Series I love

Series I Love: The Vinyl Detective

This week’s Series I Love post is Andrew Cartmel’s Vinyl Dectective – in honour of the sixth instalment which came out this week. It was on my preorder list so it turned up on Tuesday (along with Selma Blair’s memoir) and I’m already getting stuck into it. It’s five years since Written in Dead Wax was a BotW so it’s time for a revisit

The series follows the Vinyl Detective (we don’t know his name) a record connoisseur and audiophile who earns a living by hunting out rare records and selling them on to other collectors. In the first book of the series it’s an elusive jazz record and in each book we’ve had a different genre – psychedelic rock, wartime big band music, electric folk, punk and now Scandi death metal. The series also has a regular gang around our detective – and a regular antagonist in their quest for rarities. I won’t say more about who they are because it spoils some of the plot of the first book! Oh and there are cats.

There’s always a degree of peril – more peril than you would expect in record collection to be honest as the guys have escaped death a few times now. There’s also a lot of wit and charm and plenty of in jokes and references to the music that the book is centred on. In fact I’m fairly sure I miss some stuff because I’m not a super fan of any of the genres that the books have covered so far. Sadly boybands of the 90s and early 2000s didn’t really release music on vinyl, so unless there’s a Queen inspired instalment i may never quite understand the full extent of the references – but there are plenty for the casual observer of music over the years.

Andrew Cartmel writes for the Rivers of London graphic novel series, so it’s probably not a surprise that his style of writing appeals to me. I did try to pick a favourite, but I’ve found it really hard. I loved the punk one but I do wonder if that is recency bias, becuase it’s the most recent. So then I thought it was probably the big band one, but then I remembered the folk one is very clever and then I realised that that is half the series, which is ridiculous. You probably do want to start at the beginning though – because it sets the whole gang up as well as being very funny. And then you can pretty much do what you want – read in order or read as your musical tastes dictate. And if you’re a Kindle Unlimited member, the first book Written in Dead Wax is available in that at the moment, so there’s no excuse there either. They also should be fairly easily available from bookshops – I’ve certainly seen them in the mystery sections of all the ones i’ve been in recently (that’ll be Foyles and Waterstones!).

Enjoy!

Fantasy, Series I love

Series I Love: Chronicles of St Mary’s

The thirteenth in the series has just come out (Thursday in fact) and I’m on a bit of a binge, so here we are with a series I love post about the time travellers, sorry historians who investigate in contemporary time at the St Mary’s Institute for Historical Research. If I had to describe these in a sentence I would go for: time travel adventure books with a comic (mostly darkly comic) twist.

Now this is one series where you definitely want to read in order, because it’s complicated and there is a running plot and a running enemy. And at the start of the first book, Just One Damned Thing After Another, we are introduced to St Mary’s as Max joins the staff – which is great because it means that you get everything explained to you as it is explained to her and you meet all the characters you’re going to get to know and love as you go through the series. And then soon you’re hurtling through history with the disaster magnets of St Marys as they try to find out what really happened at various historical events or research what life was really like centuries ago.

A couple of warnings: there’s some sexual violence in the first book that may be a no no for some people. And when things go wrong, they really go wrong – and some times it’s not fixable. Oh and Jodi Taylor is also not averse to killing characters off. Try not to get too attached to anyone. I also think that the series has gone way beyond what Taylor was originally anticipating – and sometimes when you read a lot of them back to back you can see that a little bit.

But either all that out of the way, this series is a rollicking ride through history – which is accurate enough about the things I know about not to make me ragey, is able to make you cry as well as laugh and isn’t afraid to make major changes to the lives of its characters – no endless love triangles a la Steph Plum here. Taylor seems able to write a couple of novels a year and there are also stacks of short stories that fit in between the full length novels. Oh and there’s a spin of series which I own but haven’t started reading yet. So if you do get into it you have plenty to work your way through.

Happy long weekend everyone!

Series I love

Series I Love: Maisie Dobbs

It’s been nearly five years since the first in the Maisie Dobbs series was my BotW and as the seventeenth in the series can out recently, it seemed like an opportune time to feature the series here.

