American imports, binge reads, Book of the Week, fiction, new releases, reviews, romance, romantic comedy

Book of the Week: Thank You for Listening

Taking a break from the Girls Own and book conference related content for this week’s book of the week. This is another recent release – the same day as Husband Material in fact – and one that I had heard a lot of buzz about and discovered was on offer while I was writing the August offers Recommendsday post.

Thank you for Listening is a romantic comedy about a former actress who became an audiobook narrator after an accident halter her on screen career. When Sewanee is sent to an audiobook convention by her boss she has a whirlwind night in Vegas with a mystery man. But when she returns to California, she finds an offer to narrate a beloved romance novelist’s final book. The trouble is, she doesn’t do romance novels any more, but money could pay for her beloved grandmother’s nursing home care so she resurrects her old pseudonym and starts recording the book with one of the genres hottest and most secretive male narrators, Brock McKnight. There’s a steady back and forth of chatter between them, but as secrets are revealed, can Sewanee get the happily ever after that she doesn’t believe in?

Julia Whelan is a renowned audiobook narrator so this is is filled with insider titbits from her experience as well as being a love letter to the romance genre. They even joke about how many tropes they’re ticking off more than once. And it’s a delight. Swan is an intriguing leading character, with a complicated family and some issues to deal with. And the shadowy and mysterious Brock has great banter. And, well, it’s very well put together – with a swoony ending and a nod and a wink to fans of the genre. What more could you want.

If I could have read this in one sitting I would have – but unfortunately I had to go to work, so instead I decided not to go to the theatre one of my London nights and instead read this on the sofa at the hostel, and then in my bunk when it got too noisy. No greater testament really.

My copy of Thank You For Listening came from Kindle for the bargain price of £1.99. It’s also on Kobo for the same price and available in paperback from Thursday – although how easily it will be to actually find I don’t know – Waterstones (Foyles’ owners) are having some distribution issues. I will try and remember to check Foyles’ romance section a few weeks after release…

Happy reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, cozy crime, detective

Book of the Week: Basket Case

As we hurtle towards the end of the year, this week’s book of the Week is the first in a cozy crime series that I picked up as part of my fifty states challenge for the year. Technically I finished it on Monday, but a lot of the other stuff I read last week was from series I’ve written about before – or didn’t like enough to write about.

Leslee Nix – Nixy to her friends – goes to Lilyvale to check in on her aunt. One of the local detectives has been calling her after a series of kitchen explosions at Aunt Sherry’s house and he wants Leslee to go and find out what’s going on before officials have to take more notice. Aunt Sherry shares her house with five friends – who call themselves the Silver Six. When Sherry arrives in town, she finds them in the midst of hosting a craft fair, with products that they’ve all made. But when a property developer who has been trying to bully Aunt Sherry into selling her house turns up dead, Nixy finds herself investigating to try and clear her aunt’s name.

This has a lot of the cozy crime tropes – small town, a police detective who is interested in the heroine, a quirky group of friends and a hobby/pastime – in this case crafting of various kinds for the aunts. The mystery is quite a good one – the victim is a horrible person so there are plenty of suspects and Nixy being new in town makes her snooping easier and explains why everyone has to tell her all about themselves. It is doing a fair bit of set up introducing the characters as the first in the series, but it’s actually relatively late in the book that it starts dealing with Nixy needing to stay in town – rather than returning to her job at an art gallery in Houston. And even writing that I think you’re probably going to have an idea how that’s going to work! There are a few bits that are a little bit mad, and there are two characters who confusingly had the same first name which threw me when the second one turned up late on, but all in all a fun way to spend a few hours and I’ll pick up the next one so that I can see what happens next.

I bought my copy in paperback from Amazon, but as it’s a US mass market paperback, I suspect that’ll probably be the only place you can get a physical copy. But it’s also available in Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, romance, romantic comedy

Book of the Week: Second First Impressions

After yesterday’s little essay at the start of my Week in Books I feel a little bit like I’ve already talked way too much this week. But I’ve got plans in my head for a summer reading post and a couple of last weeks books are likely to feature in that. So this weeks BotW is a fun and frothy romance, perfect for reading any time of year, not just in a sunny garden in summer.

Ruthie has been working at Providence Retirement Villas for six years. That’s her whole adult life – and she’s turned the job into her entire life. She’s shrunk her world so that it revolves around the residents (human and turtles) and maintaining the place. She is nervous, risk averse, acts way older than her age and her latest fear is what the property developer who has just bought the site might do to up end her life. It turns out that the first thing he’s going to do is land Providence with his son. Teddy has run out of places to stay and needs to raise money for his share of the tattoo parlour he wants to open. He’s tall, dark and handsome – and dangerous for Ruthie’s self control. So she sets him up with the one job no one has ever lasted at: personal assistant to two rich, 90 year old trouble making ladies – who get most of their enjoyment from setting their assistants fiendish tasks. But Teddy looks set to be the one who stays the course – but is his charm for real or is is all just an act?

