What We’re Reading in August

Joanna here:  Season of Mists and Yellow Fruitfulness it may be, but I'm not getting ANY reading done.  You will have heard this excuse before many times. I think I may be the least readingest of all the Wenches. I'm rereading the Lymond Chronicles of Dorothy Dunnett. I'm embarked on the Game of Kings just at the moment. Rereading it is very different from reading it for the first time which was full of "Wow. I want to write that," but also a good bit of "What?" "Huh?" Also beginning and not yet very far into The Natural History of Dragons, of which you have heard other Wenches speak. I'm enjoying it.


Here's what Nicola has to say:

Www here's to usI came back from the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference buzzing with ideas and weighed down with a pile of fabulous books I am now reading my way through. First was Here’s To Us by Elin Hilderbrand. I hadn’t come across her books before; here in the UK they aren’t as well-known as in the US but I am so glad I have found her because I didn’t want to put the book down. I loved the exploration of complicated family relationships, the twists, the tensions and the resolutions. I loved the characters and the way that they interacted and found the writing style so crisp and clear. Even more I loved her descriptions of Nantucket which were so rich and vivid that I felt as though I was there! I’m on the hunt for her otWww2 midsummerher books now.

Next I picked up Midsummer Dreams by Alison May. It’s a clever re-imagining of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a contemporary setting. I’m only part of the way through but I am really enjoying the way that Alison has created characters who feel real and warm and alive. It’s funny and poignant and she really pins down the emotional conflicts. As it’s one of a series inspired by Shakespeare I can see myself reading the whole lot!




Anne says:Www3 paris


The story is about a man, Jean Perdu, who runs a bookshop— or what he calls 'a literary apothecary' in a lovely old restored barge on the Seine River in Paris. Jean has a gift for finding just the right book for each customer, a balm for what ails you. He can heal anyone except himself—he's locked in a frozen past (Perdu is French for 'lost')—until a new person arrives in his apartment complex and Jean's frozen present begins to develop cracks. What follows is an adventure of the heart — but be aware, this not genre romance. 

I savored it and, having read a lot of books, enjoyed recognizing the various titles Jean offered his customers. I loved the setting and the layered intrigue of the characters. It's an international best-seller.  I bought it as an e-book, but I'm buying the paper version, as it's a keeper. As Library Journal (who gave it one of their coveted starred reviews) said "if ever a book was meant to be read over and over, this gem is it.


Www7 trsut

You get two covers for the price of one, because different

Www 4 trust

 TRUST by Kylie Scott

Kylie Scott is famous for her gritty rock star series, but this is a new area for her — YA (Young Adult.) TRUST has only been out for a week or two, but it already has several hundred reviews. I devoured it in a night.

Kylie Scott has a gift for putting two fairly ordinary young people in an extraordinary situation, and then showing them learn to cope, and grow stronger from the experience. She has a deep understanding of the pressures and conflict that young people today have to deal with. TRUST is a coming-of-age story, and also a romance. Highly recommended.



I think I picked this up from a wenchly recommendation. Life in a small English village during WW2, when normal village life is challenged and disrupted and people discover new talents and strengths in themselves. I enjoyed it very much.


Andrea/Cara has two books for us, one by a fellow Wench:

I was so happy to receive my copy of Nicola’s The Phantom Tree from Book Depository recently. (It’s not yet out in the U.S. but Book Www5 phantomDepository has free shipping worldwide so you to can snatch it up—which I highly recommend!) It’s a riveting time slip story, with the action moving back and forth between Elizabethan England and the present day. The plot revolves around the heroine seeing a small portrait in a modern-day antique shop that's just created a news buzz by being identified as a lost-lost painting of Anne Boleyn. But the heroine knows that’s wrong . . .
I’m not all that familiar with Tudor times, so I loved learning about the intricate politics and family connections as well as aspects of everyday life. The writing is beautifully evocative—the manor homes like Wolf Hall and the surrounding countryside come brilliantly alive. And the characterizations are richly nuanced, both with the actual historical figures and how they entwine with the fictional ones. Nicola creates a wonderfully provocative “what-if” story for Mary Seymour, who in real life was presumed to have died in childhood. I don’t want to give away too much of the mystery twists . . . But add to the plot the heroine’s former flame, a dishy modern historian who has his own hit TV show, and things heat up as they delve deeper into the mystery of the portrait—which brings about some other surprising revelations! It’s a wonderfully layered and engaging story, and I was up until the wee hours of the morning finishing it because I just couldn’t put it down!
Www6 bobOn a very different note, I also enjoyed My Life With Bob, whose subtitle is: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues. It’s part memoir, part musing on books by by Pamela Paul, the editor of the New York Times Book Review. As a shy, introverted high school student, she started to keep a notebook of every book she read, and over the last 28 years, she's kept it up, hauling the tattered volume around the world with her as she goes on life’s journeys, both physically and metaphorically. I like the way the official blurb describes it: "It’s about the deep and powerful relationship between book and reader . . . It’s about why we read what we read and how those choices make us who we are. It’s about how we make our own stories.” There are times when she gets a little too self-consciously precious, but on the whole, it’s a fun, provocative read about how books shape our lives, providing solace, inspiration, escape, and often a prod to be better than we think we can be. And really, who among our Wench family here can resist a book about books!


