Book Review: Foxglove Summer, Rivers of London Book 5, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Foxglove Summer, Rivers of London Book 5, Ben Aaronovitch

Fantasy: Foxglove Summer, Rivers of London Book 5, Ben Aaronovitch

This fifth installment of the DC Peter Grant series of books brings London’s very most junior detective wizard to the country. Two young girls, age 11, have gone missing. Since on very rare occasions children are used in evil magical practices, DC Grant is sent to rule out involvement by an elderly retired wizard who lives in the area. Although he quickly determines that the wizard played no part in the disappearance, Grant offers to stay to help the local force in their search. He is a policeman, these are children whose lives are at stake, and so it is all hands on deck.

 

When the girls’ phones are found, though, they show signs of having been affected by magic. This puts Grant at the center of the investigation, and although the retired wizard may be innocent there are other magical forces at play. Aided by the arrival of his sometime love interest, Beverly Brook, goddess of a small river near London, Grant looks into local phenomenon that might explain where the girls had gone. There is the wizard’s mysterious daughter, who has a way with local bees and with local boys. There are the local water goddesses, who are less than pleased with Beverly’s arrival for reasons they will not explain. There are the occasional texts from his former partner who betrayed him to side with an evil magician. And there is the strange rumor that one of the missing girls had an invisible friend. Not imaginary–invisible. In other words, plenty of things to keep an investigator of the paranormal busy.

 

Aaronovitch’s writing is delightful. His plots are involved but not muddy, his characters are complex and interesting, and his prose is crisp and sometimes hilarious. He weaves in some pointed social commentary with a deft touch of humor through his examination of race as a factor in Grant’s work. Grant finds himself the only person of color involved in the search for the girls (until Beverly arrives). This gives him the opportunity to practice his diversity training, since working with all white rural police and citizens provides multiple cultural cross-currents. Fortunately he manages to avoid conflict even when some of the less broad minded citizens seem bent upon fomenting it.

 

The world building in this series is quite elaborate, and moving the setting to the country allows Aaronovitch to add multiple layers to the work he has already established in London. Grant approaches magic from a scientific mindset. He likes to reason out how and why magic works. In the city, vestigia or echoes of magic remain observable (to the trained) on hard surfaces: stone, metal, plastic, and to a much lesser extent flesh. In the country, though, with dirt and plants, how is magic absorbed…or is it? Are magical beings visible only in certain types of light? Is there a parallel fae world existing essentially overlaid on the mortal world? Those are questions that did not require a full answer on the streets of London, but in this rural setting they become central to the search for the girls.

 

Foxglove Summer is a nice addition to a series that is fun and fascinating. It is one of the best urban fantasy series I have ever read, made even better by this sojourn out of the city.

Also see

Book Review: Midnight Riot, Rivers of London Book 1, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Moon Over Soho, Rivers of London Book 2, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Broken Homes, Rivers of London Book 4, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Foxglove Summer, Rivers of London Book 5, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Broken Homes, Rivers of London Book 4, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Broken Homes, Rivers of London Book 4, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Broken Homes, Rivers of London Book 4, Ben Aaronovitch

Detective Peter Grant is becoming stronger in his magical powers, more confident in his detective work, but still is not allowed to drive DCI Nightingale’s jaguar around the streets of London. Nor is he very good at telling the future, like when a river goddess suggests she may start a flood, she may actually start a flood. Still, it was a small flood, insurance paid for most of it, and that really wasn’t his fault. Probably.

Broken Homes is the fourth book in what is quickly becoming one of my favorite series, The Rivers of London. Aaronovitch has quirky and likeable characters interacting in believable ways–that is, once you accept the premise that there is an entire magical London living among and amid the ordinary human residents. It makes sense that this magical London would have dedicated police officers who work to capture rogue wizards and witches, keep the peace between various magical factions, and above all prevent ordinary humans from realizing they are surrounded by magic.

Peter, Nightingale, Lesley, and the rest of the crew (including Toby the dog) are trying to solve multiple crimes when they realize that those crimes are related. We see the return of a witch they faced in a previous novel, but here they find out she is much more powerful than they had realized before. They also find clues that the “faceless man” is becoming active again, a powerful wizard who nearly killed Peter during their last encounter. Not even Nightingale is certain he can be beaten, which gives Peter and Lesley increased urgency in their training. When they are required to move into a building to investigate suspicious activity, that brings them face to face with their most challenging enemies.

