5

Eight Great Series

As a child, I read a lot of book series – The Chronicles of Narnia, everything by Enid Blyton, Harry Potter, and even, embarrassingly, the Babysitter Club books as a tween – but I definitely gravitate more towards standalone novels as an adult. However, recently I began Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, about a forensic archaeologist in Norfolk, who assists the local police in all manner of grisly cases. I realised that I very much enjoy the gradual character arcs which such a series brings, and am eagerly awaiting the newest instalment=.

This led me to think about the fictional series which I have actually read the majority of as an adult, and I wanted to piece together a post which showcases my favourites. I have tried to be as varied as possible, but the majority of series which I have read are crime-related; this is great, I suppose, if you are partial to a detective story, but I have tried to focus on the slightly more unusual, or lesser known, series here. Of course, I love the Miss Marple stories – and have read every single one – but I decided not to include them, as they are so well known.

1. The Ruth Galloway Series by Elly Griffiths

As I have mentioned above, Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist, who works as a lecturer at the fictional University of North Norfolk (UNN). In the first book, she begins to assist the police with forensics in a case, and soon becomes one of the people they call on to help. Along with the rather awful cases which come up in each book – the murder of a young girl in The Crossing Places (book number one), and six bodies found at the foot of a remote cliff in The House at Sea’s End (book three) – there is also a running storyline of Ruth’s brief affair with married policeman, Harry Nelson. The character development here is impressive, and every single novel has kept my interest. I would highly recommend starting the series if you’d like something with elements of the detective novel, but which is rather different in its approach.

Start with: The Crossing Places, as these books do need to be read in order
My favourite from the series: The Crossing Places, The Outcast Dead (book number six), and The Dark Angel (book number 10)

2. The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard

I have only read the first three books of this series so far, but I absolutely adore them. I am writing this post ahead of time (thank goodness for WordPress’ scheduling abilities!), so hopefully by the time this is published, I will have read the five book cycle. The novels display a family, the Cazalets, in all of their trauma and their glory. There are many characters, but each is distinctive. The first novel, The Light Years, begins in 1937, when the Second World War ‘is only a distant cloud on Britain’s horizon’, and the final book, All Change, is set during the 1950s. I am so looking forward to seeing where this series takes me, and what happens to my favourite characters as they change and grow.

Start with: The Light Years; this cycle is chronological, and also needs to be read in order
My favourite from the series: Marking Time (book number two)

3. The Pilgrimage Cycle by Dorothy Richardson

I started reading Dorothy Richardson’s excellent Pilgrimage cycle in January 2016, with the first book, Pointed Roofs. The novels, written in the stream-of-consciousness style, follow a young woman named Miriam Henderson. They are beautifully written, and enlightening. I had planned to write my research Master’s thesis about the novels, but my supervisor was already working on such a project with another student. Regardless, these are wonderful books to study, as there is so much to look at. I have not finished the thirteen novels which make up Pilgrimage yet, as I have had trouble getting my hands on the later volumes. I am pretty sure that I will love them, though.

Start with: Pointed Roofs, as this series also needs to be read in order
My favourite from the series: Pointed Roofs (book number one), and Backwater (book number two)

4. The Rougon-Macquart Cycle by Emile Zola

Emile Zola is a wonderful author, and one whom – perhaps controversially – I do not feel is read enough. I am not very far through the Rougon-Macquart Cycle, but I have loved each tome from it which I have read to date. A great thing about the series is that it does not need to be read in any order, given that the characters differ from book to book. I started reading this whilst studying at King’s College London, when The Ladies’ Paradise (book number eleven) was one of the books on my reading list. I absolutely adored it, and have been (very slowly) working my way through since.

Start with: whichever you like, although I would highly recommend The Ladies’ Paradise! Nana (book number nine) would be a good starting point too
My favourite from the series: The Ladies’ Paradise

5. The Gervase Fen Mysteries by Edmund Crispin

Edmund Crispin is an excellent writer of vintage mysteries, and I have thoroughly enjoyed this series so far. They are entertaining, filled with fascinating characters, and clever mysteries. I really like the character of Gervase Fen, an ‘unconventional’ Oxford University don whom we first meet in The Case of the Gilded Fly. Fen is also an amateur detective, and likes nothing more than taking a strange case to its conclusions. Again, I do not feel as though this series needs to be read in order, so choose whichever tome you want to begin with.

Start with: the mystery which appeals to you most.
My favourite from the series: The Moving Toyshop (book number three)

6. The Fairyland Cycle by Catherynne M. Valente

These books are a little more unusual, and nothing which I would ordinarily choose to read, as I steer clear of fantasy novels as a general rule. Catherynne M. Valente’s novels, though, are beautiful, with excellent word choices, and unusual prose. The stories in this series are imaginative, and I love the way in which she weaves together the everyday and the strange, to make something quite compelling. The long chapter titles, too, are very appealing.

