American imports, Book of the Week, historical, romance

Book of the Week: Day of the Duchess

This week’s pick is a book that I brought back from my American Adventure with me and have been saving for a time of need.  And last week was my time of need for a variety of reasons including but not limited to: a book hangover after finishing the Blessings series, a super stressy week at work, not enough sleep and general life stress that I’m not going to talk about because talking about it makes me anxious. So it seemed like the time to crack out the emergency MacLean.

Paperback copy of Day of the Duchess

Day of the Duchess is the last book in the Scandal and Scoundrel series, which was inspired by modern celebrity scandals and translated them back to the nineteenth century. Seraphina is the most scandalous of the sisters that we’ve been following – she left her husband Malcolm and fled abroad but now she’s back and she wants a divorce. The book flashes backwards and forwards between Sera and Mal before their relationship imploded and now when Sera is very clear that she wants her freedom and her future back no matter what the consequences and Mal is equally determined that he wants her back and that they should and can fix things.

And it is really good – an estranged couple, a battle of wills, a fiery relationship with amazing chemistry and the ultimate question: is love and chemistry enough? What happens when you are head over heels for someone – and they are for you – but there is a fundamental problem in your relationship and a conflict that isn’t just a misunderstanding. How do you work past that? This is much more melancholic and reflective than a lot of historical romance – if I hadn’t known it was a romance (and that it was written by an author who I trust and who knows the genre rules!) I would have been worried that there wasn’t going to be an Happily Ever After. But there is and I had strong feelings about what needed to happen to get there too. But the end I was a satisfied customer although it sort of broke me and put me back together again along the way, which was not quite what I was expecting.

As I said at the top, this has been on the shelf for a while and there has been another Sarah MacLean since this  which has started a new series which has some set up going on here, but in a subtle way. On reflection I think that I probably should have reread the rest of the series first because it’s nearly 18 months since I read A Scot in the Dark and I forgotten a little bit where everything fitted in and what we already knew. But that’s not to say that it would be a problem to start reading Sarah MacLean here – because it totally isn’t.  It’s more that if you’re a nerd like me it’s nice to remind yourself who everyone else is and how we got here. Although to be fair, I could also just have gone back and checked the archives here to start with!

As I mentioned at the top, my copy of Day of the Duchess came from the US – specifically the Clarendon Market Common Barnes and Noble – and I’d expect this to be easy to find in any US bookstore with a reasonable romance section – because Sarah MacLean is a Big Name.  If you’re not in the US, you can get the UK version (with a cover that does it no justice) from Kindle or Kobo. Amazon are also carrying the paperback, but I suspect if you want to get it from a real shop it’ll be a special order. All I need to do now is figure out how I’m going to get an American edition of the next Bareknuckle Bastards book when that comes out in the summer. I’m open to offers y’all.

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Intercepted

It was a bank holiday here yesterday, which means that I wasn’t at work for all the Royal Baby excitement – but then as I’ve done most of the Baby Cambridges, I coped.  It has got me in the mood for another royalty-themes romance – so if you’ve got any recommendations, drop them in the comments.  And yes, I am cross with myself that I’ve already talked about Alyssa Cole so much this year that I can’t jump on the Royal Baby bandwagon and pick A Prince on Paper, which I read on day of release last week.   However we are still firmly in the romance section of my reading life for this week’s BotW pick – to be honest this was on my hold list at the library for months, when it finally came through I absolutely adored it and so it’s a fitting BotW pick – no bandwagon jumping needed!  Intercepted is Alexa Martin’s debut and I’ve wanted to read it since I heard her talking about it on the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast as I was wandering round an outlet mall in Maryland in the autumn during my American odyssey!

