Cara/Andrea here, If you're like me, you spent much of the holiday down time with your nose in a good book (after all, people know what sort of holiday presents we like best!) So for the first Wenchly report of the new year on What We Are Reading, we have a LOT to share. (Have a notepad and pencil ready!) And please don't forget to share your recent favorites.
I always have a novel somewhere within reach, and I just finished the new Jayne Ann Krentz romantic suspense, Trust No One. It was sleek, fun, and entertaining.
But I've also been reading more non-fiction lately. A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about Cary Elwes's As You Wish, a delightful memoir of making The Princess Bride.
Also fun but very different is A Slip of the Keyboard, a collection of the non-fiction short pieces of British fantasy writer Terry Pratchett written over the several decades of his novelist's life.
Pratchett is one of the world's bestselling fantasy writers and his Discworld series abounds with wacky British wit, memorably eccentric characters, and underlying subversion. The pieces are a mixture of speeches and articles about his work and his life and his growing up. There's a lovely long speech he gave when he was made an honorary professor at Trinity College in Dublin. He asked them, "Are you mad?" They replied, "Yes. We're Irish." <G>
As he said in his inaugural professorial speech, they were getting a genuine absent minded professor--because he is, famously, suffering from a rare form of Alzheimer's which in these days is truly the disease that dare not speak its name because society collectively doesn't want to think about it.
But Terry Pratchett isn't afraid to tackle any subject, as he proves here. The earlier pieces in the book are witty and insightful and a lot of fun, but he manages to be equally witty and insightful in the last essays, where he talks about his disease and how society darned well needs to figure out how to deal with it better, because the baby boomers are coming. And he still manages to be funny about it all. (I've heard him speak in person twice, and the second time was several years after his diagnosis. He was still very much himself.)
If you like offbeat British humor and stories that slowly build until you can't put the book down, I recommend Terry Pratchett's novels. (The first I read, at Pat Rice's recommendation, was Witches Abroad. I've been reading him ever since.)
And if you enjoy wise and witty essays, I recommend A Slip of the Keyboard. There is no one, anywhere, who writes like Terry Pratchett!
After my annual read of Trisha Ashley's Twelve Days of Christmas, I bought another Trisha Ashley book, Every Woman For Herself, in which a recently divorced — ie suddenly dumped after more than 20 years — woman picks up the threads of her pre-marriage life, moving back to The Parsonage, a big old house where her eccentric family gathers. It's an entertaining story with an enjoyable romance and a few laughs. For those who've read other Trisha Ashley books, this is a slightly tweaked edition of one of her old books, and the one in which the Skint Old Northern Woman magazine first appears. (I'm linking here to her amazon page, where I think there are some bargains.)
I also read another story about a woman in the process of being divorced — Sophie Kinsella's Wedding Night and enjoyed it very much. It's a madcap story with a few laughs and a nice romantic happy ending — just my cup of tea for the holidays.
A friend suggested to me I should read some male writers of popular fiction, so I've been reading Lee Child "Jack Reacher" books and enjoying them, too.
I’ve been indulging in some great books this month! On the non-fiction front there was The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors. Dan Jones is a historian who makes history read like a thriller. He tells the intricate story of the family alliances and political enmities that led to the Wars of the Roses and writes vividly and skilfully. It’s one of the most engrossing non-fiction books I’ve read in a very long time and even if it didn’t convert this long-time Yorkist to the Lancastrian cause it was a great read!
The arrival of January also brought with it Sarah Morgan’s latest Harlequin Presents Playing By the Greek’s Rules. Yay! As well as having all of Sarah’s trademark warmth and humour, a sinfully sexy hero and the sort of heroine you would want as your best friend, it also sets the scene for her new Puffin Island Series. I loved it and I can’t wait for the new series!
Finally a really interesting and charming read from Jenny Kane called Romancing Robin Hood. If like me you were a fan of Robin of Sherwood this might appeal to you! The heroine, Grace Harper, is an academic who is supposed to be writing a textbook on the Folvilles, a gang of medieval criminals. However she keeps getting distracted by the book she is secretly writing, a romantic mystery that entwines the Folvilles with her long-time addiction to Robin Hood. There’s a current day romance as well and the wholestory is funny, unusual and totally charming.
