What We’re Reading in January

A painting of an open book held on a woman's lap.

Detail of a portrait of Madame Pompadour by François Boucher

Susanna here.

Welcome to our monthly What We're Reading post!

I’ve been reading mostly primary documents and very old letters in indecipherable handwriting, but unfortunately I can’t share any of them here because I don’t have permission to, so instead I’ll share the books that are currently on my nightstand, waiting to be read…

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Christmas snippets

Anne here, starting something a little bit different. We're putting up Sunday posts containing an excerpt from our stories in the Last Chance Christmas Ball — one each Sunday in the lead-up to Christmas. Last ChanceXmasBall

The anthology was such a fun—and sometimes tricky— thing to do. We wenches had written a Christmas anthology before with a linking theme, but for this one we decided all the stories would be linked to an event, based around an annual Christmas ball, held by Lady Holbourne known as Lady Holly to her friends.

The emails flew back and forth as we tossed around ideas, made plans and thrashed out the details of the setting. Some of us wrote interweaving stories, some of us made our stories linked, but separate, several of us had our people not actually make it to the ball. But we all had such fun doing it, we wanted to share it again.

Here's the blurb for the collection:  Christmas 1815. Upstairs and downstairs, Holbourne Abbey is abuzz with preparations for a grand ball to celebrate the year’s most festive—and romantic—holiday. For at the top of each guest’s wish list is a last chance to find true love before the New Year…

My story is called Mistletoe Kisses, and it's about Allie Fenton, a young woman who, for various reasons, has never been able to attend a ball. Now orphaned and on the shelf, she's planning to become a teacher at a girl's seminary in Bath. But first there's her last Christmas at home and then, Lady Holly's famous annual Christmas ball. 

Here's a short excerpt:

"You'll come to my Christmas ball, then," Lady Holly told her. "Don't bother trying to think up any excuses — you're coming and that's that. Your year of mourning will be up, and you have no reason to stay here moldering away when I've gathered an excellent range of eligible gentlemen for your perusal."

Allie laughed. "For my perusal? As if I'm going shopping?"

"That's exactly what you'll be doing."

"Don't the gentlemen have any say in it?"

The old lady sniffed. "Women have been making men believe they have a choice for generations. Now don't be frivolous, Allie — I am determined to give you one last chance to find a husband before you go off and bury yourself in this, this school of yours." She pronounced 'school' as if she really meant 'zoo.'

Allie smiled. For all her caustic tone, Lady Holly had a very kind heart. "I would love to attend your ball, Lady Holly. . . "

The old lady frowned. "I hear a 'but' coming."

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What We’re Reading—October

Anne here, hosting this month's What We're Reading post. As always there's a lovely range of books for all tastes. And just a reminder — these are not promo posts; they're genuinely what we've read and enjoyed in the last month.  180Seconds

We'll start with Pat, who says: I'm on a hunt for light-hearted, humorous, feel-good books these days, so I'm over the moon when I find one.

180 SECONDS by Jessica Park qualifies, even though I suspect it's probably called a New Adult romance since the protagonists are in college. But this isn’t about the normal trials and tribulations of overworked, under-loved students. The protagonist Allison has been in foster care all her life, until she was adopted by a gay dad when she was sixteen. She’s closed off, shut down, prepared to peel out of the life of anyone who gets close. She does her best to avoid people entirely. She wants to love her adopted dad, who is a real gem, but she can’t even open his care packages. And then in one freakish moment when she’s forced herself to go into town, she’s caught up in an internet video where she has to stare at a boy for 180 seconds. That scene alone is worth reading the book. Esben, the hero of this story, is almost too good to be true, but he has his major hidden flaws as well. The romance is a rollicking ride of self-discovery and interconnectedness of the internet and how it drives the lives of these kids. So, it’s almost fantasy, but it’s fun fantasy. For a feel good read, try this one. 

Mary Jo read and recommends  David Rosenfelt's Andy Carpenter Series & Dogtripping

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Wenches and the Wild

Wench Leopard 1

 Joanna here, bringing you tales of Wenchly encounters with wild things.  We Wenches had been chatting by email about chickens and copperheads, as one does.

