Welcome to our monthly What We're Reading post!
I’ve been reading mostly primary documents and very old letters in indecipherable handwriting, but unfortunately I can’t share any of them here because I don’t have permission to, so instead I’ll share the books that are currently on my nightstand, waiting to be read…
Erin Davis, a much-loved radio personality here in Canada, who recently lost her daughter, has written a very personal and uplifting memoir that Olivia Newton-John praises as “a gift of love to others who are seeking solace”. I’m going to be interviewing Erin onstage for two events in February, so her book, Mourning Has Broken, is on the top of my pile.
At the Mountain’s Edge, “a sweeping new historical novel of love, tragedy, and redemption set during the height of the Klondike Gold Rush” from my friend, bestselling Canadian author Genevieve Graham, whose books shine a light on the lives of ordinary people pushed to their limits against the great tapestry of the Canadian landscape.
Another friend, Alyssa Cole, has the third book in her Loyal League series of historical romances coming out in February, and I’m lucky enough to have an advance copy in my hot little hands. I may have peeked at this one already (spoiler: it’s really, really good!). While the Loyal League books are interconnected, you don’t need to read them in order, so you can dive right in with An Unconditional Freedom.
The next book down is an ARC I was sent of an upcoming debut novel by Nathan Makaryk (based on his play of the same name). I’m a longtime fan of the Robin Hood legend, which Nottingham promises to twist in interesting ways, so I’m looking forward to reading it.
Kelli Estes’s first novel, The Girl Who Wrote In Silk, was a beautiful dual-time debut, and I leapt at the chance for an early look at her follow-up novel, Today We Go Home, which intertwines the lives of two military women—one in present day Seattle, and one fighting in disguise as a man during the Civil War in Indiana. I crossed paths with Kelli at the Historical Novel Society conference in Portland while she was doing the research for this novel, and what she told me then about the women who had fought in the Civil War was fascinating.
Finally, I’ve got two novels by Armando Lucas Correa, who I’ll also be interviewing onstage for our local bookstore in May: his internationally bestselling The German Girl, from 2016, and his upcoming novel, The Daughter’s Tale, “an unforgettable family saga of love and redemption during World War II, based on the true story of the Nazi massacre of a French village in 1944.”
And that should keep me busy for awhile.
A Quiet Life in the Country: I recently discovered the cosy mysteries of T.E. Kinsey, and really enjoyed them. (Referred to by a friend and isn't word of mouth recommendation the best?) This is from T.E. Kinsey's website: "Emily, Lady Hardcastle is an eccentric widow with a secret past. Florence Armstrong, her maid and confidante, is an expert in martial arts. The year is 1908 and they’ve just moved from London to the country, hoping for a quiet life."
The setting is England, the year is 1908, just post-Victorian, and the class barriers of society are still firmly in place. One of the pleasures of the books, apart from the murder mysteries is the relationship between Lady Hardcastle and her small-but-feisty Welsh maid, Flo. Having been through many a dramatic and mysterious foreign adventure in the days before these books start, the two women are very much friends, as well as maid and mistress, and the banter between them is funny and irreverent, and a little bit shocking to the class-conscious other characters in the books. I've read all the books in the series so far and have preordered the next.
Jackie French is an Australian author, multi prize-winning and very prolific and interesting. She's written lots of books for children and young adults, she's written books on ecology and how to keep chickens, and this novel for adults kept me reading far into the night.
Miss Lily's Lovely Ladies is set before, during and after WW1, and is about an Australian girl, "the canned corned beef heiress," who is sent to England before the war, ostensibly to get a bit of polish' from an earl's cousin, known only as Miss Lily, and also to prevent a marriage with a local boy.
This is from the blurb:
Each year at secluded Shillings Hall, in the snow-crisped English countryside, the mysterious Miss Lily draws around her young women selected from Europe's royal and most influential families. Her girls are taught how to captivate a man – and find a potential husband – at a dinner, in a salon, or at a grouse shoot, and in ways that would surprise outsiders. For in 1914, persuading and charming men is the only true power a woman has.
Sophie Higgs is the daughter of Australia's king of corned beef and the only 'colonial' brought to Shillings Hall. Of all Miss Lily's lovely ladies, however, she is also the only one who suspects Miss Lily's true purpose.
As the chaos of war spreads, women across Europe shrug off etiquette. The lovely ladies and their less privileged sisters become the unacknowledged backbone of the war, creating hospitals, canteens and transport systems where bungling officials fail to cope. And when tens of thousands can die in a single day's battle, Sophie must use the skills Miss Lily taught her to prevent war's most devastating weapon yet.
But is Miss Lily heroine or traitor? And who, exactly, is she?
Jackie French plunges us into this era in a wonderfully intimate and fascinating way. Regency readers will be fascinated and delighted by the detail she provides as Sophie is "polished" by the mysterious and unconventional Miss Lily. More than that, it is a superb portrait of the changing roles of women in this time, how they stepped into the gaps left by the men running the war — at one stage Sophie reflects "Who spent years preparing for war, and yet gave no thought to how to deal with the wounded?"
