What We Are Reading!

BookishLifeAnne: 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.

Library-UnwrittenPat: 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 The characters in those stories mostly sleep, no longer active in the author’s mind.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!
Uncle PaulNicola: 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!
Janet Gover - The Library at Wagtail RidgeChristina:  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 HeirThe 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!

81s81S2HOZL._SL1500_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.

OneInVermiillionMary 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.
StarterVillainStarter 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>.


19 thoughts on “What We Are Reading!”

  1. I grabbed the new titles by J. D. Robb, James R. Benn, and Charlaine Harris as soon as they came out and recommend all three, but what I’m currently reading is Cassidy Hutchinson’s memoir ENOUGH. It is weirdly fascinating. She was only 23 when she went to work at the White House and it’s easy to see how she was, essentially, brainwashed. The miracle is that she realized she couldn’t let the lies stand. I wouldn’t say that I admire her, but I have to admire that.

  2. The Rockcliffe books by Stella Riley are my absolute favorites.
    Be sure to read Midwinter Magic which ties up all the loose ends in a very satisfying way.

  3. Im a long time fan of Stella Riley and love her books. In addition to her Georgian Rockliffe series she has an English Civil War series(Roundheads and Cavaliers) that is absolutely brilliant and follows the fortunes of interlinked families. Descendants of these families make appearances in her Georgian novels. The first of the English Civil War one is the Black Madonna.

  4. I first read Stella Riley in the early 80s with The Marigold Chain, which I loved. I sadly lost my copy. About 15 years ago I found more of her books and then joy of joys, she started writing again. All her books are excellent. I particularly like her portrayal of male relationships. I would also recommend Kate Morrell. Otherwise I have been reading Mary Kingswood, the final books of her Mercer series

  5. I too have just finished the last of the Mercer series. Things I like about Mary Kingswood are that she has a sure command of the English language, she writes about nontraditional couples such as middleaged people, and she writes about men who can think above the belt. She is also expert at telling a story intertwined between several books without confusing the heck out of me. I like also that she makes some of her supporting material such as character lists and recaps available too. I am thinking that before the advent of ebooks, which are often under more control of the author, this would have been difficult (if not impossible) to include.

  6. THat’s a really good point, Janice. yes, in self-publishing, authors can add fun ancllary material that trad publishers woudn’t want to bother with. And it’s fun to have family trees, recipes, etc. It really doesadds to the enjoyment of the story.

  7. Over the past month, week by week ~
    — an enjoyable contemporary novel, The Book of Silver Linings by Nan Fischer. The book features a young woman who, in researching the history of her engagement ring, learns the story of a World War I couple. She also learns a lot about herself.
    — read and enjoyed Burning Bright (The Extraordinaries Book 1) by Melissa McShane; I’d describe it as a blend of magic and regency era romance mixed with naval battles. Extraordinaries are people who have an exceptional talent such as the ability to wield fire, fly, or make predictions; many in this world have small powers, but those of the extraordinaries are extreme and relatively uncommon. Most individuals come into their powers at puberty, but the heroine of the story awakens in her early twenties to her bedroom on fire.
    — I’d previously read Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center and learned that the author has a prequel story on her website recounting the first meeting of the main characters of that novel, so I read and liked it. The Guy at the Wedding by Katherine Center.
    — reread a favorite science fiction book ~ Stray (Touchstone Book 1) by Andrea K. Höst. It is permanently free for Kindle readers.
    — For my distant book group, A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson. I quite enjoyed this book and would happily read more by the author. The story, set in a small town in Canada, is told by three characters: an elderly woman who is in the hospital, her seven year old neighbor who has been tasked with feeding her cat (said child’s teenage sister has run away from home), and a newly divorced man (with a childhood connection to the woman) who has been given the house.
    — I had about fifteen new library books at home awaiting my attention, so naturally I revisited old favorites: Lab Rat One, Caszandra, and Gratuitous Epilogue.
    — and then went on and finished the Touchstone series by rereading In Arcadia and Snow Day by Andrea K Höst.
    — in one day, I read in its entirety Once Upon a Tome: The Misadventures of a Rare Bookseller by Oliver Darkshire; it was a pleasant way to spend a few hours.
    — continued to ignore my many unread library books and happily reread The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. I recommend this fantasy; one of the things I like about it is that the main character is a genuinely good person.
    — read Flight of the Diamond Smugglers: A Tale of Pigeons, Obsession, and Greed Along Coastal South Africa by Matthew Gavin Frank for my book group. I found it a rather depressing read and would give many content warnings. Despite some rave reviews (NPR, for example), no one in the group liked it.
    — Total Creative Control (Creative Types Book 1) by Joanna Chambers was an enjoyable contemporary romance featuring a script writer and his personal assistant (both male).
    — enjoyed His Last Christmas in London by Con Riley which features a restaurant critic and a photographer (both male and with an age difference of some twenty years). I will happily read more by this author.
    — enjoyed We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye by Layne Deemer. In this romance, a young woman from the present day visits a rather retro café only to come to realize that it’s 1934 there. She and the café owner become involved.
    — read a fantasy novella that is the start of an upcoming series, The Untouchable Sky by Will Forrest. It details a young man becoming aware that he has magical powers. Content warnings for prior abuse.
    — quite enjoyed the contemporary romance Role Playing by Cathy Yardley though it took a while to grab me. This featured a woman (48) and a man (50) who become friends in an online game. Due to a misunderstanding, he initially thinks she’s his mother’s age while she thinks he’s her son’s age.
    — learned of a new book in a favorite series, Murder in Protocol by Anne Cleeland. I promptly bought it, started reading, and finished it late at night. It’s a mystery, but I simply enjoy the opportunity to spend time with the characters.
    — reread The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold, a favorite fantasy and enjoyed it once again. This is another book that features a main character who is a genuinely good person.
    — recently read Hidden Light (The Lydents’ Curse Book 1) and The Bridge Over Snake Creek (The Lydents’ Curse Book 2) both by Nikki Bolvair. These were pleasant fairly short paranormal reverse harem stories featuring young adults; in each, the heroine learns that she has magical powers.
    — read The Hostage Bargain by Annika Martin, a reverse harem erotic romance. I’d describe it as rather silly and straining credulity. It begins with a bank robbery on a SUNDAY afternoon in smallish town America, and the heroine is one of SEVEN tellers. She leaves voluntarily with the three bank robbers and escapades ensue.

