mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Austen Playbook by Lucy Parker (London Celebrities #4)

40957180

Summary from Goodreads:
In which experienced West End actress Freddy Carlton takes on an Austen-inspired play, a scandal at a country estate, an enthusiastic search for a passion outside of acting…and the (some people might say icy*) heart of London’s most feared theater critic.

*if those people were being nice

Freddy Carlton knows she should be focusing on her lines for The Austen Playbook, a live-action TV event where viewers choose the outcome of each scene, but her concentration’s been blown. The palatial estate housing the endeavor is now run by the rude (brilliant) critic who’s consistently slammed her performances of late. James “Griff” Ford-Griffin has a penchant for sarcasm, a majestic nose and all the sensitivity of a sledgehammer.

She can’t take her eyes off him.

Griff can hardly focus with a contagious joy fairy flitting about near him, especially when Freddy looks at him like that. His only concern right now should be on shutting down his younger brother’s well-intentioned (disastrous) schemes—or at the very least on the production (not this one) that might save his family home from the banks.

Instead all he can think of is soft skin and vibrant curls.

As he’s reluctantly dragged into her quest to rediscover her passion for the stage and Freddy is drawn into his research on a legendary theater star, the adage about appearances being deceiving proves abundantly true. It’s the unlikely start of something enormous…but a single revelation about the past could derail it all.

The Austen Playbook is a super-cute contemporary romance between a frosty, Jason Isaacs-as-Lucius Malfoy look-alike theatre critic (who, due to descriptions of his nose, actually resembles a blonde Richard Armitage in my head #sorrynotsorry) and a bubbly, musical-theatre actress at a career crossroads. I really liked how Griff and Freddy worked out the mystery, worked toward each other (Freddy needling Griff about how much of a feared theatre critic he is is hilarious), and that what looked vaguely like a love-triangle in the making did NOT go there. However, the resolution of the novel is a bit overstuffed with extra side-plots, especially the one about the sister and her hideous boyfriend. It was one too many layers and not necessary to the set-up for the next book, in my opinion.

Now, I had been hoping that we would see more of this actual “Jane Austen characters smashed together in a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure whodunnit” but wound up disappointed (although I’d fire the casting director of that fictional TV production because holy cats was those were some bad choices). The whole idea sounded really genius, though, and I’m surprised some TV showrunner hasn’t actually done something like this. (Jasper Fforde toyed with it at the end of First Among Sequels.)

Even though this is book four in the London Celebrities series, you can read it without having read the previous three. I hadn’t. But I’m definitely going to check them out now.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book on my Nook.

Advertisements
mini-review · stuff I read

Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis

40983137Summary from Goodreads:
The bestselling author of American Housewife is back with a fiercely funny collection of essays on marriage and manners, thank-you notes and three-ways, ghosts, gunshots, gynecology, and the Calgon-scented, onion-dipped, monogrammed art of living as a Southern Lady.

Helen Ellis has a mantra: “If you don’t have something nice to say, say something not-so-nice in a nice way.” Say “weathered” instead of “she looks like a cake left out in the rain.” Say “early-developed” instead of “brace face and B cups.” And for the love of Coke Salad, always say “Sorry you saw something that offended you” instead of “Get that stick out of your butt, Miss Prissy Pants.” In these twenty-three raucous essays Ellis transforms herself into a dominatrix Donna Reed to save her marriage, inadvertently steals a $795 Burberry trench coat, witnesses a man fake his own death at a party, avoids a neck lift, and finds a black-tie gown that gives her the confidence of a drag queen. While she may have left her home in Alabama, married a New Yorker, forgotten how to drive, and abandoned the puffy headbands of her youth, Helen Ellis is clinging to her Southern accent like mayonnaise to white bread, and offering readers a hilarious, completely singular view on womanhood for both sides of the Mason-Dixon.

