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!

Book of the Week: Because of Miss Bridgerton

Normal service is nearly resumed here after last week’s nights, although I’m still having to resist the urge for an afternoon doze.  Anyway this week’s BotW is Julia Quinn’s Because of Miss Bridgerton, which is the first in her new Rokesby series.

Copy of Because of Miss Bridgerton

Pretty in lilac – and definitely not set in the Regency!

Billie Bridgerton is the tomboyish daughter of Viscount Bridgerton, who spends her days riding the estate and doing the work of her father’s estate manager.  The Rokesbys are the neighbouring family and she’s always expected that she’ll end up marrying one of their sons, but definitely not George.  Definitely not.  She can’t stand him and he can’t stand her. Except suddenly, when they’re thrown together, they don’t hate each other any more.  But what do you do when you start getting feelings for some one you’ve always hated – especially if you’re fairly sure they don’t feel the same way about you.

I do love an enemies to lovers romance, and although Billie and George are not quite enemies, it definitely has elements of that, along with best friend’s brother and a bit of a ugly duckling into a swan situation with Billie who definitely doesn’t want to be involved in the Season or the London world at all.  It’s fun and flirty and is such a joy to read.

Julia Quinn was my gateway drug into the world of historical romances – she was the first modern author I can across who was doing the same sort of thing (if with a bit more sex in it!) that Georgette Heyer was and I worked my way through her back catalogue at speed.  Her best know series are the Bridgerton books – and that makes this especially good – because it’s going back to the previous generation of that family.  And there are tit-bits here for people who have read those previous books about Anthony and his siblings – it fills in some gaps in Bridgerton family history and there are some definite nods to the characters that we’ll meet later on in Billie.

This has been out over a year – but I didn’t manage to find a copy in the shops when it first came out (and I’m not meant to be buying books) so it took until I found a copy at the library last week for me to get around to it.  The next book in the series – The Girl with the Make Believe Husband – is out today.  This one features one of George’s brothers and is nicely set up in Because of Miss Bridgerton.  I doubt if I’ll be able to wait a year before I read it having enjoyed this one so much.

You should be able to get hold of a cop of Because of Miss Bridgerton from all the usual sources – I’m going to leave you my traditional links to the Big Green Bookshop and to the Kindle and Kobo editions.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week: The Rogue Not Taken

I retreated into the world of happy endings this week – and treated myself by letting myself read the new (well relatively new) Sarah MacLean which I have been saving for a Time Of Real Need.

This is the first in her new series – Scandal and Scoundrel – and after the massive high of the surprise reveal and general excitement of the final book of the Rules of Scoundrels, I wasn’t sure this could live up to my massive expectations.  And then I found out that the new series was inspired by celebrity scandals of today and got a bit worried.  But I really didn’t need to.  Sarah MacLean knows exactly what she’s doing.

Paperback copy of The Rogue Not Taken

The cover model is just a bit to… meh. All downcast eyes and no personality – completely un-Sophie like!

Sophie Talbot is the youngest of a line of scandalous daughters of a noveau riche peer.  Her sisters revel in their notorious reputations, but she’s not keen.  She’s the most retiring member of the family right up until she pushes her elder sister’s cheating husband into a pond at a party.  He’s a duke – old family, old money – she’s not.  Suddenly she’s the biggest scandal in society and facing being an outcast.  So she makes a run for it.  But she makes her escape it using the carriage belonging to the Marquess of Eversley, who’s fairly scandalous himself.  He thinks she’s trying to trap him into marriage.  She knows she definitely isn’t. But then Things Happen.

I enjoyed this so much. The characters are engaging, the dialogue is witty and fun.  There’s lots of proper plot – no wishy-washy misunderstandings that could be solved by one person asking the other a question.  And just when you think it’s nearly fixed, MacLean throws in another twist to the tail.  I was a little hesitant about one of these which happened towards the end of the book, but it was dealt with so neatly and resolved so satisfactorily that by the time the book was over I’d almost forgotten it had annoyed me.  I was also desperate to read the next in the series which isn’t out until August, but I’ll try and contain my impatience.

