Friday, 30 October 2020

THE RIVERS OF LONDON by Ben Aaronovitch - and more! Review by Penny Dolan

Rivers of London (novel) - Wikipedia

THE RIVERS OF  LONDON is the first title in an interesting, best-selling fantasy crime series, written by BEN AARONOVITCH who also, as a scriptwriter, has contributed scripts to Doctor Who TV series.

Important point. As the Awfully Big Review blog usually suggests titles for young children, MG or secondary school readers, thie Rivers of London series comes with an Awfully Big Warning: these crime novels are fantasies aimed at adult readers. 

However, they also have an energy, enthusiasm and attitude might appeal to older young adults too. Please read the books and judge for yourself first.

I am recommending the RIVERS OF LONDON because the whole series - completed through a few loaned copies from a friend - saw me through the six lockdown months in a way that the reading of literary, contemporary or other novels rarely did. Escapism was better during long nights than reality!

Aaronovitch's writing and plotting has acknowledged echoes of Terry Pratchett's fantasy style - which I already enjoy - but with added sex, violence and large explosions. 

Being unable to visit my old home town of London right now, I really appreciated  the London-centric so,  I enjoyed being reminded of that huge city.  Moreover, the ingenious plots roam away from reality and go riffling through London's  hidden geography and back story.

TMoon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch | Orion - Bringing You ...

The main character in these first person novels is Peter Grant who starts as a probationary PC in the Met, straight from the police college at Hendon. Peter is mixed race: his admirable, disciplinarian mother is from Sierra Leone while his disreputable father is a white, often-stoned jazz musician. 

Across the whole series, Aaranovitch's character "casting " - without being heavily issue-led - draws on the diversity of London's population and cultures today, which is a strong factor behind my recommending these books for the oldest young adults:

Whispers Under Ground - Wikipedia

That diversity is echoed in supernatural inhabitants of the city. In the first book, while investigating a weird murder in the precincts of Covent Garden, Peter discovers that he can sense the presence of magic and spot the often invisible magical population, who over the series range from viciously sharp-toothed, man-hating vampires, to unicorns, ancient kinds of lost tribes, goblin markets, untrustworthy fae and even the dreaded Faceless Man.

Chief among this cast, we soon learn,  are the members of the powerful River "families" - the jealous, inter-related gods and goddesses of the Thames and its tributaries - with whom Peter becomes ever more closely embroiled. 

Broken Homes (Peter Grant Series #4) by Ben Aaronovitch ...

As the only magical police officer in London, Peter is sent to a secret, wonderfully-gothic police station, known as The Folly. There, through the enigmatic patience of the gentlemanly ageless wizard known as Nightingale, Peter gradually masters the Newtonian magical arts and defences, while solving mysterious murders and magical power-grabs around and beyond London and at times - oh, Peter! - loving unwisely and well.

What I also welcomed was that, during the course of the series, Aarnovitch's plots rest on interesting "real history" events and locations. Each novel unfolds around a different broad scenario: Soho's once-thriving music & nightclub industry, the development of the Metropolitan Underground Railway, "architectural" tower block re-developments around the Elephant and Castle, secret woodland hideaways for wealthy magical scientist in the Chilterns, through to the ancient hanging tree of Tyburn. And, possibly, worrying incidents around the Vale of Health. ( A location last met in Lissa Evans's "Old Baggage" historical trilogy.)

 The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch | Thriller Books at ...

Although the Rivers of London titles are already a much-praised series, not everyone has come across them, or been lured in to the pages, so they seemed worth mentioning.

So, if you might feel a sense of "vestigia" in an old building or object, admire the art of throwing a werelight, and are not too alarmed by crashing doors and collapsing buildings and a touch of gruesomeness, you might enjoy reading the Rivers yourself.

Then, maybe, recommend them to any other readers who would appreciate wild supernatural fun, humour and excitement.

Especially if times continue grim.


Penny Dolan


Here is the current list of Aaronovitch's novels: THE RIVERS OF LONDON; MOON OVER SOHO; WHISPERS UNDERGROUND; BROKEN HOMES; FOXGLOVE SUMMER; THE FURTHEST STATION; THE HANGING TREE, LIES SLEEPING; THE OCTOBER MAN and FALSE VALUE. (There are also several graphic novels and short stories and a TV series is currently being developed by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost)


Sunday, 25 October 2020

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright! - Fiona Walters & Britta Teckentrup: reviewed by Sue Purkiss

The subtitle of this book is 'An animal poem for every day of the year'. It's a simple idea and a brilliant one, and it's resulted in this most sumptuous book - satisfyingly huge and beautifully coloured. 

