What We’re Reading!

Christina here and it’s time for our monthly roundup of what we’ve been reading! As always, we have a very varied selection and hope you will find something you like the sound of. And please add to our must-have lists in the comments below by letting us know what you have enjoyed as well. We’ve got our credit cards at the ready!

We’re starting off with Patricia:-

Space JunkSPACE JUNK: HOUSTON, WE HAVE A HOTTIE by Sara L. Hudson. I wasn’t going to report on this one because it’s half hot sex, so I skimmed a whole lot. The sex scenes were fine. I’m just not interested. But the book’s premise and some of the scenes stuck with me, so I thought maybe there are others out there who might be as amused as I was. Jackie is a genius PhD working for NASA. She was always too young for the people around her and the only time she got into the dating scene, she got burned. So she wears her geek glasses and Chucks and pays no attention to where she lives or what she drives. Until she meets Flynn. He’s a college graduate millionaire who decided to be a mechanic, and her geekiness completely turns him on. She doesn’t know who he is and doesn’t care, but she loves that he teaches her to hot wire cars. She loves his mid-century modern house and his cool muscle cars. What is really fascinating is the detail the book goes into about NASA and astronauts—in a romcom! The characterization is entertaining, and there is obviously room for lots more books in the series. Excellent writing, good humor, hot sex … if that’s your bag, go for it!

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Ask A Wench About Humour

Christina here with this month’s ASK A WENCH and today we’re going to talk about what we find amusing. We are living in such dark times that some humour is essential to lighten things up and therefore the question to the Wenches was: 

What makes you laugh – jokes, funny TV shows, books or films?

Jeeves-and-Wooster-jeeves-and-wooster-14361288-1000-1317Anne here. I love to laugh, but laughs are often hard to come by when you most want them. A few books/authors can be expected to reliably deliver a laugh or three — Terry Pratchett, PG Wodehouse, JD Kirk (who mixes laughs with crime that's often quite grim), and Jenny Crusie who writes wonderful rom-com, but mostly when I want or need a laugh, I return to old favorites on the screen. These are all on YouTube, so are always available. And they're all British, and a bit over-the top/off the wall.

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What We Read in May

Anne here, and it's that time again, where we share the books we've read and enjoyed in the last month. Brace your credit cards . . . 

We start with Christina: SummerFrenchCafe
My favourite read this month was Sue Moorcroft’s latest novel Summer at the French Café.  This story is an absolute delight and exactly what I needed right now to sweep me away from real life! It’s a wonderful tale of learning to trust, the importance of being open and honest with everyone, and the healing power of love. The reader can’t help but empathise with the hard-working heroine Kat from the start. She’s independent and capable, but with a positive outlook on life, and she never complains even when things go decidedly pear-shaped. A child of divorced parents, she has lots of emotional baggage, but for the most part, she manages to ignore it. Then the hero Noah arrives on the scene and he seems almost too good to be true. He has his own problems to contend with, but instead of charging in like a bull in a china shop, he stops to consider the best way of solving them. I fell head over heels in love with him – how can you not love a man as determined as he is to do the right thing for his very sensitive 8-year old daughter, while at the same time being the perfect boyfriend? Kat has to decide whether she dares to take a chance and believe that he is every bit as great as he seems, and I was rooting for this couple all the way. This is definitely the perfect summer story!  (If the links above don't work for you, try this one.)


I also very much enjoyed Under One Roof, a novella by Ali Hazelwood which she calls “STEMist”. The heroine Mara is an environmental engineer and extremely brilliant at what she does, but she’s fighting against sexism and prejudice in her workplace. She’s just been left a half share in a house by her former mentor, but she hadn’t reckoned with having to share it with the woman’s nephew Liam. At first glance he is everything she hates – a corporate lawyer working for a company that has no regard for the environment whatsoever. They try to co-exist as house owners, but drive each other nuts. But everything is not as it seems, and slowly but surely they begin to find common ground. I absolutely loved the chemistry between these two and watching the romance develop. This is only the first novella in a series of three and I can’t wait for the other two!

Pat Rice tells us about: SEVEN DAYS OF US by Francesca Hornak.

