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 in September

Together

Nicola here, introducing the Wenches' monthly "What We're Reading" feature, which, this month is a "What We're Watching" as well! 

Anne: I've had a pretty busy time in the last month and, apart from some rereads of old favorites, the only book of any note I've read recently is Together by Julie Cohen. A friend told me about this book, saying that it was about a romance, but was written backwards, starting at the end of a couple's life and gradually working backwards to when they first met. I was intrigued, so I bought it.

In the working backwards, the reader begins to put clues together —it's not a murder mystery, but there is a big secret to be discovered. As the cover blurb says, "Their love was unstoppable . . . Their life was a lie."

It's been a big bestseller, and I found it quite a compelling read, but in the end I'm still not sure what I think. But certainly worth a read.

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What We’re Reading in September

September is a grand month for reading. We've come up with some great suggestions.

 
Wench shamelessAnne here: I've been really enjoying some NA (New Adult) college stories. I've mentioned Sarina Bowen in this column several times and now I'll add Elle Kennedy to the list — they've written a few book together, which is how I discovered Elle Kennedy. Both these authors are writing fresh, fun, yet realistic stories that deal with some very serious issues faced by young people at that age, while still remaining very sexy and romantic. 
 
The Shameless Hour – Sarina Bowen
Bella gets around — she's a bright, positive, lusty girl. Rafe is a hunky Hispanic boy who has been raised to respect women — which is why he's still a virgin at 20. When the double standard smacks Bella down in the nastiest way, Rafe steps in. A gorgeous story, both realistic and romantic and positive.
 
The Deal  Elle Kennedy
Another NA story set on a college campus. Hannah Wells has a crush on one guy, but an annoyingly persistent jock is after her to tutor him. They do a deal to help each other achieve their goals.
I couldn't put it down. Really enjoyed it.
 
Pat Rice brings us:
 
Wenches NeanderthalNeanderthal Seeks Human: A Smart Romance, is the first book written by Penny Reid. I love the brain-heavy, neurotic heroine—who has every right to be neurotic given her dysfunctional family. It’s totally a contemporary fantasy but the author’s voice is so hilarious that I kept reading anyway. Sure, it could use a lot of trimming, but who would want to trim material that contains (and I’ve seriously edited here) lines like this: “I think my alcohol-saturated forebrain lost the ability of conscious thought, but my lower brain—the Id…may have slipped my forebrain some benzodiazeprines…. I will call that part of my brain Ida.”

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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 June

Knowledge wins by dan smith circa 1914 to 1918Joanna here, talking about the books we're reading this month.

It's been a humid, rainy June up in my mountains.  I am overwhelmed by the beauty of it, with mist everywhere and deer coming out of the woods to eat the grass I just had mowed.  They like all that juicy, tender, new growth. 

On the free time front, I was harassed by deadlines and by all the little ills the flesh is heir to.  I learned, for instance, that it takes a team of men and a huge, noisy, orange machine three days to fix a well pump.  Who knew?  Also, if your car gets old enough, the repairs cost more than the car is worth.  

Did I mention I haz deadlines?
So I didn't get any particular amount of reading done, but instead watched my To Be Read pile grow like summer weeds.

I am rich in books, but I have no time to read them.  I am an object lesson in book misering and literary greed.
So what did I read?Lady maggie

From Grace Burrowes, who writes such warm, appealing characters, Lady Maggie's Secret Scandal. This is another of her infallible cheer-me-up books.  Right up there with Julia Quinn.  Beautiful and funny.

I also indulged myself in Ilona Andrews' Fate's Edge, Book Three in 'The Edge' Series.  Just to be contrary, I'll say that if Andrews is a new-to-you writer, I suggest starting with her Magic Bites
When I read that series I'm always saying to myself, "Like cats much?"

The-Bargain-Putney-Mary-Jo-9781420117264I also returned to an old favorite, Mary Jo Putney's The Bargain.  David Lancaster is one of my favorite heroes — brave, warm-hearted, straightforward.

What can I say?  I think my character Grey has some of David Lancaster in him. 

 

Mary Jo herself picks a couple winners.  She says:

I’m currently reading Letters from Backstage: The Adventures of a Touring Stage Actor  by Michael Kostroff. 

Michael Kostroff was a reasonably successful TV actor in Los Angeles, but his long held dream was to appear in a big, splashy Broadway show, so when the opportunity arrived to join the first national tour of The Producers, he leaped on it gladly.  Kostroff is also a freelance writer, so his e-mails from the road to his friends were so much fun Mad earl that they urged him to put them together into a book.  This is that book.  Besides being delightful to read, it does something I love in a book: it takes me in a new world in a compelling and believable way.  I have zero interest in touring with a theater company (not to mention zero talent <G>), but it was fascinating to read about.

In the fiction category, I was happy to see that The Mad Earl’s Bride,, a longish novella by Loretta Chase, is now available in an e-edition.  

