Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Quotable Wednesdays 2: Paying Tribute

I'm starting a new tradition on this blog of mine...I have been reading lots of books lately, even more than usual. And in my literary (and pop culture) travels, I have stumbled across many, many fun bits of humor, brilliance, encouragement, and inspiration. Every week, pop by here on Wednesday for Quotable Wednesdays, where I share some of these delightful musings. 

Today, I pay tribute to the incomparable Nora Ephron, who passed away yesterday at the age of 71. Nora Ephron was an author, director and screen-writer, and was the creative genius behind such movies as When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and my all-time favorite You've Got Mail. She dedicated her life to telling stories - both fictional and deeply personal - and was masterful at creating strong female characters who were at times both normal and extraordinary. She was a beautiful and remarkable voice; one certainly silenced far too soon.

"To state the obvious, romantic comedies have to be funny and they have to be romantic. But one of the most important things, for me anyway, is that they be about two strong people finding their way to love."
                    -Nora Ephron

"Here are some questions I am constantly noodling over: Do you splurge or do you hoard? Do you live every day as if it's your last, or do you save your money on the chance you'll live 20 more years? Is life too short, or is it going to be too long? Do you work as hard as you can, or do you slow down to smell the roses? And where do carbohydrates fit into all this? Are we really all going to spend our last years avoiding bread, especially now that bread in America is so unbelievably delicious? And what about chocolate?" 
                    -Nora Ephron

"Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I've accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it's a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it's a way of making contact with someone else's imagination after a day that's all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss." 
                    -Nora Ephron

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tuesday Round Up

As a whole I am pretty optimistic. Happy even. Funny sometimes. But there is just this one thing. One little bit of gloom in my otherwise sunny existence. And that little bit of gloom is Tuesday. Weird, right? I know. But since the beginning of my professional career four years ago, Tuesday is simply a day I don't enjoy. Some people (most people) feel this way about Monday. But not me. For me, it's Tuesday. Tuesday is the day I can't get out of bed, the day I can't find anything to wear. The day I accidentally miss my subway stop because I was reading an Entertainment Weekly recap of The Bachelorette, and have to go down to 42nd Street and turn around. True story. It happened this morning. 

Needless to say, on Tuesday I look for a little something to brighten the day. And usually, I find something fun. So starting today, every Tuesday, I am going to start sharing these little bits of excitement.

So what, you may ask, is brightening my today?

First, a story. 

In a few short weeks, London will host the 2012 Summer Olympics. I am, quite literally, counting the days until the opening ceremonies. I love the Olympics. Every two years, in a burst of patriotic pride, I am glued to my TV for the better part of two weeks. I devour news stories about Team USA, and regularly check the medal count. I cheer for ice skaters, gymnasts, runners, swimmers, skiers, and even for the athletes in the more obscure sports like shot-put and bobsled.

I'm not exactly sure where this complete obsession with all things Olympics started. It might have been when I was in fifth grade in the Winter of 1994 and stayed up way past my bedtime to watch Nancy Kerrigan's silver medal performance at the Lillehammer Games. Or it might have been in the Summer of 2004 when our family vacation was cancelled due to hurricane, and we instead spent the two weeks at home, watching on our brand new HD TV as Michael Phelps swam to six gold medals in Athens. But whenever it was, at this point, I am well and truly hooked.

And while I love all Olympic games, the Summer Games are my bread and butter. So I am completely psyched for London.

So what does this have to do with shining a bright spot on my otherwise mundane Tuesday? Well, I discovered something recently. I discovered that a few weeks before the Olympics, there are  Olympic Trials to determine which hopefuls will represent Team USA come the end of July. I always knew, of course, that these Trials happened, but I never watched them. Until this year, that is. And let me just say, I have been missing out. Because watching Olympic Trials is nearly as exciting as watching the  Olympics themselves. I held my breath last night when Ryan Lochte beat Michael Phelps in the men's 400 IM final. And I celebrated with Elizabeth Beisel and Caitlin Leverenz as they made the  Olympic team in their own 400 IM final. It's like watching the  Olympics twice - once in June and once in July. A huge, extra-special bonus for those who know to watch. 

Well, this year, I'm in the know. As I type this, my DVR is recording six hours of swimming and track and field semifinals, and will record another hour of prime time swimming coverage tonight. And that's just for today. Obsessed? Perhaps. But I'm good with that.

