Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: The Princess Trap

It’s so hot outside, that all I want to do at the moment is lie in the shade and drink a cold drink and read books.  So because the UK is in the midst of a heatwave – and there are lots of people who are on holiday at the moment and will be doing exactly the same thing but by a beach somewhere glamourous, this week’s BotW that is perfect for reading while doing exactly that: Talia Hibbert’s The Princess Trap.

Cover of The Princess Trap by Talia Hibbert

This is a contemporary romance with a prince in disguise and a fake relationship.  If you read Alyssa Cole’s A Princess in Theory earlier in the year and were looking for something else that scratches that itch, this may be the book for you.  It is a bit steamier than I remember that being – and there’s a couple of elements to the relationship here that are a bit different – but if you want another twist on the royalty trope – this time with a black British woman (who is not a stick insect) as the heroine, then go pick this up – what have you got to use.

Ruben is the younger brother of the king of a Scandinavian island, who is trying to recover his life from a sex-tape scandal.  Cherry works in HR at a school in London and is trying to help her family put her sister through college in the US.  He’s there incognito to have a look at whether the school’s ideas would fit into his educational programme when he spots her.  But when they’re spotted by the paparazzi, he tells them she’s his fiancée and asks her to keep up the pretence to get his family off his back.  What’s in it for her?  A big stack of cash that would really help with her sister’s tuition bills.  Cherry likes him and the money would be handy.  But she doesn’t really understand what being a royal fiancée entails and she doesn’t know about his scandal.  And then there’s his family and his past, which has got some serious issues in it.  I should add a trigger warning here – for abuse in the back story and in flashbacks – so avoid this if these are problematic for you, but I didn’t find it too upsetting.

This was my first Talia Hibbert and I really loved it.  I heard her interviewed on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast a few weeks back and made a note to read some of her books.  And I’m so glad that I picked this one up.  It’s got a great story, a fantastic heroine who knows exactly what she wants and isn’t going to let anyone (even a prince) push her about, a hero who has his issues, but also a load of privilege and luckily has a bunch of people around him who call hin out when he’s being an idiot.  And it has all the diversity and representation you could want in a book.  I’m not going to run through the list here – because that makes it feel like a box ticking exercise and that is the opposite of what this is.  This is society as I see it everyday in a book – not a boring homogenous version of life – and it’s wonderful.  I’ll definitely be reading some more of Hibbert’s books.

This is available on Kindle version – I picked it up for free last week – but it’s £2.99 at time of writing.  It is however included in the Kindle Unlimited programme – so if you’re in that it’s just a guilt free click away.  In fact quite a lot of Hibbert’s books are in Kindle Unlimited so if this trope doesn’t work for you – or you’re worried about that trigger warning, then there maybe another one for you in the mix somewhere.  From that interview that I mentioned earlier, Hibbert’s thing is definitely strong heroines and diverse casts of characters who challenge sterotypes in romantic fiction.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: The Kiss Quotient

I said in the Week in Books that I had some interesting choices to make for this week’s BotW, and it turns out that my pick is a bit of a cheat: I finished it yesterday (Monday). But as it’s out in paperback on Thursday here, I thought I’d give myself a pass and let myself pick Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient.

Cover of The Kiss Quotient

Stella has a problem: her parents want her to settle down and start a family. But although she’s been very successful in her career, Stella hasn’t had much luck with dating. What she’s good at is analysing data, and the data – and a lifetime of learning to navigate the world with Asperger’s – tells her that she needs to practice dating and learn how to get good at it. So she hires Michael, a male escort, to teach her everything she needs to know. Michael is good at his job – that’s why he turned to escort work when he needed extra cash – but he’s got a firm no repeat customers rule because he’s had problems before. But there’s something about Stella and her proposal that tempts him to break all his rules. And the more time they spend together, the more complicated it all gets…

As you may have worked out, this is sort-of gendered flipped Pretty Woman, but if Richard Gere’s character had autism. And it is brilliant. Stella is a great character and I loved spending time with her and understanding how her mind worked and what made her tick. And Michael is a great hero too. He has his own baggage to deal with but kind and caring and talented. I really liked that neither of them were judging the other one either. Stella has flashes of jealousy about Michael’s romantic history, but only because she’s worried about how she measures up, she’s not concerned about his career choice. And for his part, once Michael has figured out (or been nudged in the right direction) what Stella’s deal is, all he wants to do is figure out what that means he needs to do and how he needs to adapt to make their relationship work better. There’s also a great cast of secondary characters and some fun set pieces. I could have read another 100 pages easily.

