Anne here, hosting our regular monthly feature, What We're Reading, where the wenches and readers talk about the books they've read and enjoyed in the last month.
We start with Pat Rice talking about Sherry Thomas's A Study in Scarlet Women.
Pat says: I have always adored Sherry Thomas’s writing, and of course, I cut my teeth on Sherlock Holmes mysteries, so the combination of Sherry Thomas writing about a female Sherlock Holmes was just too tempting. Other than the contrived ending to the mystery —and let’s face it, Sherlock was the King of Contrived—the book is absolutely delicious.
I can’t reveal the shocking opening, but let us say that Charlotte Holmes is a woman of strong spine and beliefs as well as a brilliant mind and regrettably insufficient human experience. There are rough similarities to the Conan Doyle stories, if only in name, but no real attempt to duplicate the other characters. Which is provident, because that leaves room for Charlotte’s enigmatic love interest—a married man who behaves with prudence and respect and is an altogether wonderful hero in his own right.
This isn’t a romance, by any means, but having an unrequited love makes her just a little more human. Highly recommended! (and the next in the series is just out!)
Nicola is next. She says:
Whether it was going to see the JaneAusten exhibition in Oxford or all the recent chat there has been in my RNA chapter about Austen’s books, I was inspired to pick up (again) Jane Austen Made Me Do It, the anthology inspired by Jane, her life and her writing. I love the way all the authors in the collection put such a clever and individual spin on their source material and being such a fan of the great Jo Beverley, I particularly enjoyed her lovely story Jane and the Mistletoe Kiss which made me feel very Christmassy!
Also on my reading pile this month was Murder At The Brightwell by Ashley Weaver. This is the first of her Amory Ames books that I’ve read but I’m so pleased to discover her. I like a bit of 1930s set crime and she captures the essence of the era perfectly. The characters are well drawn and interesting and the plot was fun. What I particularly liked, though, was the central relationship between Amory and her estranged husband Milo. There was a lot of depth and complexity to it and the romance was intriguing. I’ll be reading more in this series.
From Mary Jo:
Lois McMaster Bujold has written many wonderful science fiction and fantasy novels and won many awards for them, and recently she's been having fun writing a series of novellas about Penric and his demon, Desdemona, set in her fantasy world of the five gods. There are five novellas so far, and I suspect that at some point she'll bundle the stories together into a novel with an overall arc, which is gradually appearing.
I'd recommend starting with the first story, Penric's Demon, which tells the story of how young Penric, a son of the minor gentry, is on his way to marry when he stops to aid a dying sorceress by the road–and becomes the bearer of the sorceress's demon when the old woman dies. Her chaos demon is an accumulation of the lives and experiences of ten women (and a horse and mare), and is old, powerful and mischievous. The first story shows how Penric comes to terms with the demon, and even asks her what she'd would like to be called, which no one ever did before.
The second story, Penric and the Shaman, shows him as mature and compassionate as he sorts out a desperate shaman, the product of different, ancient magics. The third was Penric's Mission, in which he is sent on a diplomatic missions and gets into serious trouble. (Which often happens to the poor fellow!)
And then–wait a minute, how did I miss Penric's Fox , the third in the series? I checked my e-reader and Penric's Mission was listed at #3. After perusing the publication dates, I realized that she wrote the Fox story recently and fitted it into the correct time order, which changed the number of the later novellas. Okay, why not? <G>
It's a fun story, a fantasy mystery, in which a much loved sorceress is killed. Not only must the motive and murderer be found, but Penric must also discover what happened to her demon, an individual in its own right. When a sorcerer dies, the demon jumps to a nearby living host–so where is the demon??? It's a fine story that fills in more of Penric's life. He's an appealing hero who has a good relationship with his inner chaos demon. (Desdemona is very good at killing fleas and lice. <G>)
As for other reading, I've been feasting Mary Stewart e-books. I'm not sure if they are on sale, or if the e-book prices are permanently low, between 99 cents and $2.99, but I went rather berserk earlier in the month when I found out. (As of tonight, when I checked the prices were still low.) [*Anne's note — the price reduction is geographically limited. Not cheap in Australia and some other countries 🙁 ]
I bought ten Mary Stewart e-books, all of which I'd read before, some several times. So far I've reread The Gabriel Hounds, Nine Coaches Waiting, Airs Above the Ground, and The Moonspinners. All lovely, and enough time has passed that I didn't remember all the plot points, so I got to be surprised all over again.
I did realize several things: there's a lot of smoking, the heroines are quite young (early 20s,) her writing style is as lyrical and descriptive as I remember, and the stories follow the Alfred Hitchcock pattern of average people who unexpectedly find themselves in danger, where they must prove their mettle if they want to survive. Except Hitchcock's protagonists were male and Mary Stewart's are female.
Four Mary Stewarts down, six more still to go. <G>
I recently attended Bouchercon, a big annual mystery conference, and was on a panel with another historical mystery author who was just delightful—engaging, articulate, erudite—and so, of course, I immediately ran out and bought his book. And am I glad I did!
Now, I wouldn’t normally jump at a book set in the 1830s American frontier. And as a further confession, I tend to be wary of a series where the sleuth is a famous person—it’s such a delicate dance to do that believably. However, I thought this one is really terrific. These Honored Dead—A Lincoln and Speed Mystery by Jonathan Putnam, does a very clever twist on on what one might expect. A young Lincoln, who is a newly minted lawyer struggling to establish a practice in Springfield Illinois, is actually a secondary character. The protagonist is Joshua Speed, another actual person, and the man who became Lincoln's lifelong best friend. The history is meticulously researched—Lincoln and Speed did actually live together, and in fact shared a bed—and the ambiance of frontier America is wonderfully rendered. A murder occurs, and Speed—the clandestine lover of the widow accused of the crime—turns to Lincoln to help prove her innocent.
Putnam is a distingushed Harvard-educated trial lawyer, (who has quit the law to write full time—huzzah!) with a lifelong love of history, so as you can imagine the court scenes are terrific, as is the tracking down of the clues. He writes with a terse yet wonderfully descriptive style that fits his time period beautifully. I found the characters really well-wrought and interesting, and the mystery very well-crafted. For those of you looking for something a little different. I highly recommend it. (And the e-book is currently on special sale for $1.99!
In the last month I've glommed a non-romantic historical series by Christian Cameron. I picked him up because I was looking for something a bit different to read and his name was included in an author recommendation on a historical blog I sometimes visit. Only three authors were recommended and as the other two were firm favorites of mine — Dorothy Dunnett and Bernard Cornwell — I thought I'd try Christian Cameron.
I started with his novella series — Tom Swan and The Head of St George — Castillon (or if that link doesn't work for you, try this one.) They're set during the Crusades, and follow the adventures of Tom Swan, a young English soldier. "Novella" is a bit misleading — there are 6 "novellas" in the "and The Head of St George" series, and each one starts exactly where the previous one finished — which is often on a cliff-hanger. So it's a serialized novel rather than a series, and you need to buy all 6 to finish the story.
I also read Rhys Bowen's In Farleigh Field — very different from her usual light-hearted murder mysteries. It's a World War II novel, told from the point of view of those who remained in England. It's about love, betrayal, family and class. It's been a huge bestseller, and I can see why. I enjoyed it very much.
I've also read and enjoyed Eloisa James's A Duke of her Own — delightful.
And now, dear readers, it's over to you. What books have you read and enjoyed in the last month?