Series I love

Series I Love: Royal Spyness

It’s been a while since I posted a Series I Love post – since Amelia Peabody in January last year to be exact – so I thought it was time for another. As I finished the latest in Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series this week, and really enjoyed it but because I said I wasn’t going to write about any more Christmas books, this seemed like a good solution!

Set in the 1930s, our heroine is Lady Georgiana Rannoch, daughter of a duke and a cousin of George V, and whose family lost most of their money in the Great Crash late in the 1920s. Her father is dead and she’s trying to survive on her own, because life with her brother and sister-in-law is just too unpleasant (and cold) to contemplate. Luckily for her, Queen Mary quite likes her and keeps asking her to undertake little tasks to help out the Royal Family. Unluckily for her, this also tends to lead to her stumbling across bodies as well as the dashing but possibly disreputable Darcy O’Mara. There are 15 books in the series now and they’ve taken Georgie around various of the royal residences, the English and Scottish countryside, over the water to Ireland and the south of France and much further away to Transylvania and Africa.

If you’re a history nerd like me, you have to not think to hard about where in Queen Victoria’s family tree exactly Georgie’s family are meant to fit in, but equally if you’re a history nerd all the details about the royals in the 1930s are really quite delightful and more accurate than a lot of similar books are (I’m naming no names, but there are some terrible attempts out there). Georgie is a very fun narrator – she’s very inventive and determined not to end up dependent on her brother and end up as free labour for her sister-in-law, the awful Fig. At the start of the series she starts a housecleaning business – trading on the snobbery of people who want to be associated with a distant royal, whilst hiding the fact that she doesn’t actually have a staff and is doing the cleaning herself. But she’s also grown up quite sheltered from the real world, which means that the reader can often see stuff coming that she can’t – like when she tries to hire herself out as a dinner and theatre companion, when her housecleaning business starts struggling.

Georgie is also surrounded by an entertaining group of supporting characters. As well as the handsome Darcy, there is her accident prone and not very good maid Queenie (who she can’t bring herself to get rid of) and her daring Bright Young Thing friend Belinda. There’s also her maternal grandfather a former policeman who is uncomfortable around all of Georgiana’s posh friends and royal relations. Then there’s his daughter – Georgie’s mother Claire – who after managing to marry into the peerage with Georgie’s father, is now working her way through a string of rich husbands and gentleman friends. The books are working their way through the 1930s and Claire is set up as a bit of a rival to Wallis Simpson and you get some delightful sparring between the two of them whenever they come into contact with each other.

The latest book in the series, God Rest Ye Royal, Gentleman is set at Christmas 1935, so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next as we move into the somewhat frantic events of 1936 and the Mrs Simpson situation comes to a head. As regular readers will know, I do love a book set around the abdication crisis (Hello Gone with the Windsors) so I’m hoping Rhys Bowen has got some fun ideas for how to get Georgie involved in it all.

I started reading the series slightly out of order – as I picked up a few of the early ones from the Works (see my BotW post about A Royal Pain for details) but I’ve been up to date for a while now and reading them as they come out. I would say you can read out of order – if you want – up until about book 11, after that, you sort of want to be going in order a little bit. Or at least you do to get the maximum fun out of it all.

If you like historical mystery series like Phryne Fisher or Daisy Dalrymple then these are worth giving a try. Bowen also writes the Molly Murphy series, which I’ve not read – yet – because I’ve never managed to get hold of the early ones in the series at a price I’m happy with. I’m sure it will happen at some point though. If you read the Boyfriend Club series or some of the early Sweet Dreams books when you were a teenager, Rhys Bowen is also Janet Quin Harkin, so you may find that you like the writing style, even if you don’t usually read historical mysteries.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, detective, Series I love, Surviving the 'Rona

Favourites Revisited: Gaudy Night

Amid the flurry of end of year posts, here is something completely different and that has been months in the making. It’s taken me a while to get this down in writing in a way that I’m anywhere near happy with and I’m still not sure I’m quite there. So why am I finally posting it now? Well, I was writing my end of 2021 post and it was starting to touch on some similar ground, so I thought I ought to get this out there first.

