This month's What We Are Reading feature takes us on our usual delightful peregrinations through different worlds and different eras. So get pencil and paper ready to start making notes for your TBR pile!
Anne here: The latest in Ilona Andrews' "Innkeeper Chronicles" series, Sweep of the Blade, came out this month, and the minute I started it, I realized I wanted to go back to the beginning and read all four books in order. Which I did. I really enjoy these books and the world of the Innkeeper — they're fantasy/paranormal, with magic, werewolves, vampires and aliens — and a few years back that would have been enough to put me off. Not any more.
Innkeepers are people who have a special magical bond with their inn — they can configure it any way they want, even to breaking rules of physics — and their purpose is to provide a safe haven for their guests, who come from all over the galaxy. The guests must be sworn to keep the knowledge of aliens etc from ordinary humans. So we're dealing with small town Texas and a galaxy of other-wordly visitors. The books are action-packed and entertaining, and the slowly developing romance very satisfying. If you haven't tried urban fantasy before, give this one a try and start with book 1, Clean Sweep.
The second recommendation I have is for a Regency—The Work of Art, by Mimi Matthews—which was recommended by wenchly reader Karin last month. With a starred review from Publisher's Weekly and a host of other excellent reviews, it's a classic regency, with an appealing heroine, a wounded hero and a villainous "other man", as well as a small pack of dogs — which the heroine has rescued. A delightful read.
Nicola here: This month I’ve read something old and something borrowed! The “old” was Maya Banks’ McCabe Trilogy, which I first fell in love with years ago. When I’m in the mood for some hot Scottish historical action these three books are so much fun and I love the way that she gives the characters really powerful emotional conflicts and makes them feel very real. I have a soft spot for romances set in a time of conflict because it adds another layer of tension with divided loyalties as well as personal struggles to contend with. These romances are very satisfying!
I also caught up with the only Emily Larkin book I haven’t read, Lady Isabella’s Ogre, a lovely re-telling of the Beauty and the Beast theme. Emily Larkin is one of my go-to Regency authors and this story was as fun as all her others – Lady Isabella Knox is one of London’s most eligible heiresses although she prefers her independence to any ideas of marriage. When she accidentally ruins the marriage prospects of Major Nicholas Reynolds, a war hero, she sets out to undo the harm she has done by persuading him into a make-believe flirtation. It’s lovely!
I also borrowed a copy of Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah whilst I was on holiday. I read it on a 4 day train journey across Canada from Vancouver to Toronto and this felt totally appropriate as it is a Hercule Poirot mystery and I felt as though I was living in Agatha Christie World! Sophie really does capture the essence of the old Poirot books and the character perfectly. I loved all the old stories and I am enjoying her new take on these! Closed Casket is classic crime fare with a family gathered together in a Gothic mansion, a controversial will and a dastardly murder.
Mary Jo here: The most memorable book I've read lately is Barbara O'Neal's When We Believed in Mermaids. It's women's fiction, more specifically sister fiction, told alternately in first person by Kit Bianci, an ER doctor, and her two year older sister, Josie. The story begins when Kit sees her sister in a news video from New Zealand–except that her sister died fifteen years earlier in Europe. Driven by a need to know, Kit flies off to Auckland–and changes not only her own life, but the lives around her.
Josie, now known as Mari, had compelling reasons for walking away from the disaster her life had become, and in the years since, she's found peace and happiness with a new family. But she misses Kit desperately, and when they meet again, the past erupts into the present.
Barbara is a wonderful writer, and she builds her story as a mosaic as she moves back and forth between the sisters. In some ways, their childhood was idyllic as they grew up on the California coast in their father's famous restaurant, learning food and surfing and loving the broken runaway boy who becomes part of the family and looked after the two little girls. But in other ways, their childhood was laced with neglect and abuse, and only as the past is fully revealed can Kit and Mari become wholly healed.
As always with Barbara O'Neal books, the characterizations are wonderful, as are the descriptions of food <G>, and there's a lovely romance as well. It made me want to visit New Zealand again!
Pat here: This is what caught my fancy this month—Some Die Eloquent (the Calleshire Chronicles) by Catherine Aird. This British cop mystery was copyrighted in 1979 but reads to me almost as if it were written much earlier. Still, we have recognizable modernisms like plastics and conservation and a husband with his wife as she gives birth—in the few minutes he gets away from the case. There is lots of dialogue and not as much setting as I’d like. Mostly, this is a character study and social commentary, which was different enough to appeal to me.
The case involves a science teacher who dies of diabetes with an unexpected quarter million pounds deposited in her bank account. It’s real small town stuff when word of the bank account gets out and is enough to bring in the coroner’s office after the death certificate is already issued. One of the suspects works at the hospital where the Inspector’s wife is about to give birth, which makes for a nice cozy. It’s an entertaining insight into a time before cell phones, when everyone knows the drunk who wrecks the bollards every night. Read if you’re in the mood for something different.
Andrea here: I’ve had a strange reading month, jumping around to various genres. Because it was getting such raves from the Wenches and Wenchly readers, I read The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMasters Bujold, which I very much enjoyed, even though I’m not a huge fantasy reader. Then I picked up a new British mystery set in the 1930s, which was fun and well-written, but the plot was SO predictable, I was disappointed that it didn’t offer any fun twist, so I can’t recommend it here.
The real “meaty” read of the month is The Guest Book by Sarah Blake. It’s a sweeping family saga of three generations of a wealthy WASP family, spanning the 1930s to present day. The modern protagonist is a historian who teaches at a university—there is a marvelous classroom scene where she challenges her students on what IS history. The touchstone of the family is an idyllic island off the coast of Maine they have owned since the late 30s where the generations have gathered every summer. The fact that family money is running out, and the professor and her cousins are facing the prospect of having to sell the island, challenges her to explore her own history—with the requisite buried secrets coming to life.
It’s beautifully written, though in places it drags a bit. I also felt the author perhaps tackled one too many elemental themes in family relationships . . . and there are some structural problems—she head-hops sometimes, and also never gives the date of a section, so sometimes I got a little lost for a page or two. But I overlooked the flaws because the story is very well done, with interesting, vulnerable characters. It's a poignant look at a traditional, orderly world—where all the rules are comfortable and known by heart—giving way to the frightening chaos of modern life.
So, what have you been reading lately? Please share!