Saturday, December 5, 2009

Is it just me?

I've been reading again. SLOOOOOOOOOOWLY. A few books have clicked, a few have not.

Covet by J.R. Ward
It had so many elements I like. At first I thought it would suck me in the way the BDB did in the beginning. I love the concept: fallen angels, good vs evil, saving seven souls, true love. The book held up, right up until the end. I don't know. I guess I felt like there was so much build up, the resolution was sort of anticlimactic. I wanted more.

Now I am reading Written on Your Skin by Meredith Duran. I have absolutely loved her previous novels. This one... not so much. The writing is good. The story is interesting. I just can't connect to the characters. There is so much deception that you almost can't tell who they truly are. I don't understand the characters, so I can't connect to them. When I can't connect to the characters I have a hard time stying with the book. I know I need to power through. If her track record holds strong, I will end up loving it. Right now, though, I'm just not feeling it.

Back to crocheting, I guess. (Gotta get these Christmas gift finished!!!)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Meredith Duran: Slump Buster!

My friends, I think the Slum of '09 may have met it's match: the fabulous Ms Meredith Duran.  Yesterday I was consumed by Bound By Your Touch. Nearly every page was read in one day. It was phenomenal!

WARNING, there are a few spoilerish comments below!

Ttitle:  Bound By Your Touch
Author: Meredith Duran

Silver-tongued Viscount Sanburne is London's favorite scapegrace. Alas, Lydia Boyce has no interest in being charmed. When his latest escapade exposes a plot to ruin her family, she vows to handle it herself, as she always has done. Certainly she requires no help from a too-handsome dilettante whose main achievement is being scandalous. But Sanburne's golden charisma masks a sharper mind and darker history than she realizes. He shocks Lydia by breaking past her prim facade to the woman beneath...and the hidden fire no man has ever recognized. But as she follows him into a world of intrigue, she will learn that the greatest danger lies within -- in the shadowy, secret motives of his heart.

What I loved:  Lydia.  She was strong and independent, the eldest daughter in the family and known spinster.  She was not a shrinking violet.  She was not terribly naive. Inexperienced, yes, but she understood much of the world. This was a strong, intelligent heroine.  And yet she was still taken advantage of.  I liked this.  It was realistic.  It showed how a person could be blind to circumstances of the actions of others because of their personal feelings.  Lydia was not TSTL.  She wasn't idealistic.  She came across as being rather realistic.  I also loved James.  How could I not love this hero?  He was flawed, nearly fatally so.  I spent a good portion of the book not liking him.  He was selfish, rude, inconsiderate... but then his motivations and internal struggles began to be revealed.  When he walked away from her, the decision was not made with the declaration that he was doing it for her own good.  No, it was very clear he was walking away for himself. Self-preservation.  And I was in complete sympathy with him. 

I found the story line with James sister, Stella, to be interesting.  I found Stella's decision to be rather profound and forward thinking. I like that James was not suddenly OK with it.  He still struggled, but found a bit of peace. This, too, was realistic.  No one waved a magic wand and made everyone happy and whole.

Thing I hated: Lydia's sister Sophie. Oh, that was the point, wasn't it? Yeah, that's all I've got for this category. No hating going on here!

Recommend?  Absolutely, yes!  This was Ms Duran's second book.  Duke of Shadows was one of the best historicals I have ever read.  Dark, intense, full of pain and angst.  Bound By Your Touch is less so, yet by no means a light and fluffy read. Does it join the ranks of the best?  Not sure yet, but it is certainly a keeper!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Filling the time

Sometimes when you are in a slump the best thing to do is to step away from the TBR pile. It can be daunting standing there staring at so many books that you know would be wonderful were you not thus afflicted. The guilt and anxiety start to set in. You want to reassure the TBR pile that you love it, but are just not in the mood. No matter what you say, feeling are hurt. You need to take a step back, take some time for yourself. You and your TBR need to be on a break.

So what do you do during this time of personal reflection? Clean the house? Balance your checkbook? Organize all those recipes you have cut out of magazines only to shove in between the cookbooks on the shelf? Heck no! Why waste perfectly good reflection time on productive tasks?

Right now I am spending that time on my crafty endeavors. I console myself with the thought that crocheting is an activity that I could not do while reading, therefore the time spent with hook and yarn is not time which could have involved a book. Ok, ok, I could be listening to an audio book, but that would require going to the library where shelves and shelves of books would taunt me. Oh yeah, and there is that issue of a large (LARGE) overdue fine I have not yet paid.

Instead I am having fun with yarn. I'm even getting a jump start on Christmas gifts. ::ducks as people start throwing things:: I have been working on one sooper secrit project. It's a gift. It was actually off-handedly requested. ("You know, you could make me something. With hands! That has thumbs!" He wants to use it in his classroom.) He probably doesn't remember saying that, but I do. There are times when a long distance relationship has it's advantages: it is much easier to make someone gifts when they are not around to see them. I finished it today. Wanna see? I can't post it anywhere else (Facebook) or he will see it. It must remain a SOOPER SECRIT! Here she is!

So what do you do to fill the time when you step away from the TBR pile?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Slump Slump LUCKY CHARM Slump

I actually finished a book! This is big news, my friends. I have not been able to do this very often over the past three months. I think it was pretty good. I mean, I actually finished it amidst the Slump of '09. That means it was probably quite good.

Lucky Charm by Carly Philips

All of the Corwin men are cursed when it comes to love. No, no, not unlucky... cursed. Literally. Generations before a Corwin ancestor stole away the intended bride of one of the Perkins men. Mary Perkins was having none of that. And Mary Perkins was a witch (this was during the days of the Salem witch trials, you know.) She cursed the Corwin family, that no man shall be successful in their personal or professional life if they fall in love.

Flash forward to present day and you meet current Corwin man, Derek. He loved his high school sweetheart, deeply. But knowing about the curse, he walked away from her. Years (a marriage, child, divorce and major financial setback) later, Derek is living back home, and Gabrielle has returned. This time she is determined to prove to Derek that there is no such thing as a curse (that is actually her job, you know, debunking myths.) Add in eccentric relatives, best friends, a local political campaign battle, and some mysterious shenanigans and you get a fun read.

If you are looking for sweet, a little hot, often amusing, and slightly mysterious (although I have to admit I figured it out before the reveal), then I recommend picking this book up. If you like it, there are two more books to follow.

Now if only I had the drive to pick up another book. Gah! Slumping along. Slump slump slump.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Back to School

Today was the first day of school. All my students returned, full of energy, more or less ready for a new school year. They met their new teachers and received their new books. Packets went home. Inside these packets was a reading list for the year. I got a peek at this list today. Oh, the memories! My advanced 8th graders are reading two of my all-time favorite school reads.

The story, the characters, they live in my memory as vividly as the students I shared a classroom with, perhaps even stronger. These books fed my love of reading, introducing me to a style of writing with more depth and meaning than what I had previously read. I thank Ms. Bradbury for that all the time. She was, without a doubt, one of the best teachers I have ever had.

So with the school year off to a fresh start, I ask you this: What books live in your memory as integral parts of your childhood and education?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Slump Watch 2009: Slump Busters

The Slump of 2009 is still going strong.  Good books are languishing on the pile.  Nothing is tempting the reading palette.  Good writing (objectively I can tell it is good) just ain't cutting it for me.  This slump is strong and holding fast.
What's a girl to do?  I've tried switching genres.  I picked up a well loved, oft re-read keeper.  Tried re-reading a fave from my youth.  Nothing is luring me to pick up and read.  I even have the newest Patricia Briggs and I can't get up the gumption to read!  (Of course, there is the fear that The Slump will leach even her books of their crack addled glory.)
I know I am not alone.  Others have been in my shoes. When you were here, in this desolate place of reading ennui, what jolted you out of it?  What book or activity busted that slump?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The School Year Beckons

Today I am bidding a fond farewell to summer. Chicago has been experiencing unseasonably cool weather, but more to the point, I report back to school tomorrow. The halcyon day of summer are coming to an end. Days of doing nothing but what I want to do: catching up on TV shows, rewatching favorite movies, crocheting and crafting like a mad woman, and staring at the TBR pile... that offers little inspiration.

