1st Avenue

"There's always money in the banana stand."


Review: Fire in the Hole

Fire in the Hole: Stories - Elmore Leonard

After finishing this short story collection, I now understand why Elmore Leonard is considered a classic in contemporary Western. He’s a skilled writer of viable dialogue that keep his stories moving forward even when there isn’t much happening.


Leonard’s style can be described simply as punchy because it can pack a punch and punctuate a seemingly simple story with lots of undertones. His writing might look like straight-forward pulp fiction, but there’s a sense of “literary literature” in his prose. He definitely knew how to turn a phrase half-way through a sentence to change the whole atmosphere of a story.


Most, if not all, of Leonard’s characters are morally corrupt and/or understandably self-serving, with the exception of the good US Marshal Raylan Givens in the titular story “Fire in the Hole.” The good Marshal is a light contrast to the criminal figures he deals with in that he has a conscience, but assumes the persona of someone who doesn’t. At first glance, it can seem unsettling to see him playing along with these criminal figures because you, the reader, can’t tell where his loyalties lie. As the story unfolds, however, Givens’ motives and intentions become a little clearer with encounter with another character. This is a running theme in Leonard’s writing. You don’t have an idea, upon first introduction, of what each character in the story represents until you read further.


There’s a subtle, simmering sense of something (unintended alliteration) not quite right in each of Leonard’s short story that’s sometimes a little on the violent side–violent in the sense of tense atmosphere, not bloodshed. The prose, dialogue, and characterization all have a tense undercurrent running through them which heighten the plots’ progression. The criminal figures and lawmen featured in Leonard’s stories are familiar and somewhat staples of the crime fiction genre. What separates Leonard’s characters from those of his peers’ is his handling of moving dialogue. His dialogue actually moves the plot forward, and a lot can be said, or assumed, in a passing conversation between an outlaw and a deputy. Leonard is Old West crime fiction in its most interesting contemporary form.


Western is not my preferred genre, and I don’t often read crime fiction unless it’s interjected into urban fantasy and/or sci-fi. With that said, I must say this collection of Leonard’s stories is a satisfying read.


Those who’ve seen the TV series “Justified,” based on the character of Raylan Givens, will find the story “Fire in the Hole,” which is also the name of the pilot episode, very familiar. The events in this story set off the series and reignite Givens’ clash with the opportunistic Crowder clan. The first season follows Leonard’s stories, and the rest of the series afterward, while staying true to Leonard’s creations, veer off into new story arcs by introducing new “victims” and “villains” for the good Marshal and friends to deal with. Givens in the show is younger and more charismatic than Givens in the story, who is rougher around the edges and isn’t as articulate. Overall, though, I think Justified’s showrunners have done Leonard’s stories justice by incorporating the unique, yet realistic setting and atmosphere that he created specifically for his stories into the show.


Some thoughts on Gone Girl (the movie)

movies-gone-girl-ew-cover.jpg (618×824)

(Cover and article can be found here)


Nice way to keep people talking.


I have a few questions and concerns about the casting and age difference between the two leads, Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike.


-read more-

Review: Eragon (Inheritance Cycle, #1)

Eragon - Christopher Paolini

Flimsy knockoff


*cough* might as well be plagiarism *cough*


You know that insult, falling off the ugly tree and hitting every ugly branch on the way down? Well, this book fell off the cliche tree and hit every single over-done and beaten-to-death cliche on the way down and then it landed in plagiarism. Every cliche or trope in sci-fi/fantasy is present in all 500+ pages of this... I hesitate to call it a story. The page count may not seem like a lot, but when it's a story or a poor mash-up of several stories you've read before, the read seems to go on forever.


A number of reviewers mentioned that the story is a combination of Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. The setting is basic high fantasy. There is an attempt to create a varied world like that of Tolkien's; however the creatures, languages, and cultures are poorly done. The characters are so obviously the product of a teenage boy's mind; they're supposedly "grown-ups" who speak and behave like clueless children. The dialogues are so juvenile and awkward they made me wonder how this book ever became a movie. The "love story" is unintentionally hilarious; I saw a lot of Luke and Leia in the two love birds. (I know, I know. Ewww. But that's only because we know they're twins. Much later in the story.) And the overall writing is obviously that of a kid trying his hands at fantasy but ending up mimicking books and series he admired so much that it's practically plagiarism.


