More Thanksgiving What We’re Reading

Joanna, back again with more What Wenches are Reading for November.

Who was it who said, "I hold the buying of more books than one can peradventure read, as nothing less than the soul's reaching towards infinity; which is the only thing that raises us above the beasts that perish?" Whoever it was, I agree with him.  

A. Edward Newton

 

Anne here.Wench kearsley

I've had three stand-out reads this month — Susanna Kearsley's The Firebird, Deborah Smith's Crossroads Cafe, and a new-to-me Irish writer called Ciara Geraghty, of which more to come.

Susanna Kearsley's stories weave the past and present together in a magical, intriguing way that I always enjoy and admire. The Firebird was a wonderful read, about a young woman with a gift she's been taught to keep hidden, and a man who shares her abilities. It starts in England, with a small Russian firebird, and the journey takes us to St Petersburg, past and present. It's romantic, but it's also an adventure. Highly recommended.

Deborah Smith is a writer I've mentioned here before — I discovered her books this year and have been slowly reading my way Lifesaving-for-beginnersthrough her backlist — slowly because I want to savor the treat. The Crossroads Cafe is another excellent story, set mainly in a small Appalachian village. The tale of an actress who has everything, then loses it—or so she thinks. A story full of heart and pain, rediscovery and joy.

I read Ciara Geraghty on the recommendation of a friend, starting with Becoming Scarlett, which I really enjoyed. Then I read Lifesaving for Beginners and was blown away.  Told from the point of view of two characters, one a ten-year-old boy, one a woman hiding from her own history, it's funny, dark, romantic and honest. Fabulous book. I'm so pleased to have discovered a new, wonderful writer. I've ordered the rest of her backlist.

 

And Mary Jo brings us:

Wench shinn mystic riderI began November reading Sharon Shinn's new book, Royal Airs, second in her Elemental Blessings fantasy series.  As always, I loved her voice so much that I had to read more.  So I reread the first book in that series, Troubled Waters.

Then I started in on a great wallowing re-read of Shinn's wonderful earlier series, The Twelve Houses.  Sharon is a terrific world-builder, and great storyteller, and she does very romantic romances.  Her country of Gillengaria has "mystics"–people with different magical abilities, like controlling fire or shapeshifting or healing.  The bad guy forces of greed and hate are whipping up lethal animosity toward mystics so they can grab power for themselves, and the first four books of the series are set against that arc of action.

Wench shinn royal airsBut each book is a strong story in its own right, with a powerful romance at the core.  In the first, Mystic and Rider, six people are sent by the benevolent king to learn how much danger there is to the kingdom, and we follow the group through the four books.  Each of the main characters falls in love with the most improbable, impossible person imaginable.  It's great fun. <G>  Wenches lucky dog

 I've finish rereading Mystic and Rider, The Thirteenth House, and I'm halfway through the third book, Dark Moon DefenderThe fourth book, Reader and Raelynx, is my very favorite of the series, and there's a fifth book, Fortune and Fate, which is set in the aftermath of the war.  Sigh.  Then I'll have to wait a while before I can reread them. 

I've also been enjoying light, humorous women's fiction, including Beth Kendrick's The Lucky Dog Matchmaking Service and Trisha Ashley's Magic of Christmas.  I'll probably reread her Twelve Days of Christmas as well.  Ashley's books are English chicklit set in villages in Lancashire, and they feature slightly frazzled heroines who are food writers, or gardeners or wedding cake makers or some such.  They are surrounded by charming eccentrics, and in the course of the books, they fall in love.  Works for me. <G>

 

Several Futuristic and Paranormal reads this month.  Is this something you enjoy?  Who are you reading in this field?

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 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?

Don’t Worry, Be Happy … Oh, and Finish the Book

Joanna here, asking the Wenches the somewhat harrowing question —

Worrydog cc petadviser

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"Do you get angsty and anxious at any part of the writing process? And, if you do, does it make you more productive?"

Mary Jo Putney says:  Writing always makes me angsty!

I think it’s part of my creative process to have to fret and chew at the story and wonder if the current work is a career ender.  Luckily, I’ve been in this business long enough that I recognize angst as part of the process, which spares me the worst of the feeling.  But it doesn’t make the angst go away, alas.

 

Writing attrib jjpacres

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Creative work comes from internal fires.

