book round-ups

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from August

Another month gone, and here we are with another group of mini-reviews.  This isn’t a recommendation fest this month – some of them are books that I just wanted to talk about in a non Book of the Week way.

We Germans by Alexander Starritt*

Cover of We Germans

Meissner, was a soldier on the Eastern Front and now an old man, his Scottish-German grandson ask him what he did in the war, he initially shuts down and refuses to talk about it and then writes a letter. We Germans is that letter (interspersed with memories and stories about his grandfather from the grandson, Callum) and tells the story of a rampage he and a small group of colleagues went on during the final days before the Russians overran what was left of the Nazi forces. Separated from their unit, the men see other soldiers carrying out atrocities – and commit some crimes of their own.  At times it is incredibly graphic and it is a lot to grapple with – but then there is a lot to think about about what happened to the men who fought in for the Nazis once the conflict was over – and how to reconcile their actions during the war with what happened after. I found it a complete page turner, and it gave me a lot to think about. I studied First World War Literature as part of my A-Levels and found this an interesting and Second World War addition to the various more modern novels I read as part of that module.

The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

Cover of The Gravity of Us

Cal wants to be a journalist and his following on social media platform Flashframe has snagged him an internship at BuzzFeed. But all his plans are derailed when his dad is selected as an astronaut on Nasa’s mission to Mars. Soon he’s moving into a new house in Houston, and into the world of the reality TV show that covers the lives of the astronauts and their families. But Cal’s family isn’t like any of the picture perfect ones on the show, and his new life is a struggle – until he meats Leon. Leon’s mum is also on the mission and as the two of them bond, they also start to fall in love. But when things start going on in the programme, Cal has to try to find a way to get to the truth of what is going on. Now long-time readers will know that I’m a big fan of books about the space race. I’ve previously recommended The Astronaut Wives Club and The Right Stuff and when I went to Washington two years ago I spent Thanksgiving Day wandering round the Air and Space Museum annexe to look at the Space Shuttle. So this was so up my street it was unbelievable. This is just a lovely blend of space race nostalgia and astronaut nerdery and angsty first love romance. I had a few minor gripes with some of the journo ethics of the hero, but then that’s what my day job is and so it’s maybe not surprising, and I’ve seen much, much worse.

Dance Away With Me by Susan Elizabeth Philips

Cover of Dance Away with Me

This is the first of the not quite as positive reviews, but I wanted to chuck this in here, because I loved the Chicago Stars series and read this hoping that it was going to be somewhat similar in feel despite being sold as “a novel”, but it’s… not. Recently widowed Tess has upped sticks for rural Tennessee looking for space to grieve. Her new neighbours at her isolated retreat are an enigmatic street artist Ian North and a free-spirit, not really in the real world pregnant model. This has so much plot, with so many different strand and so much angst and tragedy that it’s really hard to see how it can be satisfactorily resolved. Because there is so much going on, Tess feels quite one dimensional – even though you spend so much time with her and because and a lot of that plot also doesn’t actually involve the hero I never got to know North well enough to really understand him and root for him. Overall: Not awful just not what I wanted. But it will probably be absolutely someone’s jam. Just maybe not in a pandemic. Never mind!

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Cover of Untames

Now back at the start of the year I did a round up post of self-help books, and this was one of the ones I didn’t get to back then. Now it may seem like all you can do at the moment is get through the day what with the Quarantimes and the ‘Rona, but my library hold came in so I got stuck in to this. Glennon Doyle had built a successful career as a Christian mommy blogger and motivational speaker, but while on book tour for her book about the how she and her husband saved their marriage after infidelity and betrayal, she looked across the room, saw a woman and fell in love. Untamed is the story of what happened next, and how she built a new life. Now this isn’t exactly a recommendation, because I am not the target audience for this and I don’t think I’m implementing anything from this book into my life. Back in that January post, I wrote that Rachel Hollis’s book was Not What I Was Looking For and this is much less preachy than this, but it’s still aiming at a target audience that is Not Me, but it is an interesting read, and could serve as a template for the aforementioned Rachel Hollis on how to pivot your career when the thing about your life that made your name is suddenly gone.