Not long before I decided to read this book I saw a beautiful leather-bound box set of the Inheritance Cycle in a bookstore and thought maybe it'd be a nice gift for a young cousin who was just beginning to read chapter books. Looking back, maybe I should have gotten him the box set. It would have been his first epic fantasy adventure series, so maybe he would have enjoyed the adventure, seeing as how he'd never read epic fantasy before and wouldn't have recognized cliches or blatant plagiarism in the writing. His lack of fantasy knowledge and deconstruction skills might have let him enjoy Eragon for what it is, trivial rehashing of other well-known sci-fi/fantasy series.


But I have this rule: never buy a book that you've never read for someone else, especially if that someone else is a child; only give books you think are amazing, especially to children. It took me about a month to get through Eragon, and by the time I was done, I was more than ready to burn it.


I don't usually review books I can't stand, other than maybe to say why I can't stand it and why others might want to avoid it. Eragon is special though because everyone should avoid it. You're better off reading or watching the original works from which the book is lifted. There are countless other fantasy books and series that are more worthy of your time and effort.


— — — — —


Sort of related note:


As a trend, I keep seeing reviewers refer to Twilight whenever they want to make a point about how terrible a book is, but I rarely see them making references to Eragon, this equally terrible waste of paper. I'm not making excuses for Twilight, of course; it's terrible in its own rights, but at least it's a terrible original text (of terrible origins). Eragon is a terrible copy; a cheap knockoff, as I already said, which is arguably worse than a terrible original idea. And yet, whenever book reviews compare books of equal terrible-ness, many of them leave Eragon out of the mix. So maybe as a reminder, next time you want to point out how terrible a book is, remember to include Eragon.


Review: The Historian

The Historian -

This book was a Christmas present. I always make an effort to finish gift books, and I usually do because it’s the thought that counts, but this one was difficult to get through. I think it comes down to the book being not right for a reader like me, who requires historical fictions and their writers to be smart, or at least smarter than me.


If you’re a writer and you want to bring old legends and ancient creatures to contemporary times, then at least make them interesting. The least you could do is make them a little frightening and somewhat creepy because, after all, these are monsters.


Vlad Țepeș was a horrifying person when he was alive, and his legend as the Impaler is an echo and reminder of who he was. One does not “achieve” the name “the Impaler” and become a legendary monster that lives on in modern horror stories by feat of imagination alone; there’s actual history that shows the sort of bloody monarch he had been.


What Elizabeth Kostova does to Vlad Țepeș is similar to what urban fantasy writers have been doing to vampire tales in recent years: she sanitizes him by romanticizing his history and nature and presents him as a “stranger” with a huge secret living quietly among us. This is a huge disappointment to me not because it’s simple and naive, but because it brings up questions like why would he do that? what’s to gain by living among humans? Unfortunately, the story leaves me with more questions than answers, but none I’d like to explore further.


Another huge disappointment is this book could have been a great contemporary horror story or even as urban legend, and maybe in the hands of a stronger writer who understands suspense and thriller, it would have been something chilling. The problem lies in the focus of the book being on research and setting up events for a Dracula figure that isn’t even a little bit intimidating. I think that’s what bothers me most, that it’s an attempt to bring Dracula to contemporary times, but the elements of horror and suspense are missing, and so the result is a long-winded lackluster tale about unraveling family histories.



Let’s go back to the beginning when things started out with a promising set-up, but then got out of control half way through the story.


An unnamed narrator stumbles across her father’s journals, letters, other notes, and a strange looking leather-bound book. As she reads these documents, she delves further into a “huge” secret about an ancient “evil” in her family historical papers. She then sets out to track her father’s travels across Eastern Europe and North Africa in search of both her parents and a mysterious stranger. During the quest, she meets “interesting” characters and comes across another familiar-looking leather-bound book, similar to one her father has (there’s something special about this book, I just know it!). Then she stumbles on a series of mysterious bloodless deaths and correctly suspects they’re somehow related to her search for her parents and the mysterious stranger. So she sets out to solve all of these interconnecting mysteries, which she does in the end. Sort of. Not to my satisfaction though. Too many coincidences, convenient explanations, and loose ends are left in the wake.