So, what are you reading lately that delights, surprises, moves or intrigues you?



What We’re Reading in July

Woman readingNicola here, introducing the July What We're Reading. We all love this feature as we get so many wonderful book recommendations as a result. We hope you enjoy it too. If, like me, you're going away in a few weeks time and are looking for the next read to take with you, or if you have already been indulging in some holiday reading, this is the place to share!


Only one book to recommend this month. It's been a busy time altogether. The RWA National Conference was a mad, lovely, exciting week. The rest of July was spent madly writing.

Still, I did get to read Robin McKinley's, The Hero Hero and crown
 and the Crown
 It's a YA that won the Newberry Medal a few years back. A princess despised and distrusted by her people steps outside their expectations and becomes a strong and magical warrior who saves the kingdom. The book is about choices and strength and what these cost.

McKinley has been a favorite of mine since I read Sunshine, her YA-vampire-not-quite-a-romance. A lovely book.


I’ve been cruising the high seas and spending more time in the moment than reading, apparently. And I watched movies on the plane! But here’s a couple of books I can recall.

Axeman’s Jazz, Julie Smith—a mystery rich with gritty New Orleans atmosphere. The heroine is a very good, very determined cop which gives a nice spin on the usual types of humor found in hapless female detective stories. The story includes lovely layers of satire on New Orleans society— the killer is picking off attendants of 12-step programs, which to the detective’s dismay means that half the city is a potential victim.

1395707162001-Fool-Me-TwiceMeredith Duran, Fool Me Twice—I went into this thinking “yawn, another book about a tortured, privileged duke.”  I have a real hard time being sympathetic to dukes who have everything and still manage to whine. But Duran pulls out ALL the stops. She beats this once-decent guy into a puling lump, then torments her innocent heroine beyond reason. Even though I was fully prepared to laugh at the preposterous setup, Duran made me root for both of them. Her emotional and descriptive writing twists the heart and keeps the pages turning.

Off the Reservation, Glen Merzer—if you want a novel that literally goes off the deep end on satirizing politics, try this one. The protag is a Congressman who grabs attention by saying just what he pleases and turns his lunacy into a campaign platform, while claiming over-population is the root of all problems and that there are no solutions. The way to bring honesty back to politics!

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There’s always something new!

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

In the brave new world of indie publishing, there is always something new to try, and a new learning curve to growl about. <G>  Having the endless curiosity characteristic of writers, I keep trying new things. I've already talked about audiobooks here, and that was a very interesting process in what I think is a rapidly growing area of publishing.  Very business-like of me to give it a try.

Now What?

So naturally, what I'm talking about today isn't at all business-like.  <G>  I loved writing my young adult Dark Mirror series despite all the challenges. 

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M. J. Putney: Introduction of an Alter Ego

Cat 243 Dover by Mary Jo, aka M. J. Putney

March 21st will be the 25th anniversary of starting my first book, which was published 18 months later as The Diabolical Baron.  It’s time to reinvent myself again. <G>  Hence Dark Mirror, my first young adult paranormal historical, which hit the stores yesterday. 

I’ve always written romance, almost always historical, though some Diabolical Baron--Original contemporaries and historical fantasy crept in.  But YA is a new country, a new genre with new rules.  Though history and romance are still present. <G>

(Note: I am NOT giving up historical romance!  The Bargain will be reissued in April, and Nowhere Near Respectable, the third Lost Lords book, will be out in May, and I’m about to start book 4.)

Dark Mirror is a young adult novel with history, adventure, magic, and a dash of romance.  (Of course romance!)  I’m getting a lot of questions about the difference in writing between romance and YA.

DarkMirror--LOWER REZ The answer is reader expectations.  Different genres have different core stories.  Epic fantasy is the struggle between good and evil.  Mysteries are about justice. 

For romance, the core is the courtship story of the developing relationship, while the heart of a YA novel is the growth and life journey of the protagonist.  (Though lots of other things can be added to those core stories, of course.  Romance is found as a subplot in all genres.) 

