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I haven’t read very much by Joanne Harris, one novel (before my blogging days) and half a book of short stories (really must get round to finishing that one day – if only I could remember exactly where I put it). I’m not even sure why I bought this one; must have been a review somewhere that caught my eye because buy it I did, and it has languished on the tbr pile for ages, until I spied it last week when looking for something a little different to read.

So Gentlemen and Players is set in a boys’ grammar school somewhere in England (I think it’s meant to be in the north but that wasn’t entirely clear). It’s the start of a new term and that brings all sorts of rivalries among the teaching staff to the forefront as timetables are changed, rooms re-allocated and the pecking order re-established. We see St Oswald’s partly through the eyes of one of the teachers, Roy Straitley, who has been at the school since the year dot and is fighting against inevitable retirement. We also see the school through the eyes of an unknown narrator, one of the new teachers but we’re not sure which one, a person with a real grudge against the school and everyone in it, and who has come back to take revenge. That story is told as a mixture of reminiscence and present day plotting, and what plotting there is!

This is a gloriously nasty book, and I mean that as a compliment. The unknown protagonist has thought things through very clearly and has a plan which, while it may need to modified as circumstances dictate, is designed to totally  destroy St Oswald’s. There is scandal and murder and spite and I thought it was fantastic. At one point in the novel I thought  “I wonder…” and as I was proved right I felt real satisfaction; for once getting slightly ahead of the author was a joy and not a disappointment as the outcome was as I predicted and just added to the fun (if you can refer to fun in a book where very horrible things happen to people who often don’t deserve them); very satisfying.

This was a slow starter for me but a few chapters in when I realised exactly where this might be going I just couldn’t stop reading, and even broke my rule of not reading too late on a work night, sitting up in bed until I had finished it. One of the quotes on the back of my paperback copy referred to this as “wickedly fun” and I’m not sure I can better that description.

So Moon Over Soho is the second in a series of books which began with Rivers of London which I reviewed here earlier this year, and is more of the same; but fear not because that is a very, very good thing indeed.

Peter Grant is still in training as a wizard in a very special police unit in London. The repercussions on his friends and colleagues from the first story are still being felt, and because his rather wonderful boss, Thomas Nightingale, is still recovering, Peter is left a little more to his own devices.

The story kicks off when he is called to view a body which seems to be giving off a faint whiff of music, specifically jazz, which is one of Peter’s specialities because his Dad was a well-known jazz musician who hasn’t played for a while because of drugs and other things. So we are off on a trail of musicians meeting violent ends after gigs, “jazz vampires”, horrible experiments and a faceless wizard of some power. Along the way we also finds out a little more of the background to wizards in England and a tiny bit more about what exactly happened at Etterberg during the war.

Silvery Dude and I talked about doing a read-a-long as we had both enjoyed the first novel so much but a combination of my reading slump and him taking the book on holiday with him meant that he read it first (curses) but was good enough not to spoil it, just looking on indulgently when I said how much I had enjoyed it. Which I did, of course.

I’m really looking forward to the third volume to see how the wee surprise at the end develops, and had hoped that it would be out later this year but Amazon seems to be indicating that the next tale won’t be published until next spring so I’m just going to have to wait.

Was never very good at that.

But this comes highly recommended, though better to have read Rivers first.

Well, lots of things have been happening chez Bride, including preparing for an interview and getting myself properly promoted into the job that I’ve been doing for just over a year. Massively exciting and not a little stressful which is why I haven’t been reading, blogging or commenting but hopefully things will settle down now that I’ve been successful, especially now that another big decision has been made, which is that the Book God will be retiring from the wonderful world of work in the early summer.

I don’t know about you guys but when I’m going through periods of change I find it difficult to settle to read. But I have a plan; I am hoping to carve out proper time for reading every day from now on and set myself sensible goals, even if it’s just “read 20 pages of x today”.

 And all I need to kickstart myself is another book as good as Rivers of London.

I have to give thanks to Silvery Dude who bought this for me as a birthday present, for two reasons really (1) it’s a cracking story and (2) it was exactly the right thing for the two days on which I succumbed to my horrible cold and sulked in my tent until I felt better. So I read this in two sittings.