One of my very earliest posts on this site was about my love of Peter Wimsey. And over the years since then I have reread and relistened to the series over and over. But until the summer it had been years since I had Gaudy Night – in full at least and not as a radio play. But then I treated myself to the audiobook in August and listened to it. And I was enjoying it so much that I got the book off the shelf too. And then I realised that I was behind on my podcasts because I wanted to carry on listening to Gaudy Night rather than listening to them. And when I got to the end, I started all over again. And now I have a lot to say about it and Spoilers ahoy, not just for Gaudy Night but for most of the rest of the Wimsey books. Be warned.

A reminder, if you need it, that Gaudy Night is the third of four books featuring Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey. It is the book where Harriet’s relationship with Peter moves towards a resolution. The final book of the quartet sees the pair get married and Gaudy Night is the bridge that explains how they got from the tetchiness of the murder at Wilvercombe (which was already a step on from her mistrust and confusion in Strong Poison) to a point where Harriet has realised that she is in love with him and that taking a chance on another relationship might be the right thing to do.

She fell a victim to an inferiority complex, and tripped over her partner’s feet. ‘Sorry,’ said Wimsey, accepting responsibility like a gentleman. ‘It’s my fault,’ said Harriet. ‘I’m a rotten dancer. Don’t bother about me. Let’s stop. You haven’t got to be polite to me, you know.’

Worse and worse. She was being peevish and egotistical. Wimsey glanced down at her in surprise and then suddenly smiled.

‘Darling, if you danced like an elderly elephant with arthritis, I would dance the sun and moon into the sea with you. I have waited a thousand years to see you dance in that frock.’

‘Idiot’ said Harriet.

Have His Carcase

I have had the audiobooks of a lot of the other books in the series for years. In fact Busman’s Honeymoon was one of my earliest picks on Audible and I soon picked up as many of the others as I could that were read by Ian Carmichael. But he didn’t read all of them, so I filled in the gaps using radio adaptations of the series – again starring Ian Carmichael as Peter. I had Murder Must Advertise read by someone else, and Five Red Herrings read by Patrick Malahide (in a delightful crossover with my love of the Inspector Alleyn TV adaptations) but until thus summer I didn’t have either Have His Carcase or Gaudy Night in full on audio. But as I was working through audiobooks at some pace, I decided to take a chance on the Have His Carcase that Audible were offering. Now I have reread Have His Carcase a few times – because I think it’s a particularly well worked mystery – but I’d stuck to the radio play version because of my attachment to Ian Carmichael narrating. But actually after a little bit I got used to Jane McDowell, and although the code breaking section makes no sense to me as audio (it’s hard enough on paper), because it was told from more Harriet’s side than Peter’s the female narrator grew on me. So I bought Gaudy Night.

The thing it is easy to forget reading now is that Sayers spaced out the Peter and Harriet with other novels with just Peter and the poor readers at the time had no idea what was going to happen – if anything – between them. So when you realise Strong Poison (1930) was followed by Five Red Herrings (1931), it adds the context that perhaps the reason Peter has gone off to Scotland is perhaps to clear his head after Harriet’s trial. Have His Carcase is next (1932), when Harriet finds a body on the beach and Peter comes down to solve the crime (as she thinks) but also as the reader knows, try and make her situation better. Then it’s Murder Must Advertise, which focuses on Peter in his advertising alter ego but with a blink and you’ll miss it nod to what is going on with Harriet.

Wimsey put down the receiver. ‘I hope,’ he thought, ‘she isn’t going to make an awkwardness. You cannot trust these young women. No fixity of purpose. Except, of course, when you particularly want them to be yielding.’

He grinned with a wry mouth, and went out to keep his date with the one young woman who showed no signs of yielding to him, and what he said or did on that occasion is in no way related to this story.

Murder Must Advertise

Then the following year was the Nine Tailors before (at last) Gaudy Night in 1935. And early in Chapter 4 of Gaudy Night, Sayers sets out for you what has been going on in the background all along. I’m struggling to think of another series with a moment quite like it – where an author says “by the way, while these mysteries were going on, there was also something I didn’t tell you about”.

Was it too late to achieve wholly the clear eye and the untroubled mind? And what, in that case, was she to do with one powerful fetter which still tied her ineluctably to the bitter past? What about Peter Wimsey?

Gaudy Night

And then across the course of 500 pages, Harriet tries to solve a poison pen mystery at her old college, but decide exactly what about Peter Wimsey. She works her way through her hang ups after her disastrous relationship with Philip Boyes and starts to come to a better understanding of who she is and what it is about her that has caused Wimsey to propose to her once a quarter for years on end. And the reader understands him better for it too.

I have listened to the radio play version of Gaudy Night more times than I care to count, because even though Ian Carmichael is really quite old by that point, he doesn’t sound it and it is such a clever mystery as well has having a great setting in Oxford. But as I listened to it unabridged, I realised both how cleverly that radio adaptation had been done and how much had been taken out from the original novel. Reggie Pomfret’s whole plot strand is neatly snipped out and part of the evolution of Harriet’s feelings goes with it. And because it is a radio play you also lose the internal side of Harriet’s world and of course the glorious set up explaining what had been going on in the background with Harriet and Peter was missing too – because how on earth do you jump through a time line like that in a radio play?

After I finished Gaudy Night, I bought the Jane McDowell Busman’s Honeymoon and listened to that as well for the contrast with the Carmichael that I have listened to so many times. And it was interesting, but then I went back to Gaudy Night again. And again.

And so here we are, several months on. And I’ve probably listened to it in full half a dozen times. And my edited highlights half a dozen more: that chapter four description of the three years between Wilvercombe and Harriet’s return to her old college for the Gaudy. Her first encounter with St George and her subsequent discoveries about Peter’s relationships with his family – and then Peter’s reaction to that. His arrival in Oxford and their afternoon on the river. The chess set. The resolution of the mystery. The resolution. What it is about Gaudy Night that means it is what my brain needs at the moment I don’t know. But it is.

I’ve written bits and bobs here about the pandemic, but it’s been a rotten nearly two years for everyone. And it turns out that my brain had decided that the best way to get away from what’s happening in the real world and to help it relax, is to listen to the same audiobooks over and over again. Gaudy Night. Busman’s Honeymoon. Sylvester. These Old Shades. Artists in Crime. Death in a White Tie. And that’s ok by me, even if it does mean I’m months behind on podcasts I previously listened to religiously. But hey. These aren’t normal times. As is evidenced by the fact that I’ve just written the longest thing I’ve ever put on this blog to dissect my obsession with Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. Now if you’ll excuse me, Harriet is trying to write a letter to Peter about St George…

Series I love

Series I love: Amelia Peabody

As I mentioned in the Week in Books, I spent a fair bit of time last week (and now this week too) re-reading Elizabeth Peters’s Amelia Peabody series, but that’s not quite the whole story. During lockdown, Him Indoors and I actually started listening to the audiobooks of the series together. He’s never read the books before, and I have, some of them a lot of times, and it’s been a lot of fun rediscovering the series through his (fresh) eyes.  I’ve mentioned the series a few times before as part of round-up type posts, but it’s been a few years and I thought it was probably time to give Amelia a post of her own.

