Andrea/Cara here, With the recent unoffical start of summer here in the northern hemisphere, it's time to start filling the carry-alls with great beach reads! (And for those of you heading into winter, it's always good to have a pile of good reads next to the armchair and quilt for those long chilly nights.) We have been reading a wide variety—as usual— over the past few weeks, and have a number of titles to share with you. And we hope you'll share the books that have tickled your fancy! This monthly feature is always such a fun collaboration with our readers. So, off we go!
I love stories set in the English Civil War and wish there were more of them so I was thrilled to hear that HWW Louise Allen had updated and reissued an old Mills & Boon Historical called The Master of Winterbourne. It’s a richly detailed, complex story that is sensual and romantic, and at the same time it has a fair bit of intrigue packed in and some beautifully drawn, deep characters. Louise really brings out their divided loyalties and conflicts. Highly recommended.
Another book I absolutely loved this month is French Kissing by Lynne Shelby. Anna Mitchel has been writing letters to her French penfriend, Alexandre Tourville, for fifteen years, but hasn’t seen him since an exchange trip when they were at school and he was a shy geek. When Alex has the opportunity to work in London, Anna offers him a place to stay but is astounded that he has changed out of all recognition and is now tall, broad-shouldered and gorgeous, and has just broken up with his long-term girlfriend.
French Kissing is totally charming. The characters are great, the backgrounds of London and Paris beautifully described, and the style of writing really engaging. It’s a fun and very happy-making read!
My big glom for this month was the "Trouble" series by Susan Sey — a fun contemporary series about the three Blake brothers, which I read on the recommendation of a friend. It took me a while to get into the first book — the premise was a bit silly — but the good writing kept me going and I ended up devouring the second half of the book, and promptly bought the second and third book in the series. My favorite was the second book, but you absolutely need to read the first book—Taste For Trouble —first, because it sets up the second one, and if you skip the first, you won't enjoy the second one as much. Trust me on that.
My other recommended read for the month is John Scalzi's Agent To The Stars. Mary Jo and Pat have mentioned him several times before, and so I tried his first book, which he originally wrote "to see if he could write a novel" and gave away for free on his website. It was later taken up by publishers — it's a fascinating story and is in the foreword.
Agent To The Stars is a hoot—ridiculous, funny, perceptive and very clever. Some real laugh-out-loud moments. I've now ordered several more of his books.
Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson is not a romance, although there are hints of a couple of love stories. I’d call it a slice of life type of book, but it certainly isn’t a slice of any normal life. Still, the author makes it feel so real that I won’t argue with the illusion. The protag is Alice Whitley, a 25-year-old NYC assistant editor sent to handhold a reclusive bestselling CA author until she finishes the novel she’s promised to write for decades. Instead of typing the book into a computer, as Alice thought she would be doing, she ends up babysitting a 10-year-old boy who is smarter than “99.7% of the population.” He’s also eccentric and touching beyond the wildest imagination. By the end, our self-absorbed assistant editor is a much better, if still flawed, person. I sank into this book and didn’t want to come out, which hardly ever happens anymore. Recommended!
I have been deficient in my duty: Though it came out in March, I haven't yet talked about this year's Patricia Briggs book, Fire Touched, #9 in her Mercy Thompson urban fantasy series. Briggs has done an amazing job of keeping consistently high quality through so many books, and does it mostly by her marvelous characterizations.
Mercedes Thompson is a Volkswagen mechanic in the Tri-Cities area of Washington State, half Native-American–and a coyote shifter. In a world where there are werewolves, vampires, fae, and Others, Mercy isn't particularly powerful, but like her coyote side, she's quick and clever and very good at surviving. She's also utterly loyal to her friends even if reckless courage is required.
It's worth reading the books in order, starting with Moon Bound, just to see the relationships develop, including a lovely romance that just gets better and better. The plotting is original and always interesting. In Fire Touched, for example, the book starts with Mercy silently enduring the blandishments of a multi-level marketer. <G>
Here's a quote from an Amazon review that gives you an idea of what happens next: "this book starts out with a rush of action in a battle with a troll which was awesome but it was just to setup a much more involved plot that takes us places we have never been before in this series and turns a few things we have believed in the last couple of books are now portrayed in a bit of a different light."
Most urban fantasies are too violent and gory for me, but not Patricia Briggs' books. Yes, bad things can happen, but I know it will all end up well. And I'm already craving next year's book!
In response to the tumultuous primary season, I finally got around to a book that has sat for too long on my TBR pile: Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin is an award-winning historical magnum opus on Abraham Lincoln and the men he chose to serve in his cabinet during our country’s greatest crisis. It’s a fascinating work, part biography, part political process, highlighting how men of different ambitions, temperaments and yes, flaws, managed to put personal feelings aside to serve what they felt was the higher good. I’ve always admired Lincoln, but this in-depth portrait of a complex man who combined wisdom, humility and a love for ideas and language, gave me an even deeper appreciation of what a true hero he was. And umm, while avoiding any political commentary, I shall say that it should be required reading for ALL politicians.
I’ve also picked up Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott, a very intriguing mystery set in present-day Cambridge that centers around a mysterious death and an incomplete manuscript on the life of Sir Isaac Newton. An author friend of the dead woman is asked by her son—who is the author’s former lover— to complete the book on Newton that his mother has been obsessed with finishing. She accepts . . .and then strange things begin to happen. It’s got a touch of paranormal as the heroine feels drawn mentally back to the 17th century in search of answers to several unsolved murders in the university town. Was Newton responsible? And is that why her lover’s mother was found drowned—because she was close to unraveling the truth? It’s very well-written, and weaves very interesting psychological portraits as the heroine deals with both the past and the present. I highly recommend it to those who enjoy intellectual conundrums.
So, what have YOU been reading lately? Please share all your special finds. (I have my pencil poised to start a LONG list!)