Book of the Week, reviews

Book of the Week: Carrie Soto is Back

I know, I know. I’ve already mentioned this a few times, and it was on the reading list for a while, so why is this book of the week now I’ve finally finished it? Well firstly, take a look at it: it’s a hardback. And that should explain why it’s taken me a while to read – I don’t take books in my work rucksack these days because I have a laptop in there but I especially don’t take hardbacks around because they get so battered and also hardbacks are just harder to read than paperbacks are – speaking as an integrate eat-and-read person, you cannot read a hardback while you eat your lunch!

Carrie Soto was the best tennis player in the world. When she retired at the end of the 1980s, she had the all time grand slam record. But just six years later, that record is about to be broken- so she decides to make a comeback to take back her crown and prove that she’s the best of all time. But being the best tennis player in the world is much harder when you’re in your late 30s and harder still when it feels like no one wants you to succeed.

Carrie is not a sweet and fluffy tennis player: the media nicknamed her The Battleaxe basically because she did things that in a man would have been celebrated, but women aren’t meant to do. Like saying you’re going to crush your opponents. And admitting that you were targeting an opponent’s injury. And her singular focus means that she’s not always easy to like as she creates a world where it’s her against everyone else – but you’re shown her history and her family so you get why she is the way she is and you’re hoping that someone will come along and break through her protective shell.

Carrie popped up as a secondary character in Malibu Rising and it’s amazing how much you end up rooting for her in this, given what she was up to in that. Taylor Jenkins Reid has said that is the final book in this particular universe and this is another story about a woman who is unapologetic about her ambition and wants to live life in her own way and on her terms. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the themes across the four books – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Daisy Jones and the Six, Malibu Rising and this – and that’s sort of where I’ve come down: they all look at women challenging the status quo in some way, but they’re all very different stories and told in different ways. Like the first two books, there is a lot here where you can pick which real life tennis players have provided some inspiration for various people and the world feels so real by the end of it you can’t quite believe that none of it is real. Excellent, engrossing reading – perfect for a sun lounger, if only you don’t buy the hardback version!

You should be able to get this basically anywhere. Seriously. I think it’s been front and centre in every book shop I have recently featured. And of course it’s in all the ebook formats too.

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, reviews, romance

Book of the Week: The Dead Romantics

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading!

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

American imports, binge reads, Book of the Week, fiction, new releases, reviews, romance, romantic comedy

Book of the Week: Thank You for Listening

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…

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, fiction, reviews

Book of the Week: The Unsinkable Greta James

So, I had a really hard time picking today’s choice, because I loved Lessons in Chemistry *and* The Unsinkable Greta James and I could only pick one. But as Lessons in Chemistry is all over the place – including in paperback at the airport – I thought I’d write about Great today because you might not already have heard of it.

Greta James is an indie music star. She’s had magazine covers and sold out gigs and a few hit songs. So why is she on a cruise around Alaska with her dad weeks before she’s due to be launching the always tricky second album? Her parents were meant to be taking the trip together for their fortieth wedding anniversary, but her mum died suddenly three months before the cruise. And at her first gig after her mother’s death, Greta had an onstage meltdown that went viral. So she’s on the trip with her dad, attempting to ignore what’s going on with her career and trying to improve her relationship with her dad. Because her mum was the supportive one – who encouraged her to follow her dreams and her dad was… not. Will this trip bring them closer together or drive them further apart than ever? Also on board the ship is author Ben Wilder – who is there to deliver a lecture about his book about Jack London’s Call of the Wild, but is struggling with writing his follow up…

