Review: Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovich

Peter Grant—cop, magical apprentice, and Londoner to the core—is being forced out of his comfort zone and into the English countryside. His latest case involves the disappearance of children in the small village of Herefordshire, and the local police are unwilling to admit there might be a supernatural element involved. Now Peter must deal with them, local river spirits, and the fact that all the shops close by 4 P.M.

Apologies for my silence recently! It’s been very busy.

Foxglove Summer is as close as this series has gotten to a stand alone novel, and whilst it was very good, I really really missed Leslie and Nightingale, who are both relegated to the background for different reasons. I do like Beverly Brook, as well as Peter’s new mate Dominic, but Lesley and Nightingale are just wonderful.

The mystery disappearance of the girls went in directions that I hadn’t expected, but I can’t say I was overly satisfied with the ending. It was kind of like Peter being taken hostage was either tacked on as an afterthought, or had been pared right back to the point of near pointlessness. The whole handover could have been done without it, or with the consequences being a larger feature. I feel like there was a major missed opportunity here… did the publishers just worry about the length?

However, in saying this, these are criticisms that I’ve thought of afterwards (though the whole rescue from fairyland bit was odd at the time), I did really enjoy the book and came out of it happy and wanting the next in the series to happen RIGHT NOW. Alas, until June we wait.

I did like the move from London to the country, and felt that Aaronovitch handled it perfectly. I love London as Peter’s setting, but I agreed with Nightingale- after the experiences of Broken Homes, he needed to get away and get distracted. Dominic was a perfect placeholder for Lesley, and I’m pleased that something is finally going on with Beverly and Peter! Also, that Lesley wasn’t entirely cut out, and their relationship is dented, but still respectful. Peter’s pain at her loss was so raw, and I loved that he understood why she did it and took it reasonably well.

So… now to wait for The Hanging Tree, which had better be awesome or Aaronovitch may have a legion of bloodthirsty fans waiting at his door… myself included.

Review: Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovich

18210706My name is Peter Grant, and I am a keeper of the secret flame — whatever that is.

Truth be told, there’s a lot I still don’t know. My superior Nightingale, previously the last of England’s wizardly governmental force, is trying to teach me proper schooling for a magician’s apprentice. But even he doesn’t have all the answers. Mostly I’m just a constable sworn to enforce the Queen’s Peace, with the occasional help from some unusual friends and a well-placed fire blast. With the new year, I have three main objectives, a) pass the detective exam so I can officially become a DC, b) work out what the hell my relationship with Lesley Mai, an old friend from the force and now fellow apprentice, is supposed to be, and most importantly, c) get through the year without destroying a major landmark.

Two out of three isn’t bad, right?

A mutilated body in Crawley means another murderer is on the loose. The prime suspect is one Robert Weil, who may either be a common serial killer or an associate of the twisted magician known as the Faceless Man — a man whose previous encounters I’ve barely survived. I’ve also got a case about a town planner going under a tube train and another about a stolen grimoire.

But then I get word of something very odd happening in Elephant and Castle, on a housing estate designed by a nutter, built by charlatans, and inhabited by the truly desperate. If there’s a connection to the Crawley case, I’ll be entering some tricky waters of jurisdiction with the local river spirits. We have a prickly history, to say the least.

Just the typical day for a magician constable.

Ohhhh Peter, that PLOT TWIST.

I wish I hadn’t accidentally been spoilt.

My heart is breaking for him.

Broken Homes was an odd book. A fair amount of the first section didn’t have all that much going on, but frankly, I’d read a book about Peter doing pretty much anything and be quite happy about it, so it wasn’t like I was upset about there being less action than there was in Whispers Underground.

Once they begin a stakeout in the Skygarden building in Elephant and Castle, though, it starts to get really messy, really quickly. We have a crazy Russian witch on the loose who has no hesitations in killing police officers, and then there’s even three mad fight scenes that culminate in several million dollars worth of damage, in typical Folly style. There’s also a rather large party and Toby is adorable throughout.

The ending blew me away though. Without spoiling too much, it was heartbreaking and since I knew what was coming, I picked up on the little cues that lead up to the big reveal, or, as the Faceless Man puts it, the “moment of decision”.

