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.

Authors I love, Recommendsday, romance

Recomendsday: Diverse romance edition

So, it has been A Week in Romancelandia.  The shortlist for RITA Golden Heart awards came out and it was incredibly white for the umpteenth time in a row and everyone (me included) is angry about it.  And as discussion about it raged on Twitter, it turned out that a whole load of black authors have just given up entering their work (you have to enter it yourself and pay a fee to be considered) because no black author has ever won one. Never. Not one.  And only seven of 20 categories have had a winner who isn’t white in 20 years. Twenty. Years.  I’m not a romance writer (I’m a reader) and I’m not American – so I can’t do anything to actually fix the RITAs.  But I can do my bit in book recommendations, because bitching about it on Twitter doesn’t solve anything.

Cover of Mrs Martins Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan

Yesterday’s book of the week was Alyssa Cole’s latest novella, Can’t Escape Love, and as mentioned there, her next novel is out in April. Also on my reading list last week was Courtney Milan’s new novella, Mrs Martin’s Incomparable Adventure, which came out yesterday, but which I got an advance copy of and is really excellent (two older ladies find love as they persecute a Terrible Nephew). But if you’ve been hanging round romance for any length of time you should already know about them because they’re giants of the genre at this point. So who else?

Well if you’re in the market for more modern royals novels after Alyssa Cole whetted your appetite, then Talia Hibbert’s The Princess Trap might be just what you are looking for.  It was a BotW here last year, and she is pro-lif-ic – with small town contemporaries and paranormal among her series and a lot of choice of tropes.  She also has terrific book covers.  Here’s her website with a list of titles and blurbs so you can find your catnip.  And if you sign up to her mailing list, you get freebies to read too.

Jasmine Guillory reading from The Proposal

Jasmine Guillory was one of the names that people were expecting to see on the RITA list – I know I was because 2018 was a massive year for her.  I really enjoyed her debut, The Wedding Date, and the second in the series, The Proposal, and saw her do a reading from the latter while I was in Washington.  The Wedding Date (fake relationship turns real) is £1.99 on Kindle/Kobo at the moment and The Proposal (a Reese Witherspoon book club pick) is £2.99 on Kindle/Kobo.  Her third book – The Wedding Party – is £1.99 to preorder** on Kindle and Kobo as I write this and is out in July.

If you want a sports romance, I’ve just finished I’ll Catch You (Kindle/Kobo) by Farah Rochon, which has a female sports agent falling head over heels for her first client – a running back with a bad boy image who may not be quite what he seems. It’s a category romance and was over far too quickly for me – I could easily have spent another hundred pages with Payton and Cedric.  It’s the second book in the series (which have had a smart-looking repacking since the edition my library holds) and the first, Huddle With Me Tonight, is £1.56 on Kindle at the moment and just slightly more on Kobo.  I haven’t read it (yet!) but one of her medical romances, Deliver Me, is free at the moment on Kindle and Kobo.

Want a historical romance?  Well Beverley Jenkins is the biggest name in the field – she is a legend of the genre and her historicals come up in every discussion about historical romances featuring non-white characters.  I have a whole load of her books on hold with my library, but if yours doesn’t carry them (the UK not being great for American romances in paperback) then Forbidden is 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment and Breathless and several others are £1.99.  She also writes contemporary romances – her Blessings series is super highly rated – Bring on the Blessings is the first one (Kindle/Kobo) but they’re a bit more expensive.

Away from Ms Bev, Vanessa Riley’s Advertisements for Love series features smart non-white characters in Britain looking for their happily ever afters.  I’ve read the first two – and loved the characters but they weren’t neccesarily my favourite tropes and were a little melodramatic for me .  But I liked them both enough that I have book three waiting on the Kindle because it looks like it is one of my tropes!  The first one is The Bittersweet Bride (£2.84 on Kindle at the moment, also on Kobo but more expensive there) which is a second-chance love story with a secret, the second is The Bashful Bride (Kindle/Kobo) which is a marriage of convenience and the third is The Butterfly Bride (Kindle/Kobo) which looks like a friends to lovers, which is usually totally my catnip.  Her website is here and has details of all her books.

