Whispers Under Ground (Audiobook) by Ben Aaronovitch, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

Whispers Under Ground (Audiobook)Whispers Under Ground

by Ben Aaronovitch, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (Narrator)
Series: The Rivers of London, #3

Unabridged Audioboook, 10 hrs., 17 min.
Tantor Media, 2012

Read: July 24 – August 5, 2017


Okay . . . man, how to sum this one up. Peter, Lesley and Abigail Kamara (a teen-aged neighbor of Peter’s parents) go down into the tunnels of the Underground to look for ghosts, and find one. What we learn here will be important come The Furthest Station. This is a fun little foray into the wider supernatural world of this series.

And then we get back to police work — a man is stabbed at the Baker Street tube and there’s enough for Stephanopoulis to bring in Peter just to rule out magic. Which he can’t do. It turns out that the victim is an American, which makes everything unnecessarily complicated. And then it turns out that he’s the son of a US Senator, and things get worse. The FBI sends an agent — Kimberly Reynolds — over to help out/observe/get in the way. So Peter has to handle to non-normal side of the investigation, keep Seawoll from having to hear about magic (because it interferes with actual police work in his mind), and not let Reynolds know that there’s anything not run-of-the-mill about Peter and the investigation. All at the same time.

Very quickly, it seems clear that there’s something going on that Peter and the rest just don’t get. Yeah, magic was involved in the killing, but there’s no real trace of it in the victim’s life — not with him, his school, his friends, his enemies, or anything. So where’s that come into play? The answer comes when it’s least expected and in a direction that was impossible to predict.

Aaronovich really pulled a rabbit out of his hat this time. Sure, he made both the rabbit and the hat, so it’s to be expected that he’d do that. But, there’s just something about the way he did this one — police procedural that accidentally turns up the answers and leads to something bigger than anyone expected. A great balance of UF and Procedural (the last one was a bit too light on the procedural for me).

Guleed doesn’t get enough to do, but I liked her presence. Lesley really gets to shine a bit here, and her inability to be a regular part of the police force is underlined here for her and Peter — and just how horrible that is emphasized throughout. When Stephanopoulis is the rational, supportive authority figure for Peter (other than Nightingale), you know that Seawoll is a little over the top in his antagonism to all things Folly. But mostly, this was about characters we know and like getting to do things to keep us liking them, and probably liking them more while introducing some new figures for us to enjoy.

Really, the main take away I had from this audio production was a bit of joy over the fact that Holdbrook-Smith isn’t perfect. His Agent Reynolds was just bad. At least the American accent part of it. I enjoyed his flubbing of that more than I should have. Meanwhile, everything else he did was just fantastic — especially Lesley. The range of emotion, sarcasm, etc. that he can put into her voice while still accounting for her lack of face is just incredible. Also, Zach Palmer — the roommate of the murder victim — was just hilarious. I know a lot of that was in the text, but the way Holdbrook-Smith brought him to life was wonderful.

As impressed as I was with the way that Aaronvich did everything he did, something about this one didn’t work for me as much as others in the series do (either in this re-read or originally). I’m not sure why. Still, this was a good, entertaining book that anyone who likes the concept of a Police Officer/Wizard in training should enjoy.

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3.5 Stars

The Coven by Chrissy Lessey

The CovenThe Coven

by Chrissy Lessey
Series: The Crystal Cove Series, Book One

Kindle Edition, 340 pg.
Tenacious Books Publishing, 2017

Read: June 27, 2017


This book takes place in a small North Carolina town where descendants of some colonial witches still live and practice their craft. For obvious reasons, they are a secret group, but highly self-regulated. Typically, the abilities travel along family lines and crop up in childhood/adolescence, at which point, the witch/warlock is initiated into the Coven and introduced to their history and practice.

Stevie is a newly-divorced mom of a young Autistic boy, still struggling to adjust to life without her husband and trying to make an emotional connection with her son, who she’s trying everything to help. She’s about to learn about her unique heritage, in a way that no one would want to.

