Authors I love, book round-ups, Series I love

Bonus post: Where to start with Terry Pratchett

The long-awaited Amazon/BBC Good Omens adaptation goes live on Amazon Prime today, and I’ve had a couple of conversations with people about where to start with Terry Pratchett. So I thought this was a good time to do a quick bonus post about one of my favourite authors because the answer is not simple. But first, here’s the Good Omens trailer:

 

So obviously, if you enjoy Good Omens, then read that first. There are snazzy tie in editions and a script book and all sorts to coincide with the TV event, you should even be able to pick them up in the supermarket I could have thoughts. But obviously Good Omens is co-written with Neil Gaiman and is in an alternative version of the real world. So where next? Well, that depends what you like to read the rest of the time. And this is one (rare) occasion where I wouldn’t suggest starting at the very beginning. Why? Well unless you’re already a fantasy reader (and if you are why haven’t you read him already?) then these are the furthest away from what you’re used to and they might scare you off. They’re not the most accessible and (imho) they’re not his best. The series improves as Pratchett develops the world and its many characters and leans into the satire of our real world.. Luckily there are series within the series and other ways in.

Cover of The Truth

This is a very non traditional choice, but I actually think The Truth is actually a really good place to start. It’s sort of stand alone but it’s also the first of the Industrial Revolution books and is centred on the invention of the printing press and what happened next. It’s got the later Pratchett social satire, but it also has some of the key features of other series: it’s set in Ankh Morpork, the City Watch appear, the Patrician features and there’s a sprinkling of the supernatural- vampires, werewolves and magic. And if you like it, depending on what your favourite bits are, it’ll give you a clue about where to read next.

Cover of Guards! Guards!

Now, if you like what you see of the Watch in The Truth, then try Guards! Guards! You’re jumping back in time, but it’s the first book in the Watch cycle.  If you like police or crime-y type stories usually, this might also be your best place to start.  There’s a nice new* edition at the moment with an introduction from Ben Aaronovitch – so if you like his Rivers of London series (and lord knows I do) then this is your best jumping in point.  This has a rag tag team of misfits who are the night watch and their reluctant leader Sam Vimes trying to figure out who is trying to take over the city – and stop them.  I love it.  Vimes is a wonderful creation – but then Pratchett is full of wonderful creations. Wikipedia describes him as “somewhere between an  Inspector Morse-type ‘old-school’ British policeman, and a film-noir-esque grizzled, jaded detective” and I think that’s pretty much right.  He doesn’t want to care, he definitely doesn’t want to be The Hero, and yet it just seems to keep happening.  There are eight novels about the Watch – and there’s a TV series that’s been in development since before Sir Terry died, but which seems to be inching closer to being a reality. I’ve got everything crossed that it will materialise eventually.

Cover of Wyrd Sisters

If you like the magic-y type stuff, then go and read Wyrd Sisters.  This was actually my first Discworld book, recommended by a wise librarian when I was at the bottom end of secondary school**.  Wyrd Sisters is twisted Macbeth but with witches running the show.  It’s also the first really big appearance*** of the most beloved characters in the series – as the blurb says witches “don’t have leaders. Granny Weatherwax was the most highly-regarded of the leaders they didn’t have.”  I love Granny and her gang and they’re a great jumping off point for the series in a very different part of the Disc. And once you’ve read them, maybe come back for the wizards.

If you’re still unsure where to go next then try Mort. Mort is a young country lad who ends up apprenticed to Death himself, and it really isn’t what he expected.   Mort was the top rated Pratchett book in the BBC’s Big Read list back in 2003 – coming in at number 65, three places in front of Good Omens and one of five Pratchetts in the top 100 (with 15 in the top 200!).  Mort and Death are an excellent double act, Binky the horse is brilliant and if you like this strand then Soul Music is one of the best take offs of popular music you could hope for.  Death appears in pretty much every book in the series as well as in Good Omens – so Mort is also an excellent place to start if you read Good Omens and want more of him. It’s also the fourth book in the series and is the earliest of alternative starting points.