7daysofUsThe basic story here is that Olivia Birch has been treating some kind of plague in Africa and when she comes home for Christmas, she has to quarantine for a week. So her family quarantines with her in their stately old, crumbling manor in Norfolk. Olivia is the no-nonsense doctor out to save the world. Andrew, her father, was a journalist who once thought he could save the world. Now he’s a food critic. Emma, his wife, gave up her dreams to be a mother and has buried herself in tradition. Phoebe is the younger sister with no purpose other than getting married. Into this suffocating atmosphere drops Jesse, an American son fathered by Andrew while he was in a war zone. He had been given up for adoption and is now searching for his birth parents. Nuclear explosion ensues.

Make no mistake about it, this is a deliberately literary novel, so you won’t get your fun and games happy ending, but the writing is positively compelling. The reader is dragged into their mixed-up lives and really needs to know how all these good, but confused, people fix themselves or each other. We root them on as they grope about in their darkness. I can promise that they find a new kind of light at the end of their week of togetherness, so it’s well worth diving into for your escapism addiction.

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Wenchly Weathering the Storm

Owl waterJoanna
here, talking about good books to help us through miserable weather.

Books are a joy in good times and a comfort in bad ones.  More than once I've been delighted to dive between the pages of a book and let the world get on without me for a while, me not being fond of what the world is up to right then. 

This last couple weeks on the East Coast of America lots of folks have found themselves crouching down under the pounding of a hurricane.  I wondered how many of them were reading books by the flickering and uncertain light of candles. 

So I asked the Wenches about their own experiences with storms and whether they had book recommendations for times of stormy weather.

It is from books that wise people derive consolation in the troubles of life.
          Victor Hugo

Weatherly Monty 2010

Nicola Cornick answers: I’m fortunate that I live in a part of the world where the weather seldom goes to  extremes. There has only been one hurricane in England in my lifetime. However over the past few years it does feel as though our weather patterns have been changing. My village was flooded five years ago and there have been increasingly large falls of snow each winter with the village cut off for several days. Usually I enjoy the novelty for a day or two and then start to feel hemmed in. Taking the dog for a walk through the drifts is a fun way to enjoy the different scenery.

If I’m really stuck indoors with no prospect of escape, first I’ll fire up the wood-burning stove. Then I’ll
Weatherly daughtersoffirebrew a fresh cup of tea and settle down with a pile of books. I remember one year Barbara Erskine’s book Daughters of Fire saw me through the worst. The title was appropriately warming and I love stories set in different historical time periods that are linked by a mystery across the centuries. It was completely engrossing.

Joanna popping up to say I've put Erskine on my next-trip-to-the-library list.  I haven't read her books for a couple years.  Now Nicola's made me hungry for one.  It's like somebody mentioning ice cream sodas or fried oysters. Suddenly it's your next craving.

Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in.
          Arthur Schopenhauer


Weatherlyrain wikiPat Rice
says:  Given that I live in St Louis where our weather can veer from tornadoes to hurricanes and earthquakes, all in the same day, weathering weather should qualify as an indoor sport.

We currently live in an area with buried power lines, so fortunately, we haven’t experienced power outages lately. But having spent the better part of my life in areas where the power fails if the wind blows, I’ve learned many methods of coping without TV or movies. So those aren’t my first choices. After I crank up the gas fire or kerosene heater and turn my refrigerator contents into soup on the kerosene stove, I retrieve my battery operated lamps or kerosene lamps and head for the bookshelf. Yeah, I can write by pen and paper and often have when the weather lasts longer than a few hours. But books are comforting when the wicked wind blows.
Weatherly temptation good
My comfort reads almost always turn to humor and romance. There’s enough suspense and horror in watching the wind, rain, and snow outside without adding more. On the
Weatherly nobody's babevery top of my humorous romance lists will be Jennifer Crusie, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and Loretta Chase. Terri Medeiros has some great ones, too. I have all their books and I probably ought to start up a Storm Shelf in the basement with those books on it. And then I could add new discoveries as they come along, except I’m buying mostly e-books these days. So I guess I need to start a Storm Shelf on my Nook!

Joanna:  I love all the Romance writers she mentions.  Wonderful reads.  They're on my Keeper Shelf. 

Jo Beverley joins us with:  Like Nicola, I grew up in England, which has a temperate climatWeatherly sand and wave 2e, but I also grew up on the sea front, which is a great place to appreciate what storms do come. The often seemed to come in from the north over Morecambe Bay. I will always remember the great storm of 1987, because it occurred on the day my mother was buried. Up there in the north of England we hardly felt it, but I had a lot of trouble getting south of London to my in-laws' house because of trees on the railway lines. That was when Sevenoaks ceased to have seven oaks.

