Anne here, hosting this month's WWR (What We're Reading) post for July.
We start with Pat, who's talking about NEVERWHERE, by Neil Gaiman.
The version I read was the “author’s preferred version.” The book started out as a television script and has gone through several editions since. This most recent one is Gaiman at his most charmingly insane. Richard, an up-and-coming investment analyst with am ambitious fiancée, uncharacteristically rescues an injured waif who falls at his feet. From that moment on, he’s drawn deeper into a world of fantasy beneath London’s streets, into the sewers and underground, becoming invisible—like the homeless—to the kind of people he once was. As in any fantasy, Richard has lessons to learn as he fights to return to his own home but ends up fighting for others instead. I really needed this escapism and it’s so well written that I never yawned and flipped pages. That’s true world building!
Christina said, I have had a few disappointing reads this month, so I won’t mention those – suffice it to say that I really hate when a book or a series doesn’t end the way I want it to! The only book I’ve really enjoyed is Summer Island by Natalie Normann. Natalie is a Norwegian author who has written over 50 novels in her own language, but his is her first one in English and it’s wonderful! It’s one of those books that draws you in right from the start and then you just can’t stop reading. In fact, I finished it in one sitting and absolutely loved both the characters, story and setting. I now want to spend summer on an idyllic Norwegian island, swimming in the sea, rowing, eating the local food and relaxing. I could totally understand how the hero (who is English) got sucked into the little community on the island and never wanted to leave again – I didn’t either. The heroine is refreshingly direct and I adored her sidekick – a Norwegian buhund called Frikk! (Dog characters are always a bonus for me.) There is a sequel on the way set at Christmas and I can’t wait to read it!
Nicola here. Like Christina, this month I have read and enjoyed Summer Island by Natalie Normann. I adored the setting, even more so because I once stayed in Sommeroy, off the coast of Northern Norway, so the book brought back very happy memories for me! I loved the quirky cast of characters and the charm and style of the writing. It reminded me of Local Hero, which is one of my favourite films: A great story, engaging characters, gorgeous setting, a sweet and lovely romance. It’s an enchanting book!
A very different but equally unputdownable read was The Servant by Maggie Richell-Davies which recently won the Historical Writers Association unpublished novel award. It’s now published by Sharpe Books. The year is 1765 and Hannah Hubert is a servant girl in the household of a disgraced aristocrat. This isn’t a historical novel that portrays society in the usual light; it’s dark and gritty as it charts Hannah’s struggle for survival in hard times. Hannah is a wonderful heroine, clever and determined and I was rooting for her all the way through the book. The romantic element of the story is lovely, and the writing itself is lyrical. It’s one of the most beautifully descriptive books I’ve read in a long time. Be warned though – it’s a challenging read and doesn’t sugar-coat the horrors of life in the Georgian backstreets of London, but if you like a historical novel that tackles difficult themes but ends on an uplifting note, this might be for you.
A month or so ago a reader recommended Hunting the Highlander by Lynsay Sands, so I picked it up and enjoyed it very much, so much so that I’ve glommed almost the entire series of Highland Brides books now!
Andrea says: I’ve been glomming the Ruth Galloway mystery series by Elly Griffiths, which was recommended by a number of the Wenches and our readers from previous columns—and am loving them!
I also really loved Writers and Lovers, by Lily King, a wonderful, poignant and uplifting novel about a 30-something struggling to live her dream when everything seems to be falling apart in her life. The unexpected death of her mother and the break-up of a long-time love affair have left Casey Peabody reeling. She’s trying to finish the novel she’s been writing for a number of years while waitressing at a chic restaurant serving the well-heeled crowd at Harvard. All her friends have moved on to real jobs, and she feels she's floundering, clinging to youth when it’s time to move on. And then she meets two very different men, and in the course of dealing with her feelings, she has to decide what’s really important to her. It’s smart, wise, funny and beautifully written. I highly recommend it!
Mary Jo said: My favorite fun read this month was Jasmine Guillory's The Proposal. Guillory is a rising star in contemporary romance, and with good reason. An African-American writer, she has characters of all colors woven together the way people are in real life. Race is there but it's not the point of her stories.
Set in Los Angeles, In The Proposal, her heroine, Nik Paterson, is at a Dodgers baseball game with Fisher, a low level actor she's been casually dating for several months. She trying to figure out how soon she can leave when he tells her to look at the Jumbotron scoreboard, which says, "NICOLE, I LOVE YOU. WILL YOU MARRY ME? FISHER."
