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 I decided a while ago that I would start putting up short reviews of all the books I read, partly so I could actually remember them. I decided to start from the beginning of 2015 and have been piling books up on the sofa for the last six weeks, well done me. 

So, in no particular order:

Gentlemen of the Road - Michael Chabon I really liked this book about two Jewish adventurers who get involved in a rebellion - it was written in a very engaging style, it was funny and I like the adventuring of the main characters. It was pretty short, which was a shame - I could happily have spent more time with the characters. Very Musketeers-y (shut up, that is totally a word). 

Dream London - Tony Ballantyne I made it a grand total of one chapter into this book. It was London-based urban fantasy, which is basically my very favourite genre, but it was so bad. The main character referred to himself in the third person, loads of women want to shag him and men want to be like him, everyone spoke in a weird pseudo-Victorian style for no reason I could see, apart from the main character's ex women were mentioned as whores. Somehow I carried on after that (shouldn't have done) and then a really weird gay character turned up who was an incredibly camp cliche who for some reason kept speaking in alliteration.  Oh and he wanted to shag the main character, of course. 

I have no idea what the London part of the plot was, save that London is changing in some mysterious way. It wasn't well set up and I couldn't dredge up any interest in ploughing on through the stereotypes and the Gary Stu. 

Alex + Ada Volume 1 - Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn This was a graphic novel I really liked. Alex is lonely in the future and his grandmother buys him an android, and the story develops from there. I read the Luna Brothers' Girls years ago and really liked the art style, and this is the same kind of thing. I loved the atmosphere and world building of this and definitely want to keep going with the series.

Room - Emma Donoughue This is our latest book club choice, and it was the one book on the list I didn't want to read, but the popular vote decided it, so I got it out of the library and DAMN it is readable. I mean, DAMN. The main character lives with her son in one room, where they're being kept by the man who kidnapped her seven years ago. It's pretty upsetting - not least because there are multiple cases of this situation in the real world - but the mother character is really strong. I think I got through the book in about two hours. And I could tell I was being emotionally manipulated but I almost didn't care (almost). I don't know, I really liked this book, heartwrenching as it is. Looking forward to the book club!

A Child's Book Of True Crime - Chloe Hooper I have forgotten how this book - about a teacher having an affair with one of her pupils' fathers - ends. I seem to remember losing sympathy for pretty much everyone involved over the course of the book, including minor characters. There was a device of a book within a book, a reimagining of a local murder told for children that didn't quite work (even within book world it wasn't a real book, and this is getting confusing), and I just don't think anyone was as interesting as the author thought they were. 

The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood This book is a brick and I do most of my reading in the bath these days so this took me an absolute age to get through. I enjoyed the story of the Chase sisters but I'm not sure my interest stayed consistent all the way through. It was very well done, and I loved the newspaper articles and the way that the perception of the girls' lives were shown versus the reality. 

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I found the Google docs I mentioned when I posted about my fic! Well done me.

Having finally posted a Rivers of London fic (which took forever to write), I thought I would talk a bit about a) the bits of London I used in the fic and b) London-based UF/horror book series I love.

I’ve been meaning to do a post or seven about Rivers of London for ages but never quite managed it because I could never quite get to a stage where I was able to be objective about the books (I think writing this fic finally did it for me because it was such a slog).

The books, by Ben Aaronovitch, focus on PC Peter Grant, a mixed race copper from North London (it shows) who accidentally finds out about magic and starts training to become a wizard under the tutelage of the only wizard police officer left in the UK (DCI Thomas Nightingale).

The mythology of the books is that after WW2 magic faded away, more or less, leaving just Nightingale (who is a lot older than he looks) and a few scattered practitioners, but it is gradually starting to come back.

Peter is an entertaining narrator, easily-distracted but funny and quick with a pop-culture reference. The supporting characters are usually intriguing with a big chunk of mystery in their backgrounds.

The main draw for me is that the author is really really good at portraying London, even if there is a bias towards everything North of the river (says someone just as biased towards SE London). The city in the books is very close to the city I know, and the way Peter feels and thinks about the city is pretty close to the way I feel about it (and London trivia spotters will have a great time reading the books and thinking ‘well yes but I already knew about Leinster Gardens’ etc etc).

There are currently five books in the series (I have yet to read the fifth), and apparently the fifth book takes Peter out of London, not that I know why you’d want to /only half joking.

