book round-ups

Top reads of 2019 so far… Q1 edition!

It’s the end of March, so we’re a quarter of the way through the year – and I thought I’d try something a bit different and do a first quarter round up of the best things I’ve read so far.  But before I do, in case you missed it on Wednesday, here are my romance recommendations for people who are looking to broaden their author base after the #RITASsowhite fiasco and also my BotW post for Can’t Escape Love.  I’m still angry.

Daisy Jones and the Six

A BotW post in March, I think this is a book you’re going to hear a lot more about this year – it was an Apple books pick in March as well as being Reese Witherspoon’s book club pick and it’s being picked by articles and groups all over the place.  It sent me off down a Wikipedia rabbit hole – and I’m still thinking about it a couple of weeks on – and not just because I went to see Taylor Jenkins Reid talk about the book on Tuesday evening.  There are a lot more thoughts on that BotW post – but basically, it’s just brilliant.  It was my second Taylor Jenkins Reid book of the year – the first The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was also a BotW (in Janurary) and would have been on this list but for the think where I try not to repeat myself!  Also Taylor Jenkins Reid has made a Spotify playlist to go along with Daisy – if you need some more hints about the book – or something to listen to while you read it…

Don’t You Forget About Me

Cover of Don't You Forget About Me

I’ve been recommending Mhari MacFarlane’s latest all over the place sine I read it back in January.  As I said in my BotW review back then, it’s a proper romantic comedy – along with rooting for it all to turn out alright for Georgina, it’ll make you snort with laughter, as well as make you want to cry.  And that’s often what I want from a book – and it seems to be getting harder to find at the moment – as lots of my previous auto-buy and favourite authors seem to be shifting towards different things.  But this is proper good and will restore your faith in rom-coms.  Now if only they were still making films to match.

Skylark’s War

Cover of The Skylark's War

This is another one that was a Book of the Week and that I’ve been recommending all over the place – it’s my favourite middle-grade book of the year so far and adults should be reading it too.  I know that the centenary of the First World War is over now, but it still feels really timely to read this beautiful look at a family growing up through the Great War.  It’s just wonderful.  I cried happy and sad tears and generally embarrassed my self by getting emotional in public reading this.  If I was a teacher reading this to my class, I’d have to get the children to read the climax or I’d be crying as I did it.  And I don’t think that’s a plot spoiler – happy and sad tears I said.  I’m hoping that this will find a place on the shelf of children’s classics about war – along with Carrie’s War, The Machine Gunners, War Horse and the like.  It would make a brilliant – but heartbreaking – double bill with Five Children on the Western Front, but maybe read Skylark’s War second…

So there is your three top picks, honourable mentions to Fence, Brown Girl Dreaming and The Sumage Solution – my other top rated reads of the year so far.  I’ve only written about one of them so far, but I’m sure that will change at some point…  And as I’m writing this slightly before the end of March, you never know, there may be something else amazing in my last couple of the month.  If there is, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Happy Reading!

 

Book of the Week, new releases, reviews, romantic comedy, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Don’t You Forget About Me

As you can see from last week’s Week in Books (and the week before as well to be honest) I read a lot of books while I was away.  But in the end the choice for this week’s Book of the Week was easy – there was one standout that I’m still thinking about and have already recommended to a bunch of people.

Cover of Dont You Forget About Me

Don’t You Forget About Me is the new novel from Mhairi McFarlane.  Your heroine is Georgina, who we meet as she gets fired from The Worst Italian in Sheffield and then goes home to find The Worst Boyfriend in the World in bed with someone else.  Is the universe out to get her? When she gets a one-off job at a newly refurbished pub and then gets a fulltime job offer from there it seems like she might be about to turn a corner.  But her new boss turns out to be her sixth form crush-slash-secret-boyfriend which is a whole new disaster in the making.  Or it would be if Lucas remembered her, which he doesn’t – and which is crushing in its own way.  Because you never forget your first love do you?  Still at least it means that Georgina can keep working for him, just as long as she keeps her mouth shut and Lucas never finds out who she is.  Except that that gets harder and harder to do because there’s still something between them – and there’s no way Lucas isn’t going to work it out in the end is there?

