Anne: I’ve had a wonderful reading month, with two books set in bookshops, and a new-to-me favorite historical romance author with a fabulous backlist.
First the bookshop books, both about young (ish) single women who work in bookshops, and both relatively content with their single lives, though in each book there is a tentative but developing romance. And both women are dealing with unexpected family connections.
In The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman Nina is shocked to discover the father she knew nothing about — not even his name — has died and left her not only something in the will, but a large extended family. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill is full of wonderful, wry and funny observations about people and life in LA and I found myself (for the first time ever) bookmarking passages I especially enjoyed. Abbi Waxman’s writing is clever and original and thoroughly enjoyable.
The other bookshop book was A Little Ray of Sunshine, by Kristan Higgins. It was a slow start, but grew in intensity and ended up leaving me thinking about the issues raised—in an enjoyable way.
But my big discovery this month was a new-to-me historical romance writer called Stella Riley. I started with The Shadow Earl but soon realized there was a whole treasury of books that came before it — she’s created a whole community of heroes and heroines — and so I bought the first book in her Rockliffe series, The Parfit Knight. Not only did I devour it in one sitting, I also bought the rest of the books in that series and have read and thoroughly enjoyed every one. And will probably read them all again, soon. She’s an English writer who has become an auto-buy for me. And the books are available in audio, too.
The books are set around the 1770’s, where men are in silks and satins of all colors, with long hair, some powdered, some not. (Think The Dule of Avon in Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades.) The history is good, the plotting is too, with duels, highwaymen, secrets, and all sorts. And heroes and heroines to love. Highly, highly recommended.
Pat: Okay, yes, I’m a sucker for any book with “library” in the title. I don’t like or even finish many of them. This one, The Library of the Unwritten by A. J. Hackwith, I dived into and didn’t come out of until it was over. It’s definitely fantasy. Clare is Hell’s Librarian, in charge of a library of dead books, unfinished stories. The characters in those stories mostly sleep, no longer active in the author’s mind. But sometimes, the characters are so strong, they make themselves alive on their own. When one escapes back to the real world to confront his author, the Librarian has to go after him and bring him back. And that’s when… it has to be said… all Hell breaks loose. Clare learns the Devil’s Bible exists and has to go after it, through the realms of the dead like Valhalla, fighting with angels and demons and characters she herself once wrote. Her only army is a muse, a teenage almost-demon, and the escaped Hero. The ending is a battle of evil against books. Everyone ends up where they belong, sort of. And Clare and the Hero are in a position to go forward, into whatever in Hell happens next.
Little Teashop of Horrors by Jane Lovering: I adore anything Jane Lovering writes. Her small town life and characters are absolutely spot-on, and she describes them with such loving humor that the reader has to love them in all their quirky eccentricities. Her heroes and heroines are wounded, self-deprecating ordinary folk, not billionaires or beauty queens, but good people you want to root for. In this one, the heroine is a rotund business major working in a café on a stately home so she can care for her Gran. The hero has a horrible childhood to overcome but handles the raptors he’s saved with loving care. I smiled all the way through. Read this book!
Nicola: A slightly left-field review from me this month! I was recommended Uncle Paul by Celia Fremlin by the bookseller in my local indie bookshop. Apparently, it was a recent Waterstones Crime Book of the Month. It looked and sounded intriguing, a psychological suspense thriller rather than a murder mystery (and the UK cover is fun, the US one rather less so!) I later discovered that it had been originally published in 1959 but was republished recently. It’s set at the English seaside, where the heroine Meg has gone to stay with her elder sisters Isabel and Mildred for the summer holidays. Mildred has rented a cottage where, years before, she had honeymooned with her first husband, the mysterious “Uncle Paul” of the title, who disappeared soon after… As the holiday progresses, Mildred becomes increasingly convinced that Paul has returned and is stalking her and Meg, and her boyfriend Freddie, are drawn into a nightmare of suspense.
The good things about it: The writing is absolutely beautiful, the descriptions are vivid and Celia Fremlin captures the atmosphere of a rundown seaside town in the late 1950s very well with the fortune teller’s booth on the pier, the fish and chip sellers and the genteel hotels. She’s also very good at pinpointing universal human emotions and feelings, and making you think “I know exactly how that feels!” The plot is pretty well done (except for one twist I found completely ridiculous) and the suspense builds well.
On the down side, almost all the characters drove me mad! Meg is a gutsy and practical heroine, especially for her time, but her two sisters are ghastly and Freddie, the love interest, is so selfish and superficial I wanted to shake him. He only showed his true self for a few brief moments during the book and by the time he finally opened up at the end it was a bit too late. Isabel was a nervous wreck, so feeble I wanted to scream, and Mildred had no redeeming qualities at all. I suspect my violent reaction to them was because I dislike feeble characters in general and these women were very much of their time, one the stereotypical downtrodden 50s housewife and the other, a stereotypical rich, bored and stupid older woman. Ack. The book has plenty of good reviews on Amazon, though, so luckily not everyone reacts to it as I did!
