Book of the Week, LGTBQIA+, romantic comedy

Book of the Week: Boyfriend Material

Another week, another contemporary romance pick for BotW.  This time it’s Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material, which has been much buzzed about, to the point where it took months for my library hold to come in, but it was totally, totally worth it.

Cover of Boyfriend Material

Luc’s parents were rockstars – and back in the day they made some of their best music together. And then they made him. And it means that he’s sort of famous – even though his dad walked out of his life when he was small and his mum hasn’t made any new music in year. But now his dad is making a comeback – and that means more interest in Luc as well. After an unfortunate picture of him tripping up coming out of a club puts his job (fundraiser at a charity trying to save the dung beetle) at risk, Luc decides that the solution is to get himself a nice normal boyfriend. That’s where Oliver comes him. He’s as normal and sensible as it comes – a barrister, an ethical vegetarian and absolutely scandal averse. The only things that they have in common are the fact that they’re single, gay, and they both need a date for a big event. So they come up with a deal. They’ll be fake boyfriends until Luc’s job is safe and Oliver’s family party is over. Then they’ll never see each other again. Simple. Except this is a romance and we all know these sort of arrangements never go to plan!

I loved this so much. I’ve written a lot here about my quest to find more of the funny but romantic books that I love reading and which seemed to be everywhere in the early 2000s, but which seem to have vanished off the face of the planet these days, in favour of really angsty books where everyone has a miserable backstory or comedies where the comedy is based on humiliation or people being terrible at their jobs (and either not really caring they’re rubbish at their jobs or not realising they are) which is really not my thing. But this was just in that sweet spot. It’s witty, it’s fun, the characters are charming and good at their jobs and the secondary characters are hilarious. It’s just a joy to read. I could have read another 200 pages of Luc and Oliver trying to work out how to have a proper relationship. It really was exactly what I needed last week.

It’s had loads of buzz, been various bookclub and magazine picks and so clearly I’m not the only person who wants to read books like this, and fingers crossed it’s the start of a renaissance. If you’ve got any recommendations for books that do the same sort of thing, please drop them in the comments, because the Goodreads and Amazon suggestions aren’t helping me any! This was also my first Alexis Hall book, so I’m off to dig into the back catalogue, although having chatted to my romance reading friends, I think that the steam levels on some of the others is much higher than this – this is kissing and then pretty much closed door. I’ve already pre-ordered Hall’s next book – Rosaline Palmer Takes All the Cake, which is out in May because a romance set on a baking show is exactly what I didn’t realise that I need in front of my eyeballs!

My copy of Boyfriend Material came from the library, but it’s available on Kindle and Kobo and as an audiobook. It’s a paperback too, but the shops have been closed so long now I’ve lost all sense of what is going to get stocked where and so don’t know how easy it will be to get hold of if you’re trying to order from your indie, but Foyles have it available to order if that’s any indication.

Happy Reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: February 15 – February 21

Well it’s been another rollercoaster week of 2021. But then I don’t know why I’m even surprised by that any more because it’s been nearly a year of it now. I’m hoping that the worst is behind us now, and that soon I’ll have more to do than just working, reading and running around the local park. But I’m trying not to get my hopes up too much, because 2021 just keeps kicking. Anyway, a fun week of reading, including the latest Chalet School reissue – Jo Returns, in which Elinor M Brent Dyer, notorious for mixing characters up and changing people’s names (sometimes even in the same book) makes Jo confuse some characters in her first school story and tells us about the importance of making list. Truly, a gem.

Read:

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

Sweet Danger by Margery Allingham

A Wedding in the Country by Katie Fforde*

You’ve Got Mail by Kate G Smith*

Jo Returns to the Chalet School by Elinor M Brent Dyer

Teach Me by Olivia Dade

Sanctuary by Rebekah Weatherspoon

Started:

We are Bellingcat by Eliot Higgins*

Hare Sitting Up by Michael Innes*

The Sugared Game by K J Charles

Still reading:

Mrs Tim of the Regiment by D E Stevenson

A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R King

Still not counting, still don’t care

Bonus photo: collected from the framers this week, the Theatres of London print I was given for my birthday. I miss the theatre so very much, any given day one of my Facebook memories will probably be about going to the theatre or buying tickets or thinking about a show. My last show in the West End was a year ago last week (the 18th) when I went to see Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, but after that before everything shut down I also did a fringe show about The Navy Lark, a talk at the National Theatre marking Michael Billington’s retirement as chief critic with readings from Simon Russell Beale, Oliver Ford Davis and Penelope Wilton, and some comedy. I miss sitting in a room with people watching other people perform. As the pandemic went on, shows have been bumped, cancelled or rearranged and my ticket box has been far far emptier than I would like. The next thing is due to be Hairspray at the Coliseum in early June (rearranged, twice, from last Easter) and I’m really hoping it will go ahead.

