Sunday, 22 February 2015

#CBR7 Book 23 : "American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot" by Craig Ferguson

Page count: 290 pages
Audio book length: 7 hrs 24 mins
Rating: 5 stars

Before I bought and listened to this audio book, which came to my attention thanks to fellow Cannonballer Narfna's enthusiastic review, this is what I knew about Craig Ferguson:

1. Until very recently, he hosted the Late, Late Show, where he always seemed to be genuinely interested in the guests in the few clips that I've seen.
2. He really likes Doctor Who
3. He used to be in a band with Peter Capaldi, who is currently playing Doctor Who.
4. He's voiced a number of Scottish characters in animated movies that I've seen.

So I learned a lot about Mr. Ferguson while listening to this audio book, narrated by the man himself. He manages to recount stories that could be just tragic and depressing with wit and humour, without in any way hiding that for much of his life, he did not have an easy time of it. Growing up in a working class suburb to Glasgow in Scotland in the 60s and 70s seems pretty grim, although it's quite clear that Ferguson's parents had a much harder time of it. Apparently Ferguson's dad didn't own shoes until he was eleven. Still, as a teacher, listening to stories about how five-year-olds were belted for no obvious reason horrified me. I don't actually think I could be a teacher in an education system that allowed corporal punishment.

From early on in his life, Ferguson wanted to live in America, and he explains why in the book, while also talking about his very destructive alcoholism, his drug use, dropping out of school at sixteen to join the punk scene. While the stories he tells are funny, and alcoholism apparently saved his life (a friend distracted him with a pint of sherry on a Christmas morning when he had decided to commit suicide), Ferguson doesn't hesitate to be honest about what a destructive force it was, either. As the daughter of a recovering alcoholic, and an uncle who died before he was sixty partially because he didn't stop drinking, I have no illusions about alcholism being in any way glamorous or easy. I admire Ferguson for being so honest about his alcohol and substance abuse, as well as his process of becoming and remaining sober.

I hadn't realised that Ferguson wrote a novel, or that he wrote several screen plays, as well as being an actor and a stand-up comedian. He is very honest about the ups and downs of his career, and I wonder if he's made himself unpopular in certain industry circles by being quite so up front about his experiences especially in the film he wrote and directed, that the studio apparently ruined completely.

I finished this book in less than 24 hours, which I think may be a new record for an audio book. I had a lot of errands to run during the day, and this audio book kept me company. It also provided entertainment while I was working my way slowly and painstakingly through the complicated pattern part of the jumper I am knitting. Earlier in the week, I could easily knit while watching TV and even in the cinema, but now, that the pattern requires different colours of wool and careful attention, I can't watch or read anything while knitting. I'm so glad I had this book to keep me company. I've read a number of celebrity autobiographies now, but this is by far the most honest, open and as a result, interesting one I've come across. I'm so glad I got this audio book. Thanks again, Narfna!

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

#CBR7 Book 22: "Moon Over Soho" by Ben Aaronovitch

Page count: 396 pages
Audio book length: 10 hrs 1 min
Rating: 4 stars

This is the second book in the books about DC Peter Grant and as such, this review may contain certain spoilers for book one, Rivers of London. That's the book you want to start with.

Something is killing jazz musicians in Soho. A promising jazz saxophonist, Cyrus Wilkinson, drops dead of an apparent heart attack after playing a gig. Doctor Walid suspects that something supernatural may have caused it and DC Grant can hear "Body and Soul" playing when he examines the body. Some investigation shows that Cyrus is not the first musician this has happened to. Cases go back a long way, something mysterious seems to be feeding off them, possibly a type of "jazz vampire". While Peter doesn't exactly trust Simone, Cyrus' girlfriend, he does need her help and keeps being drawn to her, even though he knows it's not a good idea to get involved with someone connected to a case.

There is also a deadly female stalking the streets, leaving men bleeding to death with their genitals chomped off. Inspector Nightingale is unable to help out as much as he could wish, and Leslie May is recovering at her parents' house, reluctant to even see Peter, hiding her face every time he comes to visit. They communicate by text, and she helps him with research, but Peter is worried that their friendship is in danger of being as ruined as Leslie's face if they don't figure something out. As the various investigations progress, there are signs that they may be connected in some way. There is also someone sinister behind all of it. Is Inspector Thomas Nightingale really the only wizard left in England, or could there be someone else trained in magic, and using it for their own personal gain?

