Book Review: Whispers Underground

whispersWhispers Underground
by Ben Aaronovitch
303 pages
Published 2012
Urban Fantasy

I picked up Whispers Underground mainly because of one paragraph on the back: “…the FBI has sent over a crack agent to help. She’s young, ambitious, beautiful . . . and a born-again Christian apt to view any magic as the work of the devil. Oh yeah – that’s going to go well.” expecting, well, just what that implied. Yay, a fiery woman who keeps contradicting the main character about things she doesn’t understand! Philosophical discussions! Sparks! ….I did not get any of that. Reynolds was not the main character’s temporary partner, as was implied. She had a bit part in the book. Her religion wasn’t even MENTIONED until very very near the end, and it was just an offhand “she went to go have Christmas dinner with her evangelical family” or something like that. She never dug her heels in and contradicted him. She accepted the idea of supernaturals pretty easily, honestly, and just said she couldn’t put it in her FBI report because she didn’t want a psych eval. WHERE IS MY CONFLICT?

I also did not realize at first that this wasn’t a one-off book or the first in the series – the only indication of that is that it mentions on the front cover that the author was also the author of Midnight Riot and Moon Over Soho. (And on the inside front cover, it turns out.) But there’s nothing about “a Rivers of London story” (incidentally, I had to get the name of the series from the Amazon page, it’s certainly not on the book anywhere!) or “Don’t miss the other books in the series” or anything like that. Realizing it’s the third book answered some of my other questions, like Why doesn’t the author say Toby is a freaking DOG until like the fifth time his name is mentioned? I spent most of the book wondering if Molly is a ghost or what the hell she is, and that was never explained. Peter’s actual partner had some accident happen to her face, and that’s mentioned briefly – that there was an accident – but it’s never explained. There’s very little magic in the books, all the non-humans look surprisingly human, and the “gruesome murder” described on the back of the cover is a pretty run-of-the-mill stabbing. Overall, disappointing.

The book attempts to be urban fantasy in the style of Dresden, but fails miserably, in my opinion. For only being 300 pages it DRAAAAAGGED on. Final verdict – don’t waste your time, not interested in the other books.

From the back of Whispers Underground:

It begins with a dead body at the far end of Baker Street tube station, all that remains of American exchange student James Gallagher – and the victim’s wealthy, politically powerful family is understandably eager to get to the bottom of the gruesome murder. The trouble is, the bottom – if it exists at all – is deeper and more unnatural than anyone suspects . . . except, that is, for London constable and sorcerer’s apprentice Peter Grant. With Inspector Nightingale, the last registered wizard in England, tied up in the hunt for the rogue magician known as “the Faceless Man,” it’s up to Peter to plumb the haunted depths of the oldest, largest, and – as of now – deadliest subway system in the world.

At least he won’t be alone. No, the FBI has sent over a crack agent to help. She’s young, ambitious, beautiful . . . and a born-again Christian apt to view any magic as the work of the devil. Oh yeah – that’s going to go well. 

Advertisements

Book Review: Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe

cupcakeMeet Me at the Cupcake Cafe
by Jenny Colgan
410 pages
Published 2011 (UK) (2013 in the US)
General Fiction

This was a sweet book about a woman chasing her dreams. Issy gets let go from her real estate firm and decides to open a cupcake bakery, following in her grandfather’s footsteps. (He owned and operated three bread bakeries in his prime.) The book follows Issy’s troubles with opening the cafe, her romantic misadventures, and the slow decline of her beloved grandfather to dementia. Interspersed with the chapters are actual recipes, most in the form of letters written to Issy from her grandfather. And these recipes look DELICIOUS. I’m going to be writing a few of them down before I take this book back to the library!

The characters in the book are endearing, from Issy, to her acerbic flatmate Helena, to her employee Pearl and Pearl’s adorable son, Louis. Really, the only unlikable character in the book is Issy’s on-again, off-again douche of an ex, but he’s meant to be the villain of the story. Even Pearl’s erratic boyfriend is at least a nice sort. Set in London, there’s a kind of timeless quality to the story, so when Issy mentioned Facebook I was a little taken aback – I had not even realized it was set in modern times! I was thinking 1970s or so.

The book has a sequel, but unfortunately the reviews are all quite bad for it. People who loved this book say the second did not hold true to the characters, so I probably will not read it. There was another book mentioned in the back of this one, The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris, that I may look into.

I love baking, so reading a book that centered on baking cakes, with recipes, was a lot of fun. From the sweet pink cover to the simple joy Issy takes in feeding sweets to people, I really loved this book.

From Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe:

Issy Randall can bake. No, Issy can create stunning, mouthwateringly divine cakes. After a childhood spent in her beloved Grampa Joe’s bakery, she has undoubtedly inherited his talent. She’s much better at baking than she is at filing, so when she’s laid off from her desk job, Issy decides to open her own little cafe. But she soon learns that her piece-of-cake plan will take all her courage and confectionary talent to avert disaster.

