What We Are Reading—The September Edition!

Andrea here, putting together our monthly feature on What We Are Reading. As usual, there's a wonderful range of intriguing books—so sharpen your pencil and start making a list! And be sure to tell us what YOU have been reading!

DessenJustListenAnne: This month I'm recommending a new YA author and some re-reads — one a contemporary rock band series and the other historicals set in Europe in the 1930's and onwards.

The new YA author was recommended to me by a friend.  Sarah Dessen's Just Listen  was the first one I started with. It's about a young woman in her last years of high school. Annabel's life seems pretty perfect, until something devastating happens. She tries to deal with it by blocking it out and withdrawing, avoiding all confrontation. But when school starts up again after summer, her problems all come crashing back. She's lost all her friends and all her confidence. An unlikely friendship with another loner, Owen, shows her the way back. He's a music buff in an anger management program, and he helps her realize the dangers of holding in her emotions. 
I loved this book and went on to read three more of Sarah Dessen's books. When YA books are this well written, they're not just for young adults.

The rock band reread came about from a wench discussion with Christina, when we were talking about our love of Kylie Scott's rock band series, and I suggested she read Karina Bliss. Rise is about Zander, the charismatic, outrageous singer and leader of the incredibly successful rock band Rage. After the old band split up, he's started the band again with new members, taking huge risks to rebuild their popularity in a Resurrection Tour. 
At the same time, he's invited Elizabeth, a prestigious and award-winning academic writer to write his biography — a controversial move for them both. But Zander is hiding secrets, and one that could explode all his efforts to rebuild his band and reputation. 
I read this (and the others in the series) seven years ago and I loved them all over again.

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Ask A Wench—My First Romance Book

These Old Shades 2-AnneAndrea here. In this month's Ask A Wench, we're all dishing on the first romance book we ever read. The answers and musings are so much fun, I won't waste time on a flowery intro—let's just jump right into the stories! (But be sure share what YOUR first romance book was in the comments!)

Anne: The first romance (in the sense of a love story) I read was These Old Shades, by Georgette Heyer which I borrowed from my local library when I was eleven. I didn't really think of it as a romance at the time, just a really good book with a lovely happy ending. I loved the various characters and the brilliant humor and the story, which contained so many things I later discovered were popular tropes in romance. The story contained elements of the "chick-in-pants", "Cinderella," "The Lost Heir," "The Secret Identity," the "Innocent and the Jaded Rake" and more, which all made for an enticing and engrossing read. I went on to read (and reread) all her other books.

The impact it had on me is pretty obvious. Georgette Heyer is the reason I write Regency-era historical romance. I don't try to imitate her — that would be impossible — but because of her, and because I discovered her books so young, I almost feel as if I grew up in that particular Regency World and it feels a bit like home to me. It wasn't until years later, when I was setting out to become a writer,  that I learned that there was a whole genre devoted to historical romance, and when I discovered that publishers were publishing Regency-era romance, I knew then it was what I wanted to write. And so I did.

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What We Are Reading-January

EchoesemeraldAndrea here, compiling this month's list of what we've been reading. To kick off the new decade, the Wenches have been as eclectic as ever, and this month's recommendations range from Christmas stories and timeslip paranormals to epic historicals, bookish memoirs and the rock 'n roll 1960s. Enjoy—and don't forget to share what you've been reading lately!

Pat: I think the wenches have recommended Sharon Shinn quite frequently, but it never hurts to mention her a few more times! Her stories are so effortless that they tug you into her fantasy world and hold you there, fascinated, for hours. Echo in Emerald is Book #2 in her Uncommon Echoes series. Characters from the first book show up, but this book can be read on its own (which is a good thing because my memory just isn’t that strong!). Chessie knows herself as the illegitimate daughter of a noble, a street urchin with the uncommon accompaniment of two echoes—shadows of herself. Except her echoes are more than shadows, they can act independently, and she can enter their heads and be them anytime she likes—in effect, she can be three different people, a boy who runs errands, a sexy waitress, and herself, a nondescript messenger.

