Moon Over Soho – Ben Aaronovitch

“It’s a sad fact of modern life that if you drive long enough, sooner or later you must leave London behind.”

In Rivers of LondonPC Peter Grant discovered that ghosts are real, as are various supernatural creatures such as the personifications of the eponymous rivers, and that the Metropolitan Police have a ‘spooky’ department. He’s swiftly sworn in as the new apprentice wizard with the latter, the first in years.

The second instalment of the series picks up where we left off, with Peter continuing to train and use his skills while working on police cases. This time he’s caught up in the suspicious deaths of various jazz musicians, a crime rather close to home given his father’s former fame in just that genre. A second case is more obviously ‘spooky’ – and quite frankly with various men turning up missing an, urm, important body part, is this really the best time for Peter to get a new girlfriend?

I talked about this series possibly being the new Dresden Files for me, and while I thoroughly enjoyed this return to that world, I’d have to say the jury is still out on whether or not it can live up to the other-wizard-called-Harry.

For a start, the two cases that might just link up by the end seems a rather obvious and overdone structure, and it was a little distracting seeing it so noticeably. We’re also very quickly into ‘middle book’ territory, meaning this couldn’t be read as a standalone with any great satisfaction – which is fine, because I firmly believe in starting at the beginning of series, anyway!

On the other hand, the ongoing plot threads – certain people having been shot, others facing disfiguring conditions – really add depth to the characterisation. It’s also intriguing to start to get some of the history of the department of magic, so to speak.

I’m not convinced I like Peter Grant as much as Harry Dresden, at least not yet. But he’s lovely and real, and the down to earth telling is a great deal of fun to read. Bring on book 3!

Kindle: 384 pages / 14 chapters
First published: 2011
Series: PC Peter Grant (Rivers of London) book 2 (of 6 currently published)
Read from 11th-18th December 2016

My rating: 8/10

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 🙂

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 🙂

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

My rating: 8/10

A City Dreaming – Daniel Polansky

“It would help if you did not think of it as magic.”

A City Dreaming is less a novel and more a collection of vignettes centred around our ‘hero’, known only as ‘M’. M is, in his own words, “in with the management” which very loosely translates as ‘wizard’. Not that he goes around performing magic (unless he has to), but without effort he finds luck goes his way, most of the time. For instance, traffic lights will always be green for him, jobs and money and places to stay appear when needed – that sort of thing.

Over the course of the book, M experiences a number of scenarios, some rather familiar, most more innovative. I particularly liked the train that could take you to stops not on any map, or another time when a walk through familiar neighbourhoods took an entire day through realms unknown – there was something of a Narnia-esque feel to these, I think.

Not that this is for younger readers, by any stretch! M spends his abnormally long life chasing pleasure in all forms, so there’s a fair amount of drinking, drug taking, and (off camera) sexual activity. M is just a regular kind of guy, in many ways, and not always a particularly lovely one. It put me in mind of Harry Dresden, if perhaps he had no interest in morals or quests to do the right thing – just, went about life as any of us might if an unknown number of centuries had made us a little on the selfish, hedonistic side. This is a great strength of the book, for me at least: this grounding all the magic in total normality.

Except, of course, there’s nothing normal about walking out of a pub and finding yourself and your friends in a medieval role playing scenario – for real! The format of short episodes makes it easy to put down and pick back up later – which is good and bad – and the broad range of scrapes M finds himself in means that if one segment doesn’t wholly appeal, the next will be entirely different.

Of course, the real star of the piece is the city – New York, but of course! – and how there is that layer of magic just under the surface of everyday life. If you’re in with the management, that is 😉

NetGalley eARC: 304 pages / 32 chapters
First published: October 2016
Series: none
Read from 28th September – 18th October 2016

My rating: 8/10

Fellside – MR Carey

“It’s a strange thing to wake up not knowing who you are.”

Jess wakes up in hospital. There’s talk of a fire, a death. When she’s told she’s the one responsible for both, her drugged-up memories can’t deny it. Overwhelmed by guilt, she thinks prison is exactly where she belongs. And so she arrives in Fellside, a notorious women’s prison, where she’s already hated. Shunned or threatened by the other inmates, it’s no wonder she finds her long-forgotten childhood inner world reopening. But when the other prisoners start to dream strange dreams – is all really what it seems?

I absolutely adored The Girl With All The Gifts – I mean, book of the year loved. The follow-up, then, was always going to have a LOT to live up to, and really, it was always likely to fall short. But, just a little short 🙂

What Fellside shares with GwAtG is the can’t-put-down, must-read pace and need to find out what’s really happening. I was fascinated by the situation – Carey is excellent at teasing out information little by little, even to his main character – and the dynamic within the prison is superbly done. I’m not a fan of prison dramas so that side of things was relatively novel to me – I have, however, heard others mentions Orange is the New Black in relation to this, so your mileage may vary, as they say. Either way, prepare for some brutality!

Alas, the supernatural side started out intriguingly but in the end was the slightly weaker link for me. Unlike GwAtG, which gripped me with it’s “never saw that before”, there was something vaguely familiar here, and I think that led to me finding the ending just a little ‘hmm’ rather than ‘wow’.

I’m still giving this book a large recommendation. Lower those expectations, fellow admirers of GwAtG, and enjoy this for what it is: a well-written, gripping drama, with added supernatural goings-on.

