Friday, December 16, 2011

Confessions of a 40-Something Twihard

I came late to the Twihard Party. Of course I’d heard about Stephenie Meyer and her books. But she was a YA (young adult) author, and I was staring at the big 40.  Would I even be able to relate to her characters? To my 12-year-old son, I’ve been old for years. But if the criteria are maturity and behavior, I’m pretty sure I peaked in high-school, which would make me the perfect age to read the Twilight series. I circled them for years in the bookstores. But when the last one came out in 2008, it was decision time. For me, it came down to two things—an overwhelming curiosity to see what had caused such frenzy and a love of fangs. (See my first blog post:

Once I started the books, I found it difficult to stop. The only other experience I can compare it to was reading the Harry Potter series. I was late to that party as well, so I was able to read the first four books in about a week before joining in the agonizing wait for the last three. Meyer’s vampire world is just as engrossing. Asking me to describe why Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn are so magical is like trying to capture lighting in a bottle—in other words, nearly impossible. In fact, somewhere during my third time through the series, I realized that while the books are exceptional, the writing…not so much. The words themselves are not particularly imaginative. The adjectives repeat endlessly, especially when it comes to Edward. How many times did I read the words bronze (his hair), marble (his chest), and perfection (his face)? Yet Meyer's words never stopped to thrill me. And to say that her books changed my life would be an understatement.

But being a 40-something Twihard is not always easy. I remember talking to another mother at my son’s school and finding out by chance that we were both fans of the series. The look we exchanged was equal parts guilt, chagrin, and bravado. I found myself thinking: at least she had a tweenage daughter that turned her on to the series. What was my excuse? Another time my husband described taking a business trip with a male co-worker who was completely engrossed in a book. When asked the title, the man was slightly embarrassed. “I needed something to read, so I just picked it up in the airport.” It was obvious the man had been doing his best to hide the cover with its iconic apple. And what is it about apples anyway? Adam and Eve. Snow White and the Evil Queen. Steve Jobs and his gadgets. And now Stephenie Meyer and her vamps. Apparently this fruit is simply irresistible to us humans.

When the first Twilight movie came out, I saw it with a friend. We went opening night. Big mistake! The theater was filled with teenagers who screamed every time Edward (aka Robert Pattinson) came onscreen. And their cacophonous wailing made it difficult to hear the “low-talker.” We learned our lesson and chose to wait—albeit impatiently—to see the second movie a week after its release. To hedge our bets, we also chose a matinee. Our tactics worked. The theater was relatively empty of hysterical teenager girls. Even better, we weren’t the oldest ones in the theater. Two 50-something black women sat one row down. Briefly I wondered why they chose this particular movie to see. I got my answer when they started hollering and whistling at a bare-chested Jacob (aka Taylor Lautner). Apparently, Team Edward and Team Jacob know no age boundaries. The third movie presented its own dilemma: my tweenage son expressed an interest in seeing it with us. Was it so wrong that I wanted to enjoy Edward without my son in the audience? I didn’t think so, which is why I watched it at home with him when it came out on DVD. My husband abstained. He’d grown tired of my Robert Pattinson—er, I mean Edward—obsession.

And yes, at this point, I will admit that I’d become a bit of a Twihard. I had it all: the Edward key ring, the Edward book marks, the Twilight calendar. It was only when I purchased and hung the Robert Pattinson calendar in my office that I realized I’d gone too far. This year, I somewhat reluctantly broke the habit. I walked away from the Twilight and Pattinson calendars and bought an Erté calendar instead. High art! How mature of me. Just don’t ask if I took down the Edward and Bella paraphernalia taped next to my office computer.

As you can see, my love of Meyer's books eventually overcame whatever embarrassment I felt. I’m officially out of the Twihard closet and extolling the series to the last hundred or so people who haven’t read it. My hardest convert was probably my brother. Jean-Paul was an Army Ranger. He was tough. He was taciturn. He wasn’t much for sharing his feelings. So when I tried to sell him on an epic love story, he was leery. In desperation, I played up the vampires and werewolves. “They’re mortal enemies,” I told him. “And there’s some awesome fights—kinda like Underworld.” (Okay, Twilight is nothing like the Underworld movies, but I knew that if I could just get him to start the book, he wouldn’t be able to put it down.) Jean-Paul was reading Twilight when he succumbed to testicular cancer on December 19, 2009.

My sister-in-law found the book in the backpack he always took to chemotherapy. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, my sister-in-law is not a reader. But she began to read the book in the weeks following her husband’s death. Oftentimes I wonder if it was just another way to hold Jean-Paul close. Whatever the reason, my sister-in-law devoured Twilight. She read it late at night when she couldn’t sleep. She read it on the long trips between her house in Georgia, my parent’s house in Pennsylvania, and Arlington Cemetery where we buried Jean-Paul. When she finished, I immediately ran out and bought her a copy of New Moon and Eclipse. She wanted to finish Bella and Edward’s story. I wanted to do something to help her through this terrible time. It was clear that Meyer’s books were about the only thing that gave her some peace—a way to escape, however briefly, from her grief. To this day, my love for the series is intrinsically tied to the most painful experience of my life—exquisite pleasure and overwhelming pain. Somehow I think Bella and Edward and their creator Stephenie Meyer would understand.   

Friday, December 2, 2011

With a Little Help from My Friends

It was a bad day. I’d just found out that my Border’s in Bowie, Md., was one of the stores that was closing in an effort to avoid bankruptcy. (If I’d known the whole chain would go under only months later, I would’ve felt 100 times worse.) I found myself wandering the familiar aisles, trying to soak up the sights and sounds while I still could. And of course I was shopping. My attention was drawn to a title: When Harry Met Molly. Smiling slightly, my eyes moved to the adjacent book: Dukes to the Left of Me, Princes to the Right. I was hooked. Similar to my weakness for a good cover, I’m a sucker for wordplay.

I didn’t recognize the author, Kieran Kramer. Picking up the books, I looked next at the covers. The smiles of the cover models were slightly mischievous, inviting the reader to smile back. A nice shout-out from one of my favorite authors, Julia Quinn. And the pièce de résistance was three small words—The Impossible Bachelors. To this experienced reader that meant only one thing: a series! I bought them both and placed them on my bookshelf. Unfortunately, as I had a backlog of books wanting to be read, they sat there for a few months. And then I ran across Cloudy with a Chance of Marriage and my favorite cover model Ewa da Cruz. It was time to say “yes” to Kramer’s Impossible Bachelors.

Kramer had me by page two of When Harry Met Molly, which featured an original piece entitled “A Love Rectangle of Tragic Proportions.” As recited by the heroine, 13-year-old Lady Molly Fairbanks, the unfortunate poem resulted in our hero, Lord Harry Traemore, being soundly trounced by his older brother, Roderick, for kissing the lovely Lady Penelope Fairbanks—Roderick’s fiancée and Molly’s older sister. I’d just met Molly, but I already knew I was going to like her.

Flash forward a few years and Harry’s in even worse trouble. By order of the Prince Regent, five gentlemen had been conscripted into the Impossible Bachelor’s wager. The unlucky group consists of Harry, his three best friends (Nicholas, the Duke of Drummond, Captain Stephen Arrow, and Charles, Viscount Lumley), and Harry’s mortal enemy, the odious Sir Richard Bell. The winner would enjoy “an entire year of freedom from the trials, tribulations, and, ahem, joys of marriage.” The losing bachelors would draw straws. The one with the shortest straw would have to propose marriage to a woman chosen by committee. Prinny’s rules are simple: the gentleman whose mistress wins the title of “Miss Delectable Companion” wins the wager.

Harry thinks he has it in the bag. And then his now sister-in-law Molly stumbles back into his life. Since her scandalous reading, Molly’s been languishing away at the Providence School for Wayward Girls. To escape, she’s come up with the harebrained idea to elope with her father’s assistant, Cedric Alliston.  At a seedy roadside tavern, the two run into Harry and his exquisite mistress. Harry and Fiona are on their way to Harry’s country estate to compete in the Impossible Bachelor’s wager. Sparks fly, tempers flare, and soon Cedric and Fiona take off and leave their quarrelsome counterparts in the dust—literally, the dust of their carriage wheels.

