When writing novels, one never knows where inspiration will strike. A few years ago, I was well into my research for a book on the ways that Jewish artists managed to create art during the Holocaust, when I overheard a story at the local hair salon about a couple who were separated at the beginning of the war with each of them being told that the other had perished. Sixty years later, they miraculously were reunited at the wedding of their respective grandchildren. When I overheard that story, I felt like I had been struck by lightning. My mind was filled with so many questions: why had this couple each believed the other had died? What was their initial love story? What were their second love stories that produced the children who were now the parents of the grandchildren getting married? And most importantly, how did they each survive World War II?
This story would end up being the bookends for my novel The Lost Wife, into which I invented the lovers’ histories both before and after their separation.
I wanted to draw in my readers by evoking the same questions that I had after initially hearing that story. I wanted those questions to propel them into the same journey I too would undertake while crafting the body of the novel.
The inspiration for my new novel The Garden of Letters, also began after hearing a story that ignited my curiosity. While at a dinner party, a friend shared with me the details about how her father had escaped from Hungry through Italy during WWII with forged papers that their family had spent their entire life savings on. When my friend’s father arrived in Portofino, German guards were scrutinizing everyone’s papers so carefully that he was sure he was going to be arrested.
Suddenly, out from the crowd, a big barrel-chested Italian man cried: “Cousin, cousin, I’ve been waiting for you all week. Thank heaven’s you’ve come!”
He was able to whisk my friend’s father away and take him back to his home on the cliffs of Portofino.
When my friend’s father asked this man why he had saved him, for clearly he wasn’t his cousin, the man replied: “I try to come to the port every month. I try to save the person who looks the most afraid.”
When I heard that story I immediately thought it would make an amazing beginning to a novel. I imagined the two people whose lives intersect at this occupied Italian port. One fleeing and in need of shelter. The other a person who sees that fear and sets upon helping him. “The Garden of Letters” opens with my young heroine being saved from the Germans at the Portofino port by a doctor.
As in all my novels, I wanted my main character to possess a creative gift. With The Lost Wife, I explored how art could be used as a form of Resistance against the Nazis. In The Garden of Letters, I explore how music could be used.
My main character Elodie, is a young cellist who sends coded messages for the Italian Resistance through her performances. And the book explores the many creative ways essential information was transmitted during the war.
When I traveled to Italy to meet with partisans and female messengers who were involved in the Resistance, I was introduced to a person who shared with me another unusual way information was sent during the war. Giovanni Pellizzato, whose grandfather was both a bookseller and an active member of the Italian Resistance, described how codes were cleverly hidden throughout the pages of a book, and how within the back shelves of his father’s bookstore many of the books had their paper carved out to create a space where pistols were stored inside. This information was so intriguing to me, it inspired the character of the bookseller, Luca, in The Garden of Letters.
As storytellers, we’re responsible for crafting narratives that bring our readers into a world that transport and hopefully inform. As writers, however, we must also be open to all the stories that surround us, for everyone has a unique history to share.
Amy talks with Jojo Moyes about her new novel, ONE PLUS ONE.
Read an excerpt and learn more about the book here:
Jessica works with romance titles from Berkley and NAL and is also a self-proclaimed YA enthusiast. She lives in Washington Heights and is a huge fan of Supernatural, all things Joss Whedon, and live music.
OMG EVERYONE HAS TO READ VIRGIN BY RADHIKA SANGHANI RIGHT NOW. Are you convinced? Not yet? Well how about I tell you that this book had me giggling like an idiot on the subway. Seriously, I haven’t laughed so hard at a book in years and it wasn’t just because it was funny. It’s incredibly poignant, especially to this generation of females. What we go through growing up, trying to understand boys, being afraid to ask real questions and this whole myriad of things that you might discuss with your closest friends is now written, and fantastically so, in this book.
I challenge any woman who reads this NOT to find at least one part of Ellie’s story that you don’t completely relate to, because I believe it is truly impossible.
I’m still new to reading historical romances but MY BEAUTIFUL ENEMY by Sherry Thomas is just a wonderful addition to this genre. Not only does Thomas write intelligent heroines, but this story has off-the-charts chemistry and an action-packed mystery to boot. There’s something to be said for the sexual tension in historicals because things can be a little more buttoned up, but Thomas balances heat with emotion that can’t be missed.
