Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Billion Dollar Loser

I was so spoilt for chose this week that I dithered over my choice for Book of the Week for quite some time before settling on Billion Dollar Loser. But it’s hard to resist a book about a spectacular business failure – you may remember how much I enjoyed Bad Blood last year and I was hoping this would do the same sort of thing.

Cover of Billion Dollar Loser

Reeves Wiedeman’s book examines the rise and fall of Adam Neumann and his company WeWork. Many people probably only heard of WeWork when its first attempt to float on the stock market imploded in spectacular style. Neumann grew up in Israel and the US, completed his compulsory military service and then moved to the US for college, determined to make his fortune. After a false start with a baby clothing company, he got into the co-working business – leasing empty office space from landlord and then renting it out to freelancers, small businesses, tech startups and the like. It wasn’t a new idea, but WeWork attracted billions of dollars from investors as it grew at breakneck speed and expanded around the world with a vision of “elevating the world’s consciousness”.

So this isn’t quite Bad Blood, and WeWork isn’t quite Theranos, but Billion Dollar Loser is an incredibly readable account of the rise and fall of a tech unicorn – a business that investors poured money into through years of losses in the hope that it would eventually make money and then be the next big thing when it finally floated in the stock exchange and they could cash out. Caught up in it all are the staff – many of whom stayed in jobs that didn’t pay very well because of the stock options they were promised and because they believed in Neumann’s vision. Like Theranos’s Elizabeth Holmes, Neumann is a charismatic figure – who brought in spiritualism and created an almost cult like atmosphere inside the company. And his wife is Gwyneth Paltrow’s cousin so there’s an added Goop-y layer to all of this that Theranos didn’t have.

Wiedemann has written a fast-paced page turner, that exposes the fundamental problems with WeWork’s business plan – including (but not limited to) the costs involved in real estate and the need for actual physical infrastructure in your offices and to keep your tenants happy! Like Bad Blood, it leaves you with a fair few questions, but the story of WeWork isn’t done yet – their valuation for their stock market floatation was published at the end of March (spoiler: it’s a lot less than it was the first time around) and Neumann is also reported to be planning a new venture. A Hulu documentary about WeWork came it last week and Cosmo have just published a profile of Rebekah Paltrow Neumann so this probably isn’t the last we’ve heard of WeWork – but as a starting point this is a really good one!

My copy of Billion Dollar Loser came from the library, but it’s available now from all the usual sources – like Kindle and Kobo and should be available to order from your bookshop of choice or bookshop.org.uk . It’s been so long now since bookshops were open for in person browsing that I have no idea if you’ll be able to pick it up in store without ordering!

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, historical, new releases, romance

Book of the Week: Wild Rain

More romance this week – but this time historical. I’ve also recommended Beverly Jenkins before – but for her contemporary Blessings series. This is also pretty new – it came out February so I’m fairly up to date for the second week in a row!

Cover of Wild Rain by Beverly Jenkins

And so the plot: self-sufficient and self-contained female rancher Spring finds Garrett injured in the snow, and takes him back to her cabin to escape the storm. Garrett has travelled to Wyoming from Washington DC to write an article about Spring’s doctor brother. But soon he’s finding Spring much more interesting. Spring, however, is not interested in men or relationships – after a traumatic incident in her past she just wants to be left alone to raise her horses in peace. But as the attraction between the two of them grows, will they be able to overcome their differences and find a happy ending?

Well it’s a romance so you know they will, but it’s a really interesting journey to get there and I really liked that it was Garrett who did most of the adapting. All too often it’s the woman in a romance – particularly in a historical romance who has to do all the changing to fit the man’s circumstances. Garrett may fall for the community he finds in Wyoming, but he has to do some thinking about what he wants from life as well. I don’t read many western-set romances – mostly because there’s a lot about the American West that makes me uncomfortable- but if someone was going to tempt me, of course it would be Beverly Jenkins. She creates such interesting characters and worlds and I love her writing style. This did everything I wanted it to do – The peril with the villain ends up wrapping up a little quickly, but then the romance is what you’re there for so, actually it was fine by me.

