Book of the Week, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Not Your Sidekick

June was a tough month, and July started off looking like it was going to be more of the same. But I’m feeling much better about things now, because the Formula 1 was back at the weekend, and so life felt a little bit more normal. And it’s very much first world problems, and people have problems that are a lot more serious, but I’m due to get a hair cut this week, which has been something to look forward to because when you have hair as short as mine and you haven’t been able to have it cut for 15 weeks it looks a right state. I’ve never regretted cutting my hair short before – but there’s a first time for everything. Anyway, to the reading. Back to YA this week for Not Your Sidekick by C B Lee, a superhero-adjacent (sort of) adventure story.

Cover of Not Your Sidekick

Jessica Tran’s parents are superheroes. Ok, so they’re only C-class, which means they mostly just save their town from the pranks played by the town’s villians, the Mischiefs. Jessica’s sister is in superhero training, but Jessica herself hasn’t got any powers yet, and it’s not looking like she’s about to develop any. So when she gets an internship at a fancy tech company, it’s the most exciting thing that has happened to her in ages – and she gets to work with Abby, the school volleyball star she’s had a crush on forever. Except it turns out that she’s working for the Mischiefs, and it looks like there might be a dark undercurrent in the world of heroes and villains that she’s used to.

This is a fun and exciting adventure caper, which reminded me a bit of the Incredibles, with the juxtaposition of superpowers, secret identities and ordinary lives. Jessica is a great lead character, but she’s got a great gang of friends too. It doesn’t info dump on you, it really just puts you down in the world and leaves you to work out what has happened to Earth, and how everything works, which I though really helped with the pacing as well as giving you a level of uncertainty about who were the good guys and the bad guys. I had part of the plot at the tech company figured out fairly early on, and I’m not sure I was meant to – but I’m not in the target age range, so it may have seemed less obvious to the younger audience. But it’s a lot of fun, the unravelling at the end is great – although there is somewhat of a cliffhanger situation going on here – and Jessica and Abby are great fun together. It’s a lovely twist on the high school story and on a one girl to save the world type story (see also Patrick Ness’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here). And there are two more books in the series (even if the sequel looks difficult to get hold of in the UK) with a third on the way.

My copy came from the library, but Not Your Sidekick is available now in paperback, audiobook, Kindle, Kobo and all the usual formats. I suspect the paperback will probably be a special order in the UK.

Happy Reading

Book of the Week, new releases, romance

Book of the Week: Take a Hint Dani Brown

Back to my happy place in romance for this week’s Book of the Week. You might have noticed two Talia Hibbert books on yesterday’s reading list and they’re both excellent, but Take a Hint, Dani Brown is out today (Tuesday!) so it’s getting the pick, but I’m basically going to talk about both of them.

Danika Brown knows what she wants from life: professional success and whatever the academic equivalent is of her name up lights. There is no place in her plan for relationships – she’s tried that before and got burned. So after her latest friend-with-benefits decides she wants more from the relationship than Dani is prepared to give, she asks the universe to send her the perfect no-strings partner. So when Zafir, the grumpy security guard she chats to on the way in to work, rescues her from a firedrill gone wrong, she thinks it a sign. Trouble is, that someone filmed the rescue and now it’s trending on the internet and is one half of #DrRugbae. But it turns out that Zaf has a sports charity – and it could really use the publicity and soon the two of them are playing along for the internet and fake dating. Dani’s plan is to try and seduce him behind the scenes, but Zaf is a secret romantic, with some issues of his own. Life is about to get very complicated.

I have mentioned before that I love a fake-relationship story and this ticked all of my boxes. Dani and Zaf are great leading characters and both have a backstory that totally explains why they are the way they are. And as they go about faking their relationship for social media, the two of them have the best banter. Dani’s sisters (more on them in a minute) are great – as are Zaf’s best friend and nieces. The resolution at the end is totally in keeping with their characters and what’s gone on before so it just left me with a big happy smile on my face. As well as the banter between the characters, the narrative has such a witty turn of phrase that it will make you giggle.

