Anne here, with our regular end-of-the-month wenchly feature, What We've Read. We wenches talk books all the time, and since most of my favorite authors have come to me through recommendations from friends, it's a feature I really enjoy. It's also a chance for wenchly readers to chime in with their reads of the month and the chat in the comment stream is always something I look forward to.
Let's start with Cara/Andrea:
What with various things on the home front and starting a new book, life has been a little crazy this month. So I've been a little slower than usual in making a dent in my TBR pile. I have however, just started a book I've been meaning to read for a long time, having read a number of good reviews about it. I'm not that far into it, but so far "The Swerve—How the World Became Modern" is proving delightfully original, entertaining and thought-provoking.
The author, Harvard humanities professor Stephen Greenblatt, holds that the discovery during the Renaissance of an ancient poem by Lucretius, which contained a number of fascinating ideas, greatly influenced Western thought in a variety of disciplines, and thus changed the course of history. A "Swerve," which is defined as an unforeseen deviation from a direct trajectory, are those unexpected, unpredictable moments—like the discovery of the manuscript— which have momentous significance in all facets of life.
I love his playful thinking right now, and can't wait to see how he develops and applies this idea. The book was a finalist for the Pulitzer prize in Non-Fiction and I can see why. Am hoping to get some serious reading time soon so I really really dive into it.
Jo reports thus:
My fiction this month has been authors I've mentioned in other WWR posts, and my non-fiction dips here and there for research. I did spend a bit of time going through the Morning Chronicle for spring 1817 on line, to see exactly what was going on, what was being debated in Parliament (as my heroine mentions that in passing.) An unexpected treasure (one of the joys of research) was the listings of social events. I shared the ones I'd transcribed in my Wench blog on Monday.
Most public libraries give members access to on line resources, and they're well worth exploring. I found the above in the Newspaper Archive.
May is always a good month for new books for me because it's the time of my local literary festival. This year I went to some brilliant talks on all sorts of topics from Jane Austen to genetics! One book I picked up was Sacred Land by Martin Palmer.
It is about the landscape of Britain and what it can tell us about the people of these islands and what they have believed in through thousands of years. It looks at how the British have expressed their beliefs with stone circles and holy wells and many other sacred sites. The book is full of fascinating facts such as the number of rivers that are named after ancient gods and goddesses, how so many British towns and cities are laid out on a sacred pattern and how even the smallest clue like the name of the village pub can tell you something about history. I love myths and legends and this book showed me that the history of Britain can be read in the landscape all around me.
I'm going on holiday in a few weeks and that will be my chance to catch up on my fiction reading. In the pile I have Eloise by Judy Finnegan, which has been compared to Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca, Gone, Girl by Gillian Flynn and A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare. I can't wait for my reading time!
Mary Jo says:
I’ve recently read several Deborah Crombie mysteries, inspired by Anne’s mention when she read the first and liked it. Crombie is an American who writes very good British police procedurals featuring Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, both detectives for Scotland Yard. As always, my interest is character, and these are fine characters. In the first book, A Share in Death, Duncan is on vacation in a converted great house condo in Yorkshire while Gemma, his new sergeant, is back in London.
That first book reads like a good, classic English manor house mystery, with a limited cast of suspects. It was traditional, but good enough that I picked up one of her most recent books. No Mark Upon Her. And it was brilliant. Set in the world of rowing in Henley on Thames, it takes the reader deep into an incredibly demanding sport with powerful historic and social roots. She makes you feel the peace of skimming over the water, the incredible pain of competitive rowing. In other words, Deborah Crombie grew tremendously as a writer of the course of 15 or so novels.
I’m not going to recommend a particular book. If you’re like me, you might want to start at the beginning of the series so you can see the characters grow and change. (Which Duncan and Gemma do well.) Or you might want to just pick up a later book, and let Deborah Crombie take you to England. <G>
And whatever I pick up I'm going to have to put down when the bathwater gets cold, so I don't want a long, complex tale.
So I picked myself up a Fantasy anthology. Imaginary Lands. This dates back to 1985. Does it say something about my TBR pile that I have books from 1985 in it? This is nine short stories by nine major hitters in Fantasy, including Robin McKinley, Patricia McKillip, and James Blaylock.
Lots of worldbuilding in these. Lyric and atmospheric stuff.
What Susan's Reading:
This month, I'm grazing through some TBR books. I zipped through Echo Bodine's The Little Book of True Ghost Stories -- I'm a sucker for ghost stories. Real ghost stories, even better. This little book is a fun read and a nice complement to a really fascinating book, The Calling by Kim O'Neill -- reads like fiction, but it's not; she sees angels, talks to them, and I'm perfectly fine with that. To top it off, Kim is a good writer, and she maintains a fictiony sort of pace. Very interesting stuff, and it's all going into the hopper as I research some ideas for my own work.
As for fiction, I'll read just about anything, but I do tend to put books down rather quickly and move on if they don't grab me and hold me past a few chapters. So I've got stacks of books that honestly - I've never finished. I don't force myself to keep going. I just flit past and look for another flower, for that magical combination of great writing and great story and characters, or at any rate, for what truly suits me as a reader.
At the insistence of a friend whose reading tastes I trust, I've just picked up The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery -- and I'm finding it, so far, to be an elegant read, a little Eloise, a little I Capture the Castle (two of my all-time favorite books!) It's quirky, interesting, charming and unpredictable, and the writing is wonderful. I'll keep going with this one, I think.
Like Mary Jo, I've been reading Deborah Crombie and enjoying discovering an author with a substantial backlist. I'm taking it slowly, and am up to book no.8 in the series, reading them in order.
As it happens my standout read for the month was a debut book — Untamed, by Anna Cowan. It's only available as an e-book, and my copy came from the publisher with a request for a quote. My caveat with quotes is that if I don't genuinely like something I won't quote on it. Well, I didn't just like it, I loved it. It's not at all your average historical romance — it's original, wildly unconventional, clever, fresh, a little awkward in places, and fun. The writing is beautiful —some passages I frankly envied— and though the start is a little slow, a spell is woven and it gradually becomes utterly unputdownable. I read it in a gulp and it's stayed with me for ages. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but it was certainly mine.
So, now, over to you, dear readers — what books have you read and enjoyed this month? Do you enjoy an author with a good long backlist or are you also excited to read debut books? Let's talk books...