If you, too, are looking for a lift to your Tuesday, I suggest you check out these videos from of the 30 greatest olympic moments. And then tune in tonight to find out who we will all be cheering for in July. I promise you, you won't be sorry.

Happy Tuesday!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Making Recommendations Part IV: Celebrate Miscellaneous Fun

Happy summer! Even though it has felt like summer in NYC for the better part of a week, yesterday's Summer Solstice, or "longest day" marked the first, official day of the season. There is something impossibly romantic about the longest day of the year. The day with the earliest sunrise, and latest sunset. A day full of sunshine, light, and possibilities. 

Something you might not know about me is that I like to have mini-celebrations on certain days throughout the year. I find that those celebrations inject a little something special into an otherwise ordinary routine. I inherited this practice from my mom, I think, who inherited it from her mom, my grandma. When I was growing up, every time there was a big snowstorm we made cookies and walked to the movie theater. When my dad would go away on business, we took special trips to the mall. A couple times every summer, we took very spontaneous evening trips to our local amusement park. My childhood was filled with these kinds of mini-celebrations, and I carried them into my adult life, and introduced them to my husband and the life we are building.

Still, when a big snowstorm hits I fire up my oven for cookies or various other snow day treats. We celebrate Friday mornings, instead of waiting until Friday night to get into weekend mode. We often turn Sunday nights into pizza nights instead of the more mundane anticipation of the 
impending work week. And yesterday, I celebrated the longest day with an early park run, ice cream, and a romance novel. 

And as I was reading my book, it 
occurred to me that it was a book I had yet to recommend to you. In fact, it was a book that did not even appear on the list of books I planned to recommend to you. And then my mind started sparking with other books I had not yet mentioned in my Thursday posts. I apologize faithful readers, for I have been remiss. Because there are many books - many delightful and amazing books - that I inadvertently left off my list because they don't exactly fit into any category. They are entities unto themselves.

So while today's post was supposed to introduce you to the most fantastical of romance novels, I had to change gears (don't worry, we will get to witches, wizards, time travel, ghosts and the like...stay tuned). And so, I am pleased to welcome you to Part IV of my Romance Novel Recommendation Series. Today, we are talking about books I like to call "miscellaneous." They don't really fit into any of my other highly subjective categories, but are no less brilliant and fun. Most of them stand alone, not really part of a series. But still, I implore you to give them a try.

All the books here are written by the delightful Susan Elizabeth Phillips - and I can attest to the delightful, as I actually met her in person at last summer's Romance Writers of America convention. Yes, I actually did attend part of this convention. More on that another time. 

So, grab a snack, choose one of these books, and make it a part of your own special day of celebration. I promise, you won't be sorry.


Hot Shot - Susan Elizabeth Phillips (1991)
In a single, impulsive act, Susannah Faulconer, the daughter of one of the country's most powerful industrialists, follows her heart and finds herself severed from her family and everything familiar. As a San Francisco socialite, she'd known exactly how to behave, but now she's a lone woman in a world of men, and there's no etiquette book in the world that can teach her how to survive. The men are rebels, determined to take on corporate America with daring and vision, and they aren't going to let her play by good girls' rules. There's Sam, the charismatic visionary, on a rocket-driven ride to glory. And Mitch, the troubled corporate genius with no time for a rich socialite, no matter how beautiful. Together, they will force Susannah into the biggest challenge of her life as she tests her courage - and her love - in a bold experiment that will change them all forever. Come share a glorious, heart-stopping love story, and meet the unforgettable woman called Hot Shot as she discovers a passion so rich, so tender, that she will be utterly and forever transformed.

