July What We’re Reading

Christina here with a round-up of what the Wenches have been reading this month. This is a truly varied selection and I hope there will be something for everyone and that you find something that appeals to you. I’ve already clicked on a few things myself …

My own favourite reads this month were the two new Wench books – The Crystal Key by Patricia Rice and The Rake’s Daughter by Anne Gracie.

Crystal KeyThe Crystal Key is the third book in the Psychic Solutions Mystery series, and these stories just keep getting better and better. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, which broadened the cast and built on the previous books in a most satisfying way. Ghostbuster Evie Malcolm Carstairs has finally got together with gorgeous lawyer Jax Ives and they are raising their ward, Loretta, together while trying to make ends meet – her by speaking to ghosts and him by setting up a new law practice in the tiny town where they live. When Evie and her hacker team at the Sensible Solutions Agency take on a new case that involves a dead former FBI agent – an old lady who had been poking around in things she shouldn’t have – and a potential murder, things start to heat up. Jax tries to keep Evie out of trouble, but she has her own way of dealing with things and doesn’t think she needs his help. He wants to do things the proper way while Evie and the others don’t always take the legal approach. Add to that the fact that his reclusive sister Ariel starts to help his best friend to uncover a major scamming network run by some seriously unscrupulous people – while slightly coming out of her shell – and he has his work cut out for him making sure everyone is safe and the bad guys get their come-uppance. With a huge cast of crazy but wonderful characters, this is a fabulous story that kept me turning the pages. I can’t wait for the next book in the series to see what will happen next!

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Dark Destiny!

MJPutney_DarkDestiny_800by Mary Jo (aka M. J. Putney)

DARK DESTINY, the third and final book in my Young Adult time travel trilogy, was released yesterday!  I'm so happy that this series is now available. I really enjoyed writing about these valiant young people learning to manage their unnerving talents and growing together as they fulfill their vows to aid their country in time of war.

As I've said before, I've always been intrigued by the parallels between the Napoleonic wars and World War II because both times Britain stood alone against a Continental tyrant, protected only by the narrow strip of sea known as the English Channel. 

Much of Great Britain's history is informed by its island status. Dark Mirror, first in the Lackland Abbey Chronicles, had a grand action finale involving Dunkirk as hundreds of thousands of troops were evacuated across the Channel to Britain.


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What the Wenches are Reading in April!

Christina here to tell you what the Wenches have been reading this month – an eclectic mix as always! With all of us being in isolation, we’ve had plenty of time to dive into our TBR piles and we hope you have too. Have a look and see if anything appeals to you!

The Forgotten SisterI’ll start off with my own April favourites: First and foremost I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of Wench Nicola’s upcoming release, The Forgotten Sister – published tomorrow! – a Tudor mystery and time slip (dual time) novel. I can safely say that this is one of the best books I have read in a long time! It has everything you want from a time slip story and it was utterly, utterly brilliant!!! Nicola has managed to intertwine the story of Amy Robsart (wife of Robert Dudley in Tudor times) so cleverly with the characters in the present. Robert is part of Queen Elizabeth I’s court and Amy doesn’t seem to figure much in his plans. She needs a way out of their loveless marriage and thinks she’s hit on the perfect solution – but has she? The present day heroine Lizzie has her own problems to contend with and when her life begins to echo the happenings of the past, she has to uncover a centuries old secret in order to move forward. I couldn’t put this down and the characters will stay in my mind for a long time.

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Foyled Again!

Foyle 6
Andrea/Cara here, confessing to having felt a little blue-deviled last night as I finished streaming an episode Foyle’s War and realized that I’ve almost come to the end of the show’s eight seasons. Now, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the series, it’s a BBC period police procedural set in a Foyle 1coastal English village during WWII, and deals with the drama of ordinary people coping in a world of conflict and change

The mysteries deal with wartime issues—profiteering, pacifism, cowardice, among others—and the plots are vey well done. But to me the real appeal of the show is the subtle and layered characterizations and the exploration of human nature. Friendship, loyalty, love—all elemental themes that transcend any specific era. I’ve learned a lot about storytelling from the episodes, and I shall miss seeing my “friends” continue to grow and develop.

