Anne here, and it's that time again, where we share the books we've read and enjoyed in the last month. Brace your credit cards . . .
We start with Christina:
My favourite read this month was Sue Moorcroft’s latest novel Summer at the French Café. This story is an absolute delight and exactly what I needed right now to sweep me away from real life! It’s a wonderful tale of learning to trust, the importance of being open and honest with everyone, and the healing power of love. The reader can’t help but empathise with the hard-working heroine Kat from the start. She’s independent and capable, but with a positive outlook on life, and she never complains even when things go decidedly pear-shaped. A child of divorced parents, she has lots of emotional baggage, but for the most part, she manages to ignore it. Then the hero Noah arrives on the scene and he seems almost too good to be true. He has his own problems to contend with, but instead of charging in like a bull in a china shop, he stops to consider the best way of solving them. I fell head over heels in love with him – how can you not love a man as determined as he is to do the right thing for his very sensitive 8-year old daughter, while at the same time being the perfect boyfriend? Kat has to decide whether she dares to take a chance and believe that he is every bit as great as he seems, and I was rooting for this couple all the way. This is definitely the perfect summer story! (If the links above don't work for you, try this one.)
I also very much enjoyed Under One Roof, a novella by Ali Hazelwood which she calls “STEMist”. The heroine Mara is an environmental engineer and extremely brilliant at what she does, but she’s fighting against sexism and prejudice in her workplace. She’s just been left a half share in a house by her former mentor, but she hadn’t reckoned with having to share it with the woman’s nephew Liam. At first glance he is everything she hates – a corporate lawyer working for a company that has no regard for the environment whatsoever. They try to co-exist as house owners, but drive each other nuts. But everything is not as it seems, and slowly but surely they begin to find common ground. I absolutely loved the chemistry between these two and watching the romance develop. This is only the first novella in a series of three and I can’t wait for the other two!
Pat Rice tells us about: SEVEN DAYS OF US by Francesca Hornak.
The basic story here is that Olivia Birch has been treating some kind of plague in Africa and when she comes home for Christmas, she has to quarantine for a week. So her family quarantines with her in their stately old, crumbling manor in Norfolk. Olivia is the no-nonsense doctor out to save the world. Andrew, her father, was a journalist who once thought he could save the world. Now he’s a food critic. Emma, his wife, gave up her dreams to be a mother and has buried herself in tradition. Phoebe is the younger sister with no purpose other than getting married. Into this suffocating atmosphere drops Jesse, an American son fathered by Andrew while he was in a war zone. He had been given up for adoption and is now searching for his birth parents. Nuclear explosion ensues.
Make no mistake about it, this is a deliberately literary novel, so you won’t get your fun and games happy ending, but the writing is positively compelling. The reader is dragged into their mixed-up lives and really needs to know how all these good, but confused, people fix themselves or each other. We root them on as they grope about in their darkness. I can promise that they find a new kind of light at the end of their week of togetherness, so it’s well worth diving into for your escapism addiction.
Mary Jo here, talking about The Ocean Between Us by Susan Wiggs.
Susan Wiggs started out writing historical romances and has since moved into a stellar career writing women's fiction, but The Ocean Between Us was a surprise to me. Originally released in 2004, it has been reissued and is now available as an ebook or in audio. Ocean is women's fiction, but it's also a gritty examination of the challenges of Navy life. Steve and Grace Bennett were the perfect naval family, with him spending half his life flying jets off an aircraft carrier and Grace the endlessly capable wife and mother raising three great kids and creating a home wherever they're sent.
But as Grace turns forty, she finds herself craving something more: a house of her own instead of officers' quarters, a career beyond being a navy wife. Steve is within a year of the promotion he's been working for his whole career when things start falling apart. Can the Bennetts and the other important characters build back better?
I really enjoyed the characters' growth and changes, but I was also impressed with how vividly Wiggs created the reality of Navy life, and also what it's like to serve on an aircraft carrier: the noise, the stress, the loneliness of separation, the dangerous work that can never become routine. I thoroughly enjoyed the book.
On a very different note, I needed a break from an intense military science fiction novel so I decided to reread a very funny old favorite: Jennifer Crusie's Charlie All Night. Allie McGuffey is a high energy radio producer, but she's depressed because her DJ boss/boyfriend first dumped her, then removed her from her job in favor of a younger, prettier producer.
Allie is given the job of producing a new DJ, Charlie Tenniel, on the 10 pm to 2:00 am shift. He has been sent to the town to investigate a potential problem at the radio station. He knows nothing about broadcasting and plans to leave in a few weeks because he's not the settlin' down type. He most emphatically does not want Allie to make him a star, but she's determined to make him succeed in spite of himself. Add a station full of eccentrics, a very tiny puppy, smoking hot attraction, and hilarious banter and the result of pure fun. (And again, if the above link doesn't work try this.)
Andrea says: I have deep into research reading this month, and while the books are fascinating to me, they aren’t what I would recommend as the “beach reading” season starts here in the northern hemisphere. I did, however, balance history with a delightful contemporary novel that was the current choice for my local book club.