Breathing Room - Susan Elizabeth Phillips (2003)
Dr. Isabel Favor, author of Four Cornerstones for a Favorable Life, has sacrificed everything to build her self-help empire. Then, in a matter of weeks, it all comes crashing down. She loses her money to an unscrupulous accountant, her fiancé to a frumpy older woman, and her reputation to headlines denouncing her as a fraud. America's diva of self-help soon discovers she can fix everyone's life but her own. Broke, heartsick, and soul-weary, she heads for Italy in search of a little breathing room. Lorenzo Gage makes his living killing people, on the silver screen, that is. He's viciously handsome and sublimely talented. But as he begins his vacation in Italy, he's also vaguely dissatisfied. Being a villain with a face to die for has its rewards, but he hates the feeling that everything he's neglected in life is catching up with him. Then he spots Isabel sipping a glass of wine in a sidewalk café. A good guy wouldn't think of seducing such a tidy-looking woman, but he'd never seen the fun in playing the hero. It doesn't take long for Isabel to realize she's escaped one kind of chaos only to be plunged into another. Even the shelter of a simple stone farmhouse nestled in a Tuscan olive grove can't provide her with the refuge she needs—not when the townspeople are scheming to drive her away, and her plan to restore her reputation has come up empty. And especially not when the man who deceived her refuses to leave her in peace.

Ain't She Sweet - Susan Elizabeth Phillips (2005)
Sugar Beth Carey's come back to Parrish, Mississippi, and she's brought her reputation for wreaking havoc with her. She's broke, desperate, and too proud to show it, even with her old enemies lining up for a chance to get even. Winnie Davis, her longtime rival, is fully armed with the money, power, and prestige that had once been Sugar Beth's. But worst of all is Colin Byrne, the man whose career Sugar Beth had destroyed, and not exactly accidentally. Now Colin's a famous novelist living in Sugar Beth's old mansion, and this modern day dark prince is using his writer's imagination to figure out how to bring the town's beautiful former princess to her knees. But despite her sassy mouth, feisty spirit, and hardheaded ways, Sugar Beth's no longer the spoiled rich girl they all remember. No, now she's a woman to be reckoned with, and a great big reckonin' is about to happen, not least of all for one dark prince who might - just might - be thinking about falling in love with the wickedest girl in town.

Glitter Baby* - Susan Elizabeth Phillips (reprint, 2008)
Fleur Savagar is the most beautiful woman in the world, to everyone but herself. With her oversized hands and paddle-boat feet, her streaky blond hair and funny green eyes, she lives a life filled with secrets that began before she was born. That was when her bewitching mother left home to find James Dean and met Errol Flynn instead. Now Fleur has to grow up quickly, and life won't make that easy. Jake Koranda is both New York's most brilliant playwright and Hollywood's hottest actor. Difficult, talented, and tormented, he has no patience for international glamour girls, not even ones with beautiful bodies and smart-aleck mouths. But there's more to the Glitter Baby than shine, and Fleur's tougher than Jake expects. Even with the odds stacked against her, she's fiercely determined to discover the woman she's destined to be.

Call me Irresistible* - Susan Elizabeth Phillips (2011)
Lucy Jorik's the daughter of a former U.S. President. Meg Koranda's the offspring of legends. One of them is about to marry Mr. Irresistible—Ted Beaudine—the favorite son of Wynette, Texas. The other is determined to save her friend from a mess of heartache. Meg knows breaking up her best friend's wedding is the right thing to do, but no one else agrees. Faster than Lucy can say “I don't,” Meg's the most hated woman in town, and stuck there with a dead car, an empty wallet, and a very angry bridegroom. Broke, stranded, without her famous parents watching her back, Meg believes she can survive by her own wits. After all, what's the worst that can happen? She'll lose her heart to Mr. Irresistible? Not likely. Not likely at all.

*These books can be read independently, but contain many characters that appear in other books by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. For purposes of completeness, those books (in order, including the books above) are:

Glitter Baby
First Lady
Natural Born Charmer
What I Did For Love
Call Me Irresistible
The Great Escape (released July 10, 2012)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Quotable Wednesdays

I'm starting a new tradition on this blog of mine...I have been reading lots of books lately, even more than usual. And in my literary travels, I have stumbled across many, many fun bits of humor, brilliance, encouragement, and inspiration. Starting today, pop by here every Wednesday for Quotable Wednesdays, where I share some of these delightful musings. Today's comes from a book I simply can not say enough good things about. I hope you enjoy these bite-sized thoughts. Seems like just the thing for a Wednesday doesn't it?

"We know from myths and fairy tales that there are many different kinds of powers in this world. One child is given a light saber, another a wizard's education. The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of available power, but to use well the kind you've been granted. Introverts are offered keys to private gardens full of riches. To possess such a key is to tumble like Alice down her rabbit hole. She didn't choose to go to Wonderland - but she made of it an adventure that was fresh and fantastic and very much her own."
       - Susan Cain
         Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Also...Don't forget to leave a comment on yesterday's post and let us know what is on your summer reading list. Leave your comment by Friday at 10am for a chance to win a copy of Birthright, one of my favorite Nora mysteries.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What are you reading? How do you like it? (and Happy Birthday Sister K!)