Peter's apprenticeship as a wizard continues, and he's getting more proficient in some of the basic forms. His inquisitive nature and his research abilities allow him to progress faster than Nightingale expects, but he still has a long way to go. Peter is on his own for much of the book, with both his inspector and Leslie May out of commission due to the events towards the end of the first book. Nightingale keeps trying to get involved, only to over-exert himself and get ordered back on bed rest by Doctor Walid. Leslie is staying with her parents while waiting for reconstructive surgery. Her injuries upset Peter, but he's also confident that he did whatever he could to save her, and while the damage to her face is bad, she's still alive and refuses to be pitied. She assists him as best she can from a distance, but prefers not to meet face to face unless it's absolutely necessary. I really liked the way her situation was handled in the book. While there is magic in this world, there is no easy fix-it button to restore Leslie's face to the way it was. The revelation at the end, revealing what she's been working on while recovering, makes me very curious to see where things go in the rest of the series.

These books also show how much of police work takes time, looking through old records, countless hours spent reading reports, interviewing suspects, doing tedious legwork. It was nice to see a bit more of Peter's parents, and I really liked the idea of "jazz vampires", supernatural creatures that feed on artistic and musical ability, rather than blood. There is clearly a lot of set up here for later books, and while the central mystery is solved by the end, there are a number of unanswered questions and much to deal with in the books to come. The narration continues to be excellent, and I've already got the third book downloaded on the Audible app on my phone.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

#CBR7 Book 21: "Shadow and Bone" by Leigh Bardugo

Page count: 416 pages
Rating: 3 stars

In a fantasy world heavily inspired by Russian folklore elements (which is also reflected in the gorgeous cover design of the books), Alina and Mal are orphans raised on the estate of a benevolent Duke. Growing up, they are inseparable, when they grow up, they (like most others) join the First Army, Alina as a mapmaker, Mal as a tracker. Alina is skinny, pale and insignificant, watching Mal mostly from afar. He's grown up handsome, charming, popular and makes female conquests wherever he goes. Occasionally he'll remember his old friend and come visit her in the camp.

The population of Ravka can be divided into the Grisha, the magically adept, and normal people. The Grisha can possess different power, some creative and some destructive, carefully advertised to the world by the colour of the clothes they wear. None is more powerful than the mysterious and sinister Darkling, the King's right hand, and the only one allowed to wear black. The once prosperous nation has been divided in two by a large, barren area of constant darkness, known as the Fold, or Unsea, the result of a botched spell by one of the former Darklings. Nothing grows there, due to the lack of light. Unfortunately, you can't get from one side of Ravka to the other without crossing it, using sand skiffs powered by wind. Frequently travellers are attacked by the terrifying flying monsters that roam the Fold, entering the Fold is never without peril.  When the part of the army that Alina is with is crossing, there is suddenly an attack, and one of her mapmaker friends is carried off by the flying monsters. Mal is about to get attacked and Alina reacts instinctively. Before she knows what she is doing, she has covered the area in bright light, driving the monsters off and saving everyone. She passes out from the exertion.

When she wakes up, back in camp, Alina is told that she is in fact Grisha, and has a unique magical power. She is a Sun Summoner, and the Darkling has been waiting for her for a very long time. Thanks to her power, the ability to summon and control light, Ravka can possibly finally reclaim the Fold, win the wars with their surrounding countries and regain their prosperity.  Of course, Alina has no idea how to control her power, and can only ever summon the light when either hurt or touching someone who can amplify her power. Told that her unique power make her a target for enemy assassins, she is speedily taken to the capital to undergo training. On the way, she sees the fearsome powers that the Darkling can wield.

While awed by the opulence of her new lodgings in the Palace, Alina is fairly miserable. Most children get raised to Grisha early, taken away from their families to be trained and educated for their future positions serving Ravka. Alina has to learn huge amounts of history and magical theory, as well as undergo physical training. Then there are her magic lessons, where she's completely unable to summon a spark of light without someone with amplifying powers touching her. Having been declared the future saviour of the nation, she feels the pressure to succeed constantly. She makes one friend, Genya, who works for the Queen, able to cosmetically enhance anyone she touches. She shares gossip with Alina and steers her through the worst of the court's intrigue.