Cover of Get A Life Chloe Brown

Now this is the second book in the series – the first was about Dani’s older sister Chloe, and the last in the series will be about the other Brown sister, Eve. And as I mentioned at the top, I also read Get a Life, Chloe Brown last week. Chloe is a computer geek with a chronic illness, who comes up a plan to get a life after a sort-of near death experience. Top of the list is getting her own place and that’s where she meets Redford Morgan, her new building’s handyman who paints at night when he thinks no one is watching. Except that Chloe sort of is. Chloe and Red make a great pair and I love the way that they navigate their relationship as well as their personal hurdles. They’ve both got legitimate reasons for all of their understandings, and pretty much every time I thought things were about to get derailed by something that could be fixed with a conversation, they immediately had the conversation. I also really liked that Chloe’s health problems weren’t cured by a magic penis/amazing sex – she’s still got them at the end of the book, but she’s also got a partner who understands her and supports her. Chloe (and Red) make supporting appearances in this book, as does Eve in both books and I’m throughly looking forward to seeng what Hibbert has in store for her in the final book in the series, Act Your Age, Eve Brown which is coming next year. And if you want an example of that witty dialogue that I mentioned earlier, here’s a quote:

 

Since Gigi wasn’t wearing a head scarf this afternoon, her chic crop of white coils on display, Chloe had absolutely no idea where the Marlboro had been hidden. Her knickers? Up one nostril? In an alternate dimension she accessed at will? God only knew.

I bought my copy of Get a Life, Chloe Brown, but my copy of Take a Hint, Dani Brown came from NetGalley. You should be able to get hold of both of them fairly easily I would hope – because they’re published by Piatkus. If you want an ebook here are your links: Chloe Brown Kindle and Kobo and Dani Brown Kindle and Kobo. And Chloe is only £2.99 as I write this, which is a bit of a bargain.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases, romance

Book of the Week: The Boyfriend Project

So I said yesterday that I had a slumpy week of reading, but actually I started the week with a really good new romance by Farrah Rochon, so that was an easy choice for my pick today! And after two weeks of books aimed at young readers, I can confirm that this one is definitely for the grownups!

Cover of the Boyfriend Project

Samiah Brooks is about to go out on a date, when someone live tweeting a horrific date reveals that she’s being cheated on – and not just two-timed, but three-timed. When she and the other two women confront the catfisher in a restaurant, they end up going viral. But Samiah also gains two new friends and they make a pact to spend the next six months focussing on themselves and not on men. Samiah’s big goal in putting herself first is to work on the app that she has been dreaming of creating, but hasn’t had time to do. But her resolve is soon tested by the new guy who has joined the tech company she works at. Daniel Collins is smart and funny and attractive – but Samiah can’t help feeling that he might be too good to be true.

I thought this was lots and lots of fun. As a reader, you know what is going on with Daniel from very early on and it’s a nice suspense-y subplot to the romance. I was somewhat concerned about how that subplot was going to impact on the happy ending – there was definitely a point when I was worried that there wasn’t a way to get to a satisfying resolution, but it actually all worked out really quite nicely. And if you like competency porn in your romance heroines this is one for you: Samiah is incredibly good at her job and also very upfront about the challenges and barriers to black women in tech. Oh and Daniel is pretty smart too…

This is the first in a series – I’m assuming Samiah’s other two friends will be the other heroines in the series and I am totally here for that. One of them is a surgeon, the other is running her own exercise business and the setups for both of them in this book is great. I love a strong group of female friends in a book – and I also love that they seem to be making a resurgence in romances. If you read and enjoyed Tracey Livesay’s Sweet Talkin’ Lover (maybe after I recommended it!) and the group of friends that that has, this has a similarly supportive and fun group. I preordered this (only a few days before publication but it still counts!) after hearing Farrah Rochon talking about it on Smart Podcast, Trashy Books last week – and that’s well worth a listen too if you need something to listen to on your daily exercise.

I’ve mentioned several times now that I’m focusing on reading black authors at the moment, and if you are too – maybe you’re taking part in the #blackpublishingpower week that Amistad publishing came up with, which is asking people to buy two books by black authors this week, then this would be a great pick for you. It came out last week and is a bargainous £1.99 in Kindle and Kobo. It’s also available in paperback – but I suspect it’s an import type of deal if you’re in the UK, rather than something you’ll be able to pick up at your newly reopened local bookshop.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, children's books, Young Adult

Book of the Week: This Book is Anti-Racist

As I mentioned yesterday, I changed my reading plans last week and focused on books by black authors and other authors of colour. And so for the second week in a row, this week’s BotW pick is a book for young people.