The first two thirds of this book is told through journal entries, travelogues, letters, and notes from two POVs, the narrator’s (present time) and her father’s (past). The last third is more action-packed as the mysteries come to a head and the main characters finally come face to face with the Impaler himself. Much of this book is padded with set-ups, background information, historical research, and travelogues, and surprisingly though, this much isn’t a bad read at all. I rather liked the travelogues and train rides through Eastern Europe. However, since there isn’t much exposition of useful information, the narration is disordered which leaves the plot disjointed and hard to follow at times, but the prose is OK. I read much of the book while on a train myself and was able to enjoy the long travelogue-like descriptions of Eastern Europe and North Africa. What I didn’t enjoy was how dull and stale the central mysteries and the narrator’s family history were.


On top of it all, all of the main characters are dull and boring, as is Vlad himself. I find it hard to believe that he’s been hiding in plain sight all these years. As a librarian. (No offense to librarians, of course, but that’s perhaps the least intimidating profession/identity the Impaler could assume. And for what? So he can keep people from digging too deep into books that hold his true identity. Like I said. Not only is he not intimidating, he’s also boring and unimaginative. I find it hard to believe that such a character could be centuries-old, let alone “terrifying.”)


A plot of conveniences and a cast of boring characters make for a terrible mystery and an even worse “love story.” Did I mention there’s a love story in this mess? Though unconvincing as it may seem, readers are supposed to experience the narrator’s parents’ “epic” love and deep devotion to each other. It’s the epic love story of Helen and…what’s-his-name, the unnamed narrator’s father. Helen is her mother, but we don’t find that out until much later in the book, far past the point where I decided to abandon ship (but I didn’t obviously…).


At no point during the read did I feel a sense of dread or foreboding because at no point did I care about the narrator’s epic quest or lineage or how both are tied to Vlad the Impaler. I read on simply to get to the end of the book, that was all, and I was only mildly interested to see how Kostova wrapped up these meandering plot lines. Just as expected, she wrapped things up in a predictable fashion, by having the final confrontation be a stand-off at a cliff-side cemetery, you know the famous one where the Impaler is buried (supposedly). Although expected, the ending gave me the most WTF-feeling I’d had in a while. It was as though I couldn’t imagine or understand how a writer could fathom a final confrontation such as this one to be enough to wrap up this huge meandering story. I still have no idea how certain events unfolded because they were never explained enough; things just happened by sheer force of coincidence. How convenient for everyone.

(show spoiler)


— — — — —


In 2007, this book almost become a movie, but (un)fortunately, a deal couldn’t be reached and so things fell through. As strange as it is for me to say, especially after writing such a scathing review, this story might turn out better as a movie. If the focus is on suspense and horror, it could be an interesting “modern-day” Dracula flick. Cutting out the first half of the book might help to intensify the search for Dracula. It couldn’t hurt, anyway.


The Historian -

Thanks to the cold blast that's blasting through the Midwest (-20 to -30F, windchill -30 to -60 for at least four days), I think I might have enough time to finish this book and maybe write a scathing review afterward.

Leafmarks Tour & Tutorial

Reblogged from Literary Ames:

Unsure of how to use Leafmarks? This might help.


Sign up

When you first sign up or sign in, this is what you’ll see:


Landing page once signed in


If you are or were a Goodreads member then you can take your exported .csv file from Goodreads and upload it via the large orange-y brown button in the middle.


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[Reblog] Toni Morrison | Junot Díaz

Reblogged from Ceridwen:

Live from the NYPL: an interview of Toni Morrison by Junot Díaz, which occurred last night. 


"I think the most sustained love of mine," Díaz has said, "the one that’s carried me through all these years, is my relationship with Toni Morrison. I’m telling you, I’m one of those people who’s still cracking my head on many of the ideas Toni Morrison both suggested and elaborated on in her work." Witness a powerful event as Díaz comes face to face with his literary hero to celebrate her remarkable career.

Review: Off-Topic: The Story of an Internet Revolt

OFF-TOPIC: The Story of an Internet Revolt by G.R. Reader - G.R. Reader

A free copy available for download can be found here. However, you're more than welcomed to support this book by buying it at Lulu.


