Christina here with this month's summary of what the Wenches have been reading — and we have read a lot! As always, it's an eclectic selection and hopefully some great suggestions for everyone, but we appreciate your input so please let us know what you'd like to add. We can never have enough book recommendations!
Patricia: MURDER AT THE SERPENTINE BRIDGE by Andrea Penrose
Another brilliant historical mystery in the Wrexford and Sloane series … Conducted against the pageantry of the 1814 Peace Celebrations in London, the intrepid earl and his artist countess unwind a treasonous plot involving the plans for a revolving pistol every nation wants to lay hands on. So much for celebrating peace! In the process of investigating the murder of the pistol’s inventor, the pair acquire the inventor’s brilliant nephew, Peregrine, as a companion for their own wards Hawk and Raven. I love the ongoing family sagas that continue despite the murder and mayhem in the world beyond their safe walls. The history is impeccable and one can truly imagine the scheming that probably did take place with so many powerful men in one place. Highly recommended!
Christina: I too read and loved MURDER AT THE SERPENTINE BRIDGE by Andrea Penrose. I had been eagerly looking forward to book six in this series and I wasn’t disappointed — it’s absolutely wonderful! Andrea manages to come up with the most ingenious plots that fit in so well with the time period — the Regency — and I’m in awe of her skill at weaving it all together. The series is going from strength to strength and the cast of characters is expanding and becoming an amazing, tight-knit group of friends and allies that you can’t help but want to spend time with. I loved the addition of Falcon and really felt for him — no spoilers but I can’t wait to see more of him in future books. Set against the backdrop of the (premature) Peace Celebrations in London in 1814, when the European leaders congregated for a month to honour their victory against Napoleon (who had been imprisoned on the island of Elba), the story once again involves murder and intrigue. Wrexford and Charlotte are newly married and hoping for some peace and quiet, but instead they are drawn into a dark web where it’s hard to know who is friend and who is foe. Loved ones are threatened and there is even more at stake as their investigation could have huge international ramifications. It’s lucky they have sharp intellects and each other, plus their stalwart friends, as they race to solve the mystery. I honestly couldn’t put this down and yet again can’t wait for the next book in the series — just fabulous!
I also read HER CASTILIAN HEART by Anna Belfrage which is the third instalment in this wonderful series of historical romance and adventure, featuring Sir Robert FitzStephan and his fiery wife Noor. The couple are now back in England, having endured trials and tribulations in Spain in the previous book, and the reader hopes that they will finally have some peace and quiet. Unfortunately, that is not possible as long as Robert’s evil half-brother Eustace is alive. He bears a bitter grudge and is consumed by greed and jealousy of his more capable, well-liked and respected sibling. And he will let nothing stand in the way of complete annihilation of Robert and everything he holds dear. There is also a vengeful queen plotting in the background, so to say that the couple have their hands full is an understatement! But they have loyal friends and allies — and make some surprising new ones along the way — and they are both strong and able to fight for what is right and those they love. Therefore, there is a chance that good will triumph over evil. I enjoyed every twist and turn of this story, and of course rooted for Robert and Noor, hoping they would finally be allowed to enjoy marriage and family life without worry at their idyllic manor house. I am also completely in awe of the author’s incredible grasp of the politics of this era — it must have been very complicated even for those who were in the middle of it! But everything is clearly explained and I now feel I know all about it as well. This is truly an epic historical novel, well-written and researched, and I would highly recommend the whole series!
Finally I read THE LEGACY OF HALESHAM HALL by Jenni Keer which is an absolute treat! An epic dual time historical set partly in the Victorian era and partly just after WWI, it had me hooked and intrigued from the start. My heart went out to the hero Sidney, a little boy trained by his cruel father to be mistrustful of everything and everyone, and conditioned to always expect disappointment in life. At far too young an age, he is pitted against his older brother to see who is worthy of being their father’s heir to the board games company their wealth rests on, and I really felt their frustrations and impotent rage against a man who should have loved them instead of pulling them apart. I wanted to just hug Sidney and tell him it was going to be alright. Twenty years later — enter the heroine, Phoebe, whose upbringing couldn’t have been more different. She’s been loved and cherished all her life and her outlook is sunny and positive, although she has come to Halesham Hall with secret intentions. When she starts to banish the shadows in the monstrosity of a Gothic mansion Sidney lives in, he slowly begins to change too. And Phoebe discovers that not all is as she believed, and Sidney is not quite the villain she’d been imagining. But his father had always played nasty twisted games with his offspring and could come between them even in death. I loved seeing how they went about solving the puzzles and uncovering the truth of what had happened at Halesham Hall. And I adored the slow burn romance developing between them as they got to know each other better. It was incredibly satisfying and I couldn’t put the book down until I’d reached the end. The twists and turns were so cleverly plotted and kept me guessing throughout. Brilliant!
