The Many Delights of What We’re Reading –June

Joanna here with our monthly round up. What have the Word Wenches been reading in June? What wonderful books have we discovered?

We have particularly exciting books this month.Wench glass

First up, Anne.
[Warning: cookbook ahead]

Anne here. As usual, I've read a lot of books in the last month. I've always been a prolific reader and it doesn't matter how busy my life gets, reading is a necessary part of my life. 
 
I caught up on my Louise Penny reading, with GLASS HOUSES, a book I bought a year ago and discovered I hadn't read. Absorbing and entertaining, as always, this is #13  in her Chief Inspector Gamache crime series. 
 
Sharon SWench shinnhinn — Mary Jo put me onto Sharon Shinn's fantasies first, and after her recent post I discovered that some more of Shinn's books were now available to me on kindle. I read and enjoyed the first two in the series — TROUBLED WATERS and ROYAL AIRS then discovered that book 3 and 4 are not available to me on kindle. Sigh. So frustrating to know that they are on kindle but not if you live where I do. I really HATE geographical restrictions.
rump grump grump.
 
Finally I read a biography, which I don't often do. It was Writing at the Kitchen Table: The Authorized Biography of Elizabeth David. She was a food writer,  famous before I was born, but who taught me a lot about cooking when I was a student living in a share house, and using an old penguin paperback of hers, FRENCH PROVINCIAL COOKING. I think it was as much the quality of her lyrical, evocative  prose and the little stories and anecdotes that prefaced some of the recipes that enticed me most. I bought all her books I could find, some from used book stores, and am happy to say they're all back in print.
 
I blogged about Elizabeth David some time back — you can read it here — and I found her biography fascinating, not least for the portrait of the difficult and unconventional woman behind the elegant and evocative writing, but also because of the difficulties she had with her various publishers. 
 

Pat brings us magic and what I'd call a "comfort read."
 
Pat here–I'm desperately seeking escape of any sort and a good getaway is hard to find. But here's a couple I've read in recent months that fit the bill.

Wench libraryTHE LIBRARY, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDER,  Mindy Klasky

Mindy writes fun paranormal chicklit, and one of her best characters is Jane Madison, a librarian who discovers she’s a witch. In Jane’s books, she has a magical warder assigned to keep her from creating magical disasters. David Montrose, that powerful DC warder, has his own series now, and we get to see all the problems he’s facing behind the scenes. Not only are his personal problems mounting, but magical DC is on the brink of warfare because of his best friend’s actions, while Jane’s talent is blossoming. He’s juggling more than fire balls to solve everything at once, without being demoted again. It’s a fun fantasy ride!

THE SEVEN YEAR SWITCH, Claire Cook

Lovely women’s fiction with a protagonist who was deserted by her adventure-seeking husband and left to survive on her own. She buried herself in raising their child, giving up the travel and hope of family she’d always wanted—until her husband comes home and wants back in her life again. She has to learn to live and trust and develop new relationships. There’s a lot of fun travel tidbits since she acts as a home-bound travel agent. I would have liked to see her learn enough to actually achieve some of her goals instead of just a potential new love, but it was a pleasant journey worth taking for the fun.

Mary Jo with what sounds like a fun read.

Mary Jo here. I had a delightful time reading the latest Trisha Ashley book, The House of Hopes and DreamsHer books Wenches house are usually about creative heroines in their thirties who are rebuilding their lives (probably in Lancashire), and in the process they find a great eccentric guy who is just right for them.  In HHD, the heroine, Angelique Arrowsmith, known as Angel, is a passionate and talented stained glass artist whose life has just fallen apart. 

Angel's lifelong best friend is Carey Revells, whose enthusiasm and skills as a home renovator have made him a reality TV star on a cottage makeover show, but he and Angel haven't met much in person since they left art school and she went north to work with her older lover, a famous stained glass artist.  The book begins with Carey recovering from an accident that left him bedridden for months and cost him his TV show and his girlfriend.  Then a solicitor informs him he has inherited a large, historic, and rundown house from an uncle he never knew he had. 

