Friday, March 2, 2012

The Buttercup Effect

The Princess Bride is one of my favorite movies. What’s not to love? The movie (and the book) have it all—R.O.U.S’s, a six-fingered man, deadly iocane powder, a gentle giant. Even Buttercup’s hair deserves a shout-out. Disney’s princesses have nothing on Robin Wright’s golden waves. But if I had to pick my favorite part of The Princess Bride, it would be the love story between Westley and Buttercup. They share a once-in-a-lifetime, happily-ever-after love. Kinda like the love between Bella and Edward. Only instead of happily-ever-after, the two vampires are more forever and ever after. Spending eternity together, that’s quite a commitment.

The only downside about that type of love is that it doesn’t come along very often. I read a lot of books about love. And the heroine always lands her man at the end. But would I stake my life on the long-term success of those relationships? Hardly. And that’s what makes the love between Buttercup and Westley and Bella and Edward so special. It is an intense, all-encompassing, throw yourself down a very steep hill or in front of a deadly vampire kind of love.

Clary and Jace, the two main characters in Book One of Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series, have this kind of love. I wish I could say that’s why I bought the book, but I’d be lying. Nope, I picked up the book solely for its cover. The shirtless, leanly-muscled, tousled-haired golden boy is just my kind of eye candy. But don’t take my word. See for yourself ( ). That said. I would not have stayed with the series for the next three books and counting if Clare had not crafted an amazing story. Like Princess Bride, City of Bones has it all—forbidden love, tortured familial relationships, unsolved mysteries, burning quests for vengeance. And did I mention the angels, demons, vampires, werewolves, and faeries? Oh my!  

City of Bones starts strong and never lets up. Like Alice, Clary stumbles into a rabbit hole. In this case, it is the world of the Shadowhunters, a secret group of nephilim (angel) warriors tasked with protecting the human race against demons. This war and the uneasy relationship the Shadowhunters have with the Underworlders—creatures like vampires, werewolves, faeries, and such—all takes place right under the nose of a clueless human population. And then one night Clary witnesses Jace and his sort-of-adopted siblings, Isabelle and Alec, battle and kill a demon. They’re surprised when Clary is able to see them; shocked when she’s bold enough to question their actions. Perhaps this explains Jace’s immediate fascination with the red-head. We know why Clary falls for the arrogant Jace. Need a reminder? Take a look at the cover to the upcoming fifth book in the series: This insta-attraction does not sit well with Clary’s best friend, Simon, who’s clearly hoping for more than friendship. Alas, Simon and we readers know that will never happen. From their first scene, Clary and Jace have IT—that undeniable, I’ve just met my soul-mate kind of connection.

Unfortunately the terms soul-mates and star-crossed lovers are often used interchangeably. And Clary and Jace are no exception. First, Clary’s mother, Jocelyn, is kidnapped (killed?) by demons unknown. And then Clary finds out that her whole life has been a lie. She is not an average human. Clary is a Shadowhunter like Jace, Isabelle, and Alec, and she was denied her heritage by her mother. And then Clary finds out that Luke, her mother’s long-time boyfriend and the closest person Clary has ever known to a dad, is a—wait for it—werewolf. But Clary’s baggage is nothing compared to the weight Jace carries around on his narrow but muscular shoulders. Yummy! Jace’s father is the evil Valentine Morgenstern. Think Voldemort, only more attractive. And just like Voldemort, the supposedly dead Valentine turns up alive and in search of a magical artifact, the Mortal Cup. With this “instrument,” Valentine plans to create a powerful army to slaugher not only demons, but also all Downworlders. Yeah, Jace’s Dad is a hater. Worse, he’s a racist who thinks the nephilim should reign over all. Unfortunately for Clary, Valentine thinks Jocelyn has the Mortal Cup, and he makes it pretty clear that he’ll do anything to get it. And if he kills some Downworlders and breaks a few hearts along the way, even better. And that’s just what Valentine does, revealing a terrible secret that rips our star-crossed lovers apart and sends Clary fleeing into the arms of the reliable Simon.

What a monumentally bad choice that turns out to be. I won’t ruin the plot, but visualize the scene in The Princess Bride where the old hag boos and hisses at Buttercup.

