Susan here, on the last day of January 2018 (already!), bringing you our WWR (What We're Reading) post. Contemporary, historical romance, a treasure trove of mysteries, an English king and a Renaissance giant — the Wenches have discovered some truly great reads this month!
Pat says –
I still can’t tell if I enjoyed THE ART OF CRASH LANDING by Melissa DeCarlo or was just seriously annoyed with it—which means I really got into it and lived with it, which doesn’t happen often anymore. The protagonist is a hot mess. Her mother was worse. Her life’s screwed up, and then her grandmother dies and she runs off to see if she inherited anything–before even calling the lawyer. She continues to recklessly fling herself into life, other people’s lives, future lives, but with each futile leap, she learns a little more. The reader gets to watch as she opens up, just a little, to the possibility that there are other lives out there besides hers, that they’re as seriously messed up as she is, and maybe, just maybe, she might fix one small thing here and there. There’s a touch of romance, but mostly, this is a woman learning how to live and face the future instead of wallowing in guilt and self-loathing. I don’t think I’d like this woman if I met her, but she’s someone I wouldn’t hate by the end. If I made you curious, try it!
Mary Jo –
I've read several good books recently, but for the now, I'll just tell you about Emily Larkin's Trusting Miss Trentham – #3 in the Baleful Godmother historical series, it features Letty Trentham, a plain woman who is the greatest heiress in England, and has been gifted with the ability to tell truth from lies every time. Since she's an heiress, this is useful–she's turned down almost 200 proposals because no matter what they say, she knows they're lying and only interested in her fortune.
Then one night at a ball, after she's turned down one proposal, she's approached by gaunt, haunted Major Icarus Reid, recently out of the army, and needing her help to find which of two English officers betrayed secret information that led to the French ambushing Reid's scouting party in Portugal. Four young men died, and Reid was broken in deep emotional ways. He wants to see justice done so he can die in peace, and he needs Letty's help to find the liar.
Letty weighs the cost to her reputation against the lives of four men who were needlessly slaughtered, and says yes. This leads the two of them on a colorful journey across country, and a relationship that develops in unusual and fascinating ways. Well worth reading!
This month I’ve been sampling some of the new-style Mills & Boon books following on from the launch of a new series – Dare – and the makeover and new look for the other lines. There’s no doubt that Dare is very HOT and the books very explicit although like all Mills and Boon romances they are strong on the emotional connection between hero and heroine. One – or both – of the protagonists are pretty tortured (in the emotional sense of the word – there’s no BDSM!) and the use of a first person narrator also makes the stories very immediate. If you like very racy stories this line could be for you! The books are out in e-only in the US and print and e-book in the UK and Australia from February, I think.
M&B have also given a new look to the other lines – I love the teal colourway they are using, and the books look fresh and contemporary. My favourite though (of course!) are the historicals. The new covers are gorgeous and the book I read “From Governess to Countess” by Marguerite Kaye was as enjoyable as Marguerite’s books always are; I love her rich descriptions and the deep emotional and moral dilemmas she gives her characters. Gorgeous! (UK edition here.)
On the non-fiction side I’m reading Charles Spencer’s book “To Catch A King: Charles II’s Great Escape.” (UK edition here.) After the Battle of Worcester in 1651, Charles II spent six weeks on the run evading Cromwell’s troops in the greatest manhunt that England had ever seen. The book tells the story of this most memorable and dramatic episode in Charles’s life and it is totally gripping. It reads like a thriller but also gives an insight into the character of one of England’s kings for whom I have always had a bit of a soft spot. I haven’t finished it yet but it’s a brilliant read so far! If you’re in the UK the book is available in hardback and it’s out in audiobook in the US with the other editions to follow.
This past month I've only read one book. Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. But hey, it’s a VERY long one—and an absolutely fascinating one. I’m a big fan of Isaacson’s writing. He synthesizes complex ideas very well and explains them in clear, concise and compelling prose. (I also like that he occasionally injects his own reaction to his subject matter because he’s a very smart and thoughtful fellow.) It’s not easy to paint a portait of Leonardo da Vinci. Like the elements of his own artwork, he’s a beguiling mix of nuanced layers and colors— the eye goes here and there, always seeing new things and slightly nuanced perspectives, depending on where the viewer is standing.