  8. I love you the little touches of humour in her books and the way she drives the tension and plot line forward . I can’t wait for her next book which she is in the process of writing. A character from the Shadow Earl is up next.

  9. Have you found her English Civil War series?(Roundheads and Cavaliers)they are brilliant and follow the fortunes of several interconnected families. The first one is the Black Madonna. Descendants of these families appear in her Georgian series.

  10. Wow! So many great sounding books this month. I’ve written down a ton of titles.
    My month started off with a reread of Friday’s Child and Cotillion by Georgette Heyer. I felt compelled to refresh my memory since I failed those questions on Anne Gracie’s quiz. Grin Enjoyed both books but I think I liked Freddy and Kitty more than Sherry and Hero.
    Next was a reread of Fiona’s Will by Lana McGraw Bolds. A 3 generation family saga, mostly told through Fiona’s eyes. Time frame was 1860-1924. Starts in Virginia on a burned out farm. Wagon train to Oregon. Then homesteading. Fiona is a force to be reckoned with and over the years becomes extremely wealthy as does her husband. The nitty gritty – she had an unconventional love life with 2 loves. At the end of her life she uses her will to reshape her children’s and grandchildren’s lives to right past wrongs and set them on the right path. I’ve read this book a number of times.
    The Gown by Jennifer Robson was a new to me book. I’m not sure who recommended it but I throughly enjoyed it. Set mainly in 1946-1947 England but there are a few bits from 1997 and 2016. Ann & Miriam worked at Hartnell’s doing embroidery and were chosen to work on Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress.
    Miriam was a Jewish refuge from France who had worked in haute couture shops in Paris before ending up in Ravensbruck. Ann worked at Hartnell’s for 10 years before Miriam goes to work there.
    They become friends and roommates until a very traumatic event sends Ann to Canada for the rest of her life and they lose contact. Ann never speaks of her life in England. when she dies, Ann’s grandaughter Heather inherits a few embroidery samples from the wedding gown and finds there is a lot she never knew about her grandmother.
    She travels to England and tracks Miriam down and closes the circle of friendship and remembrance for Miriam and herself. It was very well written and quite fascinating.

  11. It’s always very exciting to find a new favourite author, especially when audio books are supported! I finished ‘The Parfit Knight’ today and endorse the above recommendations …. thanks Anne.
    If you enjoy mysteries with a difference I can recommend Anne Frasier’s ‘The Body Reader’ where Detective Jude Fontaine escapes from her abductor after three years captivity. Her resulting distorted physical senses eventually help to identify a serial killer.


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