At the start of the series it’s 1929 and Maisie is setting up a private investigation firm in London. As I said in my review at the time, the mystery in that book is slighter than you expect because the book is also doing a lot of heavy work in the set up for the series itself. Over the course of the rest of the series Maisie has carried out all sorts of different types of investigations – some murder, some not – but a lot of them using her experiences and contacts made during the Great War. Time moves by as the series goes on (yes, I know that sounds obvious but it’s not always the case!) and by book 17 we’ve reached 1942. This passage of time has enabled a huge variety of different set ups as well as meaning that historical events can be woven into what’s going on. And of course there have been developments in Maisie’s personal life.

This is one of my favourite series to dip into. They’re basically very easy to read historical mystery novels. They don’t have the hint of humour that you get from Royal Spyness or Daisy Dalrymple, but they’re not gruesome-gruesome either. I think there’s bits of it that need to be read in order, but I certainly haven’t done that – at the moment I’ve read 13 of the series – but the books I haven’t read are 9, 14, 15 and the newest one and I’ve read some of the others in the wrong order too! If you don’t read them in order you will get spoilers for Maisie’s personal life, but to be honest that may not necessarily be a bad thing. If you read them you’ll understand, but anything else I say will be a spoiler!

In terms of getting hold of them, it should be fairly easy – I’ve seen them in bookshops (new and used), libraries (physical and virtual) and they’re all on kindle and Kobo too. And because of all the factors mentioned above, if you want to see if you like them, you could just start with whichever one you can get hold of easiest. As I write this the cheapest on Kindle and Kobo are books 11 and 12 weirdly.

Happy Friday!

Bonus picture: Fitzroy Square on Thursday morning – the location of Maisie’s office.

Series I love

Series I Love: The Bridgertons

Do you know what day today is? It’s the day the second season of Bridgerton arrives on Netflix! And so to celebrate, I’m writing about the book series that inspired the TV show.

The series follows the eight children of Violet Bridgerton and her late husband as they find love. Although the kids are named in alphabetical order (Anthony, Benedict, Colin, Daphne, Eloise, Francesca, Gregory and Hyacinth) the books aren’t in age order – so the happily ever afters are Daphne, Anthony, Benedict, Colin, Eloise, Francesca, Hyacinth and Gregory. There are no secret babies here, but there are fake relationships, widows, widowers, rakes, Cinderella stories, secret identities and more. As with other similar romance series you can read them in any order, but you’ll get slight spoilers for the other books if you do – for example the real identity of Lady Whistledown the gossip columnist isn’t revealed in the first book (like it is in the first series of the TV show) you only find out when that character is the main character of one of the books.*

That said, the first book in the series that I read was book six – When He Was Wicked – which is actually pretty self-contained. Our heroine is Francesca who is recovering from the death of her first husband, with the help of her dear friend and confident Michael. Michael was Francesca’s husband’s cousin and succeeded him as the earl. He’s also been in love with Francesca since the first time he saw her – 36 hours before her wedding. Some of the action takes place on the earl’s estate in Scotland so you don’t get to see much of the fun sibling dynamics that makes the other books. It also runs paralel to Romancing Mr Bridgerton and To Sir Phillip, With Love so I’m really interested to see how the TV series deals with all that when it gets there.

Talking of the TV series, it’s been said before and it’s worth saying again here that the books aren’t as diverse as the TV version is. Also Queen Charlotte isn’t a character in the books the way that she is in the show. But don’t let that stop you reading the books – because they really are great fun and very romantic. And they’re a total binge read too. Hopefully the arrival of series two will put some of them back onto offer on Kindle again – but they’re definitely much easier to get hold of in paperback than they used to be. You can see from my copies that I’ve had them for a while (I started reading them in my Southend era a decade plus ago) but the redesign of the Duke and I to tie in with the TV show seems to have sparked a mass redesign of historical romance covers in general which has been interesting to see.

*yes I know you know who it is if you’ve watched the TV series, but I’m trying not to do spoilers for the people who haven’t!

Series I love

Series I Love: Dandy Gilver

Back with another Series I Love post because last week I read another Dandy Gilver book and realised that I haven’t written about them here for a while. I’ve already written a Recommendsday about them (but it was five years ago!) and there is a BotW from 2018, so I’ve mostly focused on a more general look at the series – which as you can see has had several different cover and title styles over the years which is deeply annoying to me in its own special way.

