Happy almost-Halloween! It’s Nicola here with this month’s Word Wench reading choices. Here in the Northern Hemisphere the nights are drawing in and it’s time to curl up cosily beside the fire with a good book so what could be better than sharing our suggestions here, favourites new and old!
I’ve actually been getting ahead of myself, already reading a Christmas book this month, A Wedding in December by the very talented Sarah Morgan. I love Sarah Morgan’s writing and I enjoyed this book very much indeed. It was deliciously funny as well as sexy and romantic, and Sarah also mixes in some very thought-provoking observations on the subject of family relationships. It’s set in Aspen where Rosie White is having a whirlwind wedding to the gorgeous Dan. Rosie’s elder sister Kate, worried that her impulsive sister is making a huge mistake, is trying to persuade her to cancel the wedding, whilst Rosie’s parents are trying to put on a happy, united front even though they are on the verge of divorce. I loved all the characters but especially Rosie’s parents Maggie and Nick, whose attempts to appear happy and in love were both hilarious and moving. I really love the way that Sarah Morgan goes right to the heart of emotional conflicts we can all identify with, and wraps it all up in a hopeful, heart-warming happy ending that’s just perfect for Christmas.
Susan: Most of my October reading time went to little distractions like kids getting married and kids moving, but I did manage to finish some books I had set aside when the madness began. One of them, Christina Lauren's My Favorite Half-Night Stand, puts a fresh spin on a classic yummy romance, exploring online dating, the temptations of an alter ego, and the perils when the guise crumbles and gets in the way of a growing romance. Millie is a young college professor whose closest friends are a group of lovable, nerdy guys who are also college professors. When they have to attend a gala event, they're at a loss for ready dates, so they agree to try online dating to find matches. Millie, emotionally vulnerable, feels safe in this bunch, and very close to her best friend, Reid, who is smart, reserved, and very sexy. They get even closer unexpectedly one night, setting up all sorts of complications. Reid is connecting with online matches, but doesn't realize that Millie is too–with him, under an invented name. As Catherine, Millie can open up emotionally more easily than face-to-face. This is a Roxanne story, a story of reaching past limitations toward emotional maturity and honesty. It's also clever and funny, with endearing, realistic characters, a sexy and heartfelt romance developing, along with the engaging naturalism that Christina Lauren (a writing duo) is so adept at creating. Another thumbs up for CL from me, and I'll go on to read more of their books! This was a print read for me, and I have to say it was a relief on the eyes and for the brain–reading more digitally lately by necessity now, I really feel the difference when I have the chance to sink down into a paperback with all its simple, satisfying presence.
In audio, I listened to Mary Stewart's The Moonspinners. I've read all of her books a bajillion times by now, but I've never listened to them, and most of them are now available. Listening to one of my most-favorite books ever was a wonderful experience–the lovely nuances of Stewart's language and the subtleties of character and plot are highlighted in new ways. This one is beautifully narrated by Daphne Kouma, who is a superb narrator–and fluent in Greek, adding a fresh new dimension to the story. I loved it!
Andrea: I‘ve had a really different sort of reading month. I've mentioned on several occasions as
I’m not as into reading fantasy/magic as some of the other Wenches. Nonetheless, I’m very open to dipping my toes in the genre when I hear of something intriguing.I had read really good things about Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, a wildly popular YA fantasy novel. And then, when I read the synopsis of her first adult novel, which sounds really cool, I decided get a taste of her writing with the YA,s as I hadn’t yet gotten my hands on the new book. Wow—am I glad I did! Six of Crows is a classic “caper” trope. A ragtag band of teenage misfits—basically guttersnipes making ends meets as petty criminals in a Game of Thrones type of quasi medieval world (though there are some tanks and powerful armaments created by a type of magical metalworkers) undertakes an impossible mission to break into an impenetrable fortress. If they bring back the requested “item”, they’ll be rich beyond their wildest dreams.
I found Bardugo’s character building just amazing. The band are a mixed bag of young people, each damaged by a trauma and so vulnerable and wary of friendships. And yet they are alll survivors, with grit resilience and strength. The leader, a brilliant, cagey, and sometimes cruel young punk picks his team for the specific skills he needs to get the job. He couldn’t care less whether they all get along. And so begins a very dangerous journey. The plotting and the twists are fabulous, and the writing is really sharp and compelling. Most of all, the development of the relationships between them is incredibly well done, as are the backstories that Bardugo weaves in about each of the kids. I’m now huge fan. In fact, I immediately went and glommed the second book, Crooked Kingdom, which continues their adventures.