After a bit of an emotional breakdown, Alina finally manages to figure out what has been blocking her power and she can start training in earnest. The Darkling is delighted and intends to have a special and powerful amplifier fashioned for her. They just need to locate an elusive and possibly legendary herd of magical deer first, so the horns of the stag can be used. When she's actually able to improve her control in earnest, her trainer, the ancient Baghra strangely starts getting more agitated, not less. She warns Alina that she needs to get away, that the Darkling has dangerous plans and if he succeeds in getting the amplifier for Alina, she'll be under his control forever. So Alina flees the capital, determined to find the stag herself.

The Grisha series has been raved about online for years, and I was waiting for it to be concluded before I started reading. I must admit, the first book showed a promising world, but the characterisation is mainly very simplistic. Alina is nervous, skinny, insecure and spends most of the book pining for Mal. She's also rather naive and completely unprepared for the intrigue at court, never having learned to hide her emotions. Mal is handsome, charming, apparently an amazing tracker and completely oblivious the crush Alina is nursing on him. I'm sorry if you consider this a spoiler, but the character IS called the Darkling. If you are surprised by his sudden but inevitable betrayal, you have clearly not read a lot of books. He's pale and dark-haired, handsome and mysterious. He uses his seductive wiles to turn our heroine's head and blind her to his true motives. That's it, those are pretty much the sum total of their characters traits. There is quite a lot of tell, don't show here and it made me sad, because I wanted to like the book.

The world-building is interesting, with the great big Shadow Fold as a cursed blight in the middle of the kingdom. Again, for anyone who has even a basic grounding in Russian history, it'll come as no surprise that the King and Queen and the aristocracy live in oblivious luxury and opulence while forcing the people to fight their wars for them. The magic of the Grisha is presented as more as a way of manipulating the natural sciences, than varieties of super power, and I liked the ranks and classifications.

As I said, I've heard a lot of good about this trilogy online, enough to make me curious enough to keep reading. I've heard that the series takes a pretty dark turn, and that Alina develops into a more likable characters (she's really quite a helpless drip in this). I'm also hoping that further books will give me some kind of evidence at why I should care one jot about whether Mal lives or dies, he seemed like an insufferable dudebro to me. I'm not very fond of love triangles at the best of times, when the two rivals are an oblivious prettyboy and a sinister magician who embodies a lot of the Old School romance hero tropes, it makes me roll my eyes. Alina needs to woman up, stop mooning about the guys in her life and take control. So yeah, that's my hope for the sequels.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR7 Book 20: "Once Upon a Rose" by Laura Florand

Page count: 300 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Layla "Belle Woods" Dubois has just won a Grammy for her Indie rock album, but is fleeing to the French countryside in a desperate hope that she will find some inspiration, or there won't be a second album any time soon. She's "accidentally" drowned her phone in a fountain and is hoping to stay away from press attention and the demands of her producers for long enough that she can write some new songs and rediscover her love of playing. Visiting the house she's inherited in Provence seems like the perfect plan.

Matthieu Rosier is one of five very competitive male cousins, and the appointed heir of their grandfather. While his other cousins have been able to go off into the world on adventures, Matt has stayed in the Rosier valley his entire life, devoting his life to taking care of its inhabitants and the precious roses that grow throughout, providing essences to the perfume industry. The valley is HIS, just as he considers his life a gift to the valley, occasionally envious of his other cousins, but all the same, content with his lot in life. So when he discovers that his great-aunt has gifted the house he has spent several months modernising and a part of the land of the valley to some petite American, he is not happy. His grandfather, one of the brave Resistance heroes of France, wants him to consider Layla as the enemy, doing everything in his power to drive her away and reclaim the family land.

Of course, when Layla and Matt first meet, neither know of the coming enmity. It's Matt's 30th birthday party and he's more than a little drunk. As Layla arrives, helplessly lost without her phone to provide GPS, he is instantly smitten and decides to introduce her to all his cousins as his girlfriend, just to make sure none of them lay claim to her first. At one point he actually bodily picks her up and carries her through the room. Layla is surprised, but quite charmed by his flirtatious behaviour. She eventually manages to get across to some of the more sober wedding guests that her car has broken down and she is lost, and is given a place to stay for the night. Of course, the next morning, the reason for her presence in the valley is revealed, and everything changes.