As well as having read the books, I also own a lot of the audiobooks – the early series are mostly done by Nigel Planer (or Tony Robinson for abridged versions) and the sound quality on audible is described as “vintage” (it’s awful for some of them – I actually returned at least one!) but Stephen Briggs takes over at book 24 and I love his narration  My most listened to are the Moist Von Lipwig books. They’re the next stage of the industrial revolution series that starts with The Truth (or Moving Pictures depending on how you’re reckoning it) and I think Going Postal is my favourite of the entire series, and not just because I was a stamp collector as a child. For me, they’re the culmination of everything that has been going on in the background through the other books with Vetinari’s vision for the city and Pratchett’s satire on modern life. I know some don’t like Raising Steam and get a bit touchy about the latter books in general, but my only really problem with it is that Adora Belle has the wrong accent in the audiobook and that’s Stephen Briggs’s fault not Sir Terry’s.

Usually I would suggest the middle grade part of the series much earlier than this. But although I love Tiffany Aching and the Nac Mac Feegles are brilliant, as an adult, if you’re going to read these you need to have read the Witches’ books first so you get the full impact of The Thing That Happens in the final book in the series, The Shepherd’s Crown.  But once you have read the Witches – or if you have a middle grader – The Wee Free Men is the place to start.  One of the other middle grade books, Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, is on offer at the moment but it’s the only Discworld that I haven’t read so I can’t tell you where to fit it in at the moment – but I’ve bought it and I’m gong to fix that!

Cover of The Colour of Magic

And finally there’s Rincewind. He’s the first running character and he comes with the Luggage (I want a Luggage), but he is in at the very start in the highest fantasy the series has. Go discover him once you’re already in love with the series. It’ll work best for you if you’re not a fantasy regular.  Start with the first book – The Colour of Magic – and go from there.  This was one of the ones that Sky turned into a mini series along with Hogfather and my beloved Going Postal (which has early Clare Foy as Adora Belle!) and is actually worth a look. I liked it as a version of the first two books, and they do make them rattle along.  There are nine Rincewind novels – the longest of the strands through the series.

There’s so much more I’ve barely touched on here, but so I don’t turn into any more of a boring fangirl, I’ll leave it here, except for saying that with 80 million book sales around the world you really should give it a try.   If you’re a Pratchett fan, let me know your favourites in the comments and tell me where your recommended starting point for newbies is.  I’ve put a nice graphic in below – but that doesn’t even reckon The Truth is a starting point, so you can see how many different options and opinions there are.  I’m off to read Maurice and watch Good Omens (not at the same time).

Happy Reading!

graphic of the series

*these new editions have proved… controversial with some of the Pratchett fans – because they don’t look like Pratchetts – but that’s precisely the point.  They don’t look like fantasy because there are a lot of people who don’t read books with the sort of illustrated covers that these have previously had.  Think of it as the equivalent of the adult cover Harry Potter books.

**I can remember Jingo coming out (but i’m not sure if it was the paperback or hardback) and being excited about it, which dates the start of my Pratchett reading to 1997ish.

***She’s in Equal Rites too, but don’t worry.

Book of the Week, historical

Book of the Week: A Dangerous Collaboration

Yes, I know.  This post is a day late.  And yes, I’m sure you’re not surprised by today’s pick.  I mean I’ve got form with Deanna Raybourn, even if this is technically a violation of my first in series rule.  Sorry about the lateness – the bank holiday threw me off schedule and I remembered I’d forgotten to set this live in bed last night.  Oopsy daisy.  Anyway, I got here in the end. Normal service will be resumed next week, I promise.

Cover of A Dangerous Collaboration

A Dangerous Collaboration is the fourth book in the Veronica Speedwell series.  Veronica is a Victorian adventuress with a passion for butterflies and a penchant for solving crimes. She has a on again/off again professional partnership with natural scientist and taxidermist Stoker, the black sheep of a noble family.  The start of this book sees Veronica take to the seas briefly to get away from Stoker after developments (that I’m not going to spoil) at the end of book three. On her return to Britain, Stoker’s older brother Tiberius asks her to pose as his fiancée and accompany him to a house party at a castle on an island off the south coast, dangling the prospect of a rare butterfly to add to her collection as inducement.  But on arrival on the island, it turns out their host, Lord Malcolm Romilly has assembled a group of people with connections to his missing wife, who disappeared on her wedding day.  Can Veronica figure out what’s going on?  What is Tiberius hoping for from his trip with Veronica?  What is Stoker playing at? Can I survive another book with these two if it has the same level of unresolved sexual tension as the last one?

