Book Review: Boyfriend Material by Alexis Halls

Boyfriend MaterialBoyfriend Material by Alexis  Hall

I picked this book up because I’d seen so many people talking about it. Plus, I love the cover.

Luc needs a very respectable fake boyfriend. Oliver wants someone to accompany him to his parent’s ruby wedding anniversary. It seems like a sensible arrangement for both of them.

I loved Luc’s voice. It was funny and relatable. I thought Oliver, the perfect man with host of insecurities, was adorable. Some of the secondary characters were hilarious (Luc really dislikes Oxford grads!). The scene with Oliver’s friends was wonderful.

I really enjoyed this book. It was laugh out loud funny and incredibly touching in turns.

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Book review: Girl In The Walls by A J Gnuse

Girl in the WallsGirl in the Walls by A.J. Gnuse

I requested this on Netgalley based entirely on the title.

Elise is an orphan who lives in the walls of the house where the Eddie and Marshall live with their parents. The boys know that there’s something in the house besides their family, but their parents don’t take them seriously. Elise has managed to live there for ages, moving through the house by climbing down the spaces inside the walls. But as time goes on, the boys become more and more convinced that there’s something/someone there and Elise meets the local boy Brody, who keeps her secret and becomes her friend.
And then things start to unravel.

This book is literary in style and beautifully written. I cared so deeply about the children that I stayed up until 2am reading it, so that I knew they were safe. There are some genuinely scary bits. I absolutely adored the book.
Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the review copy.

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Book review: Crazy, Stupid Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams

Crazy Stupid Bromance (Bromance Book Club, #3)Crazy Stupid Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams

I was delighted to see there was another book in the Bromance Book Club series. This time it’s Noah (the tech guy) and Alexis (who runs the Toe Beans cafe). As with the other books in the series, Noah is a (very reluctant) recruit to the book club. As always, the scenes where the guys are together are very funny.
The emotional themes in this book run quite deep. Grief being the main one. Seeing Alexis, who is a quiet but strong person, being rent apart by grief, guilt and hope was very moving. I love Alexis.
There is a ‘big miss’in the story, but the other characters call them out on it and make them talk to each other.
I really enjoyed this book. Alexis is definitely my favourite heroine from the group.
I’m told the next book is about The Russian, who is my favourite of the guys, so I’m looking forward to that one!
I got a review copy from Netgalley. This is my honest review.

If you’re interested, the first book in the series is The Bromance Book Club.

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Book review: Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade

Spoiler AlertSpoiler Alert by Olivia Dade

I spotted this was on UK Netgalley and requested an eARC . Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for the review copy.

April Whittier is a geologist by day and fan-fic writer and cos-player in secret. She’s also fat. This is a major part of the her character (and her character arc). When she moves to a new job, she decides she’s not going to hide who she is anymore and posts a picture of herself in costume on Twitter. Predictably, the trolls come out to comment on her size rather than the costume. In response to someone being particularly mean and tagging him on the comment, Marcus Castor-Rupp – the actor who plays Anaeas in the hit TV show, asks April out. But what April doesn’t know is that best online best friend, who beta reads her fan fics, is none other than… Marcus Castor-Rupp.

Both April and Marcus are scarred and they’re both judged first by their outward appearance, and that’s not always favourable (especially for April). A lot of the conflict in the book comes from them trying to get past their instinctive or habitual responses to comments and learning to trust that they have each other’s back.

The characters feel like real people and the dialogue is delightful.
The fat rep in this book is excellent. There’s also a healthy amount of food description (I love a bit of foodieness in novels). It’s quite steamy – but that’s important to April’s insecurities. I loved the interstitial sections (especially the scripts from the really bad movies that Marcus had to do before he became famous). I also enjoyed the descriptions of fandoms and fanfic communities, especially the bit when April properly realised she’d found her tribe.

This is a great book. I had a blast reading it.

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Book review: A Lady Awakened by Cecelia Grant

A Lady Awakened by Cecelia Grant

This book is delightful.