An illustrated map of London Theatres.

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows

Well after last week’s (slightly cheating) pick of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, another book featuring bees gets the nod this week. And this wasn’t the only other book with a bee connection – because Rose Learner’s Taste of Honey was also on the list, and while that’s not really bee keeping in the way that the other two are, it’s got honey right there in the title!

 

Anyway, to the plot: since Agatha’s husband died, she’s had to run the family printing business, whilst reining in her son’s radical tendencies. Whilst visiting the company’s warehouse she finds the last thing she needs – a colony of bees has taken up residence in amongst the printing plates. Penelope Flood is the town’s go to person when it comes to moving hives, so she’s the person that Agatha is recommended to get help from to move the hive. The two become friends – but each is wondering if it could be something more. There are obstacles though – aside from being two women in a relationship in the nineteenth century. Agatha has her family and her business responsibilities in London, and Penelope has a complicated situation in Melliton – she’s not one of the gentry, but she’s not precisely one of the tradespeople either. And it doesn’t help that her husband is away for years at a time on his whaling ship, along with her brother. Agatha and Penelope are drawn to each other from the start, but everything is also complicated by the return of Queen Caroline from abroad and tensions start to boil over in the town.

This has two older female heroines, a slow-build friends to lovers relationship and a really interesting setting. I loved all the details about the bees and their hives and I really, really liked the setting within the unrest and societal disorder that found an outlet when George IV tried to divorce his wife – with people who wanted reform coalesing behind the queen and those trying to preserve the status quo behind the king. I’ve read a lot about this period while I was studying history and in my history reading since – but it’s not a series of events that I can remember seeing used in historical romance and after reading this I find myself wondering why because it works brilliantly here.

This is the second in Olivia Waite’s Feminine Pursuits series – the first, The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, was also great – with women looking to get their work recognised under their own names (rather than those of men from their families) and finding love along the way. The third book, The Hellion’s Waltz, is out in June and about all we know about it is that it’s a heist story – I have it preordered already.

You can get The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows from all the usual places – Kindle and Kobo and as an audio book. It’s a bit pricey as an ebook at the moment, but the good news is that The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics is only £1.99 on Kindle and Kobo at the moment and so you can just start the series! I don’t know how hard these are going to be in physical copies, but judging from the price of it on Amazon, it shouldn’t be too hard.

Happy Reading!

 

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: February 8 – February 14

Another busy week – and a working weekend. I’ve been saying for months that my brain can’t cope with anything complicated, but never has that been more true than at the moment. A few pages of Mrs Tim at bedtime, some romance, a mystery to solve, that’s about all my brain can cope with. This is the first week in a few that there hasn’t been an Amelia Peabody book on the finished list – but they’re still there in the background too.

Read:

The Beekeepers Apprentice by Laurie R King

Island Affair by Priscilla Oliveras

Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows by Olivia Waite

Death in the Beginning by Beth Byers

My Fake Rake by Eva Leigh*

Haven by Rebekah Weatherspoon

A Taste of Honey by Rose Lerner

Started:

A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R King

A Wedding in the Country by Katie Fforde*

Still reading:

Mrs Tim of the Regiment by D E Stevenson

Still not counting, still don’t care

Bonus photo: A snowy morning in Fitzroy Square last week. This is the row of houses that you see in all sorts of films and costume dramas – there’s a really good shot of it at the start of Phantom Thread – and I walk through it on my way to work (and back to the station) every day I’m in the office. It’s not the first time I’ve had a photo from the square on the blog – it’s also the location of Maisie Dobb’s office so it has a bookish connection too. I keep meaning to go back through the Maisie books and see if it mentions which number Maisie’s office was meant to be in, but I only ever remember while I’m walking through the square – and then I forget again!