So what’s a ruined debutante and a desperate lord to do? How about concoct a scheme of epic proportions? Molly agrees to pose as Harry’s mistress, Delilah, for the weekend. If she wins “Most Delectable Companion,” Harry agrees to find her a husband. Lessons on kissing, flirting, and sashaying commence. And soon Molly finds herself competing against the other mistresses: actress Athena Markham, the elegant and mysterious Joan, the delectable and demure Bunny, and Hildur, a towering Icelandic beauty with a fierce temper and an uneven grasp of the English language. Like another Molly—the Unsinkable Molly Brown—our Molly refuses to admit defeat. Instead, she rallies the Mistresses into turning the tables on the gentlemen and having them compete for a change. Eventually, Molly wins over everyone: the voting gentlemen and their mistresses. No surprise, Molly also wins Harry’s heart. I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed this charming tale. So much, in fact, that I’ve even read its companion blog,

The second book in the Impossible Bachelor series is the story of Lady Poppy Smith-Barnes and Nicholas, the Duke of Drummond. Dukes to the Left of Me, Princes to the Right starts strong right out of the gate. A sworn spinster, Poppy has invented an imaginary fiancée to stave off unwanted suitors.  So imagine her shock and dismay when the Duke of Drummond turns out to be a flesh and blood man. After hearing about his supposed engagement, Nicholas corrals the spirited Poppy at a ball and convinces her to play out the ruse. Why? It turns out the enigmatic Nicholas is a heroic English spy. And pretending to be engaged will free him from all the matchmaking mamas and their daughters. I found their story to be just as engaging as Kramer's first book.

Cloudy with a Chance of Marriage is the story of Captain Stephen Arrow and bookstore owner, Jilly Jones. Jilly hides a dark secret: she has fled and is in hiding from an abusive husband. Using the last of her fortune, Jilly has opened a small bookstore on Dreare Street. Pronounced “dreary,” the street is all the name implies, dark, dismal, and nearly always encompassed by a thick fog. The inhabitants of the street have fallen on hard times, but the indomitable Jilly attempts to rally her beaten down neighbors and rejuvenate the neighborhood. And then Stephen, who has inherited a property on Dreare Street, moves in next door. In Stephen’s own words: “Miss Jilly Jones. Already Stephen adored her. He always did the outliers.” Watching Jilly and Stephen fall in love was touching and enjoyable.

The last book in the Impossible Bachelor’s series, How to Give a Girl a Viscount, came out in November 2011. I'm only a few pages into the book, but I already know I will like it. It looks to be a take on the classic Cinderella, including an evil step-mother, two wretched step-sisters, and, in this case, a Viscount in need of a quest. Stay tuned.

I urge you to give Kieran Kramer and her Impossible Bachelors a read. Because in addition to penning a beguiling series about four friends, Kieran Kramer knows firsthand what it’s like to get “a little help from her friends.” In the Author Acknowledgements page of her second book, Kramer shares this amazing story.

I’d also like to thank Herbert Ames. He’s a NASCAR man who was wearing a white suit and a huge grin the day I met him on a plane…“Kieran Kramer, are you a book writer?” I dared myself to say, “Yes, Herbert, I am,” even though I hadn’t found a publisher yet. And I was a book writer! I had thousands of pages to show for it. Well, Herbert whipped out his cell phone and called his good friend Janet, who was a writer, too, and urged her to read my book. “Kieran Kramer’s gonna make it.  I just know it!” he shouted into the phone and then he passed it six rows up to me.

So who did that writer turn out to be? None other than best-selling author Janet Evanovich. Did her “friend” Herbert help Kieran get published? Who knows, but it’s a great story. And sharing great stories is what my blog is all about.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Hockey Players are Hot!

I hate football and basketball. Baseball bores the snot out of me. I don’t even get golf. You try and get something round into a hole. Sounds like quarters to me—minus the fun of having a rum and coke and flirting with the cute guy next to you. When the Olympics roll around, I want to stick a fork in my eye. Who cares if Michael Phelps eats Wheaties? (In case you all forgot, he’s a swimmer who won a lot of gold medals and likes to smoke weed.) And then there’s ice hockey. Although I can’t explain it, perhaps it has something to do with my Dad and the Philadelphia Flyers. Staying up late, going into downtown Philly, munching on enormous soft pretzels, we always had such a great time that I didn’t even mind sitting in the nose bleed section. So when I found Rachel Gibson’s series about the Seattle Chinooks, a fictitious professional ice hockey team, all those good memories came “flying” back.

Simply Irresistible (1998) starts off with Beauty Queen Georgeanne Howard leaving her much older fiancée and Seattle Chinook owner, Virgil Duffy, at the altar. On her way out of Dodge, the runaway bride begs a ride from hockey player, John Kowalsky. Although the two initially rub each other the wrong way, they soon enjoy a steamy one-night stand. Flash forward seven years. The dyslexic Georgeanne has turned her life around and is now the co-owner of a catering business. Imagine John’s shock when he comes face to face with Georgeanne and her 6-year-old daughter Lexie. Simply put: John is not a happy camper. But reading how the macho hockey player falls in love with his adorable daughter and then her mother was delightful.

See Jane Score (2003) is my favorite book in the series. Like most superheroes, Jane Alcott leads a double life. By day she’s author of the “Single Girl in the City” column for the Seattle Times; by night she’s author of “Life of Honey Pie” an X-rated column for Him magazine. But what Jane wants most is to become a respected newspaper reporter. So when the Seattle Times sports reporter has to take a leave of absence, Jane steps up to the net. What I liked best about Jane is that she is a real woman with real insecurities and real strengths. In other words, she’s the exact opposite of the “Puck Bunnies” that hang around the star hockey players. Maybe that’s why she gets under the skin of Luc Martineau—Chinook goalie and ring-leader for getting Jane kicked off the assignment and out of the locker room. While immediately smitten by the bad-boy hockey player, Jane thinks she’s not Luc’s type. This makes it all the sweeter when sexy Luc falls hard for “plain Jane.”

The Trouble with Valentine’s Day (2005) is a much darker read. PI Kate Hamilton is in a bad place. After finding a supposedly missing wife, she’s blindsided when her client comes unhinged and murders his family. Then Kate makes another bad decision, propositioning the sexy stranger sitting next to her at a bar. Kate’s brutally rebuffed, so you can imagine how uncomfortable it is when she runs into him again while visiting her Grandfather in Gospel, Idaho. Ex-Seattle Chinooks player Rob Sutter is battling his own demons. After cheating on his wife, Rob lost his family and career when he was shot by a deranged “Puck Bunny.” Not surprisingly Rob hasn’t been intimate with a woman since that night. But when Kate strolls into his small town, Rob’s luck is about to change.

Published in 2009, True Love and Other Disasters was my second favorite book in the series. After being dumped at the altar by Georgeanne, Seattle Chinooks owner Virgil Duffy had gone on to marry an ex-stripper and Playmate of the Year. Now Virgil has died and left his widow, Faith, the owner of his beloved ice hockey team. Virgil’s decision doesn’t sit well with the players or his family. But Faith is a trophy wife in the best sense of the word. While Virgil was in his 80’s and unable to perform in the bedroom, Faith loved him and ensured that his last years of life were full of laughter and companionship. So I was really pulling for Faith to get her happy-ever-after with the Chinooks new captain, Ty Savage, who’d been brought in to secure a Stanley Cup for Seattle. It doesn’t take the no-nonsense hockey player long to see that Faith is not the gold-digger Virgil’s family has made her out to be. Not only is Faith breathtakingly beautiful on the outside, she is beautiful on the inside—kind, caring, and loyal. Ty quickly falls in love with our heroine only to be blackmailed by Virgil’s son. The ending was pure romance—or what I like to call An Officer and a Gentleman on Ice. After winning the Stanley Cup, Ty quits the team, sweeps Faith up in his arms, and carries her away in front of a stadium of screaming hockey fans.

In Nothing but Trouble (2010) Gibson tells the story of former Seattle Chinooks captain, Mark Bressler, and the horrific car crash and subsequent coma that ended his career. Wracked with constant physical pain and bitter disappointment, Mark has chased away everyone the Seattle Chinooks have sent to help him in his recovery. Lucky for Mark, his new personal assistant, Chelsea Ross, does not scare easily. Just a smidge over 5 feet tall, with pink-tipped blonde hair, and double-D cleavage, Chelsea is a splash of color and life in Mark’s dreary existence. Soon the gruff Mark is opening up, volunteering with a kid’s ice-hockey team, reconnecting with his teammates, and eventually falling in love with his sassy assistant. 

