bingeable series, Series I love

Series I love: Kate Shackleton

The new book officially came out yesterday – and I was lucky enough to pick up a copy in Foyles earlier in the week, so it seemed like an ideal time to talk about Frances Brody’s historical mystery series. I’ve written about a couple of these individually in the past, but not the series…

Kate Shackleton is a private investigator in Yorkshire in the 1920s. The first book is set in 1922 when she is still finding her feet after her husband was reported missing, presumed dead in the Great War. Her father is a fairly senior policeman so she has some connections which can help her at times, but she also has a male ex-policeman assistant who can go to places that she can’t and a housekeeper who also helps in some of the investigations.

I found the first book in the series a little slow going, but they have really grown and developed across the course of the thirteen novels we’ve had so far. The mysteries are on the cozy side of things, but the settings – mostly around Yorkshire – and the set ups are clever and a bit different. They often feature industrial or semi industrial settings and there is a lot less of the rich people problems – more middle class people problems.

In the new book we have reached 1930, when Kate receives a letter from a stranger asking her to meet him because he has important information. But when she arrives in the mill village, his body has just been discovered. What seems like a tragic accident at first is soon discovered to be rather more than that and Kate is soon investigating…

They should be fairly easy to get hold of if you want to – as well as all the usual places to buy them from, I’ve often spotted them at the library.

Happy Friday everyone!

Series I love

Series I Love: Thursday Murder Club

I’ve decided that this is the week of adventurey, mystery, capers novels – so this weeks series post is about Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder club series – the third of which was (one of) my holiday book present(s) to myself for Sicily!

The set up is this: four friends who live at the same retirement complex meet up every Thursday morning to examine unsolved murder cases. Excerpt somehow Ron, Ibrahim, Joyce and Elizabeth keep getting mixed up in actual murders and mysteries. As we’ve gone through the series we’ve learned more about each member of the group – but also added more characters into the wider circle. I think you could have read the second book without having read the first and still got most of it, but in book three you definitely need to know what has gone before.

They’ve been credited as reviving the cozy crime genre in the UK, which I think is a bit of a stretch because there were lots of good mystery novels before these appeared, but they are doing something a little bit different. Most of the other series have focused on one person solving the crime, but this has the core four – and the narrative switches between an omnipotent narrator floating over the action where the reader knows more than any of the characters and sections written from Joyce’s point of view.

Elizabeth actually has a lot in common with Billie in Killers of a Certain Age, but the rest of group are very different – Ron was a trade union rabble rouser, Ibrahim was a psychologist and Joyce was mostly a housewife and all of them have issues relating to their age that they have to deal with it (I’m not telling you what though and this also adds a richness and texture to the books – where they can bring tears to your eyes.

Would they have broken through if someone else had written them? Well, Richard Osman is obviously a well known name here in the UK which meant that they had an enormous amount of hype and prepublicity before the first one came out – but they’re still selling and doing well three books in and I don’t think people would still be coming back in such numbers if there wasn’t something a little bit special about them. And they’re a book that lots of people I know have read – even if they don’t normally read this sort of book so they make for a great swiss army recommendation – if you can just find someone who hasn’t already read it yet! I’ve been keeping an eye on the charity shops too – and these don’t seem to be cropping up in the same sort of numbers as some of the other celeb-written novels either. And if you want to know more about the first two – you can read my book of the week posts about them here and here. They’ve also spawned a string of similar sort of novels – as big sellers often do. I’m trying to work my way through a few of them so I can offer some recommendations for people looking for a similar sort of vibe. Watch this space!

Anyway, if you haven’t already read them, start at the beginning and go from there. You can buy them pretty much everywhere and in every format.

Happy Friday!

Series I love

Mystery Series: Mary Russell Mysteries

As the observant among you may have noticed, I have now read all the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mysteries and so 18 months after The Beekeepers Apprentice was a Book of the Week post, I am back with a Series post for Laurie R King’s Sherlock adaptation or continuation or whatever you want to call it.

The set up is thus: teenage orphan Mary Russell meets the aging Sherlock Holmes while wandering on the Sussex Downs. He sees something of himself in her and she becomes his apprentice (as the title of the first book suggests) and they start solving mysteries together. Mary does most of her growing up over the course of that first book – she’s at Oxford by book two and then the later books in the series are across a much shorter time span – it’s 1923 in book three and only 1925 by book 16 which is something that boggles my mind if I think about all that they get up to in between – for all that there is some jumping backwards and forwards in amongst it all. And I have significant reservations* about that massive age difference, given that Sherlock and Mary are married by book three, but mostly King deals with it well (and of course it’s a problem of her own making).

