Mary Jo: I just read the second of Ashley Weaver's Electra O'Donnell historical mystery series, set in London right at the beginning of WWII, and the books are narrated by Ellie, who was taught the skills of a safe cracker by her Uncle Mick. The family runs a legitimate locksmith business, but when money is tight, Ellie and Uncle Mick quietly break into unoccupied houses of the rich for a spot of burglary.
The first book, A Peculiar Combination, begins when Ellie and her uncle break into a house and are ambushed by Major Ramsay, a British army intelligence officer who needs a skilled safe cracker and is quite willing to blackmail the O'Donnells into helping him.
Ellie is happy to use her nefarious skills and is reluctantly attracted to the rigidly controlled Major Ramsay. She also has a possibly developing relationship with a talented forger friend of the family, Felix Lacey. She's smart, stubborn, and determined, and in the first book, she finds that she enjoys the danger and satisfaction of risking her life for her country. And she wants to do it again.
In the second book, The Key to Deceit, Major Ramsay turns up again needing her skills. The body of a well-dressed young woman with no identification has been found in the Thames, and she has an unusual bracelet locked around her wrist. Ellie unlocks the bracelet, and soon she and Major Ramsay and her friends are chasing a Nazi spy ring around London.
The advancing war is palpable, and at the end of the book, the Blitz has begun as masses of German bombers begin pounding London. It only makes Ellie, her friends, and her fellow Londoners more determined to remain unbroken. Clearly there is much more that can be done with this series and these characters, and I look forward to the next installment!
Pat: Life's Too Short by Abby Jimenez is contemporary romance at its finest. Yes, the couple have their moments of non-communication, for good reasons. Yes, the he loves me/she loves me not goes on a bit too much. But the characterization of the live-for-today YouTuber Vanessa who knows she’ll probably die by age 30 and the control freak lawyer whose life she turns upside down is joyful and witty and carries the reader along like a tsunami. By the end, like any really good romance, you’ve laughed and cried and yes, you get a happy ending, so you’ll put this one down smiling and look around for the next one.
The Lost Apothecary, a NYT bestseller by Sarah Penner, is women’s fiction set half in contemporary times and half in 1791, telling the story of three women seeking their place in life. Caroline, in the present, is running from a humdrum life where her only hope for a future was a baby, until she catches her beloved husband in an affair. Nella, in 1791, a woman in her forties crippled with disease she blames on the countless poisons she’s dispensed to women to kill the men who betrayed them. And Eliza, an ever-curious, intelligent twelve-year old sent by her employer to fetch the poison needed to kill a lecher. I had to skim a lot because of the thriller aspect of getting caught, so I hope I won’t spoil it for you that all ends well, even if we don’t get the final details from 1791. There’s nothing highly original here, but it’s well written and entertaining and the reader learns a heck of a lot about herbal poisons!
Nicola: Having visited Brampton Bryan castle in Herefordshire a few weeks ago, I was thrilled to discover that Anne O'Brien had written a historical romance called Marriage Under Siege which was inspired by the English Civil War siege of the castle and the story of its occupants. I downloaded it straightaway and I loved it. Beautifully written, very romantic and engrossing, it's a proper sweep-you-away historical romance. Honoria, Lady Mansell, has been widowed after only a month of marriage. Her husband, the late unlamented Lord Edward, has given her a horror of physical intimacy and all she wants to do is retire to her dower lands and live quietly on her own. However the Civil War is coming ever closer and times are dangerous for a lone woman, so when the new Lord Mansell, Edward's very distant cousin Francis, offers marriage as the only way to protect her, Honoria reluctantly accepts. Francis is a very different man from Edward, young, handsome and virile, as well as a passionate supporter of the Parliamentarian cause. And there is the rub because Honoria is a Royalist. When their divided loyalties are put under pressure by war, how can the marriage survive? Honoria is a lovely heroine, reserved by nature but strong and loving and brave. Despite disagreeing with Francis's politics, she is loyal to him and when the evidence suggests that she has betrayed him, Honoria is heartbroken. Francis for his part is a very dashing hero who meets his match in his wife. The two start off as complete strangers and the story shows how they start to develop a trust and an intimacy before falling in love. It's beautifully done and the conflicts that divide them are realistic and dealt with in a very satisfying way. The happy ending is hard won and totally satisfying. I recommend it highly to anyone who enjoys a bit of swashbuckling in the seventeenth century!