The newest book in the series, Any Man of Mine (2011), is a variation of the one-night stand and unexpected pregnancy Gibson wrote about in Simply Irresistible.  (Apparently professional hockey players don’t do condoms.) The book starts off with Seattle Chinooks hockey player, Sam LeClaire, running into his Baby Mama at an event she’s planning. It’s not a pleasant meeting. Sam thinks Autumn Haven is a beeyatch with a capital “B.” Autumn seems to truly loathe the ice-hockey lothario. We soon find out she has good reason. Years ago, after the death of her mother from cancer, Autumn was taking a much-needed vacation in Las Vegas when she fell into bed with Sam. Autumn thought it was love. Sam—not so much. Sam was in Vegas to get trashed and forget about the anniversary of his sister’s murder. After a drunken, impromptu wedding, Sam decided that “What goes on in Vegas, stays in Vegas” and quickly procured a divorce. Flash forward to present day. Sam is growing weary of sowing his wild oats and wants to improve his relationship with his young son—and maybe even his son’s mother. While sometimes painful, it was mostly heart-warming to watch Sam win back Autumn.

Why should you read this series? If you like complex, often flawed, alpha males and women who are strong enough to tame them, these books are for you. So grab a glass of wine and forget about missing teeth and broken noses—Gibson’s hockey players are hot

Friday, November 11, 2011

All in the Family

One of my co-workers recently said that she doesn’t read many series because she gets tired of the same characters. It surprised me, as I absolutely adore a good series. Then I got to thinking about her words. And I realized that while I do follow some series with the same characters—Stephanie, Morelli, and Ranger—most of the series I follow fall into different categories. Like families, friends, or even… hockey teams? These types of series offer the best of both worlds. The main characters are unique in each book, but then show up as secondary characters that you can follow in subsequent books. So for the next three weeks I thought I’d blog on some of my favorite series. First up: the Malory family.

When I think about families, these words always come to mind: “You can choose your friends, but not your family.” And sometime it’s this quote: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Either one probably works. At least that’s the case with Johanna Lindsey’s 1985 classic, Love Only Once, the first in her series about the rambunctious Malory’s. The head of the Malory family is the overbearing and controlling Jason, the Marquis of Haverston. Jason has disowned his brother James, who is now a notorious pirate, and has a very chilly relationship with his rakehell brother Anthony. The fourth brother, Edward, is often forced to play peacemaker between his hot-headed younger brothers and Jason. The book starts off with the abduction of Lady Regina Malory. It turns out to be a case of mistaken identity. Nicholas Eden, Viscount of Montieth, actually meant to “kidnap” and ravish his mistress. Try telling that to Reggie’s overprotective uncles. Nicholas did, and he was promptly trounced for his efforts. While the Malory brothers do not get along, they would kill to protect their beloved niece whom they’d raised since infancy. After quite a few misunderstandings, threats, and bludgeonings from “the Uncles,” Reggie and Nicholas marry and fall in love. Their story sets the stage for the renegade James to return to the bosom of his family.

The second book in the series, Tender Rebel, belongs to Anthony and the beautiful Scottish heiress he saves from the greedy clutches of her loathsome cousin. While it’s quite enjoyable to see the elegant Anthony lose his sangfroid over the bonny Roslynn, it was the third book in the series that cemented my interest. Gentle Rogue has it all—pirates, American buccaneers, and a saucy cabin boy who is soon seduced by the sensuous James. Oh wait, perhaps I should mention that the saucy cabin boy is actually an American girl in disguise. Georgina Anderson sets sail on James’ boat, trying to get back to America before her family finds her missing. Of course James catches onto her ruse from the get-go. And the scenes of the virile captain flirting with his cabin boy are priceless. Eventually the reformed pirate seduces and then falls in love with “George.” The caveat: James has sworn never to marry. To save face, James comes up with an asinine idea—he will tell Georgie’s five overprotective older brothers about their high seas adventures, and they will force them to marry. After all, it worked with Reggie and Nicholas Eden. But Georgie throws a monkey wrench into the plans when she refuses to marry James without an admission of love. Let the games begin.

Book four, The Magic of You, is my favorite of the series. I’ve read this one so many times, the spine gave out, and I had to replace it. In this book, the impish Amy Malory (Edward’s daughter) tries to win the heart of the thoroughly unpleasant, but totally hot, Warren Anderson (Georgie’s brother). Warren is surly, rude, and hated by all the Malory men. But does that deter Amy? Nope. If possible, she’s even more headstrong than her sister-in-law, Georgie, who reluctantly signs off on the plan for Amy to heal Warren’s broken heart. Despite repeated rebukes from Warren, Amy persists in “wooing” the object of her affections. From their first illicit kiss—instigated by the smitten Amy—to their forced confinement at the hands of a vengeful Chinese Emperor, the sparks are immediate. The only question remaining: why does it take the stubborn Warren so long to give into the inevitable?

Other Malory books include: Say You Love Me (Jason’s son Derek Malory’s story); The Present (Jason’s story with his long-time paramour Molly); A Loving Scoundrel (James’ illegitimate son Jeremy Malory’s story); Captive of My Desires (Georgie’s brother Drew Anderson’s story); No Choice but Seduction (Georgie’s brother Boyd Andersen’s story). The 10th book in the series, That Perfect Someone, came out last year. 

So why should you embrace the Malory’s? From lavish Regency balls to bawdy taverns in the seedy sections of London to high-seas adventures with pirates and buccaneers, this romance series has it all. Enjoy!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Are Dragons the New Vampires?

Drake Vireo was the first dragon I fell in love with. Hair as black as sin, flashing emerald eyes, and the occasional wisp of smoke curling from his nostrils, Drake is a hunk of burning dragon love. I first met Drake in You Slay Me, when author Katie MacAlister unveiled her complex dragon mythology. Centuries ago, the First Dragon divided the creatures into four septs: the green dragons, the blue dragons, the red dragons, and the black dragons. Each sept is led by a wyvern. Drake Vireo is wyvern of the green dragons. Arrogant, greedy, and oh-so-sexy, Drake is my favorite kind of anti-hero.

The book’s heroine, Aisling Grey, is tasked with delivering a 600-year-old golden dragon statue to Paris and the mysterious Mme. Deauxville. Sounds simple, right? Wrong! First, Aisling stumbles across Aurora Deauxville’s body. Then she runs afoul of Drake the Dragon, who immediately absconds with the gold. And the hunt is on. Aisling wants the statue and answers about what it means to be a Guardian. Drake wants all the treasure he can steal and a mate. After surviving a Dragon’s Kiss and a goblet of Dragon’s Blood from Drake, Aisling is revealed to be—wait for it—a wyvern’s mate. But Aisling has no interest in being “claimed” by a dragon. She’s too busy defending herself from murder charges, conjuring up lower-class demons, and researching exactly what it means to be a Keeper of the Gates to Hell. The dialogue is snappy, the action is fast-paced, and the chemistry between the two main characters is sizzling. Even better, Aisling is in complete denial about being a wyvern’s mate, so it takes the sinfully seductive Drake three more books to win her over: Fire Me Up, Light My Fire, and Holy Smokes.

My second dragon crush first appears in Fire Me Up. Wyvern of the silver dragons, Gabriel Tahou is a total hottie with warm caramel skin, shoulder-length dark-brown dreadlocks, mouth-watering dimples, and mysterious silvery eyes. In an online interview, MacAlister shared her inspiration for the character—actor Jason Mamoa. For those familiar with the HBO series Game of Thrones, he plays the warrior Khal Drogo. Yummy! The silver dragons have an intriguing back story in that they broke away from the black dragons during the reign of the Dread Wyvern Baltic to form a new sept. Today, the black dragons are all but extinct. In retaliation for this betrayal, Baltic cursed them, saying: “No mate shall be born to a silver dragon until a black dragon is accepted as wyvern.” So, in addition to being a healer and an all-around nicer dragon then Drake, Gabriel get’s the sympathy vote. Obviously I wasn’t the only one crushing on Gabriel because MacAlister gave him his own series.

