What We’re Reading in February

White horse booksNicola here, introducing the Wenchly reading recommendations in the month of February. As ever we have a big mix of books for you and look forward to hearing what you've been reading too! the picture on the left is the rather gorgeous old bookshop in Marlborough, a town just down the road from me, where I love to browse. Sometimes you might even meet the resident bookshop ghost, which seems appropriate for Pat's first recommendation today!

Pat writes:

SEANCES ARE FOR SUCKERS by Tamara Berry

Ellie Wilde is a cynic, for good reason. As the youngest of triplets, she’s paying to keep her comatose sister in the best nursing home available by using her limited skill set—tricking people. To be fair, she also gives them comfort—by ridding their homes of ghosts she doesn’t believe in. People might call her a psychic medium, but in reality, she’s a great problem-solver and people reader. She has to be, or her sister will be out on the street. Her brother is a gym teacher and can’t possibly afford the cost of nursing care, so it’s up to Ellie. When she’s offered a small fortune and the opportunity to fly to England and live in a mansion while she rids the house of its resident ghost, she happily takes the job.

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What We’re Reading

The gentleman rogueNicola here, introducing this month's What We're Reading blog. As ever, the Wenches have been reading some very interesting books and we're keen to hear what you think and what your recommendations are too!

This month I’ve been catching up with some of the books that were shortlisted for the Romantic Novel of the Year Awards.  The Gentleman Rogue by Margaret McPhee was a finalist in the short romance section and is a powerfully emotional Regency historical that had me gripped. There was amazing chemistry between the heroine, Emma, and Ned, who was one of the most attractive heroes I've read in a long time.

Another fabulous read was Struck, by Joss Stirling, a YA romance with a great crime mystery thrown in as well. It takes place in an exclusive English boarding school where scandal and corruption lurk behind the ivy-clad walls. The author mentioned that she had modelled the hero, Kieren Storm, on a young version of Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock. Raven Stone, the heroine, is a gutsy American girl you can really root for. It’s a great read!

Finally the reburial of King Richard III prompted me to reach yet again for The Daughter of Time by

Daughter of Time Josephine Tey, the book that first piqued my interest in Richard' and his reign. I love all of Josephine Tey's books so can see myself reading through my entire collection again now.

Now over to the other Wenches!

Pat writes:

I like to explore new-to-me authors, but I’ve been having a bad reading month and haven’t found anyone exciting lately. So I’ve fallen back on favorites. I finally read Patricia Brigg’s Night Broken, one of her Mercy Thompson novels. I love her urban fantasies because they’re so human! The book is as much about Mercy dealing with her husband’s charming but manipulative ex-wife as it is about finding the vengeful ancient-god stalker who followed the stupid ex straight to Mercy’s home.

Southern spiritsAnd then I picked up Angie Fox’s newest series starter—Southern Spirits. If you’ve ever read Angie, you’ll recognize her voice, although this time she’s writing a mystery about ghosts instead of chasing demons. Small southern town seeped in legends and history, a bootlegger ghost to help the heroine out, and a hunky cop to get her into trouble—can’t ask for more!

 

Jo Beverley:

This month I read a book recommended a little while ago here — Imperfect Chemistry by Mary Frame. It was as enjoyable as said, with a geeky prodigy deciding to become more "normal" by going after her sexy neighbor. I think this is what's called New Adult fiction, about people in their early twenties who are very much of today's world.

I also read Fledgling, by Sharon Lee and Stever Miller, a Liaden novel I'd missed. It has some similarities Fledgling to Imperfect Chemistry, though the protagonist is younger. Theo too is a clever misfit, but this is really an Ugly Duckling story. The Liaden books are space opera, with multiple worlds lived on by humans — and some others — all with different social structures. In Fledgling, having to move to a different world leads to Theo's transformation, both on the journey and when there. It's a good read, and the e-book is still free.