After returning from New York at the end of July I hit the all-time, worst ever reading slump. This was a relentless creature. It still has it's claws in me. I can't tell you how many DNF books I have floating around my apartment right now. I know they can't all be bad books. It has to be me. I tried historicals. I tried paranormals. I even tried rereading an old favorite. I want to read, but I just can't bring myself to lift another book only to be disappointed. Ugh!!! Needless to say, this malaise has put the brakes on my posts here.

There have been a few gems among the paste. Here are the rare, the few, the books I have enjoyed since the end of June:

Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran- I FINALLY read it, and it was wonderful. So rich and layered. The only other historical romance that I could compare it to is The Spymaster's Lady. The time period and the political situation are not simply the back drop in this book, they are almost another character.

A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole- This was my first try at her writing. I did not want to like the hero, Lachlain. In the beginning he had all of the negative traits of an Alpha hero, and none of the good. He was downright mean to Emma. In the end I quite enjoyed the story. I liked the mythology and the inclusion of Valkyries. I have the next book in the series buried in my extra bedroom. I need to dig it out.

7 Day and 7 Nights by Wendy Wax- I had read this one before and still loved it now. It is a contemp with one of my favorite tropes: reunited lovers, although this couple does nothing but butt heads. I definitely recommend you guys dig this one up.

Anything by Nalini Singh. I finished off the rest of her booklist. I heart her. I can't wait for the next book.

Currently, I am reading Lucky Charm by Carly Philips. It is cute so far, but hasn't grabbed me yet. I have the newest Patricia Briggs waiting for me. Yay, Charles and Anna!!! Mostly, though, I have been having fun crocheting. I opened a "store" on ETSY. Go check it out, let me know what you think. My newest obsession is amigurimi. I had seen these little cuties before, but thought they would be too difficult. Not so! It just requires counting. You can't zone out while making them. I have plans to make some for my friends (Christmas gifts? Heck yeah!)
I may even need to make a girlfriend for Mho Pho. What do you think, Katie?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mmmm. Hello, lovely.

What do you think, ladies? Could he be one of Larissa Ione's men? Perhaps Eidolon pre- s'genisis?

Just thought I would leave you with this image to enjoy before heading off to bed or work.  :)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Gorging myself

Oh... wow. I just gorged myself on Nalini Singh. Seriously. I devoured her entire backlist. Damn those cats are sexy! I can't even get my thought is order to type up a review of any one specific book. Instead, I give you random thoughts about the sries:

- Her heroes are tough, loyal men dedicated to their pack. They are flawed, but not fatally so.

- The heroines are equally strong. These are no shrinking violets, but neither are they ball busters.

- Engaging political atmosphere. Ms. Singh has developed a complex world with all it's troubles and strife.

- Family is at the heart of everything. I love this. These are men who are driven by their connection to and need for family.

- Alpha with a capital A. Somehow, though, they are not jackasses.

- The characters from previous books don't fade away at the conclusion of their book. They play integral roles in subsequent novels.

- The women stand equally among the men. They don't lose their strength once the hero claims them for their own. These women are defined by their own personality and talents, not by the men they are mated to.

I could go on, but I shall leave it at that. Ms. Singh, you are now officially on my list. Auto buy, baby, auto buy!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

My inner geek rejoices

I will admit it. I have seen the new Star Treck movie twice already. I want to see it again. I have turned into a complete and utter fangirl. Squeee!!!

I have seen a good number of episodes from the original series, a handful of eps from Voyager (ugh) and Enterprise (way better than most people gave it credit for!) My most favorite of all the incarnations, though, has always been Next Generation. I have disticnt memories from childhood. Me and Dad had our TV night: Next Generation and Quantum Leap. What a perfect pairing! Networks just don't plan that way any more.

My love of Next Generation probably explains my glee at receiving this result:

Your results:
You are Deanna Troi

Deanna Troi
Beverly Crusher
James T. Kirk (Captain)
Geordi LaForge
Will Riker
Mr. Scott
Jean-Luc Picard
An Expendable Character (Redshirt)
Leonard McCoy (Bones)
Mr. Sulu
You are a caring and loving individual.
You understand people's emotions and
you are able to comfort and counsel them.

Click here to take the Star Trek Personality Quiz

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Pet peeves, what are yours?

My lovely ginger friend, Jen, recently posted about incorrectly used Spanish language phrases. Let's just say they really bother her. This got me thinking. What bugs me when I read? Well, most of my big pet peeves are not ones that you would find in a published novel (not unless the author was allowed to write unchecked by an editor.) Which words and phrases get under my skin and make me cringe?

"should of" - Just because we are lazy here in America and butcher the pronunciation does not mean the word "have" has suddenly morphed into "of."

"orientated" - It's oriented. Just... ugh.

What about you? Which words, phrases, or misspellings make you want to pull out your hair?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Refractory period

No no, I'm not talking about the one a man needs after he has been... intimate.  I am talking about a literary one.

Sometimes when I finish reading a book I am energized, ready to jump into the next book.  This is especially the case if it is part of a series or a new-to-me author.  This past weekend I read Angel's Blood by Nalini Singh.  So fabulous!  I immediately pulled Slave to Sensation out of my TBR pile.  I've got about a third of the book left.  I'm loving her heroes and the worlds she has built.  I know I will be picking up the next book in the Psy-changeling series as soon as I finish.  No down time. No recovery period.  No refractory period.

Other times I finish a book and need a break.  It could be because I have glutted myself on a particular genre.  I could be completely stressed by RL stuff.  Perhaps I read an author's entire backlist and just need to reset the brain.  Occasionally, I read a book that is so good, so complex, that I need time to process it.  I need a few days to savor the story, characters, and imagery.  Unfortunately, there are the times when you read a book so bad that you just can't bring yourself to pick up another book. (Usually, though, a good book will cleanse away the foul taste of bad writing.)

Recovery time.  A literary refractory period.  Do you have one? When do you need a break?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Tropes, why they work... or don't

In every genre there are those plot devices or character achetypes that always seem to aboud.  These tropes can shape the genre or shape the stereotypes that non-readers hold about the genre. This can be good and bad.  Obvisouly, if the trope weren't successful it would not continue to pop up over and over again. 

For us romance readers, these recurring elements (Alpha heroes, mistaken identity, fake engagements, plucky virgin heroines) are often what keep us reading.  Who doesn't love to read about a brooding Alpha hero with a mysterious secret who is unable to control the strong emotions he feels for the fiesty "on the shelf" (28 y/o) spinster?  We love it, but we know the genre chock full of tropes.  Secret baby? Character with fatal illness that can be cured by the supernatural love interest? Unrequited love? Friends to lovers?  Enemies to lovers? 

Good authors know how to take these standard elements and present them in a fresh way, or can twist them about, turning it on it's head.  They give us the tropes with a twist.  These are the authors who make us excited to read more.  It is unfortunate, though, that for every author who does this, there are coutless other who continue down the same old worn paths.  The rut in the road made by all the previous authors must be pretty damn deep.

Recently I read a fantasy novel from a series where the whole point is to twist around the expected tropes.  While the writing was average, the story kept me going.  (The same way amazing writing can keep you reading an overdone plotline.) Mercedes Lackey has created the 700 Kingdoms, where The Tradition helps shape the ways of it's people.  There are those people who will fulfill the Cinderella tradition, there are the siblings lost in the woods tradition, good benvolent ruler and evil advisor traditions.  The Tradition pushes people along their destined path.  However, Ms. Lackey's characters defy tradition or turn it upside down.  The Cinderella characters's prince is a toddler? No problem, she becomes a Fairy Godmother.  In One Good Knight, she combines numerous fairy tale traditions, dicing and slipcing them as she went along, to create an interesting storyline.  The adventure and how the characters overcame the obstacles set in their way by enemies and The Tradition kept me turing pages.  While there was a bit of a romance, it is important to romance readers to remember this is a Fantasy novel.  The romance player 3rd or 4th fiddle to everything else.  As I said, not the best writing I have read by the author, but a fun twist on those tropes we all know so well.
What books or authors have taken the expected and turned them into the unexpected?  Who has managed to write a story using a tired plot line, but through spectacular writing turned it into a page turner?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

YA and Children's reading lists... long overdue

Not having Internet access at home really sucks!!! ARRRGHHHH!!!