In the first book in his series, Playing with Fire, Gabriel gets around Baltic’s curse by mating—and then falling in love with—doppelgänger May Northcott. So what the heck is a doppelgänger? Let me explain. May is a paranormal “copy” of Cyrene Northcott, who is a naiad or water nymph. But things don’t go so smoothly for Gabriel. First, May’s already bound to a demon lord. Second, she’s an international thief who is wanted by Otherworld Law. And then the demon lord, Magoth, orders May to steal a rare treasure from the silver dragons. As with Aisling and Drake, dragon love does not come easy. On the bright side, we get to follow Gabriel and May’s story in two more books: Up in Smoke and Me and My Shadow.

Which brings me to Love in the Time of Dragons and, perhaps, the most complex of MacAlister’s anti-heroes, the Dread Wyvern Baltic. Hated and feared by all dragons, Baltic’s got a bad rep. He was wyvern of the black dragons through the Endless War or what MacAlister calls, tongue-in-cheek, the “wyr-wide war.” Killed centuries ago by his heir and Drake Vireo’s brother, Kostya Feteke, Baltic was resurrected only to learn that his mate Ysolde de Bouchier had also been slain. Heartbroken and bitter, Baltic is determined to avenge her death and reunite the black and silver dragons. Of course those goals put him against pretty much all of dragondom, including Drake, Gabriel, and Kostya. However, we soon find out that Baltic’s roar is worse than his bite when he meets Tully Sullivan, who turns out to be a resurrected Ysolde. In their second book, The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Dragon, the mystery of who killed Ysolde, why she was resurrected, and her relationship to the First Dragon start to be revealed. Baltic and Ysolde are clearly soul mates who have been through hell and back for each other. I recently purchased the third book in their series, Sparks Fly, and I'm hoping that MacAlister gives Baltic the same happily-ever-after she gave her first two dragons. We shall see.

After enjoying MacAlister’s dragons so much, I was pleased to see other authors take on these mythical creatures. I stumbled across Thea Harrison’s Dragon Bound and Storm’s Heart, the first two novels of the Elder Series, on Her third book Serpent’s Kiss came out in October. Romance author Sophie Jordan has also embraced the scales. In her new young adult series, Firelight and Vanished, the heroine Jacinda is a draki, a descendant of dragons who can shift into human form. And what would a YA series be without a pair of star-crossed lovers? In this case, Jacinda and the draki hunter she falls in love with, Will. While I've not yet read these books, they're on my shelf, and I plan to read them soon. Perhaps a dragon marathon is in order?

So back to my original question—are dragons the new vampires? Let’s go to the Magic 8 Ball, in this case, for the answer. I type in “dragon romance” and click “search.” More than 1,000 hits come up between paperback, hardback, and Kindle versions, including my favorite title—Tipping the Scales: Stop Dragon My Heart Around. Guess that’s our answer.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Trouble with Books

I was an early reader. From my standardized test results in 2nd grade, I was already reading at a 12th grade level. How do I know? Scarily enough, my Dad saved every report card from K through college graduation in a manila folder, including standardized tests. Many years later, he gave me this folder. I’ve yet to throw it away. Perhaps you’ll see me on A&E’s Hoarders one day?

My tale takes place in 6th grade. (I’ll leave it to you to guess the year.) A Judy Blume book was circulating around the school. I’d read the classics, including Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, but the buzz on this book was different. The rumor: this book was banned from our school library! When I finally got my sweaty hands on Wifey, I removed the cover so I could leave the book in my desk and read it at school. When you read quietly, the teachers pretty much left you alone. They had 30 kids to track. My eagle-eyed mother had only two chicks in her nest. And she didn’t miss much.

Soon parent-teacher conferences rolled around. Happy to not have school, I lolled around in bed trying to figure out just what the heck was going on with the “wifey.” It was about sex. I knew that much—but not a great deal more. What can I say? I’m Catholic, and my parents were pretty strict. And then…holy hell in a handbag! I’d left the book in my desk, and my mom had her conference today. Mom never missed the opportunity to go through my things. And there was no way she’d overlook a book with the cover torn off. That was blasphemy in my home! Luckily, I lived right across the street from my school, and I was able to sneak in and retrieve the book between conferences. My teacher suspected nothing—sometimes being a straight-A bookworm helps.

And then sometimes being a straight-A bookworm doesn’t help at all. At least that was the case when Mom caught me reading Johanna Lindsey’s Captive Bride. For those of you unfamiliar with this classic Lindsey, I quote verbatim from Amazon: "Once Christina had rejected Philip's fervent offer of marriage. But now she is to be his slave—desperate for the freedoms denied her...yet weakened by her heart's blazing desire to willingly explore her virile captor's most sensuous cravings." Apparently, Mom didn’t find it suitable reading material for her 11-year daughter.

Captive Bride is not my favorite Lindsey. After all, I was raised by a card-carrying member of the women’s rights movement. Mom’s motto: Anything a man can do, a woman can do better. She’s since relaxed this sentiment, but it’s too late for me. I continue to espouse it with great “fervor.” Even at 11, I wanted the heroine, Christina Wakefield, to engineer her own escape from the Sheik—not fall in love with the reprobate. And yet, Captive Bride gave birth to my love of romance novels. I continue to read them (and Johanna Lindsey) today. Her entire collection resides on my sagging bookshelves. Some I’ve read so many times, I’ve had to replace them. Despite the corny titles and the fact that Fabio appears on nearly every original cover, here are three Lindsey’s that are definitely worth a read.

Got Viking? Set in 873 Wessex, Hearts Aflame is the love story of feisty Viking heroine Kristen Haardrad and the powerful Saxon Lord Royce of Wyndhurst, who attempts—with varying degrees of success—to tame her. Kristen is not your traditional heroine. Not only is she 6 feet tall, she has zero interest in the muscle-bound Vikings of her village. Kristen longs for freedom and adventure, which is why she stows away on her brother’s longboat. Unfortunately the Viking raid goes awry. Kristen’s brother Selig is killed. (Or maybe not, as Selig gets his own book in Lindsey’s Surrender My Love.) When the Vikings are captured and enslaved by the Saxons, crafty Kristen disguises herself as a boy to escape the inevitable raping and pillaging. But Royce is no fool. He’s also not attracted to flaxen-haired males, so he quickly figures out Kristen’s secret. Let the games begin. Kristen and Royce are an equal match—stubborn, headstrong, and passionate. And while Royce thinks he has the upper hand when he beds Kristen, it’s actually Kristen who’s driving this story. The chemistry between Kristen and Royce is off the chart. So, if you like sweaty Viking sex in frigid Nordic temperatures, this is the book for you.

Defy Not the Heart features my favorite Lindsey hero—the gruff yet noble Ranulf Fitzhugh. Set in medieval England (circa 1192), the castle of Lady Reina de Champeney is under seige. In the hopes of forcing Lady Reina to wed, the dastardly Lord Rothwell has hired the brave and oh-so-buff Ranulf to kidnap the noblewoman. But Reina is no shrinking violet. She quickly comes up with a proposition for Ranulf—he should marry her himself. And from the way Lindsey describes the golden-haired knight, I’d have made the same offer. Reina is a little unusual for a Lindsey heroine in that she is not “breathtakingly beautiful.” Instead, Reina is a diminutive but resolute heroine who quickly wins over the hearts of Ranulf and readers. In one scene, the ubiquitous “other woman” tries to seduce the luscious Ranulf. She is summarily rebuffed when Ranulf makes it clear that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that he remains true to Reina. Now that’s romance.

Lindsey’s Once a Princess is yet another take on Beauty and the Beast. Set in 1835, Stefan Barany is scarred—physically and emotionally. In an act of bravery, a young Stefan was disfigured when he stepped in front of an assassin’s rapier. Today most women are repulsed by his ruined face. So when Stefan’s told he must travel to America, retrieve a long-lost Princess, and then marry her in order to receive the kingdom, Stefan is not a happy puppy—I mean, Prince. Then things get complicated. Stefan convinces his handsome cousin, Vasili, to pose as the Prince. The royal party finds that instead of living a life of exiled luxury, Princess Tatiana Janacek has lived a life of hardship and degradation. Even worse she’s clueless about her royal roots. Princess Tatiana, or Tanya as she is now known, believes herself the daughter of an abusive tavern-owner who has literally forced her to dance for her keep. Stefan is initially revolted by the slovenly Tanya. But it turns out that clever Tanya has hidden her breathtaking beauty to escape the attentions of drunken bar patrons. Beauty is unmasked first. Tanya further confounds her Beast by spurning the delectable Vasili and falling in lust with the scarred and surly Stefan. So what’s a Beast to do? My suggestion: just give in to his happy-ever-after. But this is a Lindsey—not a Disney. So Stefan must first get Tanya to forgive his deception, save her from assassins who’ve wiped out the entire Janacek family, and then finally accept that Beauty can love the Beast. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Comeback Kid

Breaking up with a series is traumatic. Sometimes you have no choice because the publisher pulled the plug. Sometimes your heart is broken by an author who decides to end a series. Sometimes you end the affair. After long-term relationships, I dumped two popular series—Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta mysteries and John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport mysteries. What can I say? We were in a rut. And then there’s the break-ups where your heart is ripped out and then stomped on by Louboutin stilettos. So what happens you’re asked to reconcile?