First order of business...Happy birthday Sister K! They tell me that when you made your debut twenty-seven years ago today, I was none too pleased to share my space with you. Lucky for us, that didn't last very long. How could it when, in the years the followed, you blazed the trail for me to follow, instead of the other way around? I got to dance at your wedding, and then you at mine. I watched as you chose a career you enjoy, moved to a brand new city that quickly became your own, made a house into a home, and gave us all a baby to lavish with our unique brand of attention and love. I am endlessly pleased and impossibly proud to be your big sister. Wishing you the happiest of happy days. Can't wait to celebrate in person. 10 days!

K's birthday always makes me feel like summer has officially begun. Maybe because when we were growing up her birthday parties were always held poolside. Maybe because the seemingly endless stream of graduations that overtakes Manhattan every spring has finally ceased. Maybe because the windows of my favorite stores are replete with the brightly-hued clothing that signals the season (maybe because I recently purchased various articles said clothing...neon yellow skirt anyone?). Or maybe because the five day forecast for NYC has temperatures soaring to the 90s. Whatever it is, there is no doubt about it; summer is here.

Since starting this blog a few months ago, I have spent a lot of time reading other people's blogs. There is a great big bloggy world out there, and it has been incredibly fun discovering it and "meeting" the creators of these brilliant cyber-spaces. One of the aforementioned brilliant cyber-spaces is Lindsey Mead's A Design So Vast. Lindsey is an amazing writer and thinker; head on over and check out her site if you have the chance.

Yesterday on her blog, Lindsey mentioned that summer seems synonymous with reading. And she is right. This is the season where we read by the pool, on the beach, at the park, and anywhere else where we can simultaneously soak up sunshine and stories. And even though I am a winter girl myself, I can't help but delight in the image of sitting outside in the summer sun, drink and book in hand. I plan to do quite a lot of that in the coming months.

So I have been preparing. Well, hoarding is more like it. I have been hoarding books to accompany me through the sizzling days of summer. And although my summer queue contains a pretty eclectic assortment of genres, in my opinion, there is no better summer companion than a romance novel. Because summer is one romantic season. Five years ago I had a summer romance. We strolled through our city, hand in hand, taking advantage of sunny days, and balmy nights. And that summer romance turned into a forever romance. You may recall that I even made it my mission one summer to amass Nora Roberts' entire collection to date, and succeeded. The fruits of that summer's labor are currently displayed, in all their glory, on (all of) the bookshelves in my apartment. When summer comes, romance abounds.

Also on her blog yesterday, Lindsey told us all what is on her summer reading list, and asked for others to post theirs as well. And some of the suggestions were brilliant, and made my already tall stack of summer reading even taller. So in a nod to her superbly delightful and interesting blog post yesterday, I decided to do some crowd sourcing of my own.

I have spent some time over the past few weeks making romance novel recommendations from my vast library. Don't worry, there are more to come. But today, I am interested in hearing what you are reading. Many readers of this blog are my romance-loving soul sisters, so I'd love to hear what romances are on your plate for the summer. If romance doesn't strike your fancy, I would love to hear what else you plan to read as the weather turns hot. To get you started, I'll tell you that number one on my list is Susan Elizabeth Phillip's long awaited The Great Escape, that hits bookstores in a few weeks.

Now jump to the comments, and lets share some book ideas. As an added bonus, because I'm serious about sharing books, leave your comment by Friday at 10am for the chance to win Birthrightone of my favorite Nora mysteries.

Happy summer reading!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day

Four tries to go ten yards. Vacation means beach.

Drink beer. Grill.

A hat needs a perfect brim. Run.

Humor. Laughter. 



All of the (other) best things, we learned from you.

Happy Father's Day.

We love you.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Making Recommendations Part III: Want Some Mystery With Your Romance?

You may be surprised to learn that there is another genre of book that I read pretty regularly. Yes, romance novels are and always will be my nearest and dearest, but the little secret that I have so far kept from the pages of this blog is that I love a good mystery. I read mysteries long before romance novels entered my radar screen, and my love for them stayed with me, even as romance novels replaced them at the top of my most favored genre list.