Now that I got that off my chest, I present to you my completely incomplete list of books for children and young adults.  I know I am leaving a ton of great books off the lists.  I know there are hundreds of wonderful stroies I have yet to read.  So far, this is what I've got:

Young Adult Books Shannon Says You Should Read

A Separate Peace (John Knowles)
To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
The Lord of the Flies (William Golding)
The Westing Game (Ellen Raskin)
Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ray Bradbury)
Wild Magic (Tamora Pierce)
Beauty (Robin McKinley)
His Dark Materials Trilogy (Philip Pullman)
The Abhorsen Trilogy (Garth Nix)
Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret? (Blume)
My Side of the Mountain (George)

Children's Books Everyone Should Have on Their Shelves (IMHO)

The Witches (Dahl)
Matilda (Dahl)
The Harry Potter series (Rowling)
Charlotte's Web (E.B. White)
Island of the Blue Dolphins (O'Dell)
The Cay (Taylor)
Artemis Fowl (Colfer)
The Bridge to Terabithia (Paterson)
The Little Princess (Burnett)
Bunicula (Howe)
Because of Winn Dixie (DiCamillo)
Ella Enchanted (Levine)

So what am I missing?  What needs to be added?  Which books did you love as a kid, or love for your kids?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Trying something new

Real life strikes again. Real life in the form of Internet crapping out at home (for two weeks!), grades, parent-teacher conferences, and (for the first time in nine years) a college class. Yes, that’s right. I am not only a teacher, I am now a student.

This past week I attended the first class for the course “Teaching Young Adult Literature.” How cool is that? A class to learn how to teach a genre of literature that I love. I was very excited when I first signed up for the class. I am a little leery after meeting the professor. She seems rather... rigid. And painfully perky. A strange combination, to be sure. I am keeping an open mind, though.

A couple nights ago I started reading the one and only text book for the class. I was not looking forward to this. All of my worst college memories center around trying to slog through poorly written, dry, boring academic writing. I decided to set myself a realistic goal: one chapter (38 pages.) Well, color me startled, I found it rather interesting. The book covers the definition of “young adult” and “young adult literature”, and tracks the history of the genre up through the mid-90's. The first chapter covered the genre definition and the “birth” of Young Adult literature (pre-1960.) Tomorrow I will read at least one chapter, perhaps two. Still manageable without being overwhelming or painful. By Monday I need to start on my homework assignment. Yup, I have to do homework. It’s so weird!

I’m looking forward to reading the actual Young Adult novels on our list. There are five all told, only one of which I have even heard of (The Book Thief.) This could be a great opportunity to add to my list of must-read books for young adults.

What list of must-read Young Adult literature, you ask? Why, the one I plan to share tomorrow, of course!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Westward expansion

The other day during my drive home from work I was suddenly assailed by an overwhelming urge to read a historical Western romance. Trust me, I was as confused as you are! A Western? Really? I think if you look at my track record of book selections, when it comes to low man on the totem pole that subgenre is only trumped by Historicals set pre-1750 (which I tend to avoid like the plague.)

Why do I avoid Western romances? I can sum it up in one word: heroine. It seems that there are only two Western heroines: 1) the pampered East Coast deb who arrives in the Wild West unprepared for the harsh realities of frontier life, or 2) the pampered daughter of the big ranch owner (who was probably sent away to school out East where she learned to be a lady.) Both of these scenarios often lend towards the TSTL heroine. The sun is setting and lightening is flashing over the mountains? Why, I think I will suddenly decide to go on a walkabout. The local Comanche tribe has been raiding and killing settlers? Of course I will walk up to the bold, shirtless warrior and start giving him a piece of my mind. There is trouble brewing and that bold, shirtless warrior is riding hell bent for leather towards my home with a dozen of his friends? Oh where is my Pa? I couldn't possibly pick up that shotgun and try using it myself.

Ok, Ok, I know those are generalizations. I am also aware that this is another example of Old School romance not clicking with me. Let's face it, most Historical Westerns were written in the 80's, the land of the Big Mis and wilting flower heroine.

I know not all books written during that time period stuck to that mold. I know that there have been Westerns written more recently that would eschew the stereotypes. But which ones are they? Where is the Western with a heroine like Jessica Trent (Lord of Scoundrels) or Lydia Grenville (The Last Hellion)? Which Western has a hero that is not domineering, that appreciates a woman who is self-sufficient and sarcastic?

Can you tell me the name of these books? I really need to feed this sudden Western romance craving.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Belated blogoversary

In the midst of the craziness of real life, and the fact that I was sucked into The Last Hellion (my love affair with Loretta Chase may be solidifying into twue wuv), something important slipped my mind.

One year ago this past Friday, What Women Read came into existence. Full of excitement and energy I vowed to review each book I read. Ah, the innocence. Now, at the ripe old age of one year and two days old, WWR admits that is absolutely not possible. I am OK with that. More than OK with that. It gives me more time to read!

So in honor of my good intentions, our love of romance and the heroes that inspire us, I give you a little blogoversary treat: The Menz of WWR. (Yes, for the moment I claim them for my own.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Windflower Tour: Chicago Stop (A Review)

I am feeling a bit lazy right now.  So lazy, in fact, that I refuse to type up a synopsis of this book. I know, I'm a bad reviewer.  Also, Christine just posted such an amazing synopsis that anything I would cobble together would seem pathetic by comparison.  Don't believe me? Go check it out!
I have to start off by being honest.  Before starting to read The Windflower I was prepared to hate it.  Oh alright, I was convinced I would hate it.  HATE.  After my experience with the dreaded Whitney, My Love I had convinced myself that Old School historicals are not my cup of tea. Because of this, my expectations of The Windflower were very low.

As I had mentioned in a previous post, I had an extremely difficult time getting into The Windflower.  It took me two weeks to get past page 150. It never takes me that long to read a book.  It was painful.  If it weren't for the fact that I was reading the book as part of The Tour, I would have put it down and considered it a DNF. I hate admitting defeat with a book.  So I powered through, forcing myself to read despite my determination to hate Merry and Devon.

I am so glad that I did.  No, this was not a perfect example of historical romance.  Yes, Devon was a big fat jerk.  Sure, Merry was TSTL at parts.  But I still liked it.  I know that it was partly because my expectations were so low.  If you expect the book to suck, then you are pleasantly surprised by a halfway decent read. I am aware of this.  Yet I still liked it.

Me, pleasantly surprised

Merry is everything I usually can't stand in a heroine: very young, naive, too pretty for her own good, TSTL, unrealistically spunky, and sometimes a bit of a Mary Sue.  Yet there is something endearing about her.  She brought out the best in those around her (except for Devon, of course.)  Cat and Raven became more human for knowing Merry. She never gave up.  No matter how many curve balls life threw at her, she kept on surviving. Merry is that girl you want to hate, but just can't.

Devon is an ass.  I know that.  Hell, it was evident in every one of his actions.  In the beginning his treatment of Merry was inexcusable.  Later, his intentions were more noble, if misguided.  I came to understand why he made his choices, even if I didn't agree with them.  Their attraction was clear.  From moment one, they were drawn to one another.  I bought it.  Their love and HEA? Not quite as realistic.  Devon didn't give Merry many reasons to fall in love with him.  The way he treated her in the beginning would have made anyone (besides an 80's historical romance heroine) punch him in the nose and never speak to his sorry ass again.  In some ways Merry's love smacked of teenage puppy love. Devon went from "I desire her, but cannot stand her" to "I love her, but must not sully her" far too abruptly. But again, my expectations were bottom-of-the-ocean low, so I was still pleased with the end result.