Tiffany Jewell is an anti-racism educator and this book does exactly what the subtitle suggests – it is a beautifully illustrated (by Aurélia Durand) and brilliantly to the point book that will make children first think about and understand their levels of privilege and then start to look at what they can do to change the status quo and deal with systemic racism. It has activities in every chapter aimed at making readers think and examine their own lives and actions, where ever on the scale of privilege they live. It also helps you work out what you can do to make a difference – how you can use your skills and talents to be anti-racist. Written from the author’s lived experiences – whilst also reflecting the fact that racism manifests in a multitude of insidious ways – it’s absolutely centring the experiences of people who are experiencing racism. This is a great starting point to try to show children what they can do and how to feel less powerless. This would be a great tool for the classroom. It’s also a great tool for adults – to read, digest and think about what you should be doing in your own life. I’m obviously older than the target audience for the book, but I still got a lot from it.

My copy of This Book is Anti-Racist came from NetGalley, but it is on offer at the moment on Kindle for £1.99. You may be able to track down a copy via your local independent book seller, but a lot of books about racism are out of stock at the moment and I think this may be the same, as Amazon don’t have any paperback stock at the moment. Hopefully the publishers are working on getting more copies out there, so that it can be in school libraries and classrooms when we get to the new normal.

Keep Reading.

 

Book of the Week, Children's books

Book of the Week: The Good Thieves

As mentioned yesterday, monthly stats are coming on Thursday, so I can keep to my regular schedule of Book of the Week on Tuesdays and mini reviews on the first Wednesday of each month. And this week, for the first time in a long time, my pick is a middle grade book – Katherine Rundell’s The Good Thieves.

Hardback copy of The Good Thieves

Vita and her mother got the first boat to New York when the letter from Vita’s grandfather arrived. He’s been cheated out of his ancestral home by mobster Victor Sorrotore. Vita’s mum wants to move him to London, but Vita can’t bear to see her grandfather sad and broken and is determined to get Hudson Hall back for him. But Sorrotore is a powerful mobster – how on earth can she beat him? Well the answer involves a pickpockets, animal tamers and a trapeze artist and a thrilling heist caper through Prohibition New York. I love a strong female heroine and Vita is great – she’s fierce and brave and believes that she can do anything – she’s not letting her age or her dodgy foot (affected by polio) stop her. And if his means that she sometimes makes some stupid decisions (you’ll know what I’m talking about when you get there), they are totally in keeping with who she is. This is fast-paced, there’s loads of suspense and both the characters and the setting are so brilliantly drawn you just can’t put it down. And on top of that, the writing absolutely sparkles – the descriptions of Vita and her friends and of New York are brilliantly evocative – you can really see them and the menagerie of animals in their little corner of the city by Carnegie Hall.

My love for heist-y adventure-y books is well known, as is my fondness for middle grade fiction (despite the fact that I have not been a middle grader since the 1990s) and along with the interwar setting, maybe it’s not surprising that ticked a lot of my boxes. This would be great for children who’ve read the Enid Blyton …of Adventure series or the Famous Five, or more modern series like Robin Steven’s Wells and Wong books and Katherine Woodfine’s Sinclair mysteries. I loved tales of derring do when I was at the top end of primary school – and read the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew voraciously as well as series like the Three Investigators, most of which I either wouldn’t recommend for modern kids or aren’t in print any more, and this would fill that gap for kids with similar interests today.

My copy of The Good Thieves is a delightful signed hardback that I bought from Foyles – who made it their children’s book of the year last year – but it’s also out in paperback on June 10th according to Foyles. And of course you can get it in Kindle and Kobo as well.

Happy reading

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: First in Line

I didn’t read many books last week, but I did read a lot of pages of various non-fiction books and this was my favourite of them.

