Book of the Week, reviews, romance

Book of the Week: The Dead Romantics

Did I finish this on Monday? Yes. Am I still writing about it? Absolutely. After the dumpster fire that was my late September I’m giving myself a pass on a lot of things. Anyway, this is fun.

Florence is a ghostwriter with a problem: after a messy breakup, she doesn’t believe in love any more – but she still has a book she has to finish and her new editor won’t give her an(other) extension. Then she gets a call from her mum: her dad has died and she needs to go home to help prepare for the funeral. But she’s been running from her small home town for a decade and she’s still not ready to deal with her issues with it. And then on her first night home, there is a knock at the door: it’s her editor. Except he’s a ghost and he doesn’t know why he’s there either.

Now regular readers will know that I’m not a paranormal or spooky reader usually. But I really liked Ashley Poston’s Beauty and the Geek series, I’ve heard a lot of hype about this and it was 99p and my defences are low at the moment so I couldn’t help myself. And I’m so glad I did. This is fun and funny and I loved Florence and her family and their funeral home and quirky ways. And Ben is lovely too I will admit that I was worried about whether there could be a happy ending (because he’s a ghost!) but I shouldn’t have been because it just works. And bonus points for the surprise Mulan reference.

We’re coming up to Halloween (I mean it’s October!) and if you want something seasonally appropriate but not scary or overly paranormal, this might well be the book for you. Especially if you like romance novel’s getting name checks. And if you’ve read the Beauty and the Geek series there are some Easter eggs for you too. Just delightful. Yes it made me cry, but if it hadn’t there would have been something wrong right? And it was worth it if you know what I mean.

As I said earlier, this is 99p on Kindle at the moment and it’s the same on Kobo. It came out in June so it’s still relatively new – but I haven’t spotted it in any of the bookshops yet* but Foyles have click and collect copies at the moment so I clearly haven’t been looking hard enough and you might be lucky.

Happy reading!

*and yes I did go back through my Waterstones Piccadilly photos, and no I didn’t take a picture of the P section of the romance shelves to double check

books

Books in the Wild: Waterstones Piccadilly

I was staying at a different hostel to usual last week, so took the opportunity to make a visit to the big Piccadilly Waterstones as I walked down to the Palace on my way home. I’ve mostly focused here on the stuff you don’t find in a normal sized bookshop!

Firstly, they have one of the biggest selections of British Library Crime Classics outside of the British Library’s own bookshop. Not only was there this table downstairs, but there was another one in the crime section upstairs. I only had a small bag with me (and no space in my suitcase for more than one book) so I managed to resist, but I did add a much more to the list of books I want to read. I’m going back for them…

I couldn’t resist taking a photo of this table, because it has so many books I’ve already read or have waiting to be read on it! Obviously there’s the latest Vinyl Detective, but also several Nicola Upsons. I still haven’t read the book of Holding, but as mentioned, I really enjoyed the TV series. Then there’s a nice Albert Campion, a Maisie Dobbs, Death and Croissants that I read last year, a recent Hamish MacBeth that I haven’t read yet and the new Frances Brody standalone book and A Spoonful of Murder that I have waiting on the pile to read. On the other side there is a Peter Wimsey, an Agatha Raisin that I’ve actually read, a Grantchester novel, one of the Ian Samson County murder novels and Death on the Nile. It’s basically a table tailor made for my crime fiction reading interests. I have added Death in August and The Room of the Dead to the want to read like!

I’ve written plenty about Persephone Books too, but again this is the largest selection I’ve seen in the wild – including some of my favourites: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, A House in the Country and The Young Pretenders.

And finally, it’s a long time since I saw a big Romance section and this was a wonderfully big one. This is just two bookshelves of it – there were about eight more and I had a ball – spotting stuff in the wild I’ve only seen as ebooks and seeing some old friends too. Genuinely I had a lovely time and it was a bright spot in a somber week in London.

book adjacent

Books in the Wild: very late August

I had a bit of a wander around Tottenham Court Road Waterstones on Wednesday, and I have thoughts…

Firstly, I liked the window. It’s tempting. I’ve obviously read A Fatal Crossing, but I think that’s it and a lot of the stuff there looks tempting. And it’s bright and varied and I can get on board with that.

I’m doing better on the YA table – here’s The Agathas in the flesh, and I’ve read The Gravity of Us and The Fault in Our Stars (more fool me). And there are a few things here that tempt me – but also remind me about my tbr- I want to read the first Aristotle and Dante book and I have one of the Inheritance Games books on the kindle pile.

More guilt on the fiction table – Lincoln Highway is on the Kindle TBR too. But I have at least read The Christie Affair lo. I keep picking up and thinking about Diary of a Void, but I’m not sure my brain is in the right place for it at the moment!

