Book of the Week, LGTBQIA+, romantic comedy

Book of the Week: Boyfriend Material

Another week, another contemporary romance pick for BotW.  This time it’s Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material, which has been much buzzed about, to the point where it took months for my library hold to come in, but it was totally, totally worth it.

Cover of Boyfriend Material

Luc’s parents were rockstars – and back in the day they made some of their best music together. And then they made him. And it means that he’s sort of famous – even though his dad walked out of his life when he was small and his mum hasn’t made any new music in year. But now his dad is making a comeback – and that means more interest in Luc as well. After an unfortunate picture of him tripping up coming out of a club puts his job (fundraiser at a charity trying to save the dung beetle) at risk, Luc decides that the solution is to get himself a nice normal boyfriend. That’s where Oliver comes him. He’s as normal and sensible as it comes – a barrister, an ethical vegetarian and absolutely scandal averse. The only things that they have in common are the fact that they’re single, gay, and they both need a date for a big event. So they come up with a deal. They’ll be fake boyfriends until Luc’s job is safe and Oliver’s family party is over. Then they’ll never see each other again. Simple. Except this is a romance and we all know these sort of arrangements never go to plan!

I loved this so much. I’ve written a lot here about my quest to find more of the funny but romantic books that I love reading and which seemed to be everywhere in the early 2000s, but which seem to have vanished off the face of the planet these days, in favour of really angsty books where everyone has a miserable backstory or comedies where the comedy is based on humiliation or people being terrible at their jobs (and either not really caring they’re rubbish at their jobs or not realising they are) which is really not my thing. But this was just in that sweet spot. It’s witty, it’s fun, the characters are charming and good at their jobs and the secondary characters are hilarious. It’s just a joy to read. I could have read another 200 pages of Luc and Oliver trying to work out how to have a proper relationship. It really was exactly what I needed last week.

It’s had loads of buzz, been various bookclub and magazine picks and so clearly I’m not the only person who wants to read books like this, and fingers crossed it’s the start of a renaissance. If you’ve got any recommendations for books that do the same sort of thing, please drop them in the comments, because the Goodreads and Amazon suggestions aren’t helping me any! This was also my first Alexis Hall book, so I’m off to dig into the back catalogue, although having chatted to my romance reading friends, I think that the steam levels on some of the others is much higher than this – this is kissing and then pretty much closed door. I’ve already pre-ordered Hall’s next book – Rosaline Palmer Takes All the Cake, which is out in May because a romance set on a baking show is exactly what I didn’t realise that I need in front of my eyeballs!

My copy of Boyfriend Material came from the library, but it’s available on Kindle and Kobo and as an audiobook. It’s a paperback too, but the shops have been closed so long now I’ve lost all sense of what is going to get stocked where and so don’t know how easy it will be to get hold of if you’re trying to order from your indie, but Foyles have it available to order if that’s any indication.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Fantasy, LGTBQIA+

Book of the Week: The House in the Cerulean Sea

Along with 500+ pages of Amelia Peabody, I did read some new stuff last week – amongst it a book of Terry Pratchett essays that I had been saving because there’s only a limited amount of his writing that I haven’t already read, but also the rather charming The House in the Cerulean Sea by T J Klune.

Cover of The House in the Cerulean Sea

Linus Baker leads a quiet orderly life. He works for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth as a case worker overseeing the well-being of children in government sanctioned orphanages. He’s been doing the same job for years and never moved up the ladder – and is happy with that – so when he is summoned by Extremely Upper Management it’s already enough to send him into a panic. Then he’s sent on a highly classified mission to an orphanage on an island where six “highly dangerous” children live along with their guardian Arthur Parnassus. As Linus investigates the home on Marsyas Island and its residents, he (and his cat) get to know the children – a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, a green blob of an as yet unidentified species, a Pomeranian and (most worryingly) the Antichrist – and Arthur and start to discover some of the island’s secrets. But at the end of the end of his allotted four weeks, he will be faced with difficult choice.

