What We’re Reading

Christina here with this month’s roundup of what the Wenches have been reading. We have lots of lovely recommendations this time and I hope there’s something for everyone. See what you think!

I’ll start with my ownI have loved all Kylie Scott’s books so far and THE LAST DAYS OF LILAH GOODLUCK was no exception! The heroine, Lilah, is a curvy librarian who happens to save the life of a witch when she pulls her out of the way of a crazy car driver. As a thank you, the witch gives her a set of predictions for her future, including the next winning Lotto numbers. Lilah doesn’t believe in magic, but as these predictions start to come true one by one, she begins to change her mind. The only problem is that the final prediction foretold that she was going to die in a week’s time … Naturally, she doesn’t want to believe that one, but does she have a choice? Following Lilah as she decides to live out her last days by doing everything that’s always been on her wish list is great fun. And then there is the charming sort-of-royal Alistair, who is supposedly her soulmate but seems to be way out of her league. The chemistry between them can’t be denied, however, and he was an absolutely fantastic hero. I loved this story and can’t wait for the next one!

It’s been a while since I got excited about a book about vampires and werewolves, but BRIDE by Ali Hazelwood had me hooked right from the first page. The sassy vampire heroine (or vampyre as it’s spelled in this story), who’s survived years of being nothing but a pawn in her father’s power-grabbing machinations, is wonderful. And when she is married off to an alpha werewolf (or just Were in this case) in order to cement an alliance between the two species, things get really interesting. She continually surprises her new husband and his pack, and along the way surprises herself with the way she reacts to certain things. And the love story that builds between these two is phenomenal. Really couldn’t put this down! (Warning: some fairly explicit sex scenes in this one)

Pat:  I am not entirely certain how to describe SKELTON’S GUIDE TO DOMESTIC POISONS by David Stafford. It reads like an old-fashioned mystery from the 1940’s. Since it’s set between the two World Wars, that means the author really has a sense of history because it was actually written in 2020. The protagonist is Arthur Skelton, a 36-year-old barrister based on the life of a real barrister of the period. Arthur has just won a major case with a bit of Perry Mason-like sensibility and has been more or less forced into taking on a high-profile murder case involving a beautiful young housewife. She and her children have been badly abused for years by her husband, who would have been buried without fanfare, except the man’s mother decides to make a murder case of it. We get a lively tour of rural areas near Birmingham, the people in them, including Arthur’s evangelist cousins who act as his local spies. The story is colorful, entertaining, witty, and a lovely puzzle — that doesn’t get solved. I thoroughly enjoyed Arthur and accept his pragmatic take on the results of all his hard work. But a true mystery lover who wants the whole answer and all the clues nailed down will no doubt fling the book across the room. Your call.

And for a totally different offering, there is the ROMANTIC COMEDY by Curtis Sittenfeld. I enjoyed this, despite myself. The protagonist is an almost-forty-year-old skit writer for a TV program resembling Saturday Night Live. She’s been divorced, won Emmys, and while she can be confident about her work, she’s hopeless at a personal life. Truly, irritatingly hopeless and one of those self-sabotaging heroines you want to smack and tell to grow up. But the author steeps us in her work (I now know more about the making of SNL than I ever want to know) and the people around her, and I kept reading. She meets a total hunk rockstar singer (of course), and they hit it off over several comedy sketches. When he attempts to make a personal connection, she cuts him off at the knees, and then Covid happens. But out of sheer boredom, they start emailing each other, and things happen as expected from there. The book is extremely intelligent and introspective, not a typical silly romcom, and the dialogue can be quite funny. They’re both adults and self-aware and I love the way their relationship grows.

Nicola:  This month I’ve been reading my way through the Adair Family series and the Highlands Series by Samantha Young. What’s better than one series of contemporary romantic suspense set in Scotland with incredibly dashing heroes? Yes, that’s right – two series! I actually started with the Highland series and was slightly confused by all the characters until I realised that I needed to go back to the beginning. So then I picked up HERE WITH ME, book 1 of the Adair Family, and got the story from the start. The set up is totally brilliant. A retired Hollywood actor returns home to the Scottish Highlands to take up his inheritance of a grand castle and turn it into an exclusive members’ club. Said actor, Lachlan, is hot. All the Adair brothers (and fortunately there are four of them and a sister) are insanely hot. So are their bodyguards and all their actor friends. I just revelled in the very strong emotional conflicts in each story, applauded the amazing heroines (who were the sort of people I wanted as my friends) and loved the sense of community that the author created around the castle and the village of Ardnoch. Plus, her descriptions of Northern Scotland through the seasons are fabulous. I’m eagerly awaiting the next book in the series which is out in May. One word of warning, the sex scenes are very explicit, as hot as the characters!

