Book of the Week, LGTBQIA+, memoirs, new releases, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Diary of a Drag Queen

First up a bit of housekeeping: don’t forget last week’s BotW, Death of an Angel is out on Thursday! If you saw the WiB yesterday, you’ll know that there was a bit of a theme to last week’s tired, last night train reading, but actually it’s a non-fiction pick this week.  For once I’m almost relatively timely – because it’sa new book.  Well by new, it only came out on the 7th, Crystal Rasmussen’s Diary of a Drag Queen. Doesn’t it have a great cover?

Cover of Diary of a Drag Queen

Crystal is the drag name of Tom Rasmussen, a writer, Drag Queen and Céline Dion super-fan and their first book is a raw, honest, no holds barred, letting it all hang out look at one year in the author’s life. You follow them back to London after a difficult spell trying to make it in New York, trying to break the fashion industry, find a place in the drag scene and work out where they fit in the LGTBQIA+ community and their own personal manifesto. If you are squeamish, if you can’t deal with reading about other people’s poo, be warned: there is a lot of that here. But Crystal -has a lot they want to tell you and it is worth sitting up and listening.

I think this might be the most honest memoir I have read since Viv Albertine’s Boys, Clothes, Music. Crystal is setting their life and their truth out there on the page, without a filter (or at least not one that I could spot) and seemingly without hiding anything. At various points Crystal talks about having had to tone their life down for their partner or to be accepted or even just to be exist and it feels like this Diary, this book is their life as they want it to be seen, in all its imperfections, messiness, mistakes and triumphs. Here is Crystal explaining their approach in the introduction:

I spent a lot of my life in the violent, painful clutches of shame, which manifested itself in various modes of self-harm, self-destruction, and other untenable, unsurvivable behaviours.

I learned, however, that the antidote to this shame is not pride, or honour, or even celebration. That comes later. The antidote to shame is honesty. Stark, crass, funny, powerful honesty. Honesty that smashes through notions of taboos and inappropriatenesses. I am not shameful, because I’ve done nothing wrong. It’s the same with being gay, queer, femme, non-binary, a drag queen.

Crystal tells these stories with caustic wit, biting insight and what might be considered a reckless disregard for the secrets of the bedroom, if it wasn’t for the fact that they have assured us at the start that some names and details have been changed to protect identities. Phew. A lot of Crystal’s life is a long way from my experience and my background. And, again as I thought with Viv Albertine, I’m not sure that Crystal would like me. There were times when their critiques of various things made me squirm in my seat with the knowledge that I might have skirted the edges of doing some of the things they were railing against. But as they say, we have all made mistakes it’s how you deal with the mistakes and learn from them that makes a difference. And I’m always trying to do better. We should all always be trying to do better.  Here’s Crystal again:

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/questioning, Intersex, Asexual and + (not you, straight guy who loves glitter a bit but thinks bum sex is gross). Yes, it’s a long acronym, yes, it’s seven whole letters, but I learned the national anthem even though borders are constructs, so you can learn seven letters.

My copy of Diary of a Drag Queen came from NetGalley, but it is out now in hardback and you should be able to lay your hands on a copy fairly easily – I’d expect it to be in any good-sized actual bookshop. Crystal is also out and about on a book tour, so they may soon be coming to a store near you. I know I’m looking to see if I can make one of the dates – and if you can’t, the audiobook is read by the author and the sample on Amazon is a fairly representative section of the book. And of course it’s also available on Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, Book of the Week, detective, new releases

Book of the Week: Death of an Angel

It’s Danny Bird time again!  The eagle eyed amongst you may have spotted my copy of Death of an Angel on the Week in Books post and suspected what today’s pick might be.  Danny’s previous outings have featured on this blog before, and I was lucky enough to do an interview with Derek Farrell before the release of book three.  I’ve been looking forward to reading this since the end of book three, and tried to subtly badger Derek to hurry up and write quicker when I met him in person (for the first and I hope not last time!) at the Polari Salon in London last summer where he was giving a reading.  I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy (the first advance copy?) of Death of an Angel, which is out on the 28th and it was a total no-brainer for it to be this week’s Book of the Week.Cover of Death of an Angel

In case you haven’t read about Danny before, he’s the landlord of the possibly the most unlikely gay pub in (south) London. The Marq is owned by a gangster and has a seriously chequered past – including at this point, several bodies turning up at inconvenient times. His best friend is the champagne swilling, possibly alcoholic, definitely going to tell you exactly what she thinks Lady Caz and he’s got a slightly tricky relationship going on with a policeman. He’s also got a developing reputation for solving mysteries.

We rejoin the gang at the start of Death of an Angel, when Danny’s name is found written on the hand of a woman who has fallen from a tower block. To make matters worse, the pub’s phone number is in her contacts list, so of course the police haul him in for questioning. Trouble is, Danny has no idea who she is. The police seem strangely reluctant to believe this and soon Danny is investigating what led to Cathy Byrne’s fall from the ninth floor. At the same time, Danny is doing a touch of investigating for his solicitor and there are major ructions going on in his family – as his siblings are convinced something is wrong in their parents’ relationship.  And don’t even get started on the boyfriend front.

Death of an Angel takes us away from the Marq – for once this death isn’t threatening Danny’s livelihood (only his freedom!) and so there’s less of Ali the bar manageress and the Asbo twins, but don’t worry – there’s a limit to how many bodies can turn up at a business and it remain solvent (no matter what the cupcake bakeries over in the cozy crime genre would have you believe) and it’s great to see Danny stretch his wings in his south London home neighbourhood. This is a great mystery – fast-paced and with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. And the fabulous banter is still there – I mean what’s not to love about a hero who refers to himself as “Sherlock Homo”? Or has lines this:

You know how, when people say someone’s ageless they usually mean ‘eternally youthful’ and not ‘looks so old it seems impossible that he could still be living without the age of Necromancy’?

But there’s also a serious side to this. There are some proper social issues here: Danny’s investigation touches on gentrification, house prices, dodgy developers, dubious councillors lining their own pockets and high-end flats sitting empty because they’ve been bought as an investment by the rich, while people from the area are being forced out by a lack of affordable housing and high rents. That all makes the book sound serious and worthy – and it’s totally not. This is the best of Danny – mysteries with a conscience, that will entertain you but also make you think without clubbing you over the head with A Message.

It’s taken a long time for this fourth instalment to arrive, I really hope we don’t have to wait as long for another. Death of an Angel is published by Fahrenheit Press (remember them?!) and should be available from their website and from Amazon from the 28th. That’s a week on Thursday. I’ll try and remind you…

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases, reviews, romantic comedy, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Don’t You Forget About Me

As you can see from last week’s Week in Books (and the week before as well to be honest) I read a lot of books while I was away.  But in the end the choice for this week’s Book of the Week was easy – there was one standout that I’m still thinking about and have already recommended to a bunch of people.

Cover of Dont You Forget About Me

Don’t You Forget About Me is the new novel from Mhairi McFarlane.  Your heroine is Georgina, who we meet as she gets fired from The Worst Italian in Sheffield and then goes home to find The Worst Boyfriend in the World in bed with someone else.  Is the universe out to get her? When she gets a one-off job at a newly refurbished pub and then gets a fulltime job offer from there it seems like she might be about to turn a corner.  But her new boss turns out to be her sixth form crush-slash-secret-boyfriend which is a whole new disaster in the making.  Or it would be if Lucas remembered her, which he doesn’t – and which is crushing in its own way.  Because you never forget your first love do you?  Still at least it means that Georgina can keep working for him, just as long as she keeps her mouth shut and Lucas never finds out who she is.  Except that that gets harder and harder to do because there’s still something between them – and there’s no way Lucas isn’t going to work it out in the end is there?

I loved this.  In fact it was hard for Him Indoors to persuade me to go sightseeing with him one morning because I was 100 pages from the end and needed to know what happened to everyone.  This is just delightful.  Georgina is such an engaging heroine, Lucas is brilliant, I wanted to punch Georgina’s family at times – especially her stepdad -and I spent some considerable time thinking of extravagant punishments for Robin the Bad Boyfriend (but his actual comeuppance is very satisfying).  And on top of that the book is so, so funny.  It was in fact exactly what I have been looking for and what I have been finding so hard to find at the moment.  It’s a romantic comedy but it has a serious side as well.  There are Reasons why Georgina is still working jobs her family consider pointless and dead end.  And there’s a reason why she picked such a terrible boyfriend.  And they’re proper, life changing reasons, but there’s such a light touch about it that it all works beautifully together.

This also captured some of my memories of my sixth form experience so perfectly that it nearly took my breath away.  I’m a couple of years older than Georgina is meant to be but Mhairi McFarlane has captured that feeling of not being able to do the right thing no matter what you do when faced with the popular kids, that everything is life and death and that the path of your life can be changed by one wrong decision.  I always mistrust people who say that their schooldays were the best of their lives, because mine were terrifying and scary and I wouldn’t go back there for all the tea in china – especially not now social media is a thing.

I know that chick lit is a problematic term – and I have as many issues with it as everyone else.  But if you read “chick lit” back in the early 00s and find it hard to capture that same feeling from books now – then try this.  I read a lot of books (as you know) but I really struggle to find funny, romantic books with happy endings that aren’t all humour through humiliation (not my thing) or finding happiness again (or in the end) after dead husbands or life threatening illnesses (or terminal diagnoses).  Something with something more to it than *just* a romance but where you’re not going to have your heart broken before you get to a sort of happy ending.  But This Is It.  It is fun and funny and it all works out in the end – but not because A Perfect Man has made it better – but because Georgina has figured out who she is and how to start fixing her life herself.

I know that sounds gushy and a bit OTT, but I can’t tell you how relieved I was to start reading this and just sink into it and enjoy letting it all happen.  I’ve read so many books recently where I either can’t see how it can all possibly work out all right in the end (or even satisfactorily) or been braced for something bad to happen, that it was a joy to realise that I was in safe hands and could just relax and read.  And my tears at the end were happy ones.

I’ve read two of Mhairi McFarlane’s previous books – but there’s been a big old gap since I read the last one so I had forgotten how much I like her writing.  I now need to go back and figure out why I haven’t read the other two and remedy that as soon as possible.  Knowing me and the state of my to-read pile, I’ll probably have at least one of them sitting on the kindle already…

My copy of Don’t You Forget About Me came from NetGalley, but it is out now on Kindle and Kobo and the paperback comes out at the start of March.  I’ll try and remember to remind you – and I’m sure it’ll be in all the usual placed – but you could always pre-order it now.  I’m just saying.  I don’t think you’ll regret it.  And if you’ve got any recommendations for other books you think might scratch the same itch for me, let me know in the comments.

Happy Reading!

 

reviews, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

A really, really easy decision about what to pick for BotW this week, but I’m ashamed to say that my copy of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo had been sitting on my Kindle for more than 18 months before I finally got around to reading it.  It was one of those occasions where I requested something from NetGalley, with eyes too big for my reading time and it got lost in the backlog.  And the NetGalley backlog is huge.  One of my aims for the year is to solve that.  We’ll see if that happens, but certainly the attempt has turned up a real gem.

The cover of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Evelyn Hugo was a huge star in her day, but these days she’s pretty much a recluse.  So when Monique Grant is sent out to do an interview with her it’s a big deal.  A massive deal.  And Hugo would only talk to Monique – but why?  Monique is a virtual unknown – a junior reporter at a magazine – and she’s as clueless as everyone else about why Hugo has picked her.  And when Monique arrives to do the interview, Evelyn has a different proposal for her – she doesn’t want to give an interview, she wants Monique to write her biography – she wants to tell Monique the stories and secrets behind her career and her seven marriages.  Monique’s marriage has just broken up and she’s looking to rebuild, so she takes the job.  Soon she’s spending her days listening to Evelyn telling the story of her rise to stardom – from her childhood in poverty in New York to the top of the Hollywood tree.  It’s no holds barred – the domestic abuse, the Hollywood catfighting, backbiting and machinations – and the truth about who was the love of Evelyn’s life.  And Monique finds herself warming to Evelyn, even though the story she’s telling isn’t always pretty or nice and Evelyn doesn’t always come out of it in the best light.  But still she wonders, why was she picked to be the one to tell it.  But as Evelyn’s story goes on, it becomes clear that there’s a purpose to all of this – and somewhere Evelyn’s life is linked to Monique’s.

And I’m not prepared to say any more about the plot than that.  I’ve checked the blurb and I don’t think I’ve given away too much beyond what’s there.  And that’s because Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel is best discovered blind.  I hadn’t checked goodreads or read any reviews when I went in, so I didn’t know any of the twists and turns that were ahead of me and I think if I had, it would have been a real shame.  But that does mean it’s hard to explain how clever this novel is.  It is a totally page-turning book – the sort of thing you could sit and read on a sun-lounger all day without being bored (if you can read slow enough) but it’s also a very smart look at the world we live in.

Evelyn is a Cuban-America and as she rises up through the Hollywood machine you see the challenges that she faces as a woman and as a Latina and to be herself.  She’s constantly having to change, to tone-down or hide aspects of herself in order to be acceptable and accepted and successful.  But it’s so well written that it’s only afterwards you realise how much social commentary is in there. It’s good and it’s very, very clever. I’ve also gone down a few Google and Wikipedia rabbit holes since finishing this, trying to work out which bits of Evelyn’s story are based on which real life Hollywood stars. I can’t tell you my conclusions though because it’ll give too much away. Sorry, not sorry.

My copy came from Netgalley an age ago, which means this is out in paperback now as well as on Kindle and Kobo. I’m hoping it should be relatively easy to find in an actual bookshop too. Taylor Jenkins Reid has a new book out shortly – which I mentioned in my anticipated books post (my excitement about this has only increased after reading this!) on New Year’s Day – so keep an eye out for that too!

Happy reading!

book round-ups, reviews

My 2018 Obsessions

Every year I write a post about my obsessions of the year, which usually boils down to which authors did I discover years late and then binge my way through.  This year is no exception.  Yesterday I looked at how last years obsessions have fared, and discovered that crime series and romance series continue to be the staples of my reading diet along with a strong strain of non-fiction.  So, here are the authors whose work I have been obsessed with this year…

The Kinsey Milhone series by Sue Grafton

I only discovered Sue Grafton after seeing the obituaries and tributes after her death.  And this year I’ve read 19 of the 25 books in the series – the only reason I haven’t read all of them is that I’m trying to slow down and pace myself so that it’s not over too quickly.  Kinsey is a great heroine, a private detective who is very aware of her own strengths and weaknesses, and the mystery plots are clever and twisty.  What more could you want in a mystery series.  It’s such a shame she didn’t live long enough to write the last book in the alphabet.

The Charles Paris series by Simon Brett

This was a late on in the year discovery – I read my first one of these while I was in Washington and I’ve now read nearly half of the 20 book series.  Charles Paris is a probably-alcoholic jobbing actor who seems to stumble on murders on every job he takes.  The series started in 1975 and the most recent installment came out this year.  There have also been two different radio adaptations over the years  – the most recent one which stars Bill Nighy as Charles (and has been somewhat modernised) is a lot of fun and available on Audible.

Cat Sebastian

One of the joys of being in the US was being able to read some of the authors that I’ve heard a lot about but who are harder/more expensive to get hold of in the UK.  Cat Sebastian is one of these.  She writes mainly Male/male historical romances – which is part of the genre that I haven’t really read a lot of before and I haven’t really been able to try because it is really quite expensive to buy over in the UK.  I had been able to pick one up on offer on Kindle and luckily my local library had a whole stack of them.  I think there’s a limit to the number of different tropes available to male/male historicals, so it takes a bit of creativity to come up with scenarios with a potential for happy endings, but Sebastian has a knack for it.  I also really liked Unmasked by the Marquess, which features a non-binary heroine, where the conflict isn’t about the heroine’s presentation, rather it’s about her deception and the obstacles in the way of a happy ending for the hero and heroine.  Sebastian’s first male/female romance is out in 2019 and I’m really looking forward to it.

 

Authors I love, Book of the Week, Fantasy, new releases

Book of the Week: Early Riser

Luckily for me – although it didn’t seem so at the time, I didn’t manage to finish Early Riser in time for it to make last week’s WiB.  I had 50 pages to go on the Sunday night and ended up finishing it on Monday morning.  This made it eligible for this week’s BotW and meant that I could write this nice and early before the last minute madness descended ahead of my departure for DC.  Hopefully by the time you read this I’ll be in the US and starting work – but I’m writing this a week earlier with a to-do list the length of my arm.  However I’m fairly confident that nothing else I finish this week will pip this to the post – and if anything does run it close I’m sure I’ll manage to write about it at some point!

Front cover of Hardcover UK edition of Early Riser

Early Riser is the latest novel from Jasper Fforde and his first new book in four years – and his first new adult novel in six years.  It’s a standalone novel and it’s in a different alternative universe to his other work too.  I’m a big fan of Jasper Fforde – I’ve read most of his books but I think that the long hiatus between books means that I’ve never had a chance to properly write about him here because I glommed on pretty much everything he has written before I started writing this.  Anyway, to the plot:

Charlie Worthing is about to start his first season as a Winter Consul.  Every year, the human population hibernates for four months to escape the bitterly cold weather.  But some brave souls are needed to protect the sleeping – and Charlie has volunteered to be one of them.  To stay awake during the winter means you need to be very committed – but also a little bit mad as Charlie soon discovers.  One of his first tasks is investigating an outbreak of viral dreams – where people are having the same dream right down to the little details.  And then the people who’ve had the dream start dying.  And then Charlie starts having the dream – and bits of it seem to be coming true.  Is it just winter narcosis – or is soething more sinister going on.  Charlie sets out to find out the truth – but he’ll need to brave Villains and Nightwalkers and the seemingly less-than-mythical WinterVolk to do it.

If you’ve read and Jasper Fforde before you’ll know that his thing is creating bonkers parallel universes to our own and then just dropping you straight into them and leaving you to work out what’s going on.  In the Thursday Next series is a world where the Crimean War never ended, where literature is venerated and where – if you have the right skills – you can actually get inside a book and wander around the story.  In Early Riser he does the same thing.  After a lovely diagram of a Dormitorium opposite the title page, you find yourself on a train with a dead woman who is playing the bouzouki.  And it only gets weirder.  This was probably the slowest starting of Fforde’s books for me – but that might be because I started reading it as an egalley (from NetGalley) which had all the footnotes out of sync with the pages – and boy do you need the footnotes at the start to help you get your head around the new world that you’ve found yourself in.  But after I’d bought myself an actual copy of the book* everything got a lot easier and started to make more sense.

Shelf of Jasper Fforde books
Taking this photo has got me wondering who has my copy of Something Rotten. I’m hoping my dad has it…

And it is a rollicking good adventure.  There are lots of twists and turns and I really didn’t see many/any of them coming.  Charlie is an engaging accidental hero and you sympathise with him as he bumbles his way through his first winter, running into complications and obstacles at every turn.  I really like the worlds that Jasper Fforde creates – I don’t know where his ideas come from but they’re so clever and subversive.  If you had pitched this to me before I’d read any of his stuff I would have chalked it up as not for me.  But I trust him having read and loved the Thursday Next series and the Nursery Crime series and so was prepared to take the leap into this with him.  I’m so glad I did – and I hope lots of other people are reading it too.

In the author’s note at the end of the book, he thanks readers’ patience for sticking with him in the long gap and says he hopes it won’t be such a big gap to the next book.  I may hate waiting, but I’ll gladly wait if we get books like this at the end of it.  I just hope that the next one is the eighth Thursday Next book…

Early Riser is out now in hardback and on Kindle and Kobo if you’re in the UK.  I’ve seen copies in all the proper bookshops – Foyles Charing Cross have several display piles of it – so you should be able to lay your hands on it fairly easily.  It’s due for release in the US on February 12th 2019 – and should be available to preorder at your bookseller of choice – there are some handy links on Jasper Fforde’s website to help you whether you’re in the UK or in the US.

Happy Reading!

*I went to Foyles during a lunchbreak one of my weekend working days in August.  I was meant to be just having a look around, but they’d had a signing with Jasper Fforde a week or two earlier and they had one signed copy left – among piles of unsigned ones on various displays.  I took it as a sign that I should buy it for myself.

Bonus Picture: My Dormitorium postcard that came with my hardcover!

Dormitorium postcard!