Christina: Tweet Cute by Emma Lord. I hadn’t read a good YA novel in a while and only picked this one up because of the many recommendations I saw, but I’m very glad I did! It’s sweet and almost too innocent, but it totally drew me in and I couldn’t put it down once I started read. Pepper Evans (real name Patricia), is a “chronic overachiever and all-around perfectionist” according to the blurb. She’s living in New York with her mother who runs a massive fast-food chain whose business is booming, partly due to Pepper who is secretly running their massive Twitter account. She attends a posh private school which is a far cry from the laidback high school she was used to in her home town of Nashville and she’s done everything she can to fit in but she has no actual friends. There’s only her arch-enemy Pooja and Jack Campbell, the class clown who’s always bugging her. Jack has his own problems – he has a twin brother who is popular and beloved by all – and feels he’s always in his shadow, the second and “lesser” twin. He spends most of his time working in his family’s deli. When Pepper’s mother’s business seemingly steals his grandma’s grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time. Thus, a Twitter war of epic proportions begins to take shape between him and Pepper, but at the same time it brings them closer and a weird friendship starts to blossom into something else. The whole Twitter spat goes viral and causes all sorts of problems, and there are old disputes brewing in the background they have no idea about, but the romance building between them was so real, so poignant and wonderful, I absolutely loved this story!
Julia Prima by Alison Morton is an engrossing tale of love, adventure and treachery, within an authentic historical setting filled with fascinating details of Roman life. The author has done an amazing job researching this period and her knowledge shines through at every turn. I really felt as though as was there, first in the little backwater town of Virunum in Noricum, then travelling through the mountains and down the coast towards Rome. The heroine is the spoiled only daughter of a prince to begin with, but when it matters, she’s incredibly strong and fights for what she wants. I was rooting for her all the way and loved the fact that she knows how to wield a knife or sword to defend herself and takes no prisoners, always standing up for herself. The secondary characters, her companions Aegius and Asella, both had some surprises up their sleeves, and the hero Lucius is the perfect love interest. The story also gives the reader a wonderful insight into the difficulties of the times, pitting those who cling to the old gods against the increasingly stronger Christians who give no quarter. It all makes for a truly exciting adventure and epic romance that kept me on the edge of my seat. I absolutely loved this addition to the Roma Nova series (it’s a prequel to the other books) and hope there is much more to come!
I must just mention Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood. This is another of the author’s trademark stories with a STEM heroine and gorgeous brainy hero. I loved it and it kept me riveted from beginning to end. Already looking forward to the next one!
Anne: I'm afraid I've read very few "new" books, by which I mean you've probably read most of the books I'm talking about.
To start with, I've read and enjoyed several Karen Baugh Menuhin's "Heathcliff Lennox" books, which both Andrea and Mary Jo recommended last month. It's a series, so I started with the first, Murder at Melrose Court — which seems to be free on amazon at the moment — and now I'm up to book #4. Most enjoyable.
Earlier, in a private wenchly discussion following our recent "birds" post, I sent this photo of three little tawny frogmouth chicks. Mary Jo commented that they reminded her of Jayne Castle's dust bunnies in her Harmony series. (Jayne Castle is also Amanda Quick & Jayne Ann Krentz). It has long been a source of frustration to me that as an Australian, I hadn't been able to buy the Harmony series as e-books, but just as I was about to grumble (yet again) I checked, and lo, they were finally available! So I've been glomming and enjoying that series. I started with The Lost Night, but when I'd finished the Rainshadow Island series, I discovered there were earlier books, so am heading back to get them. And as everyone has said, the dust bunnies are delightful.
Then on a whim I pulled out an old Jennifer Crusie book, and enjoyed it so much I've been re-reading through her backlist. Strange Bedpersons, Anyone But You, Getting Rid of Bradley, Charlie All Night and there are more I haven't yet reread. These are her earliest books published through Harlequin Mira now — romantic comedy — an
d IMO the most fun. If you haven't read them try them. Highly recommended.
Andrea: I just finished West With Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge for my local book club and very much enjoyed it. Based on a true story, it involves a pair of young giraffes sent by ship from Africa to New York in 1938, to be transported by special truck across the country to the San Diego Zoo, where they would be the first of their species to be exhibited in the American West. The ship was caught in the legendary hurricane of ’38, but the giraffes survived, only to land in a devastated New York City, where transportation plans had been knocked to flinders by the powerful storm.
But a mismatched team is thrown together by chance—a determined animal lover sent by the zoo to supervise the trip, a hardscrabble Dust Bowl orphan teenager from the panhandle of Texas who hasn’t a penny in his pocket but hides a soft spot for animals in his bruised heart, and an aspiring young woman journalist who dreams of having her photographs published in Life magazine. And suddenly there’s a chance that the giraffes may make it to their final destination.
The trip through Depression-era America takes a number of twists and turns, and as the backstory of each person comes to light, their strengths and weaknesses all intertwine . . . It’s a bittersweet tale of luck and chance—and friendship, heightened by the redemptive healing power of animals.
So what about you? What have YOU been reading? As always, please share . . . so we can all add to our towering TBR piles!