cozy crime, Recommendsday, romance

Recommendsday: Books About Renovations

I’ve got renovations and building work on the mind at the moment – I wonder why – and so this week’s #Recommendsday post is about books featuring renovations or building projects. Let’s start with some murder mysteries.

photo of boxes of books.
These are the boxes of books that went off to storage *after* the book cull...


First, a classic: Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie. New Zealander Gwenda and her husband have just moved into her new house, but as she starts to modernise it, all she does is uncover the house’s history.  As far as she knows, she’s never been to England before, so why does she have a creeping dread every time she uses the stairs – and why are all the things that she wants to do to the house, features that the house used to have?  It’s creepier than many of the Miss Marple books – and although it’s very good, it’s not my favourite of the Miss Marple stories, but I think that might be partly because the copy that we had at home when I was little had a cover with a pair of knitting needles stuck in someone’s head.

That would be this cover, and it still freaks me out.

The fourth book in the Aurora Teagarden series, The Julius House, has a big renovation project in it when Roe’s husband to be buys her a notorious house where a family disappeared from some years previously.  Roe is an amateur sleuth, fascinated by real life murders she can’t resist trying to figure out what happened to them.  Houses feature a a few of the books in this series: in book two, A Bone to Pick, Roe inherits a house from a friend, and in book 3, Three Bedrooms, One Corpse,  she has a go at selling real estate and keeps stumbling over corpses.

Not quite a renovation, but Karen Rose Smith’s Caprice de Luce series features a house stager who solves crime. I’ve only read one of them – but as house stagers are  something we really don’t have in the UK, I found her job fascinating, even though I had a couple of quibbles with the mystery.  I have more in the series on my Amazon watch list though, so I liked it enough to want more.

Now, on to romance…

I’ve mentioned Jill Shalvis a few times recently, but the first book in her Lucky Harbor series – Simply Irresistible – features a heroine who is trying to renovate and relauch her late mother’s guest house.  It’s a romance – and her contractor is her love interest and it’s fun and romantic and everything that you would expect from a Jill Shalvis novel.

Among Katie Fforde’s novels, there are a couple that have renovation projects – including Practically Perfect, where the heroine is an interior designer who is doing up a tiny cottage to showcase her skills and slightly tangentially one of my all time favourites of hers, Stately Pursuits – where house sitting turns into an attempt to save the house from redevelopment by getting it into a state where it can pay its own way as a historic home (and venue) open to the public.

And a couple more to finish:

I read Nick Spalding’s Bricking It a couple of years ago and laughed consistently the whole way through.  It features two siblings trying to renovate a house they’ve inherited from their grandmother, with the added complication of taking part in a reality TV show.  It’s got a cast of hilarious secondary characters and I loved the live TV scene – even though my inner broadcasting nerd (hello day job!) wasn’t sure if it would actually have been able to go down the way it did.  Writing this has made me wonder why I haven’t read more of Nick Spalding’s stuff since.

And down here and not with the cozies because I’ve mentioned this series recently already, but the sixth Meg Langslow mystery, Owls Well That Ends Well, sees Meg start the renovations to the big old Victorian house that is such a centre piece for the rest of the series.

If after all that you want more buildings in books, I wrote a #Recommendsday about books with amazing houses back at the end of May.

Send me your suggestions for more renovation books in the comments or on Twitter – I’m @WildeV.

Happy reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Match Me If You Can

If you looked at what I read last week (and the week before) you’ll have noticed that I’ve been on a massive Susan Elizabeth Phillips kick and so it’ll be no surprise to you that this week’s BotW is one of them.  It took a quite a while to pick out which one was my favourite, but in the end I plumped for Match Me If You Can.