You had love in your hands, and you gave it up. Your true love lives. And you marry another. True Love saved her in the Fire Swamp, and she treated it like garbage. And that's what she is, the Queen of Refuse. So bow down to her if you want, bow to her. Bow to the Queen of Slime, the Queen of Filth, the Queen of Putrescence. Boo. Boo. Rubbish. Filth. Slime. Muck. Boo. Boo. Boo.

That’s about how I felt when Clary starts making a series of very bad decisions. Of course, the rebellious Jace shoulders a lot of the blame. Jace is so gun-ho to “save” his True Love that he is constantly acting without thinking—usually resulting in a serious ass-kicking by various evil-doers. As much as I enjoy Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, I cop to sometimes wanting to shake Clary and Jace. Then I sigh, remind myself that they’re young, and dive back into the book. But if I could offer advice to the star-crossed lovers, I would tell Jace to start channeling his inner Westley.

Hear this now: I will always come for you. This is true love. You think this happens every day? Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.

And that, my dear readers, is what I call the Buttercup Effect. May we all be so lucky to experience it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Things that Go Bump in the Night

These words are part of a short traditional Scottish prayer.

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

When that prayer was written, people probably believed it was ghouls and ghosts they needed to fear. Today…not so much. Vampires are sexy. Witches can be good—even the bad ones get their own Broadway musicals. And Demi and Patrick showed us that it can be sexy to make out with a ghost. No, people today have a whole different set of fears: nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons; terrorists; gangs and drug lords; and killing sprees like the ones at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and in Norway. The list is nearly endless. And the people who recited the old Scottish prayer would probably stick with their ghoulies, ghosties, and long-leggedy beasties. (Although my husband would probably put spiders on his top 10 list of fears.)

I don’t scare easily, certainly not by bumps in the night. It’s actually utter silence I find more disturbing. When I was little, I used to have a recurring dream about a woman with a mustache. I know, I know. It seems funny now. But all through elementary and middle school, this woman haunted my dreams. The nightmares were always similar. The woman would come into my house when my family was sleeping and try to take me away. Sometimes she would use a ladder and come through my window. Other times, she would slither out of my closet. To this day, it makes me uncomfortable to sleep with my closet open. The other constant: the woman never made a sound. Neither did I. Our battles were fought in silence, while my parents and brother slept peacefully just a few feet away.

So what does this have to do with my blog? Well, horror is today’s topic. I like scary books. Stephen King is amazing. Peter Straub easily induces chills. I read Red Dragon—where Hanibal Lecter is first introduced—when I was probably too young and without my parent’s permission. But books don’t scare me. At least not until the night I started reading Intensity by Dean Koontz.   

The main character, Chyna Shepherd, has come to Napa Valley with a friend, Laura Templeton, to visit Laura’s family farm. Like me, Chyna finds it difficult to fall asleep in a strange place. So she is awake to hear the first scream. So faint, Chyna almost doesn’t recognize the sound. Even after the second cry, she’s convinced the noises are coming from outside. At the soft thump, Chyna instinctively recognizes that evil is inside.

Following the stifled cries and the soft thump, silence sifted down like snowfall. The hush was eerily deep, as unnatural as that in which the deaf lived. This was the stillness before the pounce, the quietude of the coiled snake. In another part of the house, someone was standing as motionless as she herself was standing, as alert as she was, intently listening. Someone dangerous.

I recognize the scene. My mustachioed woman has returned. I am officially spooked. But I’m also hooked, and I can’t put the book down.

Footsteps. Evil is coming. As Chyna slithers silently under her unmade bed, I am right there with her among the dust bunnies. I scrunch my nose against the urge to sneeze. No one can know we are here.

Wait a second, I can sneeze. I am at home in Bowie, Maryland—not the Napa Valley. I am letting my imagination run away with me. I am also slightly ashamed. Chyna is much braver than I am.

Evil has killed Laura’s entire family. And he has done unmentionable things to Laura, who is still alive.

No one can know what they would do in such a horrific situation. I hope I wouldn’t run away, or worse, hide, choosing not to help my friend. I hope I would be as strong as Chyna. The next 100 pages are so “intense” my hand holding the book is cramping.

When the man carries Laura outside and puts her into an RV, Chyna heroically sneaks aboard. My heart breaks with hers, when Chyna realizes she is too late and her friend is dead. And now the RV is moving, and Chyna is trapped with not one, but two bodies.

