Are We On the Same Page?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where and how I enjoy discussing the books I read with other people. For various reasons, I haven’t felt like I had good discussion lately; I have felt that my reading is out of synch with the various blogs I follow, and I’ve wondered how to fix that. Twitter is great, but again, I often haven’t read the book under discussion, and there isn’t time to do that and then engage, because the conversation has moved on. Book clubs are great for that; everyone reading the same book at the same time creates fruitful ground for discussion. But there are deadlines, and rules, and schedules, and commitments — I have enough of that in my professional and family life, and so do most readers I know. Reading is recreational, and talking about books is something we do because we enjoy the exchange of ideas and insights, and too much commitment or scheduling can take all the fun out of it.

So here’s what I’m going to try. Below I have listed the books that I plan to read, or have recently read and plan to review, in the next few months. If one or more of those titles is one you’re interested in reading and talking about, leave a comment to that effect. (I’m likely to prioritize those books, to be honest.) When I post my reactions, I will tag the tweet with “#onthesamepage.” I’ll do my best to let you know that I have posted, so that you can come comment, and we can have a discussion.

I invite others to use the same idea — post your list of books you plan to read, and share widely when you’ve done so and are ready to host discussion. I envision this, if it intrigues folks, as something that spans multiple blogs as a feature, without necessarily needing central coordination. It’s just a way of creating opportunities for discussion.

Huge thanks to the lovely Sunita, who helped me thrash this out and made me think others might be interested.

Here’s my near-future TBR, as far as I know:

Any Duchess Will Do, by Tessa Dare. I already finished this, but I’ll be re-reading it for a review nearer the May 28 release date. Also, Beauty and the Blacksmith, a novella by the same author, which is released tomorrow and I have pre-ordered.

Ghost Planet, by Sharon Lynn Fisher. This book caught my attention because it’s the April selection for Felicia Day’s Vaginal Fantasy Hangout book club. I don’t participate, but I love the idea and this book intrigued me.

A Woman Entangled, by Cecilia Grant. Has a release date in late June, and I will be reviewing it. And you all should be reading it.

The Rebound Girl by Tamara Morgan, released May 13. Another one I’ve already read and am excited to talk about; the heroine is a blast of fresh air, and the hero teaches kindergarten. Need I say more?

The Sword Dancer, by Jeannie Lin. May 21 release. These Tang Dynasty historical romances are always a welcome change of pace for me.

Freefall, by Jill Sorenson. May 28 release, the sequel to Aftershock. I understand that this book is written to stand alone, but I’m happy that it follows the characters who most intrigued me in the earlier book.

Sweet Revenge, by Zoƫ Archer. Her first book with a new publisher, to be published June 4.

Edited to add: These release dates are not the dates my reviews would be posted, but rather the earliest that most of us could read the book. So look for my posts a week or two after that, especially if I know that others are reading, too.

What about you? Have anything planned to read in the next couple of months that you’d like to discuss with other readers? Let us know, so we can be on the same page.

Into Africa

RaybournSpear-mediumThis book is being released today, FINALLY. Edited to add: NetGalley lists the book as being published April 23. The author informs me that there’s still a week to go. Sorry for the confusion.

I was delighted to see this book available on NetGalley, but it has been killing me not to talk about it for several weeks. I have recommended it to others who I knew had access to early copies, but it’s definitely the downside of advance copies that one can’t squee about a book as soon as one finishes it.

Deanna Raybourn is well-known as the author of the Lady Julia Grey historical mystery series, of which I have read and enjoyed several. This book, however, is a separate entity, and that isn’t at all a bad thing. A Spear of Summer Grass is a special reading experience, one of those wonderful books that makes me wish there was more and yet is complete because it ISN’T part of an ongoing series. (There is a prequel novella about the main male character, which I haven’t read.)

Set mostly in colonial Africa, with just a few set-up pages in Europe first, the book captures the tensions of the place and time — beautiful wild scenery that holds real danger, peopled by a powerful ruling minority and a subjugated majority with a different, largely unacknowledged power. I really felt pulled into the world, seeing it through the first person narrator as she encountered it and it changed her.

Delilah is sent to Africa as a means of social exile, because of a scandal involving her late husband. She’s a sophisticated 1920s party girl, and she is completely unprepared for what she finds waiting for her. The native people who work on the deteriorating family plantation to which she’s been banished are strange, even alien, but she finds herself drawn to befriend and protect them from the more familiar British aristocrats and merchants who control the colony. Her sometime ally is Ryder White, a hunting guide for wealthy residents and visitor. Ryder moves between the beauty of the natural Africa and the jaded social and political circles of the colony; he shows Delilah the Africa, both place and people, that most colonials ignore, fear or try to control.

The romance of Delilah and Ryder is only part of the attraction of this book. There are also mystery, both natural and of the plot variety, vivid secondary characters, and thoughtful consideration of complex social issues. The touches of humor are bittersweet most of the book, since they are colored at first by Delilah’s anger about being sent away and later by the distaste with which she comes to view most of her peers. There are moments of action and heart-pounding danger, but also sections that are almost lyrical, and for me the book was a very emotional reading experience.

WIN

TBR Challenge: New-To-Me Author

Chadwick I have quite a few books in my TBR by Elizabeth Chadwick; my eyes are always bigger than my appetite when it comes to lengthy historical fiction. That and epic fantasy were my go-to genres for many years, but Chadwick wasn’t an author with whom I was familiar until recently. I bought quite a few of her books on sale at various points, and this month’s challenge was a good reason to get one out and actually read it. I’m glad I did.

This is the story of William Marshal, fourth son of a powerful father who came of age in the turbulent 12th-century English/Angevin court. He served Henry II, and in turn his sons Henry and Kings Richard and John, all while remaining devoted to Henry’s queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. He was a renowned tournament fighter, and he was respected by all the lords he served. This novel follows his early struggle to find a place for himself, and then the challenges he faced trying to loyally serve the royal family.

I really liked this book’s treatment of Eleanor of Aquitaine. She’s one of my favorite historical figures, as she both embodies and belies so many myths, hopes and fears about women’s power in an age when even royal women were chattel. To play her on stage in The Lion in Winter, I researched her life in both straight and fictional biographies. Some writers put me off with their treatment of her, but Chadwick didn’t — Eleanor in this book isn’t petty or pointlessly vindictive, but she’s aware of her power and prepared to use it in her own interests and her sons’. William’s relationship with Eleanor was a highlight of the book for me.

William married late in life, at the age of about 40, to an heiress in her late teens. They eventually had 10 children, and he seems to have treated her with love and respect. The book portrays this as something he learned about powerful from his dealings with Eleanor, which made sense. Isabelle is a good character, a strong, beautiful and practical woman, who rises to the challenge of being William’s partner and “safe harbor.” Their relationship was nicely romantic, and the book has a happy ending because they are both still alive and thriving.

Chadwick creates interesting and memorable minor characters as well; a lot of them are selfish and stubborn, particularly the kings and princes, but even they are portrayed with humanity and some sympathy. The story is involving, and true enough to the history that I didn’t feel that the fictional license taken was too much.

I wouldn’t quite put this book on the level of Sharon Kay Penman (my favorite author who deals with this same era of history), but it was enjoyable to read. It’s not as steamy as Phillipa Gregory’s novels, but it does acknowledge love and passion beyond the bedroom door. I lood forward to reading some of the related books (there are quite a few!), especially Chadwick’s planned trilogy about Eleanor.