Anne here, reporting on what some of the wenches have been reading during the month of February. I say "some of the wenches" because several of us are storming towards an imminent deadline. And this month we have a lovely mixed bag for you — non-fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, alternate reality, historical and contemporaries.
We start with Andrea/Cara.
This month my reading has been about heroines, though in very different contexts . . . First off, was Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, the inspiring story of the Black women mathematicians who played such a critical—yet unsung—part in not only the U.S. Mercury and Apollo Space programs, but also in the aeronautic innovations that helped win WWII. It’s a truly amazing panorama, with heartwarming (and heartbreaking) stories of the individual women who faced the dual prejudices of race and gender but ultimately triumphed in pursuing their dreams of fulfilling their remarkable talents through courage, grace, grit and the sheer force of their brilliance.
But it’s not simply a story of brilliant women. The author paints an eye-opening portrait of segregation in the South, and how the black communities banded together to create a whole network of opportunities in business and education which allowed them to excel and achieve despite all the obstacles in their way. It’s one of the most moving books I’ve read in a long time. It ought to be required reading in schools, for it tells a story in American history that’s been hidden for far too long. (The movie is wonderful, too—I highly recommend it!)
Totally switching gears, I got an ARC of A Twist in Time by Julie McElwain, a time slip novel which features a a crack female FBI agent who slips through a “wormhole" in time in an English castle while pursuing a serial killer and finds herself in the Regency era.
This is the second book (I haven’t yet gone back to read the first one) so I don’t have all the backstory, but basically, she was lucky enough that the castle's Regency owner is a duke who’s very interested in science, and he comes to believe her story. He’s made her his ‘ward” and while she’s desperately trying to figure out how to find the hole to return to modern times, she has to try to learn Regency rules governing what a woman can and cannot do—which as you can imagine has some amusing scenes. In this book, she’s drawn in to helping prove the duke's nephew (the love interest in the book) didn’t commit an heinous murder.
Suffice it to say, it’s a fun read, with a smart, gritty female trying to fit into a totally strange world. The author does a very good job with the Regency manners and rules, and how the heroine works with a Bow Street Runner to solve the crime is well done. The cast of supporting characters is interesting, too. I’ll definitely be going back to read the first book, A Murder in Time.
Next is Mary Jo, who says: I'm a huge fan of Lois McMaster Bujold's writing, in particular her wonderful space opera Vorkosigan series, but also her fantasy novels. Her book The Curse of Chalion is one of my all time favorite novels. Now she's writing a series of novellas set in the same world as Chalion featuring young Penric. Three novellas have been published and a fourth is on the way; I assume when LMB has enough, she'll publish a collection of the stories so we can watch Penric's growth.
Here's the description of the first story, Penric's Demon:
On his way to his betrothal, young Lord Penric comes upon a riding accident with an elderly lady on the ground, her maidservant and guardsmen distraught. As he approaches to help, he discovers that the lady is a Temple divine, servant to the five gods of this world. Her avowed god is The Bastard, "master of all disasters out of season", and with her dying breath she bequeaths her mysterious powers to Penric.
Poor Penric! The Temple divine's demon leaps to Penric as the best available host, and he suddenly finds that inside his head is a demon who has lived ten lives--as well as two as a horse and lioness--and they were all female. It's like having a bunch of bossy, ribald aunts trying to run his life. Embarrassing! But also useful since the demon carries the knowledge and experiences of those women. This first story shows how Penric works to come to terms with the transformation of his life, and how he and the demon can become partners. The story is a lot of fun, and it is followed by two more: Penric and the Shaman and Penric's Mission. Penric is a very nice fellow who struggles to do his best on his unexpected path--and his best is very good! I look forward to his continuing adventures.
Also, for those of you who are fans of Lucy Parker's first book, ACT LIKE IT, her second, PRETTY FACE, was released recently. ($3.99) I'd preordered it so it slid neatly onto my Kindle just as I was posting today's blog. I've read 24% and so far it's as sharp and funny as Act Like It.