These are historical mystery – usually murder mystery – stories set in Scotland in the 1920s and 1930s. At the start of the series, Dandy is a fairly well to do married lady with too much time on her hands, with two sons at boarding school and a disinterested husband. Her detective career starts with a jewel theft that turns into a murder that she wants to solve to clear the name of the dead women’s fiancé – Alec. Alec becomes her side kick and the two of them start a discreet private investigations business, which her husband wouldn’t put up with if it wasn’t for the fact that it brings in useful money and running a Scottish estate is getting harder to do on the money has.

There are fifteen books in the series and I have read all bar one. and I think I should mention more that these are not cosy historicals in the way that say the Daisy Dalrymple series tended to be. They’re not country house type stories and the solutions to these are often darker and creepier. In my opinion the series had a few teething issues on books 3 and 4, but then the really get going again, and are quite inventive at the situations they put Dandy into – dance halls, schools, fishing villages and more.

Unusually for me, I don’t think you necessarily need to start this series at the beginning – they’ve evolved a fair bit and there’s not a running plot that’s going to get spoilt if you read out of order like if for example you go for Daisy Dalrymple or Royal Spyness out of sequence – or in fact any cozy with a running romantic subplot, except perhaps Steph Plum which has a love triangle which I don’t see how it can *ever* resolve (or even evolve). My recommendation is to start with either Dandy Dalrymple and the Unpleasantness in the Ballroom or Dandy Dalrymple and a Most Misleading Habit and see how they take you and go from there.

Have a great weekend!

Series I love

Series I love: Master list

Well hasn’t this been a bit of a week so far. Real life is interfering madly with all of my plans for writing posts, so instead for this Friday I humbly offer you a master list of series I love posts so far…

Golden Age Crime:

Peter Wimsey

Albert Campion

Roderick Alleyn

Historical Mystery

Amelia Peabody

Phryne Fisher

Daisy Dalrymple

Royal Spyness

Veronica Speedwell

Pink Carnation

Murder Mystery

Charles Paris

Cupcake Bakery

Fantasy

Parasolverse

Rivers of London

Thursday Next

Other Fiction

Miss Buncle

Barsetshire

Cazalets

Tales of the City

Blessings

Authors I love, historical, Series I love

Series I Love: Veronica Speedwell

Today I want to talk about Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell series, because the latest book in the series came out this week, and it seemed like a really good moment to introduce newbies to the wonderful world of Veronica (and Stoker).

Our heroine, Veronica Speedwell is an orphaned, independent woman. When we meet her at the start of the series, she has just buried her aunt and is about to resume her life of travelling the world in the pursuit of butterflies. But while she is back in Britain, she is drawn into a mystery and into the orbit of the incredibly grumpy taxidermist and natural historian Stoker. The latest book, An Impossible Imposter, is the seventh in the series and so far we have discovered secrets about Veronica’s family and about Stoker’s past, romped through artists colonies, archaeological circles, women’s clubs, private clubs and gothic Cornish castles. The latest one promises an amnesiac heir and I can’t wait. Although I may have to, because I’m not meant to be buying hardcover novels at the moment, no matter how much I want to.

It’s hard to talk about them much more than that, or you give too much away – as you’ll see if you click through to the BotW reviews for A Treacherous Curse and A Dangerous Collaboration, but basically they’re fast paced Victorian-set adventure capers with a feisty heroine and a grumpy hero, if Stoker can be classed as such (he definitely wouldn’t like it). They’re also witty and have clever premises as well as good mysteries. What is not to like?

I forgot to check if Foyles had any in stock when I was in there the other weekend, but my suspcion is that if you want this in physical editions, you’re going to have to order them specially. But they are on Kindle and Kobo and do try and read them in order if you can, it will work so much better if you do. And if you’ve already read all of these, then you should really check out some of Raybourn’s other books – especially the Lady Julia series.

Enjoy!

Series I love, women's fiction

Series I Love: Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire

So this is a post I’ve been thinking about writing for ages – but thought I probably ought to read some Anthony Trollope before I did so that I can sound knowledgeable about the origin of the setting. But I’m finally admitting that that’s probably not going to happen any time soon – because, you know, huge to-read pile, pandemic and my general (and ever more pronounced) reluctance to read anything “classic”. And the other issue is that I’ve only read fifteen of them. But if I wait for Virago to publish all of them I could be waiting a long time. So, I’m going for it now. Sorry, not sorry.

