Authors I love, Recommendsday, Series I love

Recommendsday: Comfort Reading

I had an entirely different Recommendsday book planned, but for some reason I’m feeling a bit terrified about the world today, so I thought some of you might appreciate some comfort reading suggestions.  I’m talking books with resolutions, preferably happy endings that don’t deal with nightmarish dystopian futures or imminent doom. I wonder why that’s off my menu at the moment…

Firstly, you might want to consider revisiting an old favourite.  Something that you can enjoy all over again and that can conjure memories of when you read it the first time.  The best example of that for me is Regency Buck  which is one of my favourite Georgette Heyers, brilliantly romantic (another smart woman this time reforming a rake) and which I finished reading on the bus after my last A Level exam.   Or just a book that you’ve read over and over -my top rereads are A Winter’s Tale by Trisha Ashley, the much mentioned Gone with the Windsors or any of the four Peter Wimsey books which feature Harriet Vane.

But if you don’t have an old favourite to hand, I’ve dipped into my reading archive to find three more books where it all turns out right in the end:

Miss Buncle’s Book: Miss Buncle is an impoverished spinster to decides that the best way to earn some more money to improve her situation is to write a book.  Her loyal maid thinks she’s mad – but it works.  The book that Miss Buncle writes is published under a pseudonym and is a roaring success.  The only trouble is that the book is based on the people in her village – and they recognise themselves.  I nearly cried laughing reading this and then lent it to everyone I could think of.  Perfect for my current mood.

The Reluctant Landlady: When struggling actress Evie inherits a house from a family friend, it seems like a dream and she and her best friend Bing move in.  But the house is comes with a motley crew of tennants who she’s not allowed to evict and soon Evie is trying to sort their lives out for them, whether they want her to or not.  This was the first Bernadette Strachan book that I read and I think it’s still my favourite.  Evie is fabulous and Bing is just one of the best and funniest sidekick characters I’ve come across in this sort of book. Strachan now writes as  Juliet Ashton and Claire Sandy – her A Very Big House in the Country would make a good choice at the moment too.

Welcome to the Real World: Fern is having a good week: she’s landed a job as PA to a world famous singer and she’s got a chance to try and realise her own singing dream with a slot on the newest TV talent show.  But when it turns out her new boss, Evan, is also going to be a judge on the talent show, things start to get complicated, because Fern really wants to keep her singing under wraps from him.  I see from Goodreads that reviews on this are somewhat… divided, but this is my favourite Carole Matthews book.  It focuses mostly on Fern and what is going on in her life, but I liked that – and there’s plenty of drama as well.

I hope one of these tickles your fancy and improves your mood.  I’m off to re-read some Peter and Harriet.

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Match Me If You Can

If you looked at what I read last week (and the week before) you’ll have noticed that I’ve been on a massive Susan Elizabeth Phillips kick and so it’ll be no surprise to you that this week’s BotW is one of them.  It took a quite a while to pick out which one was my favourite, but in the end I plumped for Match Me If You Can.

Cover of Match Me If You Can
This cover is a little bit retro, but don’t let that put you off.
Annabelle is a matchmaker.  Or at least she wants to be a matchmaker.  She’s taken over her grandmother’s old business and rebranded it to move it away from OAPs towards over achievers.  Now all she needs is a suitably overachieving client to find a match for to make her name.  Heath Champion has worked his way up to turn himself into a sports agent known as the Python.  Annabelle has decided that finding him a wife is going to be the client that makes her name.  It doesn’t matter that he’s already got a contract with Chicago’s top matchmaker, Annabelle is sure that she can do better…

All of the Susan Elizabeth Phillips books that I read last week were from her Chicago Stars series, which centres around a (fictional) American football franchise.  I don’t read a lot of sports romances, partly because they’re mostly about American sports and secondly because they often feature unreconstructed Alpha heros, which are not always my thing.   The difference with these is that all the women are strong, capable, professionally competent and not sitting around waiting to be rescued by the big old man.  In this, Annabelle is struggling to get her business off the ground at the start – but not because she’s incompetant, she’s just trying to break into the market.  She’s got a plan and she’s executing it.  She’s also got an awful family of overachievers trying to persuade her to do their bidding rather than what she wants to do – but she’s sticking to her guns.

In fact, the only bit of the book that didn’t work for me, was late on and revolved around her family – and a lack of resolution of the issues/recognition of how she felt from the hero – but that was a minor blip in a sparky, fun romance which rattles along.  This also has some appearances from previous couples in the series, which is always nice if you enjoyed reading about their romances and sets up the next book in the series (which I had actually read first!).  With a Phillips book, there’s always a secondary romance going on as well – and this one was a bit different to the usual.  I wasn’t sure that I was going to like it at first, but by the end, I was totally won over.