I really enjoyed this. I do like a book about a musician (see Daisy Jones and the Six) and I love stories about family relationships (see Guinevere St Clair and Young Pretenders most recently) and it’s only a couple of weeks since I wrote a post about mysteries set on ships, so we know that I like them too. And this does everything that I was hoping it would do. Greta is passionate about her music and determined to succeed and her fractious relationship with her dad, her blossoming relationship with Ben and her grief and anxiety about the death of her mum add up to a fascinating leading character. And it’s a minor thing, but I really liked how explicit the book was about the work and the practice that had gone into Greta’s success – she plays her guitar, you hear about the hours she puts in to playing and composing. I feel like you don’t always get to hear about that in books about people in the arts – it’s portrayed like a magical thing that comes easily to people. And maybe to some people it does, but I think to a lot of musicians and other artists of various kinds it actually comes after thousands of hours of work and the first song you write (or painting you make, or book you write) isn’t the one that’s the big success – it’s the 5th or sixth or tenth or thirtieth.

I hate the term women’s fiction, but that’s the best I have got for this. It has a romantic plot strand but it’s not primarily a romance. And it’s much easier to read than literary fiction (another label I hate) tends to be. I read it across two evenings once the actual physical copy arrived chez moi after I bought this as part of my sample reading spree the other week. I’m not sure where I saw it recommended. I thought it was from Goodreads, maybe in their Anticipated Summer reads article, but no. So it could have been twitter or the algorithm because I can’t find it in any of my book-ish emails. Anyway this is the first Jennifer E Smith book that I’ve read and I shall keep my eyes out for more because it was a really delight.

I bought mine in hardback because after reading the sample I thought it might be one I would want to lend (and I think the prices for the physical copy vs the ebook were not that far apart on the day I bought it) and I have already sent it out on loan! I can’t see that it’s in stock in any of the Foyles stores so it may be one that you do have to order rather than pickup in a store, but it’s also available in Kindle and Kobo. The paperback is out early next year….

Happy reading everyone

Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Mysteries set on Cruise Ships

Well the clue is in the name this week – I am all about mysteries set on cruise ships. I nearly said books on boats and then ships, but I realised I could be more specific than that… and then even further – they’re all murder mysteries too!

Miss Aldridge Regrets by Louise Hare*

It’s 1936 and Lena is on the way to New York. She’s leaving her troubles behind and moving on from her job singing in a nightclub in Soho to a role on Broadway. But first she has to negotiate a luxury cruise ship journey and when a wealthy and aristocratic family take her under their wing things start to get complicated. Then someone dies. This has glamour, intrigue, a whole bunch of secrets and a slowly unravelling mystery. If you look at the list you’ll see it’s took me a while to read – but don’t let that distract you – really I started it, got distracted by other books and then came back to it and read most of it in a week. It would be a great book to read on a sunlounger this summer. But maybe not on a cruise ship!

A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys

It’s been a couple of years so it’s safe to mention A Dangerous Crossing again. It’s got a new cover since I read it, but this was a BotW back in 2017. A slight 1930s theme to the start of this post as this is the story of a journey from the UK to Australia in the summer of 1939. Lily, our heroine is going down under on an assisted passage scheme to work as a domestic servant (despite having previously said she wouldn’t return to service) and the journey throws her into contact with all sorts of people she wouldn’t normally have come across. The normal rules of society are suspended and there is a gathering sense of unease as the news from home gets worse at every port they stop at. It’s tense and twisty and I really enjoyed it once I got a chance to have a run at reading it. I’ve got another Rachel Rhys on the Kindle waiting to be read and this has reminded me that I really must get around to it…

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

Still in the 1930s, but this time actually written in the 1930s with the granddaddy of all cruise ship Murder mysteries. If you’ve never read it, Hercule Poirot finds himself on a Nile cruise with a newly married couple and the wife’s former friend who used to be engaged to the husband. Murder ensues. I’ve been listening to this again on audiobook recently – I have the version read by Kenneth Branagh, which is really good and you’ll probably see it on next week’s week in books because I’m nearly finished it. I revisited it because I want to see the new film version and wanted to remind myself what was in the book as opposed to the 1978 film with Peter Ustinov and a very starry cast, or the 2004 TV version with David Suchet and Emily Blunt – both of which I’ve seen recently!