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What We Are Reading—The “Comfort” Edition

512px-Cookies_chocolate_chipCara/Andrea here, For this month’s “What We Are Reading” feature, we decided to do a “companion” piece to last month’s “Comfort Activities”—the things we do to relieve stress when Life (as the coming holidays and all the things that can make them . . . complicated) gets a little out of control So here’s a list of some of our favorite “go-to” comfort reads—the literary equivalent of a mug of hot chocolate and a plate of fresh-baked cookies!

Persuade meNicola:
Comfort reads. Just the words make me feel all warm and happy. These are the battered books on my keeper shelves that I reach for whenever I want to curl up knowing I am in for a good read. It doesn’t matter that I know the story by heart and could probably quote quite a bit of it aloud. These books never let me down.
Here are a few of my absolute favourites: This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart. I could choose anything by Mary Stewart, really, but This Rough Magic just squeaks in as my favourite as a result of the combination of exotic location, strong heroine, gorgeous hero and a life-saving aquatic mammal. Makes me cry every time in a GOOD way.
BeauThere are many Regency historicals on my keeper shelf: books by my fellow wenches, Ann Elizabeth Cree, Anna Campbell and Louise Allen amongst others but one of my stand out comfort reads is The Beau and the Bluestocking, a traditional Regency by Alice Chetwynd Ley. As with Mary Stewart, I could have chosen almost any of Alice’s books because they were amongst the first Regencies I ever read and I’ve loved them ever since. I love the trope of the clever heroine who refuses to be impressed by the fashionable fop only to discover that he has hidden depths… The Beau and the Bluestocking seems to be out of print but I see that a number of Alice Chetwynd Ley's books have been reissued in e-book and a good thing too!
Amongst the contemporary romances that I turn to when I’m looking for a comfort read are Sarah Morgan’s books (again, almost ALL of them), Sophe Page’s To Marry A Prince, the perfect fairy story and Persuade Me, by Juliet Archer. Perhaps because Persuasion, by Jane Austen, is also a comfort read for me, I absolutely adored Juliet’s modern take on the story.

I have so little time for reading that “comfort” reads could easily mean anything I’m reading right now. I bought Sharon Shinn’s latest, Jeweled Fire, because I was going to be on a plane for 19 hours and I wanted an author I knew I could trust and a book I could sink into. But I wouldn’t call it easy or mindless reading for when the brain just wants simple.

One of my favorite authors is Jayne Anne Krentz in all her incarnations, and I have lots of her books on shelves and in my e-readers, so I suppose I could call her one of my fall-back authors, ones I trust to give me a rip-rousing story with great characters and a lovely romance. Just pick one from her website and enjoy.

There's a small group of books that I will read and re-read whenever I need something comfortable and familiar and close to me – when I'm down with flu, for instance, or feeling low energy or just need to step out of the world for a bit. I'll pick up one of these so-familiar books, the ones that have been with me for years like a well-worn blanket, the books that feed and fill something in me. Mary Stewart is top of that cozy-comfort batch of books, and The Moonspinners is truly my favorite of hers. Other than Mary Stewart, whose books have gotten me through many rough patches over the years, my short reading list also includes Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Peters' Crocodile on the Sandbank, Mary Brown's whimsical Playing the Jack, and there are a few more on the list. I treasure them all for their different strengths–sometimes it's the exquisite writing, sometimes the story and the characters, sometimes I associate the read with something important in my life. They all combine the best of what I deeply need in a book–characters that I truly love, quality writing and storytelling that means something deeper to me than the many, many books I read and enjoy, but don't need to read again. The comfort reads are deeply special books to me and I'll keep on reading them.    