Snowy railings and the fancy houses behind them

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley

Book of the Week, historical, mystery

Book of the Week: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

A long old reading list last week, and this is slightly cheating because I finished it on Monday, but I enjoyed it – despite it taking me a few weeks to read – and I Have Thoughts. It is also the first in the series so that’s nice too…

Cover of The Beekeeper's Apprentice

An aging Sherlock Holmes has retired to the Sussex Downs. There in his cottage, he is concentrating on his experiments and his bee hives, away from the bustle of London. One day on the downs, he meets the teenage Mary Russell, a young orphan, unhappy with the aunt that she lives with and searching for knowledge. In her, Holmes sees a mind similar to his own and essentially takes her on as his apprentice and involves her in his work. But of course danger comes calling again and a deadly foe threatens their lives and those of Mrs Hudson and Doctor Watson.

This book covers a considerable period of time – taking Mary from her mid-teens through to having nearly graduated from Oxford – and starts off as a series of small investigations and episodes before building to a bigger and more dangerous case in the second half. I quite liked Mary as a character – I’ve seen complaints that she’s a Mary Sue, but to be honest considering Sherlock’s own startling gifts, I didn’t think it was that implausible for a woman to be similarly clever and perceptive – and there’s also no point in creating a young Watson facsimile for a foil – because why would someone like that interest an ageing Holmes, who already has the original Watson?

I do have a few reservations about the huge age gap that’s going on here and where this is going* but the mystery is good and the whole thing swept me along nicely enough while I was reading it. Writing this has made me think about it a bit more closely and although I didn’t love it, love it, it’s still the book I have the most to say about from the last week.  I think you will probably like this more the less attached you are to the original series – I see a lot of people on Goodreads complaining about the treatment of Watson, most of them the same people who were complaining about Mary. I’ll admit I’m not a massive Sherlock Holmes reader, but I do like a Sherlock reinvention – as my love of Lady Sherlock shows – so this ticked some fun boxes for me.

This was originally published back in 2002 and is the first in what is now a long series. I’ve lined up the second one to see what happens next. If I change my mind about everything, I’ll try and be big enough to come back and let you know!

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice should be fairly easy to get hold of – I read it on Kindle (where it’s under £2 at time of writing), it’s also on Kobo (just over £2) and all the usual platforms and I’ve seen them in shops and library collections as well – including the discount bookshops like The Works and the charity shops when that was a thing.

Happy Reading!

* Spoiler: having got a later book in the series on the tbr shelf somehow I know they get married.

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: February 1 – February 7

Actually quite a productive week in reading. The New Year self improvement kick has extended into February, the Elizabeth Peters re-read continues (and we finished the audiobook of He Shall Thunder in the Sky on Sunday, so technically that could go on the list again, but twice in three weeks seems a little much), and there’s a relisten of the audiobook of the Unknown Ajax on there too. And I’m making progress on the list of lingerers.

Read:

The Sweetest Fix by Tessa Bailey

Joe Biden by Evan Osnos

Caught Looking by Adriana Herrera

The Art of Saying No by Damon Zahariades

The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer

The Children of the Storm by Elizabeth Peters

The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier

Well Played by Jen De Luca

Wicked Deeds on a Winter Night by Stacy Reid

Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden

Started:

Island Affair by Priscilla Oliveras

Death in the Beginning by Beth Byers

Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows by Olivia Waite

Still reading:

The Beekeepers Apprentice by Laurie R King

My Fake Rake by Eva Leigh*

Mrs Tim of the Regiment by D E Stevenson

Still not counting, still don’t care

Bonus photo: After the death of Christopher Plummer on Friday, I went on a bit of a Captain von Trapp gif fest on Twitter, and happened to see my Frequently used gif list, which I thought was actually a pretty good summary of my currently life and interest, so I post it here for your amusement.

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley

books, stats

January Stats

Books read this month: 31*

New books: 27

Re-reads: 4

Books from the to-read pile: 6

NetGalley books read: 4

Kindle Unlimited read: 3

Ebooks: 12

Library books: 6  (all ebooks except 1 borrowed at a hotel)

Non-fiction books: 4

Favourite book this month: I mean I read He Shall Thunder in the Sky twice. And the Falcon at the Portal too, but of the stuff I hadn’t read before, it’s hard. Maybe The House in the Cerulean Sea.

Most read author: Elizabeth Peters by a country mile. 3000+ pages, plus more than a dozen hours of audiobook time…

Books bought: I mean I think 8 new ones, plus ebooks of a couple of Amelia Peabody books that I borrowed from the library first time out

Books read in 2020: 31

Books on the Goodreads to-read shelf (I don’t have copies of all of these!): 595

I mean basically lets just call it the month of the Peabody-Emersons. Because so much of my reading this month was from that series – and it was all I wanted to read for long periods. And I’m not even sorry about it.