And as something totally different, I’m reading THE BANDIT QUEENS by Parini Shroff. Geeta’s life as a widow in her village in India is far preferable to that of a wife. It helps that people believe she murdered her husband and got away with it, as they give her respect for it even if she is an outsider. But then one of the other women in the village decides she also wants to be rid of her drunken, abusive husband and turns to Geeta for help – after all she’s supposed to be the expert! It’s a very funny book, with dark themes and humour mixed together, a real page-turner.

Andrea:  My reading this month has, as usual, encompassed very different genres. First up was an absolute gem of a non-fiction book about a place that is very near and dear to my heart — the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, an iconic institution that I have visited since I was a child and helped inspire my love of art and creativity. ALL THE BEAUTY IN THE WORLD by Patrick Bringley is part memoir, part musing on grief and loss, part reflections on the power of art to heal and inspire, and part a delightful inside look on what it’s like to be a guard in that august place! Bringley was a young assistant at The New Yorker magazine when his beloved brother, who was just several years older, died of cancer at age 26. Overwhelmed by grief, he felt he needed to step off his career path and think about Life. Art had always been a source of solace, so he applied to the Met for a job as a gallery guard … The book is a delight! It’s poignant, it’s funny and gives a wonderful inside look at the duties and the wonderful friendships that develop between those quiet, watchful people who few visitors ever stop to notice in the galleries.

I also read THE RUNNING GRAVE, the latest book in Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike mystery series. I’m a huge fan of the books, and this latest one was particularly gripping. I won’t go into a long explanation of the plot, as Galbraith always weaves an intricate web of twists and subplots — including the development of the complicated relationship between Strike and Robin Ellicott, who began the series as his temporary secretary. In this book, Robin has just become his partner in the detective agency, and they have taken on a new case concerning a cult and its charismatic leader. Robin is the natural choice to go undercover into the cult’s idyllic commune … And so the investigation begins, as she and Strike try to figure out whether the place is Good or Evil. Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) gives a chilling description of how cults work and I was totally caught up in the story. There’s also some interesting developments between Strike and Robin. If you like complex and twisty mysteries, I highly recommend this series.

Anne:  For a good part of this month I’ve been in a reading slump, but then — thankfully — I read a number of good books. The first was Beth O’Leary’s THE NO-SHOW, which Pat recommended last month. Like her, I won’t try to describe the plot, except that for the first part of the book I thought it was one kind of book and was breathlessly reading on to learn what happened, then then … it wasn’t the story I thought it was. I really loved it and have already recommended it to some friends.

The next one was Mhairi McFarlane’s — BETWEEN US. Roisin and her long time partner Joe, join a group of friends for a weekend away, it’s a triple celebration – a birthday, an engagement and the launch of Joe’s new crime drama on TV. But Roisin has been feeling increasingly distant from Joe and when they watch Joe’s new TV show, she realizes it’s time for a decision. This is women’s fiction, and there is a romance, but it’s billed as “hilarious romantic comedy” and “laugh out loud.” It’s not. It’s a good book and I enjoyed it, but it’s not a comedy.

Another wench recommendation I followed up on was a Christina recommendation for Ali Hazelwood. I started with a fantasy — BRIDE — which I really enjoyed, but book #2 isn’t out yet, so I moved on to her contemporary rom-com THE LOVE HYPOTHESIS which I really loved — romantic and funny. Set in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) academia which is Ali Hazelwood’s own background. The heroine is a slightly ditsy but very intelligent PHD student, aged 26, who for various reasons becomes the fake girlfriend of a brilliant, but very tough professor. It’s a slow build and I enjoyed every moment.