I’ve been looking forward to this since I finished the third book in the series last year and this pretty much lived up to what I was hoping. It does have a bit of a slow start, but it’s a great set up for the later stages of the book.  I don’t want to say too much more or I’ll ruin it for everyone else, but there’s definite significant progress here moving along some of the ongoing plot strands.  And so. much. sexual. tension. Hooo boy.

I said in my post about book three last year that this is a great series if you’re an Amelia Peabody fan, but I’d add to that now Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series if you want another Victorian lady being smart and resourceful in a slightly different way.  My dad has a kindle attached to my account and I know that he’s read and enjoyed this series too – because he’s asked me if there are any more of them in the past!

My copy of A Dangerous Collaboration came from the library – it came out in March, so I only had to wait two months for it on hold – but it’s also available from all the usual places like Book Depository and Amazon, but is a hardback release from the US at the moment so the Kindle and Kobo are priced accordingly (the Kindle £5 cheaper than the Kobo at time of writing but still nearly £10) and I can’t currently see a paperback release date in the UK.  But if you haven’t tried any of Deanna Raybourn’s books yet, the first in her other historical series – featuring Lady Julia Grey – is only 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment and that is definitely well worth it because it has one of my favourite opening lines in a book:

To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor.

And if that doesn’t whet your appetite, I don’t know what will.

Happy Reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: May 20 – May 26

 Another super busy week. Really super, super busy with work and with a bank holiday weekend away on the south coast to see one of my favourite theatre companies do their most acclaimed work to celebrate their twentieth anniversary.

Read:

A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn

A Secret Affair by Mary Balogh

Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear

Swing Vol 1 by Linda Seijic

Trainwreck by Sady Doyle

An Unsuitable Heir by KJ Charles

Secret Weapons #0 by Eric Heisserer

Our Favourite Thing is My Favourite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris

Started:

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr

 An Unconditional Freedom by Alyssa Cole

Hate To Want You by Alisha Rai

Still reading:

A Gentleman’s Honour by Stephanie Laurens

The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey

The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas

Bonus photo: the set for Spymonkey’s Cooped which was my aforementioned bank holiday weekend treat on Saturday. If it’s coming anywhere near you, you should totally go see it.

Set of a country house featuring a lift door and pheasants

 

 

 

 

tribute

Judith Kerr

Another sad week, but another life well lived – maybe even better lived than Doris Day‘s.  Her life story – her flight from Nazi Germany as a child, coming to writing for children when she was at home as a full-time mum, still producing new books right up into her 90s, when she could also be spotted out and about in Barnes – is one that will inspire you as much as her books did when you were a child.

There have been so many lovely stories and the obits all pay testament to a wonderful woman with an amazing gift.  There’s not much I can really add.  Except that I wanted to mark her passing somehow.  I was out for lunch with a friend last week and we went into a bookshop on our walk.  She’s got a new baby so we were looking at the children’s books.  I ended up buying Mog the Forgetful Cat for her, because every child should have a copy of Mog. I should add that I think her little girl (six months old) already had a copy of The Tiger Who Came To Tea.  Which is exactly as it should be and a total testament to the power of Kerr’s books.

Lots of people on Twitter yesterday were quoting from – or posting pictures from – Goodbye Mog, which is probably the saddest picture book I’ve ever read.  I ended up teary eyed in the office and on the train.  Kerr had such a way with words and pictures.  I hope she knew how much her books meant to everyone. All the stories of her at her publisher’s summer parties – in a lovely frock, with a drink in hand – being mobbed by authors who’d read and loved her books as a child make me think that she might have had an inkling.  And I hope that I’m as fun and sprightly as she was at 95.

Here’s just a few of the articles that I read about her yesterday:  The BBC’s obituary, the Independent’s obituary The Guardian had an obituary but also collected some reader recollections.  I’ve also got her Desert Island Discs on my listen list as well as this essay from the TLS Writing with borrowed words still to read.

As I write this The Tiger Who Came To Tea and When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit are best sellers in their categories on Amazon.co.uk.  And Tiger is 99p on Kindle, Pink Rabbit £2.99.  If you haven’t read When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit – her book for older children telling the story of her family’s escape from Nazi Germany – take this chance, you really should.

American imports, Book of the Week, new releases, romance

Book of the Week: The Bride Test

You all knew this was coming.  You knew I’d been looking forward to this.  It was in my anticipated books post, Helen Hoang’s debut, The Kiss Quotient, was a Book of the Week and one of my favourite books of last year.  It is on my bullet journal list of 2019 books I want to read and only came out two weeks ago.  The reading list yesterday was short.  Doris Day died and I’ve been watching romantic comedies and being nostalgic.  This was the perfect book to be reading last week and the perfect BotW pick.

Cover of The Bride Test

So, Khai Diep doesn’t have feelings.  Not like everyone else seems to anyway.  The big feelings that everyone else gets, he doesn’t seem to.  Or at least he doesn’t think he does.  So it wouldn’t be fair on him to have a relationship with anyone – because he can’t give them what they need.  Except that his family knows better – he feels things, it’s just that his autism means he doesn’t process them the same as everyone else does.  So that’s why his mum makes a trip to Vietnam to find a woman for him.  Esme Tran has always felt out of place in Ho Chi Minh City – as a mixed race girl in the slums.  So when she gets the chance to spend a summer in America, she just can’t turn it down.  She could make a better life for her family, she could try and find her father.  But Khai isn’t what she expected.  There’s a language barrier and a culture barrier sure, but there’s something else as well that’s making Khai hold back.  But holding back isn’t a problem for Esme – everything that she’s doing to try and make Khai fall for her is only making her fall for him more.  And Esme’s on a clock – she’s only got a tourist visa and if she doesn’t make Khai want to marry her by the end of the summer, it could all have been for nothing. How will these two get to happily ever after?

I loved this.  Esme is a fantastic heroine – she fierce and determined and resourceful and she’s taking an opportunity to make her life better.  Her story mirrors that of many immigrants from around the world – who are looking for a better future.  You’re willing her on every step of the way.  Khai’s family are the other end of that migration story – they’ve been in America, they’ve arrived, they’ve set down roots and they’ve started the next generation.  And Khai is a fabulous hero – smart, but clueless, generous and caring but in ways that people don’t always recognise.  They make a great couple and it’s a real treat watching them work out their relationship.

There’s a lovely afterword from Helen Hoang talking about how her mother’s life inspired and informed elements of Esme’s life, and it shows.  What also shows is the care and attention Hoang has taken with Khai.  Like Stella in The Kiss Quotient, Khai is in the autistic spectrum, but the two of them are very different and that is absolutely as it should be.  Austism comes in many forms and we need more representation of neurodiverse characters in books.  I’ve been lucky enough to read a lot of books who feature heroes and heroines who I can see myself in – and everyone in society and the world deserves that for themselves too.  Books have also always been one of the ways that I expand my horizons and my understanding – so having more books (and knowing where to look for them) about people who don’t look like me fills me with joy.

This would make the perfect holiday read – I’m almost sorry I didn’t manage to save it for my next vacation.   The next book in the series just can’t come soon enough – especially as it’s Quan’s story and I’ve been itching to find out more about him.  I know I’ll be pre-ordering it just as soon as it that’s an option.

My copy of The Bride Test was pre-ordered on Kindle, which is good because at my library the hold list for the ebook is currently around 19 weeks. But it’s available now on Kobo (£1.99 at time of writing) and Kindle (only £1.19! total bargain)  or you can pre-order the paperback – which comes out on June 6th – from Amazon, Book Depository or wherever you buy your books.  I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Happy Reading!

Bonus photo:  The aforementioned upcoming books master list in my journal.

