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ScanWhat’s the book about?

So, The Severed Streets is a sequel to London Falling which I read and enjoyed last year (you can find my thoughts about it here), though it’s a sequel in the sense of using the same characters and advancing their story arc with a standalone story.

It’s London, it’s summer and there are protests and riots with masked mobs blocking the streets and causing chaos. An MP is being driven in his official car when he is surrounded by one of these mobs and as a result is brutally murdered. But there is something odd; how did the killer get in (and out of ) the car without being spotted. And is what the driver saw really believable?

Enter Quill and his team who are still feeling their way around their new ability of second sight, and who are clear that something out of this world is involved in the death. And the others that follow. So they go into the underground community to find out what they can alongside good old-fashioned policing methods.

Why did I want to read it?

I really enjoy the whole urban fantasy genre (which I think this fits into but I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong) and this series sits nicely alongside Fowler and Aaronovitch, and regular readers will know how much I love them. I really wanted to see how the team would develop and deal with the personal issues arising from the first book.

What did I think?

I read the final two-thirds of the novel during one of my many recent bouts of insomnia and it is meant as a real compliment when I say that I was so engrossed I actually forgot I was tired. I liked the way the characters developed, still the people we met in the first book but obviously changed by their experiences and trying to find a way to use their new abilities without any help or guidance. I though the story itself was very enjoyable and timely given recent events on which I won’t elaborate as I don’t want to get into the plot too much.

I particularly enjoyed the Neil Gaiman cameo; in other hands it might not have worked but he is properly integrated into the story (a bit more than I expected actually and in a very interesting and unexpected way). I liked the resolution and the introduction of new elements and characters which I hope will continue into future volumes. Quill is a great protagonist and it’s really nice to see a detective with what appears to be a happy home life.

New readers could start here but I would recommend reading them in order. I really enjoyed this and I’m looking forward to the next one.

ScanA new Neil Gaiman novel is always something to look forward to, and I pre-ordered my copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane as soon as I was able, knowing that whatever the tale being told, it would be something special.

The book starts with our narrator in the present day, having come back to his hometown for some unspecified family event, and finds himself turning up at an old farmhouse at the end of the lane where hi house was. We then flashback some forty years to when he was a little boy, a very unhappy child living with his parents and his sister, not at all at ease with the world around him. The family’s lodger steals their car and commits suicide in it, troubled by money and having betrayed his friends. And it’s this event that puts our narrator in real danger, because it unleashes on the world some rather nasty things from beyond our world, and the only people who understand what it means and can help to put it right are a young girl, Lettie Hempstock, her mother and grandmother who all live in the farm with the duckpond that might be something significantly more than it appears.

I thought this was a lovely story, capturing magic and legend and myth, the unpleasantness of adults and the horror of things beyond our ken. There are some astonishingly grotesque characters, particularly the sinister nanny Ursula Monckton who is definitely something else. And at the centre is a little boy who makes a friend and has to find the courage to fight for what he cares about. It’s a difficult book to write about in some ways because it’s the atmosphere that’s so important. The best thing perhaps to repeat the quote by Neil Gaiman on the back cover of my edition:

[it] is a novel of childhood and memory. It is a story of magic, about the power of stories and how we face the darkness inside each of us. It’s about fear, and love, and death, and families. But, fundamentally, I hope, at its heart, it’s a novel about survival

I think that really does sum up the themes that he explores, and I was totally bowled over. Gaiman has such a strong, loyal following that there is always a danger that you review the man and his body of work rather than the individual story at hand. And there is a tendency for his stuff to build up such anticipation that there is a danger of being disappointed (like my friend Silvery Dude who thought it was but not up there with his favourite Neverwhere)

I’m not sure its my favourite of Gaiman’s books (for me that’s a tie between American Gods and The Graveyard Book) but it is remarkable and one that I plan to re-read in the future. A sweet tale with something very dark at the centre.

StardustReadAlongAs part of Carl’s annual Once Upon a Time Challenge (more of which tomorrow) he has delightfully set up a group read of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust and although my record on read-alongs (I refer you to the Wolf Hall debacle) I am going to have a go because it is a short and hugely enjoyable (and did I say short?) book.

The schedule for the group read will be:

  • April 1-9th: Prologue through the end of Chapter 5.
  • April 10th: Discussion over first half (roughly) of the story
  • April 10th-16th: Chapter 6 through the Epilogue.
  • April 17th: Discussion over the second half of the book and wrap up.

