Friends

WenchrwaThat picture is of me with two Wench friends whom I'm sure you recognize!

I read an article the other day in which an author said that no one wrote books about friends anymore. (Sorry, lost the link.) It struck me as strange, as books about women friends seem common. There are probably as many with men friends, but perhaps they're more like comrades-in-arms? 

That led me to ask on my facebook page about favorite friends in historical romance. I didn't want it to look like a promo troll, so I banned mention of my Company of Rogues unless people wanted to point to particular friendships within the group. There were some interesting replies, but I'll pose the question again here.

What are your favorite one-sex friendships in historical romance? Two women or two men, and not sisters or brothers.

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What We’re Reading in June

Knowledge wins by dan smith circa 1914 to 1918Joanna here, talking about the books we're reading this month.

It's been a humid, rainy June up in my mountains.  I am overwhelmed by the beauty of it, with mist everywhere and deer coming out of the woods to eat the grass I just had mowed.  They like all that juicy, tender, new growth. 

On the free time front, I was harassed by deadlines and by all the little ills the flesh is heir to.  I learned, for instance, that it takes a team of men and a huge, noisy, orange machine three days to fix a well pump.  Who knew?  Also, if your car gets old enough, the repairs cost more than the car is worth.  

Did I mention I haz deadlines?
So I didn't get any particular amount of reading done, but instead watched my To Be Read pile grow like summer weeds.

I am rich in books, but I have no time to read them.  I am an object lesson in book misering and literary greed.
So what did I read?Lady maggie

From Grace Burrowes, who writes such warm, appealing characters, Lady Maggie's Secret Scandal. This is another of her infallible cheer-me-up books.  Right up there with Julia Quinn.  Beautiful and funny.

I also indulged myself in Ilona Andrews' Fate's Edge, Book Three in 'The Edge' Series.  Just to be contrary, I'll say that if Andrews is a new-to-you writer, I suggest starting with her Magic Bites
When I read that series I'm always saying to myself, "Like cats much?"

The-Bargain-Putney-Mary-Jo-9781420117264I also returned to an old favorite, Mary Jo Putney's The Bargain.  David Lancaster is one of my favorite heroes — brave, warm-hearted, straightforward.

What can I say?  I think my character Grey has some of David Lancaster in him. 

 

Mary Jo herself picks a couple winners.  She says:

I’m currently reading Letters from Backstage: The Adventures of a Touring Stage Actor  by Michael Kostroff. 

Michael Kostroff was a reasonably successful TV actor in Los Angeles, but his long held dream was to appear in a big, splashy Broadway show, so when the opportunity arrived to join the first national tour of The Producers, he leaped on it gladly.  Kostroff is also a freelance writer, so his e-mails from the road to his friends were so much fun Mad earl that they urged him to put them together into a book.  This is that book.  Besides being delightful to read, it does something I love in a book: it takes me in a new world in a compelling and believable way.  I have zero interest in touring with a theater company (not to mention zero talent <G>), but it was fascinating to read about.

In the fiction category, I was happy to see that The Mad Earl’s Bride,, a longish novella by Loretta Chase, is now available in an e-edition.  

Originally published in 1995 in the Three Weddings and a Kiss anthology, it has long been a favorite story of mine, and downloading it to my Nook was easier than digging the anthology out of the basement.  <G>  The story is a spin-off from Loretta’s much loved Lord of Scoundrels, and for a description, it’s hard to beat the blurb:

Gwendolyn Adams is about to propose to an earl. On his deathbed.

Gwendolyn Adams isn't shocked at being asked to save a handsome earl's dying line, even when she learns the prospective bridegroom is seriously ill and possibly insane. She's quite a good nurse, after all, and her family is famous for producing healthy male children. Those stories about his riding the moors half-naked on a pale white horse? Extremely intriguing—especially after she gets her first look at the gorgeous lunatic.

The Earl of Rawnsley wants only to lose what's left of his mind in peace and privacy. But his busybody relatives have saddled him with a surprise bride and orders to sire an heir forthwith. (And they say he's mad?) But with Gwendolyn, his health is returning, and his resistance … crumbling. Is it possible that love is the finest madness of all?

 

 

ArabianNicola brings us one of those serendipitous discoveries.  I love it when this happens.  She says:

 

I was visiting family and spotted a book called Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger, which I promptly borrowed. Thesiger was a famous explorer who was born in Ethiopia and educated in England. He made his first expeditions in the 1930s so his books are not only a record of travels to exotic places but also a period of history that is now long gone. Arabian Sands is about a journey to the "empty quarter" of Arabia.
 