Lastly, I’ll add to Christina’s endorsement of Kylie Scott’s THE LAST DAYS OF LILAH GOODLUCK. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Susan:  This month I’ve been in the car a good bit, so listening to some audio is a great way to get through some books. One standout audio for me was THE LAST MRS SUMMERS by Rhys Bowen, narrated by Jasmine Blackborow. I’m gradually making my way through the excellent mystery series called Her Royal Spyness, and while some have captivated me more than others, this is one of the best, I think. Lady Georgiana, a cousin in the royal family, newly married to the very interesting Irishman Darcy O’Mara, and setting up her own household, continues to act as a sleuth when she once more stumbles into a situation where a murder has occurred. This time, Georgiana travels with her dear friend Belinda to Cornwall, where Belinda has inherited a rundown cottage that needs more work than expected. While there, the two ladies encounter Belinda’s friends from years ago, and are invited to stay at the mansion once owned by Belinda’s family – owned now by an old beau of Belinda’s, married to another old friend who seems unhappy in the marriage. Trouble occurs when the husband turns up dead – in Belinda’s bed, when she is adamant she knows nothing of the bloody murder. Georgiana is immediately in the thick of it, determined to help Belinda prove her innocence. Rhys Bowen says the story was inspired by Du Maurier’s Rebecca, and that atmosphere runs all through an outstanding mystery that is eerie, surprising, and not easy to puzzle through. The cast of characters includes a snooty housekeeper who may or may not have a motive, a mysterious carpenter who may or may not be a smuggler, the devastated widow who may or may not have wanted to escape her marriage – Georgie and Belinda face a real challenge in this entry in the series. Jasmine Blackborow delivers an excellent narration and improves book to book. I’m ready for the next in the series!

Mary Jo – with women’s fiction for my February reading. First up is Emilie Richard‘s A FAMILY OF STRANGERS. Richards writes wonderful compassionate stories of women, families, and relationships.  A Family of Strangers might be considered domestic suspense since there’s a mystery at the heart of the story.

Ryan Gracey was the unexpected baby of the family and she grew up in the shadow of her dazzling, much older sister Wendy, who was the golden girl with the perfect life and the perfect family. Ryan followed her own path into journalism and is now hosting a successful true crime podcast that delves into cold cases. So it’s a shock when a desperate Wendy calls and says that she had been near a murder and can’t come home for fear of being arrested though she’s innocent. Will Ryan move to their mutual home town and take care of her two young daughters until it’s safe for Wendy to come home? And can Ryan use her investigative skills to find the man who Wendy believes is the real murderer?

Shocked, Ryan agrees and moves across Florida to her home town, where her father is recovering from heart surgery. Ryan doesn’t know her nieces well and finds them to be rather unnervingly well behaved. She struggles to connect with them while holding off her parents’ inquiries about why Wendy hasn’t called them directly. As Ryan tries to find the missing man her sister wants, she begins to wonder how well she really knows Wendy. She also reconnects with a former love whose life was forever changed by a disastrous misjudgment on Ryan’s part. The story is full of twists and turns and kept me enthralled to the satisfying ending.  Also, there are dogs. <G>

My second book is Abbi Waxman‘s I WAS TOLD IT WOULD GET EASIER. Waxman is also the author of The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, which several Wenches enjoyed last year.  As a writer, Waxman is smart, funny, and always interesting. This is the story of mother and daughter Jessica and Emily Burnstein, told in alternating first person from each of them.

Jessica is a single mother and a very smart, very successful Los Angeles lawyer who is tired of the sexual discrimination at her top tier law firm and is more than ready to get away for a week on an East Coast bus tour of elite universities with her sixteen year old daughter Emily. Once they were very close, but now there’s a lot of tension. The tour kids all attend elite, expensive private schools and most of the parents and kids are obsessed with getting into name brand universities – although Emily isn’t even sure she wants to go to college and she’s keeping a secret about a scandal at her own school.

Interacting with each other and the others on the tour, as well as meeting people from Jessica’s past, is hilarious and thought provoking and catches a key moment when the chick is looking to leave the nest, and mother and daughter are both trying to figure out what comes next. Highly recommended.

So what have you been reading this month? Give us your recommendations please!

 

27 thoughts on “What We’re Reading”

  1. Currently reading a slightly older nonfic (published 2007): Catherine Bailey’s “Black Diamonds” (subtitled ‘the downfall of an aristocratic dynasty & the 50 years that changed England’). It’s about the Fitzwilliam family, who were one of the richest in England in early c20 due to their coal mines.

    Absolutely fascinating & can recommend.

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  2. That has added half a dozen books to my wish list, thank you!
    I also read The Running Grave this month. I skipped Book 6 in the series: I think the reviews weren’t great – but this popped up as a 99p deal and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
    The only other book that I’ve actually enjoyed (I’m in the mood for light & low stakes, but I overcompensated into vacuous) is the latest Laurie R Kings ‘The Lantern’s Dance’. It’s the 18th in the series, so not the place to start, but a pleasant read, almost like a long novella. I do think the time-line is getting a little fantastical, but that would be my only quibble.