Bonus picture: The bonus picture this month is another snowy picture from the start of last week, and was taken by my dad. Some people would say that it’s Christmassy and Not Right for January, but I just think it looks so quintessentially British countryside in winter that I just had to use it.

A snowy church steeple

*Includes some short stories/novellas/comics/graphic novels ( 4this month)

book round-ups

Recommendsday: January 2021 mini reviews

In putting this post together, I realised that amidst the flood of end of year posts, I didn’t do a mini reviews for December. To be fair though, I think I had already written about pretty much everything I enjoyed. As previously discussed ad nauseam in the middle of January I had a severe case of loss of reading mojo that saw me retreat to the safety of old favourites. But before that there were a couple of books I read and wanted to mention to you.

The Hatmakers by Tamzin Merchant*

Cover of The Hatmakers

This is a delightful middle grade story about an alternative version of Britain where there are magical families of makers who each make one thing. Our heroine, Cordelia, is a hatmaker. But after her father goes missing at sea, she finds it hard to concentrate on the hat her family are meant to be making for the king. But soon she’s swept up in trying to foil a plot against her family – and the makers. I really enjoyed this. I think it would appeal to a lot of children – it’s a fast paced adventure with enough peril, but not too scary and a magical world with consistent rules that are easy to make sense off. NetGalley told me it was out in January – but Amazon tells me it’s actually out mid-February. Either way, I will buy for the middle graders in my life.

If the Boot Fits by Rebekah Weatherspoon

Cover of If the Boot Fits

I don’t know how I missed that this was meant to be a Cinderella retelling until after I had finished and I was looking at other reviews. I can only chalk that up to the fact that I just automatically put holds on Weatherspoon’s new books without even looking at the plots – she’s just that reliable at turning out great romances! Anyway this features an aspiring screenwriter, who is trapped as the PA/dogsbody to an obnoxious second generation Hollywood starlet, who hooks up with the newest Oscar-winning actor at a post-Oscars party and then accidentally takes his statuette home with her. Amanda then runs into Sam again at his family ranch, where a friend is getting married. There’s a lot of dancing around whether they want to have a relationship or just a fling, and it’s all very romantic. The denouement is fun – although I wanted a little more comeuppance for our baddie. This came out in October and should be fairly easy to get hold of on Kindle, I don’t know about the paperback.

The House on Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams*

Cover of The House on Coco Beach

This is a twisty, historical romantic suspense novel about Virginia who travels to Florida in search of answers after the death of her husband. Virginia and Simon were estranged at the time of his death and as she tries to unravel what led up to his death, the reader discovers the story of their relationship. The narrative is split between 1917 when they met while she was working as an ambulance driver in France and their subsequent romance and 1922 as the story of their romance unravels. I got more and more anxious for Virginia as the story went on and the twists kept coming, but I was pleased/happy with the resolution. I’ve written about Beatriz Williams on here before and although I didn’t like it as much as I liked Her Last Flight, it is a lot of fun. In the US this is titled just Cocoa Beach, and it’s also connected to Williams’s earlier novel A Certain Age (Virginia is the sister of one of the characters in A Certain Age) but you don’t need to have read the previous book for this to make sense (I had in fact forgotten what happened in A Certain Age and it didn’t cause me any problems). If we were going to the beach right now, it would be a great beach read. This came out a couple of years back (when I got a copy from NetGalley and promptly forgot about it) and is available on Kindle and in paperback – in the BeforeTimes I used to find physical copies of Williams’s books in the bookshops and the libraries.

Other things…

Beyond those two, there was a new Stockwell Park Orchestra book which sees the gang on tour in Germany and Belgium, I read another Inspector Littlejohn (which wasn’t my favourite but was still good), And I finally finished the San Andreas Shifters series – which is Gail Carriger writing as G L Carriger and follows a gay werewolf pack and their friends/hangers on in modern day (but with supernatural creatures) California. I’d been saving the last full length novel for a time of need and was reminded that I had it waiting when Miss Gail’s author newsletter flagged that there was a new short story in the series out. So I read them both.

If you missed the Book of the Week picks from January, they were You Should See Me in a Crown, How Nell Scored, The House in the Cerulean Sea, Bag Man and Rex Lee, Gypsy Flyer. I also wrote about Amelia Peabody, some tv picks and my favourite books of last year.