But while the core stories for YA and romance are different, good storytelling is good storytelling.  That’s the foundation of all popular fiction,

So why YA?  I love combining history, romance, and magic, and I wrote several adult books of that ilk. But on the whole, historical romance readers prefer to get their fantasy reading kick from the setting, which is why lords and ladies and Cinderella stories are so popular.  When I changed publishers several years ago, I found that all the editors we talked to wanted me to write straight historical romance without woo-woo elements. 

Marriage Spell--300 dpi That was okay—obviously I like writing lords and ladies and Cinderella stories, or I wouldn’t have written so many of them. <G> But I still wanted to write magic!

In particular, I wanted to write a story that connected the Napoleonic period and World War II, because I’ve always been intrigued by the similarities in these two eras.  In both cases. England stood alone against a powerful Continental conqueror, protected by the English Channel, the British Navy, and the stubborn courage of her people. 

From there, it was a short hop to thinking that Regency mages would be drawn to a Napoleon-Bonaparte similar time period where their abilities were be needed.  I had the story idea for Dark Mirror in mind for quite a while before my Del Rey fantasy editor said rather casually that it would work well in YA. 

Bingo!  The heavens opened and the trumpets sounded!  I’d never considered writing YA, even though I’ve read it for years, but I immediately knew that this story should be written as YA. 

DM takes place in a Regency world where magic exists but is disdained by the nobility.  My heroine, sixteen year old Lady Victoria Mansfield, performs an act of heroism that condemns her to the dread Lackland Abbey, where well-born children are “cured” of their magical afflictions. 

Tunnel under Dover Castle Tory chooses to cast her lot with those students who study magic in secret in the chalk tunnels below the Abbey.  One of them is Allarde, the handsome, enigmatic heir to a dukedom.  When a magical artifact draws her through time to a war torn 1940 Britain, she wants nothing more than to return home.  But duty calls, and she and her friends must use their magical abilities to help save their nation from disaster at Dunkirk. 

Mega research!  Especially on the 1940 section of the book, which is within living Dunkirk beaches memory.  But there is nothing like stepping off a creative cliff to get the juices flowing.  <G> 

At least three books will be set in this world.  The YAs will be published under the name of M. J. Putney to indicate that they’re a different kind of book.  (Though you who have long memories may recall I did one historical romantic fantasy, Stolen Magic, under my initials before returning to my full name.)

This is a rather scary leap for me because the YA market and distribution are quite different from adult popular fiction.  Plus—could I fake a young adult voice?  I wasn’t a very good teenager even when I was one!  On the plus side, the readers are wonderfully enthusiastic, and there is a tremendous freedom in YA storytelling.

Besides, I had a story I wanted to tell.  <G>  I’m grateful that so far, the reviews have been very good.  Even from the teenagers. 

Here are a few of the reviews.  I particularly liked the first because it says what I hope and believe: that a fair number of my adult readers will enjoy Tory’s story.

“An amazing young adult novel from an established romance author! Mary Jo Putney’s adult readers will delight in her latest offering.”
 Leah, YoungAdultRomanceWriters.com

“One of the best stories I've ever read that mixes history, magic, and time travel.”
 Angel, 15 years old, from the teen advisory board of New Albany-Floyd County Library in Indiana.  5 star rating.

 “Absolutely riveting, Putney creates a vivid historical fantasy and delivers a page-turning read.  The plot builds slowly and deliberately and then suddenly you're got magic-wielding, time-traveling teens in WWII England, as Putney gives us a magical explanation for an incredible historical event.”
    Raven Heller, 4 1/2 stars, Romantic Times Bookclub

Evacuation_Dunkirk Since I am new to the YA genre, St. Martin’s Press wanted to release the first books close together.  Book 2, Dark Passage, is scheduled for September 2011, and the third book, not yet written, will be published some time in 2012.  (You can see why I’ve been so busy!)  There will also be a free downloadable short story, a sort of prequel, that will be available soon online.  It’s called “Fallen From Grace.” 

I have a basic website up at mjputney.com , and also a Facebook page, though I don’t pay as much attention to the sites as I should.  I can write more stories, or have a great online presence.  Not both unless I figure out how to clone myself. Triplets would be about right.  <G>

DarkMirror--LOWER REZ If the story interests you, or you know a young reader who might be enjoy Tory and her adventures, I hope you’ll give it a try.  Leave a comment between now and Friday midnight and you may win a signed copy of Dark Mirror from me.  So tell me what you think about this latest reinvention!

Mary Jo, aka M. J.