 

Cara/Andrea:

 

SherlockMystery! Well, that is, it’s probably no mystery by now that I love the genre, and this month I’ve been really immersing myself in in both new and classic reads. A friend got me watching the BBC series Sherlock (hard not to like Benedict Cumberbatch) , which I enjoyed very much—but it suddenly occurred to be that I had never read the original Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes books. (How did that happen???) So off I hurried to the library, and I have been enjoying the tales very much.  I enjoy the writing style, and the development of Holmes and Watson, who’ve inspired so many subsequent detective pairing. And while the plots may not be as complex, dark  and twisty as modern novels, they really are great fun.

 I’ve also been enjoying a modern take on historical mystery. I’m a big fan of the Who buries the deadRegency-set Sebastian St. Cyr books by C. S. Harris, and the latest release, Who Buries The Dead, is a wonderful addition to the series. Gritty and layered with well-rendered psychological portraits of Sebastian, Hero and all the people who make up their world, the books use the crime of murder to delve into far deeper questions about society, power and influence in Regency London. The stories are taut with suspense, and really make for a riveting read.

  

Mary Jo:

Like Pat, I'm going to talk about a Patricia Briggs book.  Pat's choice, Night Broken, is part of the Mercedes Thompson series.  I read the book when it came out, and l loved it.  The heroine, Mercy, is a coyote shifter in a world of werewolves, vampires, fae, and much more, and there's a great romance.

 Briggs has another series set in the same world.  Alpha and Omega features a pair of mated werewolves: Charles, a half native American enforcer is the Alpha, and Anna, an Omega whose presence soothes other werewolves, and who is immune to Alpha control. 

 I've always preferred the Mercy Thompson books, until now.  Dead Heat, the latest Alpha and Omega Dead Heat
book, is every bit as good as a Mercy story.  It begins when Charles and Anna take a holiday, leaving the werewolf home in Montana to visit an old friend of Charles' in Arizona, and also to buy Anna a horse since the old friend is a horse breeder.  Things Happen and there is much excitement.  There is also lots of information about Arabian horses since Briggs raises them herself and has clearly been pining for the opportunity to write about them. <G>

But the heart of the story lies deeper as Anna and Charles deal with a significant issue in their marriage.  There is also a theme of what it's like to be virtually immortal while those you love grow old and die.  It's all worked out in a wonderfully satisfactory way!

DaringOn the non-fiction front, I want to recommend journalist Gail Sheehy's memoir, Daring: My Passages.  Sheehy has been a groundbreaking journalist and feminist from the 1960s onward.  Her 1976 book Passages was a huge bestseller that changed the way people thought about growth and change throughout one's life.  Her 1993 book The Silent Passage was another game changer as it pulled menopause out of the closet into the light of day. 

And in Daring, she has written the story of her life and challenges.  The ups and downs, the struggles of a single mother to work while caring for her beloved daughter, a tempestuous affair that eventually became  a devoted marriage–she has lived a remarkable life, and she writes really, really well. 

Joanna here: 

I'm reading just about nothing since I'm absorbed by the Work in Progress. But I've indulged myself in Wenches burrowes
Grace Burrowes' The Traitor.  It's one of those 'Come for the Romance, Stay for the Sharp Character Analysis' books.

The hero, Sebastian, is half French, half English when France and England are locked in war. The book explores hard choices a man makes and how he lives with them.

Wench anne perryNext up, I go to a favorite author of mine, Anne Perry, and Callander Square — a Victorian-set mystery. Well-born Charlotte and her Police Inspector husband set about solving crime among the stuffy rich. I haven't read this series in order myself, but you might want to start with the first in the series, The Cater Street Hangman.


