Nicola here, introducing this month's "What We're Reading" feature. We've had a bumper reading month on Word Wenches as a result of the holiday season and we hope you have lots of recommendations for us too, if you've had chance to read in between all the demands of the New Year! So without further ado let's turn to our reading choices.
I have a fondness for Christmas stories and over Christmas I read and reread a number of Christmas novellas, including some
collections by Mary Balogh and Mary Jo Putney that contained stories I'd never read. Then I embarked on a fantasy glom, Robin Hobb — starting with ASSASSIN'S APPRENTICE and reading them in order up to FOOL'S QUEST. And now I have to wait for the next book to come out. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed them and have no hesitation in recommending them.
Then for a change of pace I read Kristan Higgins's ANYTHING FOR YOU, followed by a reread of some Loretta Chase reissues and a couple of Lisa Kleypas historicals, which I always enjoy.
Lastly I've just finished Louise Penny's THE BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY. I've enjoyed all of Louise Penny's crime novels, and realized when I read this, that I've fallen behind and there are three more new ones I haven't read. A treat in store.
I’ve been doing my usual hopping between fiction and non-fiction this month, and enjoyed two very different but equally entertaining reads. The Lost Chalice by Vernon Silver, who is an Oxford-trained archeologist and award-winning journalist, is a fascinating, fast-paced account of ancient artifacts, modern looters and the high-stakes trafficking of priceless treasures to the world’s leading museums and cultural institutions. Part Indiana Jones, part Interpol procedural, it highlights a cast of intriguing characters and the complex moral questions involved in preserving history.
Commencement, a novel by J. Courtney Sullivan on women, friendship and choosing a path in life revolves around four BFFs and how they bond at college, then venture into the real world. The story unfolds through the four different POVs, revealing the backstories of each of the women, and their seemingly unlikely friendship, along with how it affects their struggle to establish a sense of self during the first tentative steps as “adults.” Sharp, wise, and funny, the book captures the laughter, the tears and the vulnerabilities of trying to figure out what it means to be female in this day and age.
I’d have to classify The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin as contemporary literary fiction, even though it has two lovely romances much better than anything Nicholas Sparks ever wrote. The ending, while sort of sad, is also witty and upbeat. It’s the story of a bitter, widowed bookstore owner who thought he’d lost everything when his wife died, but learns life has so much more in store for him once he allows love back in his heart. And as he slowly opens up again, many lives are improved because of the generous nature he’d hidden even from himself. It’s one of those stories that break your heart when it ends because you want to keep reading. Any lover of books has to fall in love with this one, really. Tell me if you don’t.
And for a completely different spin try the urban fantasy, Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron. The youngest son of a dragon clan gets sealed into human form for being a lazy game-playing no-account and is flung into the middle of a no-dragon zone in a future world after the earth’s magic has been freed again. Well written, fabulous characterization, non-stop action—and a kick-ass magician heroine who’s more merciless than the Nice Dragon, even if she is human. If you like fun fantasy, try it!
The most book fun I've had lately is a New Adult romantic comedy called Level Up: A Geek Romance Rom Com (Fandom Hearts 1) by Cathy Yardley.
Here's part of the blurb: "Geeky introvert Tessa Rodriguez will do whatever it takes to get promoted to video game engineer– including create a fandom-based video game in
just three weeks. The only problem is, she can't do it alone. Now, she needs to strong-arm, cajole, and otherwise socialize with her video game coworkers."
Tessa is working as a coder in a game design company, but she wants to be an engineer. She knows she can do it, but how can she break into the boys' club and prove that she can take what they dish out and play well with others? As a hard working introvert, Tessa has forgotten how to socialize, so acting on the advice of her nice guy landlord, a gamer co-worker, she warily goes to a geek girls gathering–and finds her tribe. By helping her new friends, she expands her world, learns how to be one of the guys–and also makes her landlord realize that she's an actual girl. <G>
Clearly this is intended to be the first of a series, and there are lots of interesting male and female characters for Yardley to play with. I also liked the way she created a world that was new to me, but very convincing. I can't wait for the next story. LEVEL UP is free in the US and modestly priced elsewhere, so you might want to give it a try.