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  3. So glad we’ve added to your wish list – I always end up buying half a dozen books as well because of this monthly post 🙂 And great that you enjoyed The Running Grave too. I do like the series but prefer to watch it on TV so will wait for the adaptation I think. The programmes are very well done.

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  4. I’ve been reading The Nordic Theory of Everything by Anu Partanen and Lost in Finland by Tim Walker. Ooh, when the the writer’s (Tim) Finnish girlfriend told “If you marry me, we will inherit a forest from my father” he joked about selling the forest. Frankly, I’m surprised she didn’t dump him right then and there.

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    • Wow, Minna, I’m with you! I love the nordic forests and would definitely not sell if I owned a part of one! Sounds like fascinating books, thank you.

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  5. So many books…so little time! Your rcommendations sound very interesting and will add to my list of to be read….
    I discovered a fun fantasy adventure series called Cinder Spires and am in the midst of the second book called the Olympia Affair. It makes me think of the old swashbuckling movies of the 1930’s and ’40’s with the likes of Errol Flynn, et al, but it takes place in tbe future. Their “airships” look like frigates, they fight dueks with swords and pistols, but slso have futuristic magical weapons. They are Lords, Ladies and Sirs. It is an interesting mix of past and futuristic and the characters are very well drawn. The author is Jim Butcher.

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  6. So many tempting books!
    Christina and Anne, I just finished BRIDE by Ali Hazelwood yesterday and also enjoyed it.
    Pat, I’d previously read and enjoyed ROMANTIC COMEDY by Curtis Sittenfeld.
    I’m also adding titles to my list!

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    • So glad you liked it too, Kareni – I hope there will be a sequel! And I must try Romantic Comedy as it sounds intriguing.

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  7. Week by week ~

    — I read my first book by fantasy writer Sharon Shinn and quite enjoyed it, Troubled Waters (An Elemental Blessings Novel Book 1). It has elements that remind me of The Goblin Emperor (a newcomer learning to deal with court intrigue); it also reminds me a bit of Bujold’s Five Gods books though in this case the author has built a world in which every child is given three elemental blessings soon after birth.
    — The Exception to the Rule by Christina Lauren. This was a fun epistolary novella that begins when a 16 year old student mistakenly sends an email to a 14 year old student on Valentine’s Day while trying to contact his teacher. It leads to ten years of Valentine’s Day emailing during which the two leads share details of their lives. Ultimately they meet. I quite enjoyed it and will likely reread it.
    — Worst Wingman Ever by Abby Jimenez. This story begins when a woman, a hospice nurse who is caring for her own grandmother, finds a Valentine’s card that was mistakenly placed on her car by the hero who was doing a favor for his brother (thus the title.) The two leads continue to exchange notes while also meeting in person unaware of each other’s identity. I liked this one, too.
    — three books by author Jackie North all of which I enjoyed. These are all male/male romances set on or near a western guest ranch. At least one or frequently both of the leads have had significant trauma in their pasts.
    ** The Blacksmith and the Ex-Con
    ** The Wrangler and the Orphan
    ** The Cowboy and the Rascal

    — for my distant book group, Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus which makes three times I’ve read it (first independently and then for my local book group). It’s a good thing that I like it!
    — read and enjoyed Royal Airs (An Elemental Blessings Novel Book 2) by Sharon Shinn.
    — All Rocs Wise & Wonderful (The Portal Storms Book 1) by T.M. Baumgartner was a fun read though I’d recommend starting with the prequel novella, All Gremlins Great and Small. This is set four years after portals to other worlds appeared in our world. Many people (and animals) were lost including the husband of the book’s heroine; she is a vet who sees animal patients from this and other worlds.
    — enjoyed the historical romance The Mrs MacKinnons by Jayne Davis which is set in England in 1799. It features a widow who supports herself and her son by writing and a major returning from India where he was cruelly imprisoned. Today we would say he suffers from PTSD; he drinks to deal with his memories. (In fact, if you are troubled by alcoholism, I’d recommend skipping this book; I can’t recall reading a book with so much drinking.)

    — read Jeweled Fire (An Elemental Blessings Novel Book 3) by Sharon Shinn. I enjoyed it and will continue on, but the first book, Troubled Waters, remains my favorite to date.
    — quite enjoyed Colony One by T.L. Ford which I’d describe as science fiction. It covers the life of an incredibly intelligent young woman with an eidetic memory from a horrible childhood to perhaps early thirties when she has founded a new world. It requires some willing suspension of disbelief, but I’d be interested in reading more in this world or other books by the author.
    — reread Cooper West’s Parker’s Sanctuary along with the prologue, Rescued, and the epilogue, Second Chances, and enjoyed them all again. These are set in a world where some children become protectors (who can shift to a dog) or handlers and pair bonds form. This usually takes place at around puberty, and they attend a special school. In Parker’s Sanctuary, however, a dog is rescued (in the separate prologue) from an abusive owner who is convinced that the dog is a protector. The dog is placed into a foster home and the story takes off. Warnings for animal abuse and adult content; this is a male/male romance.