I’ve read four Chicago Stars books in less than a week – which suited me perfectly: satisfying romances, interesting characters that are linked but definitely not the same plots with different names, a bit of humour and not too much angst.  Or at least not unrelenting angst.  The angstiest of the four was Dream a Little Dream – and even that won me over, despite my dislike of traumatised widows and small children.*

Several of the Chicago Stars books are on offer on Kindle at the moment – including the latest in the series First Star I See Tonight for £1.99, which is much nuts and far more fun than you’d expect for a book which includes Middle Eastern Princesses in its blurb!  Match Me If You can is a reasonable £2.49 on Kindle or under £3 if you want a second hand copy of the book from Amazon or you could try Natural Born Charmer – which started me off on this kick last week – for the same prices.  Any of these is well worth a look if you want to dip your toe into this sort of book.

*I often find them to be aiming for winsome, but actually irritating plot moppets.

Book of the Week, cozy crime, detective

Book of the Week: Picture Miss Seeton

A shorter BotW post this week, because you’ve already had three great books from my reading last week in my Summer Reading post! But I finished Picture Miss Seeton on Sunday afternoon and wanted to give it a mention.

I do love a stylised cover. As long as you can get a matching set!

A retired art teacher, Miss Seeton witnesses a murder after leaving a performance of Carmen. Despite only getting a shadowy view of the killer, she manages to draw a picture that enables Scotland Yard to identify him. Soon she’s facing peril in the rural cottage she’s just inherited, where the villagers are also taking an interest in the new arrival.

This really scratched my itch for cozy crime with added humour. Miss Seeton is a wonderful send up of elderly lady detectives. She’s impossible to shock, utterly unflappable and practises yoga in her free time. She’s always one step ahead of the police and always manages to be in the right place at the right time to pick up the vital clue. I found the switching points of view occasionally a bit jarring or confusing, but I forgave it because I was having so much fun reading about Miss S’s adventures. It was a perfect book to read while recovering from nightshifts.

I’m fairly sure I’ve seen some Miss Seeton’s at the library (or maybe in the discount bookshop) so I suspect I may be reading more of her adventures in the near future. Picture Miss Seeton is available on Kindle and Kobo and should be available (probably to order) from all the usual sources.

Happy Reading!

holiday reading

Summer Reading 2017 Edition

My summer holiday already seems like a long time ago, but the schools have only just broken up, so many of you may be yet to make your summer trips.  So for your delectation as I sleep off my final nightshift of the run, here are some beach reading suggestions from me.

Big Sexy Love by Kirsty Greenwood

Cover of Kirsty Greenwoods Big Sexy Love
I know Kirsty through Novelicious – I can’t believe I know someone who can write a book this good!

I loved this latest novel from Kirsty Greenwood.  It’s like the book love child of a late 90s/early 2000s romantic comedy and the sort of screwball antics a drunken modern day Katherine Hepburn in Philadelphia story might get up to.  Big, Sexy Love tells the story of anxious Olive, who takes refuge from her fears in routine but is forced out of her comfort zone by her dying best friend Birdie.  I laughed, I nearly cried (in a corner of the newsroom on my “lunch” break at 3am) and I loved the romance.  But most of all I loved the friendship between Olive and Birdie – they’re there for each other, through thick and thin, with humour but without jealousy, judgement or ulterior motive. We need more books with Olives and Birdies.  Read this on the beach – but maybe not on the plane for reasons that will become apparent if you read it!  And it’s a total bargain at 99p on Kindle at time of writing.

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub 

Copy of Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
My copy came from the bookshelf at work where Arts team put books when theyre done with them – thats why its an arc. But its been on the pile for a while…

One of my favourite sort of books to read on my holidays are “rich people problem” novels, and Modern Lovers by Emma Straub is a really good one.  You’re following a two couples and their children over the course of one summer.  Twenty years earlier, three of them were in a band together and now Hollywood wants to make a film about the fourth member, who made it big and then died young.   Will they do it?  Are they ready for the revelations that that might bring?  And what happens when your kids start to be cooler than you?  If you don’t like reading about rich, privelieged hipsters in Brooklyn then give this a miss, but if you do, well, it’s a joy.