Anne here. October was a very busy month for me, and consequently I haven't read as much as I usually do, but prompted by a discussion on last month's WWR I have been rereading and enjoying some of Anne McCaffrey's Dragons of Pern series. The fantasy world where dragons hatch from eggs and bond psychically with a human, and they work together to save people from a destructive menace called "thread" is a very appealing one. If you haven't read it, and think you'd like to try a bit of fantasy, here's book 1 in the series.
AT YOUR SERVICE, Sandra Antonelli
This is classified as a romantic comedy mystery, I believe, which is why I picked it up—that and the opening pages. It’s also a spy thriller, which would have put me off, but I was too far into it by then. Mae is an Irish butler to Kitt, a man who is obviously into international security of some sort. Mae is also his landlord, which makes for an entertaining relationship right there. When Mae mysteriously inherits a fortune from a husband who’s been dead sixteen years, life becomes interesting—and dangerous.
The dialogue is very dry, which I adore. I love that our heroine is over forty and a mean fighter when necessary. The romance isn’t easy given their situations and characters. While the action is swift and decisive, they do an awful lot of maudlin muddling over their relationship. But the characterization was so very entertaining—much like an old Nick and Nora partnership (Dashiell Hammett’s THIN MAN)—that I forgave them the muddling about.
Mary Jo here. I've been locked in mortal combat with a recalcitrant book, and as always when in such straits, I'm mostly rereading stories I've enjoyed in the past. Because I've read them before, it's easier to put them down and get back to work.
As part of my rereading, I dug out my stash of Dick Francis mystery novels, of which I have many. He was a retired champion jump jockey and his books were all set in and around the world of British racing. The mysteries are clever, well written, and told in first person by honorable, likable men with a high pain threshold. <G>
I just reread one of my favorites, Wild Horses. Young director Thomas Lyons is shooting a movie in Newmarket, the racing capital of Britain, and the story of a decades old crime in the town turns out to have dangerous reverberations in Thomas's production and in his life. Francis really does his research and the details of how movies are made are convincing and fascinating. Plus, there are horses. <G>
I've had an interesting experience in rereading two series of connected novellas, many of which were mentioned here when they were first released because I'm not the only Wench who likes these excellent authors.
The first series was the Penric and Desdemona novellas by Lois McMaster Bujold, set in her world of the five gods. Penric is a very likable cleric who is inhabited by a demon that lived in a dozen different females before it jumped to him. It's like having a dozen bossy aunts in your head. <G> The series is up to seven now: Penric's Demon, Penric and the Shaman, Penric's Fox, Penric's Mission, Mira's Last Dance, The Prisoner of Limnos, and The Orphans of Raspay. There is a nice romance, but a lot of the fun is the relationship between Penric and Desdemona.
The other series is the Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews. The premise is that Earth is a way station for transiting aliens, and Innkeepers are humans who host the aliens, and who have magical power within their inns. The Innkeepers job is to keep their guests safe and not let regular humans know of the existence of the inns and the broader universe. The first three books are told by Dina, a new young innkeeper struggling to get her long dormant inn up and running, which means she'll accept any and all guests–including handsome vampire warriors who get drunk on coffee and run naked through her orchard. <G> The fourth book is about Dina's sister Maud.
The stories are Clean Sweep, One Fell Sweep, Sweep in Peace, and Sweep of the Blade. All that sweeping refers to the innkeepers' magical and frequently morphing brooms. There are two strong romances in the course of these books, and a lot of humor.
I read all of these short novels as they were originally published, usually about a year apart. I enjoyed them all, which is why I always read the new releases, but reading the stories consecutively was a whole new level of enjoyment. These are very good authors, and they keep the sweep of the characters and situations flowing beautifully. The result is like reading one delicious, lengthy, episodic novel. Or rather, two of them! Both of these series are worth trying if you like clever, light-hearted fantasy with romance.
Joanna: I’ve been reading Rosemary Sutcliff. A blast from the past, as it were. When I was eight or nine I glommed onto every book of hers I could get my hands on. I think she's the author who led me to love historical fiction.
Outcast is the story of Beric. Just every durn bad thing that can happen to somebody in this historical setting happens to him. Shipwreck, expulsion from his Roman-era British village one step ahead of a lynch mob, kidnapping, slavery, sentenced to the galley, shipwreck, drowning-near-as-makes-no-difference … He even has to give his dog away. (The dog ends up fine.)
If I were looking for a tourist brochure to lure me to visit the Classical Roman Empire, this is not so much it. But it’s a cracking fine adventure tale. He’s a brave kid and he deserves his happy ending.
The whole time I was reading I kept asking myself, “What else can possibly happen to him?”
So that’s what we’re reading this month! What are your recommendations, spooky or otherwise?