Cara/Andrea here, hosting our monthly spotlight on what titles are tickling our fancy. As usual, there are some marvelous-sounding books—I've already added a few to my towering TBR pile. I'm sure you'll find some new "keepers" too:
A real mixed bag from me this month! I did something I very seldom do, which is read Stephen King. Although I think he is a great author the squick horror factor is usually too high for me to cope with. However I loved the short stories in Full Dark, No Stars. I thought they were clever and inventive and I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. That said, one of the stories did give me nightmares!
In something of a contrast I dug out my ancient copy of Watch The Wall, My Darling by Jane Aiken Hodge. I'd forgotten what a great book it is. I adore the strong, practical American heroine who comes to find her English family and sorts them all out in short order! I'm a sucker for a bit of Gothic mystery and the brooding atmosphere of Romney Marsh during the threat of Napoleonic invasion is beautifully written. With a great cast of characters, smugglers, spies and a very attractive hero this is one book very firmly on my keeper shelf. My non-fiction read this month is The Secret Still, by Gavin D Smith, which is about Scotland's clandestine whisky trade. I'm reading it as research for the third in my Scottish Brides series which features a gang of illicit whisky distillers. The book is great; it reads like an adventure story with oral history, formal documentation and tales and legends coming together to give a vivid insight into the trade in illegal distilling.
I'm still on an urban fantasy kick. Just finished Darynda Jones's FOURTH GRAVE BENEATH MY FEET and I'm still loving the outrageous humor. The protagonist is a grim reaper still learning what she can do, and the love interest is a son of Satan in a battle with his father, but the characters are the story. Yeah, we all know the apocalypse is looming, but what we really care about is whether the grim reaper will get over her obsessive shopping compulsion before her apartment falls into the one below, and if she'll reconcile with her dying father before she runs out of insulting t-shirts. It's more apparent in this volume that the author is being encouraged into Janet Evanovich mode, but this character changes--constantly.
For something different, I've just started VANITY FARE: A Novel of Lattes, Literature and Love by Megan Caldwell. It's caught somewhere between chick lit and women's fiction but the attempt to be literary results in a lot of telling instead of showing. The divorcee goes back to work in marketing storyline has been done better. I'll keep reading to see if there are any new twists.
Apart from the Madeleine Brent rereads, which I blogged about here, I've read a few crime novels, including Deborah Crombie's A Share in Death, which I enjoyed. It was her first book, and I was intrigued enough to order the next one.
The stand out read for me this month was a historical time-travel book. After having read and loved Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog, which I enjoyed immensely, I approached her The Doomsday Book with a certain amount of trepidation, as I'd heard it was much grimmer. But I really enjoyed The Doomsday Book -- it was set in the same time-travel world but wasn't a comedy. It was gripping --I read far into the night -- and the characterization was as crisp and quirky as the first book of hers I'd read, and yes, the subject was pretty grim in parts, but riveting, nonetheless. It ended well for me and I'd recommend it.
Pierre and Marie, The Story of the Real French Lieutenant's Woman, by Pauline Page-Jones. This slim, handsome hardcover, with many colour plates, was sent me by a Welsh friend, and the only way to buy it seems to be on e-bay here.
The book is mostly about the author's town of Llanfyllin and the house where she was raised, but it contains many interesting details about life there in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In that house is a room decorated with dreamy landscape murals that were the work of a French officer, imprisoned
there on parole. He was Pierre Jacques Augerand, and he fell in love with a local girl, Mary Williams. Unlike in the French Lieutenant's Woman, he returned after the war to claim her, and they lived happily in France.
The author gives interesting detail about the restrictions and opportunities for a French officer on parole in the wilds of Wales, which I'm sure could form the basis for a very interesting Regency romance.
I've also been reading The Stranger In England, but C A G Goede, written in 1807. I found it when looking in particular for more information about the way of life of the wealthy merchants., and he's one of those travelers who loves to give detail. He does digress into comparisons with Paris (though they would be
very interesting to anyone wanting to know more about life there at the time) but on the whole he records the way of life in London for ladies, gentlemen, merchants, and whores, even down to times of day.
"The fashionables leave London regularly for half the year, while the cits still contentedly pursue their business behind the counter. The city therefore does not lose its attraction when the west end is deserted; but the middle of spring is the season when London is most numerously inhabited. Nor is the population confined to an ebb and flow resulting from the seasons: it varies with the hour of the day, as I shall describe."
This is easily found online here.
Mary Jo Putney
I’ve had a pretty good month for reading, but I’ll restrict myself to two books. First is a women’s fiction novel: The Union Street Bakery by Mary Ellen Taylor.