Wenches xmasThe house needs lots of work, and it happens to have a stained glass workshop created by Carey's great-grandmother, a noted glass artist.  So very shortly, Angel is living in the house, helping Carey, fixing up the glass shop, and coping with an alien looking black Chihuahua mix that likes biting male ankles.  Soon the house is flowing with friends, workmen, a film crew–and plenty of hopes and dreams fulfilled as well as an old mystery unraveled.  If you like friends-to-lovers stories, this is for you! 

The House of Hopes and Dreams is right up there with my very favorite Trisha Ashley, The Twelve Days of ChristmasWhich, by happy chance, is only $2.99 in the US Kindle store.  So if you haven't read it, here's your chance for a Christmas in July.  It will make you happy and hungry. <G>

 

Andrea brings us some frank words about a favorite author,
and dives into Sharpe's Rifles. Wench punish

Andrea says:  I’ve been a fan of Elizabeth George’s long-running Thomas Lynley detective series for ages. But after she shook up her readers by killing off a major character, I , like many, had a hard time getting back into it, feeling some of the books that followed lost the the sort of subtle psychological insights and interplay that made the books so interesting. I decided to give the last one a try and was heartened to feel George was getting back her mojo. I recently read her latest one, The Punishment She Deserves, and was happy to feel that George is back in top form. 

The plot begins with the apparent suicide of a well-respected churchman in a sleepy English college town. He ’s been picked on an anonymous tip accusing him of abusing children. Lynley’s sidekick, Barbara Havers is part of the two-person police team from Scotland Yard sent to do a routine investigation as the suspect supposedly hanged himself while in local police custody. Her superior is anxious to do a drive-by check up, but feisty Barbara can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t quite right . . .
 
And so begins a probing to college binge drinking, protective parents and an intricate weaving together of mother-daughter relationships from a variety of backgrounds, probing into parental expectations/yearning for their children’s future, and what a parent will do to protect a child. I found it a complex, nuanced and sensitive story that deal with many modern day issues. Watching Lynley and Havers work through some of Wench waterlootheir own personal issues was also interesting to, as I like them both very much. It’s good to see them back in fine fettle and moving on with their lives! 
 
This month I also re-read Bernard Cornwell’s Waterloo, one of the swashbuckling Richard Sharpe books set in the Napoleonic Wars. My current Lady Arianna WIP is set in Brussels and the battle, and I had read that the book is used in many military colleges because it’s such an accurate description of the battle. Cornell is a masterful storyteller, and the non-stop action is riveting—and heartbreaking because of the carnage. I’ve made some notes for my own story about battle locations and timing (don’t worry—there won’t be so much blood and gore!) and reminded me of how much I enjoyed the entire series. If you haven’t read it yet, get Sharpe’s Tiger, the first book, which is set in India . . . you’ll be in for a rollicking ride! Wench brass
 
As for me, I was reading S.A.Chakraborty's The City of Brass. This is the first in a fantasy trilogy based on a Middle Eastern mythos. It's a road trip through magical lands — unfriendly lands full of demons. Much adventure. If I say Djinns and flying carpets it doesn't come close to describing the intricate worldbuilding.
 
There's Revolution and palace intrigue among the magical. So satisfying.
 
City of Brass is Book One of Three so the ending is problematic It's not quite a cliffhanger, but close. And it's good enough to have me looking forward to Book Two.
 
So that June in the Wench Reading Year.  A good 30 days. How's it been with you?

The Killer Instinct

Matthew100Cara/Andrea here, March is a month that symbolizes birth and renewal, however today I’m going to talk a little about death. Now before you rush to press the delete button, let me hasten to add that I mean symbolic death. Or, to be more precisely, literary death.

VioletAt the risk of mixing metaphors, I’ll admit that what got me thinking about the theme was the recent season-ending television episode of Downton Abbey. (If some of you—the ones who are living on Mars, perhaps?—have not seen the show, be forewarned, there are spoilers here.) Matthew Crawley, one of the main characters was killed off in an unexpected (at least it was to me) plot twist. And once the initial shock had passed, I got to pondering how I felt about the development.

Dan_stevensI confess, I was angry. How could the show’s author (the esteemed Julian Fellowes ) do this to his audience? Here I had invested three seasons watching Matthew’s relationship with the main heroine, Mary, develop. As in real life, the going hadn’t been easy for them. Misunderstandings, stubbornness, pride—a whole host of human emotions had made things hard for them to come together, faults and all. And then, just as things were getting really interesting between them—whack! Matthew’s gone.

