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Books : reviews

Jodi Taylor.
Just One Damned Thing After Another.
Accent Press. 2013

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 29 November 2016

A madcap new slant on history that seems to be everyone’s cup of tea…

Behind the seemingly innocuous façade of St Mary’s, a different kind of historical research is taking place. They don’t do ‘time-travel’ – they ‘investigate major historical events in contemporary time’. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power – especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet.

Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document – to try and find the answers to many of History’s unanswered questions… and not to die in the process.

But one wrong move and History will fight bade – to the death. And, as they soon discover – it’s not just History they’re fighting.

Follow the catastrophe curve from eleventh-century London to World War I, and from the Cretaceous Period to the destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria. For wherever Historians go, chaos is sure to follow in their wake…

Dr Madeleine Maxwell, known as Max to all, is an historian recruited by St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research. St Mary’s have some time travel machines, allowing the historians to go back and observe historically significant events as they happen. This requires nerve, and training. Max has the former in spades; St Mary’s provide the latter. But there’s more at stake than Max realises.

This is a mish-mash of genres, involving history, time-travel, boot-camp training, romance, intrigue, tragedy, and more. It is a mish-mash in a good way, as Max, nobody’s fool and nobody’s patsy, powers her way through increasingly bizarre and traumatic incidents, including serving in a WWI battlefield hospital, dodging dinosaurs and more in the Cretaceous, and visiting the Library of Alexandria under somewhat trying conditions.

Everyone at St Mary’s is eccentric and weird, but also competent, which is always good to see: competence makes eccentricity funny, rather than annoying. St Mary’s does seem to have a rather small staff for what it does (although significantly more than the Gerry Anderson school of staffing levels). And I never fully understood its original business model: the time travel is a secret, so how do the historians’ observations of past events contribute to current knowledge? No matter; by the end Max has come up with a new business model which is much more effective. If the villains let them pursue it. Which of course they won’t.

I initially dipped my toe in this series, buying only the first entry. But before I was half-way through this compulsively readable book, I ordered the next three.

Jodi Taylor.
A Symphony of Echoes.
Accent Press. 2013

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 29 December 2016

In the second book in the Chronicles of St Mary’s series, Max and the team visit Victorian London in search of Jack the Ripper, witness the murder of Archbishop Thomas a Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, and discover that dodos make a grockling noise when eating cucumber sandwiches.

But they must also confront an enemy intent on destroying St Mary’s – an enemy willing, if necessary, to destroy History itself to do it.

Max and the crew of time-travelling historians are back. We get another series of historical adventures, both of snippets providing scenes of hilarity or tragedy (sometimes simultaneously), and of major events that move the plot forward. Here the snippets include observing the final kill of Jack the Ripper, a team-building exercise with dodos, an expedition to Canterbury Cathedral to record the assassination of Thomas a Beckett, and a trip to the Hanging Gardens of Ninevah. The plot, that of protecting St Mary’s, and all of history, from Ronan, includes a protracted visit to future St. Mary’s, and a trip to imperil Mary Queen of Scots, in order to confound the unhistorical ending of the lost Shakespeare play.

‘Dr Maxwell. Why are you wearing a red snake in my office?’
‘Sorry, sir. Whose office should I be wearing it in?’

The combination of snark, fun, terrible historical incidents, and the tragic fight against Ronan continues. Still compulsively readable.

Jodi Taylor.
A Second Chance.
Accent Press. 2014

St Mary’s is back and nothing is going right for Max. Once again, it’s just one damned thing after another.

The action jumps from an encounter with a mirror-stealing Isaac Newton to the bloody battlefield at Agincourt. Discover how a simple fact-finding assignment to witness the ancient and murderous cheese-rolling ceremony in Gloucester can result in CBC – concussion by cheese. The long awaited jump to Bronze Age Troy ends in personal catastrophe for Max and just when it seems things couldn’t get any worse – it’s back to the Cretaceous Period again to confront an old enemy who has nothing to lose.