Cover of First in Line

First in Line is Kate Andersen Brower’s book about the American vice presidents of the modern era. Part group biography, part examination of the shifting nature of the role, it also takes a look at the early days of the Trump White House and the role of Mike Pence in the administration.  Looking at 13 vice-presidents as well as the responsibilities of the job and how a presidential running mate is selected, Brower has spoken to all six of the living vice presidents – and the insight this gives the book is great. Brower’s writing style is breezy and accessible and the book is peppered with anecdotes and personal stories.

The first six chapters cover the broad strokes of the role – the vetting process, where the VP lives, what the VP does and the basics of the various different types of relationships that there can be between the President and his second in command. The final seven chapters then take a more in depth look at the different partnerships in the second half of the twentieth century – from Eisenhower and Nixon onwards. I don’t think you need much background knowledge going into this – if you know the vague outlines of what happened in America post World War 2 you should be fine.

I found this fascinating. I knew the vague outlines of the process by which the vice president is selected and what the role of the job is, but I hadn’t really realised that the VP’s official residence was such a recent development – or how widely the relationships between the Commander in Chief and his deputy had varied. All the relationships are interesting, but I found the contrast between Nixon and Bush really fascinating – both were Republican vice presidents who became presidents but they had very different experiences.

 

Brower is somewhat of a specialist in writing about the occupants of the White House – her first book (which I haven’t read yet), The Residence, is about the house itself, her second (which I have) was about the modern First Ladies, and her latest book – which came out as an ebook last week and will be out in hardback next month – is called The Team of Five: The Presidents Club in the age of Trump, and looks at what it is like to be one of the living former presidents at the moment. She’s spoken to President Trump as part of the process – she’s written a teaser article in the current edition of Vanity Fair – if you want a taste you can read it here.

And finally – you know how sometimes you read a bit in a book and it really resonates with your experience? Well at the bottom of page 288, Brower says:

Unlike [Dick] Cheney, who had no interest in the presidency, when he was vice president, when Pence goes to the Hill to “touch gloves’ as he says, on a weekly basis, he insists on walking through the Capitol Rotunda so that tourists can get their photos taken with him.

And here is my photo of Mike Pence doing exactly that on the day that I toured the Capitol right at the end of my posting in Washington a couple of years ago.
Vice President Mike PenceIf you want to read First in Line it’s available as an ebook on Kindle or Kobo as well as in hardback. I suspect you might have to order it in though rather than find it in stock when you call your local indie. I’d also recommend First Ladies and having read both (albeit some time apart) I don’t think there was a lot of repetition.

 

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, LGTBQIA+, new releases

Book of the Week: Slippery Creatures

I said yesterday that I had a harder week concentrating last week so retreated to favourite authors, and this came out last week so it was perfectly timed. It’s the first part of a trilogy, and I can’t for the life of me find a pre-order link for part two and it is driving me mad. Anyway, to the book.

Cover of Slippery Creatures

Will Darling made it through the Great War. After signing up at the start, he made it back to Britain with a lot of medals and a lot more mental scarring. But it turned out that the country he’d been fighting for didn’t really have much use for him. Sometime just before getting rock bottom he writes to a great uncle he’s never met and gets invited to help out at his book shop. But when the great uncle dies he finds himself caught between the War Office and some very unsavoury characters who want a secret he doesn’t possess. Enter Kim Secretan, attractive and helpful but with a murky past. And maybe present. But Will is trapped in a game of cat and mouse over a deadly secret – and Kim might be the only person who can save him.

The blurb says that this is a m/m romance in the spirit of Golden Age pulp fiction and I think that’s pretty spot on. It reminded me of some of the thrillers I’ve read by authors like Molly Thynne and some of the more adventure-y Albert Campion stories. A warning for the romance readers thought: this is very much part one of the story – and everything is not tied up at the end. If you only want Happily Ever Afters, maybe wait until the whole series is out and then you can read right the way through to the end without having to wait. I could just about handle not having proper resolution because the story and the characters were so much fun. I’ve read about half a dozen of KJ Charles books before, but they were all Victorian set. I raced through it and if it has been possible I would have gone straight on to the next part. But it isn’t so I’m having to wait. I happen to like a 1920s setting more than a Victorian one, and I love an adventure story, so this ticked all my boxes really – and I love that authors are moving into this period a bit more. If you read and liked Hither, Page last year, then this would scratch that itch while you wait for another instalment there. Although obviously: more waiting!

