Which books (and stories, because a few of these aren't in book form) have the Wenches been exploring and enjoying in April? Read on to find out . . . .
Not quite What We’re Reading, but I reckon audio counts. I just listened to this BBC programme based on letters written during World War II: My Dear Bessie. Chris Barker, a solider in Libya, and Bessie Moore, a Morse code interpreter at the Foreign Office in London, have only briefly met, but he starts to write to her and she replies. Most of the surviving letters are from him, as he often had to destroy those she sent him, and the frank passion and longing in them is remarkable. It made me think that in today's steamy romance we sometimes miss the breathless longing that has been a natural part of falling into love and desire throughout the ages. Perhaps we also sometimes fall into the error of thinking our parents and grandparents didn't feel passion "that way." I believe it can be listened to anywhere in the world, and Chris's letters are read by Benedict Cumberbatch.
I’ve been having a bad reading month, hitting too many mysteries with TSTL protags who spend more time worrying over the many men in their lives rather than paying attention to the fact that someone is trying to kill them.
So in the mood for something wildly different, I picked up Swans Are Fat Too by Michelle Granas. Hania, the main character, is a brilliant but obese pianist returning to her family home in Poland for her grandmother’s funeral. The book is her journey, and it’s a fascinating one. I love that—unlike all the chicklit characters who stuff their faces daily and never pay the wages of poundage—she knows she’s fat because she eats too much, recognizes the damage she’s doing as she does it, and works her way through why she can’t stop. Her weight is actually not a big deal but just one small part of her exploration into what life has to offer.
While she’s working her way through her own problems, she’s acquired worse problems in her absentee family who dumps two thoroughly neurotic children on her and disappear. Weave in a hereditary Polish prince who’s writing a bloody history of his country—an allegorical trip for those readers who read the snippets— and a light romance, and I was highly entertained. Hania manages all with grace, decorum, and real smarts—and by the end, I was confident that she’s gained the tools needed to fix herself. It’s currently .99 cents, so it’s worth a try!
I’ve had a quiet reading month as I’ve been head down finishing revisions to my latest book but I did have chance to sit down with By The Sword by Alison Stuart. I enjoy Alison’s historicals very much and this is book 1 in a new series set during the 17th century. Usually books with a background of the English Civil War are set whilst the conflict rages and this is a bit different as it begins in 1650, after the execution of King Charles I. Through the vividly drawn characters and background it gives a wonderful picture of a country divided and a time when loyalties are tested to the limit. Kate, the heroine, is drawn in a rich and complex way that I found fascinating. I saw her conflicts and challenges vividly through her eyes and was engrossed. Jonathan, the Royalist hero, is a very attractive, strong character. Beyond the central relationship, though, there is a family story with a great supporting cast, and some very poignant scenes between parents and their children. It’s a lovely read.
Cara Elliott/Andrea Pickens:
I’m way behind my fellow Wenches, but finally got to Susanna Kearsley in my TBR pile several months ago. I liked The Firebird so much I recently picked up one of her earlier novels that sounded intriguing, (Anne is way ahead of me and is talking about her latest release!) and enjoyed it very much.
The Splendour Falls isn’t a timeslip story, but does weave together a present day mystery with two wartime tales of hidden treasures from the past. Set in an ancient French town steeped in medieval history, the story features a very interesting cast of characters who meet by chance . . . or do they? The heroine has come to meet up with her historian cousin, who is researching an ancient legend involving a hidden cache of royal jewels. When he doesn’t turn up, she finds herself drawn into a local murder, and a tangle of old grudges and tragedies from the Nazi Occupation during WWII. Kearsley weaves together atmospheric descriptions, fascinating history and richly nuanced people. I found it a wonderful read and will likely be reporting on more of her books in upcoming “What We Are Reading” columns.
Mary Jo Putney:
In a mood for intelligent fun, I recently scarfed down the most recent Beth Kendrick novel, New Uses for Old Boyfriends. If forced to classify, I'd say her books fall at the intersection of chicklit, romance, and women's fiction. Her heroines generally have just had their lives exploded, and they have to rebuild themselves in new and better ways.
New Uses is Kendrick's second book set in Black Dog Bay, a tiny seaside town in Delaware where women often go to recover from major break ups. Lila Alders fits that category since she's lost her marriage, her job, and is dead broke, but unlike most of the lovelorn who come to the town, Lila grew up in Black Dog Day, and everyone has known her forever. Plus, as a former bouncy and popular cheerleader, she runs into a lot of old boyfriends!
As Lila and her recently widowed fashionista mother struggle to stay afloat, they both learn a lot about life, dreams, and what they're capable of doing. There are women at all stages of life in the book, and I enjoyed watching their interactions. And while eventually Lila finds a great guy who is a keeper, he doesn't rescue her–she rescues herself. And I had a lot of fun watching it happen. <G>
My most recent read this month was Susanna Kearsley's A Desperate Fortune which I dived into as soon as it arrived. As usual with Susanna Kearsley's books, a modern tale intertwines with a historical story, so you get two stories in one. This time it's not a time slip, however, but is a story of a modern young woman, an amateur (but brilliant) code-breaker. Her task is to unlock the mysteries of a diary almost three hundred years old, the private encoded journal of Mary Dundas, an innocent young woman caught up in a dangerous Jacobite adventure. A wonderful read and two very satisfying endings. Other books I read included an old Loretta Chase novella, now available for download — The Mad Earl’s Bride, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and Ridiculous by D. L. Carter (which was recommended by a few Wenchly readers in the comments on the first Chick-in-Pants blog) which was entertaining, as promised.
I don't know what it is about this month, but for some reason I couldn't concentrate on new reading at all. So I went back to the old soothing favorites. I plunged into Dunnett's Game of Kings for another reread. Lymond is such a great, wicked, intriguing, scoundrel of a man. And I took down four or five of the Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan books from my keeper shelf. Mirror Dance was the one that gave me the most to think about. It's a character study, looking at the core of what makes us, us.
But new stuff …? I'm going to cheat and call up a TV series. I've recently come across BBC's production of Hamish MacBeth, based on the detective novels of M.C. Beaton, better known to Romance readers as Marion Chesney. Hamish is the police constable of the Scottish hamlet of Lochdubh, sorting out murder mysteries and village politics. The charm of the series lies in Hamish MacBeth himself — thoughtful, level-headed and delightfully unbound by the rules of proper police procedure. The array of local eccentrics provides everything from subtle irony to broad humor and the scenery of Western Scotland is a delight in the background.
Recently I tried something a bit different – in audiobook – Dan Harris’ 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story. Harris, a TV news journalist for Nightline and Good Morning America, writes about a personal journey that led him to explore, question and finally practice meditation. His account of the steps that led him to making changes is fascinating, funny and brutally honest about the ups and downs along his path. Beautifully written, filled with information and insight (and some very juicy, great bits about some very well-known people), it’s smart, refreshing nonfiction that really made me think about meditation, something I've done on and off for years. Though I read other books this month, this the one I’m highly recommending to everyone I know. Even better, Harris’s narration of his book is fresh, wry, and beautifully done. I didn’t want this one to end.
What have you read lately? We're always looking for new titles for the TBR stack!