That’s quite a long plot summary and makes this sound way more complicated than it is. It’s a charming opposites attract romance with a sweet but wary heroine and a charming people pleaser hero who have to do a lot of figuring out about what they both want in life. The retirement village provides an excellent cast of supporting characters to make you laugh as you watch Ruthie and Teddy do some cautious getting to know each other. It does suffer a little bit from the end wrapping up too quickly (oh a common theme returns to my reviews) but I sort of forgive it because it was just so charming for the rest of the book. I’ve been hearing good things about Sally Thorne for a while, but this is the first time I’ve managed to get around to reading one of her books – even though I think I may own the Hating Game. I am annoyed that it’s taken me so long. But again: what is new there. In summary: charming escapist reading.

My copy of Second First Impressions came from the library but it’s out now on Kindle and Kobo and in (very expensive) hardback. No paperback (in the UK at least) until next year.

Happy Reading!

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!

American imports, Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Bag Man

As I have now mentioned a few times now, I’m on an Amelia Peabody re-reading spree at the moment, but I am reading a few new things too and as last week was the Presidential Inauguration in the US, I’ve gone for a US politics book for this week’s BotW.

Cover of Bag Man

Rachel Maddow is an MSNBC host and journalist and Michael Yarvitz is her producer. Bag Man is the book of their Peabody-winning podcast of the same name about Spiro T Agnew. If you’ve heard of Agnew at all, it’s probably as part of a trivia question about some aspect of Gerald Ford being the only person to serve as US vice-president and President without having been elected to either office. Maybe, if you did a module on US 20th Century history like I did at GCSE, you’ll know that he was Nixon’s vice-president and half think that he resigned over something to do with Watergate. If that’s the case, you’re wrong. Agnew actually resigned as part of a corruption scandal – as prosecutors were closing in on charges of bribery, conspiracy and more, he agreed a deal with prosecutors where he would plead no contest to a tax charge in return for his resignation and not getting any jail time. All this was going on in the background of the Watergate scandal – and fears at the Department of Justice that if Nixon resigned, he would be replaced by Agnew who they had evidence had taken bribes – and was still taking bribes even as he worked in the White House. 

I was absolutely engrossed in this – to the point where I’ve both read the book and listened to the podcast alongside it.  The podcast has all the key points – and you get to hear actual audio from inside the White House as Nixon and his staff discussed what was going on, but the book can go into more details about everything. As an MSBC host, Maddow is towards the liberal end of the political spectrum and part of the reason for the podcast and the book are the parallels between Agnew’s style of defence and that of President Trump, as well as the fact that his case is the basis for the ruling that the President cannot be prosecuted while in office (but the vice-president can) that President Trump often cited. But even without that the story of Spiro Agnew is one that should be better known – when Agnew pled no contest in court, the prosecutors submitted a document detailing what Agnew was doing – involving actual cash in literal envelopes  in return for giving state contracts. Agnew is a bombastic character who commanded enormous support from the Republican Party by being further to the right than Nixon. In the final part of the podcast, some of the guests set out the idea that the removal of Agnew may have made Nixon’s impeachment easier – because one of the things holding the Democrats back was the idea that if Nixon went, then Agnew would be president instead. 1973 was a hell of a year for American politics, while everyone was looking at Watergate, all this was going on at the same time and has mostly been forgotten.

I love a politics book and this is definitely that. But if you’re hesitating because you’re all politics-ed out at the moment, then I would say that it also fits in to the group of really good, easy to read narrative non-fiction and history books that I’ve recommended before – like Bad Blood, Catch and Kill and Furious Hours. My copy came from the library, but it’s available now on Kindle but it feels pricey at £10.99 and for a slightly better £6.39 on Kobo as well as as a hardback but if you’re interested in this one, obviously the first part of the podcast would be an easy (and cost free!) place to start. 

Happy Reading

American imports, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Well Met

Well here we are at the start of December, and I’m recommending a romance again. Because what we all need when it’s cold outside is something that warms your insides. I mean it’s also set in summer in Maryland (another state ticked off!) so it might make you nostalgic for hot weather too, but you can’t have everything.