 

And that’s your lot for this month. If you’ve missed the previous posts, here are the mini-reviews for the rest of the year: July, June, May, April, March, February and January. And just in case you missed them, here are the books of the week from August: The Miseducation of Evie Epworth, V for Victory, The Moonflower Murders, Daring and the Duke and The Great Godden.

Happy Reading!

*an asterix next to a title means it came from NetGalley, in return for an honest review (however belated that might be)

book round-ups

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from July

Another month, another batch of minireviews. There was a lot of author binging at the end of the month which made this a little tricker to write than usual, but I think there are some good options here for people looking for beach-y holiday reads!

One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London

Cover of One to Watch

Bea is a plus-sized fashion blogger who goes viral after writing a blog about the lack of body diversity on a TV dating show. When she’s invited to be the star of the next series, it seems like an opportunity to take her career to the next level as well as trying to change representation on TV. But there’s no chance she’s going to fall in love. Now from that summary it sounds like it’s a romance, but it’s a but more complicated than that – for large parts of the book I wasn’t sure how any of this was going to manage to work out happily ever after for Bea. It did mostly/sort of get there in the end – but don’t go in there expecting a traditional/normal contemporary romance. It’s a little bit closer to some of the late 90s early 00s women’s fiction that I used to love – but they were all much more comedic than this is.  But it’s fun and would be great to read on the beach and even though I’ve only ever seen about 15 minutes of The Bachelor/Bachelorette (I’m from the UK) it still worked for me!

Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde

Cover of The Constant Rabbit

I wrote about my love of the Thursday Next series earlier in the Quarantimes, but this is a standalone novel from Jasper Fforde, although like his previous book Early Riser, there are commonalities with the series. But this is Fforde’s response to the current political and social moment in the UK, and as I saw him say somewhere (Instagram? his website?), it’s not subtle. But it’s also absolutely Jasper Fforde. It’s absurd, it’s funny and he’s managed to make a world where there are six foot anthropomorphised rabbits (and a few other species) seem absolutely real and plausible. I think if you like Fforde’s previous books, this is a continuation of the same sort of thing he’s been doing there, but with a different twist. It’ll make you think as well as make you laugh, and it is utterly mad at times. Maybe not the best place to start with Fforde’s work (and again I point you at The Eyre Affair), unless you’re used to reading alternative world fantasy/spec fiction.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Cover of the Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires

This is a supernatural thriller set in the 90s about a book club that ends up trying to protect its community from a vampire. It’s got a lot of buzz and given that as a teen my bedroom walls were plastered with posters of Angel and Spike due to my deep and abiding love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (we’re currently on a rewatch and are mid season three, the last great season) I thought it might be just what I needed in July. It turned out not to be – but not because it’s bad, but because it’s too much over towards the horror side of things for me! I liked the start and the set up, but as soon as it got into the vampire-y stuff, it was Not For Verity. But if you like horror movies of the 90s – and bear in mind that I’m too wimpy for any of them so I can’t give you actual parallels, but I want to say Scream – then this will probably be absolutely your summer reading jam.

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

Cover of The Radium Girls

I actually finished this on Saturday night, but as it was in progress for all of July (and more!) I’m counting it here. The Radium Girls is the true stories of a group of women in the US in the first half of the 20th century who painted watch dials with Radium to make them luminous and suffered horrendous health consequences because of it. Spoiler: a lot of them died, and died very young and in a lot of pain. But their long and difficult fight to find out what was wrong with them and to get compensation when it became clear there was no cure, changed worker safety regulations and affected research into nuclear bombs and saved a lot of lives. This is really hard to read – which is why it took me so long to read it – but it’s so well told. The stories of the women are heartbreaking and upsetting, but their courage in fighting their illness and for compensation are inspiring.

And that’s your lot for this month. If you’ve missed the previous posts, here are the mini-reviews from June, May, April, March, February and January. And just in case you missed them, here are the books of the week from July: Here for It, The Chiffon Trenches, Hello World and Not Your Sidekick.

Happy Reading!

