What We’re Reading – October

Wedding in DecemberHappy almost-Halloween! It’s Nicola here with this month’s Word Wench reading choices. Here in the Northern Hemisphere the nights are drawing in and it’s time to curl up cosily beside the fire with a good book so what could be better than sharing our suggestions here, favourites new and old!

I’ve actually been getting ahead of myself, already reading a Christmas book this month, A Wedding in December by the very talented Sarah Morgan. I love Sarah Morgan’s writing and I enjoyed this book very much indeed. It was deliciously funny as well as sexy and romantic, and Sarah also mixes in some very thought-provoking observations on the subject of family relationships. It’s set in Aspen where Rosie White is having a whirlwind wedding to the gorgeous Dan. Rosie’s elder sister Kate, worried that her impulsive sister is making a huge mistake, is trying to persuade her to cancel the wedding, whilst Rosie’s parents are trying to put on a happy, united front even though they are on the verge of divorce. I loved all the characters but especially Rosie’s parents Maggie and Nick, whose attempts to appear happy and in love were both hilarious and moving. I really love the way that Sarah Morgan goes right to the heart of emotional conflicts we can all identify with, and wraps it all up in a hopeful, heart-warming happy ending that’s just perfect for Christmas.

 

Susan: Most of my October reading time went to little distractions like kids getting married and kids moving, but I did manage to Lauren coverfinish some books I had set aside when the madness began. One of them, Christina Lauren's My Favorite Half-Night Stand, puts a fresh spin on a classic yummy romance, exploring online dating, the temptations of an alter ego, and the perils when the guise crumbles and gets in the way of a growing romance. Millie is a young college professor whose closest friends are a group of lovable, nerdy guys who are also college professors. When they have to attend a gala event, they're at a loss for ready dates, so they agree to try online dating to find matches. Millie, emotionally vulnerable, feels safe in this bunch, and very close to her best friend, Reid, who is smart, reserved, and very sexy. They get even closer unexpectedly one night, setting up all sorts of complications. Reid is connecting with online matches, but doesn't realize that Millie is too–with him, under an invented name. As Catherine, Millie can open up emotionally more easily than face-to-face. This is a Roxanne story, a story of reaching past limitations toward emotional maturity and honesty. It's also clever and funny, with endearing, realistic characters, a sexy and heartfelt romance developing, along with the engaging naturalism that Christina Lauren (a writing duo) is so adept at creating. Another thumbs up for CL from me, and I'll go on to read more of their books! This was a print read for me, and I have to say it was a relief on the eyes and for the brain–reading more digitally lately by necessity now, I really feel the difference when I have the chance to sink down into a paperback with all its simple, satisfying presence. 

Moonspinners coverIn audio, I listened to Mary Stewart's The Moonspinners. I've read all of her books a bajillion times by now, but I've never listened to them, and most of them are now available. Listening to one of my most-favorite books ever was a wonderful experience–the lovely nuances of Stewart's language and the subtleties of character and plot are highlighted in new ways. This one is beautifully narrated by Daphne Kouma, who is a superb narrator–and fluent in Greek, adding a fresh new dimension to the story. I loved it! 

Andrea: I‘ve had a really different sort of reading month. I've mentioned on several occasions as Six of crows cover
I’m not as into reading fantasy/magic as some of the other Wenches. Nonetheless, I’m very open to dipping my toes in the genre when I hear of something intriguing.I had read really good things about Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, a wildly popular YA fantasy novel. And then, when I read the synopsis of her first adult novel, which sounds really cool, I decided get a taste of her writing with the YA,s as I hadn’t yet gotten my hands on the new book. Wow—am I glad I did! Six of Crows is a classic “caper” trope. A ragtag band of teenage misfits—basically guttersnipes making ends meets as petty criminals in a Game of Thrones type of quasi medieval world (though there are some tanks and powerful armaments created by a type of magical metalworkers) undertakes an impossible mission to break into an impenetrable fortress. If they bring back the requested “item”, they’ll be rich beyond their wildest dreams. 