But Isaacson is up to the challenge. The book isn't a straightforward chronology, following Leonardo’s life in a linear fashion. Rather, Isaacson bounces from subject to subject—like Leonardo himself—covering the renaissance man's incredibly wide range of scientific passions, his love of mechanical objects, his vivid imagination in creating theatrical spectacles, his painting techniques, his personal life, to name just a few. It can get a little dizzying, but it’s deliberate, I think, as it captures the spirit of one of the most extraordinary geniuses mankind has ever known. It’s really quite mind-boggling the interests and expertise that he pursued during his lifetime (as shown in his many notebooks.) But isaacson also makes him delightfully human. Who would have known that Leonardo was a procrastinator who rarely finished a project? He drove patrons crazy as he would get sidetracked on arcane subject and lose interest in a commission. (He carried around the Mona Lisa for years, refusing to call it “finished” and constantly fiddling with it. It was still in his studio when he died.)
Amusing, inspiring, informative, Leonardo da Vinci is a wonderful read, and a testament to the creative spirit—a love for learning, exploration and discovery for the pure joy of it.
Since the Christmas break I've done a lot of reading. I've been catching up on crime — fiction that is. I'd fallen a bit behind with it, so I started with the always excellent Elly Griffiths and read The Ghost Fields, The Woman in Blue, and The Chalk Pit. I really love her Ruth Galloway series. If you haven't tried Elly Griffiths, start with the first book in the series, The Crossing Places.
I've recently discovered Lucy Diamond, a Brit women's fic author who was recommended to me by a friend. I'm really enjoying her books — good writing, interesting and likable characters, entertaining stories and hopeful upbeat endings. Strong on female friendships and taking chances, often with a few chuckles and a romance or two along the way. So far I've read The Beach Cafe, The Secrets of Happiness, The House of New Beginnings, and Sweet Temptation – and I won't be stopping there. I plan to glom the lot.
Searching for a nice Christmasy read over the holidays, I sat down with Stephanie Barron's Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas, the 12th in her Jane Austen mystery series. I've read earlier books in the series, but jumped ahead for this one because, well, it was Christmas. Barron has utterly mastered the Austen voice, and this snowbound house party set-up was entertaining, filled with impressive detail that pulls the reader into this very convincing world. Barron's Austen is clever, quick-witted and perceptive, the well-drawn characters range from intriguing to lovely to (intentionally) tiresome, and the mystery is a good one. I'll go back to continue the series at leisure, though I'm glad I skipped ahead for a little Regency holiday fun.
A while ago I started reading the first of Rhys Bowen's mystery series featuring Lady Georgiana Rannoch, Her Royal Spyness, but Life got in the way; the book, with others, got set aside. When this happens I often lose interest, but I couldn't wait to get back to it–starting the book over in audiobook, which I loved. Lady Georgie is clever and delightful, and Bowen creates 1930s England (and a bit of Scotland) completely. Her characters, Lady Georgiana and her quirky friends (including a sexy Irishman), a few rawther buttoned-up aristocrats and even the very Queen, are fascinating and individually drawn. Bowen has a light touch with the mystery aspects, and Lady Georgie's escapades (and calamities) are so engaging that I'm thoroughly hooked now, and I'm halfway through the next in the series and have purchased a couple of books ahead (I tend to bounce around in my book choices and don't closely follow many series, sothis says a lot!).
The audiobook, and Bowen's Royal Spyness series so far, was narrated by Katherine Kellgren, whose voice and characterizations are warm, brilliant and very easy to listen to. Sadly, Katherine Kellgren passed away earlier this month, which Wench Susanna Kearsley wrote about recently. Kellgren's talents will be greatly missed, and I will listen to the other Lady Georgiana mysteries with even greater respect.
What have you been reading lately? Let us know — we're always happy to add more titles to the toppling TBR stacks!