mystery, new releases, Young Adult

Out This Week: The Agathas!

I actually read this one earlier this week so wanted to give it a mention today as depending on where you are it is either out today or in the last few days. The Agathas is a YA Murder mystery set in a California town where the citizens are divided between the haves and have nots. Alice is one of the haves, but after she went missing last summer after her boyfriend dumped her, her friends don’t want to know her. Iris doesn’t live in a mansion and her mum works in a bar. She’s been assigned to tutor Alice. Then Brooke, one of the popular girls who used to be Alice’s friends, disappears. Soon the two girls are investigating – Alice because her ex boyfriend is the main suspect and Iris, well because Brooke’s grandmas is offering a reward. Can they figure out what really happened the night that Brooke Donovan disappeared?

I really enjoyed this – it’s a twisty high school Murder mystery with an interestingly flawed cast of characters and a crime fighting duo who bring out interesting sides to each other. Also I’m so glad I’m not a teenager now and that I didn’t go to American high school. It sounds awful.

My copy came from NetGalley, but you can get it in Kindle or Kobo now or in paperback. And the good news is that it’s listed as the first in a series…

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: January Quick Reviews

I’m rechristening this post for 2022 – to quick reviews. What practical difference it makes I don’t know, but it feels like less pressure from where I am so I’m going with it! And there’s only three today, because frankly I’ve already written about so much of what I’ve read this month – which has been a particularly productive one on here.

Bookish and the Beast by Ashley Poston

This is the third book in the Once Upon a Con series, and although you’ll get most out of it if you have read the previous ones you don’t need to. This is a twist on Beauty and the Beast (as the title suggests) with a disgraced/out of favour young Hollywood actor exiled to a small town and a high school student who accidentally damages a book from the library of the house he is staying in. A pleasant YA way to wile away a few hours.

Rare Danger by Beverly Jenkins

A romantic suspense contemporary Novella from Beverly Jenkins. What is not to like. No seriously, what is there to complain about. Jasmine is a librarian who curates books for private libraries (I want this job) who ends up investigating the disappearance of a book dealer with a private security man – who she also happens to have he a meet cute with. It’s got romance it’s got peril and it’s very satisfying even if it is only just over 100 pages. This is great. I could have read pages more of it.

Capital Crimes ed by Martin Edwards

Honestly at this point it feels like it wouldn’t be a end of month round up without a British library crime classic. This one is a collection of London-set stories and actually features some creepier ones as well as a Margery Allingham Campion short and an Anthony Berkeley too. There’s also a story about a serial killer on the Underground, which was so realistic when it was first serialised, that passenger numbers dropped! Here the ending is a little truncated from that original serialisation, but you can still see why it would have freaked people out!

So that’s it for the January round up. Stat’s coming tomorrow, but Books of the Week this month were: Beware False Profits, Ashes of London, Vanderbilt, The Christie Affair and The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym (although I finished that last one at the end of 2021 rather than in January). I’ve also chattered about The Royal Spyness and Cupcake Bakery series as well as some of the newly published books from January, Magical Worlds and some Vanderbilt-related books. And when I write it all out like that, it’s really quite a lot!

Book of the Week, new releases, Young Adult

Book of the Week: The Great Godden

The mini-reviews are coming up tomorrow, in the meantime, this week’s Book of the Week is a beach/holiday read suggestion for those of you are taking some time off work in August – whether you’re hanging out in a hammock in your garden like me or actually going somewhere away from home.

Cover of The Great Godden

So Meg Rosoff’s The Great Godden is about one family, one summer at their family’s house by the beach and what happens when they meet the Godden brothers. Children of a famous actress, Kit is handsome and charismatic and Hugo is quieter and almost surly when you first meet him. The narrator isn’t named or described by gender, which means that you can either decide what you want them to be (if you manage to think about it that conciously) or just read and draw your own conclusions as you go.

It’s really quite hard to explain what genre this book actually is. It’s published by a YA imprint, but I can think of people who don’t read YA who would like this. It’s not quite Rich People Problems, but it is sort of adjacent to it – I mean the family have a summer house by the sea! It’s also very subtle and feels quite low stakes in a way –  I was reading it waiting for something awful to happen, but it’s not that sort of book. It’s much more every day, it’s about everyday events and normal summer holiday type things. One of the narrator’s sisters is pony mad. The other has suddenly grown into her looks and is getting a lot more attention than she used to. The narrator works in a shop for a holiday job. There’s a wedding being planned. The climax of every thing is basically a tennis match and it’s so good. There aren’t a lot of really good sport-in-book scenes in novels – but this is one of them and would be fairly near the top of my list (the top being the cricket scene in Murder Must Advertise). It would be a great book to read by the sea or by the “sea” aka your pond, paddling pool, local body of water. It is very, very summery and perfect for the warm weather.

