Nicola here with our monthly blog post on What We Are Reading. As usual, there's a wonderful range of intriguing books—so dive in for some great recommendations and be sure to tell us what YOU have been reading too!
Christina: This month I’ve read my way through Sarina Bowen’s True North series, starting with Bittersweet. I wasn’t sure if I’d like these stories as much as the ice hockey ones (Brooklyn Bruisers), but I did and once I’d started, I couldn’t stop until I had devoured them all. Bittersweet is the story of Griffin Shipley, a farmer and cider brewer who has had to step into his father’s shoes far too early and shoulder the responsibility for the family, thereby giving up some of his dreams. He feels the strain and the last thing he has time for is dating, but then an old flame turns up unexpectedly and suddenly he’s not as tired as he thought … It was great seeing this gruff and grumpy man being tamed by the right woman – a wonderful start to the series. But my favourite of all is Speakeasy, because the hero, Alec Rossi, is simply irresistible! He’s a total player, but with a fabulous sense of humour and he’s way smarter than he gives himself credit for. I fell in love with him right from the first page and wanted him to prove the doubters wrong!
Another story I really enjoyed this month was Jenni Keer’s Hawthorn Place, a timeslip story with magical elements. It is based on two amazing Arts & Crafts houses (from the late 1800s), mysteriously designed and built by the same architect, and the heroine Molly in the present visits them both. To begin with, she is naïve, spoiled and entitled, but she is also endearing and the reader can’t help but like her. Bewildered by her parents’ sudden tough love, we watch her grow in maturity and blossom as she gains some valuable insights and starts to turn her life around. Her adventures throughout a summer spent with her grandfather in Dorset were a joy to read about. Then there is 19th century architect Percy, whose unrequited love seems hopeless, even though the reader wants nothing more than for him to be happy. Gentle humour abounds, and there is a simmering love story in the present, as well as an all-consuming one in the past. Both were equally riveting and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about them – a lovely dual time story.
Finally, I had the pleasure of reading an ARC of Sue Moorcroft’s new book, Under the Mistletoe. If you’re in the mood for a perfect Christmas story, this is it! I loved this book from the first page to the last, and stayed up way too late to finish it. Laurel, the heroine, has returned to the village where she grew up in order to help her sister, who suffers from agoraphobia. It’s the last place she wants to be as she has bad memories from an incident that happened there when she was a teenager. Making things worse, she immediately comes face to face with some people from the past who she’d rather not see again. But meeting up with old flame Grady awakens feelings she thought long forgotten, and he’s such a wonderful hero – how could she resist him? I definitely couldn’t! I was rooting for this couple all the way through and hoping they could find a resolution to their problems. I really wanted Laurel to forgive and forget, because Grady didn’t deserve to suffer for something he didn’t do. This is a truly festive read, complete with mistletoe, snow and Christmas cheer!
Pat here: I recently dived into the ARC for Andrea's MURDER AT THE ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS for the next episode in her wonderful historical mystery series featuring Wrexford and Sloane, the earl and the satirical artist. In this one, the intrepid pair set out to find who murdered a scientist who had found a cure for malaria—and for the plant that might save millions. And they really need to solve this case before their wedding! The familiar cast of characters grows in depth and interest and are just as fascinating as the mystery. Historical mystery fans–and anyone who just likes a great story, highly recommended!
And then for a lovely departure from history: Rosaline Palmer takes the Cake by Alexis Hall is hilarious, angsty women’s fiction about a single mother who expected to become a doctor. Instead, she ends up on a British bake show in hopes of winning enough to fix her alien boiler. Warning: tons of the funniest swearing I’ve ever read, a bit of graphic sex, an almost-forced sex scene, and truly terrific depictions of not-always-heterosexual perspectives. If this all sounds like a contradiction in terms, that’s because this book is. It has romance but it’s not a romance. It has amazing mother/daughter scenes while being totally about a fascinating collection of bake show contestants. Let’s just call this book original and funny and if you want to get out of your rut, give it a try.
Susan writes: The other day I finished 500 Miles from You by Jenny Colgan, and loved it. She is a favorite among the Wenches, though this is the first of her books that I've read. When Lissa, a nurse based in London, witnesses a shocking accident and is devastated by the experience, she is assigned to a temporary post far away from the madding crowd to give her a chance to recuperate mentally and chill a little. The assignment sends her to the Scottish Highlands to substitute for another nurse, a former Army medic who will temporarily take her place in London until they swap jobs again. Cormac, a native Highlander, is not keen on taking on duties in London, which seems a foreign and unappealing place to him. The swap has both Lissa and Cormac experiencing some culture shock. The city girl is not used to the peace and quiet of the Highlands or the whimsical laid-back attitude of the locals, and the country guy is at odds with the pace and demands of city life, and for both, the medical duties are very different as well. Jenny Colgan sets up a unique romance that grows slowly between two people who are only texting and emailing – an interesting story challenge – and the progression is fascinating, as they begin to rely on and care about one another. When they finally meet, it's unexpected and deliciously romantic, and I adored it. This is a comedy of errors with wonderful characters, humor, and real depth – and a nice plus is that it incorporates one of my favorite Scottish rock songs, the Proclaimers' "And I Would Walk (500 Miles)." Colgan writes with a light hand and yet with true wisdom and a deft touch that is at times poignant, meaningful, touching, yet without ooky sentimentality. Just lovely, and I will be glomming her other books soon. No wonder she's a Wench favorite!
Nicola: It’s no secret that we Wenches are big fans of Sarah Morgan and I grabbed her latest book The Christmas Escape as soon as I could get my hands on it. As with all Sarah’s books, it’s a wonderful multi-generational story full of reflections on friendship and relationships, with some gorgeous Christmas sparkle! Christy Sullivan had planned the perfect Christmas on a dream trip to Lapland with her family and her best friend Alix. Then her marriage to Seb is plunged into crisis and she has to ask Alix, and Seb’s oldest friend Zac, to take her daughter Holly on the trip, aiming for them all to meet up to celebrate Christmas Day together.
Alix is a career woman who is inexperienced with children and terrified that she’ll not be up to the task of taking care of Holly. Plus she has history with Zac that she’d rather not remember. The spiky relationship between the two of them is funny and sexy whilst the barriers that Christy and Seb have to overcome to find honesty between them are deftly handled and thought-provoking. It’s a happy feel-good read with depth and poignancy and it’s also so, so Christmassy! I wanted to run away to Lapland for Christmas and ever after!
I was lucky enough to snag two ARCs this past month and am delighted to give a big shout-out to both! First of all, our own Mary Jo has a new Rogues Redeemed book, which is always cause for celebration. Once A Laird (which just released!) features the enigmatic Kai Ramsay, who has been an intriguing presence earlier in the series. He's been summoned home to the remote Thorsay Islands in Scotland after years of absence. The old laird is dying, and Kai must face his duty of taking over the responsibilities of caring for the islands and his people . . . and who better to teach him than the fiery Signe Matheson, who has been handling the demands in his absence. Needless to say, sparks fly when the old acquaintances meet and need to work together despite their complicated past. What I love about Mary Jo’s books is that her characters are so wonderfully real and “mature”—they have suffered disappointments and set-backs, so they are bruised, but also strong, having gained wisdom and resilience. They think beyond their own needs to make honorable and hard decisions . . .which is why it is always such a joy to watch them slowly come to discover love and fulfillment with the perfect partner. Complementing the engaging characters, the setting of the starkly beautiful islands is magical . . . and who can resist a one-eyed cat named Odin!
The Regency-era setting continues in Stephanie Barron’s latest book in her delightful mystery series starring Jane Austen as the sleuth. In Jane and the Year Without A Summer, we find a mature Jane now beginning to suffer from fragile heath—which she thinks is caused by the travails engulfing her family. With money short, and the future uncertain, she decides to take her apothecary’s advice and splurge on a visit to the spa in Cheltenham with her sister Cassandra in order to take the waters. The weather is wretched—Britain is suffering from a horribly cold and wet summer—and so they find themselves much confined to their lodging house . . .where the presence of a beautiful invalid and her quiet companion soon draw Jane into the middle of a dark mystery. The invalid turns out to be a runway wife, and when her husband appears demanding to take her back home, a number of questions arise, complicated by the intentions of the other guests at the lodging house. I love this series, as Barron always creates such a wonderful ambiance, a twisty mystery and a lovely imagining of Jane, based on meticulous research. It’s a slightly bittersweet story as we see Jane struggle with her health, but it’s a wonderful read— and it has poignant romantic element that mirrors the manuscript that Jane is currently writing.I highly recommend it!