*an asterix next to a title means it came from NetGalley, in return for an honest review (however belated that might be)

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)

Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: The Starless Sea

I read some really good stuff last week and I actually started writing this week’s BotW about a different book – because the Starless Sea has already had a lot of hype about it and I had a couple of reservations. And then I went out and bought myself a copy because I just kept thinking about it – and I realised that probably meant I should be writing about it instead. So the good news is you get another post from me tomorrow, but I figure spending full price on a hardback that I’ve already read means that this should be my Book of the Week.

Cover of the Starless Sea

The Starless Sea is the much anticipated second novel from Erin Morganstern.  At first when Zachary Rawlings finds a mysterious book in the university, he’s just a mildly intrigued. But then he reads it and finds part of his own childhood among the stories and he needs to know where it came from. The trail leads him to a masquerade ball in New York and then through a doorway to a mysterious ancient library, way underground that is the gateway to a hidden world. Time moves differently there and there are some who have sacrificed a lot to protect it – but there are also forces trying to destroy it. Along with one of the people who seems belong there – Mirabel – and Dorian, the man who brought him there, Zachary soon finds himself in the middle of a battle for the future of the Starless Sea.

Zachary’s story is interspersed with stories from the people who have lived in the Starless Sea. I actually found this a little discombobulating at first because it was hard to work out what was real and how it fitted in with Zachary’s story. But I think that that’s the point.  It did mean that it took me a little while to get into the book – because it was really easy to read a little bit and then stop. But once I did get into it, I ended up reading the last 300 pages (if you can have a final 300 pages of a nearly 500 page novel, but you know what I mean) in less that 24 hours because I was so totally caught up in Zachary’s adventure.  But then when I finished it, I wasn’t sure about the ending because I wanted it to be more definitive.  So off I went for the rest of the week’s reading and read something else that I really liked and was going to pick instead because of that slow start and my feelings about the ending. But then I found myself thinking about the book – the world, the adventure and what might have happened next. And I realised that I wanted to read it again. Now when I read it, I had borrowed it from the library – and as it was a skip the line loan it was a short borrowing period that had already run out. So really I had no choice other than to buy myself a copy. And what a lovely copy it is – it’s even signed.  And the endpapers are really pretty too. So now I get to read it again. And I suspect if/when my mum reads this post (*waves* hi mum) she’s going to want to borrow it too. And it’ll look lovely on my bookshelf.

Hardback edition of the Starless Sea

It’s eight years since Morganstern’s first book The Night Circus came out, and it was a mega hit.  I didn’t read it until 2016, but when I did it was a BotW. And it is one of those books that people love but is nearly impossible to find anything like.  It’s magical realism but there’s nothing really quite like it, which is why people have been so desperate to read another book from Morganstern. I honestly thought it would be hard for this to live up to the expectation, but it actually pretty much did.  It’s a completely different world, but it’s as beguiling and unique as the circus was. I think this is going to be *the* book club pick of 2020 – but there’s so much to talk about and to explore.  I hope it doesn’t take another eight years for Morganstern’s next book (even if I only had to wait three this time) because it really is in a little corner of the bookish world by itself.

Endpapers showing a library

As previously mentioned, I read this as an ebook from the Library, but have now bought my own. My copy came from Foyles yesterday (Monday), it’s signed and I got a nice bee pin page with it, but I can’t find the link that I did the click and collect from  – just the normal one, which is a couple of quid cheaper, but doesn’t have the badge or the signature so they may have sold out. Waterstones also have a special edition (they seem to be out of their signed ones though). And of course it’s also available on Kindle and Kobo and as an audiobook from Audible and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, book round-ups, Series I love

Bonus post: Where to start with Terry Pratchett

The long-awaited Amazon/BBC Good Omens adaptation goes live on Amazon Prime today, and I’ve had a couple of conversations with people about where to start with Terry Pratchett. So I thought this was a good time to do a quick bonus post about one of my favourite authors because the answer is not simple. But first, here’s the Good Omens trailer:

 

So obviously, if you enjoy Good Omens, then read that first. There are snazzy tie in editions and a script book and all sorts to coincide with the TV event, you should even be able to pick them up in the supermarket I could have thoughts. But obviously Good Omens is co-written with Neil Gaiman and is in an alternative version of the real world. So where next? Well, that depends what you like to read the rest of the time. And this is one (rare) occasion where I wouldn’t suggest starting at the very beginning. Why? Well unless you’re already a fantasy reader (and if you are why haven’t you read him already?) then these are the furthest away from what you’re used to and they might scare you off. They’re not the most accessible and (imho) they’re not his best. The series improves as Pratchett develops the world and its many characters and leans into the satire of our real world.. Luckily there are series within the series and other ways in.