Rebekah Witherspoon writes contemporary erotic romances.  I read her novella So Sweet (Kindle/Kobo) back in 2016 after she gave copies away as part of a sponsorship deal with the Smart Bitches Trashy Books podcase, but struggled at the time to get any more of her stories in the UK at a price that was under my kindle price cap.  Sugar Daddy stories aren’t usually my thing, and I’m not a big erotic romance reader, but I enjoyed it a lot – it was more romantic than I was expecting, but so steamy that I blushed too hard to read it in public.  I’m waiting for holds to come in at the library – but have FIT (Kindle/Kobo) waiting for me on my Kindle because it’s £1.99 at the moment.  I just need to find somewhere to blush in peace!  Her website is here.

Asian authors have at least won some prizes at the RITAs – but they’re still way below the representation they should have.  Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient was another book I – and a lot of others – were expecting to see on the list – but she was among the authors who didn’t even enter.

The Kiss Quotient was one of my favourite books of last year – her next book, The Bride Test is out at the start of May, was on my list of most anticipated books of 2019 – and is £1.89 to preorder on Kindle at the moment (Kobo don’t have it listed yet).  From the blurb, The Bride Test is a modern day relationship of convenience with culture clash between a Vietnamese American man and a Vietnamese woman.  He’s got autism and is convinced he doesn’t do feelings, she’s fallen head over heels for him and wants him to love her back – and she’s got a time limit to make it happen.  What is not to love.  I can’t wait.

Suleikha Snyder is an Indian-American and writes small town and Bollywood romances.  I read Tikka Chance on Me in January – and it’s a funny sexy biker gang romance novella.  I’m not usually a biker gang romance girl – but this was *kisses fingers*.  It’s 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment.  And the first in her Bollywood Confidential series, Spice and Smoke, is free (Kindle/Kobo)at the moment and is now waiting on my to-read pile.  You’re welcome.

Cover of A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

In not a quite romance books, Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock historical mystery series is awesome – here’s my BotW review of A Study in Scarlet Women – I have book three waiting on the pile, and she’s just finished writing book four.  Thomas also writes romance and YA fantasy – although I haven’t ready any of those from here yet – and English is her second language.

In other Not Romance books – I’ve got an advance copy of The Confessions of Frannie Langton (I’m in the blog tour for it!), which is a historical mystery about a Jamaican maid accused of murdering her employer and his wife in 1826.  I’ve already started reading it and it is shaping up to be good so far.  A debut novel – and Sara Collins was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish prize while she was writing it.

Hardback copy of The Confessions of Frannie Langton and promotional mini-newspaper

So there you have it.  Go forth and read romance and read diversely.  And I want more recommendations please.  I’m very aware that my list may not be straying too far from the mainstream and people recommended by the authors that I follow on Twitter.  You all know how many books I read a year – and you know I love discovering new authors so give me names.  Just writing this post has had me buying more books – because Ms Bev’s prices are lower than I’ve ever seen them in the UK at the moment.  I’m currently reading An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole (the first in her Loyal League Civil War series) and have several Ms Bevs waiting to be read next.

Happy Reading!

*I didn’t realise that so many book awards had an entry fee.  I don’t know how I thought the shortlists were come up with – I guess I naively thought it was going to be the best new books by eligible people/members of the organisation…

**Have I mentioned before that pre-orders are super useful to authors?  They let publishers know how much interest there is in a book – particularly important for own voices authors who often get told that people don’t want to read books like theirs. My only gripe with pre-ordering on Kindle is that the Amazon pre-order price guarantee doesn’t apply.  I think Kobo do do a price guarantee on pre-orders, but I can’t be dealing with another ebook platform – I’m already confused enough with two (apple books, Kindle) and the chances of me buying the same book multiple times are High.