The ROL series is not quite my favourite London-based urban fantasy series, however. That would be the Matthew Swift series of books by Kate Griffin. In this series, most of the sorcerers in London were killed two years before the series starts, and Matthew Swift (a sorcerer, which is apparently a bit different to a wizard) starts the series being brought back to life by the blue electric angels who live in the telephone lines.

Everything in Kate Griffin’s London has some sort of magic to it, from the magic of routine and rules (such as escaping from something chasing you by going through the ticket machines on the tube when it doesn’t have a valid ticket) to pulling power from the streetlights and everything upwards.

(where dryads in Rivers of London still live inside trees, in the Matthew Swift series they have moved to lampposts)

cut for brief spoilers )
The reason I ended up liking Griffin’s series more is probably that she really covers all of London, having Matthew venture out over the sprawling suburbs instead of mostly sticking to the central boroughs. 

There are currently six books featuring Matthew, four where he is the central character and two in the Magicals Anonymous spin-off series, which focus on Sharon Li, a woman who finds out she’s a shaman who can become one with the city, and the group of people/supernatural beings who come to meetings after she puts a post up on Facebook.

Most recently I’ve read London Falling by Paul Cornell, which I think is due to become a series. I meant to write a review but never got round to it so I might as well do one here.

I didn’t like the book when I first started it - I had been saving it for months and had been expecting an instant love the same as I’d felt for ROL/Matthew Swift. I persevered, however, and by the end of the book I was really enjoying myself.

The characters in London Falling (three police officers and a data person) initially don’t get on with each other, which was one of the reasons I didn’t get on with it - I don’t expect everything to be sunshine and rainbows in my UF books, obviously, but I couldn’t work out why they seemed so reluctant to work together. By the end, though, the characters had been developed well enough that this didn’t bother me any more.

The characters in LF were all prickly and complicated in different ways, which I really liked. They only find out about/get involved with magic by accident and I thought that the ways they each dealt with this were interesting. ROL only really has to deal with Peter finding out about magic (and anyone else we hear about through him) so Cornell had quite a bit more work to do.

The plot of the book was nicely creepy, and the villian did some pretty horrific things - I think possibly this book is a bit closer to the horror end of things rather than urban fantasy (actually I’m not sure where the division would be). Sometimes the other series are a bit meandering without being particularly scary or creepy, but this book had some properly tense moments. I am looking forward to reading others in the series.

As a glancing final mention, there is of course the Felix Castor series by Mike Carey which predate all of these, but it’s been ages since I read them so all I can say is that I enjoyed those too and I’ve been meaning to do a reread (iirc they were also more down the horror end of the spectrum).

I’m sure there are others (lucky me, there’s always someone writing something magical set in London) so do let me know if I’ve missed anything.
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It’s been a while since I’ve been properly disappointed in a book. I must have been lucky because I’ve had a run of books recently that I’ve really enjoyed (I have reviewed some of them here but I have some more to do).

The book is PopCo by Scarlett Thomas. It’s all about a girl called Alice Butler who grew up with her code breaking grandparents (after her mother died and her father disappeared) and who now works for a toy company designing new toys. It is a novel with two distinct threads – the coding, mathematics and patterns of the world Alice grew up in, and the team-building nonsense of a PopCo retreat which turns into something a bit more sinister (just a bit, though).

Spoilers )

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So we have a book club at work, which has had some *cough* variable results (anti-rec: The Husband's Secret, AVOID) and the last meeting was to discuss Ben Okri's The Famished Road, which I found dense and monotone and which I could not finish (ditto most of the group).

By contrast, I read the latest book - Slated by Teri Terry - in about two hours flat. I was going to make a list of the things I like versus the things I didn't, but really I basically loved all of it. So here's a very positive review, hurrah!

Cut for plot spoilers )
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I hesitate to call this a review, because even in the version in my head there’s a lot of tangents. And it’s not quite a rec (for reasons which will become obvious). So I’m calling it a ramble. 

Crishna brought this book down to Cornwall for me, and seeing as it was a) crime b) with a supernatural bent and c) set in London, I had to read it.

A Matter of Blood is the first book in the Dog-Faced Gods trilogy (which I nearly just typed as God-Faced Dogs, which would be something else entirely), set in a very near future where the global financial crisis was far more serious than the real one, and most of the world is now in hock to The Bank, a shady organisation.