I found Bardugo’s character building just amazing. The band are a mixed bag of young people, each damaged by a trauma and so vulnerable and wary of friendships. And yet they are alll survivors, with grit resilience and strength. The leader, a brilliant, cagey, and sometimes cruel young punk picks his team for the specific skills he needs to get the job. He couldn’t care less whether they all get along. And so begins a very dangerous journey. The plotting and the twists are fabulous, and the writing is really sharp and compelling. Most of all, the development of the relationships between them is incredibly well done, as are the backstories that Bardugo weaves in about each of the kids. I’m now huge fan. In fact, I immediately went and glommed the second book, Crooked Kingdom, which continues their adventures.

AnneAnne here. October was a very busy month for me, and consequently I haven't read as much as I usually do, but prompted by a discussion on last month's WWR I have been rereading and enjoying some of Anne McCaffrey's Dragons of Pern series. The fantasy world where dragons hatch from eggs and bond psychically with a human, and they work together to save people from a destructive menace called "thread" is a very appealing one. If you haven't read it, and think you'd like to try a bit of fantasy, here's book 1 in the series.

Pat: 

AT YOUR SERVICE, Sandra Antonelli

This is classified as a romantic comedy mystery, I believe, which is why I picked it up—that and At your service cover the opening pages. It’s also a spy thriller, which would have put me off, but I was too far into it by then. Mae is an Irish butler to Kitt, a man who is obviously into international security of some sort. Mae is also his landlord, which makes for an entertaining relationship right there. When Mae mysteriously inherits a fortune from a husband who’s been dead sixteen years, life becomes interesting—and dangerous.

The dialogue is very dry, which I adore. I love that our heroine is over forty and a mean fighter when necessary. The romance isn’t easy given their situations and characters. While the action is swift and decisive, they do an awful lot of maudlin muddling over their relationship. But the characterization was so very entertaining—much like an old Nick and Nora partnership (Dashiell Hammett’s THIN MAN)—that I forgave them the muddling about.

Mary Jo here.  I've been locked in mortal combat with a recalcitrant book, and as always when in such straits, I'm mostly rereading stories I've enjoyed in the past.  Because  I've read them before, it's easier to put them down and get back to work.

As part of my rereading, I dug out my stash of Dick Francis mystery novels, of which I have many.  He was a retired champion jump jockey and his books were all set in and around the world of British racing.  The mysteries are clever, well written, and told in first person by honorable, likable men with a high pain threshold. <G> 

Wild HorsesI just reread one of my favorites, Wild Horses. Young director Thomas Lyons is shooting a movie in Newmarket, the racing capital of Britain, and the story of a decades old crime in the town turns out to have dangerous reverberations in Thomas's production and in his life.  Francis really does his research and the details of how movies are made are convincing and fascinating. Plus, there are horses. <G> 

I've had an interesting experience in rereading two series of connected novellas, many of which were mentioned here when they were first released because I'm not the only Wench who likes these excellent authors. 

The first series was the Penric and Desdemona novellas by Lois McMaster Bujold, set in her world Penric demon of the five gods. Penric is a very likable cleric who is inhabited by a demon that lived in a dozen different females before it jumped to him.  It's like having a dozen bossy aunts in your head.  <G>  The series is up to seven now: Penric's Demon, Penric and the Shaman, Penric's Fox, Penric's Mission, Mira's Last Dance, The Prisoner of Limnos, and The Orphans of Raspay.  There is a nice romance, but a lot of the fun is the relationship between Penric and Desdemona. 

 The other series is the Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews.  The premise is that Earth is a way station for transiting aliens, and Innkeepers are humans who host the aliens, and who have magical power within their inns.  The Innkeepers  job is to keep their guests safe and not let regular humans know of the existence of the inns and the broader universe.  The first three books are told by Dina, a new young innkeeper struggling to get her long dormant inn up and running, which means she'll accept any and all guests–including handsome vampire warriors who get drunk on coffee and run naked through her orchard.  <G>  The fourth book is about Dina's sister Maud. 

Clean sweepThe stories are Clean Sweep, One Fell Sweep, Sweep in Peace, and Sweep of the Blade.  All that sweeping refers to the innkeepers' magical and frequently morphing brooms.  There are two strong romances in the course of these books, and a lot of humor. 

 I read all of these short novels as they were originally published, usually about a year apart.  I enjoyed them all, which is why I always read the new releases, but reading the stories consecutively was a whole new level of enjoyment.  These are very good authors, and they keep the sweep of the characters and situations flowing beautifully.  The result is like reading one delicious, lengthy, episodic novel.  Or rather, two of them!  Both of these series are worth trying if you like clever, light-hearted fantasy with romance. 

