Despite the flurry of book deadlines recently—along with the usual stresses of Everyday Life—the Wenches have still had time to sneak in reading time. (I don’t know about you, but for me, curling up with a book is the best antidote for stress, so I try to make sure I sneak in some pages each day, regardless of the chaos swirling around me!) So we thought we would share some of the books that have tickled our fancy—and hope you will do the same!
I've read two really excellent books this month. The first was Capital by John Lanchester. It is set in London in 2008 and tells the intertwined story of the lives of the residents in one street. It's a brilliant evocation of the city of London as well as an incisive study of lots of different and fascinating characters, a real epic book. There's even a mystery to tie it all together. I loved it!
The other was 1356 by Bernard Cornwell. I love an action-packed, fast moving historical novel and I think Bernard Cornwell is a master storyteller. The Hundred Years War isn't a period of history I'm particularly familiar with so it was great to learn something about this conflict as I was reading. The hero, Thomas of Hookton, is pretty compelling, a mercenary soldier with a bad boy reputation but his own brand of honour. A really vividly written and exciting book.
Like Nicola, I'm a huge fan of Bernard Cornwell's writing. I've never read any book of his I haven't loved -- even his series about sailing, a topic in which I have no interest, was compelling reading. Of course his Sharpe series was a favorite, but my most recent Bernard Cornwell reads were The Last Kingdom and The Pale Horseman, set in Viking/Saxon-era England. He has the gift of transporting you to different places and times, and even though you might know nothing of those times, you do when you've finished the book. Wonderful stories.
My reading this month has been sparser than usual. I've been traveling for work, and have spent the travel time writing, rather than reading, and the evenings have been more social than normal. When I have read, it's mostly been rereading old favorites - Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Lisa Kleypas and our very own MJP. I've also been continuing my glom of Deborah Smith, with Blue Willow, which I thoroughly enjoyed. As far as new books are concerned. I'm currently in the middle of the latest in Jennifer Ashley's Mackenzie series — The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie, and loving it.
I have apparently made very little progress reading this month. I just finished a Jayne Castle book, Deception Cove, a futuristic romantic suspense. I love Jayne's paranormals. It's so very hard to read and write contemporary romance that I appreciate the differences she creates by giving us a different world, literally. The dust bunnies are always a hoot.
Then I amused myself by reading Georgette Heyer's They Found Him Dead. It starts out yawn-building slow and the head-hopping of the era is truly annoying, but once the mystery got going, Heyer's unique characterization was entertaining. I guessed whodunit before the characters did, but that's okay. I read it for the fun of spending a few days in a different time and place--which seems to establish my reading mood this month. I want out of the real world!
Since my book is done and I'm into the R&R period, I've been reading fun books, including a new-to-me author, Beth Kendrick. Her books fall between women's fiction and chicklit. Though the plot premises aren't that unusual, I love her writing and the way she executes her stories.
Kendrick's Second Time Around starts with a group of female friends ten years out of college gathering for their annual Fourth of July vacation and complaining wryly that being English majors hadn't turned into much of a career path except for the one friend who went on to law school. Then an unexpected legacy gives each of them a quarter million dollars to start a new life and pursue dreams--but how exactly does one go about that? They find out as they share the old house they'd lived in during college, and find new dreams and directions. It was a great fun read, and now I'm glomming more Beth Kendrick books. Next of her books on my TBR pile: The Lucky Dog Matchmaking Service. <G>
At the moment, I'm reading the fourth volume of Rick Riordan's Heroes of Olympus series, The House of Hades, which just came out. The books are young adult, but plenty of old adults read them! Riordan's central characters are demigods, with one parent human, the other a Greek or Roman god. The kids are all AHDH and many have special magical powers. His first series, The Olympians, featured Percy (Perseus) Jackson, a son of Poseidon.
In this second series, Percy is still a major player but there are other equally important children of both Greek and Roman gods. The groups have been traditional enemies, and now they must learn to work together to save the world from being destroyed. I always loved Greek and Roman mythology as a kid, so I just eat these books up. The action moves like lightning, the characters are likable, there is good teen romance, and Riordan is amazingly inventive. Fantasy fun for all ages!
