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.
*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
For recommendsday this week, I have for you a selection of fake relationship romance novels. Which I’ll have you know was a bit of a challenge, because I love a fake relationship book when it works and that means they often end up being BotWs. More of those at the end…
Cotillion by Georgette Heyer
I’m going to start with one of my lesser mentioned Georgette Heyers. Cotillion was actually one of the very first I read of hers and writing this has made me think that I need to go back and read it again. Kitty’s Uncle Matthew says he will leave his fortune to her – if she marries one of his great-nephews. Two of them promptly propose to her – but not Jack who is the one she likes best. So Kitty asks Freddy to pretend to be engaged to her for a month – partly to make Jack jealous. Of course complications ensue and it all goes from there. This is at the witty and comic end of the Heyer oevre (think Frederica or Arabella) rather than one of the big emotion romances.
Well Matched by Jen DeLuca
I mentioned this in the quick reviews back in February, but I’m going to give it another quick shout out here: the third in DeLuca’s Ren Faire series is about April who agrees to pretend to be her friend Mitch’s girlfriend at an event with his family which starts a chain of events that threatens to derail her long held plan for what she will do when her daughter leaves for college..
If I Never Met You by Mhairi MacFarlane
Another one I’ve mentioned before – but this time two years ago (I actually read this at the start of our last holiday before the pandemic when we had no idea what was about to happen!). Laurie’s boyfriend has just broken up with her but because she still has to work with him everyday it’s all the office can talk about, Jamie needs a girlfriend to impress his new boss. The two of them come up with a plan to pretend to be a couple to solve both of their problems. This comes with a slight warning that the heroine’s break up at the start is very bleak, but the fauxmance between Laurie and Jamie is really good and well done and the resolution works out really neatly.
I’ve been running a theatricaltheme 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 Playbookhas 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…
Yes, this is very late now, but it’s a bank holiday weekend coming in the UK this week and last week I had three nights away from home so I *finally* pulled my finger out and read the rest of the books that I had been thinking about for this post. I know – I started writing this in late June, but I got distracted by the rereads and exciting new series. And some of the books I was going to put into this ended up in other posts, or as books of the week (Acting Up I’m looking at you) I am such a mood reader. I don’t even know why I try to make lists and plans of what to read when. And yes, this is all romance or romantic comedy or adjacent genres, but that is what I like to read on a sun lounger. Sue me. As usual, if it has an * next to the title if came from NetGalley, otherwise I paid for it with my very own money. And you’ll be glad to know I’ve already started on the Christmas reading post. Maybe I’ll get that one done on time…
Beach House Summer by Sarah Morgan*
Sarah Morgan‘s summer novel this year follows the ex-wife of a TV chef in the immediate aftermath of his death in a car crash. Stay with me, I know that sounds like it might be miserable, but don’t worry. To return to the plot: Joanna’s marriage to Cliff was dysfunctional to say the least and carried out in the glare of the media spotlight. So when she finds out that there was a young woman in the car when it crashed and that the woman is pregnant, Joanna knows she has to help her. The two women head to Joanna’s house in the town that she grew up in to hide from the paparazzi. Joanna hasn’t been there since she ran away with Cliff in the aftermath of a breakup with her high school boyfriend and she’s soon going to have to face the past and the community she left behind. Ashley needs space to plan her and the baby’s future – but there are still a few secrets to come out… This is a delightful sun lounger read, if you can just get past the death-y bit at the start, which I did – but that’s why it was on the list for a couple of weeks! It’s basically a small town, second chance romance with relatively low peril.
The Friendship Pact by Jill Shalvis
On to another regular author of mine and Jill Shalvis’s summer ‘22 book is a second chance romance for two characters who have been damaged by their childhoods. Tae spent her childhood worrying about money and about her mum’s attempts to find a man to make them a family. Riggs’ dad was an alcoholic who liked to hit his kids. But the two of them were friends in high school – until they weren’t. Now Riggs is back in town to visit his brother and his company providing adventures for athletes with disabilities and wounded veterans. Tae’s events planning company is organising their summer programmes. The two of them reconnect, but there are obstacles to a happy ending for them. I read it in 24 hours and was nearly late back from my lunch break because I was enjoying it so much. There’s a testimonial for you!
In a New York Minute by Kate Spencer*
Franny Doyle is already having a bad day before her dress catches in the subway door: she’s just been made redundant. But now her dress is ripped but even worse – the whole subway can see her bum and her knickers. luckily fellow passenger Hayes lends her his jacket to save her blushes. That would be the end of it – except someone has posted what happened to their Insta stories and now they’re viral sensations – #SubwayQTs. Their new found fame (notoriety?!) means they end up seeing each other again, and again, and again: but is there more there than just a hashtag? This has a buttoned up and awkward hero who comes off as aloof and a creative heroine with a tight knit group of friends. If I hadn’t had to do actual things, I could probably have read this in one giant sitting – it’s light and fluffy and endearing.