Bet MeMary Jo
Not everyone enjoys rereading a book, even ones they really liked, so I'm grateful that I'm a re-reader and can enjoy favorite books over and over.  Particularly when I'm on deep deadline, I escape into my keeper shelf and often re-read whole series, such as Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan space opera series, Jayne Ann Krentz's Arcane and romantic suspense books, or Sharon Shinn's Twelve Houses or Elemental Blessings series.  They're all great, imaginative storytellers and there are always satisfying endings and usually a fine romance.
And if I want humor, I might dive into my Jennifer Crusie books.  Though they can be laugh out loud funny, what makes them special are the layers of subtext below the surface.  A favorite of mine, Bet Me, is romantic comedy at its best, but it's also about body image and self-acceptance.  And shoes. <G>  The heroine Minerva, a cranky actuary whose mother is trying to bully her into becoming much thinner than her body type allows, meets Cal, who is just way too attractive for anyone's good.  When she first sees him in a bar, she thinks, "Every woman in the room with a working ovary probably looked at him and thought, This one!"
And matters progress from there, with preparations for Min's sister's wedding, Chicken Marsala, an ugly cat named Elvis, and a man who is much nicer and more complicated than Min's first reaction.  Did I mention that it's laugh out loud funny?
My comfort reads are usually people like Georgette Heyer and Eva Ibbotson. Others have mentioned Amanda Quick/Jayne Ann Krentz and I'm with them too; I can't tell you how often I've reread Scandal or Trust Me. There's Elizabeth Lowell's medieval Scottish border trilogy, Untamed, Forbidden and Enchanted and lately I've been digging through some of my old Johanna Lindsays.

At this time of year I like to reread a few favorite Christmas books. Trish Ashley's Twelve Days of Christmas is one I never miss rereading, and I recently bought two
Mary Balogh Christmas collections, a few stories of which I'd read before, but some of which were new to me.

But I also like to balance my re-reading with fresh new exciting reads and new-to-me authors, and at this time of year I start to collect new books, ready for the holidays and some lovely self-indulgent reading time.

Fairy-rackman cropJoanna:
I thought for a while about ‘comfort reads’ and ‘frivolous reads’ and the sort of books I can go back to and back to and they always make me smile. My ‘magic carpet’ books, as it were.
I have LOTS of these. I do indeed. I’m going to point to some old ones. Folk tales. Fairy stories. Contes De Fées.  I find these fascinating on an intellectual level. They also touch my heart. I’m almost cheating because these are everyone’s magic carpet books.
When I’m enchanted by a writer like Peter S. Beagle or Tolkien, it’s in part because they’ve tapped into this tradition. Handing out recommendations, I’d suggest the Red Fairy Book, edited by Andrew Lang. Free at Gutenberg here. The Blue, Yellow, Brown, Violet follow in its wake. All of these are available on Kindle and Nook to rescue you from some perfectly dreadful airline delay.
As a backup to the variously colored Fairy Books . . . I was going to suggest Moldavian Folk Tales by Grigore Botezatu which delighted my own children, but I see it has not been reprinted. It appears to cost $200 used. So I’ll put it very carefully back on the shelf and suggest The Arabian Nights by Richard Burton instead.

I’ve got a number classic comfort reads. First on the list is Pride and Prejudice, which always guarantees a blissful few hours of smiling over Austen’s sharp observations on human nature. The friendships, the foibles, and the lovely way that love conquers all is a delight, no matter how many times I’ve read it. Like a number of the other Wenches, I also turn to the works of Mary Stewart (The Moonspinners and This Rough Magic) and Elizabeth Peters (Children of the Storm.)

I also am a big fan of historical mysteries. The charming Charles Lenox series by Charles Finch is a particular favorite. His lovely prose has a quiet, cozy appeal, the characters and relationships are really well-wrought, and the plots are interesting and address bigger issues than the particular crime. I raced through his latest, Home Before Nightfall, in the week leading up to Thanksgiving, and it was as big a treat as as a slice of pumpkin pie!

So, what about you? What are your favorite comfort reads? Please share!

Ask-A-Wench: Hooks for our Books!

Cat 243 Dover

by Mary Jo

Today’s Ask A Wench question was submitted by JaneAnn Railey Clear.  JaneAnn will receive a copy of one of my books.  Also, because of the nature of this blog, there will be a second book giveaway.  Read on!