So I love action movies. Like really and truly thoroughly enjoy them. So when that gets combined with a steamy romance plot? Perfection! And so is BOUND TO DANGER by Katie Reus. Being on the run from terrorists and a person of interest to the NSA are some seriously high stakes and it’s those kinds of situations that rev up emotions to warp speed. It can’t be helped and I can’t help but love it. What’s different about this series so far is that our heroes and heroines have a past with each other which makes their connection so much more believable and for me, more enjoyable.
GUARDED by Mary Behre is such a unique paranormal romance. I fell in love with this world in the first novel, Spirited, last spring and loved going back. This time, the “crift” is Shelley’s, and her curse/gift is the ability to communicate with animals. ← SOLD. When she realizes animals are being kidnapped from her local zoo, she contacts an old flame who not only knows her secret, but also happens to be a detective. Fun, fast-paced, plus animals!
Maisey Yates has grown a stellar reputation for writing the perfect balance of humor, emotion, and sexual chemistry. In UNBROKEN two of my all-time favorite romance tropes are used: pretend relationship that turns very real and the friends-to-lovers. Cade is Amber’s best friend that always seems to be rescuing her (which she hates) and he does it again this time by pretending to be her live-in boyfriend with plans to fix up her grandfather’s failing ranch. But they have to keep the charade going because of course Amber’s grandfather loves the idea of them together. It’s just that kind of situation that gives you a warm fuzzy feeling as you watch two people realize their true feelings for each other.
Last, but not least at all, is TAKEOVER by Anna Zabo. First, two hot dudes in hot suits, with super-hot feelings. And secondly… wait, is there supposed to be more? Well if you need more than those reasons to check out this M/M romance, then how about because it’s not only damn sexy (yes lady readers, don’t let the slash scare you!) but the emotions that Michael and Sam have to deal while in an office setting, not to mention Sam is Michael’s boss, give this story a dose of reality. Also, did I mention 2 HOT GUYS IN SUITS?
Those are my August romance recs for you, so happy reading!
Find more books on the Romance page!
Amy interviews Suzane Colasanti, author of NOW & FOREVER, live at BEA.
Read more here.
Amy interviews Kim Karr, author of MENDED, live at BEA.
Read more here.
When I was a little girl, I used to watch West Side Story over and over. I had a strong sense of justice, and loved getting swept up in Maria and Tony’s rebellious romance, not to mention worked up over their communities’ totally lame and unfair objections to it. Later, as a teen, I was consistently attracted to boys for whom my parents harbored built-in disapproval: usually boys in bands, and boys who had been expelled from one or more high schools. Most nights were filled with hushed, flirtatious phone calls followed by blood-vessel bursting screaming matches with my mom, who just didn’t understand. It wasn’t until I got a little older that I realized parents’ disapproval of their teenage daughters’ romantic choices isn’t always about blind prejudice. More often then we’d like to think, it’s about the fact that teenage love is intense, and it tends not to end well.
Like No Other by Una LaMarche is a forbidden love story not unlike Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park, or West Side Story, for that matter: It begins when Devorah, a Hasidic Jewish girl, meets Jaxon, a second generation Caribbean-American boy, when the two are stuck in an elevator during a hurricane power outage. Now if you don’t know about the Hasidic faith, it’s an incredibly closed community and it is beyond taboo for an unmarried Hasidic girl to be alone with any boys, much less a boy outside her faith and race. Despite the fact that they wouldn’t speak to each other under normal circumstances, Devorah and Jaxon make an undeniable connection during their time in that elevator that changes their lives forever–embarking on a forbidden friendship that will soon blossom into first love, risking everything–family, faith, and friends–to be together.
Yes, this book has all the swoon-worthy, drama-filled, heart-pounding romance I couldn’t get enough of growing up, but it also has perspective. It shows the powers and the pitfalls of family, tradition and faith. It shows the highs and lows of first love. But most remarkably, it cracks open a door of possibility beyond first love (I mean, it’s called first love for a reason), reminding readers that the future is out there, it’s longer than you think, and it’s all yours.
Sometimes I look back on my teen love interests and wonder if my parents were right. They were right to worry about my heart. All good parents should. They were wrong to think they could stop it from loving boys in bands. (I’m marrying one next month.) First love is not the be-all-end-all that it feels like in the moment, but it is the start of something exquisite that never really does go away.