HOLD UP! I must just squeeze in a late entry — RAINBOW RECIPE by Patricia Rice, book four in her Psychic Solutions mystery series. This landed on my kindle yesterday and I devoured it in one sitting. It continues the tale of Evie the ghost buster and her crazy but lovable family, but the story is shared by her cousin Pris this time. Pris can read and influence minds, but she doesn’t always want to as the clamour becomes too much sometimes. But when there’s a murderer on the loose and she’s the accused, she has no choice but to use her gift. The search for the real murderer takes her to Italy and Dante Rossi, a man who also has a gift he tries to suppress. I loved the developing relationship between Pris and the grumpy Italian count, and her reluctant bonding with his adorable five year old twins. Throw in some truly heinous villains and a pretty useless ghost and you have a cracking story. I’m already looking forward to the next one but if you haven’t started yet I’d recommend you begin with the first book in this amazing series. You won’t want to miss it!
Nicola: Christina and I have been reading all the same books this month! First there was Andrea’s MURDER AT THE SERPENTINE BRIDGE which I thought was a brilliant, intricate and clever story. I loved catching up with Wrexford and Charlotte, whose developing relationship has fascinated me through the series. Then there were the weasels and all the other wonderful characters who make up the close knit if unusual “family.” It was great that Cordelia and Sheffield’s romance made progress too. Another wonderful read in this series.
I also enjoyed both HER CASTILIAN HEART by Anna Belfrage, which is a gripping and epic historical novel, and THE LEGACY OF HALESHAM HALL by Jenni Keer. Jenni’s dual time stories are magical and a real treat. Christina’s reviews give a wonderful idea of what great reads these are.
I also came across a Christmas novella by Mary Jo Putney that I hadn’t previously read this month and eagerly downloaded it. It’s a reprint of a story from 1997 so you may already have read it, but if like me you missed it first time around, grab it now! THE BEST HUSBAND MONEY CAN BUY is completely charming and enchanted me. I loved the premise; that a small act of kindness led to the heroine inheriting a fortune. I loved Emma the heroine too – she was a very sensible and practical with a very generous heart underneath. The hero, Anthony, whilst appearing to be a total reprobate at first was of course a rake totally ready to be redeemed. The way that the friendship developed into love between these two was completely credible and enjoyable, with the chemistry between the two of them a complete delight. Throw in some holiday festiveness as well (even in September!) and it was wonderful!
Mary Jo here. Today I'm talking about a book that has already been recommended by Word Wenches: THE WINDSOR KNOT: THE QUEEN INVESTIGATES #1 by S.J. Bennett.
I have my doubts about mystery series where real historical people are turned into detectives, so I didn’t read it until the book was recently chosen for a small online book club I'm in. It turned out to be perfect timing since I read it just when Queen Elizabeth died and I was able to really appreciate the incredible research that S. J. Bennett had done into the Queen, her life, and her surroundings.
There is a strong sense of how busy and complicated the queen's life was, but also how caring she was. The story begins when a young Russian pianist who had performed at Windsor Castle died, possibly suicide, possibly murder. The Queen has a keen and observant mind, and refuses to accept the opinions of the devoted but rather obtuse male courtiers around her. So she asks her Assistant Private Secretary, Rozie Oshodi, an Anglo-Nigerian former army officer and veteran, to make inquiries.
Rozie is a wonderful character: discreet, intelligent and enormously capable, and she develops a quiet bond with the Queen, who wants justice but can't involve herself personally in the investigation. The mystery is intricate and intelligently worked out, and it creates a sense of what it would be like to be a 90 year queen, loved and respected by all around her, but frequently underestimated so she must use a very delicate touch.
I enjoyed THE WINDSOR KNOT so much that I immediately read ALL THE QUEEN’S MEN, second of The Queen Investigates books. (A third will be out in 2023) This time the mystery is triggered by one of the Queen's paintings going missing, a small picture she's very fond of. Rozie is once more enlisted in running down the truth among a forest of possibilities. Again, I was fascinated by the portrait of the Queen and how her gentle suggestions pointed the police in the right direction. These books are fiction, of course, but they create a vivid sense of a complex royal world, and a woman who never shirked her responsibilities — and loved her family, her horses and her corgis.
Anne here, and this month my reading has been a mix, as usual — though all with a happy ending, which is a must for me. Last month Mary Jo mentioned the first Ashley Gardner "Gladiator" story, which reminded me I had the second book in the series waiting on my kindle so, as is usual for me, I reread the first book and the novella that follows it before I read Book #2, A GLADIATOR’S TALE. (Ashley Gardner is a pen-name for Jennifer Ashley, of whom I'm a great fan.)