There’s been a fair bit of hype for this boom- I’ve heard about it on a bunch of the bookish podcasts that I listen to and and on bookish Twitter as well as Litsy. I requested it on NetGalley and then managed to pick it up for free on Kindle while I was waiting for NetGalley approval. And it totally lived up to the hype for me. I can’t wait to see what Helen Hoang writes next.

The Kiss Quotient is already available on Kindle and I’m hoping that you’ll be able to get The Kiss Quotient all over the place once the paperback is on sale.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups

Recommendsday: Books to read while the football is on

The World Cup is well underway and although I do like football, I know that there are a lot of people out there for whom two or three matches a day is far too many and will be heartily fed up of the tv schedules being disrupted for 22 men running around after a ball.  And so to help out I’ve got a selection of books for you to read while you’re avoiding the football (or sat on the couch with it on in the background).

I’m going to start off with a sports romance because just because you don’t like football doesn’t mean you don’t like all sports and sometimes you need a sporty hero or heroine can really hit the spot.  I read a lot of winter-sport themed romances in the run up to the Winter Olympics in the hope of writing a post about them, but there weren’t enough that I liked enough to recommend and so it’s the other type of football that I’m going for here.  You may remember that I went on a Susan Elizabeth Philips kick last year and her Chicago Stars series, about an American Football franchise are a lot of fun.  Depending on what your romance genre favourites are, the best fit in the series will be different, but I think mine is Natural Born Charmer which starts with a feisty artist encountering a star quarterback while she’s dressed in a beaver costume.  It’s fun, sparky and flirty.  And if that doesn’t sound like your sort of thing, try Match Me If You Can, which was a BotW last summer.

Hardback edition of The Gender Games

Fed up with laddy banter and jocks?  Try reading Juno Dawson’s The Gender Games to get some facts in your arsenal about toxic masculinity and how everyone – not just transgender people – are having a number done on them by gender.  You might remember that her latest novel Clean was a BotW a few weeks back, but this is nonfiction – part memoir of her own journey to realising who she is and part examination of our society today and its attitude towards gender and gender roles.  I learnt a lot from it and I know I’m going to be lending it and recommending it to people who want to expand the voices and viewpoints they’re hearing – but while the World Cup is on, it’ll also provide you with some handy ammunition next time someone on twitter moans about women commentators or pundits having no place at the tournament…

Cover of Murder in the Telephone Exchange

Want to get completely away from sports?  I can do that for you too. Perhaps some old-school crime fiction might be the thing.  I read June Wright’s Murder in the Telephone Exchange a few weeks back and was absolutely swept up in the world the phone operators in late 1940s Australia.  When Maggie finds one of her unpopular colleagues with her head smashed in, she finds herself drawn into the mystery – not just because she was the person who found the body, but because she’s not sure that the police are on the right track. But soon the danger is increasing and someone else turns up dead.  If you like Phryne Fisher, then this might scratch that itch while you wait for a new book (and we’ve been waiting a while now) or the much promised feature film.  This was a best seller in Australia when it first came out in 1948 and I can totally see why.  I was astonished – and annoyed – that it hadn’t come my way sooner.

The cover of Richardsons First Case

Or you could pick a new series to glom on.  I’m currently working my way through Colin Watson’s Flaxborough series – which are the sort of gentle murder mystery books that these days would be called cozies.  They were written from the late 1950s through to the 1970s, have been a bit forgotten and are in the process of being republished.  The first one – Coffin, Scarcely Used – is only 99p on Kindle at the moment, so that’s got to be worth a punt.  Or I read the first in the Inspector Richardson series a couple of weeks back.  Published in the 1930s, their author, Basil Thomson, was the head of CID at New Scotland Yard for eight years, so the insight into police life may be assumed to be fairly accurate!  The first one – the imaginatively named Richardson’s First Case is also 99p on Kindle at the moment – and so are the rest of the series.  I have book two cued up and ready to go.