Start with: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, the first book in the series. There is a continuous thread of story here, so the books do need to be read in order.
My favourite from the series: I like them all equally.

7. Tommy and Tuppence by Agatha Christie

I feel that Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence stories are far less well known than the likes of her Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. The stories were televised a few years ago, but I have not watched them, as I cannot imagine David Walliams in the title role. Regardless, the stories are clever – in true Christie fashion, of course – and they keep one guessing throughout. Tommy and Tuppence also feel rather different to her more famous characters.

Start with: your choice; again, I do not feel that these books need to be read in any particular order.
My favourite from the series: The Secret Adversary (book number one)

8. Wildwood Chronicles by Colin Meloy

The frontman of one of my favourite bands, The Decemberists, Colin Meloy started releasing books in the Wildwood trilogy back in 2011. This imaginative series is set in Portland, Oregon, in ‘a dense, tangled forest’ at the edge of the city. Here, a young girl named Prue McKeel ventures after her baby brother is snatched by a murder of crows. It sounds strange, and it is, but as with his songs, Meloy’s choices of vocabulary are gorgeous and rich, and his stories come together so well.

Start with: Wildwood, the first book in the series. These stories do need to be read in chronological order.
My favourite from the series: Wildwood

Have you read any of these series? Do you have anything to recommend to me along this vein?

0

One From the Archive: ‘Wildwood’ (The Wildwood Chronicles: Book One) by Colin Meloy ****

‘Wildwood’ by Colin Meloy

When I find bands or singers I particularly love whose lyrics never fail to astound me (Conor Oberst, Sam Duckworth, Jesse Lacey, Frank Turner and Benjamin Gibbard come to mind, and I could go on), I often find myself wishing that they would turn their literary talents to a book.  What is really cool is that Colin Meloy, lead singer of The Decemberists, has done so.  What is even cooler is that he has turned his Wildwood stories into a trilogy.

I first heard about this novel via a BookTube channel, and when I saw how beautiful the cover was, I had to break my self-imposed book buying ban and purchase myself a copy.  What I found most adorable when I received it was that Meloy has written the book and crafted the storyline, and his partner, Carson Ellis, has illustrated it – and so very beautifully, too.

The story begins with Prue McKeel, a young girl living in Portland, Oregon, taking her baby brother Mac out for the day.  When he is toddling around in a local playground, a murder of crows swoops down and abducts him, taking him deep into the Impassable Forest on the very edge of Portland.  The Impassable Forest is a place where nobody ever ventures, so imagine Prue’s surprise when she sets off to find her brother and is able to cross the enchanted boundary between the city and the trees.

One of her classmates, Curtis, a rather adorable boy in a furry parka, follows her as she makes her way into the forest, and is soon part of the adventure too.  On their quest to retrieve Mac from the clutches of evil, they meet many different characters, and even stumble upon a secluded community in the middle of the forest.

Meloy has plotted Wildwood very cleverly indeed, and despite its length, at no point does it feel sparse or too devoid of an engrossing storyline.  He is an inventive writer, and has crafted the world within Wildwood marvellously.  The story, whilst it contains elements of magical realism – a talking owl who takes tea in a library, for example – has been rendered in such a way that it is eminently believable at times.

Throughout, I caught glimpses of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton, but there was still something incredibly original about it.  The characterisation was polished, and I loved the writing style.  Some fabulous descriptions can be found within its pages.

Prue takes tea with an owl (Illustration by Carson Ellis)

As you can see from this post, Carson Ellis’ illustrations are an absolute delight, and they work wonderfully alongside Meloy’s story.  I love her style, and the way in which she has rendered scenes with such care.  I would happily purchase a book on the strength of her drawings alone.

After finishing Wildwood, I am so intrigued to see what will happen next, and am eagerly anticipating the paperback release of the next book in the series, Under Wildwood.

Suggested playlist, consisting solely of songs by Colin Meloy and The Decemberists:
1. Crane Wife – Parts 1 and 2 – The Decemberists
2. A Cautionary Song – Colin Meloy
3. Rox in the Box – The Decemberists
4. Don’t Carry It All – The Decemberists
5. June Hymn – The Decemberists
6. The Engine Driver – Colin Meloy
7. Down by the Water – The Decemberists

Purchase from The Book Depository

4

Favourite Illustrations

I thought I would produce a post for today which was a little less taxing than having to read through an entire review, and focus instead on that which has been largely neglected on The Literary Sisters to date – that of the humble illustration.  I must admit that I still love books with pictures in them, even as an adult and a PhD researcher.  When I flip open the pages of a Persephone book and see lovely illustrations alongside the text, I delight a little.  There is just something so charming about them.