I still prefer the US cover to the UK one – cheesy thought the American romance covers are, they have no shame about what they are – there’s heaving bosoms, unlaced corsets that improbably reveal no under garments, ridiculous muscles and flowing locks, but they’re unapologetic about it, where as the ones here are misty and coy and undersell the contents.  But hey, at least with a British edition we don’t have to pay silly money to get them shipped in anymore.  Although – full disclosure – I got my copy from the publisher who gave them to everyone who went to Sarah MacLean’s London teaparty (she’s lovely) so I may yet buy a US version to match the rest of my books of hers…

Get your copy from Amazon, Foyles or Waterstones, or for Kindle or on Audible.  If you’re in the States, it should be everywhere fine, fine romances are sold (to quote Sarah Wendell.). Happy Romancing!

Buy Him a Book for Christmas: Gift Ideas

I am the person who gives everybody they possibly can a book for Christmas.  My immediate family all get a book AND a “normal” Christmas present.  I buy young relatives books as often as I can. I even gift myself a Christmas book.  So I thought that I would give you suggestions for presents –  on top of  a post about Christmas-themed books.  This is the first of four post which I hope cover all eventualities.  Most of the links are to Amazon – because quite a few of the books mentioned across the various posts are in their 3 for £10 promotion, thus saving you money to use to buy yourself books on other things.

Non Fiction

Men can be tricky to buy for – or at least I find them hard.  I often end up buying biographies of sportsmen.  The Boy in my life is a massive petrol head – he devoured motorbike Guy Martin’s Autobiography this last weekend, which had been sitting on the shelf since last Christmas and is out now in paperback.  He’s said he’d quite like Martin’s hardback, When You Dead, You Dead.  Also on his Christmas list this year is ex-F1 driver turned World Endurance Champion Mark Webber’s book Aussie Grit.  The annual Jeremy Clarkson book will have been a fixture on many people’s Christmas lists for years, but if you fancy a change, The Boy really wants And On That Bombshell – a behind the scenes look at Top Gear, written by Top Gear’s script editor Richard Porter, who I’ve been following on Twitter for years without knowing what his day job was!

Guy Martin autobiography

I have had *such* headaches taking the photos for these posts. I could cry. Honestly I could.

Away from the motorsports books he’s a big Bill Bryson fan – so The Road to Little Dribbling may also turn up in his stocking.  One of his favourite books this year has already featured here as a Book of the Week – but A Year of Living Danishly is so good that I think it deserves another mention – particularly as Hygge starts in January and moving to a new country is often one of those things that gets mentioned in New Year’s Resolutions.

Trumbo by Bruce Cook

Check out my attempts at artistic arrangements of the books. This was the best I could manage.

On the history front, I haven’t read Trumbo (yet) but it’s just been turned into a film and the McCarthy era is fascinating – particularly in the movie industry.  I’ve also had quite a good hit-rate with Ben MacIntyre – my dad loved Operation Mincemeat, and Agent Zigzag and Double Cross have also gone down well with him and several other men of various ages that I buy for.  His latest is A Spy Among Friends, about Kim Philby, which I haven’t read – but which may well end up in someone’s stocking this year.

Fiction

My Boy has got hooked (like me) on Janet Evanovich this year, so I’ve been on the lookout for pacey and fun thrillers for him.  It’s tricky as it very often ends up with me buying books for me!  I’m going to try and turn him onto the Fox and O’Hare series next – The Heist is the first one, The Scam is the latest.  They’re basically Ocean’s 11 or White Collar but as a book.  She’s an FBI agent, he’s a fraudster – but they have to work together to catch con-men.

On the straight-up thriller front, The Spider in the Corner of the Room by Nikki Owen is a twisty thriller – you can check out my review for Novelicious here, equally The Devil You Know is dark, creepy and tense, although I wasn’t keen on the ending (again reviewed on Novelicious)  Crime-wise, Ben Aaranovich is one of my new obsessions (I’m trying hard to ration myself and read slowly) Rivers of London is the first, Foxglove Summer the latest.

