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!

Adventure, Book of the Week, Fantasy, historical, mystery

Book of the Week: To Say Nothing of the Dog

Lots of painting and filling and cleaning in my week off work, and not as much reading as usual, but in the end it was an easy choice for this week’s BotW – Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog. Delightfully this was a recommendation from a work colleague who thought I would love it and he was totally right. I love it when that happens.

Ned Henry has time-lag. He’s been shuttling between the 21st century and the 1940s trying to find a hideous artefact in the ruins of Coventry cathedral. But all those jumps have scrambled his brain and he’s sent to Victorian England to recover away from the demands of Lady Schrapnell – who is rebuilding the original Coventry cathedral in the middle of Oxford. The bad news is he has one job to do in the nineteenth century before he can relax. The trouble is, the time-lag means he can’t remember what it is. There’s a boat trip, eccentric dons, drippy maidens, dopey undergrads, a cat and a fellow time traveller called Verity Kindle.

I loved this so much. It’s got so much of my catnip in here: it’s got modern people having to grapple with the Victorian era, it’s full of references to other books – of particular interest to me through thread of Peter Wimsey and Golden Age crime novels – and a mystery adventure plot as they try and hunt down the Bishop’s Bird Stump and prevent the future from being altered because of their actions.

To recap: time travel, history, humour, literary in-jokes and Peter Wimsey references galore. What more could I want?

This was my first Connie Willis book, so now the research is going on to figure out which of her other novels might be my cup of tea. If you like the Chronicles of St Mary’s series, by Jodi Taylor, you should definitely try this but I can’t think of many other books to compare this to (If you have any other suggestions for fun time travelling novels please do let me know) although I think if you like steampunky novels this might work for you, ditto books full of references to books. I need to go and read Three Men in a Boat because that’s a big influence here, and I’ve never read it. I also need to go and buy myself a copy of this because I want one for myself so I can lend it and I’m going to have to give this copy back.

You can get a copy of To Say Nothing of the Dog from all the usual sources.

Happy reading!


books, Fantasy, fiction, genres

Time Travel Novels

I think I have a problem with time travel romances.  I love time-slip novels – like Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series – which have two parallel narratives set in different times.  I love straight historicals.  But I can’t think of a time travel romance – or even time travelling novel that I loved – unless you’re including Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (a couple of hours on the Time turner doesn’t count in my book) or the Thursday Next Series (which is more dimension jumping than time travel).  And after reading a time-traveller the other week, I started to wonder why.

Fundamentally, I think that I find it very hard to believe there’ll be a happy outcome – and that’s what you want in romances – because one is either going to have to go back to their own time and be miserable, or one is going to have to stay where they are, and I never believe that that will continue to be happy past the last page.  After all, one member of the duo is living out of their time – either with a massive amount of knowledge about the future and the advances there are or with a massive gap in their knowledge of the modern world – and on top of that, everyone they ever knew/loved is either dead or not yet born and thus they’ll never see them again.  I text my sister daily, and speak to my mum at least twice a week – and can’t imagine voluntarily chosing to put myself out of contact with them permenantly – and leave them wondering what has happened to me.

And that’s before you get to the fact that I’ve watched a lot of Scifi and fantasy TV over the years – from Star Trek to Crime Traveller and most of the variants in between – and have had it drilled into me that when you’re messing around in the past it’s very easy to change the timeline of the future and destroy the world.  And most books just ignore The Implications and don’t mention it or skim over it somehow.

Am I over thinking this?  Probably.  But that’s the kind of person I am.  I once spent 20 minutes crying on my Grandma’s lap because I’d just realised that Kaiser Wilhelm was Queen Victoria’s grandson – and wouldn’t she have been so upset if she’d realised he’d started a war against his grandma’s country.  Yes.  I was a strange 8 year old.  But that gives you a clue as to how my mind works.

So in the spirit of the New Year, does anyone have any really good time travel recommendations for me?  Books that I won’t buy and then ignore in favour of everything else ever because I’m convinced I’m going to hate them?  Because I got a copy of the first Outlander 18 months ago because everyone else was raving about it – and I still haven’t read it.  I took it on holiday with us back in 2014 as one of my paperbacks – and The Boy started reading it instead of me (he never takes enough books with him, but that’s another story) and he didn’t finish it either.  It sat under our coffee table for another year after that.

Go on.  Change my life. I dare you.