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!

American imports, Series I love

Series I love: Blessings

As regular readers to this blog are aware, I’m a serial book glommer.  If I find a series I like and circumstances allow, I will absolutely read them one after another and my annual Big Obsessions posts are proof of it – with Steph Plum, Kinsey Milhone, Charles Paris among a list to which we can now add Beverly Jenkins’s Blessings series which I read in a month, including four of them pretty much back to back in the run up to Easter.

Cover of Bring on the Blessings

The first in the series, Bring on the Blessings, was BotW pick at the start of April, but here’s the series set up: Bernadine Brown is a very wealthy divorcée. After discovering her husband was cheating on her on her 52nd birthday, she took him for half his fortune and starts to think about what she can do with her life now.  It turns out that what she can do is buy the town of Henry Adams in Kansas – a historic black township founded by freed slaves after the Civil War, but now struggling and in decline.  It’s for sale on ebay as the town’s mayor tries to stop it being absorbed by a neighbouring town.  Her plan: to revitalise the town and to use it as a place to give troubled kids a second chance at life by setting them up into good foster homes.  Not everyone is onboard with the plan – some of the Henry Adams residents are sceptical and some of the kids would really rather be elsewhere, but over the course of the nine (so far) books we see Bernadine’s plan grow and develop.

As well as watching the town develop you get a romantic element in each book – whether its a couple getting together, or reconnecting.  They are a Christian Inspirational series – but not in a overly moralising way, so I don’t think you’ll find them too much if you’re not really interested in that – they’re not out to convert you.  And the characters aren’t all perfect people living perfect Christian lives.  They’re sometimes messy, all make mistakes or do the wrong thing at times – and learn from it.  And because there’s such a lovely big cast, who all have running storylines, even if a novel is focused on someone who isn’t one of your favourites, there’s still plenty from the rest of town to keep you happy.  Don’t expect gritty realism here – this is pure escapism and some of the coincidences are totally farfetched – but that’s a romance genre staple.  There’s nothing here that hasn’t happened at least once in a small town romance – and we all know that I find them totally glommable.

Screen grab of blessings book covers marked as read

I was trying to think which was my favourite storyline, but it was actually easier to come up with my favourite character – Amari the reformed underage car thief.  He gets the best lines, he’s got a handle on who he is and what he’s up to and he feels like a real boy.

I borrowed the whole series from the library, run after another, but you should be able to get hold of these fairly easily on Kindle – although the paperbacks may prove harder in the UK as they look like a special order from the US.

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, new releases, romance

Book of the Week: The Bride Test

You all knew this was coming.  You knew I’d been looking forward to this.  It was in my anticipated books post, Helen Hoang’s debut, The Kiss Quotient, was a Book of the Week and one of my favourite books of last year.  It is on my bullet journal list of 2019 books I want to read and only came out two weeks ago.  The reading list yesterday was short.  Doris Day died and I’ve been watching romantic comedies and being nostalgic.  This was the perfect book to be reading last week and the perfect BotW pick.

Cover of The Bride Test

So, Khai Diep doesn’t have feelings.  Not like everyone else seems to anyway.  The big feelings that everyone else gets, he doesn’t seem to.  Or at least he doesn’t think he does.  So it wouldn’t be fair on him to have a relationship with anyone – because he can’t give them what they need.  Except that his family knows better – he feels things, it’s just that his autism means he doesn’t process them the same as everyone else does.  So that’s why his mum makes a trip to Vietnam to find a woman for him.  Esme Tran has always felt out of place in Ho Chi Minh City – as a mixed race girl in the slums.  So when she gets the chance to spend a summer in America, she just can’t turn it down.  She could make a better life for her family, she could try and find her father.  But Khai isn’t what she expected.  There’s a language barrier and a culture barrier sure, but there’s something else as well that’s making Khai hold back.  But holding back isn’t a problem for Esme – everything that she’s doing to try and make Khai fall for her is only making her fall for him more.  And Esme’s on a clock – she’s only got a tourist visa and if she doesn’t make Khai want to marry her by the end of the summer, it could all have been for nothing. How will these two get to happily ever after?

I loved this.  Esme is a fantastic heroine – she fierce and determined and resourceful and she’s taking an opportunity to make her life better.  Her story mirrors that of many immigrants from around the world – who are looking for a better future.  You’re willing her on every step of the way.  Khai’s family are the other end of that migration story – they’ve been in America, they’ve arrived, they’ve set down roots and they’ve started the next generation.  And Khai is a fabulous hero – smart, but clueless, generous and caring but in ways that people don’t always recognise.  They make a great couple and it’s a real treat watching them work out their relationship.

