book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: February 2021 Mini Reviews

A bit of a strange month all in, because although I read a lot of stuff, there were a lot of series, and there weren’t a lot of books that I really liked that I haven’t already told you about. Still there are a few, so here we go again…

We Are Bellingcat by Elliot Higgins*

Cover of We Are Bellingcat

If you’re a casual news consumer you’ll probably have come across Bellingcat as a result of their investigation into the 2018 poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury. But the open source investigation team has its roots further back – in the Arab Spring and the dawning of citizen journalism via social media. It’s an absolutely fascinating read, but a warning: if you worked in a newsroom in the period 2011-2015 (roughly) approach this book with care. I wanted to read this book because I was interested in their verification techniques, mission statement and how they work – after all my day job is in a newsroom. But reading it brought back some memories that I’d rather not think about. It’s not that the book is overly graphic – or even excessively so. But if you watched the sort of pictures they’re talking about first time around – most of which didn’t make the tv news because they were so graphic, you’ll find it coming back to you. I started at the BBC fulltime almost exactly ten years ago – and my first job was in picture intake. That first year – through the Arab Spring, Japanese Tsunami, Utoya Island, the assassination of Mummar Gaddafi – I saw so much really grim footage that I invented the Panda scale of how many times did I have to watch my video of baby pandas playing to cheer myself up. And I didn’t even get the worst of it. This brought back some of the images from that time that I thought I had forgotten. But if you’re interested in open source investigation and in how the masses of UGC (user generated content) from the conflicts of the last decade are being preserved and the hopes for how it might be used in the future- this is the book for you.

Teach Me by Olivia Dade

Cover of Teach Me

Not my first time writing about Olivia Dade – and I’ve read this series out of order – but this is a lovely romance between a newly divorced Dad and the teacher whose world history class he’s unwittingly stolen. What I really like about this whole series is that there is no stupid drama. Rose has reasons why she doesn’t trust people and why she won’t let people in. Martin has issues around his self worth. But there’s no big misunderstanding that could (should?) be resolved by a simple conversation, it’s all about two people working out if they are right for each other beyond just chemistry, and then starting to negotiate life together. And it’s very, very romantic despite – Dade is proving you don’t necessarily need high stakes drama to make a satisfying romance. And I don’t need any more angst at the moment, so this was perfect!

These two reviews have turned out to be not quite so mini as I intended, so a quick rattle through a couple of other things: I listened to the audiobook of Strong Poison for the umpteenth time – I still find the mystery incredibly satisfying and Sayers portrayal of “bohemian” writers life, the interwar craze for Spiritualism and surplus women all make for something a little out of the ordinary run of murder mysteries of the time. And that’s before you get to the fact that it is the start of Peter and Harriet. I read The Sugared Game, the second part of the Will Darling Adventures by K J Charles and it was really good and I’m annoyed that there’s no date for the final part yet – although I do have Charles’s new book (in a different series) so that is something. And I also ended up listening to The Unknown Ajax again after I found out that her next series is about smugglers! Apart from that, I read some more romances – historical and contemporary- that I had too many quibbles with to fully recommend, and I carried on with the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series.

In case you missed any of them, the Books of the Week posts in February were: Beekeepers Apprentice, Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows, Boyfriend Material and The Holdout. And January’s mini reviews are here.

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.

 

 

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: 40-Love

I’ve got some Christmas recommendations coming up tomorrow, but in the meantime, here’s something completely different: a holiday romance set in Florida. Never let it be said that I don’t mix things up!

Cover of 40-Love

Assistant principal Tess Dunn is spending part of her summer vacation at a resort in Florida to celebrate her birthday. She’s splitting her time between the beach and planning for the promotion that she wants, but the point is that she went on holiday at all right? One morning, she’s in the sea when a wave takes her bikini top (no laughing matter) and she uses the nearest person as a human shield to protest her modesty. That nearest person is Lucas Karlsson. He’s currently the resort’s tennis pro, but behind his flirty demeanor he’s recovering from the premature end of his top level playing career. In an attempt to match make, Tess’s friend buys her some lessons with Lucas, and the sparks fly. But Tess has just turned 40 and Lucas is 26, and they only have two weeks to get to know each other. Is this just a holiday fling or could it be a long term thing?