The cover of The Wedding Date

How about a non-sports romance? How does a fake relationship that might actually turn into the real thing sound?  In Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date, Drew and Alexa meet when they’re trapped in a lift together during a power cut.  He needs a date for his ex’s wedding and she agrees to do it.  But when that actually turns out to be a fun weekend they wonder if they should carry on seeing each other.  The only trouble is, his job is in LA and her job is in Berkley.  Alexa is a feisty heroine with a great career, that she’s passionate about and Drew is a caring hero, who is also passionate about his job. AND they get to find romance without compromising who they are in themselves. I liked this so much I’ve already got Guillory’s next book preordered.  This one is £1.99 on Kindle and Kobo at the moment.

Paperback copy of Children of Blood and Bone

If you really want a change of scene, how about Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone.  This is the first in a YA trilogy (I think) and the film is already in development by the people who brought you Twilight and Maze Runner.  Set in a west-African inspired world where magic seems to have been destroyed, it follows a teenage girl who has the chance to bring it back and the crown prince who is determined to stop her.  It’s fast, furious and so, so filled with terror that I found it really hard to read.  This is not my genre and I had to take a lot of breaks because it’s so filled with peril.  But if you want to get swept away to another world, this lives up to all the hype.  But – be warned – if you love it, you’re going to have to wait until next year for the sequel – and until 2020 for the conclusion…

And finally if you do want something football-y but not quite – you could join me as I reread Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Academicals.  I don’t think I’ve read this since it came out, so I’m planning to borrow the copy from dad so I can revisit the world of the Ankh-Morpork football.  I may even treat myself to the audiobook so that I can listen to Stephen Briggs do all the voices as I trot around the park.  Luckily the hardback version of this with the lovely illustrated cloth covers doesn’t seem to be out yet, because I am valiantly resisting starting buying them as we all know that once I get one, I’ll end up with the lot…

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: One and Only

This week’s BotW is another romance – Jenny Holiday’s One and Only.  I impulse bought this after seeing the author tweeting that she’d realised that she keeps putting scenes in her books where her characters eat grilled cheese. Now, I currently have five different types of cheese in my fridge, and when I was learning to talk my word was more, and my first phrase was “more cheese” so I think we all know what it was that got my book buying ban overruled…

Cover of One and Only

Now as the whole book is not about cheese, I should give you a plot outline: Jane is the sensible, organised, responsible member of her friendship group.  So of course she’s the one tasked with keeping her Bridezilla friend’s soon-to-be brother-in-law out of trouble in the run up to the wedding.  Cameron has just been kicked out of the army (with the Canadian equivalent of a dishonourable discharge) after his attempt at turning his life around went awry.  He’s got a list of things that he wants to do now he’s free of the military’s rules and he’s determined to tick them all off before his brother gets married.  The last thing he needs is someone dogging his every move to keep him in line.

Of course we all know what’s going to happen here – these two opposites are going to fall for each other and we’re going to learn that there’s a lot more to Cameron than his bad boy reputation. Hint: he definitely got a rough deal from the army.  Jane needs some one to challenge her and get her out of her comfort zone and he needs someone to prove to him that he is more than other people think he is and that he can have the future that he wants to have.  I would chalk this up as reasonably steamy – there’s quite a lot of bedroom action here, and it’s a little bit more… adventurous than some of the others I’ve read recently.

The other great thing about this book is Jane’s group of friends – they’re fun and supportive, even the Bridezilla (who is also a great comic turn).  I also loved the setting – I can’t remember the last time (if ever) I read a contemporary romance set in Canada and this left me a) wanting more and b) wanting to visit Canada.  It’s the first in the series and the sequel is out in June.  I’m busy resisting the urge to go and buy more of Holiday’s back catalogue to read more of the grilled cheese scenes.

You can get One and Only on Kindle and Kobo and Amazon also sell a paperback edition, although I’ve not worked out if it’s a UK edition or a US one which will affect whether you’ll be able to order it elsewhere.  Summer is coming and with it I know a lot of you will be going to weddings, so get yourself in the mood with this!

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, mystery, romance, women's fiction

Veritys in fiction

Today is my birthday, so it seemed like a perfect time to talk about Veritys in fiction. I’ve always really liked my name, but it seems to give some people problems. Back in my reporting days, people used to mishear it all the time – I’d get messages to Sarah T, or Dorothy or a variety of V-names – and you should see the mess Starbucks make of it. There aren’t many of us, but here are five notable ones from my reading back catalogue.

