52(x3) book challenge – the February files

I posted last month about the dozen books I read towards my goal of an annual tally of 52×3. February proved to also be a good month for reading – perhaps it was that extra day we had? In March, however, things have slowed down, so it will be a more modest post next month. Meanwhile, here are the books that kept me entertained, amused, distracted and delighted in February:

Twelve drummers drumming cover#13  Twelve Drummers Drumming by C.C. Benison. Read 4/02/12   The first, of an anticipated dozen, cosy murder mysteries starring the vicar of Thornford Regis, “Father” Tom Christmas as the amateur sleuth. As the first book for a series, this mystery introduces a large cast of characters and sets up a framework for ongoing story arcs involving the vicar. I have to admit that it didn’t really grab me…. and I think that’s because I couldn’t seem to greatly care about Tom Christmas. The book has been compared to other village mysteries and while I love the Flavia deLuce stories, because I really like Flavia, I feel much the same way about Agatha Raisin as I do about Tom Christmas. I’ll give the next one a try (I’m assuming it will be something to do with eleven pipers) to see if he improves on further acquaintance.

Rivers of London cover#14  Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. Read 5/02/12 I think that the celebrity cover review, summarising this book as “if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz”, sells it short – but it does give you an idea of what you’re letting yourself in for. This urban fantasy basically melds London folklore and magic, with a police procedural, into a thoroughly engrossing book, that I did not want to stop reading. I guessed a major plotline way earlier than I should have (due to last month’s Victorian murders book) but this did not detract from the story at all – I just had creepy pre-cog of the approaching nastiness. I really loved this book.

Sidekicks cover#15   Sidekicks by Dan Santat. Read 8/02/12 I have a friend with a penchant for superhero pets, so I couldn’t resist this retro-styled graphic novel of a superhero’s pets who all aspire to be his side-kick, while he dreams of retiring to be able to spend more time at home with them. It’s not sophisticated, but it is cute. Plus, you know, it has a hamster in star-spangled lycra, which is not something you can say for most books. (Possibly even not something you want to be able to say….)

Hark! A Vagrant cover#16   Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton. Read 8/02/12 Oh, lovely, lovely, happy day! This is not just a book, not just a collection of hugely funny cartoons, but a window into Kate Beaton’s blog, and her brilliant, quirky take on history, literature and life. I admit that I didn’t get all the Canadian history jokes, but believe me when I tell you it is worth borrowing just for the first cartoon – Get Me Off This Freaking Moor: Dude Watchin’ with the Brontes. (That’s as long as you don’t mind the idea that Anne may have been somewhat foul-mouthed – although not without cause.) It made me laugh. A lot.

Quantum of Tweed cover#17   Quantum of Tweed: The Man in the Nissan Micra by Conn Iggulden. Read 9/02/12
A Quick Read book, at only 74 pages, and part of the adult literacy collection, this little gem is not to be missed. It asks the question – can a man who runs a menswear shop, successfully make an accidental career change to assassin for hire? Some may say that reading this sized book is not within the spirit of a reading challenge – I would respond, with as much dignity as I can muster, bah, humbug. It’s a book. I read it. It was fun. Try it for yourself.

Moon Over Soho cover#18  Moon over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch. Read 12/02/2012  You can tell I enjoyed Rivers of London a lot. A week after reading it, I had put a hold on, borrowed and finished the sequel. Replete with jazz, magic and ghosts of the Blitz, it was another delightful excursion, with a very dramatic ending. Which made me say “bring on number 3!” – Whispers Under Ground – which will be out in June this year, according to The Folly – Official Home of English Wizardry since 1775. You need to read it, before they film it for TV, as a sort of cross between The Bill and Merlin.

Jim Henson's The Storyteller cover#19   Jim Henson’s The Storyteller. Read 15/02/2012 Do you remember the TV series that inspired this collection of comics? It came out in 1988 and starred John Hurt as the storyteller, with a Muppet dog, and it included Hans my Hedgehog, The Soldier and Death and The Three Ravens, which had Miranda Richardson as the witch stepmother, a role she was great in, and great again 11 years later in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. This collection of comics tells further tales from around the world. I found this collection a little hit and miss – but the hits made it well worth reading.