There’s a dark witch who has just returned to town to settle some scores. Her actions will kick off many changes to the coven, as well as the populace of the town. Her return and the advent of Stevie’s ability will prove a pivotal moment in the history of this group.

There’s a rich — and frequently delightful — cast of supporting characters here. Lessey writes them well and with care. I enjoyed them all, frequently grinning at the way a couple of them behave.

I can’t testify to the accuracy of the depiction of autism — but it felt real, it felt like the fruit of good research (or first-hand knowledge), sympathetic without pandering; realistic, yet open to the possibilities of a Fantasy novel. Stevie’s relationship with Charlie, her son, was easily the best part of this book.

The stakes were high, but it there was never a feeling of actual peril, of risk, of there being a chance that things could go really bad. Still, there was plenty of heart and enough likeable characters to keep the reader engaged. A quick read that kept the plot moving at a decent pace. The Coven is the Urban Fantasy equivalent of a cozy — low risk, decent reward. I’m willing to bet Lessey grows and develops as a writer over the trilogy, and is probably worth keeping an eye on.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for honest opinion, which I appreciate.

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3 Stars

Besieged by Kevin Hearne

BesiegedBesieged

by Kevin Hearne
Series: The Iron Druid Chronicles, #4.1, 4.2, 4.6, 4.7, 8.1, 8.6

Hardcover, 235 pg.
Del Rey Books, 2017

Read: July 25 – 27, 2017

“Tell me about the old days, Atticus, when you were wee and had to walk both ways uphill in feces because no one had toilets.”

Granuaile’s request for a story around the campfire during her training sets the stage for this collection of stories from The Iron Druid Chronicles, primarily about events that took place prior to the first time we meet Atticus. Thankfully, we don’t get as much fecal matter as she suggests (although, it is there).

We see Atticus in San Francisco during the Gold Rush; in Egypt, annoying that pantheon (and setting the stage for complications in a previously published short story); in London, meeting and influencing a certain Bard of Avon; we also get a bit of post-Tricked action and learn why Atticus doesn’t spend much time in Nebraska. I enjoyed all of these — I don’t know that I got amazing new insights in to any of the characters, it was just nice to see them in low-risk adventures. Time with Atticus and Oberon (and the rest) is almost always time well spent.

Not all of the stories were from Atticus’ perspective. These weren’t as appealing to me, but I did enjoy them. I wasn’t crazy about the story featuring Flidias and Perun — the setting was pretty off-putting for me. Although I did enjoy Perun’s narration and in the end the story won me over. There’s a story from Granuaile’s perspective about enforcing the agreement to rid Poland of vampires. This was the most I’ve liked her since Trapped, which was quite a relief. Of the two stories told from Owen’s perspective, the one set post-Staked worked better for me than the one about his life before he became anyone’s archdruid. I really like watching Owen try to train this group of children while attempting to keep from recreating the mistakes of the past.

I can’t say much about the last story, because it takes place immediately before the series finale, due next year. It whet my appetite for the last book, for sure (not that I needed it) — and reminded me that I might need to keep a supply of Kleenex handy.

Not as good as a novel, but a satisfying collection of tales in this world. A must for fans — casual or die-hard.

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4 Stars

Moon Over Soho (Audiobook) by Ben Aaronovitch, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

Moon Over Soho (Audiobook)Moon Over Soho

by Ben Aaronovitch, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (Narrator)
Series: The Rivers of London, #2
Unabridged Audiobook, 10 hrs.
Tantor Media, 2012
Read: June 21 – 23, 2017

When I think back over the first books in this series, I remember them being a lot of fun — pretty funny, really, with moments of tension and drama.

I don’t know why I think that. Listening to the first two have been a good corrective. Yes, Peter is witty, and some of what he does while learning magic or talking to other police officers is amusing. But these are not light books — this is solid police work mixed with dark magic. They’re still fun, just a lot less light than I recall. Actually, my poor memory extends beyond just the tone. I remembered almost nothing about the plot of this one (I remembered almost everything that wasn’t involved in the main plot, the long-term investigation into the Faceless Man, the stuff with Lesley, etc.). Which made it a great experience to re-read.