Anyway, I bought my copy of Slippery Creatures on pre-order and it’s out now on Kindle and Kobo and in paperback via Amazon (in what looks possibly like print on demand because I can’t find it via Waterstones or Foyles).

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Bad Blood

It was a busy week of reading last week, but one book really stood out – and stood out so much I couldn’t save it for a non-fiction round up post as was my original plan! I have got posts lined up featuring some of the other books I read last week – including a Series I love post about Gail Carriger’s Parasolverse. Anyway, back to this week’s BotW.

Cover of Bad Blood

Bad Blood tells the story of Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos. You’ve probably heard of them – probably because you heard about what happened. Anyway, if you haven’t, here’s the summary. In the mid 2010s Holmes had positioned herself as the female Steve Jobs – a visionary college dropout whose Silicon Valley startup was promising to revolutionise medicine with their new blood testing technique. She raised billions of dollars in venture capital, was on the cover of major magazines, won awards and was invited to events at the White House. And then it all came crashing down – the tech didn’t work and never had. This is the inside story of Theranos, written by the Wall Street Journal reporter who broke the story after digging into the web of secrecy and deceit and facing up to some very expensive lawyers!

As usual, I’m somewhat behind the curve here – as the book came out in 2018 and I’ve only just got to it, but it absolutely blew my mind last week. Like Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill this is an incredibly readable piece of non-fiction reporting that reads a bit like a thriller – and if it was fiction you would say that it is too far fetched and that maybe the author should have reined it in a bit. But no, it all happened. My only real problem with the book is that it doesn’t really answer the question of *why* Elizabeth Holmes did what she did. It shows you how it was done, and all the ins and outs of that, but it doesn’t offer any explanation about what her plan was – and how she thought it would all play out. Also it had never occurred to me that I could call my self an inventor if I just thought of an idea and then paid people to try and make it work!  I was always an arts person at school rather than a science one, so I can imagine how people like me might have been taken in by her spiel but I was surprised that she was able to get the idea past so many actual science and medical people.

The Theranos saga has also been made into a documentary by HBO, which I haven’t watched yet but really want to. It’s currently available to buy from some streaming services, but I’m hoping it will eventually turn up on a channel on my actual TV. I’ve put the trailer in the bottom for those of you who are interested. If you want to read Bad Blood, it’s available on Kindle and Kobo for £3.99 at the moment, as well as in paperback. The UK edition of the paperback looks to be with a big publisher, so I’d hope it would be easy to obtain from your Independent bookseller of choice.

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

Book of the Week, romantic comedy

Book of the Week: Logging Off

There are Mini Reviews from April coming up tomorrow, but in the meantime, here’s another BotW post. And for the second week running it’s not a mystery. Logging Off is a comedy but it does have romantic elements, so don’t panic, I’m not that far outside my current trends.

Cover of Logging Off
Andy Bellows has got a problem – he’s feeling awful. He’s got insomnia, anxiety and neck-ache, on top of the IBS he’s had for years. When he googles his symptoms, the internet convinces him that he’s got a fatal illness, so he heads to the doctors. But what the doctor diagnoses is an unhealthy reliance on the internet and modern technology and instead of getting a death sentence, Andy is prescribed a digital detox. He’s is convinced the doctor is wrong, but his best friend convinces him to give it a go. Soon Andy is trying to navigate the world the old-fashioned way and realising how different it is without a smartphone in his hand. But when a story about his detox appears in the local paper, he becomes a hero to other people who are worried they have the same problems – and suddenly Andy has a new problem to deal with. Will Andy ever be able to figure out how to balance his life?

It might seem a bit of a strange choice to pick a book about a digital detox at a time when most of us are using technology more than ever to keep in touch with family and friends, but this made me laugh so much that I couldn’t help myself. Admittedly it took me a little bit to get into – but I’m blaming that on the poo-splosion incident near the start, which was too close to humiliation humour for me* but that’s just me. Andy’s adventures without his phone were funny and relatable, the secondary characters are great and  I thought the resolution was really clever.  It also reminds you not to take what you see on the internet too seriously as a model for your own life and will make you think about your own technology consumption – especially if you’re reading it on a Kindle like I was – but in a good way not in a boring preachy way that will make you feel bad about it. I mean I work in a tech heavy and tech reliant job and I was definitely thinking “well at least I don’t do that” rather than “uh oh, I have a problem” while I was reading it.