About this time, I’d probably pee my pants. Thankfully, we’re stopping at a convenience store—okay, time to reel my imagination back in. And perhaps a bathroom break is in order.

After two more brutal murders (this guy means business) Chyna again has the chance to escape. But evil has bragged to the store clerk about a 16-year-old girl he is holding captive in his basement. It’s decision time. Does Chyna hide and take the chance that evil will get away—escaping punishment for what he did to Laura and her family? And what about the innocent teenager, who evil calls Ariel? In Chyna’s own words:

Throughout her childhood, no one had ever held out a hand to her. No one had ever cared that she was trapped, frightened, and helpless.

Chyna refuses to do that to Ariel. Chyna will take a stand against evil.

Eventually, I have to put the book down and go to sleep. The woman with the mustache visits me that night. But Chyna has emboldened me. I am not a child. I am not afraid. Instead, I tell the woman to shave. I have conquered my childhood fear. Thank you Chyna and Dean Koontz.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Witchy Woman

I’ve been a Charlaine Harris and Sookie Stackhouse fan for years. To be honest, however, I hate the covers. Vampires are supposed to be sexy. The pallid creatures on the Sookie Stackhouse books should be staked and put out of their misery. Call me superficial, but that’s why I avoided the series until book four: Dead to the World. Yes, the blonde vampire on the cover was one of the ugliest blood-suckers I’d ever seen, but it was time. I’d heard good things about the series, and my mother (who is not a fan of vampires) had enjoyed other books by Harris. Of course the book was great, and I immediately purchased the first three in the series. But I still find it difficult to reconcile how Harris describes her characters, like the oh-so-sexy Viking vampire Eric Northman, with how they are portrayed on the cover art. And don’t even get me started on Sookie’s hair. In the books, the silky blonde locks are her pride and joy; on the covers, Sookie’s hair resembles straw—both in color and texture.

But I digress. Between the popular novels and the critically acclaimed HBO television series, I’m sure most people are familiar with the trials and tribulations of the Southern-bread Sookie. So instead, I offer an alternative to fans of Charlaine Harris and Sookie Stackhouse, and their names are Kimberly Frost and Tammy Jo Trask. (Apparently, you can take the White Trash out of the girl, but not out of her name.)

When I saw Frost’s Would-Be Witch on the shelves of my local Borders (RIP), the cover grabbed my attention. I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not, but the artwork definitely stood out from the rest of the books. And the unusual cover was what made me pick up the book. What led me to ultimately purchase the book were these words: “A terrific new series from a wonderful new author.” Two of my favorite things—a freshman author and a first in a series.

Frost and Tammy Jo did not disappoint. In fact, it was a delicious read—frothy and fun, with just the hint of something dark.

When readers are first introduced to Tammy Jo, it’s clear our spunky Texan is at a bit of a crossroad. She’s a witch with no apparent powers. The one skill she does have—cooking—is not enough to keep her from being fired from the local bakery. She’s divorced, but still allowing her Alpha-male ex, Zach, the town sheriff, to make bootie calls. She’s dead broke and forced to hock her jewelry to a lecherous pawn store owner. Then things go downhill from there in the form of ghosts, zombies, werewolves, cross-dressing vampires, and an ocelot?

I admit I had to look that one up. I knew it was a cat, but other than that I was clueless. Turns out the ocelot—as defined in Merriam’s—is a medium-sized American wildcat that ranges from Texas to Northern Argentina. In pictures it looks a little like a miniature leopard. And in a strange coincidence, an ocelot featured heavily in the TV show I half-watched last night with my husband. For the curious, it was Archer, an animated series on FX—totally wrong, and yet so very funny.

But back to Tammy Jo. While her mother and aunt are off to mysterious and undisclosed places, Tammy Jo is tasked with protecting a family heirloom—a locket that allows Tammy Jo to communicate with Edie, her great-great-Grandmother’s dead twin sister. Why is Edie connected to the locket? And why is Edie sticking around this two-bit Texas town instead of sailing forth to the great beyond? Frost doesn’t tell us yet, but I sense that it is a mystery she will unfold through the series. All we do know is that Edie was a wild-child flapper and that she was murdered by some unknown assailant. If you want my guess, it will have something to do with another famous line of witches with the surname Lyons.