Authors I love, Book of the Week, detective, new releases

Book of the Week: Death of an Angel

It’s Danny Bird time again!  The eagle eyed amongst you may have spotted my copy of Death of an Angel on the Week in Books post and suspected what today’s pick might be.  Danny’s previous outings have featured on this blog before, and I was lucky enough to do an interview with Derek Farrell before the release of book three.  I’ve been looking forward to reading this since the end of book three, and tried to subtly badger Derek to hurry up and write quicker when I met him in person (for the first and I hope not last time!) at the Polari Salon in London last summer where he was giving a reading.  I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy (the first advance copy?) of Death of an Angel, which is out on the 28th and it was a total no-brainer for it to be this week’s Book of the Week.Cover of Death of an Angel

In case you haven’t read about Danny before, he’s the landlord of the possibly the most unlikely gay pub in (south) London. The Marq is owned by a gangster and has a seriously chequered past – including at this point, several bodies turning up at inconvenient times. His best friend is the champagne swilling, possibly alcoholic, definitely going to tell you exactly what she thinks Lady Caz and he’s got a slightly tricky relationship going on with a policeman. He’s also got a developing reputation for solving mysteries.

We rejoin the gang at the start of Death of an Angel, when Danny’s name is found written on the hand of a woman who has fallen from a tower block. To make matters worse, the pub’s phone number is in her contacts list, so of course the police haul him in for questioning. Trouble is, Danny has no idea who she is. The police seem strangely reluctant to believe this and soon Danny is investigating what led to Cathy Byrne’s fall from the ninth floor. At the same time, Danny is doing a touch of investigating for his solicitor and there are major ructions going on in his family – as his siblings are convinced something is wrong in their parents’ relationship.  And don’t even get started on the boyfriend front.

Death of an Angel takes us away from the Marq – for once this death isn’t threatening Danny’s livelihood (only his freedom!) and so there’s less of Ali the bar manageress and the Asbo twins, but don’t worry – there’s a limit to how many bodies can turn up at a business and it remain solvent (no matter what the cupcake bakeries over in the cozy crime genre would have you believe) and it’s great to see Danny stretch his wings in his south London home neighbourhood. This is a great mystery – fast-paced and with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. And the fabulous banter is still there – I mean what’s not to love about a hero who refers to himself as “Sherlock Homo”? Or has lines this:

You know how, when people say someone’s ageless they usually mean ‘eternally youthful’ and not ‘looks so old it seems impossible that he could still be living without the age of Necromancy’?

But there’s also a serious side to this. There are some proper social issues here: Danny’s investigation touches on gentrification, house prices, dodgy developers, dubious councillors lining their own pockets and high-end flats sitting empty because they’ve been bought as an investment by the rich, while people from the area are being forced out by a lack of affordable housing and high rents. That all makes the book sound serious and worthy – and it’s totally not. This is the best of Danny – mysteries with a conscience, that will entertain you but also make you think without clubbing you over the head with A Message.

It’s taken a long time for this fourth instalment to arrive, I really hope we don’t have to wait as long for another. Death of an Angel is published by Fahrenheit Press (remember them?!) and should be available from their website and from Amazon from the 28th. That’s a week on Thursday. I’ll try and remind you…

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, detective, mystery, Series I love

Series I love: Roderick Alleyn

Now I’ve written about Albert Campion as well as Peter Wimsey, it would be remiss of me not to write about Ngaio Marsh’s brilliant creation, not least because I spend as much time re-reading or re-listening to the Roderick Alleyn mysteries and watching the BBC TV versions while I iron as I do revisiting Wimsey or watching Miss Marple.  And as I have now finished reading the series, having treated myself to the last omnibus in the January sales, this is an even better time to write about them!

Shelf of Ngaio Marsh omnibuses
Omnibus two is on loan to my dad. I think. I hope.