NetGalley eARC: 496 pages / 100 chapters
First published: 2016
Series: none
Read from 3rd-10th April 2016

My rating: 8/10

Skin Game – Jim Butcher

“There was a ticking time bomb inside my head and the one person I trusted to go in and get it out hadn’t shown up or spoken to me for more than a year.”

As I started reading this book, back in March, I realised that I couldn’t remember quite how we’d left our hero, the wonderful, wise-cracking, only-wizard-in-the-phone-book, Harry Dresden. I knew some important things had been happening for him, so I wasn’t really prepared to try and figure it out as I started this latest volume. No, despite a shelf full of unread books, the Dresden Files are so good – so fun! – that I went back and started the previous installment (Cold Days) all over again!

I should point out that my lack of memory of the plot says nothing detrimental about the writing or story. No, my issue is this: I adore the Dresden Files so much that I gallop through them, slurping them up, and often finishing far past my bedtime – simply unable to put down the last, ooh 100 pages?!, without knowing what happens. Add in my iffy memory anyway, and it’s no wonder I sometimes forget – but hey: the rereads are fab, too! 🙂

We’re now on to book 15, and I’m still loving these. Harry (the other wizard by that name isn’t a patch on Dresden! 😉 ) has grown and developed over those books, but as his powers increase, Butcher is careful to throw in more limiting factors. At no point do you feel Harry can simply solve all the problems with a wave of his hand – you might not realise how important that is to a story, particularly one containing magic, but boy is it!

And what a story! Without giving too much away for those who haven’t gotten up to date, let me just say that Harry is going to hell…! 😉

If you haven’t read the previous books, absolutely go back and start at the beginning (I totally want to do that now. But – unread books!). There are possibly a few you could skip in terms of over-arching story arc – but why would you do that?! – but definitely not the past several volumes which are part of this continuing tale, and will benefit greatly from familiarity with events from even a few further back than I reread this time.

And – joy! – while Skin Game is very much a full story, there is quite clearly more to be told 🙂

Kindle: 455 pages / 51 chapters
First published: 2014
Series: The Dresden Files, book 15
Read from 5th-14th December 2015

My rating: 8/10

The Blood Gospel – James Rollins & Rebecca Cantrell

“The dead continued to sing.”

Have you ever wondered what The Da Vinci Code might have been like if it had been full of vampires? Wonder no more – that’s exactly this book!

It seems that proposition is either going to fill you with joy (certainly a heck of a lot of review site users seem to have loved this) or terror – in my case, the latter. But then, mostly because I’m still traumatised over the whole experience. Not because the story is so scary, but because it is so badly written – HOW is this getting 5* reviews all over the place?!!

In fairness, this does have a DVC-like level of pushing the story at a good clip, and after the first third or so of the book, it improves a little from the horrible, clunky language that sets the whole thing off. Every sub-chapter sees the POV change characters, and there’s simply far too much sharing of ‘inner thoughts’. Really inappropriate ones to the scenes, at that: yes, I get the whole attraction-amidst-conflict thing, but really – you’re going to start writing odes to her hair while being chased by blood-thirsty killers?!

I didn’t capture the quote, but the worst scene – that I’ve read all year, if not longer, to be frank – involves the female lead finding she’s been given some ultra-conservative clothing to wear. Cue a loooong inner monologue about how this dredges up memories of her awful childhood, etc etc, before she finally decides that, okay, she will still wear this skirt rather than go about in her underwear. What?! NO ONE gives that much thought to whether or not to get dressed (unless the alternative is pjs, of course! ;)) EVER, never mind in the middle of a crisis!! o_O

As if all of this isn’t bad enough, the actual story being told is superbly inconsistent in its message: I won’t spoil it for you, but to say that the ending has a huge hole… but then, why the heck did I even get that far?!

Hardback: 479 pages / 66 chapters
First published: 2013
Series: The Order of the Sanguines, book 1
Read from 6th-15th September 2015

My rating: 2/10 – vaguely entertaining but quite frankly very poorly written drivel. Will probably appeal to fans of The Da Vinci Code (*)

(* I do not think the Da Vinci Code is a good book, but I will concede that it is cleverly written to keep you reading, and ultimately entertaining enough. This book is a very pale shadow of all that.)

The Annihilation Score – Charles Stross

“Please allow me to introduce myself…”

I love the Laundry Files – the mix of spies and occult and all with a massive dose of humour. So, I’m predisposed to give this one a high rating – and it didn’t disappoint!

Switching narrator for the first time in the series, we follow the lovely Dr Mo O’Brien and her continuing struggles with marriage, work, and the demonically possessed violin she’s dubbed ‘Lector’.

I did enjoy the change, but also missed Bob – Mo’s just a little more serious and grown-up. And there are a lot of elements here that will mean nothing to you if you haven’t been following the series – from Angleton to Mhari, the denizens of the deep, and the intertangling plots from them all and more.

The plot here revolves around superheroes – well, of course: we’ve had the Laundry version of vampires, James Bond, mermaids, unicorns… and of course, the Laundry take on the super-powered is just as… unique… as the others!

To give much else away about the story would be a crime, but let’s just say that my viewing of this year’s BBC at the Proms concerts had a whole new slant – violins will never sound quite the same again! 😉

Hardback: 401 pages
First published: 2015
Series: The Laundry Files, book 6
Read from 24th July – 1st August 2015

My rating: 7/10 – a welcome return visit, but not one to jump in at