This is a wonderful story about what family is and finding your place in the world. It’s beautifully written and incredibly descriptive – I could absolutely see the island and its residents in my head and was rooting for them all all the way. It reminded me (in a weird but good way) of Studio Ghibli movies and the magical alternative reality worlds that they create. Its enough to make me wish that Hayao Miyazaki would make another film after the one he’s currently out of retirement to make! I’m struggling to think of books to compare it to, because it’s a bit different – I’m not alone though because the Goodreads “readers also enjoyed” list seems to be struggling too and the the genre list o has it down as both Adult and Young Adult as well as romance, fantasy, LGTB and (weirdly) audiobook. It’s turning up a few romances like the Honey Don’t List and Girl Gone Viral, which are not similar at all, but do suggest that I’m not the only contemporary romance reader who has enjoyed this one.

Anyway, if you’re in need of some escapist reading at the moment (and again, who isn’t really), this would be a lovely choice. It’ll make you think, but it has a resolution and I think you’ll be happy with it when you get there.

My copy of the House in the Cerulean Sea came from the library, but it’s available in Kindle, Kobo and audiobook as well as paperback – although that might be slightly harder to get hold of.

Happy reading!

Best of..., book round-ups

Recommendsday: My favourite books of 2020

Well, it’s the first Wednesday of 2021, so I’m popping up with my favourite books of 2020. And for the first time (I think) they’re all books that were new in 2020. Which is a surprise to me. But hey, there were some really good new books out last year – and as I mentioned in my post on Sunday, one of the big casualties of 2020 in my bookish life has been the chance to wander around bookshops and happen across books. My bookshop discoveries were often backlist books rather than new releases – and it’s been harder to find that sort of book in the Quarantimes. Hopefully in 2021 I’ll actually be able to wander a bookshop again, and next year I can go back to doing favourite new releases and favourite backlist again. Pretty please.

Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

This was Book of the Week back in September and not only is it my favourite murder mystery of the year, I’ve been recommending it all over the place – and everyone who has told me they have read it has loved it. And it’s sold like gangbusters – if you only got one book for Christmas this year, it may well have been this because it has sold a whole tonne of copies – including being the number one book for Christmas. But don’t be put off by that – and think it’s over hyped. It is just so much fun. The mystery is twisty, it’s got a wonderful cast of characters and why wouldn’t you want to read a murder mystery solved by a group of scheming residents of a retirement village. Just lovely. I can’t wait for the sequel.

Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

 

I talked about Brit Bennett’s second novel back in June and the story of the Vignes sisters has really stuck with me. Stella and Desiree are identical twins, but after they run away from their small town home at the age of 16 their lives take radically different directions. Stella passes as white as she tries to build herself a better future – and spends her life looking over her shoulder – and Desiree escapes an abusive relationship only to find herself back where she started, but with a child in tow. But somehow the sisters lives always end up being intertwined. As you read it the language and the clever structure enthralls you and once it’s over it leaves you with a lot to think about. 

Legendary Children by Tom and Lorenzo

I read a lot of non-fiction last year, and I was having a hard time picking my favourite, but then the new series of Drag Race started, and my choice became obvious. Tom and Lorenzo’s book uses Drag Race as a framing device to look at queer life and how the show turns that into addictive TV. It’s well researched, incredibly readable with a really fun snarky tone – like their blog. This came out in March last year, and as I said in my BotW review back then I learnt so much from it. It’s enhanced my enjoyment of the show – and it’s meant that I can look super knowledgable. A total win. My only regret is lending my copy out – and not getting it back before everything started to lock down again!