Donut Fall In Love by Jackie Lau
And finally, this isn’t a summer new release (it came out in October last year!), but I’m giving it a quick shout out because it feels like it would be a fun read if you were on a sun lounger. This has a Hollywood star and a normal person pairing (which I like – see Olivia Dade!) and it’s also got a bakery and a baking show. What’s not to love.
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.
Taking a break from the Girls Own and book conference related content for this week’s book of the week. This is another recent release – the same day as Husband Material in fact – and one that I had heard a lot of buzz about and discovered was on offer while I was writing the August offers Recommendsday post.
Thank you for Listening is a romantic comedy about a former actress who became an audiobook narrator after an accident halter her on screen career. When Sewanee is sent to an audiobook convention by her boss she has a whirlwind night in Vegas with a mystery man. But when she returns to California, she finds an offer to narrate a beloved romance novelist’s final book. The trouble is, she doesn’t do romance novels any more, but money could pay for her beloved grandmother’s nursing home care so she resurrects her old pseudonym and starts recording the book with one of the genres hottest and most secretive male narrators, Brock McKnight. There’s a steady back and forth of chatter between them, but as secrets are revealed, can Sewanee get the happily ever after that she doesn’t believe in?
Julia Whelan is a renowned audiobook narrator so this is is filled with insider titbits from her experience as well as being a love letter to the romance genre. They even joke about how many tropes they’re ticking off more than once. And it’s a delight. Swan is an intriguing leading character, with a complicated family and some issues to deal with. And the shadowy and mysterious Brock has great banter. And, well, it’s very well put together – with a swoony ending and a nod and a wink to fans of the genre. What more could you want.
If I could have read this in one sitting I would have – but unfortunately I had to go to work, so instead I decided not to go to the theatre one of my London nights and instead read this on the sofa at the hostel, and then in my bunk when it got too noisy. No greater testament really.
My copy of Thank You For Listening came from Kindle for the bargain price of £1.99. It’s also on Kobo for the same price and available in paperback from Thursday – although how easily it will be to actually find I don’t know – Waterstones (Foyles’ owners) are having some distribution issues. I will try and remember to check Foyles’ romance section a few weeks after release…
I’ve already written about so much this month and there were so many re-reads that I was worried I wouldn’t have a lot to write about that I liked and hadn’t already. But I’ve managed to pull three books out of my hat so well done me!
That Woman by Anne Sebba
My interest in the Abdicationcrisis is well known at this point. This has been on the list for a while as it is meant to be one of the more definitive ones and I picked this up second hand in the nice charity shop near work a few weeks back and got to it promptly so that I can lend it to mum! It’s interesting, but there’s not a lot of focus on her post war life. I think Andrew Lownie’s Traitor King has more on her post war life than this does – and that’s focussed on him! But it is good on her childhood and pre-duke life as well as her potential motivations.
Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy by Chynna Clugston Flores et al
My love for Lumberjanes is alsowellknown, and well publicised on here, so I’m not quite sure how I’d missed that there had been a Lumberjanes and Gotham Academy crossover book. But there was and it came out in 2017 so I’m well behind the times as I filled in the gap in the series. I haven’t read any Gotham Academy, but that didn’t matter as this is essentially a two schools run into each other, are rivals and then have to work together to defeat a baddie story. And it’s got a possessed house and 1980s theme so it’s a lot of fun.
Shipped by Angie Hockman
And finally a quick mention for this one. It was billed as “The Unhoneymooners meets the Hating Game” with a marketing manager for a holiday firm forced to go on a cruise with her work arch-nemesis and I love an enemies to lovers romance, but didn’t quite work for me as well as I wanted because it hit some of my “why are you acting like this” buttons and the heroine really, really annoyed me. But I know that a lot of that is a me thing, so people with a higher (lower?) embarrassment threshold will probably love it. However, if you want a book with a cruise ship and a romance (even if the romance is a bit secondary) then try The Unsinkable Greta James.
So yesterday we did the new releases, and today I’m back with my other favourite books of the year so far – the ones that aren’t new, but that I’ve read for the first time this year. And it’s a slightly random mix of the nearly new and the really old.
I’m going to start with the really old – and that’s two of my Persephone subscription picks. I’ve had five of my six books through now and read three of them and A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair and The Young Pretenders by Edith Henrietta Fowler both got five stars from me. The Two Mrs Abbotts got four stars – and that was mostly because I wanted more Barbara herself and even as I write that I wonder if I was being too harsh and I should upgrade it! All three of them – and the other two Miss Buncle books are great if you want low peril reading in your life at the moment – and who doesn’t to be honest.
Then there are two nearly new books that I’ve given five stars as well so far this year – there’s Greg Jenner’s Ask a Historian answering fifty questions about history that people have asked Greg. And then there’s very recent BotW pick Acting Up by Adele Buck, which is a theatre-set romance which I loved so much I immediately bought the next book in the series. Honestly June was such a good month of reading for me.
