Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Books for August

This month we continue our journey into the world of Scout Finch with Harper Lee’s new novel, Go Set A Watchman. The group was unanimous in its opinion that To Kill A Mocking Bird was indeed a masterpiece, but the mixed reviews of this sequel and the controversy surrounding it make me uneasy and I wonder if it will fulfill our expectations.

Our second choice is Strong For Potatoes by Cynthia Thayer. We previously read her title A Certain Slant of Light, but this is her debut novel . . . perhaps we should make more of an effort to start with author’s debuts first in future!

Both books are now on the Nooks.

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

From Harper Lee comes a landmark new novel set two decades after her beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch--"Scout"--returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise's homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past--a journey that can be guided only by one's conscience.

Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor and effortless precision--a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context and new meaning to an American classic.

Strong For Potatoes by Cynthia Thayer

Cynthia Thayer's acclaimed debut novel, Strong for Potatoes, is the resonant story of the difficult youth of Blue Willoughby, a remarkable girl growing up in eastern Maine. In a life beset by tragedy, beginning with the death of her twin sister Berry only days after their birth, Blue must discover on her own strength she needs to survive.

Blue's true ally is her grandfather, a full-blooded Passamoquoddy Indian who teaches Blue life's most vital lessons: that the ways of nature can illuminate life, that family can be depended on, that true passion is worth waiting for, and that grief can heal. Most important, he he passes on the ways of his ancestors-knowledge that Blue will need to find a sense of her own true self amid the chaos of her adolescence.

Reminiscent of Dorothy Allison and Barbara Kingsolver, Strong for Potatoes is a rich, evocative literary debut by a gifted writer and teller of the most rewarding kind of story: beautifully crafted, authentic, moving, and ultimately uplifting. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Six Moon Dance by Sherri S Tepper

The planet of Newholme was first settled hundreds of years ago, but that group of violent men vanished mysteriously. The later waves of settlers had their own problems trying to develop a world strangely devoid of metals, with increasing volcanic activity and a 50% death rate amongst baby girls. The female-dominated society that has developed subordinates the men, who must remained veiled in order to prevent arousing lust in the women. Marriage is an expensive business agreement designed to give the men the offspring that they want, whilst allowing women to obtain entertainment and sexual fulfillment from Consorts, sterilized men who are trained to be the perfect companion and to provide ‘compensation’ for the unpleasant business of breeding. Mouche is an only child and, as a boy, he is only a drain on resources, so he is sold to one of the Consort schools where he begins his training. He soon discovers that life on Newholme is not as it seems: another, indigenous, race lives amongst the humans, but their presence is denied, so much so that everyone over the age of seven simply does not see these ‘invisibles’.

The increased volcanic action, strange gender relations and rumors of the indigenes catch the attention of the Questioner. ‘She’ is a bionic construct, including three human female brains, that is tasked with judging societies against a set of ethical standards. She chooses a pair of humans to join her: Gandro Bao, who chose to train as a Kabuki dancer, playing female roles, and Ellin Voy, a cloned Nordic ballet dancer. The Questioner’s arrival causes panic amongst the Hags who rule Newholme and soon Mouche joins the Questioner, Gandro and Ellin on a quest to discover the truth behind all the problems and peculiarities.

* * * * *

I first read this book several years ago at the recommendation of another book group member, so I was both delighted and a little worried when it was selected by the group. Whilst I was fairly sure that the book’s exploration of gender identity and ethics would be interesting to the group, I was not sure quite how much they would enjoy the experience. Yet again, I have been proven wrong in my estimation of the group members and their ability to go beyond their comfort zones. I cannot express how delighted I am that this book was enjoyed even more than Mr Lynch’s title!

Set in the far distant future, this tale includes some novel concepts, such as the idea that people are cloned, grown and trained to be authentic, living parts of history exhibits. Whilst we are made aware of technologies far in advance of our own, there is very little time wasted on explanations or details of how they function. They are simply a part of everyday life for some of the characters that we encounter and so we are not subjected to a great deal of the boring exposition that sometimes plagues lesser titles in this genre. Indeed, some of the storylines made me wish for a much greater exploration of this world, which was a little frustrating but ultimately I appreciated Ms Tepper’s restraint.