Joanna: I’ve been reading Rosemary Sutcliff. A blast from the past, as it were. When I was eight or nine I glommed onto every book of hers I could get my hands on. I think she's the author who led me to love historical fiction.

Outcast is the story of Beric. Just every durn bad thing that can happen to somebody in this Outcast historical setting happens to him. Shipwreck, expulsion from his Roman-era British village one step ahead of a lynch mob, kidnapping, slavery, sentenced to the galley, shipwreck, drowning-near-as-makes-no-difference … He even has to give his dog away. (The dog ends up fine.)

If I were looking for a tourist brochure to lure me to visit the Classical Roman Empire, this is not so much it. But it’s a cracking fine adventure tale. He’s a brave kid and he deserves his happy ending.

The whole time I was reading I kept asking myself, “What else can possibly happen to him?”

So that’s what we’re reading this month! What are your recommendations, spooky or otherwise?

What We’re Reading in June

Knowledge wins by dan smith circa 1914 to 1918Joanna here, talking about the books we're reading this month.

It's been a humid, rainy June up in my mountains.  I am overwhelmed by the beauty of it, with mist everywhere and deer coming out of the woods to eat the grass I just had mowed.  They like all that juicy, tender, new growth. 

On the free time front, I was harassed by deadlines and by all the little ills the flesh is heir to.  I learned, for instance, that it takes a team of men and a huge, noisy, orange machine three days to fix a well pump.  Who knew?  Also, if your car gets old enough, the repairs cost more than the car is worth.  

Did I mention I haz deadlines?
So I didn't get any particular amount of reading done, but instead watched my To Be Read pile grow like summer weeds.

I am rich in books, but I have no time to read them.  I am an object lesson in book misering and literary greed.
So what did I read?Lady maggie

From Grace Burrowes, who writes such warm, appealing characters, Lady Maggie's Secret Scandal. This is another of her infallible cheer-me-up books.  Right up there with Julia Quinn.  Beautiful and funny.

I also indulged myself in Ilona Andrews' Fate's Edge, Book Three in 'The Edge' Series.  Just to be contrary, I'll say that if Andrews is a new-to-you writer, I suggest starting with her Magic Bites
When I read that series I'm always saying to myself, "Like cats much?"

The-Bargain-Putney-Mary-Jo-9781420117264I also returned to an old favorite, Mary Jo Putney's The Bargain.  David Lancaster is one of my favorite heroes — brave, warm-hearted, straightforward.

What can I say?  I think my character Grey has some of David Lancaster in him. 

 

Mary Jo herself picks a couple winners.  She says:

I’m currently reading Letters from Backstage: The Adventures of a Touring Stage Actor  by Michael Kostroff. 

Michael Kostroff was a reasonably successful TV actor in Los Angeles, but his long held dream was to appear in a big, splashy Broadway show, so when the opportunity arrived to join the first national tour of The Producers, he leaped on it gladly.  Kostroff is also a freelance writer, so his e-mails from the road to his friends were so much fun Mad earl that they urged him to put them together into a book.  This is that book.  Besides being delightful to read, it does something I love in a book: it takes me in a new world in a compelling and believable way.  I have zero interest in touring with a theater company (not to mention zero talent <G>), but it was fascinating to read about.

In the fiction category, I was happy to see that The Mad Earl’s Bride,, a longish novella by Loretta Chase, is now available in an e-edition.  

Originally published in 1995 in the Three Weddings and a Kiss anthology, it has long been a favorite story of mine, and downloading it to my Nook was easier than digging the anthology out of the basement.  <G>  The story is a spin-off from Loretta’s much loved Lord of Scoundrels, and for a description, it’s hard to beat the blurb:

Gwendolyn Adams is about to propose to an earl. On his deathbed.

Gwendolyn Adams isn't shocked at being asked to save a handsome earl's dying line, even when she learns the prospective bridegroom is seriously ill and possibly insane. She's quite a good nurse, after all, and her family is famous for producing healthy male children. Those stories about his riding the moors half-naked on a pale white horse? Extremely intriguing—especially after she gets her first look at the gorgeous lunatic.