I am all about the low-stakes at the moment – so if you’ve got any recommendations for me for similarly enjoyable but un-anxiety-inducing books, drop them in the comments for me please. I’ve mentioned before that I am all about resolutions at the moment – hence the mystery and romance heavy reading lists, but this was a nice change that didn’t make me super stressed. It’s not the first Meg Rosoff I’ve read, but it is the first one I’ve really liked, so I might have another little wander through her other books, but I’m not sure there’s any guarantee I’ll find something similar there!

My copy came from NetGalley, but it’s out now in hardback and in Kindle and Kobo. I haven’t ventured into a bookshop yet, so I can’t tell you what the likelihood is of it being in there on a table, but Meg Rosoff is a fairly well known name so I reckon there’s a good chance it’ll be in stock in larger book stores, but probably not the supermarkets.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Not Your Sidekick

June was a tough month, and July started off looking like it was going to be more of the same. But I’m feeling much better about things now, because the Formula 1 was back at the weekend, and so life felt a little bit more normal. And it’s very much first world problems, and people have problems that are a lot more serious, but I’m due to get a hair cut this week, which has been something to look forward to because when you have hair as short as mine and you haven’t been able to have it cut for 15 weeks it looks a right state. I’ve never regretted cutting my hair short before – but there’s a first time for everything. Anyway, to the reading. Back to YA this week for Not Your Sidekick by C B Lee, a superhero-adjacent (sort of) adventure story.

Cover of Not Your Sidekick

Jessica Tran’s parents are superheroes. Ok, so they’re only C-class, which means they mostly just save their town from the pranks played by the town’s villians, the Mischiefs. Jessica’s sister is in superhero training, but Jessica herself hasn’t got any powers yet, and it’s not looking like she’s about to develop any. So when she gets an internship at a fancy tech company, it’s the most exciting thing that has happened to her in ages – and she gets to work with Abby, the school volleyball star she’s had a crush on forever. Except it turns out that she’s working for the Mischiefs, and it looks like there might be a dark undercurrent in the world of heroes and villains that she’s used to.

This is a fun and exciting adventure caper, which reminded me a bit of the Incredibles, with the juxtaposition of superpowers, secret identities and ordinary lives. Jessica is a great lead character, but she’s got a great gang of friends too. It doesn’t info dump on you, it really just puts you down in the world and leaves you to work out what has happened to Earth, and how everything works, which I though really helped with the pacing as well as giving you a level of uncertainty about who were the good guys and the bad guys. I had part of the plot at the tech company figured out fairly early on, and I’m not sure I was meant to – but I’m not in the target age range, so it may have seemed less obvious to the younger audience. But it’s a lot of fun, the unravelling at the end is great – although there is somewhat of a cliffhanger situation going on here – and Jessica and Abby are great fun together. It’s a lovely twist on the high school story and on a one girl to save the world type story (see also Patrick Ness’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here). And there are two more books in the series (even if the sequel looks difficult to get hold of in the UK) with a third on the way.

My copy came from the library, but Not Your Sidekick is available now in paperback, audiobook, Kindle, Kobo and all the usual formats. I suspect the paperback will probably be a special order in the UK.

Happy Reading

Book of the Week, graphic novels, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Pumpkinheads

A busy week in reading last week with lots on the list. You’ll be hearing more about some of them (yes I know, I keep saying that but look – you had a Recommendsday post last week and that was worth it right?) but as it’s Halloween this week this seemed like the obvious choice.

UK Edition of Pumpkinheads

Written by Rainbow Rowell and illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks, Pumpkinheads tells the story of one night in the life of Deja and Josiah.  They are seasonal friends.- they’ve worked at the same stall at the same pumpkin patch together, every autumn, all through high school – but never see each other between Halloween and next September 1. But their last year. And more specifically their last night. Josiah wants to be melancholy, but Deja wants him to seize the moment and let go of his quest to be the employee of the month and enjoy their final shift together. To that end she’s traded their shifts at the succotash stall for something closer to where Josiah’s long-term crush works, in the hope that she can persuade him to finally ask her out. But what actually happens ends up being a mad chase around the patch to finally see all the sights and taste all the snacks.

I’m not a horror reader, so Halloween themed reading is always a challenge for me.  But if you’re like me and need some low stakes, low peril Halloween reading, this may be exactly what is required. This is funny and sweet and not at all scary, but it is very, very Halloween-y. We don’t really have pumpkin patches over here – or if we do it’s a very recent arrival – so it’s not something that I’m familiar with, but that didn’t matter because the art did all the work for you.  I loved the visual style of this – the colour palette is gorgeously autumnal and the characters are all really expressive.  There’s so much detail here too – I loved the runaway goat and the troublesome teens.  Read this curled up on your sofa with a seasonal beverage whilst hiding from trick or treaters.

My copy of Pumpkinheads came from my local comic store – your local should be able to get hold of it too. Otherwise it’s available from all the usual sources.  I’ve also written about some of Rainbow Rowell’s books before – here are my reviews of Carry On and Fangirl. I also finished Wayward Son – which is the sequel to Carry On – last week.  It’s really good, but you need to have read Carry On to get the most out of it.  And there’s a third book coming too.  Exciting times.

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Autoboyography

So, a mixed week of reading last week. Some stuff you’ll be hearing more of. Some you… won’t. But I did finally find my copy of Autoboyography, which had been MIA since the house move back at the end of July, and managed to get time to sit down and read it and i enjoyed it so much that it’s this week’s BotW.

Paperback copy of Autoboyography

Tanner Scott’s life was different when he lived in California. At his school there it was ok there to be bisexual and he was out and proud. But when he moved to Provo, Utah, drinking caffeine became controversial, let alone liking boys, so he’s temporarily back in the closet in his overwhelmingly Mormon new community. With one semester left of high school he signs up for The Seminar, an honor roll only class where the students aim to write a book in four months. How complicated can it be? It turns out, very because the first thing he notices in class is Sebastian Brother, bishop’s son and star student from the previous year’s Seminar: a prodigy with a book deal. Sebastian ends up as his critique partner – but what will happen when he finds out that Tanner’s novel is about falling in love with Sebastian?

This is a YA love story and journey of self discovery, you fall in love with both Tanner and Sebastian but there are very real reasons why their story may not get a happy ending and there is a lot at risk here. I’m not sure I got everything I wanted from the ending – but I always want more After, I want more reassurance that everything is going to be Alright – and I accept that you don’t always get that in YA, because it is unrealistic in stories about teenagers!

This got nominated for a whole bunch of awards when it came out back in 2017 and I can totally see why. Sebastian’s world view is so different from Tanner’s, but it’s so sensitively handled and you really believe in them. Regular readers may know that I have a semi fascination with Religion In America and this did a really good job of scratching that itch for me.

Christina Lauren is a writing duo better know for writing contemporary romance. I met them both back in February last year at Sarah MacLean’s London tea party* where they were charming and signed a copy of Dating You, Hating You for me and were very charming. In the afterword they say that this book was informed by their experience including Christina’s work as a guidance counsellor at schools in Utah, which adds an extra level to Sebastian once you know.

There is drama here and angst, but it worked out at pretty much the perfect level for me. I think I may actually have liked it more than Christina Lauren’s romance writing, where I can sometimes find the heroes a little obnoxious and don’t always like the humour.

My copy of Autoboyography came from the really lovely YA department in Foyles, but it’s also available from most online bookstores and in Kindle, Kobo and as an audiobook.

Happy Reading!

* Bonus photo of Sarah MacLean, Christina Hobbs, Lauren Billings and Tessa Dare (and the buffet!) at the tea party.

Sarah MacLean, Christina Lauren and Tessa Dare

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, graphic novels

Book of the Week: Fence

A long list of books read in yesterday’s Week in Books post.  You’ll have noticed that I’m still on a big old Susan Mallery reading jag, but in the interests of not being repetitive, this week’s BotW features what I fear may become my next graphic novel obsession: Fence.

Cover of Fence Vol 1Fence is the story of Nicholas Cox who is determined to make it in the world of fencing.  He’s managed to win a fencing scholarship into a top boarding school and needs to get a spot on the school team to stay.  But in his way is enigmatic Seiji Katayama – who beat him at the last big competition and who also happens to be his new roommate.  Why is he putting himself through this?  Well he’s the illegitimate son of a fencing great and he wants the chance to be a fencing legend like the dad that he never knew.  And if it means beating his half-brother – his father’s acknowledged son and protege – on the way, then so be it.

This exists at the convergence of the Venn diagram of some of my top catnip: boarding schools, underdogs, Olympic sports and – dare I hope – enemies to lovers.  It ticked so many of my boxes, you would not believe.   Or may be you would if you’ve been here a while!  Aside from Nicholas and Seiji, the fencers at Kings Row are a really interesting gang of people and – like Boom! box stablemate Lumberjanes – they are a super diverse bunch but that’s not made into a Thing, it’s just how life is.  Because of course that is how real life is.  I love the art from Johanna the Mad – and the simple but striking colour pallette that’s used.  I know very little about fencing – except that it’s in a fair few historical romances and that these days it’s *very* fast-moving when it pops up on TV at the Olympics – but this totally hooked me in and had just enough detail about the ins and outs of the sport to keep you interested without overloading you – which is a skill in itself, especially in a graphic novel.

I saw an issue of this while I was in the US in the autumn, but waited and bought the trade version from my local comic book shop.  I’ve now got Volume two on order, but volume three isn’t out until May and I can’t just glom on it now.  Hey ho, I can’t have it all my own way.  You should be able to get hold of Fence Vol 1 from any good comic retailer – and please do support your local comic store – but if you want a taste, the first issue (one fourth of this trade) is £1.79 on Kindle at time of writing.

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, mystery, Young Adult

Book of the Week: A Study in Charlotte

And I just can’t help myself.  For the second time in three weeks, my BotW is a Sherlock Holmes-related novel: Brittany Cavalaro’s A Study in Charlotte.  But this time it’s Modern Sherlock descendants at a New England Boarding School so it is Completely Different from Sherry Thomas’s A Study in Scarlet Women. Even if the titles would lead you to think otherwise.  Honestly.  It really is.  Let me prove it to you…

Jamie Watson has won a rugby scholarship to a prep school in Connecticut.  He isn’t happy about it – not only doesn’t he want to leave London, he doesn’t really like rugby and the last thing he wants is to be closer to his dad and his step-family.  The only bright spot in this whole situation is that Charlotte Holmes also attends the school.  The Holmeses and the Watsons have been intertwined for generations – every since Sherlock solved mysteries and Watson wrote them down.  But Charlotte seems like more trouble than Jamie can (or should) handle:  she arrived at the school in mysterious circumstances, she runs a poker game at weekends and is rumoured to have a drug problem.  But the thing is, the two of them seem drawn to each other nonetheless.  Then a student is killed.  And not just any student – one who Watson had a very public fight with after he hassled Charlotte. And Holmes and Watson are being framed for the crime.  Charlotte may be the only person who can solve the case – but by investigating it may put them in the wrong place at the wrong time and make things even worse for them.

This is exactly my sort of YA.  There’s drama and peril and some angst here, but it’s not end-of-the-world or dystopian or bleak.  There’s school stuff and a mystery, but the issues are slightly more adult (drug addiction, sexual assault, stalkers) than you get in middle grade school stories and mysteries.  Jamie and Charlotte are incredibly engaging characters – and once again I had fun watching and seeing how Cavallaro had woven in the Sherlock-lore into her modern day characters.

I’ve actually had this on my reading wishlist for a while – Goodreads tells me I shelved this in November 2016 – but it’s not available in Kindle in the UK and it hadn’t come my way at the library or in the bookshops.  Or at least not at a point when I remembered to look for it anyway.  Luckily I found it in the library near my flat in the US and it was part of my marathon library book binge last week.  There are two more books in the series that have already come out and a fourth installment due in 2019.  I’m going to be be making proper efforts to get hold of them.  I might add the next one to my Christmas list…

You can get a copy of A Study in Charlotte in hardback or paperback from Amazon, but I’ve had trouble finding it for sale on any other UK-based vendors.  Which is a real shame because it is really very good.  But if you’re heading to the US anytime soon, put it on your to-buy list!

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, children's books

Book of the Week: Paperback Crush

Another super quick BotW post – I’m sorry.  It’s been so busy. And it’s a day late because of the end of the month Stats.  Sorry again.  Anyway, this week’s BotW gave me some happy hours reminiscing about some of my teenage reading last week, and I thought it was worth a mention here.  If you’ve been hanging around here a while, you’ll know that I’ve written a fair bit about fiction for teenage girls and middle graders in the past – from my weekend at a book conference all about them, through my enduring love of classics like Drina and the Chalet School, through new books like the Wells and Wong series, the Sinclair Mysteries and everything in between, so you can probably tell from looking at the cover that Paperback Crush would be right up my street…

Cover of Paperback Crush

Paperback Crush’s subtitle is “The Totally Radical History of 80s and 90s Teen Fiction” and author Gabrielle Moss takes a fairly deep dive into the American books of those two decades.  If you read the Babysitters Club, any of the Sweet Valley iterations or the revamped Nancy Drews, there’s something here for you.  I was delighted to rediscover a couple of series’ I’d forgotten about  – like the boarding school series which I read a few of in the school library and was never able to find again.  This also covers some of the single titles and the notable authors – like  Caroline B Cooney’s Face on the Milk Carton, and it’s sequels which I remember devouring as an early teen and then watching the TV movie of!

This is an exclusively American book though, so if like me, you were a reader in the UK, some of your favourites and the series that you remember most won’t be here – there’s no Trebizon for example, which was one of the few “new” boarding school stories I remember reading.  It’s also exclusively about girls fiction – so there’s no three investigators, or Hardy Boys – but it does touch on career books a little.

My copy came via NetGalley, but Paperback Crush is out at the end of the month in the US and the UK – my suspicion is that you’ll need to order it in specially, rather than happen across it in the store.  Here’s the link for Amazon paperback and Kindle pre-orders if you want to get your bids in early.

Happy Reading!