Cover of Crocodile on the Sandbank

Anyway, the set up: at the start of the first book it’s 1880-something and Amelia is heading to Egypt after the death of her father. She’d been the dutiful stay at home daughter until his death, but has decided that she’s now ready for adventures of her own (much to the disgust of her brothers) and heads for Egypt (via Rome) to see some ancient ruins. On her way she picks up a companion – Evelyn – who she rescues from the clutches of a fortune hunter and then heads off to look at some archaeology in action. The archaeologists she meets are grumpy Radcliffe Emerson and his brother Walter, who are excavating a tomb in Armana. Radcliffe emphatically does not want Amelia around, but soon they’re competing to solve a mystery. And by the end of the first book, well, it’s a a spoiler (but I think that’s unavoidable in a 20 book series) they’re married with a baby on the way.

Each book in the series covers a different archaeological season, and across the course of the series, the Emersons age and develop a little gang – including their son Ramses and his friends. The first books in the series are all written as Amelia’s diaries – introduced by an editor – but once Ramses grows up, the narrative is supplemented by extracts from the “recently discovered Manuscript H” which follows the younger members of the family. One of the things that Him Indoors has enjoyed the most about the series is the shift in how you view Amelia and how cleverly Peters moves the series on as it moves through times from Late Victorian through to the 1910s. Amelia is a feminist for her times and is wearing divided skirts and later trousers when it was still a bit of a scandal – but as her family grows up you see her grapple with the fact that the generation below her are doing things that she thinks scandalous – and have freedoms that even she never allowed herself. We’ve reached the 1911 season on our listening (book 11) together and I’m hopping with glee at all the fun he has to come. To be honest, books 10 to 13 are among my favourites in terms of character development and I couldn’t help myself in getting a little ahead of the audiobooks and reading ahead to get to all my favourite parts.

Cover of Thunder in the Sky

There are catchphrases – “another shirt ruined” and describing her husband as “the greatest Egyptologist of this or any other time” and variants thereof – and running stories like Amelia’s obsession with “the so-called Master Criminal” who they (first) encounter a couple of books in to the series. And Elizabeth Peters is a pen name for Barbara Mertz, who was an Egyptologist in real life and so there’s lots of proper archeological detail. She’s cleverly woven the exploits of the Emersons in with the activities of the real-life archaeologists who were working at the same time – like Howard Carter, who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun. As well as being a feminist, Amelia is also quite forward thinking when it comes to what she things about Empire and her attitudes to the local people that she meets. It’s hard to categorise the series, but they’re basically historical mystery romances with a side order of parodying Victorian-era adventure novels. I’ve previously described them as a Victorian female Indiana Jones, but funnier and I stand by that. As I’ve mentioned before, if you like series like Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell, then you should be reading Amelia Peabody. And if you’ve already read them, may I suggest Peters’ Vicky Bliss series – which is modern-set and has a link back to the Emersons as well.

If this has given you an urge to read the series, definitely start at the beginning, and the first book is only £1.99 on Kindle and Kobo at the moment. I’ve discovered/remembered in re-reading that first time out I borrowed a bunch of them as physical copies from the library (well it was 2012!), so I have gaps in my e-book collection, which I suspect I will be filling in shortly.

Happy Reading!

 

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!

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:

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!

 

detective, Fantasy, Series I love

Series I Love: Rivers of London

So while I was writing about nice escapist reading from the ‘rona, I realised that even though I’ve talked about it a lot, I haven’t written a Series I Love post about one of my favourites: Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant/Rivers of London series. Back in the early days of the blog, I wrote about the first book, Rivers of London (or Midnight Riot if you’re in the US) but sticking to my rule about not recommending later books in series, even though there’s a lot of five star ratings on my Goodreads for them, I haven’t revisited the series properly. Even though my bonus picture for one of the last weeks before the lockdown was me at a Ben Aaronovitch event for the new book – and I enjoyed it so much I had a ticket for another one which got cancelled because of said lockdown. Anyway, now I’ve read that latest instalment in the series, here goes:

Rivers of London series

We meet Peter Grant in the first book as a rookie police officer in the Met, about to get assigned to a dead end department until he sees a ghost. Yes that’s right, a ghost. That leads him into a hidden world of magic and encounters The Folly – or the magic department. This means the series is what I have described as Grown Up Hogwarts but in the Police. Over the course of the subsequent eight books (so far), two novellas, an audiobook exclusive and a line of graphic novels, he and the gang have investigated in Soho, in the Underground, in a brutalist estate, in Herefordshire and in Mayfair and so much more as he’s learned about the world of magic, River Gods and so much more.

