What We Are Reading-August

Sweep This month's What We Are Reading feature takes us on our usual delightful peregrinations through different worlds and different eras. So get pencil and paper ready to start making notes for your TBR pile!

Anne here:
The latest in Ilona Andrews' "Innkeeper Chronicles" series, Sweep of the Blade, came out this month, and the minute I started it, I realized I wanted to go back to the beginning and read all four books in order. Which I did. I really enjoy these books and the world of the Innkeeper — they're fantasy/paranormal, with magic, werewolves, vampires and aliens — and a few years back that would have been enough to put me off. Not any more. 

WorkOfArtInnkeepers are people who have a special magical bond with their inn — they can configure it any way they want, even to breaking rules of physics — and their purpose is to provide a safe haven for their guests, who come from all over the galaxy. The guests must be sworn to keep the knowledge of aliens etc from  ordinary humans. So we're dealing with small town Texas and a galaxy of other-wordly visitors. The books are action-packed and entertaining, and the slowly developing romance very satisfying. If you haven't tried urban fantasy before, give this one a try and start with book 1, Clean Sweep

The second recommendation I have is for a Regency—The Work of Art, by Mimi Matthews—which was recommended by wenchly reader Karin last month. With a starred review from Publisher's Weekly and a host of other excellent reviews, it's a classic regency, with an appealing heroine, a wounded hero and a villainous "other man", as well as a small pack of dogs — which the heroine has rescued. A delightful read.

OgreNicola here: This month I’ve read something old and something borrowed! The “old” was Maya Banks’ McCabe Trilogy, which I first fell in love with years ago.  When I’m in the mood for some hot Scottish historical action these three books are so much fun and I love the way that she gives the characters really powerful emotional conflicts and makes them feel very real. I have a soft spot for romances set in a time of conflict because it adds another layer of tension with divided loyalties as well as personal struggles to contend with. These romances are very satisfying!
I also caught up with the only Emily Larkin book I haven’t read, Lady Isabella’s Ogre, a lovely re-telling of the Beauty and the Beast theme.  Emily Larkin is one of my go-to Regency authors and this story was as fun as all her others – Lady Isabella Knox is one of London’s most eligible heiresses although she prefers her independence to any ideas of marriage. When she accidentally ruins the marriage prospects of Major Nicholas Reynolds, a war hero, she sets out to undo the harm she has done by persuading him into a make-believe flirtation. It’s lovely!

I also borrowed a copy of Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah whilst I was on holiday. I read it on a 4 day train journey across Canada from Vancouver to Toronto and this felt totally appropriate as it is a Hercule Poirot mystery and I felt as though I was living in Agatha Christie World! Sophie really does capture the essence of the old Poirot books and the character perfectly. I loved all the old stories and I am enjoying her new take on these! Closed Casket is classic crime fare with a family gathered together in a Gothic mansion, a controversial will and a dastardly murder.

When We Believed in MermaidsMary Jo here: The most memorable book I've read lately is Barbara O'Neal's When We Believed in Mermaids.  It's women's fiction, more specifically sister fiction, told alternately in first person by Kit Bianci, an ER doctor, and her two year older sister, Josie. The story begins when Kit sees her sister in a news video from New Zealand–except that her sister died fifteen years earlier in Europe.  Driven by a need to know, Kit flies off to Auckland–and changes not only her own life, but the lives around her.

Josie, now known as Mari, had compelling reasons for walking away from the disaster her life had become, and in the years since, she's found peace and happiness with a new family.  But she misses Kit desperately, and when they meet again, the past erupts into the present.

Barbara is a wonderful writer, and she builds her story as a mosaic as she moves back and forth between the sisters.  In some ways, their childhood was idyllic as they grew up on the California coast in their father's famous restaurant, learning food and surfing and loving the broken runaway boy who becomes part of the family and looked after the two little girls.  But in other ways, their childhood was laced with neglect and abuse, and only as the past is fully revealed can Kit and Mari become wholly healed.

As always with Barbara O'Neal books, the characterizations are wonderful, as are the descriptions of food <G>, and there's a lovely romance as well.  It made me want to visit New Zealand again!

51lnnhRTrKLPat here: This is what caught my fancy this month—Some Die Eloquent (the Calleshire Chronicles) by Catherine Aird. This British cop mystery was copyrighted in 1979 but reads to me almost as if it were written much earlier. Still, we have recognizable modernisms like plastics and conservation and a husband with his wife as she gives birth—in the few minutes he gets away from the case. There is lots of dialogue and not as much setting as I’d like. Mostly, this is a character study and social commentary, which was different enough to appeal to me.

The case involves a science teacher who dies of diabetes with an unexpected quarter million pounds deposited in her bank account. It’s real small town stuff when word of the bank account gets out and is enough to bring in the coroner’s office after the death certificate is already issued. One of the suspects works at the hospital where the Inspector’s wife is about to give birth, which makes for a nice cozy. It’s an entertaining insight into a time before cell phones, when everyone knows the drunk who wrecks the bollards every night. Read if you’re in the mood for something different.

