the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘London

Blackout by Connie Willis

published in 2010*

where I got it: purchased used

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I finished reading Connie Willis’s Blackout shortly after blogging about how much of a Lobster this book is.  When I wrote that blog post, I was about half way through the book, I am pretty sure I read the 2nd half in a non-stop reading marathon.

 

That post, and this post has minor plot spoilers for Blackout.

 

I’m a sucker for time travel thrillers,  and I especially love it when the premise of the thriller is “what could possibly go wrong?” and the author has correctly answered that question is “everything!”,  thus the thrilling storyline.

 

Willis’s Doomsday Book is one of my favorite time travel novels, and I’d heard the sequel was To Say Nothing of the Dog.  I recently bought a copy of TSNofD, and don’t tell anyone I said this, but i DNF’d that book about 50 pages in. I wasn’t getting any of the Three Men in a Boat jokes (yes, I am a midwestern heathen with no education. More on that in a bit, actually),  I wasn’t connecting with any of the characters. So back on the bookshelf that book went. But I still wanted my Connie Willis fix? So I picked up Blackout.

 

Blackout takes place about 5 years after the events of Doomsday Book, and who were the first two characters I met?  Dunworthy and Colin!! This was the sequel to Doomsday Book I’d been looking for!! Colin is nearly college age, and as adorable and puppy-like as always,  Badri knows not to let Colin anywhere near the net, and Dunworthy is his usually curmudgeonly and rushing all about self. Dunworthy cares deeply for his time traveling students, he’s just real good at showing it.  And he keeps rescheduling everyone’s drops and driving the net techs crazy.

 

Just joining us for Connie Willis time travel?  Here’s some context: It’s the year 2060, time travel exists (but somehow smartphones, e-mail, and pages do not**),  and Oxford University sends historians back in time for weeks or months, so the historian can embed themselves in the time and location they are studying.  The language and accent you need will be imported into your implant, you’ll receive tons of training on how to act and dress, and when your drop date arrives, you go to the Net with your props, and the net techs send you through. To avoid anyone being able to change history, the net simply won’t open to let you go through to a moment in the past where you’d have any ability to muck things up. To return home, you got to the “drop” site at specific pre-arranged times when the net will open for you. Pretty cool, right?

 

Minor spoiler:  Dunworthy and Colin are not major characters in Blackout. I think I cried with joy to get to see them again, and even 20 pages with them was enough for me to be OK with not seeing them for another who knows how many pages.  The novel follows four time travelers/historians who I hadn’t met before, and they have all gone back to different areas of England at different points during World War II. They each have an assignment to observe different places.  The good news is that while some things do go wrong, this book is nowhere near as brutal as what all went wrong in The Doomsday Book.

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I’m about half way through Blackout by Connie Willis.

 

Someone told me that To Say Nothing of the Dog is the sequel to The Doomsday Book?  I disagree!! Who is the first person I meet in Blackout? Colin! And who is he looking for? Mr. Dunworthy! And who does Colin run into as he’s running around Oxford? Badri! And who knows to not let Colin anywhere near the net? EVERYONE.  Blackout is the sequel to Doomsday Book says I, as all my fave people are in the first chapter! Don’t at me!

 

Anyway,  I love time travel stories that go a little like this: Let’s go back in time! What could possibly go wrong?  In fact, let’s go back to the London Blitz, and then go to Dunkirk!

 

Um, everything could wrong? Didn’t Dunworthy already learn that the hard way?

 

I’m about half way through and Blackout is a damn Lobster.

 

It’s super intense, and scary AF, and I can’t put it down, it freaks me out to read it, it freaks me out to not be reading it and not know what is going to happen, i want to poke it I’m afraid to poke it.  I call books like that Lobsters.

 

I was so into this book, and being so affected by it,  that when my husband asked me something super basic about dinner, it took me a good 60 seconds to realize that I wasn’t in 1940 London and that I was perfectly safe.

 

What books have been lobsters for you?

 

(this post has minor spoilers for Blackout by Connie Willis)

 

What’s doubly scary is that all our time travellers – Polly, Mike, Eileen, and Mary, they KNOW exactly what happened in England during World War II.  Our time travelers are in fact, historians studying at Oxford in the year 2060.

 

And while the time travellers are on assignment observing people,  if they need to learn something (like how to drive), they can pop through the net back to the future, learn whatever they need to learn, and then pop back right moments after they left. Time travel is neat!

 

But they people they are with, they have no idea where and when the bombs will fall, they have no idea how much war is yet to come.

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Ayelsford Skull Main 2_1.jpg.size-230The Aylesford Skull, by James P. Blaylock

published January 2013

where I got it: purchased new

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Langdon St. Ives had plans.  Those plans involved spending as much time as possible in the country, enjoying the company of his wife, and raising his children in peace. His most recent case ended badly, and St. Ives needs time to reassess, to recover, to figure out what went wrong.

So much for having plans.

In short order, a grave robberry is discovered near his country home, a woman is murdered, his wife is nearly poisoned, and his son Eddie is kidnapped. All these crimes were perpetrated by Dr. Narbondo, with whom St. Ives has had previous dealings. The Aylesford Skull is just the most recent in Blaylock’s Langdon St Ives adventures, but thanks to some concise yet very well presented character introductions, the readers knows everything they need to know to enjoy the story without having read previous tales involving Professor St. Ives.

Narbondo didn’t just dig up a random grave, he chose one involving a particularly horrid family secret, and took the skull of the child’s corpse.  Using tiny machinery and photos of the deceased, Narbondo makes creeptastic ghost trapping lamps out of the skulls he has stolen over the years.  It’s believed his final goal is to open a pathway between the world of the living and that of the dead.