Post-9/11 CIA terrorist-hunting spy novels are my favorite, but I don't discriminate much when it comes to mysteries. I simply love a good thriller. One that I can't put down; that keeps me up on a weeknight, reading into the wee hours of the morning. I just finished one lat night, actually. And even as I raced towards the ending at 2:30am, not able to stop until I reached the very last page, I wished it would go on forever. It was that good. [Aside - Though I generally don't make non-romance recommendations here, I cant help but make this one. The book I just finished is called Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. If you like a good thriller where nothing is as you think it is, you'll love this one. Read it. You won't be sorry. End of aside]. So while my love for romance novels knows no bounds, I'm also sometimes in the mood for a little mystery.

So, imagine my delight when, while scouring used bookstores to amass my Nora Roberts collection during that one summer, I discovered that Nora writes thrillers. Good ones. Stories with vivid characters, beautiful scenery, and stunningly complex mysteries. And the very best part? Each of her mysteries comes complete with an impossibly beautiful romance, and her trademark happy ending. Color me amazed.

And as with the rest of her books, there really is something for everyone. Want to learn about wine making? There is a Nora mystery for that. Interested in the structure of the Russian Mob? There is a Nora mystery for that. Love 1960's British Invasion music? There is a Nora mystery for that. Archaeology and Anthropopogy tickle your fancy? There is a Nora mystery for that.Want to travel to Alaska, the Ozarks, The Northwest Woods, or the Louisiana Bayou? There is a Nora mystery for that. People sometimes tell me that I know a lot of esoteric information. Well, I do. And I learned most of it from reading Nora's mysteries.

It probably won't surprise you to learn that, at this point, I have read each and every mystery that Nora has written during her lengthy and illustrious career. So I can say with absolute certainty that if you like mysteries, Nora has written something that will appeal to you. You men out there think that this doesn't apply to you? Fear not. My lovely and amazing dad has enjoyed a Nora mystery a time or two. You will too.

Unlike her other books. Nora only writes one mystery a year, which I invariably buy the day it comes out, and devour within a week. I have already read her 2012 book, so as I anxiously await word on next year's release, I offer recommendations for some of my favorite Nora mysteries to you. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather just a sampling of my favorites. If you find yourself hungry for more titles, don't hesitate to contact me. I am always up for emailing a recommendation or two. I hope you enjoy.


Public Secrets (1998)
Emma remembers clearly the day her father, Brian McAvoy, swept into her life.  She was young, but she understood that with Brian, his bandmates, and his new wife, she felt safe.  And when her baby brother arrived, Emma thought she was the luckiest girl in the world...until the night a kidnapping attempt shattered all their lives. Yet now, even though Emma is still haunted by flashes of memory from that fateful night, she has survived.  She has a career she is passionate about, and has fallen desperately in love.  But the man who will become her husband isn't all that he seems.  And Emma is about to awaken to the chilling knowledge that the darkest secret of all is the one buried in her mind; a secret that someone may kill to keep.

The Villa (2002)
For three generations, the Giambelli wines have been renowned for their quality. The pride of the Giambelli family and a top PR executive, Sophia loves her job, and excels at it. But things are about to change at Villa Giambelli. Tereza, the matriarch, has announced a merger with the MacMillan family's winery, and Sophia will be assuming a new role, working alongside Tyler MacMillan. Sophia must teach Ty the finer points of marketing, and Ty, in turn, shows her how to get down and dirty, to use the sun, rain, and earth to coax the sweetest grapes from the vineyard. As they toil together, both in and out of the fields, Sophia is torn between a powerful attraction and a professional rivalry. At the end of the season, the course of the company's future, and the legacy of the villa, may take an entirely new direction. And when acts of sabotage threaten both the family business and the family itself, Sophia's quest will be not only for dominance, but also for survival.

Birthright (2004)
When five-thousand-year-old human bones are found at a construction site in the small town of Woodsboro, the news draws archaeologist Callie Dunbrook out of her sabbatical and into a whirlwind of adventure, danger, and romance. While overseeing the dig, she must try to make sense of a cloud of death and misfortune that hangs over the project-fueling rumors that the site is cursed. And she must cope with the presence of her irritating - but irresistible - ex-husband, Jake. Furthermore, when a stranger claims to know a secret about her privileged Boston childhood, she is forced to question her own past as well.

