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Each year, for the past 17 years, my husband and I (well, he wasn’t always my husband, but you get the point) head to Ocean City, NJ for at least a week of the beach.

Now, if you’ve seen my picture, you know the sun is not my friend. But I like the idea of sitting somewhere and just reading. So I’ve come to love the beach, even though it means slathering myself with SPF 50 and higher each time I venture outside.

I have a theory about beach readsd. Instead of choosing light, frothy reads, I like to read stuff that is in contrast to my surroundings. My beach time is when I choose the meatier books from my TBR pile. The other necessity is that the book be something I can count on–there is absolutely nothing worse than reading a dud when you’re stuck in the middle of sand, and can’t get back to make another choice.

So here is what I’ll be taking to the beach this summer:

Bernard Cornwell‘s Sharpe series. I’ve read the first two (chronological) Sharpes, and have been watching the series on BBC America. Cornwell is a FABULOUS writer, someone who can write 100+ pages of battle scene and keep my interest all the way through. And what’s really cool is that Cornwell always has a twist at the end, so you know there’s another payoff coming at the end of the book. The best part, though, is that Cornwell is alive and writing, and he is very, very prolific, so you will always have more of his stuff to read.

Next up is Ross McDonald‘s Lew Archer series. Lew Archer is a detective in Los Angeles in the–I want to say ’50s and ’60s, but I’m not quite sure–who is smart, tough, and compelling. McDonald’s descriptions are amazing, and the way he writes is on par with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. If you like James Ellroy, you will like Ross McDonald. Again, I’ve been collecting his books. Unfortunately McDonald is dead, so there are no more Archer books, but he wrote plenty when he was alive, and they are now out in gorgeous trade paperback.

Loretta Chase‘s Captives of the Night has recently been reissued, and I have never read it. If you’re a Regency fan, you’ve read at least one of her books, and you know she is a solidly consistent author whose heroes are deceptively stupid and her heroines are smart and brook no nonsense. You can depend on Chase for an enchanting read, good for if there seem to be storms brewing over the horizon.

And last, Barbara Hambly. Her Benjamin January detective series is lush, intriguing, and describes 1830s New Orleans society so well I feel as if I’m there. January is a great character, a dark Black free man who is a pianist and a doctor. I’ve only read two of the series thus far, and am very much looking forward to reading more.

And that is what will be getting sandy with me at the beach. Sorry about no pictures, I am on a kind friend’s computer and haven’t the time to hunt down pictures.

Have you read any of these? Are there any in these genres that you would recommend?


Like Carolyn I too am on deadline with a Jan 1 deadline, but it’s a rewrite. Piece of cake. I hope. So, fab things I have read and seen this year.

I saw three movies this year but they were all winners. One was the Jane Eyre and I blogged about that here. The other was Bridesmaids, which had so wisdom and insight on female friendships. The other, which I caught last week, was Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a documentary about some amazing cave art in Chauvet, France. It was made in 3D which I imagine is spectacular although I saw it on normal format. The paintings are the oldest ever found–35,000 years old–in a beautiful “crystal cathedral” (to quote director Werner Herzog) of limestone. There is no public access and scientists visit only for four hour stretches. There is one part of the cave that has so much CO2 from tree roots that it’s dangerous to stay in too long and access throughout is limited to boardwalks created to protect the environment. The movie is available on Netflix where I found it.

And on to books. I acquired a kindle this year and, gawd, I have never read, or started to read, so many bad books in my life, but I won’t talk about those. I do find the lure of the free, $1.99, and kindle daily deal irresistible. For the first time in my life I have a TBR (digital) pile.

One book I didn’t buy for the kindle–some books just won’t work, particularly books with pix–was Adam Hochschild’s brilliant To End All Wars, about World War I. For me, it gave some entirely different perspectives on the war, particularly what was happening at home in England, where the authorities were terrified of revolution.

