When I opened the package from Skyhorse Publishing to see three of Jodi Taylor’s novels, the steampunk-meets-Renaissance book covers threw me. These were not trendy images with minimalist design and solid fonts, nor were they fanciful landscapes topped with cursive lettering. I was thrown! I didn’t know what to expect from “Just One Damned Thing After Another” just by looking at the cover. And, I confess, I tend to judge books by their covers. (Sorry!)
I’m absolutely delighted to say that, while I had no idea what kind of story or what quality of writing I was about to digest, Taylor’s novels are simply marvelous. In addition to the first novel, I read “A Symphony of Echoes” and “A Second Chance.” They’re so good, I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of them before. Since finishing the third book, I’ve taken on a mission to tell all my book-loving friends about them, at the very least, and to give them all boxed sets for Christmas, at the most.
All three of these novels checked several boxes for me when it comes to book series I love. They passed the mental tests I tend to give all book series, to see whether or not I want to tear through every installment, or leave the whole enchilada to devour when I have oodles of time in my dotage.
First, I couldn’t put them down. Taylor’s books are dangerously easy to read. They have the simplicity and zippy pace of, say, Mary Higgins Clark, while still delivering the kind of mind-blowing life observations that will stop you in your visual tracks. Her voice is uniquely her own, and it’s one I truly enjoyed. Taylor’s writing walks a fine line between whimsy and solemnity.
I’ll tell you how addicted I was to “The Chronicles of St. Mary’s.” In the middle of “A Second Chance,” I took my Girl Scout troop camping. At night, while snoring rose and fell all around me, my trusty head lamp allowed me to keep reading long after I should have gone to sleep.
Second, you can’t pigeonhole these books, which I’m sure has given more than one marketing director a whopping headache. Like Diana Gabaldon’s immensely popular “Outlander” series, the “The Chronicles of St. Mary’s” books have a little bit of everything — time travel, history, romance, existential crises. It’s all there!
Now, you might be thinking, time travel? Isn’t that a sticky wicket kind of tale to tell? Well, yes. There were a few times that my head nearly exploded, trying to think my way through the hows and whys of a timeline. For the most part, Taylor explains very well how time works in the world of St. Mary’s. There were teensy moments when I had to just chuck out logic and go with it. But the books were so good, I didn’t care!
Third, and perhaps the most important test of all, is that I *miss* these characters. I didn’t want to finish “A Second Chance” because I didn’t want to leave the world of St. Mary’s! I miss Max, the Chief, Peterson, everyone! And I don’t mind telling you that, on several occasions, there were tears shed, tears of sadness and of joy.
I found myself incredibly invested in these characters, which really, isn’t that the hallmark of the best books? I rooted for Max; I despaired for the Chief; I worried for Markham. I found myself having hopes and dreams for these characters, which made several plot twists all the more painful.
My only complaint (there has to be at least one, right?) is that sometimes there were passages that resolved too quickly. Max would experience something earth-shattering, and suddenly we were moving on. I know Max is tough, and tends to deal with things almost mechanically, but a few times I felt like too little time was spent exploring a particular feeling or scene.
It’s funny. Now, when I look at the book covers to “The Chronicles of St. Mary’s,” I can’t believe I ever doubted the quality of what was inside. The covers *perfectly* convey the stodgy business practices of St. Mary’s, along with the historical scenes Max and company visit, with a dash of their brand of technology thrown in. I look at them fondly, like good friends.
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