Book Review: Quintessence by David Walton

quintQuintessence
by David Walton
320 pages
Published 2013
Historical/Steampunk Fantasy

With Thanksgiving over, I’ve finally had time to sit down with a book again, and WOW where do I start with this one?! Quintessence is a fantastical tale, set in an alternate Victorian Age England. In this reality, the world really IS flat, and the sun and stars are a half dome over the earth, meaning they’re much closer to the earth at the edges of the world. Our main characters are Dr. Parris and his daughter Catherine, part of an expedition to an island on the edge of the world, populated by fantastical creatures, where lines of magical “quintessence” power strange abilities.

This book was fantastic. I keep using that word – but it’s the perfect word for this book! There’s -just- enough romance to give it that happy-ever-after feeling at the end, but the romance was by no means integral to the plot. Walton wove together magical creatures, political intrigue, colonization issues, philosophy, and troubles with the natives into one coherent, magical tale. I LOVED it. I see on his Amazon page that there’s a sequel – Quintessence Sky – but I’m not sure I want to spoil the perfection that is the first book by taking the chance on the second!

I picked this book up largely because of the gorgeous cover art, but it does not disappoint. If you like steampunk, you should read this book.

From the back of Quintessence:

Five hundred years ago in an alternate age of exploration, the earth is flat. Alchemy is a true science, sea monsters menace the oceans, and Europe is embroiled in religious controversy. Here, the magic is thin, but at the edge of the world, where the stars reach down close to the earth, wonders abound. This drives the bravest explorers to the alluring Western Ocean, toward lands unknown. Christopher Sinclair is an alchemist who cares about one thing: quintessence, a substance he believes will grant magical powers and immortality. And he has a ship.

Fleeing an inquisition, physician Stephen Parris follows Sinclair to an island that perches upon the farthest horizon, bringing his daughter Catherine with him. The island teems with fantastical animals and alluring mysteries . . . and may even harbor the greatest and most coveted secret of all.

Dark Angels by Karleen Koen

darkangelsDark Angels
by Karleen Koen
530 pages
Published 2006
Historical Fiction

I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, but what I do read tends to be based on medieval-to-renaissance England and France. The era of Kings and Queens and courtiers and courtly intrigue. Dark Angels fits solidly into that framework. It’s actually the prequel to a previously published book, Through A Glass Darkly, which I haven’t read yet but definitely will now! Koen weaves a masterfully written tale of a maid of honor to King Charles II of England‘s queen. Alice Verney is incredibly intelligent, cunning, and ambitious. At the same time, she has friends, and she will go out of her way to protect them as long as they don’t betray her. When the Princess of England, her current Lady, falls ill and dies in France, Alice returns to England to a court she hasn’t been part of for two years. Some things have changed, some haven’t, and Alice must muddle her way through politics that have been shaped without her hand in order to find her footing again. Between the raising of a new King’s mistress, a sudden wedding, the murder of a notorious transgender Madam, and the possibility of war, the book is a volatile tale that drew me in and kept me there.

I wrote and scheduled two reviews for this blog, in order to give myself a couple of days to read this longer, more substantial book, and then promptly stayed up until 4 am to finish it in one go! The glittering court of Koen’s imagination held me spellbound from the first page until the last. I loved Alice, then hated her, then loved her again. Koen had me both laughing with Alice and crying with her when tragedy struck. Alice is, at turns, arrogant, vulnerable, jaded, and a girl in love. She is an enchanting protagonist and one I look forward to seeing more of.

If you enjoy historical fiction, if you enjoy reading about the royal courts of England and France, I highly recommend Dark Angels. Koen reminds me of Philippa Gregory, though more vibrant.

From the back of Dark Angels:

Alice Verney is a young woman intent on achieving her dreams. Having left Restoration England in the midst of a messy scandal, she has been living in Louis XIV’s Baroque, mannered France for two years. Now she is returning home to England and anxious to re-establish herself quickly. First, she will regain her former position as a maid of honor to Charles II’s queen. Then she will marry the most celebrated Duke of the Restoration, putting herself in a position to attain power she’s only dreamed of. As a duchess, Alice will be able to make or break her friends and enemies at will.

But all is not as it seems in the rowdy, merry court of Charles II. Since the Restoration, old political alliances have frayed, and there are whispers that the king is moving to divorce his barren queen, who some wouldn’t mind seeing dead.  But Alice, loyal only to a select few, is devoted to the queen, and so sets out to discover who might be making sinister plans, and if her own father is one of them. When a member of the royal family dies unexpectedly, and poison is suspected, the stakes are raised. Alice steps up her efforts to find out who is and isn’t true to the queen, learns of shocking betrayals throughout court, and meets a man that she may be falling in love with – and who will spoil all of her plans. With the suspected arrival of a known poison-maker, the atmosphere in the court electrifies, and suddenly the safety of the king himself seems uncertain. Secret plots are at play, and war is on the horizon – but will it be with the Dutch or the French? And has King Charles himself betrayed his country for greed?