I also appreciated her choice to place Newholme in a pre-industrialized level of development. At first this seemed a little strange for a colony within a giant intergalactic empire, because the colonists were acutely aware that they were not indigenous to this planet. The addition of a space port and regular communication with off-world authorities and entities made this seem even more strange, but the explanation provided was very sensible and eventually this aspect of Newholme society seemed much more likely than if everyone was living in the same sort of environment that we see in Ellin’s life on Earth. It was also a neat way of avoiding too much immersion in a highly technologically advanced society and thus made it much easier for us to identify with Newholme and its colonists.

After all, this book is primarily intended to allow us to explore gender / power relations within societies and the ethical dilemmas that these produce rather than to keep us entertained with pew-pew zap guns and space battles. It includes some pearls of t wisdom that really made me think, and which had resonances with the current debates about gender equality, racism, religious extremism, same sex marriage, gun rights and the function of the police. There were so many instances when I could see direct connections to the current news items that it was almost unnerving. It is not that I think that Ms Tepper had any particular foresight when she wrote this book; simply that she has a profound understanding of the human condition. Indeed, I found it rather depressing that mankind was basically still as dysfunctional as it is now, even all those centuries in the future. This was particularly true of some of Mouche’s training lectures showing that men and women were still incapable of seeing individuals instead of sexual stereotypes. However, I was most disturbed and disappointed by the revelations about the deaths of the Questioner’s three brain donors: I had rather hoped that humans would be able to move beyond such barbaric behavior if given enough time.

Still, the Questioner herself is a truly wonderful creation. Her description is suitably vague and yet she is unlike any other cyborg that I have come across before. Perhaps this is because of the inclusion of her human brains, so that she has all the mechanical benefits of a superior body whilst still displaying a human personality and some emotions. She is grouchy and funny, with a no nonsense attitude and a love of card games. The final scene, where Mouche uses all his skills to offer her ‘compensation’ for her impersonal life is particularly wonderful.

It was also refreshing to come across aliens that were truly different in every way, not just humanoids with bumps on their faces or based upon a form of life that we already understand. The misunderstandings that occur because of these differences show how difficult it is to think outside of our own experience. Whilst I struggled with trying to imagine how the Quaggi evolved their form of reproduction, I was massively intrigued by their life cycle, and I wanted to know more about them. Was this particular incident typical of their matings, or an anomaly? Did Quaggima and his offspring go on to change their society or receive justice for a malicious act? Even more intriguing was the almost Gaia-like life on Newholme. Whilst the planet itself was not alive, it was inhabited by just a single entity with many individual units. Again, this was an idea that I had not encountered before, so it made me reexamine how we assume so much about possible alien entities because we are prejudiced by our own experience.

My only real criticism of this title is that we begin several storylines and then leave them hanging for some time in a way that seems somewhat random at first. For example, we meet Ornery very early on, but then hear nothing more of her for another one hundred pages. This interrupted the flow of the story and was slightly frustrating until their respective roles in the story began to intertwine. However, this is a minor complaint about a generally excellent read.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

In the city of Camorr, the plague known as the Black Whisper is a disaster, killing everyone over eleven years old. However, this provides an opportunity for those who like to ‘adopt’ orphans. Slavers take most of them, but those who seem talented are apprenticed to the Thiefmaker and put to profitable work in the streets, markets and houses of the city. One particular apprentice is tiny Locke Lamora, who displays a massive talent for the noble arts of theft and conman-ship. Unfortunately, young Locke doesn’t always foresee the outcomes of his schemes and drives the Thiefmaker to pass him along to Father Chains, a blind priest who spends his days begging outside a dilapidated temple. Chains makes people feel righteous because they have been charitable whilst simultaneously making himself very happy as he gains their wealth without really trying very hard.