Laura Florand has a formula, and it's a wonderful one. Large, attractive Frenchmen falling in love with diminutive partially American women. In the Amour et Chocolat series, the men are usually emotionally vulnerable, yet professionally arrogant, brilliant masters in their fields. Here, the hero is not a chocolatier or a chef, but a rose farmer. Matt has tended to the roses on his family's land since he was a teenager. He's a handyman, able to fix engines, old plumbing, crumbling garden walls, you name it. He projects a gruff and growly exterior to hide that he's a complete softie inside. Having brawled with, teased and been teased by his cousins since they were young, he has learned not to show weakness. While he sometimes wonders what it would be like to go off and see the world like many of his other very attractive cousins (most of whom are clearly going to be heroes in upcoming books), he's also completely committed to his duty of making the valley and its roses thrive. His territorial grandfather has refused to split the land up, dividing it between the cousins, and Matt has come to think of himself as the embodiment of the valley. It hurts him deeply when he discovers that his beloved great-aunt has given away part of it to a stranger.

Layla, while absolutely loving the Rosier valley and just as smitten with its caretaker as he is with her, initially stubbornly refuses to even contemplate giving in to Matt's demands about returning the land. Yet as she observes his interaction with the workers during the rose harvest, his cousins, his elderly relatives and gets to know how caring, sensitive and considerate he is beneath his growly exterior, and how important a part the valley plays in his life, she's no longer certain she can keep the property. She discovers the reasons why she was given the land by Matt's great-aunt and gets some desperately needed time to relax and recharge, beginning to have new ideas for songs as she takes part in the rose harvest and quiet village life.

While Matt is probably too deeply rooted in his valley, needing to consider and accept the possibility of change, Layla has always been a nomad, never happy to settle too long in one place. She's been happily travelling the world, making a living from her music at various festivals the world over, long before she achieved fame with her album. She loves to play, but has come to hate the way touring and performing has exposed her and her feelings to the world. Her music and creativity has completely dried up. She hasn't allowed herself any time to rest and recuperate, and the little valley in France provides a safe haven, where she can remain anonymous and free.

Matt's many cousins are hilarious, and such a fun supporting cast. While the sequel bait was pretty obvious, I didn't mind, and I just hope that they are all as entertaining in future books as they are as secondary characters here. There is always a lovely sense of place and community in Florand's books, and here we get the French countryside and tiny villages instead of the bustling city life of Paris in her previous books. I liked how the cousins were competitive, but also deeply protective of one another. Matt's previous relationship was with a self-centred supermodel, who used him shamelessly and ended disastrously. When they discover that Layla is also famous, they are worried she will break his heart all over again. Layla, a genuinely decent person, understands their protective instinct and doesn't get offended.

In many of Florand's books, there is a strong fairytale feel, and this book is no different. There is the big gruff hero, constantly compared to a bear, the enchantingly beautiful valley full of roses, and a tiny curly-haired heroine who keeps being compared to Goldilocks. With less of the angst of some of Florand's earlier books, this is a thoroughly diverting piece of fluffy escapism. I shall have to go in search of the novella collection that features the story of how Matt's cousin Raoul and his girlfriend Allegra met, and am eagerly awaiting the sequels where Matt's three single cousins eventually find their matches.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR7 Book 19: "Odinsbarn" (Odin's Child) by Siri Pettersen

Page count: 621 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Walking from the pub during a dark and cold winter night, the solitary Thorrald finds a baby abandoned in the snow. Unwrapping her to see if he can find signs of who left her there, he discovers that the child has no tail and is therefore one of the feared abominations from another world, believed to spread the Rot and worse things. Unable to leave her to die, he instead uses his daggers to give her scars, making it look as if wolves tore her tail off.

Fifteen years later, Hirka, as he has named the girl, is worried because she, like all other fifteen-year-olds in the country, is about to go to the capital to complete the Rite, a coming of age ceremony where a person's future course in life is determined, mainly based on how much magical ability and connection to the natural forces that person has. Hirka has no such abilities. She's a dud. Not only is she seen as a bit of a freak because her father is the eccentric herbalist and wise-man, living in a possibly haunted hut at the edge of town, but her outspokenness, bright red hair and lack of tail makes her stand out. No one but her father knows that she has absolutely no connection to the Earth, no ability to summon up the mystical forces around her. Her father is determined that they must pack up and leave the little village, seeking refuge in Ravnhov, the one province where the inhabitants ignore the precepts of the capital and no longer send their teens to the Rite. When Hirka expresses reluctance to leave the only life she's ever known, her father tells her the truth - she's a human, an Odin's child, one of the fabled creatures from another world, an abomination and a terror. Her mother didn't die in childbirth and she was never attacked by wolves as a child, having her tail severed. She is devastated, but determined to find a way to complete the Rite.