There's a vast variety of poems. Some are short, simple, and funny; others are much more complex. But I don't think it would matter if the poem for one day might be a bit difficult or a bit simple, because there would be more than enough in the illustrations to evoke discussion, admiration, wonder. It will make a most marvellous present. The cover price is £25, but it's widely available at £16-17.

I don't think I need to say any more: I'll just show you some examples.

You probably can't read the poem: it's The Sparrow Hawk by Russell Hoban:

Wings like pistons flashing at his sides
Masked, above the meadow runway rides,
Galloping, galloping with an easy rein,
Below, the fieldmouse, where the shadow glides,
Holds fast the small purse of his life, and hides.

The hippopotamus has two poems. This is the one for the 13th, by Jack Prelutsky:

The huge hippopotamus hasn't a hair
on the back of his wrinkly hide; 
he carries the bulk of his prominent hulk
rather loosely assembled inside.

The huge hippopotamus lives without care
at a low philosophical pace,
as he wades in the mud with a thump and a thud
and a permanent grin on his face.

Butterfly, by Michael Harrison, is short and very sweet:


The book is an absolute treat.


Tuesday, 20 October 2020

WRECKED by Louisa Reid......reviewed by Adèle Geras

Two years ago, Louisa Reid wrote a terrific book called Gloves Off. This was published by Guppy Books. Guppy is the brainchild of Bella Pearson, who is one of the most intelligent and delightful of editors. Full disclosure:Bella used to work at David Fickling Books and was hugely helpful t0 me in the editing of my novel Dido. I also know Louisa Reid, who invited me to talk to her pupils when I first moved to Cambridge. As ever, you will have to believe me when I say that I have the luxury of never having to write a review of a book I don't love. Indeed, I give up books I'm not keen on very speedily indeed. 

I had no such problems with this book. It’s written in a form Reid first used in Gloves Off, a free- form poetry that works well to speed up action and uses rhyme, rhythm, and all the prosodic resources of more traditional verse to raise the emotional temperature and produce a narrative of great power and deep feeling.

Joe, who’s just done his A-Levels, has been involved in a car accident in which a woman in another car died. We see the trial unfold and the court room drama is interrupted by flashbacks to the relationship between Joe and Imogen, who first fell in love when they were fourteen years old.  Joe’s father is dying. Imogen’s family is wealthy. I’m giving away no spoilers but the really admirable thing about ‘Wrecked’ is the nuanced picture it paints of young love. It’s also good on families, school, and the justice system. If I were a teacher I’d give it to all reluctant readers who will rejoice at the sight of very few words on the page. It's also for anyone who loves a  good love story. Fans of courtroom drama will be enthralled. 

I usually quote a passage from a book I’m reviewing but I don't trust myself to reproduce the typography so here’s a photograph of one of the pages: 

It's shelved under YA I'm sure but I loved it and I have grandchildren of Joe and Imogen's age  And yes, I confess....there were tears along the way. 


Thursday, 15 October 2020

Word of Mouse by Chris Grabenstein, James Patterson, Illustrated by Joe Sutphin, reviewed by Chitra Soundar

I normally don’t review books by super-star author or celebrities. They already get enough reviews, publicity and media attention. But after I read this book Word of Mouse, I had to shout about it.

If you have read The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo or Stuart Little by E.B.White, then you’ll love Word of Mouse. 

This is a book full of personality, cheeky proverbs, daredevil adventures and the story of love, friendship and families. Right from the get-go I was enthralled by both the plot and how it unfolds and the emotional rollercoaster it sets the reader on.

Although the ending is inevitable and we know the main character is going to win, the authors don’t let the reader sit back and relax. Full of funny references, underlying sub-plots of children who need to cope with school, mice that are different and unique, this story is not just for children.

The illustrations are absolutely perfect and add to the comedy and the drama in the story. Here is a link to some wonderful illustrations from the book at the illustrator's website. 

I’m guessing James Patterson has enough clout to make this into a movie, surely from Pixar. But until then, I will read and re-read this book as many times my library will let me borrow it.

Here is a list of books with Mouse as the protagonist.