I first became fascinated with the "empty quarter" when I read The Singing Sands, one of the wonderful Inspector Grant series, by Josephine Tey. The hunt for the fabled lost city of Wabar seemed impossibly romantic and still inspires a frisson of excitement in me now. Unfortunately when I got Arabian Sands home my husband said: "That looks interesting" and promptly started to read it before me!
  You had me at hello
Fiction-wise, a fellow member of the Bath and Wiltshire Chapter of the RNA recommended You Had Me At Hello by Scots author Mhairi McFarlane. I'm waiting for my copy to arrive. The blurb says: "What happens when the one that got away comes back?" I'm looking forward to finding out!

 
And Joanna breaks in here to add another huzzah for Thesiger.  Just a fascinating book.  I read it when I was headed out for Saudi Arabia.  I'd also recommend Sir Richard Francis Burton's Arabian travel writing which you can find here at the wonderful University of Adelaide site. 
 
Cara/Andrea has this to say —
(She's recommending two of my reliably favorite authors, by the way)

A Spear of Summer Grass
 
 
 
I've been wrestling with starting a new book, and in the process of beginning to get to know the characters (and, um, figure out the plot) I tend to be reading a little less than usual. That said, I've been unable to put down A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn.
 
It's set in 1920s Kenya, and paints a beautifully evocative portrait of the era, and a quirky cast of restless souls exploring the boundaries of their own selves as they search for meaning in life. Africa—brutal and beautiful—is a metaphor for a world turned upside down by the Great War.
 
Many of you may know Deanna's Lady Julia series, which is also wonderful—the "heroine" here is equally compelling and the first person POV is so well done.
You have to love a book that begins:
  
MajaDon't believe the stories you have heard about me. I have never killed anyone, and I have never stolen another woman's husband. Oh, if I find one lying around unattended, I might climb on, but I never took one that didn't want taking. And I never meant to go to Africa. 
 
I highly recommend it.
 
I've also grabbed up Midnight At Marble Arch, Anne Perry's latest book in her Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mystery series. I'm a big fan . . . but it's going to have to wait for a bit!

 

Moving right along . . .
Anne says:
I'm madlyTheProposal trying to finish a book, and though most people would imagine that reading would be set aside at such a time, for me, reading is a necessary part of unwinding and refreshing my brain.
 
I've been continuing my glom of Deborah Crombie's crime novels and I'm on #10 at the moment, In a Dark House. I'm reading them in order, because I like the ongoing development of the relationship between the two protagonists, Duncan Kinkaid and Gemma James.
 
Some romance writers don't read romance while they're writing, and I must confess I hesitated before picking up this next book, because Mary Balogh is so darned good her books can be depressing for someone in not-yet-finished-the-book mode. But I succumbed and thoroughly enjoyed her latest book, The Proposal. Sometimes it's good to be reminded why I fell in love with this genre in the first place.
I've also been browsing through A Writer's Book of Days, by Judy Reeves. She encourages people to meet daily (or regularly at least) and write for 15 minutes using random writing Writercatprompts. I don't do that, but it would be interesting, I think, to try.
 
I enjoy books about writing, and often find they stimulate me, as well as reminding me of things I know, but sometimes forget about. I'm taking a writing class that starts next month — four Sundays over four months — and I like to bring in a range of craft-of-writing books for the students to browse through.
 

 

So there you have it — That's what we were reading; what we liked; what made us think; what brought us joy.
 
What about you?  Did you read anything recently that lifted your heart or challenged your mind? 
Or, you know, just made you smile a little?

Some Some Summertime

Joanna here, 

The thermometer tells us it's 100 degrees today, (thank you, Mercury, god of thermometers). Another ikea bookcases
The cat is conked out on her back in the shade, too tired to harass the birds.  I'm listening to my heatstroke playlist. That's the one that starts with the Beachboy's Kokomo, ("Aruba, Jamaica ooo I wanna take ya to …") and shimmies on to the Lovin' Spoonful's Summer in the City, ("Doesn't seem to be a shadow  in the City").

Summer is upon us.

So let me ask, "What books would you take to the beach this summer?  Old friends?  New discoveries?"

