Book of the Week, reviews

Book of the Week: Carrie Soto is Back

I know, I know. I’ve already mentioned this a few times, and it was on the reading list for a while, so why is this book of the week now I’ve finally finished it? Well firstly, take a look at it: it’s a hardback. And that should explain why it’s taken me a while to read – I don’t take books in my work rucksack these days because I have a laptop in there but I especially don’t take hardbacks around because they get so battered and also hardbacks are just harder to read than paperbacks are – speaking as an integrate eat-and-read person, you cannot read a hardback while you eat your lunch!

Carrie Soto was the best tennis player in the world. When she retired at the end of the 1980s, she had the all time grand slam record. But just six years later, that record is about to be broken- so she decides to make a comeback to take back her crown and prove that she’s the best of all time. But being the best tennis player in the world is much harder when you’re in your late 30s and harder still when it feels like no one wants you to succeed.

Carrie is not a sweet and fluffy tennis player: the media nicknamed her The Battleaxe basically because she did things that in a man would have been celebrated, but women aren’t meant to do. Like saying you’re going to crush your opponents. And admitting that you were targeting an opponent’s injury. And her singular focus means that she’s not always easy to like as she creates a world where it’s her against everyone else – but you’re shown her history and her family so you get why she is the way she is and you’re hoping that someone will come along and break through her protective shell.

Carrie popped up as a secondary character in Malibu Rising and it’s amazing how much you end up rooting for her in this, given what she was up to in that. Taylor Jenkins Reid has said that is the final book in this particular universe and this is another story about a woman who is unapologetic about her ambition and wants to live life in her own way and on her terms. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the themes across the four books – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Daisy Jones and the Six, Malibu Rising and this – and that’s sort of where I’ve come down: they all look at women challenging the status quo in some way, but they’re all very different stories and told in different ways. Like the first two books, there is a lot here where you can pick which real life tennis players have provided some inspiration for various people and the world feels so real by the end of it you can’t quite believe that none of it is real. Excellent, engrossing reading – perfect for a sun lounger, if only you don’t buy the hardback version!

You should be able to get this basically anywhere. Seriously. I think it’s been front and centre in every book shop I have recently featured. And of course it’s in all the ebook formats too.

Happy reading!

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

Book of the Week: A Pocketful of Happiness

It’s a memoir for this week’s pick – and it’s really good but it’s also heartbreaking. So bear that in mind when picking a moment to read it – I ended up a snotty mess more than once.

Depending on how old you are, you’ll know Richard E Grant for something different. Withnail and I, Spice World, Girls or if you’re my sister me: Jack and Sarah. He was nominated for an Oscar in 2019 for his role in Can You Ever Forgive Me. But what I didn’t know was that he had one of those rare things: a long and happy marriage in showbiz. And I only found that out when I saw his post on social announcing that Joan had died. A Pocketful of Happiness is a memoir of his wife’s illness, intercut with stories from their life together.

Joan Washington was one of the acting world’s leading dialogue and accent coaches. She and Richard met when she taught him at acting school, soon after his arrival in the UK from Swaziland. Ten years older than him and recently divorced, they fell in love when she coached him to help iron out his accent and they stayed together for 38 years.

Richard’s love for Joan shines through in every page of this – but you can also see how loved she was by other people and how much impact she had on their lives. At the end Richard has included some of the tributes to her from people that she worked with – some of which were gathered when her friends tried to get her an honour from the Queen before she died. It’s a memoir of grief and nursing someone through a terminal illness – but it’s also full of wonderfully showbizzy stories. Richard’s unashamed joy at being nominated for an Oscar was obvious at the time – but in this you see the behind the scenes as he goes to the awards season events and meets every famous actor he’s ever dreamed of working with – but also his all time heroine: Barbra Streisand. The showbiz stories help break up the heavy bits but also tie together with the story of the last few months of Joan’s life. It’s one of the best actor memoirs I have recently read – and as you know, there have been a few on the pile!

My copy came from the airport, but it’s out now in hardback, Kindle, Kobo and audiobook – read by Richard himself.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, reviews, romance

Book of the Week: The Dead Romantics

Did I finish this on Monday? Yes. Am I still writing about it? Absolutely. After the dumpster fire that was my late September I’m giving myself a pass on a lot of things. Anyway, this is fun.

Florence is a ghostwriter with a problem: after a messy breakup, she doesn’t believe in love any more – but she still has a book she has to finish and her new editor won’t give her an(other) extension. Then she gets a call from her mum: her dad has died and she needs to go home to help prepare for the funeral. But she’s been running from her small home town for a decade and she’s still not ready to deal with her issues with it. And then on her first night home, there is a knock at the door: it’s her editor. Except he’s a ghost and he doesn’t know why he’s there either.

Now regular readers will know that I’m not a paranormal or spooky reader usually. But I really liked Ashley Poston’s Beauty and the Geek series, I’ve heard a lot of hype about this and it was 99p and my defences are low at the moment so I couldn’t help myself. And I’m so glad I did. This is fun and funny and I loved Florence and her family and their funeral home and quirky ways. And Ben is lovely too I will admit that I was worried about whether there could be a happy ending (because he’s a ghost!) but I shouldn’t have been because it just works. And bonus points for the surprise Mulan reference.

We’re coming up to Halloween (I mean it’s October!) and if you want something seasonally appropriate but not scary or overly paranormal, this might well be the book for you. Especially if you like romance novel’s getting name checks. And if you’ve read the Beauty and the Geek series there are some Easter eggs for you too. Just delightful. Yes it made me cry, but if it hadn’t there would have been something wrong right? And it was worth it if you know what I mean.

As I said earlier, this is 99p on Kindle at the moment and it’s the same on Kobo. It came out in June so it’s still relatively new – but I haven’t spotted it in any of the bookshops yet* but Foyles have click and collect copies at the moment so I clearly haven’t been looking hard enough and you might be lucky.

Happy reading!

*and yes I did go back through my Waterstones Piccadilly photos, and no I didn’t take a picture of the P section of the romance shelves to double check

mystery, new releases

Out today: The Twist of the Knife

After a theatre themed post yesterday, I’ve got another theatre-set book because this is out today! The Twist of the Knife is the latest in the other Anthony Horowitz meta-detective series. In the Atticus Pund series you have a book about murder in a book about murder. In the Hawthorne and Horowitz series, you have a fictional Anthony Horowitz getting involved in solving murders and writing a book about the process. This is the fourth book and sees Horowitz himself the main suspect in a murder after a critic is stabbed to death after giving Horowitz’s new play a terrible review. It’s really clever – it’s incredibly meta as Horowitz references the need to write the Moonflower Murders while he’s trying to slice the murder. Obviously you should start reading these at the start of the series, but if you’ve enjoyed the earlier mysteries, I think you will enjoy this one. My copy came from NetGalley, but it’s out in the shops today in hardback, Kindle and Kobo.

Enjoy!

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 round-ups, Recommendsday, reviews

Recommendsday: July Quick Reviews

I’ve already written about so much this month and there were so many re-reads that I was worried I wouldn’t have a lot to write about that I liked and hadn’t already. But I’ve managed to pull three books out of my hat so well done me!

That Woman by Anne Sebba

My interest in the Abdication crisis is well known at this point. This has been on the list for a while as it is meant to be one of the more definitive ones and I picked this up second hand in the nice charity shop near work a few weeks back and got to it promptly so that I can lend it to mum! It’s interesting, but there’s not a lot of focus on her post war life. I think Andrew Lownie’s Traitor King has more on her post war life than this does – and that’s focussed on him! But it is good on her childhood and pre-duke life as well as her potential motivations.

Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy by Chynna Clugston Flores et al

My love for Lumberjanes is also well known, and well publicised on here, so I’m not quite sure how I’d missed that there had been a Lumberjanes and Gotham Academy crossover book. But there was and it came out in 2017 so I’m well behind the times as I filled in the gap in the series. I haven’t read any Gotham Academy, but that didn’t matter as this is essentially a two schools run into each other, are rivals and then have to work together to defeat a baddie story. And it’s got a possessed house and 1980s theme so it’s a lot of fun.

Shipped by Angie Hockman

And finally a quick mention for this one. It was billed as “The Unhoneymooners meets the Hating Game” with a marketing manager for a holiday firm forced to go on a cruise with her work arch-nemesis and I love an enemies to lovers romance, but didn’t quite work for me as well as I wanted because it hit some of my “why are you acting like this” buttons and the heroine really, really annoyed me. But I know that a lot of that is a me thing, so people with a higher (lower?) embarrassment threshold will probably love it. However, if you want a book with a cruise ship and a romance (even if the romance is a bit secondary) then try The Unsinkable Greta James.

And finally, a reminder in case you need it of this months Books of the Week: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow; Mendelssohn and Murder; The Incredible Crime and the aforementioned Unsinkable Greta James, which I actually read right at the end of June but was reviewed in July. The series posts were: the Affair of… series; The Grantchester series, Vicky Bliss and a revist of the Phryne Fisher books. And finally the Recomendsdays were novels about Friendships and mysteries with Vicars.

Welcome to August everyone!

Book of the Week, LGTBQIA+, new releases

Book of the Week: Husband Material

Yes I finished this on Monday – but it’s out today so it’s actually time appropriate. Check me out with the ever so slightly forward planning.

Husband Material is the sequel to Boyfriend Material which was a Book of the Week back when I read it in early 2021. We rejoin our erstwhile heroes two years into their actual relationship (as opposed to the fake one, see Boyfriend Material) and its all going well for Luc and Oliver. They’re making their relationship work – Luc’s trying not to bring the chaos and Oliver’s getting therapy and it’s all lovely. Except that suddenly everyone is getting married and Luc thinks maybe they’re meant to too, because that’s what you’re meant to do when you love each other, right? Right?

I have strongly mixed feelings on sequels usually. I know I’m always saying that I want more of the happily ever after at the end of my romance novels, but I appreciate that an actual novel needs tension and conflict. Most sequels do this by breaking the couple up and getting them back together (or variations thereof) and that often drives me mad. Particularly when the breakup is because of something you could solve by having a conversation. This does not do that. There is conflict, but I was not really ever worried that Luc and Oliver going to end up together – just how were they going to work it all out. And I can’t really explain any more than that without massive plot spoilers.

All the supporting cast are back too – Luc’s friends, his crazy mum, thankfully not too much of his awful dad. And there’s lots of banter and pop culture references. And if I didn’t quite love it as much as the first one, it was a pretty high bar to hit and it was lovely being back with some old friends for a few hours. This is apparently a universe now – so there’s a third book coming, but about a different couple, one of whom briefly featured in this book. So that’s fun too.

My copy of Husband Material came from NetGalley (thank you bookish gods) but it’s out today in Kindle, Kobo and delicious paperback, including from Words and Kisses where they have signed ones. You definitely need to have read Boyfriend Material to get the most out of this though.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Making a change from the run of BotW picks recently, this week I’ve gone for something (pretty much) new and also that’s not a romance or a mystery. You can thank me later.

Sam and Sadie first met when they were children. Then they didn’t see each other for years – until one day Sam sees Sadie on the subway platform. This chance meeting starts them on the road to success as video game designers. You follow Sam and Sadie over thirty years – as they play games, design games and grow up, always linked together but sometimes pulling in different directions.

You all know that I’ve been reading mostly stuff with happy endings or resolutions for the last *checks calendar* two years or so and this took me a little while to read because I wasn’t sure I was going to like how it all worked it. But I’m so glad I stuck with it because it is just wonderful – even if there was some crying involved, thankfully not on a train though. You watch Sam and Sadie grow and develop and try to help each other through life’s challenges. I can’t really say too much more than that because it’s going to give to much away.

I was a PC gamer when I was younger – mostly simulators like Sim City, the Sims and Transport Tycoon, but also Commander Keen and some of the other shareware games of that era, so I’ve played some of the games that Sam and Sadie played when they are kids and I understood the sort of games they were trying to create even if they weren’t my sort of games. But I don’t think you have to be a gamer to get this novel, don’t worry. It’s two people navigating friendship while working together. And it’s 400ish pages, so if you need a book for the beach this could be it!

I haven’t read any of Gabrielle Zevin’s books before, although I’ve had The Storied Life of A J Fikry on the list of books I would like to read at some point for years. But if her other books are anything like this one, I need to get to them sooner rather than later, just as soon as I’m in a more resilient state of mind, because this broke me at various points.

My copy of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow came via NetGalley but it’s out now in Kindle and Kobo and in hardback. And you should be able to get hold of it fairly easily because it’s had window displays in some bookshops which always a good sign – and Foyles have click and collect copies too.

Happy reading!

book round-ups, reviews, stats

Best new books of the first half of 2022

As promised, here is part one of my favourite books of the year so far – and we’re starting with new releases. I’ve already read 200 books this year, so I’ve got plenty of books to chose from but it’s no surprise that I’ve already written about most of these at some length.

I haven’t read a lot of nonfiction this year and not much of it is new-new but I have read Stories I Might Regret Telling You by Martha Wainwright and it’s such a good one. As I said in my BotW review back in April, this is one of the most unvarnished memoirs I’ve read. Martha Wainwright is as clear eyed about her own faults and her life as you will find someone and is prepared to put it out there in a book. Even if you don’t know her msuic, this is well worth reading – especially if you’re interested in the effects of famous paretns and/or competitive siblings and/or life in the music industry and particularly life in the music industry as a woman. And it turns out to be easier to get hold of than I thought it would be.

On to fiction and most of my favourite reads (that aren’t in series) are either romance or romance adjacent. There is the fabulous and sunny Book Lovers by Emily Henry and the redemptive and ultimately hopefuly Mad About You by Mhairi MacFarlane. They have very different plots, but they also both have heroines who know what they want in life and what they deserve. Mad About You has darker moments than Book Lovers, but you will come away from both with a big happy smile on your face.

Then there are two books that I have read in the last couple of weeks. I actually finished Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus and The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E Smith one day apart and then had a massive book hangover from two of my favourite books of the year so far. Greta is this week’s Book of the Week so you can read all about that there, and Lessons in Chemistry was the top review in Quick Reviews yesterday – and wasn’t actually that quick a review.

And as I mentioned earlier – there have also been a few really good new entries in series that I like – there is The Prize Racket – the latest in Isabel Rogers’ Stockwell Park Orchestra Series, the latest Rivers of London book, Amongst Our Weapons by Ben Aaronovitch, and the latest Vinyl Detective novel Attack and Decay by Andrew Cartmel.

And lets finish with a couple of honourable mentions – all the books above got five stars from me on Goodreads, but there are a couple of really, really good books nipping at their heels – like Jill Shalvis’s The Family You Make and Harvey Fierstein’s memoir I Was Better Last Night which I still haven’t written about here but will undoubtedly figure in my long planned actor memoir recommendsday post, just as soon as I read the other actor memoirs I have on my shelf!

So that’s half a year done – fingers crossed that the new books in the second half of the year are as good. Tune in tomorrow for my favourite new-to-me books of 2022 so far!

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