Aaronovitch has built a terrific sandbox in this Rivers of London series, and invited all of us to play in it with him. Broken Homes is a fun and easy read. Well worth the time.

Also see

Book Review: Midnight Riot, Rivers of London Book 1, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Moon Over Soho, Rivers of London Book 2, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Broken Homes, Rivers of London Book 4, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Whispers Under Ground (Rivers of London Book 3) by [Aaronovitch, Ben]

Book Review: Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Peter Grant got his start in the police department that handles magic by interviewing a ghost who witnessed a murder. So when a young girl who lives near his parent’s apartment says she has seen a ghost, he can’t really ignore her request to come investigate it. This is the first supernatural visit to London’s underground that DC Grant and DC Lesley May make. It won’t be the last.

 

Whispers Underground is the third installment in a terrific series, Rivers of London. Ben Aaronovitch uses a lot of humor and terrific characters to tell a magical story. After investigating the ghost young Abigail has found, they are called to investigate a murder, a young man stabbed by a piece of pottery. The pottery has traces of vestigium, the echo left by magic, an echo that only those trained in magic can usually sense. Grant and May are part of the Metropolitan Police Force’s department that handles magic and the supernatural, and they are now part of a high profile case.

 

The victim is an American art student, the son of a US senator. This means that the FBI has a vested interest in the case, and despite his quite junior status on the team the agent decides that Grant is the one she should focus on. Scotland Yard may have a division focusing on magic, but it doesn’t LIKE having that division, and especially doesn’t like admitting that they have that division…or even admitting that magic exists. They certainly don’t want to share that information with their friends across the pond. This makes things awkward for Grant. He is charged with investigating a crime involving magic, underneath the watchful observation of an FBI agent, without revealing that magic is involved or even that magic exists.

 

Good. Luck.

 

Aaronovitch continues his often hilarious storytelling style in this wonderful series. The humor is quite dry. In some ways this was the most “British” of the novels, with no efforts made to translate the British idioms into American ones for us colonists. For me that adds to the charm. I don’t mind looking up words that I don’t know. If I am going to read a book set in London, written by a writer living in London, I may as well experience the full effect. A trip to London is on my bucket list…but for now I will have to settle for the vicarious experience through fiction.

 

This series continues to delight. Through wit, compassion, and maybe a little magic, Aaronovitch gives us an urban fantasy that feels very real. His characters are wonderful, his setting is vivid, and his stories are imaginative. It’s hard to ask for anything more in a book.

Also see

Book Review: Midnight Riot, Rivers of London Book 1, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Moon Over Soho, Rivers of London Book 2, Ben Aaronovitch

Whispers Under Ground (Rivers of London Book 3) by [Aaronovitch, Ben]

Book Review: Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Moon Over Soho, Rivers of London Book 2, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Moon Over Soho, Rivers of London Book 2, Ben Aaronovitch

Moon Over Soho (Rivers of London Book 2) by [Aaronovitch, Ben]

Fantasy: Moon Over Soho, Rivers of London Book 2, Ben Aaronovitch

 

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

 

This may now be my favorite opening line to any novel I’ve ever read, and I’ve never been to London! In Moon Over Soho, Ben Aaronovitch continues the story of police detective and apprentice magician Peter Grant, a mixed-race human able to see ghosts. Grant uses his abilities to solve crimes involving magic. Aaronovitch uses his abilities to write fun and engaging stories that mix police procedurals with urban fantasy. I am not sure whether Aaronovitch or his character Peter Grant is truly the more magical.

 

Grant is pursuing leads surrounding the death of a jazz musician. The musician’s death normally would be attributed to natural causes, but there is a strange magical echo, called vestigium, surrounding the body. Most humans cannot sense vestigium, but the coroner can and when he does, he calls Grant and Grant’s boss, DCI Nightingale. Nightingale is still recovering from injuries received during a previous investigation, so the bulk of the detecting will be up to Grant. Grant also enlists aid from DS Lesley May, another detective who was injured during that same case.

 

Grant is also called in to consult with the Murder Team on a case where a man’s…manhood was removed and the victim left to bleed out. They suspect that the man was the victim of some kind of magical creature, one that had teeth in her…womanhood. Grant is pursuing two lines of inquiry, and he cannot help but wonder whether there is a link between these two crimes despite the very different causes of death.

 

Aaronovitch puts a lot of humor into the books. Grant sometimes struggles to learn magic, and to Nightingale’s frustration he sometimes puts spells together in ways that are less than optimal. This sometimes results in things catching on fire. Grant also has garnered an unfortunate reputation for causing property damage, a reputation only made worse by a stolen ambulance careening down London streets in a (successful) effort to save the son of a demigod. Still, his skills, instinct, and talent are all needed to solve the crimes and expose the killers and their motives.

