book round-ups

Top reads of 2019 so far… Q1 edition!

It’s the end of March, so we’re a quarter of the way through the year – and I thought I’d try something a bit different and do a first quarter round up of the best things I’ve read so far.  But before I do, in case you missed it on Wednesday, here are my romance recommendations for people who are looking to broaden their author base after the #RITASsowhite fiasco and also my BotW post for Can’t Escape Love.  I’m still angry.

Daisy Jones and the Six

A BotW post in March, I think this is a book you’re going to hear a lot more about this year – it was an Apple books pick in March as well as being Reese Witherspoon’s book club pick and it’s being picked by articles and groups all over the place.  It sent me off down a Wikipedia rabbit hole – and I’m still thinking about it a couple of weeks on – and not just because I went to see Taylor Jenkins Reid talk about the book on Tuesday evening.  There are a lot more thoughts on that BotW post – but basically, it’s just brilliant.  It was my second Taylor Jenkins Reid book of the year – the first The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was also a BotW (in Janurary) and would have been on this list but for the think where I try not to repeat myself!  Also Taylor Jenkins Reid has made a Spotify playlist to go along with Daisy – if you need some more hints about the book – or something to listen to while you read it…

Don’t You Forget About Me

Cover of Don't You Forget About Me

I’ve been recommending Mhari MacFarlane’s latest all over the place sine I read it back in January.  As I said in my BotW review back then, it’s a proper romantic comedy – along with rooting for it all to turn out alright for Georgina, it’ll make you snort with laughter, as well as make you want to cry.  And that’s often what I want from a book – and it seems to be getting harder to find at the moment – as lots of my previous auto-buy and favourite authors seem to be shifting towards different things.  But this is proper good and will restore your faith in rom-coms.  Now if only they were still making films to match.

Skylark’s War

Cover of The Skylark's War

This is another one that was a Book of the Week and that I’ve been recommending all over the place – it’s my favourite middle-grade book of the year so far and adults should be reading it too.  I know that the centenary of the First World War is over now, but it still feels really timely to read this beautiful look at a family growing up through the Great War.  It’s just wonderful.  I cried happy and sad tears and generally embarrassed my self by getting emotional in public reading this.  If I was a teacher reading this to my class, I’d have to get the children to read the climax or I’d be crying as I did it.  And I don’t think that’s a plot spoiler – happy and sad tears I said.  I’m hoping that this will find a place on the shelf of children’s classics about war – along with Carrie’s War, The Machine Gunners, War Horse and the like.  It would make a brilliant – but heartbreaking – double bill with Five Children on the Western Front, but maybe read Skylark’s War second…

So there is your three top picks, honourable mentions to Fence, Brown Girl Dreaming and The Sumage Solution – my other top rated reads of the year so far.  I’ve only written about one of them so far, but I’m sure that will change at some point…  And as I’m writing this slightly before the end of March, you never know, there may be something else amazing in my last couple of the month.  If there is, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Happy Reading!

 

Authors I love, Recommendsday, romance

Recomendsday: Diverse romance edition

So, it has been A Week in Romancelandia.  The shortlist for RITA Golden Heart awards came out and it was incredibly white for the umpteenth time in a row and everyone (me included) is angry about it.  And as discussion about it raged on Twitter, it turned out that a whole load of black authors have just given up entering their work (you have to enter it yourself and pay a fee to be considered) because no black author has ever won one. Never. Not one.  And only seven of 20 categories have had a winner who isn’t white in 20 years. Twenty. Years.  I’m not a romance writer (I’m a reader) and I’m not American – so I can’t do anything to actually fix the RITAs.  But I can do my bit in book recommendations, because bitching about it on Twitter doesn’t solve anything.

Cover of Mrs Martins Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan

Yesterday’s book of the week was Alyssa Cole’s latest novella, Can’t Escape Love, and as mentioned there, her next novel is out in April. Also on my reading list last week was Courtney Milan’s new novella, Mrs Martin’s Incomparable Adventure, which came out yesterday, but which I got an advance copy of and is really excellent (two older ladies find love as they persecute a Terrible Nephew). But if you’ve been hanging round romance for any length of time you should already know about them because they’re giants of the genre at this point. So who else?

Well if you’re in the market for more modern royals novels after Alyssa Cole whetted your appetite, then Talia Hibbert’s The Princess Trap might be just what you are looking for.  It was a BotW here last year, and she is pro-lif-ic – with small town contemporaries and paranormal among her series and a lot of choice of tropes.  She also has terrific book covers.  Here’s her website with a list of titles and blurbs so you can find your catnip.  And if you sign up to her mailing list, you get freebies to read too.