    — read with Unquiet Land (An Elemental Blessings Novel Book 4) by Sharon Shinn which I also enjoyed.
    — quite enjoyed the contemporary romance Sweet Talk: Is it love on the line? by Cara Bastone. This story begins when a man with insomnia leaves a voice text for his sister to the person next to his sister in his contacts. Since the man has dyslexia, that woman’s name is listed as a mishmash of letters. She knows who he is, but he can’t figure out who she is. They build up a relationship over their phones.
    — also enjoyed The Christmas Leap (Festive Fakes) by Keira Andrews which is a contemporary romance between two male friends who find themselves in a fake relationship.

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  8. I am reading a great series called Lord’s Legacy about the start of the English Civil War by Eleanor Swift-Hook. It was recommended by Stella Riley. Otherwise good books here to add to my tottering TBR pile

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  9. This is always such an interesting and expensive post! I can’t remember if they were recommended here, because I’ve had them for some time, but I read all of Jennifer Ashley’s MacKenzie family romances this month. A Christmas novella was my introduction to this Scottish family, so then, of course, I had to read the story of each of the 4 gorgeous, conflicted brothers finding happiness, then on to sons and nephews, and an illegitimate brother. The heroes are complicated, the heroines are smart and strong, and the family loyalty is warm and loving. They’re Victorian, and even the Queen plays a role!

    Other than that, I’ve been reading old cookbooks! I love a cookbook author who can tell a story, talk me through a menu, and teach me a new technique, and I especially enjoy older British cookbooks, even if finding the ingredients can be a challenge. A recent local estate sale provided me with several wonderful additions.
    – English Food by Jane Grigson was published in 1974, one of her many books. She argues that commercial and restaurant English food at the time was rightfully criticized but that the country’s home cooking and regional dishes were superb and she offers recipes that prove it!
    – The Feill Cookery Book, published in 1907 (and in astoundingly good shape!), is full of recipes from Scotland’s Highlands, with charming if somewhat vague instructions for making many of its offerings. And re the last Wench post, it has an inscription in lovely script but I think it’s Gaelic, so I need to find someone to translate it for me!
    – The Simple Art of Perfect Baking is by the late American Flo Braker, and I have looked for this book for many years. If you love to bake, whether you’re experienced or just starting, this is the only book you’ll ever need – Julia Child was a huge fan and it’s easy to see why.

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    • Great that you found some cook book treasures, Constance! You’ll have to share the best of the recipes you try out. And thank you for recommending the Scottish series – it sounds very good!

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    • That sounds like a great month, Constance; I like those Jennifer Ashley books, too.
      And what fun to find that cookbook you’ve been seeking. The most successful gift that my husband and I have ever given was to my sister-in-law who had a treasured copy of a cookbook that had been her grandmother’s. Her copy was missing its cover and was in generally poor (i.e., well-loved) condition. We found a wonderful copy through a used bookseller (this was in pre-internet days) and gave it to her for Christmas. She cried. It was the Delineator Cook Book from 1928.

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      • What a lovely gift, Kareni! I saw an excellent Delineator Cook Book years ago in a wonderful used book store in San Diego and was ready to purchase it, but the store owner said it wasn’t for sale “for sentimental reasons” – I’ve never seen another copy!

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        • How neat that you encountered that copy, Constance! I keep a lookout when I’m in thrift stores with a good book department, but I’ve yet to encounter another copy either.

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  10. I just discovered Beth O’Leary and have read several of her books. I read “The No Show” and it took me a while to make the ‘connection ‘….but sooo good! Love her writing.

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  11. I’ve recently finished Meg Shaffer’s The Wishing Game, an entrancing read that is at least part magical realism. After that, I read Forbidden, one of Jo Beverley’s “Rogue” books. Don’t know how I missed it. I’m currently reading Trisha Ashley’s The Twelve Days of Christmas, which was highly recommended by Mary Jo.

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    • Thank you, Binnie, I love a bit of magical realism so will check that out! And great that you’re enjoying one of the recommended reads. It’s lovely that we can all share tips in this way!

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