I don’t want to go into too much of the plots, because really that spoils everything, but I will say that you do need to read these in order – there is an overarching story that weaves in around the cases of the week (so to speak), which builds over time to a crescendo that puts everything else into second place. Peter doesn’t know that magic exists until he sees the ghost in the first book – but once he’s involved and has met Inspector Nightingale (the last wizard in England) things are slowly revealed to him. Ben Aaronovitch used to write for Dr Who and I think it really shows in his skill at building a complete and fully formed world – even if he insists he didn’t have all the rules sorted out when he first started writing the series.

Now, some of you might be reading this and thinking that you don’t really do books like this, but please don’t be so hasty or so judgemental.*  If you’ve read Harry Potter, then this is nothing more “hard” fantasy than that is really. Ditto if you’ve read Terry Pratchett – this is closer to “real life” than he is. If you read police procedurals as your main thing (and hello, lovely to see you if you do, but not sure how you got here) then this is really one step small away from reality – the jargon of the police force is there – down to the brand name of their walkie talkies. So go on, give it a go. I honestly don’t think anyone who I’ve recommended them to and who actually read one has told me they didn’t like them.

As I said, start at the beginning with Rivers of London. These have sold a tonne of copies, so if you’re somewhere where you can get to a bookshop, then I would be surprised if they don’t have a copy in stock. And if they’re not open, then call your local and see if they have a copy they can send you. I’m sure Big Green Books will oblige if he can too. Equally your local library (and their digital collection) should carry them – mine does. They’re also on Kindle and Kobo. The audiobook versions are read by the silky-voiced Kobna Holdbrook-Smith** and I own most of those as well. The eagle-eyed may have noticed in the photo of my shelf that I’m missing one of the novellas and that’s because before that event at Foyles, I waited for them to come out in paperback. I’ve broken that duck now, so who knows what will happen – They’ve already changed the paperback style so that furthest station and Lies Sleeping don’t quite match the previous ones, so all bets are off. Will I mix it up? Will I buy another copy of False Value when it comes out in paperback so they match?

Anyway, go forth and enjoy and when London’s reopened after all this, hopefully you’l have enjoyed the series so much that you’ll be planning a walking tour of all the various locations.

Happy Reading!

Ben Aaronovitch talking to Temi Oh at the Foyles event for False Value
Here is that picture of the Foyles event again!

*If you’re a romance reader who is fed up of people being rude about your genre of choice, then stop now and have a good hard think about what you’re saying and how much you hate it when people do that about romance. And if you need more persuading: Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches has mentioned (more than once) on her podcast how much she enjoys them.

**The observant of voice may recognise him from Paddington 2 where he plays the warder, but he’s been all over various bits of TV for years – and also won an Olivier award for playing Ike Turner in the original cast of Tina! (Which I’m still annoyed that I didn’t manage to see)

Authors I love, historical, Series I love

Series I love: The Cazalets

It’s been a while since I wrote a series I love post – and as we’re all in the market for some binge-reading at the moment, I thought I would offer a suggestion for Easter at the same time.  I have written about Elizabeth Jane Howard’s series in roundup posts before, but it’s been a few years and now seems like the time to have a proper moment for them.