I’m then going to try to watch the film version which I have had for ages but not got around to watching.

Should all be great fun.

Signing up for the 2010 Graphic Novel Challenge gave me the perfect excuse (in case I really thought I needed one) to re-read the Neil Gaiman Sandman series from scratch, alongside the fascinating-and-occasionally-dipped-into-but-never-properly-read Sandman Companion by Hy Bender. And of course you start at the beginning, with Preludes and Nocturnes.

The thing about the need for an excuse is that my TBR pile (which with my tendency to be unable to avoid buying books plus all the stuff the Book God has in his possession) has actually become a TBR room, if not taking over the whole house, and so any re-reading has to be carefully thought through because there are just so many new(ish) books waiting for me to pick them up.

This is a problem that will not go away for two reasons:

  • the Book God and I currently have a combined age of 106, and if you assume that we both started buying our own books as teenagers (let’s say arbitrarily 15) then that’s potentially 76 years of book buying

Which brings me to reason number 2:

  • I am constitutionally incapable of getting rid of anything vaguely book shaped. At all. So I almost certainly have just about everything I have bought since I was a teenager

So you can see my problem.

Nevertheless the draw of Sandman was irresistible and I ploughed on, really enjoying the opportunity to get back inside a world that I have always enjoyed. And then  another issue hit me – how do I review this? I mean, I can’t really review this as if I have come to it fresh, because I haven’t, and it is such a well-loved series and so many other bloggers have written about it all so eloquently. So I’m not going to attempt the feat at all.

I love it still, and if you haven’t read the series I urge you to have a go.

———–

I’ve also had a couple of relatively rare outings this week (I don’t count cocktails with Silvery Dude and friend on Wednesday because in my simple little mind that’s the sort of thing I should be doing every day); no, this is proper going out for the evening stuff, involving:

  • on Thursday, the Birmingham Royal Ballet performing Sleeping Beauty at the London Coliseum – wonderful stuff with costumes based on the court of Louis XIV and a classic fairy tale on stage the way it should be done
  • on Saturday, The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers at the Royal Albert Hall, with the full score performed live by the London Philharmonic Orchestra – and lovely to see Howard Shore, the composer, take a bow at the end.

And then home to Dr Who and River Song. What more could a girl want?

Not wanting to behave too much like a Twihard (it’s so undignified for a woman of my advancing years) but  Neil Gaiman is writing for Season Two of the Matt Smith Dr Who.

Two of my absolutest favourite things/people/stuff/whatever coming together in what will surely be a glorious televisual event.

Must be true – it’s on Mr G’s own blog plus at SFX

HalfMinuteHorrorsSusanRi54375_fSo another quickie review of a fun, scary read. Half-Minute Horrors does exactly what you might think; it pulls together over seventy stories aimed at giving youngsters a good fright through a mixture of prose, poetry and pictures and is really very enjoyable.

The selling point for me was the range of authors included – really well-known names from Neil Gaiman to Joyce Carol Oates (two of my absolute favourites as regular visitors to this blog will know) via Gregory Maguire, Margaret Atwood and Holly Black.

You could choose to read one of these a day if you are a person with discipline and iron self-control. I of course approached this the way I eat chocolates – only meant to have one or two (honest) but before I noticed half of them were gone.

Either way this is cool and creepy and a good introduction to scary stuff.

bookshopWhat can I say? Despite my best intentions to cut down on buying this year, August and September (so far) have been totally booktastic.

Crime-type stuff

History-type stuff

  • The Cecils by David Loades – the family business of the Cecils was supporting Elizabeth I who said “No prince in Europe hath such a counsellor as I have in mine” Just my kind of 16th century thing;
  • Prince Rupert  by Charles Spencer – all about the Last Cavalier, if his portrait is anything to go by he was pretty handsome, had (I believe) a giant poodle called Boy as a hunting dog, pretty cool guy;
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – a novel about Henry VIII’s right-hand man Thomas Cromwell, Man Booker nominated, looks astonishing.

Sci-fi type stuff

  • Transition by Iain Banks – I know that this is being marketed in the UK as straight and not sci-fi but at the very least this is a crossover novel as it seems to have lots to do with parallel universes. I don’t care what they call it, it’s going to be good;
  • Halfhead by Stuart B MacBride – so I love the Bearded Writist’s gory Aberdonian crime novels and this foray into sort of sci-fi thriller looks very interesting; and there’s a Banks-type differentiating middle initial going on as well.