Party cover#20  Party! : how to organise a brilliant bash : the essential guide by Polly Betton. Read 17/02/2012 What’s not to love about a party planning book that draws inspiration from parties as diverse as the De Medici Wedding and Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball in 1966? The recipes in this book are quite fabulous, but the ideas for themes and decorative touches are what really set it apart. If you’re looking for inspiration for a really special event, have a look at this book.

The Chalk Circle Man cover#21   The Chalk Cirle Man by Fred Vargas. Read 19/02/2012    I read a good review of the sixth Commissaire Adamsberg book, so rather than leap in at the latest in the series, I went back to read number one, and meet the good detective from the start. I’m glad I did. He’s an unusual chap, and I quite enjoyed wandering the streets of Paris with him and seeing the city, and the people, through his eyes. (Not as much as I would have liked to be actually wandering the streets of Paris, but one can’t have everything.) As a plus, the murder mystery was gratifyingly twisty, and nicely resolved.

Johannes Cabal: the detective cover#22   Johannes Cabal: The Detective by Jonathan L. Howard. Read 21/02/2012    I read the first Johannes Cabal novel some time ago, and thought it was fabulous, so imagine my delight at discovering not one, but two, sequels.  Plus, not only did I get to enjoy Johannes’ acerbic wit again, this is a very enjoyable, classic locked room murder mystery, set onboard an airship. There just aren’t enough dirigibles in fiction, let alone zombie emperors and necromantic anti-heroes, and this novel boasts all three! Huzzah!

seeking whom he may devour cover#23   Seeking whom he may devour by Fred Vargas. Read 25/02/2012   Moving straight on from my number 21 book to the second in this series, which is an intriguing study of character, as well as a murder mystery. Sheep savagings lead to old prejudices surfacing, and when people start to be killed, the blame shifts from the reintroduced wolf pack, to bizarre superstitions about werewolves. It takes a while for Adamsberg to be directly involved in the case, but this tale is so well put together that isn’t a problem. I’ve got to go and put a hold on number three…

#24  The Graveminder by Melissa Marr. Read 25/02/2012 It took me months to finish this book. Which is not like me at all. I kept putting it down and reading other things. The cover endorsement – from Charlaine Harris – says “No one builds worlds like Melissa Marr.” And it’s true that the idea behind this book is good, with a creepy, not-quite-right town that’s done an unnatural deal in regards to the dead, but the world building seemed to get in the way of the story. And some of it made no sense at all. And I preferred the unnatural deal with the dead scenario in Kim Wilkins’ The Resurrectionists. And Marr’s characters just seemed … wooden, and I don’t just mean the dead ones. Sigh, this one just didn’t work for me.

#25  My Boyfriend is a Monster #2: Made for each other by Paul D. Storrie and Eldon Cowgur. Read 25/02/2012   This is a cute little graphic novel, playing with B grade horror movie tropes, and cleverly juxtaposing modern sensibilities (the heroine can’t see a problem with the whole Frankenstein’s monster thing – it’s just like organ donation, right?). Plus, there’s teen angst and bad puns, so it made me smile.

Johannes Cabal the Fear Institute#26  Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute by Jonathan L. Howard. Read 27/02/2012    This third book in the series probably does not have as wide appeal as the first and second, but it is an absolute must-read for anyone with at least a passing fondness for the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Like me. In this tale, Cabal is off to the Dreamlands, previously visited only by poets and other feckless layabouts, to find the source of fear. Howard tells a good story, with a mass of clever ideas woven through it, which are worth discovering, even if you’re not familiar with Cthulhu and all his little friends.

peach keeper cover# 27 The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen  Read 28/02/2012    This is the 4th of Allen’s novels that I’ve read and, unfortunately, it left me dissatisfied. It’s been recommended as one of our Autumn reads, and I thought I was on to a winner as I enjoyed the others. But I found it more whimsical than magical realism and, while the ghost of what had happened in the past was supposed to be haunting the present, there was no real sense of menace (from an allegedly dangerous, magically adept man) and, indeed, no real idea of him as a person. Just a faulty door buzzer and a vague waft of peachiness.

Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for whimsical, after a quick tango with Nyarlathotep. Could be.

I’m always happy to hear contrary, or coinciding, opinions on any of the books I review. Just comment at will. You know, in a more or less orderly line….