My copy of Wild Rain came from the library, but it’s available now on Kindle and Kobo and if you’re in the US it should be able to buy fairly easily in paperback. I suspect in the UK it will be harder but several stores seem to have it available to order – although it’s a bit confusing as Book Depository say they can send it to you now, but Waterstones and Bookshop.org.uk have it as a preorder.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases, romance, romantic comedy

Book of the Week: Act Your Age, Eve Brown

After a slight diversion with Mrs Tim of the Regiment, a return to some familiar themes for my BotW post today: guaranteed resolutions,  romance and an author I’ve recommended before – but for once it’s a new release as this came out on the 9th so I actually read it pretty much on time for once – even if my review is this week. Just quickly, before we talk about the new Talia Hibbert – another of the books I read last week is out today – the new Maisie Dobbs book from Jacqueline Winspear. I’ve written a series I love post about Maisie – but I suspect this one will feature in my end of month mini reviews – I really enjoyed it, but as The Consequences of Fear is the 16th in the series, it’s really hard to talk at length about without giving loads of spoilers for previous books!

Cover of Act Your Age, Eve Brown

Eve Brown’s parents think she’s flighty. To be fair the string of half finished courses and short-lived careers might give that impression – but that’s just because she hasn’t found her passion yet. But when her parents give her an ultimatum after she “ruins” a wedding by releasing some doves too early (to be fair I would probably have liberated them too), she high tails it out of town to prove them wrong. Jacob is looking for a new chef for his B&B, but Eve is definitely not it. But then she accidentally hits hit with her car and he winds up with a broken arm and when he emerges from the fug of his concussion, she’s filing in for him trying to help. He’s a grump, she’s a purple haired Ray of sunshine in a slogan t-shirt. They should be each other’s worst nightmares but the more time they spend together, the more sparks fly.

So this is the third and final book in Talia Hibbert’s series about the Brown sisters and they’ve all been a delight – in fact I recommended the second book, Take a Hint, Dani Brown in June last year when that was a new released. If you’ve read the other two books in the series, you’ve caught glimpses of Eve, but I think whatever the opinions are you’ve formed of her, you’re probably wrong. It was a fascinating surprise getting to know her and watch her journey. And Jacob is a great hero – as the book unfolds you realise that he’s autistic but that’s not the most important thing about him – and nor should it be – but it’s still quite rare to see autistic characters getting their own love stories, so that feels unusual. This is a slow burn, dislike at first sight, enemies to lovers forced proximity romance – all tropes which I love.

The chemistry and banter between Eve and Jacob is great and the sex scenes are really, really steamy – if I had been reading on a train (as I likely would have been in the beforetimes!) I would have been blushing. I also loved the way that you see the two of them working out and navigating their relationship and its parameters. And there is also no stupid drama for the sake of it here. The conflict is well-thought out and really works – and if something could be sorted out with a conversation then it probably will be, which is also a really positive at this point in time. There’s no coronavirus in this books, but it very much is exactly the sort of book I want – no need – to read after a year of Covid-19 life. And on top of that you get some more of Gigi, the girl’s fabulous grandmother and appearances from the other sisters and their partners. Just lovely. I’m looking forward to whatever Hibbert writes next – but I’m really hoping that the next thing is about Jacob’s best friend…

My copy of Act Your Age, Eve Brown came from NetGalley, but it’s out now and should be nice and easy to get hold of in all formats. Words and Kisses – my current favourite purveyor of romance in the UK is out of stock at time of writing, but they’ll get it back – and I suspect this will be in the supermarkets and on the tables in bookshops (when that’s a thing again) and of course it’s on Kindle and Kobo and audio too.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Forgotten books, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Mrs Tim of the Regiment

We’re midway through March and it’s been a while since I picked something from my list of slightly quirky out of the way authors. So here we are, with Mrs Tim of the Regiment, which firmly fits into the gentle English life subset of my reading.

