Series I love

Series I Love: Tales of the City

Hello, welcome to another Friday and the latest in my new batch of Series I Love posts. Today I’m talking about Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City Series, which I think it pretty perfect reading for the moment – as it’s episodic and starts back in the 1970s.

Tales of the City series on a bookshelf

So this is an iconic series, that started as a newspaper serial, about the lives (and loves) of a group of housemates in San Francisco. Starting in 1976, we meet Mary-Ann Singleton, who has just moved to the city from Cleveland and starts to discover a whole new world. She moves into a boarding house run by the eccentric Anna Madrigal (she names the marijuana plants she grows in the garden) and soon her life is tangled up with the other residents of the building – Michael Tolliver, known as Mouse; Mona, hippy and bi-sexual; Brian, a horny lothario and Norman, the mysterious tenant of the shack on the roof.  It’s fun, it’s incredibly readible – and it’s soapy in the best way aka increasingly ridiculous and far-fetched but you go with it anyway. Across the series (nine books, I still need to buy a copy of The Days of Anna Madrigal, although I have read it!) you’ll laugh and you’ll cry as you cover 40 years in their lives. There are real life people (and events) who feature across the series, with varying levels of disguise.

I love these books so much, and their episodic nature (well except for Michael Tolliver Lives) means they are great for when you’re having trouble concentrating on a book – the bitesized nature means you can pick it up and down, but their newspaper origins means there are constant cliffhangers and teases to keep your interest. Tales of the City has a lot of heavy lifting to do to set everything up, although it’s done so well you don’t really realise it until you read More Tales of the City and see the difference! When I first read them I tore through the first seven books in four months – slowed down only by a Lent book-buying ban which meant I couldn’t buy book 3 for a month! The early books are also a great portrait of 1970s San Francisco – and the LGTB culture in the city before the Aids epidemic hit, and then the impact of Aids on the community. Because they were published in a newspaper soon after being written, current events feature and they’re also a great cultural history document to show how things were seen and what people wer doing at the time. I know I missed a lot of the references first time around, but as my knowledge of LGTBQIA+ history has grown, I’ve spotted more things. Revisiting them to write this book after reading Legendary Children I spotted even more!

So if you’re looking for some escapist reading, this might be the thing for you. Plus you get to You should be able to order the Tales of the City easily from your book vendor of choice – most bookshops I have been into carry them. And as a bonus for the ereaders, the first book is £2.99 on Kindle and Kobo at time of writing. And if you like them, the  books have also been turned into two TV series so you can do a compare and contrast. The first was in the early 1990s for Channel 4 in the UK- which is available for free on All 4 and then in 2019 Netflix did a mini-series with a modern update. Both series feature Laura Linney as Mary-Ann and Olympia Dukakis as Anna. I’ve watched most of the first series, and some of the second. I keep meaning to go back and watch more, and writing this post has given me another nudge, but I’ve got a lot of Drag Race stacked up on the box at the moment and Him Indoors is getting annoyed at the space it’s taking up so I should really watch that first…

And if you haven’t read them already, you can catch up with recent posts in this series on Peter Grant, the Parasolverse, Thursday Next and the Cazalets, as well as older ones on Peter Wimsey, Albert Campion, Roderick Alleyn or view the whole archive here.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: First in Line

I didn’t read many books last week, but I did read a lot of pages of various non-fiction books and this was my favourite of them.

Cover of First in Line

First in Line is Kate Andersen Brower’s book about the American vice presidents of the modern era. Part group biography, part examination of the shifting nature of the role, it also takes a look at the early days of the Trump White House and the role of Mike Pence in the administration.  Looking at 13 vice-presidents as well as the responsibilities of the job and how a presidential running mate is selected, Brower has spoken to all six of the living vice presidents – and the insight this gives the book is great. Brower’s writing style is breezy and accessible and the book is peppered with anecdotes and personal stories.

The first six chapters cover the broad strokes of the role – the vetting process, where the VP lives, what the VP does and the basics of the various different types of relationships that there can be between the President and his second in command. The final seven chapters then take a more in depth look at the different partnerships in the second half of the twentieth century – from Eisenhower and Nixon onwards. I don’t think you need much background knowledge going into this – if you know the vague outlines of what happened in America post World War 2 you should be fine.