Without further ado, I am going to post ten of my favourite book illustrations.  I hope you enjoy this veering away from the literary!

 

1. John Teniell‘s iconic interpretation of Lewis Carroll‘s Alice in Wonderland

john-tenniel-alice-in-wonderland-01

 

2. E.H. Shepard‘s delightful images in A.A. Milne‘s Winnie the Pooh (and friends)

526ea4514b0c3d7cf2b08063b5c7e806

 

3. Carson Ellis‘ wonderful drawings in husband Colin Meloy‘s Wildwood Chronicles series

wildwoon-by-colin-meloy-and-carson-ellis

 

4. Ludwig Bemelmans‘ adorable redhead, Madeline

16-17_custom-0c78affe5d2c1ce67952f5b0cccaf02599344c2e-s900-c85

 

5. The Moomins by my beloved Tove Jansson

698142fbf9dcc52a5120b464066caf3e

 

6. The lovely Babar by Jean de Brunhoff

babartrain

 

7. Beatrix Potter‘s whimsical animals

The Mice Sewing the Mayor's Coat circa 1902 by Helen Beatrix Potter 1866-1943

 

8. Quentin Blake‘s wonderful depiction of Roald Dahl‘s Matilda

ec1339c108aec57a17d0843fc18b3414

 

9. Mary Cicely Barker‘s Flower Fairies, which enchanted me throughout childhood

4d72ad36df2de_201786n

 

10. Pauline Baynes‘ stunning drawings in C.S. LewisChronicles of Narnia series

ec596d5103abeb247c03d2849c539009

 

There are no great surprises here, I’m sure!  Which are your favourite illustrations?  Have I featured any of them here?

4

‘Wildwood’ (The Wildwood Chronicles: Book One) by Colin Meloy ****

‘Wildwood’ by Colin Meloy

When I find bands or singers I particularly love whose lyrics never fail to astound me (Conor Oberst, Sam Duckworth, Jesse Lacey, Frank Turner and Benjamin Gibbard come to mind, and I could go on), I often find myself wishing that they would turn their literary talents to a book.  What is really cool is that Colin Meloy, lead singer of The Decemberists, has done so.  What is even cooler is that he has turned his Wildwood stories into a trilogy.

I first heard about this novel via a BookTube channel, and when I saw how beautiful the cover was, I had to break my self-imposed book buying ban and purchase myself a copy.  What I found most adorable when I received it was that Meloy has written the book and crafted the storyline, and his partner, Carson Ellis, has illustrated it – and so very beautifully, too.

The story begins with Prue McKeel, a young girl living in Portland, Oregon, taking her baby brother Mac out for the day.  When he is toddling around in a local playground, a murder of crows swoops down and abducts him, taking him deep into the Impassable Forest on the very edge of Portland.  The Impassable Forest is a place where nobody ever ventures, so imagine Prue’s surprise when she sets off to find her brother and is able to cross the enchanted boundary between the city and the trees.

One of her classmates, Curtis, a rather adorable boy in a furry parka, follows her as she makes her way into the forest, and is soon part of the adventure too.  On their quest to retrieve Mac from the clutches of evil, they meet many different characters, and even stumble upon a secluded community in the middle of the forest.

Prue’s baby brother, Mac, is abducted by crows (Illustration by Carson Ellis)

Meloy has plotted Wildwood very cleverly indeed, and despite its length, at no point does it feel sparse or too devoid of an engrossing storyline.  He is an inventive writer, and has crafted the world within Wildwood marvellously.  The story, whilst it contains elements of magical realism – a talking owl who takes tea in a library, for example – has been rendered in such a way that it is eminently believable at times.

Throughout, I caught glimpses of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton, but there was still something incredibly original about it.  The characterisation was polished, and I loved the writing style.  Some fabulous descriptions can be found within its pages.

Prue takes tea with an owl (Illustration by Carson Ellis)

As you can see from this post, Carson Ellis’ illustrations are an absolute delight, and they work wonderfully alongside Meloy’s story.  I love her style, and the way in which she has rendered scenes with such care.  I would happily purchase a book on the strength of her drawings alone.

After finishing Wildwood, I am so intrigued to see what will happen next, and am eagerly anticipating the paperback release of the next book in the series, Under Wildwood.

Suggested playlist, consisting solely of songs by Colin Meloy and The Decemberists:
1. Crane Wife – Parts 1 and 2 – The Decemberists
2. A Cautionary Song – Colin Meloy
3. Rox in the Box – The Decemberists
4. Don’t Carry It All – The Decemberists
5. June Hymn – The Decemberists
6. The Engine Driver – Colin Meloy
7. Down by the Water – The Decemberists