If the book had solely been focused on Merry and Devon it would have fallen flat for me.  Sweet, annoying, but nothing to write home about.  The saving grace was in the form of the secondary characters.  At the start of the book I kept reading so that I could get more of Cat.  Later it was Cat and Raven.  Had sequels been written, I would have wanted to read their stories.  Cat was this wonderful, multi-layered, tortured soul.  Had this book been written today, I would almost expect his character to be gay.  Perhaps the fact that he was not makes his relationship with Merry all the more poignant.  Raven was the youthful heart of the story.  He is no innocent boy, but there was a purity and honesty to his character that made him unique.  It also landed him into a heap of trouble.  He was unrepentant, and I loved it.

Homer gives his woof of approval even though the character is named Cat. (man my phone camera sucks!)

All in all, I am glad I forced myself to go on reading.  Not a favorite, but not a Dreaded (Old School) Historical.  If you like the subgenre, especially those from the 80's, you should definitely give it a shot.  Others? Proceed at your own risk. Enter into this reading relationship with the understanding that it may not be all sunshine and roses.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Review: A Julie James 2-fer

I had the great pleasure of meeting local author, Julie James this past weekend.  She is just as lovely in person as she is online!  I love that I can say that and also say that she is one fabulous writer. Seriously.  Do you like a straight up Contemporary Romance? Then she is a must read.  Having recently finished reading her two releases, I have added Julie to my auto-buy list.  Yes, her books are that great.

Nothing fazes Taylor Donovan. In the courtroom she never lets the opposition see her sweat. In her personal life, she never lets any man rattle her–not even her cheating ex-fiancĂ©. So when she’s assigned to coach People’s “Sexiest Man Alive” for his role in his next big legal thriller, she refuses to fall for the Hollywood heartthrob’s charms. Even if he is the Jason Andrews.
Jason Andrews is used to having women fall at his feet. When Taylor Donovan gives him the cold shoulder, he’s thrown for a loop. She’s unlike any other woman he’s ever met: uninterested in the limelight, seemingly immune to his advances, and shockingly capable of saying no to him. She’s the perfect challenge. And the more she rejects him, the more he begins to realize that she may just be his perfect match. . .
Taylor is a Chicago girl temporarily living in California.  Midwest sensibilities meet Hollywood glitz.  She is smart, driven, sassy, sarcastic. Jason is the hotest man in showbiz, recently named Sexiest Man Alive for the third year in a row.  Better than Brad Pitt (according to Ms. James.) He is cocky, arrogant, expects women to fall at his feet.  Then he meets Taylor.  She was having none of that.  Sure he is good looking, but does that mean she has to put her life on hold for the man? Hell no! Instead of blushing and stammering, Taylor puts Jason in his place, much to his confusion and his best friend's enjoyment.  Each time they meet sparks fly, verbal sparring ensues.  Taylor vows not to let the Hollywood playboy get under her skin.  Jason is determined to get Taylor underneath him.  But what happens when they start to realize that they like more than the challenge, they like each other?

Payton Kendall and J.D. Jameson are lawyers who know the meaning of objection. A feminist to the bone, Payton has fought hard to succeed in a profession dominated by men. Born wealthy, privileged, and cocky, J.D. has fought hard to ignore her. Face to face, they’re perfectly civil. They have to be. For eight years they’ve kept a safe distance and tolerated each other as co-workers for one reason only: to make partner at the firm.
But all bets are off when they’re asked to join forces on a major case. At first apprehensive, they begin to appreciate each other’s dedication to the law—and the sparks between them quickly turn into attraction. But the increasingly hot connection doesn’t last long when they discover that only one of them will be named partner. Now it’s an all out war. And the battle between the sexes is bound to make these lawyers hot under the collar . . .
Payton and J.D. never have a sincerely nice word to say to one another.  Competitive, philosophically and politically opposed, they have rubbed each other the wrong way from day one.  It is quite a bumpy road getting from there to rubbing each other the right way, but boy is it worth it!  Payton and J.D. snipe and snarl, spark fly and heat rises.  Legal libraries will never be the same.  They are battling one another for a partnership in their firm, while battling the feelings they have for one another.

It has been a long time since I have enjoyed a straight up contemp as much as I did these two books.  Let's put it this way, I was up until 3AM on Saturday night reading. I was completely hooked on these characters. Here's the unique part, I was hooked on the heroines!  I am a hero kind of gal.  When I finish a book I usually remember details about Lord or Mr. Hotness. The heroine usually comes in second.  Julie has managed something that very few others have done, made me love the heroine as much or more than the hero. These ladies are spunky, smart, sarcastic, flawed, independent, hopeful, and real.  I can imagine actually knowing them.  I may be terribly jealous (hey, they're gorgeous and own shoes I could never justify on a teacher salary!), but these are the type of women you are friends with.  I have not connected with a heroine in the same way since Jane in Mr. Perfect.  And you all know how I feel about that book. Best ever!

You know the best part of it all? Julie is as nice as she is talented.  And we Chicagoans get to claim her as one of our own. :)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Interview: Julie James

Normally when I stay up late into the night ignoring the fact that I should be sleeping (my students just don't understand what sleep deprivation does to their music teacher!) it's because I am caught in the grips of a dark paranormal romance or the intrigue of a romantic suspence.  Rarely does this happen with a straight up contemporary.  When it does, it is a rare and beautiful thing.  When it does happen, it is with a book like Just the Sexiest Man Alive.

After reading the book and discovering that the author, Julie James, is a fellow Chicagoan, I just had to contact her for an interview.  I was ever so pleased when she agreed.  (Extreme understatement.) Now with her latest book, Practice Makes Perfect, fresh on the shelves she is getting ready for a signing this coming Saturday.  Before I get my grabby little hands on the book (and meet Julie for the first time), she and I had a little chat...

Me: Hi Julie, welcome to What Women Read!  I am so glad you could join me over here. So let's get to it! When did you first realize you wanted to write?

Julie: First of all, let me start by saying thanks so much for having me here, Shannon! In terms of when I first realized I wanted to write, that actually took me awhile to figure out. I'm a lawyer, and I spent several years practicing at a large firm in Chicago before I even began to think about writing. But somewhere along the way, I came up with what I thought was a good idea for a romantic comedy film. So in my spare time, I wrote a screenplay. Having no idea whether it was any good, I started querying agents and managers in Hollywood. The screenplay was well-received, and I signed with an agent who optioned the script to a producer. I wrote a second script, which was also optioned. After that happened, I began to think about writing as a career. I thought about it for a long time (during which I wrote three more screenplays), and then ultimately decided to quit my job to write full-time. It was a nerve-wracking decision, but happily one that I've never regretted.

Me:  What was it like when you sold your first book?

Julie:  Amazing!! And partially because it happened at such a crazy time-- my son was about two weeks old when my agent called and said that Berkley wanted to buy Just the Sexiest Man Alive as part of a two-book deal. She told me that they wanted to know what my second book would be, and that I needed to put together a synopsis, and here I was panicking and thinking, "Um... I have a fourteen day-old baby, I barely have time to shower..." So I came up with a rough idea, and I pitched it to my editor while I was outside, pushing my son in the stroller, because it was the only time I could be certain he'd fall asleep. And I didn't want to cross over onto any busy streets that might wake him up, or past the "L" tracks, so I basically walked up and down this one block for the entire half-hour phone call. I'm sure the people living in those houses thought I was either crazy or majorly sleep-deprived.

Me:  When starting a new book, do you start with character or plot?

Julie:  I usually start with the plot, but just the very basic idea. Then I develop the characters, and they tell me what they're going to do and what the outline of the story will be.

Me:  Can you describe your writing process?

Julie:  I'm a plotter. I come up with the basic idea, then I think about who the heroine and hero are, and after that I sit down and outline. I write detailed outlines-- like twenty pages or so-- that include plot, motives, character background, and even some snippets of dialogue. I do detailed outlines because that's how I can tell if I have enough of a story to sustain an entire book. What's funny, though, is that after drafting the outline, I hardly ever look at it while I'm actually writing the book. By then the entire story is so well mapped out in my head, I don't really need it.

Me:  Since your characters work in the same profession as you have, what kind of research do you do for your books?