I found Deadly Love in the mystery section at Border’s. It didn’t take long to figure out that the author, B.D. Joyce, was Brenda Joyce. I’d enjoyed her romance novels featuring the Bragg family. In fact, they’re buried two-rows deep in my bookshelves. The introduction to her new series read: “Welcome to the world of Francesca Cahill, crime solver extraordinaire. Francesca is no ordinary heroine. She refuses to bow to convention, wears her heart on her sleeve, and is determined to right the ills and injustices of the world.”
Color me intrigued.

Set in turn-of-the-century New York City (1902 to be exact), the mystery centers around a little boy who is spirited away from his bed during a high-society ball. Two people race to save him: bluestocking reformer Francesca Cahill and NYC Police Commissioner Rick Bragg. The characters engaged my interest right from the start. Francesca’s father, Andrew, is a millionaire who made his fortune in meat-packing after a humble beginning as a farmer. He adores Francesca and often turns a paternal blind-eye to her adventures. So it is her mother, Julia, an American blue-blood, who rules the family with an iron fist. To Julia’s despair, Francesca has little interest in obtaining a husband. Instead, our intrepid heroine would rather follow local politics and effect positive change for the less fortunate. Luckily Julia has another daughter: the beautiful Connie who is (seemingly?) perfect and (happily?) married to the dashing Neil. The youngest child, Evan, a charming ne’er do-well with a gambling problem, is the apple of his mother’s eye and an irritant to his hard-working father. At the end of Deadly Love, Francesca and Bragg solve the crime and become very “special friends.”  

In the second book in the series, Deadly Pleasures, Joyce introduces her most intriguing character yet—Calder Hart. Half-brother to Bragg, Hart is a bad boy in the best sense of the word—disturbingly sensual, sardonically witty, and uncaring about what society thinks of him. He is also Bragg’s arch-rival, so it’s no surprise when Hart turns his attention to Francesca to get a rise out of his do-good brother.

I tore through Deadly Affairs and Deadly Desire in 2002. By Deadly Caress and Deadly Promise, both published in 2003, I was firmly in Hart’s corner. Bragg was blonde and noble, but Hart was dark and hot. (I do love me some bad boy.) And then came the moment that arrogant womanizer Calder Hart could no longer deny his infatuation with the beautiful and brave Francesca, and he made her an offer of marriage. I’m not ashamed to admit that I squealed audibly when she said “Yes!”

I waited impatiently for Deadly Illusions, which didn’t come out until 2005. And I was chomping at the bit by the time Deadly Kisses dropped in 2006. It was the biggest nail-biter yet! Hart, who is suspected of killing his devious ex-mistress Daisy, ends his engagement to Francesca to protect her from scandal—breaking her heart and my heart in the process. Only Francesca believes in his innocence, and it is a frantic race to capture the murderer and Hart’s heart. (Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself.) The series was on fire. Then these devastating words posted to Brenda Joyce’s website in 2009.

I would like to thank all of you who have emailed me inquiring about The Deadly Series. My publisher is simply not interested in publishing the final book at this time. I realize that a majority of my readers do not know that I don’t get to write whatever I choose, but what they [the publisher] request I write. When I announced after Deadly Kisses that I was taking a break from the series, I had every intention of finishing this series. I’m saddened that the characters have been left in limbo. If you wish to voice your concerns, I’m including the [publisher’s] email address.

Limbo? This was more like being left in an upper level of hell. When I said the series was on fire, I didn’t mean it literally! I had questions that demanded answers—Would Francesca and Hart ever marry? If so, would the sensuous Hart, who sometimes enjoyed intimacies with multiple women at the same time, remain true to the virginal Francesca? Would Bragg get over losing Francesca to Hart? Could Hart and Bragg rebuild their fractured relationship? And what would happen to Evan (Francesa’s scamp of a brother), Sarah (a bohemian artist and Evan’s ex-fiancée), Maggie (a working-mother of common birth who is crushing on Evan), Roarke (Bragg’s half-brother, a medical student who shows an uncommon interest in free-spirit Sarah), and the other secondary characters I’d grown to love?

Deep breath. And now for the comeback.

Last year, I received an email from Brenda Joyce. The subject line: "A very important message about The Deadly Series." Her publisher had had a change of heart. It planned to re-release the last two books in the series in December 2010 and January 2011 and—wait for it—the 9th book in the series, Deadly Vows in February 2011.

I’m happy to say that Joyce delivered. For the first time in years, I had to turn to the back page to see how Deadly Vows ended. And now it’s your turn. Treat yourself to a great series and be sure to read them in order, you won’t want to miss one second of the adventure, mystery, and romance. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Last week I blogged on what happens when an author stops writing a series that you love. Today I’m writing about what happens when an author stops writing a series that you love and then disappears. Yes, disappears! I’m not exaggerating. It’s a true story, and it happened to me.

Unlike most of my “keepers,” I’m a little fuzzy on how I first came across Dating Can be Murder by Jennifer Apodaca. If I’d hazard a guess, my Mom probably passed it on to me. I’m a voracious reader of romance—Regency, contemporary, urban fantasy, dystopian, young adult. Throw in a 7-foot flaxen-haired Viking and it’s the cherry on top of my sundae. My mother, on the other hand, is a voracious reader of mysteries—from Miss Marple to Miss Plum. In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to name a cozy mystery series she hasn’t read. But we do share books across our genres—at least the good ones.

Looking down at the really bad cover of Dating Can be Murder—limp dead guy in a suit, splayed across a giant heart floating in midair with what looks to be a bullet hole through it—I’m pretty sure it came from my Mom. Call me superficial, but it’s just not the kind of cover that would’ve caught my interest. But I’m being lazy. Let me just pick up the phone and ask. Be right back.

Did you miss me? And yes, after much prompting, Mom recalled giving the book to me. “I thought you would like that one.” Interesting. It appears that Mom is not as enamored of the series as I am. Is that going to stop me from extolling the undeniable charms of the Samantha Shaw mysteries? Nope.

The book starts out in grand fashion. I call it breaking up with style. Our spunky heroine, Samantha Shaw, is in a pickle. Her husband Trent has been killed in an unfortunate peanut-related incident. After finding a stash of women’s underwear in his vintage Mustang, her mourning period is brief. So what’s a scorned woman to do? How about taking the life insurance money to buy breast implants and a dating service? Sounds like a plan. But you know what they say about the best-laid plans.

Pause. Actually I don’t know, so I’m going to Google it.

I’m back. Again. According to Wikipedia, the quote is “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley [go oft awry].” It’s from a Robert Burns’ poem entitled “To a Mouse.” Who knew?

Anyway, Samantha’s plans gang aft agley. In addition to being a serial cheater, her dead husband was also a liar, a thief, and a drug dealer. And now Samantha and her two young sons are being threatened by some really scary bad guys. Sam’s life is made even more complicated by two new men in her life—Gabe Pulizzi, an ex-cop who now runs his own security firm and Detective Morgan Rossi, who is looking into all the strange happenings that surround our heroine.