Chains molds Locke into the leader of a band of equally light-fingered misfits known as the Gentleman Bastards and pretty soon Locke has become infamous in the city. The Bastards are especially talented at intricate and inventive plans that help to relieve noblemen of vast sums of money, although they are noticeably reluctant to share their wealth with the deserving poor so his similarity to Robin Hood is somewhat limited. As his talents and confidence grow, Locke even succeeds in fooling the underworld's most feared ruler, but in the shadows lurks someone still more ambitious and deadly. Faced with a bloody coup that threatens to destroy everyone and everything that holds meaning in his mercenary life, Locke vows to beat the enemy at his own brutal game, or die trying.

* * * * *

As a fan of Mr Lynch’s writing I was rather apprehensive about our discussion of his debut novel. I had pretty much convinced myself that everyone would hate it, but that is because I am a pessimist. I was concerned that the interweaving timelines would create a barrier to enjoyment or that the ‘earthy’ vocabulary would offend some of our more gentile members. I am pleased to report that my worries were mostly unwarranted, although not everyone fell in love with the book as much as I did.

This is Scott Lynch’s debut novel, but you would never know that from his skill with dialogue and descriptive writing. His voice is very engaging and witty, giving us memorable quotes and laugh-out-loud descriptions of events, and I find his writing as warm and comforting as a pair of old slippers. His characters are well drawn and fully realized and we come to love some of them very quickly: there are few ‘throw away’ place fillers in evidence and even minor characters are fully realized. The setting is expertly drawn and we are given enough detail to leave us wanting more: it is similar to Elizabethan Europe, but different enough to tick all the required Fantasy boxes. The plot has enough originality to keep us off balance and surprised, with bold moves that will have you shouting angrily at the author because you do not want him to do THAT to the characters.

Locke and the other Bastards are all engaging characters even though they are thieves. Their choice to rob from the rich makes their profession a little easier to accept, though they don’t seem to do much wealth distribution, so we know that they are not all that noble. However, it is very nice to have characters that are slightly less than the usual perfectly good heroes that litter Fantasy novels. Although Locke is the brains of the outfit, he is dependent upon his support crew, especially Jean Tannen. Jean is the gentle giant type who has his special hatchets, ‘The Wicked Sisters’, but who wears glasses and reads Romance novels. He and Locke are supported by the Sanza twins, when they can be kept away from gambling and wenching, and Bug, the latest apprentice to join the team. One of the appealing things about Locke is that he really needs his crew: he is hopeless at fighting for a start! The secondary cast is also well crafted. Father Chains deserves several books all to himself, because I want to read his entire life story. The nobles ensnared in the Bastards’ trap are not your usual idiot nobility, but more than capable of some plotting of their own. One particularly wonderful character is Dona Vorchenza, an incredibly elderly noble who has an entirely unexpected role in the story and who would be a perfect role for Dame Maggie Smith if there is ever an adaptation. The antagonist of the piece, The Gray King, is a suitably shadowy figure for most of the book, but his history and motivations are unusual and logical, if a little extreme.

The world that Mr Lynch creates is full of wonderful touches and hints, such as his use of alchemy in everyday life, that really places it into a true fantasy setting. Unlike many Fantasy writers, who bury you in a massive pile of details and histories, he keeps to the bare minimum. This is frustrating in some ways, but it does stop the exposition from getting in the way of the story and it is a testament to Mr Lynch that I left the book wanting more. He uses an interesting technique of interweaving the main plot with Interludes from the past, which either add color to the characters or explain or support aspects of the story or world. I found that this provided quiet moments to catch my breath in some of the most frantic action sequences and also gave more context to the world and its inhabitants whilst allowing us to miss out on a prolonged introduction to the Bastards. The rest of the group found the structure easy enough to follow once the basic outline became obvious.