I realize that I haven't used many storms in my books, and that it might be from fear that they would tip drama into melodrama.  There's no subtle way to write a storm!

What bo
Weatherly checkmateok would I recommend for a storm-trapped time? I think I'd want my copy of Dorothy Dunnett's Checkmate, the last book of her Lymond saga. It's big, complex, and highly enjoyable. I'd hardly notice the weather at all — at least, as long as I had power, and therefore light!

Joanna:  I'm going to just chime in and admit to being a dyed-in-the-wool Dunnett groupie.

Here's what Mary Jo Putney has to say:  For me, the difference between a storm being a nuisance and a disaster is whether the electricity stays on.  If we lose cable and internet, I will whine, but it’s bearable.  As long as there is electricity, there's never a shortage of things to do or food to eat.  Tons of books to read, DVDs to watch, food to pull from the freezer.  Life is good.
Hurricane preparations 9a

But lose electricity and things get seriously uncomfortable!  Shivering (or poaching, depending on the season), is never fun.  Candlelight is never adequate for working or reading.  Since my laptop is always charged, an hour or two of DVD can be watched in the darkness, but after that, there’s not much to do but sympathize deeply with the ancestors.

If a major storm is coming, I’ll make sure there are batteries and candles and matches and some food that doesn’t have to be cooked and will not easily spoil, but mostly I give thanks that my little corner of suburbia doesn’t lose power as often as outlying areas.  For this I am very grateful.  Plus, I have battery backups for both the sump pump and garage door opener, which is helpful.  

Weatherly bujoldHurricane Sandy blew by just far enough north that it was a nuisance, not a disaster—i.e., the cable and internet went out, but not the electricity.  So we could watch Star Trek: Voyager or Downton Abbey, and I could read Lois McMaster Bujold’s latest, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which is a delight.  

So this time I was lucky—and I’m sending best wishes to those still suffering the effect of the hurricane.  (But really, “Hurricane Sandy” just doesn’t sound mean enough for the damage caused!)


If you think you have it tough, read history books.
          Bill Maher

Next, we hear from Anne Gracie:  Hugs to all the people badly affected by Hurricane Sandy — or any
Weatherly Brushtail_possumother bad storm.

I'm lucky to live in the south-east of Australia, which has a fairly mild, Mediterranean style climate. We don't get snow, and we don't get hurricanes or cyclones.  We get the occasional big storm, severe hail, or the occasional flood and it can get very hot in
Weatherly Rainbow_Lorikeetsummer — a few years ago it was in the mid 40's C (over 110 fahrenheit) for a week, and that was very unpleasant. But the extremely hot weather doesn't usually last more than a week and then we get a cool change. Really, the worst we have to contend with are bush-fires, and even then, because I live not far from the centre of a big city, I'm not personally endangered. But it's very grim to see the sky go dark and the sun like a glowing red coal through the gloom and know that a large bushfire is wreaking destruction on some poor souls.

I do occasionally worry about very windy storms, but that's because Ihave a very large gum tree (eucalyptus) in my front yard, close to my bedroom window, and I wonder if it's going to blow down on me. I probably should have it cut down but it's beautiful and has been there for 30-40 years, I think. The rainbow lorikeets love it and chortle and twitter in it every morning, which is a lovely happy sound to wake up to, and a possum lives in it, too, and it's very hard for possums to find places to live in the city; another reason why I'm reluctant to have it chopped down. 

Cara Elliott/Andrea Penrose speaks from personal experience:  My wooded neighborhood ocWeatherly hurrican isabel wikicasionally loses power during storms because of falling trees or branches, so over the years I've accumulated a set of strong kerosene lanterns. The mellow glow of oil light is rather nice, and I'm good with striking a match and reading, or turning to pen and paper to continue writing (I've actually been experimenting with writing longhand instead of on the computer even when the power is flowing because a writer pal of mine told me about a study that said the brain works with subtle differences depending on which process is used. That fascinates me, but the trouble is, I fuss and fiddle with sentences so much that a paper page becomes an illegible mess. Haven't quite figured out where to go with it–was hoping I might learn to get the words flowing faster!)