Mary and Sherlock make for a great duo – despite the reservations as mentioned above – his enjoyment in passing on his skills to her makes this feel different to the Sherlock and Watson dynamic and makes the series work (for me at least). And as the series goes on the books start to feature more of one (or the other) of the leads. Plus there are tie-ins and throw backs to the original Conan Doyle books but also references to other Golden Age crime novels – Peter Wimsey pops up at one point for example. But mostly I’ve enjoyed reading these because the adventures are good. They take you all over the world – from the countryside of England to the mountains of India, to the Holy Land and to San Francisco and a lot more besides. You do need to read them in order though to get the most out of them – if you haven’t read O Jerusalem, you’re missing a key element for Justice Hall. And if you haven’t read Justice Hall then you’re missing out in Garment of Shadows. And God of the Hive makes no sense at all if you haven’t read The Language of Bees.

It’s tough to chose a favourite from the series – but I think the ones that have stuck in my head the most are the aforementioned O Jerusalem and The Game. But the Pirate King is also fun (and could have gone into my Mysteries set on Cruise Ships post if more of it had been on the ship!), Locked Rooms gives you a look at 1920s San Francisco and Garment of Shadows has some 1920s Literati on the Riviera action.

These are really easy to get hold of – I’ve found them at the library (e book and real book) and in the bookshops (including The Works) and they’re often on offer on Kindle and Kobo, so if you pay attention you can pick them up when they come around on the offers.

Enjoy!

*and that’s mostly why this isn’t a Series I Love post…

bingeable series, Series I love

Series I Love: London Celebrities

I’ve been running a theatrical theme for a couple of weeks now so I thought I’d start the bank holiday weekend with a bingeable series of romance with a theatrical theme.

Lucy Parker’s London Celebrities books are a series of enemies to lovers type romances set in London – initially in the world of West End theatre but in the fourth and fifth in the series expanding a little to include asetting at a country house and then two rival TV producers and. They tend to have sunshiney heroines and grumpy heroes who are actually big softies underneath and plenty of charming banter. In fact several of them were Books of the Week when they came out and I’ve mentioned them all at some point before, but now I’m finally taking them as a group.

They’re all set in the same world and there is character cross over but – like many romance series – each story is selfcontained and features a different couple. Act Like It has a fake relationship between two co-stars who can’t stand each other to try and help a bad boy fix his image problem. Pretty Face has an actress who’s been pigeonholed as her man-stealing period drama character taking on a West End role and fighting with the director who doesn’t want to give her the part. Making Up has an understudy who takes over the leading role and a make-up artist who is working on thes show after his professional reputation took an unfair battering. The Austen Playbook has a daughter of an acting dynasty taking a role in a new Jane Austen TV series being filmed at the ancestral home of a descendant of someone her grandmother had an affair with. And Headliners has two rival TV presenters who are forced to work together on morning TV to save the show and save their careers. And don’t they all sound delicious? I mean I started reading the series again just to write this post, and that’s a bit of a disaster in itself to be honest, because I have a long list of things I’m meant to be reading and these aren’t on it.

You should be able to get them on all the usual ebook platforms – there’s even an omnibus edition of the first three if you’re feeling ready to commit. Also Lucy Parker’s newest novel Battle Royal – which was a Book of the Week here almost exactly a year ago – is £1.99 at the moment. No news yet on when the sequel to that one is coming though…

Children's books, children's books, series, Series I love, Uncategorized

Series I Love: Swallows and Amazons

As it’s been a week of Girls Own content, lest carry it on with another classic children’s series – this time an adventure one for boys and girls.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the series, they follow a group of children going on outdoor adventures during the school holidays. There are three families – the Walkers (the Swallows), the Blacketts (the Amazons) and the Callums (the Ds) – who appear in various configurations across the series, but the opening books (which are my favourites) mostly centre on the Walkers and the Blacketts who start off as rivals but become friends. Sailing is often involved – and many of the books are set in and around the Lake District in the North West of England.