I'd like to thank the people who were involved in putting this document together. It was an enlightening read. I learned quite a few new things that went on and still goes on behind the scenes at Goodreads. I can't say I'm surprised by any of it, since I've come to expect these kind of things from GR.


Better reviews can be found on G.R. Reader's book page... unless the reviews are hidden, of course. Which, considering the subject matter of this book, they probably are. Along with deleting reviews, did you know that GR hides certain reviews as well? Apparently, this has been happening for some time now. It was news to me though. A lot of things that happened to "negative" or "off-topic" reviews were news to me. I thought I had been following this fallout closely, but apparently, there were many incidents that I'd miss in the midst of all the chaos.


Personally I've always found critical or "off-topic" reviews to be as useful as, if not more than, positive or raving reviews. Whenever I come across a book that interests me, I always check out the top reviews and especially the raving ones and the highly critical ones. I'm one of those people who need to know almost everything related to the book, which includes author, authorial intent, inspiration, "provenance," etc., before I decide whether or not to read the book because, to me, context matters as much as, if not more than, subtext.


By hiding the reviews I find most useful, GR is no longer a reliable book database and community. It hasn't been for some time. This is not news to anyone here at Booklikes, obviously, since you're here instead of at GR. I just wanted to added this one little thing about hidden reviews for people who didn't already know about it.


This will be the last time I mention GR here. Hopefully the last time.

Booklikes on mobile

Does Booklikes currently have a mobile app? If not, will Booklikes develop a mobile app?


I have friends and family overseas (outside of North America) who like to follow my book reviews on Goodreads via mobile app. Ever since the Big Deletion happened a couple of months ago, I've moved all of my new reviews over here and Wordpress, but both sites are difficult to access for these individuals (who currently live in remote towns in the South Pacific but somehow have access to GR app). I don't really want to return to GR, but I might have to for a while until Booklikes develops an app.

Review: Gil's All Fright Diner

Gil's All Fright Diner - A. Lee Martinez

After a month of leafing through summary reports and skimming predictions for next year, I was tired of reading and even more weary of the idea of starting a new book that might require some effort to enjoy. So it was with relief when I came across this book and remembered I'd been meaning to read Martinez for some time now. This book was just what I was looking for: a weird quick and easy read. Because that's what it, and I suspect all of Martinez's writing, is--an amusing break, from boring repetitive routines, that doesn't require much brainpower to enjoy.


The writing is light, fast paced, and doesn't take itself or anything else seriously. It's funny at times and somewhat poignant at other times when you least expect it. The humor is not what I'd call sharp or hilarious, but it's absurd enough to carry the story through to the end and unusual enough to hold my attention. My attention span wanes easily around this time of year, so it takes some effort for me to concentrate. I tend to abandon slow-moving books while in this mood, and yet I was able to just breeze through this story with minimal effort.


Here are a few things that made this story easy breezy:


Characters: So a vampire and a werewolf walk into a diner and find themselves in the middle of an impending apocalypse... that's the joke. The punchline is this kind of thing happens all the time. Gil's Diner is the unfortunate focus of the apocalypse. The rest of the story takes off from there like a ditzy adolescent Satanist-in-training bent on opening a portal to hell.


Characterization: Each character is defined by the crazy and absurd things they do and say more than their supernatural species or physical descriptions. They're also defined by the crazy and absurd things that happen to them. Almost every character is an otherworldly creature, and yet they're very much like the crazy people you might run into every day on the street.


Absurdities: In case you don't believe how weird things can get in this story, take these things into consideration

- a diner in the middle of nowhere experiencing some otherworldly troubles

- occasional zombie ambushes

- a walk-in freezer that has a tendency to surprise

- pig Latin is revealed to be the preferred language of hell raisers

And this is just the opening chapters.


Tone: A lot of fun. So much fun, in fact, that I'd originally mistaken this story as a tale for middle-grade readers, but the amount of gore and bloodshed that followed the first chapter made me reconsider.


