We have another treasure trove of books to share–our January reads! Mysteries, historical and contemporary — romance and romcom — historical fiction — a couple of favorite re-reads — and a YA Native American mystery, to name a few. Scroll down, enjoy — and share your January finds with us for our TBR stacks, which may tower but never topple.
This month, I continued to glom through the marvelous Wyndham & Banerjee historical mystery series by Abir Mukherjee. Set in 1920s Calcutta, it features a British WWI veteran who has come to India to serve in his country’s royal police force and is partnered with an Indian sergeant, who happens to be Cambridge-educated but has disappointed his wealthy Brahmin family by taking up police work. (Though he has a good reason for it.) The mysteries are really interesting, but it’s the characters who carry the books for me. Both Sam and Suren are complex and complicated people, and the reader slowly learns their backstories and motivations through the books—Sam suffers from post-traumatic stress from the war and becomes addicted to opium, and Suren struggles with working for a colonial power that sees Indians as incapable of governing their own country. The tensions of race, class and power weave through the novels, and yet the storytelling is done with a wonderfully wry sense of humor. I’ve just finished the latest one, The Shadows of Men, and highly recommend the series. (Though do start at the beginning.)
On a lighter note, as prep for doing a Zoom guest host appearance with my dear friend Lauren Willig as part of her “Pink Carnation Read-Along,” I re-read The Passion of the Purple Plumeria, one of the books in her tongue-in-cheek series on a group of Regency spies who wreak havoc with Napoleon’s best-laid plan. It reminded me of how much I loved the whole series when it first came out. Her publisher told Lauren that she had invented a new genre—historical chick-lit—which describes it to a “T". The books are part homage, part take-off on The Scarlet Pimpernel, and are laugh-aloud funny, as well as developing some very nice romantic chemistry. In Purple Plumeria, the heroine and hero are older than the usual bright young things in romance novels, and their relationship is lovely to watch develop. Both Lauren and I wondered aloud on the Zoom presentation about why there aren’t more romances with mature protagonists, as there’s so much more richness of experience to work with. Again, I highly recommend the whole series, but they can be read as stand-alones.
Anne here, and for me over December and January, it's been mainly old fantasy and new crime — but I'd love some good romance recommendations. Starting with the new crime, I read Elly Griffiths' most recent book, The Night Hawks, which I enjoyed — I've read and enjoyed all her "Ruth Galloway" mysteries and have preordered the new one which comes out on February 3rd.
As well, I read JD Kirk's latest, Come Hell or High Water, the continuation of his police-focused murder mysteries. They're not comedies, but as well as a good mystery, JD Kirk also manages to hit my funny bone with his portrayal of the relationships between the various characters, which develop through each subsequent book in the series. I've read and enjoyed all his books and preorder each new one as it becomes available
Apart from that I did a lot of rereading of old favorites, some Christmas stories, but mostly fantasy, such as the Mercedes Lackey Valdemar books, starting with Arrows of the Queen, which was available on kindle in a collection of 3 for a very good price. I also reread Lois McMaster Bujold's Sharing Knife series and others.
This month I glommed Patricia Rice’s Magical Malcolms series, finishing with the recently re-released Magic Man which I think might be my favourite, although I enjoyed them all! This series expertly blends magic, romance and history, and I loved sharing each couple’s path towards happiness. The heroines are all feisty and determined not to settle for any man who can’t believe in their extraordinary powers (or gifts as they call them), and it was a joy to watch the men slowly but surely come to realise that not everything can be explained by science. Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith! In Magic Man, the final story of the series, Aidan Dougal has to not only accept the heroine’s special powers, but also his own, which made for a fascinating tale. The chemistry between them is off the charts and it’s also a bit of a Cinderella story, which I adore. I highly recommend the entire series!
I think The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood was mentioned a while back by one of the Wenches so I gave it a try. I always enjoy books with a quirky heroine (and hero!) and this book definitely has one! Nerdy scientist and PhD student Olive doesn’t believe in romantic relationships and has never really had a boyfriend. But she needs to convince her best friend she’s dating, and in a panic she kisses the first man she comes across. This happens to be young and gorgeous Professor Adam Carlsen, a man everyone thinks is an ass. But Olive brings out the best in him and finds he has hidden depths, and I fell in love with him alongside her. Watching these two working things out was most enjoyable!
I don’t often read thrillers, but if you’d like to try a new series I recommend Alison Morton’s ‘Melisende’ thrillers, Double Identity and Double Pursuit. These stories feature Melisende, a tough French heroine, a former French Special Forces intelligence analyst with an aristocratic background, and Jeff, a gruff English Met Police detective. The two shouldn’t have anything in common, but find that they work very well together. I love the dynamics between them, and the ‘opposites attract’ thing they have going on. Both stories are exciting and keep you on the edge of your seat, and the author has done a lot of background research into international arms dealing, terrorism and people trafficking. The stories are perfectly plotted, move at breakneck speed and whisk you along into intrigue and danger right from the start. I would recommend reading them in order as the second follows on from the previous one. Really hope there will be more books in this series!
