American imports, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Match Me If You Can

If you looked at what I read last week (and the week before) you’ll have noticed that I’ve been on a massive Susan Elizabeth Phillips kick and so it’ll be no surprise to you that this week’s BotW is one of them.  It took a quite a while to pick out which one was my favourite, but in the end I plumped for Match Me If You Can.

Cover of Match Me If You Can
This cover is a little bit retro, but don’t let that put you off.
Annabelle is a matchmaker.  Or at least she wants to be a matchmaker.  She’s taken over her grandmother’s old business and rebranded it to move it away from OAPs towards over achievers.  Now all she needs is a suitably overachieving client to find a match for to make her name.  Heath Champion has worked his way up to turn himself into a sports agent known as the Python.  Annabelle has decided that finding him a wife is going to be the client that makes her name.  It doesn’t matter that he’s already got a contract with Chicago’s top matchmaker, Annabelle is sure that she can do better…

All of the Susan Elizabeth Phillips books that I read last week were from her Chicago Stars series, which centres around a (fictional) American football franchise.  I don’t read a lot of sports romances, partly because they’re mostly about American sports and secondly because they often feature unreconstructed Alpha heros, which are not always my thing.   The difference with these is that all the women are strong, capable, professionally competent and not sitting around waiting to be rescued by the big old man.  In this, Annabelle is struggling to get her business off the ground at the start – but not because she’s incompetant, she’s just trying to break into the market.  She’s got a plan and she’s executing it.  She’s also got an awful family of overachievers trying to persuade her to do their bidding rather than what she wants to do – but she’s sticking to her guns.

In fact, the only bit of the book that didn’t work for me, was late on and revolved around her family – and a lack of resolution of the issues/recognition of how she felt from the hero – but that was a minor blip in a sparky, fun romance which rattles along.  This also has some appearances from previous couples in the series, which is always nice if you enjoyed reading about their romances and sets up the next book in the series (which I had actually read first!).  With a Phillips book, there’s always a secondary romance going on as well – and this one was a bit different to the usual.  I wasn’t sure that I was going to like it at first, but by the end, I was totally won over.

I’ve read four Chicago Stars books in less than a week – which suited me perfectly: satisfying romances, interesting characters that are linked but definitely not the same plots with different names, a bit of humour and not too much angst.  Or at least not unrelenting angst.  The angstiest of the four was Dream a Little Dream – and even that won me over, despite my dislike of traumatised widows and small children.*

Several of the Chicago Stars books are on offer on Kindle at the moment – including the latest in the series First Star I See Tonight for £1.99, which is much nuts and far more fun than you’d expect for a book which includes Middle Eastern Princesses in its blurb!  Match Me If You can is a reasonable £2.49 on Kindle or under £3 if you want a second hand copy of the book from Amazon or you could try Natural Born Charmer – which started me off on this kick last week – for the same prices.  Any of these is well worth a look if you want to dip your toe into this sort of book.

*I often find them to be aiming for winsome, but actually irritating plot moppets.

American imports, Book of the Week, cozy crime, new releases

Book of the Week: Lowcountry Bonfire

As you’ll have seen from yesterday’s Week in Books, I had a less productive week in reading last week, but that didn’t give me a problem when it came to picking a BotW –  because after I read Lowcountry Bonfire, I went and bought myself another book in the series straight away.

The cover of Lowcountry Bonfire
I kinda like this cover – its simple but stylish.

Lowcountry Bonfire is the sixth book in the Liz Talbot cozy crime series.  Liz and her partner Nate Andrews run a private investigation agency on an island in South Carolina.  Their bread and butter cases are suspicious spouses and adultery cases.  They’re not expecting Tammy Sue Lyerley’s case to be any different.  But when her husband Zeke turns up dead in the boot of the car that Tammy Sue has just filled with his stuff and is trying to set alight, they end up smack bang in the middle of a murder investigation.  Soon they’re trying to work out the truth behind Zeke’s tall tales and uncovering buried secrets.