There is a temperate zone in the mind, between luxurious indolence and exacting work; and it is to this region, just between laziness and labor, that summer reading belongs. 
                                 Henry Ward Beecher

HammockonBeach wiki

Here in the South we know all about the heat index creeping stealthily up toward the triple digits.  We've raised 'doing nothing' to a graceful art form.  It's an art practiced by the swimming pool or a big 'ole lake,  or at least in company with a hose spraying around the backyard.  Bonus points for the lifestyle include barbecued ribs and cold Mountain Dew.  And beer.    Backyardhose attribclapstar

For me, any day of the simmering summer is incomplete without a book in the bag.  Or a couple books, since you never know exactly how the spirit will move you.  Summer reading needs the background noise of kids running around barefoot and yelling about nothing at all.  It needs a shady porch or umbrella and maybe a dragonfly hovering just off the port side of the hammock.    

Kai lungI'll tuck an old friend in the straw bag — Kai-Lung's Golden Hours by Ernest Bramah.  There's a funny, clever, dreamy, irrationality to it that suits hot weather and lying by the pool.  I own it in paperback, but it's free on e-readers, being out of copyright an' all. 

(Go ahead and click on any of these book names for more information 'bout the book.)

Jennifer Crusie always picks me up.  Funny, funny woman.  I haven't had a chance to read, Tell Me Lies yet, and I'm looking forward to it.  Susan Elizabeth Phillips has a new book out in July The Great Escape: A Novel.  I might top those two off with rum and coke and Grace Burrowes' most recent book, Lady Maggie's Secret Scandal

In one of those fortunate happenstances, the ARCs for Mischief and Mistletoe are wending their way Wenchward, so I have that to look forward to.  A cool read in so many ways.

Mary Jo Putney says:

I am a Reader for All Seasons, and certainly can’t evoke languid summer reading times as well as Joanna can. (The dragonfly is a nice touch. <G>)

But a favorite I just reread fits the summer reading theme: White Lies by Jayne Ann Krentz.  The  book is one of her Arcane Society romantic suspense novels, and it’s set in blazing summer heat in Arizona as the heroine, Clare Painteddesert wikiLancaster, becomes involved with murder, mayhem, and a hot alpha hunter named Jake.  I like  the characters and the plot—Clare is a human lie detector, which gives her an unusual philosophy of life.  And I like the JAK banter. 

I also like the way the book makes a reader feel the Arizona heat.  The burning steering wheels and the blasts of air conditioning when entering a building.  The deliciousness of a desert night, with softly slinking coyotes and giant stars on a dark velvet sky.  The crunch of bruschetta and the cool wine that follows.  Perfect summer reading if one is lounging on a shaded patio.  

But in general, any good story will do, summer or winter!

(Teacup attrib merdeglace, girl with hose attrib clapstar, bookshelves charliebrewer)

Nicola Cornick, who is not suffering the Virginia swelter or even Arizona's At-Least-It's-A-Dry-Heat desert, says: Teacup attrib merdeglace

There is a saying that summer in the UK consists of three hot days and then a thunderstorm, but this year it’s been so cool and damp we’ve barely had three hot days in a row and not much in the way of humidity.  So when my thoughts turn to summer reads they tend provoke ideas of pale sandy beaches and cool breezes off the sea and me sitting behind a wind break as I try to read, cradling a cup of tea from the flask to warm me up!

5 Paul Cesar Helleu (French artist, 1859-1927) ReaderMaybe that’s one of the reasons I’m looking forward to reading The Cornish House by Liz Fenwick. It sounds wonderfully evocative of the county, its coastline, its history and its atmosphere. I love holidays in Cornwall and one of my all time favourite books is Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier, which evokes the spirit of time and place in Cornwall so beautifully. I was even lucky enough to stay in Daphne Du Maurier's house at Frenchman's Creek one year and I could feel the ghosts all around me.

Which brings me neatly to my other hotly anticipated summer read. This is The Silent Touch of Shadows by HWW Christina Courtenay, a time slip book set in the present and the 15th century. I love time travel books and can never find enough of them to read. There's a pdf file with an extract from the here.  It's out in a couple of weeks and I can't wait to pick it up! 

Susan King brings us three recommendations and a garden:

I'm a dedicated year-round reader, though I tend to read a little more during the summer, with the pace of the household quieter, the Guys being busy and not around as much — I'll find an air-conditioned corner, curl up with the dog, and make a dent in the TBR pile. If it's not too hot 'n buggy, I love sitting out Morton_distanthoursto read on the shady side of the deck. But summer or winter, the reading situation depends on the deadline situation, but with my deadline a ways off yet (I'm time-dyslexic, ahem), this summer I have serious Reading Intentions.  