Humor: Subtle, yet effective. It doesn't draw attention to itself or to all the weird things that keep happening in and around Gil's Diner. Instead, the focus of the story is on finding the culprit of the weirdness and putting an end to whatever that happen to be. The highlight of Martinez's writing is in his ability to keep the narration as close to being unintentionally funny as possible, while letting the characters, supernatural elements, and other absurdities carry the story.


Duke (the werewolf) and Kopp (the Sheriff) having a chat:

"I'm a werewolf."

Kopp went to the cooler and grabbed a soda. "Figured it was sumthin' like that."

"How'd you know?"

"Oh, I've had plenty of experience with this sort of thing. 'Bout seven years back, had an outbreak of vampire turkeys. And four years before that, Charlie Vaughn's daughter got herself possessed. And the Stillman's scarecrow took to wandering around at night and scaring the bejeezus outta the kids. Point is, Rockwood has itself an unusual history, and being sheriff means dealing with those problems."


Something something about a cult:

Kopp flipped through the purse. "Ah hell. Not another cult."

"'Fraid so," Duke confirmed.

"Another cult?" Loretta asked.

"Yeah. Seems like one pops up every couple of years. It's gotta be the heat."

"You need a movie theater," Duke observed.

"I've been trying to get a public swimmin' pool."

"That'd help."


You don't go into a book like this expecting it to make sense or for it to provide interesting commentary or even play by its own rules. What you can expect is for a good time and a few laughs to be had and maybe for events in the story to tie up with some satisfaction at the end, which they do. This book was exactly what I needed this past weekend. I read it on and off, in between visits to and from family and friends, and I even read it while on the road, and not once did I lose interest in the story's absurdness. It was a nice break from "serious" reading and too much family time.


It didn't occur to me at the time, but now that I think about it, Martinez's writing style and sense of humor are similar to Christopher Moore, albeit Martinez's is more mouthy, profane, low-brow than Moore's. Still entertaining though. Martinez also reminds me somewhat of Douglas Adams. Fans of the Hitchhiker's Guide would definitely take a liking to Gil's Diner.


Review: The Bronze Horseman (The Bronze Horseman, #1)

The Bronze Horseman - Paullina Simons

This book came highly recommended by friends and reviewers, but I kept putting it off. Not because of the genre or anything about the book particularly. It just never looked that interesting.


The story is set in the USSR during the German invasion. Not a setting I’m familiar with, so I had to do some background research beforehand. I had read Doctor Zhivago awhile ago and loved it because it had that perfect union of engaging story and lyrical prose that I always look for in any book, regardless of genre. The Bronze Horseman seemed like it had similar themes or, at the very least, a contemporary echo of Doctor Zhivago, which in this case I wouldn’t have minded at all.


For some reason, there had always been something holding me back from this book, and I couldn’t figure out why. The star ratings were high, like unbelievably so across the board, and reviews by critics and average readers alike were glowing (they still are). Still, I never really felt like picking up this book and didn’t know why. And then I started reading. And everything that held me back suddenly made sense. Simply put, this book is just not for me, and I must have known that on a subconscious level.


Let me interrupt this review by saying the writing by itself is not terrible. The execution of the story, characterization (especially the two main characters), and the “romance” angle, on the other hand, are almost unbearable. I say “almost” because I did finish reading, so it wasn’t completely unbearable.


I’ll start with compliments and then ease into shortcomings.


The author’s depictions of pre-siege and post-siege Leningrad (St. Petersburg) are well done and very close to actual accounts from people who lived through the siege. A great number of people died of starvation within the city during this time. Those who survived had to scour for food any way they could. The way in which the author represents this particular era, through the perspective of one individual family, is well written and shows that she had done plenty of research. Had the story focused on the siege and its aftermath, I would have found this book a lot more interesting. So in other words, if the setting and context remain the same but the story is told from a different POV, accompanied by a completely different set of characters, it would be a richer story.


I read historical fiction for a different (hindsight) perspective of historical accounts. Already knowing what happens and the how’s and why’s of it only makes the stories more interesting, to me. History strengthens fiction by adding multiple perspectives into the mix which adds more depth to an already familiar event. When this is done well, fictional accounts read somewhat like actual historical accounts but with more depth, and this is what I look for in well crafted historical fiction. I think the Paullina Simons not only captured the events of the Siege of Leningrad but also the tense atmosphere of the era, the plight of the people, and the hopelessness of a city starving to death. If only she had approached characterization and plot with the same care.