So why should you be interested in the trials and tribulations of Samantha Shaw? Here are three good reasons. First, while the story is fast-paced, the mystery is enjoyably on the light side—no coked-up drug dealers, decapitated bodies, or sexual deviants. Wait! There may be a mention of a vibrator. Or maybe that’s in the fourth book in the series: Batteries Required. Second, the book is damn funny. For example, Sam’s cheating-ex was a record-setting condom salesman. Another example, Sam reviews romances and erotica, awarding stars for extra “sizzle.” You get the picture. Third, Apodaca’s characters are likeable and well-rounded. You feel for Sam—literally. The sexual tension between Sam and Gabe actually elicited a physical reaction from me. I’m not ashamed to say I got a tad bit warm during their first sex scene. Bottom line: Apodaca and Sam (and, let’s be honest, Gabe) had me hooked. I eagerly consumed the next four books in the series—Dying to Meet You, Ninja Soccer Mom, Batteries Required, and Thrilled to Death—and looked forward to future stories and many more hours of entertainment.

Or maybe not.

When my internal alarm clock told me to start looking for a new Samantha Shaw mystery, I was in for a shock. I googled Jennifer Apodaca and someone named Jennifer Lyon popped up. In fact, Jennifer Apodaca had virtually disappeared. All that remained of my beloved author was a small tab on Jennifer Lyon’s website. Like Samantha Shaw, I had a mystery to solve. Unlike Samantha Shaw, it didn’t take me 300 pages do so.

So what exactly happened? Jennifer Apodaca had pulled a Phoenix—a mystery writer “died” and an urban fantasy author rose from the ashes. In the author’s own words:  “She [Jennifer Lyons aka Jennifer Apodaca] unleashed her inner witch and created the Wing Slayer Hunter series about tortured alpha males and the very special witches who loved them.” Wow. I didn’t see that one coming.

So where does that leave me today? Jealously guarding my dog-eared copies of the five Samantha Shaw mysteries. They are not on loan—to anyone. And making room on my shelf for a new author. But I’ll be honest here. Jennifer Lyon is not Jennifer Apodaca. The oven still “sizzles,” but one important ingredient is missing from the recipe—humor. My advice: savor your books, because you never know when the menu is going to change.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Break-up

Break-ups. They happen to everyone. We all handle them differently. They come in all sizes and shapes. You’ve got the discreet break-up. Reese, you showed amazing grace, and I really hope the second one works out. The out-of-left-field break-up. Will we ever know what happened between Tim and Susan? The serial break up—J Lo and husband No. 1 (the chef), husband No. 2 (the dancer), the almost-husband (the actor), and husband No. 3 (the singer). The break-ups that don’t stick the first few times. A classic example is Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. For a more contemporary one, look no further than Sean Penn and Robin Wright. Then there are the train wreck break-ups: the ones we want to look away from, but just can’t. Sandra, no one deserves that kind of break-up, least of all America’s sweetheart. 

There are the break-ups that break our hearts. Yeah, I’m talking about you, Jen Aniston. Five years later, and I still haven’t forgiven Brangelina. There's the break-ups that defy description. I could write a story about a female protagonist, let’s make her an astronaut, who puts on a pair of diapers and drives 18 hours to kill her boyfriend. No one would believe it. And yet, that story is true. It has even been immortalized in song by Ben Folds. But today I'm blogging on a different kind of break-up. It’s the one you experience when your favorite series of books come to an end. It’s painful. It’s depressing. And, for me, there’s usually some anger involved.

The year was 2002. It was coming up on the one-year anniversary of 9/11. I was looking for a light-hearted story to escape into. And I found Maggie Needs an Alibi by Kasey Michaels. I’d read Michaels’ historical romances, but this book was her first foray into a new genre—the comedic mystery. It was just what the doctor ordered. The premise was intriguing. The heroine, Maggie Kelly, finds herself accused of murdering her publisher. (How many authors dream of doing that?) Maggie’s allies in proving her innocence—the two main characters in her best-selling mystery series: the mouth-watering Alexandre Blake, Viscount St. Just, and his naïve, slightly overweight sidekick, Sterling Balder.

What? How? Easy. The two characters simply show up in Maggie’s New York apartment one day—alive, thankful to Maggie for creating them, and, in the case of St. Just, a Regency-era James Bond, looking to solve a crime and get his flirt on. Of course, Maggie thinks she’s either lost her mind or fallen victim to an elaborate hoax. In fact, Maggie is a bit of a neurotic mess. Her main sources of entertainment are lounging around in her pajamas, playing “Lemmings” on her computer, and smoking. She doesn’t get out much, avoids her family at all costs, and her love life can best be described as non-existent. All of which beg the question: how did Maggie create such a fascinating character as the delectable St. Just? Debonair, clever, and charmingly sardonic, St. Just is the epitome of the romantic regency hero. And his looks are nothing to sneeze at either. Maggie has given St. Just Paul Newman’s blue eyes, Val Kilmer’s sensuous pout, Peter O’Toole’s aristocratic nose, Sean Connery’s “slightly more British, bedroom voice” and “hair as black as midnight, casually rumpled in its windswept style, à la Beau Brummell.”

We’ve covered the mystery and the (potential for) romance. So what about the comedy I promised? Well, just try and imagine the high jinks that might ensue if an 18th century aristocrat was somehow transported to modern day New York City. Reading how St. Just and Sterling acclimate is totally hysterical. How does Maggie tell Sterling, who’s crushing on the housekeeper in The Brady Bunch, that Alice is merely a character in a TV show? How does St. Just adapt to modern day menswear? Hint: he doesn’t give up his cravat without a fight? How does Maggie explain St. Just to her cynical, often inebriated agent? After all, St. Just is the spitting image of the main character in Maggie’s books. How do St. Just and Sterling survive with no money, no social security numbers, and no place to lay their top hats? Not all these questions are answered in the first book. Instead, you'll have to follow Maggie, St. Just, and Sterling, through the other five books in the series: Maggie by the Book, Maggie Without a Clue, High Heels and Homicide, High Heels and Holidays, and Bowled Over. And hopefully you’ll fall in love with the characters as I did.

Unfortunately, falling in love makes breaking up even harder to do. And that is where I stand today with my beloved series. In the last book, published in 2007, the commitment-phobic Maggie and the reformed-rake St. Just had finally succumbed to what I knew all along was “True Love.” After solving yet another mystery, a bowling-related murder involving Maggie’s father, Maggie and St. Just were engaged and moving into their dream home. And then…nothing! After waiting anxiously for the next book in the series, I logged onto Kasey Michael’s website and found this curt (and heart-breaking) message:

Don’t want the Maggie Kelly series to end? Proclaim your love for Maggie by writing to: Ms. Laurie Parkin, VP and Publisher, Kensington Publishing Corp., 850 Third Ave., New York, New York 10022.

So don’t get too attached to your favorite characters, cause you never know when you’re going to be dumped cold—stone cold.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Judging a Book by Its Cover

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m guilty of judging a book by its cover. But over the last 18 months or so, something strange has happened to me. I found myself falling in thrall with a cover model. And before you start wondering about Sapphic tendencies, let me explain. This blog is about my love of books, but I also love watching stories acted out on the large and small screen. I particularly enjoy serialized programming, including the grandmother of serialized drama—the daytime soap opera. If any fellow soap fans are reading this blog, you’ll know that the last few years have not been kind to the soaps. It’s been one casualty—I mean, cancellation—after another. Today marks the last episode of Erica Kane and All My Children. One of the other soaps cancelled was the venerable 54-year-old As the World Turns. So what do soaps have to do with my blog topic? Let me connect the dots.

I used to watch As the World Turns. My two favorite characters were Katie Perretti, played by the engaging Terri Conn, and her ditzy best friend Vienna Hyatt, played by the luminous Ewa Da Cruz. And then one rainy Saturday afternoon I was browsing in Barnes and Noble when I saw Ewa Da Cruz staring coquettishly back at me from the cover of The Lost Duke of Wyndham. How cool was that? Now I’d never read a single book by the author, Julia Quinn, but I bought the book anyway because I couldn’t resist Ewa’s gamine smile. And I’m glad I did. The book and its sequel (Mr. Cavendish, I Presume) were excellent. So good, in fact, that I’m going to take a paragraph and plug Julia Quinn, who may be, as author Jill Barnett writes, “Our contemporary Jane Austen.”