Julie: I didn't have to do any research for either of the heroines in my first two books, since they both practice the exact type of law I specialized in, employment discrimination defense. It's the heroes that have required more. When I was writing Jason, the movie star hero of Just the Sexiest Man Alive, I did little bits of research here and there--box office revenue, whether any celebrity has ever been named "Sexiest Man Alive" three times--fun things like that. For the hero of Practice Makes Perfect, I conveniently was able to talk to my husband, who specializes in class action defense just like J.D. does. Ooh-- and I've also had to do research into cars, because I define my male characters by the kind of vehicle they drive: Jason drives an Aston Martin, J.D. drives a Bentley, and the hero of the book I'm currently writing, an FBI agent, drives a motorcycle.
Me:  If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

Julie:  Whew-- what a tough question! Hmm... there's nothing that jumps out at me that I would change with Practice Makes Perfect. That being said, there were definitely times when writing the book that I thought, "Uh-oh, can I do this?" Since both of the characters are strong-willed and determined to one-up the other in their war to make partner, there were occasions when I would know what the character wanted to do, but I worried about whether his or her actions were crossing the line. But then I just decided that if their actions were real and true, that's what I needed to write--even if I was sitting at my computer going, "I can't believe he/she just did that!"

Me:  What do you do if/when writers block strikes or motivation lags?

Julie:  Knock on wood, I don't really get writer's block where I can't think of anything to write. But what does happen is that I'll try to write a scene that's just not working. I'll be spinning my wheels, writing and deleting, over and over. What I need to do then, as much as I hate leaving a scene unfinished, is just get up and walk away from the computer. I'll take the dog for a walk, or go get coffee or work-out, and I swear within minutes of not thinking about it, the way to fix the scene will come to me. I think, sometimes, the subconscious needs to take over when our conscious self is trying too hard.

Me:  What was it like to write a book set in your hometown?

Julie:  I loved writing a story that takes place in Chicago! So much so that I decided to set my third book here as well. It's great for a lot of reasons: first of all, it saves me time having to do location research. Second, and more important, I love being able to showcase Chicago because it's such an amazing city. I use a lot of actual locations and landmarks in the book--bars, restaurants, Wrigley Field, the federal courthouse-- and hopefully those scenes capture the essence of the city.

Me:  What is next on your horizon?

Julie:  I've just finished writing the first draft of my third book for Berkley/Penguin and I'm really excited about it! It's about a female Assistant U.S. Attorney who by chance witnesses a high-profile murder involving a U.S. Senator. The FBI agent assigned to the investigation is a man from her past that she doesn't get along with. The proverbial sparks fly as the two of them work together on the case, and even more so when it turns out that the killer might be after her. It's another romantic comedy set in Chicago, although I do sneak in a thrill or two with this one.

Me:   What book are you reading now?
Julie:  I'm currently reading Me & Emma by Elizabeth Flock for my book club. And then next up in my TBR pile is Fragile by Shiloh Walker and Nalini Singh's Angels' Blood.
Me:  Favorite color?
Julie:  Blue
Me:  Favorite author?
Julie:  Jane Austen. I love all of her books, although Pride and Prejudice is my favorite-- I re-read it every year.
Me:  Do you ever use music as inspiration while writing? If so, what songs inspired your books?
Julie:  Absolutely! I come up with a playlist that I think goes with the tone of whatever book I'm writing and I listen to those songs whenever I'm having trouble getting the right feel of a scene. For Just the Sexiest Man Alive, one of those songs was "Inner Smile" by Texas (from the Bend it Like Beckham soundtrack) and for Practice Makes Perfect, one song I listened to a lot was "Tenderness" by General Public. The songs for the book I'm currently writing were a little different: because the book has this sort of noir-ish suspense subplot, I listened to a lot of Billie Holiday, and, oddly, "Disturbia" by Rihanna. Kind of a strange combination. : )
Me:  Do you have any advice for other writers?
Julie:  One thing I would encourage aspiring writers to do is to pay attention to dialogue. Make it sound real. Sure, sometimes characters say exactly what they're thinking and feeling, but a lot of times they don't. Oh-- and write male characters that speak and think like actual men-- not the way us women sometimes wish they spoke and thought!
Thank you so much, Julie!!!  Now I can't wait until Saturday when we get to meet and I can dive in to Practice Makes Perfect.  Any Chicagoans out there?  Come joins us! 
Saturday, March 14th
Barnes and Noble
1441 Webster Ave.
Chicago, IL.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Windflower update!

I have finally finished the book. It only took... good gawd! Two weeks.  That's what happens when RL gets complicated.  I will have my thoughts and review up soon. Just know that the tour has finally gained momentum again!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A new adventure

I am finally getting to the point in Windflower where I am eager to pick it up. It was slow going at first. I still have quite a ways to go, but I plan to finish it up by Friday. Review to come this weekend. I promise! (I’m so sorry I am holding up the tour!)

In the meantime I thought I would share a new experience with you all. I have listening to an audio book for the first time. I know, I know, I am late to the game, as always. Living in Chicago means driving in Chicago. For those of you unfamiliar with this experience, it is a frustrating experience. There is no rhyme or reason to the congestion. You can leave at the same time every day, traveling the same pathway, and have a commute that last anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. I have been sick of the local radio stations (hello! There are more than 20 songs out there!) so I decided to take the plunge into audio books.

I checked out my local library and saw that I had two options. I could get a book on CD, but my car is just old enough that I came with a tape player. Instead, I picked up a Playaway book. This is a preloaded mp3 device that is loaded with one audio book. Most of the Playaway selections for adults fall into the more serious “literature” genre. I could listen to Shakespeare or Jane Austen, but I wanted something a little more fluffy for my first foray into audio books. I decided to peek into the children’s section of the library and, huzzah! For the past week or two I have been listening to Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce. It is one of her many books that take place in her world, Tortall. I am keeping my series OCD in check by reminding myself that it is the first of her Immortals series. It just happens to share the same world as her previous Lioness series. (So far that justification has been working.)

Something that I am enjoying about this recording is that they have used different people to voice the characters. I know this is not the case in “adult” novels. It brings the characters to life in a different way. While the author does a fabulous job with narration, I just can’t imagine her voice being effective for Sarge (a large black man in charge of training the new recruits, very military.) The male characters are all voiced by men, the female by women.

The story is interesting. I had to get used to Ms. Pierce’s writing and reading voice in the beginning, but I am now eager to get in my car for the daily trek home. I have even chosen to listen to it in the morning instead of my favorite AM radio show!

I still have quite a ways to go with the book, but my commute is certainly not going to disappear. And these days, that commute is a whole lot more fun!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Larissa Ione takes on the DIK

That's right, your favorite dark paranormal author and mine is taking on the DIK blog for the next three days. Come on over and see what she has to say...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Reader's Block

If there is such a thing as Reader's Block, i haz it. This isn't a reading slump. I want to read. I have books tempting me to read. I just can't get into the book that I need to finish. I have to read this book, but every time I pick it up I can only get through a few pages before I am either falling asleep or get distracted. Ooh, shiny!!! (Raccoon syndrome strikes again!)

It is my turn on the Windflower tour. It is long past my turn and starting to get ridiculous. I have been trying to read the book for the past week and am only on page 46. 46!!!! That's pathetic! I could blame it on the fact that I had grades due today, but that really isn't it. Poor Merry hasn't even been kidnapped yet and my attention is wandering.

I hang my head in shame. Epic Fail. I am going to give it a go again tonight. Think of me, my friends. Send me your good reading juju. The Windflower shall not get stranded in Chicago. I will beat this book! I will shake off the Reader's Block. Oh God, please tell me I can do it!

How have you powered through a case of Reader's Block? Helpful hints and suggestions are needed!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Loving Loretta

I have found my new favorite Historical author. I have my Quinn, my Kleypas, my Balogh. Now I have my Chase.

I read my first Loretta Chase novel over the summer, Lord of Scoundrels. It was one of those books that reminded me why I love to read. I fell hard for her characters. Sebastian and Jessica were vibrant and alive. Because of this I have been hesitant to pick up another of her books. What if I had started with the very best and no other book could live up to my first experience?

