Anne here, hosting this month's What We're Reading post, and what a line-up we have: science fiction, dual timeline, historical romance, women's fiction, non-fiction, and murder mysteries, with quite a few wenches turning to crime.
Mary Jo here. I recently reread a book I'd read in the past, and I liked it even better the second time around. John Scalzi's Agent to the Stars is science fiction, but not the kind with ray guns and evil invading aliens. Instead, it's funny and very entertaining and even has some romance.
Scalzi speaks amusingly about how he wrote the book in 1997 just to see if he could write a full length novel. A couple of his writer friends said it was good, and his wife was greatly relieved to like it because if she hated it, she'd still have to live with him. <G> Then he published it in pieces on his new scalzi.com blog and people sent in a buck if they liked it. The story wasn't published as a real, print novel until 2005, but it has thrived since, and Scalzi is now a New York Times list bestselling science fiction author of many novels.
The narrator is Tom Stein, a young and successful Hollywood agent who has just gotten mega-bucks for his top client, a feather brained but likable young blond beach girl who desperately wants to win the role of a tough-as-nails Holocaust survivor. His other clients tend to be neurotic and demanding, but that's normal.
Then Tom's life gets complicated. Carl, the legendarily tough head of his agency, calls Tom in and says that he has been contacted by friendly aliens, the Yherajk, and they've decided they need a Hollywood agent to introduce them to humankind. The problem is that they looks like blobs of melting gelatin and smell like locker room socks. Since Tom's boss can't do the job personally, he enlists Tom, who has his work is cut out for him! So a snarkily likable Yherajk with ADD and the human name of Joshua moves in with Tom, and the fun begins.
This may sound somewhat boggling, but the story of Tom, Joshua, an old neighborhood dog called Ralph, actress Michelle, and Tom's sharp-tongued Chicana secretary Miranda is very entertaining, and ultimately moving. I'll be reading it again. (Anne pops in to add her endorsement to this book)
From Nicola: Having finally finished The Book That Would Not End I have had a bit more time for reading and it’s been blissful.
First up was a new book from one of my favourite authors, Tracy Rees. Each of Tracy’s books is different, which is one of the many things I like about them. The first couple were historical novels then she wrote a dual time novel, The Hourglass, that was shortlisted for the RNA Award last year and now we have Darling Blue. Ishbel “Blue” Camberwell leads a charmed life with her wealthy family in 1920s London. At her 21st birthday party her quixotic father offers her hand in marriage to the suitor who can woo her by letter but Blue is only just finding her feet in life and has other plans. We see Blue growing up and learning about life and love and her story is woven in with that of two different but fascinating characters. The language is beautiful, the book is full of insight and truths, Tracy Rees captures the spirit of the era perfectly and it’s funny, lovely and charming.
Another absolutely charming book I read this month is Born to be Wilde, the 3rd instalment in Eloisa James’ series The Wildes of Lindow Castle. I hadn’t read the first two books in the series, though I’m hurrying to pick them up now, but I was completely swept away by this one. Parth Sterling, the hero, is an honorary Wilde having been brought up in the ducal family since he was a child. Parth is the sort of hero who thinks he has life sorted and can solve any problem through the application of logic. The one thing that defies all logic, however, is his relationship with Miss Lavinia Gray. I loved the way in which these two came to know and understand each other properly. Their love story is tender, emotional and very sexy and the book is lots of fun, especially the extended Wilde clan who are delightfully eccentric. The writing sparkles and I loved every moment of it.
Pat recommends ANGRY HOUSEWIVES EATING BON BONS, Lorna Landvik. An oldie but goodie–this is a women’s fiction tour-de-force starting in the 70s and carrying through to the late 90s about women who get together in a neighborhood book club. I want to join a book club like this one! Each chapter lists the books they read that month and many of them are old favorites of mine, so it’s a great reading list as well. As in any good women’s fiction, the characters suffer through tragedy and rejoice in each other’s joy. We relive the history of the different eras through their lives and children. I know it sounds like just one more tedious tome of divorce and marriage, but it’s not. The characters come alive, learn to overcome their weaknesses, become strong, and celebrate every moment of life. I just sank into it every evening, happy to be welcomed into their company if only for a few hours. It's so rare that happens, I had to tell everyone!
Andrea says: Between being on deadline for my next Wrexford & Sloane mystery and my travels in England (madly dashing around after the RNA Conference trying to cram in as many sights and visits as as possible!) I’m afraid I haven’t hit my usual reading page count for the month. I did, however, manage to begin a book that I’m enjoying very much.