Here’s my problem though. All the non fiction is one giant section (see above) and adult fiction is lumped together. How am I meant to serendipitously happen across a book that will appeal to me I want to read if it’s all in one big lump? I go to bookshops to happen across stuff that the algorithm isn’t going to tell me about. Sometimes that means spotting a shelf talker for something but more often it means going to the section for the genre that I’m interested in and seeing what’s being put out on the table in front or has been turned to be front facing or is shelved with something I like. Alphabetical for all fiction just doesn’t work for me.

In the end I came away without buying – the two that tempted me were the Muriel Spark and the Sybille Bedford but they’re both classics and so I’ll see them again, and what I really wanted was to happen across something new and under the radar. Hey ho. I suppose I saved some money…

Adventure, Book of the Week, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Piglettes

We’re rocketing towards the end of the month, and after a delightful week of reading last week, I’m finishing the BotW selections off with a YA novel which I picked up on my buying spree at Foyles at the start of the month.

Piglettes tells the story of Mireille, Astrid and Hakima who are voted the ugliest girls in their school by their fellow students. None of them are happy about it – but for Mireille it’s not her first time on the list – which was started by a boy she used to be friends with – so she decides to befriend her fellow Piglettes rather than sit around and be miserable. What ends up happening is an epic summer cycle trip from their town to Paris to try and go to the French President’s garden party on Bastille Day. Each of the three girls has their own reason for going, but what they don’t expect is to become the centre of media attention as the country starts to follow the three girls as they cycle towards Paris selling sausages on the way.

This is a modern twist on the adventure-without-adults sort of books (see Swallows and Amazons etc) that I really loved when I was younger (and still do to be honest). Ok, Hakima’s brother comes along with them and he’s an adult, but he never really seems like an intruding adult presence restricting the girls, he becomes more like part of the gang. The idea of cycling across France selling sausages sounds a little bit bonkers – but it’s actually perfect – the girls have a goal, they get to meet loads of people and they get to find out new things about themselves and each other. But as well as being about friendship and self discovery, this is also quite a foodie novel. The pork sausages they’re selling are made by a local butcher. Mireille’s grandparents own a restaurant and they make their vegetarian sausages there themselves – as well as their special apple sauce to go with it. At the places they stop at on the way there’s often local food – including when Mireille detours them to go through the town where her favourite cheese is made (Crottin de Chavignol if you’re interested).

Clementine Beauvais has translated this herself from the original French, and if you can get past the envy of being good enough to write novels in two languages (and it did give me a touch of the green-eyed monsters), she’s given it a whole load of humour but it also still feels distinctly French. I would love to see the original for comparison to see what the jokes and references were in the original and what if anything she’s changed for a non-French audience. It’s clever and funny and I really enjoyed it. Also it made me want to go on holiday to France and eat some regional produce. Maybe I’ll have to settle for buying some speciality cheese to keep me going until we can get over there again.

I bought my copy of Piglettes on a trip to Foyles but it’s also available on Kindle and Kobo. As I found it in store, I’m hoping that you could be similarly lucky if you look in a bookstore, even if Foyles’ website isn’t currently showing any click and collect copies…

Happy Reading!

bingeable series, Series I love

Series I Love: London Celebrities

I’ve been running a theatrical theme for a couple of weeks now so I thought I’d start the bank holiday weekend with a bingeable series of romance with a theatrical theme.

Lucy Parker’s London Celebrities books are a series of enemies to lovers type romances set in London – initially in the world of West End theatre but in the fourth and fifth in the series expanding a little to include asetting at a country house and then two rival TV producers and. They tend to have sunshiney heroines and grumpy heroes who are actually big softies underneath and plenty of charming banter. In fact several of them were Books of the Week when they came out and I’ve mentioned them all at some point before, but now I’m finally taking them as a group.

They’re all set in the same world and there is character cross over but – like many romance series – each story is selfcontained and features a different couple. Act Like It has a fake relationship between two co-stars who can’t stand each other to try and help a bad boy fix his image problem. Pretty Face has an actress who’s been pigeonholed as her man-stealing period drama character taking on a West End role and fighting with the director who doesn’t want to give her the part. Making Up has an understudy who takes over the leading role and a make-up artist who is working on thes show after his professional reputation took an unfair battering. The Austen Playbook has a daughter of an acting dynasty taking a role in a new Jane Austen TV series being filmed at the ancestral home of a descendant of someone her grandmother had an affair with. And Headliners has two rival TV presenters who are forced to work together on morning TV to save the show and save their careers. And don’t they all sound delicious? I mean I started reading the series again just to write this post, and that’s a bit of a disaster in itself to be honest, because I have a long list of things I’m meant to be reading and these aren’t on it.