Verity-Ann Carey – The Chalet School series by Elinor M Brent Dyer

I think Verity-Ann was the first time I encountered my name in a book – and I didn’t really count it at the time because of the Ann! Verity-Ann is one of what I think of as the second generation of Chalet girls: she joins the school during the Second World War year’s in Armiford and becomes Mary-Lou’s sister-by-marriage. Verity-Ann is always described as silvery and fairy-like and has a beautiful singing voice. Even when I was a child I had nothing in common with her: my sister has banned me from singing in public and I’m a tall brunette. Never mind. The school stories are great though – even if Verity-Ann was never one of Brent Dyer’s pet characters and had very little to do except be dreamy and sing solos in school plays.

Verity Hunt – Nemesis by Agatha Christie

I saw this on television before I read the book and it creeped me out no end. I was eleven at the time and hadn’t met another Verity and one of the first ones I encountered was the murder victim in a Miss Marple! But once I got past the fact that the dead girl had the same name as me, it’s a cracker of a story – darker in the novel than the Joan Hickson TV version (don’t get me started on the Marple version – which had added nuns!). It’s not my favourite Miss Marple, but it’s right up there.

Verity Kindle – To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

A new discovery last year, Verity Kindle is the female lead in Willis’s time-travel romp. She’s also much more my style: for a start she’s a historian and a Cat fan. Well, sort of. To Say Nothing of the Dog was one of my favourite books of last year: a screwball comedy full of literary in jokes, Peter Wimsey references and all the worst bits of Victoriana. I’d been lent it by a friend and really didn’t want to give him his book back. Which reminds me, I must buy myself a copy so I can reread it and then lend it out….

Verity Browne in the Lord Edward Corinth series by David Roberts

Like me, Verity Browne is a journalist, however that’s pretty much where the similarities end. This Verity is abrasive and has communist sympathies – which don’t help her in the 1930s. I read this whole series nearly four years ago in my ongoing quest for good historical mystery series. This is very much Wimsey crossed with spies and Verity can be quite hard to like. But if you like mismatched detecting duos, they’re worth a look.

Verity Love – True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop books by Annie Darling

Verity Love is a bookseller at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop in Annie Darling’s first book, but in the sequel she gets her own happily ever after. This Verity is a huge Jane Austen fan who has invented herself a boyfriend to stop her friends’ attempts at matchmaking and to give herself an excuse not to do things she doesn’t want to. Of course this plan goes awry and she finds herself with a real pretend boyfriend. Lots and lots of fun and I had a lot of sympathy with this Verity! Also I can’t wait for book three in this series to come out next month.

So there you have it: five fictional Veritys to celebrate my birthday. I think there’s one for most reading tastes here, if you only read one, make it Verity Kindle. She’s smart, plucky, loyal and fun – a set of character traits most people would be happy with I think. And if you can think of any more Veritys I ought to read about, let me know in the comments.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, Book of the Week, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Lost and Found Sisters

Welcome to the first BotW post of 2018.  It feels like ages since I wrote one of these – ad it has been nearly a month –  but I hope you’ve enjoyed all the bonus posts over the festive period.  Anyway,  normal service now being resumed and I’m back to talk about my favourite book that I read last week.  And in keeping with my current obsessions, it’s a Jill Shalvis book.

Paperback copy of Lost and Found Sisters
I was aiming for artistic with this picture. Not sure if it came off!

Quinn is finally starting to get her life back on track after her sister was killed in a car accident.  The two were best friends as well as sisters and after losing Beth, Quinn has lost herself as well.  A sous-chef in a cool restaurant in LA, she’s got a family friend and ex-boyfriend who is desparate to marry her.  But something still feels wrong in her life – something is missing, beyond the fat that she’s missing her sister.  Then an unexpected inheritance throws what she knows about herself up in the air all over again and she heads up the coast to the small town of Wildstone to try and rediscover who she is.  Once she gets there she discovers an even more earthshattering secret that brings with it the chance of a new life.  But is it the life that she wanted?

