Andrea/Cara here, with our first report on what we've been reading in the new year. As usual, it's an eclectic array of genres with a variety of voices. So without further ado, let's look inside the covers!
Just like the title, Just One Damned Thing After Another (Book 1-The Chronicles of St Mary’s) by Jodi Taylor, is fast-paced, action-oriented, and smart-mouthed. And funny. And horrible. And amazingly well-written and a treat for history nerds. The book is about historians. Who knew historians were a laugh-a-minute kind of tribe? Well, when they’re always living on the brink of extinction and everyone around them is dying, one has to find some way of facing the day, I guess. This is not for the weak of heart, but it does have a lovely, dry romance, several, in fact. And a whole lot of people die, some of them in a literal sh*t storm. But the historians are desperately seeking to save history, and I can relate. The first half of the book is actually a slow world-building hill so you can settle in comfortably. After that, all bets are off. I will admit, after a while, I skimmed the battle scenes just as I skim the sex scenes in romance, but I was well-satisfied just the same. For the adventurous among us!
And for a totally different change of pace in this horrid political season, how about uproarious political satire—although in this case, it’s more like judicial satire. In No Way To Treat A First Lady by Christopher Buckley, the First Lady is accused of assassinating the president by beaning him with a Paul Revere spittoon. Does that give you an idea of the humor? The amazingly fun part of this book is that every time the reader thinks s/he has a grasp of the story, the author turns the whole thing on its head and spins off in another hilarious direction. The ending is totally satisfying.
I’ve really been enjoying The Innkeeper Series by Ilona Andrews. Ilona Andrews is actually a husband and wife team that writes several very successful urban fantasy series. The Innkeeper books were more of a play project, with Ilona writing chapters of the story and posting them on her blog for her fans to read. At the end of the novel, she edited them and published the result as an e-book.
Pat Rice told me about the first one, Clean Sweep and I really enjoyed it. The set-up is that Earth is a way station for extra-terrestrials, and an ancient treaty provides them with safe places to stay and in return, Earth is neutral territory and safe from alien invasions.
Which brings us to the magical inns. The narrator, Dina Demille, is young and was raised in an innkeeper family. After her parents and their inn vanish while Dina is in college, Dina petitions the Innkeeper council for an inn of her own and she's given the long dormant and nearly dead Gertrude Hunt B&B in a small Texas town. She manages to bring it back to life, but now has to attract sufficient business to survive.
This is where the fun starts. An innkeeper must keep her guests safe, and prevent regular humans from learning about the vast and dangerous universe and the aliens who pass through the inns. There is a symbiotic relationship between innkeepers and their inns, and the more guests who visit Gertrude Hunt, the stronger the inn and Dina become.
But it isn't easy! There's a hot werewolf down the street, a permanent guest who is a galactic tyrant with a huge price on her head (think Helen Mirren with very sharp teeth) and a handsome vampire lord (they aren't really vampires, more like Klingons with fangs) who fancies Dina, and strips off his armor and runs naked through her orchard when he become drunk on caffeine. <G>
Dina is delightful, tough, and very resourceful, and because the book was posted in chapters, there are lots of action sequences within the overall story arc. Lots of good humor, too. There are three books now, with Sweep in Peace and One Fell Sweep following. Catastrophic things happen, but so far no characters I like have died, and Dina and her magical inn and broom have been equal to everything the universe throws at them. I hope there are lots more stories in the series!
I've read a lot of books since November, but don't worry, I'll try to restrict myself. Because of Pat, I started reading Darynda Jones's "grave" series, staring with First Grave on the Right — and since then I've read all of them. Loved them.
I also read Den of Wolves, the final book in Juliet Marillier's wonderful "Blackthorn and Grimm" trilogy. If you haven't read it, start with Dreamer's Pool. Juliet writes superb fantasy, based on Celtic folk tales and history and with a touch of magic
Because of Deanna Raybourn's visit to the Wenches, I started reading A Curious Beginning, and immediately gobbled up the next one in the series as well — A Perilous Undertaking. Lots of fun.