I've just started The Distant Hours by Kate Morton, and then I've got my eye on A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. At the same time (because who reads just one book), I'm catchingDeck_summer up with some Wench novels (Mary Jo's delicious No Longer A Gentleman is toppling the stack). I've also loaded up the Kindle with lots of books and good intentions — mysteries, romance, a couple of YAs.
In a few weeks, when we'll be at Lake George for a bit, I'll find time to sit out on the breezy porch and read for hours. There's always the bottomless stack of research books, notes, and pages to read/revise — that sort of reading never stops!
It's a lovely thing, reading. I couldn't get through a summer (fall, winter, spring) or a lifetime without it!
 
The library in summer is the most wonderful thing because there you get books on any subject and read them each for only as long as they hold your interest, abandoning any that don't, halfway or a quarter of the way through if you like, and store up all that knowledge in the happy corners of your mind for your own self and not to show off how much you know or spit it back at your teacher on a test paper.
                    Polly Horvath

Andrea Pickens
brings us a couple few interesting suggestions, including our only hit on nonfiction:
It’s been a little hard to think of summer reads because here in the northeast where I live, it’s been unseasonably cool. But the vernal equinox seems to be bringing in a wave of sun and heat, so am looking forward to stretching out under a beach umbrella and diving into some of the books on my TBR pile.

 
I can highly recommend one that I just finished. Anatomy of Murder, by Imogen Robertson, is the second in her Georgian-set mystery series and it features fascinating characters, a compelling plot and wonderfully gritty description of life in London. It’s a compelling read that’s very hard to put down.  I’ve also got Past Wench Loretta Chase’s new release, Scandal Wears Satin, in my beach bag, for her pithy humor is perfect for making me laugh on a lazy summer day.

 
Now,  I know it’s the season for light reads, but I thought you all might get a laugh at what else I’m currently reading. A  dear friend of mine is fascinated by physics—about which I know less than nothing. However, he finds the subject so interesting that I recently read The Clockwork Universe, which was about Isaac Newton,  the Royal Society and the making of the modern world of science, so I could talk to him about it. To my surprise, I found it fascinating. However, I’ve now opened Pandora’s Box, because he just gave me Quantum, a book on quantuBanished bridem physics. I have started it—and feel like I’m back in school because I’ve started taking notes so I can try to understand some of the concepts. To my utter shock, I am enjoying learning about something that is utterly alien to me. And given that we want young people to get excited about science as well as reading, I feel I’m doing my bit. (If I don’t surface for the rest of the summer, you will know why!)

And (Shameless plug!) for those of you in the mood for a traditional Regency read, I've just posted three more of my old Signet books in e-book format at Amazon.  The Banished Bride, Second Chances, and A Stroke of Luck.

Jo Beverley points out:

I've never understood the concept of summer reads. To many it seems to mean a Marie_Danforth_Page Young Girl Reading 1914time when they're allowed to goof off and read the books they actually enjoy instead of the ought-to tomes. Come on now, break free and read for pleasure all year long!

Next, I'm not sure people have the most reading time in summer. Why should that be? Surely many people spend their summer holidays places they enjoy, not escaping to somewhere else in fiction. Now a long winter evening — that sounds like good reading time!

Anyway, I've never liked reading in the sun. However, that might not be a problem, given the weather summer's starting with here in England!
Irving Ramsay Wiles (American artist, 1861–1948) Reading in the Garden
Do you read more in summer?

And we round it off with suggestions from Anne Gracie:

It's a lovely idea — summer reads — but it's a bit hard to wrap my head around at the moment, because where I am (downunder) it's cold and wet and wintry, so I'm thinking more of reading curled up in front of the fire, or snuggling down under the bedclothes with a good book. In any case, I'm like Jo — I don't much like reading on the beach. Too bright and glarey to read, and I always end up with sand in the pages.  Give me a shady garden with a hammock and a long, cool glass standing by, any time.

R Curt Herrmann (1854-1929) Sophie Herrmann. (2)I'm actually not reading a lot at the moment because I'm on deadline, and at such times I reread, more than read,  but I have a lovely pile of new books ready on my TBR pile, and a few more on order.

I have Eloisa James's Paris book waiting, and Loretta Chase's Scandal Wears Satin on order, and I did try to leave Nalini Singh's Tangle of Need until after I'd finished my book, but I gave in. I've been hooked this series since Slave to Sensation. Julia Quinn's latest is singing its siren song to me, too. I've also got a pile of P.G. Wodehouses standing by — a lot of my old copies have gone walkabout, so I treated myself to a pile of new ones recently.