Hirka goes to one of her only friends, Rime, for help, unaware that he is in fact struggling with difficulties of his own. Orphaned at the age of six, Rime is from one of the most prominent ruling families in the country, and his grandmother Ilume is one of the most influential members of the Council. While in theory, the twelve seats on the Council are to be open to anyone at the Rite with enough magical ability, in practise the positions are kept within the same twelve families. At his own Rite ceremony, Rime showed immense promise, more magically adept than anyone his age. Completely going against all his grandmother's expectations, Rime swears himself to the Kolkagga, the secretive, faceless order of assassins employed by the Council, who forswear property and family, fearless in their missions because they consider themselves already dead.

Hirka is unaware that Rime has been training with the order for the last few years since his own Rite ceremony, and is only back home to escort his disapproving grandmother, who is moving permanently to the capital. Having always been an outsider as well, because of his status, Rime greatly values his friendship with Hirka because she never treated him with the fear and/or deference common in everyone else. He's astonished when she tells him she has no way of sensing the powers of the earth, but working together, they discover that Hirka can channel Rime's powers as long as they are touching, even amplifying them.

Neither is aware of the sinister machinations of Urd, the most recent member elected to the Council. He wins his place after careful lobbying and manipulation of the other members after his father's death and is working to incite a war between the rebellious province of Ravnhov and the rest of the country. His reasons for doing so remain unclear at first, but there are clear connections between his schemes and the events that led to Hirka being found in the snow fifteen years ago.

Hirka knows that if it is discovered that she is an Odin's child and a human, she will most likely be hunted down and killed. She should seek refuge among the people of Ravnhov and stay far away from the Rite ceremony and the capital. Even before discovering her true heritage, she knew that she and Rime were from vastly different spheres, socially and financially, yet when he returns after years away, she can't help but notice how their childhood friendship has evolved into something more. She knows that she needs to help him stop the war that is brewing, even if it means her secrets being uncovered and her life becoming forfeit.

This is the first fantasy novel I have ever read in Norwegian. I know, it's my native language, I work as a Norwegian teacher, it's frankly shameful that I haven't read more of the huge amounts of great literature produced by my own countrymen and women every year. In my (not very good, but I offer it nonetheless) defence, when I started reading fantasy, in my teens, there was no one really writing decent fantasy in Norwegian, and the early translations of the books I was discovering were generally dreadful. So I became a complete book snob, determined only ever to read fantasy in the original language (English) and haven't really been paying much attention to what has been produced in my own country for the past two decades.

It was actually a really strange experience to read this book. For the first fifty pages or so, I was having to get used to reading about an epic fantasy world with a distinct and genre-specific vocabulary in Norwegian. I'm well versed in fantasy terms in English, in Norwegian, it's a different story. Writing this review has proved a bit of a challenge, as this book as of yet isn't translated into English (I hope for the sakes of all my non-Scandinavian readers that it is, so you can read it too), so I have no reference to help me with a lot of the sometimes unusual Norwegian terms. While I work as a language teacher and teach English as a foreign language to teenagers, I am by no means a translator, and have tried to muddle through as best I can to convey the plot, even though I'm writing in a different language than the book is in originally.

This is a fantasy aimed at young adults, and it's been nominated for several awards. It won the Fable Award in 2014 and was recently ranked 9th in a poll of the best YA fiction of all time by one of the national newspapers. It's the first book in a trilogy, and I've already placed myself on the waiting list for the sequel at my local library.

There is so much to like about this book. The world building is creative, set in a world with clear Old Norse influences, yet clearly different to our own. All the inhabitants have tails and inherent magical abilities. The name of the trilogy translates as The Raven Circles, referencing the magical stone circles that can be found in various locations around the world. Ravens are messenger birds and holy animals, the physical manifestation of the god everyone worships, the Seer. Odin is a foreign and alien god, believed to have stolen his ravens from this world. Humans are seen as something scary and terrible, spreading something known as the Rot and believed to be in league with the Blind Ones, terrifying monsters who bring death and destruction. Of course, no one has ever actually seen a human before Hirka arrives, through some mystical ceremony we learn very little about.