The Earl of Rawnsley wants only to lose what's left of his mind in peace and privacy. But his busybody relatives have saddled him with a surprise bride and orders to sire an heir forthwith. (And they say he's mad?) But with Gwendolyn, his health is returning, and his resistance … crumbling. Is it possible that love is the finest madness of all?

 

 

ArabianNicola brings us one of those serendipitous discoveries.  I love it when this happens.  She says:

 

I was visiting family and spotted a book called Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger, which I promptly borrowed. Thesiger was a famous explorer who was born in Ethiopia and educated in England. He made his first expeditions in the 1930s so his books are not only a record of travels to exotic places but also a period of history that is now long gone. Arabian Sands is about a journey to the "empty quarter" of Arabia.
 
I first became fascinated with the "empty quarter" when I read The Singing Sands, one of the wonderful Inspector Grant series, by Josephine Tey. The hunt for the fabled lost city of Wabar seemed impossibly romantic and still inspires a frisson of excitement in me now. Unfortunately when I got Arabian Sands home my husband said: "That looks interesting" and promptly started to read it before me!
  You had me at hello
Fiction-wise, a fellow member of the Bath and Wiltshire Chapter of the RNA recommended You Had Me At Hello by Scots author Mhairi McFarlane. I'm waiting for my copy to arrive. The blurb says: "What happens when the one that got away comes back?" I'm looking forward to finding out!

 
And Joanna breaks in here to add another huzzah for Thesiger.  Just a fascinating book.  I read it when I was headed out for Saudi Arabia.  I'd also recommend Sir Richard Francis Burton's Arabian travel writing which you can find here at the wonderful University of Adelaide site. 
 
Cara/Andrea has this to say —
(She's recommending two of my reliably favorite authors, by the way)

A Spear of Summer Grass
 
 
 
I've been wrestling with starting a new book, and in the process of beginning to get to know the characters (and, um, figure out the plot) I tend to be reading a little less than usual. That said, I've been unable to put down A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn.
 
It's set in 1920s Kenya, and paints a beautifully evocative portrait of the era, and a quirky cast of restless souls exploring the boundaries of their own selves as they search for meaning in life. Africa—brutal and beautiful—is a metaphor for a world turned upside down by the Great War.
 
Many of you may know Deanna's Lady Julia series, which is also wonderful—the "heroine" here is equally compelling and the first person POV is so well done.
You have to love a book that begins:
  
MajaDon't believe the stories you have heard about me. I have never killed anyone, and I have never stolen another woman's husband. Oh, if I find one lying around unattended, I might climb on, but I never took one that didn't want taking. And I never meant to go to Africa. 
 
I highly recommend it.
 
I've also grabbed up Midnight At Marble Arch, Anne Perry's latest book in her Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mystery series. I'm a big fan . . . but it's going to have to wait for a bit!

 

Moving right along . . .
Anne says:
I'm madlyTheProposal trying to finish a book, and though most people would imagine that reading would be set aside at such a time, for me, reading is a necessary part of unwinding and refreshing my brain.
 
I've been continuing my glom of Deborah Crombie's crime novels and I'm on #10 at the moment, In a Dark House. I'm reading them in order, because I like the ongoing development of the relationship between the two protagonists, Duncan Kinkaid and Gemma James.
 
Some romance writers don't read romance while they're writing, and I must confess I hesitated before picking up this next book, because Mary Balogh is so darned good her books can be depressing for someone in not-yet-finished-the-book mode. But I succumbed and thoroughly enjoyed her latest book, The Proposal. Sometimes it's good to be reminded why I fell in love with this genre in the first place.
I've also been browsing through A Writer's Book of Days, by Judy Reeves. She encourages people to meet daily (or regularly at least) and write for 15 minutes using random writing Writercatprompts. I don't do that, but it would be interesting, I think, to try.
 
I enjoy books about writing, and often find they stimulate me, as well as reminding me of things I know, but sometimes forget about. I'm taking a writing class that starts next month — four Sundays over four months — and I like to bring in a range of craft-of-writing books for the students to browse through.
 

 

So there you have it — That's what we were reading; what we liked; what made us think; what brought us joy.
 
What about you?  Did you read anything recently that lifted your heart or challenged your mind? 
Or, you know, just made you smile a little?