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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.

Last Days of Magic cover art

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.

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