Paperback copy of Mrs Tim of the Regiment

As the title suggests, Mrs Tim – Hester Christie – is the wife of an army officer, in the 1930s. Told in the form of a diary, we see her navigate regimental life, including moving across the country when Tim gets promoted, and trying to make friends and raise a family. The first half of the book is more about the day to day, the second follows a holiday that Hester takes to Scotland with her young daughter to visit a friend and the complications ensue.

I’ve written a lot about the fact that I’ve been sticking to genres where I know that things will turn out ok in the end, and at first glance this might seem like a bit of a turn away from that, but this is actually very low stakes and relaxing to read. Hester is a wonderful narrator – she’s witty and observant of others, but also a little bit dense when it comes to herself. She is utterly oblivious to the fact that Major Morley is mad about her – and that he and her friend’s son are fighting over her when she’s on holiday in Scotland. This is a tricky tightrope for the author to tread, because Tim isn’t always around much and by its nature, domestic life of a married couple is less glamorous and exciting than holiday-ing in Scotland and dashing around the countryside. But I thought that Hester’s obliviousness – and her devotion to Tim (earlier in the book she worries about what to do if he is sent to India and whether they could afford to send their daughter to boarding school so she can go too because she doesn’t want to be apart from him again) means that this section is amusing and charming rather than feeling like you’re working up to Hester leaving Tim or being left at home unhappy. 

I’ve read D E Stevenson before – she’s the author of the wonderful Miss Buncle’s Book and Anna and her Daughters which I have written about before – and this has a lot of the things I liked about both of those, but also seemed to me to fit in along with books like Diary of a Provincial Lady and Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire books. It’s essentially a slice of life story from the interwar period, in the voice of a smart woman who is running a household (because that’s what you did when you got married in those days). There are three more books in the series, and I suspect I’ll be reading them at some point in the near future.

My copy of Mrs Tim of the Regiment was a birthday present (thanks mum and dad!) and you should be able to get hold of the charming paperback edition I have from any sensible bookshop (like Foyles), but it’s also available on Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Heroes Are My Weakness

Yes this week’s pick is technically cheating because I finished this on Monday. Do I care? No. I make the rules, so I get to twist them a little when I want. Anyway, I’m back in contemporary romance this week with Susan Elizabeth Philips’s Heroes Are My Weakness which turned out to be really quite particularly up my street.

Cover of Heroes Are My Weakness

Annie Hewitt has arrived on a Maine Island in the middle of winter. She’s out of money and places to live, and she’s moving back to her mum’s old holiday home, Moonraker Cottage. Unfortunately the island is also the scene of one of the worst events of her teenage years, and the person behind it – Theo – is in residence at Harp House nearby. Now she’s trapped on Peregrine Island with a lonely widow, a mute little girl and nosy townspeople with only her trusty puppets for company. 

I’ve read quite a lot of Susan Elizabeth Philips – especially her Chicago Stars series* – but this has quite a different feel to it and wasn’t quite what I expected but it was exactly what I needed this weekend (and Monday evening!). It starts off super Gothicky but actually ends up being much sweeter than you expect and also very romantic. There is some death around in the backstories (but not on page) with issues of domestic violence and suicide as well, so if that’s something you’re trying to avoid, please do be aware of that. Ok at the start you’ll have to deal with/get used to some dialogue, well actually inner monologue, from puppets, but don’t let that put you off. It actually reminded me a lot of the feel of some of the earlier Trisha Ashley novels that I enjoyed so much, but without magic – instead it has the puppets. I can’t remember which is the one with the Winged Muse in it, but that one crossed with A Winters Tale. The romance is intriguing, Annie’s journey is good and the winter island community is very believable. It’s also got a bit (quite a lot?) of mystery in there, but it’s not too thrillery or scary. 

My copy came from the library but you can get on Kindle and Kobo – where it’s £2.49 at time of writing. I’m not sure if it’ll be in the bookshops because it’s American, but who can predict what it will be like when things are open again at this point!

Happy Reading!

*there’s a new instalment later this year and I’m really quite excited about it!