Several mystery series have books set on cruise ships too – Terns of Endearment in Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series sees the gang on a cruise holiday because Grandfather is due to give a lecture series. So of course there is a murder! I’ve said before that you really need to read these in order to understand who everyone is and all the running back stories but this is a relatively self-contained story, considering it’s the twenty fifth in the series!

And I haven’t quite reached it in my reread yet, but the fifteenth in Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series, Death by Water sees our heroine take a trip on cruise ship to catch a jewel thief. I also need to reread Ngaio Marsh’s Singing in the Shrouds, where Roderick Alleyn has to catch a multiple murderer who is attempting to make his escape on a ship to Cape Town. I remember it being a clever mystery but with some Of It’s Time attitudes that I didn’t make a note of in my goodreads review. And as ever if you have any more for me, put them in the comments!

Enjoy!

historical, series

Series: Philippa Gregory’s Tudor novels

Today is day two of the bumper bank holiday weekend here in the UK to mark the Platinum Jubilee. I wanted to write a post about a royal related series today to tie in, so I’m going back in history for Philippa Gregory’s historical novels about the Tudor Royals and adjacent families.

Covers of The Constant Princess, The Boleyn Inheritance, The Queen's Fool and The Virgin's Lover

Now this is a complicated series to write about because although they are lumped now together on Philippa Gregory’s website, on Goodreads and on Amazon as the Plantagenet and Tudor novels, they used to be two listed as two distinct series – the Tudor Court and The Cousins’ War. And I agreed with that because the Cousin’s War books have magic in them and the Tudor Court does not which to me suggests that they can’t really be seen as being in the same timeline. And the order that they were written is not at all the chronological order either. The magic issue is also one of the reasons why I haven’t read all of them – after the magic in The White Queen I didn’t fancy doing the others in that part of the series. The other is that as the series has gone on we’ve got into some of the figures where I know it ends badly (as in beheadings) and as we know I’m not always in the mood for that. I’d also not really appreciated exactly how many of them there are now – because I have been ignoring the potentially magic including newer titles…

So really I suppose I’m writing about the first five to be published: The Other Boleyn Girl, the Queen’s Fool, The Virgin’s Lover, the Constant Princess and the Boleyn Inheritance which cover (in the order I’ve given the titles) Anne Boleyn’s rise and fall, the changing fortunes of Henry VIII’s two daughters during the decade from the late 1540s to the late 1550s, Robert Dudley’s time as favourite of Elizabeth I, Catherine of Aragon’s time in England and the fourth and fifth marriages of Henry VIII. From this you can see that they are not exactly chronological – and have now ended up being (again in the order I gave the titles at the start of this paragraph) books 9, 12, 13, 6 and 10 in the amalgamated Plantagnet and Tudor series! There is a sixth book from this phase in Philippa Gregory’s career – The Other Queen, about Bess of Hardwick and Mary, Queen of Scots – which I haven’t read, but writing this post has reminded me that I would like to!

Anyway, I first read the Other Boleyn Girl back when I was at university and borrowed it off my sister in the holidays. I have a vivid memory of buying the Airport Paperback edition of The Virgin’s Lover at Stansted on my way to Tours during my year abroad and can see it now sitting on the bookshelf in my room in halls there. The others were bought either by my sister of me and we shared our copies between us – which probably explains why I don’t have any of them in my house anymore. I reread the Virgin’s Lover a few times during my time in Tours – because I didn’t have many books in English and buying more was expensive – and reread the others too at the time but I haven’t read any of them for a while.

Of course this means I’m not quite sure how they stand up these days, but I remember them as fun historical romps which were accurate enough in terms of the time line of things happening, but took a lot of liberties with what the actual people got up to. If you went to school in Britain, it would be nearly impossible not to know the vague outline of events – because as Greg Jenner says in Ask a Historian we have a national obsession with the Tudors. But even knowing what happens, it’s still a really good read to get there – and the books often focus on side characters whose stories intersects with the Big Figures rather than the figures themselves which means you can still hope for a happy ending (for Mary Boleyn in the Other Boleyn Girl for example) or for comeuppance (for Jane Boleyn for example!) as well as trying to work out where the liberties are being taken with the timeline and historical fact if you’re a history student!

