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, 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!

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!

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: 40-Love

I’ve got some Christmas recommendations coming up tomorrow, but in the meantime, here’s something completely different: a holiday romance set in Florida. Never let it be said that I don’t mix things up!

Cover of 40-Love

Assistant principal Tess Dunn is spending part of her summer vacation at a resort in Florida to celebrate her birthday. She’s splitting her time between the beach and planning for the promotion that she wants, but the point is that she went on holiday at all right? One morning, she’s in the sea when a wave takes her bikini top (no laughing matter) and she uses the nearest person as a human shield to protest her modesty. That nearest person is Lucas Karlsson. He’s currently the resort’s tennis pro, but behind his flirty demeanor he’s recovering from the premature end of his top level playing career. In an attempt to match make, Tess’s friend buys her some lessons with Lucas, and the sparks fly. But Tess has just turned 40 and Lucas is 26, and they only have two weeks to get to know each other. Is this just a holiday fling or could it be a long term thing?

I was about to say that I don’t read a lot of age gap romances, except that almost every traditional Regency you’ll ever read features an older man and a fresh out of the school room debutant. So it would be more accurate to say that I don’t read a lot of age gap contemporaries and very few of those feature an older woman. And this made a really nice change. Tess is a fun heroine who knows what she wants and how she’s going to get it, and Lucas’s tennis career means that he’s more mature than perhaps your average 26 year old man. As a pair they are delightful and it was really entertaining watching them get to know each other and break down their defences. It’s funny, it’s flirty, it’s sexy – but it also has a relatable core and deals with some real world issues in a compassionate way.

In the grand scheme of things – and the grand scheme of romance novels, 40-love is very low angst. Lucas is absolutely the polar opposite of the Alpha-hole romance trope. He’s kind, he’s emotionally fluent and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that there’s no Big Stupid Thing that either of them do to the other. The conflict here is entirely about whether they’re going to work together when they get to know each other – not that one is hiding something big, or has done something dumb. And given the state of the universe at the moment, this is the sort of conflict that I feel emotionally ready to deal with! This isn’t my first Olivia Dade – I read Spoiler Alert a few weeks back, which was also a lot of fun and has some of the same elements of interesting non-typical romance characters – perhaps against expectations given the fact that the hero is the star of a show that I’m going to call Not Game Of Thrones, and there are a couple of references to that in this too which is a nice easter egg to find.

My copy of 40-Love came from the library, but you can buy it now on Kindle or Kobo or as a paperback, but it looks like its a print on demand type situation – although you can get Spoiler Alert from Waterstones much more easily.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, cozy crime, detective

Book of the Week: Merit Badge Murder

As I said yesterday, last week was a much better week all around. And as today is a week to go before Election day in the United States, I’m conceding defeat – I’ve read as many electiob books as I’m going to and it’s soon going to be too late, so there is a Recommendsday post coming up tomorrow. Meanwhile, as far as today’s post goes, I started a couple of new mystery series last week, and as I read two from the Merry Wrath series, I thought I ought to pick it for my Book of the Week this week, as I clearly like them and we all know I have rules (albeit flexible ones) about book series, reading orders and spoilers as the affect recommendations…

Cover of Merit Badge Murder by Leslie Langtry

Former CIA agent Merry Wrath is used to being undercover, but after her identity was unmasked and she was forced into (very) early retirement, she has to reinvent herself as a normal person with a fresh identity in a small town in Iowa. And while she is figuring out what she wants to do next, she’s helping run a Girl Scout group. But when dead enemy agents start turning up on her doorstep (literally), she has to try and figure out who is trying to frame her, all while preserving her cover. Add into the mix her ex-handler who the CIA send to help her, and her new neighbour across the street who happens to be the investigating police officer and suddenly Merry’s new life is getting really, really complicated.

I love a cozy mystery and I love a Steph Plum-style comedy thriller and this is pretty much in the Venn diagram of those. Merry is a fun heroine – massively clueless about normal life and how to be a regular person and you’re rooting for her as she hides behind her Dora explorer sheets-cum-curtains to see what is going on in her neighbourhood. The Girl Scout troop is a really nice touch – adding an extra level of complications to everything – and there are plenty of twists and turns in the plot. I raced through it and then went straight on to the net one – which is always a sign that I’ve enjoyed myself. It’s quite a long running series – so there are plenty more for me to read, just as soon as I get the rest of the TBR-pile down a bit!

You can buy Merit Badge Murder on Kindle and Kobo. Physical copies are listed on Amazon, but it looks like it’s an Amazon inhouse publisher, so you won’t be able to get hold of it in stores.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The Miseducation of Evie Epworth

Weird week in reading really. Tried a new series, finished another series, read some self-help/empowerment, continued my binge of Inspector Littlejohn. Didn’t finish a few other things I should have done, and didn’t like the new Kevin Kwan enough to write about it here. So. This is not quite a new release – but nearly. It came out in July, but of course I have only just got to it because: reading slump, indecision, too much choice etc.

Cover of the Miseducation of Evie Epworth

It’s 1962, and sixteen-year-old Evie is standing on the edge of adulthood, but the fastest milk bottle delivery girl in East Yorkshire doesn’t know what to do with her life.  She’s dreaming of the bright lights of London, but she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life and her two Adam Faith posters (brooding Adam and sophisticated Adam) don’t have any answers for her. But before she can go anywhere, she has a few problems demanding her attention: her widowed father has fallen prey to a much younger woman, who Evie is fairly sure is a gold digger – and it’s putting the family farm under threat. In her quest to save the family, she makes friends with one of her neighbours and starts to discover life beyond rural England.

