Nicola here, introducing this month’s What We’re Reading. As usual we’ve got an interesting mix, and we’re really looking forward to hearing about your latest reads as well. Looking at my Kindle, all the most recent books on there are recommendations I’ve picked up from the other Wenches and these posts.
Having read every single one of the Jayne Castle Harmony and Rainshadow series, with attendant dust bunnies, I turned to the Arcane series and now to the Fogg Lake series, which is a contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal elements. There’s a Midwich Cuckoos vibe going on here. Years ago, the small town of Fogg Lake experienced something called The Incident, a mysterious explosion in the cave system beneath the town. The residents were knocked unconscious and when they recovered, they found they had new psychic powers.
Book 1 in the series is The Vanishing,written under her Jayne Ann Krentz name. Catalina Lark and her friend Olivia St Clair witness a murder when they are teens but no one believes them as it took place in the caves of their hometown Fogg Lake, and people think they were hallucinating. Years later, Olivia disappears and it becomes clear that someone is hunting the witnesses to the murder. Catalina sets out to find her friend with the help of Slater Arganbright, a mysterious operative from a shadowy law enforcement agency called The Foundation.
There are lots of parallels with the futuristic books in terms of the special powers that the protagonists possess, the strong heroines and the very hot heroes and even hotter romance. But – no dust bunnies!
Christina here. These past two months I have read a lot, but only a few books really stood out for me. First, The One Who Loves You by Pippa Grant. This book was described as a “fabulously sharp-witted romantic comedy about a socialite’s fall from elitist grace to backcountry purgatory—and her accidental tumble into love.” And for once, you get exactly that, and it truly was fabulous!
Phoebe Lightly is a ruthless heiress and business woman who has assistants doing everything for her. She wants to become CEO of her family’s firm and has spent all her life in the city. Her grandmother (called Gigi) is even more ruthless and has the entire family under her thumb. When she has a near-death experience, she suddenly decides they all need to have their souls rescued. The weird way she goes about this is to move them all to a tiny town in Wisconsin called Tickled Pink. Its only claim to fame is that a movie was filmed there, and the heroine of that film works her way to heaven/redemption by living her life in a small town without luxuries. Gigi thinks they should all do the same. She buys the town’s former high school, now derelict, and forces her family to help clean it and do it up while they live there. None of them have ever done anything for themselves and don’t want to. But they have no choice, as Gigi has frozen their trust funds and taken away their internet access, as well as blackmailed some of them.
Phoebe is determined to escape and since she can’t persuade Gigi to change her mind, she tries to enlist the help of local fisherman Teague Miller. She wants him to scare her grandmother into wanting to leave. He’s a grumpy guy who has no time for high-maintenance women like Phoebe, but he also hates having outsiders in his town. He is single dad to a teenager, and he lives in a very fancy tree house he built himself.
Animosity slowly grows into an unlikely friendship between these two, and then attraction. The town – and the man – start to grow on her, and she begins to question everything she’s ever known. This is a unique, quirky, odd-ball kind of story and I loved following the adventures of Phoebe’s crazy family and their quest to get Gigi to change her mind. Also the slow-build romance between Phoebe and Teague. Everyone seems to have secrets, including Teague, that are gradually revealed. It’s the kind of story that builds slowly but is ultimately extremely rewarding! And there are some laugh-out loud moments along the way.
Having enjoyed that so much, I also bought the sequel, Rich in your Love. This continues the Lightly family’s adventures in Tickled Pink and follows Phoebe’s sister Tavi (Octavia). She is a famous internet influencer who is known for being vegan and always exercising. In reality, she loves meat, carbs and sugar, and chocolate especially. She has secretly bought a cacao farm in Costa Rica and plans to start a chocolate company once she gains access to her trust fund when she turns thirty. But then Gigi ruins everything by forcing her to come and live in Tickled Pink for a year, shutting off access to her money.
All her life, poor Tavi has been fat-shamed by her own mother, and forced to enter beauty pageants from an early age. She’s always being compared unfavourably to her older sister who is naturally slim and the perfect businesswoman. Tavi has never been loved and doesn’t feel as though she deserves to be. I loved watching her learn to love herself, as well as fall in love with the wonderful hero of the story, Dylan, and ultimately achieve her goals despite her grandmother’s interference. A lovely read! (Would definitely recommend reading them in order though).
Then there was There’s No Place Like Home by Jane Lovering. As I’ve mentioned before, Ms Lovering’s books are truly unique – you never know what you’re going to get, but you can be sure you’ll love it. And I loved this one!
The premise is that a group of people are taking part in a reality TV show where they are supposed to be looking for evidence of a big cat of some sort on the Yorkshire moors. There have been elusive sightings, like Bigfoot in America, but nothing concrete. They have to stay there for a month in November when it’s freezing cold and often raining, camping, and with only basic facilities. It’s sheer hell, but if they can prove the existence of this mythical beast they will earn a lot of money. Either way, they will get a certain amount just for taking part, and they assume their struggles will provide the entertainment even if they find nothing.
None of them really believe they’ll find the animal, and they are all there for different reasons. It was fascinating to watch them start to bond (or not) and their secrets slowly emerge. Although the story has Ms Lovering’s trademark wonderful sense of humour, there are some very serious issues – like homelessness – underlying the superficial bonding between the characters. There is also a slow burn romance between the heroine and one of the men, which I adored. I don’t want to give any spoilers so I’ll just recommend you read it for yourself – I’m sure you won’t regret it!