Jasmine Guillory reading from The Proposal

Jasmine Guillory was one of the names that people were expecting to see on the RITA list – I know I was because 2018 was a massive year for her.  I really enjoyed her debut, The Wedding Date, and the second in the series, The Proposal, and saw her do a reading from the latter while I was in Washington.  The Wedding Date (fake relationship turns real) is £1.99 on Kindle/Kobo at the moment and The Proposal (a Reese Witherspoon book club pick) is £2.99 on Kindle/Kobo.  Her third book – The Wedding Party – is £1.99 to preorder** on Kindle and Kobo as I write this and is out in July.

If you want a sports romance, I’ve just finished I’ll Catch You (Kindle/Kobo) by Farah Rochon, which has a female sports agent falling head over heels for her first client – a running back with a bad boy image who may not be quite what he seems. It’s a category romance and was over far too quickly for me – I could easily have spent another hundred pages with Payton and Cedric.  It’s the second book in the series (which have had a smart-looking repacking since the edition my library holds) and the first, Huddle With Me Tonight, is £1.56 on Kindle at the moment and just slightly more on Kobo.  I haven’t read it (yet!) but one of her medical romances, Deliver Me, is free at the moment on Kindle and Kobo.

Want a historical romance?  Well Beverley Jenkins is the biggest name in the field – she is a legend of the genre and her historicals come up in every discussion about historical romances featuring non-white characters.  I have a whole load of her books on hold with my library, but if yours doesn’t carry them (the UK not being great for American romances in paperback) then Forbidden is 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment and Breathless and several others are £1.99.  She also writes contemporary romances – her Blessings series is super highly rated – Bring on the Blessings is the first one (Kindle/Kobo) but they’re a bit more expensive.

Away from Ms Bev, Vanessa Riley’s Advertisements for Love series features smart non-white characters in Britain looking for their happily ever afters.  I’ve read the first two – and loved the characters but they weren’t neccesarily my favourite tropes and were a little melodramatic for me .  But I liked them both enough that I have book three waiting on the Kindle because it looks like it is one of my tropes!  The first one is The Bittersweet Bride (£2.84 on Kindle at the moment, also on Kobo but more expensive there) which is a second-chance love story with a secret, the second is The Bashful Bride (Kindle/Kobo) which is a marriage of convenience and the third is The Butterfly Bride (Kindle/Kobo) which looks like a friends to lovers, which is usually totally my catnip.  Her website is here and has details of all her books.

Rebekah Witherspoon writes contemporary erotic romances.  I read her novella So Sweet (Kindle/Kobo) back in 2016 after she gave copies away as part of a sponsorship deal with the Smart Bitches Trashy Books podcase, but struggled at the time to get any more of her stories in the UK at a price that was under my kindle price cap.  Sugar Daddy stories aren’t usually my thing, and I’m not a big erotic romance reader, but I enjoyed it a lot – it was more romantic than I was expecting, but so steamy that I blushed too hard to read it in public.  I’m waiting for holds to come in at the library – but have FIT (Kindle/Kobo) waiting for me on my Kindle because it’s £1.99 at the moment.  I just need to find somewhere to blush in peace!  Her website is here.

Asian authors have at least won some prizes at the RITAs – but they’re still way below the representation they should have.  Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient was another book I – and a lot of others – were expecting to see on the list – but she was among the authors who didn’t even enter.

The Kiss Quotient was one of my favourite books of last year – her next book, The Bride Test is out at the start of May, was on my list of most anticipated books of 2019 – and is £1.89 to preorder on Kindle at the moment (Kobo don’t have it listed yet).  From the blurb, The Bride Test is a modern day relationship of convenience with culture clash between a Vietnamese American man and a Vietnamese woman.  He’s got autism and is convinced he doesn’t do feelings, she’s fallen head over heels for him and wants him to love her back – and she’s got a time limit to make it happen.  What is not to love.  I can’t wait.

Suleikha Snyder is an Indian-American and writes small town and Bollywood romances.  I read Tikka Chance on Me in January – and it’s a funny sexy biker gang romance novella.  I’m not usually a biker gang romance girl – but this was *kisses fingers*.  It’s 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment.  And the first in her Bollywood Confidential series, Spice and Smoke, is free (Kindle/Kobo)at the moment and is now waiting on my to-read pile.  You’re welcome.

Cover of A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

In not a quite romance books, Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock historical mystery series is awesome – here’s my BotW review of A Study in Scarlet Women – I have book three waiting on the pile, and she’s just finished writing book four.  Thomas also writes romance and YA fantasy – although I haven’t ready any of those from here yet – and English is her second language.

In other Not Romance books – I’ve got an advance copy of The Confessions of Frannie Langton (I’m in the blog tour for it!), which is a historical mystery about a Jamaican maid accused of murdering her employer and his wife in 1826.  I’ve already started reading it and it is shaping up to be good so far.  A debut novel – and Sara Collins was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish prize while she was writing it.

