Recommendsday: Funny, smart romances

After yesterday’s ravings about Bet Me, I thought for Recommendsday this week I give a quick shout out to other books and authors doing similar things.

A lot of the books that spring to mind are actually from a while ago – and now have spots on my keeper bookshelves – but this also means some of them aren’t available on kindle, or are only available second hand. Which is a real pain, because they’re all excellent.

I’m going to start with Sarah Mason – and in particular The PartyThe Party Season Season. Izzy and Simon have a great love/hate relationship and all the supporting characters are brilliant too. I wish there were more books by Mason, but she appears to have vanished from the bookish world. She did have a business career as well, but I’ve often wondered if she’s still out there writing under a different name* and I just haven’t spotted her yet. Luckily these are available on Kindle.

Talking of authors that I wish there were more books from, I cried in Tescos when I picked up Melissa Nathan‘s last book and read I the  in the author  ioraphy that she’d died.  She wrote smart, sexy funny romantic comedies the likes of which are hard to find. The good news is that they’re available on Kindle too – The Waitress was the first of hers that I read, but I think The Learning Curve is my favourite.

It’s not that long since I had a rave about Christina Jones, and she definitely fits into this sort of company, as do Hester Browne, Claire Sandy and Jenny Colgan. Hopefully that’s enough suggestions to keep you going for a few days, but if you have any more suggestions for me, do leave them in the comments.

Happy reading! 

*And there are a few like that out there.

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!

Book of the Week: Our Own Private Universe

I had trouble picking my Book of the Week this week for various reasons, and I’m sorry that this post is a bit short.  Anyway, this week’s BotW is Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley.  I read this last week, and while bits of it didn’t work for me (of which more below) it’s a story that I haven’t read before (maybe I haven’t been looking in the right places!) and that needs to be represented more in fiction – particularly YA fiction.

I  like the UK cover but the US hardcover one is possibly braver.
15-year-old Aki is bi-sexual, but so far she’s only told her best friend Lori.  She’s off to Mexico for the summer with her church youth group and the pair have a plan to start getting out there and living an interesting life.  At the camp, Aki meets Christa and the two have a connection.  But it’s not easy trying to navigate your first relationship with everyone watching you – especially if you’re trying to keep it quiet.  And how do you know if it’s love anyway?

There was a lot about this that I liked.  It’s a diverse (in every way) queer coming of age story that (spoiler alert) doesn’t end in deaths and disownment.  But that’s not to say there isn’t plenty of angst, because there is.  In fact that was my main gripe with the book – that at times Aki just went too far over my whining teenager limit and there was a lot of petty drama that I could have done without.  But I have a low tolerance for that sort of thing – so it may work much better for the target market of angsty teenagers than it does for me!

But although it’s not perfect, stories like this need to be told and need to be out there.  And the world needs more happy YA love stories (or at least I do!)- whether they’re F/F, M/M or M/F.

My copy came from NetGalley, but Our Our Private Universe is available in paperback from Amazon, Waterstones and Foyles and on Kindle and Kobo. 

Relaxation Reading

Why hello dear Reader.  I now have finished my (partly self-inflicted) double dose of nightshift hell I feel like sharing some of the things that I’ve read and enjoyed during my two weeks of sleep deprivation and brain fade.  I’ve written about the effects of nights on my reading habits before and I can confirm that I’m still irrational, prone to tears and incapable of making decisions while I’m staying awake all night.  This set of nights I’ve been ever so restrained, and haven’t bought any books – which is a minor miracle as my nights the week before Christmas saw a mini ebook spree and the ones before that saw nearly a dozen books turning up the following week!

Romance

In many ways romances are perfect nightshift reading for me – you know what you’re getting.  The hero and heroine will get a Happily Ever After (or at least a Happily For Now) and if you know which tropes you like and which keywords to look out for you can pick books which should tick your boxes.  I know I don’t do well with angst and trauma when I’m on nights, so I’ve been picking out Enemies to Lovers stories like Lucy Parker’s Pretty Face (this week’s BotW) and a couple of new releases from favourite authors.  In fact I saved (waiting two weeks to read it counts as saved in my book) Eloisa James’s latest book Seven Minutes in Heaven especially for nightshifts.

Detective

I’ve already mentioned The Ballad of Sean and Wilko and I was luck enough to get an advance copy of Duncan MacMaster’s new book Hack which was fabulously entertaining – if you haven’t read A Mint Condition Corpse yet, I highly recommend it. Henery Press are one of my regular suppliers/purveyors of cozy crime and I read the first Zoe Chambers book Circle of Influence as well, which is a little darker than their usual crime, but very good – I’ll be keeping an eye out for more in the series.

Children’s Books

Fortuitously for me, an order of Girl’s Own books arrived just before I started nights.  This – combined with a couple of Middle Grade novels from NetGalley meant that I had plenty of school girl antics to read about.  Although not all of them were school girls.  I now know more than I ever thought I needed to about pedigree Cocker Spaniel care in the 1950s (Elinor M Brent Dyer’s Kennelmaid Nan) and a lot more about the trials of being a nursery teacher in a deprived area just after the war.

Hate reading

I wrote about hate reads only a few weeks ago.  My tendency to irrationality when on nights and shortness of sleep means I have a habit of losing my temper with Him Indoors at these sort of times.  So to avoid that, I channel my anger and rage in a good (you know what I mean) hate read.  I’m not naming names here* because this is a positive space but I’ve hate read (or ended up hate reading) at least one book each week of nights.

So there you have it – a bit more detail on What I Read On Nightshifts.  Hopefully it’s amused you to see how my brain regresses when I haven’t had enough sleep and may be there’s a few there that might appeal to you, I’m happy to be enabling your book purchasing decisions this weekend.

Happy reading!

*But if you follow me on Goodreads or Litsy you’ll know (or be able to work out) exactly which books I’m talking about!

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!

My Big Obessions of 2016

As regular readers will know, I’m a binge reader.  I find someone or something new that I like and I gorge on it.  One of the big reasons my to-read pile never seems to shrink is because I’m forever discovering new series and then buying them up to read and ignoring the stuff waiting on the pile. We’ve already revisited last year’s obsessions, and so to mark the end of the year here are my big obsessions of 2016.

Fahrenheit Press

Lets start with the obvious.  And yes, I know. You’ve heard so much from me about Fahrenheit Press this year that you’re starting to think they’re paying me (they’re not) but I could basically have written this whole post obsessing over their books.  But I’m trying to be restrained, so I’m only giving them one entry.  There is something about the books that they publish that just works for me.  They’re not all the same but they work as a group.  I haven’t read all the books that I’ve got through my subscription yet, but everything I have has that same slightly subversive, sideways look at what it’s doing – whether it’s old series they’re republishing (like Sam Jones) or new ones (like Danny Bird).  The truly excellent thing about this particular obsession is that I bought their subscription early in the year, so it’s been excellent value and they’re an ebook publisher so it hasn’t been adding to the actual physical pile. And as I’ve already bought a 2017 subscription I suspect I may be boring you all about them again well into the year.

Girls Own fiction

I’ve always been a sucker for a boarding school story and spent much of my childhood playing made up games about being at one (despite the fact that I’m fairly sure in reality I would have hated it), but until this year my reading in the genre has centred around the authors that were still in print when I was small (so Elinor M Brent Dyer, Enid Blyton, Anne Digby).  In 2016 I’ve managed to lay my hands on some who are more forgotten – like Mabel Esther Allen, Gwendoline Courtney and the downright obscure like Phylis Matthewman – as well as filling in more gaps in my favourites (like the end of Lorna Hill’s Sadler’s Wells series) and some modern fill in titles for my favourite series and it’s been glorious. Some of them are just great stories, some of them are so bad it’s funny and often you’re reading them giving side eye.  I wouldn’t necessarily lend them to a child now, but for me personally they’re a fabulous escape from the misery of every day life.  In Boarding School-land bad deeds are found out, no one is ever bullied, and everyone loves their school in the end (if they don’t, they’re probably A Bad Influence and may not return next term).   I’m still not really into horse books and there’s only so much Guides I can take, but I’ll try anything – up to and including books about girls who want to be kennel maids…

The Chronicles of St Mary’s series

I don’t know how this had passed me by before.  In case you’ve missed it too, The Chronicles of St Mary‘s follows Madeleine Maxwell and her colleagues at St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research – historians who have time machines and use them to go and investigate what really happened in the past.  It doesn’t often go to plan.  It’s made me laugh, it’s made me cry and it’s made me go and check up on some other periods in history that are out of my comfort zone.*  I stumbled across one of the free novellas on audible and listened to it on one of my jaunts to the Youth Hostel back in March and fell in love.  I went back to the start been working my way through the series since, but have been trying to pace myself so I don’t run out of books.  I’ve got just finished book six and I’ve got book seven waiting for me on my Kindle – but book eight isn’t out until July so I’m trying to control myself.

Sarah Morgan

I will confess to not having read any Sarah Morgan before I met her at Sarah MacLean’s London tea party in May and got a goody bag with one of her books in it.  Without that goody bag, I’m not sure I would ever have picked up one of her books, but I’ve read six novels and a prequel novella now, and have an advance copy of her next one on the stack and another few of her backlist on the kindle having picked them up on offer.  They  challenge my ideas about what I do and don’t read.  Morgan’s background is in category romance, which I haven’t really read since I glommed on a box of old-school Mills and Boons at my Granny’s house when I was about 12.  I don’t think that I would read a medical romance (which is what Morgan started out writing as she was a nurse) and I definitely don’t do secretaries and billionaires, but it turns out that I do like contemporary romances where smart, sassy women meet their perfect matches. Because I’ve enjoyed Sarah Morgan’s books I’ve ventured further into some of the other contemporary romance authors I’ve heard mentioned on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.  And if the spines say Mills and Boon, at least the cover designs aren’t cringey any more!

Books with Brontes

This seems bonkers considering the fact that I’ve never read Wuthering Heights all the way through, and haven’t read Jayne Eyre since I was  about 9, but this year seems to have been the year of me reading books featuring the Brontes in some shape or form. I think I’ve read about half a dozen now.  Some have been amazing, like The Madwoman Upstairs or Jane Steele, some have been less so, none have made me want to re-read Jane Eyre (but lets face it, if Thursday Next couldn’t manage that, I don’t think anything will) or have another go at Wuthering Heights, but I’ve enjoyed them and done some more reading around the Brontes.  I think perhaps it’s because I don’t know much about them or their books that I enjoy them so much – there’s not much chance of me spotting mistakes or inconsistencies!  And on top of all this, Trisha Ashley’s next novel, which I’m lucky enough to have an advance copy of, is set in Bronte country as well!

So there you have it, my bookish obsessions of 2016. Place bets now on what might make the list in 12 months time.

*My comfort zone being Western European history post 1485, with a strong preference for post 1750.

Book of the Week: Christmas Ever After

What else could I pick for a Christmas book this week except for a book set at Christmas-time? Exactly. It has to be a Christmas book in Christmas week. And I’ve read a lot of Christmas books this year – don’t believe me? Check out my Christmas books post.

Cover of Christmas Ever After

I think this might be the last Christmas book cover of the year. Maybe.


So my Christmas book of choice this week is the third in Sarah Morgan’s Puffin Island series, Christmas Ever after, which has Christmas twice – once in the UK and once on the island – and an enemies to lovers sort of plot where artistic Skylar’s politician boyfriend hijacks her big exhibition and then runs out on her, leaving unwilling acquaintance Alec to come to her rescue.  She ends up meeting his family – who think she’s his first girlfriend since his disastrous marriage, and well, it goes from there. There’s lots of sparky dialogue, sexy times, snow, sexy times, discussions about how relationships would bring out the best in you and not stifle you and romantic times.

This was so much fun. I like fractious relationships with romantic undertones – or ‘I hate you, I hate you, I can’t stop touching your hair’ as Sarah Wendell at Smart Bitches puts it –  so this is right up my street and it was the perfect book for me to read on Christmas Eve. It was warm and festive and if my new fireplace had actually been installed (don’t ask) I would have read it tucked up in front of a roaring fire and it would have been perfect. I’ve read the Puffin Island series slightly out of order, but I don’t think it’s been a problem at all – because for me the fun of a romance isn’t who people are going to end up with, but how they get there so I don’t mind knowing in advance who is going to end up with whom because I haven’t read the books in order.

So, in short, lovely Christmas romance, perfect for reading in front of the fire on your Christmas days off (like today if you have a bank holiday too) or on New Year’s Eve if you’re not all Christmassed out by then (or by now!) – or just put it on your list for next December.

Get your copy from Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles or on Kindle (a bargain £1.99 at time of writing) or Kobo.

Happy reading!