…and I think I understand the motives. It’s something that would be hard as hell to refuse in their situation, and I would probably be hard pressed to go the other way myself, if it meant that I could live normally too. I don’t think I blame them, and I think that they went out of their way to make sure Peter wasn’t hurt physically. I think that there will likely be a healing of the breach, but the trust will be gone in any case. I still love them, even if it breaks my heart.

I didn’t like this as much as Moon Over Soho, but I think if someone hadn’t told me the ending, I would have. I need to get onto Foxglove Summer asap!!

4/5 stars

Review: Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovich

9970042It begins with a dead body at the far end of Baker Street tube station, all that remains of American exchange student James Gallagher—and the victim’s wealthy, politically powerful family is understandably eager to get to the bottom of the gruesome murder. The trouble is, the bottom—if it exists at all—is deeper and more unnatural than anyone suspects . . . except, that is, for London constable and sorcerer’s apprentice Peter Grant. With Inspector Nightingale, the last registered wizard in England, tied up in the hunt for the rogue magician known as “the Faceless Man,” it’s up to Peter to plumb the haunted depths of the oldest, largest, and—as of now—deadliest subway system in the world.

At least he won’t be alone. No, the FBI has sent over a crack agent to help. She’s young, ambitious, beautiful . . . and a born-again Christian apt to view any magic as the work of the devil. Oh yeah—that’s going to go well.

I’ve had a self imposed, almost year long, break from the PC Grant series, but I’ve let myself have a quick binge of the books over the last week or so!

Rivers of London was one of my favourite books in 2015, and while Moon Over Soho was good, it didn’t live up to its predecessor. However, Whispers Underground did not disappoint one bit!

I love everything to do with London, and I’m fascinated by the famous London Underground. Whilst it was a terrifying experience in peak hour, I found it far more interesting and easy to use than my own rail system in Sydney! The Underground has much to offer the imagination in real life… ghost stories, major accidents, secret tunnels, closed off stations and much much more. Aaronovich adds some even more freaky things in there in this book, and god damn, I loved every word.

Peter Grant is your typical bloke… he’s a beer swilling copper, but he also does magic. His amazing partner in law enforcement, Lesley May, is still recovering from the trauma of Rivers of London, but she’s absolutely kick arse and I adore her.

I know many people have a problem with Peter’s take on the women he meets, and as a feminist… I don’t see it. Sure, he looks at women and thinks they’re hot. So what? Every guy does it. Hell, lots of girls do it too. It’s a basic human reaction to seeing an attractive person, and you’re seeing this all through the eyes of an average man. He doesn’t treat women with disrespect, he thinks the world of Lesley and never attempts to “go there” with her, even when he would freaking love to.

I laughed out loud frequently throughout the book, read out bits to anyone who would listen and even went back to read over my favourite sections again. There’s a bit where Peter is trapped in the Underground with the ghosts of the many people who have died there, and it sent chills down my spine whilst reading it late at night!

I love all the references to geek culture throughout the series, and they sent me into fits of giggles on the regular. So many Lord of the Rings quotes! It’s partly why Peter is one of my favourite modern literary characters- so sassy, so geeky and doesn’t take shit from anyone. Except maybe Lesley, but most of the time he deserves it.

The actual crime itself is riveting, and draws in the FBI and a high profile US Senator. There is also the overarching problem of the Faceless Man who started causing problems in Rivers of London, and there is a very intense chase through a deep sewer. Nightingale is as hilarious and badass as ever, and I was pleased to see a fair amount of Molly, the resident creepy housekeeper, involved in this book.

I think this is definitely on par with Rivers of London, and is a book I’m bound to read again! I immediately bought Broken Homes and I’m hoping it’s as awesome as this was!

 

5/5 Stars

January Wrap Up

January is over! How did that even happen?!

I’ve had a fairly busy month, and have been up to all sorts of things, but mainly I’ve been working and beginning to get back into studying in preparation for my PhD.

I want to get some of the classic books that are important and influential upon the authors I want to focus on read first, so I can then move on and read all of their work. Only problem is that I’ve been getting bogged down in the 18th century with a few monstrous books and my progress has been far slower than I anticipated!