This took me a bit longer to get into than I was expecting, but once I was in, I was in. There was some early talk of magic and spells that threw me because it wasn’t what I was expecting, but it sorted itself out quite fast. I liked Evie’s voice and I really enjoyed discovering her world. It’s written as her diary, which means there’s a lot of fun as a reader in spotting the stuff that she’s missing because of her age and (relative) innocence. All the side characters are well drawn, and often hilarious, and I really enjoyed watching Evie’s future come together and seeing how everything worked out. It’s not perfect, but it’s lots of fun and laugh out loud funny at times. I’ll be looking to see what Matson Taylor writes next.

My copy of The Miseducation of Evie Epworth came from NetGalley, but it is a bargain 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment. It’s also out in audiobook and hardback and as it has got some quite impressive names on the blurbs and it’s a Radio 2 book club book so I’m hoping it’ll be easy to find in stores. And the cover is great so you should be able to spot it fairly easily if it is there.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases, Young Adult

Book of the Week: The Great Godden

The mini-reviews are coming up tomorrow, in the meantime, this week’s Book of the Week is a beach/holiday read suggestion for those of you are taking some time off work in August – whether you’re hanging out in a hammock in your garden like me or actually going somewhere away from home.

Cover of The Great Godden

So Meg Rosoff’s The Great Godden is about one family, one summer at their family’s house by the beach and what happens when they meet the Godden brothers. Children of a famous actress, Kit is handsome and charismatic and Hugo is quieter and almost surly when you first meet him. The narrator isn’t named or described by gender, which means that you can either decide what you want them to be (if you manage to think about it that conciously) or just read and draw your own conclusions as you go.

It’s really quite hard to explain what genre this book actually is. It’s published by a YA imprint, but I can think of people who don’t read YA who would like this. It’s not quite Rich People Problems, but it is sort of adjacent to it – I mean the family have a summer house by the sea! It’s also very subtle and feels quite low stakes in a way –  I was reading it waiting for something awful to happen, but it’s not that sort of book. It’s much more every day, it’s about everyday events and normal summer holiday type things. One of the narrator’s sisters is pony mad. The other has suddenly grown into her looks and is getting a lot more attention than she used to. The narrator works in a shop for a holiday job. There’s a wedding being planned. The climax of every thing is basically a tennis match and it’s so good. There aren’t a lot of really good sport-in-book scenes in novels – but this is one of them and would be fairly near the top of my list (the top being the cricket scene in Murder Must Advertise). It would be a great book to read by the sea or by the “sea” aka your pond, paddling pool, local body of water. It is very, very summery and perfect for the warm weather.

I am all about the low-stakes at the moment – so if you’ve got any recommendations for me for similarly enjoyable but un-anxiety-inducing books, drop them in the comments for me please. I’ve mentioned before that I am all about resolutions at the moment – hence the mystery and romance heavy reading lists, but this was a nice change that didn’t make me super stressed. It’s not the first Meg Rosoff I’ve read, but it is the first one I’ve really liked, so I might have another little wander through her other books, but I’m not sure there’s any guarantee I’ll find something similar there!

My copy came from NetGalley, but it’s out now in hardback and in Kindle and Kobo. I haven’t ventured into a bookshop yet, so I can’t tell you what the likelihood is of it being in there on a table, but Meg Rosoff is a fairly well known name so I reckon there’s a good chance it’ll be in stock in larger book stores, but probably not the supermarkets.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Hello World

I read a lot of stuff last week – ticked a few more states off my 50 States Challenge and read a bunch of romances (with some favourite authors and some new ones), but I do like to mix things up a bit with my Book of the Week picks, so this week I have some popular science for you.

The cover of Hello World

Hello World is an examination of what algorithms are and how they work for (and against) us. Dr Hannah Fry is a mathmatician who specialises in looking at patterns and how they affect human behaviour. She’s also a broadcaster, podcaster and public speaker and her experience in communicating complicated theories over those mediums really shows in this. Now unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll know that algorithms are a thing. They dictate what you see in your social media feeds, what comes up in search results but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Hello World looks at the role of algorithms in data, healthcare, crime, art and more. If you’ve ever wondered how far off a fully autonomous car is, this will tell you and explain the challenges along the way – for the car and for the drivers. Could algorithms help with solving crime or predicting where crimes might happen. Do they have a role in sentencing or bail decisions fairer? How are they making decisions – and how do they say they’re making decisions?

As usually I’m a little bit behind the times – this came out in 2018 (and was nominated for some of the nonfiction writing prizes) so somethings have moved on a little from my copy (an advance copy for the hardback release that I got given by someone) but I found this absolutely fascinating – sometimes a little scary but also actually quite reassuring as well. I read a fair bit of non fiction but mostly history with occasional bits of science and medical non fiction and I find that books in this end of the spectrum are sometimes too technical or get too bogged down in the details but this absolutely does not do that. I don’t consider myself mathematically or scientifically minded, but this was clear and concise and easy to follow. And I think it’s a great book to read at the moment – we’re all trapped at home and more dependent on technology than ever before and this will give you an insight into some of that and although it might make you rethink some things it won’t but absolutely terrify you and make you want to disconnect everything!

You can get Hello World from all the usual sources. I’ve seen it on the popular science table in the chain bookstores and on the shelves at the supermarket. And of course it’s available in Kindle and Kobo and as an audiobook from your audiobook vendor of choice. And if you’ve read this and liked this and want more popular science, can I point you in the direction of Mary Roach and her books.

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, 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.