Victory of Eagles, Naomi Novik

Victory of Eagles, Naomi NovikVictory of Eagles by Naomi Novik

First Published: 2009

Pages: 345 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Temeraire #5

Rating: 4/54/54/54/54/5

As is the nature of longer series, the blurb contains spoilers for previous books. So everything goes below the cut this time.

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The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch

The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott LynchThe Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

First Published: 2006

Pages: 537 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Gentleman Bastard #1

Rating:4/54/54/54/54/5

The Thorn of Camorr is said to be an unbeatable swordsman, a master thief, a friend to the poor, a ghost that walks through walls.

Slightly built and barely competent with a sword, Lock Lamora is, much to his annoyance, the fabled Thorn. And while Locke does indeed steal from the rich (who else would be worth stealing from?), the poor never see a penny. All of Locke’s gains are strictly for himself and his tight-knit band of thieves: The Gentlemen bastards.

The capricious, colourful underworld of the ancient city of Camorr is the only home they’ve ever known. But now a clandestine war is threatening to tear it apart. Caught up in a murderous game, Locke and his friends are suddenly struggling just to stay alive.

The Lies of Locke Lamora is one of those fantasy books that, if you’re into fantasy, it’s impossible to avoid people telling you how brilliant it is. And, as is almost invariably the case, it doesn’t quite live up to the hype. It’s a fast-paced, fun read with lots of great characters, a wonderfully creepy atmosphere, some interesting world building, and some surprising twists and turns, so it’s definitely not bad. I certainly won’t be giving people who recommend it as ‘the best fantasy in recent years’ the side eye in the same way I do Joe Abercrombie fans (that trilogy should have been one book, tops!). In fact, they may well be right. It’s a good novel, very good in places but, for me, those places fell mostly in the later half of the book and it didn’t quite come together enough for me to love it.

The book is set in the fantasy canal-city of Camorr and opens with Locke Lamore (the self styled conman the ‘Thorn of Camorr’) and his band of merry men starting a scheme to con a local nobleman out of all his money. These are not the most moral or idealistic or protagonists. But they have a strong bond that lots of readers loved and I found almost instantly tiresome. There’s a lot of banter and teasing, boasting, and laughter in the first half that, for me, felt like watching a group of incredibly self-aggrandising men that I don’t know making in-jokes about how great they are to each other. And my pervading thought was mostly ‘yes, you’re ‘Gentlemen Bastards’, well done, I got that, you’re the best, but where are the women?’ ‘Why are there no women?’.

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Animalium, Katie Scott & Jenny Broom

Animalium, Jenny Broom & Katie ScottAnimalium by Katie Scott (Illustrator) and Jenny Broom 

First Published: 2014

Pages: 112 (hardback)
Subjects: Non-Fiction, Children’s Non-Fiction, Natural History, Zoology, Reference
Series: Welcome to the Museum

Rating:3.5/53.5/53.5/53.5/53.5/5

Welcome to Animalium.

This museum is open all hours.

It houses an astonishing collection of more than 160 animals for visitors of all ages.

Learn how animals have evolved, see inside the dissection laboratory and discover the great variety of habitats on Earth.

Enter here to explore the animal kingdom in all its glory.

A christmas present from my best friend on my Museum Studies course (where I did my specialist module on curating Natural History collections), this oversized coffee-table book purporting to be a ‘museum…between two covers’ is utterly gorgeous to look at. It is beautifully illustrated and beautifully laid out and my friend is very lucky I didn’t spot it first otherwise I would have almost certainly brought it for myself. It was only on researching it a bit more to write the review that I saw that it is aimed at the 8-12 age group, the wonderful illustrations and simple straightforward but unpatronising prose that accompanies them are, however, an appropriate introduction or overview of animal taxonomy for someone of any age. But the target market does go a long way to explaining a few of the things I was disappointed in – mainly wanting more explanation for the interesting facts dropped about certain animals.

Tree of Life (bigpicturepress.net)

Tree of Life (bigpicturepress.net)

Laid out in ‘galleries’ rather than chapters, the museum metaphor is rather heavily laboured. It mimics the tradition Natural History Museum layout though by dividing the contents by taxonomic classification (mammals, birds, fish, et.) rather than continents or countries – which is how I remember most of my childhood wildlife reference books were laid out. What comes out of this, is a book that is more scientific in focus, explicitly about how and why certain creatures are grouped together by similar traits rather than just a more general ‘isn’t wildlife cool’ message. It also means that creatures like Porifera (sea sponges) are given as much attention and explanation as Birds of Prey. While it’s not a complete encyclopedia of  animal life (with only 160+ featured animals it was never going to be) it provides a good overview of the larger animal groupings, alongside some interesting chosen examples from each major family on the tree of life. Continue reading

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The Vanishing Act, Mette Jakobsen

The Vanishing Act, Mette JakobsenThe Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen

First Published: 2011

Pages: 217
Form: Novel

Rating:3/53/53/53/53/5

This is a story about a snow-covered island you won’t find on any map.

It’s the story of a girl, Minou. A year ago, her mother walked out into the rain and never came back.

It’s about a magician and a priest and a dog called No Name. It’s about a father’s endless hunt for the truth.

It’s about a dead boy who listens, and Minou’s search for her mother’s voice.

It’s a story of how even the most isolated places have their own secrets.

It’s a story you will never forget.

