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:

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Reccomendsday: Trisha Ashley

There’s a Trisha Ashley book out tomorrow and as she’s one of my favourite authors, I thought I’d pull together a post of my writing about her.

The new book is a reissue of one of her early novels. I managed to borrow Happy Endings from the library back in the day, but others haven’t been so fortunate. It’s now called Written from the Heart and tells the story of Tina Devino, a not as successful as she’d like author and book doctor, and her somewhat tangled love life. The introduction tells me it’s been polished and tweaked here and there rather than rewritten. I’m midway through reading it and so far that seems like a fair description. But it has been a while since I read it.

The Trisha Ashley collection - next to the Laurie Graham collection

I’ve written a fair few Trisha posts over the years, but I think my favourite book of hers is still the first one I read, A Winter’s Tale, which combines several of my favourite things – a big old house in trouble, a heroine with A Past, a suave yet plausible rogue and a hidden hottie just waiting to be noticed. I’ve written recently about how much I miss so-called Chick Lit and this is the sort of book I mean: the heroine is feisty, the writing is funny, the characters are appealing and the fact that Sophie ends up with a bloke is a happy consequence: she’s already saved the house on her own.

In fact all of the books set around that little bit of Lancashire are like that. I don’t mean that they’re all saving stately homes, obviously, but they’re all heroines with a problem, who fix it themselves and get a relationship out of it as a bonus. Several of them intertwined as well with brief glimpses of previous characters as a little Easter egg for the faithful.  A lot of them were published before I started the blog – so I don’t have reviews to link you to on here – but A Winter’s Tale, Wedding Tiers, The Magic of Christmas and Chocolate Wishes are all set in and around the same patch.

More recently the novels have shifted slightly, with a little more tragedy in the backstory and a little bit more angst in the present. We’re not talking terminal cancer diagnoses for the heroines though – think more towards Lucy Dillon and less towards Katie Fforde. But they are still very readable and I enjoy them a lot and writing this post has made me notice how gradual that shift has been..  Anyway – to the links:

 

Every Woman for Herself

 

 

 

Every Woman for Herself – Another early Trisha re-released a few years back and the origin of the running Skint Old Northern Woman newsletter/Magazine that pops up through her novels.  Charlie is returning to her childhood home after a break up and discovers that an actor has moved into the neighbourhood.

 

 

 

 

 

Creature Comforts – A secret past and a dog rescue in trouble, Izzy is trying to restart her own life, help her beloved aunts and regenerate the village she’s returned to.  Set in Lancashire, this in a new village rather than the ones around Winter’s End.

 

 

A Christmas Cracker – probably not the season for this, but Trisha has always done a good line in festive novels. This one features a heroine who is just out of prison (but there are Reasons for that) and a christmas cracker business that needs saving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Teashop of Lost and Found – Alice was abandoned on the moors as a baby – now she’s back, setting up a teashop near where she was found and looking for answers.

 

 

The House of Hopes and Dreams – Trisha’s most recent (new) novel. Carey’s longtime partner has died and his son has kicked her out of their home and their stained glass business.  So she goes to stay with an old friend who is recovering from a motorbike accident.  She sets up on her own and finds herself as well as a new start.

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Christmas Ever After

What else could I pick for a Christmas book this week except for a book set at Christmas-time? Exactly. It has to be a Christmas book in Christmas week. And I’ve read a lot of Christmas books this year – don’t believe me? Check out my Christmas books post.

Cover of Christmas Ever After
I think this might be the last Christmas book cover of the year. Maybe.

So my Christmas book of choice this week is the third in Sarah Morgan’s Puffin Island series, Christmas Ever after, which has Christmas twice – once in the UK and once on the island – and an enemies to lovers sort of plot where artistic Skylar’s politician boyfriend hijacks her big exhibition and then runs out on her, leaving unwilling acquaintance Alec to come to her rescue.  She ends up meeting his family – who think she’s his first girlfriend since his disastrous marriage, and well, it goes from there. There’s lots of sparky dialogue, sexy times, snow, sexy times, discussions about how relationships would bring out the best in you and not stifle you and romantic times.