So, make the tea, grab the chocolate biscuits, settle back and discover exactly why the entire history department has painted itself blue…

Jodi Taylor.
A Trail Through Time.
Accent Press. 2014

St Mary’s is back and is facing a battle to survive in this, the fourth instalment of the Chronicles.

Max and Leon are re-united and looking forward to a peaceful lifetime together. But, sadly, they don’t even make it to lunchtime.

The action races from 17th century London to Ancient Egypt and from Pompeii to 14th century Southwark as they’re pursued up and down the timeline, playing a perilous game of hide and seek until they’re finally forced to take refuge at St Mary’s – where new dangers await them.

As usual, there are plenty of moments of humour, but the final, desperate, Battle of St Mary’s is in grim earnest. Overwhelmed and outnumbered and with the building crashing down around them, how can St Mary’s possibly survive?

So, make sure the tea’s good and strong…

Jodi Taylor.
No Time Like The Past.
Accent Press. 2015

St Mary’s has been rebuilt and it’s business as usual for the History department.

But first, there’s the little matter of a seventeenth-century ghost that only Mr Markham can see.

Not to mention the minor inconvenience of being trapped in the Great Fire of London…and an unfortunately-timed comfort break at Thermopylae leaving the fate of the western world hanging in the balance.

Jodi Taylor.
What Could Possibly Go Wrong.
Accent Press. 2015

Max is back! New husband, new job, and a training regime that cannot fail – to go wrong!

Take one interim Chief Training Officer, add five recruits, mix with Joan of Arc, a baby mammoth, a duplicitous Father of History, a bombed rat, Stone Age hunters, a couple of passing policemen who should have better things to do, and Dick the Turd. Stir well, bring to the boil – and wait for the bang!

Jodi Taylor.
Lies, Damned Lies, and History.
Accent Press. 2016

‘I’ve done some stupid things in my time. I’ve been reckless. I’ve broken a few rules. But never before have I ruined so many lives or left such a trail of destruction behind me.’

As Max would be the first to admit, she’s never been one for rules. They tend to happen to other people. But this time she’s gone too far and everyone is paying the price.

From Georgian London to Arthur’s Britain and from Stonhenge to a desperate hunt for King John's treasure, grounded till the end of time, how can Max ever put it right?

Jodi Taylor.
And the Rest Is History.
Accent Press. 2017

‘Because, my dear Max, you dance on the edge of darkness … and I don’t think it would take very much for you to dance my way.’

When an old enemy appears out of nowhere with an astonishing proposition for Max – a proposition that could change everything – Max is tempted. Very tempted.

With an end to an old conflict finally in sight, it looks as if St Mary s problems are over with. Can they all finally live happily ever after?

As everything hangs in the balance, Max and St Mary’s find themselves engulfed in tragedies worse than they could ever imagine.

Is this the end?

Jodi Taylor.
The Long and the Short of It.
Accent Press. 2017

The Long and Short of It collects the 8 unmissable short stories from international bestselling author, Jodi Taylor. Now with new introductions, plus the brand new short story, A Perfect Storm.

Follow the tea-soaked disaster magnets of St Mary’s as they rattle around History. Because wherever the historians go, chaos is sure to follow.

Jodi Taylor.
The Nothing Girl.
Accent Press. 2014

Getting a life isn’t always easy. And hanging on to it is even harder.

Known as The Nothing Girl because of her stutter, disregarded by her family, isolated and alone, Jenny Dove’s life is magically transformed by the appearance of Thomas, a mystical golden horse only she can see. Under his loving guidance, Jenny acquires a husband – the charming and chaotic Russell Checkland – together with an omnivorous donkey and The Cat From Hell.

Jenny’s life will never be the same again, but a series of ‘accidents’ leads her to wonder for how long she will be allowed to enjoy it.