Book of the Week, Thriller

Book of the Week: The Holdout

Mini reviews coming up tomorrow, but this week’s BotW is The Holdout by Graham Moore. Regular readers will know that I’ve been keen on books with resolutions recently and have been sticking resolutely to romance and cozy crime where I know that it will all turn out ok in the end – the couple will end up together, the murderer will be found. And yet here I am today recommending a thriller – a genre where such things are not guaranteed. But this was such a page turned I couldn’t help myself!

UK cover of The Holdout

So ten years ago, Maya was part of the jury on a murder trial that saw a young black man acquitted of killing a wealthy white teenage girl. The experience in the courtroom inspired her to become a defence lawyer herself. When a true crime documentary decides to make an episode about her case, Maya finds herself back in the middle of all the controversy again. And then one of the other jurors is found dead in Maya’s room and now she has to prove her own innocence. But what are the secrets that the others have been hiding and which lead to murder?

So this had me on the edge of my seat. It’s dark and twisty and shows some of the workings of the legal system in a way that I haven’t seen a lot (or maybe I just haven’t read the right books!). The twists and turns keep coming at a pace that don’t allow you to think too hard about the bits where it’s getting a bit outlandish! I had an inkling of some of the reveals by the halfway point, but such is the nature of the book that you can’t ever really be sure that’s where it’s going. And Moore has picked out some of the flaws of the criminal justice system very neatly too.

If we were going to beaches at the moment, this would be a prime pick for reading on a sun lounger – at any rate somewhere nice and bright to counteract all the darkness in the book (darkness of subject matter not horror or creepy stuff though).

My copy came from NetGalley, but it’s a Richard and Judy Book Club pick, so it will be easy to get hold of from WH Smith and I suspect it will be in the supermarkets as well. It’s also 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, LGTBQIA+, romantic comedy

Book of the Week: Boyfriend Material

Another week, another contemporary romance pick for BotW.  This time it’s Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material, which has been much buzzed about, to the point where it took months for my library hold to come in, but it was totally, totally worth it.

Cover of Boyfriend Material

Luc’s parents were rockstars – and back in the day they made some of their best music together. And then they made him. And it means that he’s sort of famous – even though his dad walked out of his life when he was small and his mum hasn’t made any new music in year. But now his dad is making a comeback – and that means more interest in Luc as well. After an unfortunate picture of him tripping up coming out of a club puts his job (fundraiser at a charity trying to save the dung beetle) at risk, Luc decides that the solution is to get himself a nice normal boyfriend. That’s where Oliver comes him. He’s as normal and sensible as it comes – a barrister, an ethical vegetarian and absolutely scandal averse. The only things that they have in common are the fact that they’re single, gay, and they both need a date for a big event. So they come up with a deal. They’ll be fake boyfriends until Luc’s job is safe and Oliver’s family party is over. Then they’ll never see each other again. Simple. Except this is a romance and we all know these sort of arrangements never go to plan!

I loved this so much. I’ve written a lot here about my quest to find more of the funny but romantic books that I love reading and which seemed to be everywhere in the early 2000s, but which seem to have vanished off the face of the planet these days, in favour of really angsty books where everyone has a miserable backstory or comedies where the comedy is based on humiliation or people being terrible at their jobs (and either not really caring they’re rubbish at their jobs or not realising they are) which is really not my thing. But this was just in that sweet spot. It’s witty, it’s fun, the characters are charming and good at their jobs and the secondary characters are hilarious. It’s just a joy to read. I could have read another 200 pages of Luc and Oliver trying to work out how to have a proper relationship. It really was exactly what I needed last week.

It’s had loads of buzz, been various bookclub and magazine picks and so clearly I’m not the only person who wants to read books like this, and fingers crossed it’s the start of a renaissance. If you’ve got any recommendations for books that do the same sort of thing, please drop them in the comments, because the Goodreads and Amazon suggestions aren’t helping me any! This was also my first Alexis Hall book, so I’m off to dig into the back catalogue, although having chatted to my romance reading friends, I think that the steam levels on some of the others is much higher than this – this is kissing and then pretty much closed door. I’ve already pre-ordered Hall’s next book – Rosaline Palmer Takes All the Cake, which is out in May because a romance set on a baking show is exactly what I didn’t realise that I need in front of my eyeballs!

