From cozy mysteries, grumpy billionaires and nerdy theoretical physicist looking for love to high-flying thrillers and our own Anne Gracie's Regency romance, the Wenches have been reading up a storm this month!
Pat: I found a lot of good mysteries this month! Here's a couple: Double Twist (A Mia Murphy Mystery) Stephanie Rowe. Oh my, this was a fun one. Definitely not a cozy although we have a small town and a heroine restoring an old business, a marina. Mia Murphy grew up with a con for a mother, married a drug dealer, and once she gets free of all that, still manages to buy a marina owned by a drug dealer. But she’s determined to put the past behind her and build a beautiful life in rural Maine where nothing bad ever happens. Until it does. Her background is bound to be a criminal magnet. But at least there’s a hunky cop to catch her when she falls, which she does fairly often. Instead of packing pistol hardware, she swings real hardware—hair dryers, pencil sharpeners, anything with a cord she can swing. Her comrades in arms are a baton twirling/body builder mail woman and a septuagenarian café owner/race car driver. So we may have a few murderous thugs and a lot of local skullduggery, but Mia can handle it all. Somehow. I even laughed out loud a few times, which never happens. If you're just looking for a little fun, give it a try!
Murder Is A Must, Marty Wingate (First Edition Library series): Oh frabjous day. . . a cozy mystery that meets all the parameters of a cozy and is still fresh and original and fun to read! Perhaps it feels fresh because it’s set in Bath—not exactly a small town but small enough to fit the genre—and the heroine hasn’t actually read the mystery books in the collection for which she’s curator. This isn’t the first in the series, so I don’t know how Hayley Burke landed the job of curating the rare mystery book collection, but she’s organized and efficient and when a dead body shows up at the bottom of a spiral staircase, she does know enough to recognize the connection to Dorothy Sayers and Lord Peter Wimsey. As with any Marty Wingate book, the characters are all well drawn. There is the usual romance with problems, including grown daughters, but they’re all charming, and the reader wants to know more, which is the ideal way to grow a series. The mystery is more about characters than clues, but there are enough scattered around to figure out the suspects, if not the killer. I enjoyed this, and now I have to go back and find the first book. . .
Christina: This month I would first like to mention The Laird's Bride by fellow Wench Anne Gracie, which is an absolutely delightful novella that put a huge smile on my face! It’s a rags-to-riches story, which is one of my favourite tropes, and I loved both the feisty heroine Jeannie and the honourable hero Cameron. It’s always lovely to see a laird/landowner who is keen to look after his tenants’ welfare, so I completely understood his reasons for the hasty marriage. And a heroine who has suffered neglect but emerged strong and determined, overcoming adversity, makes it so satisfying when she finally gets treated right. The fact that she’s no push-over was a plus, and watching her take on her new role as the laird’s wife with tact and kindness made me like her even more. A wonderful tale and one I’d highly recommend!
Secondly, there’s Good As Gold by Sarina Bowen. I have loved every single book in her True North series and this one was no exception. Matteo Rossi is an absolute dream of a hero, and although the ‘asking-your-best-friend-to-father-a-baby’ trope has been done a lot before, I still thoroughly enjoyed it. Leila and Matteo were best friends as teenagers, but he was from a poor family and felt he needed to prove himself before he could be worthy of being her boyfriend. By the time he’d done that, he was too late and she was already with someone else. So he never returned home to visit because it was just too hard. Finally he decides he wants to come for his brother’s wedding, and he finds out Leila is recently divorced. They pick up their friendship and then, in a drunken moment, she asks him to be her baby-daddy, because her biological clock is ticking and she’s desperate to be a mother. What follows is a tale of romance, misunderstandings and second chances, and it was a gorgeous read – loved every minute!
Finally, I have to mention Love, Theoretically by Ali Hazelwood. I’m becoming a great fan of these novels featuring women in STEM, heroines who are hyper-intelligent academically but completely clueless socially. It’s fun to watch them find a worthy love interest and fall in love in their own inimitable way. This novel is no exception – extremely well written with wonderful characters – although I have to admit it was a little bit heavy on the academic and scientific stuff. The underlying story though is amazing. Theoretical physicist Dr Elsie Hannaway has fought her way to a PhD but is struggling to find a job that actually pays a decent salary. She’s also a diabetic and without the health insurance that would come with a proper job in academia she finds it difficult to pay for the medication she needs. To make ends meet, she works as a fake girlfriend for a sort of escort agency (no sex involved), perfecting her acting skills to be whatever woman her client for the day needs. Somewhere along the way, she’s lost track of who she really is as she’s always role-playing. Enter a client’s older brother, who catches her out when she goes to interview for a job and he’s one of the professors judging her. Dr Jack Turner-Smith is furious because he thinks she’s lied to his gullible younger brother Greg, and she can’t tell him the truth because Greg is hiding a secret that’s not hers to tell. The chemistry between these two is off the scale and what ensues is a roller-coaster of a relationship that’s truly heart-warming. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Elsie finally find out who she is and what she deserves, and learning to say no to everyone who has tried to exploit her. Also, of course, falling in love.
Anne: This was a good reading month for me. I’ll start with The Last Eligible Billionaire, by Pippa Grant. This is a classic “fake girlfriend” story. Hayes Rutherford is a grumpy billionaire, fed up with being stalked for his money, pressured by his family to marry, and taking refuge at his beach mansion. There he finds Begonia Fairchild, a bright and bouncy recently divorced young woman, who had rented the mansion from a dodgy agent for an incredibly cheap price. Long story short, he eventually makes an agreement with her (slight blackmail involved) to pose as his girlfriend to get everyone off his back. But as they get to know each other . . . well, you know what happens. It’s light-hearted, fun and I enjoyed it. And I bought more Pippa Grant books.