Double page journal spread with a bookshelf on one side and a list of books on the other

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: May 13 – May 19

So, yes.  It’s been one of those weeks.  I’ve been super busy and Doris Day died so I’ve been rewatching her films rather than reading.  Oh and it was the Eurovision Song Contest which is one of my favourite weeks of the year.  What can I say.  The reading

Read:

Thanks Obama by David Litt

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

The Condor Crags Adventure by Elinor M Brent Dyer

Archie Vol 1 by Mark Waid

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

Started:

A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn

The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas

Still reading:

Trainwreck by Sady Doyle

A Gentleman’s Honour by Stephanie Laurens

The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey

One book bought – but it’s the new Vinyl Detective novel, so sorry, not sorry.  And thank you Foyles for hanging on to a copy for me after I asked you on Twitter!  I picked it up on my way to the Phoenix Arts Club for their Eurovision party after work on Saturday night.

Bonus picture: My frozen Margarita at the aforementioned Phoenix Eurovision party on Saturday night!

Frozen Margarita with a projector showing Eurovision in the background in a club

 

 

 

 

tribute

Not a Book: Doris Day

You may not know this about me, but my all time favourite five films are probably Pillow Talk, Some Like It Hot, The Philadelphia Story, Mary Poppins and The Parent Trap (the Haley Mills one).  And once you get over the fact that all my favourite films are more than 50 years old, you’ve probably figured out that the death of Doris Day left me feeling quite sad this week.  Actually, my favourite films also shadow my reading tastes in many ways, so maybe you’re not so surprised after all.

In case you’ve never seen it, Pillow Talk is the story of an interior decorator who’s feuding with the playboy she shares a party line with.  He finds out what she looks like, decides he likes the look of her and adopts a fake persona to try and get in her pants.  Of course he falls in love but she’s less pleased when she finds out who he really is.  Yes, by modern standards, there are a few issues – how well does she actually know him when they get their happily ever after considering he’s been playing her – but if we were to turn it into romance tropes, it’s an enemies to lovers, reformed rake, love triangle, sassy confident heroine thing.  And whoo boy is that a whole lot of some of my favourite tropes.  Here’s the trailer – which is very, very retro…

Pillow Talk got Doris her only Oscar nomination, but she was the top female box office start of the late fifties and early sixties and she deserved more.   I’ve seen pretty much the whole of the Doris Day film canon – I had a Lovefilm rental subscription in my final year of uni and used it wisely – and as the best of the obituaries have been trying to point out, she was more than “just” Hollywood’s favourite girl next door.  Everyone has heard of Calamity Jane – and she is brilliant in it – but she’s also fabulous in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much.

 

Yes she got stuck in a type – the second Rock Hudson sex comedy, Lover Come Back, isn’t as good as Pillow Talk – and is even more dubious by modern standards as he gets her knocked up while in a false persona – but it’s still got a few laughs and hey, it was daring for the time and got an Oscar Best Screenplay nod (Pillow Talk won that Oscar).  And it’s the law of diminishing returns because Send Me No Flowers – the third and final Rock n Doris – isn’t as good as Lover Come Back, although are some nice farcical moments there.

Move Over Darling has it’s moments – with Doris playing a wife back from the dead after a plane crash and trying to win her husband James Garner back from his new fiancee.  I prefer it to her first film with Garner, The Thrill of It All, but that has its moments too, as well as highlighting the repetitive formula of Hollywood at the time – got a success?  Repeat it with the same actors and a slightly different premise.  On the musicals from, as well as Calamity Jane, Doris gets to be fabulous in the Pajama Game, but all the prints I’ve seen of it have been terrible, so I’m giving you the Calamity Jane trailer instead.

 

 

Calamity Jane was my first introduction to Doris back when I was really young, but as a teen in the late 1990s, early 2000s, I loved romantic comedies.  And when I first saw Pillow Talk, back in those teenage years, it was my introduction to the films of the past that had got us to the modern films that I loved.  It started me down the rabbit hole that lead me to Katherine Hepburn’s screwball comedies and all the rest.  There’s been a bit of a dearth of romantic comedies of that type in the last few years, so imagine how much I was cheered up at the end of the week when this trailer for Netflix’s Always Be My Maybe dropped.  And I’ll leave you on that optimistic note.