Susan: 

I too have been reading mysteries, including Alan Bradley's latest in the Flavia De Chimneysweepers bradley Luce series, As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust. Once again the intrepid, clever Flavia ferrets out secrets in a witty and brilliant way with a touch of vulnerability and sensitivity quite natural to an 11-yr-old, even if her chemistry genius is off the charts. This time, Flavia is packed off to a girls' school in Canada to face a whole new location and complete strangers, and though I thought that leaving her home of Buckshaw in the English countryside would eliminate a crucial setting character in the series, Bradley does a fantastic job of creating a new environment and drawing his reader in. Flavia is one of my favorite sleuths, a blend of whimsy and genius, Pippi and Sherlock. And Bradley's books are an exception for me–I always listen to them in audio. Jayne Entwistle's narration is flawless, whimsical, clear as a bell, and she creates the perfect evocation of Bradley's books. I highly recommend both the written and the audio — do check out Flavia!  

ThemoorI've also returned to the Laurie R. King series of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. In The Moor (and yes, I have a long way to go to catch up to King's newer Russell novels!), Russell and her husband, Holmes, are in misty, ominous Dartmoor investigating a death with some very creepy circumstances, a riveting return and intriguing take on The Hound of the Baskervilles. The Russell-Holmes books are so smart and beautifully written that I keep coming back. I should add that I've never been much of a series reader, more of a series grazer in every genre, but these two mystery series–King's Russell and Bradley's Flavia–totally capture my attention!     

 Anne here:

A friend recently gave me Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher, who is her favourite author, and I Solsticehave to say I’ve loved it. I haven’t quite finished Winter Solstice, but I’ve already bought Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers, Going Home and September. For some, the books might be a little slow-paced and perhaps even old-fashioned, but I’m really enjoying the slow reveals, the wonderfully detailed settings and her well rounded and appealing characters. I can’t put it down. And by the way, Winter Solstice seems to be very cheap on kindle at the moment.

On a completely different note, I’ll also add that I fully endorse Pat and Mary Jo’s recommendations of Patricia Briggs. They mentioned her books to me some time back and I ended up glomming the lot.

So there are a few of our reads for the month of March. Have you read any of these books? Thoughts? And do you have any recommendations for the Wenches?

 

What We’re Reading in February

Hi Folks. 

Joanna here with a round up of the great reads that got us through a blustery cold February.

Wenches discovery witchesMy own wonderful read was Deborah Harkness' A Discovery of Witches, Book One in the All Soul's Trilogy.  The elements of this story — withces and vampires living among us, ancient manuscripts, conspiracies, ancient secrets — are familiar.  They seem almost hackneyed.  What lifts this book above the ordinary is Harkness' beautiful writing. 

And … well … the first book of the trilogy is set mostly in Oxford.  I'm a sucker for Oxford. 

I've already acquired Book Two in the trilogy, Shadow of Night, and look forward to settling down in a comfy chair with it.  Maybe when we get this next wave of snow that's coming in. 

Cara/Andrea saying:Wenches heir apparent

I’m very interested in the Edwardian era, so when I read the great reviews for The Heir Apparent, Jane Ridley’s new biography of “Bertie,” King Edward VII, I immediately grabbed it.

It’s an absolutely fascinating read. Ridley had access to extensive Royal archives and private family correspondence—and the picture painted of Queen Victoria, Albert and their extensive brood and relatives is  . . .well, I’m not quite sure of the adjective to use. Chilling might be one of them. Talk about a dysfunctional family! It’s a wonder poor Bertie wasn’t committed to Bedlam. He actually comes off as a very sympathetic character, far brighter and more interested in the welfare of his country than he is given credit for.

On the other hand, the Queen and her consort come across as cold, manipulative people who had absolutely no emotional interest in their children. It also gives a wonderful look at the social whirl of the Victorian age, with descriptions of the house parties, the foreign travel, the royalty of Europe. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in the time period.

 

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Interview: Jayne Entwistle, Audiobook Narrator


137_3782Susan here ~ and I'm so excited today to introduce our very special guest, Jayne Entwistle, audiobook narrator and actress.