After a disappointing run of cozy crime novels during my holiday*, this was a breath of fresh air. This is just the sort of cozy crime that I like – a great cast of characters, a quirky setting and a satisfying murder mystery.  And to top that off, Liz is one of my favourite things – a sleuth who has a legitimate reason to be snooping around.  The plot is perhaps a little bonkers at times, but the book is so pacey that you don’t really have time to think about that – which is exactly what you want really.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I liked this so much that I went off and bought myself the first book in the series so I could see how Liz got to where she is.  I finished that on the train home on Monday afternoon and can report that that’s also a lot of fun – although the mystery and pacing isn’t quite as good as in Lowcountry Bonfire.  Admittedly that may be partly because I could spot which townspeople were no longer about in book six and extrapolate some of the solution from that!

My copy of Lowcountry Bonfire came from NetGalley, but it’s out now and available on all the usual platforms, like Kindle and Kobo.  But if you want to start at the beginning, Lowcountry Boil was £1.99 on Kindle and Kobo at time of writing, as was book two, Lowcountry Bombshell, (although only on Kindle) which I may have just bought myself.  Naughty Verity!

Happy reading.

*Written in Dead Wax (in my book at least) is not a cozy crime.  And even if it was, I read it at the start of the week – it was the mysteries afterwards that were a disappointment!

American imports, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Once in a Lifetime

This week’s BotW is Jill Shalvis’s Once in a Lifetime which was the last book in that omnibus of her Lucky Harbor series that I mentioned in a Recommendsday post when it was on Kindle sale last month.  It was a very busy and challenging week at work for me last week what with the fall out from the London Bridge attacks and the General Election here in the UK and this was perfect escapist reading for me.

This is the UK cover for the individual ebook which is… ok. Not as pretty as I’d like

Aubrey is Lucky Harbor’s resident bad girl – or at least the town thinks that she is.  She got into trouble at school, she was a mean girl and a beauty queen – and she recently slept with her boss.  But now she’s trying to make things right and turn her life into what she wants it to be.   Ben is back in his hometown after leaving to escape his grief over the death of his wife.  He’s not looking to risk his heart again, but there’s something about Aubrey that draws him to her, even though everyone keeps telling him that she is Trouble.

Once in a Lifetime is the ninth book in the Lucky Harbor series and it has been building towards Aubrey and Ben’s story for the previous two books.  You’ll get more out of this if you’ve read those two books – because you’ll have more insight into Aubrey and Ben’s pasts and you’ll see the love stories of Aubrey and Ben’s closest friends, but it still works as a standalone book too.  Aubrey is not a traditional romance heroine – she’s not sweet and goody goody and you learn through the book exactly how mean she can be.  But she’s working to be better and to make amends and her family backstory explains a lot of her behaviours and makes a character who you don’t initially like that much into one that you’re really rooting for.

Ben is a more usual sort of romance hero – except for the fact that he is a widower.  Shalvis does a really good job of negotiating the fact that he has been in love before and had a happy marriage whilst still working towards a happy ending with Aubrey.  It’s a difficult tightrope to tread – particularly at times because he is discovering things about his wife that he didn’t know – but Shalvis manages to create a lovely relationship between Ben and Aubrey without running down or ruining the one that he had before.

I’m not a massive reader of contemporary romance as you all know, but small town contemporaries really do scratch an itch sometimes.  They seem like a logical extension of my love of Sweet Valley High and the Babysitters’ Club books when I was growing up.  To me the towns often feel  a lot like a larger (and American) version of the villages that I grew up in – where everyone knows you and your business – but populated by small businesses, often quirky, and attractive people.  Who wouldn’t want to live in that sort of world?  Well except for everyone knowing you and your business and your history, which I know from personal experience can get on your wick after a while, but hey it’s a romance book and it’s fun to read about!

Anyway, as I mentioned, my copy of Once in a Lifetime was in an omnibus (the third of the Lucky Harbor omnibuses to be precise). That’s unfortunately not on sale anymore and is back up to £4.99 on Kindle but that’s still a better deal than buying it individually for £3.99.  Both of those are probably better value than buying the actual books – which I think are quite expensive considering how long they take to read – but that is often the case with American romance novels.  However the first three Lucky Harbour books are £3.99 at the moment,  if you want to dip your toe into the water (so to speak) – I know I’m very tempted…

Happy reading!