But summer heat or winter chills, as far as I'm concerned it's always time for a good book.

So, there you are — round about two dozen books for your delectation and enjoyment.  Have you read any of these?  Would you second the recommendations?

Is summer your time for light reading and a lot of it?  Are you expecting to get much reading done over the next few weeks?

Do You Enjoy a Short Story?

RNA anth Nicola here, talking about the joys and challenges of the historical romance novella. Short stories are very much in my mind at the moment because 2010 has so far been the year of the novella for me. It started in February with the publication of a story called The Elopement in the Romantic Novelists' Association Golden Anniversary anthology, Loves Me Loves Me Not. My brief for this was a 5000 word "classic" Regency short story and the editor's note said: "Not too sexy, please. We don't want to frighten anyone.". I'd never written as short as 5000 words and this was a real challenge. I loved going back to the more traditional Regency style that had characterised my early books but I was slightly daunted by the word count.  How to establish two compelling characters and give them a satisfying emotional journey all in 5000 words? Plus conjure up all the wit and sparkle of a classic Regency background? In the end I loved writing The Elopement, in which Amanda, Lady Marston and her estranged husband Hugo set off in pursuit of his eloping grandmother and ended up re-discovering each other in the process. Fortunately the whole anthology had a rapturous welcome with reviews such as "uplifting", "stylish" and "bound to get you hot under the collar" from some of the most prestigious UK women's magazines.

This month I have another novella on the shelves, the first print publication of The Unmasking of LadyWicked Regency Nights-UK Loveless in an anthology called Wicked Regency Nights. This time the brief was "make it as hot and sensual as possible" as this was an anthology from the Harlequin Historicals Undone imprint. Hmm. How to establish two compelling characters and give them a satisfying emotional journey in 8000 words when quite a few of those words would be a very sensual love scene?

I love writing novellas and short stories but I don't find it easy. For me the greatest challenge is building a strong and believable relationship between the hero and heroine in a short space of time. Short stories need a sharper focus. You have to create a vivid world, but in miniature.

I remember when I first started reading short stories. I was in my early teens and the book was called The House of the Nightmare and other eerie tales. (Unfortunately I couldn't find a picture of the cover for the blog). I particularly remember a chilling short story by Saki, a tale of a ghostly hand by Elizabeth Bowen, and various terrifying tales supposedly taken from real life. Oh how I enjoyed frightening myself with that book! My taste for ghost stories and the paranormal flowered for several years before I moved on to romance and discovered the short stories of Georgette Heyer. I still Pistols for two have my original copy of Pistols for Two falling apart on my bookshelf. And I still love all those stories. I went back to the book to try and choose a couple of favorites for this blog, ended up reading them all again, and was unable to choose between them. Julian Arden and the charmingly naive Miss Sophia Trent falling in love on a snowy journey to Bath in Snowdrift are splendid. The richest and best connected man in London falling in love with a cit in Pink Domino always makes me smile. Many of the heroes and heroines in this anthology fall in love at first sight or something very close to it and Heyer writes that in a completely convincing fashion. The stories are economical in wordage but conjure up her world as effectively as the longer novels. Many of them also bear out some of the other advice I have had about writing short stories: They should cover a short time span and every word must be made to count.

Since reading Pistols for Two I have had a taste for historical novellas and have read some wonderful Mid-summer-eve-v5 ones. My fellow Wenches are masters of the art of the the short story, of course, and I have also loved stories such as Gretna Greene by Julia Quinn in the Scottish Brides anthology and Fall from Grace by Jill Barnett in A Season in the Highlands. Historical short stories set in Scotland combine two of my favorite things! And recently I was thrilled to discover Elizabeth Hanbury's Regency anthology Midsummer Eve at Rookery End with witty and delightful short stories in the Heyer tradition.

Secrets of a Courtesan UK Next month MIRA launches my Brides of Fortune trilogy in the UK with the publication of The Secrets of a Courtesan, the e-book prequel to the series. This was the short story that almost broke me. I had to scrap the first draft because it didn't work and re-write it completely. As I say, I find writing short stories difficult sometimes!

So how do you feel about short stories? Do you enjoy them? Do you think that they can offer as fulfilling a reading experience as a longer novel? Which are your favorites? To finish this week of giveaways at the Word Wenches I'm offering a copy of Wicked Regency Nights to one commenter.