In some ways, Roderick Alleyn is another of the gentlemen detectives so popular in Golden Age detective fiction – he’s a well-educated younger son of a baronet, born in the 1890s and who served in the First World War – but with one major difference: Alleyn is actually a police officer.  At the start of the series, in A Man Lay Dead he’s a Detective Chief Inspector, by the end he is a Chief Superintendent.  A Man Lay Dead was published in 1934, the final novel came out in 1982 and the setting of the series moves with the time period – although Alleyn’s age… doesn’t really.  At the start of the series Alleyn is single, but later marries artist Agatha Troy, who he first met during the course of the case in the sixth book.  Troy, and later their son Ricky, pop up in several more cases, but by no means all of them -his regular companions are Inspector Fox and xxx Bailey.

Most of the books are set in and around London and the south of England, but there are several novels set in Marsh’s native New Zealand.  Marsh was passionate about the theatre and the arts and several of the novels are feature actors as well as the Unicorn Theatre in London and artists and artistic circles.  This means there’s a really nice variety of settings, and combined with the fact that Alleyn is a police detective, helps avoid the series seeming repetitive of like bodies are following Roderick around.  Alleyn is also a more peripheral figure in some of the novels than many of the other Golden Age detectives are.  In A Man Lay Dead, most of the story is mostly told from the perspective of Nigel Bathgate, friend of Alleyn and a guest at the party where a man has been really killed during a game of Murder, A Surfeit of Lampreys is seen through the eyes of Roberta Grey, visiting a family of penniless and eccentric aristocrats when their uncle is killed in a lift and there are more.

As I mentioned at the start, I’ve read all the books now, but I’ve watched the early 90s TV adaptation so many times that I’ve had to go back and do some actual re-reading of the novels as the TV versions are colouring my memories of the novels slightly.  There are eight TV Alleyns – and there are a few differences from the book.  The most obvious is probably that Troy is in almost all of them, with the relationship between the two their relationship builds over the course of the series.  The second is the condensing and moving of the timeline – while the series starts before the Second World War and continues in the post-war period, the TV series specifically sets the first case in 1948 and moves on from there.

There are also fairly major alterations to the plots – some have less victims than their book equivalent, others have characters removed and replaced, others have extra subplots added in and others taken out. The other obvious difference for the viewer is that two different actors play Alleyn – Simon Williams in Artists in Crime, the pilot episode and the story where Alleyn meets Troy, and Patrick Malahide in all the others.  Williams’ Alleyn is also a slightly different character – he’s said to have had a difficult war and is seen having some emotional difficulty with the resonpsibilty of the job – generally more Wimsey-ish than when Malahide plays him in the subsequent episodes.  I have reminder set on my TiVo box to record The Alleyn Mysteries and generally have two or three saved at a time for watching while ironing.  My favourites are – bizarrely – the aforementioned pilot and Dead Water  In fact if you fancy it, Alibi are showing two Alleyn’s this weekend and another two the week after.  They all have the added bonus that if you’ve watched any other murder mysteries (or costume dramas to be honest) of the same sort of vintage, you can spot the same people popping up all over the place – particularly the Joan Hickson Miss Marples: Emily Pride in Dead Water is played by Margaret Tyzack who plays Clotilde Bradbury Scott in Nemesis; in Artists in Crime, Rory’s mother Lady Alleyn is played by Ursula Howells who is Miss Blacklock in A Murder Is Announced.  They are not the only ones, but they’re probably the most obvious*.  There’s also cross over with Campion and Poirot as well as the BBC TV Narnia adaptations…

Audible screengrab showing Ngaio Marsh novels

Several of the Alleyn mysteries are on fairly heavy rotation in my audiobook library.  I think I’ve mentioned before that I am Very Bad With Silence and often listen to audiobooks to go to sleep to while I’m away from home.  And the audiobook fan is particularly lucky with this series – there’s abridged and unabridged versions of many of the novels with a variety of different narrators.  Benedict Cumberbatch has done shortened versions of three of them – Artists in Crime, Scales of Justice and Death in a White Tie – but I also like Anton Lesser (who is particularly good at accents).  And if you want something even shorter there are also a few radio plays available on Audible.  My favourites on audiobook are probably the Cumberbatch Scales of Justice and then Lesser’s  Opening Night and James Saxon’s unabridged Final Curtain.