I was about to say that I don’t read a lot of age gap romances, except that almost every traditional Regency you’ll ever read features an older man and a fresh out of the school room debutant. So it would be more accurate to say that I don’t read a lot of age gap contemporaries and very few of those feature an older woman. And this made a really nice change. Tess is a fun heroine who knows what she wants and how she’s going to get it, and Lucas’s tennis career means that he’s more mature than perhaps your average 26 year old man. As a pair they are delightful and it was really entertaining watching them get to know each other and break down their defences. It’s funny, it’s flirty, it’s sexy – but it also has a relatable core and deals with some real world issues in a compassionate way.

In the grand scheme of things – and the grand scheme of romance novels, 40-love is very low angst. Lucas is absolutely the polar opposite of the Alpha-hole romance trope. He’s kind, he’s emotionally fluent and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that there’s no Big Stupid Thing that either of them do to the other. The conflict here is entirely about whether they’re going to work together when they get to know each other – not that one is hiding something big, or has done something dumb. And given the state of the universe at the moment, this is the sort of conflict that I feel emotionally ready to deal with! This isn’t my first Olivia Dade – I read Spoiler Alert a few weeks back, which was also a lot of fun and has some of the same elements of interesting non-typical romance characters – perhaps against expectations given the fact that the hero is the star of a show that I’m going to call Not Game Of Thrones, and there are a couple of references to that in this too which is a nice easter egg to find.

My copy of 40-Love came from the library, but you can buy it now on Kindle or Kobo or as a paperback, but it looks like its a print on demand type situation – although you can get Spoiler Alert from Waterstones much more easily.

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Well Met

Well here we are at the start of December, and I’m recommending a romance again. Because what we all need when it’s cold outside is something that warms your insides. I mean it’s also set in summer in Maryland (another state ticked off!) so it might make you nostalgic for hot weather too, but you can’t have everything.

Cover of Well Met

The heroine of Well Met is Emily, who has rushed to help her sister and her niece after a car crash. And Emily soon finds herself roped in as volunteer at the town’s Renaissance faire. She’s only there because her niece needs an adult to accompany her, but she’s soon enjoying herself – or she would be if it wasn’t for Simon – high school teacher in the week and Ren Faire killjoy at the weekends. But when rehearsals are over and the Faire gets underway for real, Simon is transformed into a pirate and Emily is a tavern wench and the two of them can’t stop flirting. Is it just a summer fling or will Emily put down roots in Willow Creek?

First of all let it be said that Emily’s ex boyfriend is awful and should go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collection £200*. Secondly this is a lovely, sweet slow burn romance with a side of self discovery for Emily. Simon is an intriuging character, and although I joined the dots on bits of his backstory faster that Emily did, I think that I was meant to. I’ve never been to a Rennaissance Faire – I’ve done a couple of living history type events, but I don’t think that’s quite the same thing –  but that’s not a problem because it’s so well described that you can really picture it. I am basically assuming that all of their “English” accents are as awful as a group of Brits trying to do American accents would be though! The side characters are all great – and I’m looking forward to seeing what Jen DeLuca does with them in the next books in the series. The good news is that this came out a couple of years back (because as ever I am behind the curve) so the sequel is already out, with the third one planned for 2021.

You can get a copy of Well Met on Kindle or Kobo or audiobook. There is a paperback – but it looks like it’s an US-import type situation, so it may not be available in your normal bookshop.

Happy Reading!

* that’s a monopoly reference

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Someone to Romance

As I said in yesterday’s post, most of last week’s books were nice soothing reading to help my frazzled brain after a lot of work on US election coverage. And a fair few of them were old favourite authors or the latest in long-running series. So today you get a romance pick!

Cover of Someone to Romance

Jessica Westcott has decided that this season she’s going to get married. After years of ignoring the marriage mart because of the way they treated her best friend Abigail, she’s decided that she can’t be left behind any more. She might be older than some of the other debutants, but she’s the sister of a duke, so there will be options. Gabriel Thorne has just returned to England from Boston in order to reluctantly claim his inheritance. When he sees Jessica he decides that she might be his ideal wife. And when she learns more about him, she is intrigued and drawn to him. But will he manage to claim his birthright and will Jessica be at his side if she does?