The first time I heard Jayne's narrative voice was in her reading of Alan Bradley's The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I loved the book, and then had a chance to listen to the audiobook–and I was captivated by Jayne's amazing talent. 

Since then, I've listened to all of
JayneJayne's recordings of the books in the wonderful Flavia de Luce series. Each time, I'm completely enchanted and thoroughly entertained — whether I've read the book previously or it's a fresh listen.

Part of that delight is due to Alan Bradley's fabulous Flavia, a wonderful character–an 11-year-old genius, she's brilliant, mischievous, imaginative, whimsical and innocent–and part is due to Jayne Entwistle's exceptional, equally whimsical and beautifully nuanced readings. In any book she narrates, regardless of the author, Jayne brings the characters and stories to vivid, immediate life. 

A little about Jayne:
Originally from Blackpool, England, Jayne Entwistle  is an award-winning voice over (VO) actress. Her credits include a recurring role on "Desperate Housewives," a co-star on "Big Love," and a supporting role in the feature film Holy Ghost People. She has narrated over a dozen audiobooks for Random House, including the popular Flavia De Luce series by Alan Bradley, two Sophie Kinsella books – I've Got Your Number and Kinsella's new release, Wedding Night - and the Arthur Slade series, The Hunchback Assignments. Jayne has won multiple AudioFile Earphones awards for her audio performances, and she can be seen and heard in commercials worldwide.

If you haven't yet heard Jayne Entwistle's narration, you're in for a treat. Here are some samples of her work (the links will open the Random House pages for these books; click on the "audio" buttons to listen to the audio clips).
ivegotyournumber

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

I Am Half-SIck of Shadows by Alan Bradley

I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella

                And now let's talk to Jayne!  

Susan: Welcome to Word Wenches, Jayne!  Thank you so much for visiting with us. How did you become an audiobook narrator? You're also an actress, so you must
be very busy!

Jayne Entwistle:  When
I moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco, I had some voice over experience but
I wanted certain VO skills and experiences that would lead to more work.
Narration was a skill I would see listed all the time in the breakdowns
(audition notices) so I started scouring Craigslist for student projects that
would provide me with that experience.


9780385343497I saw an audition notice on Craigslist
looking for a native of the UK who was both an actress and a voice over artist,
someone who could effectively portray an 11 year old girl. Thinking I was
responding to a student ad, I left a voice message. The following morning Janet
Stark, Random House Producer and Director of the first two Flavia books, called
asking me to come in immediately.
When I arrived at the huge Books on
Tape/Random House facility, I was shocked and terrified. This was no student
gig! I did the audition and was immediately hooked on
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I secretly hoped I would
book the job just so I could finish reading the book!

Narrating audiobooks is
the one of the best jobs I have ever had — and to think I found it on Craigslist!
Janet later told me that they had never advertised on Craigslist as they have a
strong talent pool but Flavia was such a unique character, they needed to look
farther afield. In regard to being busy, Los Angeles is an odd duck — when it
rains it pours with work but then, being the desert it is, things can dry up in
a flash. Never have I had to practice letting go and riding an unpredictable
current like I have here.

Susan:  You sound as if you're having so much fun when you read the Flavia books. You
and Flavia are a match made in heaven. What do you like best about narrating
Alan Bradley's books?


Speakingfrom amongthebonesJayne:
 Oh
my goodness, where do I start? I fell in love with Flavia in the first
sentence! I couldn’t put the book down, often forgetting “this is work!” When I
read anything, be it work or not, I get absorbed into the World of the book. I
see every landscape, every detail. It plays out before me like a movie. Alan
Bradley’s writing is exquisitely rich. The characters and worlds he creates are so
vivid that I don’t feel I am just reading them, I’m living them.

Flavia is
wickedly smart, precocious, inquisitive, stubborn and hilarious. She makes me
laugh and, especially with the last two books, makes me cry. Sometimes I will
be at the store, day dreaming in the cheese aisle (I love cheese!) wondering
how Mrs. Mullet is doing when I am disappointed to remember that she doesn’t
really exist. I feel relieved when I open a new Flavia book, settle back into
Bishops Lacy and feel like, “Hello old friends, Oh how I’ve missed you!”