Cover of The Truth

This is a very non traditional choice, but I actually think The Truth is actually a really good place to start. It’s sort of stand alone but it’s also the first of the Industrial Revolution books and is centred on the invention of the printing press and what happened next. It’s got the later Pratchett social satire, but it also has some of the key features of other series: it’s set in Ankh Morpork, the City Watch appear, the Patrician features and there’s a sprinkling of the supernatural- vampires, werewolves and magic. And if you like it, depending on what your favourite bits are, it’ll give you a clue about where to read next.

Cover of Guards! Guards!

Now, if you like what you see of the Watch in The Truth, then try Guards! Guards! You’re jumping back in time, but it’s the first book in the Watch cycle.  If you like police or crime-y type stories usually, this might also be your best place to start.  There’s a nice new* edition at the moment with an introduction from Ben Aaronovitch – so if you like his Rivers of London series (and lord knows I do) then this is your best jumping in point.  This has a rag tag team of misfits who are the night watch and their reluctant leader Sam Vimes trying to figure out who is trying to take over the city – and stop them.  I love it.  Vimes is a wonderful creation – but then Pratchett is full of wonderful creations. Wikipedia describes him as “somewhere between an  Inspector Morse-type ‘old-school’ British policeman, and a film-noir-esque grizzled, jaded detective” and I think that’s pretty much right.  He doesn’t want to care, he definitely doesn’t want to be The Hero, and yet it just seems to keep happening.  There are eight novels about the Watch – and there’s a TV series that’s been in development since before Sir Terry died, but which seems to be inching closer to being a reality. I’ve got everything crossed that it will materialise eventually.

Cover of Wyrd Sisters

If you like the magic-y type stuff, then go and read Wyrd Sisters.  This was actually my first Discworld book, recommended by a wise librarian when I was at the bottom end of secondary school**.  Wyrd Sisters is twisted Macbeth but with witches running the show.  It’s also the first really big appearance*** of the most beloved characters in the series – as the blurb says witches “don’t have leaders. Granny Weatherwax was the most highly-regarded of the leaders they didn’t have.”  I love Granny and her gang and they’re a great jumping off point for the series in a very different part of the Disc. And once you’ve read them, maybe come back for the wizards.

If you’re still unsure where to go next then try Mort. Mort is a young country lad who ends up apprenticed to Death himself, and it really isn’t what he expected.   Mort was the top rated Pratchett book in the BBC’s Big Read list back in 2003 – coming in at number 65, three places in front of Good Omens and one of five Pratchetts in the top 100 (with 15 in the top 200!).  Mort and Death are an excellent double act, Binky the horse is brilliant and if you like this strand then Soul Music is one of the best take offs of popular music you could hope for.  Death appears in pretty much every book in the series as well as in Good Omens – so Mort is also an excellent place to start if you read Good Omens and want more of him. It’s also the fourth book in the series and is the earliest of alternative starting points.

As well as having read the books, I also own a lot of the audiobooks – the early series are mostly done by Nigel Planer (or Tony Robinson for abridged versions) and the sound quality on audible is described as “vintage” (it’s awful for some of them – I actually returned at least one!) but Stephen Briggs takes over at book 24 and I love his narration  My most listened to are the Moist Von Lipwig books. They’re the next stage of the industrial revolution series that starts with The Truth (or Moving Pictures depending on how you’re reckoning it) and I think Going Postal is my favourite of the entire series, and not just because I was a stamp collector as a child. For me, they’re the culmination of everything that has been going on in the background through the other books with Vetinari’s vision for the city and Pratchett’s satire on modern life. I know some don’t like Raising Steam and get a bit touchy about the latter books in general, but my only really problem with it is that Adora Belle has the wrong accent in the audiobook and that’s Stephen Briggs’s fault not Sir Terry’s.