I found this fascinating. I knew the vague outlines of the process by which the vice president is selected and what the role of the job is, but I hadn’t really realised that the VP’s official residence was such a recent development – or how widely the relationships between the Commander in Chief and his deputy had varied. All the relationships are interesting, but I found the contrast between Nixon and Bush really fascinating – both were Republican vice presidents who became presidents but they had very different experiences.

 

Brower is somewhat of a specialist in writing about the occupants of the White House – her first book (which I haven’t read yet), The Residence, is about the house itself, her second (which I have) was about the modern First Ladies, and her latest book – which came out as an ebook last week and will be out in hardback next month – is called The Team of Five: The Presidents Club in the age of Trump, and looks at what it is like to be one of the living former presidents at the moment. She’s spoken to President Trump as part of the process – she’s written a teaser article in the current edition of Vanity Fair – if you want a taste you can read it here.

And finally – you know how sometimes you read a bit in a book and it really resonates with your experience? Well at the bottom of page 288, Brower says:

Unlike [Dick] Cheney, who had no interest in the presidency, when he was vice president, when Pence goes to the Hill to “touch gloves’ as he says, on a weekly basis, he insists on walking through the Capitol Rotunda so that tourists can get their photos taken with him.

And here is my photo of Mike Pence doing exactly that on the day that I toured the Capitol right at the end of my posting in Washington a couple of years ago.
Vice President Mike PenceIf you want to read First in Line it’s available as an ebook on Kindle or Kobo as well as in hardback. I suspect you might have to order it in though rather than find it in stock when you call your local indie. I’d also recommend First Ladies and having read both (albeit some time apart) I don’t think there was a lot of repetition.

 

Happy Reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: May 18 – May 24

So lots of nonfiction reading this week, but also lots of problems with concentrating. And it’s been super busy – including my turn to work the weekend. So a short list. But I’m hoping for some quality bank holiday Monday reading time in the hammock.

Read:

Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac

The Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt

First in Line by Kate Andersen Brower

Terns of Endearment by Donna Andrews

Started:

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

Owl be Home for Christmas by Donna Andrews

A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear

Still reading:

She-Merchants, Buchaneers and Gentlewomen by Katie Hickman

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

Set My Heart to Five by Simon Stevenson*

The Cactus by Sarah Haywood*

Still not counting.

Bonus photo: unexpected peonies in my garden! We haven’t been here quite a year yet, so this is the first time we’ve seen them. And yes. I know there are weeds in the pavers. It’s on the list…

Three pink peony flowers on a plant in a garden

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley.

Series I love

Series I love: Parasolverse

Another one sparked by writing the Escapist reading post, except that this isn’t really a single series but a book universe, spread across three series. I’ve written about various bits of the series a few times but as I finished the last book in the Custard Protocol series the other week, now seems like as good a time as any to do a proper post about the whole world. I should say that this post has been quite tricky to write without giving out some fairly major spoilers for all of the series, so if my plot descriptions seem a little less than fulsome, that would be why.

Anyway, the Parasolverse is a steam-punk and supernatural alternative Victorian-era world across three main series and three novella strands. In chronological order the series are Finishing School , Parasol Protectorate and Custard Protocol, but in publication order the Parasol Protectorate books came first. If you look at the chronology on Gail Carriger’s website, she suggests reading them in chronological order, but says her fans suggest reading in the order that they were written. I read them in basically the order that they were written with a minor blip and for reasons that I will explain later, I am inclined to endorse the latter approach – especially if you are not normally someone who reads Young Adult or school story series.