I also needed a bit of a break for my brain, so I have read some fun stuff too!

So what have I read this month?

  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (4 stars)
  • Bush Studies by Barbara Baynton (1.5 stars…I get more and more brutal every time I consider it.)
  • Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England by Roy Adkins (5 stars)
  • The Midnight Watch by David Dyer (5 stars)
  • Evelina by Fanny Burney (4 stars)
  • The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald (3 stars)
  • Howard’s End is on the Landing by Susan Hill (DNF 0 stars)
  • Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovich (5 stars)
  • Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (still in progress)

Apart from Bush Studies and Howard’s End is on the Landing, I had a fantastic reading month and read some really interesting and valuable things!

My review of The Midnight Watch will be up closer to its release date, but let’s just say it was FANTASTIC and I’m really excited to share it with more people when it comes out! The Titanic is a source of fascination for lots of people, but this new take on it is something else. It had me wrapped right up and I couldn’t put it down… it is definitely one of those books that make you resent having any responsibilities!

Mansfield Park is taking me a while to read, not because I’m not enjoying it, but because it’s a chunkster so I haven’t been carrying it around very much, and I just needed to give my poor head a bit of a break to read something a bit less wordy! I love Fanny, I get why people think she’s an annoying pushover, but I really see a lot of myself in her character, and with a family like that, who wouldn’t be a bit frightened of other humans?!

Here’s hoping February will be just as awesome! So far, so good though, so we shall see!

 

Review: Evelina by Frances Burney

14800188In this comic and sharply incisive satire of excess and affectation, beautiful young Evelina falls victim to the rakish advances of Sir Clement Willoughby on her entrance to the world of fashionable London. Colliding with the manners and customs of a society she doesn’t understand, she finds herself without hope that she should ever deserve the attention of the man she loves.

If I had to describe Evelina in a sentence, it would be: “Kind of like Jane Austen, but brutal and hilarious, with a random monkey attack.” I read this through two parties over the weekend, because I was right in a good bit and didn’t want to put the book down! Fanny Burney it turns out, was a phenomenal woman, and one that I’m very eager to learn more about- she wrote the first written account of having a mastectomy whilst awake, she was imprisoned by Napoleon and she was writing behind the back of her dreary father. Definitely a rad lady.

The nasty comments about various characters fly about the book like sparks from a welder, there is monkey hitting, fake robberies, men throwing themselves at women’s feet and then grabbing them bodily when they reject them, and a fair amount of French hating. It all amounts to a rather entertaining book, if you can stomach all of that- and I know others found it difficult.

Evelina herself is a rather frustrating character. As soon as the love interest walked into the scene, I knew he was the one she’d end up with, and I was correct. It only took her about 450 pages to work it out though, which was the annoying part. Other than that, she was a pretty well rounded character, and one who could hold her own in a bunch of madcap family members and friends. Some situations made you pity her immensely, making me want to leap into the book and save her from people!

The men who continuously fall in love/lust with her becomes quite hysterical, and very overdone, but her reaction to all of them made me keep laughing and reading. It did begin to drag as the book wound itself down, and then it ends rather abruptly, making me wonder why Burney chose to end it there, but also I kind of understood it, as her entry into society is complete.

The epistolary format didn’t take long at all to get used to, though I wished we could have more opinions on situations from other characters. We hear most of it from Evelina’s point of view as a kind of letter-journal format, which I felt was slightly underused.

I really didn’t like Mr Villars, Evelina’s guardian, as he kind of felt too engaged with her choice of man and future… and what was up with all his carry on about wanting to die in her arms?! Who does that?! I seem to be the only one to feel a bit cringey with his letters, he made my skin crawl at some points!

The treatment of women in the 18th century makes me think that Burney wasn’t exactly exaggerating the amount of physical violence Evelina was subjected to. I know it makes modern readers uncomfortable, as we (well, most of us…) don’t think hitting and grabbing a woman is okay, but there was no such feeling in those times. The treatment of animals in the novel is sometimes quite awful, and again, this is in keeping with the times. We mustn’t try to wipe all this out of the older novels, or dismiss them because of it, as it’s teaching us about where we’ve come from and what life was like not so very long ago. The race between two old ladies was a disgrace, and is set up to be so by Burney herself, to show what awful people the men were- depiction does not equal endorsement, people!