Cover of Intercepted

Marlee Harper has been dating her NFL pro boyfriend Chris since they were in high school.  Ten years on they’re not married and this makes her the main target of the clique of wives of the other players.  Then the one night stand she slept with while she and Chris were broken up is signed as the teams new quarterback, and she finds out that Chris has been cheating on her. So she starts over – with a new flat, a fresh purpose in her career and determined that she won’t date another sports star.  Except… well Gavin just keeps appearing.  He’s the star player, the key to the team’s Super Bowl chances and he’s also determined to show Marlee that they’re perfect together.  But is he really different?  And how will Marlee cope with the coven of NFL wives who are now on her trail?

I absolutely raced through this.  I know I’ve said before that I don’t really do sports romances, and then here I am, picking another sports romance, after that Susan Elizabeth Philips streak the other year and then the Farah Rochon book in the diverse romances post last month, but this is so good.  One of my guilty pleasures is the TV show Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team and the action between the wives here is just what I imagine goes down behind the scenes there with all the picture perfect cheerleaders who make nice for the cameras but who you suspect are a sea of backstabbing, rivalries and jealousy behind the scenes.  And Alexa Martin was an NFL wife – and so this is all informed by her experiences, which makes it all the more delicious.

Marlee is great a great heroine too – she’s not in the Coven and unlike most of them, she hasn’t turned herself into nothing but an accessory to a football player and his career.  When we meet her she’s busy making sure that she maintains her independence and has her own business – despite her boyfriend’s efforts – and after the break up she goes all out to make her life into what she wants it to be.  And part of the conflict in the budding relationship with Gavin is that she wants to be independent, fight her own battles and be treated like an equal.  As you know, I’m all about the strong women and competency porn and so this ticks all my boxes for that.

It’s also really funny.  I didn’t love the #hashtagoneliners but then I’m old and boring.  The dialogue is great, the characters are witty and it’s just not taking itself too seriously.  What’s not to love. There’s a reason this made pretty much all the Best Romances of the Year posts at the end of 2018 – and why I had to wait about 6 months on the library waiting list to read it.  I’m currently in an estimated 16 week wait for the second book in the series – Fumbled – which came out at the end of April and features an adorable side character from Intercepted.  It’s £10.99 to buy on Kindle at the moment which is the only reason I’ve managed to resist buying it so far.  I’ll keep you posted…

You can get Intercepted on Kindle, Kobo or in paperback, or you can get to the back of the queue for your library’s copy.  And if you’re an American reader (*waves*) then I reckon it should be super easy to find in Barnes and Noble and maybe be even at Walmart.  If you like Alyssa Cole*, Jasmine Guillory, Jenny Holiday or the aforementioned Susan Elizabeth Philips Chicago Stars series I don’t think you will regret it.

Happy Reading!

*Check out my restraint in not writing about A Prince On Paper this week, because you know I read that the day it came out!

Uncategorized

Book of the Week: An Extraordinary Union

So. Here’s the thing. I try not to repeat myself too much with these BotW reviews. In another week, The Confessions of Frannie Langton would have been my pick. But I already wrote about that. And yes, I finished An Extraordinary Union on the commute on Monday. And yes it’s only a couple of weeks since I recommended Alyssa Cole, but I loved this and I’m still annoyed about the racism in RWA and so there, I’m chosing it, it’s my blog, try and stop me.

Cover of An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

Elle Burns is fighting the Confederacy by returning to the south to spy for the Union as a slave in the household of a Confederate senator. As everyone in the house thinks she is mute, she’s perfectly placed to hear conversations filled with valuable information that she can then pass on to pass to the Loyal League. Malcolm McCall is a Pinkerton’s detective, undercover and trying to infiltrate a Rebel enclave. The two of them find themselves working together and fighting an undeniable attraction. But as the net of intrigue tightens around them, it seems impossible for anything good to come out of a relationship – of any kind – between a black woman and a white man in Virginia. Or can it?