Cover of Match Me If You Can
This cover is a little bit retro, but don’t let that put you off.
Annabelle is a matchmaker.  Or at least she wants to be a matchmaker.  She’s taken over her grandmother’s old business and rebranded it to move it away from OAPs towards over achievers.  Now all she needs is a suitably overachieving client to find a match for to make her name.  Heath Champion has worked his way up to turn himself into a sports agent known as the Python.  Annabelle has decided that finding him a wife is going to be the client that makes her name.  It doesn’t matter that he’s already got a contract with Chicago’s top matchmaker, Annabelle is sure that she can do better…

All of the Susan Elizabeth Phillips books that I read last week were from her Chicago Stars series, which centres around a (fictional) American football franchise.  I don’t read a lot of sports romances, partly because they’re mostly about American sports and secondly because they often feature unreconstructed Alpha heros, which are not always my thing.   The difference with these is that all the women are strong, capable, professionally competent and not sitting around waiting to be rescued by the big old man.  In this, Annabelle is struggling to get her business off the ground at the start – but not because she’s incompetant, she’s just trying to break into the market.  She’s got a plan and she’s executing it.  She’s also got an awful family of overachievers trying to persuade her to do their bidding rather than what she wants to do – but she’s sticking to her guns.

In fact, the only bit of the book that didn’t work for me, was late on and revolved around her family – and a lack of resolution of the issues/recognition of how she felt from the hero – but that was a minor blip in a sparky, fun romance which rattles along.  This also has some appearances from previous couples in the series, which is always nice if you enjoyed reading about their romances and sets up the next book in the series (which I had actually read first!).  With a Phillips book, there’s always a secondary romance going on as well – and this one was a bit different to the usual.  I wasn’t sure that I was going to like it at first, but by the end, I was totally won over.

I’ve read four Chicago Stars books in less than a week – which suited me perfectly: satisfying romances, interesting characters that are linked but definitely not the same plots with different names, a bit of humour and not too much angst.  Or at least not unrelenting angst.  The angstiest of the four was Dream a Little Dream – and even that won me over, despite my dislike of traumatised widows and small children.*

Several of the Chicago Stars books are on offer on Kindle at the moment – including the latest in the series First Star I See Tonight for £1.99, which is much nuts and far more fun than you’d expect for a book which includes Middle Eastern Princesses in its blurb!  Match Me If You can is a reasonable £2.49 on Kindle or under £3 if you want a second hand copy of the book from Amazon or you could try Natural Born Charmer – which started me off on this kick last week – for the same prices.  Any of these is well worth a look if you want to dip your toe into this sort of book.

*I often find them to be aiming for winsome, but actually irritating plot moppets.

American imports, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Once in a Lifetime

This week’s BotW is Jill Shalvis’s Once in a Lifetime which was the last book in that omnibus of her Lucky Harbor series that I mentioned in a Recommendsday post when it was on Kindle sale last month.  It was a very busy and challenging week at work for me last week what with the fall out from the London Bridge attacks and the General Election here in the UK and this was perfect escapist reading for me.

This is the UK cover for the individual ebook which is… ok. Not as pretty as I’d like

Aubrey is Lucky Harbor’s resident bad girl – or at least the town thinks that she is.  She got into trouble at school, she was a mean girl and a beauty queen – and she recently slept with her boss.  But now she’s trying to make things right and turn her life into what she wants it to be.   Ben is back in his hometown after leaving to escape his grief over the death of his wife.  He’s not looking to risk his heart again, but there’s something about Aubrey that draws him to her, even though everyone keeps telling him that she is Trouble.

Once in a Lifetime is the ninth book in the Lucky Harbor series and it has been building towards Aubrey and Ben’s story for the previous two books.  You’ll get more out of this if you’ve read those two books – because you’ll have more insight into Aubrey and Ben’s pasts and you’ll see the love stories of Aubrey and Ben’s closest friends, but it still works as a standalone book too.  Aubrey is not a traditional romance heroine – she’s not sweet and goody goody and you learn through the book exactly how mean she can be.  But she’s working to be better and to make amends and her family backstory explains a lot of her behaviours and makes a character who you don’t initially like that much into one that you’re really rooting for.

Ben is a more usual sort of romance hero – except for the fact that he is a widower.  Shalvis does a really good job of negotiating the fact that he has been in love before and had a happy marriage whilst still working towards a happy ending with Aubrey.  It’s a difficult tightrope to tread – particularly at times because he is discovering things about his wife that he didn’t know – but Shalvis manages to create a lovely relationship between Ben and Aubrey without running down or ruining the one that he had before.

I’m not a massive reader of contemporary romance as you all know, but small town contemporaries really do scratch an itch sometimes.  They seem like a logical extension of my love of Sweet Valley High and the Babysitters’ Club books when I was growing up.  To me the towns often feel  a lot like a larger (and American) version of the villages that I grew up in – where everyone knows you and your business – but populated by small businesses, often quirky, and attractive people.  Who wouldn’t want to live in that sort of world?  Well except for everyone knowing you and your business and your history, which I know from personal experience can get on your wick after a while, but hey it’s a romance book and it’s fun to read about!