These books, set in ancient Rome in the time of Nero, follow the adventures of Leonides, the champion gladiator of Rome, unexpectedly set free by a mysterious benefactor. He is granted freedom, a small apartment (which he must pay rent for) and a slave — Cassia, a scribe — to look after him. But no money. With no income and no savings – he never expected to leave the arena alive — Leonides must find work to support them both.
This is a most enjoyable series. Leonides has had enough of death and fighting, but he's famous as a fighter, and what else can he do but become a bodyguard? Cassia, born a slave but raised as an educated woman, is clever and ingenious, and when they become accidentally associated with a murder, they must work together to solve it and save themselves from Rome's rough justice. Highly recommended.
And if you've already read and enjoyed this series, why not try the brilliant Lindsey Davis "Falco" series also set in ancient Rome.
Next came SWEETWATER AND THE WITCH by Jayne Castle (aka Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick). Last month I learned that Jayne Castle's "Harmony" series – paranormal with dust-bunnies – had become available (for Australians) on Kindle, although to my frustration, the first four books in the series are still unavailable for me to buy. This is a fun series, set on a world, colonized a couple of centuries ago from earth, but where a combination of the physical properties of the planet, plus the abandoned remnants of a previous alien civilization means the Psi talents of some people have been hugely expanded. The stories have plenty of action and intrigue, and the love story in each book is satisfying. Recommended.
Other books I've read include the latest JD Kirk Scottish crime novel — HERE LIES THE DEAD — I highly recommend this series. Good mysteries, good characterization, and lots of laughs. Also lots of swearing, which I know puts some people off. Not me. I really enjoy the books.
Finally I want to mention a book that's a little bit — or maybe a lot — different. THE NEAR DAPHNE EXPERIENCE by Alison Reynolds is an epistolary novel — though in this case it's a combination of emails, texts, notes, letters — all sorts of documents. And the character Daphne never actually appears. But as you read, you start to put the clues together and the story unfolds. It's clever, funny, quirky and very original. I loved it.
Andrea: Well, we seem to be having a Wench mutual admiration society in this month’s WWR, as I was busy this month glomming Christina and Nicola’s new books.
First off, I was swept right into Christina’s atmospheric story of Viking intrigue and revenge and modern-day mystery in her latest dual timeslip HIDDEN IN THE MISTS. The setting in remote Scotland is so well wrought the you can feel the chill of wind and rain, and the spookiness of the mists curling through the forest trees. I always love how she brings both her ancient and modern characters wonderfully to life and makes the emotional connections between them brilliantly believable. In this book, her modern heroine Skye is struggling to keep her farm and her self-esteem afloat after her marriage falls apart. Wary of men, she’s leery of Rafe, who appears out of nowhere looking for work. She reluctantly agrees to his offer of staying and working for a few weeks in return for food and shelter, as she desperately needs the help and has little money. It’s clear he has hidden secrets … but then, so does she.
As Christina shifts to ancient times, the reader learns of Ottarr, taken captive as an adolescent when his settlement is attacked and his family killed. Now a free man after years of enslavement, he’s obsessed with taking revenge on the people who shattered his life … but he doesn’t quite count on the effect that Asta, his enemy’s strong-willed daughter, has on him. She, too, is intent on dealing with an injustice …
When Skye and Rafe both begin to have strangely vivid dreams of the past and start to see shadowy figures moving through the mists, the past is about to tangle with the present … No spoilers! Just settle in with a woolly blanket and a cup of cocoa – and get ready to be enchanted!
Rich with historical detail and intensely memorable characters, Nicola’s THE WINTER GARDEN, which releases later this month, weaves a mesmerizing tale that takes us back and forth between the 17th century and the present as a historic house in Oxfordshire reveals its shadowy secrets.
Lucy, a concert violinist, has come to her aunt’s house to recover from the trauma of a devasting illness that has robbed her of her career. She just wishes to be alone as she struggles to cope with her grief, but the presence of Finn, a taciturn garden historian and restoration specialist who is working with his assistant to restore the historic grounds, is an unwelcome distraction.
She soon realizes that along with her grief, there is an unsettling aura of darkness shadowing the estate, which becomes even more oppressive when she discovers that Finn has also suffered a recent personal loss. And as she learns more about its history and connection to Robert Catesby, one of the infamous Gunpowder Plot conspirators of 1605, the past and its sorrows become unnervingly real.
Catesby’s story, as told by his mother, is beautifully woven in flashbacks through the present-day story as Lucy and Finn seek to unravel the dark mystery surrounding the place. There are ghosts … along with modern-day vandals, ancient legends of the Knights Hospitallers and hidden treasure. It’s an absolutely spellbinding tale. I couldn’t put it down!
So how about you – what have you been reading this month? Do let us know please!