 And speaking of the infamous Lyons, the oh-so-delectable (and wealthy) Bryn Lyons is at the party where Tammy Jo’s locket is stolen. After Tammy Jo’s failed attempts to use magic to retrieve the locket and Edie, the town’s reigning wizard, Bryn, offers to help. Now Tammy Jo is in a bit of a pickle. The good news: Bryn is hot with a capital “H.” The bad news: the Lyons’ family is on the witches’ infamous “List of Nine,” meaning no Trask is allowed to interact with any Lyons.

Frost uses this dire and mysterious warning, as well as the hunky Zach, to keep Tammy Jo and Bryn apart. But their chemistry is undeniable and the two soon hit the sheets. Unfortunately, their passion rages a little too far out of control. During the steamy encounter, Bryn gets “high” on their combined power and drains Tammy Jo dry—literally, taking all of her magic. Definitely a setback to that courtship. While the effect is temporary and Tammy Jo does regain her wonky magic, she is not too happy with Bryn. Sigh. It looks like our hero has his wooing work cut out for him. Luckily Bryn has the next two books, Barely Bewitched and Halfway Hexed, to make it up to Tammy Jo. And while I won’t spoil the plot, this savvy reader thinks it’s only a matter of time before Tammy Jo and Bryn accept their fate as star-crossed lovers. Until they do, however, I’ll sit back and enjoy the ride on Tammy Jo’s broom. 

Friday, January 20, 2012


It is one week today that ABC’s One Life to Live went off the air. And instead of focusing on which book I want to blog about, I’m feeling nostalgic about a show that made me laugh out loud, brought me to tears, and inspired some major crushes. Yes, I’m a soap opera fan. And I’m proud of it. So before I go onto books (and don’t worry, I will eventually get there) I want to share how soaps have influenced what I watch and what I read.

I’m Holding Out for a Soul-Mate. From Luke and Laura (General Hospital) to Cruz and Eden (Santa Barbara) to Josh and Reva (Guiding Light), soaps created some amazing “Super-Couples.” And watching these characters fall in love, break up, and then find their way back together has provided countless hours of enjoyment. More important, it helped to instill in me a lifelong appreciation of the epic love story.

Heroines are Nice, but Vixens are Better. From Tina Lord Roberts, as portrayed by the amazing Andrea Evans, to Brenda Barrett, the incomparable Vanessa Marcil Giovinazzi, soaps created some of the most intriguing women on television. Sometimes they did really, really bad things. Exhibit A: Tina coming back from the dead, carrying a stolen infant, and informing a stunned Cord that he is the father—at the altar, seconds before he was to marry Kate. Sometimes they did really, really stupid things. Exhibit B: Brenda wearing a wire in front of boyfriend Sonny Corinthos in a desperate attempt to get him to leave the mob. No matter what crazy shenanigans these vixens got up to, they did it with style. So thank you, soap operas, for making me appreciate characters with a little bite. Or, in the case of vampires, a lot of bite. 

The Circle of Life. The Lion King owns the bragging rights to these words, but they also sum up how I feel about soaps. Characters are born, grow up, fall in love, have their hearts broken, die, get cloned, come back from the dead—or is it an unknown evil twin? Nope, it’s really them—fall in love (again), have their hearts broken (again), kill someone in a fit of jealous rage—no wait, that character’s not really dead—get stalked by the intended victim…You get the idea. Soap operas never end. And I, for one, love it. Which probably explains my addiction to all things serial.

And now back to books.

Like mysteries? Some of daytime’s brightest have picked up the pen. Shari Shattuck (formerly on The Young and the Restless) has created two intriguing characters in wealthy socialite Cally Wilde and LAPD detective Evan Paley. In her first book, Loaded, someone’s out to kill the beautiful Cally. Will the sexy Evan save her? I guess so, because Callie’s in trouble again in the second book, Lethal. After bravely taking a bullet for a young Asian woman, the two lovers have another mystery on their hands involving drugs, murder, and…geishas? The books are a fun and fast ride. In The Man She Thought She Knew, Evan asks Callie to marry him and then disappears. Kidnappings, corruption, and more dead bodies. You’ll have to read it for yourself to find out if Callie gets her happy ending.