The plot is like one of the great caper movies mixed with a dash of Mafia politics: think Oceans Eleven meets The Sopranos with more grime and some magic thrown in for good measure. There are bluffs within bluffs, political maneuvering and random violence at every turn, but our heroes are destined to rise above it all with their mythical hero aura, right? Nope, this is a cruel, brutal world, so nothing is certain. Our heroes get beaten, stabbed, drowned, poisoned, bitten and they bleed real blood: when they finish a fight you would have trouble finding bits that aren’t black, blue or red. There is a real sense of danger, which ratchets up the tension for most of the second half of the book as our heroes stagger from one danger to the next. The journey is certainly convoluted, but Mr Lynch manages all the unexpected moves beautifully, making sure that everyone behaves in ways that fit their characters. There is a slight lack of female characters, but the city of Camorr seems to be very politically correct, with no obvious division of professions along gender lines and the females we do meet are all strong and feisty.

There are a couple of things that I do want to mention though. Firstly, this is not necessarily a book for the weak stomached. There are some scenes of unpleasant violence that might be difficult for some people to read, though there is surprisingly little description of what is really happening. Secondly, there is quite a lot of profanity in the dialogue. If you look at Amazon or Goodreads, you will see plenty of one star reviews that are due to this. I do not want to debate the suitability of giving a low star rating to a book because of its choice of language, but I do think that the language is suited to the environment being described in this case. It is not used inappropriately and is not there for shock value: it is simply an accurate reflection of how I would expect criminals to speak. I was very relieved that the rest of the group agreed with the assessment.

The Gentleman Bastards are supposed to endure a total of seven adventures eventually. The next two books, Red Seas Under Red Skies and The Republic of Thieves, have already been published and I am eagerly awaiting The Thorn of Emberlain, which is due in September of this year. Mr Lynch is a notoriously slow writer, but his books are definitely worth the wait.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Books for July

This month we will be reading The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, which is receiving a lot of buzz at the moment. Our second choice is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and we will be reading her new book, Go Set a Watchman, next month after it is published.

OOPS! I should have added that we have so many copies of To Kill a Mockingbird in the library that I did not buy copies of it for the Nooks . . . you will be forced to read a paper copy!

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
(Mystery / Thriller / Crime)

A debut psychological thriller that will forever change the way you look at other people's lives.

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

A compulsively readable, emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller that draws comparisons to Gone Girl, The Silent Wife, or Before I Go to Sleep, this is an electrifying debut embraced by readers across markets and categories.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
(Classic / Historical)

The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it, To Kill A Mockingbird became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic.

Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior - to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Books for June

I am super excited by the choices for the extended gap that comes before our June meeting because they are both titles that I thoroughly enjoyed when I first read them. They have both been up for the vote before, but this time I succeeded in getting them chosen (with the help of one of our other long time members). The Lies of Locke Lamora by the wonderful Scott Lynch is the first of his Gentleman Bastard series and one of my most favorite Fantasy titles. Six Moon Dance by Sherri S Tepper is a thought-provoking exploration of feminism, sexual stereotypes and environmentalism. I predict some interesting discussions at the next meeting!

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
(Fantasy / Adventure / Crime)

In the city of Camorr, the plague known as the Black Whisper is a disaster, killing everyone over eleven years old. However, this provides an opportunity for those who like to ‘adopt’ orphans. Slavers take most of them, but those who seem talented are apprenticed to the Thiefmaker and put to profitable work in the streets, markets and houses of the city. One particularly talented apprentice is tiny Locke Lamora, who displays a massive talent for the noble arts of theft and conman-ship. Unfortunately, young Locke doesn’t always foresee the outcomes of his schemes and drives the Thiefmaker to pass him along to Father Chains, a blind priest who spend his days begging outside his temple.