There are a number of provinces, only one of which is not firmly under the control of the capital and the ruling Council. There are legends about how the Council was formed, long ago, by twelve warriors who fought a threat from the Blind Ones. There used to be independent kings ruling the various regions, and Ravnhov is the only province where they still want to go back to the old ways. There is a possible civil war about to start, incited by the ambitious Urd for reasons known only to him.

The story is told as if the reader is familiar with the world and its traditions, avoiding info dumping altogether. The geography, history, political and religious traditions of the world is all revealed gradually, as the story progresses. After the intriguing prologue, where Thorrald finds the baby in the snow, the first part of the plot may be a bit slow, but it sets the scene and establishes many of the important characters in a good way. I was certainly hooked early on.

Hirka is a great character, brave, loyal and self-sacrificing, without ever becoming a Mary Sue. You sense how lonely her childhood has been, with her only real friends being Rime, who is as close to a prince as you can get in a society which has abolished kings, and Vetle, the half-witted son of the village's Raven Keeper. She desperately wants to fit in, and her entire world shatters when she discovers her entire life has been a lie. She has been trained in herbalism and the healing arts by Thorrald, the only father she's ever known and uses her gifts to help people, even when she could be risking her own safety. She is clever and quick-witted, but not any stronger or faster than any other girl her age. She finds herself having to flee for her life more than once, but refuses to stay in hiding when she discovers that her friends might be in danger or that there are wrongs to be righted.

Rime, her childhood friend and potential love interest, could learn from her example (and does over the course of the story). Pampered and raised in luxury by his grandmother after his parents were killed during a trip, in an avalanche he miraculously survived, he has always felt his family's expectations of him as a heavy burden. He has no desire to follow his grandmother and take one of the most prominent seats on the ruling Council. By becoming a member of the Kolkagga, he gives up the riches of his family name, the political power and the influence to become one of many faceless assassins, the dark hand of the Council, one of a vast brotherhood of equals. Of course, he is also escaping the responsibilities of future rule and as the book progresses, it is quite clear that the political situation in the land is growing increasingly more corrupt and there is need of good people to step in and effect change in how the country is ruled. By becoming Kolkagga, Rime is unable to influence politics in a more advantageous direction.

I very much enjoyed the story, and can't wait to see what happens next. I did, however, wish that the magical abilities that everyone was supposed to possess could have been a bit more clearly explained. I also thought some of the events towards the exciting climax of the book happened very quickly and in some cases, rather too conveniently. Not everything was explained to my satisfaction, shall we say.  There is the beginning of a romance in the book, which frankly I would have loved more of, but it is a YA book, and the protagonists are fifteen and eighteen, so I suppose I will just have to hope it develops further in the books to come. I was happy to discover the first book was featured in the annual February book sales, so have already bought my own copy, saving me from having to rely on the library if I want to re-read.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Friday, 20 February 2015

#CBR7 Book 18: "Rivers of London" by Ben Aaronovitch

Page count: 400 pages
Audio book length: 9 hrs 56 mins
Rating: 4 stars

Peter Grant is a probationary officer with the London Metropolitan Police when he, one night takes a witness statement from an individual who just happens to be a ghost. Unusual as this is, it saves Peter from a life of tedium in the Case Progression Unit (basically doing other cops' paperwork for them) and to the attention of Inspector Nightingale, who just happens to be a wizard. Peter becomes the first wizard's apprentice in England for more than 50 years, but Harry Potter this is not.

Some malevolent supernatural force is possessing individuals all over London, causing riots, unrest and death. The victims of the possession end up dead with their faces collapsed. There appears to be no clear connection between the crimes and the victims, but Peter and his fellow Detective Constable Leslie May investigate as best they can. Peter is also learning what it means to be a wizard - mainly a lot of tedious Latin study, reading history of magic text books and hours and hours of repetitive practise to do the most basic of spells. He does get to live in some very swanky digs with all his meals cooked by the silent and mysterious Molly and once he gets broadband and cable TV installed in parts of the house, things are looking pretty promising. Occasionally he even gets to drive Nightingale's flashy Jaguar.

As well as learning the basics of magic and trying to solve the strange and violent murders, Peter needs to help Nightingale negotiate a truce between Old Father Themes and Mama Themes, who are in disagreement as to who has control of the river and the city of London. The conflict needs to be resolved before their children come to blows.

