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?



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?

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