You should be able to get them on all the usual ebook platforms – there’s even an omnibus edition of the first three if you’re feeling ready to commit. Also Lucy Parker’s newest novel Battle Royal – which was a Book of the Week here almost exactly a year ago – is £1.99 at the moment. No news yet on when the sequel to that one is coming though…

Book of the Week, Children's books, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: A Time to Dance

It’s been a couple of weeks of Girl’s Own type books, so I’ve no regrets about making another of them this week’s Book of the Week and carrying on the theme of theatres and dancing.

A Time to Dance is a standalone ballet career book about the first couple of terms of a newly established ballet school in the north of England. It follows a selection of the pupils as they study dance, help promote the school and try and work out if dancing is really what they want to do. It’s quite gentle and there’s no peril really at all – even less than usual in these books if anything, but I particular enjoyed the fact that it focussed on several of the girls and the different challenges they faced.

Most of the time in ballet books you have a school-age heroine who is convinced that she is destined to dance and that there is nothing she would rather do with her life. But this has a couple of older pupils who have left school are trying to balance learning to dance with jobs and the need for cash. And it’s got several girls who are studying even though ballet isn’t going to be their career. Of course it does have a desperate to dance or two too, but I appreciated the variety and the realism it added to the mix. This was written in the early 1960s and has a more modern feel to some of the other books – the potential distractions for the students include television adverts and modelling.

I haven’t read any Robina Beckles Willson before but this was charming. Goodreads only has this and a couple of picture books under her name, and I didn’t get a chance to look her up to see what else she might have written that hasn’t made it into Goodreads database!

I got my copy at one of the book sales at conference, but I suspect that most of you aren’t going to be interested enough in the genre to want to buy it! If you do, you’ll probably need a specialist bookseller or a lot of luck.

Happy reading!

detective, mystery, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Books set in Theatres

As you know, it was Book Conference over the weekend, so it seemed like this week’s Recommendsday should be related to Girl’s Own in some way. We had a post about mysteries set in boarding schools not that long ago, so today I’m doing books set in theatres – not all mysteries, not all Girls Own!

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

I am going to start with a Girl’s Own book though – because Noel Streatfeild wrote a lot of books with heroines who were involved in the theatre. Ballet Shoes is the most famous though, and has one of the great eccentrics of the genre too in Great Uncle Matthew – or Gum – who is a fossil collector who turns traveller after he is injured and starts collecting babies instead (don’t worry, it makes more sense in the book). When he goes missing while travelling and the money starts to run out, Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil (but mostly Pauline because she’s the oldest) use their acting and dancing skills to earn some extra money. It’s charming, it’s got great details about the backstage life of children in the theatre and all the secondary characters are wonderful too. And it’s still in print nearly 90 years after it was first published.

Cinderella Goes to the Morgue by Nancy Spain

This follows on quite nicely from Ballet Shoes, as it’s a satirical murder mystery that features exactly the sort of show that the Fossil girls star in as juveniles. In Cinderella Goes to the Morgue Spain’s regular heroines, Miriam and Natasha, are taking part in a pantomime in a fictional town in the provinces; with a local mayor who seems to be more involved in the theatre than in running the town. There are murders, but as with Nancy Spain’s other mysteries, it’s more about the absurdity than it is about solving the crime.

The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths

When a young woman is found brutally murdered in Brighton in 1950, there is something about the crime which reminds Detective Inspector Stephens of a magic trick. He seems the help of the trick’s inventor, the magician Max Mephisto, who he also happens to have served with in a secretive unit in the war. This is the first in the series which sees Edgar and Max investigating various crimes, some with a theatrical link, some while Max is juggling a job in the theatre. They’re not precisely cozy historicals, but they’re not exactly radically gruesome either – think Agatha Christie at her darkest. I’ve read the first three in the series, but there are three more now – with another out in the autumn.

Wise Children by Angela Carter

This has featured in a Recommendsday before, but it was five years ago so it’s well outside the statute of limitations! Nora and Dora Chance are the illegitimate twin daughters of a pillar of the theatrical establishment. They’re about to turn 75 – on the same day that their father is 100. Oer the course of the novel Dora tells the story of their lives before they head to the televised party that’s being thrown for their father. It’s got a huge cast of characters that might take you a while to get your head around and add to that the fact that it’s a magical realist sort of thing too. It was turned into a play a few years ago – which was shown on TV during the Covid Times (it might have been at Christmas, but all time merged into one back then) and I can confirm that the play was as mindbending and strange as the book is.

Maskerade by Terry Pratchett

I couldn’t resist adding this in – even though I’ve written plenty about Terry Pratchett’s books before. Maskerade is Terry’s take on Phantom of the Opera, except with witches and it’s just glorious. Agnes Nitt is a Lancre girl in the big city – singing the leading parts from the back row of the chorus while a prettier soprano mouths along. But when the Ankh Morpork Opera Theatre Ghost starts killing people, Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax head for the big city to try and keep her alive. Just writing that has made me want to read it again!