From Mary Jo: I've had a bunch of reading fails this month, and the books I like most were rereads of old favorites. But I found one new winner:
Boyfriend by Sarina Bowen. Sarina Bowen is popular with the Wenches, and this new release was great fun. It's set at Moo U, which I assume is Bowen's version of the University of Vermont. Naturally, the hero is a hot hockey player. <G>
The heroine, Abbi, is another student who works long hours as a slinger of burgers and chicken wings to pay for her cold, tiny apartment. She particularly likes it when the hockey team comes in after practice or a game because they're fun, they tip well, and she has a quiet crush one of the players, the handsome and charming Weston Griggs.
Abbi doesn't want to go home for Thanksgiving for a good reason, so when she sees an anonymous posting on a bulletin board:
Rent a boyfriend for the holiday. For $25, I will be your Thanksgiving date. I will talk hockey with your dad. I will bring your mother flowers. I will be polite, and wear a nicely ironed shirt…
When she finds out it's posted by Weston, she makes a pitch and he chooses her. Of course he recognizes her from the restaurant, they get along find, and he is just the buffer/fake boyfriend she needs for Thanksgiving.
It turns out that Weston has good reasons for not wanting to go to his home for Christmas, so he enlists Abbi to go as his fake girlfriend…. As I said, the book is lots of fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Anne here, and this month I have three recommendations for you. The first is The Last Bookshop in London, by Madeline Martin. August 1939 and war is hanging over England. Orphaned Grace Bennett comes to London with her friend Viv, hoping for a job in Harrods. Instead she gets one in a messy, cluttered and dusty bookshop in the heart of the city. Grace is no reader, but she's a good worker and has a gift for organization and sales and soon the bookshop is attracting more customers. She meets an attractive man, but before their first date can happen, he's called up. He gives her his favorite book, The Count of Monte Cristo, and that eventually starts Grace reading.
The war finally hits London, in horrific nightly bombing raids, and one night Grace starts reading her current book aloud to the others sheltering in an underground station. And it becomes a regular thing.
I won't tell you any more, except to say it's a wonderful story. It's very evocative of what it must have been like for people stuck in London during the Blitz, and while it doesn't shy away from the terrors of war, it's also heartwarming and ends on a positive note. As well, it's an ode to the power of good books. I couldn't put it down. Highly recommended.
As regular readers will know, I'm a fan of Trisha Ashley's books, especially her Christmas ones, and her latest book, One More Christmas at the Castle is a worthy addition to the collection.
Elderly widow Sabine is dying, and she wants one last Christmas in Mitras Castle, her grand family home — the kind of Christmas she loved as a child. To this end she invites the people who most matter to her for Christmas and hires Dido Jones and her business partner Henry, who run a brilliant service called Heavenly Houseparties to organize and cater the whole event.
It's classic Trisha Ashley with an intriguing collection of characters, a number of family and other secrets lurking beneath the surface, a lovely dose of romance, and all the fun of Christmas, including her trademark lashings of English comfort food. Most enjoyable, and I've already read it twice.
Lastly, if any of you have been reading the JD Kirk Scottish crime series I've regularly recommended, I bought and read the first in his new series — Northwind — a spinoff that stars disgraced former Detective Superintendent Bob Hoon. I wasn't sure I'd like it — in the original series Bob Hoon distinguishes himself as foul-mouthed, infuriating and not particularly likable. However in recent books he showed there was more to him than that. To quote from the amazon blurb: "He may be a disgraced ex-copper, a barely-functioning alcoholic, and a borderline psychopath, but Bob Hoon still believes in justice."
Anyway to cut a long story short, it's funny outrageous and dramatic, and if you've hesitated about picking up the Hoon book, don't — I loved it.
Now it's over to you! What are your reading recommendations this month? Please share!