I said I wouldn’t talk about books I didn’t like (I have some discretion) but the much-vaunted and revered Death Comes To Pemberley by P.D. James sucks a major one, as we literary critics say. This article in the Guardian says it all–warning, contains spoilers, but the book is so poorly written you know who’s done it almost immediately. I would however recommend The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen by Lindsay Ashford who I met very briefly at the JASNA conference last October. It’s moving, sexy, and beautifully written. At the moment it’s really only available on kindle or from the ever-faithful Another writer I met at the conference was the lovely Syrie James (you should have seen her outfits!) whose non-Austen book Nocturne I also recommend–nothing to do with Austen, but one of the best vampire love stories I’ve read, and one which is smart enough to tackle the outcome of a mortal/immortal’s future together.

I also loved this collection of short stories by Laura Lippmann, Hardly Knew Her, a kindle bargain. Most of them are set in Baltimore or Washington, and several are about a high class hooker who maintains the identity of an upperclass suburban mom. Fascinating stuff.

At the moment I’m reading Laura Miller’s The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia, which has some wonderful things to say about reading (and by extension about writing). It’s a book that absolutely resonates with me as I too loved the Narnia books (apart from The Last Battle) as a kid, and have returned to them at different stages of my life.

But what about romance? Okay, okay. Miranda Neville’s funny, sexy, smart The Amorous Adventures of Celia Seaton. (Refers to kindle.) Cafe du Hour by Lilian Darcy, Liberation of Alice Love by Abby McDonald, Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novik (not technically a romance but I’ve always loved the Lawrence/Temeraire dynamic), and I finally got around to reading Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase which to my surprise I liked.

Have you read any of these? What were your favorite 2011 reads?


“We hold these truths to be self-evident . . .”

Happy Official Holiday for the Fourth Of July, Even Though It’s Only The Third!

There are certain inviolable rights that we take as Life Assumptions; I’m talking, of course, about knowing–and owning as part of one’s self–certain pop culture touchstones. Recently (i.e. yesterday), I was reminded of a truth I’d suppressed: That Carolyn Jewel, our newest Risky, had never seen North And South, the BBC mini-series based on an Elizabeth Gaskell book. It’s not set in the Regency (it’s Victorian), but it is otherwise perfectly suited for a historical romance fan.

Because, you know, it’s set in a historical period and is a romance.

Anyway, Carolyn will doubtless rectify that gap in her life soon, thanks to pressure from me and many other N&S fans who are on Twitter, but it got me to thinking about pop culture assumptions, and then into the Venn Diagram of romance novel assumptions. There are some people who grew up without TV (like me), and I don’t have that common vernacular of forty-somethings who grew up on a diet of ’70s television. There are romance readers who’ve never read Nora Roberts (also like me), or Lord of Scoundrels (NOT like me), or seen Romancing the Stone (me, again), or liked Ghost (guilty), or any of a countless other shared experiences that weren’t so shared after all. Just like we all know Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson, and Watergate, and chia pets, and Frankie Says Relax, we all assume we’ve read Nora, or seen certain iconic romantic movies or share the same opinions and assumptions about our books (for example, I am always startled when someone doesn’t love Lord of Scoundrels; I can accept it, but it stuns me for a minute or two).

What Romance Pop Culture Touchstone have you never experienced? Which of your Romance Pop Culture Touchstones are inviolable when it comes to discussing romance with others?

And happy Truth-Holding Day!


*See how concerned Richard Armitage is that Carolyn hasn’t viewed his John Thornton-ness?

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The Risky Regencies ran an interview with Loretta Chase awhile back, but Loretta wasn’t able to pop in and answer questions in comments. She did, however, send replies to all the questions you posted.

Welcome back, Loretta!

Thank you Risky ladies, for the kind welcome. I’m sorry I wasn’t around to visit with you on the day of the interview–and yet I’m not completely sorry, because I was having a wonderful time in Vancouver–my first trip to the West Coast.