 

Moon Over Soho builds on the solid foundation of the first book and gives greater insight to Peter Grant and Lesley May. It is a fun ride through London’s jazz scene, and does a nice job introducing new characters and setting up a larger arc for future novels. An excellent follow up in a series I am thoroughly enjoying.

Also see

Book Review: Midnight Riot, Rivers of London Book 1, Ben Aaronovitch

Moon Over Soho (Rivers of London Book 2) by [Aaronovitch, Ben]

Book Review: Moon Over Soho, Rivers of London Book 2, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Dreyer’s English, Benjamin Dreyer

Book Review: Dreyer’s English, Benjamin Dreyer

Nonfiction: Dreyer’s English, Benjamin Dreyer

This is a delightful, funny, and soon-to-become indispensable guide to writing in American English. Benjamin Dreyer has been a copy editor for Random House for more than 20 years. He has worked with numerous authors during that time, authors who appreciate both his attention to detail and his care for their voices being heard through their prose. Dreyer’s English finds that precarious balance as well: it advocates boldly for correct usage and grammar, while also recognizing that style and voice can occasionally transcend the “rules” of English.

 

Dreyer has a delightful sense of humor. I have long suspected that “only godless savages eschew the series comma;” he proudly calls out this travesty of omission. Many of the funnier statements are found in the footnotes which festoon almost every page, and which are required reading to fully appreciate the wonders of this book.

 

Dreyer’s English is divided into two sections. “The Stuff in the Front” includes “Rules and Nonrules,” “67 Assorted Things to Do (and Not to Do) with Punctuation,” and “A Little Grammar Is a Dangerous Thing.” This is where the meat and potatoes of improving writing can be found. Not all of his rules and suggestions will be universally acclaimed, a fact which he sometimes gleefully admits himself. He also looks at the numerous differences between British and American styles of writing and punctuation. A British author might write, ‘the book says, “quotes work thusly”’. In America we would argue, “the book says, ‘quotes work thusly.’” (The tendentious word “thusly,” punctuated in true American style, is my own example) Dreyer is not arguing that one is better than the other. He is simply acknowledging they are different, and those of us who occasionally read books from the other side of the pond may sometimes find ourselves mixing our styles capriciously. These and many other warnings can help the careful writer avoid simple mistakes that would distract a reader from the heart of the text.

 

“The Stuff in the Back” includes lengthy lists of misspelled words, “Peeves and Crotchets,” and other things that occasionally catch even the best writers off guard (and occasionally pass by even the most circumspect of copy editors). This section can be read through, but might also be seen as more of a reference companion. It continues with his delightfully unabashed approach to language as something that is fun and should be enjoyed, and not at all as a list of reasons that show you really should have stopped writing after Remedial English 001. (Though randomly popping in the word “really” is one of the no-nos he warns against, so maybe I need to revisit that class myself.)

 

In fact, nothing in this book is meant to brow-beat the aspiring author. Dreyer enjoys English. And he wants you to enjoy it, too. He rails against rules that choke creative writing, such as the rule against starting a sentence with the word “and” as I did the one before this. Dreyer cautions against usages that confuse or belabor; he encourages tight and taut sentences that communicate well. He supports the use of semicolons. Nowhere, though, does he belittle or demean authors who struggle with the applications of these rules. They are the reason copy-editors are necessary, right?

 

Dreyer’s English is a book every aspiring author should buy. It has a place on your desk and will find a place in your heart. You will use it, you will refer back to it again and again, and you will wish that Benjamin Dreyer could be your copy editor when that day comes for you to publish your own work. My hope is that I will find someone who has a copy of this book on her desk.

Also see the book review:

The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between British and American English, Lynne Murphy

 

Book Review: Dreyer’s English, Benjamin Dreyer

Book Review: Spoonbenders, Daryl Gregory

Book Review: Spoonbenders, Daryl Gregory

Spoonbenders, Daryl Gregory

Fiction: Spoonbenders, Daryl Gregory

Spoonbenders is one of the most delightfully strange stories I have read in a long time. Spoonbenders tells the story of a very dysfunctional family: The Amazing Telemachus Family. Teddy Telemachus is a con man. The self-professed inventor of Johnny Carson’s “Carnac the Magnificent” routine, Teddy is a card shark and a grifter. Then he falls for Maureen McKinnon, a woman with actual psychic power. They marry and each of their three children has psychic power. Irene is a human lie detector. Frankie can move small objects with his mind. And Buddy can see the future. Together they create a stage act, but their act falls apart when they are unable to perform it on stage during the Mike Douglas show during the 1970s. Soon thereafter, Maureen dies from cancer, and the family’s lives are shattered.

