Aru Shah and the Song of Death, by Roshani Chokshi – The second book in this foray into Hindu mythology sees Aru blamed for the theft of the love god’s Kamadeva’s bow and arrow, and are tasked with proving their innocence by retrieving the items within ten days. She and Mini are accompanied by another reincarnated Pandava, Brynne Rao, who is also half asura and is rude, tough, and competitive to make up for her insecurity over this; and Brynne’s best friend and Aru’s neighbor Aiden Acharya, who is also connected to the Pandavas in a way that’s revealed near the end of the book. With some reluctant help from the Sage Durvasa, the four of them make a journey through the Otherworld, visiting the Naga Kingdom, the Court of the Heavens, and the Ocean of Milk. They encounter several gods, and have to fight Surpanakha and Takshaka, both of whom have long-standing grudges against the Pandavas. In addition to the mythological themes, I appreciated the characters, the frequent pop culture references, the humor, and the weird metaphysical aspects.
Early Riser, by Jasper Fforde – The author’s first book in some years doesn’t bring us back to any of his previous weirdly themed alternate worlds, but to a new one where winters are so bad that people hibernate in dormitories, fattening themselves up beforehand. Set in Fforde’s home country of Wales, the novel is a first-person narrative by Charlie Worthing, who takes a job with the Winter Consuls, the group who stay awake to maintain order during the winter months. In addition to all the dangers of the winter, including people who are basically zombies and possible mythical monsters, there are a lot of conflicts among the people Charlie meets, and hints of a larger conspiracy involving the manipulation of dreams and, not surprisingly, corporate corruption. Since it’s Fforde, there are a lot of cultural references, some of them basically the same as in our world and others changed considerably to reflect the different culture. Carmen Miranda shows up, Jane Bond is the famous fictional spy (and was once played by a man), the famous Orson Welles frozen food commercial recording session is referenced in a recurring dream, and reruns of Bonanza are used to induce sleep. It’s a little hard to follow because it just tries to do so much at once while still telling a story, and I’ll admit I tended to pay more attention to the details than to the plot. I might have preferred a third Nursery Crime book, but this was an enjoyable read.