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!

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


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

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.
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!


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. 

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.


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'.


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?


Ask A Word Wench: What We’re Reading

Cat 243 Dover

by Mary Jo

These is an older blog topic request, but timeless.  From Mary K. Kennedy: 

"Could the Wenches do a periodic joint blog about recent books that they really enjoyed?  The blog comments have given me some great recommendations for books I would've otherwise panned."

So—just in time to cheer us up at tax season, here are some recent reads by Word Wenches:

ARoyalAffair From Nicola Cornick: 

I'm currently reading A Royal Affair, which sounds like a racy novel but is actually a non-fiction book by Stella Tillyard, author of Aristocrats, about King George III and the complex and sometimes dark relationships he had with his siblings. It's fascinating stuff and thanks to a fast pace and Stella Tillyard's beautiful writing it grabbed me right from the first. The murky world of Mid-Georgian London is beautifully drawn and the family relationships are engrossing.

From Anne Gracie:

In the last few months I've glommed a couple of new-to-me authors, collecting as much of their backlist as has been available. Thanks to wench Nicola who put me onto Susanna Kearsley, I've devoured her books. They're basically contemporary romances with an element of mystery and a strong historical connection; there's often a kind of time-slip or reincarnation theme going. Lovely.

12 Days of Christmas My other big glom author is Trisha Ashley, and I started with Twelve Days of Christmas (also called Twelfth Night in some places) which is still my fave and a keeper I've already reread. Trisha Ashley's books are contemporary romances,  a little in the Katie Fforde vein, but laced with gorgeous pithy humor that often surprises a chuckle out of me.

Finally, because Susan Wiggs is coming to the RWAustralia conference in August, I started a "Wiggsathon" with some friends, where we've been reading  a pile of her books — in my case, her Lakeshore Chronicles series, which I'd never read any of. Thoroughly enjoyed them, too. Before that I think I'd only read her historicals, of which The Lightkeeper was my standout favorite.

Call me Irreisitible From Pat Rice:

As usual, I’m reading several books at a time and the chance of my finishing any soon may rest on how much reading time I have.  But I did just finish Susan Elizabeth Phillip’s Call Me Irresistible and loved it. I can’t think of another author who can create a conflict out of one character being perfect and the other totally imperfect. The clash is just too funny.

I’m also reading Pati Nagle’s The Immortal, an ebook contemporary fantasy available at bookviewcafe.com and elsewhere. Think Legolas The Immortal visits your local library and persuades the librarian to help him fight one of his own who is vampirically diseased and threatening humans. Great New Mexico scenery thrown in.




From Cara Elliott/Andrea Penrose:

76377588 I've been reading historical mystery lately, and just discovered a very interesting new-to-me series by a writer named Imogen Robertson set in Georgian England. Instruments of Darkness features an intriguing cast of characters (a naval captain's wife who is managing a small estate, along with her two young children and teenage sister, and  a reclusive anatomist who turn into a sleuthing team) several puzzling murders, and a dark mystery involving the local lord of the manor, a wounded veteran of the British raid on Concord. The writing style is beautiful-very descriptive, with great characterization. I'm definitely going to be looking for the second book.

I've also belatedly started the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. I don't why it took me so long. I love the era-WWI England for the first book (with flashback to Edwardian times) and 1920s for the next ones. Maisie is a very unusual heroine, and her sleuthing deals with complex issues, creating the texture and nuances which appeal to me. 

A-red-herring-without-mustardFrom Susan King:

Lately I've been reading lots of nonfiction and a few mysteries, and the book that currently tops the basket beside my reading chair (which is spilling over with research books and wanna-reads) is Alan Bradley's A Red Herring Without Mustard. This is the third in a series that begins with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Ever since discovering the detective expertise of Flavia De Luce, an 11-year-old amateur chemist and a determined and brilliant little sleuth, I have been hooked. The delightful Flavia – a mix between Marie Curie, Sherlock Holmes and Pippi Longstocking – along with the charming setting (the English countryside in 1950), and some very clever mystery goings-on are keeping me well occupied and more than a little addicted.

Victory of Eagles From Jo Beverley:

I recently read Naomi Novik's Victory of Eagles. This is the fourth book in the series about a dragon air force in the Napoleonic Wars, starring Temeraire, a mighty dragon. I did enjoy it, especially Temeraire, who is brilliantly portrayed, but I find the long suffering stoicism of  Lawrence, Temeraire's human partner, a bit of a downer.


I've also been revisiting Dr Johnson's London: Everyday Life in London in the Mid 18th Century, which is full of interesting details that might come in useful in A Scandalous Countess, my MIP.

A presumption of death  From Mary Jo Putney:

This gives me a chance to talk about several books!  Dorothy Sayers created the marvelous sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey, and since her death three more books have written by Jill Paton Walsh.  I’ve read and enjoyed all the Lord Peter mysteries, but romance writer to the core, I particularly like the ones about his courtship and marriage to Harriet Vane, the accused murderess he lost his heart to. 

Hence, I’m really enjoying the continuation books because they take place after Lord Peter marries Harriet.  A Presumption of Death takes up their lives in 1940 while Lord Peter is missing and possibly dead on a secret mission in Nazi Europe while Harriet is home keeping things together with their two children as well as the three children of Peter’s sister.  Naturally, a murder occurs and Harriet is drawn into solving it.  I liked this so much that I’ve bought the earlier continuation, Thrones, Dominations (that one was started by Sayers and completed by Paton Walsh). and I want to read the third, The Attenbury Emeralds, entirely written by Jill Paton Walsh, as well.  Wonderful characters, writing, and stories. 

I also just finished Michael Caine’s second memoir, The Elephant to Hollywood.  As The Elephant to Hollywood he says cheerfully, he thought his career was about over when he wrote his first memoir 18 years ago, but that didn’t prove to be the case.  He’s great company—warm and good natured, with terrific self-deprecating stories, including how he found his adored wife, Shakira, in a Maxwell House coffee commercial.  There’s also the subtext of how a poor East End boy who had rickets as a child made the amazing journey to international stardom.

Last but hardly least is Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper.  Homer is the blind kitten Gwen adopted when no one else wanted him.  Instead of growing up to be a fearful invalid, he turned into an intrepid blind wonder cat, capable of leaping five feet straight into the air to catch flies, and gathering legions of adoring fans.  He also became a role model for Gwen making changes in her own life.  Excellent writing, and a wonderful tale for cat lovers and others.

Homer's Odyssey That’s it for now!  I hope you all saw books you’d like to try. 
Mary Kennedy, you’re the winner of The Bargain, my April book.  (Or another if you have that one.)

We Wenches are considering following Mary's suggestion of occasionally posting other "What We've Been Reading" blogs.  What do you think?  Would you like to see more such posts?

And what have

Mary Jo