Originally published in 1995 in the Three Weddings and a Kiss anthology, it has long been a favorite story of mine, and downloading it to my Nook was easier than digging the anthology out of the basement.  <G>  The story is a spin-off from Loretta’s much loved Lord of Scoundrels, and for a description, it’s hard to beat the blurb:

Gwendolyn Adams is about to propose to an earl. On his deathbed.

Gwendolyn Adams isn't shocked at being asked to save a handsome earl's dying line, even when she learns the prospective bridegroom is seriously ill and possibly insane. She's quite a good nurse, after all, and her family is famous for producing healthy male children. Those stories about his riding the moors half-naked on a pale white horse? Extremely intriguing—especially after she gets her first look at the gorgeous lunatic.

The Earl of Rawnsley wants only to lose what's left of his mind in peace and privacy. But his busybody relatives have saddled him with a surprise bride and orders to sire an heir forthwith. (And they say he's mad?) But with Gwendolyn, his health is returning, and his resistance … crumbling. Is it possible that love is the finest madness of all?

 

 

ArabianNicola brings us one of those serendipitous discoveries.  I love it when this happens.  She says:

 

I was visiting family and spotted a book called Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger, which I promptly borrowed. Thesiger was a famous explorer who was born in Ethiopia and educated in England. He made his first expeditions in the 1930s so his books are not only a record of travels to exotic places but also a period of history that is now long gone. Arabian Sands is about a journey to the "empty quarter" of Arabia.
 
I first became fascinated with the "empty quarter" when I read The Singing Sands, one of the wonderful Inspector Grant series, by Josephine Tey. The hunt for the fabled lost city of Wabar seemed impossibly romantic and still inspires a frisson of excitement in me now. Unfortunately when I got Arabian Sands home my husband said: "That looks interesting" and promptly started to read it before me!
  You had me at hello
Fiction-wise, a fellow member of the Bath and Wiltshire Chapter of the RNA recommended You Had Me At Hello by Scots author Mhairi McFarlane. I'm waiting for my copy to arrive. The blurb says: "What happens when the one that got away comes back?" I'm looking forward to finding out!

 
And Joanna breaks in here to add another huzzah for Thesiger.  Just a fascinating book.  I read it when I was headed out for Saudi Arabia.  I'd also recommend Sir Richard Francis Burton's Arabian travel writing which you can find here at the wonderful University of Adelaide site. 
 
Cara/Andrea has this to say —
(She's recommending two of my reliably favorite authors, by the way)

A Spear of Summer Grass
 
 
 
I've been wrestling with starting a new book, and in the process of beginning to get to know the characters (and, um, figure out the plot) I tend to be reading a little less than usual. That said, I've been unable to put down A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn.
 
It's set in 1920s Kenya, and paints a beautifully evocative portrait of the era, and a quirky cast of restless souls exploring the boundaries of their own selves as they search for meaning in life. Africa—brutal and beautiful—is a metaphor for a world turned upside down by the Great War.
 
Many of you may know Deanna's Lady Julia series, which is also wonderful—the "heroine" here is equally compelling and the first person POV is so well done.
You have to love a book that begins:
  
MajaDon't believe the stories you have heard about me. I have never killed anyone, and I have never stolen another woman's husband. Oh, if I find one lying around unattended, I might climb on, but I never took one that didn't want taking. And I never meant to go to Africa. 
 
I highly recommend it.
 
I've also grabbed up Midnight At Marble Arch, Anne Perry's latest book in her Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mystery series. I'm a big fan . . . but it's going to have to wait for a bit!

 

Moving right along . . .
Anne says:
I'm madlyTheProposal trying to finish a book, and though most people would imagine that reading would be set aside at such a time, for me, reading is a necessary part of unwinding and refreshing my brain.
 
I've been continuing my glom of Deborah Crombie's crime novels and I'm on #10 at the moment, In a Dark House. I'm reading them in order, because I like the ongoing development of the relationship between the two protagonists, Duncan Kinkaid and Gemma James.
 
Some romance writers don't read romance while they're writing, and I must confess I hesitated before picking up this next book, because Mary Balogh is so darned good her books can be depressing for someone in not-yet-finished-the-book mode. But I succumbed and thoroughly enjoyed her latest book, The Proposal. Sometimes it's good to be reminded why I fell in love with this genre in the first place.
I've also been browsing through A Writer's Book of Days, by Judy Reeves. She encourages people to meet daily (or regularly at least) and write for 15 minutes using random writing Writercatprompts. I don't do that, but it would be interesting, I think, to try.
 
I enjoy books about writing, and often find they stimulate me, as well as reminding me of things I know, but sometimes forget about. I'm taking a writing class that starts next month — four Sundays over four months — and I like to bring in a range of craft-of-writing books for the students to browse through.
 

 

So there you have it — That's what we were reading; what we liked; what made us think; what brought us joy.
 
What about you?  Did you read anything recently that lifted your heart or challenged your mind? 
Or, you know, just made you smile a little?