book round-ups, fiction, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: (Late) Summer Holiday Reading

Yes, this is very late now, but it’s a bank holiday weekend coming in the UK this week and last week I had three nights away from home so I *finally* pulled my finger out and read the rest of the books that I had been thinking about for this post. I know – I started writing this in late June, but I got distracted by the rereads and exciting new series. And some of the books I was going to put into this ended up in other posts, or as books of the week (Acting Up I’m looking at you) I am such a mood reader. I don’t even know why I try to make lists and plans of what to read when. And yes, this is all romance or romantic comedy or adjacent genres, but that is what I like to read on a sun lounger. Sue me. As usual, if it has an * next to the title if came from NetGalley, otherwise I paid for it with my very own money. And you’ll be glad to know I’ve already started on the Christmas reading post. Maybe I’ll get that one done on time…

Beach House Summer by Sarah Morgan*

Sarah Morgan‘s summer novel this year follows the ex-wife of a TV chef in the immediate aftermath of his death in a car crash. Stay with me, I know that sounds like it might be miserable, but don’t worry. To return to the plot: Joanna’s marriage to Cliff was dysfunctional to say the least and carried out in the glare of the media spotlight. So when she finds out that there was a young woman in the car when it crashed and that the woman is pregnant, Joanna knows she has to help her. The two women head to Joanna’s house in the town that she grew up in to hide from the paparazzi. Joanna hasn’t been there since she ran away with Cliff in the aftermath of a breakup with her high school boyfriend and she’s soon going to have to face the past and the community she left behind. Ashley needs space to plan her and the baby’s future – but there are still a few secrets to come out… This is a delightful sun lounger read, if you can just get past the death-y bit at the start, which I did – but that’s why it was on the list for a couple of weeks! It’s basically a small town, second chance romance with relatively low peril.

The Friendship Pact by Jill Shalvis

On to another regular author of mine and Jill Shalvis’s summer ‘22 book is a second chance romance for two characters who have been damaged by their childhoods. Tae spent her childhood worrying about money and about her mum’s attempts to find a man to make them a family. Riggs’ dad was an alcoholic who liked to hit his kids. But the two of them were friends in high school – until they weren’t. Now Riggs is back in town to visit his brother and his company providing adventures for athletes with disabilities and wounded veterans. Tae’s events planning company is organising their summer programmes. The two of them reconnect, but there are obstacles to a happy ending for them. I read it in 24 hours and was nearly late back from my lunch break because I was enjoying it so much. There’s a testimonial for you!

In a New York Minute by Kate Spencer*

Franny Doyle is already having a bad day before her dress catches in the subway door: she’s just been made redundant. But now her dress is ripped but even worse – the whole subway can see her bum and her knickers. luckily fellow passenger Hayes lends her his jacket to save her blushes. That would be the end of it – except someone has posted what happened to their Insta stories and now they’re viral sensations – #SubwayQTs. Their new found fame (notoriety?!) means they end up seeing each other again, and again, and again: but is there more there than just a hashtag? This has a buttoned up and awkward hero who comes off as aloof and a creative heroine with a tight knit group of friends. If I hadn’t had to do actual things, I could probably have read this in one giant sitting – it’s light and fluffy and endearing.

Donut Fall In Love by Jackie Lau

And finally, this isn’t a summer new release (it came out in October last year!), but I’m giving it a quick shout out because it feels like it would be a fun read if you were on a sun lounger. This has a Hollywood star and a normal person pairing (which I like – see Olivia Dade!) and it’s also got a bakery and a baking show. What’s not to love.

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!

Book of the Week, fiction, reviews

Book of the Week: The Unsinkable Greta James

So, I had a really hard time picking today’s choice, because I loved Lessons in Chemistry *and* The Unsinkable Greta James and I could only pick one. But as Lessons in Chemistry is all over the place – including in paperback at the airport – I thought I’d write about Great today because you might not already have heard of it.