The Question:

"What book would you give a person that you think would hook me/them to go looking for all your books?  
This is intriguing and difficult, particularly since we’re all reluctant to gush too much about our own work.  But we did come up with selections, and at Anne’s suggestion, many of us are including mini-excerpts to give an idea of what we do.  First up:

WickedwyckerlyfinalPatricia Rice:

It would depend on who you are and what you like to read. I've published over 40 books from sexy medievals to sweet Regencies, Victorian era Americana, westerns, magical islands, and that doesn't even touch my mystery or my contemporary romances that cross the country.  I can't possibly hook everyone with just one book, more's the pity. I need to learn to limit myself.

So, since this is a blog about historical romance, I'll excerpt a line from The Wicked Wyckerly, my most recent Rita nominee:

    John Fitzhugh Wyckerly, newly styled seventh Earl of Danecroft, tilted back his late father’s wooden office chair and plopped his muddy boots on a towering stack of yellowed invoices. From that position, he contemplated the gun collection on the far wall left to him by his freshly departed brother.
     If guns were the solution to his problems, he had a vast array from which to choose.
And for those of you who might prefer contemporary romance, here's the first lineAlmost_perfect100x150 from my digital reissue of Almost Perfect.

    I am a rotten person.
     Biting her lip, Cleo Alyssum painstakingly printed this fact into her journal.  She thought the whole idea of a journal of emotions about as silly as it got, but if the counselor wanted honesty, that’s what he would get

PerfectRake--Anne GracieAnne Gracie:

I never know what to say when people ask me this — different books appeal to different readers — but I know that readers often recommend my first Berkley book, The Perfect Rake.  Before I'd started writing it, I'd planned to make the hero dark and brooding and dangerous, but then this hero called Gideon just strolled onto the page, being flippant and funny and very dangerous to a girl's heart, and he walked away with the book. It sparked a series, so that's the book of mine I recommend you start with.

Here's a short excerpt:

    "I asked you to stay away from me."
    He simply smiled, and Prudence could see why so many women had made fools of themselves over him. Well, she would not be one of them! 
    "I would appreciate it if you would stop . . . stop . . . ogling me like that," she hissed, tugging her very modest neckline higher. "It is very embarrassing." She folded her arms across her breasts defensively.
    He tried to look contrite. "It wasn't me," he confessed. "It was my eyes. They are bold and easily led and have no sense of propriety."

Here's a longer excerpt of when the hero and heroine first meet.

Forbidden Rose, JoannaJoanna Bourne:

I'd send folks off to read Forbidden Rose

This is the first in my Spymaster series, chronologically, so there's a certain logic to handing this one over.  I like all my books, which is a good thing since I have to spend a long time writing them, but I particularly like this Romance pair.  My Maggie and Doyle. 

This is my French Revolution book, so there's lots going on.  Here’s an excerpt.

Unmasked-USpublishedNicola Cornick:

I always struggle when someone asks me to recommend one of my books but if you put me on the spot I would say try Unmasked. Readers have told me that they particularly like the unusual historical background, the element of adventure and the gorgeous protector hero (their words!). I loved writing a book set in my native Yorkshire and I hope it channels something of that place's wild spirit. In fact I loved writing Unmasked, altogether and I hope that that comes across in the writing.

Here is a short excerpt:

    Nick stepped forward and took Mari’s gloved hand in his. “You seem very well recovered from your fall yesterday, ma’am,” he murmured. “We were sorry to miss you in the evening but it is a pleasure to see that you are now restored to good health and spirits.”
     “I am very well, I thank you,” Mari said, removing her hand from his grip. “Pray do not let me keep you from your business.”
    Nick grinned. “You do not seem particularly pleased to see me again, ma’am.”
    “I have no feelings on the matter,” Mari said, very sweetly. 
     “You claim to be indifferent to me?”
     “I make no claim to anything at all.” Mari said.

There is more information on the book and the research behind it on my website:

TWTW-small--Cara ElliottCara Elliott

Interesting question! And a tough one. I always find that “what’s the ONE book you love, recommend” question exceedingly difficult to answer. It’s the old “which one of your children do you like best” dilemma. So I really had to think long and hard about it . . .