 

Now, in the 1990s, they are struggling. Irene is a single mother who has just had to move back to live with her father. Her son, Matty, has just discovered that he has psychic powers of his own, but he is not sure what to do with them. Frankie is working a job that he hates, and is deeply in debt to the mob. Buddy seldom talks and mostly starts random remodeling projects in the house, projects that make no sense to anyone else. And Teddy’s card sharking days are long gone, ending when his hands were injured.

 

Daryl Gregory previously won the World Fantasy Award, and this novel was named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR. His writing is clever and crisp, with sharp dialog and distinctive voices for each of these well-crafted characters. Irene is cold and sharp. Teddy is expansive and brash. Frankie is all bluster and fluff. Matty is full of hormones and angst. And Buddy is confused and unsure. As the chapters shift between characters and between the 1970s and 1990s, this difference in the voices helps keep the narrative clear and propels the story forward.

 

Gregory does dash my hopes in the afterword when he declares that psychic powers do not actually exist. The fictional world he creates in this book is incredibly real. As a child of the 70s, I remember the Mike Douglas show. Gregory has a character inspired by The Amazing Randi, whom I also remember from that time. The parts set in the 90s include landline phones and period cars and tv shows and video game consoles and early computers and AOL complete with the whine of the modem handshake to connect. Since I don’t have psychic powers myself, I guess I would prefer that no one else have them to use on me (why they would waste time using them on me I couldn’t say, but hypothetically it could happen). Still, The Amazing Telemachus Family sounds absolutely fascinating.

 

What is remarkable, though, is how obvious it is that these powers have not helped them at all. Buddy can see the future, but it almost paralyzes him. He can barely function in the present because the lines between the present, past, and future are so fuzzy. It is hard for him to know whether he is acting in the present or remembering something he is going to do. Matt can astral project, but only when he is having some other kind of intense experience. Being fourteen and full of hormones, those intense experiences are…well, nothing that he can do in public. Irene knows when people are lying, which makes relationships a real challenge. Common conversation is full of “white lies.” “You look great in that dress,” “I’m doing fine,” “She’s running late.” Those sorts of social lubricants are things that keep peace among people, but they are the sorts of things that she sees right through.

 

So maybe it’s better after all that we don’t have psychic powers. Spoonbenders makes a compelling case that they are not necessarily helpful to those who have them, at least in living a normal life. Then again, normal might be overrated. Spoonbenders is definitely not a normal book. But it is a very good book.

Spoonbenders, Daryl Gregory

Book Review: Spoonbenders, Daryl Gregory

Book Review: Akata Warrior, Nnedi Okorafor

Book Review: Akata Warrior, Nnedi Okorafor

Fantasy: Akata Warrior, Nnedi Okorafor

This sequel to Akata Witch has everything you want in a young adult fantasy. Compelling characters, exciting plot, brilliant writing, ferocious enemies, and a beautifully built world. Nnedi Okorafor is an amazing writer and Akata Warrior is a wonderful book.

 

Sunny Nwazue is a free agent Leopard person, or as we Lambs might call her, a witch. Along with her friends Orlu, Chichi, and Sasha, she is studying the ways of Leopard people with a teacher for their group and with a mentor for each of them individually. She is also a student and soccer player for her local school, where non-magic Lambs attend, blissfully unaware of the Leopard people in their midst.

 

Balancing the need for absolute secrecy about the Leopard world with her personal and family life has always been challenging for Sunny. When her brother is attacked and his life is threatened, that challenge becomes too great to bear. Using magic to help her brother is acceptable, but when she reveals herself as the source of the retribution she finds herself in trouble (again) with the Leopard council. Her punishment starts a process that leaves her vulnerable in new ways to attack from their greatest enemy, an ancient foe who is trying to return to the human world.