Dead is Good by Jo Perry

Cover of Dead is Good by Jo Perry
I love the current dog-centric covers for Charlie and Rose

If you’re after a mystery to read on the beach, try Perry’s Charlie and Rose series from my old friends and frequent supplier of excellent noir-y books, Fahrenheit Press.  Dead is Good is the third book following the afterlife adventures of Charlie and Rose the dog as they wander Los Angeles trying to solve crimes but unable to actually influence the outcome of anything (or at least not often).  It may sound a bit meta, but it’s a lot of fun.  In book 3, Charlie is trying to keep his ex-girlfriend alive and figure out who it is who wants her dead.  And the details about Los Angeles are a joy.  I could have read another 50 pages at least.  Dead is Good is £1.99 on Kindle at time of writing – but if you want to start at the beginning and find out how Charlie ended up as a ghost, then Dead is Better is only 99p.

How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

The cover of How to Stop Time
Another lovely cover – this one is simple but striking too.

If you love historical fiction or books set across different periods, Matt Haig’s new novel may be for you.  It’s not your usual time slip book though because although the narrative jumps around between the present day and various points in the last 500 years, our lead character is the same person.  Tom may look like he’s 41, but he’s actually hundreds of years old.  He’s lived through everything from the Elizabethan era Britain to Jazz Age Paris and now he’s a history teacher in modern day London.  It’s the perfect cover – teaching children about the things that he’s lived through – as long as he doesn’t slip up and fall in love.  Because last time that happened it didn’t end well.  This kept me engrossed on several train journeys this week, and I couldn’t wait to find out how it turned out. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s going to be turned into a film, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, so everyone is going to be talking about that when it comes out and you can be all smug because you read it first!

A couple of other suggestions for you: there’s more romantic comedy in or if you want something older Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me;  there are more rich people problems in Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan; if you want some more travels through time – albeit with a different tone entirely – then try The Chronicles of St Mary Series by Jodi Taylor  and if you still haven’t read Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible yet, that’s out in paperback now (and was only £1.99 on Kindle at time of writing).

And if you need even more, may I point you back in the direction of my favourite beach reads from my holiday, which I loved so much I’ve already written whole posts of their own about them:  Written in Dead Wax and Standard Deviation.

Happy Reading!

Children's books, children's books, Forgotten books, Uncategorized

Book of the Week: Dimsie, Head Girl

For this week’s BotW, we’re back in the world of the boarding school books that I love so much, after I happened upon this on the collectible shelf of the charity shop last week for the bargain price of £2.  My love of the Chalet School, Drina books and boarding school and ballet books in general is well known, but I’d never had a chance to read any of the Dimsie series – which was out of print by the time I was old enough to read them.  This is the sixth book in the series, and so probably not the best place to start, but I’m not one to let a trifle like that stop me!

Colour illustration from the front of Dimsie, Head Girl
Who hasn’t felt a bit confused when reading a Girl’s Own book? The illustration is lovely though.

Dimsie is a prefect at Jane Willard Foundation, and the start of this book sees the prefects shaken by the unexpected departure of the head girl Erica and her replacement with the dreamy second prefect Jean.  The title gives it away that Jean’s reign may not be a long one, but it’s a lot of fun watching how it all unfolds.  Dimsie is a butter-inner, slightly lacking in tact, but utterly devoted to her school.  When she sees that Jean isn’t pulling her weight in the way that she should be, she tries to set the Head girl on the right track.  When one of the new prefects proves to be too officious and inflexible in her dealings with the younger girls, it’s Dimsie who tries to sort the situation out.  To be honest, I’m surprised she wasn’t Erica’s replacement in the first place – except for the fact of course that that if she had, the author wouldn’t have had a book!

It wouldn’t be a boarding school book without the Middles causing trouble – here it takes the form of insubordination to the prefects, illegal pet keeping and midnight feasts.  What more could you want?  And yes, this is a slightly higher level of spoilers than I usually give out – but to be honest, I can’t  imagine that many of you are going to be able to lay your hands on a copy of this!  Which is a shame really, because it’s not half bad – some of it is funny in a way the author didn’t intend but that’s one of the joys of reading a book written for children in the 1920s now!  It does have some of the usual problems of outdated language and a very homogeneous cast, but that’s sadly to be expected in a children’s book of this era and it’s by no means as bad as some.

My copy of Dimsie, Head Girl
Im inclined to think that this was a proper bargain for £2.

This was my Dorita Fairlie Bruce book, and I suspect it won’t be my last – I’ve already been playing on the used book websites to see if I can find more.  Because of course what I need at the moment is more books.  Of course it is.  The big worry is if it sends me off down another rabbit hole of classic school story authors that I haven’t read.

Happy reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, cozy crime, new releases

Book of the Week: Lowcountry Bonfire

As you’ll have seen from yesterday’s Week in Books, I had a less productive week in reading last week, but that didn’t give me a problem when it came to picking a BotW –  because after I read Lowcountry Bonfire, I went and bought myself another book in the series straight away.