I've also begun a glom of Meredith Duran's books. I read her RITA winner, Fool Me Twice last year, and decided to catch up with her previous books. I started with her first book, The Duke of Shadows, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
For me this month's reading has been all about Regencies. So often they are my comfort reads with a special place on the keeper shelf. Perhaps it was the title "Snowdrift" that persuaded me to download the new anthology of Georgette Heyer's short stories since it suits the cold weather we've been having here in the UK. I already possess a battered copy of Pistols for Two but I wanted to read the three newly-discovered Heyer stories as well as re-read the old favourites. I found them very warming and absolutely charming, in Heyer's signature style and as always the dialogue sparkles!
I was also lucky enough to be given an advance copy of Catherine Kullmann's new Regency Perception and Illusion, which I enjoyed very much. Catherine's books are firmly rooted in research and historical accuracy, but the books are written with a light touch and the characters are complex and interesting. It was fascinating to watch her couple struggle with the morals and mores of the period from courtship to wedding and through the first year of their marriage. Perception and Illusion will be out in March but in the meantime I've picked up Catherine's first book The Murmur of Masks.
Next up on my Kindle is Annabelle Bryant's The Den of Iniquity. It's the first Regency of hers that I've read and already I'm finding it a very rich, vivid and engrossing read. This is for those who like their stories dark and very passionate. It's set in the London gambling hell, The Underworld, and teems with characters from the dark corners of the city as well as high society. At its centre are gorgeous hero Max Sinclair and Vivienne Beaumont who are from such different worlds and yet despite everything are so perfect together. It's a richly emotional read I'm enjoying very much!
A friend was recently waxing poetic on John le Carre’s books and I suddenly realized that I had somehow never read of his iconic spy novels. So I picked up his classic The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, the book that launched his luminous career—and was totally hooked. He writes with a sharply sophisticated narrative style, crafting his intricate plots with wonderful use of language, sardonic humor and keenly observant eye. But it’s his insightful portrayal of people, with all their flaws and complexities that really resonates on the pages. A former member of British Intelligence, he also looks unflinchingly at the moral ambiguities of the modern world, and the fine line—if any—that divides “good guys” from the “bad guys.” Though it was written 50 years ago in the midst of the Cold War, it struck me as incredibly relevant to our own unsettled times. I’ve now gone out and bought The Pigeon Tunnel, his book of autobiographical essays because I enjoy his his writing so much. On a lighter note, like Anne, I also raced through Deanna Raybourn's A Perilous Undertaking and thoroughly enjoyed it!
I've been reading a lot of research material lately, delving into medieval Scotland while I'm writing a new medieval--the book topping the stack on the living room ottoman at the moment is David Santiuste's The Hammer of the Scots. I love this stuff, so I'm happy as pie to read through, flipping to look for facts, taking notes and inspired to jot down ideas for the new book.
I've found some time for fiction too. Recently I read the latest book in Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce mystery series, Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd —as I've mentioned here before, I'm a huge Flavia fan. I listened to this one, narrated by the extraordinary and delightful Jayne Entwistle, who turns in another fantastic audio performance. Jayne (who has visited Wenches before!) is a perfect match for this smart, charming, fascinating mystery series set in 1950s England and featuring Flavia, an 11-year-old chemistry genius with insatiable curiosity, astute cleverness and quick wit. This installment is equally as good as the seven books preceding it, the mystery having to do with a beloved children's book author, an odd, somewhat medieval death in the local village, and Flavia's testing of her independence while she puts some random facts together to brilliantly deduce. A few final twists for continuing characters and situations will make the wait for Book #9 even longer! To sample Jayne's narrative, click here.
I'm halfway through several other books, but one I'm quite enjoying at the moment is the first book in Rick Riordan's newest series, based on Nordic mythology, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard. I liked his Percy Jackson/Olympus series (reading some but not all of them) enough to try this one, which I like even more. Magnus, a smart, gutsy street teen, is unaware of the secret of his birth until the Norse powers that be come looking for him--the set up is clever, the characters likable, and the quick, breezy intelligent narrative will keep me going to find out what is ultimately at stake for Magnus and his pals.
Now it's time to turn the pen over to you! What books have captured your fancy recently. Please share! (I find so many wonderful additions to my TBR pile from this monthly feature, and I hope you do too!)