Anne here, hosting our monthly "what we're reading" post, and have we got some great recommendations for you, from contemporary magic realism, to English women's fiction/rom com, medieval historical romance, rock romance, crime fiction of various sorts, and fantasy romance. Read on — and then add your own recommendations in the comment stream.
We begin with Pat: For fans of magical realism and Barbara Samuel—MIDNIGHT AT THE BLACK BIRD CAFÉ by Heather Webber is a lovely, heartwarming, “wrap up in a cozy blanket and dream pleasant dreams” story. There is enormous heartbreak and death, but the book is not just about learning to cope, but to overcome and become stronger through forgiveness and love.
For tragic reasons, Anna Kay has never lived in the town her mother called home, until her grandmother dies and leaves her a café. Anna has no intention of staying. She’s on her way to medical school. But the will requires that she stay and run the café for two months before she can sell it, and she desperately needs the funds. Over those months, she learns about the rare blackbirds inhabiting her backyard, the mulberries that bring magical dreams, and about the father she never knew. And while Anna is changing, the whole town is changing with her. Every character shines like a polished gem, and I wanted to root for all of them to have their happy endings. Definitely a feel good story for a dreary evening!
Christina says: Jane Lovering writes the quirkiest rom coms I’ve ever read – and I mean that in the best possible way! – so when I noticed that she had a new book out, I downloaded it immediately. In The Country Escape, heroine Katie has moved herself and her teenage daughter to a ramshackle cottage in deepest Dorset following her recent divorce because it’s all she can afford. Her ex-husband was French, rich and selfish, so the change in circumstances is particularly noticeable. With jobs harder to come by than she’d thought (she is a French teacher), their prospects for the coming winter look bleak until a couple of chance encounters. One with a pony, who turns up in her orchard one morning (together with an abandoned gypsy caravan), and the other with a man called Gabriel. Jane Lovering’s heroes are always unusual and unique, and Gabriel is no exception. Despite being very handsome, he’s not your average alpha hero, and he has been scarred by things that happened when he was young. But although Katie tries to resist, she can’t help but be drawn to him. Quietly witty and resourceful, as well as self-deprecating, Katie is the kind of heroine you can’t help but root for, and she is hiding some secrets of her own.
The author is the queen of off-the-wall descriptions, metaphors and similes, and the dialogue is peppered with some extremely funny one-liners and come-backs. I was trying to read this at night when my husband was asleep but had to give up and wait until the next day because I snorted or laughed out loud too often. Even though it deals with some tough issues, there is a feel-good factor that’s off the scale in this story, and it leaves you all warm and fuzzy. If you want a really good rom com that’s out of the ordinary this is for you! (I can recommend Jane Lovering’s other novels too).
From Nicola: I really enjoyed reading His Castilian Hawk by Anna Belfrage this month. I hadn’t read any medieval historical romance for a while and enjoyed the different setting and time period. Robert FitzStephan is the illegitimate son of a nobleman, whose rise in society has been achieved through his skill as a soldier and his loyalty to the King. His marriage to Eleanor (Noor) is hastily arranged and gets off to a poor start but I loved the way that these two strangers gradually got to know each other and develop a bond of respect and then love. Both Noor and Robert are intricately-drawn, deep and complex characters which makes their developing relationship and their divided loyalties all the more interesting. Noor is a strong willed heroine you can root for but at the same time I felt that the book accurately reflected the position of women in the society of the time. The historical background of King Edward I’s conquest of Wales was also very well portrayed and there is an enjoyably epic feel to the whole book, which is the first in a new series.
I also loved the latest Stage Dive novella from Kylie Scott, Love Song. Adam Dillon is the latest rock star sensation who has made his name with an album of break up songs about his relationship with his ex-girlfriend. Jill Schwartz, the ex, isn’t thrilled that Adam is prepared to tell the whole world about his feelings for her whilst he never mentioned them to her personally when they were together. Jill supported Adam before he was famous and a year on, when he tries to give her money to pay off those old debts, she has things to say to him… I’ve enjoyed all the Stage Dive series and as I love old flames stories this was going to be perfect for me. It’s funny and sexy and I read it in one sitting.
