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.