Northern Lights (2004)
As a Baltimore cop,  Nate Burke watched his partner die on the street-and the guilt still haunts him. With nowhere else to go, he accepts the job as Chief of Police in this tiny, remote Alaskan town. Aside from sorting out a run-in between a couple of motor vehicles and a moose, he finds his first weeks on the job are relatively quiet. But just as he wonders whether this has been all a big mistake, an unexpected kiss with the stunning and mysterious Meg Galloway on New Year's Eve under the brilliant Northern Lights of the Alaska sky lifts his spirit and convinces him to stay just a little longer. Suddenly, things in Lunacy start to heat up. Years ago, on one of the majestic mountains shadowing the town, a crime occurred that is unsolved to this day, and Nate suspects that a killer still walks the snowy streets. His investigation will unearth the secrets and suspicions that lurk beneath the placid surface, as well as bring out the big-city survival instincts that made him a cop in the first place. And his discovery will threaten the new life-and the new love-that he has finally found for himself.

Tribute (2008)
Cilla, a former child star who has found more satisfying work as a restorer of old houses, has come to her grandmother’s farmhouse in Virginia to rescue it from ruin. Sadly, no one was able to save her grandmother, the legendary Janet Hardy. An actress with a tumultuous life, Janet entertained glamorous guests and engaged in decadent affairs, but died of an overdose in this very house more than thirty years earlier. To this day, Janet haunts Cilla’s dreams. By coming east, rolling up her sleeves, and rehabbing this wreck of a house, Cilla intends to find some kind of normalcy for herself. Busy with the house, she’s almost too busy to notice her neighbor, graphic novelist Ford Sawyer, but his lanky form, green eyes, easy, unflappable humor, and ugly dog, Spock are hard to ignore. Cilla steels herself against Ford’s quirky charm, but she can’t help indulging in a little fantasy. But love and a peaceful life may not be in the cards for Cilla. In the attic, she has found a cache of unsigned letters suggesting that Janet Hardy was pregnant when she died, and that the father was a local married man. Cilla can’t help but wonder what really happened all those years ago. The mystery only deepens with a series of intimidating acts and a frightening, violent assault. And if Cilla and Ford are unable to sort out who is targeting her and why, she may, like her world-famous grandmother, be cut down in the prime of her life.

The Search (2010)
Several years ago, Fiona was the only survivor of the Red Scarf serial killer, who shot and killed Fiona's cop fiancé and his K-9 partner. On Orcas Island, Fiona found the peace and solitude she needed to rebuild her life. But all that changes on the day Simon Doyle barrels up her drive, desperate for her help. He's the reluctant owner of an out-of-control puppy, foisted upon him by his mother. Jaws has eaten through Simon's house, and he's at his wit's end. To Fiona, Jaws is nothing she can't handle. Simon, however, is another matter. A newcomer to Orcas, he's a rugged and intensely private artist, known for the exquisite furniture he creates from wood. Simon never wanted a puppy-and he most definitely doesn't want a woman. Besides, the lanky redhead is not his type. But love is a mysterious creature. As Fiona embarks on training Jaws, and Simon begins to appreciate both dog and trainer, the past tears back into Fiona's life. A copycat killer has emerged out of the shadows, a man whose bloodlust has been channeled by a master with one motive: to reclaim the woman who got away all those years ago.

The Witness (2012)
Studious, obedient Elizabeth finally let loose one night, drinking too much at a nightclub and allowing a strange man’s seductive Russian accent to lure her to a house on Lake Shore Drive. The events that followed changed her life forever. Twelve years later, the woman now known as Abigail Lowery lives alone on the outskirts of a small town in the Ozarks. A freelance programmer, she works at home designing sophisticated security systems. Her own security is supplemented by a fierce dog and an assortment of firearms. She keeps to herself, saying little, revealing nothing. Unfortunately, that seems to be the quickest way to get attention in a tiny southern town. The mystery of Abigail Lowery intrigues local police chief Brooks Gleason, on both a personal and a professional level. Her sharp, logical mind, her secretive nature, her unromantic viewpoints leave him fascinated but frustrated. He suspects that Abigail needs protection from something, even if he doesn’t know what, and that her elaborate defenses hide a story that must be revealed. Accustomed to two-bit troublemakers, the sheriff is about to walk into the sights of very powerful and dangerous men. And Abigail Lowery, who has built a life based on security and self-control, is at risk of losing both.