Finishing School

The four books of the Finishing School series cover the school career of Sophronia Temminnick in the 1850s. It’s a Young Adult series – which the other parts of the universe are… not. At the start of the first book, Etiquette and Espionage, she is the bane of her mother’s existence and is sent off to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality to learn how to be a proper lady. Except that she isn’t there long before she realises that the school isn’t so much about manners and polite society as it is about spying and other slightly deadlier pursuits. Over the course of the series Sophronia learns all the skills to embark on a life of espionage and gets tangled up with vampires, werewolves and Evil Geniuses. The Finishing school world has mechanicals and all sorts of clockwork devices that aren’t present in the Parasol Protectorate and part of the fun of the series to me when I first read them was trying to work out what on earth was going to happen to turn a world that had clockwork butlers on tracks into one that very definitely didn’t. Sophronia is the main character, but there are other characters here who you will encounter in the rest of the series or in their own novellas. I read the first two books in this series via NetGalley around the time the third one came out and liked them so much I went off and bought myself Soulless and my obsession took off from there. My review of Ettiquette and Espionage says that it took me a little while to get into because it dumps you straight into the steampunk world without a lot of explanation, and that’s the reason why I suggest that readers start with the Parasol Protectorate series first – unless they are young adults. And I think they do need to be Young Adults for this, because if they are anything like I was when I was little they’ll want to go on and read the other books set in the universe, which are somewhat more adult than a Middle Grade Reader would cope with – even if they’ve made it to the end of the Harry Potter series.

Parasol Protectorate

Starting with Soulless, the Parasol Protectorate are the adventures of Alexia Tarabotti, the titular Soulless preternatural. For in the world of Vampires and Werewolves – who have an excess of soul which allows them to become immortal – there are also people who have no soul, and whose touch can render the supernatural set mortal again. Alexia is a rare female preternatural. These are set in the 1870s in a world that is recognisable but different from the world of Finishing School. In Soulless Alexia sets out to investigate a number of deaths among the supernatural set, much to the disgust of Conall, Lord Maccon, the werewolf sent to investigate by Queen Victoria. The subsequent books see Alexia dealing with werewolf pack dynamics, the homicidal attentions of London’s vampires, the Knights Templar and the very peculiar situation in Egypt. Alexia is a feisty, forthright heroine who says what she thinks and often leaves a trail of destruction in her wake – in the nicest possible way of course.  I think this is the best starting place for the series as it is the clearest introduction into how the Parasolverse works, probably because it was written first so all the world-building is there. I love Alexia and Conalln so much, and as I mentioned in my review of Imprudence, I delayed reading that book because I was so worried about what the blurb of that book meant for them. And you definitely need to read this before you read The Custard Protocol otherwise you’ll be missing out on so very many references.

The Custard Protocol

Set in the 1890s, the Custard Protocol is the adventures of the crew of the Spotted Custard, an airship captained by Prudence Akeldama – known as Rue. I don’t think it’s too much to say that she’s the daughter of Alexia and Conall, because it’s right there in the blurb for it, but even that is a little bit of a spoiler for the previous series. But over the four books, Rue and her motley crew traverse the world trying to fix the British Empire. The Custard Protocol is examining the evolution of the supernatural throughout the Parasolverse, picking up on some hints and suggestions spotted in Timeless at the end of the Parasol Protectorate. And if you’ve read the rest of the series, there are call backs to the other books everywhere. Various members of the crew are linked to characters from both the other series, and by the time you reach the end of the final book, Reticence, the callbacks and references will make your head spin. If the events of Imprudence had me sniffling, Reticence had me in happy tears a few times as everything unravelled. And having finished the series – and it does feel quite final even if Gail Carriger has said she’s not done with the world, I want to go back and read all three series in order again so that I can enjoy the cleverness and interconnectedness of it all all over again.

The Novella series 

There are three of them (so far – Supernatural Society, Delightfully Deadly and Claw and Courtship – and this is where Carriger has continued to add to the world. Since the publication of Reticence, there has been another novella added to the collection, and I’m hoping it won’t be the last one, as Carriger has mentioned plans for another in her newsletter. The novellas tell the stories of some of the secondary characters that you want to know what happens to them next, but whose stories don’t fit into the main novels. So far they have covered several of Sophronia’s school friends (Delightfully Deadly), members of the werewolf pack (Claw and Courtship) and popular queer characters from across the series (Supernatural Society). I’ve enjoyed them all – because I love the world and always want to know what happened next or how my favourites got their happily ever afters – but they are not the place to start the series – they are not the way into the world, they’re an extension of it for people who already know and love it.