Peter Grant is a probationary police constable in central London who discovers he has some interesting talents (basically he can speak to the dead) when a strange crime is committed on Covent Garden. He comes to the attention of Inspector Nightingale (who just happens to be the last wizard in England) and a whole new world opens up to him.

This is a fabulous story; a quote on the cover suggests that this is what it would be like if Harry Potter grew up and joined the police and I can understand where that’s come from but this is remarkably inventive and enjoyable in a totally different way; for a start it’s considerably more violent than HP (bit not excessively so). It’s a serial killer novel with magic and mythology. And I loved it.

For a start, most of the action takes place in Covent Garden and The Strand, both of which are close to where I work, and it was great fun to imagine the rather strange plot unfolding in such familiar surroundings. And then there’s the whole mythology of the Thames, with the rivers in human form, which I thought worked wonderfully well.

I haven’t said much about the plot, but it’s a great story of the supernatural and mythological punching through to the real world (no pun intended…)

I loved it so much that I’ve pre-ordered the sequel, and it definitely took my mind off my unwellness. You should really, really get this.

So this is the book that reminds us what the 1970s were really like.

I have to declare an interest here; I was born in January 1962 (I know, I know, who would have thought it), which of course means that I was 8 when the 70s began, and 17 in 1979. My views of the decade are obviously coloured by my own personal experiences, and recently, when people have been a bit sniffy about the era, I’ve rushed to defend it as I remember as a kid having a lot of fun.

And falling in love with Donny Osmond, but let’s leave that for another day…

So I was really looking forward to this, both because of the subject matter (duh) but also because I really, really like Francis Wheen – don’t always agree with him, but he is thoughtful and measured and also incredibly funny. I pestered the Book God to get this for me and devoured it as soon as I could. And it did make me look at my childhood in a very different light.

His theory about the seventies is that it was a time of mass paranoia. The politics of the time were affected by it (thinking of the whole Nixon/Watergate thing as well as what was happening politically here in the UK); there was economic crisis all over the place – and I do remember having to do my homework by paraffin lamp and being in school only every second day for a while because of problems with heating (and actually I’m sure I remember often not being in our school building at all but in a local church hall because it didn’t have oil-fired heating.)

And then there’s what was happening in some African countries (Amin in Uganda in particular, the number of military coups across the continent).

And Wheen’s own bête noire, Uri Geller.

So it did make me revisit my childhood and teenage years, and realise how much effort my parents had put in to make sure my younger brothers and I weren’t affected by what was going on, though looking back from my current position I can see how worried they must have been.

But.

I still think that, for all that went on, the 1970s in western Europe was a pretty good place to grow up and I look back on the fashions with fondness (so much better than the 80s IMHO) and still listen to the music.

But this book sheds light on what was going on in the background, and for that alone can be recommended.

From assassination with William the Silent to anarchy in Touchstone, with a common thread of political change, all part of crime month. The background here is the General Strike of 1926 with huge tensions between the working and ruling classes, an opportunity for those with their own agenda to push the country in a certain direction.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot; suffice to say that Harris Stuyvesant, an agent of what will become the FBI, arrives in London semi-officially to follow up some leads relating to bombings in the USA. By various means he teams up with Bennett Grey, a survivor of WWI who has some interesting abilities which could help the investigation, as well as some useful contacts with key players through his sister, Sarah.

I really like Laurie King, I have never read a novel by her which I didn’t enjoy, whether it’s the Mary Russell or Kate Martinelli series, or one of her standalones as here. I’m glad to say that I wasn’t disappointed this time either; this is a really well written thriller, the plot slips along nicely but is supported by a depth of characterisation which meant I became really attached to several of the main characters.

I read this largely during my daily commute, and it was so good that on at least one occasion I didn’t realise I’d reached Waterloo and had to scramble to get off the train. Highly recommended, and I hope that she writes more involving Grey and Stuyvesant.

I’m also really, really looking forward to next year’s Mary Russell.

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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