American imports, Book of the Week, Children's books

Book of the Week: Rex Lee, Gypsy Flyer

This week’s BotW pick falls into the bonkers book category – and I just had to tell you all about it. A bit of background – my trains are not great on weekends, so when I work a weekend I stay over in London so that I can get to work on time on a Sunday morning. In the before times, it would be at one of the Youth Hostels near work, and I would go out to the theatre after work, or meet friends for drinks. In lockdown, the hostels are closed, so I’m in hotels. And this weekend’s hotel has a Design Aesthetic that includes putting old books in your room as decorative features. And Rex Lee, Gypsy Flyer from 1928 was on my bedside table and I *had* to read it.

Copy of Rex Lee, Gypsy Flyer

When we meet Rex at the start of the book, he’s just left his friends at the military flying school because he’s inherited a hardware store in California. He is very unhappy about this, because being a pilot is his dream. On the train to the coast, he reads a story about Slim Lindy and his record breaking flights (it’s basically Lindberg) and decides that he wants to be just like him. When we rejoin Rex, he’s flying a taxi plane between an island off the California coast and the mainland. Just as the summer season is starting to end, he gets tangled up in adventure and saves the day and saves people’s lives. And thus the pattern for the rest of the book is set – because gypsy here is being used in the same way as it is in the theatre for dancers who move from show to show (see: the plot of A Chorus Line). Next up, Rex is flying fire spotting planes in Oregon, where he’s in charge of a group of pilots, stands up to authority figures, saves the day and saves people’s lives. Then he flies a mail plane, where he saves the day even more. And he saved the day a lot in Oregon. He ends up stopping a war. I kid you not.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. All of the saving involves crashes, near crashes, people clinging to the outside of the plane – either to balance it out, or on one notable occasion to hold a wheel on so the plane can take off – and stunt flying. Lots of stunt flying. I know I’m giving a lot of spoilery detail here, but I’m not seriously expecting that many of you are going to go out and buy it – and those of you who do will buy it exactly because of this sort of craziness. And trust me when I say there’s much more in the book than I’ve told you about.

All in all, it was the perfect way to spend a few hours on Saturday night, once I’d finished watching Drag Race. As regular readers will know, when it comes to old school children’s books, I mostly read Girls Own, but I’m not exactly averse to some Boys Own adventures when the opportunity arises. An obscure part of the University of Missouri: Kansas City’s website tells me that the author, the marvellously named Thomson Burtis, was actually a pilot who did a lot of different types of flying, but I can’t work out if that’s from jacket copy, and his Wikipedia page doesn’t mention anything about that. I suspect that if you are (or were) a Biggles (or Worrals) reader, this series would float your boat.

Anyway, I have no idea where you would get a copy of this if you want it – there are copies on Abebooks, but there all in the US and the shipping is *insane* – it’s definitely not worth spending £30+ on. But if you see any of the other titles in the series – there are 11 – in a second hand bookshop then maybe give it a try.

Happy Reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: January 25 – January 31

Another busy week in reading. I’m at the point in Amelia Peabody where the books are really long, but I also got a bit of my normal reading mojo back too. January is also over, so coming up this week we’ll have some minireviews on Wednesday and the January stats on Thursday because the week starts on a Monday. Aside from the reading, it was a busy week, with some grim weather – from icy and treacherous underfoot through torrential rain. Perfect weather to sit and read a book. If only there weren’t other things that I have to do too!

Read:

Sweetest in the Gale by Olivia Dade

Death Drops the Pilot by George Bellairs

The Golden One by Elizabeth Peters

Vixen Ecology by G L Carriger

Murder on Mustique by Anne Glenconner*

Rex Lee, Gypsy Flyer by Thomson Burtis

The Enforcer Enigma by G L Carriger

Continental Riff by Isabel Rogers

Started:

Mrs Tim of the Regiment by D E Stevenson

Still reading:

Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden

The Beekeepers Apprentice by Laurie R King

My Fake Rake by Eva Leigh*

Still not counting, still don’t care

Bonus photo: The Amelia Peabody re-read continues, and as I was out on my lunchtime walk at work one day this week I walked past the front of the Royal Institute of British Architecture which has some pylons – although they’re art deco rather than Egyptian!

Front of RIBA headquarters on Portland Place in London

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley