What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine

What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine is a wonderful fairy tale set in modern times.

Although there are some dark undertones in the book (this darkness seems to grow as the book progresses), there also is a hope that grows as well. I know that that description sounds counter to each other, but it works. It works because for many of the characters there is a darkness that grows, but for Maisie (the main character) there is a hope and yearning for freedom from her affliction.

It is an original and intriguing story that keeps the reader captivated as Fine switches between the women in the woods and Maisie. It has serious undertones of a fairy tale with a malevolent dark figure, an innocent heroine, and magic.

Even though it seems like a fairy tale, the characters are very relatable. Some of them have supernatural powers, but they have very human characteristics. For example, even though Maisie cannot touch someone or something without killing it or bringing it back to life, she experiences that very human need for touch. She yearns to touch someone without the fear of killing them. This yearning drives her to solve the mystery of the missing women in her ancestral family.

Fine gracefully weaves a common thread through all of the women who have been lost to the wood – tragedy and how that tragedy is passed down through the generations. Although the tragedy varies, it has the same outcome for the women.

A good read.

The Sphinx’s Secret by Gwenda Bond & Christopher Rowe

Continuing our summer trend of reading books by “friends of the blog” (i.e. authors I have been reading for some time and who I have interacted with as a result of this website), we turn to Gwenda Bond & Christopher Rowe’s middle grade series The Supernormal Sleuthing Service.

I enjoyed The Lost Legacy enough to look forward to reading book #2 and The Sphinx’s Secret did not disappoint.  The focus remains on Stephan and his friends, and how they work together to face the challenge, but this book had a little more tension and action than the first.  Both the introduction of the mysterious wizard and Sphinx kind added another element to the already fun cast of characters.  There was a real sense that something was at risk; which is not something you always get with books in this category.

This is a fun, creative middle grade series with a focus on friendship and solving mysteries.


Midnight Riot (Peter Grant, Book 1) by Ben Aaronovitch

As the handful of people who read this blog regularly, or who follow me on Goodreads, know I have gotten in the habit of listening to audiobooks and lectures on my daily commute.  What I have found is that neither the overly-complex nor the particularly subtle, literary or quiet work well in the car.  Relatively straightforward lectures or history can work, provided you are in the mood, or fiction with action, plot and drama work best.

I bring this up because I stumbled on a great series for audio book aficionados. I don’t even remember why I put Rivers of London on my Amazon wish list but when looking for potential audiobooks I decided to see it was available on Overdrive.  It turned out it was but under the title Midnight Riot.  And it is a great listen.

midnight-riotProbationary 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 a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.

This is exactly the type of book that works in the car, at least for me.  It has strong characters, a great setting, an interesting hook and engaging language and style.

Peter Grant is a great character and voice.  An average, or perhaps slightly above average, guy trying to make it as a (mixed-race) copper in London.  He is fascinated by technology, the city, and cars among other things but he is not a particularly adept or perceptive constable.  But the magical elements gives him a potential career path.

The style is witty and laidback; a sort of urban fantasy meets police procedural with a good mix of nerdiness (architecture, computers/phones, music, Harry Potter, etc.) mixed in.  It has an enthusiasm that is contagious.  Which is one of the points of audiobooks in the car; to be entertained while traveling.

The narrator, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, does a great job with the voices and personalities involved. It was like listening to a radio drama. And along the way you get a great sense of London as both a place and as an identity.

The plot is rather convoluted and not particularly tight or tension filled.  But it is the characters and voice of the novel that is the attraction here not the plot.

I found Midnight Riot to be a great combination of fantasy, London as a place and a character, literature, wit and mystery. And I am looking forward to listening to the rest of the Peter Grant series.

The Last Days of Magic by Mark Tompkins

Mythology, Christianity, history … these are all ingredients that normally make a book grab me and hold my attention.  And The Last Days of Magic by Mark Tompkins seemed like that kind of book.

But alas, I couldn’t get into this one. It has a lot of elements that I enjoy, but it just felt like a bit of a mess. As many reviewers have noted, the author frequently dumps his research regardless if it adds to the story or not. It also felt a little clichéd at this point.

The story of a powerful church violently destroying the dangerous free spirits and creatures of pagan Ireland. The church is hypocritical and power-hungry and everything you think you know about history and the Bible is wrong. It was all actually about a battle between humans and fairies, demons and other creatures. Witches control the thrones of Europe and on and on it goes.

This is the kind of book where you want to lose yourself in the story and are compelled to read it whenever you have free time.  But instead I had to force myself to finish it after I had invested time in starting.

If you like big, messy, sprawling stories about a secret history with lots of violence and sex then this may be for you. Just didn’t work for me.

Thanks to Viking and NetGalley for the review copy.

The Dark Hills Divide (The Land of Elyon #1) by Patrick Carman

Ok, I am trying to play catch up and post short reviews of books I have read.  One small problem: some of them I read sometime ago and if I didn’t put some thoughts down on Goodreads or have a strong reaction to the book it is hard to remember anything more than a basic liked it or didn’t. I apologize for the brevity and thinness of some of the reviews that are to follow.