I would say this is more historical romantic suspense than a a straight-up historical romance – there is very real peril here at every turn for both Elle and Malcolm. But don’t panic, this is a romance, so don’t worry too much, there is Happily Ever After for these two, but it takes a lot of twists and turns and danger to get there. Elle is a fantastic character – smart and resourceful and determined to do her bit to try to defeat slavery. She knows exactly what is at stake and the risks that she faces on all fronts .  There’s the reality of being an enslaved woman, then there’s being a spy and finally as a woman contemplating any kind of relationship with a white man – not just inside the Confederacy but in the north if they both manage make it out alive. I was a little uncertain about how the relationship in this would work out given that Malcolm has so much more power than Elle, any way you look at their relative situations. But Alyssa Cole has written this so cleverly. Malcolm saw the Highland Clearances as a child and knows about power imbalances and persecution and this informs how he interacts with Elle and his determination to do his bit to overthrow slavery and oppression.

I’ve already said a lot about how many different types of romances there should be, and how everyone should see themselves reflected in romance. And yet a lot of people seem sceptical that black characters can have Happily Ever Afters in Historical Romance. Well take a seat and let Alyssa Cole show you how wrong that idea is. She’s not sugar coating it, and yes it’s harder for Elle than it is for a wilting wallflower in Almacks. But that hard won happy ending is deeply, deeply satisfying.

I’ve already borrowed the second Loyal League book to read the story of Malcolm’s brother Ewan and I’m on the waiting list for the third book. That’s how much I liked it. My copy came from the library, but you can get hold of it on ebook on Kindle (a bargainous £2.37 at time of writing!) and Kobo. It’s slightly harder to get the paperback in this country – Amazon is showing me the French version in paperback and a large print hardback on the same page as the kindle edition – so I think it’s a special order job again. Or you can look and see if your library has it.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, historical, literary fiction, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Swan Song

A tricky choice for my book of the week this week – partly because of a reduced list this week because of exciting things like holidays with friends, but partly because I had little quibbles with everything I read.  In the end it came down to Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott’s Swan Song and The Vacationers (apt because I was on vacation!) but as I’ve recommended Emma Straub before, I thought I’d go with Swan Song instead.  And to be fair, writing this post turned out to be really quite easy in the end!

Copy of Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

Regular readers of this blog will be well aware of my love of novels based on real events, and this one takes a look at the downfall of Truman Capote, who after years of friendship (and patronage) with a group of elite high society women, committed social suicide by using their lives as material.  He called them his Swans, and they tell the story as a sort of Greek chorus, switching between their lives, his life and the stories he told them.  Hopping backwards and forwards through time, the Swans recount the various versions of Capote’s childhood that they’ve been told, full of inconsistencies and embroideries, they tell the stories of their friendship with him and its implosion and the aftermath.

This is really good. While it is most definitely a bit of a Rich People Problems type of situation, there is proper scandal, betrayal and heartbreak on all sides here. There are a lot of novels that talk about the unhappiness of rich and privileged people, and although they can sometimes be my favourite books to read, when it doesn’t work it’s hard to muster any sympathy.  But that’s not the case here at all – the women who Truman exposes have all their unhappiness exposed to the world – all the things that they have managed to ignore or put up with to keep their status are suddenly out there in print and although Joe Public might not know who the stories are about at first, the veil disguising their identities is very thin and people work it out – fast. I still can’t make up my mind if Truman knew that what he was about to do was going to explode his life but did it because he was terrified about failing to deliver a follow up to In Cold Blood, or if he thought that the women wouldn’t mind and couldn’t believe that they would be prepared to turn their backs on him.  My main quibble was around the last quarter – which I didn’t think worked quite as well as the earlier part had done, mostly because after the swans have broken with him, using them as a narrative device didn’t work quite as well for me.

There is a big cast of characters here but I was fine, knowing a bit about the story and having read another novel based around this very same issue before.  But my other quibble was whether you’d get lost if you didn’t know anything about this set before – as I was slightly when I read The Swans of Fifth Avenue – which didn’t tell you what it was that he’d done! Swan Song does give you the details on that – which is good, and I think if you keep reading beyond any initial confusion, it will all start to slot in to place. It’s just that the first part is a little bit like Truman’s brain after he’s had a few Orange Drinks and some pills. And obviously there is Wikipedia to help too if you’re really stuck – to be honest I think you can get all you need to know from Truman’s entry and then disappear off down any rabbit holes that strike your fancy!

