Book of the Week: Once in a Lifetime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading!

Recommendsday: Cozy Crime

It’s election day in the UK tomorrow, and I’m gearing up for an all-nighter at work.  So the natural way to prepare is to… read some nice relaxing cozy crime books that don’t feature any politics at all!  Here are a few that I’ve enjoyed recently.

covers of three cozy crime books

I’m working on making my collages neater… it might take a while

I think I’ve mentioned these before, but Donna Andrew’s Meg Langslow books are a lasting source of delight to me.  They have some of the best punny titles in the genre (all based around birds) and are witty and fun.  There was a slight mid series slump* (but hey where there are 20 books in a series that can happen) but they’re back on form now.  Start at the beginning with Murder with Peacocks – I’ve recently read numbers 17 and 18 – the brilliantly titled The Good, the Bad and the Emus and The Nightingale before Christmas.

I’ve also got a serious soft spot for Cindy Brown’s Ivy Meadows series about a wannabe actress who is a trainee Private Investigator in her spare time.  Each book is based around a different play or musical title  – the fourth book has just come out, Ivy Get Your Gun, and I enjoyed it although I think the second book in the series The Sound of Murder is still my favourite.

I read my first book in Lyn Cahoon’s Tourist Trap series a few weeks ago and, although there were a few things that had me confused, I already have another one lined up on my Kindle so I must have liked it.  This follows the trend for small business-owner detectives with a Bookshop-cum-coffee-shop proprietor in a small coastal town.  I like a competent heroine and Jill is good at her day job – or at least she by the eighth book in the series Hospitality and Homicide and she at least has a credible reason for investigating the death.  There’s an interesting supporting cast and a nice relationship to watch develop too.  What more could you want?

I bought the Donna Andrews – and you can get them fairly easily (and for a sensible price) in the UK, but the other copies came to me via NetGalley, so it might be a case of adding them to your book wishlists and waiting for the price to drop, because I often find American cozies are too expensive for me soon after release, especially given how quickly I read them.

Happy Reading – and if you’re up watching the election result tomorrow night, think of me and my colleagues working probably the busiest nightshift of the year!

*SPOILER ALERT: The slump (for me at least) coincided with the period where Meg’s twins were very small.  Once they got to toddling and the books had less feeding and naps, it all sorted itself out

Book of the Week: Southern Fried

It was actually a really tough choice picking this weeks BotW partly because I didn’t read as much last week and partly because none of what I read was an absolute stand out for me.  So in the end, I’ve settled on Tonya Kappes’ Southern Fried – a cozy crime mystery that comes out today, which has its issues, but overall was the book I had the most to say about of last week’s reading!

The cover of Southern Fried

I like the cover – simple but actually relevant to the story.

This is the second in the Kenni Lowry series – about the sheriff of small town in Kentucky who is assisted on the job by the ghost of her grandfather (no, don’t walk away, it’s not quite as nutty as it seems) who was also the town’s sheriff.  Kenni loves her job, but her mother isn’t best pleased about her daughter’s vocation – and neither are some of the townspeople as the local crime rate starts to rise.  In Southern Fried, Kenni is investigating the death of a man found dead in the greenhouse of his former (as it turns out) employer in the run up to a cook off that they were both taking part in.   In working out what happened, Kenni gets tangled up in family feuds and local intrigue just as election season is starting to get underway.  As the danger mounts, Kenni, her dog Duke and her new (and handsome) deputy Finn must work out what’s going on before the rising death toll scuttles Kenni’s chances at holding on to her dream job before the voting even starts.

There’s a lot that I liked about this – I love the southern setting, the mystery is fast-paced and twisty with a potential slow burn romance running alongside.  However as a Brit, I struggle to get my head around the idea of elected sheriffs and the hyper-local police forces and at times Kenni doesn’t help with this.  In the first book in the series I found her spacey and not entirely convincing on police procedure (especially for a police academy graduate) but she seems much more competent in this one, which helped me cope with the fact that she’s taking advice from a ghost!  Regular readers will know that I have a strange releationship with the supernatural and parnormal in books*, but in the main this works for me.  There were still a couple of points where I raised my eyebrows at Kenni’s actions – an amateur detective can get away with a lot more than a sheriff can – but the book moves quick enough that you only notice this when you stop to think!

This book also made me muse on the role of the knowledgeable background character in cozy crimes.  Kenni being the sheriff is a double-edged sword – it means that she has the right to be investigating crimes (and indeed is likely to come across them) in a way that many of the sleuths in cozies don’t, but it also rules out an important source of information and means that at times the sleuth can come across as not being very good at her job.  there’s a couple of points in this where Finn the deputy seems like he knows what he’s doing more than Kenni does.  But this is only book two in the series and is a big step on from book one so there is lots of potential for development and improvement as the series goes on.

My copy came from NetGalley, but you can buy Southern Fried on Kindle or in paperback from Amazon from today.

Happy Reading.

* As in sometimes it works for me and sometimes it doesn’t but I can never work out in advance what I’m going to like and what I’m going to hate!

Book of the Week: Bet Me

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

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

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

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

You can get Bet Me on Kindle or iBooks

Happy Reading!

Recommendsday

Borrowing shamelessly from one of my favourite things on Litsy (I’m @Verity if you’re over there, do come and find me) I thought I’d start recommending books on Wednesdays.  Some times it might be a big long post about a book I haven’t talked about before, sometimes it might be a quick bump for one I’ve written about before, sometimes it might be a book that’s topical, you get the idea.  I’m going to try and be good and post one each week, but we’ll see how that goes.  Anyway, I’m kicking Recommendsday off with The Clancy’s of Queens which tells the story of Tara Clancy’s childhood and youth in Queens.

The Clancys of Queens

Such a classy looking book (she says in a terrible attempt at a Queens accent)

Tara’s parents divorced when she was small and she spent a lot of her childhood shuttling between her grandparents’ house in a geriatric neighbourhood, her father’s converted boathouse home and her mother’s boyfriend’s house in the Hamptons.  This, unsurprisingly left her with some issues as she switched between working class, middle class and upper class communities.   Tara talks about her experiences with humour and I haven’t seen many (any?) similar memoirs.  I’m convinced that I wouldn’t have made it through the school system in Queens in one piece, but it makes for a great read.

I mentioned this book in my personal Christmas book request post after hearing about it on a lot of podcasts – and I got given it for my birthday.  As it’s in hardback it’s taken me a few weeks to get around to reading it.  But I’m very glad I did. It’s an American import, but you can get a copy from Amazon (I do hope Him Indoors didn’t pay £20+ for it for me!) or preorder the (slightly cheaper, but still fairly eyewatering) paperback.  There is an audiobook version – but it’s not available on UK Audible.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week: Pretty Face

I know.  This is a day late.  What can I say – nightshifts really wiped me out.  I have spent so much time sleeping – and then a lot of life admin to do to try to catch up after two weeks of living nocturnally.  So this is a Recommendsday post instead – and you can wait until tomorrow for February stats.  Sorry.  Anyhow, this week’s BotW really brightened my nightshifts commutes up last week – Lucy Parker’s second book, Pretty Face.

Cover of Pretty face by Lucy Parker

You know its in London because of the bridge!

Lily Lamprey is an actress.  Unfortunately she’s handicapped by a sexy voice and curves that saw her cast as a man-stealing bitch in a popular period drama.  But now she’s leaving the show and she wants to do something different.  Respected theatre director Luc Savage has poured his heart and soul into restoring his family’s London theatre and now he’s casting the opening production.  Some of his partners think that Lily giving a role would be a great way to sell tickets.  But he’s not convinced she can pull it off.  When the two meet there are sparks – and instant attraction.  But Lily’s mum has a reputation for getting ahead through her relationships and Lily knows what people will say if she starts seeing Luc.  Luc’s long-term relationship has just finished and he’s older than Lily – he’s sure it’s just a mid-life crisis and he’s not willing to risk his career and reputation on it.

This is just what I like in a romance.  It’s an enemies to lovers story with witty banter, plenty of snark and a great set up.  Both characters have their issues and their reasons for avoiding a relationship with each other and the way things are worked out and worked through is fun to read about.  Parker’s depiction of the world of the theatre is great – full of well-rounded characters and personality.  If I have a problem with the book it’s that a few of the British references and British-isms jarred for me and didn’t ring entirely true.  But that’s little nitpicky details that most people probably aren’t going to spot/be annoyed by.

Pretty Face was just what I needed last week – fun and romantic, with a bit of emotional peril and a satisfying conclusion.  And I liked it more than I liked her first book, Act Like It, too.  I just hope we don’t have to wait too long for another one.

My copy came via NetGalley, but you can get an ebook copy from Kindle or Kobo, who also have Act Like it as well (Kindle, Kobo).

Happy reading!

Book of the Week: The Semester of Our Discontent

Last week was almost entirely taken up with cozy crimes, many of them the first in series as I’m on the hunt for another one to add to my lists.  It’s proving a harder quest than I had imagined.  Quite a few of the books that I read last week had a problem (or two).  But in the end I settled on the first book in Cynthia Kuhn’s Lila McLean series – mostly on the basis that I went out and requested the second book from NetGalley after I finished it – which is out later this month – and then read that too.

Cover of The Semester of Our Discontent

I like the simplicity of the cover – it looks classy to me.

So, in the Semester of Our Discontent we met Lila, newly appointed English professor at a small but prestigious university.  But no sooner has she arrived at Stonedale than she has more to worry about than whether she’s going to get enough published to get tenure when she finds one of her colleagues dead.  Her cousin (also on the staff and up for tenure) is one of the prince suspects, so Lila starts gathering evidence alongside teaching and settling in to her new job.

Now as a Brit, I had to google tenure the first time I can across it in a book a few years back, because it wasn’t something I had come across in the UK system, but this actually explains it really quite well and it made sense to me (or at least as much sense as it can make!) without slowing down the plot or doing an info dump.  There’s a large cast of characters in this, who don’t always get a chance to become more than just names* but the people you do get to know are engaging and three dimensional.  There’s definitely set up here for running threads for the series, but it’s done much less obviously than some of the other books I read last week.

There are a couple of moments that are a bit over the top (and I can’t tell you what) but Lila’s investigations are sensible enough and she never strays over the Too Stupid to Live or the Why the Monkeys Hasn’t She Been Arrested lines – which again was a problem in some of the other books that I read this week.

The Semester of Our Discontent isn’t perfect, but it’s engaging and readable and the depiction of campus life feels like it has plenty of potential for plots that don’t neccesarily revolve around loads of bodies**.  And at time of writing its available for the bargain price of 99p on Kindle.  It’s also available, but more expensive (£2.04) on Kobo.  The second book, The Art of Vanishing, is available on the 28th – Kindle and Kobo are taking pre-orders now, and again at time of writing Kindle is the cheaper.  They’re both published by Henery Press, who were the source of a fair few of my cozies last week, and they have more links to outlets where you can buy on their websites as well as sign up to their newsletter, which sometimes has freebies.  Wink wink.

Happy reading!

*Although this is sorted out in book 2

**As demonstrated in book 2