Cover of Well Met

The heroine of Well Met is Emily, who has rushed to help her sister and her niece after a car crash. And Emily soon finds herself roped in as volunteer at the town’s Renaissance faire. She’s only there because her niece needs an adult to accompany her, but she’s soon enjoying herself – or she would be if it wasn’t for Simon – high school teacher in the week and Ren Faire killjoy at the weekends. But when rehearsals are over and the Faire gets underway for real, Simon is transformed into a pirate and Emily is a tavern wench and the two of them can’t stop flirting. Is it just a summer fling or will Emily put down roots in Willow Creek?

First of all let it be said that Emily’s ex boyfriend is awful and should go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collection £200*. Secondly this is a lovely, sweet slow burn romance with a side of self discovery for Emily. Simon is an intriuging character, and although I joined the dots on bits of his backstory faster that Emily did, I think that I was meant to. I’ve never been to a Rennaissance Faire – I’ve done a couple of living history type events, but I don’t think that’s quite the same thing –  but that’s not a problem because it’s so well described that you can really picture it. I am basically assuming that all of their “English” accents are as awful as a group of Brits trying to do American accents would be though! The side characters are all great – and I’m looking forward to seeing what Jen DeLuca does with them in the next books in the series. The good news is that this came out a couple of years back (because as ever I am behind the curve) so the sequel is already out, with the third one planned for 2021.

You can get a copy of Well Met on Kindle or Kobo or audiobook. There is a paperback – but it looks like it’s an US-import type situation, so it may not be available in your normal bookshop.

Happy Reading!

* that’s a monopoly reference

American imports, Book of the Week

Book of the Week: Dear Girls

A long list of books last week – but actually when it came to picking a BotW it was looking quite tough until fairly late on. But then I finished Ali Wong’s Dear Girls and the choice became a lot easier.

Cover of Dear Girls

Ali Wong is a comedian and writer – in 2019 she co-wrote and starred in the film Always Be My Maybe and Dear Girls is a series of letters written to Wong’s two daughters.  These daughters are the babies she is (heavily) pregnant with in her Netflix comedy specials.  Wong starts the book by saying that her daughters really need to be over 21 before they read this and I would concur whole-heartedly.  It’s wise and moving, but it’s also incredibly honest and might tell them more than they want to know about their mum. I know I wouldn’t want to know quite as much about my mum’s sex life!

 

Even if you’re not related to Wong, this might still be a bit TMI for you – it covers everything from bad sex in New York, to what it’s really like after you’ve given birth and eating snakes. That said, this is funny and touching and a really interesting insight.  It’s very honest – probably the most warts and all book I’ve read since Viv Albertine’s first memoir. As well as the personal life stuff, Wong is fed up of being only asked about what it’s like to be an Asian-American female comedian – and she goes about answering the questions that she really would rather be asked as well as setting out her path to success on the stand up circuit and the pitfalls and problems on the way.

I haven’t seen all of Wong’s comedy specials, so I can’t speak as to what the overlap is – although there is some (even in the trailer above) but I think if you’re a fan, you’ll enjoy this.  If you’re not a fan (kinda like me) and are coming to it because you’ve heard a lot of good things about it, then I think it’ll work for you as well. It certainly did for me.  I need to finish watching those specials, just as soon as I’m done with Dancing Queen. And if you haven’t seen Always Be My Maybe – her romantic comedy movie from earlier this year then go watch that too, because it’s fun and funny and everything I like about rom coms but find so hard to find at the moment.

My copy of Dear Girls came from the library, but its available now on Kindle, Kobo and as a hardback (under £10 on Amazon at time of writing).

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, memoirs, non-fiction, Uncategorized

Book of the Week: Southern Lady Code

I had a really lovely week of reading again last week. And there were difficult choices for book of the week this week, but actually I haven’t picked a book of essays in a while and this one was just delicious.

Cover of Southern Lady Code

I wrote about American Housewife back in 2016 and I’ve been waiting for more from her ever since.  American Housewife was a short story collection though, and this a bit different. Across more than twenty essays, Ellis examines what it means to her to be a Southern Lady – and in particular what it’s like to be a Southern Lady living in Manhattan.  Her mantra is “If you don’t have something nice to say, say something not-so-nice in a nice way” and there are a lot of laughs to be had because of this, but there are also ghosts, retro buffets, cleaning as a method of keeping the spark in a marriage and how to shop for a formal event.  It’s funny, clever and true – or at least mostly true. Probably.  But basically Helen Ellis makes me laugh.  I’m not a Southern lady, and I’m a bit younger than Ellis, but there was so much here that amused me and spoke to me.

If you like wry sideways takes on American life, this would make a great addition to your autumn reading list. It was definitely worth waiting two months in the hold queue for it.