This was so much fun. I like fractious relationships with romantic undertones – or ‘I hate you, I hate you, I can’t stop touching your hair’ as Sarah Wendell at Smart Bitches puts it –  so this is right up my street and it was the perfect book for me to read on Christmas Eve. It was warm and festive and if my new fireplace had actually been installed (don’t ask) I would have read it tucked up in front of a roaring fire and it would have been perfect. I’ve read the Puffin Island series slightly out of order, but I don’t think it’s been a problem at all – because for me the fun of a romance isn’t who people are going to end up with, but how they get there so I don’t mind knowing in advance who is going to end up with whom because I haven’t read the books in order.

So, in short, lovely Christmas romance, perfect for reading in front of the fire on your Christmas days off (like today if you have a bank holiday too) or on New Year’s Eve if you’re not all Christmassed out by then (or by now!) – or just put it on your list for next December.

Get your copy from Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles or on Kindle (a bargain £1.99 at time of writing) or Kobo.

Happy reading!

Authors I love

Authors I love: Christina Jones

During a trip to The Works this week I happened upon some of Christina Jones’ books that I didn’t own – having borrowed them from the library back in my days in Essex.  And then it occurred to me that this might be the time to make another entry in my very occasional series of posts about Authors I love (see previous installments on Katie Fforde and Georgette Heyer) as as far as I can see there’s no new book from her on the way at the moment which I might be able to rave about.

Paperback copy of Heaven Sent by Christina Jones
My copy of Heaven Sent – recently rescued from the pile of favourites next to the bed

Christina Jones writes wonderfully quirky romantic comedies, usually set in or around the Cotswolds.  They have often magical or mystical elements – which is not usually something I go for, but she does it so well – and come in interconnected series – where a secondary character in one book (a best friend for example) will end up being the lead character in the next book. Old characters often make cameos in later books so you get a chance to see what happened in their happily ever afters, without it being a sequel where they face strife and conflict.

As I said in my BotW post on Stealing the Show in June last year I first discovered her work when I came across a copy of Heaven Sent in a display of books nominated for the Melissa Nathan Award – as is often the way, it’s still my favourite of her novels, perhaps because I’m a sucker for a dark-haired bloke in eyeliner and Yaya is an absolute hoot.  Once I’d read that I started trawling my way through older books via the library – and buying new ones as soon as they came out.  I’ve got most of the reissues of her earlier stuff on the kindle – although I haven’t read them all as I’m trying to ration myself in the absence of new books.

A selection of books by Christina Jones on a bookshelf.
The Christina Jones shelf, such as it is, the rest are on my kindle as they were hard to get in paperback

But basically, these have everything I want in a light romantic fiction book.*  The heroines are smart and usually very good at their jobs**, they have supportive friends and find men who celebrate their achievements and love them for who they are without trying to change them.  There’s conflict, but it’s often based on misunderstandings rather than someone having done something actually terrible.  No one is perfect.  And they’re funny – mostly witty funny as opposed to laughing at someone’s humiliation funny, although there are some embarrassing moments in them too.

So, if you want to read your way into Christina Jones where should you start?  Well each novel stands alone – and as I said at the top of this post, my local branch of The Works had a cache of them at the moment – and they have the same ones online too Love Potions, Seeing Stars, Moonshine and the aforementioned Heaven Sent which are all in their 6-for-£10 promotion (sorry).  All of those would be fine places to start to give you a taster – and they’re cheaper there than Amazon or on Kindle.  There are few short stories/novellas available on Kindle for quite low prices  – but I never think they are a particularly good way of trying a new author (unless they’re free!) because you might be missing background, in jokes, world rules etc, so I would suggest the slightly older-but-recently-reissued Milton St John series, which are available as a bundled set on Kindle for £2.99 at time of writing – I haven’t read all of them yet, but the ones I have are good so that would be a cheap way of dipping your toe in the water.