I’ve saved all your compliments and sweet words to savor, especially on those days when the WIP better resembles what Nora Roberts so aptly refers to as a POS. So I’ll simply say a very warm Thank You!–again–and go on with the Answers To Questions part of the program.

Michelle said… “I wonder how well someone modern would do going back to that time period. Would you ever participate in a re-enactment similar to the PBS special about The Victorian House?

I watched Regency House Party, and found it so fascinating that I bought the DVD (which I rarely do–too many movies, too little time). The women seemed to have a pretty miserable time of it…then I remembered that at my age, I’d be one of the chaperons, not one of the marriageable misses. I’d have a good deal more freedom–plus the advantage of being familiar with the period. Frankly, I thought one of the main causes of the friction on that show was the fact that most of the participants were smokers, and the women were not allowed to smoke. Nicotine withdrawal can make people…testy. But the other problem was, as it so often is on these re-enactments, that people have no clue about the time period. Since I do have a clue, I’m not sure I would do it: After all, I’m an American, and, unless they decided to make me verrry, verrry, rich, I’d be very low on the social scale.

Robin F said… “I live in the UK and your Carsington books here are being published with very different cameo-like covers. I was curious to know what do you think of them? I can’t wait for NQAL to come out here!

I love the covers! I especially like the hieroglyphic wallpaper for MR IMPOSSIBLE. Those who’d like to evaluate the Piatkus covers–and others–may check out the Contact Loretta page of my website, where the foreign covers are displayed in the Newsletter. I just noticed that some of the UK covers got mixed in with the Russian ones, but you can easily sort them out.

“Also is there anything you can say about your WIP, particularly why you think it might be more controversial?

I can tell you it’s set in Venice, at least for the first half, and the gondolas of 1820 were very different from the gondolas of today. Other than that, it’s foolish for me to say more because a WIP goes through so many changes before it’s finished.

Maggie Robinson said… “When’s the next one? JK. Are there any Carsingtons left? What’s next?
Janga said… “Do you have plans to write Olivia and Peregrine’s story/stories?

The next book is scheduled for June 2008. However, I’m happy to report that between then and now, in December 2007, Avon is releasing LORD OF SCOUNDRELS in a beautiful new cover.

I had originally planned only three Carsington books, dealing with the three youngest sons, but LORD PERFECT destroyed that cunning plan. And now it seems that Olivia and Peregrine will need a book. But that one’s in the future. They need to grow up and I need time to think about what they’ll grow up into and what sort of story will result. So it may be a few books down the road.

Cherie J said… “Wonderful interview! I have to admit I have never read one of your books but I am intrigued and have got to look for one next time I go to the bookstore. Which one would you recommend I start with?

Thanks, Cherie. My favorite of my books is always either the one I just finished or the one I’m working on. NOT QUITE A LADY may be the easiest to find in a bricks and mortar bookstore–but I’m going to invite the other readers to make suggestions.

seton said… “I’ll always think of you as an Avon author because of your early historicals. How does it feel to be back at Avon again?

It feels great! They have given me a very warm welcome back–and they’ve done a terrific job on so many counts. May I say again how happy I am with my new covers?

Kimberly L said… “Do you visit historical places to help with your books?

I’ve visited England several times–though not recently, alas. A long, long time ago, I went to Albania. But I’ve never been to Egypt, and am not sure if Venice is in my future. But there are other ways to travel and time travel. Living museums and museums offer an added dimension to what one reads in research books. The impetus for MR. IMPOSSIBLE, for instance, came partly from a visit to an exhibition of Egyptian art and artifacts at the Boston Museum of Science some years ago.

Keira Soleore said… “Could your readers tempt you with new shoes, too, in addition to new clothes?

Oh, yes, shoes. And pocketbooks. Accessories of all kinds. And then…books. These are all powerful forms of motivation.

Oh, and what about RWA? You absolutely need new togs for that.

I won’t make it to Dallas this year, but hope to get to San Francisco. Meanwhile, the search for the perfect raincoat continues.

