that they’re my equivalent of chick-lit: easyish on the brain, mildly amusing. I hear Holt likened to Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams, but really, his work is a poor substitute.

That said, his more recent novels are a vast improvement on the early ones, and this one –¬†Doughnut –¬†did keep me entertained while I wasn’t feeling great. The first in the YouSpace series, it covers the invention of this marvellous thing, this create-your-own-reality-type adventure in a bottle. Literally, in a bottle.

While this is a completely brilliant idea, the execution is a little… hmm. This is my usual problem with Holt: fantastic premise, meh execution. The main issue I had was the wetness of the lead character, who has no idea what’s going on, but is manipulated throughout the book by characters who end up being less important than they’re set up¬†to be.

The kicker is the ending: a long and unfortunately necessary chunk of exposition, where the lead explains exactly what the whole plot has been about – ‘cos it’s terribly complex and clever and everything. Which it sort of is, but that ending is a damp fizzle out. Sigh. I do keep reading them, though, don’t I?

Paperback: 370 pages / 5 sub-divided parts
First published: 2013
Series: YouSpace book 1
Read from 7th-11th October 2015

My rating: 5/10