Nicola here, introducing the July What We're Reading. We all love this feature as we get so many wonderful book recommendations as a result. We hope you enjoy it too. If, like me, you're going away in a few weeks time and are looking for the next read to take with you, or if you have already been indulging in some holiday reading, this is the place to share!
Only one book to recommend this month. It's been a busy time altogether. The RWA National Conference was a mad, lovely, exciting week. The rest of July was spent madly writing.
Still, I did get to read Robin McKinley's, The Hero
and the Crown. It's a YA that won the Newberry Medal a few years back. A princess despised and distrusted by her people steps outside their expectations and becomes a strong and magical warrior who saves the kingdom. The book is about choices and strength and what these cost.
McKinley has been a favorite of mine since I read Sunshine, her YA-vampire-not-quite-a-romance. A lovely book.
I’ve been cruising the high seas and spending more time in the moment than reading, apparently. And I watched movies on the plane! But here’s a couple of books I can recall.
Axeman’s Jazz, Julie Smith—a mystery rich with gritty New Orleans atmosphere. The heroine is a very good, very determined cop which gives a nice spin on the usual types of humor found in hapless female detective stories. The story includes lovely layers of satire on New Orleans society— the killer is picking off attendants of 12-step programs, which to the detective’s dismay means that half the city is a potential victim.
Meredith Duran, Fool Me Twice—I went into this thinking “yawn, another book about a tortured, privileged duke.” I have a real hard time being sympathetic to dukes who have everything and still manage to whine. But Duran pulls out ALL the stops. She beats this once-decent guy into a puling lump, then torments her innocent heroine beyond reason. Even though I was fully prepared to laugh at the preposterous setup, Duran made me root for both of them. Her emotional and descriptive writing twists the heart and keeps the pages turning.
Off the Reservation, Glen Merzer—if you want a novel that literally goes off the deep end on satirizing politics, try this one. The protag is a Congressman who grabs attention by saying just what he pleases and turns his lunacy into a campaign platform, while claiming over-population is the root of all problems and that there are no solutions. The way to bring honesty back to politics!
Creating a long term mystery series isn't easy since the author has to keep coming up with interesting plots that fit the set up, plus grow the characters in ways that are interesting. (I will not read a series where the author has killed off an important love interest just to give herself something new to work with. Developing a committed relationship may be more difficult, but it's far more interesting.)
Which is why it's always a pleasure to read a new Daisy Dalrymple mystery by Carola Dunn. (She started her writing life as a Regency writer.) Her setting is England after WWI, and while her tone is light, she deals with the very real issues of a country rebuilding itself after being fractured into pieces.
The Honourable Daisy Dalrymple was born and raised the daughter of a viscount in the highest levels of society. The war changes her live irrevocably. Her fiancé, a pacifist ambulance driver, is killed at the front. Even more disruptive, her brother, the heir to the viscountcy, is also killed and the title and entailed property go to a cousin. Daisy faced the choice of living in the dower house with her mother (NOT a good choice!), or striking out on her own as a independent young woman.
In Death At Wentwater Court the first book of the series, we meet Daisy as a young freelance writer
eking out a living by writing articles about great houses. Her aristocratic connections give her entrée to such places, where she has an unfortunate tendency to find dead bodies. <G> With a journalist's curiosity, Daisy starts to investigate. And so she has continued for twenty-two books.
Early on she met a handsome Scotland Yard inspector, and their relationship grows into marriage and eventually children—but Daisy's independence and curiosity never fail. In Superfluous Women, Carola Dunn touches on the harsh reality that the death of a generation of young men left a generation of English women single and unlikely to marry.
Three such "superfluous women" set up a household together. One of the three is an old school friend of Daisy's. Daisy is invited to lunch in the house the women have just moved into–and once again, a body turns up. She isn't about to see any of her friends convicted of something they didn't do, so she's off again. <G> A very entertaining and satisfying read.
Part of the joys of conference is picking up so many new books by favourite authors or discovering new-to-me writers, so the RNA Annual Conference in London was such a treat. I’ve been a fan of Henriette Gyland’s writing for a while now. Last year I devoured her book The Highwayman’s Daughter, which is a fabulous 18th century historical. One of Henri’s strengths as a writer is her versatility and the book I have just read, Up Close, is a romantic suspense novel, quite dark, but with a gripping storyline, a very attractive hero and a wonderful evocation of the bleak but beautiful Norfolk countryside.
Also this month I downloaded Isabella Barclay’s A Bachelor Establishment which is a witty, fast-paced and entertaining Regency. It’s a charming and very funny read with a pair of older protagonists, which was refreshing.
Because we didn't do fiction last month I have a long list, so I'll try to be brief. These were my standout reads in June and July: C.L.Wilson's The Winter King, Kylie Scott Lead (strong language warning — it's a series about rock stars — but solid romance with a very strong heroine.) I've been glomming Patricia Briggs's backlist and I've read Raven's Shadow and Raven's Strike both of which I enjoyed immensely. Next are two crime novels, Elly Griffiths' latest, The Ghost Fields and Deborah Crombie's To Dwell in Darkness, both of which I enjoyed. Both can be read as stand-alones, but I think you'd get more out of each series by starting at the first book.
Then, as part of an "author relay" event where UK historical romance authors and Australian historical romance authors interview each other, I was assigned Christina Courtenay. I'd bought one of her books, Trade Winds, when she was Nicola Cornick's guest on the wenches, but never got around to reading it, so I read it. And then bought The Scarlet Kimono and read that. I've now read five of her books and have another one waiting. Lovely adventurous romances set in Scotland, Sweden and the Far East.
It’s mid-summer here in my neck of the woods, and I’m feeling languid and lazy, and in the mood for light reading. So no scholarly research books at the moment, just some fun and entertaining reads (though one is a historybook.) I recently read about a mystery series that sounded very interesting—a darkly comic style featuring two quirky octogenarian detectives . . . I couldn’t resist picking up the first one, and am very much enjoying it. Full Dark House, by Christopher Fowler, switches back and forth between present day London and the Blitz of WWII as John May desperately searches for clues that might tie together a present-day bombing with his very first case. It’s pitched as a YA novel, (a genre which IMO is showcasing some really compelling writing these days for ALL ages) but don’t be put off by that—it’s rich, interesting plotting and writing, and I will definitely be getting the next book in the series.
I’m also very much enjoying George Washington’s Secret Six—The Spy Ring That Saved The American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade. (After all, it was just July 4th! . . . not to rub it in, Jo and Nicola <G>) It’s a fascinating and fun read about the Culper Spy Ring, an ultra secret group of six agents—one of whom was a woman—who infiltrated New York and provided Washington with critical info about the British when the American forces were on their heels, helping the Revolution to survive. The portaits of the spies, whose identities remained a secret until the author and his partner set out to unravel the mystery (the name of the woman is still unknown) It reads like . . . well, a spy novel! It’s the perfect beach read and makes history come alive! (My local beach has two old cannons on it commemorating the landing of British troops, who burned down most of my present town. One house by the harbor, now the oldest house in town, was spared. Local lore said it was owned by a lady who . . . ran a service that provided R&R for the invaders!)
What has been on your reading list this month? As always, please share whatever has caught your interest!