Last week I recommended a book of fiction so cleverly done that you can’t believe the band isn’t real and actually these two make quite a good pair and overlap in time in some patches – although you may find that hard to believe.  You’ve got Truman and his swans living in the high society world of the East Coast which still feels like a relic of an earlier era, while over on the West Coast, Daisy and the Six are living it up in the new world of rock and drugs and feel much more contemporary.  And both would make great books to read on the beach if you’re about to head off on Spring/Easter break.  And writing post this has reminded me again that I really need to finish writing that Rich People Problems books post – it’s sitting half done, waiting for an opportune time to finish it (and for me to finish reading a couple more books).  Maybe this will be the push that I need!

I’ve had this on the pile for a while – twice in fact as I managed to get a NetGalley ebook copy when I already had a paper copy via the joys of my proper job – but although it came out last summer, I’m sort of timely – as earlier this month it was named on the longlist for the Women’s Fiction prize at the moment. The paperback isn’t out until the end of June so you could preorder it (and Amazon do have that pre-order price guarantee) but the hardback isn’t a bad price on Amazon at the moment if you just can’t wait, and would expect (or hope at least!) there might be a copy in any reasonably sized bookshop – especially now it’s been longlisted for a prize, even more so if it makes the shortlist. And of course it’s on Kindle and Kobo too.

Happy Reading!

Cover of The Skylark's War
Book of the Week, Children's books, children's books, Prize winners

Book of the Week: The Skylark’s War

This was such an easy choice this week. As soon as I finished The Skylark’s War, after I’d blown my nose and got rid of the tissues, I turned around and went back and read the last 20 pages all over again. Then I messaged my sister and my mother to tell them that they had to read it with a big happy (and soppy) smile all over my face.

Cover of The Skylark’s War

The Skylark’s War tells the story of Clarry, her brother Peter and her cousin Rupert, through their childhood, the Great War and beyond. Clarry’s and Peter’s mother died soon after Clarry’s birth, their father isn’t interested in them and at first at least, Peter blames the new baby for the loss of his mother. The two children are brought up by a succession of housekeepers, with the interference of the do-gooding spinster across the road. The high point of their lives is their annual visit to Cornwall every summer holiday. Their cousin Rupert spends his holidays there – his parents are in India and have basically forgotten about him and he was sent to boarding school at a young age so Peter and Clarry’s dad couldn’t send them to live with their grandparents. During the summers, all the best things in their lives happen and they grow and mature and become a tight gang. Then Peter is sent away to school, Clarry is left alone with her father. And then there is the War and Rupert joins the army. Can their bond survive? Can they all survive?

This is a middle-grade book, and although that synopsis may sound miserable, it is anything but. I mean I did cry my way through a whole pocket pack of tissues, but some of them were happy tears and I just couldn’t put the book down. I had to know what happened. At one point I was sitting sniffling and making a scene of myself in the lounge at a youth hostel, but I was so engrossed in the book that I wasn’t prepared to stop reading for long enough to climb the three flights of stairs to get to my room. The closest I can get to a comparison for this, is if Noel Streatfeild, Nina Bawden and Elizabeth Jane Howard had a book baby. And if that isn’t enough to make you go and read it, then I’m sorry you may be in the wrong place and I’m not sure that we can be friends.

I’ve had this on the NetGalley list since the autumn but I had forgotten about it until I saw this tweet from Harriet Evans (remember her? I had some ravings/gushing about one of her books here, here and here. And that might also scratch your Elizabeth Jane Howard itch, except that it’s a contemporary story about a house not a 1930s one.)  So off I went to look at the blurb, thought it sounded familiar, looked at my NetGalley, tweeted her back and then the die was cast, my fate was sealed etc.