Anne McAllister said…
somehow I’ve missed the Mad Earl. Must go track him down!

You’ll find him in the anthology, THREE WEDDINGS AND A KISS. It’s one of my two novellas, and is part of the series that starts with THE LION’S DAUGHTER.
yanna said… “(1) Do you plan to write a prequel on the Carsington parents? They sound interesting!
They do interest me, but I’m not sure about a prequel. For one, it would take me into a different era, and for another, I do love them as they are, at middle age.

“(2)I like Percival from TLD too – I know its a nuisance to the writer sometimes when readers wish a story could go on and on.. but will you consider writing a story for Percival?

I’ve considered it, and if the right story for him comes along, I’ll do it. The precocious kids do make me wonder what they’ll be like as adults. But at this moment, I have no plans for him.

“(3) Do you re-read the stories that you wrote after they are printed? if so, what are some of your thoughts?

I wait a while, usually, then sit back and try to read it as though I were a reader. I tend to be less judgmental then than I am when writing the book. I’ll notice things I’d like to fix–but I am somewhat compulsive, so nothing’s ever going to pass muster completely.. Mainly, though it’s an opportunity to sit back and have fun with what I’ve created.

“(4) When you just start out as a writer, who were some of the authors that you read and enjoyed and like, perhaps enough to emulate?
Charles Dickens. Oscar Wilde. Jane Austen. P.G. Wodehouse.

MaryK said…
I’d love to know which of your other characters are reworkings.
Daphne Pembroke in MR. IMPOSSIBLE was a response to Dorothea in MIDDLEMARCH. What happens is, I look at these characters and play the What If game. Like, What if Dorothea had had a real education instead of her “toybox” one? What if she’d had a brother who believed in her? What could she have accomplished, in spite of her horrible marriage? And what if she’d met a man who accepted and appreciated her exactly as she was?
Lady Dedlock of BLEAK HOUSE was a Victorian character, viewed through middle-class eyes. But in fact, she would have been a young woman about the time of my heroine. So I asked, What if we looked at her through Regency eyes? What if she came from a family much higher on the social scale? What if that family was completely different? What if she met a man who truly was a soulmate?
These are the two characters who were clearly re-workings for me: I consciously examined the fictional character, decided what aggravated me the most about her, and created my alternate universe. The original characters are, basically, the spark to get that What If creative machine going. In other cases, it’s more a matter of coming across a historic personage and using him/her as the spark. And then there are the characters who simply come from regions of the imagination. If they are a response to something I’ve read or seen, that source is buried somewhere in my subconscious.

Thank you, Loretta!
You can see more with Loretta at the Word Wenches blog.

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Loretta Chase has written some of romance’s most favorite books, including Lord of Scoundrels and Mr. Impossible. She has won the RWA’s RITA award, and her new book, Not Quite A Lady, has just been released. Loretta lives in Massachusetts, worships Barbie, and took time out from her schedule to answer a few questions (Commenters on this interview can win a copy of Not Quite A Lady; refer to Bertie The Beau’s Official Risky Regencies Contest Rules for the rules).

Q. Readers frequently list your books as their favorite of all time; what do you think it is about your writing that readers respond to?

A. I think that most readers respond to the author’s voice. Starting a book is like meeting someone for the first time. The voice is the first impression–the personality and attitude of the story–and either it appeals to the reader or it doesn’t. How they respond to my voice will determine whether they can enjoy the dialogue, say, or the humor, or the way I develop characters. It’s a lot like dating, actually. How happy will the reader be, spending several hours with the personality of my book–or will she/he want to dump me for someone else?