Jazz musicians are dropping dead after performances of a lifetime — in ways that seem like natural causes, but Peter (and Dr. Walid) can tell there’s something more going on — just what that might be is a touch beyond them. There’s another supernatural predator traveling in London hotspots, preying on unsuspecting men. Peter and DS Stephanopoulos work together to get to the bottom of things — we also meet PC Sahra Guleed. After Guleed’s appearance in Body Work, I’ve been trying to remember where I knew her from, but I couldn’t come up with it, so pleased to have that question resolved for me — I remember now, and I remember what a great character she is.

Peter’s spirit, his curiosity, his drive — they make for a great protagonist, and I quite enjoy spending time with him. I would’ve liked a bit more Nightingale — but I understand why he wasn’t around. Even Peter’s new love interest and his new musician friends are a blast. Really, I can’t think of any characters in here I don’t dig.

Kobna Holdbrook-Smith . . . I’m telling you, this guy is just great. His characterizations of the regular characters, plus the ones that we meet here, are great, he just brings everyone to life. But, the job he does with Lesley May’s voice as she recovers from the devastating injuries she sustained at the end of Midnight Riot? I don’t know how to talk about how wonderful — and heartbreaking — I found that.

Another little plus that the audio books bring (not attributable to Holdbrook-Smith) are the interstitial music, that little jazz bit between chapters. It’s just perfect for this series. If you could get that on a chip in the paperbacks to play when you turn the page of a new chapter (or on a whim)? That’d be gold.

A great installment in the series, solidifying the world and helping every character move forward following Midnight Riot.

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4 Stars

Pub Day Repost: The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch

The Furthest StationThe Furthest Station

by Ben Aaronovitch
Series: The Rivers of London, #5.7eARC, 144 pg.
Subterranean Press, 2017
Read: April 24, 2017

He asked if we were really ghost hunting, and I said we were.

“What, like officially?”

“Officially secret,” I said because discretion is supposed to be, if not our middle name, at least a nickname we occasionally answer to when we remember.

This novella hit the spot — a short, but fully developed, adventure with our friends from the Rivers of London series — full of action, a bit of snark, and seeing Peter in his element (and far out of it, too). Would I have preferred a full novel? Sure — but if I can’t have one, this is more than adequate.

Peter Grant, apprentice wizard and Police Constable, is investigating several reports of a ghost terrorizing people on the Underground during the morning commute. Naturally, even when interviewed immediately following a sighting the witness would only be able to remember details for a few moments before they forgot and/or rationalized them away. Which makes it pretty difficult to ask follow-up questions. As Peter continues to investigate, he ends up finding a very non-supernatural crime that he needs to deal with, even if he goes about it in a pretty supernatural way. While there’s little in this series that I don’t like, but Peter doing regular policework is one of my favorite parts.

Along for the ride (and looking for trouble) is his cousin, Abigail Jumara, acting as a summer intern for the Folly. Honestly, I barely remembered her when she shows up here — but I eventually remembered her, and I was glad to see her back. I’m not necessarily sure that I need to see her all the time, but seeing more of her would definitely be pleasant.

In addition to the subplot about Abigail’s future, there’s a subplot revolving around another personification of a river — not one of Mama Thames’, either. I enjoyed it, and thought it fit in nicely with the rest of the novella, while giving us the requisite dose of a body of water.

There’s not a lot to sink your teeth into here — but the novella length doesn’t leave you wanting more (like a short story would). It’s good to see the Folly involved in smaller cases. Not just the serial killing, major magical threat, etc. kind of thing — but the “smaller” stuff, too.

For any fan of the Folly/Peter Grant/Rivers of London series, this is one to get. It’d even make a pretty good introduction to the series for someone who hasn’t yet discovered this fun UF series.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Subterranean Press via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both, I needed something like this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

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4 Stars

Bound by Benedict Jacka

BoundBound

by Benedict Jacka
Series: Alex Verus, #8

Mass Market Paperback, PAGE pg.
Ace, 2017

Read: April 10 – 11, 2017


I expected this book to start with the equivalent of Voldemort bending Wormtail to his will while Nagini snacks on a Muggle. I couldn’t have been more wrong — Richard (lamest name ever for an arch-enemy, which is why it’s so good) simply lays out his plan and tells Alex and Anne what they are supposed to do. No threats, no maniacal laughter, no giant snakes eating anyone.