I loved this.  In fact it was hard for Him Indoors to persuade me to go sightseeing with him one morning because I was 100 pages from the end and needed to know what happened to everyone.  This is just delightful.  Georgina is such an engaging heroine, Lucas is brilliant, I wanted to punch Georgina’s family at times – especially her stepdad -and I spent some considerable time thinking of extravagant punishments for Robin the Bad Boyfriend (but his actual comeuppance is very satisfying).  And on top of that the book is so, so funny.  It was in fact exactly what I have been looking for and what I have been finding so hard to find at the moment.  It’s a romantic comedy but it has a serious side as well.  There are Reasons why Georgina is still working jobs her family consider pointless and dead end.  And there’s a reason why she picked such a terrible boyfriend.  And they’re proper, life changing reasons, but there’s such a light touch about it that it all works beautifully together.

This also captured some of my memories of my sixth form experience so perfectly that it nearly took my breath away.  I’m a couple of years older than Georgina is meant to be but Mhairi McFarlane has captured that feeling of not being able to do the right thing no matter what you do when faced with the popular kids, that everything is life and death and that the path of your life can be changed by one wrong decision.  I always mistrust people who say that their schooldays were the best of their lives, because mine were terrifying and scary and I wouldn’t go back there for all the tea in china – especially not now social media is a thing.

I know that chick lit is a problematic term – and I have as many issues with it as everyone else.  But if you read “chick lit” back in the early 00s and find it hard to capture that same feeling from books now – then try this.  I read a lot of books (as you know) but I really struggle to find funny, romantic books with happy endings that aren’t all humour through humiliation (not my thing) or finding happiness again (or in the end) after dead husbands or life threatening illnesses (or terminal diagnoses).  Something with something more to it than *just* a romance but where you’re not going to have your heart broken before you get to a sort of happy ending.  But This Is It.  It is fun and funny and it all works out in the end – but not because A Perfect Man has made it better – but because Georgina has figured out who she is and how to start fixing her life herself.

I know that sounds gushy and a bit OTT, but I can’t tell you how relieved I was to start reading this and just sink into it and enjoy letting it all happen.  I’ve read so many books recently where I either can’t see how it can all possibly work out all right in the end (or even satisfactorily) or been braced for something bad to happen, that it was a joy to realise that I was in safe hands and could just relax and read.  And my tears at the end were happy ones.

I’ve read two of Mhairi McFarlane’s previous books – but there’s been a big old gap since I read the last one so I had forgotten how much I like her writing.  I now need to go back and figure out why I haven’t read the other two and remedy that as soon as possible.  Knowing me and the state of my to-read pile, I’ll probably have at least one of them sitting on the kindle already…

My copy of Don’t You Forget About Me came from NetGalley, but it is out now on Kindle and Kobo and the paperback comes out at the start of March.  I’ll try and remember to remind you – and I’m sure it’ll be in all the usual placed – but you could always pre-order it now.  I’m just saying.  I don’t think you’ll regret it.  And if you’ve got any recommendations for other books you think might scratch the same itch for me, let me know in the comments.

Happy Reading!

 

Authors I love, Book of the Week, new releases, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The House of Hopes and Dreams

In a change from recent form, it’s not a crime pick this week – but perhaps the pick won’t be a surprise to regular readers with an eye on the new release lists. I’m a long-time Trisha Ashley fan, and she has a new novel out this week and I was lucky enough to have an advance copy sent to me by the publishers. If you follow me on Litsy (I’m @Verity there) you’ll have seen me get excited about this when it arrived and it’s taken a lot of willpower to save it until close to release to read it.