The book follows Detective Inspector Cass Jones over two investigations, the shooting of two schoolboys and a serial killer who calls himself the Man of Flies and who likes leaving the words Nothing Is Sacred written in blood on his victims.

At the same time, his marriage is going down the pan (although the rot set in long before the start of the book, after an undercover operation that went very bad – we find out just how bad in flashbacks).

Ok, so that’s the setup, now we get into the spoilery discussion:

spoilers ) 

Tl; dr - in reading this book I found out my limit for depressing shit is, actually, Luther. Good to know.
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ETA: I have no idea why half this entry is in bold, I can't even see the relevant tag in the html. Might try to fix it again later but having no luck rn. Fixed thanks to [livejournal.com profile] delgaserasca.

…It isn’t Thursday night, obviously. It’s a Monday morning, and I’ve had no sleep, thanks to my idiot neighbour (the nice one, not Downstairs Man, he is a prick) who went out and left his computer game on pause, playing the same short piece of music over and over and over and over ALL NIGHT.


I am going to have a word with him later and if that does not include me screaming in his face, he should count himself lucky. Presuming I go home tonight – tempted to go over to my parents’ but I am already going over there for two nights this week so probably best if I do go home. Also I have stuff to do (photos).

[NB: I am posting this on Wednesday morning, and I have spoken to him, and turns out a few people were annoyed by this music, FANCY THAT. Turned out to be his computer screensaver, but I don’t think he’s going to be leaving it on again in a hurry. Also I’ve now had two good nights’ sleep, so am feeling a bit more like myself now]

So, in other news, I went to Hastings with the parents and Pudding a couple of weeks ago, but that’s a separate post (posted last night). Since getting back I have been working like a loon, reading, trying to catch up on TV and occasionally going out for things that are not food, but mostly not (by which I mean supermarkets, not restaurants).

Cut for spoilers (books/film):

Broken Homes, London Calling, Dandy Gilver and A Deadly Measure of Brimstone, The Killing Moon )Blancanieves )

I haven’t finished Top of the Lake yet, but it’s nice to watch a show where if something doesn’t quite make sense, there’s a fair chance it’s not just me, it’s the show.

Haven’t watched that thing on BBC One on Sunday nights atm (What Remains? Something like that) but am intending to get to it soon.

Currently watching Vera, which I am enjoying as ever. Last night’s was particularly heartbreaking in various places, and featured Saskia Reeves and Hugh Simon (!). Joe continues to be lovely.

Can’t think of what else has been on. Emmerdale is super annoying, I haaaaaate one of the new doctors on Holby (even more so after the most recent episode) and Casualty is pretty good. I have seen a few episodes of Coronation Street and I saw one episode of Eastenders and would like to know what happened in Devon, but other than that I don’t care. I’ve been watching quite a lot of CSI New York (ideal background show for me) and a few episodes of The Mindy Project here and there.

I need to rewatch Luther so I can do a proper entry about the series. And also work out if 303 & 304 actually do hang together at all (based on one viewing I’m veering towards no).

I'm going to try to catch up on TOTL tonight, while I do various boring things that need sorting now I've had enough sleep to deal with them.

In other exciting news, I am getting a haircut on Friday. WOOHOO! Going to go quite short this time, although I haven't decided how short.

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Hello, all. Hope you are doing okay.

I have been sucked down a hole of Olympics excitement. Suddenly I am bothered about sports, pretending I know wtf is going, and enjoying the Gymnastics particularly . I also have Paralympics tickets, so woo hoo!

I am writing and working on a few of the wips, and I hope to finish and post at least 5 fics before the end of August (I am going away week after next so intending to police the almost-complete ones then).

My digital camera has finally died (it could have been fixed but it was too expensive). I have been trying to remember when I got it, and suspect it may have been around the time Dad & Lesley got married, which would make it 7 - 9 years old. Whatever the actual figure is, it served me well and was very well behaved. It was a Sony, and believe me when I say I am actually quite upset I can’t get a new Sony. Still, I am going to (hopefully) buy my new one this afternoon.

I apologise in advance for the photo spam that will appear.

Recently I have read the following books:

Dead to Me by Cath Staincliffe – Scott and Bailey prequel
This is essentially a rehash of my Luther: The Calling non-spoilery review, but OH MY GOD, if you are a Scott and Bailey fan, read this book. It is everything you could ever want from Scott and Bailey fic: perfect voices, interesting plot, and so much backstory omg.