Well, no worries here. I just finished reading Mr. Perfect and loved it. No, it wasn't as good as LoS, but very few are. Benedict and Bathsheba were fun characters. Benedict was socially perfect to the point of being repressed. The image he presented to the world did not always match what was hidden beneath the surface. His internal struggle was well written and developed in a real way. Bathsheba was a woman with a reputation, but was it really deserved? Absolutely not! Yet, she was no sweet, retiring miss. She had just enough of her rebellious family's personality to make her the perfect foil for Benedict. Throw in a road trip, some childish high jinx, and sexual tension, and you get one satisfying read.

So where do I go next? Which Chase novel should I read next? Which ones are your favorites?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mini Review: Simply Perfect

Title: Simply Perfect
Author: Mary Balogh
Genre: Historical Romance

From Publishers Weekly:

Balogh's lovely Regency series centering on Miss Martin's School for Girls closes with the story of founder and headmistress Claudia Martin, an aging spinster past 30 who does not see marriage in her future. Two former teachers have recently made titled matches, however, and one of them sends Joseph, marquess of Attingsborough, to the school, along with his good looks, friendly manner and offer of a carriage to London. His title puts Claudia off; she distrusts his apparent interest in her school; his near-engagement to Lord Balderston's daughter, the icily perfect Portia Hunt, makes him unavailable. For his part, Joseph, at 35, can no longer put off the need for a male heir. He is resigned to the match, but there is a very delicate matter that he needs to resolve beforehand, with Miss Martin's aid required to safeguard his secret and his reputation. Joseph's heart isn't in the subterfuge, however, and as social pressures come to bear, both he and Claudia are forced to reexamine their priorities.
Mary Balogh is one of those authors that I just can't quit. I cut my romance teeth on a number of her books years and years ago.  Every so often I come back to her, gorging myself on her backlist, before suffering from and overdose that results in long periods of Balogh-lessness.  Why do I keep coming back?  Her characters.  I do so love them.  Sure, she recylces certain plot devices (nearly the entire Bedwyn series was comprised of fake engagements!)  Her characters are just so damn entertaining.

Ever since I read the first book in the Simply series I knew Claudia Martin would get her own installment.  She had to.  No author would create such a great character, simply to ignore them.  In Simply Perfect we finally get her HEA.  It was sweet.  Her hero was so utterly devoted and loving (not just to her).  I enjoy the love across social classes storyline.  It was lovely.  Nothing terribly exciting, no murders to solve or people to rescue.  It was romance, pure and simple. 

If you are looking for sizzling heat, this is not the book to grab.  Claudia and Joseph had this restrained passion about them.  Something in their relationship reminded me of Elinor and Edward in Sense and Sensibility.  All very proper and under control, yet you knew that their feelings ran deep.

I am often annoyed by the "scandalous secret" used in Historicals to amp up the tension. In the case of this book, I felt it added another layer to the story.  The secret is not kept hidden from Claudia for long.  It takes longer for it to be revealed to society. This secret brings the H&h together rather than causing conflict between them. 

The icing on the cake for me was all of the continuity.  Balogh has built a world of interlocking stories and characters.  In Simply Perfect we get to revisit our heroes and the women they love from both the Simply and Slightly series.  There was even a passing mention that made me reread a scene three times.  The heroine from my all time favorite Historical category (one Ms. Balogh wrote back when I was but a teen) was one of the musicians performing at the musicale near the beginning of the book.  This brief mention made me smile and yearn for my long lost copy (someday I shall find you again, Red Rose!!!)

Huh, guess the review isn't so mini.  A good book does that to you.  Go read some Balogh. You need to catch up.  There is a new series starting next month!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Culling the herd

As I am slowly creeping up on my one year blogoversary it has come to my attention that I may have a problem.  A growing problem.  It is called the TBR pile.  The damn thing has grown exponentially over the past year!  I know, it is the natural course of things when you start a book blog.  The thing is, I have not acquired all of these books willingly.  Quite a few have been passed along to me by well meaning coworkers and friends.  While I am wildly appreciative of free books (who isn't?) I think I have reached a point where I must cry uncle.  That pile is never going to shrink at this rate. 

So I decided it was time to cull the herd.  This literary Leaning Tower of Pisa had a solid foundation of "must read soon" books and authors: Kleypas, Showalter, Christopher Moore, La Nora, etc.  Unfortunately, the structural integrity of this edefice was being undermined by some real stinkers.  I won't go into detail, but let's just say I couldn't even make it through the backflap of most of the books. 

Since I am planning to move by the end of summer, I decided it wasn't too soon to start weeding out some of my excess belongings.  The entire TBR Tower was relocated from the office/large storage closet (I mean really, if it has no closet it isn't an actual bedroom) to the family room.  Two hours and a couple Buffy episodes later, the books had been sorted and organized.  I had piles, y'all: Contemp keepers, ParaRom keepers, Historical keepers, other-stuff-I-like-to-read keepers.  It all was transferred back to the desk in the front room, but this time in tidy piles for easier access.  What was left behind?  Three Trader Joe's bags full of books to discard. 

Now, ever since I was little the idea of throwing a book in the garbage has given me hives.  That was someone's hard work.  I may not have liked the story, but the book represents months or even years of work by the author.  And who knows, someone else may want to read it and will like the book.  Since the dumpster was out of the question I decided to take the books over to The White Elephant.  I mentioned this store about a month ago.  It is the second hand store/fund raiser for Children's Memorial Hospital.  It is the lovely place that I struck gold, purchasing eighteen books for about $15.  I figure this way I get to donate the books to a store that helps fund medical treatment for critically ill children, and allow another reader the chance to get their hands on some books.  I think it is a win-win situation all around. 

Now I just need to adopt the same approach to my clothes closet.  I am SO not going to pack up and move all of those shirts I haven't worn in three years.  Can you say "pack rat" anyone?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Categories, my love-hate relationship

As some of you may know, I am not a big fan of category romances. Theoretically, they sound great. A format that provides the reader with heat, romance and a HEA in a shorter, quicker read. Pressed for time? Busy professional and personal life? No problem! Pick up a category and you get all that you need in a tidy little package.

More often than not I finish one of these slim novels and feel cheated. Two dementional characters, insufficient development of emotion to connect the hero and heroine. This is not the authors fault. I often think, "If only they had the chance to turn this into a full-length novel..." So much potential, so few pages.

This is my issue. I know that. I have a very strong bias. I started to worry that it was keeping me from reading some lovely stories. To make sure that wasn't the case I decided to take a chance on a few new releases. Since I had heard some positive hubub about the Blaze line I decided to take a shot at those.

The first book was Coming Undone by Stephanie Tyler.

“I want you to start by running your tongue slowly around my ear…”

Oh no!

Surfer – make that ex-surfer – Carly Winters can’t believe she accidentally faxed an erotic letter to…a secure military line? Now Navy SEAL Jonathan “Hunt” Huntington is at her door, fax in hand, asking her how the fantasy ends.

Talk about fate…
Because Carly’s parents think Hunt is her new boyfriend, and Carly does need a wedding date ASAP. Hunt’s ready to play – only on one condition. Carly’s got to teach him to hang ten. Problem is, it’s been a while since Carly’s career-ending accident and she’s terrified of anything aqua. But with Hunt, letting go just may make her fantasy a reality!
Oh baby! HAWT! This book lives up to the Blaze idea. Hot, steamy sex with a good, solid romance. Carly and Hunt are fully developed three dementional characters. I liked them both. Really liked them. Carly's fear of the water was realistic and well written. She was tough, yet vulnerable. Hunt was simply fantastic. He didn't let Carly back down. He challenged heremotionally and sexually. There was an additional story line that gave the book even more emotional depth. If all categories were like this I would be buying them by the truck load.

Since my first foray into the Blaze line was such a success I picked up In a Bind by Stephanie Bond.

