What We’re Reading, Thanksgiving Week

Joanna here, on this day after Thanksgiving, thinking about what I'm grateful for. 

Good books come near the top on the list. 

 

"I cannot live without books."   Thomas Jefferson 

"When I have a little money, I buy books. If I have any left over, I buy food and clothing." Erasmus,

"Good books.  Nom nom nom."  Me

 

So here's what the Wenches are reading in November.  Today . . .  Susan, Cara, and Nicola.   Tomorrow we'll hear from Anne and Mary Jo.

 

Wench brysonWhat Susan Is Reading:  
 
Reading time has been hard to find this month, but I'm currently working my way through some very interesting books as quiet opportunity rises. First up is a book I was reading earlier and was determined to pick up again, and I'm so glad I did. Bill Bryson's At Home is his very thorough, very entertaining exploration of the history of his own home, a former rectory in Norfolk, England. Going room by room, space by space through the old house and property, Bryson delves deeply and with fascinating detail into every aspect of the history of the house and the region–and life, too. He expands well beyond the garden or the scullery or the parlor to bring in the long tail of accumulated history, social, cultural, medical, scientific, that supported the evolution of some part of the house. He comments on gardening, cleaning, servants, house parties, medicine and illness, even the physics of climbing stairs; his remarks about the Victorians, the Georgians and whatever and whoever crosses his meandering path are insightful, erudite and often amusing. 
 
I've read a good bit of his work – A Walk in the Woods is one of my favorite nonfiction books – and At Home is pure Bryson – clever, witty, funny and fascinating. "Nothing–really nothing–says more about Victorian Britain and its capacity for brilliance than that the century's most daring and iconic building was entrusted to a gardener," he writes in examining Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace, which touches tangentially on some aspect of his EnglishWenches elizabeth gilber the signature home. 
 
I've also started Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things. Her Eat, Pray, Love is another of my favorite books (I've read it twice), and I was very keen on reading more of her stuff. Historical fiction is a new direction for Gilbert, and she brings her own distinctive, soft and honest voice to the story of Alma Whittaker, an amateur botanist in early 19th century America, a book based on an actual family of remarkable botanists. Written with exquisite detail–I'm learning so much about plants and early botanical discovery–and with great character depth, so far it's a very interesting read. I'm not deep into the book as yet, but the characters and story and historical revelations are bringing me along. I always find Gilbert's style refreshing, frank and full of unexpected and enjoyable insights into every aspect of life, and she brings that to this hefty novel as well. 
 
 

Wench mark of athenaCara/Andrea here,

Between madly working on promo material for my upcoming January/February/March releases, as well as polishing up a new proposal, I’ve been a bit of a slacker in reading this month. However, have been having great fun catching up on Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series. I loved his first Percy Jackson series, and this continuation of the teenage demigods is equally fabulous. I’ve just finished Book Three, “The Mark of Athena” and can’t wait to move on to the next one.

Basing his story concepts on a hip modern-day interpretation of the classic Greek myths, Riordan crafts a wonderfully imaginative world of monsters, high tech gizmos, cranky and quarrelsome Gods who need their half-human kids to step in and help save the day. I find his characters are beautifully draw, with each teen cleverly reflecting the attributes of his/her Olympian parent. There’s rollicking humor and action. But what I think gives the books great appeal to readers of all ages is how well he captures the very human emotions of self-doubt, inner fears, friendships and how we make moral choices.

 

I will just mention that the Wenches have been backchannel chatting about Riordan.  Those of us not recommending him are planning to Wench an officer and a spyread him.

 

Nicola here.
 
Last month I gave my husband a copy of An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris as a birthday present. That meant I had to wait my turn to read it but fortunately he enjoyed it so much he finished it in record time. I love Robert Harris's books and find them compulsive page-turners. I am swept away by his versatility in writing a varie Wench sarah morganty of historical periods from the Roman era to the Second World War. An Officer and a Spy is a fictionalised account of the Dreyfus Affair of 1894 when a French army officer was convicted of treason for giving military secrets to Germany. The case became one of the most famous examples of a miscarriage of justice and Robert Harris writes it as a thriller that totally drew me in. Brilliant characterisation and a story that kept me turning the pages when I should have been writing!
 
My other fabulous read this month is Sleighbells in the Snow by Sarah Morgan. I't's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Sarah's books and I snapped this up the moment it was available. I have a confession to make here – I don't usually read Christmas stories but this one totally got me in the mood for fairy lights and family celebrations. It's funny, poignant and very romantic with a wonderful cast of characters and a gorgeous snowy setting in Vermont.
 
So … What book did you read this Thanksgiving … Or what book fills you with gladness because someone wrote it?
 
 
 
 

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!

Anne.
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

Pat.

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

Cara/Andrea:
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.
The_Lightning_Thief
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!

Susan:

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. 
Bones

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.

Joanna:

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'.

 Nicola:

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?

Jo