Random monkey attacks aside, the novel is a really interesting one, and one can see the beginnings of later English writers in Burney’s writing; Jane Austen being the foremost, but hundreds of other texts likely owe Burney some of their beginnings. It is important to understand the kinds of rules Evelina is breaking to understand why her faux pas are so dreadful, however, so if you’re unfamiliar with 18th century life, I’d suggest having a read about that first. I did so, even though I’ve read 4 of Jane Austen’s novels and had a fairly good idea of what was going on, but I definitely appreciated this book more for having read “Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England” by Roy and Leslie Adkins beforehand- in fact, I wish I had done so earlier in order to really appreciate some of Austen’s subtlety.

Some say that 18th century writers “don’t know…or abide by the rules of writing”, but let me throw some light here… there were no rules. The novel was a brand spanking new baby, it didn’t exist in the form we recognise today until the 17th century. Most rich people read poetry, history and philosophy, not stories, and certainly not in volume form from circulating libraries. The so called rules of literature were being born in these works, the tropes some people have disliked in this weren’t really “tropes” at all, since they were being created bit by bit! Especially, ESPECIALLY for a woman. Burney’s dad was furious when he found out his daughter was writing novels, as it was considered the height of impropriety. I think that’s why I enjoy books like this, because I can see how the writer was playing with a new medium, pushing the boundaries and creating the groundwork for what we have today.

So yes, if you like 18th century literature, if you like Jane Austen and want to see more of this period, or if you’re just really interested in social life in the Restoration period, go for it! Evelina was a really enjoyable read, and one that has definitely made me develop a bit of a lady crush on Fanny Burney!

4.5/5 stars

Top Ten Tuesday: Badass Women Writers I Love

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Some authors are downright inspirational when they have little to no intention to be. Others force it, and fail miserably. Some don’t want to be inspiring at all, and try to make sure they couldn’t be accused of it. I like the first and the last particularly, though I haven’t really ever read too many books setting out to inspire, except maybe Eat, Pray, Love, and I don’t intend to repeat the experience anytime soon!

But these authors are all badass in their own way, and I love them for it!

  1. Anne Brontë

Anne was quiet and stoic, dealing primarily with her deadbeat brother Branwell, her wild sister Emily and her disparaging Charlotte. She’s often forgotten and overlooked, despite her genius being as great (in my opinion) as that of her sisters. She endured her fatal illness without much complaint, even after watched almost all of her siblings die around her. She wasn’t afraid to tackle really full on, socially unacceptable topics in her works, making her my favourite Brontë of them all!

2. Fanny Burney

Fanny Burney risked the censure of her family to write. She spent a long time in a French prisoner of war camp during the Napoleonic wars- but Napoleon himself told her he liked her work. She underwent a mastectomy without anaesthesia, and lived to write about it. She wrote about things that pushed the envelope, and didn’t apologise for it. Very, very awesome.

 

3. H.D.

This woman overcame so many things that would have kept most people down. Stillbirth, a horrible husband, a fiancee who not only criticised her work and deserted her professionally, but also had TWO OTHER fiancees on the side, an unwanted pregnancy and much much more, and that was only in the first 20 years of her life. She then went on to be thoroughly awesome (I hope in revenge) and had a fairly stable lesbian relationship with Bryher for over 40 years. You go, girl!

 

4. Virginia Woolf

However much I dislike some of her attitudes, Virginia Woolf was Queen and she knew it. She totally dominated the modernist groups, wrote like a total maniac for weeks on end and did some pretty revolutionary things. Despite all this, she was emotionally fragile and admitted it, which to me is a strong thing in itself.

 

5. Jean Rhys

Not only did Jean Rhys manage to hold her breath long enough to sleep with Ford Madox Ford, she also wrote the most scathing portrait of a man EVER in After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie, and what’s more, he deserved it. Yes, she led a sad life, but she overcame so many things, such as bullying, racism, poverty and sexism. She even bounced back and smashed people’s expectations by publishing Wide Sargasso Sea, when people had assumed she’d succumbed to her raging alcoholism.