Soon to be married flight attendant Zoe Smythe is on her last flight to Australia when she opens the fantasies letter she wrote 10 years earlier. The erotic words she wrote about being bound while making love stir a dormant desire. And the hunky Aussie in first class is only too willing to make her fantasies come true…

I should have know when I read the first sentence of the backflap that I was going to have a problem. "Soon to be married..." The heroine is getting married in one month. The hero is not her fiance. DEAL BREAKER. I mentioned this in an earlier post. It is not official: this book was DNF. I just couldn't do it. I have very strong feelings about fidelity and marriage. What the characters did was cheating. I was simply unable to continue reading.

I need to be honest and say that I didn't have a problem with the writing. What I read was well written. The objection to the plot eclipsed my enjoyment of the writing. I wish that wasn't true.

So here I am, still unsure about categories. One great, one anger inducing. I think I need your help. Which categories have you read that you would recommend?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Embracing the day

As readers of romance, we embrace on a daily basis those things that today represents: love, caring, passion, romance, devotion. We seek out and infuse our lives with these qualities every time we pick up a book. Through reading, we give our selves a chance, whether we are single or coupled, to experience the joys and agonies of love. It is so easy to turn a page and dive into a relationship. It is safe to encounter the heartache, misunderstandings, danger, exhilaration, passion, longing, anger, hope, and contentment two people can find together when it is printed on paper. If it becomes too much you can mark your page and set down the book while you take a chocolate break.

Life isn't that easy. Life is messy. And scary. And amazing.

Love in real life does not always guarantee a HEA. That is part of the thrill, part of the fear. Could this person be the one? You don't know at the beginning. You have to take that risk and put yourself (and your heart) on the line. There are no standardized tests to administer that will result in conclusive evidence. There is no set pattern of behaviors that are indicative of a HEA in life. Each person is different, so each relationship will be, too. And isn't that a wonderful, amazing thing? One relationship can be passionate and tumultuous. The next might be sweet and gentle. There are those individuals who you connect with over shared interests, while you are draw to another person who is wildly opposite from yourself. Friends, family, distance, work can all factor in to complicate the equation. It's messy and it's real, and it can be absolutely freakin' amazing. Or the most frighteningly unsure moments of your life.

This is the beauty of the romance novel. All of that scary craziness in a controlled setting. Are you looking for a whirlwind romance to push your erotic boundaries? There is one out there waiting to be read. Do you want the chance to answer the question "what if" regarding someone from your past? Have I got recommendations for you! Do you want a shot a happiness with someone who will take charge and sweep you along? Alpha heroes abound. Perhaps you want to completely escape the reality in which you live. Open up one of the thousands of ParaRom flooding the market. Or what if you desire the kind of romance that makes your heart jump with just a brush of the hand or a longing look? The stiff upper lip, stoic hero has been alluring readers for centuries.

Whatever it is you are longing for, there is a book for you. So whether you are a singleton celebrating your fabulously independent self today, or are coupled up with someone special, treat yourself to the kind of romance you most desire. I am going to enjoy some unrequited longing, what are you going to indulge in?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Review: So Long, And Thanks For All the Fish

I have a confession to make.  I broke one of my cardinal reading rules: Thou shalt not knowingly read a series out of order. I am so sorry. Please, I beg for forgiveness. 

I did have a good reason, though.

At Christmas time I received the book So Long, And Thanks For All the Fish as a gift from a rather special someone.  It is the fourth book in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams.  While I have the first book languishing on my TRB pile, I have yet to actually read it.  Books two and three had not even been a blip on my radar.  Yet there I was in early January with book four in hand.  Do I set it aside while I read the previous installations of the series, or do I ignore my reading OCD and dive right into Arthur Dent's travels?  I chose to ignore the voice screaming in my head that I was a horrible reader.  How could I wait when the special someone who bestowed the gift of the book handed it over with the comment "You remind me of Fenchurch."  I had to find out what he meant.

::le sigh::

Back on Earth with nothing more to show for his strange, long trip through time and space than a ratty towel and a plastic shopping bag, Arthur Dent is ready to believe that the past 8 years were all just a figment of his stressed-out imagination.  But a gift-wrapped fishbowl with a cryptic inscription, the mysterious disappearance of the Earth's dolphins, and the discovery of his battered copy of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy all conspire to give Arthur the sneaking suspicion that something otherworldly is indeed going on.

God only knows what it all means.  Fortunately, He left behind a Final Message of explanation.  But since it is lightyears away from Earth, on a star surrounded by souvenir booths, finding out what it is will mean hitching a ride to the far reaches of space aboard a UFO with a giant robot. But what else is new?
Having not read the previous books (although I did see the movie), I knew I had missed a metric ton of backstory.  I didn't really miss it. I mean, yes, there was a moment here or there where I would have benefitted from reading of Arthur's previous adventures.  I'm sure the appearance of certain characters would have felt more important, but I still greatly enjoyed this book. 

Arthur is sweet and slightly clueless.  He is a man of much experience, yet oddly innocent.  After landing back on Earth, he hitches a ride into the town, apprehensive over what he might see.  Had he been gone long? Was this the same Earth he had seen explode? Would anyone remember him?  What follows is Arthur's return to "normal" life, his discovery that not all is quite the same, and how it all changes with Fenchurch in the picture. 

Who is Fenchurch?  She is the creative, sweet, quirky woman that Arthur falls hopelessly in love with.  Something about her is just a wee bit off.  She knows it.  Arthur loves her for it.  You see, she knows the truth.  Or she did, until Earth was blown up and then somehow reassembled.  Just before the explosion 8 years earlier (that Arthur remembers, but Fenchurch does not), she had an epiphany.  She realized "how the world could be made a good and happy place."  Unfortunately, she can't remember the details now.  Not only is this haunting her, but there is the fact that her feet never seem to touch the ground.  Quite literally. Together, she and Arthur fly among the clouds over England, discover what happened to the dolphins, fall in love, and gaze upon God's final message. She is the traveling companion that Arthur needs in life.

After reading this book I have added all previous installments in the series to my TBR list. Adam's writing is crisp and quirky, by turns sweet and funny.  I highly recommend So Long, And Thanks For All the Fish.   It entertained me and made me smile.  I mean how could I not smile?  "You remind me of Fenchurch. I don't think your feet touch the ground either."

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Tour Continues!!

Attention passengers!  The Windflower has landed.  I repeat, The Windflower has landed!

Yup, I returned home from my workshop today to find that (in)famous book in my mailbox.  Woohoo!!! I can't wait to start it.  Tropical islands, ships, pirates... what could be better?  I know!  The fact that it arrived the same day that I will be attending a pirate themed Valentines party.  How cool is that?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Lamb: Let's discuss!

I know, I know, I'm late. And that is news how? That fact that I was born a day before my due date was a complete fluke. Punctuality is overrated, I say!

OK, so on to the book!

I hope you all read Lamb. Am I the only one? Hellooooooo!

So let's discuss:

What did you think?
Were you offended by this book in any way?
Did this book make you consider Jesus in a different way?
Did you find Lamb to be fairly true to the Bible as you know it?
Were there any characters or events that spoke to you? Do you have a different appreciation for them/it after reading Lamb?

I hope you had fun reading this book. I know I did!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Am I the only one?

I started reading a new book last night.  The writing is pretty good, and the sex is pretty hot.  I should be really into it, nose buried in the pages right now.  And yet, I'm not. 

You see, here is the problem.  The heroine in this book (a category from the Blaze line) is a flight attendant who is engaged, with the wedding a month away.  Working her last international flight, she encounters a tall gorgeous Aussie (mmMmmm, good!)  She then Encounters him in the airplane's restroom.  Welcome to the mile high club!  It's hot.  There's light bondage.  BUT... she's engaged!  The H&h have that amazing instant romance novel connection, but she is already committed to another man.  No way around it, she cheated. 

As a reader I have my kinks (things that get me in a good way every time.)  I also have my deal breakers.  Infidelity is one of mine. I just hate it.  It can make me turn away from a well written novel in disgust.  Such behavior limits my ability to connect with the character.  I just... can't.

Do you have this problem?  Is there something else that is a deal breaker for you?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My DIK is up!