Susan:  Can you tell
us something about your process for narrating a book? Do you record in a studio
or in a set-up at home? Do you read the books first and work out what to do?
And how do you keep track of all the accents and voice variations that you do?

Jayne:  The turnaround
time for narration is fairly quick. Once the “approved for recording” draft is
sent to me, I only have time to read the book once through. I love love love to
read, so getting that manuscript delivered to my door is thrilling. I pack up
my various highlighters, pencils and notebooks and settle myself into a coffee
shop where there are ironically less distractions.


Jayne_Entwistle_in_the_studio

Jayne recording in the studio.


I highlight in the
manuscript where a character first appears and then mark it in a notebook so I
can easily reference that character. I also hi
ghlight any words I don’t know
how to pronounce. My lists
are very long with the Alan Bradley books. First,
there are all the scientific terms I haven’t a clue at how to pronounce. Then
there are the numerous references to musicians, wars, artists, scientists,
historical events. The Crimean War, for example. Not a word I typically bandy
about. Flavia is decidedly smarter than I am! I’m learning, however. I now know
a thing or two about arsenic!

We record in a studio at the Random House facility. Each book is assigned a Producer/Director who not only handles the
technical aspect of recording the sessions but also takes their own notes,
researches words, liaises with the authors and provides direction. In regards
to the various accents and characters, I practice voices out loud in the car
and this being L.A, there is ample opportunity for that. Some of the characters
talk out of a certain part of their mouth. Mr. De Luce sits up ram-rod straight
with his hand on his left knee. Daphne De Luce sucks in her cheeks and bites
down on her tongue. Mrs. Mullet talks out of the front of her mouth which is
where Northerners tend to speak from whereas other characters pull their mouths
down at the sides to give it that aristocratic feel.

Susan:  I love your descriptions of the characters! Are there some books you like to narrate and some you don't care to do? And what would be your dream narration
assignment — something you would love to read in audio?

Jayne:  I haven’t met an
audiobook I didn’t like. I tend to like the books that have rich and varied
characters.
The Hunchback Assignments by
Arthur Slade
were challenging and the stories were gripping. I loved being on
the dark side of Victorian England. I did two books in the series and wanted
them to keep going forever.

I imagine I would be well challenged by a
non-fiction book as I couldn’t rely on characterization but would have to pay
more attention to delivery, tone and evenness of speech.

Susan:  What are some
of your favorite books? Do you prefer reading, or do you listen to audiobooks
yourself? (And do you read passages out loud when you're reading for
pleasure?)

Jayne:  I usually only read
fiction. I had my fill of non-fiction in graduate school. Some of my favourite
authors are Ann Patchett, Kent Haruf, Kate Morton, Salman Rushdie and Annie
Proulx. I need to have that book in my hand as opposed to hearing it. I like historical fiction and I read some historical romance, too. I love to learn some truths about the world while being transported into a fictitious world at the same time.

I read
voraciously as a child, inhaling books like Nancy Drew. I was inconsolable at
the end of 
Heidi
Heidi, feeling as if I had
lost a best friend. I remember sobbing into my pillow with my poor Dad trying
to assure me that Heidi would be fine even though the book was over. I credit
this love of reading at an early age with my ability to narrate audiobooks now.
And yes, I will read passages out loud because I love literature and language
and the melody of words and well . . . my own voice!

Susan:  What's your
next narration project? (I can't wait to hear it!)

Jayne:  I never know what projects are on the horizon. I am usually
pleasantly surprised by the sudden announcement of a new book for me to
narrate. The one book I am
Jaynephoto waiting for with bated breath is 
The Dead in their Vaulted Arches, the
sixth book in the Flavia de Luce series!