I got my Audible account when I was advised that Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden books were a lot more enjoyable when narrated by James Marsters. Last year, I finally got caught up, and suddenly no longer had a monthly book to spend a credit on. As Audible only allows you to hoard six measly credits, I keep having to find new audio books to spend my credits on. This is not helped by the fact that I have discovered myself to be very picky when it comes to who narrates the books. If I don't like the narrator's voice, the quality of the book doesn't matter. I won't enjoy the book. Happily, Audible allows me to sample the books before I buy. But I've been looking for a new series to spend my credits on, and I think I may have found it. My previous experience with Ben Aaronovitch is as a script writer on classic Doctor Who. While I'm not a huge fan of Sylvester McCoy's Doctor (the Doctor of my husband's childhood), I am rather fond of both Remembrance of the Daleks (the Special Weapon's Dalek!) and Battlefield (I'm a sucker for Ancelyn and Bambera's burgeoning romance).

Having listened to the sample on Audible, I really liked the narration from Kobna Holdbrook-Smith. IMDB tells me he's got 31 acting credits to his name, but I've never seen him in anything, nor had I heard of him before. He has a wonderful voice, though, and narrates the various characters in the book brilliantly, mastering the various regional accents and tones without any difficulty. He really made all the characters come alive and while I don't doubt I would have liked the book fine if I read it myself, the audio book experience was great. I will absolutely be picking up more of these books on Audible and can recommend them to anyone else who wants entertaining paranormal/urban fantasy, differing a bit from a lot of the books out there simply by being set in London, not somewhere in the US.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR7 Book 17: "Veronica Mars: Mr. Kiss and Tell" by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Disclaimer! I was given an ARC of this through NetGalley in return for a fair and unbiased review.

Readers should be aware that this is the second book of Veronica Mars mysteries. Readers should probably watch the movie (it's on Netflix) and read the first book before reading this. If you're not caught up, there will be spoilers in the review below.

Veronica Mars is hired by the insurance agents for the Neptune Grand, to prove that one of the hotel's staff members didn't assault a young woman and leave her for dead. The investigation is complicated by the fact that the crime happened several months earlier (around the same time Veronica was busy trying to locate kidnapped girls in The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line), the victim claims not to remember the events clearly and refuses to reveal who she was at the hotel to meet the night of the attack, the hotel refuses to share their reservations list and the accused attacker has been deported to Mexico. Never one to back down from a challenge, Veronica nonetheless throws herself into the case with her customary determination.

While Veronica is being recruited by high profile clients, Keith Mars and Cliff McCormack are trying to hit the Neptune Sheriff's Department where it hurts by helping Eli "Weevil" Navarro with a lawsuit. As Sheriff Lamb is busy trying to get himself re-elected, and there's a promising new candidate running against him, so the victory isn't automatic, the case building against the department could be very damaging.

On the home front, Veronica is trying to get used to living with Logan, who is home on shore leave. While she's firm in her decision that she wants to be a P.I., not a lawyer, she's having more trouble accepting that the US Air Force seems to be where Logan has really found his calling. He's taking Arabic lessons and all signs point to him wanting to go back on active duty, a prospect that scares hell out of Veronica.

If I can't have more Veronica on my TV, I'm really happy that the Kickstarter funds helped get these books created. The characters feel just as real as they were on the show, and Neptune is as authentic a location on the page as it was on my screen. I've seen several reviews complain that while the previous book barely had any Logan, this book was very light on Wallace. That complaint is a fair one, but as Wallace pretty much stole every scene he actually did get to be in, I still felt he played an important part and as always provided Veronica with much needed support in her mystery solving.

With Veronica and Logan's relationship being so passionate and stormy, and frequently quite toxic in TV show, it's both strange and wonderful to see that both characters have matured and grown up and now finally seem ready for a stable life together. I very much enjoyed the scenes of their domesticity, and while I can sympathise with Veronica's fears and worries about Logan going back on active duty in the Gulf, the book very clearly explains why being an Air Force pilot isn't just some adrenaline kick or game for Logan, but something that saved him when he was spiralling out of control. It's a vocation and something that gives his life meaning and purpose, just as Veronica's detective work is a vital part of who she is.

I really liked that the mystery takes Veronica several months to solve and the book clearly showed that it requires a lot of leg work, frustrating investigation, countless dead ends, patience and determination to solve a case like this. As always, spending time with the established cast from the show is great. The new sheriff's candidate, with her ties to Keith's past was also an intriguing additon to the cast. I really hope we get many more books about everyone's favourite tiny blonde P.I.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.