Next we have Pat Rice who is recommending DIGITAL DIVIDE. Pat says: " Digital Divide is not a romance—I hesitate to even call it urban fantasy or futuristic. Perhaps Alternate Reality. The setting is very much Washington DC. The people are contemporary police and federal agents.
But before the book begins, a “mad social scientist” had created a brain implant that allows brains to connect with technology automagically. (Just think, and the computer writes your book!)
The experimental program was ended after 500 implants, leaving many of the “cyborgs” abandoned and/or not functional. Those still operating form an organization that is trying to integrate with normal society. All the cyborgs are people who were once top in their professions. They are now attempting to re-enter a world they’d once conquered when they were fully human.
The protagonist of this book was military intelligence and is attempting to fit in with normal cops. The story is action/adventure, but the cyborgs are fascinatingly human, trying to develop relationships outside of the “hive” mind. Since characterization is my favorite part of a book, I totally endorse this one!"
Susan King says: Now and then, reading so many historicals and mysteries, I just want the quick energy hit of an enjoyable contemporary, and that's what I found in Sophie Kinsella's newest, My Not So Perfect Life. I'm a Kinsella fan (particularly her delightful, romantic comedy stand-alone novels like I've Got Your Number and Wedding Night - I'm not so keen on the Shopaholic series).
My Not So Perfect Life is one of her best, a fresh, funny and touching read. Katie Brenner is a marketing professional in London whose life isn't even close to perfect, much as she tries. The romance thread in this is truly yummy, but takes a secondary role at times. The real focus is the evolution of a conflict with her boss, the haughty Demeter, that challenges Katie to look beyond perfection to discover compassion--and her own strengths. It's a refreshing, endearing story full of surprises, and I loved it. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Fiona Hardingham, whose reading is scrumptious--and perfect for this.
On the historical side, I picked up an older book, The Book of Kells by R.A. MacAvoy, and I'm happily working my way through it. This is a time-slip tale of an Irish professor and Canadian artist who discover a mysterious portal that brings, first, a girl from ancient Ireland into the artist's bathroom--and shortly enough, brings all of them back to her time. As they travel through early Ireland fighting Viking invaders and looking for a way back to the modern world, the mystical properties of Celtic art spiral into a mystery holding the secret of their destinies. This is an old-school, richly detailed novel, beautifully wrought, and I'm loving it and wondering why I didn't read it years ago!
Anne here. I've been reading books for the RITA competition and also the R*BY competition (from Romance writers of America, and RWAustralia respectively) and thus I can't discuss them. So as a result I don't have as many books to talk about as usual.
I did manage to squeeze in Kristan Higgins' ON SECOND THOUGHT, which was, as always, a very good read. Kristin has the knack of exploring some of the issues that women today face, and somehow manages to do it with a light enough touch that it's an enjoyable and entertaining read—and sometimes laugh out loud— while still going deep. This is more towards the "womens fiction" end of the spectrum than romance, but still highly recommended.
I've also recently glommed a series by Ilona Andrews, the first two books of which are CLEAN SWEEP and SWEEP IN PEACE. I have the third waiting on my kindle. These are paranormals with an element of sci-fi as well, with aliens and space thrown in. Entertaining, with good characterization and world building, I'm looking forward to reading the third book in the series, which is waiting on my kindle. I'll also definitely read more of Ilona Andrews.
Finally I recently reread The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. If you haven't read it, I recommend you try at once. With a very subtle and gently evolving romance, it's really about people in small island community, and reveals through a series of letters from a range of people, a little of what it was like in Guernsey under the Nazi occupation — something I knew nothing about. But it's not a gut-wrenching torrid read — it's heart-warming and uplifting and delightful.
And that's it for us this month. So, over to you, what have you been reading in the last month, and what do you recommend?