Nicola here, introducing this month's feature on our Wenchly reading. After what felt like a long reading slump I’ve had an amazing month of good books. I was lucky enough to be a judge for the RNA Debut Novel award and really enjoyed the experience; there was a huge range of books in contention this year, ranging from an 18th century historical set in Ireland that was based on a riveting true story – Heart of Stone by John Jackson – to a laugh out loud romantic comedy – Perfect Match by Zoe May – with a load of other great books as well. You can find the whole list here if you would like to see what else is on there and if you enjoy the 17th century I can really recommend Traitor’s Knot by Cryssa Basos, a brilliantly-written, fast-paced and romantic historical adventure set during the English Civil War.
As if that wasn’t enough, I read Island in the East by Jenny Ashcroft which is one of the richest and most exotic romantic historicals I’ve read in a long time. It reminded me of MM Kaye in the vivid drawing of the characters, the complex emotional relationships, the beautiful writing and the way that the location was a vivid character in itself. The story is set in a dual time frame, Singapore in the Second World War and a parallel story forty years earlier. In 1897, identical twins Harriet and Mae Grafton are sent to Singapore by their wealthy benefactor and their sibling love and support is fractured by rivalry and betrayal. In 1941, Ivy Harcourt, already suffering from wartime trauma, is posted to Singapore where she uncovers secrets from her grandmother Mae's past and experiences a romantic love of her own. I particularly loved Ivy and her hero Kit and were rooting for them all the way through.
In between I also found the opportunity to glom on more of Emily Larkin’s Regency historicals (thank you, Anne, for the original recommendation!) and found what I think is my favourite so far, My Lady Thief. I loved everything about this book; the admirably confident heroine who had been made all the stronger by her traumatic past, the uptight hero who was utterly gorgeous underneath his stuffy exterior, and the beautiful way in which their relationship developed.
Anne writes: I finished Sebastien de Castell's four book swashbuckling series, "The Greatcoats", and found it a most satisfying read. If you're interested, start with Traitor's Blade.
Next I read Elly Griffiths, Dark Angel. It's book #10 in her Dr. Ruth Galloway series, and I recommend you start at the beginning, not because each mystery can't be read on its own, but because the development of various characters through the series is a big part of the pleasure in reading these books. Elly Griffiths' narrator, Ruth has a dry, ironic humor that gently infuses her observations. Well worth reading.
I also read an advanced copy of Lucy Parker's new book, Making Up, which I loved. Lucy Parker wowed the wenches with her debut, Act Like It, and the follow-up, Pretty Face, and I felt very smug that I scored an early read of her third book in her "London Celebrities" series. I'm interviewing Lucy Parker on Friday. Stay tuned.
Amanda Quick is the historical pseudonym of Jayne Ann Krentz, and she's made an interesting progression over the years: The Quick books started with Regencies, moved to Victorians, and in her new Burning Cove series, the setting is the 1930s in a glitzy California seaside resort with links to Hollywood. The first book of the series, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, came out last year and the second, The Other Lady Vanishes, is a new release.
The book begins with heroine Adelaide escaping from a horrible private asylum where she has been illegally held captive. Once free, she heads to Burning Cove and a quiet life working in a tea shop. But the past reaches out to ensnare her, a hot guy named Jake is in town in theory to help his nerves (which are actually made of steel <G>) and the action is on. I like the 1930s setting, which is both familiar and distant, and there are hints of a world building toward war, though the focus is on Adelaide and Jake. A rousing good read.
I also noticed that the first books in two series by Sharon Shinn, one of my favorite fantasy authors, are now only $2.99 in e-editions. Shinn is a master of world building, and Archangel is set in a world where human-but-winged angels are overseers for the rest of the population. Gabriel, who is slated to become the next Archangel, a post that is held for 20 years, needs to find his god-designated wife, but she has disappeared–and when he finds her, she is not keen on the program! Don't be put off by the dark cover, it's a great read with a powerful romance.
The other series is the Elemental Blessings and the first book is Troubled Waters. Again, there is great world building and a fine romance. Happy reading!
This past month I’ve been delving into the far-too-mountainous TBR pile, trying to catch up with all the recommendations I’ve been meaning to read. I heard Louise Penny speak at the Malice Domestic mystery conference last month, so was determined to finally start her Chief Inspector Gamache contemporary mystery series, set in Quebec, Canada. Am I glad I did! The first book, Still Life, follows the traditional cozy trope of a murder—this one of a 70 yr old woman in a small, isolated town, who seemed to have no enemies. But as the Inspector begins delving into the lives of the inhabitants, the peaceful tranquility is not what it seems. Penny writes wonderfully complex and vulnerable characters, and has a sharp eye for the nuances of family dynamics and marital relations. Inspector Gamache is a very interesting protagonist, too, and I’n really looking forward to continuing the series.
I also finally read Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonsson, a delightfully charming book about a widowed retired English officer—a seemingly ordinary, by-the-book pillar of the community who strikes up a friendship with the Pakistani widow of the local convenience store . . . and suddenly begins to question what’s really important in life. There are laugh aloud scenes as the “new” major deals with his ambitious status-conscious son and his long-time friends at the golf club who think he’s gone off the rails. It’s a sly, witty commentary on modern life, but also a sweetly poignat celebration of "second acts” in life.
I've been in a reading slump lately, so perversely, I decided to clean out my TBR stack. You know how a TBR stack goes–the ones you just don't feel like reading right now drift to the bottom. It's probably a totally unfair means of choosing a book and predictably, I haven't finished a book in weeks. Nothing made me happy except a few old comfort reads I'd bought because they were on sale.
But back before my slump, I read HEIRS OF GRACE by Tim Pratt. Okay, I bought this because I'm a sucker for the fantasy of inheriting a big old mysterious house. In this case, the protagonist is an impoverished art student from Chicago who oddly inherits a derelict hoarder’s mansion in the mountains of NC. She knows she’s an orphan and assumes the person who left her the house was a relative—and quite a relative he was. The story is basically fantasy with Rebekah Lull learning about her magical family and having adventures and learning the morality of being almost all-powerful. There’s a witty boyfriend for the romance plot. I really wanted more on the personal side, but the story was a fun fantasy ride, and I happily followed it to the conclusion. If inheriting old houses and magic is your thing, this one’s for you!
So, what are you reading that delights, surprises, moves or intrigues you?