I’m still not entirely sure what I think of this book. It’s one of those books that sometimes gets quite patronisingly described as ‘charming’; a short, well-written and introspective ‘coming of age’ novel touching on several big themes, but ultimately has no plot to speak of and the characters remain simplistic.

The narrator, Minou, is twelve (possibly a bit older – acts a lot younger). One year ago her  mother disappeared – the titular ‘vanishing act’ – from the small island they live on. A year later the dead body of a young man washes up on shore and Minou starts to recall her childhood, her mothers disappearance, and the events leading up to it. And that’s really about it – Minou thinks and occasionally writes, but nothing actually happens save in the flashbacks and at the end of the book everyone remains in pretty much the same position they were in the beginning.

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The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton

The Luminaries, Eleanor CattonThe Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

First Published: 2013

Pages: 832
Form: Novel

Rating: 5/55/55/55/55/5

It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand Goldfields. On the night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a whore has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely patterned as the night sky.

The Luminaries is one of those books I’ve been picking up and then putting down in bookshops ever since I spotted the hardback. Intrigued by the blurb, daunted by the size, and more than a little wary of that ‘Winner of the Man Booker Prize’ label (I was less than wowwed with the last one of those I read), I always ended up putting it back on the shelf while I waited for the recommendation of someone I actually knew. Well that never came (presumably my friends have not read it for similar reasons!) but, finally, I got sick of always being drawn to the same book so I bit the bullet and bought it. And I’m very glad I did, because it turned out to be utterly brilliant.

It’s a bit slow to start with, with a lot of pages given to the presumed main character, Walter Moody, as he lands in Hokitika, New Zealand, for the first time to seek his fortune and accidentally stumbles across a secret gathering of twelve men in the parlour of his cheap lodgings. The tension and unease in these early pages are palpable, but it was only when the rest of the gathering start to tell their own stories, revealing a complex, tightly plotted web of interconnected events and interactions, that I really got sucked in.

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Foxglove Summer, Ben Aaronovitch

Foxglove Summer, Ben AaronovitchFoxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

First Published: 2014

Pages: 394 (Waterstone’s Hardback with bonus short story)
Form: Novel
Series: Rivers of London/Peter Grant #5

Rating: 5/55/55/55/55/5

When two young girls go missing in rural Herefordshire PC Peter Grant is sent out of London to check that nothing supernatural is involved. It’s purely routine, Nightingale thinks he’ll be done in less than a day.

But Peter’s never been one to walk away from someone in trouble, so when nothing overtly magical turns up he volunteers his services to the local police who need all the help they can get.

But because the universe likes a joke as much as the next sadistic megalomaniac, Peter soon comes to realise that dark secrets underlay the picturesque fields and villages of the countryside and there might be work for Britain’s most junior wizard after all.

Soon he’s in a vicious race against time in a world where the boundaries between reality and fairy have never been less clear…

 

I’ve made no secret about my total love for the Rivers of London series (apart from the second book – that one’s crap). They’re one of my go to’s for comfort reading: quick, entertaining, easy to read, and a little bit different former standard modern fantasy. For a start, the protagonist, Peter Grant, actually acts like a real police officer! He doesn’t pull the maverick cop act (much) but co-operates with other officers and departments, does his paperwork, follows procedure (as much as you can do when dealing with the supernatural) and generally acts in a way you expect a real person who doesn’t want be fired to act.

And Foxglove Summer really is Peter Grant’s book – taken out of London and away from his cast of supporting characters, Foxglove Summer gives Peter the chance to shine on his own for the first time. Regulars like Nightingale, Lesley, and Beverly do make their appearances, but generally it comes from the other end of the phone and, I was surprised to find, I didn’t miss them at all. I didn’t even miss the London setting, which has always been one of the highlights of all previous novels. Quietly, and without me really noticing it, Peter has grown up enough to carry a book – and a police case – on his own, and it was great to read him doing just that, and doing it pretty dang competently. Continue reading

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The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo's Calling, Robert GalbraithThe Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
(J.K. Rowling)

First Published: 2013

Pages: 550(Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Cormoran Strike #1

Rating:4/54/54/54/54/5

When a troubled model falls to her death from a snow-covered Mayfair balcony, it is assumed that she has committed suicide. However, her brother has his doubts and calls in private detective Cormoran Strike to investigate.

Strike is a war veteran – wounded both physically and psychologically – and his private life is in disarray. The case gives him a financial lifeline but it comes at a personal cost: the more he delves into the young model’s world, the darker things become – and the closer he gets to terrible danger.

Before I start, I’m going to admit that I only chose to read this book because the author is J.K. Rowling. I’m partial to a detective story now and then but, without a specific recomendation for Galbraith from someone I trust, I would probably not have picked this novel up on my own from among  the sea of bland identi-covers and samey-blurbs in my bookshop’s crime section.  But Rowling proved (to me at least) that she could write for adults with The Casual Vacancy and she’s proved she could write mysteries and sprinkle clues around ever since The Philosopher’s Stone, so I was interested to see what her crime debut would be like.

 

And it’s pretty good. A fairly standard crime novel, perhaps: a PI with a funny name, a dark history, and a disastrous personal life investigates a death everyone believes to be a suicide, proves it was murder and shows up the police. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking or exceptional about the story, but it is a solid, enjoyable read, and that’s pretty much all I ask of my detective novels. Continue reading

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