Usually I would suggest the middle grade part of the series much earlier than this. But although I love Tiffany Aching and the Nac Mac Feegles are brilliant, as an adult, if you’re going to read these you need to have read the Witches’ books first so you get the full impact of The Thing That Happens in the final book in the series, The Shepherd’s Crown.  But once you have read the Witches – or if you have a middle grader – The Wee Free Men is the place to start.  One of the other middle grade books, Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, is on offer at the moment but it’s the only Discworld that I haven’t read so I can’t tell you where to fit it in at the moment – but I’ve bought it and I’m gong to fix that!

Cover of The Colour of Magic

And finally there’s Rincewind. He’s the first running character and he comes with the Luggage (I want a Luggage), but he is in at the very start in the highest fantasy the series has. Go discover him once you’re already in love with the series. It’ll work best for you if you’re not a fantasy regular.  Start with the first book – The Colour of Magic – and go from there.  This was one of the ones that Sky turned into a mini series along with Hogfather and my beloved Going Postal (which has early Clare Foy as Adora Belle!) and is actually worth a look. I liked it as a version of the first two books, and they do make them rattle along.  There are nine Rincewind novels – the longest of the strands through the series.

There’s so much more I’ve barely touched on here, but so I don’t turn into any more of a boring fangirl, I’ll leave it here, except for saying that with 80 million book sales around the world you really should give it a try.   If you’re a Pratchett fan, let me know your favourites in the comments and tell me where your recommended starting point for newbies is.  I’ve put a nice graphic in below – but that doesn’t even reckon The Truth is a starting point, so you can see how many different options and opinions there are.  I’m off to read Maurice and watch Good Omens (not at the same time).

Happy Reading!

graphic of the series

*these new editions have proved… controversial with some of the Pratchett fans – because they don’t look like Pratchetts – but that’s precisely the point.  They don’t look like fantasy because there are a lot of people who don’t read books with the sort of illustrated covers that these have previously had.  Think of it as the equivalent of the adult cover Harry Potter books.

**I can remember Jingo coming out (but i’m not sure if it was the paperback or hardback) and being excited about it, which dates the start of my Pratchett reading to 1997ish.

***She’s in Equal Rites too, but don’t worry.

Fantasy, fiction

Book of the Week: A Conjuring of Light

Another week, another BotW post. This time I’ve gone for VE Schwab’s A Conjuring of Light, which is the final book in a trilogy, so it does break my rule about trying not to feature books that don’t stand-alone, but it also means that if you were to start the books now, you’re guaranteed a resolution. So swings and roundabouts really.

Anyway, this is the third (and final?!) book in this magical series in a universe where there are three different Londons in three parallel worlds that only a select few can travel between. In the first few books we see a lot of Grey London, where there is no magic (basically Regency Britain as we know it) and White London, where there is nothing but violence and magic. But this final book concentrates on the battle for Red London where magical and non-magical people exist side by side.

Red London is also where Kell is from, the traveler between worlds who we’ve been following since the start. Over the course of the books, Kell’s life has only got more complicated, but that also means he’s got more friends as well as more enemies. Friends like Delilah, the former thief who he teamed up with in the first book and her motley crew too. Everything that he and Delilah have learned over the course of their adventure comes to a climax in this.

And yes, I know that sounds like I’m avoiding talking about the actual plot. And that’s because I am, because saying much more will give away the plots of the other two books. And you really need to read this series in order or you’ll be lost. It’s been a couple of years since I read it and I felt a bit at sea at times and I know what happened and what the rules are. But there’s magic and pirates and peril and a big battle or two. And although it doesn’t quite reach Battle of Hogwarts levels of carnage and loss, it’s fair to say that not everyone comes out of it alive.