This is the second Nick Spalding book I’ve read – I read Bricking It back in December 2015 and that was a BotW as well as getting a mention in my books about renovations post.  I’m not to sure why it’s taken me so long to read him again, because I really enjoyed that too. Four and a bit years ago, my main complaint with Bricking It (according to my Goodreads review)  was that the resolution was a bit too sudden, and this one doesn’t have that problem. There is a definite dilemma that Andy is going through and it resolves itself in stages – and you don’t really notice that it’s doing it until you realise that it’s done. Which is neat.

Anyway, this came out at the start of April, and I hope that the fact that everyone is stuck inside on their phones hasn’t discouraged people from buying it. My copy came from NetGalley, but you can get hold of it now on Kindle (it’s in Kindle Unlimited at the moment too!) or as a paperback or audiobook exclusively from Amazon.

Happy Reading!

*It’s hard to explain, but not good with humour based on embarrassment or humiliation. It’s why I struggle with Alan Partridge and The Office. They used to be one one after the other when I was at uni and I watched with my then boyfriend in the common room because everyone was and I didn’t want to be the boring one and I really struggled. When The Office Christmas Special was on, I watched it at home only to see if Tim and Dawn got a happy ending. To this day only you can make me come over all misty-eyed.

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Dead Famous

Another week, another Book of the Week post, but first another quick reminder about the Escapist Reading post from the end of last week. Anyway, back to today and taking a break from the romance and crime picks of most of the month (and last month to be fair), this week’s pick is Greg Jenner’s latest book – Dead Famous: An Unexpected History of Celebrity from Bronze Age to Silver Screen. I’ve got a whole stack of history books on the to-read pile and I’m hoping that my head is getting back to a place where I can concentrate on more serious reading now – I love history books, but I’ve had trouble getting my concentration going for them the last couple of months (gee, wonder why) but this broke through.

Hardback copy of Dead Famous

First up, I should say that I went to the same uni as Greg – and what’s more we both “worked” at the same student radio station – and although we weren’t in the same teams or social groups we do follow each other on Twitter.  Anyway since then, Greg has gone on to be a successful public historian – he worked on the Horrible Histories series, hosts a two podcasts for the BBC, You’re Dead To Me (currently on hiatus in the middle of it second series) and the brand new Home School History (which I was listening to part of the time while writing this post) and done all sorts of exciting history stuff including his first book, A Million Years in a Day. Dead Famous came out last month and examines where the modern concept of “celebrity” comes from – how old is it, is it different to fame (or infamy) and how one goes about acquiring it. Over the course of the book he tells the stories of celebrities through history and works out how we got to where we are.

This was one of my hammock reads last week (as the sharp-eyed amongst you may noticed in yesterday’s bonus picture!) and it’s really good. I won’t spoil Greg’s thesis, but it’s well made and with a lot of really great historical figures to illustrate it. Greg has done some serious research into this – 1.4 million words worth on his laptop according to the Acknowledgments – but his writing style makes it so accessible and easy to understand. There are some history books that are scary and hard to read for the layman – sometimes even though they have a funky cover and an enticing blurb. But if you’ve ever heard Greg on radio, podcasts or seen him on TV, he writes exactly as he talks – which makes his books funny and chatty but with impeccable researching to back it up. Greg narrates his own audiobooks and they’re a fabulous listen – that’s how I read Greg’s first book and it was a real treat. As the title suggeests, this stops at 1950 – because Greg says everything after that has already been covered. If you’ve read books on modern celebrity – like Anne Helen Peterson’s Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud – this would make a really good companion piece to examine how we got here.

I pre-ordered my copy (its signed!) from Kirsty at Fox Lane Books – and as you can see from the tweet above she is still taking orders and if you message Greg to tell him that you bought from her, he’ll send you a signed bookplate. It’s also available on Kindle and Kobo – and as an audiobook read by Greg.

Happy Reading!