I finished The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde recently. Loved it. Dragonslayer, with its fifteen-but-I’ll-be-sixteen-in-two-weeks heroine, is YA but it hits right in my own sweet spot. An adventure book, an epic journey, a magical world, huge stakes, and a stalwart female protagonist.
Who will slay the last dragon in the world, and will magic end forever when it dies?
Reminds me of War for the Oaks (Emma Bull) and The Hero and the Crown (Robin McKinley).
Sometimes I just want to sit down and read some of the wonderfully tempting books stacking up (especially after the holidays and on snow days lately!) — but life and writing get in the way. Things need done and the reading gets put off. These past few weeks I haven't had much reading time, but I still managed to feed that book hunger here and there, catch as can. I've picked up several books, read a chapter or so and promised myself to get back to them as soon as possible. One of those is Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic — how I want to sink into this one. I love Gilbert's voice — Eat Pray Love is one of my favorite nonfictions — and though I've only read part so far, her insights and wisdom regarding the creative impulse are so relevant and useful, and her writing voice so elegant, that this has the chief spot on the TBR pile, ready to be relished. Another book with a nice heart to it is Janice Kaplan's The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year of Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life. Well, I'm all for transformation and glad to be reminded to be more mindful and thankful for everything. Breezing through this book over the holidays, I did read quite a bit and promised myself to get back to it to take it in more thoughtfully. It's well written, clearly presented and worth the time – hopefully I will find reading hours in February! But even on a fast reading track lately, I found two wonderful books with quiet wisdom.
I've long enjoyed Carola Dunn's Daisy Dalrymple mysteries set in the 1920s, but I recently chomped down her Cornish ones, set in the 1960s. The first is Manna from Hades, followed by Valley of the Shadow and A Colourful Death. Of course they're well-written and plotted, and the Cornish setting is lovely. The sleuth is Eleanor Trewynn, a widow retired from overseas charity work which often too her into the highest circles, so despite her slight eccentricities, little daunts her. I enjoyed these, but I must say that Cornwall today is not a great deal different, so I kept expecting the characters to whip out a mobile phone, or look something up on the Web. It only goes to show that mysteries can be more entertaining when people have to stumble miles across country to get help, and wait until the library opens to check their facts.
I also recently read Bill Bryson's Neither Here, Nor There: Travels in Europe. This was written in 1991 and he's retracing the steps of a backpacking journey decades earlier. Read in 2015 with Europe's current situation, gives it a particular perspective. I always enjoy Bryson's travel books because he has a gift for finding the quirky, especially the overlooked quirky, and a deep interest in the individuality of people. He starts in the northernmost town in Europe, leaving me and many others wondering how people live there, and ends up in Istanbul, having survived many weird challenges along the way. It's laugh-aloud funny in places, and interesting everywhere.
I’m dipping into some biography this month with the new book about the life and writing of Josephine Tey. She has been one of my favourite authors since I read The Daughter of Time as a teenager and I love each and every one of her books. Tey was a very private person and details on her life and her work have been scant before now. A Life: Josephine Tey is by Jennifer Morag Henderson and is a fascinating insight into the influences that made Josephine Tey the writer she was. It also analyses Tey's books in detail and throws light on the glamorous life she led as a playright in London mixing with the stars of the theatre from the 1920s to the 1940s. It's out in the UK now and in the US in April.
Alongside that I've been re-reading a Josephine Tey novel, Brat Farrar, which is a wonderful crime and mystery story revolving around the trope of false identity. Tey's writing is so clear and precise and well-observed. I will probably read all of her books again now – and wish she had written more.
Over to you! Have you read any of this month's recommendations? Which books would you like to recommend to us?