book round-ups

Halloween recommendations 2018

It’s nearly Halloween and since I’m in the US where it is such a massive thing that it’s blowing my mind, I thought a round up of some spooky/halloween-themed reading might be in order.  I was aiming for it to be recent Halloween-y reading – but you know how these things go – you get a stack of likely books together, you read them – and then you don’t like some of them enough to recommend them.  And I’m always honest.  Which is why I’m telling you up front that there’s no horror here – because I’m too scared to read horror.  My brain is good enough at coming up with things to scare me without ready scary books.  Thrillers are about as much as I can deal with.  And some times I can’t even deal with that.  So expect my usual mix of mystery, romance and fantasy with a dash of classic thriller thrown in.

As I am away from my bookshelves, here’s a picture of a Halloween display in Texas last weekend.

The One with the sweet tooth

I read The Candy Corn Murder right after it came out three years ago and it sees a local reporter covering a Halloween Festival.  But when her husband becomes the prime suspect in a murder, she steps in to investigate.  This is the 22nd(!) in Leslie Meier’s Lucy Stone series – and there are other Halloween-themed installments among the other 24 (!!) books in the series if you like Lucy’s world and want to spend more time there.  I’ve read one, maybe two others and have my eye on a couple from the library to see how there series has evolved.

The one that’s a creepy classic

I’m slowly working my way through Daphne DuMaurier’s works – and there are several of hers that would be good for giving you chills on a dark night.  The obvious one is Rebecca, but Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel are also properly atmospheric and creepy.  Those two also have recent tv or film versions should you want to be a person who likes to watch the movie of the book and complain compare. I also have a massive softspot (if you can call it that for something so creepy) for the Charles Dance and Emily Fox TV version of Rebecca from the late 1990s.

The One with a creepy doll

Barbara Early’s new book, Death of a Russian Doll is mostly about the murder of the local police chief’s wife, but it’s also got a matroshyka doll that’s moving on its own to up the creep factor.  Your amateur sleuth is Liz, the owner of the vintage toy shop next door to the murder scene and the sort-of ex-girlfriend of the police chief (he didn’t tell her about his estranged wife) who’s retired cop father is called in to investigate the crime.  This came out this month and is the third book in the series, but it’s the first of them that I’ve read and I liked it enough that I’ll be keeping an eye out for more by this author.

The One with the Embarassing First Date

This is slightly tangentially Halloween-y because Carter and Evie, the hero and heroine of Christina Lauren’s Dating You, Hating You meet at a Halloween party being held by mutal friends.  From that awkward beginning, a promising relationship starts until their companies merge and the two of them find themselves in competiton for the same job.  I really liked Evie, but I had a few issues with Carter and I felt their prank war was just a little bit unprofessional.  However the dialogue is sparky and the chemistry is there so I’m still mentioning it here because I know that I can be a bit of a curmudgeon sometimes and I know a lot of people who really loved it and didn’t have the same issues!

The One with that’s spoofing a Vampire Craze

I couldn’t help but include this.  Lauren Willig’s the Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla sees Sally Fitzhugh investigating whether the Duke of Belliston is an actual vampire after a rumour takes hold in London in 1806.  He’s not of course, but he doesn’t mind the reputation that he’s got, that is until a woman is found with the blood drained from her throat and it looks like he’s going to get the blame.  This is the eleventh in the Pink Carnation series, which I would say to read in order to get the full force of the present-day story line (which runs through the whole series) but the nineteen century one is really the star here, so I think you could make an exception for Halloween.  And it’s got a stoat.  What more could you want?

The One with the Actual Vampires

If you haven’t read Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampires series (aka True Blood), Halloween might be a good chance to start.  And now the series has been finished for a while if you like them you can glom your way through all thirteen of Sookie Stackhouse’s adventures.  Just remember not to get too invested in any one outcome for Sookie in particular – because there was a lot of upset when the last book came out about which of her beaux she ended up with. I won’t give anything away, but I think the clues were sort of there about what was going to happen – or at least I didn’t think the ending ruined the whole series for me (which a lot of people did!).  And if you like that world, there’s plenty of other Charlaine Harris novels, most of which are set in (what turns out to be) the same world of vampires, werewolves and other supernatural creatures.

The One with the Haunted House.

You all know how much I love Meg Langslow because I keep writing about her, but Lord of the Wings, the 19th book in Donna Andrews’ long running series, is a Halloween one and I really liked it.  There’s a massive Halloween festival going on in Caerphilly when first the Haunted House burns down and then a body is discovered in the wreckage.  The usual Langslowian mayhem ensues – including Meg’s Grandad running a special exhibit at his Zoo – and then there’s the Goblin Patrol.  Probably best appreciated if you’ve read some of the others in the series, but this is still worth a look.

If you’ve got any Halloween recommendations for me – and remember that I don’t do horror because I’m a scaredy cat – then put them in the comments!

Happy Reading

Authors I love, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Forever and a Day

A tricky choice this week – I didn’t finish a lot, and there’s a lot of repeat authors here. And I’ve been super busy, so that means I don’t have a lot of time to write. But as I’ve read three Lucky Harbor books in as many weeks, this seemed like a good option. Anyway, to the book…

Cover of Lucky Harbor omnibus

Grace never thought she’d end up in a town like Lucky Harbor. Her super successful parents had plans and ideas for how they wanted her life to turn out and she’s never wanted to make them feel disappointed in the little girl they adopted. But when the job she moved across country for turned out to have some sexual strings attached, she knew it wasn’t the job for her. But that left her without a job and a long way from home and she doesn’t know how she’s going to sort this out before her parents find out. Then she ends up dog sitting and then baby sitting for local doctor Josh. Josh has got far too much on his plate. His son is only communicating in barks since his sister brought home Tank the puppy. And his sister has got a serious case of rebellion going on, after the accident that killed their parents and left her in a wheelchair. Soon he and grace are getting on really well and the sparks are flying, but they both know that this can only be a temporary thing – after all she isn’t staying in town and he’s been burnt before and doesn’t want to upset what balance he does have in his life. Right?

So Lucky Harbor books come in threes, and this is the third of its groups, so if you’re reading in order you’ve already seen Grace’s arrival in town and the friendship that she’s built with Amy and Mallory, the heroines of the previous two books in the series, as well asserting glimpses of Josh as he interacted with his friends in town. This makes this book extra satisfying because you’re already engaged with the characters and invested in a happy ending for them. Jill Shalvis is so good at these small town romances. Her characters are three dimensional and their backstories feel very realistic. And the writing is so witty – you get to laugh as well as getting a happy ending. What more could you want?

As you can tell, I got my copy from Barnes and Noble as part of an omnibus edition, but you should be able to get hold of these fairly easily as ebooks from all the usual sources although the paperbacks may be a little harder to find in the UK, but I have found them in the library on occasion too.

Happy Reading!

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!