Celebrating Friendships!

Toy storyNicola here. Today I’m celebrating the power of friendship as yesterday was International Friendship Day. The value of friendship has been recognised since people first walked the earth – and it’s pretty strong between some animals too and between humans and animals. Greek philosopher Herodotus wrote “Of all possessions, a friend is the most precious.” More recently, the lyrics of the song is the Toy Story movie say “We stick together and can see it through, ‘Cause you've got a friend in me.”

What is friendship, really? A dictionary definition calls it “a state of mutual trust and support” but it’s so much more complicated than that sounds. Some of Friends us are lucky enough to have friends we have known since childhood, others from school or college. I’m part of a group of college friends who first came together almost 40 years ago and we still meet up twice a year as a group. It's lovely to have such enduring relationships with people I know so well and feel I can pick up with so easily. Then there are the other friends we make at different stages of our lives. You don’t even have to see each other that much, though when you do, it’s special. The Wenches are an amazing group of friends scattered across three continents; we don’t get the chance to see each other much but we’re so supportive of each other through the thick and thin of writing and life. In fact, being an author is a wonderful way to meet friends across the world, through readers’ and writers’ groups.

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WWR—What We’ve Read in November

Anne here, and this month we have a bumper crop of recommended reads for you, from YA to timeslip, to Christmas treats, romance, literary fiction, crime and more.

The Christmas Escape

We'll start with Christina: This month I’ve read and enjoyed a couple of books recommended by fellow Wenches. First and foremost, The Christmas Escape by Sarah Morgan which was exactly as wonderful as I had hoped. The fact that it is set in snowy Lapland in the north of Sweden was just the icing on the cake! I now long to go there to take sleigh rides through the forests and see the aurora borealis in all its glory.

Then there was Boyfriend by Sarina Bowen, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was very happy to find that it was the first in a series penned by different authors, all connected through the fictional US college Moo U in Vermont. The second book in the series, Blindsided by Victoria Denault, was just brilliant! As well as keeping up with hockey practice and his studies, hockey star Tate Adler is trying to save his family’s farm by doing an illicit side job. Their neighbours the Todds have their own problems. They are sworn enemies so when fellow student Maggie Todd finds out what Tate is doing, she doesn’t hesitate to blackmail him. But whenever they meet, sparks fly and their chemistry is off the charts. Can they risk a relationship or will the feud remain forever? This love story was just explosive and I loved every minute of it. I’m now reading my way through the rest of the series.

Pretty Reckless

A friend also recommended a brilliant YA series by L.J. Shen, starting with Pretty Reckless. It’s raw and angsty with a lot of misunderstandings, but I’m thoroughly enjoying these stories too. Penn Scully is from the wrong end of town with a drug addict mother and a deadbeat step-father, while Daria Followhill is a rich and spoiled princess. He believes she took away the only thing he ever loved and is out for revenge. When Penn’s mother dies, Daria’s parents decide to take him in as a foster son and he can set his plans in motion. As for Daria, she’s tired of always coming second in her mother’s eyes and wants to lash out at everyone and everything. But things don’t go to plan for either of them …

Next comes Pat, who says: If you’re in a literary mood, Anne Tyler is always a good bet.

Redheadbysideofroad

In REDHEAD BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD, Micah Mortimer, is a 40-something computer tech. He’s the youngest of a large, messy family, and in consequence, he’s a tad obsessive about keeping his personal life contained, so contained that he has a bad habit of shutting doors on the world. The story follows Micah through a series of events that opens his eyes to what he’s been missing all his life. There’s no violence, no sex, just a lovely journey of discovery told by a fabulously talented writer. It’s wonderful to settle in for the evening in safe hands—I didn’t skim a single page!  

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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, 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?