 

6. Rebecca West

I don’t even know where to begin with Rebecca West. She travelled through Yugoslavia on the brink of war, she hunted and shamed Nazis, she lived though terrible treatment from H.G. Wells and she wrote fabulous novels that deserve far more attention than they are given.

 

7. Colette

Her abusive absolute raging prick of a husband literally locked her in a room to write the Claudine novels, until she was so sick that she was on the edge of death. Then he claimed the novels and subsequent royalties as his own, t’then when he had been busted and spent all the money that should have been hers, he sold the rights to the books and left her utterly destitute, relying on dancing to scrape by. But scrape by she did, and went on to become even more unbelievably awesome.

 

8. Katherine Mansfield

Moving from a New Zealand sheep farm to London must have been quite the experience for a 19 year old woman, especially in the early 20th century. She somehow managed to be friends with Virginia Woolf without throttling her, a fear that seems to have been almost superhuman. She was bisexual, and had lovers of both sexes, including a Maori woman, which shows she wasn’t sucked in to the racism so prevalent in that era.

9. Maria Edgeworth

A contemporary of Jane Austen, Maria Edgeworth was an Irish woman who wrote about some pretty controversial topics, especially Anglo-Irish relations in a time when this was distinctly improper for a woman to do so. She met Lord Byron and thought very little of him, which makes me like her even more. She wanted to write about traditional Irish culture when it was an unfashionable thing to do, and she wrote about interracial marriage in Belinda (though publishers later removed it from her work). When the Famine raged across her homeland, she campaigned tirelessly for relief for the poor.

10. Natalie Barney

Natalie Barney, an American expat who moved to Paris in the early 20th century, was well known for her outrageous parties and bohemian lifestyle. She ran a literary salon that drew some very famous attendees, including Colette and Edith Wharton. She ran hers in opposition to Gertrude Stein, and absolutely rocked it. Her outgoing and unashamed lesbian behaviour and cross dressing was considered deviant, but she discovered some of the biggest names in English literature, and told her critics to get stuffed!

 

Blog Tour: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

Warning: once you let books into your life, the most unexpected things can happen…

This is a book about books. All sorts of books, from Little Women and Harry Potter to Jodi Picoult and Jane Austen, from to Stieg Larsson to Joyce Carol Oates to Proust. It’s about the joy and pleasure of books, about learning from and escaping into them, and possibly even hiding behind them. It’s about whether or not books are better than real life.

It’s also a book about a Swedish girl called Sara, her elderly American pen-friend Amy and what happens when you land a very different kind of bookshop in the middle of a town so broken it’s almost beyond repair.

Or is it?

The Readers of Broken Wheel has touches of 84 Charing Cross Road, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Chocolat, but adds an off-beat originality and intelligence all its own.

I saw the ARC of this book on Netgalley a while ago and requested it, but forgot to read it. I then saw a copy at work, and thought that it still came across as cute, and since I was in need of a lighthearted read to wind down from some more intense reading, I opened it up and began it the next day. It kind of strikes me as very similar to Charlaine Harris’ novel style, only with books instead of creatures that want to eat you. I honestly don’t know which formula I prefer!

This book could certainly never be accused of being heavy, despite it being nearly 400 pages long. I’d put this in the fluffy chick-lit kind of category, though it is very obviously intended to be for and about bookworms. At first, I was a bit hesitant to get too into it, since I’ve picked up and dropped quite a few easy reads over the last week or so, but something about this kept me going. Perhaps it was the author’s thinly veiled swipes at “idiot America” and small town politics. Perhaps it was the warm-heartedness of the book as a whole. Maybe it was because of the bookish discussions, though I disagreed with many of the author’s opinions on classic literature. But I think it was mainly because of me finally finding a chick-lit heroine who didn’t make me want to scratch her eyes out.