If you fancy trying some Inspector Alleyn, you should be able to get hold of them fairly easily – they are available as ebooks, or as the three novel omnibuses that I have and they’re often in secondhand bookshops (although not usually charity shops, the most recent editions are a bit too old).  I started at the beginning and worked my way through (over the course of just under five years) but I don’t think you need to read them in order to enjoy them.  There is also an unfinished Alleyn, recently finished by Stella Duffy, which is out in paperback next month and which I have on my to read pile to get to sooner rather than later now that I’ve finished the series proper.  If you’re an Alleyn fan, let me know which your favourites are in the comments – and if you’ve read the “new” one let me know what you thought!

Happy Reading!

*Keen Marple readers/viewers will spot what those two characters have in common, which is why they sprung to mind!

Cover of Money in the Morgue by Ngaio Marsh and Stella Duffy

Authors I love, Series I love

Series I love: Albert Campion

When I added the Campion Christmas stories to the festive reading blog, I realised that I hadn’t ever written a Series I love post about Margery Allingham’s detective and so one was really somewhat overdue.  So, to start off the new year, I’m putting that omission to rights.

Old Penguin copy of The Beckoning Lady

Albert Campion – not his real name – is a detective and problem solver.  He’s got an aristocratic background that is hinted and and has to be pieced together* – and many sources say he started as a parody of my beloved Lord Peter Wimsey.  Indeed as well as their family history, their physical description is fairly similar – Campion is thin, blond, wears glasses and has a face that is described as bland and inoffensive and as having a deceptively blank expression.  Wimsey by contrast is describes as being fair, average height, with a monocle and with a vaguely foolish face.  You see what I mean?  But as the books go on Albert is definitely his own man and a character in his own right.  He’s more of an adventurer and a man of action than many of his Golden Age Counterparts – and more often on the edge of the law.  Where Wimsey has Bunter – a gentleman’s gentleman with a flare for photography and chemistry – Albert has Lugg, an ex-con with a passion for trying to better himself but constantly being reminded of his past as he and Albert encounter his former criminal associates.  Albert’s friend in the police is the detective Stanislas Oates, who over the course of the series rises through the ranks of The Yard to become its chief.

The Campion stories tend more towards the adventure than straight up detective fiction – for example, my particular favourite is Sweet Danger which sees Albert posing as minor royalty at a foreign watering home and then attempting to outwit a criminal mastermind in the hunt for documents to prove who the ruler of a tiny but oil rich principality is.  There are chases, and a treasure hunt, and evil machinations and attempted witchcraft and it all builds to a very satisfactory conclusion.  The one in the series which gets most attention is The Tiger in the Smoke – which is a thriller not a detective novel – as Albert tries to track down a psychopath in foggy, smoggy London.  I also really like The Fashion in Shrouds, in which Albert’s fashion designer sister (also estranged from the aristocratic family) falls under suspicion after two deaths that are rather convenient for her best friend.

Copies of The Fashion in Shrouds and Flowers for the Judge

The series started in the 1930s and ran through until the 1960s, so I need to add my usual caveat about there being some dated attitudes and language in some of these – particularly the Fashion in Shrouds if I recall correctly – which means that the modern reader needs to approach with slight caution, but I don’t think there’s anything worse here than there is in Christie or Sayers.

There are 19 Campion novels written by Margery Allingham, two more written by her husband (who completed the final Allingham novel after her death) and then another five modern continuations by Mike Ripley.  I’ve read most of the Allingham written stories – although interestingly I think Campion’s first appearance, as a side character in The Crime at Black Dudley, is one of the ones in the series that I haven’t read.  I can almost see your puzzled face at this – but I have an explanation: I discovered Campion when I was living in Essex and on a very tight budget.  I was reading my way through the local library’s detective selection and they had a whole shelf of Campions – because Margery Allingham was a local author.  I promptly read my way through as many as I could lay my hands on – but it was pre-goodreads and I wasn’t keeping track.  I still don’t own many of them – a fact which has hampered me not inconsiderably in putting this post together!