Hardback copy of The Confessions of Frannie Langton and promotional mini-newspaper

So there you have it.  Go forth and read romance and read diversely.  And I want more recommendations please.  I’m very aware that my list may not be straying too far from the mainstream and people recommended by the authors that I follow on Twitter.  You all know how many books I read a year – and you know I love discovering new authors so give me names.  Just writing this post has had me buying more books – because Ms Bev’s prices are lower than I’ve ever seen them in the UK at the moment.  I’m currently reading An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole (the first in her Loyal League Civil War series) and have several Ms Bevs waiting to be read next.

Happy Reading!

*I didn’t realise that so many book awards had an entry fee.  I don’t know how I thought the shortlists were come up with – I guess I naively thought it was going to be the best new books by eligible people/members of the organisation…

**Have I mentioned before that pre-orders are super useful to authors?  They let publishers know how much interest there is in a book – particularly important for own voices authors who often get told that people don’t want to read books like theirs. My only gripe with pre-ordering on Kindle is that the Amazon pre-order price guarantee doesn’t apply.  I think Kobo do do a price guarantee on pre-orders, but I can’t be dealing with another ebook platform – I’m already confused enough with two (apple books, Kindle) and the chances of me buying the same book multiple times are High.

Book of the Week, new releases, romance

Book of the Week: Can’t Escape Love

A big list of books last week in the end – thank you holiday, extra days off and weekend away from home for work.  But in the end it was an easy choice for Book of the Week – because the new Alyssa Cole novella came out and it is wonderful.  Really wonderful.

Cover of Can't Escape Love

Regina is a geek girl who has just left her “proper” job to take her website – Girls with Glasses – to the next level.   Trouble is the stress is giving her insomnia and the only thing that works for getting her to sleep when this happens is the voice of a live streamer called Gus.  But his archive has been deleted and so she’s going to have to track him down (virtually, shes not a stalker) and ask him if he can help her by recording talking to send her to sleep.  Gus is a puzzle fanatic tasked with creating an escape room based on a popular romance animé for a convention, but trouble is, he’s not quite the superfan that the job requires, but Regina is.  Can Gus and Reggie help each other solve their problems?

Doesn’t that just sound ridiculously cute?  If it doesn’t, I’m telling it wrong, because this is so much fun.  This is a fill-in novella between titles in Cole’s Reluctant Royals series (you may remember I went mad for A Princess in Theory this time last year) and timeline-wise runs parallel to the second book in the series, A Duke By Default, where Reggie’s twin sister Portia is the heroine.  My only disappointment was that this was a novella and not a full length book – but given that neither Reggie nor Gus is a royal, I guess it wouldn’t fit the theme of the series!

I mentioned in my post about Princess in Theory that there is great representation in Alyssa Cole’s books – and this is no exception.  Reggie is black, Gus is Vietnamese American, both are neurodiverse and Reggie uses a wheelchair.  But none of those things are the main plot points about their characters – which is obviously exactly as is should be, but is sadly not always the case.  It’s been quite a week in Romancelandia (of which more tomorrow), full of people saying that they “don’t see colour” or “don’t like to read about gangs and violence” as reasons why they don’t read books by black authors.  They all need to sit down, shut up and read Alyssa Cole or one of the other wonderful non-white writers who are creating brilliant romance stories at the moment that show a full range of happily ever afters – and not just the ones for white people.  I could rant, but this is not the place (come back tomorrow for that).

Anyway, Can’t Escape Love is the nerdy romance that I needed last week and I can’t wait for the third book in the series – A Prince on Paper – to come out at the end of April. I pre-ordered that in November (Kindle/amazon paperback/Kobo).  And if that isn’t enough of a recommendation for you, I don’t know what is.  Can’t Escape Love is 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment as is the previous novella in the series, Once Ghosted, Twice Shy (Kindle/Kobo)which is a second-chance queer love story about the super efficient assistant to the prince in A Princess in Theory and the dating app hook-up who broke her heart.

Happy Reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: March 19 – March 24

Started the week in Portugal and ended it by working all weekend, so this week’s list has some plane reading, some commuter reading and some days off work and taking advantage reading!