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I told my friends with almost
a sense of heartbreak that, “I just want to read. Oh, if only I could get paid
to do that!” They teased me for being
so dramatic. As hokey as it sounds, it really has been a dream come true!

Susan: A dream come true and a dream job – it doesn't get much better than that in the working world. Jayne, it's so fascinating to chat with you. Thank you for visiting the Word Wenches! 

Do you all listen to audiobooks? Are you a fan of Alan Bradley's mysteries, Sophie Kinsella, Arthur Slade — and Jayne Entwistle's narrations?

Most of us who hang around this blog cannot live without books — and I know some of you cannot live without audiobooks either. I'm listening to audiobooks more often than I used to, now that I've discovered the fun of Jayne's readings.

Questions and comments welcome!  :)

What We’re Reading

JobigblueHi, Jo here, hosting this month's What We're Reading blog. (I apologize if some of the covers aren't exactly where they should be. Typepad won't let me slide them around. Ah, technology!)

I don't have a lot to offer because I've been reading books for the Romance Writers of America RITA contest, (you can see last year's winners here if you want some reading suggestions — including, of course, our own Joanna) and I can't talk about them. However, I have recently dipped into a Regency novel — that is, from the Regency — called Love and Horror. Isn't that a great title? Loveh

My heroine, browsing the shelves in a book shop, couldn't resist it as she has a particular horror of the more extreme sorts of love. It's a spoof of the Gothic novel, but a more outlandish one than Northanger Abbey. Completely over the top and lots of fun. The really neat thing is that as she took it from the shelves in 1817, I clicked on Amazon and poof! it was on my Kindle, and I could read along.

I also have a growing TBR pile, including some added from our WWR blogs.

So let's hear from the other Wenches.

(The titles are all links to Amazon, so if you want to buy that way, just click on them, but of course the books are available in many other places.) 

Mary Jo:
Heart of BrassThe What We’re Reading feature is already paying off,  since I read what Nicola is reading, and promptly ordered Kate Cross’s Heart of Brass, a terrific steampunk  historical romance.  What does a  clever countess and inventor do when her beloved husband has been missing and  presumed dead for seven years—and then he returns with no memory of their  marriage and he’s been programmed by the people who messed with his mind to kill  her?  Read this to find out.  <g>  Action, emotion, and lots  of cool little steampunk gadgets to liven things up.   Forbidden Fruit

I also reread Forbidden Fruit, one of my favorite  Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman mysteries.  Set in Melbourne, they feature a full bodied and warm  hearted baker as Corinna makes bread and interacts with a large company of charming and eccentric friends and neighbors.  There are cats—also charming and  eccentric.  In this particular book,  it’s Christmas and screaming hot outside (because it’s Australia), and  she must help her gorgeous Israeli lover find a missing pregnant girl and the  boy who ran off with her.  Among other things lesser mysteries.  Delightful.

My Waiting to Be Read Pile is well stocked now, which  gives me a warm, secure feeling.  But seeing other Wench reads makes me  want to go back and reread some of them that are already favorites of  mine!

Anne.
6a010536b33b69970b01543671ea49970c-320wi.jpg1) Sophie Kinsella's I'VE GOT YOUR NUMBER. I like most of Sophie Kinsella's books — the shopaholic ones aren't my cup of tea — but I  really enjoys' night party, her engagement ring goes missing and her cell phone is stolen, and when she finds another cell phone tossed  into the rubbish, she grabs it. The phone belongs to the PA of hunky businessman Sam Roxton — she tossed it when she resigned, and all his messages are now coming to Poppy, who can't help getting  involved. . . A fun read. To-Say-Nothing-of-the-Dog

2) I bought this next book on the recommendation of a friend — Connie Willis's TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG. Its a time-travel, scavenger hunt comedy, with drama, romance, literary allusions and quirky characters all stirred into a wonderful pot. Connie Willis is best known for her sci-fi (I think) but this is a ont – a mad romp  through Victorian England, WW2 and the future. I laughed out loud, and have been pressing it on my friends.