I first encountered the Swallows and the Amazons when my Year 3 teacher read the first book out loud to our class and I carried on reading most (if not all) of the rest of the series by borrowing them from my local library. What’s not to love about a group of children going off to camp on an island and sail around a lake all summer long. There’s “pirates” and actual crime and it’s just wonderful. Let’s be honest, which child didn’t wish they’d had a grown-up free holiday or two, or been allowed to roam around without supervision for days on end – I think it’s one of the reasons why Secret Island was one of my favourites of the Enid Blyton series when I was little.

I should say at this point that I am not by any means an outdoors person. We never went camping when I was a child, so when I was first reading these the idea sounded fun – I think I “camped” on the floor of my bedroom for a few weeks after reading the first book, but I was not a big walker or hiker. I also suffered from travel sickness so being on a boat of any size was always pretty awful, but I loved the books – and still continue to enjoy them whenever I get a chance for a re-read. There’s something about children with a secret code between themselves and who go on what are basically quests that just really appeals. Also you learn a lot about various countryside-y things from the mid 20th century – most of what I know about charcoal smoking and dowsing for water comes from this series – which of course means I’m hopelessly out of date, but I didn’t know that at the time.

There are a couple of books in the series that get a bit weird – and as with a lot of books of similar era, there are some bits that haven’t aged well. I probably should have had a reread before I posted this – but I remember that I found Missee Lee very weird when I read it when I was about 10. And I don’t own all of them – I have some from when I was little and I’m picking the others up as I see nice copies at sensible prices. But I do own the first two on audio book and have listened to their fairly regularly. I treated myself to Pigeon Post (my other childhood fave) the other week and it’s next on my to listen list.

The first book has been turned into a film twice – it’s been a while since I saw the original film, but I remember it as being fairly true to the actual plot. I have seen the most recent one has had a fair few alterations to the plot – and not just the fact that they renamed the unfortunate to modern ears Titty. I’ll leave you to judge for yourself from the trailers!

Anyway, delightful outdoors fun, even if pemmican – real or fake – sounds disgusting!

Happy Friday everyone one!

Children's books, Series I love

Series I Love: Sadlers Wells

I am off to book conference this weekend, so in honour of all the fun I’ll be having, this week’s series I love post is a Girls Own one.

Lorna Hill’s Sadlers Wells series follows a series of young women as they embark upon careers in dancing. The first book, A Dream of Sadlers Wells was first published in 1950 and follows newly orphaned Veronica Weston as she tries to carry on learning ballet despite having moved to live with her cousins in Northumberland. The second book follows Veronica as she embarks upon her training at Sadlers Wells ballet school (now the Royal Ballet) and the other books in the series all follow girls who have a link to Veronica somehow.

Despire being clumsy and coordinated, I loved ballet books when I was a child and moved on to Sadlers wells after I had started on the Drina series – as both had reissues at about the right time for me. But the Sadlers Wells ones were harder to find – and didn’t go the whole way to the end of the series, so some of the later ones I’ve only read in the last five or so years. And the end of the series isn’t a good as the start, but the first half dozen or so are just great. Because they focus on different people you also get glimpses of your old favourites as you carry on. In fact a bit like romance series, some of them set up the next heroine in the previous book!

And where Drina is a city girl through and through, nervously learning to love the Chiltern when she’s sent to school there for a term, she is worried about getting injured and ruining her dance career (and she does indeed twist her ankle at one point) the women of the Wells books embrace the outdoors. Veronica, Caroline, Jane and Mariella romp around the countryside on their ponies, swim in lakes and clamber around the hills. They made me want to visit Northumberland – although not learn to ride a horse.

It’s only thinking about it as an adult that I realise that, like many Girls Own books of the era, they’re subtly quite subversive in their way. In the first two books, Veronica refuses to give up her ambitions of a dancing career in the face of various trials and tribulations – but also in the face of a potential love interest. Sebastian is a musical prodigy and in one quite awful speech when he’s trying to persuade Veronica not to go to London, he says that women don’t have to have careers and could (and maybe should) leave it to the men. But Veronica carries on – and gets the success and the love too. In the later books you can see her and Sebastian, married but she’s still dancing. And if they don’t do a very good of listening to their daughter Vicki, they don’t really do a worse job than any of the other parents in the book! But the message is there – girls don’t have to just grow up and get married, they can do things and have a career too.