Proof copy of The House of Hopes and Dreams

The House of Hope and Dreams follows Carey and Angel, who’ve been friends since art college, although life has taken them in slightly different directions. At the start of the novel TV interior designer Carey is in hospital recovering after nearly losing his leg after being knocked off his bike. He’s been dumped from his show, but when a lawyer arrives to tell him that he’s inherited a minor historic house in Lancashire it looks like he may have a new project. Angel’s life had been turned upside down after the death of her partner – who she’d been working with at his stained glass company for more than a decade. She’s lost her job and her home, but luckily her skills are exactly what her old friend is looking for and there’s space for her at Mossby. Soon Angel is setting up a workshop so she can repair Mossby’s unique windows and Carey is working on a new TV series about the renovation of the house and the secrets that it’s hiding. But how long will it take the two of them to work out that there’s more to their relationship than just friendship?

If you were to ask me about my book catnip, high on the list are old houses, competency porn (aka heroines who are really good at what they do) and friends to lovers stories, so straight away this ticks a lot of boxes for me. And this is back in a corner of Lancashire that has a lot of old friends from previous visits to TrishaWorld – Carey’s house is just up the road from Middlemoss so you get a few glimpses at old friends from novels gone by. This is a little sadder in the backstory and less funny than some of her other books, but I relaxed happily back into it and although I always had a very fair idea where everything was going, it was an enjoyable ride to get there.

If you’re very familiar with Ashley’s books (and I speak as someone who has read everything she’s published except her historical novel) then this may feel a bit like a Greatest Hits album – which I found a bit of a mixed blessing. But I think there’s a lot here for newer fans to love, especially people who’ve only started reading her in her last couple of novels and haven’t come across this part of her imaginary corner of England before. And they’ll be able to go away and discover more of it with the side characters in this, which in turn may lead them to my absolute favour of Ashley’s novels, A Winter’s Tale (another story about an old house with secrets) .

The House of Hopes and Dreams is out on Thursday – you should be able to find it in supermarkets (that’s where I picked up my first Trisha) and bookshops, or if you can’t wait here are the preorder links for Amazon and Kindle. I’ll be buying one too – because my preview copy doesn’t have the recipes in the back!

if you want to go and read some of my previous ramblings about Trisha’s world, try here, here and here.

Happy reading!

Some of the Heyer collection
Authors I love, non-fiction, romance, Series I love, The pile

Greatest Hits: My 500th post!

I realised earlier that my next post would be my 500th and it seemed a shame for it to go by without being marked and just be a normal Week in Books. So instead a little bonus post looking at what we’ve discovered in 500 posts…

I think, if we’re being honest we could sum most of my reading up as falling into one of three categories: romance, crime and history. To be honest, sometimes it hits all three…

Romance

Artistically arranged Heyer novels
A selection of my favourites

 

Back in the very early days I wrote about my abiding love of Georgette Heyer so it would be remiss of me not to mention her here (especially as some do hit that trifecta – Masqueraders, Talisman Ring, Unknown Ajax for example) but it’s not just about Regency romances. I already loved Trisha Ashley, but while I’ve been writing the blog I’ve become a massive fan of  Sarah Morgan and Jill Shalvis who both wrote contemporary romances, which a couple of years ago I would have told you that I don’t really read unless they’re romantic comedies. Romantic comedies have become harder to find over the years, but they’re still there if you look hard enough – like Kirsty Greenwood, my old editor at Novelicious who is funny and a little bit rude.*

Crime

Four books
The four books that feature Peter and Harriet

The only way to start this section is with Lord Peter Wimsey. I still love these stories as much as I did when I wrote that post. I still listen to the audiobooks and radio plays with Ian Carmichael monthly. They’re a sure fire way to make me relax at the end of a long day and my favourite of all the Golden Age crime. One of the greatest things about the ebook revolution is the reappearance of some more forgotten classics like Edmund Crispin and a lot of the British Library Crime classics. Another great thing about ebooks are the smaller presses – if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you’ll know about my love for Fahrenheit Press because I’ve gone on about it so much over the last 18+ months. And then there’s the cozy crime. My favourites are the ones with a sense of humour – like Meg Langslow and the Royal Spyness series.

History

Gone with the Windsors by Laurie Graham
Gone with the Windsors by Laurie Graham

This is actually quite a broad category – I’m using it to cover straight up nonfiction history books, like The Greedy Queen, and fiction set in the past like Deanna Raybourn and Lauren Willig’s books. A lot of my reading is set in the past in one way or another, which perhaps isn’t surprising given that I’m a history graduate. I’ve learned more about Ancient Egypt and the Victorian rush to excavate it through Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series. I tend to stick to books set after 1600, but I do venture back further if something catches my eye. I have a love for the interwar period – non fiction books like Flappers and Queen Bees and novels – like one of my all-time favourites Gone With The Windsors, or mystery series (overlap!) like Daisy Dalrymple and Phryne Fisher, both of which are overdue for new novels too.

 

And all this hadn’t even touched on my love of boarding school stories – new and old – or ballet books, and classic children’s books in general.  Or the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett. Or Gail Carriger’s supernatural world. Or Charlaine Harris’s. Or the Janet Evanovich obsession. And just writing this has made me realise how many great books I’ve read and written about for this blog.

One  of the aims of Verity Reads Books was to try to reduce my to-read pile  I don’t think we can really count that as a success as the pile took up three boxes when it went into storage. But I do think I think more before buying books and NetGalley means I get advance copies of things now, which don’t take up actual space, but obviously mean I have less time to read Books from the pile. But really, there’s no such thing as too many books! Plus I really like writing about what I’ve been reading and chatting to people about what I’ve been reading on various social media platforms, so that’s been a total bonus.

Thanks for reading my ramblings, and here’s to whatever I discover in the next 500 posts!

Happy Reading.

* Kirsty’s Big Sexy Love is 99p on Kindle at the moment and you should totally buy it!

Authors I love, Recommendsday, Series I love

Recommendsday: Comfort Reading

I had an entirely different Recommendsday book planned, but for some reason I’m feeling a bit terrified about the world today, so I thought some of you might appreciate some comfort reading suggestions.  I’m talking books with resolutions, preferably happy endings that don’t deal with nightmarish dystopian futures or imminent doom. I wonder why that’s off my menu at the moment…

Firstly, you might want to consider revisiting an old favourite.  Something that you can enjoy all over again and that can conjure memories of when you read it the first time.  The best example of that for me is Regency Buck  which is one of my favourite Georgette Heyers, brilliantly romantic (another smart woman this time reforming a rake) and which I finished reading on the bus after my last A Level exam.   Or just a book that you’ve read over and over -my top rereads are A Winter’s Tale by Trisha Ashley, the much mentioned Gone with the Windsors or any of the four Peter Wimsey books which feature Harriet Vane.

But if you don’t have an old favourite to hand, I’ve dipped into my reading archive to find three more books where it all turns out right in the end:

Miss Buncle’s Book: Miss Buncle is an impoverished spinster to decides that the best way to earn some more money to improve her situation is to write a book.  Her loyal maid thinks she’s mad – but it works.  The book that Miss Buncle writes is published under a pseudonym and is a roaring success.  The only trouble is that the book is based on the people in her village – and they recognise themselves.  I nearly cried laughing reading this and then lent it to everyone I could think of.  Perfect for my current mood.

The Reluctant Landlady: When struggling actress Evie inherits a house from a family friend, it seems like a dream and she and her best friend Bing move in.  But the house is comes with a motley crew of tennants who she’s not allowed to evict and soon Evie is trying to sort their lives out for them, whether they want her to or not.  This was the first Bernadette Strachan book that I read and I think it’s still my favourite.  Evie is fabulous and Bing is just one of the best and funniest sidekick characters I’ve come across in this sort of book. Strachan now writes as  Juliet Ashton and Claire Sandy – her A Very Big House in the Country would make a good choice at the moment too.

Welcome to the Real World: Fern is having a good week: she’s landed a job as PA to a world famous singer and she’s got a chance to try and realise her own singing dream with a slot on the newest TV talent show.  But when it turns out her new boss, Evan, is also going to be a judge on the talent show, things start to get complicated, because Fern really wants to keep her singing under wraps from him.  I see from Goodreads that reviews on this are somewhat… divided, but this is my favourite Carole Matthews book.  It focuses mostly on Fern and what is going on in her life, but I liked that – and there’s plenty of drama as well.

I hope one of these tickles your fancy and improves your mood.  I’m off to re-read some Peter and Harriet.

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.

Authors I love

Authors I love: Christina Jones

During a trip to The Works this week I happened upon some of Christina Jones’ books that I didn’t own – having borrowed them from the library back in my days in Essex.  And then it occurred to me that this might be the time to make another entry in my very occasional series of posts about Authors I love (see previous installments on Katie Fforde and Georgette Heyer) as as far as I can see there’s no new book from her on the way at the moment which I might be able to rave about.

Paperback copy of Heaven Sent by Christina Jones
My copy of Heaven Sent – recently rescued from the pile of favourites next to the bed

Christina Jones writes wonderfully quirky romantic comedies, usually set in or around the Cotswolds.  They have often magical or mystical elements – which is not usually something I go for, but she does it so well – and come in interconnected series – where a secondary character in one book (a best friend for example) will end up being the lead character in the next book. Old characters often make cameos in later books so you get a chance to see what happened in their happily ever afters, without it being a sequel where they face strife and conflict.

As I said in my BotW post on Stealing the Show in June last year I first discovered her work when I came across a copy of Heaven Sent in a display of books nominated for the Melissa Nathan Award – as is often the way, it’s still my favourite of her novels, perhaps because I’m a sucker for a dark-haired bloke in eyeliner and Yaya is an absolute hoot.  Once I’d read that I started trawling my way through older books via the library – and buying new ones as soon as they came out.  I’ve got most of the reissues of her earlier stuff on the kindle – although I haven’t read them all as I’m trying to ration myself in the absence of new books.

A selection of books by Christina Jones on a bookshelf.
The Christina Jones shelf, such as it is, the rest are on my kindle as they were hard to get in paperback

But basically, these have everything I want in a light romantic fiction book.*  The heroines are smart and usually very good at their jobs**, they have supportive friends and find men who celebrate their achievements and love them for who they are without trying to change them.  There’s conflict, but it’s often based on misunderstandings rather than someone having done something actually terrible.  No one is perfect.  And they’re funny – mostly witty funny as opposed to laughing at someone’s humiliation funny, although there are some embarrassing moments in them too.

So, if you want to read your way into Christina Jones where should you start?  Well each novel stands alone – and as I said at the top of this post, my local branch of The Works had a cache of them at the moment – and they have the same ones online too Love Potions, Seeing Stars, Moonshine and the aforementioned Heaven Sent which are all in their 6-for-£10 promotion (sorry).  All of those would be fine places to start to give you a taster – and they’re cheaper there than Amazon or on Kindle.  There are few short stories/novellas available on Kindle for quite low prices  – but I never think they are a particularly good way of trying a new author (unless they’re free!) because you might be missing background, in jokes, world rules etc, so I would suggest the slightly older-but-recently-reissued Milton St John series, which are available as a bundled set on Kindle for £2.99 at time of writing – I haven’t read all of them yet, but the ones I have are good so that would be a cheap way of dipping your toe in the water.

Happy reading!

*Magic is an optional extra

**or at least they are once they get their head around the magical stuff.