If you’ve read The Night Circus and The Children of Blood and Bone and thought that what you really need to read is a hybrid of the two, then try this. It wasn’t always 100% my cup of tea (I need less angst at the moment) but it’s pacey and well written and clever and really quite good.

My copy came from my library, but you should be able to lay your hands on this fairly easily on Kindle and Kobo as well as in paperback from all the usual sources, including actual bookshops.  I do suggest you start at the start of the trilogy though or you’ll be totally lost. There’s also a graphic novel prequel series that’s just started but I think you need to have read the books for that. I’ll check it out and let you know…

Happy Reading.

book round-ups

Halloween recommendations 2018

It’s nearly Halloween and since I’m in the US where it is such a massive thing that it’s blowing my mind, I thought a round up of some spooky/halloween-themed reading might be in order.  I was aiming for it to be recent Halloween-y reading – but you know how these things go – you get a stack of likely books together, you read them – and then you don’t like some of them enough to recommend them.  And I’m always honest.  Which is why I’m telling you up front that there’s no horror here – because I’m too scared to read horror.  My brain is good enough at coming up with things to scare me without ready scary books.  Thrillers are about as much as I can deal with.  And some times I can’t even deal with that.  So expect my usual mix of mystery, romance and fantasy with a dash of classic thriller thrown in.

As I am away from my bookshelves, here’s a picture of a Halloween display in Texas last weekend.

The One with the sweet tooth

I read The Candy Corn Murder right after it came out three years ago and it sees a local reporter covering a Halloween Festival.  But when her husband becomes the prime suspect in a murder, she steps in to investigate.  This is the 22nd(!) in Leslie Meier’s Lucy Stone series – and there are other Halloween-themed installments among the other 24 (!!) books in the series if you like Lucy’s world and want to spend more time there.  I’ve read one, maybe two others and have my eye on a couple from the library to see how there series has evolved.

The one that’s a creepy classic

I’m slowly working my way through Daphne DuMaurier’s works – and there are several of hers that would be good for giving you chills on a dark night.  The obvious one is Rebecca, but Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel are also properly atmospheric and creepy.  Those two also have recent tv or film versions should you want to be a person who likes to watch the movie of the book and complain compare. I also have a massive softspot (if you can call it that for something so creepy) for the Charles Dance and Emily Fox TV version of Rebecca from the late 1990s.

The One with a creepy doll

Barbara Early’s new book, Death of a Russian Doll is mostly about the murder of the local police chief’s wife, but it’s also got a matroshyka doll that’s moving on its own to up the creep factor.  Your amateur sleuth is Liz, the owner of the vintage toy shop next door to the murder scene and the sort-of ex-girlfriend of the police chief (he didn’t tell her about his estranged wife) who’s retired cop father is called in to investigate the crime.  This came out this month and is the third book in the series, but it’s the first of them that I’ve read and I liked it enough that I’ll be keeping an eye out for more by this author.

The One with the Embarassing First Date

This is slightly tangentially Halloween-y because Carter and Evie, the hero and heroine of Christina Lauren’s Dating You, Hating You meet at a Halloween party being held by mutal friends.  From that awkward beginning, a promising relationship starts until their companies merge and the two of them find themselves in competiton for the same job.  I really liked Evie, but I had a few issues with Carter and I felt their prank war was just a little bit unprofessional.  However the dialogue is sparky and the chemistry is there so I’m still mentioning it here because I know that I can be a bit of a curmudgeon sometimes and I know a lot of people who really loved it and didn’t have the same issues!

The One with that’s spoofing a Vampire Craze

I couldn’t help but include this.  Lauren Willig’s the Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla sees Sally Fitzhugh investigating whether the Duke of Belliston is an actual vampire after a rumour takes hold in London in 1806.  He’s not of course, but he doesn’t mind the reputation that he’s got, that is until a woman is found with the blood drained from her throat and it looks like he’s going to get the blame.  This is the eleventh in the Pink Carnation series, which I would say to read in order to get the full force of the present-day story line (which runs through the whole series) but the nineteen century one is really the star here, so I think you could make an exception for Halloween.  And it’s got a stoat.  What more could you want?