So the series tells the stories of the Cazalet family from the last years before World War Two until the 1950s. A the start of the series in The Light Years, you meet the characters in 1937 as they gather at Home Place – where The Brig and Duchy live.  They have four grown-up children, sons Hugh, Edward and Rupert – who all work in the family firm – and a daughter, Rachel, who lives at home.  Their lives look perfect on the surface, but underneath they all have problems.  Hugh is still struggling after the Great War, Edward is chronically unfaithful to his wife, Rupert has a younger, demanding wife and Rachel is putting her loyalty to the family above any chance of personal happiness.  All three of the sons have children and we see their lives too, complete with rivalries, alliances and fears. As the series goes on, you see them all age and mature (and in some cases die) until by the final book of the series even the youngest of the children from the first book are adults.

The narrative moves from character to character, so they all have their own stories that add up to a bigger picture that only the reader is fully aware of.  I have been known to go through the series just reading the bits about my favourite characters. I don’t know how Elizabeth Jane Howard does it, but she juggles a huge cast of characters while making them all seem different and distinct, and by the end you have sympathy even for the people who you found the most unlikable at the start *cough* Edward *cough* Villy *cough* and have seen promising children turn into horrors.  It’s not quite a Rich People Problems book, because although they are well off upper class types (not aristocracy though) the war is a genuine real problem with genuine consequences, but it’s not far off.

I first read the original quartet while raiding my mum’s bookshelves in my teens and my sister read them not long after. I actually own then as actual books and as ebooks and they are one of the few series that we all own our own copies of. Well, at least we all own the first four books. I think I’m the only one with a copy of the fifth. All Change came out in 2013 nearly 20 years after Casting Off – which had finished the series off perfectly – to my mind at least.  Looking back at my goodreads review from the time, I found it true to the series and not contrived, but it is telling that I haven’t been back to re-read it since then. It’s quite melancholy and sad in places – more than the others are because it doesn’t have the same payoffs at the end.  It was inevitable – and well signposted in the earlier books – that the war was going to change the lives and lifestyles of the family, but All Change really leans into the reality of that and it makes me a bit sad and means you end the series on a bit less of a satisfying high than you do if you finish at Casting Off. I don’t think it spoils the whole series (which was my big fear before it came out) but I prefer to think of them all as they were at the end of Casting Off – heading out into their futures with all sorts of possibilities unexplored and ahead of them.

The weather is just starting to turn properly nice here at the moment – with flowers blooming in the garden and the sun shining – which makes it an ideal time to start reading about the last golden summers before the Second World War.  At 400 pages each, they’ll also keep you going over the long Easter weekend and beyond if you want them to.  I originally read these not long after I had read Barbara Taylor Bradford’s Hold the Dream series and was looking for something similar – telling the stories of a family over years and years.  Once I’d read the Cazalets, I was spoiled forever for the genre.  Lots of people have tried to tell stories like this, but very few have done it as well as Elizabeth Jane Howard did. The original books came out in the early 90s, so it’s very possible that some of you reading this haven’t come across her before – so if you like authors like Harriet Evans, Dinah Jeffries or have enjoyed Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan books, you should totally try these.  And if anyone has any recommendations for other series that I could read that do the same sort of thing – then drop them in the comments. Also: if you like this and haven’t read The Camomile Lawn, then you should totally read that too.

As the bookshops are closed, and these aren’t new releases, I suspect you’ll have to buy them as ebooks.  The Kindle and Kobo editions of the Light Years are £3.99 at the moment, which isn’t too bad.  After that the prices go up for books two and three and Casting Off is a bargainous 99p (Kindle/Kobo)- but whatever you do, don’t start there, it won’t work for you anywhere near as well.

Happy Reading and stay safe.

Children's books, Recommendsday, Series I love

Recommendsday: The Vanderbeeker series

Another week, another Recommendsday post to start off the new year.  Long term readers will know that I love middle grade stories – I’ve written before about my love of the Wells and Wong series as well as older books that I read when I was the “right” age. I discovered Karina Yan Glaser’s series at the end of last year – but ran into Christmas posts before I could write about it.

