Elizabeth: What are you reading?

With NaNoWriMo a fading memory, the holiday decorating done (mostly), and the sun setting earlier and earlier, evenings after work are the perfect time to curl up on the couch and indulge in a little pleasure reading.

Since conventional wisdom says that reading and writing go together like peanut butter and jelly (though fortunately not as sticky), I don’t even have to feel guilty (much) that my current manuscript is languishing over on my desk.

As my towering to-be-read stacks can attest, I have an embarrassment of choices available for my reading pleasure.  In addition, I’ve picked up a few advanced publication copies of books and some contest prizes, making the “what to read” decision more challenging than normal.

Studmuffin Santa by Tawna Fenske

First up, to get me in the holiday mood, I read Tawna’s novella Studmuffin Santa, which is her first foray into the world of self-publishing.  As the title suggests, it includes a buff hero in the role of Santa Claus.  Set at a Reindeer Ranch, the story is a quick, fun read, with a few heart-tugging moments woven in.  There were some great secondary characters, believable situations, and just enough sex to warm up the story.  I’m sure I’ll be reading this again before long.  Disclaimer:  As a beta-reader I received this novella for free.

Jade King is hustling to get Jingle Bell Reindeer Ranch off the ground, and she’s not thrilled her sister hired a Santa with sex-appeal. The last thing Jade wants is a beefcake circus, and guys like Brandon bring sleigh-loads of trouble. But Studmuffin Santa proves more popular than anyone dreamed, drawing hordes of happy kids, lusty moms, and a mystery foe hell-bent on wrecking it all.”

What Unites Us by Dan Rather

As I mentioned on Friday, my current non-fiction read is Dan Rather’s book of reflections of patriotism.  I picked up the book because I have been following Rather on Facebook for a while now and have found his posts to be reasonable and very insightful.  So far, this book has proved to be the same.  I’m only part-way through it, but I’ve already learned a few new things, flagged some great quotes, and am starting to feel a bit more hopeful about the future.

“At a moment of crisis over our national identity, venerated journalist Dan Rather has emerged as a voice of reason and integrity, reflecting on—and writing passionately about—what it means to be an American. Now, with this collection of original essays, he reminds us of the principles upon which the United States was founded.”

Magic Bites / Magic Burns by Illona Andrews

These two books are next in the queue.  I know others on the blog are Illona Andrews’ fans, but I have yet to read any of their stories.  When I won these two, courtesy of a Goodreads giveaway, I figured it was a sign that it was time to give them a try.  I haven’t read much fantasy in quite a while, so I’m looking forward to them.

A Duke in Shining Armor by Loretta Chase

The last of my current reading list, and the one I am looking forward to most eagerly, is this latest book by one of my favorite authors.    I resisted the urge to drop everything and read it the moment I got my hands on it, but I’ve been trying to wait just little, since I know there won’t be another new story for quite a while.    I’m thinking this will be just the thing to curl up with on Christmas afternoon – the perfect present – possibly with a nice mug of hot cocoa.

So, what have you been reading (or trying to read) recently?  Any recommendations to add to my overflowing queue (or suggestions to skip)?

Jilly: Good Ghost Story–The Girl in a Swing

Do you enjoy a good ghost story? They’re not usually my thing, but around this time of year they creep up on me whether I will or no. Like yesterday, when I found myself drawn into Michaeline’s excellent and satisfying re-telling of the story of Old Betty and Raw Head the razorback hog.

That set me to wondering what’s the best ghost story I ever read. Richard Adams’ The Girl in a Swing won by a mile. In case you’re wondering, yes, it is by the author of Watership Down. He wrote a number of other novels in various genres, but as far as I’m aware this is his only scary story. It may not be the most famous ghost story I’ve ever read, but it’s the one that had the most profound and lasting effect on me.

The Girl in a Swing was published in 1980 so it must be more than thirty years since I first read it, and I can still remember how it made me feel. It’s not a slam-bam horror story. There are no chainsaws or buckets of blood. It’s a story of ordinary people living normal lives in a present-day world. It’s very low-key and the pace is deliberately slow. The writing is quality, as you’d expect, and little by little, it drew me in until I was completely hooked. Richard Adams did a brilliant job of making me care about the characters, and at the end I was horrified, scared, shocked, moved and very sad.

Continue reading

Jilly: Birthday bon-bons

Happy Birthday to us, and cheers! to all our friends here on the blog: Eight Ladies Writing celebrated its fourth birthday yesterday, 2 September. Where did the time go?

I thought about selecting my favorite posts of the last four years, but it was just too hard to choose. If you have the time, and you are so inclined, check out our archive. We have a bank of almost 1,400 posts for you to browse and enjoy.