Miscellaneous

  • Muriel Spark by Martin Stannard – the biography – my admiration for Mrs Spark is unbounded, I should really re-start the Muriel Reading Marathon which faltered last year….. ;
  • A Book of Silence by Sara Maitland – all about silence, a very enjoyable writer, looking forward to what this will cover;
  • Love All by Elizabeth Jane Howard – ‘an unforgettable novel about love and the consequences of its absence’ it says on the cover.

Oh-lord-what-did-I-think-would-happen-if-I-went-to-Forbidden Planet

So having introduced the Silvery Dude to the Night’s Dawn trilogy by encouraging him to take the first volume on holiday with him, I agreed to accompany him to FP to get volume two, despite the whole Twilight/District 9 thing that we’ve been bickering about (he wants me to watch the former and saw the latter before I did much to my annoyance). Anyhoo, I hadn’t planned to do anything other than buy Gary Gibson’s Nova War for the Book God, but of course it didn’t stop there….

  • The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu – translated from the French, this is a fairytale set in Edinburgh in 1874 and I picked it up totally because of the cover;
  • Half-Minute Horrors – ‘a collection of instant frights from the world’s most astonishing authors and artists’ – including Neil Gaiman, just a bit of fun;
  • Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Death and Dementia, illustrated by the great Gris Grimly, which was the sole reason for buying it as I have a lot of Poe kicking around already (if I can put it like that).

dkc_button2So, a rare event for this year, a challenge I have actually completed! So, just to recap, I said here that I would read one novel, one graphic novel and one young adult or children’s book, and watch one film. And I actually managed to do all of that as follows:

Novel = The Graveyard Book

Graphic Novel = Neverwhere

Children’s book = Blueberry Girl and The Dangerous Alphabet

Film = Coraline

And I’ve persuaded the Silvery Dude to throw himself into reading the first Sandman graphic novel, so spreading the word!

NeilGaimansNeverwhereN47367_fIt’s always interesting to look at the graphic novelisation of a story to see what’s been left out, what’s been changed, do the characters look different to what you imagined and so on. I have to confess that although I have the novel I haven’t got round to reading it yet, but I do remember the BBC TV series from goodness knows when, so I have something to compare it to.

And it’s Gaiman of course so it’s bound to have a higher quality starting point than lots of other things.

So Richard helps a girl he finds in the street and gets dragged into a world below London which slightly mirrors what goes on above, but only slightly. There is a quest, there is betrayal, there are some rather unpleasant villains, there is a satisfying resolution (well I thought so anyway).

I enjoyed this; the artwork was cool, the story made sense, I liked the mythology of a London under London (I will never look at Knighstbridge quite the same way again) and the authors showed proper respect to Neil Gaiman without being constrained. And now I really must read the novel….

Oh, and this was my final read for the Dream King Challenge, though I feel the pull of Sandman…….

TheGraveyardBookNeilGaim53580_fSo last year I had a very simple aim, which was to read The Graveyard Book as soon as I could get my hands on it; the evidence here shows how well that went in practice!

And now we are seven or eight months further along and I have finally managed to find the time to savour this award-winning novel by one of my favourite writers properly and of course I’m kicking myself for having waited so long as, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a little gem of a masterpiece.

No need to set the plot up I suppose, but I’m going to anyway. Bod is taken in by the inhabitants of a graveyard when the remainder of his family is murdered; brought up by ghosts and with a guardian who is one of the undead (and I don’t think that’s a spoiler, just look at Silas on the cover and tell me what else he could be) with a witch as a friend and Miss Lupescu as an occasional governess, this is the story of how he grows up, how he learns from his friends and how he finally faces up to what happened to his family. And it’s absolutely fantastic.

I’m boringly recommending this to almost everyone I know , forcing the Book God to read it so that I have someone to talk to about it, because I read it days ago and it’s still in my head, in a good way of course. I love Silas, I love Miss Lupescu, I love the fact that whenever a new ghost is introduced they have a quote from their epitaph in brackets after their names (Dr Trefusis (1870-1926 , May He Wake To Glory), I even loved the bad guys.

I’m going to stop gushing now, but if you haven’t already read this then you must; seriously, you must.

And it contributes to my reading for The Dream King Challenge.

Bride of the Book God

Follow brideofthebook on Twitter

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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