Martha has to be with child within the month, in order to save her house and the women who serve there. So she makes a deal with her neighbour Theo Mirkwood – infamous cad that he is. She will buy his services, every day for a month, in order to get pregnant. To her, it is a business deal. She will take no pleasure from it. To Theo, it’s a challenge to make her take pleasure from him.
For a book that’s about two people whose entire relationship is sexual, there isn’t much sex in it. They spend a lot of time in bed, but when the act is functional, the description of it is too. You only get more detail when the sex become integral to how the characters are changing. I liked this very much.
Through the course of the book, Theo learns to see that managing his estate is more than just about numbers and notes, and that there are people involved. It turns out Theo is good with people. Martha has a tendency to try to do things along and fix things herself. She learns that sometimes, it’s good to have help and that, given the right push, people will often help themselves.
I had read the prequel novella A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong some time ago and really enjoyed it. I’m glad I tried this book, too.

Book review: Undercover Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams

Undercover Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams

Another great read!
I really enjoyed The Bromance Book Club (where Braden DOES eat Liv’s Chinese food) and I enjoyed his one just as much. As before – I loved the dialogue, both between the main characters and between the boys. I like that the men sounded so blokey. I also liked that the book discussed gender expectations (on both sides). I particularly liked the fact that the women who had been hurt got to bring the bad guy to justice by themselves, in the end, rather than Liv swoop in and save them.
Liv’s landlady and her gentleman friend were awesome, too.
The characters are interesting and well fleshed out, the dialogue is wonderful and … well, these books are fun.
I’m looking forward to reading the next one.

Book review: The Country Escape by Jane Lovering

A Country Escape by Jane Lovering

Oh, I loved this book!
Katie has moved herself and her fourteen year old daughter, Poppy, go a damp cottage outside Christmas Steepleton. She wakes up one morning to find a pony in her back yard and a wooden caravan just outside.
It turns out the caravan (and Patrick the pony) belong to ‘Granny Mary’ – who is quite the character and they will be staying until Mary is well enough to move on. With Mary’s arrival,comes Gabriel – who is slowly going blind and makes quilts and crochets for a living. I loved him. He’s very much my kind of hero.
Katie is guarded, with good reason and takes a while to open up – to Gabriel and to the reader – but when she does, you understand why she’s like she is. Her relationship with Poppy is very realistic. I loved that Poppy found friendship (and more) in Christmas Steepleton. It was also lovely to see Rory (who appears in Christmas Secrets by the Sea) again. Also, Thea, who appeared in The Boys of Christmas, which is one of my favourite Christmas novellas ever.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. There were places were I chuckled out loud. The descriptions of the house were so damp, I had to put on a jumper at one point.
I heartily recommend it.
[Usual disclaimer, I know the author in real life. I was a fan of her writing before I even met her.]

Book Review: Spirited by Julie Cohen

Spirited by Julie Cohen

This was a lovely, uplifting read.

Viola and Jonah are married, but they’re virtually strangers to each other. Which is weird because they’ve been friends all their lives. Henriette is a charlatan, but a very good one.

This is a historical novel set in the time of the Raj. It took me a while to get into it, but once I was hooked, I read the rest in one day. I loved how Viola grew stronger as the book went on and how the story between her and Jonah resolved. (I’m trying really hard not to give away any spoilers here, can you tell?)

This is a very interesting book about faith and trust and the curious place that truth has in real life. I really enjoyed the story and the ending was just wonderful.

I’ve always enjoyed Julie Cohen’s books and this one was no exception. Annual Pass for writers – a review

Masterclass for Writers – is an annual pass worth it?

I’m coming to the end of a Masterclass annual pass that I bought last year and I’ve been meaning to review the classes I took. So here they are. Note, the links to Masterclass are NOT affiliate links (I applied, they rejected my application!). I really enjoyed the courses, so I thought I’d share. The links to Amazon are affiliate links and if you click through, I get a few pence (but it doesn’t cost you anything extra).

First of all, what is – it is a streaming service, where you can take courses, delivered by celebrity experts, on a variety of creative subjects. If you’re wanting to learn welding or difficult maths, they (probably) won’t help you. But if you want to learn about the more creative side of things, it’s bang on target.

Each course is about 4 to six hours long, delivered in bite size ‘lessons’ that range in length from about 4 minutes to about 25 minutes. I used to watch them while having lunch, when a half an hour lesson is exactly the right length. You can watch the lessons at 1.5 speed or double speed, if that’s what works for you. 

The courses are delivered by celebrity experts. They are famous for doing what they do. It’s probably worth noting that they are not necessarily experts at teaching what they do. I found that some were brilliant and I took away a lot of notes. Others, not so much. All of them were inspiring.

The cost is £170 ($180) for an annual pass – there is a payment plan too. Or you could buy a single class for £90/ $90. If you’re going to do more than one class, it’s well worth getting the annual pass. 

By the way, the default is for the annual subscription to auto renew after one year. There is a cancel button on your account profile. You can ask them to send you a reminder 30 days before it auto renews. Or,  you could buy yourself an annual pass as a gift voucher (which will last 365 days from the day you activate it, rather than the day you paid for it) and that will just run out after a year. If I were to get another annual pass, I’ll probably do that, because I’m forgetful.

I’ll start with the various writers’ classes that I took.

Neil Gaiman – Masterclass on the Art of Storytelling

This was the reason I signed up for the Masterclass annual pass. I find Neil Gaiman’s work completely immersive and I’m in awe of the way he thinks. The Masterclass is fun. He talks about his process and a little bit about how he works up his ideas. The class reinforces the fact that only Neil Gaiman can write like Neil Gaiman (which is fair). I didn’t take many notes, but the course was inspiring in some undefinable way.

Dan Brown – Masterclass on writing Thrillers

I’ve read a few of Dan Brown’s books and I find them very compelling. I wanted to learn how to write books that had a page turning quality. Did he teach that? Well, yes, he did. I have pages and pages of notes from this class. He talks about the tools and techniques of writing. He talks about suspense and how he creates it. I may not agree with some of them (e.g. as a reader, I hate it when a character notices something that surprises them but doesn’t tell the reader what it is), but I now know what they are and I can think about how to adapt them for my own storytelling. Highly recommend this one. 9 pages of notes

David Baldacci – Masterclass on Mystery and Thriller Writing

I haven’t read anything by David Baldacci (partly because I thought it might be too violent for my tastes), but now I really want to read one. He talks about the tools used to add suspense. He also talks about character development in long running series. His section about the business of being a writer is brilliant. Another one that I highly recommend. 2 pages of notes, but lots of overlap with Dan Brown.

Shonda Rhimes – Masterclass on Writing for Television

This is about writing for television, which is a completely different skill set to writing novels, but it is about storytelling in long arcs. Once again, I haven’t seen any of the shows (I watched a few clips on YouTube to familiarise myself with the characters – besides which, everyone knows what Gray’s Anatomy is about, right?). 

My favourite take away from this one was that your characters have to happen to things and remember that actors need screen time.

 I learned a lot about the 5 acts of a television show and about mapping A, B and C storylines in one hour long episode. I also learned about the stages involved in getting a TV show produced. I didn’t know any of this stuff (arguably, I don’t need to know any of it), so it was an eye opening set of lessons. At the end, there is a workshop where Shonda takes a script from one of her episodes (the Papa Pope episode in Scandal) and breaks it down into acts with a group. I found this really interesting. You got to see the structure of the episode emerge on a whiteboard. Amazing. 12 pages of notes.

Completely unrelated, I loved her outfits.

David Sedaris – Masterclass on Storytelling and Humour

This one should have been right up my street. I love listening to David Sedaris (I feel his voice and speaking style really adds to experience). The masterclass is good in that he tells you what he does. Like Neil Gaiman, it’s more inspiring than educational. Unfortunately, I didn’t finish this course. 5 lines of notes.

Aaron Sorkin – Masterclass on Screenwriting

I have not seen The West Wing (well, I’ve seen two episodes), but I love Studio 60. There was a wealth of interesting and useful stuff in this class. There are a few table reads, where he talks some students through their pilot episodes. This was really interesting because you got to see the questions he asked of them when he heard their opening scenes. Towards the end, they break a new fantasy episode of The West Wing. Seeing the mechanics of how they build the story from the ground up was eye opening. Highly recommended. 8 pages of notes.

Margaret Attwood – Masterclass on Creative Writing

I have only read one of her books (The Blind Assassin) and I really enjoyed that. I also like that she’s a literary fiction author who writes science fiction and doesn’t talk down to genre fiction. [In fact, she addresses this directly at one point – literary and genre are marketing distinctions. It’s not for the writer to worry about. Just write the best book you can]. I listened to most of this one night lying down in a dark room because I had a migraine, so I didn’t take notes (although, I did have an idea in the middle of and had to find a piece of paper to write it down). I’d say this was an inspiring and practical guide to being a novelist. If you’re familiar with story, you’ll know most of it. If you’re new, it’s brilliant.

Mira Nair – Masterclass on  Independent filmmaking

Okay, another one that doesn’t have that much to do with writing, but I love her work (especially Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake, both of which gave me the confidence to write This Stolen Life). This is about storytelling in a different medium. The people aspect of directing was fascinating, especially the practical scene where she pretty much pulls a super emotional performance out of an actor. Really interesting. 4 pages of notes

James Patterson – Masterclass on Writing

I wasn’t intending to watch this – I’ve read a couple of JP’s books but wouldn’t consider myself a fan. I caught a short part of one and found him, as a person, incredibly engaging. Seriously, he is so easy to listen to! 

This is another nuts and bolts course. Very solid with useful takeaways. I genuinely enjoyed all of it! 2 pages of notes. 

Other random courses that I took (you know, for fun):

Steve Martin – Masterclass on Comedy

Another one that’s inspiring. There are some great anecdotes, but not much that you can apply directly. But then again, I’m not a standup comedian, so maybe I missed some stuff. No notes.

Sara Blakely  – the founder of Spanx – Masterclass on Self-made Entrepreneurship

I wanted to watch this because my day job is university tech transfer – taking new inventions and working out where the market is. I wanted to find out how someone took one good idea and turned it into a global empire. Sara has a level of hustle that I don’t think I could manage. By the end of the class, I was properly in awe of her. I genuinely enjoyed this. It’s got nothing to do with writing, however, so YMMV. 11 pages of notes

Chris Voss – Masterclass on Negotiation

I stumbled across this one by accident. I watched one episode and was hooked. It’s very compelling. I’m not sure I’d manage to apply most of these techniques (I guess I’d have to practice a lot), but at least now I’d recognise a negotiation technique when it’s being used on me. I don’t mean that it would put me off, people being engaged and willing to negotiate without being antagonistic can only be a good thing. Anyway, fascinating stuff. 

As you can see, there’s a huge variety of famous people that you can take lessons from. Each class comes with a workbook, which has exercises and notes that follow on from the classes. You can download these as PDFs to work through later.

I’ve only looked at the classes that  interested me as a writer. There’s classes on science (Chris Hadfield! Neil Degrasse Tyson!), cooking, game design, economic theory, magic … with more being added on a regular basis. Whatever you’re into, there’s probably something in there of interest. 

As a writer, I think what you get out of it might depend on where you are in your writing journey. If you’re quite new, you’ll find TONS of useful stuff – absolutely bucketloads of it. If you’ve been writing for a while and know the basic things about storytelling,  you’ll pick up a few nuggets here and there. I enjoyed seeing how the best people work. I really enjoyed learning about writing for screen, which is not something I do. I picked up some interesting techniques that will help me when I think about story for the next book. 

Is there a ‘best’ way to do a Masterclass?

I tended to watch the lessons one after the other, making notes if I felt I needed to remember something. It was a sort of binge watch. I’m not sure it was the best way to get value from them. On the one hand, the information pours in (and I like that), on the other hand, there isn’t time to fully absorb. I think it might be better to watch each lesson, then do the exercises. I also didn’t engage as much as I could have in the forums. If I’d had more time on a daily basis, I would have, because with forums you tend to get more out of them if you participate regularly. 

Some of the tutors do ‘office hours’ – where you can email them a question and they will send a reply within a day or two. 

I really enjoyed my year of doing Masterclass lessons. I could have done many more courses, but I had to do inconvenient things like sleeping and feeding the kids. Still, I like to think I got my money’s worth.

Have you tried Which ones did you do?