I have two of the later books sitting unread on my kindle because they’ve been Kindle Daily Deals at some point – although I think little sister has read them – and once I get my new library card, I will look at filling in some more of the gaps in the Tudor section of the series without the risk of buying (more?) books with magic in them that I will give up on! You should be able to get hold of any of these very easily – Philippa Gregory is in practically every bookshop, they’re also often in the second hand and charity bookshops and they’re on all the ebook platforms too. They’ve been through several editions – the covers I have in the photo for the post are the current Kindle ones, which are totally different to the ones my old paperbacks had and there are several different styles that I’ve seen in the shops too.

Happy Friday everyone – whether it’s day two of the four day Jubilee weekend or the eve of the Whit weekend or just a normal Friday!

romance, women's fiction

New release: Book Lovers

I said on Tuesday that last week had been a good one for reading new stuff, and it was because here I am again with a new release that’s perfect for reading while sitting on a beach – or more likely in the garden (if the sunshine lasts).

Emily Henry’s new novel is about a New York book editor, who keeps getting dumped when here boyfriends go on business trips to small towns and fall in love. Nora is the before woman. When her sister drags her to a small town in North Carolina to spend a month, she encounters Charlie – her work nemesis. He’s the editing equivalent of her, but he turned down her biggest novel and she’s not over it. And they keep bumping into each other…

And it’s delightful. As you can probably tell, it’s a book for people who love reading romances and seeing someone do something different with the tropes and archetypes. It’s a romance, but it’s closer to the woman’s fiction end of the spectrum because Nora has some issues of her own to deal with and that along with her relationship with her sister takes up almost as much time as the romance does. It will probably make you cry, you will probably worry if there’s going to be a happy ending but it’s worth it in the end, even if I wanted a slightly longer epilogue (what’s new!).

My copy came from NetGalley, but Book Lovers is out today in paperback – it came out on Kindle and Kobo on the 3rd – because release dates are confusing and annoying. Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, romance, romantic comedy

Book of the Week: Roomies

Back with contemporary romance this week, because it’s only been two months since Death Goes on Skis was BotW so I can’t do Nancy Spain again yet, but don’t worry I will find a way to talk about Poison for Teacher, and this Christina Lauren is a good one too!

The heroine of Roomies is Holland, a MFA graduate who finds herself somewhat adrift after her muse deserts her. Instead of writing she’s working for her uncle, who has written the latest Broadway smash, and has a huge crush on a guitarist she’s heard busking in the subway. When Holland helps Calvin to get his big break, it turns out that his student visa is long expired and his chance to shine may be out of reach after all. So Holland offers to marry him, and so begins their attempt to keep him in New York and fool The Powers That Be that theirs is a genuine relationship. But as they live together in Holland’s apartment and find out more about each other, who is actually fooling who and is this relationship turning real?

Marriages of convenience are one of my favourite historical romance tropes, but you don’t get a lot of them in contemporary romance, so when you find one it’s a real treat. This is a bit slow to get started – I think because Holland’s infatuation with Calvin before she knew him made me a little uncomfortable, but once it does click it’s a lot of fun. There is a good group of supporting characters – Holland’s uncles are lovely and her boss is awful – and watching Holland figure out who she is and what she wants is a good counterpart to the romance. Christina Lauren’s books can sometimes be too cringe or have leading character that are too unprofessional for me to deal with, but Roomies manages to stick on the right side of that – just. It all wraps up a little quickly, and I wanted a little bit more closure on a few things, but all in all it was a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

My copy of Roomies came from the library, but it’s out now and you can get it on Kindle and Kobo and the paperback looks like it may be relatively easy to get hold of.