Greta James is an indie music star. She’s had magazine covers and sold out gigs and a few hit songs. So why is she on a cruise around Alaska with her dad weeks before she’s due to be launching the always tricky second album? Her parents were meant to be taking the trip together for their fortieth wedding anniversary, but her mum died suddenly three months before the cruise. And at her first gig after her mother’s death, Greta had an onstage meltdown that went viral. So she’s on the trip with her dad, attempting to ignore what’s going on with her career and trying to improve her relationship with her dad. Because her mum was the supportive one – who encouraged her to follow her dreams and her dad was… not. Will this trip bring them closer together or drive them further apart than ever? Also on board the ship is author Ben Wilder – who is there to deliver a lecture about his book about Jack London’s Call of the Wild, but is struggling with writing his follow up…

I really enjoyed this. I do like a book about a musician (see Daisy Jones and the Six) and I love stories about family relationships (see Guinevere St Clair and Young Pretenders most recently) and it’s only a couple of weeks since I wrote a post about mysteries set on ships, so we know that I like them too. And this does everything that I was hoping it would do. Greta is passionate about her music and determined to succeed and her fractious relationship with her dad, her blossoming relationship with Ben and her grief and anxiety about the death of her mum add up to a fascinating leading character. And it’s a minor thing, but I really liked how explicit the book was about the work and the practice that had gone into Greta’s success – she plays her guitar, you hear about the hours she puts in to playing and composing. I feel like you don’t always get to hear about that in books about people in the arts – it’s portrayed like a magical thing that comes easily to people. And maybe to some people it does, but I think to a lot of musicians and other artists of various kinds it actually comes after thousands of hours of work and the first song you write (or painting you make, or book you write) isn’t the one that’s the big success – it’s the 5th or sixth or tenth or thirtieth.

I hate the term women’s fiction, but that’s the best I have got for this. It has a romantic plot strand but it’s not primarily a romance. And it’s much easier to read than literary fiction (another label I hate) tends to be. I read it across two evenings once the actual physical copy arrived chez moi after I bought this as part of my sample reading spree the other week. I’m not sure where I saw it recommended. I thought it was from Goodreads, maybe in their Anticipated Summer reads article, but no. So it could have been twitter or the algorithm because I can’t find it in any of my book-ish emails. Anyway this is the first Jennifer E Smith book that I’ve read and I shall keep my eyes out for more because it was a really delight.

I bought mine in hardback because after reading the sample I thought it might be one I would want to lend (and I think the prices for the physical copy vs the ebook were not that far apart on the day I bought it) and I have already sent it out on loan! I can’t see that it’s in stock in any of the Foyles stores so it may be one that you do have to order rather than pickup in a store, but it’s also available in Kindle and Kobo. The paperback is out early next year….

Happy reading everyone

Book of the Week, fiction, historical

Book of the Week: The Chelsea Girls

Yes I finished this on Monday. So yes, I’m cheating for the second week in a row. I make the rules, so I can break them if I want to. Anyway, you should all just be glad that I didn’t pick another mystery!

Maxine and Hazel meet on a USO tour in the last months of the Second World War. They meet again in New York in the 1950s when Maxine is an up and coming film star and Hazel is an aspiring playwright. Both living in the famous Chelsea Hotel, soon they’re working together on Hazel’s first play which is going to be staged on Broadway. But the red scare is well underway and the production and their careers are threatened by the witch hunt for communists turning its attention to the entertainment industry. As the pressure starts to build what will happen to the women and their friendship?

The Chelsea Girls follows a twenty year friendship between two women forged through a trauma in Italy, through the ups and downs of their careers. They’re both engaging and intriguing characters – Hazel’s mother is always comparing her to her brother who was killed in the war and finding her lacking, while Maxine is using the theatre to build a better life for her and her German immigrant grandmother. And as the red scare comes to Broadway, they both find themselves in the spotlight because of the actions of Hazel’s brother years before. And as well as being tense it’s also a wonderful portrait of the Chelsea Hotel – famously home to artists and bohemians, it becomes Hazel and Maxine’s refuge as they battle the outside forces trying to tear their lives apart.

I’ve been wanting to read this for ages. It came out two years ago and it’s been on my want to read list for about that long – so I’ve no idea where I even heard about it to start with. I read one of Fiona Davis’s other books a year or two back and liked the idea but didn’t love the execution, but this one really worked for me. It took me a day or two to properly get into it, but then I read 200 pages at a sitting because I wanted to see where it was going. I am fascinated with Old Hollywood, in fiction and non-fiction and this lives adjacent to that. I’ve written about some other books in this area before (like Trumbo and Karina Longworth’s Seduction) and this fitted right in to my wheelhouse. Well worth a look.

My copy came from the library, but it’s available now on Kindle and Kobo (and at time of writing is slightly cheaper on Kobo) as well as in paperback, although I’m not sure how easy that will be to get hold of in store – Foyles have stock to order, but not to click and collect.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, cozy crime, detective, fiction, mystery, new releases

Book of the Week: Death at Dukes Halt

I’m finishing the month as I started it, with another murder mystery book pick for my Book of the Week, in a slightly cheaty move because I finished it on Monday, but I’ve talked enough about Inspector Littlejohn recently already, and that was pretty much all I actually finished last week! But before I get down to my review of the new Derek Farrell, a quick reminder that tomorrow is the Mini Reviews and Thursday will be the August Stats.

Danny Bird is facing up to a scary prospect: a weekend at a country house to help Caz fulfill a promise to a dead friend. Pub manager Ali is chauffeuring them down to Dukes Halt where they find a mismatched set of weekend guests: a Hollywood actress, a right-wing MP and an Albanian gangster among them. Soon there’s a body in their midst and Danny is detecting again to try and clear himself and his friends. But he’s also trying to work out what happened at the house decades ago when he discovers an unhappy boy’s secret diary.

This is the fifth outing for Danny and the gang and it’s a good one. Farrell has taken Danny out of the Marq (the Asbo twins are left in charge of running a talent night while they’re gone and I look forward to seeing how that works out) and put him into a country house murder mystery in the grand tradition of the genre. It’s got everything you would expect from an Agatha Christie – but updated to the present day. In one of the earlier books in the series Danny is described as Poirot on poppers, which is a great line but doing Danny a slight disservice now because he is not the isolated external figure that Poirot is. He’s got friends, relationships, a perspective and that all comes into focus in this. You also see him more on his own in this that he has been in the previous series so there’s a lot more about who Danny is and what he believes in that you’re used to and that’s a really good development. But don’t worry, there’s still plenty of witty banter and oneliners. The pandemic means there has been a longer break between full length books than I was hoping when I finished Death of an Angel (although Death of a Sinner did help) but I think Death at Dukes Halt has been worth the wait.

You can get Death at Dukes Halt direct from the publisher, Fahrenheit Press, who have it in various ebook formats and paperback. If you do get the paperback from them, you get the ebook with it as well which is nice – I started reading the paperback and then switched to the kindle so I could read it on the move. But you can also get it on Kindle.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, fiction, new releases, reviews

Book of the Week: The Guncle

As I said yesterday, there were two books in contention for this, and to be honest the only reason I dithered about this is because the cover fits in better with the covers of the other books in the Summer Reading post than the others do. But I have more to say about this than a round up post will allow, even if there is a slight hiccup about how easy The Guncle is to get hold of in the UK at the moment.

When Patrick is asked to look after his brother’s kids for the summer he thinks it’s a terrible idea. He likes spending time with then when they visit him in Palm Springs, he likes being Gay Uncle Patrick (GUP!) but he’s not cut out for being in charge of them full time for weeks on end. But the kids have just lost their mum and their dad has problems of his own he needs to deal with, so he says he’ll do it – mostly because his sister thinks he can’t do it. But it turns out that a summer with them might be exactly what he needs as well as what they need. He’s been drifting since the end of the TV show he starred in and this might be the kick he needs.

This is Steven Rowley’s third book and I absolutely loved it. Patrick is funny and a bit broken and infuriating and endearing. Maisie and Grant just about hit the sweet spot for children in books – funny but not sickly or too good to be true. The relationship that the three of them build is a wonderful blend of exasperated and snarky and loving. This is a book about dealing with grief but it’s also campy and funny. The cover really captures the feel of it all. I haven’t read any of Rowley’s other books – and although Lily and the octopus has great reviews it sounds a bit too much like it’s going to break me for me to want to read it at the moment – but although this did give me the sniffles, the death is already over by the start of the book and there’s enough funny bits to keep it from being a four alarm snot bomb.

My copy of The Guncle came from the library, but it seems like it’s a tricky one to get hold of in the UK – Amazon only have a hardback copy that is priced like it’s a real import or a library edition (which ditto on the price), and Foyles and Kobo aren’t listing it at all. They do have Steven Rowley’s other books though, which is perhaps a sign that it’ll come along at some point later this year – as both Lily and the Octopus and The Editor have Kindle editions.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, fiction, historical, new releases

Book of the Week: Yours Cheerfully

As I said yesterday, plenty that I want to write about from last week’s reading, so it was hard to pick what to write about today. But in the end I went with Yours Cheerfully by A J Pearce because it made me smile and it’s been a while since I wrote about some historical fiction. On top of that it came out last week so I’m being timely *and*’my paperback copy of V for Victory turned up the other day – just to remind me how much I like books like this when they are done well. And this one is done well and has a pretty cover. What’s not to like.

Yours Cheerfully is the sequel to Dear Mrs Bird, which I reviewed in a summer reading round up a couple of years back – after reading it on a sun lounger in Gran Canaria. Those were the days. You don’t need to have read the first book to enjoy Yours Cheerfully, but if you have you will get a little more out of it, purely because you know the characters better, not because you’re missing chunks of plot or backstory. We rejoin Emmy as she is finding her feet as the new advice columnist at Women’s Friend. The war is in full swing and the magazine is soon asked to take part in a ministry of information campaign to recruit more women workers for the war effort. Emmy is excited to step up and help, but soon she is finding out that there are a lot of challenges for war workers – and she wants to try and help her new friends.

Where Dear Mrs Bird focused very much on Emmy’s own problems at work to create the drama and tension, swapping that for Emmy’s dilemma about helping the women in the munitions factory works well – if you’ve read the first book you can see Emmy’s growing confidence in her role at the magazine and her journalistic ambitions. A more obvious option would have been to focus on Emmy’s relationship and whether her sweetheart would be sent abroad to fight but even aside from my dislike of splitting couples up in sequels purely for the drama, this works much better – and the knowledge of the worries of the women at the factory heightens your sense of the stakes for Emmy as well as providing context for the wider peril of the war – because it could all have been a little cozy and felt a bit low stakes – despite the war. That’s not to say this is a gritty depressing read – because it’s not -it’s charming and the magazine world is lovely – but it’s not saccharine or unbearably rose tinted. Like the first book this ends a bit unexpectedly and in a bit of a rush but I really enjoyed spending time with Emmy and Bunty and Charles and seeing what was happening at the magazine. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a third to come. I’m certainly hoping there is!

My copy of Yours Cheerfully came via NetGalley, but as I mentioned to the top it’s out now in Kindle and Kobo as well as in hardback. I saw Dear Mrs Bird in quite a lot of shops when that came out, so I’m hoping this will be the same. Judging by the fact that Foyles have it in stock for click and collect at a bunch of their locations, I’m optimistic on that front.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, fiction, historical, new releases

Book of the Week: V for Victory

So as mentioned yesterday, a bit of a strange week of reading last week, but today’s BotW pick was a real joy. And for the second week in a row, it’s a book that’s actually coming out in the next few days. So I am both timely and slightly ahead of the game. Make a note, it doesn’t happen often – and two weeks in a row is a real rarity!

Cover of V for Victory

It’s 1944 and in their house on Hampstead Heath, Vee Sedge and her fifteen year old “ward” Noel are just about scraping by with a house full of lodgers selected for what they can teach Noel more than their ability to pay. When Vee witnesses a road accident and is called to court disaster beckons – as Vee is not actually the person she is pretending to be. As the household tries not to get its hopes up too far that the end of the war is in sight, Noel and Vee move towards a new future.

This is the third (and final?) book about this group of characters and ties together the story of Noel and Vee as we saw them in Crooked Heart, with Mattie from Old Baggage. I’ve written several different sentences to explain that fact and have settled on that slightly vague one as being the way not to give too much away about the other two. Now you could read this standalone, but you’ll get so much more from this if you’ve read the other two. And why wouldn’t you want to read the other two – Crooked Heart is Goodnight Mr Tom but if Mr Tom was the female equivalent of Private Walker and Old Baggage is about a feisty but ageing former suffragette looking for a new cause to fight for. Both were books of the week here, that’s how much Iiked them – and liked this to be coming back for a third mention!

V for Victory is funny and warm and moving and made me cry at the end. I mean what more could you want from a book? It also does really well at capturing the shades of grey of wartime – and of people in general. It’s just wonderful and a perfect read for a grey and miserable day. And we’ve had a few of those in the last week. I mean I’m writing this on the train to work, wearing welly boots and with a mac because it’s raining like it’s November in mid-August!

My copy of V for Victory came from NetGalley , but I’ll be buying a paperback once that comes out so I have the set. It’s out on Thursday in hardback (here’s a Foyles link), Kindle and Kobo. I still haven’t been into a bookshop in person, but I think that the last one was fairly easy to get hold of in bookstores, so I hope this will be too.

Happy Reading!

Fantasy, fiction

Book of the Week: A Conjuring of Light

Another week, another BotW post. This time I’ve gone for VE Schwab’s A Conjuring of Light, which is the final book in a trilogy, so it does break my rule about trying not to feature books that don’t stand-alone, but it also means that if you were to start the books now, you’re guaranteed a resolution. So swings and roundabouts really.

Anyway, this is the third (and final?!) book in this magical series in a universe where there are three different Londons in three parallel worlds that only a select few can travel between. In the first few books we see a lot of Grey London, where there is no magic (basically Regency Britain as we know it) and White London, where there is nothing but violence and magic. But this final book concentrates on the battle for Red London where magical and non-magical people exist side by side.

Red London is also where Kell is from, the traveler between worlds who we’ve been following since the start. Over the course of the books, Kell’s life has only got more complicated, but that also means he’s got more friends as well as more enemies. Friends like Delilah, the former thief who he teamed up with in the first book and her motley crew too. Everything that he and Delilah have learned over the course of their adventure comes to a climax in this.

And yes, I know that sounds like I’m avoiding talking about the actual plot. And that’s because I am, because saying much more will give away the plots of the other two books. And you really need to read this series in order or you’ll be lost. It’s been a couple of years since I read it and I felt a bit at sea at times and I know what happened and what the rules are. But there’s magic and pirates and peril and a big battle or two. And although it doesn’t quite reach Battle of Hogwarts levels of carnage and loss, it’s fair to say that not everyone comes out of it alive.

If you’ve read The Night Circus and The Children of Blood and Bone and thought that what you really need to read is a hybrid of the two, then try this. It wasn’t always 100% my cup of tea (I need less angst at the moment) but it’s pacey and well written and clever and really quite good.

My copy came from my library, but you should be able to lay your hands on this fairly easily on Kindle and Kobo as well as in paperback from all the usual sources, including actual bookshops.  I do suggest you start at the start of the trilogy though or you’ll be totally lost. There’s also a graphic novel prequel series that’s just started but I think you need to have read the books for that. I’ll check it out and let you know…

Happy Reading.

Authors I love, Book of the Week, fiction, new releases, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Anyone for Seconds

This week’s BotW is the new Laurie Graham, which managed to sneak into the world without me noticing.  At least I noticed it just after it was released, so I’m only posting this 12 days after release.  Anyway, regular readers of this blog will be aware of my long-standing love for Laurie Graham’s books. Gone with the Windsors is one of my all-time favourites – and I consider it (and her) an under-appreciated gem.  Her last book, The Early Birds was a Reccommendsday pick last year and The Grand Duchess of Nowhere was one of the first books that I reviewed for Novelicious back in the day. I have most of her books as actual books and they live on my downstairs bookshelf (for easy access) and I have all the ones I don’t have physical copies of on ebook.  And a couple of them as both.  I even have two paperback copies of Gone with the Windsors.  Ahem.

Cover of Anyone for Seconds

Anyway, at the start of Anyone for Seconds, former TV chef Lizzie Partridge runs away from home in a desperate bid for sympathy and attention.  She’s fed up of her life – she’s the wrong side of sixty and ever since she lost her TV gig, after throwing chocolate mousse at the presenter of Midlands This Morning, nothing seems to have gone her way.  Her partner has left her, her mother is driving her mad, she doesn’t seem to ahve anything in common with her high-power lawyer daughter – and now her last bit of work (a magazine cookery column) has been axed as well.  Over the course of her wet week in off-season  Aberystwyth, she has a bit of an epiphany and starts to think there might be a new future in the offing.  Then her nephew’s TV producer girlfriend comes up with the idea of reuniting her with her former nemesis for a new TV show.  Is Lizzie’s life looking up?

Lizzie’s earlier adventures, leading up to the infamous mousse incident, are the subject of one of Graham’s earlier books, Perfect Meringues, which came out 21 years ago.  Those days were the tail end of the era when local TV news could make you into a big star – my local bulletin used to have its own chef, who I think did a good line in cookery demonstrations to WIs across the East of England  At any rate I’m fairly sure one (maybe two) of the recipes I copied out of my mum’s cookbook when I was first getting into cooking came from one he did for the Northampton Federation.  And pretty much every year at panto season you’ll spot a semi-familiar face on a poster who’s still managing to live off their local TV fame of yesteryear.  And this makes Lizzie and her friend Louie’s adventures terribly believable and very, very funny.

I read this book as my treat for my weekend working train journeys and it was an absolute delight.  Graham has a brilliant eye for the ridiculous and manages to skewer this sort of fading fame very well.  And Lizzie’s inner voice is pure Graham – funny, dark, sarcastic and with an observant eye on others, but not as much self-awareness as she thinks.  I could have read pages more of the exploits of Lizzie and her friends – there are definitely a few things left not as resolved as I could have wanted.  There aren’t enough books with leading ladies who are over 60, and Lizzie is definitely not a fading old lady in a twinset and pearls. She’s spunky and fun and not done with life and love yet – and anyway she hasn’t got a bank balance to sit back and retire.  And even if she had, her mother wouldn’t let her and, after all what would she do – her daughter doesn’t want Lizzie’s help as she raises her gender-neutral, sugar-free future genius son.  This was perfect book to beat my end of summer blues.

My copy of Anyone for Seconds came from NetGalley, but it’s out now in hardback, Kindle and Kobo.  I have no idea how easy it will be to find in bookshops – but you should be able to order it and I definitely encourage you to check out Graham’s books.  If you want to read Perfect Meringues first, it’s on Kindle and Kobo for £3.99 which seems to be about the standard price for all of Graham’s books at the moment – except for this new one.

Happy Reading!