Guest BookAndrea here: I’ve had a strange reading month, jumping around to various genres. Because it was getting such raves from the Wenches and Wenchly readers, I read The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMasters Bujold, which I very much enjoyed, even though I’m not a huge fantasy reader. Then I picked up a new British mystery set in the 1930s, which was fun and well-written, but the plot was SO predictable, I was disappointed that it didn’t offer any fun twist, so I can’t recommend it here.

The real “meaty” read of the month is The Guest Book by Sarah Blake. It’s a sweeping family saga of three generations of a wealthy WASP family, spanning the 1930s to present day. The modern protagonist is a historian who teaches at a university—there is a marvelous classroom scene where she challenges her students on what IS history. The touchstone of the family is an idyllic island off the coast of Maine they have owned since the late 30s where the generations have gathered every summer. The fact that family money is running out, and the professor and her cousins are facing the prospect of having to sell the island, challenges her to explore her own history—with the requisite buried secrets coming to life.

It’s beautifully written, though in places it drags a bit. I also felt the author perhaps tackled one too many elemental themes in family relationships . . . and there are some structural problems—she head-hops sometimes, and also never gives the date of a section, so sometimes I got a little lost for a page or two. But I overlooked the flaws because the story is very well done, with interesting, vulnerable characters. It's a poignant look at a traditional, orderly world—where all the rules are comfortable and known by heart—giving way to the frightening chaos of modern life.

So, what have you been reading lately?  Please share!

Ask A Wench—What the Wenches Are Reading Now

BrideCara/Andrea here, Each month we try to respond to questions about  . . . well, whatever strikes the fancy of our readers! However, one of the most frequent questions we're asked is what books the Wenches are enjoying. And as we are all as passionate about reading as we are about writing, we are always delighted to share what's on our current list. So withour further ado . . .

ScandsmPat Rice:
I've not had a great amount of time to read lately, I'm very sorry to say. I have two books sitting beside my TV chair that I'm reading out of professional interest. I have a mystery thriller on my NordicTrak that is collecting dust because I'm just now getting back to exercising after the little wrist incident, and I have several books I'm reading on my Nook while I sit in waiting rooms or just before bed when and if I've finished all my work. Those are books by favorite authors, and the one I finally had time to finish this week is our own Jo's The Scandalous BhCountess. (I read Anne's Bride By Mistake and Joanna's The Black Hawk last month, which shows Desiredhow far behind I am! And Nicola's Desired still languishes unread) I adore how smoothly Jo slips in fascinating tidbits of history, then hits us with one of the hottest, most original sex scenes I've read in a long time. And her scarred hero is utterly perfect in all ways, even if he wins the lady in a horse race!

WarForOaksJoanna Bourne
I seem to be going through a Young Adult patch in my reading right now.  I don't know why.  I've just finished War for the Oaks by Emma Bull.  It’s Urban Fantasy and very good. Readalikes are Peter S. Beagle's Folk of the Air, Robin McKinley's Sunshine, and Mercedes Lackey's Spirits White As Lightning .  Recently finished The Iron Duke by Meljean Brooks, a dystopian bit of fiction I'd Mermaids_p_200like to call Young Adult Romantic Fantasy.  Is that hitting all the bases?  Beautiful work, and at the heart of the story is an examination of living with racial prejudice.  I finished off with C.S. Harris' Why Mermaids Sing.  Her Sebastian St. Cyr books are mystery, love story, and adventure set in the Regency/ French Revolutionary / Napoleonic War era.  They have spies.  Does this sound a bit familiar?

Susan Fraser King:
My eyes are bigger than my bookshelf — so I accumulate quickly and just as quickly fall behind, but lately I'm diligently working my way through an eclectic assortment of fiction and nonfiction. I've just finished A History of Everyday Life in Medieval Scotland, 1000-1600, edited by Edward J. Cowan and Liz Henderson — read it because I was asked to review it for an academic journal, and kept reading it because it's an excellent assortment I-am-half-sick
-of-shadowsof scholarly investigations into ordinary life concerns. Fiction-wise, I recently read I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, the fourth book in Alan Bradley's simply brilliant and totally charming mystery series about 11-year-old British sleuth Flavia de Luce (a series I adore, can you tell?). Right now, I'm deep into Keith Donohue's The Stolen Child, a fascinating story about the lives of a fairy changeling and the fairy-captured boy he replaces. Magical circumstances as every day occurrences, straightforward yet poetic writing, subtle characterization — I'm loving it.

Mary Jo Putney
I just finished the delicious sixth Corinna Chapman mystery by Kerry Greenwood, Cooking the Books.  I discovered the series after Anne Gracie interviewed Kerry on the Word Wenches.