The Lost Duke of Wyndham is exactly what it purports to be: the story of highwayman Jack Audley who—in a strange twist of fate—turns out to be a Duke. Jack is a charming rouge who falls head over heels for ladies’ companion Grace Eversleigh. Then problems abound. First, there is already a current Duke—the stiff and pompous Thomas Cavendish. And then there’s the Duke of Wyndham’s fiancée. As the presumed heir, Thomas has been engaged to Amelia Willoughby since infancy. Now Amelia’s parents want her to marry the real Duke. Finally, there’s Jack’s irascible and domineering Grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Wyndham, who refuses to accept that Jack would stoop so low as to marry her paid companion. Of course, Jack and Grace get their happy-ever-after, but it’s the second book in the series that wraps everything up in a perfect bow. In Mr. Cavendish, I Presume, the exact same story is played out—this time through the eyes of the newly-deposed Duke and his on-off-on again fiancée. I enjoyed how Quinn cleverly interweaves and unfolds two distinct stories. In book one, Jack comes to terms with his ducal responsibilities and, with Grace’s loving support, rises to the expectation of his new position. In book two, Thomas is freed of the ducal burden and able to loosen up enough to truly fall in love with Amelia. Of the two, I liked the second book better. It was good fun to watch the clueless Thomas flounder after Amelia, the fiancée he ignored all of his life until he realized he might actually lose her—typical male! And if you like these two books, let me know, I have Quinn’s Bridgerton Series to sell you.

Now back to my original topic. Not too long after I bought a book simply for the pleasure of seeing a familiar face, I ran into Ewa again. This time it was on the cover of Royal Blood by Rhona Sharon. If you’ve read my first blog, “You Staked Me at Hello” (Sept. 2, 2011), you’ll understand that Ewa plus vampires was impossible for me to resist, and the book quickly found a place on my shelf. Over the next year or so, Ewa and I continued to “meet cute,” starting with Kiss of the Rose, the first book in Kate Pearce’s Tudor Vampire Chronicles, and then again with The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne. And still my library continued to expand, making room for other Ewa covers, including In Bed with a Highlander (Maya Banks), How to Seduce a Scoundrel (Vicky Dreiling), and The Bride Wore Scarlet (Liz Carlyle).

But it wasn’t until Ewa graced the reissue of Laurie McBain’s classic Devil’s Desire, that I realized I had a problem. You see, I own the original Devil’s Desire (circa 1975), and yet I found myself poised to do the unthinkable—buy another copy simply because of the new cover. For the sake of my overflowing bookshelves and my empty wallet, the madness had to cease! Just not until after I buy Mark of the Rose, the third book in the Tudor Vampire Chronicles; Seduction of a Highland Lass, the second book in the Maya Banks trilogy; and Lord and Lady Spy by Shana Galen. Featuring the exquisite Ewa on their covers, all three books came out this month.

And now for best part of my story: Julia Quinn was not the only author that Ewa introduced me to. Unbelievably, I hadn’t read a single book from any of these authors. Bottom line: Ewa Da Cruz inspired me to try eight new authors! The cost of my first Ewa Da Cruz cover—$7.99 (plus tax). Total cost of all my Ewa Da Cruz covers to date—$69.95 (plus tax). The cost of the Julia Quinn books I have since purchased—$119.85 (plus tax and shipping). The cost of a good cover model—priceless!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

More than 10 years ago, my mom called me up at work one day to ask a book-related question. She wanted to know when Sophie Dunbar’s next mystery was coming out. Dunbar is the author of one of our favorite series—The Eclaire Mysteries. There are four books in this series about Claire Claiborne and her high-society New Orleans beauty salon: Behind Eclaire’s Doors, A Bad Hair Day, Redneck Riviera, and Shiveree. As I thought about my Mom’s words, I realized that it had been a while since we’d read Dunbar’s last book—Fashion Victims, the first book in a new series.

So, while eating lunch at my desk, I browsed all of the usual websites and was surprised at what I found. Or rather what I didn’t find. There were no new books that I’d somehow missed. (Okay, I’m good about staying on top of my favorite authors, but when you have hundreds of “favorite” authors, it can be tricky.) I googled Sophie Dunbar’s name, looking for her website. Nothing. Now I was intrigued. Unfortunately, I was also finished my lunch.

That night I returned to my keyboard to solve the mystery of Sophie Dunbar’s apparent disappearance. I consider myself the Queen of the Internet search, and I was not about to relinquish my crown. (Humble much?) Plus, it would be fun to solve a little “mystery” related to one of my favorite mystery writers. A few minutes later—mystery solved, but with mixed results. I retained my Queen of the Internet crown, but lost a “friend.” And yes, although I’d never met Sophie Dunbar, when I read that the 54-year-old author had died on May 11, 2001, from breast cancer, I truly felt like I’d lost a friend. When I called my Mom to tell her the news, she felt the same.

Sophie Dunbar came back into my life this past summer when my Mom brought the Eclaire Mysteries on vacation with us. She’d lent them to my sister-in-law to read. While that might not seem like such a big deal, I should probably share a few facts about my sister-in-law, and hope she doesn’t disown me when she reads this blog. First, she considers flipping through gossip mags reading. Second, outside of coursework (she’s back in college getting her teaching degree), she probably reads about three books a year—two of those when she’s on vacation with my family. Finally, she once uttered the words: “Why read the book when you can wait a few months and see the movie?” Her words left me speechless. And if you know me, you’d know what a feat that was. My sister-in-law read Behind Eclaire’s Doors in record time, and she loved it. She was still reading the second book when our vacation ended.

When I sat down to write this blog, something made me google Sophie Dunbar again. It was a little depressing at first. Her five books are out of print and only available through Amazon’s Seller Program. Other mentions of her are few and far between. Three lines in an online article by Terry Weingart entitled “In Memory 2001: Mystery Writers Gone but Not Forgotten.” About 10 lines on her author page on But then I read them, and what a 10 lines they are!

I now know my “friend” Sophie Dunbar a little better. For example, her favorite book in the Eclaire Mystery Series was Redneck Riviera. It is the third book published in the series, but it was actually the second book Dunbar wrote. Not happy that she’d changed the setting from the Big Easy to Mississippi, her publisher chose to release A Bad Hair Day instead. In fact, Dunbar had to switch publishing houses before her favorite story would make it into print. (If you read the series in the order the books were published, as my Mom and I originally did, you will note that the timing is a little off.)

The other thing I learned about Sophie Dunbar was more intriguing. As a pregnant, unwed teenager, Sophie Dunbar had given a son up for adoption. Thirty years later, after intensive research and with the help of a female detective who specialized in adoptions, Sophie Dunbar’s son made contact with his birth mother. Mother and son shared their first face-to-face meeting at the 1998 Malice Domestic Mystery Conference in Washington, D.C. When I read these words, a chill went down my spine. How strangely appropriate to unravel such a great mystery at a conference for mystery writers. Immediately, my overactive imagination went into hyper-drive.

What had been going though Sophie Dunbar’s mind when she first laid eyes on her son? Had she been scared? Nervous? Uncertain? Excited? Regretful? Overjoyed? Had Sophie Dunbar known about her breast cancer diagnosis? After all, she would die a mere three years later. Perhaps she’d already been in the fight for her life even while she agreed to meet the baby she’d given away. Of course I will never know the answers to these questions. They will remain a mystery.

What I do know is that I will not forget Sophie Dunbar. Her books will always have room on my bookshelf. Her characters will always have a special place in my heart. If you have not read her Eclaire Mystery series, I urge you to do so. From the pleasure of true love to the pain of infidelity to the power of forgiveness, the connection between Claire and Dan Claiborne is powerful and oh-so-steamy. Their adventures are good for a chuckle and always served with a heaping helping of Southern Charm and a dash of murder. Even better, I can visit Sophie Dunbar’s engaging stories whenever I want, and—as my Mom did this summer and I’m doing today—I can share her work with others who may have missed them the first time around.

Friday, September 9, 2011

I Was Born on the Wrong Side of the Pond

It’s hard to say for certain when my addiction to all things English began. Perhaps with my first Barbara Cartland novel, The Husband Hunters. Published in 1976, the story revolved around a plain, yet virtuous, older sister, two beautiful, yet vapid, younger sisters—diamonds of the first water, no less—and an arrogantly indifferent Duke. Andrina’s audacious plan: to launch her sisters into Regency Society in the hopes of landing a Duke, an Earl, or, at the very least, a Viscount. From taffeta and silk ball gowns worn by waifish heroines with heart-shaped faces. To intricately-folded cravats that framed men with high foreheads and thin, seemingly cruel lips. To the pomposity and scandalous affairs of Prinny (aka Prince Regent and, finally, King George IV). Fascinating—and somewhat confusing—stuff to a tweenage Pennsylvania tomboy with an overactive imagination.