American imports, cozy crime, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Cozy Crime

It’s election day in the UK tomorrow, and I’m gearing up for an all-nighter at work.  So the natural way to prepare is to… read some nice relaxing cozy crime books that don’t feature any politics at all!  Here are a few that I’ve enjoyed recently.

covers of three cozy crime books
I’m working on making my collages neater… it might take a while

I think I’ve mentioned these before, but Donna Andrew’s Meg Langslow books are a lasting source of delight to me.  They have some of the best punny titles in the genre (all based around birds) and are witty and fun.  There was a slight mid series slump* (but hey where there are 20 books in a series that can happen) but they’re back on form now.  Start at the beginning with Murder with Peacocks – I’ve recently read numbers 17 and 18 – the brilliantly titled The Good, the Bad and the Emus and The Nightingale before Christmas.

I’ve also got a serious soft spot for Cindy Brown’s Ivy Meadows series about a wannabe actress who is a trainee Private Investigator in her spare time.  Each book is based around a different play or musical title  – the fourth book has just come out, Ivy Get Your Gun, and I enjoyed it although I think the second book in the series The Sound of Murder is still my favourite.

I read my first book in Lyn Cahoon’s Tourist Trap series a few weeks ago and, although there were a few things that had me confused, I already have another one lined up on my Kindle so I must have liked it.  This follows the trend for small business-owner detectives with a Bookshop-cum-coffee-shop proprietor in a small coastal town.  I like a competent heroine and Jill is good at her day job – or at least she by the eighth book in the series Hospitality and Homicide and she at least has a credible reason for investigating the death.  There’s an interesting supporting cast and a nice relationship to watch develop too.  What more could you want?

I bought the Donna Andrews – and you can get them fairly easily (and for a sensible price) in the UK, but the other copies came to me via NetGalley, so it might be a case of adding them to your book wishlists and waiting for the price to drop, because I often find American cozies are too expensive for me soon after release, especially given how quickly I read them.

Happy Reading – and if you’re up watching the election result tomorrow night, think of me and my colleagues working probably the busiest nightshift of the year!

*SPOILER ALERT: The slump (for me at least) coincided with the period where Meg’s twins were very small.  Once they got to toddling and the books had less feeding and naps, it all sorted itself out

American imports, Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: Southern Fried

It was actually a really tough choice picking this weeks BotW partly because I didn’t read as much last week and partly because none of what I read was an absolute stand out for me.  So in the end, I’ve settled on Tonya Kappes’ Southern Fried – a cozy crime mystery that comes out today, which has its issues, but overall was the book I had the most to say about of last week’s reading!

The cover of Southern Fried
I like the cover – simple but actually relevant to the story.

This is the second in the Kenni Lowry series – about the sheriff of small town in Kentucky who is assisted on the job by the ghost of her grandfather (no, don’t walk away, it’s not quite as nutty as it seems) who was also the town’s sheriff.  Kenni loves her job, but her mother isn’t best pleased about her daughter’s vocation – and neither are some of the townspeople as the local crime rate starts to rise.  In Southern Fried, Kenni is investigating the death of a man found dead in the greenhouse of his former (as it turns out) employer in the run up to a cook off that they were both taking part in.   In working out what happened, Kenni gets tangled up in family feuds and local intrigue just as election season is starting to get underway.  As the danger mounts, Kenni, her dog Duke and her new (and handsome) deputy Finn must work out what’s going on before the rising death toll scuttles Kenni’s chances at holding on to her dream job before the voting even starts.

There’s a lot that I liked about this – I love the southern setting, the mystery is fast-paced and twisty with a potential slow burn romance running alongside.  However as a Brit, I struggle to get my head around the idea of elected sheriffs and the hyper-local police forces and at times Kenni doesn’t help with this.  In the first book in the series I found her spacey and not entirely convincing on police procedure (especially for a police academy graduate) but she seems much more competent in this one, which helped me cope with the fact that she’s taking advice from a ghost!  Regular readers will know that I have a strange releationship with the supernatural and parnormal in books*, but in the main this works for me.  There were still a couple of points where I raised my eyebrows at Kenni’s actions – an amateur detective can get away with a lot more than a sheriff can – but the book moves quick enough that you only notice this when you stop to think!

This book also made me muse on the role of the knowledgeable background character in cozy crimes.  Kenni being the sheriff is a double-edged sword – it means that she has the right to be investigating crimes (and indeed is likely to come across them) in a way that many of the sleuths in cozies don’t, but it also rules out an important source of information and means that at times the sleuth can come across as not being very good at her job.  there’s a couple of points in this where Finn the deputy seems like he knows what he’s doing more than Kenni does.  But this is only book two in the series and is a big step on from book one so there is lots of potential for development and improvement as the series goes on.