And let’s finish with some other theatre-y books that I’ve written about before – Acting Up and the other books in Adele Buck’s series are all theatre-set romances. And you could probably count Circus of Wonders and The Night Circus under this heading (if you squint a bit!). There’s also a whole string of Inspector Alleyn books that are set in the theatre – including the final one, The Light Thickens, but also earlier in the series Vintage Murder, Enter a Murderer and Opening Night and several others that feature actors or actresses but aren’t actually doing the killing in a theatre- including one of my favourites Final Curtain. For kids there’s also a theatre set entry in the Wells and Wong mystery series – Death in the Spotlight which has plenty of nods to the Alleyns if you’ve read them. And of course there’s the previously mentioned Girl’s Own ballet series – Sadlers Wells and Drina.

Happy Wednesday!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: August 8 – August 14

Two nights in London for work? Check. Three nights at book conference? Check. More chatting than book reading? Check. I mean I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about my weekend talking Girl’s Own books, but today basically all you need to know is that I mostly listened to talks about books and bought books rwther than actually reading them!

Read:

Sweet Danger by Margery Allingham

Something Wilder by Christina Lauren

Thank You for Listening by Julia Whelan

No Castanets at the Wells by Lorna Hill

Started:

Piglettes by Clémentine Beauvais

Still reading:

Godemersham Park by Gill Hornby*

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

Another Time, Another Place by Jodi Taylor

Femina by Janina Ramirez*

Castle Shade by Laurie R King

Going With the Boys by Judith Mackrell

The Twist of the Knife by Anthony Horowitz*

Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra*

About 20 actual books and a couple of ebooks too. And I’m not even sorry about it!

Bonus photo: a return to student life for the weekend!

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley.

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: August 1 – August 7

Two nights away from home, three theatre trips and an evening at the Commonwealth Games. Truly it is a miracle I read anything this week! But I did, go me. This week is looking equally frantic, so goodness knows what next week’s list will look like too.

Read:

Husband Material by Alexis Hall*

Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver

The Beckoning Lady by Margery Allingham

Death Wears a Mask by Ashley Weaver

A Dream of Sadlers Wells by Lorna Hill

Veronica Goes to the Wells by Lorna Hill

Started:

Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra*

The Twist of the Knife by Anthony Horowitz*

Still reading:

Godemersham Park by Gill Hornby*

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

Another Time, Another Place by Jodi Taylor

Femina by Janina Ramirez*

Castle Shade by Laurie R King

Going With the Boys by Judith Mackrell

Two books in Foyles on Monday. I said the willpower wouldn’t last!

Bonus photo: theatre trio three – Glass Menagerie, which I studied at school but had never seen.

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley.

Book of the Week, LGTBQIA+, new releases

Book of the Week: Husband Material

Yes I finished this on Monday – but it’s out today so it’s actually time appropriate. Check me out with the ever so slightly forward planning.

Husband Material is the sequel to Boyfriend Material which was a Book of the Week back when I read it in early 2021. We rejoin our erstwhile heroes two years into their actual relationship (as opposed to the fake one, see Boyfriend Material) and its all going well for Luc and Oliver. They’re making their relationship work – Luc’s trying not to bring the chaos and Oliver’s getting therapy and it’s all lovely. Except that suddenly everyone is getting married and Luc thinks maybe they’re meant to too, because that’s what you’re meant to do when you love each other, right? Right?

I have strongly mixed feelings on sequels usually. I know I’m always saying that I want more of the happily ever after at the end of my romance novels, but I appreciate that an actual novel needs tension and conflict. Most sequels do this by breaking the couple up and getting them back together (or variations thereof) and that often drives me mad. Particularly when the breakup is because of something you could solve by having a conversation. This does not do that. There is conflict, but I was not really ever worried that Luc and Oliver going to end up together – just how were they going to work it all out. And I can’t really explain any more than that without massive plot spoilers.

All the supporting cast are back too – Luc’s friends, his crazy mum, thankfully not too much of his awful dad. And there’s lots of banter and pop culture references. And if I didn’t quite love it as much as the first one, it was a pretty high bar to hit and it was lovely being back with some old friends for a few hours. This is apparently a universe now – so there’s a third book coming, but about a different couple, one of whom briefly featured in this book. So that’s fun too.

My copy of Husband Material came from NetGalley (thank you bookish gods) but it’s out today in Kindle, Kobo and delicious paperback, including from Words and Kisses where they have signed ones. You definitely need to have read Boyfriend Material to get the most out of this though.

Happy Reading!