V for Victory by Lissa Evans*

Cover of V for Victory

In the dying days of the Second World War, Vee Sedge and her “ward” Noel are just about making ends meet in their house on Hampstead Heath thanks to a strange assortment of lodgers and a more than a bit of good luck. When having to attend court threatens to bring their life crashing down, they need all of their skills and cunning to keep the show on the road. V for Victory is the third book featuring Noel and his eccentric extended family and carries on from after Crooked Heart (Old Baggage was set before Crooked Heart) and I don’t know what more I can say about how much I love them. The books have a wonderful spirit and a real sense of the shades of grey and contradictions in people and of wartime. And it’s funny and will also make you cry. Lovely stuff. I’ve got the paperback preordered so that I can lend it around.

Take a Hint Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

Cover of Take a Hint Dani Brown

The sequel to Get a Life Chloe Brown, is a fake relationship with a social media twist. I loved #DrRugbae – Zaf is a sweetie and Dani is total competence porn and watching the two of them rub each others hard edges off (ooo-er) is a delight. Talia Hibbert writes wonderful British-set contemporary romances – something I’ve really struggled to find and enjoy this year. This did everything I wanted it to and narrowly beat out it’s predecessor for BotW when I read them both in the same week in June. The third book is out in March – and I’ve got it preordered.

And there you have it. Five of my favourite books from 2020. Honourable mentions go to Bad Blood, Love Lettering, Her Last Flight, and the latest books in the Veronica Speedwell, Rivers of London and Vinyl Detective series’ – all of which I’ve already written about ad nauseum over the years.

 

 

Series I love

Series I Love: Tales of the City

Hello, welcome to another Friday and the latest in my new batch of Series I Love posts. Today I’m talking about Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City Series, which I think it pretty perfect reading for the moment – as it’s episodic and starts back in the 1970s.

Tales of the City series on a bookshelf

So this is an iconic series, that started as a newspaper serial, about the lives (and loves) of a group of housemates in San Francisco. Starting in 1976, we meet Mary-Ann Singleton, who has just moved to the city from Cleveland and starts to discover a whole new world. She moves into a boarding house run by the eccentric Anna Madrigal (she names the marijuana plants she grows in the garden) and soon her life is tangled up with the other residents of the building – Michael Tolliver, known as Mouse; Mona, hippy and bi-sexual; Brian, a horny lothario and Norman, the mysterious tenant of the shack on the roof.  It’s fun, it’s incredibly readible – and it’s soapy in the best way aka increasingly ridiculous and far-fetched but you go with it anyway. Across the series (nine books, I still need to buy a copy of The Days of Anna Madrigal, although I have read it!) you’ll laugh and you’ll cry as you cover 40 years in their lives. There are real life people (and events) who feature across the series, with varying levels of disguise.

I love these books so much, and their episodic nature (well except for Michael Tolliver Lives) means they are great for when you’re having trouble concentrating on a book – the bitesized nature means you can pick it up and down, but their newspaper origins means there are constant cliffhangers and teases to keep your interest. Tales of the City has a lot of heavy lifting to do to set everything up, although it’s done so well you don’t really realise it until you read More Tales of the City and see the difference! When I first read them I tore through the first seven books in four months – slowed down only by a Lent book-buying ban which meant I couldn’t buy book 3 for a month! The early books are also a great portrait of 1970s San Francisco – and the LGTB culture in the city before the Aids epidemic hit, and then the impact of Aids on the community. Because they were published in a newspaper soon after being written, current events feature and they’re also a great cultural history document to show how things were seen and what people wer doing at the time. I know I missed a lot of the references first time around, but as my knowledge of LGTBQIA+ history has grown, I’ve spotted more things. Revisiting them to write this book after reading Legendary Children I spotted even more!