My copy of Boyfriend Material came from the library, but it’s available on Kindle and Kobo and as an audiobook. It’s a paperback too, but the shops have been closed so long now I’ve lost all sense of what is going to get stocked where and so don’t know how easy it will be to get hold of if you’re trying to order from your indie, but Foyles have it available to order if that’s any indication.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows

Well after last week’s (slightly cheating) pick of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, another book featuring bees gets the nod this week. And this wasn’t the only other book with a bee connection – because Rose Learner’s Taste of Honey was also on the list, and while that’s not really bee keeping in the way that the other two are, it’s got honey right there in the title!

 

Anyway, to the plot: since Agatha’s husband died, she’s had to run the family printing business, whilst reining in her son’s radical tendencies. Whilst visiting the company’s warehouse she finds the last thing she needs – a colony of bees has taken up residence in amongst the printing plates. Penelope Flood is the town’s go to person when it comes to moving hives, so she’s the person that Agatha is recommended to get help from to move the hive. The two become friends – but each is wondering if it could be something more. There are obstacles though – aside from being two women in a relationship in the nineteenth century. Agatha has her family and her business responsibilities in London, and Penelope has a complicated situation in Melliton – she’s not one of the gentry, but she’s not precisely one of the tradespeople either. And it doesn’t help that her husband is away for years at a time on his whaling ship, along with her brother. Agatha and Penelope are drawn to each other from the start, but everything is also complicated by the return of Queen Caroline from abroad and tensions start to boil over in the town.

This has two older female heroines, a slow-build friends to lovers relationship and a really interesting setting. I loved all the details about the bees and their hives and I really, really liked the setting within the unrest and societal disorder that found an outlet when George IV tried to divorce his wife – with people who wanted reform coalesing behind the queen and those trying to preserve the status quo behind the king. I’ve read a lot about this period while I was studying history and in my history reading since – but it’s not a series of events that I can remember seeing used in historical romance and after reading this I find myself wondering why because it works brilliantly here.

This is the second in Olivia Waite’s Feminine Pursuits series – the first, The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, was also great – with women looking to get their work recognised under their own names (rather than those of men from their families) and finding love along the way. The third book, The Hellion’s Waltz, is out in June and about all we know about it is that it’s a heist story – I have it preordered already.

You can get The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows from all the usual places – Kindle and Kobo and as an audio book. It’s a bit pricey as an ebook at the moment, but the good news is that The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics is only £1.99 on Kindle and Kobo at the moment and so you can just start the series! I don’t know how hard these are going to be in physical copies, but judging from the price of it on Amazon, it shouldn’t be too hard.

Happy Reading!

 

Book of the Week, historical, mystery

Book of the Week: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

A long old reading list last week, and this is slightly cheating because I finished it on Monday, but I enjoyed it – despite it taking me a few weeks to read – and I Have Thoughts. It is also the first in the series so that’s nice too…

Cover of The Beekeeper's Apprentice

An aging Sherlock Holmes has retired to the Sussex Downs. There in his cottage, he is concentrating on his experiments and his bee hives, away from the bustle of London. One day on the downs, he meets the teenage Mary Russell, a young orphan, unhappy with the aunt that she lives with and searching for knowledge. In her, Holmes sees a mind similar to his own and essentially takes her on as his apprentice and involves her in his work. But of course danger comes calling again and a deadly foe threatens their lives and those of Mrs Hudson and Doctor Watson.

This book covers a considerable period of time – taking Mary from her mid-teens through to having nearly graduated from Oxford – and starts off as a series of small investigations and episodes before building to a bigger and more dangerous case in the second half. I quite liked Mary as a character – I’ve seen complaints that she’s a Mary Sue, but to be honest considering Sherlock’s own startling gifts, I didn’t think it was that implausible for a woman to be similarly clever and perceptive – and there’s also no point in creating a young Watson facsimile for a foil – because why would someone like that interest an ageing Holmes, who already has the original Watson?