And that’s the just the beginning! Once the action gets started in this steampunk thriller, it doesn’t stop! While St. Ives and his trusted friends set out to rescue Eddie, the medium Mother Laswell endeavors to save the soul of her own son, and even side characters have their own missions and goals. From the tunnels and alehouses of London to the marshes and rivers of the surrounding countryside, Blaylock whisks the reader along through an all immersive and atmospheric adventure.

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The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers

published in 1983

where I got it: that one bookshelf where my favorite books are.

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The short version of this review is that The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers is utterly brilliant and amazing.   Aren’t sure if time travel books are your thing? Doesn’t matter, this book transcends. Aren’t sure if Tim Powers is for you? He transcends all as well, and you can learn more about him in my Why You Should be Reading Tim Powers article.

here’s the long version:

Brendan Doyle lives a remarkably boring life. An expert in the lives of the romantic poets, Doyle tracks down obscure manuscripts and gets papers published in even more obscure literary magazines.  When he flies to London to meet with wealthy yet eccentric J. Cochran Darrow, Doyle’s in it for the money. this crazy old guy wants to pay Doyle a million dollars to give an hour lecture about Samuel Taylor Coleridge to a dinner party? No problem.  that money will go a long way towards Doyle’s research of an obscure poet who was in London around the same time as Coleridge, William Ashbless.

Except it’s not just any dinner party, and this isn’t just any old rich guy. J. Cochran Darrow has discovered how to jump through time. Brendan will give his lecture, answer a few questions, and then entire group, Darrow, Brendan, and the guests, will travel through time to 1810 see Coleridge himself. Everything must be timing perfectly, as these breaks in the river of time are sometimes only open for a few hours.

The only predictable scene happens when the time travel jump is successful, everything is going swimmingly, and suddenly Doyle gets separated from the group and is left behind in 1810.  Abandoned, yet hopeful, Doyle has a plan. He knows the exact time and date that Ashbless wrote a famous poem at a tavern in London. If Doyle can survive for a week, he can approach Ashbless and hopefully work with the man. Should Doyle ever get back to modern day London, he’d be able to write the ultimate Ashbless biography.

But Darrow isn’t the only person jumping through time. A few someone elses, many hundreds of years ago, used arcane magic to open these gates in time.  These ancient magicians have forsaken their connection with the earth, and wear heels, platform clogs, and even spring heeled shoes to keep their flesh as far from the Earth as possible.  Even J. Cochran Darrow has his own ulterior motives.

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Neil Gaiman, how do I love thee? let me count the ways.

My not nerdy friends have heard of you, so we can easily discuss your books without them thinking I’m too weird.

You allowed yourself to be Simpsonized!

You wrote one of my most favorite novels, American Gods. Also, I loved Coraline, Stardust and The Graveyard Book.

you refuse to be shoe horned into any specific genre. You write what you want, when you want it, and I can’t wait to read it.

you’re friends with Tori Amos and Terry Pratchett.

And my adoration for you started with a little book called Neverwhere. One of your earlier works, and certainly not your best, it was within it’s pages that I became first hooked on other worlds, on magical realism and urban fantasy, on the worlds that existed beyond the door, on a modern and more scary version of Narnia.   Poor Richard Mayhew, he never knew what hit him. She was young and in trouble, so he decided to help a young woman named Door.  What was Door running from, and how can bumbling Richard possibly help her? Her world is London Below, and his is the real world. Or is it? More exists in London than Richard could possibly imagine, and he’s about to meet it head on.

If you’ve read Neverwhere, you know of the magic that lives in these pages.

And if you haven’t?  get thee to a bookstore!  and then head over to Stainless Steel Droppings, where a read along of Neverwhere will be starting in a few weeks.

Are you ready for a spring of magical realism, urban fantasy, and London Below?

Moon Over Soho (Peter Grant, book 2) by Ben Aaronovich

Published 2011

Where I got it: purchased new

Why I read it: Loved the first book in the series, Midnight Riot

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Picking up shortly after the events of Midnight Riot (Rivers of London if you’re in the UK),  Moon over Soho opens with Thomas Nightingale being on medical leave, Leslie May literally afraid to show her face, and PC Peter Grant investigating dead bodies. Grant gets called in by the Murder Team when something strange is going on. For example, when the dead guy hasn’t got a face anymore, or other body parts are missing, or was burned to a crisp. If it’s strange enough that the regular cops don’t want to deal with it, they call in Grant and Nightingale, because you see, these guys do magic.

If you haven’t read the first book in the series, Midnight Riot, you really aught to. This is a tight knit series, and if you pick this book up on a lark, I’ll bet you’ll feel a little lost. Besides, Midnight Riot has the freakiest most disturbing Punch and Judy puppet show on the planet. Good stuff, funny, fast paced, scary as hell. go read it. Then read this one.

Moon over Soho starts out with a simple murder. As much as Peter hopes the jazz musician died of a simple heart attack, it’s never that simple, and Aaronovich doesn’t leave guns on the table to not be used later.  Peter immediately picks up vestigia, or magical residue on the body, and this body is screaming a famous jazz tune. It’s not long before another body shows up, this one horribly and disgustingly disfigured. The vestigia and circumstances are too similar to ignore, and this is where the policing part comes in. You’d think Peter interviewing people, and putting puzzle pieces together would get boring, but it doesn’t.  He’s sarcastic and distractable, and life doesn’t stop just because you’re investigating a string of supernatural murders that appear to be caused by jazz vampires.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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