Next comes the hard part because I really wanted to like this book. It had a lot of things going for it. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me because the things that bothered me far outweighed the things that didn’t. So here goes.


The characterization is quite shallow and obtuse. I don’t understand Tatiana or Alexander or how they fit together at all. None of their actions make any sense in the midst of the turmoil of the siege.


Since this is a family saga during wartime, I expected…I don’t remember what I was expecting. Maybe for Tatiana to feel some urgency toward the siege on the eve of war, which should at least motivate her to think of others beside herself and her immediate “romantic issues,” and maybe also motivate her to actually procure supplies for her family before all resources in the city run out and they face the very real possibility of starvation. Instead, Tatiana’s motivations and actions make her look shallow, oblivious, and most regrettably, out of touch with everything around her.


Here’s an example:
Instead of leaving immediately to get supplies, like her parents asked her to, Tatiana takes it easy and sits back with a book. She waits until later in the day to go out in search of these supplies, but by then most are either all gone or running low. Everywhere she goes, there are lines and lines of people one every street. After a half-assed attempt to look around, she gives up and gets ice cream instead. (No, that really happens.) Tatiana decides it’s a time that calls for ice cream. She either misses her bus home before or after the ice cream, so she sits on a bench to wait for the next one. And then she locks eyes with a handsome officer from across the street, and thus it spawns a “romance” of epic eye-rolling.


All of this carelessness and callousness of characterization bothers me to no end. If an author doesn’t care enough to write interesting characters, then I have no reason to care about them. I also have no reason to continue reading a story told from the POV of a character who is so completely out of touch with reality that she gets ice creamon the eve of a siege. That’s just too much. I understand that Tatiana is supposed to be a sheltered teenager from a well-off family who has no life experience, but her self-obsessiveness goes too far at times, like her affair with Alexander, who just happens to be her beloved sister’s boyfriend.


Don’t even get me started on Alexander, the other half of this supposed “love story,” because then this review would never end. He is Tatiana’s equal exactly; they deserve each other. Unfortunately other well-meaning characters, like her family, were caught in the crossfire. I can’t decide if Alexander is oblivious or just plain willfully ignorant, although I suppose there isn’t much of a difference since he’s an ass.


I don’t read for the characters. As long as I can envision a character, I’m able to carry on with the story. I don’t expect to like, relate to, understand, or even see myself in the characterization because it isn’t that important to me. Prose and plot interest me more. With that said, for a book or story to turn me away due to characterization problems is a big deal, and for these problems to be so noticeable that I can barely read on is almost unheard of.

(show spoiler)


Although this book wasn’t a good experience, I’m still interested in the Siege of Leningrad. A majority of books written about the siege are nonfiction. So far I’ve found only two other historical fictions (that might be worth my time), and they are David Benioff’s City of Thievesand Helen Dunmore’s The Siege.

[Reblog] An urgent plea.

Reblogged from The Social Potato Reviews:

Image from HERE.


Friends, as you have seen on the news, a monstrous typhoon hit my country last week. It killed, swept away, and displaced many people. What used to be lively provinces with lush green trees and heritage churches became wastelands that reek of death. Within a few hours, many of my brethren lost their homes and their loved ones, and have been left with absolutely nothing. It terrifies me to think what they could be feeling right now. Up to this day, aid is still scarce, and many are dying. 


On behalf of my fellowmen, I ask you to help and stand beside my helpless people rebuild their lives. I believe as citizens of the world, it is during these times that we have to help each other, especially those who have seen and felt the fury of nature's wrath.


If you can donate, please do so. Here is a link to many organizations that provide relief to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan: http://news.yahoo.com/how-to-help-donate-to-victims-of-super-typhoon-haiyan-195111618.html.


If you can't donate, that is fine as well. I instead ask you to keep the victims and families in your thoughts/prayers. Any of these is deeply appreciated.