Pat Rice says: I don’t handle stress well. No one in my family does, so It’s apparently genetic. As a result, we aim for a laidback attitude and careers that don’t create tension.  

In writing, stress has to come from inside the writer because no one else gives a dang what you do. I’ve set up time frames and work schedules that don’t require that I freak out on a regular basis. And if a book isn’t going well, I’ve developed methods of looking at it from a fresh perspective and beta readers who can sometimes point out problems.

The only time I angst is when someone else doesn’t step up when they’re supposed to, and I’m learning to ignore that as much as possible. I might chew a few nails and fire off a few e-mails until I annoy the devil out of the slacker, but otherwise, I try not to angst over the delay.

This is probably not a formula for fame and riches, but I’d only stress over those anyway!

Joanna: Fame and riches. Y'know, I wouldn't mind stressing over that.

 

Fallingletters cc psyberartist

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Jo Beverley, when I ask if she gets angsty at any part of the writing process, says:
About half way. My husband calls it the time of the book.

One of the aspects is a conviction that it will be too short. I always end up too long and cutting.

I don't believe any kind of stress helps me. It can be tempting to think it does so as to avoid the additional stress of guilt over feeling stressed!

Nicola Cornick says: I'm not usually anxious at the start of the book because at that point the excitement of starting something new taken together with the misguided belief that *this book* will be plain sailing usually helps me get going ok.
Hit twenty thousand words, though, and I am busy re-appraising the conflict, the characters, the plot development…

This is when paralysing angst usually starts to hit, I start to question myself, I change what I have already written, I become convinced I will never finish this book, nay never write another book again…
This phase sometimes lasts until the end of the book. If I'm lucky I come out of it before then and actually start enjoying myself again.

When I ask if writer's angst makes her more productive, she says:
 
No. It paralyses me. When I'm in the throes of writer's angst I find the process is like dragging words from treacle.


Paperanimals cc brettjordan

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Anne Gracie says: At some stage in every novel I am completely certain I can't make it work and that the novel will be a terrible failure.
My friends say, "Oh, Anne you always say that," as if I'm fussing over nothing, or making it up, but it's completely genuine and heartfelt every time.  

I suspect that by wrestling with whatever it is that's not working (because it's different in each book) the book is improved. But it's not a fun way to work.

And does writer's angst make her more productive?
It probably reduces the number of books I write in a year. It might make those I produce better — I hope so, but I have no way of testing the theory.

 

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Cara Elliott/Andrea Penrose
Writerly angst always seems to rear its ugly head at around three quarters of the way through a manuscript. The characters appear to become bored with my company (Moi? Who has done her best to amuse them with bon mots, gorgeous clothes, not to speak of inviting them to all the interesting places in Town?)

I, in turn, become sulky and am tempted to abandon them in the slums of Southwark and find new friends. For a time, we don’t speak to each other. . . 
 

I fret, I whine. I eat chocolate. The Muse gets annoyed because the chocolate is supposed to be for HER. She starts whispering in my ear that all relationships have their ups and downs and I can’t very well leave these people abandoned in a strange place The is appeal to my conscience usually works and no matter how awful the walk home feels, I try to make polite conversation until we reach the end.

Strangely enough, when we sit down for a last glass of wine together, I usually realize that they not so annoying after all and we part bosom bows.
 
I must be a difficult person to get along with, for this keeps repeating itself. I need to either change my personality. Or buy a lot more chocolate.

Paperboat cc kateha

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Joanna:  My own writerly anxiety clutches at my mind till I can barely work.  Messes with my head.  Makes me miserable.

But once I get going, once I get into the story, it goes away.  The only cure for the pain of writing  is writing.  (I think I've just described addiction, maybe.)

 

I put out one final question.  Sometimes I see 'writer's anxiety' as a chittering monkey, clinging to my back, chattering in my ear, distracting me from writing. So I asked what animal folks think of when they think of writerly angst.

Jo Beverley says, "Preferably a bug I'd feel okay about stamping on." For Nicola Cornick, ". . . it would be a pacing tiger. It's quite fierce, it feels frustrated and it just wants to break out of the confines and roar." And Anne Gracie says it's like a "Rat on a spinning wheel, round and round and round, over and over the same thing. And only stopping to gnaw thoughtfully at the bars from time to time."

I think folks who do any sort of creative or important work under a deadline suffer from this same 'angst'. This performance anxiety.

What's your own particular anxiety for the work you do?