122404313) In historical romance, I read and enjoyed Jennifer Ashley's THE SEDUCTION OF ELLIOT MCBRIDE, and it prompted me to go back and reread  her THE MADNESS OF LORD IAN MACKENZIE.

4) Finally I've read most of Elly Griffith's back list that I ordered  last month. She writes a crime series with Dr. Ruth Galloway, an  archaeologist who specializes in bones, and police detective Harry Nelson and I really enjoy them. Her latest book DYING FALL has just arrived and I'm trying to keep it to read on the plane that I'll be  taking to the Australian Romance Readers Convention in March.Dying-fall

Pat.

CocI just  finished an oldie: THE CURSE OF CHALION by Lois McMaster Bujold. Wonderful fantasy world-building and a tortured hero beyond any tortured hero I've ever read. He's dying through half the book because he's captured a demon inside him, but he gets his fair lady in the end.

And before that I finished Molly Harper's THE CARE AND FEEDING OF STRAY VAMPIRES. I don't normally like vampires but Harper's sense of humor works for me. And when we get to the part where the heroine may be dying and the vampire wants to save her by "turning her," she gives it some thought and decides she'd rather not, thank you. Love it. That may be a spoiler, sorry. It was funny.Candf

Cara/Andrea:
Michelangelo and the Pope's CeilingAs usual, I'm bouncing back and forth between fiction and non-fiction this month. I recently saw a fabulous exhibit on European drawing at the Morgan Library in NYC, which included a number of Renaissance works by Michelangelo, Raphael and Da Vinci. It inspired me to pick up "Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling" a very interesting and highly readable story about the artist's creation of the famous frescoed ceiling in the Sistine Chapel.

It's a wonderfully gossipy account of the the personalities of the times—Michelangelo, Pope Julius, Raphael, Da Vince among other—and paints a vivid picture of life in Rome and Florence (and with all its inside info on Vatican politics, it's highly timely, given the coming election of a new Pope!) There's also fascinating information on the technical aspects of painting—how pigments were made, the process of creating a fresco, the way the sketches were created for the final paintings. As someone with an art background, I just loved learning all that.
The_Lightning_Thief
As for fiction, I've come late to the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan, but am thoroughly enjoying the first book in the series, "The Lightning Thief." Riordan gives a fun, funky spin to the ancient myths as his hero, Percy—a dyslexic 12-year-old who is half mortal, half god—must take a quest to prevent a war between Zeus and Poseidon from breaking out and destroying the world. It's a Harry Potter-style book, written for middle schoolers but definitely appealing to adults as well, with non-stop action, snappy dialogue and very clever recasting of all the ancient gods and monsters into modern day situations. It's not my usual cup of tea, but I'm really finding it quite tasty!

Susan:

Old and new are in my reading stack this month. Following my reading urges, I've come round to the urge to read mysteries again. After searching through my bookshelves for old favorites, I'm nowreading Dorothy Sayers' Whose Body? – the first of the Lord Peter Wimsey series. I haven't read a Lord Peter since my grad school days, so I'm enjoying the reunion very much. And enough time has passed that I've rather blithely forgotten who did what to whom, which makes it a sort of fresh read — I haven't yet recalled who did in the body in the bath. Lovely Lord Peter, so full of sass and brilliance, and dear Bunter, so very pragmatic, and I love the vintage setting of a bygone era that still has a sense of modern familiarity. 
Bones

I just started reading Speaking From Among the Bones, Alan Bradley's fifth and newest Flavia de Luce mystery. When I got the book I practically squeeeeed with delight, being a huge Flavia fan. Haven't read far into it yet, so can't comment beyond I-already-love-this-book and I'm trying not to binge-read (did I say, huge Flavia fan, yes). So far in the story, we're in St. Tancred's church readying for a festival, Flavia has just wormed her way inside the church organ and out again, and we're on the verge of discovering a body. 