Instead, I decided to hold a traditional birthday celebration today, with champagne, cake, candles, ice cream, and gifts. That is, I picked my favorite fictional moments featuring each of those things 😉 .

If you’d like to join the party by suggesting other festive scenes or books, I’d love that!

Here are my choices:

Champagne
Without question, my favorite champagne-related story is Lord Lovedon’s Duel, a funny, feel-good short story by Loretta Chase. The trouble starts at the heroine’s sister’s wedding, where an excess of champagne leads the eponymous hero to amuse his drunken friends by making cruel and untrue suggestions about the royal groom’s reasons for marrying a wealthy commoner. Unfortunately he is overheard by the bride and her sister, Chloe, the heroine. Chloe is incensed on her sister’s behalf. She’s also more than a little tipsy, so she confronts Lord Lovedon in front of his idiot friends, slaps his face with her glove, dashes a glass of champagne in his face, and challenges him to a duel. Lovedon’s response is as kind and funny as his original remarks were hurtful. There’s a glorious epistolary exchange, culminating in pistols at dusk in Battersea. This story is a clever, perfectly formed hit of happy. I wish I could write something half as good. I love everything about it.

Cake
There’s a spectacular cake-fest Continue reading

Elizabeth: What Have You Been Reading?

My TBR pile is currently a teetering towering work of art.  I’ve been doing my best to reduce it to manageable proportions, but it seems for every book I read from it, I manage to add 2 more.  At this point, I’m either going to need to move or add on a room sometime in the near future.

Fortunately, I’ve spent a bit of time in waiting areas, on public transportation, and trapped in conference hotels recently – all venues more suited to reading than to writing.  That’s convenient since, in addition to the aforesaid preponderance of unread books, my writer’s brain seems to have short-circuited with all the new information that I acquired in the past month.

So, here’s what I’ve read lately: Continue reading

Elizabeth: Old Book Squee!

As I mentioned previously, I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, thanks in part to a number of recommendations from Argh Ink’s weekly Good Book Thursday posts.  While my intent was to whittle down my existing TBR pile, that hasn’t quite happened.  It seems like for every book I read, I wind up adding two more to the pile.  On the plus side, I won’t have to paint anytime soon – the walls are pretty much hidden from view – and I’m unlikely to ever run out of reading material.

Most of the books I’ve read this month have been mysteries and ten of them have been by Georgette Heyer.  While Heyer is probably best known for her Regency stories, I had not known until recently that she also wrote mysteries.  Fortunately for me, they are my favorite kind of mysteries:  interesting characters, witty dialogue, and 1940s Britain, all in a cozy / country house style without any of the grit or high-drama of today’s CSI type mysteries.

Really, what more could you ask for? Continue reading

Jilly: Book Signings

Have you ever been to a signing or other author event at a bookstore? Would you recommend it?

As I may have mentioned 😉 I’m a huge Ilona Andrews fan, and I especially like the Hidden Legacy series, because the books are romance in an urban fantasy setting, rather than urban fantasy with strong romantic elements. All Ilona Andrews books have the same basic components: lashings of imagination, fabulous world-building, characters to care about, strong community, sparkling dialogue, underpinned by kindness and humor, but I love them most when there’s a double helping of romance in the mix.

I was already excited about the upcoming release of Wildfire, the third and final (maybe) book in the series, which will be on sale next month, on 25th July. Then I discovered Continue reading

Jilly: Making Good Use of Critical Reviews

Do you read reviews when you’re thinking about buying a book? How do you use them to help your decision-making?

I never take account of the star ratings, but I used to spend quite a lot of time sifting through the reviews themselves, trying to find ones that I thought were written by a reader with tastes similar to mine, who’d bought the book with their own hard-earned money and reviewed it because they wanted to discuss what worked for them and what didn’t.

That’s become almost impossible of late, because reviews are so important that publishers and authors will do whatever they legitimately can to collect as many high-scoring, positive reviews as possible. Searching for the few that might be useful to me has become a needle/haystack exercise, and linking reviews to verified purchases has, if anything, made the problem worse.

Now, if I see a book with hundreds or even thousands of five-star reviews, it does not make me think the book is likely to be good. I start with the expectation that the book is very probably the beneficiary of a well-executed and possibly expensive marketing campaign, and that I should disregard most if not all of the enthusiastic endorsement.

So I’ve been trying a new tactic lately—if it’s a book I like the sound of, but there are so many unhelpfully positive reviews that I can’t use them to form an opinion, I read the detailed critical reviews instead. Perhaps that sounds odd, but it’s been working quite well, for three reasons. Continue reading