If you want to read some of my other posts about the Parasolverse, there are Book of the Week posts for Timeless, Prudence, Imprudence and Manners and Mutiny, as well as mentions for the series in 2014 Discoveries, YA Roundup and 2015 favourites as well. In terms of getting your hands on them, they’re all available on ebook and my library’s e collection holds all of the Parasol Protectorate, three of the Custard Protocol and a couple of the novellas as ebooks and more of them as audiobooks. I don’t know what joy you’ll have getting the novels from bookshops, and they’re all shut at the moment anyway so the best I can do is say that Foyles has pretty much all of them available to order. There are Manga editions of the first three Parasol Books (which are very pretty) but they seem harder to get. And the audiobooks are available from audible – some of them exclusively there. And as I own a fair few of them too I can vouch for them being good as audiobooks too, even if the first one does have a mispronunciation that really grates…

Anyway, Happy Reading!

As a bonus, here is the complete Carriger shelf – you may have noticed not all of them match *exactly* and it drives me mad. One day I will sort it. If it is sortable. Ditto the differences in the covers of the Finishing school books in the collage – my ebook set was already a mix of proofs and UK versions, but the UK version of the first one has her head cut off and it looked weirder to be missing a head than to have the bottoms not right! Anyway, it seemed in keeping because look at this:

Book of the Week, LGTBQIA+, new releases

Book of the Week: Slippery Creatures

I said yesterday that I had a harder week concentrating last week so retreated to favourite authors, and this came out last week so it was perfectly timed. It’s the first part of a trilogy, and I can’t for the life of me find a pre-order link for part two and it is driving me mad. Anyway, to the book.

Cover of Slippery Creatures

Will Darling made it through the Great War. After signing up at the start, he made it back to Britain with a lot of medals and a lot more mental scarring. But it turned out that the country he’d been fighting for didn’t really have much use for him. Sometime just before getting rock bottom he writes to a great uncle he’s never met and gets invited to help out at his book shop. But when the great uncle dies he finds himself caught between the War Office and some very unsavoury characters who want a secret he doesn’t possess. Enter Kim Secretan, attractive and helpful but with a murky past. And maybe present. But Will is trapped in a game of cat and mouse over a deadly secret – and Kim might be the only person who can save him.

The blurb says that this is a m/m romance in the spirit of Golden Age pulp fiction and I think that’s pretty spot on. It reminded me of some of the thrillers I’ve read by authors like Molly Thynne and some of the more adventure-y Albert Campion stories. A warning for the romance readers thought: this is very much part one of the story – and everything is not tied up at the end. If you only want Happily Ever Afters, maybe wait until the whole series is out and then you can read right the way through to the end without having to wait. I could just about handle not having proper resolution because the story and the characters were so much fun. I’ve read about half a dozen of KJ Charles books before, but they were all Victorian set. I raced through it and if it has been possible I would have gone straight on to the next part. But it isn’t so I’m having to wait. I happen to like a 1920s setting more than a Victorian one, and I love an adventure story, so this ticked all my boxes really – and I love that authors are moving into this period a bit more. If you read and liked Hither, Page last year, then this would scratch that itch while you wait for another instalment there. Although obviously: more waiting!

Anyway, I bought my copy of Slippery Creatures on pre-order and it’s out now on Kindle and Kobo and in paperback via Amazon (in what looks possibly like print on demand because I can’t find it via Waterstones or Foyles).

Happy Reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: May 11 – May 17

Another week where I found it really hard to concentrate on a book – although you may not thing that’s the case from the list! Mostly new (to me) books from old favourite authors this week, becaause that’s all my brain could cope with, although I am making progress on She-Merchants… but it requires proper concentration!