There were also two series of TV adaptations in the early 1990s, starring Peter Davison as Campion, which do occasionally pop up on TV (usually on Alibi or Drama) which are fun if not entirely faithful to the plot and a bit clunking in places.  They’re definitely not as well put together as the Joan Hickson Miss Marples for example, the David Suchet Poirots or the Inspector Alleyn adaptations, but if you like the books then they’re worth a look as a curiosity if nothing else.

I’ve got a couple of Campions as audiobooks too which has actually been a really nice way to revisit the series.  Once I get my audiobook and podcast backlogs back down and under control, I’m planning to get a few more – and fill in some of the gaps in the series.

If you’ve read any Campion books – or have a favourite – let me know in the comments!

Happy Reading!

*And I can’t remember all the pieces at the moment!

Authors I love, book round-ups, The pile

Revisiting My Big Obsessions of 2017

 

Contemporary Romances

After glomming on Jill Shalvis, Susan Elizabeth Philips and Kristen Higgins in 2017, I’ve continued to expand my contemporary romance horizons in 2018.  I’ve read even more Shalvis, Morgan and Crusie and added Alyssa Cole, Jasmine Guillory and Talia Hibbert to the list.  There no-go tropes are still there – billionaires, biker gangs, secret babies – but there’s plenty that I do like and they make a great way to relax and get away from the stresses of the newsroom after a long day of breaking news.

Crime series

As you’ll see from the 2018 obsessions post tomorrow, I’ve read a whole stack of new crime series this year.   The new Hobson and Choi was a Book of the Week and it’s a bit of a spoiler for my Books of the Year post to tell you how much I liked the new Vinyl Detective book. I’ve also continued to work my way through the Royal Spyness series – which I love, despite the title and the fact that I have to not think too hard about the premise – but some of the other series that I discovered last year have faded a little this year as they’ve got longer and deeper.  I’m not naming names though.

Non fiction

I’ve probably read more non-fiction books this year than any year before.  And yes, a lot of that was preparing for my Washington posting, but I’d already read a fair bit of non-fiction by that point. There was more Mary Roach but also more celebrity memoirs than previously.  I’m continuing to try and expand my world-view and the perspectives that I get on the world through my non-fiction reading and it’s been a lot of fun.  However, I haven’t read a lot of straight up history this year, so I’m hoping to change that a little bit in 2019.

I said in this post last year, that my obsessions tend to be quite consistent – and that I was hoping for something new and random in 2018.  I think I’m still working on similar themes to previous years, but the breadth and variety of my non-fiction reading is helping me from becoming boring in my old age!

 

Authors I love, Best of..., book round-ups

Best books of 2018

It’s nearly the end of the year and I promised you some extra posts looking back at the year didn’t I?  Well, here’s my look at five of my favourite books of the year.  Looking back on my Goodreads stats to write this, I realise that I’ve been very stingy with the 5 stars this year – which has made this very tricky to write because there are a lot of 4 star ratings and I’ve had to workout which ones were my real favourites.  And because of the way this blog works, you’ve heard about most of these before – either as Books of the Week or in other roundup posts – because when I like stuff this much, I tell you about it!

A Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge

Copy of Another Day in the Death of America

This was part of my pre-Washington reading and although I read a lot of good books in that particular reading jag, this one has really stuck with me.  A snapshot of all the children and teens killed by guns on just one day in America, it is meticulously researched and will break your heart.  If you are in any doubt about the scale of gun deaths in the US, this will put it all into perspective -this is just a normal day – no mass shootings, just ten dead young people ranging in age from 9 to 19.

Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

Paperback copy of Five Children on the Western Front

Lets get all the sad books out of the way to start with.  This is a middle grade continuation/follow on to E Nesbit’s The Five Children and It book.  I think I read the 5 children (maybe even more than one of them) after the 1990s BBC TV series was shown and it had never occurred to me that these were the children who would be the young men and women of the Great War – and of course when Nesbit was writing the books, she had no idea what was in their future either.  This is really, really good, but also quietly devastating. There are a lot of Second World War middle grade books, but not so many (or at least not that I’ve come across) Great War ones – this is a very good addition to the genre.  It came out a couple of years ago, but reading it this year with the centenary of the Armistice, felt very timely.  It wasn’t my BotW at the time -I was in a historical crime groove back in at the start of the year, but I’ve recommended it a few times since and it’s quietly crept up my list of best reads of the year.

The Victory Disc by Andrew Cartmel

Copy of Victory Disc

The third in the Vinyl Dectective series is right up there as one of my favourite detective stories of the year.  This time our unnamed hero is on the hunt for records by a wartime swing band.  The Flarepath Orchestra were contemporaries of Glenn Miller, but their recordings are incredibly rare.  After one pops up unexpectedly, the Detective and his gang are asked to track down the rest.  But there are still secrets and lies at the heart of the band and soon a great deal of danger is threatening the gang.  This wasn’t a Book of the Week at the time – because it’s the third in the series and you’ll get the most from them by reading them in order.  The first in the series, Written in Dead Wax was a BotW last summer though – and I thoroughly recommend starting with that.  My Dad has read these and practically snaps my hand off to get the next one from me!  Good reads doesn’t have any details for a fourth yet, but I’m hoping that we’ll get more adventures in vinyl in 2019.

Anyone for Seconds by Laurie Graham

Regular readers know how much I love Laurie Graham (and if you don’t, here are the posts to prove it) but I remember saying to a friend before this came out that if she was going to write a sequel to one of her novels, this wasn’t the one that I would have picked.  How wrong I was, because this is my favourite of her contemporary novels in ages.  It snuck out a bit under the radar in August and I nearly missed it. We rejoin Lizzie Partridge, the heroine of Perfect Meringues, some twenty years after we last met her.  Lizzie was a TV-chef on the regional news, but after The Incident she has mostly worked in print.  But when her last paying gig is pulled, Lizzie decides to run away in the hope that it’ll get her some attention.  But no-one notices.  It does however, set in train a series of changes in Lizzie’s life.  It was a BotW and it’s still one of my favourites this year.

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

It was a long wait for a new book by Jasper Fforde – my big Fforde discovery and binge actually happpened before I started this blog, but Early Riser was worth it and it was a BotW.  Set in a world where humans hibernate for four months every winter, this follows the adventures of one man in his first year as a Winter Consul – one of the people who watch over the sleeping masses.  This is completely standalone from his other books, but if you’ve read other Fforde novels you’ll spot that this world has some elements in common with Thursday Nexts.  It’s fantasy and sci-fi but at the end of that spectrum that I like.

The Birth of South Korean Cool by Euny Hong

Copy of the Birth of Korean Cool

And another non-fiction book to round out this list.  Euny Hong’s family moved back to South Korea in the 1980s when she was at school so she is ideally placed to take a look at how South Korea turned itself into a big name on the world stage through the course of twenty years. This is a really, really interesting and readable guide to the Korean pop-culture phenomenon and the policy behind it. Although some of the section dealing with North Korea is now slightly dated that doesn’t detract from the overall impact of the book. I would happily have read another 100 pages.   It had been on my to-read list for ages – but I finally got around to getting hold of a copy after the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics at the start of the year (although it took me another few months to get around to reading it!). I’ve recommended it a number of times – and used knowledge I learned from it to look smart when talking about K-pop with younger colleagues.  A winner all around!

Let me know what your favourite books of the year have been in the comments – and coming up over the next few days we’ve also got my reading obsessions of the year – and how 2017’s obsessions have lasted as well as the books that I’m looking forward to in 2019.So here you are, six of my favourite reads of 2018.  There were a few five star reads this year that aren’t on the list – but they are very much from favourite authors – new installments in the Wells and Wong series and from Gail Carriger and the Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang that I’ve already talked about so much already over the years that I’d be boring you to tell you about them again.

Happy Reading!