Mary Jo, first up, brings us her stories from further to the the Wild Side:

I love animals and grew up on a farm, but I have no tales of devil red hens, mega-roosters, or sinuous copperheads.  There have been plenty of cats and dogs in my life, and my woodsy suburban neighborhood has lots of squirrels and chipmunks and deer and foxes and bunnies.  (I hope those last two don't meet up often!) 

But for real drama, I'll have to turn to Botswana.  Two years ago, we did a safari there after I spoke at a conference in Johannesburg, and it was great.  We traveled several vast nature preserves in open sided safari trucks.  The wildlife there is not tame, but many of the animals have become accustomed to the trucks and pretty much ignore their human visitors as long as we behave.  So a leopard ambled by a few feet away and lionesses lounged in the dirt roads, supremely confident.  

But my most dramatic encounter was our last night in one of the three safari camps we stayed in.  This particular camp housed guests in glamorous tents.  (Hence, "glamping.")  The camps were completely dark when we returned to our quarters after dinner, and we were told to always have a guide escort us back.  On that last night, I was walking ahead of the Mayhem Consultant and our guide, only a single flashlight to guide our path through the African night. 

Wench Lion and truckAs I neared our tent, I heard something rustling in the underbrush.  It didn’t sound large  but it could have been a hyena or some other critter I didn't want to startle.  I returned to our guide and said there's something up there, it didn't sound like a big beast like an elephant, but he might want to check it out.  He did and came back and said calmly, "It's an elephant."

Sure enough, standing smack dab in front of the entrance to our tent, maybe four feet from the canvas, an elephant was chomping on some greenery.  I thought we'd retreat to the headquarters until the elephant moved on, but our guide just said that we could get in through the end entrance of the tent. Oooh-kay, if he thought it was safe… 

I unzipped the end door entry and we went inside.  (I peeked out the front entrance and saw the Wench Happy splashing elephantvast curved back of the elephant silhouetted against the stars, and felt the presence of that great bulk just a few feet away.)

For the next half hour or so we could hear the elephant brushing around the canvas sides as it continued to foraged.  I wasn't frightened but I was wary.  The Mayhem Consultant wanted his shower so he took it.  ("brush, brush, brush, a crunch of a branch, brush, brush, brush…)  I didn't want to be caught starkers if the elephant absented-mindedly took down part of our tent, but that didn't happen.  Eventually the elephant wandered off and all was calm.

But I didn't forget that encounter with a Wild Thing!

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Too Fond of Books

Perugini woman reading
She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. –Louisa May Alcott

Susan here, thinking there are So. Many. Books. in the world right now, including in my house—I’ll never find the time to read them all. And yet I keep acquiring them. They look so good and enticing on the shelves, and stacked in toppling piles here and there . . . they even look great in rows and rows in my Kindle . . . There’s a comfort in being surrounded by books, by that wealth of knowledge and thought and imagination, by the color and texture and scent of the pages and covers, by the promise they hold, and the memories that others keep for us. Regardless of whether or not we’ve read the books that surround us, as many of us know–there can never be too many books.

19155104.thbA room without books is like a body without a soul. –Cicero

Yes. What Cicero said. 
(The historian in me wants to add that he wasn't talking about books per se, but scrolls or early codices, so his quote might be closer to "A room without scrolls is like a body without a soul," which has a nice little ring to it.)

Some of the zillions of books I’ve read and reshelved could eventually be redirected to other hands and other homes, but mostly I'm not that efficient, and most I will keep. If I haven’t read them yet, and there are plenty of those, I maintain all good intentions to do that. And I’m visual enough that I need to see the Unread where they cluster on shelves or in baskets. A great many have been read or at least browsed and skimmed, so I know what’s there if I need it, particularly so for the research books, which I try to group in ways that I can find them again as needed–Scottish and British history, medieval, costumes, legends, that sort of thing. 


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