This is the seventh in Balogh’s Westcott series, but you don’t have to have read the others for this to make sense – as with most romance series they’re a linked set of standalone stories rather than an ongoing plot with the same characters. I’ve read two of the others – the first and the fifth. This one is not quite a marriage of convenience, not quite a lost heir, but it’s also really quite low angst for all of that. Mary Balogh has been writing reliably good romances for decades and on the drama scale they clock in closer to the Georgette Heyer end of the drama scale than the Big Confrontation, Major Twist into a Sudden Ending one. And ditto on the steaminess scale – more Georgette than Sarah MacLean. It’s a lovely, romantic and calming read that did exactly what I wanted it to last week. And if you’re feeling stressed about the world – and goodness knows 2020 has dealt a lot of stress – than this would be a perfect read for you.

My copy of Someone to Romance came from the library, but it should be fairly easy to get your hands on – there are Kindle and Kobo editions as well as a paperback release in the UK. All the physical bookshops are shut at the moment, but bookshop.org.uk has stock of it. If this were normal times I’d say that these often crop up in The Works a year or so after release so you should be able to find them in supermarkets or Waterstones on release. But these aren’t normal times so who knows.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Manhunting

Back with a romance book this week – a contemporary romance at the time it was written, but given that that was the early 90s, not quite contemporary now! I’ve written about Jennifer Crusie’s books a few times before and as I read two of them last week it feels like they’re turning into a regular comfort read for me. And I needed some comfort reading. Anyway, to the book.

Kate Svenson is a successful businesswoman, but she’s unlucky in love. She’s been engaged a few times – but found out just in time that the men were only after her (father’s) money. But she’s fed up of being alone and wants someone to spend her life with. So she comes up with a plan: a two week holiday at a Kentucky resort. The Cabins is full of eligible bachelors – surely one of them must be the guy for her? But everytime she goes on a date, something happens to the guy. Jake Templeton’s brother owns the resort and he works there. He’d sworn off women even before he picked one of Kate’s rejects out of the swimming pool. He’s not interested in her, and she’s not interested in him – so why are they spending more time together than Kate is with anyone else?

This is a fun, frothy romantic comedy. You know exactly where it’s going to end up, but there are enough complications to keep it interesting, and the various situations that Kate finds herself in with the prospective boyfriends are a hoot. Obviously life – and technology – have changed a bit since 1993 when it was written, but I don’t think there’s anything here that’s dated in a bad way – which isn’t always the case! It’s just the sort of book I love reading – the stakes are fairly low, it’s funny but the humour isn’t nasty or based on humiliation and you come away with a nice warm feeling inside.

The bad news is that this doesn’t seem to be available on Kindle or Kobo at the moment, but Amazon have a bunch of paperback copies for a couple of quid.

Happy Reading

Book of the Week, new releases, romance

Book of the Week: The Boyfriend Project

So I said yesterday that I had a slumpy week of reading, but actually I started the week with a really good new romance by Farrah Rochon, so that was an easy choice for my pick today! And after two weeks of books aimed at young readers, I can confirm that this one is definitely for the grownups!

Cover of the Boyfriend Project

Samiah Brooks is about to go out on a date, when someone live tweeting a horrific date reveals that she’s being cheated on – and not just two-timed, but three-timed. When she and the other two women confront the catfisher in a restaurant, they end up going viral. But Samiah also gains two new friends and they make a pact to spend the next six months focussing on themselves and not on men. Samiah’s big goal in putting herself first is to work on the app that she has been dreaming of creating, but hasn’t had time to do. But her resolve is soon tested by the new guy who has joined the tech company she works at. Daniel Collins is smart and funny and attractive – but Samiah can’t help feeling that he might be too good to be true.