Seriously. Read it.

Zone One by Colson Whitehead
The tagline for this was ‘a zombie novel with brains’, which initially made me expect a book where the zombies were intelligent and organised. That’s not really what it’s about, and tbh if you’re going to use that as your tagline then you should make sure there are some brains in it one way or the other. And this is a pointless tiny niggle because that’s not why I picked it up. ANYWAY.

The Zone One in this is in New York City, and it takes place after the zombie invasion and in the clearout. There’s some interesting themes running through the book, identity and how people recover from trauma etc. One of the things I found interesting was how people seemed to pick nicknames up as real names, but didn’t really take advantage of having a clean slate to just go off and do whatever they wanted etc. There’s also some intriguing stuff about branding and sponsorship in the new era.
I don’t know if the author’s planned more books in the series (other cities and camps are mentioned) but I’d be interested in reading them.

Britten and Brülightly by Hannah Berry
This is an odd one. It’s a graphic novel with an interesting art style, and the main character – Britten – is a detective.

His sidekick – Brülightly – is a teabag.

To be honest, I found this tricky to get past. Britten only spoke to Brülightly once in the presence of other people, so I couldn’t work out if Britten had had some psychotic break in the past and really thought he was talking to a teabag, or if this was the type of world where teabags can talk.

Still, it’s a pretty interesting art style and a little noir mystery, and it was the author’s first graphic novel, so I will probably look out for their other stuff.

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
I have been waiting to read this for aaaaaaages. I have read extracts and the first chapter on Kindle, but I hadn’t got the whole thing.
It is mostly excellent. Funny, clever, honest, chatty. I was annoyed at the parts where Moran says that women just haven’t made the contributions to the world that men have (massively paraphrasing). I understand the point she is getting at, but the problem is not that women weren’t involved in things in the past, it’s that by and large their contributions were ignored at the time and have continued to be ignored. You can find intelligent, amazing, inspirational women throughout history. You just have to look.

Still, that aside, it’s a really good read.

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The more I think about this book, the more disappointing it gets. Not because it was bad or boring, but because there’s only one sodding book and it’s YA so it’s far too bloody short.


Interlude: a handy tip

If you see a book in a library that has a) a brightly-coloured sticker on the spine (in this case, fluorescent orange with a black Z) and b) is pretty short, and then c) when you read it the main characters are all teenagers, you’ve probably picked up a YA novel.


So, the premise of this book: London is now Pastworld, a giant Victorian theme park, staffed with permanent residents (some of whom live their whole lives in Pastworld with varying degrees of awareness of the artificial nature of their home) and more temporary employees. They’re watched over with a very modern security system, and everything about their environment can be controlled – the residents don’t even get to see the sky).

The story focuses on two people (I say people because I also didn’t realise one of them was supposed to be a teenager until fairly late on – basically the book is not the only one at fault here) with mysterious pasts and futures (as well as a large cast of mostly male supporting characters). Their stories don’t play out entirely satisfactorily, but I think this is mostly down to the amount of time given to them – I really do think this book had plenty of scope to be longer.

The characters in the book are, as I mentioned, mostly male (which makes sense given the faux-Victorian setting and the jobs of the modern characters) and fairly broadly drawn. The star of the show, to be honest, is the world building (which suits me just fine). Somehow, the idea that London has been bought up and turned into a giant theme park seems plausible in this book.

The book is set in the run up to an anniversary party (can’t remember which one now) which will be marked with the destruction of the last remaining modern building in Pastworld. Oddly enough, this is Tower 42 (NatWest tower). This is probably going too far off into territory that only interests me, but I’m not sure why Tower 42 was the last one standing? I presume it was mostly to do with practicalities – it provides a space for scenes from the book that you couldn’t have done at something like the Gherkin, even if that would have been more familiar to a YA audience.

The book ends slightly disappointingly (for me) but with the possibility of a sequel – I really hope there is one. I would happily read a whole book of short stories just following residents and visitors in Pastworld. I think there’s plenty of ways the author could return to the premise. I’d like to see something similar as a full-length novel as well, but to be honest I’d read it if it was just world building so maybe I’m not the most representative audience...

Still, I would recommend it for YA readers, or readers who like London as a setting and like it even more when something creative is done with that setting.


June 2017


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