Foxglove Summer

Try not to look at the dents in the hardback spines, I know once you’ve noticed it’s hard to stop,but…

I’ve already mentioned The British Library Crime Classics series in the BotW post on Silent Night, but it bears repeating that there some really good titles in this attractive looking series which would make good gifts for an Agatha Christie fan looking for Golden Age Crime.  And as the series is bring stuff back into print that’s been out of circulation for a long time, there’s much less risk that they’ll have read them already! On top of the ones I’ve already mentioned, try The Z Murders and Murder Underground.  Speaking of Golden Age crime, Sophie Hannah’s Poirot continuation The Monogram Murders might also be worth a look.

Murder Underground

Try and focus on the retro stylings of the book, and the shine of the table – which I polished specially

This is breaking my own rule about not mentioning stuff I’ve read for Novelicious before the review goes up there, but I’ve just finished reading TV historian Neil Oliver’s first novel Master of Shadows, and without preempting my review there too much, it is basically the novel version of one of those historical epic movies.  Set in the fifteenth century. it follows a young man as he flees Scotland, becomes a mercenary and ends up entangled in the fall of Constantinople and the end of the Byzantine Empire.  It was too gruesome for me, but if you have a Game of Thrones fan in your life, this could be a great choice for them.

Master of Shadows

The pile of book effect is wearing thin? I know. And this has foil on the cover so its a photo nightmare

My Boy has also expressed an interest in Timur Vermes’ Look Who’s Back, which has been sitting in my Library book bag for ages.  In case you’ve missed it, this was a massive best seller in Germany – and tells the story of what happened when Adolf Hitler wakes up in 2011 Berlin.  It’s already been made into a movie in Germany and Radio 4 have dramatised it over here.  It’s meant to be laugh-out loud funny, but disturbing.

And finally, I’m not big on scary, but The Boy has film director David Cronenberg’s debut novel on his to-read pile.  I don’t like recommending books that I haven’t read (or that people around me haven’t read) but Consumed has a good review average on both Amazon and Goodreads and pull quotes from Stephen King and JJ Abrams, so strikes me as a fairly good punt in a genre I’m really not very fluent in.

Consumed by David Cronenberg

Still, at least I had enough books for this post to make a stack. Just wait til tomorrow…

Miscellaneous

If you want to give bookish gifts that aren’t actually books, then may I point you in the direction of American company Out of Print.  They do the most gorgeous clothes with book covers printed on them and for each purchase they donate a book to a community in need.  I’ve gifted their t-shirts to several men at various points – including The Boy, who loves them and stares wistfully at their website every time he sees me looking at it, but tells me he has enough clothes.  The tees are soft, the print isn’t crunchy (if you know what I mean) and they wash well and hold their shape.  If you’re in the UK I think we’ve already missed the cheap shipping international deadline, although they say you can upgrade, but TruffleShuffle stock a few styles, as do Amazon.

So there you are, hopefully I’ve recommended something for most tastes or situations – or at least provided a jumping off point.  Coming next:  Books for Her.

Bodice rippers…

There’s a shelf of books I keep hidden in my spare room.  I’m embarrassed to own them. But some of their genre-mates live in my sitting room bookshelf.  What am I talking about?  Historical romances.

a collage of books

My historical romance collection – can you spot the UK editions and the US ones

You’ll have seen from earlier posts that I’ve got a bit of a thing for Georgette Heyer.  Now a few years back, I started looking for other similar books that I could read – and stumbled into the world of historical romances.  Mostly written by American authors, they’ve beguiled many a happy hour in the years since.  So why the segregation?  Well it’s simple.  In this country (that is the UK) books by writers like Julia Quinn come with nice, innocuous pastel coloured covers.  But where I’ve had to buy in from the US to fill in collections – for example the Desperate Duchesses series by Eloisa James – they tend to come with busty women breaking free of their dresses on the cover.  I am literally too embarrassed to be seen to own them – let alone be seen out in public with them on the train.

In cases like this – the Kindle is a god-send – no one can see the cover of the book that I’m reading on my e-reader – and unless they’re invading my personal space, they’re not going to know that I’m reading a “bodice-ripper”.  But take one of these babies out in public and I’m embarrassed about people judging me.

books

Some of these spines are not allowed on my downstairs bookshelves…

Now this is, of course, ridiculous.  There is nothing wrong with reading historical fiction or even reading it in public.  Many are very well researched and historically accurate – Eloisa James is actually Mary Bly, a respected Shakespeare professor at Fordham University – and they’re hardly (or at least not often) up their with Fifty Shades of Grey for their explicit content* and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of escapist fiction anyway.

I’ve read a lot of article recently about people not taking romantic fiction seriously – and I’d suggest that covers like these are part of the reason why.  And some of them aren’t even that accurate when it comes to reflecting the content of the book – whether it is the look of the heroine or the action it portrays.

I also think the American style covers look incredibly retro and naff.  If I had come across them in a bookshop before I’d read some of the authors,  I would never have even thought of picking one of them up – I would have ruled them out as being clichéd, inaccurate and one note – the same way I did with old school Mills and Boons once I’d read a couple of dozen of my gran’s collection.  And they’re not.  For me, the best of them are the logical successors to Georgette Heyer – but with kissing.  And some sex.  Sometimes quite a lot of sex.  But the world has changed since Heyer picked up her pen – and it’s mostly very well written sex.

Eloisa James books

Same author, different countries – completely different cover look!

I’d love to know what it is about the US book-buying public (or how publishers perceive them) that means that the books are packaged and styled like this – and what the authors think of such radical differences.  But until the books start looking a little bit less like a cliché, my American imports will continue to be hidden away at the back of the top shelf of the spare room bookcase!

* I read the Fifty Shades trilogy on my Kindle, in secret, in Poland to make sure no-one would know what I was doing.  And I read it so that I could tell my sister and my mum if they needed to read it.  I concluded they didn’t.

Book review: Every Woman for Herself

Now I’ll start off by saying that I’m a huge fan of Trisha Ashley.  I was going to do an “Authors I Love” post on her this week – but I thought that her latest novel deserved a post all of it’s very own.  But expect to see more about my love of all books Trisha in the near future.

Every Woman for Herself

This really doesn’t do justice to the glittery cover of the latest addition to my Trisha Ashley collection….

Every Woman for Herself is actually one of her older novels – which has been out of print for some years and which I hadn’t been able to track down via a library (or find for a reasonable price secondhand) – I think the only other one of her books that I haven’t read now is Lord Rayven’s Revenge.  In her newsletter (yes I’m that sort of fan) she says it’s one of her favourite literary babies and I can see why.  Sometimes when you read an early book from a favourite author it can be a disappointment – because the style that you love hasn’t developed yet, but the familiar Trisha Ashley voice is well in evidence here.  Charlie’s is as engaging, fun and quirky as her later heroines – and her inner monologue is possibly even funnier.

At the start of the book Charlie’s husband announces he wants a divorce and the book tells the story of her return to her childhood home to refresh and regroup following that bombshell and what I shall call An Unfortunate Incident.  Her extended family is full of the eccentric characters that Trisha Ashley writes so well and they all come vividly to life as you read.

There are some other familiar ingredients are present and correct in Every Woman for Herself – a bit of magic-cum-witchcraft, a handsome and brooding romantic lead, a setting that’s almost a character in itself and of course a heroine who doesn’t realise what’s under her nose until after you do – but never in an annoying or obvious way.  And after reading Every Woman… I’ve finally found out the origin of Skint Old Northern Woman magazine which has cropped up in every (I think) book since as well as being the name of Trisha’s own newsletter.

I loved this book – I started reading it yesterday evening (the day it came out) and then couldn’t put it down on either on the train to work – or the way home and finished it about 10 minutes before I pulled into my station.  The only downside is that now it’s over too soon (I have no self-control in these matters – I haven’t managed to ration a book I’m enjoying yet) and now I have a long wait for her next book.  But I’m sure I’ll be re-reading this one before then.

I was thrilled to see that Avon were giving this a good old plug on their twitter account in the run up to publication – so I hope this does really well and sells lots and lots of copies.

Every Woman for Herself is available all over the place including the supermarkets and  Foyles (who I link to even though they’re not the cheapest for this type of book because I love the name of their loyalty scheme – Foyalty) and on Kindle.  I’ve managed to buy two copies (don’t tell The Boy – one is going back…) that’s how much I like Trisha Ashley books – and of course a demonstration of the fact I don’t keep track of what I’ve pre-ordered….

Find Trisha Ashley’s website here or her Facebook here and she tweets as @trishaashley