In addition to being a highly prolific author, Cartland was a character in real life. One interesting tidbit: she was Step-Grandmother to Lady Diana Spencer, who we all know grew up to become Diana, Princess of Wales. Alas, the two were not close. In Tina Brown’s book, The Diana Chronicles, Barbara Cartland is quoted as saying, “The only books Diana ever read were mine, and they weren’t awfully good for her.” Hmmmm? One might argue that Prince Charles has a high forehead and thin, seemingly cruel lips, just like Barbara Cartland’s high-in-the-instep heroes. That could explain a lot.

My love for Barbara Cartland soon led me to Georgette Heyer. In fact, Heyer is often credited with starting the Regency Romance genre that I still enjoy today. Reading Heyer’s Arabella, I fell in girl-love with the saucy and headstrong Arabella Tallent who spun outrageous claims of fortune and nobility as comeuppance to the haughty Robert Beamaris. Haven’t read Heyer? I urge you to give her a try. In fact, during a recent visit to Barnes and Noble, I happened to notice that her books have been reissued with lovely vintage-looking covers.

At school I was introduced to Jane Austen. But what can I say about Austen that hasn’t already been said—ad infinitum. Moving on.

Other romantic classics set in England soon followed. Heathcliff and Catherine. Jane Eyre and Rochester. Buttercup and Westley. Okay, I’m not entirely sure Princess Bride took place in England, but if it didn’t, it should have. And, of course, Romeo and Juliet. If I’m honest, however, the last two annoyed me from the get-go. A poignant tale of star-crossed lovers? Hardly! More a primer for what not to do if you’re ever lucky enough to be embroiled in an epic love story involving feuding families.

For years I was content to lose myself in my books, day-dreaming about what it would have been like to live in England during the Regency or even Victorian Period. But overall I was okay with it because, hey, that was the past, and I was a Modern Girl. And then the inexplicable happened. While browsing in Borders (R.I.P), I picked up a trade paperback called, Bridget Jones’s Diary.

And here I must share an aside. A few days ago, someone asked me if I’d ever seen a movie that was better than the book. “Never!” I scoffed. But you know what they say about using definitives—writer (or in my case, speaker) beware. Helen Fielding’s book was mildly amusing. Seeing her story come to life in all of Renee Zellwegger’s full-figured glory, Colin Firth’s deprecating charm, and Hugh Grant’s insouciant callousness was nothing short of magnificent. And going by Zellwegger’s Academy Award nomination, I wasn’t the only one captivated by her performance.

After seeing Bridget Jones on the big screen, it hit me—I want to be a Modern English Girl! I want to smoke a fag! Well, not really. I’m a staunch anti-smoker. So I want to turn my nose up at the offer to smoke a fag. I want to go shopping in quaint English thrift shops and toss my vintage finds into the boot of my car. I want a cute lorry driver with a Cockney accent to wink at me and call me “luv.” (I already have someone who loves me, and I plan on taking him to England with me someday.) I want to live in a shabby chic cottage—as long as it comes with central air and is in equal walking distance to a drafty castle, a stately manor home, and a charming pub where everyone knows my name.

That’s a tall order to fill—and probably not very realistic. Or so I thought. And then I found Katie Fforde. And she gave me everything I asked for in 500 pages or less.

My first Kate Fforde book was Life Skills. I found it in the bargain bin at Books-a-Million (my least favorite bookstore). The author name caught my eye because I am a big fan of Jasper Fforde's Tuesday Next mystery series. And yes, they are indeed related—she is married to his cousin. (FYI: their books could not be any more different. In fact, the only thing they have in common is location. They all take place in their home country of England.) But back to Life Skills. I quite liked the cover—cute blonde in a jaunty sailor cap throwing a heart-shaped life preserver. (Probably this has something to do with my husband, who is the son of a son of a sailor.) I so enjoyed this story about a canal boat ride from London to Birmingham that I immediately scrambled to get my hands on more of her work. It wasn't easy. Katie Fforde hadn't quite caught on here "across the pond," and I had to order through international book distributors or Amazon UK. I’m happy to say that today it is much easier to get her books.

So why read should you Katie Fforde? Well, if you are someone like me—a complete Anglophile who is convinced she was born on the wrong side of the pond—you will relish her books like a box of your favorite chocolates. Fforde's character's are engaging, likeable, and offer a realistic portrayal of today's women. In other words, her heroines are no size-two Carrie Bradshaw. Fforde's words paint a virtual landscape of cozy cottages, charming villages, and the omnipresent friendly pub. She’s big on family and friends, and her books make me smile. Fforde develops quirky secondary characters that you care about. Even better, Fforde ensures that everyone gets their happy ending.

Friday, September 2, 2011

You Staked Me at Hello

I was into vampires way before True Blood. Before Twilight. Before Buffy the Vampire Slayer—both the excellent TV series and the not-so-excellent, yet still a hell of a lot of fun, movie. Before Francis Ford Coppola tried to win an Academy Award for Vlad the Impaler. (He wasn’t successful. Gary Oldman as Dracula—riveting, even with the creepy bouffant wig. Keanu Reeves as Mina’s vampire slayer husband—not so much.)

My vampire fetish began much earlier. I was 11 years old. It was 1979, and I was hit with a vampiric double whammy—Love at First Bite and Salem’s Lot. The first taught me that an average girl could find happily ever after with a blood-sucking fiend. (Interesting aside: before there was the “sparkly” vampire, there was the tanned vampire. All the white face paint in the world couldn’t hide the amazing orange of George Hamilton’s skin.) The latter taught me that vampires could be pretty freaking scary. (To see Salem’s Lot, I had to wait until my parents were asleep, sneak downstairs, and watch it at 2 am. By myself. In the pitch black. Was I brave or what?)

So why am I rambling on about vampires again? Oh yeah, as a convoluted introduction to one of my favorite vampire series. But first let me set the stage. The year was 2008. Twilight Fever had raged out of control. And I found myself feeling something unexpected—vampire ennui. I’d had it up to my fang marks with the vampire books, movies, and TV shows.

I was in the library with my son when I caught a glimpse of an attractive redhead lounging on a gravestone. I always judge a book by its cover, and it was a pretty sexy cover. So I picked it up. Sigh. Another freaking vampire book. I went to put it back on the shelf, and then hesitated. I wasn’t at a bookstore (R.I.P. Borders). I could walk out with this book for free! Bonus: I wouldn't get the long-suffering look from my oh-so-tolerant husband who no longer bothers to remind me that I have an entire room full of books waiting to be read and reread. So I tossed the paperback in with my son’s manga selections.

The book sat on my dresser until I got the email that it was due back. I looked again at the cover. (Like I said, it was a pretty sexy cover.) In the end, I couldn’t resist. In fact, I’ve never found a book I was able to resist. Plus, this one was right there for the taking.  And I am so glad I did. Jeaniene Frost's Halfway to the Grave was amazing. Cat was a flawed, kick-ass heroine. And Bones?

Bones…Bones…How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Bones was Mr. Darcy with a bite. He came across as cold and unfeeling, but melted fast for the feisty half-vampire Cat. And I melted fast for Bones. Really fast. Like, couldn’t put the book down fast. I read it in 2 days. (Don’t you hate when work gets in the way of your reading?) His back story was intriguing—a former prostitute in 18th century London who was turned against his will by his best friend. Today, Bones works as a kind-of vampire bounty hunter, tracking down and taking out all the big baddies and leaving the sexy walking dead in peace(s).

Bones' vocation puts him on a collision course with Cat, who is out to stake all the vampires she can. Cat’s mom was raped by a newly-turned vampire—hence the birth of our heroine, a half human, half vampire hybrid. But this blog is getting long in the tooth—pun intended—so let me put a stake in it. (I’m sorry, I just can’t help myself). Bones and Cat join forces. Have crazy hot vampire sex. Kick some serious vampire ass. And are wrenched apart by a shocking ending that left me running for Amazon and praying the second book in the series had already been published. It had been. So I ordered both books and anxiously waited for them to arrive. (As much as I despise e-readers, the immediacy is tempting.) The second book in the series, One Foot in the Grave, was even better. But perhaps I’ll save that for another blog…