River's End (2000)
Olivia’s parents were among Hollywood’s golden couples, until the night a monster came and took her mother away forever. A monster with the face of her father. Sheltered from the truth, an older Olivia only dimly recalls her night of terror, but her recurring nightmares make her realize she must piece together the real story. Assisted by Noah Brady, the son of the police detective who found her cowering in her closet so many years before, she may have her chance. Noah wants to reconstruct the night that has become an infamous part of Hollywood history. He also wants to help Olivia and heal the longing in her lonely heart. But once the door to her past is opened, there’s no telling what’s waiting on the other side. For somewhere, not too far away, the monster walks again.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Making Recommendations Part II: My Favorite Families

I am thrilled and amazed at the responses from my very first public romance novel recommendations. I have received countless emails, texts, and calls over the past few days from friends and family alike, who are reading romance novels, and loving romance novels. To know that the people I love and care about are reading the books I love and care about warms my heart.

It is coming upon that time of year for beach vacations, weekends spent poolside, and sundry other outdoor activities. And what outdoor activity would be complete without a romance novel in-hand? So to keep you company during the sizzling days and sultry nights of summer, I offer the second part of my recommendation series. I hope you find something here that strikes your fancy.

Some of my most favorite romance novels are the series that explore family. Nora Roberts is particularly adept at writing these books. She tells stories that span generations, and feature the same characters weaving in and out of each others lives over multiple books. With each book, I feel like I am paying a visit to old friends, checking in to see where their lives have taken them since we last met.

Over the years, I have come to think of some of Nora's families as my own. Together we have experienced love and heartache, joy and sorrow, and unbelievable fun, all the while striving for our happy endings. 

I mentioned In my last post that there are some books that will fall into multiple categories. The Templeton series and the Quinn series are just such books. While I think they are among the best books with which to begin an exploration of romance novels, I also simply adore those families. I hope you do too. Here are some more of my most favorite families. I encourage you to dive into these books and get to know them as well as I do. I promise you won't be disappointed.

The Stanislaskis - Nora Roberts
The Stanislaskis hold a special place in my heart. It was with this series that I began my life-long love affair with romance novels and the people who write them. Every time I open one of the books in this series, I am transported back to those high school days, and all these years later, I can still pass some happy hours with this wild and crazy Ukrainian bunch.

Yuri and Nadia Stanislaski fled across mountains on foot with their three children to escape Ukraine. They settled in Brooklyn, NY where they had their fourth child, and raised a family filled with love and devotion. One by one, the Stanislaski children and grandchildren find their passions and their mates, and raise families of their own.

The Books

Taming Natasha (1991)
Luring a Lady (1992)
Falling for Rachel (1993)
Convincing Alex (1994)
Waiting for Nick (1997)
Considering Kate (2001)
Reflections (1983)*
Dance of Dreams (1983)*

*These last two books are not exactly part of the Stanislaski series, but they contain some of the same characters.

The MacGregors - Nora Roberts
The MacGregor series is Nora Roberts' most beloved and extensive family saga. Millionaire Daniel MacGregor, a boisterous Scottsman, is patriarch of this extensive and extended family. Daniel spends his time wheeling and dealing, and playing matchmaker for his children and grandchildren.

The Books - There are 2 ways to read these books; in the order they were published, or in timeline chronology, depending on your preference. I have listed both ways, for your reading pleasure.

Order of Publication

Playing the Odds (1985)
Tempting Fate (1985)
All the Possibilities (1985)
One Man's Art (1985)
For Now, Forever (1987)
Rebellion (1988)
In From the Cold (1990)
The MacGregor Brides (1997)
The Winning Hand (1998)
The MacGregor Grooms (1998)
The Perfect Neighbor (1999)

Timeline Chronology

In From the Cold
For Now, Forever
Playing the Odds
Tempting Fate
All the Possibilities
One Man's Art
The MacGregor Brides
The MacGregor Grooms
The Perfect Neighbor
The Winning Hand

*NOTE: Some of these books are now published in anthologies:

The MacGregors: Serena & Caine (Playing The Odds; Tempting Fate)
The MacGregors: Alan & Grant (Tempting Fate; All The Possibilities)
The MacGregors: Daniel & Ian (For Now, Forever; In From The Cold)
The MacGregors: Robert & Cybil (The Winning Hand; The Perfect Neighbor)

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Most Talked About Book in America

I finally did it. I read Fifty Shades of Grey. For the past few months, all I have been hearing about, and reading about, in the world of romance is this book. It has been written about, and dissected, in the New York Times, The Huffington Post, and other such mainstream publications that generally ignore the entire romance genre. So I was curious.