As you might guess from that, my copy of Southern Lady Code came from the library, but I’ll be buying myself a copy when it’s out in paperback here. It’s available in hardback, kindle and kobo.

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Autoboyography

So, a mixed week of reading last week. Some stuff you’ll be hearing more of. Some you… won’t. But I did finally find my copy of Autoboyography, which had been MIA since the house move back at the end of July, and managed to get time to sit down and read it and i enjoyed it so much that it’s this week’s BotW.

Paperback copy of Autoboyography

Tanner Scott’s life was different when he lived in California. At his school there it was ok there to be bisexual and he was out and proud. But when he moved to Provo, Utah, drinking caffeine became controversial, let alone liking boys, so he’s temporarily back in the closet in his overwhelmingly Mormon new community. With one semester left of high school he signs up for The Seminar, an honor roll only class where the students aim to write a book in four months. How complicated can it be? It turns out, very because the first thing he notices in class is Sebastian Brother, bishop’s son and star student from the previous year’s Seminar: a prodigy with a book deal. Sebastian ends up as his critique partner – but what will happen when he finds out that Tanner’s novel is about falling in love with Sebastian?

This is a YA love story and journey of self discovery, you fall in love with both Tanner and Sebastian but there are very real reasons why their story may not get a happy ending and there is a lot at risk here. I’m not sure I got everything I wanted from the ending – but I always want more After, I want more reassurance that everything is going to be Alright – and I accept that you don’t always get that in YA, because it is unrealistic in stories about teenagers!

This got nominated for a whole bunch of awards when it came out back in 2017 and I can totally see why. Sebastian’s world view is so different from Tanner’s, but it’s so sensitively handled and you really believe in them. Regular readers may know that I have a semi fascination with Religion In America and this did a really good job of scratching that itch for me.

Christina Lauren is a writing duo better know for writing contemporary romance. I met them both back in February last year at Sarah MacLean’s London tea party* where they were charming and signed a copy of Dating You, Hating You for me and were very charming. In the afterword they say that this book was informed by their experience including Christina’s work as a guidance counsellor at schools in Utah, which adds an extra level to Sebastian once you know.

There is drama here and angst, but it worked out at pretty much the perfect level for me. I think I may actually have liked it more than Christina Lauren’s romance writing, where I can sometimes find the heroes a little obnoxious and don’t always like the humour.

My copy of Autoboyography came from the really lovely YA department in Foyles, but it’s also available from most online bookstores and in Kindle, Kobo and as an audiobook.

Happy Reading!

* Bonus photo of Sarah MacLean, Christina Hobbs, Lauren Billings and Tessa Dare (and the buffet!) at the tea party.

Sarah MacLean, Christina Lauren and Tessa Dare

American imports, Book of the Week

Book of the Week: You Think It, I’ll Say It

This is going to be late and short. I’m sorry. I’m also sorry for the lack of witty commentary on yesterday’s Week in Books [ed: the commentary is meant to be witty? Try harder], any how, to business.

I’ve written about Curtis Sittenfeld before – I spent a lot of time telling people how good Eligible was back when that first came out. I’ve read most of her books now, and I had the paperback of this on a preorder than Amazon mysteriously cancelled. So I was very happy when my library hold on this came through for me. You Think It, I’ll Say It is a collection of short stories which feels very applicable to modern day life. There’s the former shy girl who gets to meet her high school nemesis years later and see how it all turned out. A woman flirting with adultery with a man in her social circle. It’s tough to pick a favourite, but having spent a lot of time reading blogs, dissecting blogs and watching the rise of influence culture, the woman who takes an unhealthy interest in the career of an Instagram influence-cum-lifestyle guru she once knew might be mine.

Sittenfeld’s writing is sharp and has got the balance right (for me at least) in these stories of enough happening to make things interesting, but not so much that you don’t get to know the characters well enough to care about how it all turns out. I don’t read a lot of short story collections, but this is a very good one. And – as much as you can tell on a kindle – they are all short stories, this is not a few stories plus a novella situation. If you liked Helen Ellis’s American Housewife, this did some of the same stuff for me, but without the horror or supernatural elements. If you haven’t read Sittenfeld before, I might still start you with Eligible, but that’s because it’s tough to top a retelling of Pride and Prejudice where Kitty and Lydia are cross-fit fiends, Mrs Bennet is a kleptomaniac and Jane is the sort of yoga instructor who would spent all her spare cash on crystals from Goop. It’s a high bar.

You should be able to get hold of a copy of You Think It, I’ll Say It from a good bookstore – Amazon even have a paperback now, despite my struggles with them!

Happy Reading!