Mary Ellen Taylor is a pseudonym for romance and suspense author Mary Burton. I know her from RWA, and we had a nice chat at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, where she mentioned that she’d made her first foray into women’s fiction. The book sounded interesting, so I ordered it when I returned home.
Daisy McRae was a hot shot investment professional before her firm crashes and she finds herself without her fiancé, her job, or her apartment. With no other options, she moves back to the attic of her family home in historic Alexandria, Virginia, where she will take on the job of manager for her family’s struggling bakery. This involves getting up at 3:30 in morning (Aieeeee!)—and dealing with the fact that she has never felt like a real McRae. At the age of three, she was abandoned by her mother at the McRae bakery, and that sends repercussion through every area of her life even though she was adopted by the warm, loving McRaes. Lots of good character development as Daisy comes to terms with herself and her family, deals with a couple of ghosts, and there are even a few recipes at the end. <G> Thoroughly enjoyed this book.
Then, a mystery: Rock & Roll Never Forgets by Deborah Grabien. As a mystery reader, I’m not that interested in solving puzzles or whodunit. I want characters first, last, always. This is a great series suggested by a friend, and after one book, I’m already glad that the JP Kinkaid series has 7 books total to glom.
Author Deborah Grabien is a San Francisco rock musician, a cat rescuer, and a woman who lives with MS, and all those elements are incorporated in the book. Narrator JP Kinkaid is a guitarist in an internationally famous rock band that bears some resemblance to the Rolling Stones in that the members are in their 50s and have been together a long, long time. They’re all English, but JP lives in San Francisco with his old lady.
JP’s music is his passion, but he also lives with MS and all its uncertainties, with good days and bad days and the knowledge that someday, even with the support of his bandmates, he might not be able to go on. But for now, he can ROCK!
The story begins at the end of an international tour by the rock group, Blacklight, when the members learn that a famously nasty biographer is going to write about them, digging up every piece of dirt and scandal he can find about the musicians and the people around them. The murder victim totally deserves it, but the heart of the story is the relationships, including a romance of many years that is challenged and transformed as the story progresses. The descriptions of the concerts are vivid and convincing and ring with authenticity. I’ve already ordered the second book, While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
Susan Fraser King
In our house, the books are once again reaching critical mass--so it's time to cull and part with some of them, or at least expand with more bookshelves and new, better arrangements. Or both solutions! So this month, my reading stack reveals that I'm on a decorating and organizing kick (or contemplating such), and I'm reading/browsing/drooling over books about storing and displaying book collections. I'm especially enjoying the gorgeous photos in Books Make A Home by Damian Thompson. If you don't know quite what to do with all of your books (and you love being surrounded by them), you'll find some tempting ideas here.
Fiction-wise, I've just started Legend by Marie Lu, a futuristic YA of the post-apocalyptic variety--so far, the writing, story and characters are quite solid and I'm happily sticking with it. Though I'm a bit over the post-apocalyptic society trend in general, this is fresh and moving along at a good clip. And the cozy mysteries always stock my shelves, even if I'm woefully behind on getting through the stacks. This week, I'm reading Night of the Living Deed by E.J. Copperman, the first of a series about a single mom who runs a haunted B&B and ends up working side by side with a pair of ghosts to solve murder mysteries. It's quick, quirky and clever, and keeps me interested (and I do love me a good ghost story) -- so I'll definitely be looking for the next one in the series.
I’m doing my usual thing in having one fiction and one non-fiction book going. I’d been waiting eagerly for Lauren Willig’s new venture into women’s fiction, and The Ashford Affair has proved every bit as wonderful as I imagined it would be. A sweeping family saga that shifts between present day, Edwardian London and 1920s Africa, it’s poignant exploration of character, conflict and secrets that weave together the different generations. Meticulous research creates a richly detailed portrait of the historical eras, so all in all, I’m finding it a compelling read.
For non-fiction, I just started Simon Winchester’s The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s a delightfully entertaining journey through the history of the English language, as well as the great men of words and their meaning, like Samuel Johnson and Noah Webster. Am not too far into yet, but so far, I’m enjoying it very much.
And lastly, we have this from Joanna Bourne, who is frantic under deadline and fears she’s not going to make it—I think all of us, avid readers though we are, have experienced the same blip on the circuit of life that has her saying, “I'm not reading anything at the moment.” Hugs and good luck on writing “THE END” to the WIP, Joanna!
Now it’s your turn, everyone! What books have had you been reading recently that had you turning the pages long into the night? I know I’ve discovered a number of wonderful titles that I wouldn’t have found on my own through the suggestions made by our readers, so please share!