Thank you, Una LaMarche, for capturing this and reminding me.
Read More Posts From the Editor’s Desk.
Alaina Mauro is Publishing Manager for the Adult imprints at Penguin Group. She is a well-known romance-phile, and has been known to discuss the literary merits of her favorite romances with pretty much anyone who will listen. She thanks the Penguin blog for giving her the opportunity to proselytize to a wider audience.
Julie James is my go-to for an absorbing, funny, contemporary romance novel. She’s always the first I recommend to friends interested in reading romance. Her novels are full of wonderfully drawn characters who feel like real people, and by the end, real friends. It Happened One Wedding is no exception, and the story of Vaughn Roberts, Special Agent, and Sidney Sinclair, investment banker, is engaging from their first funny coffee shop not-meet-cute, in which both decides the other is not for them. Circumstances draw them together, and their gradual friendship that turns into something more is delightful to read. This is one of those book’s that I like to have more than one copy of—one to keep, and one to loan—it’s that good.
The fourth book in Jill Shalvis’s Animal Magnetism series is about veterinarians in rural Idaho. Dr. Emily Stevens is about to start a new internship far from her Los Angeles life at an animal clinic in rural Idaho, working for Drs. Dell and Adam Connelly. She has a plan. It involves spending the least amount of time in Idaho as possible to get a permanent position in LA, and marrying someone whose goals line up with hers. Not on the plan is Dr. Wyatt Stone, her new boss. She had a one-night stand with Wyatt months earlier at a veterinarian conference and expected to never see him again. Then Came You is a great contemporary romance about two people trying to reconcile life’s plans with life’s reality. Wyatt, in particular, is an excellent hero, and it was great to see him get his Happily Ever After. Though this is the fourth book in the series, it can easily be read without having read the others, but also, the others are great and you should totally read them!
Historical romance is my favorite romance subgenre, and Sherry Thomas is one of the best writing currently. Her stories are emotionally engaging in a way that is really rewarding for the reader. Ravishing the Heiress is the second book in a series set in Edwardian England about the Fizhugh siblings. It’s my favorite of the series and can be read without having read the others. It is that most-common historical trope, an arranged marriage, which starts with the main characters, Millicent and Fitzhugh, both having had their hearts broken with their true loves through circumstance, agreeing to marry each other, but that if either’s true love were to become available, to part ways with no hard feelings. When Fitz’s love, Isabelle returns to London, their agreement is put to the test. This story is one where the HEA is far from secure. Will Fitz end up with Isabelle? Will Millie find her own love? Has there been more between Fitz and Millie than either was willing to admit? Finding out, and the way the Thomas resolves these issues, is what make this book really stand out.
Beatriz Williams writes engrossing novels with strong, well-drawn, female characters who don’t always act the way romantic heroines “should” and her books are all the better for it. The Secret Life of Violet Grant is set in 1914 Berlin and 1964 New York City, and follows Violet and Vivian Schuyler. Vivian has just graduated from Bryn Mawr and has defied her wealthy Manhattan family to get a job! And live on her own! And to actually do it successfully! The horror! She receives a parcel in the mail, a suitcase, which belonged to Violet. Violet is a hushed-up family secret, and Vivian becomes determined to find out what happened to her. The story is told from both Violet’s and Vivian’s point of view, and both women are smart, compelling characters. Of course, this wouldn’t be here if there weren’t two excellent heroes to help both women with their mysteries. Both romances are deliciously complicated, and the resolutions are extremely satisfying.
Romance is My Day Job is actually a memoir by Patience Bloom, an editor at Harlequin. And yet, it is my favorite romantic story of the year. Patience, like some other people I know, grew up devouring romance novels, and expected that she too would find her hero, her happily ever after, her grand love. Then she moved to New York City, got her dream job at Harlequin editing romance, and…nothing happened. No hero, although many near-heroes. The book opens with a single, happy Patience in her early forties, living her life, when she receives an out-of-the-blue message from an old friend. All of a sudden it seems as if maybe her grand love might be a real possibility. Patience is an hilarious narrator, and anyone who has read and loved even one romance novel, will love her. Her actual romance is as compelling as any of the others here, if not more so, because it’s real.
Find more books on the Romance page!