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Flygirl: An Interview with YA Author Sherri L. Smith

Cat 243 Dover by Mary Jo

(Starting with a brief personal note: my third Lost Lords book, Nowhere Near Respectable,is being released tomorrow, April 26th.  More about the book in a couple of weeks.)

But the big news is that today, much honored young adult writer Sherri L. Smith is visiting the Word Wenches.  Though I’m a neophyte young adult writer, I’ve been reading YAs for years, and one of the best, the very best, that I’ve read is Sherri’s  Flygirl

Sherri'sHeadshots016 In Flygirl, young Ida Mae Jones is a gifted pilot, though she hasn’t a license since a white flight instructor won’t pass a colored girl in 1940 Louisiana no matter how well she can fly. 

Then WWII begins.  Ida Mae’s older brother leaves medical school and goes off to war, and there is a desperate need for pilots—so much so that the army creates a group called the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots to ferry aircraft and free male pilots for combat.

 Ida Mae has the skills and the passion for flying as well as a fierce desire to do anything she can to help the war effort and bring her brother home safely.  She is also light-skinned enough to pass for white.

Flygirl_CATALOG So Ida Mae joins the WASP and serves her country—but at what price to her identity and soul? 

Flygirl is a novel that works on all levels: it’s beautifully written, thoroughly entertaining, it takes me to new worlds, and deals with serious issues in a thoughtful and moving way.  And I’m not the only one to feel that way: Flygirl has won masses of awards and recognition, including listings as one of the best YA novels of 2010 from the American Library Association, the Washington Post, the Chicago Public Library, and more.  I’m honored to welcome Sherri L. Smith to the Word Wenches today. 


 Getting Started:

MJP: Sherri, could you describe your writer’s journey?  Did you always know that you wanted to be a writer?  Why did you choose YA?

SLS:  I’ve written since I was in grade school—it seemed like a natural progression from being an avid reader to trying my hand at writing.  That said, it took me years to actually pursue writing professionally.  I skirted around it, fumbling my way through short stories and half-baked novel chunks into my twenties. 

060807-F-1234P-003 Then, some time in the late 90s, a friend gave me The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and reading it made me realize I wanted to write novels.  A trip to the library brought home my love for the books I read as a kid and a teen.  I have a deep fondness for the books that got me through elementary and high school, so the choice was almost made for me.

MJP: You’ve worked in the movie industry.  Did that contribute to your writer’s toolbox?

SLS:   Absolutely.  I went to college for Film and Broadcast Journalism, and took some creative writing classes along the way, so I have a grasp of several different writing forms.  My work is very filmic, in that I rely on a three-act structure and visual imagery. 

When I hit the working world, I did a stint at Disney in TV Animation.  My job was to come up with stories, so I learned a lot about structure and story arcs.  That was invaluable.  It also taught me to outline stories start to finish—an incredibly helpful tip for anyone who has a thousand half-written pieces lying around.  Learning to map out my ideas helped me reach the finish line.

Shirley Slade, WASP trainee Why WASP?

MJP:  It’s an embarrassing cliché to ask where a writer gets her ideas, but nonetheless <g>…what was your inspiration for writing about the WASP?

SLS:  It’s not embarrassing, because every book comes from somewhere different.  I guess if we all had a magic frog that fed us ideas, then it would be a cliché:  My idea frog, of course.  Flygirl came about after hearing a Radio Diaries piece on the WASP on my local NPR station.  It was a gripping 20-some-odd minutes of audio that drew me in completely.  Then the idea frog in my brain hopped around and stirred up some other thoughts that came together to create Ida Mae Jones and the rest of the book.

MJP:  My YA series also involves WWII, and it’s a fascinating period.  How did you research the wonderfully convincing details and atmosphere?

SLS:  Oh, so much research!  I’m sure you know what I mean.  I listened to audio 081229-F-1234P-004 tapes on the Library of Congress website, man on the street interviews taken after the day Pearl Harbor was bombed.  It gave me such a sense of how the world felt at the time. 

I talked to my mom and other people who grew up during that period.  I watched movies , and read books set in the time period, nonfiction and fiction alike.  Documentary films, reference books.  There’s a great series of research books from Writer’s Digest called  The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life that covers all these different time periods. 

I used a Prohibition through World War II book by Marc McCutcheon.  It lists everything from slang to clothing styles, popular music and news of the day, celebrities, and just about any little item you can think of.  That really helped to get the details right.  I wish there were more of those books!

WASP pilot Elizabeth L. Gardner MJP: World War II changed society as a whole and the lives of the people who lived through it.  Ida Mae is no exception.  What do you think her future holds?  And do you think there’s hope for that hint of romance in the story?

 SLS:  It’s an interesting question.  While the war opened up so many doors for women, a lot of those doors slammed shut again the minute the war was over.  Ida would not be allowed to be a pilot again, regardless of her race, unless she wanted to move to Alaska and try her hand as a bush pilot (which some WASP did do after the war).  At best, she could hope to be a stewardess when the commercial airlines got up and running. 

But she’s a determined woman, so I’m pretty sure she’d find a way to keep flying.  The war didn’t stop her, after all.  So nothing else will either. 

081229-F-1234P-005 As far as the romance with Walt… again, the world was against it.  If Walt accepted her for who she was, there were a handful of states that would allow it, although anti-miscegenation laws weren’t repealed nationally until 1967.  And even if the law allowed it, that didn’t mean it was accepted by society at large.  I guess it all comes down to what kind of man Walt is.  Hmm. 

It makes me nervous, like I’m waiting for his response, too.  As long as we’re waiting for the mail, there’s hope.  And as long as it’s Ida Mae, I feel positive she’ll have a great life.

MJP:  I’m sure she will, too, and I have hopes for Walt. <G>  Could you give us an idea of what you’re working on now?

SLS:  I’m working on several projects right now.  The main one is Orleans, a speculative novel set in a near future in which the Delta coast is quarantined from the rest of the country after a series of man-made and natural disasters.  The surviving population in New Orleans has gone tribal, and the story follows a teenaged girl trying to save the life of a newborn baby. 

I’m very excited about this book—it’s my first speculative piece, and I’m passionate about New Orleans, which was my mom’s home town.  Aside from Orleans, I’ve been exploring writing mysteries (!), and starting the groundwork for what I hope will be a graphic novel, to boot. 

On top of the writing, I’m also heavily involved with Hedgebrook, a wonderful writers retreat for women up in Washington State.  Hedgebrook hosts writers in six cottages on a gorgeous organic farm—they feed you, body and soul, and in exchange, you write!  Was there ever a better bargain struck? 

I’m part of the Alumnae Leadership Council here in Los Angeles, and we’re sponsoring some terrific creative development workshops in April, as well as a some fundraisers throughout the year to raise awareness and support for this fantastic nonprofit group.  If anyone’s interested in learning more (seriously, if you are a woman and a writer, there’s nothing better), you can check it out at www.hedgebrook.org

MJP:  Obviously, you are living a live as full and rich as Ida Mae’s!  Thanks so much for visiting, Sherri.

Sherri has graciously agreed to send a copy of Flygirl to someone who leaves a comment on the blog between now and Tuesday midnight. 

Barack Obama--WASP Gold Medal bill As for you all—had you ever heard of the WASP?  Did you know of them and have dreams of flying with such brave women like Ida Mae?  (The British had a similar outfit.)  And what are your thoughts on how World War II changed our world?

The photo above shows President Barack Obama signing into law a long overdue Congressional Gold Medal to the WASP, and all the brave women who served in it.

Mary Jo