Anyway, as I mentioned, my copy of Once in a Lifetime was in an omnibus (the third of the Lucky Harbor omnibuses to be precise). That’s unfortunately not on sale anymore and is back up to £4.99 on Kindle but that’s still a better deal than buying it individually for £3.99.  Both of those are probably better value than buying the actual books – which I think are quite expensive considering how long they take to read – but that is often the case with American romance novels.  However the first three Lucky Harbour books are £3.99 at the moment,  if you want to dip your toe into the water (so to speak) – I know I’m very tempted…

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Because of Miss Bridgerton

Normal service is nearly resumed here after last week’s nights, although I’m still having to resist the urge for an afternoon doze.  Anyway this week’s BotW is Julia Quinn’s Because of Miss Bridgerton, which is the first in her new Rokesby series.

Copy of Because of Miss Bridgerton
Pretty in lilac – and definitely not set in the Regency!

Billie Bridgerton is the tomboyish daughter of Viscount Bridgerton, who spends her days riding the estate and doing the work of her father’s estate manager.  The Rokesbys are the neighbouring family and she’s always expected that she’ll end up marrying one of their sons, but definitely not George.  Definitely not.  She can’t stand him and he can’t stand her. Except suddenly, when they’re thrown together, they don’t hate each other any more.  But what do you do when you start getting feelings for some one you’ve always hated – especially if you’re fairly sure they don’t feel the same way about you.

I do love an enemies to lovers romance, and although Billie and George are not quite enemies, it definitely has elements of that, along with best friend’s brother and a bit of a ugly duckling into a swan situation with Billie who definitely doesn’t want to be involved in the Season or the London world at all.  It’s fun and flirty and is such a joy to read.

Julia Quinn was my gateway drug into the world of historical romances – she was the first modern author I can across who was doing the same sort of thing (if with a bit more sex in it!) that Georgette Heyer was and I worked my way through her back catalogue at speed.  Her best know series are the Bridgerton books – and that makes this especially good – because it’s going back to the previous generation of that family.  And there are tit-bits here for people who have read those previous books about Anthony and his siblings – it fills in some gaps in Bridgerton family history and there are some definite nods to the characters that we’ll meet later on in Billie.

This has been out over a year – but I didn’t manage to find a copy in the shops when it first came out (and I’m not meant to be buying books) so it took until I found a copy at the library last week for me to get around to it.  The next book in the series – The Girl with the Make Believe Husband – is out today.  This one features one of George’s brothers and is nicely set up in Because of Miss Bridgerton.  I doubt if I’ll be able to wait a year before I read it having enjoyed this one so much.

You should be able to get hold of a cop of Because of Miss Bridgerton from all the usual sources – I’m going to leave you my traditional links to the Big Green Bookshop and to the Kindle and Kobo editions.

Happy Reading!

Recommendsday, romance

Recommendsday: Happy Endings

Yeesh.  This week has gone downhill. I had something else planned for this post this week, but hey, it can wait, all the horrible stuff coming out of Manchester means that I feel squicky posting it.  So I’m here to say, basically, look after yourself.  Be nice to people and look after yourselves.  I’m doing my little bit of self-care by reading nothing but stories where I know I’m going to get a Happy Ending.  So that’s romance.  I can’t cope with murders at the moment – so my cozy crime reading list has gone out of the window.  Here’s a few that are on my list in case you feel like doing the same.

My train book on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning was Julia Quinn’s Because of Miss Bridgerton, which I picked up from the library last week and has done a good job of taking my mind off things.  Then I’ve got Secrets of a Scandalous Heiress by Theresa Romain to read, but I might read the last of the Jill Shalvis omnibus (Once in a Lifetime) I mentioned in Kindle May bargains first to break up the historicals.  I’ve got Level Up by Cathy Yardley sat on my Kindle as well, which was the subject of a whole episode of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books (which I still haven’t listened to because spoilers!) and Courtney Milan’s The Heiress Effect waiting for me as.  I’ve also got advance copies of the next Sarah Morgan book, Holiday in the Hamptons (and one of her older books in the Library Book bag), of Rebecca Pugh’s new novel Right Here Waiting for You and that’s all before you get to whatever I might impulse purchase in my weakened state in the early hours – or what I might pull out of one of the to-read boxes.