Lost and Found Sisters is billed as Shalvis’s first “women’s fiction novel” (as opposed to a straight up contemporary romance) and I sort of agree with that.  There is a romance here, and it’s fairly central, but actually the main theme of the book is Quinn’s voyage of discovery.  When I was writing about Sarah Morgan’s Moonlight over Manhattan I said that one of the things that I liked about it was that the heroine fixed herself and found love as a side effect of that and I think this is the next step on from that.  Quinn is more broken than Harriet was and there’s more to her story than just getting over something – she finds out something completely new about herself that reshapes her whole idea of who she is and that takes a lot of adjustment.  The Quinn you see at the end of the book is a very different person to the one at the start, with a whole new set of priorities and responsibilities.

However, Lost and Found Sisters wasn’t as different from Shalvis’s other novels as I was expecting from the women’s fiction label, so I think that if you only read romance, you will still enjoy this – there is a romance here as well and it’s a very nice one, with sections of the book written from the hero’s point of view (he has stuff he’s working out too) – so don’t be put off.  This isn’t the miserable, super-worthy stuff that you might be imagining.  I picked this up from the bookshop on a whim on Sunday morning and polished it off that day – it is a summer-set book but it was a lovely way to spend a couple of train journeys in the miserable January weather.

Lost and Found Sisters came out in June – I found my copy in The Works, but it may also still be in the other bookshops.  Amazon have it in paperback and on Kindle, and it’s also available on Kobo too.  If you don’t read summer books in winter, I suggest you add it to your watch list and see if it drops in price as we get towards the nicer weather  (or when the sequel comes out!).

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, book round-ups, The pile

My Big Obsessions of 2017

We’re a few days in to 2018 now, so it’s well past time to tell you about my Big Obsessions of 2017.  I’ve found it really hard to find new obsessions this year – because so much of what I’ve read has been a continuation of things that I’ve been reading previously.  I think that’s partly because I discovered a lot of new authors last year and have continued to glom on them, but also because I’ve been trying to work my way through the to-read pile backlog rather than buying lots of new books.

But if 2017 was anything, it was the year of contemporary romance.  After getting into Sarah Morgan in 2016, I tried a lot of other contemporary romance authors this year.  Some of them weren’t my thing, but quite a few were.  I’ve been on quite a few binges on new authors this year and I suspect it may continue.  I finally read Jennifer Crusie‘s Bet Me, which I’d heard people raving about over and over in Romancelandia. I read nearly a dozen of Jill Shalvis‘s novels and discovered that I really quite like small town romances, eight of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s and got quite into sports romances even when they’re about American football and three Kristen Higgins books and thought about taking a trip to a winery.  I’ve started requesting a few more contemporary romances from NetGalley to see if there are any other tropes that I like.  So far I’ve worked out that I’m not a big fan of biker gangs and I really don’t like billionaires, but I’m hopeful that I’ll find some more that I do like at some point in 2018.

I’m still reading other genres though, especially crime and I’ve worked my way through a few series this year.  I’ve added Nick Bryan‘s Hobson and Choi series to my autobuy list, because I really need more snarky teen and cynical older bloke detective novels in my life.   I’m practically counting the days until the next Vinyl Detective novel from Andrew Cartmel, after reading the first two.  I’ve tried out some more of Henery Press’s cozy mysteries and found a couple of series there to dig into: the Tj Jenson series by Kathi Daley, Susan M Boyer‘s Lowcountry series and Julie Mulhern‘s 70s-set Country Club Murders.  Also in series set in the past, I read all three of the TE Kinsey Lady Hardcastle mysteries and the Christmas novella too and three more Royal Spyness books.

I have expanded my non-fiction reading this year – I’ve been concentrating on finding stories and voices from different perspectives than my own and I’ve really enjoyed it.  Actually that’s one of my themes in general this year in fiction as well.  It’s been a bit of a challenge at times, some times finding the books, but sometimes because I’ve got such a big selection of books to chose from that it means that I can ignore books on the shelf for ages in favour of things that are more familiar.  But I’m going to keep challenging myself in 2018.

So there you have it. It remains to be seen whether my consistency – as witnessed by revisiting my 2016 obsessions – will continue now the latest batch of renovation work is done and the book pile unpacked, but I hope I do add something random and new to my reading in 2018 or I might worry that I’m getting boring in my old age!