Book of the Week: As If!

Tricky choice this week – I’ve already waxed lyrical about The Night that Changed Everything in the Easter post, where I also mentioned Jolly Foul Play which I’ve now finished and is part of a series I’ve already written about in various places (like here, here, and here).  And my other favourite book last week was Broken Homes – book three in the Peter Grant series  which I wouldn’t suggest you read as an introduction to the series and I’ve already written about Rivers of London and Body Work.  So, I preface this by saying, go and read Wells and Wong if you like school stories, Peter Grant if you like magic and detective series and The Night that Changed everything if you like romantic comedies.

That all out of the way, the BotW has to be As If! An Oral History of Clueless.  This is the inside story of the classic teen movies – with contributions from pretty much everyone involved – mostly from interviews given to the author.  If you’re my age, you may have watched Amy Heckerling’s film on fairly hard rotation through your teenage years.  Cher and Dion’s adventures through Beverley Hills are both funny and strangely universal despite their mega bucks wardrobes and swanky life style.

If you love the movie then this is a fascinating insight into how it got made, what was going on behind the scenes and what it was like working on the book.  I found it fascinating – although I found that the style of putting in chunks of quotes from each contributor made it feel more like a stack of research notes in places rather than an actual book coming to conclusions.  If you’re not a mega fan of the movie, then this probably isn’t going to be your bag – unless you have and interest in the behind the scenes machinations of Hollywood and the process of making a film.

It’s a fairly pricey paperback – so unless you’re a super-fan if may be one for your local library – but here it is on Amazon, Kindle, Waterstones and Foyles.

The Week In Books: March 21 – March 27

Some really good books this week – some of which I’ve already mentioned in my Easter Books post.  You may yet hear more about some of them too!  I went away for the bank holiday weekend – or you know the list of books read would have been higher if I’d been sitting on my sofa.  Get me with my life outside work and books!

Read:

The Sport of Baronets by Theresa Romain

The Night that Changed Everything by Laura Tait and Jimmy Rice

Deira Joins the Chalet School by Caroline German

Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens

Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

As If! An Oral History of Clueless by Jen Chaney

The Skeleton Garden by Marty Wingate

Started:

Jane Steele by Lindsay Faye

Still reading:

Freya by Anthony Quinn

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

I didn’t buy any books!  Well I bought one book, but it wasn’t really for me (although it is on my kindle account, because I share it with Him Indoors).  So I’m calling it no books.  Who knew that was possible. I’ll try and not to buy any books at all this week…

Easter Reading Suggestions

Easter is upon us again – early this year – and so I thought I’d throw some suggestions out there for books for reading over the bank holiday weekend, or the Easter holidays if you’re lucky enough to have them.

The Night That Changed Everything by Laura Tait and Jimmy Rice

Copy of The Night that Changed Everything

I love the cover of this book – can’t explain why, but it just speaks to me

Rebecca and Ben are perfect for each other – blissfully happy, they’re made for each other.  But when a secret from the past is accidentally revealed, their love story is rewritten.  Can they recover?  Is it possible to forgive and forget? This came out yesterday (Thursday), but I was lucky to have an advance copy which I finished on the train home from work just after midnight on Thursday morning.  I really, really, enjoyed Rebecca and Ben’s story – which, as you can probably tell from my synopsis, is not your traditional romantic comedy.  It nearly had me crying on the train – which doesn’t happen very often (in part because I try not to read books that will make me cry on the train!) and I had trouble putting it down.  I didn’t even notice I’d arrived at Euston on the way to work on Wednesday I was so engrossed – if it wasn’t the end of the line I would have missed my stop!  On top of everything else going for it, I had no idea where it was going.  I suspect this is going to be on a lot of beach reading lists this year – get there ahead of the game and read it now.  I’m hoping this will be in the supermarkets and all over the place – but here are the traditional links: Amazon, Kindle, Waterstones, Foyles, Kobo.