Read:

From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey Stein

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Why Not Tonight by Susan Mallery

The Road to Grantchester by James Runcie

First Comes Marriage by Huda Al-Marashi

Eve’s Hollywood by Eve Babitz

It Happened One Christmas by Susan Mallery

Can’t Escape Love by Alyssa Cole

Mrs Martin’s Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan

Started:

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

Still reading:

The Binding by Bridget Collins

On the Road and off the Record with Leonard Bernstein by Charlie Harmon

No books bought 🙂

Bonus picture: Creepy statue from a Portuguese monastery.  If i have to have nightmares, so do you:

Book of the Week, historical, literary fiction, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Swan Song

A tricky choice for my book of the week this week – partly because of a reduced list this week because of exciting things like holidays with friends, but partly because I had little quibbles with everything I read.  In the end it came down to Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott’s Swan Song and The Vacationers (apt because I was on vacation!) but as I’ve recommended Emma Straub before, I thought I’d go with Swan Song instead.  And to be fair, writing this post turned out to be really quite easy in the end!

Copy of Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

Regular readers of this blog will be well aware of my love of novels based on real events, and this one takes a look at the downfall of Truman Capote, who after years of friendship (and patronage) with a group of elite high society women, committed social suicide by using their lives as material.  He called them his Swans, and they tell the story as a sort of Greek chorus, switching between their lives, his life and the stories he told them.  Hopping backwards and forwards through time, the Swans recount the various versions of Capote’s childhood that they’ve been told, full of inconsistencies and embroideries, they tell the stories of their friendship with him and its implosion and the aftermath.

This is really good. While it is most definitely a bit of a Rich People Problems type of situation, there is proper scandal, betrayal and heartbreak on all sides here. There are a lot of novels that talk about the unhappiness of rich and privileged people, and although they can sometimes be my favourite books to read, when it doesn’t work it’s hard to muster any sympathy.  But that’s not the case here at all – the women who Truman exposes have all their unhappiness exposed to the world – all the things that they have managed to ignore or put up with to keep their status are suddenly out there in print and although Joe Public might not know who the stories are about at first, the veil disguising their identities is very thin and people work it out – fast. I still can’t make up my mind if Truman knew that what he was about to do was going to explode his life but did it because he was terrified about failing to deliver a follow up to In Cold Blood, or if he thought that the women wouldn’t mind and couldn’t believe that they would be prepared to turn their backs on him.  My main quibble was around the last quarter – which I didn’t think worked quite as well as the earlier part had done, mostly because after the swans have broken with him, using them as a narrative device didn’t work quite as well for me.

There is a big cast of characters here but I was fine, knowing a bit about the story and having read another novel based around this very same issue before.  But my other quibble was whether you’d get lost if you didn’t know anything about this set before – as I was slightly when I read The Swans of Fifth Avenue – which didn’t tell you what it was that he’d done! Swan Song does give you the details on that – which is good, and I think if you keep reading beyond any initial confusion, it will all start to slot in to place. It’s just that the first part is a little bit like Truman’s brain after he’s had a few Orange Drinks and some pills. And obviously there is Wikipedia to help too if you’re really stuck – to be honest I think you can get all you need to know from Truman’s entry and then disappear off down any rabbit holes that strike your fancy!

Last week I recommended a book of fiction so cleverly done that you can’t believe the band isn’t real and actually these two make quite a good pair and overlap in time in some patches – although you may find that hard to believe.  You’ve got Truman and his swans living in the high society world of the East Coast which still feels like a relic of an earlier era, while over on the West Coast, Daisy and the Six are living it up in the new world of rock and drugs and feel much more contemporary.  And both would make great books to read on the beach if you’re about to head off on Spring/Easter break.  And writing post this has reminded me again that I really need to finish writing that Rich People Problems books post – it’s sitting half done, waiting for an opportune time to finish it (and for me to finish reading a couple more books).  Maybe this will be the push that I need!

I’ve had this on the pile for a while – twice in fact as I managed to get a NetGalley ebook copy when I already had a paper copy via the joys of my proper job – but although it came out last summer, I’m sort of timely – as earlier this month it was named on the longlist for the Women’s Fiction prize at the moment. The paperback isn’t out until the end of June so you could preorder it (and Amazon do have that pre-order price guarantee) but the hardback isn’t a bad price on Amazon at the moment if you just can’t wait, and would expect (or hope at least!) there might be a copy in any reasonably sized bookshop – especially now it’s been longlisted for a prize, even more so if it makes the shortlist. And of course it’s on Kindle and Kobo too.

Happy Reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: March 11 – March 18

Two nights away from home for work (including a trip to the theatres) and then a holiday to see friends at the weekend. Sorry, not sorry.

Read:

Who Killed Marilyn Monroe by Liz Evans

Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

Black Panther: Soul of a Machine by Fabian Nicieza

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

Clammed Up by Barbara Ross

Started:

The Road to Grantchester by James Runcorn

Still reading:

The Binding by Bridget Collins

On the Road and off the Record with Leonard Bernstein by Charlie Harmon

From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey Stein

One book bought, several more acquired from my friend…

Bonus picture: Portugal on Saturday: