What We’re Reading In May

Nicola here, with the Word Wenches’ ever-popular feature on books, reading and recommendations. Here we share some of the books we’ve read and enjoyed in the past month and ask you to tell us your favourites too so that our “to read” piles can grow ever bigger and stronger. Let’s jump straight in!

Anne here. This month I’ve been reading romantasy, murder mysteries (with a romantic thread) and a romantic suspense.

Fiona Leitch  — The Cornish Wedding Murder

Fiona Leitch was recommended to me by a friend — they’re cosy-ish murder mysteries. The lead character is a former London police officer, but resigned from that job to return to her Cornish hometown, raise her teenage daughter (who’d been traumatized by an incident in her mother’s police job) and start a new business as a cook/caterer. Of course, there’s a new police detective in town, and the two of them meet over an incident where, in a wedding the heroine is catering, the bride goes missing. This book is the first in the series and suffice it to say I’ve bought and read all the others in the series so far.

Sarina Bowen is an auto-buy author for me, but when I started to read her latest book — The Five Year Lie — I was surprised to see that she’s moved from romantic comedy to romantic suspense. Still, I enjoyed it very much. The story moves back and forth between the “now” of the story and five years earlier, when the love of the heroine’s life disappeared and later died. The story begins when she gets a text from the man who supposedly died. It sets her on a search to uncover the truth. An engrossing, page-turning story that ends well.

BRIDE – Ali Hazelwood

Wench Christina first mentioned Ali Hazelwood in a previous WWR and I’ve read all her books since. In real life Ali Hazelwood works in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) area, and the heroes and heroines of her contemporary romantic comedies do too.  BRIDE is her first step into the genre called Romantasy — where romance meets fantasy. Vampyres, Humans and Weres are enemies, constantly on the brink of war. Misery, the daughter of the leader of the Vampyres was sent, aged eight, as a hostage to grow up among the humans. Now an adult, she’s been selected to ‘marry’—unseen—the Alpha of the weres. It’s a political marriage—she’s still a hostage. But life with the wolfish Alpha is nothing like she expected. It’s a gripping read, and a great romance.


I know we recommended this book earlier, but if you haven’t tried it yet, read it right now!

It’s hilarious. It goes off on insane tangents. It’s all about books and anxiety and family and friends and all The Things. You’ll want to smack the heroine. That’s okay. She knows what she is. And no people really exist like this, and that’s okay too. Because it’s FUNNY! You know you need to laugh. Here ya go, enjoy it, and thank you, Mary Jo and Anne, for recommending it in the first place! (I am sorry to say that the next book, ADULT ASSEMBLY REQUIRED, is making me crazy with the head-hopping and whining, so one good book is no guarantee. And I just finished I WAS TOLD IT WOULD GET EASIER. It’s a very nice balance of humor and reality… and anxiety. She does good anxiety.)


This one is for fans of Alexander McCall Smith. The protagonist is a 60-year-old Asian lady whose son is ignoring her wise advice, which she texts him daily, starting at 4:30 AM, because to lay in bed later is a waste of the day. When a man dies in her obsolete tea shop, and the police brush it off as a heart attack or drug overdose, she finds new purpose in life. Convinced that the death is murder, and the killer always returns to the scene of the crime, she picks the four people who show up at her door as her suspects.

The story is more about Vera and her four suspects than the mystery, although the mystery is so woven into their stories that working out the facts is a challenge. The people are reasonably predictable, but the voice and the characters are entertaining, and the mystery requires knowing about Asian teas. So dive in for the ride!

Christina: With UNDER A SUMMER SKYE Sue Moorcroft has once again penned a lovely, summery read, whisking readers away to the wild, and wonderful Isle of Skye. In this remote corner of Scotland, Thea Wynter has found a haven, working as head gardener at local manor house Rothach Hall. She escaped to Skye nine years earlier together with her sister Ezzie, following a brief TV career. The two are hiding a potentially devastating secret, but since they ran away to Skye, Thea has been feeling safe. That is, until a nasty website that asks ‘where are they now’ type questions discovers her whereabouts and her past catches up with her …

Former sports journalist Deveron Dowie has reluctantly been working for that trashy website as he finds himself at a crossroads in his life. Following his ex-wife’s and business partner’s betrayal, he has lost almost everything and is unsure of his future, until he starts a seasonal job at Rothach Hall and meets Thea. The attraction between them is undeniable and almost instantaneous, and grows the more time they spend together. But Dev also has a secret, one that could destroy Thea’s trust in him in one fell swoop. Is it better to keep quiet or confess?

As always in Sue Moorcroft’s stories, there are some serious issues raised – adoption, drink driving, criminal liability, the power of influencers and/or internet trolls, and much more. But underlying it all is a wonderful, heart-warming romance that has the reader rooting for Thea and Dev, and hoping they’ll be able to overcome the misunderstandings and get a new beginning.

I am now dying to visit Skye for myself. Although not the usual sun, sea and sand type holiday destination, it definitely sounds incredible and well worth the long journey required to get there. For those who prefer armchair travel, this story is also ideal and I loved it!

Is there anything Sarina Bowen can’t write well? I seriously doubt it! With THE FIVE YEAR LIE she’s turned to domestic thrillers and I absolutely loved it. It’s a gripping story that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout, grabbing you by the throat and not letting go until the very last page. I won’t give away the plot, but it starts with the heroine getting a text message from the love of her life asking her to meet him … five years after he died! You’ll have to read it yourself to see what happens next.

Nicola: You know how some months you’re struggling to find anything you enjoy reading and then at other times there seem to be a whole host of great books to choose from? This has been a good reading month for me, starting with the latest book in the Jayne Castle Harmony series, People in Glass Houses. I love the Harmony alternative universe where the characters have the sort of off the charts paranormal talents which are bound to enhance any romance! In this case it’s Molly Griffin, a crystal artist who is searching for her sister Leona, missing with a team of para-archaeologists in the Underworld, who teams up with the expedition’s navigator Josh Knight, to track down the lost scientists. As always in a Jayne Castle book Josh and Molly have a spiky relationship and hot chemistry and, of course, an adorable dust bunny! Newton is the star of the show, the “Trojan dust bunny” who winkles his way into Josh’s house to bring the two of them together. Like all the Harmony books it’s got its share of suspense and is clever and funny, sexy and romantic!

A new book from Sarah Morgan! She’s an auto-buy for me and many of the other Wenches. The Summer Swap is her latest book and it’s wonderful and wise. As I get older, I really enjoy reading Sarah’s more mature characters and the way that they deal with issues such as family relationships, grief, loss and love. Cecilia Lapthorne escapes from the birthday party her daughter has so carefully arranged for her to the seaside cottage that she used to visit with her husband decades before. But when she gets there she finds that she is not alone, for her grand-daughter’s friend Lily has been staying there secretly whilst she tries, like Cecilia, to deal with the expectations on her, and work out what she really wants from life. This is such a thought-provoking and resonant book, and it also contains more than one lovely romance.

Susan : Lately I’ve been reading more nonfiction than fiction, which always includes research books for current and upcoming WIPs; those are in constant rotation, pulled from my bookshelves, bought, or borrowed (I am grateful for internet research too, but I always rely on books!). And sometimes I just want to read a fresh, thoughtful, contemporary bit of nonfiction. Some nonfiction writers are auto-buys for me, especially those who ponder, stir thinking, and provide insights that help fill the well. Julia Cameron, Elizabeth Gilbert, Anne Lamott are a few of those. This month I read Anne Lamott’s newest, Somehow: Thoughts on Love. In everything she writes, from the brilliant, funny, frank Bird by Bird through this latest work, Anne Lamott is unfailingly honest, refreshing, and wise. In Somehow, she looks at love in its endless incarnations through the filter of her own life, taking a magnifying glass to experiences, some simple, some shattering. She’s transparent about the lessons, motivations, and blunders that she’s made while trying to love someone or some aspect of life. Even when relating something very personal, she is minutely observant, often uncovering soul-deep meaning that applies in ways perhaps we hadn’t realized. Her prose is creamy and poetic and accessible, gliding along. Somehow is a deeply thoughtful book about what constitutes love, where it hides or steps out, where we need it or can share it. It’s insightful and grounded, like talking to a friend who is figuring things out, finding lightbulb moments that add a little more sense and purpose to the world. I loved it. In a way, her book was another bit of research–a chance for this romance writer to step back and be reminded of all the small ways that love manifests and how we care about each other on this planet. If you read it, it may stick with you.

Mary Jo here:

We Wenches seem to be serious Abbi Waxman fans!  My contribution this month is The Garden of Small Beginnings Waxman can be very funny, but she can also handle serious topics without being maudlin.  In TGSB, her narrator, Lilian Girvan lost her husband in a freak accident three years earlier and had a complete breakdown, but now she’s recovered enough to get her two small (and rather challenging) little girls to school and to hold on to her job as a textbook illustrator.  But she hasn’t recovered enough to even think about another man.

Then her boss asks her to take a class in gardening as a way of pleasing a major client.  Lilian is unenthused and her small back yard doesn’t encourage gardening, but she can attend with her two kids and her wonderfully helpful younger sister. The class is taught by Edward Bloem,  a grave and charming Dutchman whose family has been in the gardening business for several generations.  The class is small and full of eccentrics, but they start to bond as they surprise each other with being different from the first impressions. (Pay particular attention to the young surfer dude. <G>)

There is wit as well as serious insight as Lilian and those around her grow and change and become a family of choice. Between chapters are short bits about how to raise different kinds of vegetables, and they become increasingly amusing as the story proceeds.  Waxman has a delightful voice all her own.

Andrea: It’s been a hectic month for me, so I haven’t read quite as much as usual. But the one book I managed was absolutely riveting. Master Slave Husband  Wife: An Epic Journey from Slavery to Freedom, by Ilyon Woo, just won the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction, but it reads like a suspense novel. Filled with danger, daring risks and most of all, indominable courage sparked by love and the burning desire for freedom. it tells the story of Ellen and William Craft, a young married enslaved couple who in 1848 formulated an ingenious plan to escape from bondage. Ellen, who was light-skinned enough to pass for White, dressed as an invalid man (her face was half-obscured with bandages) traveling with his male slave on a journey to a medical specialist in Philadelphia. The journey required train and coastal steamboat travel, where Ellen had pull off masquarading as a man by herself while William rode in the sections designated for Blacks. The story is written with amazing detail (the Crafts became celebrities, and their story, though little known today, was very famous in their day) and the story of reaching Philadelphia—and freedom—was just the beginning of aanother amazing journey. They headed up to Boston and became  charistmatic speakers on the Abolitionist speaking circuit, established their own business in the city and then ultimately journeyed to England to escape the threat of being kidnapped and taken back to the South because of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

What makes the book even more fascinating is how the author weaves in some of the other stories of “self-emancipated” enslaved individuals, as well as the general political and social temper of the times. Already, both North and South were grappling with  the specter of succession over the issue of slavery, and were trying desperately to find compromises in order to head it off. The book really makes the history and people come alive. I highly recommend it.

That concludes our list for this month and I hope you agree there’s plenty to read and enjoy there. Now it’s over to you – which books have you read recently and what would you recommend?


Travels with Food

wine and cheese tablePat here:

I’m just back from a two-week vacation and wondering why we call it a vacation. Perhaps in the days of maids and butlers time away from chores was a relaxing getaway, but I spent a year of research on the itinerary, and weeks on packing, and now that I’m home. . . I’m sure you all can relate to the stacks of laundry and bills, overgrown grass and weeds, and all the work (like this blog) that didn’t get done while I was away. Where are the magical fairies when we need them?

But in exchange for mounds of unfinished work, we had two wonderful weeks of maid service and catering, so I really have no reason to complain. I’m five pounds heavier and I’m here to tell you, the food was worth every ounce. Well, it was France, after all. If only I could bring that cheese home with me. . .

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Romance Tropes

The Kiss – Francesco Hayez

Christina here. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but it seems to be a trend on social media for authors to describe their books with a list of tropes instead of a blurb, like this for example:-

  • **Forced proximity
  • **Only one bed
  • **Brother’s best friend
  • **Opposites attract

It gives a sort of “snapshot” of the plot and what to expect, and I suppose it’s a good way for readers to see if the story appeals to them as we all have our likes and dislikes. Some authors even ask their readers to vote on which tropes they’d like to see included in the next book before it’s written! I find that a slightly cynical approach. Sure, it supposedly guarantees that people will enjoy the story as they’ve asked for it, but IMO it goes against the way a novel should be written – from the heart. If we’re going to let others decide what we’re writing about, will it be as genuine as if we came up with the idea unaided? There are probably pros and cons, and everyone should be free to do things their way, but personally I would struggle to write to order like that.

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White Cliffs of Dover

White Cliffs

By Mary Jo

Cruises offer excursions at the ports they visit.  Viking always has one free included excursion at every port, and these are usually coach or walking trips with local guides that provide an a good overview of the area.  The Mayhem Consultant and I often choose these because they give a nice sense of the city or area.  There are also excursions that guests can buy, such as visits to local farms or local dancing, and can go all the way up to sightseeing flights that are seriously expensive.

Every now and then, we’ll book a private tour, usually through a site like www.toursbylocals.com . We’ve had great tours whenever we used this site so we booked a private tour for the Dover area with an emphasis on WWII history.  We thought it would be the highlight of the whole cruise, and it was.

The White Cliffs of Dover are iconic in Britain and often feature as a sign of returning home after a long and painful journey.  The cliffs are formed of white chalk and can be as high as 350 feet.  This area is England’s closest point to France, which is about 20 miles away across the Strait of Dover. Interestingly, the same ancient chalk geological feature extends to France and forms the Alabaster Coast, which is equally stunning.

During WWII, the young English singer Dame Vera Lynn was famously known as the “Forces’ Sweetheart” for her morale raising singing and the concerts she gave to British troops in fare flung places.  One of her most famous songs was “There Will Be Bluebirds Over The White Cliffs of Dover,” It was a song of hope for a future of peace.  Interestingly, the song was written by an American who didn’t realize that bluebirds aren’t native to Britain, but no problem: the bluebirds became a metaphor for the Royal Air Force planes flying to defend their homeland.

I’ve used the white cliffs in several books.  In particular the cliffs are a powerful element in Dark Mirror, the first book in my YA Dark Mirror series, where my young characters travel through time from the Regency to WWII, where they aid their country during the Dunkirk evacuation. Sprawling Dover Castle was built by the Normans, and in later times tunnels were dug in the soft chalk below the castle to quarter soldiers and military  commands.  This was true in Napoleonic times, and even more true during WWII, when the naval command for the English Channel was headquartered there.

Since The MC and I are both fascinated by the history, we hired Steven Moon as as guide.  He’s an expert in local history, especially aviation history.  He told me that it was possible to book time on a flight simulator for Spitfire fighter planes.  The brave pilots were praised by Winston Churchill in his famous quote, “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.”  The mortality rate among these pilots was staggering, and they became known as “The Few.”

Steven told me that I could book 30 minutes on a Spitfire simulator at the Spitfire museum, so I did!  There’s a book I’d like to write where the hero is a Spitfire pilot, so it was research.  <G>  A very nice expert sat next to me and explained the controls.  The simulator was programmed for a mock flight from the local airfield to London and return, with visuals showing what a pilot would see.  He also put my through a belly roll. Fun!

I’d never make a pilot, but interestingly, by the end of the session I was beginning to get a feel for how to fly my pretend plane. I even managed a relatively safe belly landing when my landing gear didn’t come down properly.  <G>

It was great fun, and gave me even more respect for those brave pilots.  This was indeed the high point of my British Isles cruise. As the British pilots said, “Tally ho!”

Mary Jo

Wench Anniversary Picnic!

The Wenches are celebrating their 18th anniversary – welcome to our virtual Strawberry Picnic!

Yes, the Wenches have been blogging for that long and we feel it’s definitely something to celebrate. We want to say a BIG THANK YOU to all our readers and hope you’ll join us – we wouldn’t be able to carry on without your lovely comments and your incredible support!

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