WithNooneAs-WitnessBut that said, my feelings were tempered a little by a previous experience with the same situation. I am a big fan of mysteries, and some of my favorites are the Inspector Thomas Lynley series by Elizabeth George. Now, television does tend to knock off characters occasionally, but in literature it’s one of those cardinal rules that an author mustn’t kill off one of the main protagonists. Well, George turned that rule on its head when she had Lynley’s pregnant wife (we had spent years watching them going through complex emotional gyrations to finally end up tying the knot) die at the hands of a random shooting.

Well, her readers were up in arms! So much so, that George decided to write an essay explaining why she did it. Now, I was one of those irate readers, so I was curious to know her rationale. And I found it so interesting that I thought it worth sharing some of her thoughts here.

Sherlock-Holmes She begins by saying, “ . . . the first thing you need to consider is the two alternatives available to a writer when she decides to create a series that features continuing characters. A series like this can be approached by freezing the characters in time, place, and circumstance. Or it can be approached by allowing the characters to grow, change, develop, and move through time. Characters who have been frozen in time, place, and circumstance are best exemplified by Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes (with the obvious exception of that trip over the waterfall), and Dr. Watson. On the other hand, characters who are not frozen in time, place, and circumstance but who move forward, growing, changing, and developing can be found in books like Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko novels, Winston Graham’s Poldark novels, as well as the children’s books by Laura Ingalls Wilder in her Little House books and L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books.”

GorkyParkOkay, an interesting distinction.  George then explains,  “For perhaps the six years preceding the creation of With No One as Witness, I knew that Helen Clyde—as I’ve always referred to her—was going to die . . . . Why? The answer is simple. Helen’s death, unlike the death of any other character, had the potential to affect more greatly the characters left alive. Her death was like a hand grenade thrown into their midst: The aftermath allowed me myriad story lines to pick up on, based upon the devastating impact of this crime on the other characters. No other death would have done that for me. As I looked at it, no other death would have come close.

Hmmm, but maybe readers didn’t want a hand grenade thrown into their midst. Well, George has an answer to this. She finishes her essay by saying, “The literary philosophy I have always adhered to is this:
Montgomery_Anne_of_Green_GablesWhen a writer writes, as John Steinbeck put it so eloquently, he seeks to form a trinity, and this trinity exists only when the work, the writer, and the reader are joined together. It is a communion of sorts, in which the reader is invited into a world created by writer and is asked to feel something about that world and the people in it. That is the purpose of novels. On one level, of course, novels do entertain and divert. But on another, deeper level, they move. In creating the scenes leading up to Helen Clyde’s death in With No One as Witness, I sought to place the reader in a position not dissimilar to Lynley’s own. My purpose in this was to have the reader feel—if only marginally—something of what Lynley felt when he had to authorize the termination of life support for his wife and their son. Had the reader completed the novel, tossed it to one side, yawned, and walked into the kitchen for a beer and a bologna sandwich, the novel would have failed in its purpose. There would have been no trinity. But the reader didn’t do that. The reader cared. The reader wept. The reader raged. These reactions spoke to the fact that the novel succeeded in doing what novels have always been intended to do.”

DA-cartoonI found this a very thought-provoking explanation. Now, emotionally I wasn’t really any happier, but I have continued reading the series, and find she’s done some very interesting explorations into how people pick up the pieces after a shattering life experience.

So, what about you? How do you as a reader feel about losing a beloved character from a series? Do you agree with George’s thinking? And lastly let’s end by having a little fun with a serious topic. A lot of people have said killing Matthew from Downton Abbey was too easy a way out. Fellowes could have come up with a more creative way to get rid of him. (Apparently the actor wanted out of the show.) What scenario would you have used to get him out of the picture? Here’s mine: He’s sent  to New York to help Mary’s American grandmother with some crisis. Now, Matthew was not born an aristocrat, so he finds America’s egalitarian attitudes refreshing after England. He meets a woman journalist and is intrigued by her independent spirit . . . Anyone else want to play?