I've been doing a very interesting re-read of Julia Quinn’s Mr. Cavendish, I Presume. I read this a few years back when it first came out. It's an ambitious book, a little different from Julia Quinn's more light-hearted stuff. I felt as if I'd stepped off into the deep end a bit, reading it.
At the end, I did what I do with books that move me and make me think and unsettle me with their writing. I set it aside to read again, after a long cooling off period. This time through, I'm seeing a lot of the character details I missed before. I'm enjoying it on a whole new level. In this story, a man who has everything -- title, respect, a beautiful fiance, endless wealth -- loses it all . . . and he finds himself.
"Cool," says I, and I settle down to look at how Quinn does this.
In nonfiction, I've taken down Karen Elizabeth Gordon's The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed and am sniggering my way through.
TWTS contains such gems as -- "A colon is used to separate the title and the subtitle of a book". For example, "Om, Om on the Range: Cowboys and Meditation."
This month I'm reading some seriously historical fiction and I also dug out some books I haven't read before and always meant to - among those is Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card's brilliant YA novel of Andrew "Ender" Wiggin, the natural military genius the world desperately needs in its ongoing alien war. But Ender is just a young boy . . . who does what must be done to help the world, and his sister, survive. My kids all read this in high school and enjoyed it (unusual in itself- they weren't very keen on most of the books assigned in school, though they loved--and love--reading). So after years of my sons prompting "You haven't read that yet? Seriously?" I finally did. It's beautifully done on all levels, and caught me from the first, a tale of challenge and ingenuity and facing the odds. Now I've got the second book, Bean's story, in my TBR pile.
For a good historical fix, I'm reading Jack Whyte's The Forest Laird: A Tale of William Wallace. The Wars of Independence in Scotland is one of my favorite historical periods; I've studied it extensively and written more than one novel set there myself, so it's deep in my writer's blood and imagination, and it's a pleasure to read Whyte's masterful take on the larger story. Wallace was a fascinating and complex man, not necessarily the Scottish superhero he's sometimes made out to be, but a change-maker of huge proportions in Scotland. Whyte humanizes him and sets him firmly in a believable reality. I'm enjoying it immensely, and I've got the second book in this trilogy, Robert the Bruce, waiting on my bookshelf. Love the covers, too - those Scotsmen caught my attention in the bookstore!
And like Nicola, I'm also reading Bernard Cornwell's 1356. It's another time period I find fascinating--I researched the Hundred Years' War in graduate school from an art history perspective while studying English and French illuminated manuscripts. I haven't gotten far in the novel yet, but Cornwell is already working his magic on me with his strong characters and vivid sense of time and place. I'd read quite a bit about Poitiers and other events for my grad projects and it's gratifying that those facts are still popping up in my brain. I missed Cornwell's Agincourt and must check that out soon.
I have become a huge fan of Imogen Robertson and her late Georgian mystery series featuring a wealthy widow of a naval captain and an eccentric anatomist. She writes beautifully and creates such interesting, complex characters, as well as intricately crafted murder mysteries. So I hurried to grab the latest one—and Circle of Shadows did not disappoint. It’s set in one of the German principalities, so the description of court life is fascinating. I found it especially intriguing that she has automata (mechanical objects that do amazing things) as part of her plot, because as syncronosity would have it, one of the books in my new series, which come out in January-February-March, features a hero who makes automatons! The devilishly devious plot weaves in alchemy too, and those those who love historical detail, it’s a riveting read.
I usually go back and forth between fiction and non-fiction, so a conversation I had with an old friend who is a dean at the University of North Carolina med school prompted me to pick up a book I’ve been meaning to read for ages, but somehow got buried in the TBR pile. Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond won the Pulitzer Prize a few years back, and it an astoundingly broad-reaching, thought-provoking analysis of why some societies dominate and other don’t. As one of the cover blurbs says, “ . . . a brilliantly written passionate whirlwind tour through 13,000 years of history.” Just my kind of book! The answers he gives are really interesting, and involve the domestication of plants and animals, and how that has affected the development of writing, technology—and even disease. I’m halfway through it, and am finding it mesmerizing.
So, now that we've shared our current favorites, it's your turn! What great books are you reading? Please share—we all love to learn about new and wonderful reads.