Q. How has your writing changed since your first book?

A. Well, I’d hope it’s improved, what with all the practice.

Q. How did you think of writing this particular book? Did it start with a character, a setting, or some other element?

A. It always starts the same way: I need new clothes, so I’d better get to work. My most powerful source of inspiration is that line of retailers along Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.Where the story itself started, I’m not quite sure. The process is a jumble of illogical happenings, like a dream. But here’s as much logic as I can apply to it:In some stories, I’m trying to right the wrongs of Victorian fiction, especially the way the female characters are treated. Say Character A comes to a bad or pitiful end or behaves foolishly or self-destructively. I say, “Grrrr,” and then set about reworking that character. For NOT QUITE A LADY, the trigger was Lady Dedlock of Dickens’s BLEAK HOUSE. I worship Dickens & BLEAK HOUSE is my favorite book & I watched the BBC adaptation several times, but that doesn’t mean I’m thrilled with the way he deals with women. I know this is where the spark for the story came from, and the spark led first to the heroine, Lady Charlotte Hayward. In other books the hero comes first, or the setting, and sometimes a lot of things seem to happen simultaneously.

Q. How long did it take? Was this an easy or difficult book to write?

A. Oh, they all seem to be difficult mostly and easy in just enough places to keep me from giving up completely. The main challenge of NOT QUITE A LADY was maintaining a balance between the humor that I hope is my trademark and the emotional aspects.

Q. Tell me more about your characters. What or who inspired them?

A. Lady Dedlock wasn’t the sole inspiration for Lady Charlotte Hayward, whose personality and social situation is quite different. She’s also drawn from the “good” women in 19th C fiction, and the “ladylike” women of our time. They’re apparently patient, gracious and even-tempered, and always do what’s expected of them. But inside may be a great deal of frustration, stifled anger and hurt. So the inner Charlotte is a seething cauldron, which the hero brings to a boil and explosion. Inspiration for the hero is harder to pin down, but I think my sexy scholar was inspired by Thomas Young, one of those brilliant polymaths of the late 18th-early 19th C, as well as all those aristocrats who studied and wrote papers about farming. The Don Juan side of his personality added a fun element for me to work with. He isn’t the classic bookworm but a rake who seduces women as methodically and detachedly as he carries out agricultural experiments.

Q. Did you run across anything new and unusual while researching this book?

A. My hero inherits a tumbledown estate that he’s expected to restore in short order. This plot element had me studying the less glamorous side of the English stately home, and discovering many interesting details about how laundry was done, for instance, and the design and functions of dairies (about which more appears in the Word Wenches blog archives and on my website)–and, basically, a lot more of the nuts and bolts of running those grand places than appears in the book. The most fun research, though, was meeting the pigs at Old Sturbridge Village, a living history museum in Massachusetts (also on the blog).

Q. What do you think is the greatest creative risk you’ve taken in this book? How do you feel about it?

A. Writing feels to me like jumping off a cliff, again and again, day after day, sometimes hour after hour. It’s all risk to me, so if there are any significant creative breakthroughs in this or any other of my work, someone else will have to point them out to me.

Q. Is there anything you wanted to include in the book that you (or your CPs or editor) felt was too controversial and left out?

A. I can’t recall that ever happening to me, in any book. I’ve put in things that seemed controversial, and expected someone would ask me to cut them or reword them, but I don’t remember anyone ever doing so. That may change with the WIP.

Q. How do you develop the humor in your books?

A. It isn’t conscious. It has to do with the way I see the world and interpret it and that comes mainly from my father. He had a wonderful sense of humor and a dry wit and a great store of awful jokes, which still crack me up. Some of his jokes, in fact, are themes or plot elements in my books. So it seems that genetics may explain why I spent a large part of my youth watching screwball comedies over and over. And why I gravitated toward comic writers rather than tragic ones.

Q. What else would you like people to know about you and/or your writing?

A. The easiest way to cover that question is to point readers to my website, for the essential info. But for writerly trials and tribulations, musings, informed and uninformed opinions, and bits of research that don’t make it into the books, readers might want to stop by, where I blog with six other historical writers.

Thanks, Loretta! Comment for your chance to win Not Quite A Lady!

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