Happy weekend everyone.

bingeable series, Series I love

Series revisit: Phryne Fisher

Oh I know. I’ve already written about one Phryne book this week and I did one of my very first Series I Love posts on the series, but today I thought I’d mention some of my other favourites now I’ve been back through them again. I mean obviously start at the beginning for preference – and Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates is also called Cocaine Blues depending on where in the world you are. I have that one on audiobook too and Stephanie Daniel did a great job of the audiobooks (with a few tiny exceptions, mostly around singing!) and it really does set everything up. But with that proviso out of the way, my particular favourite of the rest of the series are coming up!

Murder on the Ballerat Train is a creepy mystery – when an entire carriage of people is knocked out how can it be anything else? – and you also first meet Jane and Ruth who form a key part of the Fisher household going forward. I love a good theatre-set book (see posts passim ad nauseum) and Ruddy Gore is one of these and a good mystery too. I’m not a operetta person really, but every time I read it I think that I must really get a ticket to see a good production of something Gilbert and Sullivan! Plus it has the bonus of being the first appearance of Lin Chung.

Away with the Fairies is another favourite – as I love the women’s magazine and its staff. It has a similar added appeal to me as Pym’s Publicity in Murder Must Advertise (which is on offer this month!) – seeing how things used to be done (or at least how Kerry Greenwood has managed to find out they were done!) as well as solving a mystery. And I like the Phryne out and about books too. I mentioned Death by Water a few weeks ago, but there are several other Phryne on holiday stories – like Dead Man’s Chest which has added early movie making to boot.

And finally the next book in the series looks like it is going to be another house party book – and if it’s anything like Murder in the Dark it will be a lot of fun. That has some Bright Young Yhings having a final hurrah to see in the new year and features threats and kidnapping rather than actual murder, which does make for a nice change.

Murder in Williamstown is due out in the autumn – all the rest are available now and if anyone knows why my kindle doesn’t group Murder by Mendelssohn in the series with all the others, let me know! (I have Death in Daylesford in a different format so that’s also not there).

Happy Friday everyone.

Adventure, bingeable series, mystery, Series I love

Series I Love: Vicky Bliss

So I’ve finally finished my Vicky Bliss reread after getting distracted on the Phryne Fisher read. And so today’s series I love is dedicated to the *other* Elizabeth Peters series…

Vicky Bliss is an art historian, who specialises in medieval Europe. Across the course of six books she careers around Europe and Egypt in the search for missing items and trying to solve mysteries. In the first book she is working at a university in the US, but as a result of that adventure, she gets a job in Munich, which becomes her home base for the rest of the series.

In contrast to Amelia Peabody, Vicky is tall and blonde, but the two women share an adventurous spirit and a tendency to attract all sorts of men. In Borrower of the Night Vicky is challenged to track down a missing masterpiece of wood carving in a strange castle in Germany and ends up in competitions with her her sort of boyfriend. Thankfully she sees the light with him very early on and by the end of the book she has acquired a new friend and sidekick and in the second book gets a much more satisfactory love interest who continues through the rest of the series. Across the books there is ancient gold of various types, ancient relics and forged jewellery. You are best reading them in order because characters from one book do pop up in others which will spoil some resolutions for you

They’re set in what you might call the floating now – the first one was originally set when it was written in the 1970s and Peters wrote the first five over the course of about 20 years before returning to the series in the mid 2000s to write one final adventure. Now technology didn’t change that much between the mid 1970s and the early 1990s, so there are a few things but you don’t really notice, or at least it doesn’t really jar.But if you read them all back to back and you get to the final book where there is the internet and mobile phones I suggest you have a little pause (like I did!) before you read the final book and then take heed of Peters’ introduction where she says basically just go with it. It is work it because it has call backs to previous books in the series and more. In fact the final two books both feature Egypt, and there a few Amelia references thrown in there for those in the know!

As we know, I’m a sucker for an adventure caper and these are so much fun. I hadn’t read them since before the Pandemic, and I curse myself for a fool for not having thought to revisit them sooner. I’ve been trying to pick a favourite but I’m unable to chose between them – it comes down to Silhouette in Scarlet and Night Train to Memphis I think, but really they all have things to recommend them.

If you want to read these, there are paperback editions – which Amazon claims to have in stock but I suspect no one else will. But they’re in all the usual ebook places as far as I can see and Borrower of the Night is 99p on Kindle and Kobo atow, so it’s got to be worth a look.

Enjoy!

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!