My copy came from NetGalley, but you can buy Southern Fried on Kindle or in paperback from Amazon from today.

Happy Reading.

* As in sometimes it works for me and sometimes it doesn’t but I can never work out in advance what I’m going to like and what I’m going to hate!

American imports, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Bet Me

This week’s BotW is another entry in the list of books that Verity really should have read sooner: Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie. I have heard this book recommended so many times by so many people – not just as being a great book, but as being a great entry way into romance.  And they’re all right.

Bet Me is the story of Min and Cal. Min is an actuary with a nightmare mother, and who looks at life through a veil of statistics. Cal has a reputation as a love ’em and leave ’em type and has his own parental problems.  Min gets dumped by her boyfriend, 3 weeks before her sister’s wedding and then hears Cal accept a bet to try and pull her. She needs a date, but isn’t going to put up with any of Cal’s smooth-talking ways. Cal thinks she’s the most uptight, closed-off woman he’s ever met. But when they’re together sparks fly no matter how much they try and ignore it.  And then there’s the matter of that bet…

This is the book version of one of those great 1990s romantic comedies, except without any double standards, etc. Min is fun and feisty and not prepared to put up with people being mean to her or acting like idiots towards her. She knows what she wants and she’s out looking for it, albeit not in the right places or the right way. Cal is realistic about what he’s prepared to offer a relationship, even if he doesn’t realise the reality of what he’s doing. The two of them together are a snarky, bantery duo that you’re rooting for from the start. There are a couple of great subplots in here to help with the drama and tension and it’s all such great fun.  And to put the icing on the cake, both Min and Cal have great friends, who are on their side and in their corner no matter what, which is particularly great in Min’s case, because in so many books the heroine’s friends have ulterior motives or are just window dressing. Min’s gang are properly fleshed out, real people who are looking out for their friend.  It’s just brilliant.

Yes. I should have read this sooner. Yes, I’m way behind the curve. But it doesn’t matter, because this is a great book and mor people need to read it. So I’m happy to admit that I should have listened to Sarah from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and read it the first time she mentioned it on the podcast and not wait till I’ve heard it mentioned dozens of times – not just by her but by the Book Riot girls too and by bookish friends too.  I know. I say this every time. But don’t be stupid like me, go and read Bet Me now. And go and read it even if you’ve read his thinking “but I don’t read romance” because this isn’t what you’re thinking of.  It’s much, much more. 10 years ago, it would have been given a cartoon cover in bubble gum pink and called chick lit.  And I mean that in a good way, because I miss those days of funny, clever romances and I’m always looking for books that scratch that itch. 

You can get Bet Me on Kindle or iBooks

Happy Reading!

American imports, reviews

Recommendsday

Borrowing shamelessly from one of my favourite things on Litsy (I’m @Verity if you’re over there, do come and find me) I thought I’d start recommending books on Wednesdays.  Some times it might be a big long post about a book I haven’t talked about before, sometimes it might be a quick bump for one I’ve written about before, sometimes it might be a book that’s topical, you get the idea.  I’m going to try and be good and post one each week, but we’ll see how that goes.  Anyway, I’m kicking Recommendsday off with The Clancy’s of Queens which tells the story of Tara Clancy’s childhood and youth in Queens.

The Clancys of Queens
Such a classy looking book (she says in a terrible attempt at a Queens accent)

Tara’s parents divorced when she was small and she spent a lot of her childhood shuttling between her grandparents’ house in a geriatric neighbourhood, her father’s converted boathouse home and her mother’s boyfriend’s house in the Hamptons.  This, unsurprisingly left her with some issues as she switched between working class, middle class and upper class communities.   Tara talks about her experiences with humour and I haven’t seen many (any?) similar memoirs.  I’m convinced that I wouldn’t have made it through the school system in Queens in one piece, but it makes for a great read.

I mentioned this book in my personal Christmas book request post after hearing about it on a lot of podcasts – and I got given it for my birthday.  As it’s in hardback it’s taken me a few weeks to get around to reading it.  But I’m very glad I did. It’s an American import, but you can get a copy from Amazon (I do hope Him Indoors didn’t pay £20+ for it for me!) or preorder the (slightly cheaper, but still fairly eyewatering) paperback.  There is an audiobook version – but it’s not available on UK Audible.

Happy Reading!