But getting back to
Weatherly andrea's-tree-maggedonstorms, a power outage of a few hours or overnight is no hardship, but channeling Jane Austen loses its charm when it goes on for a week. Hurricane Sandy really hammered my property (I lost over 40 100-ft pines, prompting my neighbors to name my place “Tree-mageddon”) Last year, the outage was 6 days during Hurricane Irene, so I bought a small generator to keep the sump pump going. But even with a few primitive comforts-I was able to juggle back and forth between running the fridge and a coffee pot and toaster-the routine of simply trying to keep disasters like freezing pipes and flooding basements at bay consumes all focus and becomes physically and mentally exhausting.

Reading did offer a respite at night-I became immersed in Island of Bones, the third book in a series of wonderful Georgian-set historical mysteries by Imogen Robertson, and the cunningly complex plot was intriguing enough to take my mind off the chaos all around me for an interlude.
Weatherly island-paperback-best
Aside from the physical challenges, I also found myself stressed over being “unconnected” to the internet because all phone/tv/internet was out. I try to keep my daily interactions at a reasonable level because I would rather spend my time writing-but I was surprised at how cut off I felt. Thoreau would likely be appalled at such lack of self-reliance. And I was a bit, too. Now that all is back to normal, I am thinking about that and what it says about modern life. Hmmm. I will likely ponder it even more during the next storm! (Oh, and thanks to Joanna and her lovely descriptions of her toasty wood stove, that's the next item on my list as I try to make sure my house will survive the next nor'easter that roars through my town.)

Weather forecast for tonight: dark. Continued dark overnight, with widely scattered light by morning.
          George Carlin


And finally,  Susan Fraser King/Sarah Gabriel says:  When I was a kid, weathering the fierce
Weatherly snowman wikistorms in Upstate New York meant excitement and fun–watching huge thunderstorms from a cozy window seat, decking myself out in rubber bands and rubber-soled sneakers, and if the lights went out, the fun got even bigger with flashlights and candles and scary stories. Winters with heavy snowstorms and even blizzards brought a fire in the fireplace and hot chocolate with marshmallows, and once we were crammed into parkas and boots, there were snow angels and snowmen and forts to make and snowball fights to win. And school was cancelled! What could be more heaven sent, from a kid's perspective.

Weatherly candle wiki 1But it's very different as an adult, isn't it, with the family and the house to watch over. If the power goes out, there's the fridge to empty, there may be flooding and yard and house damage and so on. And yet I still love the sturm and drang of a good storm and I even enjoy having no power for a few days (provided all else goes well!). I love the peacefulness when the house and the world are quieted and lit by candlelight (until the neighbors turn on their generator– that noise is crazymaking). During Hurricane Sandy, my family was thankfully safe, although one of our sons lives in coastal Connecticut. His neighborhood was walloped and left without power for a week. Luckily he made it through without lasting effects. My heart goes out to all those who got way more than a wallop from Sandy, and I hope all our Wenchly readers stayed perfectly safe.  

there are always books to read on those stormy days to be weathered. My
recommendation for rain, hurricanes and candlelight would be to catch
up on the TBR pile! I did that during the recent storm when I plucked
WIZARD by Gene Wolfe from the bookshelf, having read KNIGHT a while
back. Gorgeous. 

Books are funny little portable pieces of thought.
          Susan Sontag

Deer in snow 2As for myself:  Here in Virginia I caught only the slightest edge tickle of a nudge of the passing of Sandy.  In one of those odd reality that wouldn't make any sense if you tried to put them in a book . . . I got snow. 

Not too much of it.  About six inches of the gloppiest wettest hugest-flakes snow you can imagine.  It practically came out of the sky thump, thump, thump.  But it was the first snow of the year, and beautiful, and no disaster befell me, so I found it a peaceful interlude.  It's very quiet in the mountains when it snows.
Weatherly last unicorn

Am I the only one of us who settles back with nonfiction when I'm feeling snowed in, literally or figuratively?  I read some in Laslett's The World We Have Lost: England Before the Industrial Age, a lively social history and something of a classic.  Very readable.  For fiction, I'd go with Peter S. Beagle.  Maybe start with his, The Last Unicorn, but anything he writes is lovely.


So what's your favorite book in times of sirocco, sandstorm, typhoon, tree-mageddon or other challenges of nature?