Nicola here. I’ve got a tottering TBR pile of great books at the moment and am enjoying working my way through them very much. First, for UK and Australian readers (as I don’t think it’s out yet in the US), there was How to Lose an Earl in Ten Weeks by Jenni Fletcher. It’s described as a Young Adult Regency as both the protagonists are young and it’s a coming of age, finding yourself story. It’s funny, sweet, charming and deeply romantic. It’s also a classic of the enemies to lovers trope and no less wonderful for that; it works beautifully.
Our heroine, Essie Craven, has been engaged since birth to a man she has only met once and remembers as a supercilious boy with black hair and intense blue eyes: Aidan Ravell, Earl of Denholm. Aidan has become very eligible but Essie wants more from her life than marriage, and Aidan also has good reasons for not wanting to marry her. So they cook up a plan whereby they will proceed with their engagement whilst Essie finds Aidan a more suitable wife. The problem, of course, is that they start to find each other very attractive… I’m sure you can guess the rest, but the extremely romantic denouement is achieved cleverly and with some interesting character for development as both Essie and Aidan grow up as they grow closer. A really lovely book.
Next, I read Owen – Book 1 of the Tudor Trilogy by Tony Riches. If like me you’re fascinated by the origins of the Tudor dynasty then you might enjoy this. It’s an engrossing historical novel with plenty of romance in it. In 1422, Owen Tudor, a Welsh servant, is sent to serve the widowed Queen of England, Catherine of Valois, and falls in love with her, vowing to protect her from the dangers of a country on the brink of civil war. Over time Catherine comes to rely on Owen’s strength and his advice, and falls in love with him too. But how can the widow of the warrior King Henry V and a Welsh soldier ever be together and what will happen when their secret relationship is discovered? Owen is an exceptionally attractive hero, loyal, clever and brave, and the story made me very keen to read the next in the series.
Mary Jo here. I really enjoyed the first book in a new WWII mystery series by Ashley Weaver: A Peculiar Combination. Ellie McDonnell comes from a family of locksmiths and safecrackers. All the members of her family are loyal Britons and both her brothers enlisted when war broke out, but her Uncle Mick's locksmith business is no longer earning enough to support the household, so Ellie and Mick follow a tip to break into an empty house where there should be jewels in the bedroom safe.
But it's a trap, and they're caught by the humorless Army Major Ramsey, an intelligence officer who is in dire need of an expert safecracker to retrieve secret British military documents from the safe of a Nazi spy. Uncle Mick will remain in custody as a hostage for Ellie's cooperation. She's happy to help the war effort while not at all pleased by the domineering (but not unattractive!) major. Her safe-cracking skills are up to the challenge, but the situation goes wrong and her skills are needed in ever more complicated. It was a fast read with suspense, lots of twists, and great characters. I'm happy to see that a second book in the series will be out in May!
One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London features a plus-size heroine, Bea Schumacher. Bea is a stylish and successful plus-size fashion blogger and influencer who is mostly pretty happy with herself and her life. She's also addicted to a dating show called Main Squeeze, which seems to be modeled after the Bachelor and Bachelorette series, not a single episode of which I've ever watched. But the set-up is clever and the characters mostly very likable. When Bea posts an online complaint along the lines of "why are all female contestants size zero?", the new Main Squeeze producer decides that it's time to change that, and she invites Bea to be the next featured contestant, where she'll be surrounded by hot guys trying to win her love. With some trepidation, Bea decides to give it a try, and she's off on a wild and witty ride. There are some interesting twists and a satisfying ending. I now know that I never want to watch one of these shows, but I definitely enjoyed reading this book!
I apparently read so many good books these past months that they're stacking up and I can't remember who recommended what. So if I'm repeating sorry but they're worth mentioning again.
Mary Jane, Jessica Anya Blau–To whoever recommended this, a hearty thank you. Since the protagonist is only fourteen, I guess I should call this coming-of-age fiction, but it’s a great read for teens and adults. Set in Baltimore in the 1960s, the story is about Mary Jane, raised in a stiffly proper country club home. She’s asked to spend the summer as a nanny for the five-year-old daughter of a doctor and his wife, which sounds perfectly proper until one meets the hippy-dippy Cones. The doctor is a psychiatrist who takes in a rock-and-roll star heroin addict and his equally famous singer/actress wife. The doctor’s wife is a wannabe musician who never cooks or cleans. And Mary Jane appears to be the only grown-up in the house. But as the summer evolves, Mary Jane learns important lessons about life and love, not all of them about sex. The story is delightfully upbeat even when the adult problems heat up. Highly recommended!
Splendidly light-hearted, intelligent, and humorous, Neanderthal Seeks Human by Penny Reid kept me entertained. Janie Morris is a large, red-haired architect/accountant with a brilliant mind and a serious social disorder which causes her to call herself a Neanderthal. And yeah, I did want to knock her head against a wall on a few too many occasions. As in any rom-com, there are ridiculous situations and plot set-ups, but it doesn’t matter. Janie is a delight and developed beautifully through the book. Her choice in men remains questionable, but her hero comes around, if one can believe in a juvenile delinquent turning into a wealthy businessman by working security. The author made it plausible enough to settle happily into the tale. I could have wished for more of a comeuppance of the so-called villains, but perhaps they show up in another story.