Death of a Diva by Derek Farrell

Danny Bird has lost his job, his boyfriend and his home.  So of course the logical solution to this is to take over a dive of a pub owned  by a gangster and try and transform it into a fabulous nightspot.  But then his big act for the opening night turns up dead in the dressing room surrounded by a cloud of powder that’s definitely not talc and he’s the prime suspect in a murder inquiry.  This is funny and clever – I was laughing out loud as I tried to figure out who was responsible.  Danny is a fabulous character – and is surrounded by a great supporting cast.  There’s lots of potential here – this is another winner from Fahrenheit Press – who you may have noticed have been providing a lot of my favourite crime reads recently.  Get your copy on Kindle and badger Fahrenheit on Twitter to get it on other platforms.  I got my copy free when it was on promotion a couple of weekends ago (it came out before the Fahrenheit subscription) – this weekend their free book for Easter is Fidelis Morgan’s Unnatural Fire – which is high on my to-read pile – as I loved The Murder Quadrille as you may remember.

The Shadow Hour by Kate Riordan

Harriet and her granddaughter Grace are governesses at the same house, nearly 50 years apart.  Grace has been raised on stories of Fenix House – but once she’s arrived it’s clear that her grandmother may be a less than reliable narrator.  I reviewed this for Novelicious (check out my full review here) and basically this is the book that is going to fill the Victorian-time-slip-upstairs-downstairs gap in your life.  Secrets, lies, families, relationships -they’re all there in this twisty and intriguing book – which had me poleaxed at the end. If you liked Letters to the Lost, or the Mysterious Affair at Castaway House, or any of Lauren Willig’s stand-alone novels like The Ashford Affair then this is for you.

Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens

Hazel and Daisy are back on the detection trail after Deepdean’s new head girl is found dead during a fireworks display.  I haven’t finished the latest Wells and Wong mystery yet (it’s another that came out on Thursday – I started it as soon as my pre-order dropped on to my kindle) but if it’s half as good as the other three it’ll be a delight.  One for the 8 to 12 year old in your house – and your inner child as well.

What am I going to be reading this Easter weekend? Well, I’m hoping to finish Hazel and Daisy’s adventures on my Good Friday commutes, then I think I might try to fill the Night Circus-shaped void in my life with Ben Aaronovitch’s Broken Homes or my urge for more time-slip books with the rest of Beatriz Williams’ latest or Lucinda Riley’s The Seven Sisters.   Any other recommendations gratefully received in the comments – although I’m meant to be on a book-buying ban!

Book of the Week: The Night Circus

This week’s book of the week is Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.  In another tale of the state of the pile, this was a Christmas book from my mother in 2014.  In my defence, it did get a bit misplaced for a while in a storage box and then got shuffled to the bottom of a pile it shouldn’t have been on – but thanks to my mum’s habit of writing dedications in the front of gift books I have the guilts.  Sorry mum.

Anyhow, everyone else read this 18 months ago at least, so I’m behind the curve, but in case you are too, The Night Circus tells the story of Le Cirque de Rêves and some of the people who live there.  The circus arrives without warning, is only open at night and is filled with enchantment and wonder.  The book focuses on several characters in particular, but to say much more is to say too much.  It covers decades in the lives of the key players – starting before the invention of the circus and switches backwards and forwards through time as you learn some of the secrets behind the Circus of Dreams.

I started it before those pesky nightshifts and it took my brain some time to recover so it took me longer to read than how good it is.  But once my brain was functioning normally again I gobbled this up.  It’s clever and it’s magical but not too far from reality in many ways.  It’s romantic and intriguing and I wanted more.  I suspect I’ll be going back to reread this again and that I’ll get even more from it second time.

Magic! Illusions! Kittens! Clocks! Scarves! The Night Circus has all this and more – and now it’s got me wanting some more books with magical realism.  I listen to Book Riot’s Get Booked podcast and there have been several people asking for books to fill a Night Circus-shaped void in their lives, so once I’ve got the pile sorted a little bit I may have to look into that.  In the meantime, I’m ransacking the existing backlog for stuff that might scratch that itch.  Luckily I still have some Peter Grant saved on the shelf.

Anyhow.  Get your copy from Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles and on Kindle or Kobo.