Every editor has worked on books that he or she looks back on with particular pride. Sometimes they are gifts from the cosmos—manuscripts that simply landed on one’s desk in perfect or near-perfect condition. But sometimes they are books with a different kind of genesis, one that is more collaborative.
At the end of 2012, I was a huge “Downton Abbey” fan, having binge-watched the first two seasons over the holiday break. As probably every other editor in New York was doing, I tried to think how I could find a novel to publish that would appeal to the same audience. I thought of several excellent historical fiction writers that I’d worked with over the years, but one stood out. Years before, I had worked with Elizabeth Cooke at a different publisher when she had been writing as Elizabeth McGregor, and I had never forgotten the beauty of her writing. She was also British—definitely in keeping with the “Downton Abbey” spirit—and a highly regarded British historian at that. She had taken a break from writing novels for many years, and it struck me that possibly she needed just the spark of a new idea to get her back into writing.
A few weeks later, following several phone calls, emails, and a very happy lunch with Liz’s New York agent, a proposal arrived on my desk. This proposal was an editor’s dream. It turns out that Liz’s grandfather had been the stablemaster at Kiplin Hall, one of England’s country estates–very much like the fictional Downton Abbey–and she had grown up with the stories of his time there.
Here is how the proposal opened:
One of the first stories I ever remember hearing was of a great Shire horse. It was born in the stables of Kiplin Hall in North Yorkshire in 1906, and the imprints of its hooves were so massive that the farmhands would walk behind it through the snow, placing their feet where the horse had trod. My grandfather knew that horse: he saw it being born, and in time he worked Kiplin’s hay carts and the delivery carts with it, and, after that first hard winter, it was he who re-named it Wenceslas.
Liz went on to describe the day in late 1914 when Wenceslas was drafted to pull artillery guns in France. “My grandfather followed it in tears down the great beech-lined drive, and stopped to lean on the door of the gatehouse as the horse was walked on.”
I was completely hooked.
That was how Rutherford Park came to be born, a gorgeous novel published last summer, which received wonderful praise from Natasha Solomons (“Beautiful”) and Kate Furnivall (“A breathtakingly beautiful book”) among many others.
Now on July 1, 2014, The Wild Dark Flowers will continue the compelling tale, told on an epic scale, of a privileged British family on the precipice of catastrophic changes.
I am happy to report that Wenceslas has made it into the story, although his ultimate fate is yet to be revealed…
As a Marketing Assistant for Young Adult and Middle Grade books at Penguin Young Readers and a former Children’s Library Assistant, Bri is well versed in giving book suggestions for any mood or situation. Here’s her list of recommendations for anyone who is up for more heartbreaking, beautifully written reads after they’re done with John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.
After Mia’s family is involved in a horrific car accident, she must make the ultimate choice: stay alive or let go. With spare prose and a heart wrenching story, If I Stay will break your heart—and put it back together again.
Clay receives a box of thirteen tapes from Hannah Baker, his classmate and crush that committed suicide two weeks earlier. On the tapes, Hannah reveals the thirteen reasons why she chose to end her life—and if Clay chooses to listen, he’ll find out why he’s one of them. Asher’s heartbreaking, emotional novel deftly explores the effect people can have on one another, in addition to finding hope in the aftermath of tragedy.
This compelling novel from a superstar YA author explores Hayley Kincaid’s struggle to balance the tumult of her father’s PTSD at home with her seemingly normal life at school. Anderson isn’t afraid to face difficult issues head on in this consideration of how one person’s illness can affect a family.
Devorah is a devoted daughter who has never challenged her Hasidic upbringing. Jaxon is a book smart nerd who has never been comfortable around girls. Their chance meeting blossoms into a romance that neither expected. Devorah’s and Jaxon’s unconventional love story will convince anyone that love can sneak up on you, even when you’re least expecting it.
After her best friend Ingrid commits suicide, Caitlin is left behind with questions—along with Ingrid’s journal, left behind as a goodbye. Caitlin comes to realize that the journal doesn’t just provide solace, but a means of connecting with others who had been in Ingrid’s life. LaCour’s debut novel examines transformation in the wake of life-altering events with strong writing and an arresting story.
Cam, a girl who has spent most of her life in hospitals, has one last goal before the end of her relatively short life: move to Promise, Maine, a place famous for its miraculous events. Wendy Wunder’s first novel explores living life to the fullest in a way that’s both humorous and heartbreaking.
Find more books to read here.