Happy Reading!

new releases, romantic comedy

Out today: Mad About You

Here’s a confession. I meant to read Mhairi McFarlane’s new book well in advance of its release date. But that pesky Covid thing that’s making me binge reread things I’ve read before got in the way. So I started this on Tuesday night, read about 50 pages before bed and thought “well I’ll keep reading it tomorrow and write a post saying I haven’t finished it yet but on past record I trust that it’s going to be great.” I’d even stated the draft of a post saying just that.

Except on Wednesday night I finished it. I was glued to my sofa reading it from the moment I put the dinner in the oven. I read 350 pages basically in one big gulp – ok I stopped to eat dinner and there were a couple of loo breaks in there too, but that’s it. The TV was in on the background, but I think Him Indoors could have been watching a gory movie and I wouldn’t have noticed. I stayed up late to finish it because I couldn’t bear to Lea it it to the train in the morning – and as it made me get all weepy at the end, I think I made the right choice. It’s that type of book.

And now I realise I’ve written two whole paragraphs without telling you what on Earth the plot is. So, here we go: Harriet is a wedding photographer in Leeds. Business is booming, but despite being around happy couples at work all day she doesn’t want a marriage of her own. When she finds herself in need of a new place to live, she moves in with Cal. He’s handsome and charming and his love life is also a complete mess. But is this the start of something good for both of them?

Now there’s a lot more to the plot than that – but I’ve tried to stick with not giving anything more away than the blurbs on Goodreads and Amazon do. Harriet is a brilliant heroine – she’s independent, resilient and smart and she and her friends have some great one liners. Cal is an attractive hero too – mysterious (until he’s not) with a ride or die best mate of his own. The Amazon strap line calls this a romantic comedy – and it is – but a big part of the book is a Harriet dealing with issues in her own past so that she can move on and move forward – and there are some tricky issues in there which definitely aren’t funny. But the resolution is punch the air brilliant and it all ends up alright in the end.

Now I realise in writing this that I’m doing myself out of a book of the week option on Monday, but hey, sometimes I break with my own rules and traditions – and it’s nice to mix it up a bit and do a review on release day – especially when it’s a book that I’ve enjoyed so much. Mad About You is out now in Kindle, Kobo and paperback. Enjoy!

Book of the Week, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: Silver Street

I said yesterday that I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about today – and here’s the answer – I finished this on Monday evening, so it’s a bit of a cheat but hey you’re used to that now!

Ann Stafford’s Silver Street follows a group of people from Armistice Day in 1918 through til 1932. Although initially unconnected, by the end their lives have all intertwined, mostly because of Alice Gedge a former ladies maid who ended the war as a supervisor of a group of clerks at a Ministry but who, when the men return becomes a “treasure” – aka a rather superior sort of daily maid to the residents of a building in Silver Street. Over the years the tenants include an elderly woman who likes to hold court for her birthday, a spinster who works as a social worker, two independent young women, a newly married couple and a single young man. And on top of that there’s Alice’s husband and her two children.

This is quite an every day story of normal people and normal lives – where there is no huge drama, I mean except your future happiness, but not death or peril if that makes sense. It’s not comic, but it’s not tragic – it’s closer to Barbara Pym than Miss Buncle but it’s another example of a novel by a women, first published in 1935 and now a bit forgotten and as such was right in my wheelhouse. And yes I know that Barbara Pam isn’t forgotten, but you know what I mean. I read it in two sittings – and it would have been finished for last week’s list if we hadn’t gone out for the day on Sunday and I didn’t have space in my bag to take it with me – even if I hadn’t borrowed it from someone and not wanted to mess it up!

My copy is on loan from a friend and this is going to be one of the harder books to get hold of I’m afraid – as it’s published by a small house and there is no ebook version. So if you want to read it, please buy it from Greyladies here. And mum, if you’re still reading and haven’t already messaged me to ask, yes, you can borrow it.

Happy Reading!