Christina: Following my interview with Janet Gover on the blog this week, I have to recommend The Library at Wagtail Ridge. This is a wonderfully emotional story set mostly in the Australian outback. The heroine, Lou, has always known she’s adopted and has never felt the need to find out anything about her birth mother. However, when she receives a letter from the woman’s solicitors and a bequest, she sets off on a voyage of discovery. It leads her to the tiny town of Wagtail Ridge and a trail of letters left by her birth mother explaining the circumstances of her having to give Lou up. Despite her initial reluctance to have anything to do with the woman who she feels didn’t want her enough to keep her, she is slowly reeled in and finds that not all is as she imagined. I was enchanted by this story and the wonderful community spirit and camaraderie that exists in little outback towns like Wagtail Ridge. The descriptions are evocative and the reader feels as though they are there, following the heroine on her journey. It doesn’t hurt that she has the help of a man who isn’t just handsome and kind, but has an adorable puppy who is being trained to be a guide dog. This story stays with you long after the final page and I highly recommend it!
The Lost Heir by Jane Cable is a wonderfully evocative dual time story, filled with love, secrets, smugglers and ancient Cornish magic. In the past, we follow Franny, a rich heiress whose mind does not work the same way as normal people’s, and her faithful and loving companion Harriet. When an enemy of Franny’s father takes advantage of her naiveté in the worst possible manner, the consequences are far-reaching. Poor Franny struggles to understand what has happened to her and why it should matter in terms of her reputation. Those who love her have to rally round and help her as best they can, but in the process they take away that which is most precious to her and she swears her soul will not rest until the truth comes out. In the present, Carla has become disillusioned with her teaching job and wants to focus on setting up her own business making beautiful objects out of glass. Covid lockdown gives her the breather she desperately needs, and when she makes friends – at a distance – with an American man, Mani, who has recently come to Cornwall, her life and priorities begin to change. But he is only staying for a year and Carla has realised that she wants more out of life than just meaningless flings so she tries to resist the attraction that seems to be simmering between them. Meanwhile, they begin a quest to find out more about their ancestors as Mani’s family came from Cornwall originally, with surprising results. The secrets they uncover have been buried for centuries, but someone will not give up until they have all come to light. This story is a real page-turner and I simply couldn’t put it down!
Andrea: I've been deep in deadline hell, but managed to take a break to dive into The Romantic by William Boyd, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It's a rollicking Tom Jones-type of tale in which we follow Cashel Greville Ross, born in County Cork, Ireland, in 1799, across several continents, through numerous professions and a rogue's gallery of friends as he searches for the meaning of life and who he is ultimately meant to be. It's wonderful writing and great fun to see interesting snippets of the world in the first half of the 19th century as Cashel goes from a drummer boy at Waterloo, to an officer in British army in India to hobnobbing with romantic poets in Pisa—to name just a few of his adventures. The observations on life are pithy . . . and of course, there is a romance.
Mary Jo: I'm here, with a couple of very entertaining new releases. First up is One in Vermillion, last in the Liz Danger trilogy by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer. Liz Danger is a freelance ghost writer who left Burney, her small Ohio home town, when she was in her teens and hadn't been back in many years. When she returns, she finds herself embroiled with old friends and new enemies and hot cop and former Army Ranger Vince Cooper. Lots going on, so I'll quote a bit of the blurb:
As Liz and Vince try to navigate their increasingly complicated relationship, they’re finding out startling new things about themselves and the town they’re trying to protect, and that means dealing with greedy politicians, arson, broken hearts (not theirs), vandalism, questionable real estate, murder, and a lot of soggy bears.
And the good guys win! It's a lot of fun.
Starter Villain is another fun book from science fiction writer John Scalzi is. Charlie Fitzer is a divorced, down-on-his luck former business journalist who barely makes a living as a substitute teacher. He and his cat Hera live in his late father's house, which his three older half-siblings want to sell out from under him.
Then his billionaire Uncle Jake dies and Charlie is his heir. Uncle Jake's business is ostensibly parking garages, but that turns out to be a front for his super villain business, which is now Charlie's, and it involves constant death threats, foul mouthed talking dolphins, and there's a reason the cover shows a cat wearing a CEO suit. <G> Charlie also inherited his uncle's scary executive assistant whose advice keeps him alive until Charlie gets a handle on the whole thing, and realizes what needs to be done. Again, the book is a lot of fun and has a satisfying ending.
So what have YOU been reading lately. Please share! (Because, y'know, none of us have a towering TBR pile already. <G>.