Chitra Soundar is an internationally published, award-winning author of over 40 books for children. She is also an oral storyteller and writer of theatre and TV for children. Her stories are inspired by folktales from India, Hindu mythology and her travels around the world. Find out more at Follow her on Twitter @csoundar


Saturday, 10 October 2020

The Colour Monster by Anna Llenas; review by Lynda Waterhouse


Selecting a book to review always gives me a good excuse to visit bookshops and browse. I like to go into a bookshop with no clear choice in mind and see what attracts my interest and attention. Browsing picture books is harder because of their shape and size and the issues of displaying. Also during these Covid times when one is advised to only pick up something that you want to buy, it makes book buying for someone like me, who likes to feel the weight and texture of a book before deciding to buy, more challenging.

The Colour Monster drew my attention because of the large expanse of white and its collage style on the front cover. I was also intrigued to find out what a Colour Monster was.

The story is told by a girl who is talking to her friend, the Colour Monster. The Colour Monster is all mixed up and very confused and doesn’t know why. His feelings and his colours are all stirred together. His friend suggests separating out the feelings and their associated colours into different jars so they can look at them more closely. They explore the colours and feelings of happiness, sadness, anger, fear and calm.

The girl helps and supports the Colour Monster.

Being afraid can make you feel

Very small and alone. If you’re

Scared, tell me why and we’ll walk

Through the forest together.’

The simplicity of the text alongside the child-like drawings and the collage style is one of the strengths of this story. It is funny and sweet. This story would be incredibly useful to support young children to untangle and label their feelings particularly if they are having difficulties or need additional support. Online there are many resources for parents and teachers to use this book. There is also a board game

The simplicity of the story is a strength but it also raises, like all good picture books so often do, some questions.  There has been criticism of the book: by separating out emotions it is suggesting that it is not ‘normal’ to feel lots of emotions at once whereas we often do experience a tangle of feelings.

Labelling emotions as colours can also be problematical as children (and adults) may have different feelings about what colours represent to them. However organising, labelling and understanding feelings is an important first step and this book provides a great start to a lifelong understanding of our emotions and how they interact with each other.

ISBN 978-1-78370-423-1

Templar books


Friday, 25 September 2020

ASHA AND THE SPIRIT BIRD by Jasbinder Bilan. Reviewed by Sharon Tregenza


Asha's father must work in the city to provide for his family but they haven't heard from him in a while. When the money runs out and the wicked moneylender threatens her mother, Asha decides she must go in search of him. 
    With the help of her friend, Jeevan, and the protective presence of a beautiful bird (who Asha believes is the spirit of her dead grandmother) the adventure begins. 
    Set in India, this is a rich tapestry of a book. Strong characters and an exceptional sense of place is deftly interlaced with fantasy to create an exciting immersive story.  
    With its themes of family and friendship and enchanting descriptions its a superb read. And just look at that cover. Stunning. Asha and the Spirit Bird is the deserving winner of several awards.
Highly recommended for ages 9-12. 

  • Paperback : 288 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1911490192
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1911490197
  • Publisher : Chicken House (7 Feb. 2019) 
  • Reading level : 9 - 12 years


Sunday, 20 September 2020

THE SAGA OF ASLAK SLAVE-BORN by Susan Price. Reviewed by Ann Turnbull

   In this short book, Susan Price has created an engrossing story of loss and adventure. Sixteen-year-old Aslak - born a slave but freed by his father - sets off on a quest to find his sister Astrid. Until their father's death, Astrid and Aslak had lived at home with their father's legitimate children - but when teenage Aslak returns home from his first trading voyage he finds that his father has died and his brothers have sold Astrid into slavery.

  Aslak's journey takes him to Norway and later to Jorvik (Danish York) in England. Aslak is hasty and quick-tempered and often antagonises people, but he has a friend - a shipmate, Thorgeir - who is more diplomatic and who joins him in his search. Later, Aslak is taken under the wing of an elderly woman, whose story reveals much about the lives and beliefs of the people - especially when his bond with her leads to her offering him an unwanted honour.

  The narrative is rich in detail. We learn how people lived, how their houses were constructed, what their clothes and weapons were like. Most importantly, we briefly inhabit the world as they knew it.

  Those who have read any of the Norse sagas will know that they are full of violence and danger but also strict codes of honour and kinship. What Susan Price has done in this short, accessible book is to write Aslak's story in the style of the sagas without any concessions to modern sensibilities. It all rings true.

Detailed historical notes are included at the end of the book.

First published by A&C Black in 1995.

This edition, available as both paperback and e-book, 2015.