Read:

Yellow Thread Street by William Marshall

A Dangerous Relation by Deanna Raybourn

Slippery Creatures by K J Charles

A Merry Little Murder by Beth Byers

Christmas on 4th Street by Susan Mallery

Yours for Christmas by Susan Mallery

Writers as Readers by Various

Started:

Set My Heart to Five by Simon Stevenson*

The Cactus by Sarah Haywood*

Still reading:

She-Merchants, Buchaneers and Gentlewomen by Katie Hickman

The Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt

First in Line by Kate Andersen Brower

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

Still not counting books incoming, although I think the number was slightly down last week. Maybe.

Bonus photo: current bedside table status…. basically it’s books and things to help my hands not look drier than a desert!

Bedside table from above, featuring hand cream, a copy of the Eyre Affair and a pile of books

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley.

Series I love

Series I Love: Thursday Next

As I mentioned in the Escapist reading post, coming up with a list of books for that made me realise how many series I love but haven’t yet written about. So I’m taking the opportunity to change, starting last week with the Rivers of London series, and now, continuing the fantasy and alternative reality theme, the Thursday Next series, which I’ve loved since well before this blog started and have unaccountably not written about before. Well may be not unaccountably – I think I was probably waiting for the next one to appear, but it’s been a long wait.

So Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next is really quite hard to describe. It is alternative history meets fantasy meets books about books. The Eyre Affair starts in 1985, where the Crimean War never ended (and Thursday is a veteran), time travel exists (and her dad is in the time travel police), cloning is a reality (and her pet is a dodo called Pickwick) and literature is taken very seriously. So seriously in fact that Thursday is a literary detective for the government. She says it’s mostly copyright and fraud, but then she’s called in to investigate when characters start going missing from books. As in one day people open the books and a character – and their plot strand – who used to be there is gone, from every copy. Soon she’s been seconded to a special unit where she’s chasing down the world’s most wanted criminal, who is holding Jayne Eyre hostage. I told you it was hard to explain. Here’s the blurb from the back of my edition, in case that helps at all:

There is another 1985, where London’s criminal gangs have moved into the lucrative literary market, and Thursday Next is on the trail of the new crime wave’s MR Big.

Acheron Hades has been kidnapping certain characters from works of fiction and holding them to ransom. Jane Eyre is gone. Missing.

Thursday sets out to find a way into the book to repair the damage. But solving crimes against literature isn’t easy when you also have to find time to halt the Crimean War, persuade the man you love to marry you, and figure out who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays.

Perhaps today just isn’t going to be Thursday’s day. Join her on a truly breathtaking adventure, and find out for yourself. Fiction will never be the same again …

Did that help? I hope it did. Anyway, I’m forever recommending this to people who love books – because there is so much love for literature in here. I mean what’s not to love about a world where the three most visited tourist attractions are Anne Hathaway’s cottage, the Bronte’s Parsonage and Dickens’ house? And even if you don’t usually read fantasy, if you like books (and books about books) then you should still give this a go. And if you do read fantasy, and like people like Terry Pratchett and Connie Willis, then you should read this (in fact, why haven’t you already?) It’s funny and clever and so well realised that the weird alternative world feels real within a couple of pages. Also they have the best puntastic titles in the business. There are seven books in the series – and we’ve been waiting for an eighth for some considerable time now – as in eight years. Maybe this year is the year? But anyway, if you like the first book there is plenty to keep you going. And as well as the Thursday books there are two books in the related (but in a sideways manner that may only make sense if you’ve read the Thursday books) Nursery Crime series (which you can see here too) so once you’ve read all the Thursday books you can go on and read those. If you’ve read Jodi Taylor’s Chronicles of St Mary’s series, you should totally try these too.

I’ve written a bit about Jasper Fforde before – his latest standalone book Early Riser was a BotW pick last year – and all of his adult books share some similar DNA, without being in the same world – so if you like one book or series, it’s worth trying the others. But whatever you do start at the beginning – so that’s The Eyre Affair (Kindle/Kobo) for Thursday – or get the omnibus of the first three for a pound more (Kindle/Kobo), The Big Over Easy for Nursery Crime (Kindle/Kobo) and The Last Dragonslayer for his middle grade series (Kindle/Kobo). I’ve found that most good bookshops will have a couple of Fforde’s in stock, but it does vary which ones.

Happy Reading!