Check back on Monday to see how far down the list I get – and whether I get the half-read crime book I started on Monday finished.

Be safe.

American imports, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Bet Me

This week’s BotW is another entry in the list of books that Verity really should have read sooner: Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie. I have heard this book recommended so many times by so many people – not just as being a great book, but as being a great entry way into romance.  And they’re all right.

Bet Me is the story of Min and Cal. Min is an actuary with a nightmare mother, and who looks at life through a veil of statistics. Cal has a reputation as a love ’em and leave ’em type and has his own parental problems.  Min gets dumped by her boyfriend, 3 weeks before her sister’s wedding and then hears Cal accept a bet to try and pull her. She needs a date, but isn’t going to put up with any of Cal’s smooth-talking ways. Cal thinks she’s the most uptight, closed-off woman he’s ever met. But when they’re together sparks fly no matter how much they try and ignore it.  And then there’s the matter of that bet…

This is the book version of one of those great 1990s romantic comedies, except without any double standards, etc. Min is fun and feisty and not prepared to put up with people being mean to her or acting like idiots towards her. She knows what she wants and she’s out looking for it, albeit not in the right places or the right way. Cal is realistic about what he’s prepared to offer a relationship, even if he doesn’t realise the reality of what he’s doing. The two of them together are a snarky, bantery duo that you’re rooting for from the start. There are a couple of great subplots in here to help with the drama and tension and it’s all such great fun.  And to put the icing on the cake, both Min and Cal have great friends, who are on their side and in their corner no matter what, which is particularly great in Min’s case, because in so many books the heroine’s friends have ulterior motives or are just window dressing. Min’s gang are properly fleshed out, real people who are looking out for their friend.  It’s just brilliant.

Yes. I should have read this sooner. Yes, I’m way behind the curve. But it doesn’t matter, because this is a great book and mor people need to read it. So I’m happy to admit that I should have listened to Sarah from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and read it the first time she mentioned it on the podcast and not wait till I’ve heard it mentioned dozens of times – not just by her but by the Book Riot girls too and by bookish friends too.  I know. I say this every time. But don’t be stupid like me, go and read Bet Me now. And go and read it even if you’ve read his thinking “but I don’t read romance” because this isn’t what you’re thinking of.  It’s much, much more. 10 years ago, it would have been given a cartoon cover in bubble gum pink and called chick lit.  And I mean that in a good way, because I miss those days of funny, clever romances and I’m always looking for books that scratch that itch. 

You can get Bet Me on Kindle or iBooks

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, romance, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Our Own Private Universe

I had trouble picking my Book of the Week this week for various reasons, and I’m sorry that this post is a bit short.  Anyway, this week’s BotW is Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley.  I read this last week, and while bits of it didn’t work for me (of which more below) it’s a story that I haven’t read before (maybe I haven’t been looking in the right places!) and that needs to be represented more in fiction – particularly YA fiction.

I  like the UK cover but the US hardcover one is possibly braver.
15-year-old Aki is bi-sexual, but so far she’s only told her best friend Lori.  She’s off to Mexico for the summer with her church youth group and the pair have a plan to start getting out there and living an interesting life.  At the camp, Aki meets Christa and the two have a connection.  But it’s not easy trying to navigate your first relationship with everyone watching you – especially if you’re trying to keep it quiet.  And how do you know if it’s love anyway?

There was a lot about this that I liked.  It’s a diverse (in every way) queer coming of age story that (spoiler alert) doesn’t end in deaths and disownment.  But that’s not to say there isn’t plenty of angst, because there is.  In fact that was my main gripe with the book – that at times Aki just went too far over my whining teenager limit and there was a lot of petty drama that I could have done without.  But I have a low tolerance for that sort of thing – so it may work much better for the target market of angsty teenagers than it does for me!

But although it’s not perfect, stories like this need to be told and need to be out there.  And the world needs more happy YA love stories (or at least I do!)- whether they’re F/F, M/M or M/F.

My copy came from NetGalley, but Our Our Private Universe is available in paperback from Amazon, Waterstones and Foyles and on Kindle and Kobo.