Six Moon Dance by Sherri S tepper
(SciFi / Fantasy / Women’s)

The planet of Newholme was first settled hundreds of years ago, but that group of violent men vanished. The later waves of settlers had their own problems trying to develop a world strangely devoid of metals, with increasing volcanic activity and a 50% death rate amongst baby girls. The female-dominated society that has developed subordinates the men, who must remained veiled in order to prevent arousing lust in women. Marriage is an expensive business agreement designed to give the men the offspring that they want, whilst allowing women to obtain entertainment and sexual fulfillment from Consorts, sterilized men who are trained to be the perfect companion and to provide ‘compensation’ for the unpleasant business of breeding. Mouche is an only child and, as a boy, he is only a drain on resources, so he is sold to one of the Consort schools where he begins his training. He soon discovers that life on Newholme is not as it seems: another, indigenous, race lives amongst the humans, but their presence is denied, so much so that everyone over the age of seven simply does not see these ‘invisibles’.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Unbeknownst to most people, Camille Preaker is a cutter. This started after the death of her sickly younger sister, Marian, and led to a recent stay in a psychiatric unit. Her entire body is covered with words that she needed to make permanent at one time or another: wicked, harmful, whore. The only places left clear are her face and a small circle on her back. Whilst she is recovering well, and has not marked herself with a blade in quite some time, she still writes on herself with a pen and feels the words already carved into her skin burning whenever they become appropriate.

Unfortunately, her life is suddenly disrupted by her editor’s insistence that she returns to her home town of Wind Gap, Missouri, to get the scoop on the possible emergence of a new serial killer. When one preteen girl was found strangled, the town was willing to overlook her missing teeth and place the blame on a stranger passing through town. However, when a second girl goes missing, it becomes increasingly difficult to ignore the truth: Wind Gap has probably become home to a deranged serial killer. Camille’s history with the townsfolk is difficult, to say the least, but she may have a way in to the spectacular story before any of the more successful papers in Chicago have even heard about the sleepy little town.

* * * * * 

Ironically, although we have now read all three of Gillian Flynn’s novels we started with Gone Girl and then read the others in reverse publication order. I was more impressed with Dark Places than her latest, and most famous, offering, but I think that was heavily influenced by the fact that I found both lead characters in Gone Girl to be highly unlikeable! Sharp Objects was her debut novel but it does not read like a book written by an inexperienced author and I can understand why it won, and was nominated for, so many awards. It is complex and very, very dark in a way that will disturb many readers, especially those with preteen relatives. Many of the characters are deeply flawed or disturbingly antisocial and yet they remain horrifically real and believable. Many reviewers have had an almost visceral reaction to the book, and I can completely understand why.

As with Dark Places, our protagonist was deeply damaged by her early life experiences. In this case, Camille and her younger half-sister were both plagued by strange illnesses almost from birth. For some reason, Camille grew out of them, but they increased in severity and frequency for Marian until she finally died without anyone being able to diagnose her medical problems. The death came when Camille was thirteen, a horribly difficult time for any child to finally lose a sick sibling and her grief manifested itself in her need to carve words into her skin. The descriptions of how Camille feels her skin burning and the relief she used to get from her cutting are highly disturbing but yet compelling, because they reveal such a deeply felt psychosomatic effect. She has a real physical need to write the words, and the fact that she resists it throughout this traumatic series of events makes her rather heroic in my eyes. This is not someone acting out to gain sympathy: this is a very private struggle for survival.

As you might expect, Marian’s suspicious death begins to assume increasing importance as we learn more about Camille’s family history, especially when we learn that her medical problems seem to be repeating themselves in the youngest child, thirteen year old Ama. As we become more suspicious of what secrets this family may be protecting, it is revealed that the identity of Camille’s father is unknown: she is the product of an act of teenage rebellion from her mother, Adora. As the only offspring of the family that effectively owns the town, Adora was a golden girl who wanted for nothing. She still has more money than she knows how to spend, even though the town seems to have suffered a bit of a decline, and yet she has a thoroughly irritating need to be pitied by everyone at all times. She floats around her mansion, taking to her ivory-floored bedroom whenever things do not go her way. She is an arch manipulator and is evil in so many ways that I wanted to slap her from our very first encounter. I was not very surprised when her true psychosis was revealed, as I was already familiar with the signs that point to it, but I had zero sympathy for this woman.