Then to her horror he drops on one knee and proposes. They've never come close to talking about marriage (and he didn't even spell her name correctly!), so she says, "NO!" At which point an angry Fisher and all his bros stomp off, leaving Nik alone with every camera in the stadium aimed at her and most of the people figuring that she did her man wrong.
Two rows above her, pediatrician Carlos and his sister are watching and when they see cameras swooping in on Nik, they go down and pretend that they're all old friends and they carry her off to safety. This is the beginning of a playful relationship as Nik and Carlos find they really enjoy each other's company. Neither is looking for anything serious and long term–until one of them decides long-term is good and a black moment ensues. They sort it out of course because this is a romance, but it's also a story of the powers of friendship and family–and a warning not to deseed jalapenos with your bare hands. <G>
One reasons I really like Guillory's books is because her characters are mature young professionals who care about their work. They're also smart and funny. Sadly, Jasmine Guillory has only written five books and now I've read three of them. I wish her fast fingers!
A non-fiction book I'm reading is The Tribe of Tiger; Cats and Their Culture, The author, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, a distinguished anthropologist, animal behaviorist, and author. She starts the book with an anecdote about how she and her husband were watching behind their house in New Hampshire when two frightened deer ran into sight, then turned and stared nervously down at the ground. A few moments later, the Thomas's 7 pound cat, Rajah, roared out of a bush in full attack mode, paws and claws extended and tail straight up. The pair of hundred pound deer fled in terror.
Thus begins a discussion of how cats are carnivores and hunters and how their behaviors shape their lives and interactions with humans. It's a lot of fun to read, and for those dog owners who feel neglected, she's also written The Hidden Life of Dogs. She writes very well and her observations of felines of all sizes are funny and insightful.
First, I sped through a half dozen Mrs. Pollifax books by Dorothy Gilman. These are gentle adventure books about an enterprising old lady who sometimes leaves her prize-winning geraniums to take up work for the CIA. From central Africa to China to the heart of rural Mexico Mrs. Pollifax is a charming and benevolent force to be reckoned with. The first book, The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, is the place to start.
More adventure, this time of the paranormal sort, with Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, the only official practicing wizard in Chicago. (He advertises in the phone book.) The first of the series is Storm Front. Harry inhabits a complex urban world of demons and angels, magical practitioners, monsters, sword-wielding champions of God, werewolves, and … cops. He gets beat up a lot and he doesn’t make much money, but he’s one of the good guys. Readalike: Ben Aaronovitch.
These last week I’ve also picked up some Diana Wynne Jones, Deep Secret and A Sudden Wild Magic. Deep Secret is especially delightful as great parts of it take place at a Science Fiction/Fantasy Con. Readalikes: Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb and Die for Love by Elizabeth Peters.
And a final Diana Wynne Jones book, Howl’s Moving Castle. This was adapted into an utterly lovely animated film by Hayao Miyazaki. I am now determined to track down the film and watch it again.
Anne again. After our last WWR discussion I ended up rereading Lois McMaster Bujold's The Curse of Chalion and the rest in the series — for the umpteenth time. I also reread Elizabeth Peters' Crocodile on the Sandbank also for the umpteenth time. Favourite books can be like old friends at times.
After Wench Pat recommended Juliet Blackwell's haunted house series last month I headed off to buy her, but ended up buying the first book in Blackwell's "witch" series instead. In Secondhand Spirits we are introduced to Lily Ivory, a talented witch who is still discovering the extent of her powers. She's recently moved to San Francisco, and opened a "vintage" dress shop in the Haight-Ashbury area, where she hopes her witchiness will fit in with the general air of eccentricity. But a client is murdered and then, when children start disappearing, Lily gets involved.
It's a fun series, with some nice other-worldly mayhem, a good mystery, an appealing cast of characters, including a warm-hearted wiccan, a homeless youth, her familiar, a "gobgoyle" — half goblin half gargoyle — who masquerades as a pot-bellied miniature pig in public — and a sniff of romance with an attractive, hard nosed journalist who doesn't believe in magic. I also enjoyed the vintage clothes aspect — Lily sells clothes from the '30's to the 80's, but her own preference is to dress in 60's outfits. I enjoyed the series so much I'm already onto book #8.
Lastly, for those of you who prefer audio books, you might find this article interesting.
So now, over to you, O Wenchly Readers — what books have you been reading and enjoying lately?