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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What I'm Reading: Series Roundup

In this review, I am going to write about three 2012 releases in series that I always read.  In this case I will not hash out the appeal for these books/series as the "why" you would enjoy them has remained constant in each series and I have already gone into that in detail.  I will link to the previous reviews with those details and talk about key changes or issues in the newest books.  Finally, I will update any readlaike options.

Here goes...

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken is the third book in the Vish Puri modern India set, Private Detective novels by Tarquin Hall.  Please click here to see my reviews of the two previous novels in the series for details.

Again we have the mix of appeal in the eccentric characters, the frame of what is good and bad about modern India, and a satisfying mystery.  In the past I have linked Vish Puri with Flavia de Luce, and although a pudgy, middle aged, Indian private detective in the 21st Century and an 11 year-old, amateur detective/budding chemist in 1951 England do not sound like they are similar at all, I can assure you the appeal in their stories is almost identical.  They both have a fairly cozy mystery, a strong family angle, eccentric characters, and a detailed frame.

The mystery here is very interesting and accessible, even for fans who are new to the series.  The murder involves cricket players and possible game fixing schemes, but as Puri looks into the case, it actually has much more to do with the ongoing hard feelings between India and Pakistan.

This case gets much deeper into Puri and his mother's relationship (always a fun part of the series), as Puri, who had vowed never to set foot in his ancestral home of Pakistan, must cross the border,  In the course of the case, he learns about the difficult secrets his mom has been keeping for her entire life involving the partition of Pakistan and India.

Series Order Issues?  This series continues to be one that is enhanced by reading it in order, but it is by no means a necessity.  Hall gives you enough background on the characters too allow the story to flow whether you know who they are or not. Also, since Puri has been a detective longer than the books have been chronicling his fictional career, Puri frequently refers to cases no reader has ever heard of.  In this case, if the frame of the legacy of partition is of interest to you as a reader, I would jump right in with this installment.

Three Words That Describe This Book:  character driven, India-Pakistan relations, humorous

Readalikes: Again, click here for past readlaikes.  They all still hold. 

With this title in particular, readers might want more information on the conflict between India and Pakistan.  Multiple resources have led me to suggest The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan by Yasmin Khan.

Next up is the newest installment in Jasper Fforde's entertaining and satiric Thursday Next series, The Woman Who Died A Lot (#7).  Click here for the numerous times I have reviewed the other books in the series books and/or talked about Ms. Next here on the blog.

The Woman Who Died A Lot marks a new turn in the series.  We have moved up a bunch of years.  Thursday is now middle-aged and still quite battered from the last installment, One of our Thursdays is Missing, where the real Thursday was missing for most of the book.  Here in the 7th book, Thursday is back in the alternative England of Fforde's creation, but she is not longer in Special Ops, nor is she strong enough to travel into books.  Her new job is as the head of the Swindon Library system, but she is still battling Goliath.  The title of the novel refers to the fact that Goliath has figured out to create Thursday clones.

The plot revolves around the stupidity surplus, smitings by the almighty God who had finally revealed himself to humanity, the disbanding of the time travel service and experiments into the promise of new plots to be found in the DRM (Dark Reading Matter).  Thursday, her husband Landen, kids Tuesday, Friday and Jenny, as well as other familiar characters are all involved.

To the uninitiated this sounds crazy, but to Thursday Next fans, you know that all of these overly satiric, crazy plot lines will all come together in the end, and along the way you will have too many literary references to keep track of.  Also, the end hints that the next will return us all to the book world.

Series Order Issues? This series needs to be read in order.  Issues from as far back as the first book pop up here in book #7.  Interestingly, the 6th book is the least important to have read.  The 3rd and the 6th books take place completely in the book world so those two can be read as stand-alones, but this book, needs the frame of 1, 2, 4 and 5.

Three Words That Describe This Book: metafiction, satire, "punny"

Readalikes:  Click here to get a detailed list of dozens of readalikes for the series.  I would also suggest
 Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi for readers who like the whole metafiction thing.


And now for something completely different, the second book in the planned vampire-witch romance/thriller All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness-- Shadow of Night.  If you have not read A Discovery of Witches please click here and read my review.  It will set up this sequel which begins moments after the first book ended.

While we still have the paranormal romance here, Shadow of Night is much more of a historical adventure story.  First, I need to note that there is more sex in this installment.  Personally, I could have done without the multiple, detailed witch/vampire sex scenes (in fact I did do without them; I fast forwarded the audio to get back to the plot).  But, I also recognize that this may enhance the story for others, since this sequel does mover forward more methodically than the first.

I should note that 80% of the novel takes place in 1590 with only a few flashes to the present of the first installment.

The pacing is slowed because of all of the historical detail, which I personally enjoyed.  Also the entire reason they go back to 1590, besides looking for the book known as Ashmole 782, is to allow Diana to learn how to be a witch.  I will not give away the big twist in the confusion over Diana's inability to control her powers, but it is important to note that this plot element adds a huge coming of age theme to the novel.

The focus here is on the historical frame and Diana and Matthew's adventures in the past.  It is more historical fiction than paranormal thriller.

Like the first book, the issues of this novel are resolved, but we are left at a cliff hanger for the next book to begin. Also, while the first book ended with the hope of answers to be found in the past, this novel ends on a more ominous note, one I would liken to The Empire Strikes Back (also a second story in a trilogy).

Speaking of, normally I do not enjoy second books in a trilogy, but in this case, I really enjoyed this novel.  I enjoyed the historical fiction aspects of the novel, the history of witches, and seeing characters from history interacting with Diana and Matthew.

Three Words That Describe This Book:  intricately plotted, Elizabethan setting, coming of age

Series Order Issues?  Here I think the jury is still out.  The story in Shadow of Night is greatly enhanced by having read the first book, but since this installment takes place entirely in the past, readers who are intrigued by stories with an Elizabethan setting but were not interested in the modern day witch-vampire frame of A Discovery of Witches may still want to try Shadow of Night.  However, if you plan to read all three books to get the complete story, you must start with A Discovery of Witches.

Readalikes: Click through to see my original list of readalikes.

I think there is a great appeal in this installment for books about or set in Elizabethan times.  To start I would suggest:

  • The Elizabethans by A.N. Wilson (well reviewed popular history of the era, 2012 publication date; use the link to find more nonfiction options)
  • Voices of Shakespeare's England edited by John A Wagner (collection of primary documents, geared to high school and up)
  • There are many Elizabethan set mysteries, but I chose the Lady Appleton series by Kathy Lynn Emerson because of the setting and the sleuth's job as an herbalist (similar to the witch healers in Harkness' novel)

Also readers might want to reads works by or about of Marlowe or Shakespeare since both are characters here.

Finally, although they are completely different books, I found the time travel aspect, the way it was handled, and the respect for not changing history too much all compatible with 11/22/63 by Stephen King (review soon).

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