Cover of The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

So the Vanderbeekers live in part of a brownstone in Brooklyn. There’s five children and it’s maybe not quite big enough but they’ve always lived there, their dad is the building superintendent and the building is like part of the family. All three books in the series so far are basically a modern take on the classic “children go on a quest” trope. In the first book their landlord is trying to evict them and they have to try and stop it. In the second, they’re trying to start a secret garden and in the third they’re trying to save their mother’s business after accidentally putting it at risk.

Cover of The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden

I really, really loved these books. The characters are great, the relationships between the family are just wonderful and they’re quirky and fun without being annoying. There’s all the classic characters in the gang – the dreamy one, the adventurous one, the problem solver – but they’re also people you recognise and would like to be friends with. There are inventions, there are pets, there’s special food – just like in the Enid Blyton stories you remember but the plots deal with issues like gentrification and the gig economy – which are very twenty-first century but also, when you think about it probably the modern successors of the Enid Blyton quest stories of old.

They’re also more diverse. The family is biracial, the neighbourhood is multicultural and so you can give it to children when you want them to get all the feels you got from your childhood favourite adventures but without everyone being white and a bit posh or the risks of language that can be out of date at best and racist at worse.

I’ve already bought the first one for the nieces (as a Christmas book) – that’s how much I liked them. My copies came from the library, but they’re available in Kindle and Kobo editions as well as in paperback and hardback from all the usual sources – although they’re probably a special order job (Foyles have two of the three available to order at the moment)

Happy Reading!

American imports, Series I love

Series I love: Blessings

As regular readers to this blog are aware, I’m a serial book glommer.  If I find a series I like and circumstances allow, I will absolutely read them one after another and my annual Big Obsessions posts are proof of it – with Steph Plum, Kinsey Milhone, Charles Paris among a list to which we can now add Beverly Jenkins’s Blessings series which I read in a month, including four of them pretty much back to back in the run up to Easter.

Cover of Bring on the Blessings

The first in the series, Bring on the Blessings, was BotW pick at the start of April, but here’s the series set up: Bernadine Brown is a very wealthy divorcée. After discovering her husband was cheating on her on her 52nd birthday, she took him for half his fortune and starts to think about what she can do with her life now.  It turns out that what she can do is buy the town of Henry Adams in Kansas – a historic black township founded by freed slaves after the Civil War, but now struggling and in decline.  It’s for sale on ebay as the town’s mayor tries to stop it being absorbed by a neighbouring town.  Her plan: to revitalise the town and to use it as a place to give troubled kids a second chance at life by setting them up into good foster homes.  Not everyone is onboard with the plan – some of the Henry Adams residents are sceptical and some of the kids would really rather be elsewhere, but over the course of the nine (so far) books we see Bernadine’s plan grow and develop.

As well as watching the town develop you get a romantic element in each book – whether its a couple getting together, or reconnecting.  They are a Christian Inspirational series – but not in a overly moralising way, so I don’t think you’ll find them too much if you’re not really interested in that – they’re not out to convert you.  And the characters aren’t all perfect people living perfect Christian lives.  They’re sometimes messy, all make mistakes or do the wrong thing at times – and learn from it.  And because there’s such a lovely big cast, who all have running storylines, even if a novel is focused on someone who isn’t one of your favourites, there’s still plenty from the rest of town to keep you happy.  Don’t expect gritty realism here – this is pure escapism and some of the coincidences are totally farfetched – but that’s a romance genre staple.  There’s nothing here that hasn’t happened at least once in a small town romance – and we all know that I find them totally glommable.

Screen grab of blessings book covers marked as read

I was trying to think which was my favourite storyline, but it was actually easier to come up with my favourite character – Amari the reformed underage car thief.  He gets the best lines, he’s got a handle on who he is and what he’s up to and he feels like a real boy.

I borrowed the whole series from the library, run after another, but you should be able to get hold of these fairly easily on Kindle – although the paperbacks may prove harder in the UK as they look like a special order from the US.

Happy Reading!