The wenches are wading through the summer doldrums with some new and unique books!
I’ve been wanting to post about this book for a while, but I’ve been of two minds. The print book lives on my keeper shelf and I think it’s well worth recommending. But it’s been out of print for a decade and about impossible to get hold of without laying down an unreasonable amount of money.
This is Manly Wade Wellman’s John the Balladeer, short stories from the author’s Southern Appalachian tales in the Silver John mythos. They’re a little supernatural, a little fantasy, a little traditional storytelling. I find the writing evocative. And … I’ve recently found John the Balladeer as an e-book! So I am just delighted to recommend it with the happy news that it is not only enjoyable and interesting but free. (This is a legal download from the publisher.) Some more of Wellman’s other short works in the mythos are also here. You can scroll past his S.F. stories till you come to his Silver John works. To dive into one random story to get a taste, go here.
This month has had a lot of distractions for me, so my reading time has been less than usual. But I very much enjoyed the one book I did treat myself to. The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code, by Margalit Fox, combines many of the elements that I love in a story—history, mystery, compelling characters, and a riveting plot! No—it’s not the latest beach read thriller, but it reads like one. It’s the true story of the quest to decipher Linear B, a Bronze Age language discovered on a cache of clay tablets on the isle of Crete at the turn of the 20th century. It’s the oldest written Western language, dating back to around 1450 BC, but scholars had no “Rosetta Stone” to help figure out what the strange symbols might mean. It seemed an impossible task to decipher it, but several dedicated individuals were up for the challenge.
Fox writes a really riveting story about the unsung hero—a woman professor, who dedicated her talents to working on the problem even though the male-dominated scholarly world gave her little recognition—and the amateur who eventually cracked the code. And she also includes a fascinating primer on codebreaking and linguistics as she tells the tale. If you love learning arcane bits of history and intellectual puzzle-solving, I highly recommend it!
Nicola here. After Wench Anne’s recommendation last month I read the entire Stage Dive series by Kylie Scott, one book after another. I was totally hooked by this series with its strong heroines and sexy rock star heroes. There’s very strong chemistry between all the couples, great conflict and emotional growth. I loved these books!
I’ve now picked up something rather different but equally compelling: The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman, which is a historical novel set in the world of 18th century female pugilists and their patrons. Anna is a poet and it shows in her prose. The book captures the atmosphere of the times beautifully.
Not so much What We’re Reading, but What I’m Colouring – I was interested to read recently that adult colouring books are very popular at the moment, giving people a peaceful and relaxing break from the busyness of life. For my birthday I was given The Mindfulness Colouring Book and a set of crayons and in the evening I sit and colour the patterns in. As I don’t have any other arts and craft talent this is perfect for me!
Again, I’m up to my neck in the quicksand of boredom. It may be that I’ve been reading too long because every plot is predictable, and I’m not finding authors who can produce a fresh new spin on the tried and true. There are favorite authors I can always read with pleasure, but I like discovering new ones.
So for those of you willing to go way out on a limb for new and different, I bring you Kim Hunt Harris and The Trailer Park Princess and the Middle Finger of Fate. I didn’t need to buy this on the basis of cover—I bought it for the title. It was irresistible.
I’ll leave you to decide if the story lives up to the fabulous title, but the protagonist is definitely not someone you’ll find elsewhere. A recovering alcoholic who has eaten herself up to a size 18, Salem Grimes is true trailer park trash and unashamed to admit it. But at age 28, she’s trying to find God and turn her life around—until she finds a dead body in the church. Fighting a thirst for alcohol and trusting in God when all the fates turn against her is as much of a struggle as finding the real killer. Since the solution to the mystery is a bit obvious, read it for the characters. If you do, tell me what you think. (and I’m reading a lot of mysteries now since Cyber Genius will be out in a month and I’m free to read the genre until I get started on the next book!)
I’m in the odd situation of recommending a book that I suspect most of you won’t like at all. Weird tastes? Moi?