Southern Lady Code is a memoir in short essays that are the funniest, driest, Bless-Your-Heart *pat pat* pieces of writing that I’ve ever read (I’m a little behind on the Helen Ellis party – I’ve got the audio of American Housewife out from the library to try and rectify that). Even when the subject is serious – in one she attends a rather grisly murder trial as support for her friend who is the prosecutor – she just takes it out at the knees. The first essay is about being a recovering slob and oh lordt, it me. (Also, her mom sounds HILARIOUS).

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

stuff I read

Teaser: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (The Ninth House #1)

42036538Summary from Goodreads:
Gideon the Ninth is the most fun you’ll ever have with a skeleton.
The Emperor needs necromancers.
The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.
Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.
Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as skillfully animated as necromantic skeletons. The result is a heart-pounding epic science fantasy.
Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.
Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will be become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.
Of course, some things are better left dead.

Just a little teaser to tell you to mark your calendars for September 10, 2019, fans of totally weird shit from Tor. Gideon the Ninth is the first book in what promises to be an amazing trilogy about necromancers, magic (maybe?), science (also maybe?), politics, sword-fighting, queer ladies, weird morbid death cults, and animated skeletons all narrated by the snarkiest, most obnoxious teenage ginger ever aka Gideon, of the Ninth House. What’s not to like? And if you need more encouragement, Gideon was referred to as a hot buff trashweasel on Twitter. You need this book. Call your local bookstore, order it on your ebook retailer of choice, make a post-it for a carrier pigeon.

(CW for discussion of suicide)

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

Dead Now of Course by Phyllida Law

34732486Summary from Goodreads:
‘My future mother-in-law burst into tears when she heard her son was to marry an actress. There’s still something disturbing, I grant you, about the word “actress”. If an MP or some other outstanding person plays fast and loose with an actress the world is unsurprised. She is certainly no better than she should be, and probably French…’

As well as being a mother (to the actresses Sophie and Emma Thompson) and a devoted carer to her own mother and mother-in-law, Phyllida Law is also a distinguished actress, and Dead Now Of Course is the tale of her early acting career.

As a young member of a travelling company, Phyllida learned to cope with whatever was thrown at her, from making her own false eyelashes to battling flammable costumes and rogue cockroaches. We find her in Mrs Miller’s digs, which were shared with a boozy monkey bought from Harrods, an Afghan hound known as the ‘the flying duster’, several hens and various children.

Filled with funny, charming anecdotes, Dead Now Of Course paints a fascinating picture of life in the theatre – and at the heart of the story is an enchanting account of Phyllida’s courtship with her future husband, the actor and writer Eric Thompson.

I saw the entry for Dead Now of Course in a catalog on Edelweiss as I was just randomly digging around – I had to have it immediately. Alas, no US galleys available so I had to wait until my order came in at work. Because I find Phyllida Law a delightful actress who pops up in all sorts of supporting roles.

This is a delightful small volume of reminisces from Phyllida Law’s early career in the theatre up to the beginning of her marriage to Eric Thompson (I believe there are a few books she previously published about other periods in her life? I will have to investigate). So many stingers at the ends of paragraphs. For those who don’t know, Phyllida Law is Emma Thompson’s mum. You can tell where she gets the no-nonsense humor.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book.

Readathon · stuff I read

A Murder to Die For by Stevyn Colgan

35004372Summary from Goodreads:
When hordes of people descend on the picturesque village of Nasely for the annual celebration of its most famous resident, murder mystery writer Agnes Crabbe, events take a dark turn as the festival opens with a shocking death.

Each year the residents are outnumbered by crowds dressed as Crabbe’s best-known character, the lady detective Millicent Cutter. The weekend is never a mild-mannered affair as fan club rivalries bubble below the surface, but tensions reach new heights when a second Crabbe devotee is found murdered. Though the police are quick to arrive on the scene, the facts are tricky to ascertain as the witnesses, suspects and victim are all dressed as Miss Cutter. And they all want to solve that crime too . . .

I picked up A Murder to Die For after John (@johnnie_cakes) recommended it on Instagram. It is a delightful, madcap murder mystery set at a fan-con for a fictional English crime writer with a Phrynne Fisher-esque 1920s amateur detective. Colgan gleefully breaks all the “rules” of crime writing and name drops all sorts of mystery-related Easter eggs, including Midsomer Murders (and you’ll find the retired DS Shunter a bit of an analog to Tom Barnaby, my favorite dad-detective, although with less of John Nettles’s TV panache). Not a cosy, since the amateur detectives are quite useless and it’s a bit more violent than a cosy, so I can’t use it for the Read Harder task, but a good, zany whodunnit. The sum-up at the end is a bit awkward, imo.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

Readathon · stuff I read

Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer

40063024Summary from Goodreads:
A witty, informative guide to writing “good English” from Random House’s longtime copy chief and one of Twitter’s leading enforcers of proper grammar–a twenty-first-century Elements of Style.

As authoritative as it is amusing, this book distills everything Benjamin Dreyer has learned from the hundreds of books he has copyedited, including works by Elizabeth Strout, E. L. Doctorow, and Frank Rich, into a useful guide not just for writers but for everyone who wants to put their best foot forward in writing prose. Dreyer offers lessons on the ins and outs of punctuation and grammar, including how to navigate the words he calls “the confusables,” like tricky homophones; the myriad ways to use (and misuse) a comma; and how to recognize–though not necessarily do away with–the passive voice. (Hint: If you can plausibly add “by zombies” to the end of a sentence, it’s passive.) People are sharing their writing more than ever–on blogs, on Twitter–and this book lays out, clearly and comprehensibly, everything writers can do to keep readers focused on the real reason writers write: to communicate their ideas clearly and effectively. Chock-full of advice, insider wisdom, and fun facts on the rules (and nonrules) of the English language, this book will prove invaluable to everyone who wants to shore up their writing skills, mandatory for people who spend their time editing and shaping other people’s prose, and–perhaps best of all–an utter treat for anyone who simply revels in language.

Benjamin Dreyer’s Dreyer’s English had the honor of being the first book I finished for the 24in48 Readathon!

As my staff rec card says: Do you need a new style guide? YES. Dreyer is the chief copyeditor at Random House and knows his business. He’s also sly and droll and has a way with a footnote or a turn-of-phrase. (He’s also a proponent of the Oxford comma, meaning I didn’t have to break up with either this book or his Twitter, and he’s got an adorable doggo on his Twitter.)

If you want to read an entertaining book about something useful – like learning to write well – that is not even remotely like our school nemesis, the wretched Strunk & White, then you need this book. Grammar nerd bookyes! Copy-editing nerd book, yes! Book with many funny footnotes, yes!

Dreyer’s English is out tomorrow wherever books are sold.

Dear FTC: I read a ditigal galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss. And I have a copy on pre-order, too.

Read My Own Damn Books · Readathon · stuff I read

Meaty by Samantha Irby

35952943Summary from Goodreads:
The widely beloved, uproarious, first essay collection and the basis for the upcoming FX Studios series from smart, edgy, hilarious, and unabashedly raunchy Samantha Irby.

Samantha Irby exploded onto the printed page with this debut collection of essays about trying to laugh her way through failed relationships, taco feasts, bouts with Crohn’s disease, and more. Every essay is crafted with the same scathing wit and poignant candor thousands of loyal readers have come to expect from visiting her notoriously hilarious blog.

Read for 24in48 Readathon!

I do love me a Samantha Irby essay collection (see: We Are Never Meeting in Real Life). She is so funny and dry. After the success of WANMiRL Vintage reissued her first collection, Meaty (originally pubbed by Curbside Splendor). This collection is so well-balanced, with laugh-out-loud lines about hanging out with moms, a spec she wrote for a TV show, and crusty garbage that guys pull out to get in your pants, but then she’ll hit you with a gorgeous piece like “My Mother, My Daughter” about taking care of her mom when she was really sick. Definitely pick this up before you check out Sam’s upcoming writing for TV!

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book when it came out last year.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Governess Game by Tessa Dare (Girl Meets Duke #2)

36111620Summary from Goodreads:
He’s been a bad, bad rake—and it takes a governess to teach him a lesson

The accidental governess.

After her livelihood slips through her fingers, Alexandra Mountbatten takes on an impossible post: transforming a pair of wild orphans into proper young ladies. However, the girls don’t need discipline. They need a loving home. Try telling that to their guardian, Chase Reynaud: duke’s heir in the streets and devil in the sheets. The ladies of London have tried—and failed—to make him settle down. Somehow, Alexandra must reach his heart… without risking her own.

The infamous rake.

Like any self-respecting libertine, Chase lives by one rule: no attachments. When a stubborn little governess tries to reform him, he decides to give her an education—in pleasure. That should prove he can’t be tamed. But Alexandra is more than he bargained for: clever, perceptive, passionate. She refuses to see him as a lost cause. Soon the walls around Chase’s heart are crumbling… and he’s in danger of falling, hard.

To do a complete romance-180 from queer 21st century rock gods, I retreated to Regency England and let Tessa Dare kill me with laughter. We met Alexandra Mountbatten in The Duchess Deal as part of a trio of unconventional young ladies befriended by Emma. Alex’s father was a ship captain, her mother a Filipina, and Alex has found it hard to fit in as an intelligent, biracial orphan in England. But she has carved out an unusual career for herself: she has a roster of clients for whom she goes around to set all their clocks to the correct time.

The Governess Game opens as Alex arrives at Chase Reynaud’s door, to ostensibly pitch her services to a newly-found duke’s heir, she finds herself at the oddest funeral service she’s ever seen: for a doll. Reynaud has mistaken her for the newest in a string of governesses for his two impossible wards.

Alex, predictably, bolts. But she loses her chronograph in an accident on the Thames and so must return (soaking wet) to Reynaud’s house to swallow her pride and take the job – it’s either figure out how to be a governess or starve.

Chase, for his part, is really at a loss. He’s just been informed he’s the heir to the title (in circumstances that make him feel responsible and guilty), he’s inherited two forlorn little girls as his wards (who are more likely cousins or even possibly his half-sisters if he can determine who their father was), and now he, most notorious rake in London, has got himself a firecracker of a governess who isn’t really a governess but turns out to be rather good at the job. (And he’s unfortunately attracted to her, particularly her mind, which is going to put a damper on that whole rake business.)

From a little girl with a Wednesday Addams-level morbid outlook to a guilt-ridden Duke’s heir (Chase) and Alexandra herself (who is brilliant), I laughed and chuckled through the whole thing. Alex’s governessing style is less Fraulein Maria and more Dread Pirate Roberts and I loved it. Chase, for all his baggage, is much more a rake in the style of Colin from A Week to be Wicked (but no dirty math jokes in this one, which seems to be a Colin special) – “He ate the sham” might be a new catchphrase for a dude who really wants to impress his lady. In addition, it is very clear that consent is important to Chase – the first time he and Alex have sex, he is adamant that she give her active consent, not just let him plow ahead.  Whoever says that “consent positive” sexytimes isn’t sexy is very wrong.

And then Ash showed back up with the most creative “you hurt my wife’s friend and I’ll [harm you permanently]” and I almost laughed myself out of my chair. I’m so looking forward to Nicola and Penny’s books.

(But where’s my 4th Castles Ever After book and when will we figure out what is up with the old dude who set up the whole castle-as-inheritance scheme?)

The Governess Game is out today!

Dear FTC: I read a paper galley of this book from the publisher and I had it pre-ordered on my nook.