Yes, that's right, my friends.  It is my turn on the DIK blog again.  I started over there yesterday, and continue today and tomorrow.  Please stop by and join me!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

January Book Club

It has been FAR too long since my last book club installment. I was looking back over previous selections trying to decide what to focus on next. We have read a chick lit/urban fantasy, a contemp, a paranormal romance, another contemp. No historical yet. I think I am going to wait on that one for the moment. Actually, I am thinking of picking a book completely outside my usual realm of choices. Our next book club selection will not be a romance. Shocking, I know! It was recently recommended (by a handful of people) that I try reading Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff by Christopher Moore. Now, I know myself. I get these great non-romance books with great intentions of reading them, only to allow them to languish on my shelves. Memoirs of a Geisha? Still sitting unread years later. Chocolat? I got about 45 pages in. The writing is beautiful, I just always get distracted by the crack that is romance. So today I am putting my foot down. I will read Lamb. I will finish Lamb. And bu God, we will discuss Lamb!

So anyone want to join me? I read the first 20 pages and laughed out loud in the middle of the car repair place. Seriously, this is funny shit. Come on! You know you wanna try it!

Due date: January 31st

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Review: Hero Under Cover

I have always thought that it’s the simple pleasures that make life worth living. Sure, the big surprises and gallant gestures have an impact, but the little things make the tough times tolerable. Listening to a (your) child giggle. A warm mug of tea or hot chocolate on a cold, snowy day. Holding hands with someone you care for as you walk down the street. Curling up under a blanket with good book.

Yesterday I hit the jackpot of used books. Among them I found one of the greatest of simple pleasures: a new-to-me book by a favorite author. This phenomenon happens so rarely. You think you have dug up nearly all of the author’s back list and have their newest hardcover release on your wish list. Then suddenly, without any warning you see their name gracing the cover of an unfamiliar title. “What’s this?” you ask yourself. “Surely this is not what I think it is! A Brockmann I have yet to read? Praise Jeebus!!!”

In Hero Under Cover Annie Morgan, an archeologist specializing in authenticating European artifacts, is under suspicion for the robbery of two museums overseas She is up to her ears in work and has the FBI and CIA breathing down her neck. When a friend of the family contracts her to authenticate a gold death mask, rare in that it was made of the face of a Navaho Indian, her troubles go from bad to worse. Worried over the security of the artifact, Annie’s client hires bodyguard Pete Taylor to ensure her safety and the safety of the mask. Threatening phone calls escalate to malicious pranks, leading Pete Taylor to believe that Annie may be in danger. This real threat, and the close proximity into which it has thrown the two, causes Pete a crisis of conscience. For while Pete is working to protect Annie from the threats to her life, he is also working to uncover her involvement in the museum robberies. In all his years of undercover work for the CIA, he had never felt so drawn to a woman. Never in his life had he felt this way. Soon Pete questions what matters most: gathering the evidence needed by the CIA or protecting the woman he loves with his very life.

This is classic Brockmann. Written in 1994 before she began her Troubleshooters series, her writing shows the promise of becoming what it is today, much the way you saw it in Body Language (go read that book if you haven’t yet.) She gives us her trademark strong, passionate hero. He is slightly less Alpha than her recent men, although certainly not lacking in take charge attitude. Pete is self contained and proud, yet he does not deny to himself the existence of the feeling he has for Annie.

Annie is smart and determined. One of the things I love about Brockmann’s heroines is that (with the exception of Alyssa) most of them are realistic women. They are beautiful in the eyes of the hero, but are not described as beauty personified. While they are attractive, it is through the hero’s perception that she is found to be sexy and irresistible. Isn’t that a bit more the way love truly is? The person becomes more attractive to you as your feelings grow. The depth of their beauty is revealed through their depth of character. That is not to say that in the book, and often in real life, they were not attracted to each other from the start. Oh no, I’m not that idealistic. Pete and Annie felt and instant attraction, but both characters made choices not to act on it in the beginning. It was by knowing one another that their defenses were worn down. This also meant that the first time they made love it was exactly that, making love.

If you are a Brockmannite like me you need to find this book. If you enjoy her writing, but have been disappointed in the recent Troubleshooters installments, you need to find this book. If you have never read Brockmann... Well, you get my point. Go read this book.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Hit the jackpot!!!

Today I was a brave soul. I ventured out in the vast white tundra that Chicago has become. My poor little Beetle barely made it out of it's parking spot, but she was a trooper and slowly slipped and slid her way down the side streets. After a brief stop at the bank to order checks (because I am dumb and never remember to reorder until I have used up the last one), I took a little stroll.
Chicago in winter can be in interesting place. One day we are buried under a blizzard. The next day it is 60 degrees. The snow was lightly, yet steadily falling, coating the city in a glittering veil of white. It was quite beautiful, really. I stopped at the Bourgeois Pig for a steaming cup of Mexican hot chocolate. Yum! Deciding that I may as well indulge to the hilt, I headed down the block to Swirlz, the only cupcake place in Chicago that offers gluten free cupcakes. Chocolate cake with a thin layer of chocolate ganache. Top that with raspberry puree and a think swirl of cream cheese frosting. Oh yes. It was good.

As I headed back to my car I was forced to stop at the intersection to wait for the light to change. On a whim I decided to pop into the second hand store on the corner. What makes this store special is that all profits go towards Children's Memorial Hospital. You can find furniture or clothes and help terribly sick children to get the care they need. I was wandering through looking over some rather unattractive couches when I saw a room further back. At first I thought it was a storage area. Not so. I headed back to take a closer look and that is when I saw it... books. Lots of books. Oh, the raptures I experienced! At first I figured I might find one or two decent titles. Oh baby was I wrong. I hit the mother load!

I am not sure how long I spent in there browsing through the shelves of books, but after all that time and a scant $8.27 later I walked out with:

Into the Fire by Suzanne Brockmann
The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley
P.S., I Love You by Cecelia Ahern (because I adored the movie!)
A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks (another movie I adored)
The Horsemaster's Daughter by Susan Wiggs (sequel to Charm School)
Killer Secrets by Lora Leigh
Some Like it Wicked by Teresa Medieros
The Stolen Bride by Brenda Joyce
A Rake's Guide to Seduction by Caroline Linden
Hero Under Cover by Suzanne Brockmann (OMG, one I had never heard of!!!)
No Rest for the Wicked by Kresley Cole (I really hope I already own the first one)

Yup, you counted that correctly, my dears. Eleven books for $8.27. That comes out to approx 75 cents per book, including the hard cover.

Jackpot, baby!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Returning to the fold

I am here. I am alive. I have returned... I hope.

Things have been a bit crazy in Shannon Land. NaNoWriMo kicked my butt and then abandoned me before the month ended. The holidays got crazy with chorus concerts and school holiday programs (never mind shopping and family parties!) I had a lovely out of town visitor that kept me busy for about a week. It is unusual to say this, but one week was not long enough. Really wish he were still here...

Just as everything cleared up and I was ready to start joining the blogosphere again.... WHAM! Literally. I slipped and fell on the ice in my school's parking lot, hitting my head on the pavement. I'm fine, not even a concussion (according to the ER doctors.) Sore muscles, head ache, a bit woozy. I am back to school, but perhaps should have stayed home another. Ah well.

Anyhow, I have actually been reading again. Yay! I have missed it so! I haven’t the time to do a review at the moment, but will be typing them up soon. Here is what I have o my list to review:

- Coming Undone (a category that I actually loved!)
- a Christmas anthology (sorry this is so late Nicola!)
- another OK category
- So Long and Thanks For All the Fish (not romance, but there is a sweet reason for my reading it)

In addition I will soon have a historical Western to review. My co-worker brings me books she has finished. Some are good, most are questionable. I have the entire series of "Seven Brides" written by Leigh Greenwood. The cover art is enough to make me run screaming. I was all ready to donate them to the local Salvation Army, but then Queen Bella Michelle informed me that the author is a man. Romance written by a man? This I had to try. I am only a couple of chapters in, so I will reserve judgment for now. I'll let you know what I think when I have read a bit more.