I thought this was lots and lots of fun. As a reader, you know what is going on with Daniel from very early on and it’s a nice suspense-y subplot to the romance. I was somewhat concerned about how that subplot was going to impact on the happy ending – there was definitely a point when I was worried that there wasn’t a way to get to a satisfying resolution, but it actually all worked out really quite nicely. And if you like competency porn in your romance heroines this is one for you: Samiah is incredibly good at her job and also very upfront about the challenges and barriers to black women in tech. Oh and Daniel is pretty smart too…

This is the first in a series – I’m assuming Samiah’s other two friends will be the other heroines in the series and I am totally here for that. One of them is a surgeon, the other is running her own exercise business and the setups for both of them in this book is great. I love a strong group of female friends in a book – and I also love that they seem to be making a resurgence in romances. If you read and enjoyed Tracey Livesay’s Sweet Talkin’ Lover (maybe after I recommended it!) and the group of friends that that has, this has a similarly supportive and fun group. I preordered this (only a few days before publication but it still counts!) after hearing Farrah Rochon talking about it on Smart Podcast, Trashy Books last week – and that’s well worth a listen too if you need something to listen to on your daily exercise.

I’ve mentioned several times now that I’m focusing on reading black authors at the moment, and if you are too – maybe you’re taking part in the #blackpublishingpower week that Amistad publishing came up with, which is asking people to buy two books by black authors this week, then this would be a great pick for you. It came out last week and is a bargainous £1.99 in Kindle and Kobo. It’s also available in paperback – but I suspect it’s an import type of deal if you’re in the UK, rather than something you’ll be able to pick up at your newly reopened local bookshop.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: A Cowboy to Remember

As I said yesterday, it was a tough week for me last week, with all the changes in the world getting to me a bit. And I struggled to find my usual relaxation from reading, but there were some bright spots, And after a run of murder mystery picks, today I’m back with a contemporary romance choice.

Evie Buchanan is on the edge of something big. After winning a TV-cooking show, she’s snagged a hosting gig and she’s killing it. But when a fall down some stairs at a party nearly *literally* kills her, she’s left with a case of amnesia that she really needs to hide from her bosses and her fans. Her assistant gets in contact with the only “family” Evie has left – cowboys who run a ranch in California. Evie doesn’t remember them at all –  but when they arrive at the hospital to visit, one of them is the guy she’s been having dreams about since her accident. Zach hasn’t seen Evie since she left the ranch when he refused to admit that there were feelings between them. His family have always been desperate to pair them off together, but is he ready to admit that they might be perfect for each other? And what will happen if Evie gets her memory back and remembers how it ended the first time?

So, tell me again that I don’t like amnesia as a plot line (or cowboy stories), because this is so good and just goes to show in the right hands anything can make a great romance*. I’ve read a couple of Rebekah Weatherspoon’s other books (including Xeni which I wrote about after my birthday trip back in the times when we could still go away on holiday) and this has all the relatable characters and interesting plot that the others do, but with less on the page bedtime action. The chemistry between the leads is still as good, and it is in no way closed door – but it’s not as blush inducing as Xeni was. I was a bit concerned about how Zach and Evie’s relationship could be resolved if (well when) her memory came back because there seemed to be a couple of unresolvable things there – as I was concerned that one or other of them would have to become less (or give up their dreams) to make it work but actually, it was really cleverly worked out and fit in with both characters.

This is great fun and made great escapist reading at these difficult times. Your mileage may vary, but a ranch in California is sufficiently different to my every day life that I wasn’t constantly worrying about social distancing or viruses the way I am everytime I try and read something set in the contemporary UK at the moment! It’s also the first in a series – because luckily for us, Zach has brothers (and one of them is a pro-sports player, so they may not all be cowboy romances). The next one is out in the autumn and I’m hoping it’s about Jesse, but there’s no blurb for it on Goodreads yet.

My copy of A Cowboy to Remember came from the library, but it’s available now in Kindle and Kobo or as a mass market paperback. The delivery time claims to be quite short, bu I suspect you might be waiting a while for that physical copy because of it being a US release and you know: the ‘rona.

Happy Reading – and stay safe.

 

 

 

*but I’m not prepared to read a lot of Secret Baby or pregnesia romances to try and prove this though.

new releases, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: American Sweethearts

March Stats coming tomorrow, delayed by a day because I wanted to do a quick #Recommendsday post today.  American Sweethearts came out on Monday and I really enjoyed it when I read it a few weeks ago and I didn’t want to be a big old tease and tell you about a book that you couldn’t buy!

