Susanna here, and once again, I didn’t have anything to contribute to this month’s What We’re Reading post. That’s because I’m deep in the middle of writing a book, and I don’t read much fiction at all when I’m writing—partly because I’m so buried in nonfiction research reading I don’t have a lot of free time left, and partly because I learned long ago that, if a writer has a strongly individual storytelling voice, it will start to creep into and influence mine if I read while I’m working.
Case in point: way, way back in the day, when we were on our honeymoon (which was actually also a research trip for my novel Season of Storms only he didn’t entirely know about that), my husband brought along a copy of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath to read on the train. I wasn’t actively writing the novel then, but I did have my ever-present notebook with me, in which I jot down things that I observe and lines of dialogue and bits of scenes. I started thumbing through the Steinbeck, too.
Now, Steinbeck had a unique way of phrasing things. He had a certain cadence. He’d write sentences like: “In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.” And in a few days I found I was writing in my notebook that, “The olive trees are old and waving gently, waving gently in the breeze.”
So I put down the Steinbeck.
Because once that starts to happen it’s insidious, and if I don’t take care I’ll have to throw out everything I’ve written from that point and do it over. As Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple puts it in At Bertram’s Hotel, “It is like when you get ground elder really badly in a border. There is nothing else you can do about it—except dig the whole thing up.”
For me, anyway. Every writer is different.
But although I don’t read much fiction at all while I’m writing, I do gather books to read for those weeks when I’m between projects. So I thought I could share three of those with you now.
The Kraken King: A Novel of the Iron Seas by Meljean Brook
Meljean’s Iron Seas steampunk world is a place I love to lose myself in, so when I saw this lone trade paperback copy of The Kraken King at my local bookstore I became instantly covetous and grabbed it even though I knew I wouldn’t get a chance to actually sit down and read it for a while yet. It’s not a brand new story, it’s from 2014, and I remember when she first published it in serial form, like the grand adventures of old, but it’s on my shelf now and waiting for me, and because it’s by Meljean I know it will be worth waiting for. Here’s the plot summary:
A former smuggler and thief, Ariq—better known as the Kraken King—doesn’t know what to make of the clever, mysterious woman he rescues from an airship besieged by marauders. Unsure if she’s a spy or a pawn in someone else’s game, Ariq isn’t about to let her out of his sight until he finds out…
After escaping her fourth kidnapping attempt in a year, Zenobia Fox has learned to vigilantly guard her identity. While her brother Archimedes is notorious for his exploits, Zenobia has had no adventures to call her own—besides the stories she writes.
But when she jumps at the chance to escape to the wilds of Australia and acquire research for her next story, Zenobia quickly discovers that the voyage will be far more adventurous than any fiction she could put to paper…
A Princess in Theory, by Alyssa Cole
This is part of the Reluctant Royals contemporary romance series—Alyssa Cole is one of those writers who writes really well across a variety of subgenres, and even though she hooked me first with her historicals like An Extraordinary Union (which was an extraordinary book), I’m equally happy to follow her storytelling into the present day with novels like this “tale of a city Cinderella and her Prince Charming in disguise”. Here’s the summary:
Between grad school and multiple jobs, Naledi Smith doesn’t have time for fairy tales…or patience for the constant e-mails claiming she’s betrothed to an African prince. Sure. Right. Delete! As a former foster kid, she’s learned that the only things she can depend on are herself and the scientific method, and a silly e-mail won’t convince her otherwise.
Prince Thabiso is the sole heir to the throne of Thesolo, shouldering the hopes of his parents and his people. At the top of their list? His marriage. Ever dutiful, he tracks down his missing betrothed. When Naledi mistakes the prince for a pauper, Thabiso can’t resist the chance to experience life—and love—without the burden of his crown.
The chemistry between them is instant and irresistible, and flirty friendship quickly evolves into passionate nights. But when the truth is revealed, can a princess in theory become a princess ever after?
And finally, third down on my TBR pile is an older book: The Little Drummer Girl, by John Le Carré.
Charlie, a jobbing young English actress, is accustomed to playing different roles. But when the mysterious, battle-scarred Joseph recruits her into the Israeli secret services, she enters the dangerous “theatre of the real”. As she acts out her part in an intricate, high-stakes plot to trap and kill a Palestinian terrorist, it threatens to consume her.
Set in the tragic arena of the Middle East conflict, this compelling story of love and torn loyalties plays out against the backdrop of an unwinnable war.
John Le Carré isn’t known for his happy ever afters, and although I’ve seen the old film of this, starring Diane Keaton, I was not prepared to trust the book. Except I have a reading quirk—I always read the last line of a book first, so I know this one ends well enough.
(And yes, I bought a brand new copy, even though I had one on my shelf already, just because the new one featured Alexander Skarsgård on the cover, from the recent BBC adaptation, which I got to see one episode of last year while in Scotland). (I am shallow and a sucker for a handsome face).
Do you set books aside for a rainy day special treat? What’s on your to-be-read pile right now?