Plenty of options to chose from this week, and I’ve gone with a romance novel to make a nice change for the summer heat. Or what I hope is going to be a summery week!
Cath and Paul have been friends since college – and Cath’s been hiding a crush on Paul all these years. Now he’s a theatre director, and she’s a stage manager and they do their best work together. As friends. Just friends. Nothing more. And that’s fine with Cath, because she doesn’t want to risk losing the friendship she has with him. This summer, they’re working on a production of a new play at a regional theatre in Connecticut. If it goes well, it could go to Broadway – but will it go well if Paul insists on hiring Cath’s college nemesis to play the leading role? When rehearsals start, Paul realises that his leading lady is making Cath’s life miserable. And also that the leading man is showing an interest in Cath. Paul realises that what he wants is Cath – but can he persuade her that it’s worth taking a chance on?
Regular readers will remember how much I enjoy Lucy Parker’stheatre-setromances and that I always say I want more books like them. Well, here is more like them. This is friends-to-lovers rather than enemies-to-lovers and it’s in American regional theatre rather than the West End, but it’s got great characters, cracking banter – they quote plays at each other everyone, including some Busman’s Honeymoon, what more could I want – and the supporting characters are also amazing. Plus more backstage theatre details than you can shake a stick at, but not in an info dump sort of way. I read it in two sittings – it would have been one sitting, but it was 2am and I had to go to bed. Then I bought the next one so that I can read it on the train to work this week when I have finished the other things I am meant to be reading.
I bought this as part of my read the samples of books on offer spree (as mentioned yesterday) and it is 81p at the moment on Kindle everyone. EIGHTY ONE. And 99 cents in the US. Run don’t walk everyone, because I suspect this offer is going to finish at the end of June. It’s also available on Kobo (for 99p) and in paperback. You’re welcome. I’m off to see what else Adele Buck has written and buy it add it to my wishlist.
It’s the first day of June – but it’s also a Wednesday so it’s time for some more quick reviews. This is a somewhat shorter post than usual this month (who knew that was even possible) because I’ve already talked about so many of the books that I read that weren’t rereads. But I have still managed to find some books to talk about! However I would say this is very much a post of books where I have a but in my thoughts about them!
Jumping Jenny by Anthony Berkeley
So this was one I started when I was working on the British Library Crime Classic post and didn’t get finished in time because I got distracted by rereading Vicky Bliss! Anyway, this is another Roger Sheringham mystery (the next in the series after Murder in the Basement in fact) and is quite hard to write about without giving more spoilers than I should. Roger is attending a fancy dress house party where the theme is murderers when the horrible wife of one of the other guests is found murdered. Berkeley enjoyed playing with the genre and genre conventions – and if in Body in the Basement you spent a lot of the book trying to find out who the body is, in this he is playing with another aspect of the genre. I didn’t find it entirely satisfying and it’s not quite playing fair with the rules of the time either and that’s about all I can say – but if you read it you’ll probably be able to work out what my issues are. Aside from the spoilers issues, I’m not sure that Berkeley really liked women, but there are quite a few like that from his era so that’s not entirely unexpected.
Set on You by Amy Lea*
I read this in an incredibly busy week of new books so this got skipped at the time because I didn’t love it the way that I loved Lady’s Guide to Fortune Hunting or Book Lovers. Crystal is a successful curvy fitness influencer, Scott is her gym nemesis. But when her grandmother announces she’s getting remarried, it turns out that Scott is about to be part of the family. In the run up to the wedding the two grow closer, until the internet threatens to tear them apart. This is a romantic comedy where I liked the characters and I liked some aspects of the way their romance unfolded – but the start of the novel where they’re irritating each other didn’t work for me – and some of the resolution of it didn’t work for me either. But we know I have issues with pranks in novels (see previous reviews for some of the early Christina Laurens) but in between there was flirty, romantic fun with a main character who has more going on that just the romance, and a hero who is just about adorable once you find out what he is really like. Also I really liked the extended families. I will definitely watch out for more from Amy Lea.
Hotel Magnifique by Emily J Taylor*
I also just wanted to give a mention to Hotel Magnifique – which was not for me but I’m sure will suit other people. Jani and her sister get jobs at the magical Hotel Magnifique because Jani thinks it’s the way to a better future for them and an adventure as it moves from place to place each day. But behind the doors of the hotel, things are not what they seem and soon Jani is fighting to free herself, her sister and the other staff from the Magic. I was hoping for something similar to the Night Circus but YA and although it starts like that, it’s not how it carries on. I found the heroine quite hard to like, the magic is hard to understand and it all gets a bit brutal. The closest I can get for a description is the closest I can get is Dystopian YA Magic. And that’s still not quite right. I see some people comparing it to Caravel but it’s hard to tell without having read that. This has reminded me thatI really do need to try and read Caravel…
And that’s your lot. It’s a bank holiday here tomorrow, but you’ll get your stats as usual.