American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic, by Victoria Johnson, is a fascinating account of Hosack, a brilliant physician, professor and botanist who was good friends and personal physician to both Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr (he was the surgeon at their duel . . . which may not have been his finest hour) and his quest to create the first botanical/medicinal garden in America. Part biography, part general history on science, botany and medicine of the late 18th-early nineteenth century, it weaves together a wonderful portrait of a new land filled with infinite possibilities of discovery. Born in New York City in the mid 1700’s, Hosack spent time in Great Britain, studying under the leading medical men in both Scotland and London. In both places, he was struck by the sophisticated knowledge—developed over centuries of empirical study in the field, as it were—of how to use plants as a potent and safe way to cure many ailments. There were gardens devoted to cultivating healing plants, and the best one collected specimens from around the world to augment the local species.
Hosack returned to his home in New York excited by the idea that America, with its vast stretches of untouched wilderness, must hold a treasure trove of medicinal plants—and he was determined to create an American repository like the ones he had seen abroad, as well as educate a generation of American physicians in the science of using plants for healing. I’m only halfway through the book, but it’s very well-written and gives a great glimpse of life in the new republic and the famous people of the times (New York and Phildapelphia were very small worlds, and it’s amazing how many names we recognize from history were constantly rubbing shoulders with each other.) One of the fun facts from the flap blurb that I’m looking forward to reading about is the fact that America’s first botanical garden eventually got going in the site that is now Rockefeller Center! For all you gardeners out there, I think you would find this an especially interesting read!
Susan says: So many books!! That's my utter downfall this summer. I've started reading way more books than I've been able to finish. Some of that is because I'm too picky, but mostly it's because I don't have quiet reading time right now, a busy family summer. But I'm doing some research reading, happily plowing through The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England by Dan Jones. He's not only a superb historian, but an excellent writer with the ability to make very complicated royal shenanigans quite clear, readable, and relatable. Between Dan Jones and Chris Peers, King Stephen and the Anarchy (my husband, seeing the book upside down, thought it was Stephen King, The Anarchy, and had high hopes) … but I'm making good sense of some very layered 12th century doings.
Over the past year I've read all three murder mysteries by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling), featuring London private detective Cormoran Strike, starting with The Cuckoo's Calling, which I've mentioned here before. Just excellent crime fiction, though sometimes a tough read on the gruesome scale, yet worth the effort. Then we sat down to watch the BBC version of the series, C.B. Strike (now available on Cinemax in the US), and I was instantly hooked. It's one of the best detective series I've seen in long time–yes, it's gritty and realistic, but it's compelling, the characters are deeply sympathetic and beautifully nuanced, and it's all very well. Cormoran Strike (Tom Burke) and his assistant, Robin Ellacott (Holliday Grainger) in particular are fascinating characters, and there's a subtle, growing romance there as well. I am looking forward to Season 4 next year!
Joanna here. I didn’t get much reading done this month, so only one book to mention. This is Pandora’s Boy by Lindsey Davis, an author Wenches have been praising for years. I finally got around to reading Davis, (you see – I really DO get to my TBR eventually,) and I join the chorus.
Flavia Albia is Falco’s adopted daughter, now married and doing her own investigating of murders and fighting off the bad guys of ancient Rome. Pandora’s Boy brings us irresponsible and decadent Gilded Youth, the most posh restaurant in Rome, witchcraft, murder, racketeers, and a fertility god missing his (cough) organ of generation. This is a Classical world somewhat different from the high speeches and spacious palaces we generally meet. The breezy, take-no-prisoners voice of the female protagonist makes this one for me.
Anne again, and like Joanna, I have also been reading Lindsey Davis. I've been reading her Falco novels since they first came out, but I have to confess I was so sad to leave Falco that I delayed starting on the Flavia Albia series — until a few weeks ago, when after a conversation with a friend, I pulled the first one, The Ides of April from my TBR (to-be-read) pile. And thoroughly enjoyed it.
But instead of summing up what I liked about that particular book, I'll tell you what I like about Lindsey Davis's Roman-set mysteries. Her history is excellent, and I particularly like the view of Ancient Rome portrayed through the dryly witty lens of a 21st century awareness, but without any sense of anachronism. Her story telling is enjoyable, her characters are wonderful, the mysteries are nicely complicated and historically plausible. I also confess that I really enjoy the thread of romance that runs through her work. But what I enjoy most is the humor and ironic tone of the narrators — Falco, and later, Flavia Albia. And if you'd like a taste of the author's voice, and want to see her delightful responses to "helpful" suggestions from readers, visit her "rants" page. My favorites are those concerning corn (scroll down).
I've also been enjoying the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries that were recommended by Mary Jo and others last month. The author, Carola Dunn is an honorary wordwench and was interviewed here some years ago. This is the first book in the series.