The cover of Lowcountry Bonfire
I kinda like this cover – its simple but stylish.

Lowcountry Bonfire is the sixth book in the Liz Talbot cozy crime series.  Liz and her partner Nate Andrews run a private investigation agency on an island in South Carolina.  Their bread and butter cases are suspicious spouses and adultery cases.  They’re not expecting Tammy Sue Lyerley’s case to be any different.  But when her husband Zeke turns up dead in the boot of the car that Tammy Sue has just filled with his stuff and is trying to set alight, they end up smack bang in the middle of a murder investigation.  Soon they’re trying to work out the truth behind Zeke’s tall tales and uncovering buried secrets.

After a disappointing run of cozy crime novels during my holiday*, this was a breath of fresh air. This is just the sort of cozy crime that I like – a great cast of characters, a quirky setting and a satisfying murder mystery.  And to top that off, Liz is one of my favourite things – a sleuth who has a legitimate reason to be snooping around.  The plot is perhaps a little bonkers at times, but the book is so pacey that you don’t really have time to think about that – which is exactly what you want really.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I liked this so much that I went off and bought myself the first book in the series so I could see how Liz got to where she is.  I finished that on the train home on Monday afternoon and can report that that’s also a lot of fun – although the mystery and pacing isn’t quite as good as in Lowcountry Bonfire.  Admittedly that may be partly because I could spot which townspeople were no longer about in book six and extrapolate some of the solution from that!

My copy of Lowcountry Bonfire came from NetGalley, but it’s out now and available on all the usual platforms, like Kindle and Kobo.  But if you want to start at the beginning, Lowcountry Boil was £1.99 on Kindle and Kobo at time of writing, as was book two, Lowcountry Bombshell, (although only on Kindle) which I may have just bought myself.  Naughty Verity!

Happy reading.

*Written in Dead Wax (in my book at least) is not a cozy crime.  And even if it was, I read it at the start of the week – it was the mysteries afterwards that were a disappointment!

fiction, literary fiction, Recommendsday, women's fiction

Recommendsday: Standard Deviation

Another day, another great holiday read to recommend, this time it’s Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny which filled some very happy hours on the plane and the beach last week and which I’m sure I’m going to be recommending to a lot of people this summer.

The cover of Standard Deviation
I love the origami figures but I’m still not quite sure the cover of this really does it justice.

Graham Cavanaugh is on his second marriage.  Wife #2, Audra, is one of Those Women – you know the sort – who know every one, who makes friends effortlessly and opens her arms (and home) to any waif or stray of her acquaintance (no matter how tenuous the connection) who needs help. They have one child, origami-obsessed Matthew, who has Asperger’s and sees the world slightly differently and finds a lot of it a bit challenging.  When Wife #1, Elspeth, re-appears in Graham’s life, the contrasts become apparent.  Because of course Audra wants them to be friends with Elspeth and so their lives get tangled up together all over again.

This is a fun, witty and touching look at the choices that we make and how our lives can change. Just reading about life with Audra makes you tired, but despite that and despite her nosiness and lack of boundaries you still warm to her.  I don’t think I’d want to be friends with her in real life, but then the same applies to Graham and to Elspeth too.  They all have their monstrous moments, but it makes for fascinating reading.  It has some heart-warming moments too – mostly dealing with Graham’s hopes for Matthew as he grows up and Audra’s efforts to try and give him a normal life.

This is Katherine Heiny’s first novel, but it doesn’t feel like a debut.  It feels like the work of an author who is already well in their stride, with confidence in the characters that they have created and the stories that they are spinning.  But perhaps that is unsurprising given Heiny’s background in short stories.  She’s been published in the New Yorker and had a collection of short stories – Single, Carefree, Mellow – published a few years back*.  This article from the Guardian says that she’s written more than 20 Young Adult novels under various pseudonyms, but frustratingly doesn’t give me any titles (and nor does good reads) which doesn’t help me with my need to glom on everything that she’s written.  Luckily I have a New Yorker subscription so I can go back and read the full version of How to Give the Wrong Impression from back in 1992.

If you like Nora Ephron movies and books, this may be the beach read for you.  In writing this I’ve seen lots of comparisons to Anne Tyler (who I’ve never read but always meant to) so I’ll be recommending this to my mum who’s had a bit of a Tyler thing recently.  My copy of Standard Deviation came via NetGalley, but it’s out now in hardback (sorry) and you should be able to get hold of a copy from all the usual places and it’s also available on Audible (the link may only work if you’re signed in) Kindle and Kobo.

Happy reading!

*which is now on my wishlist unsurprisingly!