This is a series of loosely connected books all set in the same (fictional) county and featuring some of the same characters. The first book was published in 1933, and as in book 15 I’ve just reached the end of the Second World War the section of the series that I’ve read fits nicely into the interwar period that I read about so much. Not a lot happens in them – or at least nothing dramatic – they are just amusing and witty portraits of life in a certain part of British society. In High Rising – the first in the series – we met Laura Moreland, a widow who started writing books to help pay the school fees for her irrepressible son Tony. The books are wildly successful, but not highbrow, so Laura is somewhat embarrassed by them. There are squabbles in the community, misunderstandings, misbehaving children, there are issues of class and there are gentle romances. The pattern for the series is set.

They do turn darker through the Second World War, and there are bits that haven’t aged as well as others. I see from notes on the later books in the series that they turn more romantic and less social comedy, but as far as the ones I have read go, they are comedies of manners and society with some romantic interludes. Think the Golden Age murder mysteries in style and tone but with more humour and no dead bodies. If you read school stories as a child (or still do as an adult like me) then Summer Half is a behind the scenes look at what might have been going on in the staff rooms of some of the schools that you read about (albeit at a boys school). There are books set at Big Houses or at weekend parties. There are fetes and village events. And there is a lot of gentle fun to be had.

And as we all know that’s the sort of mood I’m in (almost permanently) at the moment. Gentle fun, low peril, it will all turn out alright in the end type books. In fact the only thing that hasn’t turned out right in the end here is that Virago changed the editions so that the cover illustration doesn’t wrap around the spine on the later books that they’re republished so my shelf doesn’t match as nicely as I want it to. Truly a first world problem.

You should be able to get hold of these fairly easily – I’ve bought mine in various bookshops as well as on Amazon (there are a couple that were kindle only at first). In fact I think I originally started reading them because I spotted one on a table in Old Foyles. I saw the cover and read the back and off we went. And it’s been delighful.

Happy Reading!

cozy crime, detective, Series I love

Series I Love: Cupcake Bakery Mysteries

Happy Friday everyone! It’s the end of another week and I am back with another series I love post. Yesterday I was talking about my search for a new historical cozy crime series, so today I’m doing one of my reliable favourite contemporary cozy mystery series.

So Jenn McKinlay’s Cupcake Bakery series follows Mel Cooper and her friend Angie DeLaura as they run the Fairytale Cupcake Bakery. Along with their friend Tate, they’ve been stumbling across bodies for thirteen books now, with a fourteenth due this year. I’ve read eleven of them as you can see from the photo, which is – unusually for me – somewhat out of order*. Over the course of the series the cast of secondary regular characters and getting the bakers out and about so that you’re not constantly wondering how a cupcake bakery can stay in business if a bodies keep turning there!

You mostly see the action from Mel’s perspective, but because you have the trio of main characters, you’re able to get personal life developments for each of them – which also helps the series avoid falling into the pitfalls of an endless love triangle for the heroine (see Steph Plum) or an endless on off relationship for the heroine (see Agatha Raisin) or marrying the heroine off very quickly and landing her with kids the author doesn’t know what to do with! The complexity of the murders can vary a little – depending on how much running plot stuff is going on – but they pretty much always manage to avoid the Too Stupid To Live pitfall, although Mel and or Angie do find themselves one on one with the murderer at the denouement with alarming regularity!

But as a calming way to pass a few hours, they are fairly hard to beat. I keep meaning to try out one of the cupcake recipes at the end, but the combination of having to turn the measurements into British (how much *is* a stick of butter in metric?) and the fact there are only two of us in our household and cupcakes need eating quickly means that I’ve never got around to it. They do always sound like they should taste good though – which isn’t a given for cozy crime recipes.

When I started buying these, they were only available in the American mass market paperback editions that you see in the photo. But the good news (for you, not me because now I’ve started in physical copies you know I’ll carry on**) is that you can now get most of them in Kindle!

Happy Reading!

* and yes it does bug me that the spines changed mid series and so they don’t all match.

** yes, I did indeed buy book 12 while I was writing this post!

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!