I do have a few reservations about the huge age gap that’s going on here and where this is going* but the mystery is good and the whole thing swept me along nicely enough while I was reading it. Writing this has made me think about it a bit more closely and although I didn’t love it, love it, it’s still the book I have the most to say about from the last week.  I think you will probably like this more the less attached you are to the original series – I see a lot of people on Goodreads complaining about the treatment of Watson, most of them the same people who were complaining about Mary. I’ll admit I’m not a massive Sherlock Holmes reader, but I do like a Sherlock reinvention – as my love of Lady Sherlock shows – so this ticked some fun boxes for me.

This was originally published back in 2002 and is the first in what is now a long series. I’ve lined up the second one to see what happens next. If I change my mind about everything, I’ll try and be big enough to come back and let you know!

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice should be fairly easy to get hold of – I read it on Kindle (where it’s under £2 at time of writing), it’s also on Kobo (just over £2) and all the usual platforms and I’ve seen them in shops and library collections as well – including the discount bookshops like The Works and the charity shops when that was a thing.

Happy Reading!

* Spoiler: having got a later book in the series on the tbr shelf somehow I know they get married.

American imports, Book of the Week, Children's books

Book of the Week: Rex Lee, Gypsy Flyer

This week’s BotW pick falls into the bonkers book category – and I just had to tell you all about it. A bit of background – my trains are not great on weekends, so when I work a weekend I stay over in London so that I can get to work on time on a Sunday morning. In the before times, it would be at one of the Youth Hostels near work, and I would go out to the theatre after work, or meet friends for drinks. In lockdown, the hostels are closed, so I’m in hotels. And this weekend’s hotel has a Design Aesthetic that includes putting old books in your room as decorative features. And Rex Lee, Gypsy Flyer from 1928 was on my bedside table and I *had* to read it.

Copy of Rex Lee, Gypsy Flyer

When we meet Rex at the start of the book, he’s just left his friends at the military flying school because he’s inherited a hardware store in California. He is very unhappy about this, because being a pilot is his dream. On the train to the coast, he reads a story about Slim Lindy and his record breaking flights (it’s basically Lindberg) and decides that he wants to be just like him. When we rejoin Rex, he’s flying a taxi plane between an island off the California coast and the mainland. Just as the summer season is starting to end, he gets tangled up in adventure and saves the day and saves people’s lives. And thus the pattern for the rest of the book is set – because gypsy here is being used in the same way as it is in the theatre for dancers who move from show to show (see: the plot of A Chorus Line). Next up, Rex is flying fire spotting planes in Oregon, where he’s in charge of a group of pilots, stands up to authority figures, saves the day and saves people’s lives. Then he flies a mail plane, where he saves the day even more. And he saved the day a lot in Oregon. He ends up stopping a war. I kid you not.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. All of the saving involves crashes, near crashes, people clinging to the outside of the plane – either to balance it out, or on one notable occasion to hold a wheel on so the plane can take off – and stunt flying. Lots of stunt flying. I know I’m giving a lot of spoilery detail here, but I’m not seriously expecting that many of you are going to go out and buy it – and those of you who do will buy it exactly because of this sort of craziness. And trust me when I say there’s much more in the book than I’ve told you about.

All in all, it was the perfect way to spend a few hours on Saturday night, once I’d finished watching Drag Race. As regular readers will know, when it comes to old school children’s books, I mostly read Girls Own, but I’m not exactly averse to some Boys Own adventures when the opportunity arises. An obscure part of the University of Missouri: Kansas City’s website tells me that the author, the marvellously named Thomson Burtis, was actually a pilot who did a lot of different types of flying, but I can’t work out if that’s from jacket copy, and his Wikipedia page doesn’t mention anything about that. I suspect that if you are (or were) a Biggles (or Worrals) reader, this series would float your boat.

Anyway, I have no idea where you would get a copy of this if you want it – there are copies on Abebooks, but there all in the US and the shipping is *insane* – it’s definitely not worth spending £30+ on. But if you see any of the other titles in the series – there are 11 – in a second hand bookshop then maybe give it a try.

Happy Reading!