 

It’s hard to say what I like best about Nnedi Okorafor’s work. Her world building is imaginative, overlaying a magical world on top of modern day Nigeria with all its wealth and poverty. Her characters are distinct and different, each with separate voices and individual strengths and weaknesses. Sunny herself grows and changes throughout the book. Humorous scenes and one-liners pop up when needed to keep the tone from getting too dark. Sunny is a free agent, which means that although she has magic her family does not. This leads to natural conflict and secrets between herself and her parents and her brothers. These secrets are handled by the author logically–which is to say, there is yelling and crying and silence and avoidance of uncomfortable subjects. Probably the way most families would handle it, good and bad and angry and sad and resigned and loving.

 

Okorafor’s Africa is neither the “dark continent” of mystery and megafauna and backwards tribes living in grass huts that previous generations of writers presented, nor the poverty and disease ridden slums of late night charity infomercials. Sunny’s family lived in the U.S. but chose to raise their children in Nigeria, thinking they would be safer and healthier there. Her friend Sasha is from Chicago. His parents made a similar decision, sending him to live with Orlu’s family. Sunny and her family live in a nice house with a fenced yard. They use the same types of appliances they used in New York. They go to school, they play sports, they have cell phones and computers and Internet access, they live in many respects as well as or better than they did in the U.S. Okorafor’s Nigeria has its problems: crime and corruption and poor roads and oil spills are among the issues she mentions in the book. But Sunny’s family lives an essentially middle class life similar to the lives they led in the U.S. They just happen to be doing it in Nigeria.

Also see Akata Witch  and the Binti series

Book Review: Akata Warrior, Nnedi Okorafor

Booklist: Fun Summer Reads

Booklist: Fun Summer Reads

It’s June, and summer in the northern hemisphere where we live will soon be in full swing. Along with vacations, swimming, cookouts, and other fun summer activities, it’s time to put together your summer reading list.

 

You’re not going to go wrong picking any book for a summer read, but we will admit to preferring a little lighter fare for our summer reads. Thick, serious books just seem a bit harder to focus on when the sun is out and the garden (or beach or pool or grill) is competing for attention. That’s not to say we would avoid them completely.

 

For our summer tastes, though, something a bit cheerier is usually on the menu. We love SFF, and Catherynne Valente’s Space Opera is as funny a book as you will find in the genre. Part apocalyptic threat, part Eurovision competition, and all absurd, it is serious and ridiculous and joyful all at once. A couple of series also deserve mention here: Curtis Chen’s Kangaroo books and Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine novels are excellent and fun.

 

Summer is also a good time for us grownups to catch up on our YA novels (admit it it, you love them, too!). Seafire is the kickass girl pirate book that I want my granddaughters to read when they are older. And Richard Bach’s Ferret series is charming and is a terrific read-aloud-together series for families with children.

 

Moving away from SFF, last year’s hit summer movie was Crazy Rich Asians. The series is smart, biting, and hilarious, and you should definitely read the books before the movie sequels come out. The movie was great–but the books are better. (Yes, that’s almost always the case.)

 

And lest you let the summer gap take away everything you learned the rest of the year, some non-fiction should go onto your list. Lucy Cooke’s The Truth About Animals is the book you didn’t know you needed about animals. From swimming sloths to panda sex to bomb-carrying bats, this book is full of stories of animals and the strange relationships we humans have with them. If you want to feel like a kid again, Steve Brusatte’s The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs will remind you why you fell in love with those prehistoric giants in the first place. And finally Lynn Murphy’s The Prodigal Tongue is a laugh out loud book about the differences between British and American English–written by an American teaching English in Britain.

 

Hopefully your summer is full of fun. Let us know whether any of these books make it to your own list–or what you would recommend we add to ours. Maybe we’ll review it! This Summer!

 

Enjoy Reading this Summer!

Book Review: Space Opera, Catherynne M. Valente

Space OperaCatherynne M. Valente

 

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Waypoint Kangaroo and Kangaroo Too, Curtis C. Chen

 

Seafire

Seafire, Natalie C. Parker

 

0756410843     Heroine’s Journey, Sarah Kuhn

Heroine ComplexHeroine WorshipHeroine’s Journey, Sarah Kuhn

 

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Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, Kevin Kwan

 

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The Truth About Animals: Stoned Sloths, Lovelorn Hippos, and Other Tales from the Wild Side of WildlifeLucy Cooke

 

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Rescue Ferrets at Sea, The Ferret Chronicles series, Richard Bach

 

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Nonfiction: The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, Steve Brusatte

 

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Nonfiction: The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between British and American EnglishLynne Murphy

 

Also see fun reads for kids:

Booklist: Beach Reads for Kids, Shared Reading with Children

Booklist: LOL Books to Laugh Out Loud with Your Children

Booklist: Fun Summer Reads