So if you’re looking for some escapist reading, this might be the thing for you. Plus you get to You should be able to order the Tales of the City easily from your book vendor of choice – most bookshops I have been into carry them. And as a bonus for the ereaders, the first book is £2.99 on Kindle and Kobo at time of writing. And if you like them, the  books have also been turned into two TV series so you can do a compare and contrast. The first was in the early 1990s for Channel 4 in the UK- which is available for free on All 4 and then in 2019 Netflix did a mini-series with a modern update. Both series feature Laura Linney as Mary-Ann and Olympia Dukakis as Anna. I’ve watched most of the first series, and some of the second. I keep meaning to go back and watch more, and writing this post has given me another nudge, but I’ve got a lot of Drag Race stacked up on the box at the moment and Him Indoors is getting annoyed at the space it’s taking up so I should really watch that first…

And if you haven’t read them already, you can catch up with recent posts in this series on Peter Grant, the Parasolverse, Thursday Next and the Cazalets, as well as older ones on Peter Wimsey, Albert Campion, Roderick Alleyn or view the whole archive here.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, LGTBQIA+, memoirs, new releases, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Diary of a Drag Queen

First up a bit of housekeeping: don’t forget last week’s BotW, Death of an Angel is out on Thursday! If you saw the WiB yesterday, you’ll know that there was a bit of a theme to last week’s tired, last night train reading, but actually it’s a non-fiction pick this week.  For once I’m almost relatively timely – because it’sa new book.  Well by new, it only came out on the 7th, Crystal Rasmussen’s Diary of a Drag Queen. Doesn’t it have a great cover?

Cover of Diary of a Drag Queen

Crystal is the drag name of Tom Rasmussen, a writer, Drag Queen and Céline Dion super-fan and their first book is a raw, honest, no holds barred, letting it all hang out look at one year in the author’s life. You follow them back to London after a difficult spell trying to make it in New York, trying to break the fashion industry, find a place in the drag scene and work out where they fit in the LGTBQIA+ community and their own personal manifesto. If you are squeamish, if you can’t deal with reading about other people’s poo, be warned: there is a lot of that here. But Crystal -has a lot they want to tell you and it is worth sitting up and listening.

I think this might be the most honest memoir I have read since Viv Albertine’s Boys, Clothes, Music. Crystal is setting their life and their truth out there on the page, without a filter (or at least not one that I could spot) and seemingly without hiding anything. At various points Crystal talks about having had to tone their life down for their partner or to be accepted or even just to be exist and it feels like this Diary, this book is their life as they want it to be seen, in all its imperfections, messiness, mistakes and triumphs. Here is Crystal explaining their approach in the introduction:

I spent a lot of my life in the violent, painful clutches of shame, which manifested itself in various modes of self-harm, self-destruction, and other untenable, unsurvivable behaviours.

I learned, however, that the antidote to this shame is not pride, or honour, or even celebration. That comes later. The antidote to shame is honesty. Stark, crass, funny, powerful honesty. Honesty that smashes through notions of taboos and inappropriatenesses. I am not shameful, because I’ve done nothing wrong. It’s the same with being gay, queer, femme, non-binary, a drag queen.

Crystal tells these stories with caustic wit, biting insight and what might be considered a reckless disregard for the secrets of the bedroom, if it wasn’t for the fact that they have assured us at the start that some names and details have been changed to protect identities. Phew. A lot of Crystal’s life is a long way from my experience and my background. And, again as I thought with Viv Albertine, I’m not sure that Crystal would like me. There were times when their critiques of various things made me squirm in my seat with the knowledge that I might have skirted the edges of doing some of the things they were railing against. But as they say, we have all made mistakes it’s how you deal with the mistakes and learn from them that makes a difference. And I’m always trying to do better. We should all always be trying to do better.  Here’s Crystal again:

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/questioning, Intersex, Asexual and + (not you, straight guy who loves glitter a bit but thinks bum sex is gross). Yes, it’s a long acronym, yes, it’s seven whole letters, but I learned the national anthem even though borders are constructs, so you can learn seven letters.

My copy of Diary of a Drag Queen came from NetGalley, but it is out now in hardback and you should be able to lay your hands on a copy fairly easily – I’d expect it to be in any good-sized actual bookshop. Crystal is also out and about on a book tour, so they may soon be coming to a store near you. I know I’m looking to see if I can make one of the dates – and if you can’t, the audiobook is read by the author and the sample on Amazon is a fairly representative section of the book. And of course it’s also available on Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!