"Everyone is reading it," they say. "It is good for women," shouted some publications. "It is bad for women," shouted others. But regardless of which is true, this is one popular book. Perhaps the most popular book out there. And when the most popular book in America is a romance, I feel it is my duty to read it. So I got the book and prepared to love it over Memorial Day weekend.

But I didn't love it. Not even close. But I really wanted to write about it; to explore what, exactly it is about this book that has some women speaking in hushed, reverent tones, and others yelling "" from the rooftops. So I soldiered on. I almost put the book down a dozen times, but always picked it back up again due to the aforementioned hushed and reverent tones. I thought maybe it would get better in the end. It didn't. Or I thought maybe I would come to like it after I finished it and thought about it for awhile. I wouldn't.

A brief word about plot. Ana Steele is a college senior who, at the last minute, due to a sick roommate, lands an interview with Christian Grey, a gorgeous, wealthy CEO and major donor to the university. Christian does not generally grant interviews, and certainly not to college students. You can probably see where this is all headed. Christian is instantly taken with Ana, and she with him. He warns her away from him, but she fails to heed his advice. They begin a relationship marked by his control issues both inside and outside the bedroom, and her incessantly irritating inner monologues.

Toss in bad writing, dialogue that is hardly believable, and a first person narrative that sounds like a teenage girl's diary, and you end up with what was, in my mind, a colossal mess. Not exactly the stuff of my romance novel loving dreams.

My biggest problem with this book, I think, was Ana. I found her timid, frustrating, and self-centered. I thought I might scream if she chewed her lip or mentioned her "inner goddess" one more time, and she drove me endlessly crazy with her "I want're crazy...stay away from, I need you" diatribes. I kept waiting for her to wise up and walk away. Her monologues contained a lot of "oh my," and "he is so masculine." Ugh.

In the romance novels I love, the women are strong. They say what they mean, mean what they say, and take charge of their own happiness. So I had trouble conjuring up the requisite sympathy for this young girl who willingly submitted to the twisted fantasies of an overbearing man, and put her own sense of self aside to cater to his domineering whims. Anna Spinnelli and Phoebe Sommerville would eat this girl for lunch. Just saying.

And what of the leading man? I'm sure some readers truly felt for this broken soul; the man who suffered so as a child. Not this reader. Mostly, he just annoyed me. As he is written, Christian Grey is perfect in every way. CEO, gifted pianist, pilot, gorgeous, wealthy. Perfect, except for those tiny issues. The ones where he requires women to submit to him completely. The ones that lead him to offer those women a contract dictating what she can eat, say and wear; how much she is required to sleep and exercise; and, oh yeah, the S&M she will be engaging in. With him. Whenever he wants. Maybe I'm alone here, but to me, control issues are decidedly not sexy.

I just didn't like it. Fine.

But you might like it. And that's ok.

What is confusing for me about Fifty Shades of Grey, is how everyone seems to have an opinion. The mommy blogs are waxing philosophic about this book, as if it is a magic pill to save women, restore good sex, and resuscitate marriage. The right wing is screaming about it, and banning it from libraries as if the cover itself has the power to destroy family values and traditional marriage.

I don't think it's either of those things. I think it just is. It's ok for some women to like it. It's ok for others not to. I think, when we start having conversations about things that are "good" or "bad" for women, or books that "everyone should read" or "no one should read" we are treading into dangerous territory. We're women. There are some things we like. There are other things we don't. There's no rhyme or reason to it. And there shouldn't be.

So, if Fifty Shades is your speed, I say curl up and read on. It wasn't mine. Reasonable minds may differ. When it comes to romance novels, there really is something for everyone, and that, to me, is simply amazing.