I’ve been hunkered down working this past month and don’t have a lot to report. Found an author new to me but well known to mystery lovers—Dorothy Cannell. She does lovely English mysteries full of entertaining characters and crumbling mansions and the murder tends to be off screen. I enjoy the fun of perfectly ordinary people bumbling around, trying to figure out what and why and who. I just finished Down The Garden Path.
And I read another Rose Lerner... Sweet Disorder. I really love that she doesn’t do dukes and bored aristocrats and spoiled little rich girls and Cinderella tales. Instead, she creates solid characters with middling lives who are getting along but who have dreams...or not. The hero in this one is a wounded army vet simply doing what his family tells him to keep his allowance, and his family most certainly doesn’t tell him to go bug-eyed over the busty newspaper editor’s widow. Lerner weaves in nice bits of history, family drama, and a truly brilliant love story. Even the sex scenes are out of the ordinary.
I'm a multi-media reader these days, juggling print, ebook and audio, and lately I'm juggling several books in various formats, depending on where I am and how much reading time I have. Here's what I'm enjoying currently--
I've just finished Bill Bryson's biography of Shakespeare in its ebook incarnation. It's a fun Brysonesque read and an excellent overview, filled with great research and thoughtful insights. On Mary Jo's recommendation, I've nearly finished As You Wish, Cary Elwes' highly entertaining memoir of the making of The Princess Bride, and I'm loving it. So of course I've picked up The Princess Bride again, 25th anniversary edition with William Goldman's fascinating intro ("I do not not not like being on a movie set"). I'm also reading Leonardo's Lost Princess by Peter Silverman, about the discovery and authentication of a Leonardo drawing of a young woman of the Sforzi family. The art historian in me is loving the steps from the "anonymous" drawing up for sale in a gallery to the identification of an unknown Da Vinci. Very cool stuff.
I n audio, I'm listening to Alan Bradley's newest Flavia de Luce installment, As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust. The intrepid and mischievous Flavia is shipped off to Canada to attend a school for girls, where she stumbles upon a dessicated corpse in the chimney. I adore Flavia and her narrator, Jayne Entwistle, who so brilliantly portrays Flavia and her adventures--and I've never heard a better match of narrator and character!
I’ve been doing my usual ying and yang reading over the past month, switching back and forth between fiction and non-fiction. My local library’s recent newsletter spotlighted a Lynn Shepherd, a new-to-me historical mystery writer, who bases her books on literary inspiration from the 19th century. The series sounded intriguing so I picked up The Solitary House, which is based on Dickens’s Bleak House (with a dash of Wilkie Collins thrown in.) It took me a bit to get used to her style—it’s written in Wolf Hall-style of present tense, with a very detached narrator describing what is happening. However, I was drawn into the story and the interesting cast of characters. The protagonist is a Victorian private investigator whose uncle was the most famous thief taker from the Regency era. The uncle is brilliant but sinking into the first stages of dementia, and there are some very poignant scenes. It will probably not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I found it an interesting read. (p.s. There are a MASSIVE amount of one star reviews on Amazon because apparently the author did a blog slamming J. K. Rowling . . . admitting she hadn’t actually read the book in question. Not EVER a wise idea, especially with Rowling fans.)
I’ve also been really enjoying Against the Gods, The Remarkable Story of Risk by Peter Bernstein. It’s a very thought-provoking book, tracing the concept of risk, which is based on how we see the future and our ability to control it. Staring with the Greeks, the author traces the changing perception of how much we feel that we can affect “Fate” through understanding probability, statistics, etc. There are wonderful anecdotes of key people throughout history whose thoughts affected the way we deal with the world. There are lots of mathematicians mentioned (many of them loved to gamble) along with concepts like utility theory and game theory. But it’s written for the general public, even though it’s a best-selling financial book, and the prose is terrific and highly entertaining. And I’m learning a lot that helps me better understand a broad range of financial/economic issues. Highly recommended!
So what about you? What new books are tickling your fancy in the new year? From reading this list I've already gone out and bought some of the marvelous-sounding stories to add to my towering TBR stack, but am always happy to add more!