Last Summer at the Golden Hotel, by Elyssa Friedland is set at one of the grand dame resorts in the famous “Borst Belt” of the Catskill region in upstate New York. (If you have seen the movie Dirty Dancing, then you know exactly what the setting is.)The aging property is now showing it age—the simple pleasure of shuffleboard and rowboats on the lake, and its groaning board of traditional heavy meals no longer attracts the latte-and-vegan loving families who once considered the place their summer home. It’s struggling financially—the shabby buildings aren’t Instagram-worthy,and all the many wonderful memories of an era gone by can’t support the reality of modern lifestyle choices. So the Goldman and Weingold families have gathered to decide whether to sell the Golden Hotel to developers who plan to tear it down and build a casino.
Three generations are represented . . . the founders, one of who has passed away, their children, and their children’s children. Each of them a has a vote. And each of them is struggling with personal challenges as well and their traditional pecking order in the family. Old grievances—and old yearnings—come to light as they seek to come to a consensus. It’s a classic trope, but Friedland gives it some unexpected twists. The characters are all interesting, and the writng is sharp and funny. It’s a very enjoyable read.
Nicola said: Some non-fiction from me this month, albeit in highly-readable form that reads like a story. Mudlarking by Laura Maiklem is sub-titled “lost and found on the river Thames.” Laura is a mudlark, a person who has for centuries scoured the River Thames foreshore at low tide looking for items that have been lost, forgotten or deliberately thrown away down the centuries. Amongst her finds are Roman coins, Tudor shoes, Georgian pins, printers’ blocks and wedding rings. Each section of the book is tied to a particular part of the Thames and through the tales of her mudlarking and the items she has found, Laura tells the bigger story of the history of London itself, the river and the people who have lived and worked beside it for a thousand years. She is adept at creating a narrative around each of the items she finds, imagining the owners and the circumstances in which they might have lost their possessions.
So a wooden patten (a protective overshoe) that she finds in the mud might have belonged to a woman in the 18th century, hurrying to catch a boat at the staithe, who tripped and lost her both shoe and patten in her subsequent fall. A “promise ring” offered by a young Victorian apprentice to a girl he loves might have been cast into the waters when she turns down his marriage proposal… Laura even finds a personal family connection between a item she recovers and an ancestor who had been locked up on the prison hulks moored in the river before he was deported to Australia… She brings alive the travellers of Shakespeare’s time, flocking to the Globe Theatre, the press gangs, the criminals and the inn keepers. Her prose is so vivid that she conjures up the ghostly figures of the watermen from the Thames fog and reading the books feels like stepping back in time. It was a page-turner for me. It’s also illustrated with some of the amazing finds that Laura has made over the years and also some beautiful drawings of other items in her collection. You can get a taste for her work on Twitter @LondonMudlark. And there are more photos on her instagram page.
Susan here. Years ago in high school and college, I read every Agatha Christie I could get my hands on and then went on to glom other books and genres as fast as I could consume them. I've always wanted to reread Christie and get to others that are still new to me. Recently we watched the excellent BritBox series "Why Didn't They Ask Evans?" –utterly charming, witty, beautifully done, authentic, and not the least bit dark or overdone, yay (and I highly recommend it!).
So I followed the urge and went back to Agatha Christie to start again. Just this month I've reread The Murder at the Vicarage–Miss Marple's very first appearance, with the majority of the sleuthing done by the vicar with gruff charm. Next, I moved on to The Body in the Library, in which the body of a young woman mysteriously appears in the library of the manor house belonging to local gentry who have no clue who she is or how she got there, much less who did her in while the household was sleeping. Luckily Colonel Melchett and Miss Marple put their heads together to unravel a complex situation involving another local family. Then I picked up Death on the Nile again, a favorite I've read a few times over the decades, and I always find something new. (We recently watched the new film version with Kenneth Branagh and Gal Gadot. It's marvelous and visually breathtaking, and though this newest one was not entirely filmed in Egypt, it's very evocative of its beauty.)
Coming back to Agatha Christie's books at this point in life and in my own writing career gives me a new perspective on her writing. There is always something to learn and something to savor. She's a rare gem, a truly timeless writer, fresh and witty, her storytelling and writing moving along with supreme efficiency and clarity, the characters entertaining and relatable, her insights into personality and motivation universal. Her mysteries are layered, detailed, perfectly pitched for the time and place, yet are not dated today, when they could stand as brilliant historicals. Just genius. I've got a stack of Christies now that I plan to go through, interspersed with other books stacked up and waiting. What a pleasure to revisit these and find so much to enjoy!
Anne here again. Because I've been packing up my house and moving this month, I haven't read many new books, but reading is my evening relaxation, so I've been rereading some old favorites, starting with Mary Jo's Carousel of Hearts and then moving on to her Fallen Angels series. This is the first in that series.
The only new book I've read is Dinner with the Schnabels, a contemporary literary novel by Toni Jordan. On the surface it doesn't sound like much fun — Simon Larsen, having lost his architecture business sine CoVid, is now unemployed, depressed and pretty much living life on the couch. And he's completely unable to handle his intimidating in-laws — the Schnabels. But it's a really good read — hopeless as he is at the start of the book, he still adores his wife and kids, the writing is sharp, wry and very funny in places, and it has a surprise — and happy — ending. I recommend it.
So that's it for the wenches, and now it's over to you — what books have you read and enjoyed lately?