Friday, 25 March 2016

Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch

**This book was included on
SBRs Top 10 Best Reads of 2015**

Publication date: 1st January 2012
Published by: Gollancz
Genre: Crime/Fantasy

Publisher's synopsis


It 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

My review

This is the 3rd in the Peter Grant series of fantasy-crime novels by Aaronovitch.  Although it is a new mystery, some of the old characters make an appearance and, as previously, a history of London is cleverly woven into the plot, this time focusing below ground (the tube and sewers). Also, this time you get more of a feel for police work - from the mundane aspects to the excitement.  I also came to appreciate their unique way of thinking. which presumably is the result of their training.  This is all done with a sense of humour making it both informative and fun.

This whodunnit left me guessing all the way to the end.

I am a huge fan of these books and the best thing about them for me is the character Peter.  I like him because he is smart (so I learn a lot from him) and whitty (he makes me laugh out loud).  Of course, this is down to Ben Aaronovitch's writing style, which is simply brilliant. 

I don't have much more to say except that I would recommend it to anyone who loves crime/fantasy and/or has an interest in the City of London.

See Rivers of London for more detail about the Peter Grant series in general.

Friday, 11 March 2016

UNHINGED by A. G. Howard

Publication date: 7th January 2014
Published by: Amulet
Genre: YA Fantasy

Publisher's synopsis
Alyssa Gardner has been down the rabbit hole and faced the bandersnatch. She saved the life of Jeb, the guy she loves, and escaped the machinations of the disturbingly seductive Morpheus and the vindictive Queen Red. Now all she has to do is graduate high school and make it through prom so she can attend the prestigious art school in London she's always dreamed of.

That would be easier without her mother, freshly released from an asylum, acting overly protective and suspicious. And it would be much simpler if the mysterious Morpheus didn’t show up for school one day to tempt her with another dangerous quest in the dark, challenging Wonderland—where she (partly) belongs.

As prom and graduation creep closer, Alyssa juggles Morpheus’s unsettling presence in her real world with trying to tell Jeb the truth about a past he’s forgotten. Glimpses of Wonderland start to bleed through her art and into her world in very disturbing ways, and Morpheus warns that Queen Red won’t be far behind.

If Alyssa stays in the human realm, she could endanger Jeb, her parents, and everyone she loves. But if she steps through the rabbit hole again, she'll face a deadly battle that could cost more than just her head.

My Review

This is the second book to the SPLINTERED series. 

I was disappointed with SPLINTERED - it wasn't as good as I thought it would be - so I probably should have stopped there, but I didn't hate it and I wanted to give Unhinged a chance.  Things can only get better, right?  Wrong!

 I'm really perplexed by how heavily focused the story is on the banal lives of these teenagers (Alyssa, her boyfriend Jeb and his sister, whatever her name is).

Alyssa's mother has been freed from an asylum.  She is free at last to enjoy life.  And what does she spend her time doing?  Apparently being fixated with the lenghth of the hem of her daughter's skirts and keeping her as far away from the boyfriend as possible - at least not without a chaperone.  She may have left the real prison but clearly not the one that exists inside her head (where a women's place in society is as it was back in the 19th century). 

I feel misled by this book since it suggested that, at some point, it would develop and become a fantasy novel, all the while indulging itself in unashamed gratuitous romance for teenage girls. I persevered to about 40% and then gave up. 

If I were to offer a suggestion as to what is fundamentally wrong with this series it would be that it is being drawn out longer than the central plot requires, so instead - at least in the case of Unhinged - is being filled with 'padding' to compensate for it's short comings.
Like Splintered it is easy to get taken in by the attractive cover, but you know what they say about judging a book by it's cover..
My verdict: all fluff and no substance. 

Friday, 4 March 2016

A Room with a View by E. M. Forster

**This book was included on 
SBRs Top 10 Best Reads of 2015**

Published by:  Penguin
Publication date: 1986 (First Ed 1908)

Publisher's synopsis
Published in 1908, A Room with A View is one of E. M. Forster's most celebrated works. Forster explores love among a cast of eccentric characters gathered in an Italian pension and in a corner of Surrey, England. Caught up in a world of social snobbery, Lucy Honeychurch must make a decision that will decide the course of her future: She is forced to choose between convention and passion.

My Review

Caution: this review contains potential spoilers.

I first came to the story of A Room with a View via the film version (see cover).  I was about the same age as Miss Honeychurch when I saw it for the first time.  Having recently read the book, I have come to understand the story better and see it differently.  As a girl in my late teens, I focused on the love story (which is at the heart of the novel), whereas now I focused on the issues surrounding the main characters.  E.M. Forster often wrote about the social class divide and gender inequality.  In the early 1900s the industrial revolution presented an opportunity for working class people to improve their situations and, as a result, raise their status in society. This is key to the plot. 

Lucia Honeychurch has two romantic suitors to choose from. There is Cecile, who I would describe as a pompous and passionless aristocrat. He doesn't need to work and considers a life of leisure to be his occupation.  Then there is George, a handsome young man she meets while on holiday in Florence.  George's paternal roots are working class.  His father, Mr Emerson, is a retired writer (a typical 'lower-middle class' profession of the period).  His profession raised his social standing and allowed him to marry 'above his station'.  George is a clerk working 'on the railways', which is a symbol of his upward-mobility. Mr Emerson rejects the need for restraint when expressing one's emotions (an alarmingly non-British characteristic).  He openly expresses himself and has encouraged George to do the same.  Their absence of stiff upper-lips result in them experiencing a fair amount of snobbery from the 'upper class' people they encounter, both at the Pension in Florence and in the tight-knit community of Lucia's village in Surrey, England.

Lucia is somewhat confused by her predicament and decides to do what she believes is expected of her when making her choice. I am not convinced however that social class or etiquette influenced her decision to accept Cecil's marriage proposal.  It struck me that Lucia was in the unfortunate state of being in love without actually realising it.  This was due to her youth, inexperience and because she was not the sort of girl who was interested in love, and so when it happened to her - while in Florence - it did not occur to her that being in love was what she was experiencing.  Whereas George is fully aware and (incapable of showing restraint) responded accordingly.  Lucia felt frustrated at both herself and the object of her desire - George - and responded negatively to his advances, while at the same time being charmed by them (which only fueled her frustration).  This is why I think she made the choice to accept Cecile - a knee jerk reaction.  It took a while for her head to come around to what was happening to her heart. 

It seems to me that Lucia represents the way the British typically repress their emotions. Mr Beeb hints at this when he compares the way she plays Beethoven (with passion and emotion) to the way she conducts herself in company (holding back and not revealing her true self or her true feelings). 

When Virgina Woolf's character, 'Mrs Dallaway', was Lucia's age she had a similar choice to make.  It was interesting to compare these two characters and the subsequent outcome that resulted from their choices.

I also found myself comparing Lucia to Margot Roth Spiegelman, of John Green's 'Paper Towns,' as she demonstrated similar characteristics (i.e. youth, inexperience and zero interest in the pursuit of romantic love) and responded  to her feelings for Q in a similar way.

A room with a View is a classic that has become one of my favourites.  It is a sweet love story told with intelligence and humour. It is worth reading for the bathing scene alone.

The 1986 film is one of the best adaptations of a book I have seen but it glosses over some of the (above-mentioned) themes.