“I was expecting . . .” Anne said.
“Expecting what?”
“I don’t know. Something worse.”

Me, too, Anne. Me, too.

Basically, Alex has to act as the personal aide to Morden (the first Dark Mage on the Council) when he’s not being the most ignored Keeper in history. He’s been working on earning the position of full Keeper — now he’s given it, and is resented by the rest. Even when things go well for him, it’s a disaster. Similarly, Anne is the least utilized person in the Healer corps.

Right now I’m fighting Levistus and Richard, and I’m losing. Part of it’s because they’ve got better cards than me, but that’s not all of it. It’s that they’ve got a plan. They‘re always playing the long game, looking to next month, next year. Meanwhile I just wait around until some sort of crisis happens, then I scramble to fix it. It’s like they‘re shooting holes in a boat, and I’m running up and down trying to plug the leaks. Sooner or later there’ll be too many holes, or one of the bullets will hit me, and that’ll be it.

Which is a pretty good summary of how things are going for Alex. He goes to great lengths — some might even say extraordinary — to be proactive. I won’t say how well it works, but if you’ve read any of these books before, you’ll have a pretty good idea.

This book probably has the best use of Luna we’ve seen — I really liked everything Jacka did with her here.

We’ve had Richard looming as a threat since the beginning. Richard in the shadows, a danger that few believed was real. But Alex knew all along he would be back. And now that he is, he’s great. There’s no destroy the world plans, just evil planning and machinations and a calm exterior. You will do what I say, or I will end you — and I couldn’t really care either way. He’s worse than we ever could’ve expected. Love it.

Ultimately, this is pretty much what every Alex Verus book is — Alex struggling to earn and/or gain the trust of the Establishment — particularly those he likes and respects, and any gains he may make towards those ends are jeopardized by his efforts to help others.

Now that I look back on the whole thing, I can see the clues I missed, but that’s how it works with hindsight. When you know what’s relevant and what you can ignore, then everything is obvious, but it’s not so obvious when you’re caught up in surviving from day to day. At least until life reaches out and smacks you over the head.

(not just a commentary on Alex’s methods and life, but on everyone’s).

It was nowhere near as dramatic as the ending to Burned, but poor Alex is actually in a far worse state now than he was at the beginning of the book, which was no mean feat — but I should’ve known that Jacka wasn’t finished beating up his creation. I really don’t know what else to say without indulging in spoilers — so I’ll leave it at this. Bound is another great installment in this series, one of the best and most reliable around.

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4 1/2 Stars

Fool Moon (Audiobook) by Jim Butcher, James Marsters

Fool MoonFool Moon

by Jim Butcher, James Marsters (Narrator)
Series: The Dresden Files, #2
Unabridged Audiobook, 10 hrs., 6 min.
Buzzy Multimedia Publishing Corp., 2009

Read: May 30 – 31, 2017


Let’s keep this short:

I didn’t love this one as much as Storm Front, and I remember things as a whole being better. Still, we get the introduction of the Alphas, we get to see a little bit of every type of Werewolf in this world (I’d forgotten 1 of them), Dresden makes some smart choices re: Karrin Murphy (but man, most of what happened between the two of them in this book was annoying to a fan, and poorly constructed I think), and a (in retrospect) dumb one about Susan.

The main story was pretty good — I’d have liked to see Harry be a little quicker to figure things out, but he’s not perfect. Nor is he the investigator he’ll become eventually. I need to remind myself these are early days. As I recall, book 3 is a little less-good than this, which doesn’t make me look forward to it. But I know I like where things go pretty quickly, so I’ll keep going.

Marsters was fantastic — this would’ve been a 3 in just about any other narrator’s hands, er, vocal cords. I can’t say enough good things about him.

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4 Stars