I picked up The Land of Elyon series at a local library sale for my daughter and as she began vacuuming up books at an alarming rate I decided to read The Dark Hills Divide to see what the series might be like so I could recommend it to her.

My reaction? Eh.

This very much felt like a Middle Grade or chapter book that wasn’t a good fit for me. I gave it three stars on Goodreads. I enjoyed it I guess but didn’t love it.  Some Middle Grade/Chapter books just don’t have the depth, complexity or prose to hook me.  This is not to say something is wrong with them, they are not for my age group after all.

I read it because the lead character is a girl, which is something my daughter enjoys.  And for that, I think the book is likely to be enjoyed by elementary girls. If you aren’t looking for particular depth or powerful prose, and just want an interesting story you might enjoy this as well.

There is some interesting aspects of the plot and the world building but for me the story was too passive and lacked tension and suspense.  For some reason the story just didn’t take off.  It just sort of moved from one section to the next.

Usually, even with a series I don’t love I want to read the next book just to see what happens, but I after finishing this one I was not in any way motivated to start the next one.

I guess I should have my daughter read it and get her opinion.

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking #1) by Patrick Ness [Audio]

Some time ago I downloaded the entire Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness on my Kindle. It was one of many, many discounted or free ebooks I have grabbed for my Kindle never seemingly able to resist a cheap or free book.

But, like the vast majority of said acquired books, I never got around to reading the series. But then I happened to stumble on the audio version of The Knife of Never Letting Go at the local library and picked it up for the daily commute. And thus my exploration of the series began.

Interestingly, this was one of those books where I think the audio version might have hindered my enjoyment (often it seems the opposite). I found the accent and language style of the main character quite annoying. I am not sure why, but it just grated on me. I don’t think it was the fault of the narrator and I think if I had been reading it I might have gotten past it.

That experiential note aside, there was a great deal of creativity and world building in this first book that helps explain the popularity of the series.  There is tension and action from the start. And there is the contrast between the seemingly universal human elements with the otherworldly aspects; vulnerability and emotion with violence and desperation.

I did, however, find the repetitive/cyclical nature of the story frustrating at times. Run, capture, escape, run, confrontation, escape, run, confrontation, etc. etc.

And of course, the whole story ends with a giant cliffhanger.

But I was intrigued enough to push on through and keep with the series. The hook for the series, is just creative enough to keep me going and the characters, particularly Todd, are interesting enough that I want to know more.

My reaction to the next two books, alas, will have to wait until another post …

The Song of the Quarkbeast (Chronicles of Kazam #2) by Jasper Fforde

OK, I going to attempt to play catch-up and post some reviews of book I have read. This slump has me way behind.

As you might recall, I have been listening to audio books during my daily commute.  And I stumbled on Jasper Fforde‘s Chronicles of Kazam series at the local library. I started with The Last Dragonslayer and next came The Song of the Quarkbeast.

I really enjoyed listening to this second book in the car. It seemed to move much quicker than the first, not surprising given the work in that book to set things up.

Jennifer Strange continues to be a strong central character with a creative voice: mature for her age, loyal and courageous, but also still young and vulnerable at times. As the story develops we learn more about key characters but also about magic and its history. The quarkbeast thread adds a fun element and ends up playing a key role in the plot twist at the end.

A creative, witty, and fun series. Can’t wait to listen to or read the third book.

The God Engines by John Scalzi

The God Engines by John Scalzi is not my normal read, or listen, as I rarely tackle science fiction or fantasy of this sort. But the audio was for sale at Half Price Books for a couple of bucks so I grabbed it for the commute. Plus, I am always interested in fiction that explores faith.

Captain Ean Tephe is a man of faith, whose allegiance to his lord and to his ship is uncontested. The Bishopry Militant knows this—and so, when it needs a ship and crew to undertake a secret, sacred mission to a hidden land, Tephe is the captain to whom the task is given.

Tephe knows from the start that his mission will be a test of his skill as a leader of men and as a devout follower of his god. It’s what he doesn’t know that matters: to what ends his faith and his ship will ultimately be put—and that the tests he will face will come not only from his god and the Bishopry Militant, but from another, more malevolent source entirely…

Recently, it took its turn as my entertainment for the drive to and from work. It turned out to be interesting and enjoyable but, as so many reviewers have noted, felt a little too short and underdeveloped.

I started out wondering what I had purchased because it was so different than anything I had read recently. And the voices and personalities as they come through on audio heightened that strangeness. But the story picked up and I started getting into it.

Just trying to conceptualizer and envision such a strange and different world was challenging and interesting. Trying to figure out what the different “angles” being played (the bishops, the gods, the captain, etc.) and to what ends keeps you intrigued. And of course, you can’t help but think what philosophical point Scalzi might be making in telling such a story about gods and faith and choice.

But then just as the tension builds and the complexity begins to intrigue the story ends. You are left thinking: “Huh, that was interesting but is that it?”

Still, it is creative and thought provoking and has some well done characters. Have to wonder what it could have been at standard novel length though … Or perhaps I am just not a connoisseur of fantasy novellas.