Happy reading!

*Magic is an optional extra

**or at least they are once they get their head around the magical stuff.

Authors I love, Series I love

Series I love: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

As promised, here is my love letter to the wonderousness that is Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series.  As a History and French Grad, who wrote my dissertation on the effect of the French Revolution on the nobility of the Touraine* I have a real affinity (if not always affection – see the footnote) for this period of history.  Add into that the fact that I love time-slip novels (you know, books with two connected narratives in two different periods), romances, thrillers and humour, and there’s pretty much everything that I like in these novels that you can managed to combine in the same book.

Pink Cnarnation books
My Pink Carnation book collection (there are more on the kindle) in Book Central

To set the scene: American Eloise Kelly is history grad student working towards her PhD.  At the start of the first book, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, she has arrived in England to research her dissertation – which is on British spies.  She knows all about the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian, but soon stumbles on a document that everyone has missed – one which contains the identity of the Pink Carnation – the most elusive and influential British spy of them all.  The books follow Eloise’s research as she uncovers nests of spies – on both sides – starting in 1803 and going all the way through til 1807.  The stories take in not just France and England, but Ireland, India and Portugal.  There are governesses, spy schools, double agents, triple agents, free agents, soldiers, privateers, ladies seminaries, exploding Christmas puddings, root vegetables, amateur theatricals, not so amateur theatricals, illegitimate children, drug smuggling, jewel theft, good poetry,very bad poetry and much, much more.

And then there’s romance, all types of romance: friends to lovers, enemies to lovers, employer/employee, (slightly) later in life romance, the list continues.  In fact I think the only one that is missing is accidentally/secretly pregnant – and that’s my least favourite trope, I’m good with that.  Although Eloise is always the modern day strand, the focus of the nineteenth century story changes each book – with the Pink Carnation hovering in the background until you reach the final book.  So if you don’t like one heroine, the one in the next book will be someone different (although you’ll probably have met her before).

Pink Carnation book covers
My distinctly non-matching collection (hardback, US & UK paperbacks) is hard to photograph neatly!

I’ve loved this series.  I borrowed the first book from the library, and, as is traditional, it sat in the library book bag for some time.  Then I read it and liked it, then the next and the next.  As the series has gone on, I’ve loved them more and more.  The early books got solid threes on Goodreads then it moved to fours, then fives.**

I don’t actually own the whole series at the current moment – the earlier books were published in the UK and I picked them up at the library or on Kindle.  Then they stopped and I started picking up the US editions because it was cheaper than the kindle editions (and we all know I love proper books).  So now I’ve read all of them, I want to go back and read again from the beginning and see if I can spot any clues more in the earlier books to what happens in the later ones – and I know they’re there, because I’ve read interviews with Lauren Willig where she says her subconcious puts bits in that she only realises later are key to later events!  But as I don’t own hard copies of them all (as you can see from the pictures) I can’t at the moment, so I suspect there’s some purchasing in my future!

Pink Carnation books in a pile
I tried to make a funky pile. It was harder than I expected. I’m not cut out for photography.

You can start your Pink Carnation journey with the first book on Kindle, Kobo or ePub, from Amazon or Waterstones or it may even still be in your local library. Foyles don’t have the first book – but they do have some of the later ones as well as Ms Willig’s standalone books. Go! Enjoy!  If you start this weekend you could be in Portugal in a few weeks…

* Using primary sources, spending weeks of the sunniest part of my year in France holed up in the departmental archive in Tours because I hadn’t got my act together to do the research earlier, and then discovering when I got home that really I could do with yet more information, not that I really knew where I would have found it or what to do with it if I had it. I still see my 2:1 as something of a miracle!

** It’s at times like these that I think I must either have been a really harsh grader back in the day, or I’ve got soft in my old age, or I’m reading more really good books.  In 2012, when I read the first Pink Carnation book I only gave out 7 five star ratings out of 205 books read (3 percent).  In 2015 43 from 368 – or 10 percent.  This bears investigation.  I smell a future post…