As well as a wonderful social portrait of the times, it's a rollicking good tale. As I said, I read far into the night, and have thought much about the story ever since. I've also read the sequel and have preordered the third book in the trilogy. But it's not a romance, it's more a social historical novel. Highly recommended.
January has been full of primer, spackle, paint, joint compound, and prying up miles of those well-nailed wood dohinkies folks pound into the floor to hold wall-to-wall carpets. While this induces in me a pleasant sense of accomplishment, it hasn’t forwarded my reading experience much.
About the only thing I’ve picked up is the latest Ilona Andrews, Magic Triumphs. Lovely. I’m about half-way done and I’m drawing it out for longer enjoyment.
I’m also kicking back with my feet up and delving into Jean Francois Parot who writes historical detective novels in French. They’re set in the Paris of Louis XV and are ferociously French in attitude and also gritty and period accurate.
I am not reading them in French because there is only so much challenge I can undertake at one time.
In the first of these books, Chatelet Apprentice, young Nicolas Le Floch leaves rural Brittany for the dangerous, fascinating world of police work in Paris. There is food involved. Historical food, lovingly described.
It’s all extremely French and good source material for anyone who wants to write in the C18, which luckily I do.
Seems like all I've been reading lately is mystery, needing a fast escape with a quick pace when life is just too busy. For a while I've been slowly making my way through Rhys Bowen's Royal Spyness series, and over the holidays that picked up, as I've glommed Heirs and Graces, Queen of Hearts, and Malice at the Palace since we last posted what-we're-reading. I'm onto Crowned and Dangerous at the moment.
I love this series–it's breezy and fun, with marvelous detail and ambience evoking life in Britain, aristocratic and not so much, in the 1930s. Clever, kind, slightly bumbling Lady Georgianna and the sexy Irishman the Hon. Darcy O'Mara, along with other regular characters, keep me coming back. The building relationship between Georgie and Darcy, which has a lovely tension that picks up speed. I very much enjoyed Malice at the Palace, where Georgie assists Princess Marina of Greece, arriving to marry Prince George, brother of the Prince of Wales, and sorts out a little murder at Kensington Palace while she's at it. Darcy has a central role in Crowned and Dangerous, as Georgie and Darcy postpone wedding plans to hurry off to Ireland when his father is accused of murder.
I alternate paper and audio in this series, and spent enough time in the car over the last couple of months to listen to some of these. I truly enjoy and appreciate the late Katherine Kellgren's excellent narration of Bowen's Lady Georgianna series.
As regular readers know, I love small towns and ghosts and psychics, so when I saw the description of this one—A Gift of Ghosts, by Sarah Wynde—I couldn’t resist. Usually, I’ll give up after a few chapters, but this book kept me reading.
I’m appalled that my cook from the Crystal Magic series, who knows what food everyone likes, isn’t original, but there really is nothing new under the sun. So I just enjoyed the heck out of this love story about a physicist who can see and talk to ghosts but is utterly terrified—rightfully so—to admit it.
The story is basically the heroine’s journey of discovery, learning that when she opens up and accepts her gift, that she can make a serious difference in the lives of the living, as well as the dead. It’s all romance, so our romance readers who enjoy ghosts and good-looking hunks who accept weird heroines should enjoy it!
I have a very Janus-like reading month: looking ahead with an ARC and looking back to catch up on a classic that I somehow never got to on my towering TBR pile. I was lucky enough to snag an advance copy of C.S. Harris’s upcoming release, Who Slays the Wicked, the latest addition to her Sebastian St. Cyr series. I love this series, as it's developed such interesting, complex characters as it deals with the ongoing theme of Good and Evil, and the gray areas in between.
In this book, Evil is truly personified in the depraved husband of Sebastian’s beloved niece. And though he loathes the man, Sebastian feels compelled to find the killer when the handsome wastrel is found brutally murdered in his bed—because among the many people who have reason to wish him dead is his niece. The investigation into who had motive and opportunity is complicated by the presence of the Tsar of Russia’s sister and her entourage, who may have had political reasons for murder . . . which of course has Sebastian knocking heads with his wife’s father, who’s the power behind the King. It’s a dark and chilling story, but as usual, Harris weaves a compelling story as Sebastian works to unraveling the clues before the investigation upsets too many influential people and leads to his own demise.
In looking back, I finally read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (yes, I know . . . how did I miss it until now!) Okay, I’m coming a little late to the party. but it’s so well done—a riveting tale of time travel, with rich history, and wonderful characters. It’s actually fun to come on a treasure that you haven’t yet experienced and be able to savor it for the first time. I highly recommend both books. They do just what a book should do and sweep you up into its world.
That's it for our reading.
What books have swept you up into their world this month?