This series is entertaining, utterly charming and completely addictive, with one of the best sleuthing characters to come along in ages. Flavia, just 11, is a chemistry genius, mischievous, whimsical, inquisitive, brilliant, wise and yet naive. The setting is a small English village in 1950, and Flavia is a blend of Sherlock Holmes and Pippi Longstocking — and yet uniquely Flavia. The characters are so multi-layered and the mysteries very, very clever. The old manor house, Buckshaw, is a fascinating central character too. This is not a YA series, despite the young detective. If you haven't yet read Flavia — I highly recommend all five.

I'll be sad when the sixth and last in the series comes out next year – but squeeeeing with delight to have a fresh Flavia read once more – and I can only hope that Alan Bradley has a few more books planned. And if you like audiobooks — this series, read by Jayne Entwhistle, is sheer entertainment (I'm not much for audiobooks, and I adore these readings).

Among the nonfiction in my reading stack, I'm moving quickly through Knight by Robert Jones. It's a big, lovely coffee-table format with excellent content, and a comprehensive, up-to-date overview of knighthood and chivalry, primarily in England. Buzzing through this and other newish comprehensives and monographs is a great way to keep my medieval chops sharp while I'm working on another book.

Joanna:

LadylI'm always a bit behind in my reading, (several years behind if the size of my To Be Read stack is any indication,) so I won't feel guilty about reading a Christmas book in February. What I'm into now is Grace Burrowes' Lady Louisa's Christmas Knight  This is one of those, 'You will feel good when you read it' books. I'm deep in the middle and snow is falling outside. I am season appropriate.

And hey — here's a bit of synchronicity. Like Susan, I'm rereading Dorothy Sayers.  Strong Poison is my poison of choice this month. I love Sayers' strong, principled, intellectual heroine. I love the dialog. I just wallow and splash and delight in it. I will also admit I have a mad pash for Lord Peter, of which he is unaware, being, unfortunately, fictional.

Ww sayers
The cover of this latest reprint is a 1930's couple on a bridge looking out over the water. It seems to have been chosen at random by someone unfamiliar with the content, since the heroine is in prison for the whole of the book.Ah well.

My non-fiction right now is the classic Maple Sugar Book by Helen and Scott Nearing. This is sorta 'Thoreau has lunch with the Twentieth Century and they talk philosophy'.

 Nicola:

SteelI've just started TOUCH OF STEEL by Kate Cross, book 2 in her Clockwork  Agents series. I loved HEART OF BRASS, the first book. Normally I don't read Steampunk but this series has totally converted me. It's clever, inventive, fun and very sexy and romantic.

In non-fiction I'm reading Bygone Pleasures of London, an out-of-print book I found in an antiquarian bookshop at the weekend. I love poking through places like that because you never know what you might find. Bygone Pleasures gives an insight into the pleasure gardens of London from 1660 until the mid-nineteenth century and as well as the more well known spas and tea gardens there are places I've never heard of like The Yorkshire Stingo famous for being the place where they served a particularly strong Yorkshire ale!

A friend recommended The Lady of the Rivers by Philipa Gregory. I hadn't read her for a while but I am enjoying this one more than any of her previous books. The history is compelling, the descriptions rich and vivid and she even manages to pull off the trick of making me find a Lancastrian – Richard Woodville – a very attractive hero. Lriv

Which brings me on to the rest of my reading. All the excitement over the discovery of Richard III's body has led me to re-read all my Richard III related books, both fact  and fiction. This will take a while! I've just finished The Daughter of Time  by Josephine Tey (still magnificent) and am about to start on The King's Bed by Margaret Campbell Barnes. Next time we do a "What we're reading" I'll probably still be working my way down the list!

So there you have the Wenches' recent reads. Are any of these favorites?

And what have you read recently that you'd like to share?

Jo