Sara is a girl who lives her life almost entirely in the world of books, quite literally with her nose constantly in one. She worked in a bookshop, though has been recently made unemployed by its closure (been there, done that… thank god I’m back in one now!) She’s shy, quiet and very nervous around strangers, which I am as well. She honestly prefers books to people, which for the most part, I entirely understand.

The book is well paced and the translation is very well done. I do see some aspects of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society here, but I don’t think it was as well executed, as too many of the situations seemed too improbable and contrived. It was also extremely predictable, to the point that the moment the love interest walked into Sara’s house, I knew what would happen. Though the darker side of Broken Wheel is discussed, it isn’t really explored, such as the supposed meth lab in the abandoned school. It would have been good to have discussed that flip side, like Guernsey did, but it just skimmed over them to focus on a very idyllic view of small town America.

I think that this book would offend some of the more conservative readers, particularly Americans- so let’s just say that if you’re particularly religious or are contemplating voting for Donald Trump, give this book a miss. Bivald is very typically Swedish, and very liberal minded, and her shots fired at religious fundamentalism, racism, non-readers and general idiocy made me giggle. There be sex in this here town, but it’s not explicit, more implied and thought about afterwards, which is generally how I prefer it.

Yes, it gets a bit saccharine sweet in parts, and for a fairly realistic novel, it gets a bit outlandish in parts, but the characters are loveable, the bookish references are fun and the overall effect is a good read. I don’t think it’s a particularly memorable book, but I definitely enjoyed it! I really want to open up my own awesome bookshop after reading this!

Thank you to SourceBooks for including me in their blog tour!

3.5/5 Stars

 

*This was sent to me as a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: Eavedropping on Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Leslie Adkins

21216297A cultural snapshot of everyday life in the world of Jane Austen

Jane Austen, arguably the greatest novelist of the English language, wrote brilliantly about the gentry and aristocracy of two centuries ago in her accounts of young women looking for love. Jane Austen’s England explores the customs and culture of the real England of her everyday existence depicted in her classic novels as well as those by Byron, Keats, and Shelley. Drawing upon a rich array of contemporary sources, including many previously unpublished manuscripts, diaries, and personal letters, Roy and Lesley Adkins vividly portray the daily lives of ordinary people, discussing topics as diverse as birth, marriage,  religion, sexual practices, hygiene, highwaymen, and superstitions.

From chores like fetching water to healing with  medicinal leeches, from selling wives in the marketplace to buying smuggled gin, from the hardships faced by young boys and girls in the mines to the familiar sight of corpses swinging on gibbets, Jane Austen’s England offers an authoritative and gripping account that is sometimes humorous, often shocking, but always entertaining.

If you’re interested in the 18th Century, I’d totally recommend this book to you. I was surprised by how accessible and fun this history book was, though I felt like it’s titular connection to Jane Austen was somewhat lacking.

Jane Austen is mentioned every so often, though not as much as other 18th century diarists and writers, who were fascinating in their own right. It covers a great many topics, which made for varied and interesting reading, which I’ll probably go back and learn more about some of the sections in the future. I’m planning on reading my way through the 18th-20th century, through both history and literature, in preparation for my PhD. I feel like I’m missing quite a lot of background knowledge and want to find out more about the literary interests and influences of certain authors. Jane Austen, Fanny Burney and George Eliot are frequently mentioned as influences, so learning about their lives and time period is imperative.

I’ve already found that reading Evelina has been helped by the knowledge gleaned from this book! From parts of dress to places and activities, I understand more of the cultural references in the book. I see that as quite a success!

I feel like the Napoleonic wars could have been further covered in this, though I believe the authors have another book out about it. They actually say that it is an extremely important event in this period, but don’t go on to elaborate much further, other than to talk briefly about the (terrible) behaviour of those in the army and navy. I was shocked to discover that Navy “press gangs” could conscript people to become sailors simply by seeing them in the street or sitting in their house and dragging them down to the docks, with no warning, and often never to be seen again!

Other than that very minor quibble, I found this book astounding and really enjoyable. I didn’t feel it bogged down in details too often and it moved along at a good pace. It was a perfect cultural introduction to a period of history so well known, but so little understood. The past truly is another country, because they really did do things differently there!

5 stars

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