Review: Moon Over Soho (Peter Grant, #2)

Moon Over Soho  - Ben Aaronovitch

With “moon” in the title and a setting like London, I was expecting there to be a werewolf tale or at least the very least a shapeshifter subplot, but this a story about Soho and jazz… and murder and magic and supernatural forces and things beyond our existential control, but mostly Soho and jazz. So of course, my favorite kind of urban fantasy. You won’t even miss the lack of werewolves at all.


Once in a very rare while, an author’s writing style syncs up with all the qualities which I look for in a genre. When these things overlap, reading becomes less of a task and more of an experience. Ben Aaronovitch’s writing is everything I look for in urban fantasy. I had an inkling shortly after finish Rivers of London that that was the case, but I wasn’t certain until this book.


When a good book takes you a step further into the realm of experience, the feeling I associate with reading is similar to returning home after a long trip away. And that was what it was like for me all through this book. After finish Rivers of London, I took a break to explore other genres and fictions and they were interesting, but the moment I picked up Moon Over Soho, it was like I was home again. Even though I’ve never been to London and only know of it through media representations, Aaronovitch’s London feels like a familiar place.




There are a lot of things I like about this book and a handful of things I have issues with, which are somewhat “resolved” in the end. I won’t get to them though because they are huge spoilers.


Peter Grant is still a fun protagonist to follow about. You get to follow him around all corners–and alley ways and rivers and creaks and abandoned buildings–of London during the investigation. He has a peculiar, yet entertaining, way of describing present-London while dropping chunks of past-London into the narration. I enjoyed these moments the most because my interest is often peaked and I end up looking all of these references up as I’m reading. They add perspectives which I otherwise would not consider to the story, and ultimately following Peter around London feels like getting an underbelly tour of Soho.


Peter’s magic takes on a more prevalent role in this book as he grows as an apprentice, an absurdly easily distracted apprentice, but still. Aside from beginner’s magic and Latin practices, Peter is also introduced to a new type of sinister magic and the possibility more like it exists. It’s more sinister than what we’ve seen in Rivers of London. It’s interesting to note that, while Nightingale is the Master Wizard, he often takes a supporting role in Peter’s investigations due to his recent injuries and Peter ends up doing most of the legwork, which is why he’s often sidetracked. But he gets well on his own.


Peter’s family and his interactions with his mom and dad are sweet while being realistic. Although his parents have limited screen-time, every scene they appear in show a glimpse of the family’s true dynamic and Peter’s biracial background. It’s a testament to Aaronovitch that he can write this family with an honesty and sense of care that I rarely see in genre fiction and almost never in urban fantasy. Even when Peter is taking the reader around London on a lead, in between snark and satire, he would often mention the influence his parents had and still have on him, both his personality and behavior. When the family is together, you can see that Peter takes after both of his parents. I find this endearing.


Wow. This is turning out to be a very Peter-centric post. That’s because I can’t really talk about anything else without giving the mystery away. I can’t even mention Simone, even though every blurb already has. I can’t even talk about the specific type of sinister magic which Peter encounters without revealing the ending. I certainly can’t bring up Molly due to the nature–or mystery?–of her being. What I can say is this story takes the reader back to a prolific time in London’s past that still has an effect on the London of today. That’s not too vague, now is it…


Like in Rivers of London, the narration and dialogue are great fun and quick-witted. Peter’s funny when he’s narrating or on his own talking to himself, and he’s hilarious when Nightingale is around. The two of them have that old-world meets new-world dynamic that’s perfect for Peter’s comedic timing.


Peter and Nightingale discussing a victim’s “hobby”:

     “Assuming he was a practitioner,” I said.

     Nightingale tapped his better knife on the plastic-wrapped copy of the Principia Artes Magicis. “Nobody carries this book by accident,” he said. “Besides, I recognize the other library mark. It’s from my old school.”

     “Hogwarts?” I asked.

     “I really wish you wouldn’t call it that,” he said.


Peter and Nightingale discussing connotations:

     “You can’t call them black magicians,” I said.

     “You realize that we’re using black in its metaphorical sense here,” said Nightingale.

     “It doesn’t matter,” I said. “Words change what they mean, don’t they? Some people would call me a black magician.”

     “You’re not a magician,” he said. “You’re barely even an apprentice.”