As the person lucky enough to marry Adora, Camille’s stepfather is a strangely androgynous individual. I was convinced that theirs would be revealed to be a marriage of convenience and that both Marian and the much younger Ama would be the products of further extra-marital liaisons. I was genuinely surprised that he was really their biological father as I cannot imagine how he could ever engage in sexual activity without creasing his immaculate trousers! He certainly was a good match for the useless Adora, spending his time floating about in a variety of fetching outfits, displaying almost no interest in his family or anything else. Perhaps it is my Type A personality, but I found both parents to be insufferably irritating in their inability to do anything productive with their lives.

Then we move on to the ‘queen’ of the town: Ama. I am not sure that I have ever read such an obnoxious and hateful character. Even though she is only thirteen years old, she displays a dazzling array of personas: she is a baby for her mother, a bully to the other girls her age and a Lolita-like tease to any males in her vicinity. Camille develops some tender feelings for her half-sister, because she understands how Adora has warped the girl’s personality, but I could not find it in my heart to like her one tiny bit. She was unremittingly awful and deserved everything that she got. The final straw was her visit to the pig farm, which made me shudder with true horror.

So, poor Camille has a family that is possibly the worst in the world: it is hardly surprising that she has serious psychological issues. It also explains why she has not spoken to them in the nearly ten years since she finally left town. This makes her editor’s determination to thrust her back into such a hostile environment seem positively cruel. His later actions were also questioned by the group, who saw his attempts to parent Camille as motivated more by self-interest than genuine affection or empathy. Indeed, the number of genuinely ‘nice’ people that we meet in this book is rather small. The town seems to be a simmering mire of petty cruelty and misogyny that was highly unpleasant and yet very believable. Most disturbing to me was the sexual behavior of the preteens that we encounter: their casual use of sex as a weapon and the way that they display such terrible self-esteem was very sad. I hope that their experience of high school is extremely atypical.

Although this is a disturbing read, I would still recommend it. The characters may not be pleasant, but their actions make perfect sense once you understand their motivations, which shows real skill from the author. We also have an appealingly damaged heroine in Camille, and although I could not agree with some of her choices, I was certainly happy to see her stronger at the end of this trail than she was at the beginning.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

Peter Grant is reaching the end of his probation with the Metropolitan Police in London and the time has come to choose a role within that mighty institution. Unfortunately, he seems unsuited to the exciting life of a detective and he is heavily recommended to move into the Case Progression Unit, which spends all its days shuffling paperwork. It may be vitally important to the daily operations of the police force, but he fears that he might die of boredom.

Fortunately, Peter displays a rather unexpected talent for seeing the dead when a ghost approaches him and reports witnessing a strange case of beheading. Rather than gibbering or staying quiet about the details he gathers from his ghostly informant, Peter reveals his encounter and is quickly introduced to Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the head of a secret branch of the Met that deals with anything decidedly ‘uncanny’. He soon becomes embroiled in trying to catch a strangely familiar murderer with a penchant for hitting people with very large sticks. At the same time he needs to learn to do magic and settle an increasingly heated dispute between Mother and Father Thames.

* * * * * 

I have to admit that one of the advantages of running a book group is that I can occasionally misuse my power to add suggestions from my stupidly long ‘To Read’ list. I was aware that Rivers of London, the English title, had caused quite a stir when it was first published and the reviews of the subsequent titles had only added to my conviction that I needed to read this series. Being a serious fan of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, I was rather hoping that this would be something similar, only with a English feel. I was not disappointed.

Peter Grant is a suitably imperfect hero, who spends too much time thinking about random stuff to really pay attention to the process of police work. He gets hung up on seemingly trivial details and then misses the important stuff that seems blazingly obvious to his best friend, and potential love interest, Leslie. It is no surprise that she ends up working for the Criminal Investigation Division, whilst Peter seems destined to die by a thousand paper cuts. The fact that Peter is not perfect makes him much more appealing and relatable than some heroes, and I certainly appreciated the fact that Leslie is so much better at being a ‘copper’ than he is: I always like a bit of gender equality in my reading.