The One with the Actual Vampires

If you haven’t read Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampires series (aka True Blood), Halloween might be a good chance to start.  And now the series has been finished for a while if you like them you can glom your way through all thirteen of Sookie Stackhouse’s adventures.  Just remember not to get too invested in any one outcome for Sookie in particular – because there was a lot of upset when the last book came out about which of her beaux she ended up with. I won’t give anything away, but I think the clues were sort of there about what was going to happen – or at least I didn’t think the ending ruined the whole series for me (which a lot of people did!).  And if you like that world, there’s plenty of other Charlaine Harris novels, most of which are set in (what turns out to be) the same world of vampires, werewolves and other supernatural creatures.

The One with the Haunted House.

You all know how much I love Meg Langslow because I keep writing about her, but Lord of the Wings, the 19th book in Donna Andrews’ long running series, is a Halloween one and I really liked it.  There’s a massive Halloween festival going on in Caerphilly when first the Haunted House burns down and then a body is discovered in the wreckage.  The usual Langslowian mayhem ensues – including Meg’s Grandad running a special exhibit at his Zoo – and then there’s the Goblin Patrol.  Probably best appreciated if you’ve read some of the others in the series, but this is still worth a look.

If you’ve got any Halloween recommendations for me – and remember that I don’t do horror because I’m a scaredy cat – then put them in the comments!

Happy Reading

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

Book of the Week: Early Riser

Luckily for me – although it didn’t seem so at the time, I didn’t manage to finish Early Riser in time for it to make last week’s WiB.  I had 50 pages to go on the Sunday night and ended up finishing it on Monday morning.  This made it eligible for this week’s BotW and meant that I could write this nice and early before the last minute madness descended ahead of my departure for DC.  Hopefully by the time you read this I’ll be in the US and starting work – but I’m writing this a week earlier with a to-do list the length of my arm.  However I’m fairly confident that nothing else I finish this week will pip this to the post – and if anything does run it close I’m sure I’ll manage to write about it at some point!

Front cover of Hardcover UK edition of Early Riser

Early Riser is the latest novel from Jasper Fforde and his first new book in four years – and his first new adult novel in six years.  It’s a standalone novel and it’s in a different alternative universe to his other work too.  I’m a big fan of Jasper Fforde – I’ve read most of his books but I think that the long hiatus between books means that I’ve never had a chance to properly write about him here because I glommed on pretty much everything he has written before I started writing this.  Anyway, to the plot:

Charlie Worthing is about to start his first season as a Winter Consul.  Every year, the human population hibernates for four months to escape the bitterly cold weather.  But some brave souls are needed to protect the sleeping – and Charlie has volunteered to be one of them.  To stay awake during the winter means you need to be very committed – but also a little bit mad as Charlie soon discovers.  One of his first tasks is investigating an outbreak of viral dreams – where people are having the same dream right down to the little details.  And then the people who’ve had the dream start dying.  And then Charlie starts having the dream – and bits of it seem to be coming true.  Is it just winter narcosis – or is soething more sinister going on.  Charlie sets out to find out the truth – but he’ll need to brave Villains and Nightwalkers and the seemingly less-than-mythical WinterVolk to do it.

If you’ve read and Jasper Fforde before you’ll know that his thing is creating bonkers parallel universes to our own and then just dropping you straight into them and leaving you to work out what’s going on.  In the Thursday Next series is a world where the Crimean War never ended, where literature is venerated and where – if you have the right skills – you can actually get inside a book and wander around the story.  In Early Riser he does the same thing.  After a lovely diagram of a Dormitorium opposite the title page, you find yourself on a train with a dead woman who is playing the bouzouki.  And it only gets weirder.  This was probably the slowest starting of Fforde’s books for me – but that might be because I started reading it as an egalley (from NetGalley) which had all the footnotes out of sync with the pages – and boy do you need the footnotes at the start to help you get your head around the new world that you’ve found yourself in.  But after I’d bought myself an actual copy of the book* everything got a lot easier and started to make more sense.