Anne here and a book that I really enjoyed this month was The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston. Florence Day is a ghost-writer employed writing romances for a very famous old author. The trouble is, after her last bad break-up, she no longer believes in love, and can't bring herself to write romance any more. But her handsome new editor, Ben won't give her an extension. When her father dies, Florence must return to the place she was brought up in — a funeral home. Turns out she and her father can communicate with ghosts, and now, as she deals with her family and the past she left behind, one of the ghosts she sees is her editor, Ben.
From the blurb: "As sparks start to fly between them, Florence tells herself she can’t be falling for a ghost – even an infuriatingly sexy one. But can Ben help Florence to realise love isn’t dead, after all?"
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It doesn't matter if you believe in ghosts or not — this book is fun.
I went on to read another book by the same author — Geekerella, which is maybe a New Adult novel, though I'm not sure of the categories. Anyway this was a fun riff off the Cinderella story, with a nod to You've Got Mail. The main action is set around a Cosplay convention, about which I know nothing, but it didn't matter — the book was lots of light-hearted fun.
I've also been rereading the Ashley Gardner (aka Jennifer Ashley) "gladiator" series in preparation for book #3 to come out. Mary Jo recommended this series in August and I endorsed it the following month. Start with Blood of a Gladiator (Leonidas the Gladiator Mysteries Book 1).
Pat writes: My favorite books are so often ones recommended by the Wenches that I know I'm repeating a lot, but they're good enough to deserve regular recommendation. I'm apparently on an English village kick:
Richard Osman, THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUB
I suppose this must be classified as a murder mystery. There are certainly enough quiet little murders to go around for one sleepy little village and fancy retirement community. But mostly this is about four lonely old people who get together to solve mysteries. Normally, they’re cold cases—until one day they’re all present for a real live murder, or maybe two, which involve matters of great importance to the home of which they’re all fond. There’s Ibrahim, the retired psychologist, and Joyce, the widowed former RN, and Red Ron, the former belligerent union troublemaker, and Elizabeth—whose past cannot be said aloud but obviously involved spies and killing and other skullduggery. They coerce and seduce the local constabulary to help them in uncovering the new murders, and in solving all the old ones they discover in the process. Relationships are formed, old ones mourned, tragedies are disclosed. All great murder mystery stuff. The ending is quietly insane but by that time, who cares? Justice is served, for the most part. And they can all go back to solving cold cases, enjoying each other’s company, and getting out and about for lovely little rides to interview mafia and potential killers, as one does when in their eighties. Agatha Christie, this is not, but it’s pleasant time spent with interesting people who only want to help each other. How often do we enjoy that kind of escape?
A COTTAGE FULL OF SECRETS, Jane Lovering
I am a Lovering fan from waaaaaay back. This book is not her usual funny romantic fiction. Still, her voice and her quiet dry humor come through beautifully clear with this story of two
damaged people who have retreated to the Yorkshire countryside to lick their wounds. It’s also the story of a fox with three legs and an abused woman who lived half a century ago and a cottage in serious need of love. I think you catch the theme here. With Lovering’s eye for detail and affectionate empathy, Mr. Misery and the crazy woman with a fox and everyone around them develop into real people whose story you’ll want to read and re-read again. Highly recommended.
Mary Jo here. As another huge fan of Sharon Shinn's fantasy novels, I'm seconding Anne Gracie's December recommendation of Sharon's recent book, The Shuddering City.
As always with Sharon Shinn fantasy tales, there are great characters, fascinating worldbuilding which includes creating religions which are integral elements of the story–plus very satisfying endings.
In this world, a long ago god (or possibly visitor from outer space) stitched together existing islands into one sprawling land, and the jewel of this creation is the city of Corcannon. But the city is prone to earthquakes, and they're getting worse.
The story begins with a group of travelers marooned outside the city when a quake takes a bridge out. The characters we meet there are the central players in this story, and their lives intersect when they reach the city. The oldest is Pietro, and he is haunted by his past in the city. He understands the dangers, but can he find a solution before disaster strikes?
It's a wonderful story, and yes, there is romance!
Andrea: At the recommendation of one of my local librarians, I recently picked up Fellowship Point by Alice Elliott Dark (no small feat as it’s 600 pages!) and
within the first chapter, I was totally hooked. It’s a beautifully written story about two 80-something women with very little in common—one has rebelled against all the traditional roles a woman of her era was expected to play, while other has gladly embraced them. And yet the one thing they do have is an elemental bond of friendship that defies words and has tied them through thick and thin since childhood.
A momentous decision is now testing their friendship. Agnes wants to dissolve the original shareholder charter of the idyllic enclave where their families have summered for generations, so the pristine peninsula that juts into the Atlantic can be donated to an environmental land trust and saved from development. Polly, who is one of the shareholders, agrees (sort-of) in principle, but her children have their own ideas . . .
The point of view switches back and forth as sharp, acerbic Agnes—a highly successful children’s book author who secretly writes novels skewering the WASPy world of her wealthy Philadelphia social set—and Polly—a traditional supportive wife to her college professor husband and loving mother to her brood of children—reflect on the choices they have made in life as they are forced to confront their strengths and weaknesses as the conflicts come to a head. It’s an elegy to friendship; a musing on mortality; a dissection of families and their foibles; and a questioning of where one’s loyalties should ultimately lie.
I highly recommend it, and loved that the two elderly heroines were depicted with such complexities and nuances.
So there you have our January reads in all their glory! What's been on your reading pile this month?