Fairy Tales

Anne here, talking about fairy tales. I've been indulging myself lately, reading fairy tales for adults — and no, I'm not talking about Fifty Shades of anything, just the usual fairy tales most of us grew up with, only retold for adults of today. (The pic. on the right is Fairy Tales  by Mary Gow (1851—1929)Fairy-tales

I'm also not talking about stories that riff off old and beloved tales, like the many romances spun around the Cinderella, or the Beauty and the Beast theme, which I've done in a number of my books; I'm talking about the retelling of the original stories more or less as is.

It started when I was talking to my friend Jenny and the conversation drifted to what we've been reading, as it usually does. She told me that a few days earlier she'd reread Robin McKinley's Beauty for the umpteenth time and had wept reading it, as she usually does.

Beauty "Sad ending?" I asked, being a terrible wimp about such things.

"No, it's lovely," she said, secretly shocked that I hadn't already read Robin McKinley. "I'll send you a copy."

So she did, and I read it and I loved it. It's a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast tale, and though it sticks pretty much to the original story, it's wonderful—a lush and evocative tale that's told with a freshness and energy that kept me reading far into the night. Spindle'sEnd

Next I read McKinley's Spindle's End — a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story, and once more, even though you already know the story, and she doesn't depart radically from it, she brings it to life in a vivid and unexpected way.

I now have her Sunshine to read on the plane when I head up to the Romance Writers of Australia Annual National Conference (where, incidentally Honorary Word Wench Eloisa James is the keynote speaker—and won't that be fun?) Sunshine isn't quite based on the kind of fairytale I grew up with — it's a vampire story. I'm looking forward to it.

RedShoesRackhamSo all this reading of fairy tales retold has started me thinking about other fairytale retelling. I was entranced with fairytales when I was a kid even though I hated the way most of them ended — I still boil with resentment that the poor little girl who wanted the frivolous red shoes was so horribly punished, and every time I buy yet another pair of red shoes, I'm making a gesture of solidarity with that poor child and her desire for something pretty to wear. And as for the Little Match Girl, the image of her burning her matches one by one in the freezing night haunts me still. (pics following are by Arthur Rackham)

Strangely, though I disliked so much about fairy tales, I really enjoy the romance novel retellings of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, The Frog Prince, Sleeping Beauty and one of my favorites, The Ugly Duckling. The main difference is that in modern versions of fairytales, we prefer the heroine to rescue herself, or at least to have a major role in her own rescue. And the hero and heroine get what they deserve in the end. I love the Jennifer Crusie essay where she talks about this:
"As a child, I’d been looking for myself in fairy tales and finding only disappointments. If I’d been a boy, I could have found great role models in stories like “Jack & the Beanstalk,” with a protagonist who climbed to the top to get what he wanted, grabbed the prize, killed the giant, and came back home a hero. Jack’s story remains a great model for little boys, telling them to be active and quest for what they want in life and they will be rewarded. But what did I have as a girl? Well, I had Sleeping Beauty, who got everything she’d ever wanted because she looked really good unconscious. Or there was Snow White, who got everything she’d ever wanted because she looked really good unconscious. Or there was Cinderella, who should be given some credit for staying awake through her whole story, but who got everything she’d ever wanted because she had really small feet. The fairy tales I read as a child told me that boys’ stories were about doing and winning but that girls’ stories were about waiting and being won."

(Read the rest of the essay here and another of her essays dealing with fairy tales here.)

Image So I like the fairy-tale elements in stories, but with a modern day slant toward active heroines and justice prevailing. It might not be as true to life — but it's what I enjoy in my escapist reading. Apparently it's also what I enjoy in my own writing. I just made a list of my own books and tried to work out what fairy tale they were most similar to — some I couldn't categorize, but I did discover that Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and The Ugly Duckling featured more than once, and Cinderella is a theme I've revisited quite a few times. (Pic on the left is from The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault )

It reminded me of a writing exercise Jane Porter did many years ago when she came to Australia for a conference. In it she asked us to list our favorite fairy tales, and later on she told us the themes in those stories, might well be themes we'd revisit in our own stories. I can't remember which my favorites were when I was a child, but I think I can see the pattern emerging.

So what about you? Did you enjoy fairy tales as a child? Were there any you hated? What modern day writers' version of fairy tales do you enjoy — romances or other kinds of books. Do you have a favorite fairy tale romance, or maybe a movie or even TV show? Share your favorites.