Nicola here, introducing the Wenches' monthly "What We're Reading" feature, which, this month is a "What We're Watching" as well!
Anne: I've had a pretty busy time in the last month and, apart from some rereads of old favorites, the only book of any note I've read recently is Together by Julie Cohen. A friend told me about this book, saying that it was about a romance, but was written backwards, starting at the end of a couple's life and gradually working backwards to when they first met. I was intrigued, so I bought it.
In the working backwards, the reader begins to put clues together —it's not a murder mystery, but there is a big secret to be discovered. As the cover blurb says, "Their love was unstoppable . . . Their life was a lie."
It's been a big bestseller, and I found it quite a compelling read, but in the end I'm still not sure what I think. But certainly worth a read.
MORNING GLORY, Diana Peterfreund based on motion picture by Aline Brosh McKenna. I seldom watch movies so I never saw the original screenplay that this book was based on. The screenwriter has also done films like THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, so you know the kind of chicklitty women’s fiction with humor and strong characters I’m talking about in MORNING GLORY. In this one, Becky Fuller is a strong New Jersey woman who has grown up watching TV news with her father and has always dreamed of running a TV news show. When she was offered her dream, she quit college to grab it. She now has her own morning news show with all of four viewers, she figures. And then she gets laid off. In desperation, she takes a job where she’s set up to fail—and she runs with it. Becky does desperation well, and the writer makes us see that she’s determined to succeed for the sake of everyone else on her team and not just herself. In the process, she learns that her life shouldn’t be all about work, and even if she’s a giant failure in the relationship department, she can have romance if she’s willing to work at it the way she does her job. The book is warm and funny and moves along with the same kind of pace a good film should. A feel good story all the way around!
Nicola: I've been catching up on a few films this month and one that made a profound impression on my was PASSENGERS,, a Sci-Fi romance starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. A spaceship travelling to establish a new colony on a distant planet is transporting 5000 passengers in hibernation pods on its 120 year journey but when it flies into an asteroid field the subsequent malfunction wakes one of the passengers, Jim Preston, 90 years early. The film raises plenty of big questions about both the moral dilemmas that we face and also what we do with our lives to give them meaning and purpose. it's also an adventure and a romance with two very strong protagonists plus a cute sidekick (no spoilers!) and ulimately a thought-provoking, feel-good film with a happy ending.
From Mary Jo:
Okay, this might seem to be Word Wench nepotism, but my great reads for the month are the Lady Arianna mysteries by Andrea Penrose. I've known Andrea since we were Signet Regency writers together and have read her books under various pseudonyms, and they've all been good. I applauded her entry into mystery because it seemed to be a great place to spread her wings and go more deeply into areas that interest her.
But I'm an erratic mystery reader. There have been times when I've read tons of mysteries, and then long spells will go by when I'll read none. But having read and really enjoyed Murder on Black Swan Lane, first in Andrea's new Regency mystery series, I decided that the Lady Arianna Regency mysteries would make great reading on my recent vacation. And they were!
The protagonists, Lady Arianna and Lord Saybrook, are fascinating, twisty characters. Though the daughter of an earl, Arianna had a really dangerous and scary upbringing in the Caribbean after her father's exile and subsequent murder. She is tough, dangerous, and wants revenge for her father's murder. She has also become a skilled chef, expert on chocolate, and a master of disguise.
The first book, Sweet Revenge, begins with her return to London from the Indies. Her quest for justice goes seriously awry when one of her exquisite chocolate desserts is served to the Prince Regent–and he keels over, poisoned. Arianna must go on the run, and her path swiftly crosses that of Lord Saybrook, a battle weary and opium addicted former army intelligence officer who has spent years on the Peninsula. He's half Spanish, a connoisseur of chocolate with a palate as sophisticated as Arianna's, and he has his own portfolio of dangerous skills.
Reluctant allies who are extremely wary of each other, they must work together to find the truth about the Regent's attempted assassination and what lies behind. Yet there is attraction, a slowly growing trust, and mutual appreciation for their unconventional abilities. Plus, a shared love of chocolate and fine cooking. (I love when they go off on the merits of a new spice she's found in the market. <G>)
The second book, The Cocoa Conspiracy, sends them off to the Congress of Vienna to prevent a disastrous assassination plot, and the third book, Recipe for Treason, sends them to Scotland in search of a traitor. I love the characters, including the friends and allies they gather. The pace is fast with lots of action and the plotting is meticulous. And though Arianna and Saybrook still have their secrets and wariness, their relationship gradually grows and deepens. I hope to see many more stories about their adventures!
My history read of the month was Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick, a fascinating warts-and-all look at the American Revolution through the career arcs of Generals George Washington and Benedict Arnold (for those of you unfamiliar with America’s history, Arnold's name has become synonmous with “dirty, rotten scoundrel” in America as he tried to sell out the important fort at West Point to the British, which might have turned the course of the war.) Philbrick paints a riveting picture of two brilliant. patriotic men, each with character flaws, and how they reacted to the difficult challenges of both battlefield stresses and the constant squabbling of the Continental Congress, whose grudges and regional self-interests put the ideals of the revolution at risk.
Philbrick gives a nuanced and sensitive portait of both men—one matured and grew in gravitas from the pressures, the unfair innuendos and his own mistakes, while the other couldn’t overcome his own fragile ego and cracked. He also gives a very interesting look at the inner workings of the politics of the time—which dims a bit of the luster of the band-of-brothers "Founding Fathers” myth. (I’m not sure whether I was reassured or appalled to learn that from the very beginning, politics could be really ugly in this country and yet we somehow survived!) For those interested in American history, I highly recommend it.
My fiction read was An Echo of Murder, the latest book in Ann Perry’s long-running historical mystery series featuring William Monk. I always enjoy Perry’s work as she always touches on such interesting elemental facets of human nature. Though the books are set in Victorian times, they resonate with themes that are revelvant and thought-provoking for the present—this book revolves around a hate crime against an immigrant community in London.
Now as usual we'd like it if you share your reading and watching recommendations from this month and help our TBR piles to grow even higher!