Shelf of Jasper Fforde books
Taking this photo has got me wondering who has my copy of Something Rotten. I’m hoping my dad has it…

And it is a rollicking good adventure.  There are lots of twists and turns and I really didn’t see many/any of them coming.  Charlie is an engaging accidental hero and you sympathise with him as he bumbles his way through his first winter, running into complications and obstacles at every turn.  I really like the worlds that Jasper Fforde creates – I don’t know where his ideas come from but they’re so clever and subversive.  If you had pitched this to me before I’d read any of his stuff I would have chalked it up as not for me.  But I trust him having read and loved the Thursday Next series and the Nursery Crime series and so was prepared to take the leap into this with him.  I’m so glad I did – and I hope lots of other people are reading it too.

In the author’s note at the end of the book, he thanks readers’ patience for sticking with him in the long gap and says he hopes it won’t be such a big gap to the next book.  I may hate waiting, but I’ll gladly wait if we get books like this at the end of it.  I just hope that the next one is the eighth Thursday Next book…

Early Riser is out now in hardback and on Kindle and Kobo if you’re in the UK.  I’ve seen copies in all the proper bookshops – Foyles Charing Cross have several display piles of it – so you should be able to lay your hands on it fairly easily.  It’s due for release in the US on February 12th 2019 – and should be available to preorder at your bookseller of choice – there are some handy links on Jasper Fforde’s website to help you whether you’re in the UK or in the US.

Happy Reading!

*I went to Foyles during a lunchbreak one of my weekend working days in August.  I was meant to be just having a look around, but they’d had a signing with Jasper Fforde a week or two earlier and they had one signed copy left – among piles of unsigned ones on various displays.  I took it as a sign that I should buy it for myself.

Bonus Picture: My Dormitorium postcard that came with my hardcover!

Dormitorium postcard!

Book of the Week, Children's books, Classics, Fantasy, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Howl’s Moving Castle

Two children’s books in a row as BotW? This is totally within the normal range of what I do and what you expect from me. And this is another book that I started during my weekend at boo conference and then got distracted away from by the purchase of more books at said book conference and then by other books on the kindle. So sue me!

cover of Howls Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle tells the story of Sophie, a teenage girl who is turned into an old lady by a witch while she is working in her family’s hat shop. One of the conditions of the curse is that she can’t tell people that she’s been cursed and Sophie doesn’t want her mother or sisters to see what’s happened to her, so she runs away to the hills, where she runs into the moving castle belonging to the Wizard Howl and makes it her new home in the hope that the curse can be lifted. Howl is a temperamental, vacillating young man who is on the run from something and only seems to do things that help himself but Calcifer, his fire demon promises to help her if she can help him with the curse that ties him to Howl. Also living in the castle is Michael, Howl’s apprentice, who, it turns out is in love with one of Sophie’s sisters. And so they move around the countryside, and Sophie tries to figure out how to get her old (young) body back.

That’s the short version of part of the story and doesn’t really do it justice. Before I read the story, I was actually worried that I wouldn’t like it as much as I liked the film of the book which I saw in the cinema back in my high-cinema visiting university days. Now the two are the same basic story: about a teenager who is cursed to look like an old lady and who seeks help from the wizard with the moving castle, but beyond that there are a fair few differences. The movie has a design aesthetic that leads to some differences from the book and it is missing some of the subplots from the book, but it turns out I really liked them both.

I don’t often read the book after I’ve seen the movie, but this time it worked out really well. In fact, this is the opposite experience to what usually happens with me, books and movie adaptations – because quite often I really hate the movie versions of books I’ve loved, so maybe I need to do this more often?! There are a couple more books featuring Howl, which are now on my reading list – and I’m trying hard to work out if I read any Diana Wynne Jones books back when I was the right age for them because I really liked her writing and the style felt somewhat familiar to me.

I bought my copy of Howl’s Moving Castle on Kindle, but it’s also available on Kobo (and it’s 99p on both platforms at time of writing) and in paperback (from Amazon, Book Depository or places like Big Green Books) and audiobook. I think it should be easy enough to buy from a bookshop with a good sized children’s section (not a supermarket because it is no where near new) I suspect it will also be available at some libraries too. And if you haven’t seen the film, you really should watch it too.

Happy Reading!