 

The Week In Books: March 14 – March 20

A varied week of reading – with a touch of pretty much everything.  And I finally had the time to sit down and concentrate on The Night Circus, so the Still Reading list is down to one…

Read:

The Indecent proposal by Louise Marley

Bella and the Beast by Olivia Drake

Time Travelling with a Hamster by Ross Welford

Ships, Stings and Wedding Rings by Jodi Taylor

Death of a Diva by Derek Farrell

It Happened One Season by Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, Jacquie D’Alessandro and Candice Hern

The Guides of the Chalet School by Jane Berry

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Started:

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

Still reading:

Freya by Anthony Quinn

The books from last week’s spending spree turned up and I realised that the book piles by the sofa are now getting tall enough (in some cases) to interfere with the curtains.  Thus I am seriously contemplating a buying ban on actual books.  So this week I only purchased 2 ebooks – and one of them was free.  I’ll keep you posted on the piles.

Romance Tropes: What I like and what I don’t!

Hello gentle reader.  As you may have noticed, I do quite like a good romance novel.  I’m more of a historical romance reader than anything else, but I do sometimes stray into contemporary and to a lesser extent paranormal.  I’ve been thinking a lot recently about why some books linger on the to-read pile and it’s led to me contemplating what my favourite and least favourite tropes are in the romance genre.  Once you’ve figured out what you like and what you don’t like, it makes it much easier to wade through a genre where there are so many books to chose from.  And it also makes it easier to work out what you might like when you’re trying a different type of romance from the ones you usually read.

Lets start with my pet hates…

Accidental Pregnancies/Secret pregnancies

Oof.  I think this is my absolute least favourite. If an author that I adore writes one of these, I’ll probably read it, but apart from that I give these a wide birth.  I think this is probably all bound up in my own fear of accidental pregnancy, but these do absolutely nothing for me except make me want to scream with rage.  Accidental secret pregnancy plots will have me hurling a book across the room if I happen to encounter them.

Secret Children

Following on from the pregnancy problem, I like secret children only slightly better.  It has to be really good for me to be able to get past the fact that you’ve stopped the child’s father from being a part of their life for x years.  And given that the whole idea of the plot is usually that the heroine will reunite with the father, then the reason’s for the secret tend to be a bit lame/spurious. And as far as contemporary romances go, in the days of the internet and social media it’s easier than ever to keep in touch with people and harder than ever to keep this sort of secret…

Amnesia

Just no. Luckily you don’t find it very often any more (although there is a bit in one of my favourite author’s latest novels, but it’s a late on twist so I just about coped with it) because people have (thankfully) realised that Amnesia is rare, and if you’ve got it, you may well have other stuff going wrong too which is harder to fix.   I can’t think of a single romance with amnesia as a main plot point that I’ve read and enjoyed.  And I’ve been down lists of amnesia romances on Goodreads and it hasn’t jogged my memory either.  I understand there’s a pregnant-with-amnesia sub-genre, which sounds like my idea of hell, although Smart Bitches, Trashy Books have a very witty review of the hilariously titled Pregnesia.

My favourites:

Girls dressed up as boys

Twelfth Night has been my favourite Shakespeare play since we studied it when I was 11 (side note: check out the amazing Globe production of it with Oscar Winner (squee) Mark Rylance as Lady Olivia – clip below!) and I love plots with girls dressed up as boys.  From Leonie in These Old Shades, through Harriet in Duchess by Night, Callie in Nine Rules to Break when Romancing a Rake (and that other Sarah MacLean one which not a traditional “breeches” role and is a massive spoiler if you haven’t read the rest of the series) and many more besides, it’s a plot device that will often get me to pick up a new author.  It’s usually only found in Historical Romance although if you know of any good contemporary ones, please put them in the comments!

Fake engagements

This is one has to be deployed cleverly, because breaking an engagement would ruin the heroine socially so she’d have to have a good reason to do it, but it’s popular device in more recently written historicals, there’s something I love about couples who enter into these for nerfarious reasons of their own and get more than they bargain for.  Because of the above social consequences, it’s not a plot often employed by my beloved Georgette Heyer – I can only think of one fake engagement in her books and that’s False Colours, which almost doesn’t count because Kit is pretending to be his twin brother throughout in a lovely twist.  Julia Quinn’s The Duke and I is a great example

Marriages of convenience

Following on from those fake engagements, I do love a marriage of convenience plot, although conversely I think my least favourite Georgette Heyer is  A Civil Contract – but she does have some crackers too like April Lady and Friday’s Child (my mum’s favourite).  When cleverly executed they can be wonderful fun – Eloisa James’s The Ugly Duchess, Mary Balogh’s At Last Comes Love and Quinn’s To Sir Philip with Love is a fun twist on the idea.  To be honest, it’s fairly hard to mess up a marriage of convenience – there are lots of ways a lady can accidentally get compromised – and there’s lots of reasons why people might enter into one (keep lands, escape an evil guardian, get an inheritance etc).

I do read other stuff of course – I like house parties, rake-y heros, beta heros, guardians and wards (but only the sort who don’t do anything about it until the wards are of age), friends to lovers, best friend’s sibling and much much more.  To be honest, beyond my pet hates above there’s not much I won’t give at least one try (except the Tragic Lives aisle of the bookshop). All recommendations for things that might tick any of my boxes are gratefully received – in the comments below please!

Book of the Week: Chiltern School

This week’s Book of the Week is Mabel Esther Allen’s Chiltern School.  Regular readers will already be aware of my love of the classic school story and this one last week was a real treat for my sleepy post-nightshift brain.

Chiltern School tells the story of Rose Lesslyn – who has lived with her grandparents since her mother died and her father moved to work abroad to get away from his pain (as people frequently seemed to do in books in this era).  Her father decides that she needs to go to school – much to her grandmother’s dismay – and she’s dispatched from her home on the Isle of Wight to a rather progressive (for the 1950s anyway) school in the middle of the Chiltern hills.  There she struggles to fit in but eventually finds her feet, makes friends and (re)discovers a hidden talent.

Chiltern School was written in the 1950s – and sold to a publisher, but never published until Allen published it privately in the 1990s.  And she was only able to do that because of the success of a reissue of another of her series – the Drina books in the 1990s.  The Drina series (the subject of one of my very early posts on the blog) were written under one of her pen names – Jean Estoril.  I had no idea about this until I read the forward of this book – I’d bought it because I’d really enjoyed another of her (many) other books The View Beyond My Father (about a young blind girl escaping from her domineering father in the 1910s) back in primary school days.  I was thrilled to discover that my love of the Drina series in the early 90s had meant that Allen had money to do this in her old age – and that someone who’s books I’d liked so much had written so much more than I thought!

And Rose does have similarities to my beloved Drina (that series started 7 years later). Both live with their grandparents – with a stern grandmother and a kindlier grandfather, although both of Drina’s parents are dead as opposed to just one of Rose’s (there are a lot of dead parents in children’s books of this era).  And trying not to give too much of the plot away here, Drina doesn’t know about her background at the start of the series but later choses to keep it secret – while Rose knows but doesn’t tell.

Both also feature the Chilterns – Drina’s ballet school has a boarding department there, where she stays in Drina Dances in Exile (the green book as it always is in my head because of it’s cover) and where she returns to several times in later books to visit friends.  Now since reading Drina, I have acquired a boyfriend who comes from that part of the world – so I got an extra level of enjoyment from Chiltern School’s mentions of places that his family live or have lived and where we have been.  And the area is a big feature in the book – it’s beautifully described – you can practically feel the wind rushing through your hair as Rose and her friends cycle around.

It’s not perfect – it is of it’s time and is not as diverse as you would (hope to) find a children’s book written now would be.  But Allen’s writing style is charming and every readable – this is a fun romp that will make you wish you could have gone to boarding school (in the 1950s) with Rose and all her friends.  That is if you couldn’t be a ballerina and be Drina…

My edition was published by Girls Gone By – who as I’m sure I’ve said before – specialise in republishing classic children’s stories that are now out of print.  They do the same for my beloved Chalet School and for authors like Lorna Hill, Malcolm Saville and many more.  Check out their website and see if they’ve done any of your childhood favourites.

I went straight on from this to Allen’s Ballet Family books (bought in the same spending spree back at the start of the year) which appear to have been published under Allen’s name and then reissued under the Estoril pseudonym in the 90s to capitalise on the success of Drina.  I don’t know how I missed them at the time – but they are a cross between Drina and Lorna Hill’s Jane goes to the Wells – with a ballet school that’s not The Royal Ballet and a family of 4 ballet students – who’s mother is still a ballerina.  And I really want to go back and reread the Drina series too.

Happy reading this week!