Book Review: Lockwood & Co., The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

Yes! It is my first book review in a while!

Image: GoodSearch/Wikipedia

Lucy Carlyle is the newest Agent to join the most ramshackle psychical agency in London. Charged with dealing with the Problem that has plagued an alternative Britain for the past 50 years, she finds herself working with the mysterious Anthony Lockwood and the annoying, rotund George Cubbins to uncover the answer to a decades old murder case and a mysterious screaming staircase in the most haunted house in Britain! Two big cases for an agency that struggles with the most routine of cases…

This book is a fresh take on the urban fantasy genre for children. Whilst still centred on London, the reader is drawn in through the first person narration of Lucy Carlyle to learn about this alternative universe (AU) Britain where ghost hauntings have been increasing for 50 years and children with special Talents (Listening, Sight and Touch) join and train with psychical agencies to vanquish hauntings for people. The novel is split into four parts and does rely on the reader being willing to flip back and forth from the story, to the glossary at the end and back again or having at least a common knowledge base to understand the book. There are two distinct story lines in the book that are satisfactory tied up at the end.

Stroud also seems to be trying to hook readers into the series for the long haul. This book, the first of a series, has some small sub plots that Stroud appears to be setting up ready to be dealt with over the course of a series, particularly revolving around Lockwood and his past. The ending of the book also tries to hook the reader in with a new plot line linking directly to some character develops with Lucy to make sure they read the next book to find out more. This has certainly worked as I have already started looking to getting the next book when I can.

Unfortunately, I am not sure introducing new plot points at the end was a good idea. I will grant Stroud is an established author (he has already found success with the Bartimaeus series) so can probably get away with breaking the rule that says don’t introduce new plots or characters towards the end of the story but I feel that in this instance, it was completely unnecessary and would probably have been better placed nearer the start when set up with Lockwood started.

I have previous mentioned that the book requires a reader willing to either be flipping back and forth between the story and the glossary or have a common knowledge base on ghost hunting and this is something else I have a problem with. It is very hard to initially get into the book because the reader is constantly having to break the suspension of disbelief to look up terms. This could lead to readers potentially abandoning the book before getting to part two of the book where background information, about Lucy, the AU Britain and many other things are explained. This makes the story very badly organised in my view and possibly broken back. The first part is probably Stroud’s attempt to draw the reader in right from the start but I don’t believe it has worked as well as maybe he wanted.

This makes my concerns about having another series of Urban Fantasy books set in London rather redundant.

The Screaming Staircase is a wonderful start to a new series and is very different from other books on the market for both children’s and adults. It draws on the traditions of the genre whilst adding a new twist and encouraging readers to keep reading. I have no doubt that Stroud will continue to deliver interesting novels, develop the characters as they get older and, hopefully, will develop the world it is set in. A series to watch I think.

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CSI:NY and NaNoWriMo and Ramblings…

Okay, so sorry for not posting in a while. I know I have only been reblogging stuff but I have been busy, yet not busy, if that makes any sense. As indicated by the title, I will be just rambling a bit in this and I apologise wholeheartedly. So if you don’t want to read my rambling, you are more than welcome not to read any further.

In the last few weeks, I have been working hard and preparing for graduation (which was last Friday), including doing my physiotherapy to get my knee into a position that I could go and now I am sort of trying to figure out what to do with myself, since job hunting is proving difficult (I haven’t really seen this “improvement in the jobs market” that the papers and news seem to keep mentioning) and I am still recovering from my knee dislocation. It sort of diminishes what I can really apply for whilst my knee is still a bit unsteady, I can only stand for so long, only move so fast and use stairs in a certain way. Not exactly a good place to be in when many of the local jobs at the moment are shop assistant types of ones where there is a lot of standing around to be done, at the very least. As well as that, I am dog-sitting my mum’s pup through the day when she is at work (including some dog training) and that seems to be taking up a lot of my time despite the dog being content enough to run around and play by herself.

I am also preparing to taking part in NaNoWriMo as some of you folks will know. Well, I say preparing, I should say I am still unsure what exactly is going to happen in my story and how it ends. I am just, unclear, what to do with it, which is not a good thing. I do know what I want to say and what themes and issues I want to raise with it but as for real planning, detailed planning, I have a mage character, her familiar and a possible friend for the character. The friend only announced himself today so I am still trying to figure out who he is exactly. Other than that, it is very unclear and murky if you will. I am also trying to work on the Autumn Writing Challenge and use it to help me plan a bit but that isn’t going too well either. This is not looking good for NaNo is it?

Just to clarify, the reblogs I have posted to try to keep the blog alive are ones I hop are inspiring and helpful to folks and are keeping with what I want to do with this blog! There’s another element to my planning that I probably could be getting on with and could help with the actual story planning: world building. Despite taking place in this world, the story is set on an island populated almost entirely by mages and their familiars. I could easily be working on the society and the politics of the island as they are probably going to be VERY important to my novel and the story, how the schools and educational system are set up and ran since the MC, main character, is going back initially to teach in the island’s schools and I also need to explain a thing or two about her education, how they dress, how the magic works and there are probably a load of other things I also need to consider!

I don’t even know what the island is going to even be called!

I know for definite some of the island’s traditions and it’s society is going to be based, even just loosely on 1900 to 1960’s Britain with many of the trappings of modern life. Possibly why I have been reading the Jennifer Worth book, In The Midst of Life, and re-watching the Call the Midwife series. I also vaguely know that the last episodes of CSI: New York are probably going to influence how the story develops and pans out

Mac Taylor

Gary Sinese as Mac Taylor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night saw the end of an era with CSI: New York finishing its last ever season here in the UK and I am not embarrassed to say it caused me to cry a lot (with the dog giving it some, what the heck!) and that it brings a lump to my throat now just thinking about it. Gary Sinese will always be Det. Mac Taylor in my eyes. Just thinking about how we will never see how Lindsay and Danny’s kids will grow up, how Flack’s relationship goes or even Mac’s wedding. Then there is also Sid’s illness! Oh that had me blubbing as well! Some spoilers ahead. I will try to keep them as minimal as possible but don’t say you haven’t been warned! It was certainly intense and made me think of the London Riots and how they were sparked. There did seem to be some parallels and made me wonder if the scriptwriter had actually based, at least partly, the story on the Riots here in the UK. I know that the riots and the episode last night could actually feed into the story for NaNo and how it ends possibly. Or at least play a part in the climax of the story.

This last season of CSI: New York has been intense, funny, enjoyable and very, very emotional all in just a few episodes. These emotions were heightened further by the fact that we all knew that these episodes would be the very last!

I still hold out hope though that we will see all three CSI teams (with living characters) return to our screens in one big, explosive episode or even movie. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see Mac, Horatio and Grissom all together interacting? That would be amazing in my opinion!

To ease some of my boredom and maybe even help with planning, I am hoping to try out a new recipe this week. Now, you guys might not know that I really enjoy baking and the washing up afterwards bizarrely.  I actually find it oddly peaceful and because I don’t actually have to think too much about what I am dong, it gives me time to think about life and has sometimes helped me get through writer’s block. So who knows? It might help with NaNo. Anyway, I am hoping to make a chocolate mousse and theme it around Halloween. (I really enjoy Halloween and not just for the cheap chocolate on November 1st!) It’s a recipe I have seen in a magazine for one of the big supermarkets and I am hoping to give it a try soon. At the very least, it will help me figure out how I can do my normal baking with a pup around my feet. Who knows? It might give me the confidence to try a couple of other new recipes! But yeah, this is what is going on in my life at the moment. Just sort of figuring out what to do with myself.