Cooking the Books, Kerry GreenwoodThe stories are set in contemporary Melbourne and feature Corinna, former accountant and now a master baker, along with an extremely colorful cast of cats and other secondary characters.  The series is long on wit and charm and short on gore, which suits me.
In this just released book, Corinna has closed the bakery for a month after Christmas so she can rest, and finds herself ill-suited to holidays.  Bored, she lets an old school chum twist her arm into baking for the cast of a TV pilot.  She finds actors both horrifying and fascinating, and is soon up to her ears in baking, bearer bonds, and assorted other mayhem.  (There’s a tiger who loves anchovies, among other things. <G>)
I love Corinna, a happy and unashamed size 20, and it’s always fun when people are startled by the gorgeousness of her kind and clever Israeli P.I. lover.  Even more, I love Corrina’s world.  Having scarfed down all six in the series, I am impatiently waiting for new entries.

Beyond-the-night-150Jo Beverley
I'm reading Beyond The Night, an apocalyptic romance by Joss Ware, who also 
writes vampire Regency as Colleen Gleason. Generally I'm not into any sort of 
apocalypse, and I gave up SF for a while way back when that seemed to be all 
there was, but somehow Joss Ware makes her dark, ruined world fascinating. 
Plus, the characters and relationships are complex and very well done.

Anne Gracie
I've been reading a few debut books, recently. The first is Cecilia Grant's A Lady Awakened, which is an unusual historical romance with quite a risky premise, especially for a first book. I found it an engrossing read. The writing is very assured, and I'll certainly read her next book.

SilnetThe other debut book is Deanna Raybourne's first book, Silent in the Grave, the first in a historical mystery series. I've come to her late and I'm glad of it because there are already more in the series, and though I'm only into chapter five, I suspect I'll be ordering the rest.

US-AlexandriaNext on my list is Lindsey Davis's Alexandria (and yes, I know I'm running behind, that there is a new book out now.) If you haven't discovered Lindsey Davis's Falco series of Roman-era mysteries, get thee to a bookstore immediately, because they're wonderful. Funny, clever, wry, beautifully researched and with a cast of delightful characters — and there's a lovely on-going romance as well. And if you're in doubt of whether you'll like her work, try her website with its delightful rants page. http://www.lindseydavis.co.uk/rants.htm

TiaraNicola Cornick
I’m having something of a rummage through my keeper shelves at the moment and enjoying some of my favourite
s over again. I’ve just finished Ordinary Girl in a Tiara, a fabulous girl-meets-her-Prince story by Jessica Hart who is one of my favourite Mills & Boon contemporary authors. I’m a total sucker for stories like this – last year I fell in love with Sophie Page’s wonderful romance To Marry a Prince. Both Ordinary Girl in a Tiara and the sequel The Secret Princess are wonderful warm romantic stories.

The Gilded ShroudI’ve also been re-reading The Belle Dames Club by Melinda Hammond, a traditional Regency that is a lot of fun. It’s all about the wicked antics of a secret club for ladies! Also on the historical side, but historical crime this time, I’ve just finished The Gilded Shroud by Elizabeth Bailey. It’s a Georgian murder mystery with a delicious romance and a wonderful sleuthing heroine in Ottilia Draycott. The second book in the series, The Deathly Portent, is out next month and I can’t wait! Next on my pile is The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley and I'm really looking forward to that!

DATMCara Elliott/Andrea Penrose
My recent reading choices have been two very, very different types of books—yet both were really enjoyable. Mysteries are one of my favorite genres, and I happened to spot an interesting title on the “New Releases” shelf at my local library by a new-to-me author and so decided to give it a try. Death and the Maiden, by Gerald Elias is set within the world of classical music, and the plot centers around a (fictional) world -renowned string quartet—they are about to perform Schubert’s famous work by that same name at Carnegie Hall—who are in the midst of internal feuding and a potentially crippling lawsuit by a disgruntled former member. When the first violinist goes missing, the curmudgeonly former concert violinist and teacher, Daniel Jacobus is convinced by his protege to do some investigating. “Jake” is a fascinating protagonist—to begin with, he’s elderly and he’s blind. And he’s got a sardonic view of the world. It’s very well-written, with pithy dialogue and twisty plot turns.  I learned a lot about the inner world of music, which I know little about, so it was a fun read. I’ll be looking for the two earlier books in the series.

CatherineWebAnd at the moment, I’m halfway through Catherine the Great by Robert Massie. I’ve been a big fan of Massie’s books for years. (Peter the Great and Nicholas and Alexandra are particular favorites.) I love how he makes his subjects so human, and how he weaves in the history of the times, so a reader really understands the personality in context to the world in which he or she lived. (I was lucky enough to hear Massie speak last week in New York, and he’s equally wonderful in person. His passion for his subjects is very evident as he reads excerpts from their letters and tells some of the amusing anecdotes that he has uncovered in his research.)

It would be hard NOT to make Catherine the Great a riveting read. Her story, from a loveless childhood as an obscure German princess to a bizarre marriage with the half-crazy Peter III to becoming one of the most powerful rulers of her age, is absolutely fascinating. She is truly one of the most remarkable women in history, so I really recommend it!

So, that's what we've been enjoying. How about you? See any of your favorites on the list? And now it's your turn—please share what books you've been reading that made you heart sing.