Next is Jane Lovering's A Midwinter Match. Ruby is a talented counsellor at work in York, though her own life is rather a mess. But she loves helping people and is brilliant at it. However when the management decides to merge two similar depatements, Ruby finds herself in competition with Zac Drewe, another talented counsellor, though with a different style. Only one of them can keep the job. Encouraged by the management to resort to dirty tricks, both Ruby and Zac must work their way through the impossible situation. And you know what happens. . . I enjoyed it very much, and it sent me back re-reading other books of hers that I already owned.
I really like Jane Lovering’s books. Her characters are not at all the usual glamorous hero and heroine of so many romances — they’re ordinary people dealing with their own serious problems and finding their way to love and happiness in a very believable and heartwarming way.
I also read and enjoyed, the Stephanie Rowe that Christina recommended (women’s fiction/mystery/comedy), Trisha Ashley, The Wedding Dress Repair Shop (women’s fiction/romance), Lucy Score, Maggie Moves On (rom-com), JD Kirk, The One That Got Away (grittyish crime story) and more.
Mary Jo: Here to talk about Abbi Waxman's The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. This is the story of a a smart, eccentric, funny, book-loving introvert. The style is quirky and sometimes has an omniscient point of view, which we don't see much of these days. Waxman had me at the opening sentences:
Imagine you're a bird. You can be any kind of bird, but those of you who have chosen chicken or ostrich will have a struggle keeping up. Now, imagine you're coasting through the skies above Los Angeles, coughing occasionally in the smog.
This introduction leads to the neighborhood of Larchmont, which includes our heroine, Nina Hill, her cat Phil, and the bookstore where Nina works. Nina loves books and reading, but also runs book clubs for her bookstore and does trivia contests with three friends. Her father is unknown and her mother is a globetrotting photographer and she was raised by a loving nanny.
Nina's parents were never married and she hadn't a clue who her father was, until he dies and leaves her a legacy and a lot of relatives of all ages because her father married several times. Those relatives all live nearby, and horror of horrors–they want to meet her! Nina's life is about to change big time.
It's hard to explain this book except to say that it's smart, eccentric, and funny. I really enjoyed watching Nina's life expand, which includes a love interest from a rival trivia team. It's fun to read, with lots of humor and sly observations about life, love, and Los Angeles!
In addition, I will join in the chorus of enthusiasm for Anne Gracie's recently released novella, The Laird's Bride. It's swift and sweet and great fun, and classic Anne Gracie.
Susan: Another busy month, but I read two standouts. One has been mentioned by the Wenches before, I think—Book Lovers by Emily Henry. I enjoyed her Beach Read, and overall I liked this one too. What's not to love in a story about two people in publishing who feel drawn yet conflicted, are opposites and yet identicals, and figure it all out? Nora is a super-busy, A-type literary agent who loves the city; Charlie is the taciturn editor she knocks heads with over a writer she champions. When Nora's homebody sister drags stressed Nora to the countryside for a vacation, Charlie turns up too, having family in the same small town. When a manuscript needs two editors, Nora and Charlie must work together reluctantly, which changes when their prickly sparks ignite. Add family complications, events and feelings that need clearing, and plenty of physical chemistry — it's a good story with very believable characters. To be honest, I had to push myself through it at first. The relationships are complicated, actions and emotions are carefully wrought and deeply described, and the reader needs to invest. I warmed to it and enjoyed it, and will read Emily Henry's work again. She's a gifted and intelligent writer and well worth the reading time.
I also picked up Falling by T.J. Newman and practically flew through it — bad pun, sorry — it's an action-thriller about a commercial airline flight that faces catastrophe. When pilot Bill Hoffman enters the cockpit for an ordinary flight to NY, he soon learns that his family has been kidnapped. He must face the worst scenario and do the unthinkable to try to save them. This is a taut thriller with danger at every turn, a clever, unpredictable, quick read with solid characters and strong motivations. Pilots, flight attendants, passengers, air traffic control, FBI, the pilot's family — everyone is forced to take risks to prevent ultimate disaster. I had seen an interview with the author, a flight attendant who wrote the book in her spare time on countless flights; her expertise informs every page. Falling is exciting and unexpected, a big thriller tailor-made for a movie someday. Once you plunge in, this one is hard to set down.
Andrea: I glommed through The Last Remains, the latest addition to Elly Griffith's wonderfully atmospheric Dr. Ruth Galloway mystery series. I really like the eccentric cast of characters that has developed over the course of the books, as well as Ruth's complicated relationship with DCI Nelson—which is growing even more fraught as Ruth's Archeology Department at the university in in danger of being closed to save money. Adding to the challenge of navigating personal stresses is the discovery during a building renovation of a former cafe of a skeleton hidden behind a wall. it turns out to be the remains of a Cambridge student who had disappeared 12 years ago . . . and it turns out that Ruth and Nelson's friend, Cathbad—the spiritual Druid—was among the last people to see her alive. The damage to the woman;s skull show it was murder . . .
As the investigation progresses, both Ruth and Nelson fear Cathbad is hiding something, and when he goes missing, they worry that he knows more than he is admitting. As they work to put together all the confusing clues surrounding the murder, they also must search their own hearts to make some decisions about the future. It's another great story with compelling twists and turns in both the mystery and the cast of friends.