I was also rather pleased that Peter’s abilities were not as suddenly amazing as those that many heroes display. His progress with magic is slow and somewhat dangerous as he repeatedly sets fire to things and keeps destroying his mobile phone. This allows us to accept the fantastical elements of the storyline much more easily because we take baby steps into this slightly different version of the real world. Of course there are things that are incredibly ‘uncanny’ but we are surrounded by mundane details and so they seem wonderfully possible. However, I rather wish that the editorial team had put a red pen through much of the seemingly endless lists of travelling directions. At times the book did almost descend into feeling like a print out from Google Maps or the recitations of a GPS. They were unnecessarily detailed and were rather distracting to those of us who do not have an intimate knowledge of inner London. This is a minor point, though, and my only criticism of world building that was generally impressive.

The tone of the writing felt very British to me, with Peter displaying a dry humor and sarcastic turn of phrase that had me chuckling away as I read. His relationship with Leslie seemed particularly English, with his forlorn longing and inability to tell her how he actually feels. This lack of self confidence was rather endearing and helped to counteract the fantastical elements of his new found abilities and experiences. However, the very British feel included some cultural references that were rather obscure and caused slight issues for some of the group. They made the wise decision to simply go with the flow, though, so it did not detract from the experience very much.

As the first in a series, there was surprisingly little time spent on extensive world building and very few times that felt like we were being subjected to excessive exposition. This left me with many unanswered questions at the end of the book, although the plotlines reached satisfying conclusions. It left me wanting to move on through the series to see what else is revealed, rather than being frustrated by a lack of resolution or needless teasers.

Whilst some people might be a little uncomfortable with the descriptions of the strange injuries that we encounter, I heartily recommend this title to anyone who wants a good Urban Fantasy with a British feel.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Updated Schedule

Due to changes in staffing I have had to alter the date of the meeting in June to the 25th. I have also added dates for the rest of the year and marked those which have the earlier start time during our summer hours. You can check out the new schedule on the Meeting Schedule page above.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Books for April

Our choices for this month are Phoenix Rising by Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris and Shades of Milk & Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal, which is already available on the Red Nooks. The order has been placed with Barnes & Noble and they should be added to all the Nook libraries soon.

Phoenix Rising by Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris
(Steampunk / Fantasy / Mystery)

These are dark days indeed in Victoria’s England. Londoners are vanishing and then washing up as corpses on the banks of the river Thames, drained of blood and bone. Yet the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences will not allow its agents to investigate. Fearless Eliza D Braun, however, with her bulletproof corset and disturbing fondness for dynamite, refuses to let the matter rest and drags her timorous new partner, Wellington Books along with her into the perilous fray.

For a malevolent brotherhood is intent upon the enslaving all Britons. And Books and Braun (he with his encyclopedic brain and she with her remarkable devices) must get to the roots of a most nefarious plot… or see England fall to the Phoenix.

Shades of Milk & Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
(Fantasy / Romance / Historical)

Jane Ellsworth is a woman ahead of her time in a version of Regency England where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality. But despite the prevalence of magic in everyday life, life still revolve around vying for the attentions of eligible men

At the ripe old age of twenty-eight, Jane has resigned herself to being invisible forever. But when her family’s honor is threatened, she finds that she must push her skills to the limit in order to set things right–and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Books For March

Our choices for this month are Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch and Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl and Dark Places, both of which are already on the Nooks. They have been added to the Nook libraries for your reading enjoyment!

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch 
(Urban Fantasy / Mystery / Crime)

Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London's Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he'll face is a paper cut. But Peter's prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter's ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn 
(Mystery / Thriller / Crime)

WICKED above her hipbone, GIRL across her heart
Words are like a road map to reporter Camille Preaker’s troubled past. Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille’s first assignment from the second-rate daily paper where she works brings her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls.

NASTY on her kneecap, BABYDOLL on her leg
Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed again in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille is haunted by the childhood tragedy she has spent her whole life trying to cut from her memory.

HARMFUL on her wrist, WHORE on her ankle
As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.