Andrea: I’d been waiting impatiently for the new Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) book for some time, and Troubled Blood, the new addition to her Cormoran Strike series which released on September 29, didn’t disappoint! In it, Strike and his partner Robin Ellicott, are drawn into investigating a 40 yr. “cold case” of a woman who disappeared in London during the time a serial killer was active.
It moves more slowly and quietly than some of the previous novels, but the complexities of trying to piece together the old information in the police reports—the original investigator was taken off the case because he was having a mental breakdown—as well the unreliable memories of witnesses and family members is absolutely fascinating. Conflicting clues seem to weave an impossibly difficult tangle—which have Strike and Robin wondering if they’ll ever unravel the truth. They’re both also dealing with personal family troubles—and their long-simmering attraction—which put further strain on their ability to see things clearly. The ending left me in awe of how well Galbraith plants her subtle clues. At over 900 pages, it’s very long, but I loved every reading minute!
Mary Jo here: My favorite recent read is the newest installment of Lois McMaster Bujold's Penric & Desdemona Series. Set in Bujold's world of the Five Gods, it features Penric who becomes the unexpected host of an old and complicated demon which contains the lives of ten women, not to mention the mare and the lioness. A person possessed of a demon must learn to control it or bad things happen. Penric and his demon become good working partners and he calls it Desdemona since all its previous lives have been female.
The series is made up of novellas, long enough to be satisfying but not novel length. Masquerade in Lodi falls fourth in the nine story series as Penric is assigned to the curia in the city of Lodi, which is very much like Venice. The city is about to celebrate its grand masquerade festival to the Bastard, the fifth god of their pantheon, the god who takes all the misfits who don't belong elsewhere. Being possessed of one of the Bastard's demons, Penric is a divine of the Order of the Bastard. <G>
The story begins when Penric is summoned to the seamen's hospital to diagnose a madman fished out of the harbor. The madman is possessed of a very chaotic, damaged demon–and when he escapes the hospital, he can potentially cause great damage. It's Penric's job to find the madman before disaster strikes. He joins forces with a very young female cleric who has the power to remove demons–if they can find the missing sailor. So the hunt is on the midst of a masquerade festival where Penric is sure to end up pushed into a canal. <G> As always, the story is very satisfying. (It's probably best to start with the first novella in the series, Penric's Demon, which shows how Penric acquired his demon and created their intriguing partnership.
Anne here, and my recommendation this month is Paladin's Grace, by T. Kingfisher. This is fantasy and romance and I read it after Kareni mentioned it in the comment stream of last month's WWR post. Thank you, Kareni — I not only enjoyed Paladin's Grace very much, I also bought and enjoyed T. Kingfisher's Swordheart (a romance) and A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking, which is more a YA fantasy adventure, but just as enjoyable.
In Paladin's Grace, Stephen is a paladin (warrior) whose god had died. Broken and one of only a handful of paladins who survived the horrific aftermath of the god's death he lives only for the chance to be useful before he dies. When he encounters our heroine, talented perfumer Grace, in an alley and rescues her from danger, the two begin a cautious and tentative friendship. There's treachery, assassination, spies, poisoners, and a cryptic killer stalking Grace, and yet, in among all this adventure, there is wonderful humor — I laughed out loud a number of times — as well as a charming romance. Highly recommended.
Another book I enjoyed was A Death Most Monumental by JD Kirk. This is the 8th in this crime series set in the Highlands of Scotland, and I recommend you start at #1, because the character development as the series progresses is wonderful. As well as the cynical main detective, DCI Jack Logan, you get to know his team members, and the banter and ribbing that takes place is both funny and real. The crimes are good, too. I think wenchly reader Theo originally put me onto this series, so thank you Theo.
I will also say I've read and enjoyed a number of the recommendations above and thoroughly concur with the recommendations of Midnight At The Blackbird Cafe — I'm already half way through the next Heather Webber book — thanks Pat for pointing me to a new author. I've also read the Jane Lovering, Kylie Scott's Love Song, and Bujold's Masquerade in Lodi and enjoyed them all. We wenches have a lot of favorite authors in common.
So, wenchly readers, over to you — what have you read and enjoyed this month?