There’s a lovely afterword from Helen Hoang talking about how her mother’s life inspired and informed elements of Esme’s life, and it shows.  What also shows is the care and attention Hoang has taken with Khai.  Like Stella in The Kiss Quotient, Khai is in the autistic spectrum, but the two of them are very different and that is absolutely as it should be.  Austism comes in many forms and we need more representation of neurodiverse characters in books.  I’ve been lucky enough to read a lot of books who feature heroes and heroines who I can see myself in – and everyone in society and the world deserves that for themselves too.  Books have also always been one of the ways that I expand my horizons and my understanding – so having more books (and knowing where to look for them) about people who don’t look like me fills me with joy.

This would make the perfect holiday read – I’m almost sorry I didn’t manage to save it for my next vacation.   The next book in the series just can’t come soon enough – especially as it’s Quan’s story and I’ve been itching to find out more about him.  I know I’ll be pre-ordering it just as soon as it that’s an option.

My copy of The Bride Test was pre-ordered on Kindle, which is good because at my library the hold list for the ebook is currently around 19 weeks. But it’s available now on Kobo (£1.99 at time of writing) and Kindle (only £1.19! total bargain)  or you can pre-order the paperback – which comes out on June 6th – from Amazon, Book Depository or wherever you buy your books.  I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Happy Reading!

Bonus photo:  The aforementioned upcoming books master list in my journal.

Double page journal spread with a bookshelf on one side and a list of books on the other

American imports, Book of the Week, historical, romance

Book of the Week: Day of the Duchess

This week’s pick is a book that I brought back from my American Adventure with me and have been saving for a time of need.  And last week was my time of need for a variety of reasons including but not limited to: a book hangover after finishing the Blessings series, a super stressy week at work, not enough sleep and general life stress that I’m not going to talk about because talking about it makes me anxious. So it seemed like the time to crack out the emergency MacLean.

Paperback copy of Day of the Duchess

Day of the Duchess is the last book in the Scandal and Scoundrel series, which was inspired by modern celebrity scandals and translated them back to the nineteenth century. Seraphina is the most scandalous of the sisters that we’ve been following – she left her husband Malcolm and fled abroad but now she’s back and she wants a divorce. The book flashes backwards and forwards between Sera and Mal before their relationship imploded and now when Sera is very clear that she wants her freedom and her future back no matter what the consequences and Mal is equally determined that he wants her back and that they should and can fix things.

And it is really good – an estranged couple, a battle of wills, a fiery relationship with amazing chemistry and the ultimate question: is love and chemistry enough? What happens when you are head over heels for someone – and they are for you – but there is a fundamental problem in your relationship and a conflict that isn’t just a misunderstanding. How do you work past that? This is much more melancholic and reflective than a lot of historical romance – if I hadn’t known it was a romance (and that it was written by an author who I trust and who knows the genre rules!) I would have been worried that there wasn’t going to be an Happily Ever After. But there is and I had strong feelings about what needed to happen to get there too. But the end I was a satisfied customer although it sort of broke me and put me back together again along the way, which was not quite what I was expecting.

As I said at the top, this has been on the shelf for a while and there has been another Sarah MacLean since this  which has started a new series which has some set up going on here, but in a subtle way. On reflection I think that I probably should have reread the rest of the series first because it’s nearly 18 months since I read A Scot in the Dark and I forgotten a little bit where everything fitted in and what we already knew. But that’s not to say that it would be a problem to start reading Sarah MacLean here – because it totally isn’t.  It’s more that if you’re a nerd like me it’s nice to remind yourself who everyone else is and how we got here. Although to be fair, I could also just have gone back and checked the archives here to start with!

As I mentioned at the top, my copy of Day of the Duchess came from the US – specifically the Clarendon Market Common Barnes and Noble – and I’d expect this to be easy to find in any US bookstore with a reasonable romance section – because Sarah MacLean is a Big Name.  If you’re not in the US, you can get the UK version (with a cover that does it no justice) from Kindle or Kobo. Amazon are also carrying the paperback, but I suspect if you want to get it from a real shop it’ll be a special order. All I need to do now is figure out how I’m going to get an American edition of the next Bareknuckle Bastards book when that comes out in the summer. I’m open to offers y’all.

Happy Reading!