Juan Pablo Campos and Priscilla Gutierrez have been on and off (mostly off) since he decided that he didn’t want to be a police officer after all – right after Priscilla had signed up. These days, he’s a physical therapist for the New York Yankees, and she’s a detective – working a tough beat looking after kids in trouble. But she’s not sure it’s her dream job any more. So the last thing she needs is a private jet ride with to a wedding in the Dominican Republic with the one person who knows her better than anyone else. By the end of the wedding trip, they’ve come to the conclusion that it might be worth trying again – but can they work through the issues that have kept them apart for so long to find their happily ever after?

This is the fourth book in Adriana Herrara’s Dreamers series, but is the first of hers I’ve read.  I suspect if you’ve read the other three you’ve seen these two bickering in the background – because this also has plenty of sightings of the previous couples. This is also steeeeeaaaaamy. Like if you were allowed out – and don’t go out, stay home and save lives – but if this were normal times I’d be warning you not to read it on public transport because it might make you blush. And it’s really very good. It’s not so much a second chance romance as an umpteenth chance romance as these two try and figure out if they can put their fractious history behind them and finally make it work. It’s incredibly sex positive, and really natural about that. It also deals with what to do when it turns out that your dream career maybe isn’t the right thing for you any more (or maybe at all) and what you do next when it’s all tied up in your self  identity and your family’s dreams for you. And that’s something that’s more unusual in a romance – we have lots of people finding their dream jobs, or achieving their dreams (and finding romance at the same time) but not so many re-evaluations and people finding new dreams.

So American Sweethearts is out now – my copy came from NetGalley but you can get it on Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases, romance

Book of the Week: Sweet Talkin’ Lover

Another Tuesday, another book of the week post.  I read a few books I really liked last week, and it was a close decision on what to pick, but I think Tracey Livesay’s new book was my favourite last week.

Cover of Sweet Talkin' Lover

Caila Harris is ambitious and driven. She’s given up her social life and is working all the hours she can to get her next promotion as she climbs the ladder in the beauty industry.  But when her beloved grandfather dies, she makes some bad decisions – and suddenly her chances of promotion are on the line.  The assignment she’s given to turn it around: go to a small southern town, and write the report that justifies shutting a factory down.  But when she gets to Bradleton, she runs into more trouble than she expected in the form of the town’s mayor, Wyatt Bradley. He’s determined to do whatever it takes to keep the plant open.  Soon sparks are flying between Caila and Mayor McHottie as the town calls him – but will their relationship survive if she finds out the sneaky tactics he’s using to try and keep her in town and when he finds out that the closure decision has already been made.

This is smart, fun and has a hero and heroine with great chemistry.  I like enemies/rivals to lovers as a trope and Sweet Talkin’ Lover does that really well. I also loved Caila’s relationship with her group of friends.  Livesay has said that the group is based on her own friendship group – and the holiday they’re on at the start is what they do every year. I love a ride-or-die friendship group in a story and these ladies really are that – and I’m looking forward to reading the books about the others, because this is the first in a series.

My only quibble with the book was from right at the end.  I didn’t quite believe that Wyatt’s family issues – either with his career or the way they treated Caila – were really all sorted out.  I believed that Wyatt and Caila wanted to make it work between them and that some of the roadblocks were removed, but I wasn’t quite confident that it was really all resolved enough to be confident that the happy ending was really going to be all ok if that makes sense. But that’s quite a minor quibble in the grand scheme of things.

Sweet Talkin’ Lover is Livesay’s print debut and came out in the middle of all the RWA problems.  She was also one of the resignations from the RWA board on Boxing Day (because of the way the Ethics Committee handled the complaint against Courtney Milan), so I think it’s fair to say that RWA messed up her Christmas and a big moment in her writing career.  And this book did not deserve to get swamped by RWA being a trashfire.

My copy of Sweet Talkin’ Lover came from the library, but its availalble now in Kindle, Kobo and as an audibook, but the paperback isn’t out in the UK until February 20.  I’ll try and remember to remind you.

Happy reading!