I like to think there are compelling characters and an engaging storyline in all of my books. For me, I strive to have humor, sharp banter, “chewy”—that is, complex—characters, who have meat and gristle on the bone. (The heroine is usually a little offbeat) I also like weaving a mystery or adventure into the plot.

I’m constantly trying to play with all those elements, and sharpen my skill at weaving them together. So maybe it’s taking the easy way out, but I’d recommend my latest book, Too WIcked to Wed, which comes out in two weeks.

Here's an excerpt-(the encounter takes place in a gaming hell and brothel):

    A low bark of laughter sounded, and then tightened to a gruff snarl as the man turned to Alexa's companion. “Are your brains in your bum, Stiles? What the devil do you mean by bringing a respectable young lady here? Your message mentioned Becton, not-”
           “It's not the captain's fault. I gave him no choice,” she interrupted. “I am Alexa Hendrie, Lord Becton's sister. And you are?”
           “This isn't a damn dowager's drawing room, Lady Alexa Hendrie. We don't observe the formalities of polite introductions here.” The sneer grew more pronounced. “Most of our patrons would rather remain anonymous. But if you wish a name, I am called the Irish Wolfhound.”
           “Ah.” Alexa refused to be cowed by his deliberate rudeness. “And this is your Lair?”
          “You could say that.”
           “Excellent. Then I imagine you can tell me straight off whether Sebastian is here. It is very important that I find him.”
           “I can.” His lip curled up to bare a flash of teeth. “But whether I will is quite another matter. The place would not remain in business very long were I to freely dispense such information to every outraged wife or sister who happens to barge through the door.”
           “Is it profitable?” she asked after a fraction of a pause.
           “The business?” The question seemed to take him aback, but only for an instant. “I manage to . . . make ends meet. So to speak.”
           “Now see, here, Wolf-” sputtered Stiles.
           “How very clever of you,” went on Alexa, ignoring her companion's effort to cut off any more risqué innuendoes. Smiling sweetly, she shot a long, lingering glance at the Wolfhound's grey-flecked hair. “I do hope the effort isn't too taxing on your stamina.”
           “I assure you,” he replied softly. “I am quite up to the task.”
           “Bloody hell.” Stiles added another oath through his gritted teeth. “Need I remind you that the lady is a gently bred female?”
           The quicksilver eyes swung around and fixed him with an unblinking stare. “Need I remind you that I am not the arse who brought her here?”

Mary Jo Putney:

Like Cara/Andrea, I hate being asked which book I'd recommend.  I love them ALL!  The Rake--jpegBut the book that keeps getting listed on ‘all time best romance’ lists, which is not only close to my heart but also characteristic of what I write, is The Rake, aka my “alcoholic hero” book.  It has all my favorite themes: the tormented hero, the strong, independent woman who probably has to work for her living.  And now and then, some humor.

The inspiration for the story was my exasperation with all those hard drinking Regency rake heroes who never suffered consequences for their behavior.  In The Rake, the consequences of alcoholism almost destroy my hero, Reginald Davenport. 

I’m delighted that Kensington is going to reissue The Rake next April, and I hope they keep it in print for a long time.  This snippet is from the scene where Reggie has reached the breaking point, and the heroine, Alys Weston, must check up on him: 

    Alys chased the concerned watchers away, saying the man would never come out if he had an audience.  Then she took the prepared tray and entered the library.  
    Reggie was a lean, silent shape slouched in his favorite chair, half turned away from her.  The room too shadowed to see his face, but his clothing was neat.  With luck, he had not availed himself of the liquor cabinet.  
    She set the tray on a table to the left of the door and said quietly.  “Are you still among the living?” 
    His head turned in her direction.  After a lengthy silence, he said in a slow, rusty voice, “I've read of penguins that jump around on an ice floe, trying to decide if there are sharks in the water.  Eventually they push one of their number into the sea.  If the sacrifice isn't eaten, they all dive in.  You, I assume, are the sacrificial penguin.”
        She had to smile.  Obviously there was some life in the old boy left.  “I’ve have been called many things in my life, but never a sacrificial penguin.  How did you know there was a committee outside trying to decide what to do about you?”
        “Occasionally the door would open, very quietly, then close again.”
    “After they had determined that the shark was still lurking here.”  Without asking if he wanted any, she poured two cups of tea, with heavy dollops of milk and sugar in Reggie's cup, then went and put it in his hand. Close up, he looked dreadful, with haunted eyes and a gray tinge to his dark skin.  As he stared at the dainty cup, she said helpfully, “It's called tea.  People drink it.  It's the British cure for whatever ails you.”
    He smiled faintly, then raised the cup and took a deep swallow.  “In that case, you had better order a larger pot.”