Peter meeting Postmartin for the first time:

     I could see him trying to parse the phrase but he’s colored in a way that wouldn’t cause offense and failing. I put him out of his misery by shaking his hand; my rule of thumb is if they don’t physically flinch from touching you, then eventually they’ll make the adjustment.


— — — — —


All jokes aside, there is something that still bothers me and that’s the casual use of the word “Jap” to refer to anything Japanese. In this case, a sushi restaurant. Here in the US, it’s a racial slur that dates back to WWII and the Japanese concentration camps. In the UK though, I don’t know how this word is used or whether or not there is tension behind the usage. Aaronovitch has been respectful of diversity and racial discourse whenever he brings up Peter’s biracial identity and Peter’s mother’s Sierra Leonean background, so perhaps the word “Jap” doesn’t carry the same racial tension in the UK as it does in the US...?


And another thing, I find it hard to believe that Peter, whose mom is Sierra Leonean, would refer to Africa and also the Middle East as “countries” when grouping both with other actual countries like China, Russia, and India. I will excuse this as an editing slight, but if something like it happens again, it will be very disappointing.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories From the Sketch Book - Washington Irving, Wayne Franklin

Not as scary as I remember, but still a classic October read.

Over the years, I've read, watched, and listened to a number of headless horseman retellings of Irving's tale, which watered down the original story's impact. So while rereading is fun, the experience isn't as good as when I first read it all those years ago (back when I knew very little about genre tropes and urban legends).


— — — — —


Sleepy Hollow, the new TV series on Fox, is pretty good. I watched the first 5 episodes in just one rainy weekend and they were exactly what I was looking for: a mix bag of modern crime mystery and thriller set against an end-times conspiracy story arc (that will span the season) and just the right amount of urban legend thrown in.


I was inspired to reread Irving's Sleepy Hollow after watching the show. Even though the two have very little in common--Ichabod Crane and urban legends--it's interesting to offset one against the other while comparing and contrasting tones and tropes.


Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks

Selected Poems (P.S.) - Gwendolyn Brooks

This is the most well-known set of Gwendolyn Brooks' poetry. Many of these poems were published in various magazines and literary journals, and now they're finally brought together in one collection.


If you're into rhythmic poetry, take a look at this collection. If "We Real Cool" is the only poem of Brooks you know, then you're barely scratching the surface. She has a way of grafting more meaning into a couple of lines of texts and empty spaces than any poet I've ever read.


Life for my child is simple, and is good.
He knows his wish. Yes, but that is not all.
Because I know mine too.
And we both want joy of undeep and unabiding things, like kicking over a chair or throwing blocks out a window
Or tripping over an icebox pan
Or snatching down curtains or fingering an electric outlet
Or a journey or a friend or an illegal kiss.
No. There is more to it than that.
It is that he is never afraid.
Rather, he reaches out and lo the chair falls with a beautiful
And the blocks fall, down on people's heads,
And the water comes slooshing slopily out across the floor
And so forth.
Not that success, for him, is sure, infallible.
But never has he been afraid to reach.
His lesions are legion.
But reaching is his rule.


— — — — —


I'd like to thank Ryan from HarperCollins for sending me the anniversary edition to enjoy.

The Lottery and Other Stories

The Lottery and Other Stories - Shirley Jackson

Still as good as ever and each story is still as chilling as when I first read it, especially “The Lottery.” I’ve read this short story collection from cover to cover at least five times and reread individual stories within this collection countless times, and they still get to me every time I come back to them.


Jackson has a way of turning every day life events into something memorable at the end of the story. Although many of these stories aren’t quite as haunting as “The Lottery,” they’re disturbing in their own rights.


Jackson also has a way of turning mundane situations into something chilling, and that’s what I love most about the stories in this collection. They’re my favorite for one reason and one reason only: they can get to you when you least expect it. A story can start out as calm and dull as any other story about every day life in middle America, but then somewhere along, the narration takes a quick turn and the mundane becomes disorienting. That’s when the fun really begins.


From experience, I find Jackson’s short stories more interesting than her full-length novels because her psychological turns in narration work better in short form.

Currently reading

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood by Oliver Bowden
Acacia: The War with the Mein by David Anthony Durham
The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead
Veniss Underground by Jeff VanderMeer
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace