Book of the Week, new releases, romantic comedy

Book of the Week: Headliners

As you can tell from yesterday’s post, a lot of reading happened on the holiday. It was glorious. Sun, sea, sand and a nice mix of stuff from the digital TBR pile and upcoming books. And this week’s pick for Book of the Week even came out yesterday so that’s some actual good timing from me for once!

Cover of Headliners

Sabrina Carlton and Nick Davenport do not get along.  They’re professional rivals and have been sniping at each other across the airwaves for years.  But now the feuding TV presenters are being forced to work together on morning television – and if it doesn’t work, it could finish both of their careers.  The ratings are in the toilet and they’ve got the month leading up to Christmas to turn it around. As long as they don’t kill each other first.  But when mishaps start happening on set, it seems that they may have a common enemy.  And then there’s the fact that the general public seem to be developing a misapprehension that these two are secretly lusting after each other.  Which they’re totally not, right?

This is the fifth book in the London Celebrities series, and if you’ve read the previous installments, you’ve come across our leads before – Sabrina is the sister of Freddy, the heroine of the previous book, and we saw Sabrina’s combative professional relationship with Nick come to a head at the end of The Austen Playbook.  Now while you don’t have to have read the rest of the series to enjoy this, it will completely spoil the plot of The Austen Playbook if you haven’t read that one first.  Lucy Parker seems to specialise in enemies-to-lovers tropes and this is another really good one.  What I particularly liked about it is that once they’ve got over their issues with each other, they move on as a team and the rest of the plot is not about people constantly trying to sow doubt in each of their minds about the other or silly misunderstandings between them that could be solved with a conversation.

As with the other books in the series, the dialogue is great – there is so much witty banter, and not just between the leads – the supporting characters get their share too. And I loved the situations that Nick and Sabrina found themselves in on the TV show – they’re exactly the sort of thing a ratings-obsessed editor might come up with and they’re funny but not in a cringey hide-behind-your-hands way.  And if you have read the rest of the series, there are some nice callbacks for you.  Obviously Freddy is in it, because she’s Sabrina’s sister, but there are also appearances from previous leads – and antagonists.  It was a real treat – I even made myself slow down and go away and read something else to make it last longer at one point because it was that good.  And don’t be put off by the fact that this is set in the run up to Christmas and it’s January, because it’s not that Christmasy – the Christmas deadline is just that, it’s not really the centre of the plot.  I  mean I read it on a beach in Lanzarote – and thought it was really a perfect book beach read, but equally it would lighten the winter gloom if you’re not fortunate enough to be somewhere relaxing and sunny!

My copy came from NetGalley, but Headliners is available now in Kindle and Kobo and as an audiobook.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases, romance

Book of the Week: Sweet Talkin’ Lover

Another Tuesday, another book of the week post.  I read a few books I really liked last week, and it was a close decision on what to pick, but I think Tracey Livesay’s new book was my favourite last week.

Cover of Sweet Talkin' Lover

Caila Harris is ambitious and driven. She’s given up her social life and is working all the hours she can to get her next promotion as she climbs the ladder in the beauty industry.  But when her beloved grandfather dies, she makes some bad decisions – and suddenly her chances of promotion are on the line.  The assignment she’s given to turn it around: go to a small southern town, and write the report that justifies shutting a factory down.  But when she gets to Bradleton, she runs into more trouble than she expected in the form of the town’s mayor, Wyatt Bradley. He’s determined to do whatever it takes to keep the plant open.  Soon sparks are flying between Caila and Mayor McHottie as the town calls him – but will their relationship survive if she finds out the sneaky tactics he’s using to try and keep her in town and when he finds out that the closure decision has already been made.

This is smart, fun and has a hero and heroine with great chemistry.  I like enemies/rivals to lovers as a trope and Sweet Talkin’ Lover does that really well. I also loved Caila’s relationship with her group of friends.  Livesay has said that the group is based on her own friendship group – and the holiday they’re on at the start is what they do every year. I love a ride-or-die friendship group in a story and these ladies really are that – and I’m looking forward to reading the books about the others, because this is the first in a series.

My only quibble with the book was from right at the end.  I didn’t quite believe that Wyatt’s family issues – either with his career or the way they treated Caila – were really all sorted out.  I believed that Wyatt and Caila wanted to make it work between them and that some of the roadblocks were removed, but I wasn’t quite confident that it was really all resolved enough to be confident that the happy ending was really going to be all ok if that makes sense. But that’s quite a minor quibble in the grand scheme of things.

Sweet Talkin’ Lover is Livesay’s print debut and came out in the middle of all the RWA problems.  She was also one of the resignations from the RWA board on Boxing Day (because of the way the Ethics Committee handled the complaint against Courtney Milan), so I think it’s fair to say that RWA messed up her Christmas and a big moment in her writing career.  And this book did not deserve to get swamped by RWA being a trashfire.

My copy of Sweet Talkin’ Lover came from the library, but its availalble now in Kindle, Kobo and as an audibook, but the paperback isn’t out in the UK until February 20.  I’ll try and remember to remind you.

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, memoirs, reviews

Book of the Week: Year of the Fat Knight

My final BotW of 2020 continues the Year of Non-fiction, except this is one from the to read bookshelf and not from the library. If you’ve missed my look back at my reading obsessions over the year, you can find them here, and also my best books of the year. Coming up tomorrow, instead of the stats, is my look ahead to some new books coming in 2020. The stats will follow later in the week. Because I’m that good to you. Anyway, to the review.

Year of the Fat Knight on a bookshelf

Ever wondered what it takes to be an actor? Or more particularly if you’ve got what it takes to be an actor? You sort of half think it might be an easy life right? Wrong. Over the course of this book you watch (in your mind’s eye at least) Antony Sher agonise over taking a part, preparing for the part and playing the part. And as you read, you realise all the hidden hard work that goes into crafting a performance, an interpretation of words on paper.

The Fat Knight of the title is Falstaff, one of Shakespeare’s iconic creations. But not, as Sher muses, one that The Big Names often play. He muses that there are traditionally two tracks for Shakespearean actors – one leads to King Lear, via Macbeth and Hamlet, and the other to Falstaff (via parts like Bottom) and that never the twain shall meet. But here is Sher – who famously played Richard III as a young man (which Sher also wrote a book about) and who I saw play Macbeth just after the turn of the century* – considering an offer, from his partner no less, to play Falstaff. Illustrated with Sher’s own drawings, it’s fascinating and eye opening and incredibly readable. Sher’s partner is Gregory Doran, a director who at the start of the book is just taking over the helm at the RSC so as well as the musings on Falstaff, you get a peek behind the curtain at the RSC and in the world of theatre generally. The two are named as a power couple in the media in a couple of lists during the book, which perplexes Sher but reminds the reader that there are fairly large stakes here professionally. The production – and Sher’s performance – were a success but that never feels anywhere near certain as you read it.

I raced through this and although I didn’t see the productions of Henry IV Sher is writing about, I have seen a couple of the others that are mentioned in it and have seen some of the other actors in other things which made for an added bonus as a theatre nerd.  I don’t know that you need to be a theatre nerd to enjoy this though – I think you just need to be someone who is interested in process and creation.  If you’ve ever wondered how a production of Shakespeare is put together, whether the actors really understand what they’re saying and how they create a character, this would certainly interest to you.  But if you’re a creator of something else, I think this would be worth a look as well – and you can compare your process in your field to this.  I’m sure you’d get something out of it.

I had this on the shelf – I think it came from a work book sale a year or so ago (it came out in , but you should be able to get hold of a copy fairly easily from a bookshop with a theatre section.  Mine is a hardback, but there is also a paperback edition now. If you want to buy online, may I suggest you go direct to Nick Hern Books, the publisher, where the price is within pennies of that of Amazon as I write this and will undoubtedly benefit them more direct.  They’ve got 20% off everything at the moment – so in one of life’s more predictable moments, I ordered myself Sher’s other two books on acting – the aforementioned Year of the King and his latest, Year of the Mad King about King Lear – when I went to check this out.

Happy Reading and Happy New Year!

*Gosh that makes me feel old saying that, but although the turn of the century automatically makes me think of the start of the 20th century, we’re far enough into the 21st now that I probably should get used to it.  I saw Macbeth with Sher and Harriet Walter at the Swan in Stratford sometime around 2000 – I still have the poster somewhere, but I’m not getting it out to check!

book round-ups, reviews

My 2018 Obsessions – Revisited

Welcome to my annual revisit of last year’s obsessions to see what has endured – or not. You can find last year’s obsessions post here – and last year’s revisited post here.  Coming tomorrow is a look at this year’s newly acquired obsessions.

The Kinsey Milhone series by Sue Grafton

I still haven’t finished this series.  I love them – and I don’t want them to be over.  I’m slowly reading V for Vendetta – but trying to make it last because this really is a case where when it’s done, it’s done.  And I still haven’t found another series that does anything similar for me – I don’t like Katy Munger’s Casey Jones books anywhere near as much and I find it hard to work out what to search for when looking for similar books – Goodreads gives me Janet Evanovich (been there, read all those!), Dick Francis, a weird selection of older cozy crimes (mostly really quite hard to get even if they did appeal) and then books that have covers that look way too dark and violent for me.  Suggestions in the comments please – help a girl out.

The Charles Paris series by Simon Brett

I’ve finished this series off now and listened to all the radio dramatisations too.  I find Charles such an engagingly flawed hero.  He never really learns or changes and you know he’s going to drink too much and mess it up with his (estranged) wife again, but he’s just so charming while he does it – especially when voiced by Bill Nighy.  I’ve started on another of Brett’s series now – Mrs Pargitter, but I don’t like them quite as much so I’m reading them a little bit slower than I did these.  And again – this is another case where I struggle to find anything similar, because I don’t know what I’m searching for.  The Flaxborough series are a similar vintage, but not similarly funny (and I’ve read them all anyway) and they’re cozy crime, but they’re comedy cozy crime. Again – suggestions in the comments, I need some more light relief!

Cat Sebastian

Well.  Having glommed on Cat Sebastian last year, all I could really do was read her new books – and I’ve done that.  I mentioned last year that her first “traditional” m/f romance was due out in 2019 but A Duke in Disguise was more than that – yes it’s the first book that she’s done with a “traditional” male/female pairing, but to reduce this book to that is to underplay what Sebastian is trying to do. This is a clever subversive romance which doesn’t focus on the world of the ton (although they do appear and the nobility plays a role) with feisty, smart, sexually experienced heroine and a neurodiverse, virgin hero. Total catnip right? I hope it’ll tempt readers who haven’t yet read Sebastian because they “don’t do” LGTBQI+ romances to try Sebastian’s work and see what they’re missing out on.  It made it into my favourites of the year so far in June – you’ll have to wait and see if it’s made the end of year list – but it really was a cracker.  I’ve tried to expand my romance reading into more authors writing LGTBQI+ stories this year because I liked her novels so much and it’s been great.

Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: The Starless Sea

I read some really good stuff last week and I actually started writing this week’s BotW about a different book – because the Starless Sea has already had a lot of hype about it and I had a couple of reservations. And then I went out and bought myself a copy because I just kept thinking about it – and I realised that probably meant I should be writing about it instead. So the good news is you get another post from me tomorrow, but I figure spending full price on a hardback that I’ve already read means that this should be my Book of the Week.

Cover of the Starless Sea

The Starless Sea is the much anticipated second novel from Erin Morganstern.  At first when Zachary Rawlings finds a mysterious book in the university, he’s just a mildly intrigued. But then he reads it and finds part of his own childhood among the stories and he needs to know where it came from. The trail leads him to a masquerade ball in New York and then through a doorway to a mysterious ancient library, way underground that is the gateway to a hidden world. Time moves differently there and there are some who have sacrificed a lot to protect it – but there are also forces trying to destroy it. Along with one of the people who seems belong there – Mirabel – and Dorian, the man who brought him there, Zachary soon finds himself in the middle of a battle for the future of the Starless Sea.

Zachary’s story is interspersed with stories from the people who have lived in the Starless Sea. I actually found this a little discombobulating at first because it was hard to work out what was real and how it fitted in with Zachary’s story. But I think that that’s the point.  It did mean that it took me a little while to get into the book – because it was really easy to read a little bit and then stop. But once I did get into it, I ended up reading the last 300 pages (if you can have a final 300 pages of a nearly 500 page novel, but you know what I mean) in less that 24 hours because I was so totally caught up in Zachary’s adventure.  But then when I finished it, I wasn’t sure about the ending because I wanted it to be more definitive.  So off I went for the rest of the week’s reading and read something else that I really liked and was going to pick instead because of that slow start and my feelings about the ending. But then I found myself thinking about the book – the world, the adventure and what might have happened next. And I realised that I wanted to read it again. Now when I read it, I had borrowed it from the library – and as it was a skip the line loan it was a short borrowing period that had already run out. So really I had no choice other than to buy myself a copy. And what a lovely copy it is – it’s even signed.  And the endpapers are really pretty too. So now I get to read it again. And I suspect if/when my mum reads this post (*waves* hi mum) she’s going to want to borrow it too. And it’ll look lovely on my bookshelf.

Hardback edition of the Starless Sea

It’s eight years since Morganstern’s first book The Night Circus came out, and it was a mega hit.  I didn’t read it until 2016, but when I did it was a BotW. And it is one of those books that people love but is nearly impossible to find anything like.  It’s magical realism but there’s nothing really quite like it, which is why people have been so desperate to read another book from Morganstern. I honestly thought it would be hard for this to live up to the expectation, but it actually pretty much did.  It’s a completely different world, but it’s as beguiling and unique as the circus was. I think this is going to be *the* book club pick of 2020 – but there’s so much to talk about and to explore.  I hope it doesn’t take another eight years for Morganstern’s next book (even if I only had to wait three this time) because it really is in a little corner of the bookish world by itself.

Endpapers showing a library

As previously mentioned, I read this as an ebook from the Library, but have now bought my own. My copy came from Foyles yesterday (Monday), it’s signed and I got a nice bee pin page with it, but I can’t find the link that I did the click and collect from  – just the normal one, which is a couple of quid cheaper, but doesn’t have the badge or the signature so they may have sold out. Waterstones also have a special edition (they seem to be out of their signed ones though). And of course it’s also available on Kindle and Kobo and as an audiobook from Audible and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

Blog tours, new releases

Blog Tour: Died and Gone to Devon

Happy Friday everyone, and welcome to a special bonus post to mark the mid point in November.  I’m one of the stops on the blog tour for TP Fielden’s Died and Gone to Devon – which came out yesterday – and which I read the other week.

This is the fourth book in the Miss Dimount Investigates series, featuring an intrepid lady reporter in the seaside town of Temple Regis in the late 1950s.  In Died and Gone to Devon, a by-election is looming – but when one of the candidates winds up dead, Judy is soon investigating.  Add into the mix a new and suspiciously ambitious journalist and a visit from her mother, and Judy has soon got a lot on her plate.

Regular readers will know that I love a murder mystery set in the past, and I love an unconventional detective.  Judy is an older lady – not as old as Miss Marple certainly, but definitely not in the first flush of youth – and I really like the fact that she’s got her head screwed on and doesn’t sail off into danger without a thought.  She’s smart, she’s had to fight to get to wear she is and she’s not going to cede her position easily.  And I also like the late 1950s setting – Temple Regis is a sleepy, old-fashioned backwater but you can see the cusp of the swinging sixties on the horizon and the conflicts that are starting as times change.  I had some of the mystery figured out early on, but not all by any means and I enjoyed watching everything unfold, although to be fair reading it in the week that a General Election was called might not have been my best plan – as it all got a bit election overload at times!

I read the first book in the series back in 2017, and enjoyed it but thought that there was a lot of set up for the series going on and a few too many unexplained hints about Judy’s past. But this definitely felt like a book in a series that has hit its stride – the characters are established, there aren’t any info dumps about people and there are a few little nuggets about previous cases that would work as callbacks if you’ve read them, or tempt you into reading them if like me you haven’t.

My copy of Died and Gone to Devon came via the publisher, but it is available now as a paperback and on Kindle, Kobo and Audible.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Children's books, new releases

Book of the Week: Top Marks for Murder

Another old friend for this week’s BotW: the eighth in Robin Stevens’s middle grade Murder Most Unladylike series. It was between this and the new Tessa Dare for this week’s pick and although the Dare is a lot of fun, I have a lot of thoughts about this book, this series and the importance of Hazel and Daisy.

Cover of Top Marks for Murder

We rejoin the detective society as they return to Deepdean after their extended break visiting Hazel’s family in Hong Kong and then their appearance in a play in London. And they’re back at school just in time for the anniversary weekend, which proves to be a rather more dangerous time for the girls than you would hope, after one of the gang sees what she thinks is a murder from their dormitory window.

The girls are back on the trail and are happy to be distracted from the things that have changed at school while they’ve been away. But this isn’t the first time that there’s been a murder at Deepdean, and Daisy and Hazel are older now and are seeing more of the consequences of what’s going on as well. After all how many parents want to leave their children at a school where murders happen. So the girls may not need to just solve the case, they might need to save the school as well.

What I’ve always loved about this series is the way that it takes familiar tropes from the school stories that I loved when I was little and update them so that they will work for kids today. I’ve spoken before about revisiting old favourites and realising they’re now problematic (to say the least in some cases). I’m lucky with the Chalet School – LH Johnson recently wrote a lovely piece about the Chalet School Peace League and Elinor M Brent Dyer quietly advocating peace and cooperation – but I’ve bought and read a couple of Shirley Flight books over the last few weeks and although they’re mostly fun adventures, there are some horrible attitudes towards non-Brits and especially non-Westerners. One of them is downright racist to a point where I now wouldn’t want to lend any of them out to a modern child of the age I was when I read the first book in the series. But if you want to give the next generation the sort of warm feels you had from Girls Own books but without the nasty undercurrents, this series will do that for you.

And that’s not to say that these are populated by perfect exemplars of modern day life sticking out like sore thumbs in the olden days. They’re not like that. You see the nastier side of 1930s boarding school life because because you’re looking at it from Hazel’s point of view and nothing she can do will change the way some people look at her just because she’s Chinese. Daisy definitely isn’t perfect – she doesn’t handle the fact that while she’s been gone a fascinating new girl has taken her place very well at all. And she’s still dealing with the fallout for her family after the events at her house in book 2. This is full of realistic characters learning real life lessons as well as solving a tricky mystery. As a grown up, I really appreciate and enjoy what Robin Stevens is doing – but it does works for its actual target market too, as my niece as well as several of the ten year olds my sister taught last year (who lent her copies of books in the series) prove. And when my niece is a bit older, I’ll lend her the Golden Age mystery stories these are influenced by and she can read the grown up versions of some of these plots (this one is very Sayers inspired). But with a few caveats about old fashioned attitudes.

Now, I’m going to be very careful how I phrase this section because: spoilers, but in the last book we learned an important piece of information about one of the main characters. A piece of information that both is and isn’t a big deal. Inside the last book it was treated exactly right by the character who learned it and in this book nothing has changed about that piece of information but it is absolutely not an issue or a Big Deal. And that is exactly as it should be. If you’ve read Death in the Spotlight you’ll know exactly what I’m talking abut and if you haven’t, then I’m sorry for that impenetrable paragraph, but go and read it and you’ll understand.

I had First Class Murder pre-ordered (and had to remember to change the delivery address to the new house!) but you should be able to get hold of it easily from any shop with a children’s section. It’s also available online – from places like Book Depository – as well as on Kindle and Kobo.  And you can read some of my previous posts about the series here and here.

Happy Reading!