A longer version of this excerpt

Emily and the Dark AngelJo Beverley:

Though it seems odd to pick an early work, I think Emily and the Dark Angel is likely to appeal to a wide range of potential readers. It won't shock the sensitive with sex or violence, but there's plenty of action and desire. It also has humour, which few can resist. Emily and the Dark Angel won a number of best Regency awards, including one from Romantic Times, and also a RITA from Romance Writers of America.  An excerpt:

       "Lost for words, Miss Grantwich?" he challenged.
     Emily was perilously close to it. Nothing in her life had prepared her for Piers Verderan. "All I can say, Mr. Verderan," she said primly, "is that your conversation is not that of a gentleman."
     "Ask anyone. They´ll tell you it´s been my life´s work to avoid being anything so tedious as a gentleman."
     "What pray are you, then?"
     His smile widened into that devilishly charming one, and it was as if little flames sparked in his eyes. "Why, Miss Grantwich, haven´t you guessed? I´m a rake. And I´m also Casper Sillitoe´s heir. I believe this land is contested between our two estates. I´ll have to consider carefully this matter of your sheep."
     Before she could say a word, he turned his horse and set it back the way he´d come at a gallop, flying over a fence with elegance. Emily felt Nelson twitch with the urge to follow and challenge that dark beauty. She felt the same urge herself, but it was not a riding challenge that called her. It was something else.

HighlandGroomCover-CopySusan King:

Oh, it's never easy for an author to choose among the books, but I do have a certain fondness for my Sarah Gabriel quartet of historical romances set in Regency Scotland. I'd happily recommend those to anyone looking for a fun adventure-romance (I also write bigger, deeper mainstream historicals, and if you like that sort of thing too, please give them a try!). Here's an edited bit from The Highland Groom, as our heroine Fiona, amateur geologist, walks through the remote Highlands in the fog and suddenly looks up the slope:

    A man stood on the rise above her, one booted foot propped on a rock, kilt draped over powerful thighs. Leaping to her feet so quickly that she almost tripped, Fiona looked up. "Who—are you?” she asked breathlessly.
         He stepped downward, extended a hand. “Come up to me,” he said, beckoning.
         Fiona gaped. The man looked fierce, powerful, and wholly not of this earth in the enveloping fog on the hillside. He seemed to have stepped out of time, in kilt and jacket, strong legs swathed in stockings to his knees, with chestnut hair sifting to his shoulders, jaw dusted with a dark beard, eyes greenish and glaring.
         She had heard stories of the Sidhe—an ancient fairy race of tall, magnificent beings who sometimes appeared to humans, even captured them.  And this stranger had stepped too suddenly out of the mist in this remote place. 
        The Highlander gestured again. “Miss. Come up to me.” He grabbed her arm and drew her toward him.
        “Let go!” She pulled back. “You would steal me away!”
        “What?” He looked down, the angle making him seem tall as a giant. “Who the devil do you think I am?”
      “One of the, ah, Sidhe–?” Now she realized how foolish that sounded.
      He chuckled, his laugh not otherworldly, but warm and delightful. "Not bloody likely,” he said.

ShoppingCartBooksAnd now over to you.  As readers, which Wench books would YOU choose to encourage a new reader to read more of that author?  I’ll give a second book to someone who leaves a comment by midnight Saturday.

Mary Jo