And now I’m telling you that you need to read it. Maybe as a double bill with The Five Children on the Western Front if you can stand all that Great War and foreboding at once. But if you can, read The Skylark’s War second. Trust me on that. I see from the Goodreads write-ups that there’s a connection to one of Hilary McKay’s other novels, so I’m off to find that and then to buy copies of The Skylark’s War to give to people. As I mentioned my copy came from NetGalley, but you should be able to get hold of a copy really easily: it was Waterstones‘ Children’s Book of the Month in January and it won the Costa Children’s Book Award, so I’m expecting it to be everywhere.  And yes, I know, this all means I’m late to the party again. But better late than never.  Here are some more links to enable your book-buying habit: Kindle, Kobo, Amazon paperback, Book Depository and Big Green Bookshop.

Happy Reading!

reviews, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

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

The cover of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

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

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

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

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

Happy reading!

Uncategorized

Book of the Week: Summer at Willow Lake

Happy Christmas everyone!  I hope you’re having (or have had depending on when you’re reading this!) a fabulous day and that Santa left you plenty of books in your stocking/pillowcase/under the tree.  A lot of my reading last week cropped up in my Christmas reading post, which ruled it out for here, and several of the other books onthe list would have been repeats, so you’ve ended up with a totally seasonally inappropriate book of the week – Summer at Willow Lake.  I’m only a little bit sorry about it though, because this was a lot of fun and I know there’ll be people out there with Christmas-overload at the moment.  But if you do want something more seasonally appropriate, check out my Christmas Day post from last year about Magnificent Meals.

Anyway, Summer at Willow Lake is the first in the Lakeshore Chronicles series, and I read it last week because I like to read series in order and the next book in the series looked wintry/Christmassy.  As I said, I was reading for the Christmas post last week.  And yes, I know, I was super behind, I need to be better organised and plan ahead more.  But in my defence, I plead the trip to Washington.  After all I’m not going to be able to use that as an excuse for very much longer so I might as well make the most of it while I can!

Olivia Bellamy is spending the summer renovating her family’s old summer camp.  Camp Kioga’s been closed for a decade, but her grandparents are determined to mark their Golden Wedding by renewing their vows at the spot they originally got married and as a “house fluffer” Olivia is the obvious choice to help make that happen.  Olivia is happy to have the excuse to get out of Manhattan, where the relationship that she thought was heading for the altar has unexpecctedly crumbled, although Kioga wouldn’t be her first choice.  She was very much the ugly duckling at school and her memories of camp are not the best.  Connor is the local contractor who is going to help make her vision a reality.  The trouble is, he’s also the boy that she had a huge crush on at camp.  From his point of view, he’s not keen on spending a summer renovating the camp where he spent his time as a scholarship camper as his alcoholic father was on the staff.  He doesn’t recognise Olivia at first, but soon the sparks are flying once again.  But can they put the past behind them?

That’s the main plot line, but there is a large cast of characters alongside Olivia and Connor who get quite meaty storylines of their own which (I hope/presume) set up the next books in the series.  It’s got a slightly saga-y feel if sagas were set in upstate New York.  There are big extended families with secrets and rivalries and dramas.  It’s all very enjoyable.  And if you grew up reading American middle grade novels about children being send off to summer camp, it’s a lot of fun to get a grown up summer camp novel!

As I said at the top, this is in no way seasonally appropriate, but I don’t care – especially as it’s only 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment which is a total bargain for nearly 400 pages of summer romance and angst.  Even if you don’t fancy reading it now, it might well be worth picking up for that moment at the end of spring when you just want to read about long hot summers. This is also the last Book of the Week post of 2018 – which means that my end of year roundup posts are on their way to you in the next week.  And the good news is, that I’m much more up to speed with them than I have been with my Christmas reading…

Happy Reading and Merry Christmas!