I like a light mystery, even a humorous one, which is really a bit off when corpses are involved, but there it is. When I visit my local library, I scan the mystery shelves, but most of the books look grim, promising grittiness, vile crimes, and the dark psychologies of those who commit them. So it’s not surprising that my attention was caught by the text and type of Blotto, Twinks and the Ex-King’s Daughter.
I noticed the author was Simon Brett, who is a well-respected crime writer, so I brought the book home, read it and enjoyed it. But it’s really hard to describe.
Imagine a spoof on the classic between-the-wars country house murder seen through the lens of P G Wodehouse with suggestions of the Goon Show, I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, and Monty Python. (Is this kind of silliness a uniquely British product?) The book chomps up every cliché about British aristocracy, the square-jawed action hero, the whizz-bang amateur sleuth, and any other that comes within range.
The action takes place at Tawcester Towers (pronounced “Taster” of course), residence of the Duke of Tawcester (known as Loofah, of course), where a body is found in the library. Of course. The local police are summoned, but in the butler’s opinion, “…once they have failed to identify the murderer, there will doubtless turn out to be a private detective among the Dowager Duchess’s house guests, who will continue the investigation.” Even plodding Chief Inspector Trumbull knows the rules of the genre. “Why did he have to go through the tedious preliminaries of investigating the case himself? Why couldn’t a polymathic amateur sleuth arrive straight away and solve the thing?”
Of course one does — the duke’s sister, young Lady Honoria Lyminster, known as Twinks. She is assisted by her brother, Devereux Lyminster, known as Blotto. (For some reason, on the rare occasions when Blotto is referred to formally Brett calls him the Honorable Deveraux Lyminster rather than Lord Deveraux. Perhaps he thought it more humorous.)
Blotto is not a drunk, but he is dim. In addition he’s handsome, dauntless and invincible when armed with his favorite cricket bat. One of the few coherent thoughts he has is that all the world’s problems could be solved by cricket. Beautiful Twinks has a brilliant mind, a Holmesian eye for detail, and can always find the right gadget somewhere on her person.
It’s over-the-top silly throughout, but that’s what makes it fun.
I’ve returned the first book to the library, so this little sample of dialogue is from the next book, Blotto, Twinks and the Dead Dowager Duchess.
“So tomorrow morning, soon as we’ve finished the Savoy brekker, we want to shift like a pair of cheetahs in spikes and find Davy ap Dafydd.”
“Said Davy ap Dafydd being the boddo with the next tattoo on his finger?”
“Give that pony a rosette!” said Twinks. “You’ve bonged it right on the nose, Blotters.”
If you can’t take much of that, you have been warned!
(Pat again–I had to buy this one. I adore Wodehouse, even though the names drive me…dare I say it…blotto.)
Even when I’m really busy, I still read a lot — it’s my form of relaxation, plunging into someone else’s world. This month, because I’m deep in my own current writing, I haven’t read a lot of historical romance, and the stand-out reads have been fantasy, and a contemporary Australian story with a strong thread of the past — WW2 with an American connection.
A wonderful conclusion to this series, The Caller kept me up late into the night reading on to see what happened next. It’s classed as YA but it’s one of those books that will appeal equally to adults of all ages. Juliet Marillier is the kind of fantasy writer beloved by romance readers because there is always a strong love story and her books leave you smiling.
The Australian story is Moonlight Plains, by a friend of mine, Barbara Hannay, but I’m not recommending it because she’s a friend — most of my friends are writers — but because I think wenchly readers would enjoy her books. Barbara is a romance writer who lived for many years in Townsville, in Far North Queensland, which had a big American presence during WW2.
She’s always wanted to write about the connections between American servicemen and local Australian girls — so many Aussie girls married US guys and went to live in the US, and even today Townsville still feels a close connection to Americans. Moonlight Plains is a contemporary story, but Barbara has woven a WW2 tale into the backstory. It’s a lovely story and I think people will enjoy her writing.
And how is your summer reading going? Anything new and fun we should know about?