Harley Jane Kozak played Mary Duvall on the now-defunct Santa Barbara. Her character remains in soap opera infamy for being killed by a large letter “C” on the roof of the Capwell Hotel. Don’t believe me? Check it out on YouTube at: Today Kozak is author of the Wollie Shelley mystery series. If you can get past the name, you’ll likely enjoy the character, a struggling greeting-card artist, and the trouble she falls into. For example, In Dating Dead Men, Wollie signs on to date 40 men in 60 days as research for a new book, How to Avoid Getting Dumped All the Time. Alas, Wollie does get dumped on—first by a dead body and then by a man on the run from the mob. In the sequel, Dating is Murder, Wollie gets back on the dating bandwagon by joining the cast of a reality TV show, Biological Clock. After being stalked by an assortment of oddball characters and threatened by a drug cartel, Wollie does find her Mr. Right in Simon, a hot FBI agent. The third book in the series, Dead Ex, centers around the murder of a soap opera producer and a talk show called SoapDirt. (As an aside, 2011 saw the first season of Dirty Soap, an E! reality TV show about—wait for it—soap opera stars. How funny is that?) In the most recent book, A Date You Can’t Refuse, Wollie goes undercover for the FBI as a “social coach” for foreign celebrities. Hey, I’m not making this up. Murder and mayhem ensue.

Soap-hopper Eileen Davidson (The Young and the Restless, Santa Barbara, Days of Our Lives, The Bold and the Beautiful) is also penning a mystery series about….daytime television. She introduces soap opera actress Alexis Peterson in Death in Daytime. In Dial Emmy for Murder, Alexis is a presenter at the Daytime Emmys. The other two books in the series include Diva Las Vegas and Swingin’ in the Rain. While I confess I’ve not yet read Davidson’s Soap Opera Mysteries, they are on my to-read list. And at least Davidson is still employed—for now. She currently plays Ashley Abbott on The Young and the Restless.

The same cannot be said for the charismatic Michael Easton, who played sexy (but mostly silent) über-detective John McBain on my beloved One Life to Live. So, if you like graphic novels, try out Easton’s Soul Stealer series: The Beaten and the Damned, Blood and Rain, and Last to Die. Book trailers for all three are available at: As the novels are still sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read—hey, there was a reason I called my blog, Too Many Books, Not Enough Time—I’ll let Easton tell you what the series is about in his own words:

At the end of the day, this is a love story. It's a dark and twisted love story, but it’s a love story. Love is one of the things worth fighting for in this world, and I believe I have that kind of love for my wife. I was a long time in finding her, and she has inspired me to explore the better sides of myself, because I have a tendency to be a little dark. (Read Easton’s full interview online at:

Hmmm. Guess this explains why Easton was so good at brooding—both as Detective John McBain and as tortured vampire slash rocker Caleb Morley on the short-lived Port Charles.

And now for the really sad part. Daytime soaps are a dying breed. With only 4 left on the networks, if you have ever loved a soap opera—now is the time to watch. But if fans like us can’t save them, then I say join them—as in, join the actors who have brought us so many years of pleasure as they go onto new endeavors. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Magical, Mystery Tour

The circus arrived without warning—the opening lines of Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel. The words were apropos because that is how I felt from the minute I began her book. It’s always exciting to find a new author. It’s even better when the book is as transcendent as The Night Circus. The third line: It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. The image could just as well be describing Morgenstern’s eruption into the publishing industry.

To call Morgenstern a wordsmith is to call da Vinci a painter. And while da Vinci used a brush and oils to create his masterpieces, Morgenstern uses only words to construct a world that is just as magnificent and stimulating for her readers. Like J.K. Rowling’s fully-imagined Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Morgenstern has created a complex, magical world—albeit one that is found under a field of black and white circus tents.

After reading her description of the clock commissioned for Le Cirque des Rêves, I had to stop, take a breath, and study the passage again. It was unlike anything I’d ever read. From a simple device to tell time, Morgenstern turns her clock into what she calls “something else.” Something that you and I will likely never see outside of the author’s imagination—a clock whose pieces slowly turn themselves inside and out and change over the course of 24 hours to unveil a princess pacing anxiously in a tower and waiting for her prince, teapots that pour into teacups and then emit what looks like curls of steam, wrapped presents that open themselves, and so much more.  After the second reading, I was compelled to turn again to the all-too-brief author bio in the back: Erin Morgenstern is a writer and multimedia artist who describes all her work as “fairy tales in one way or another.”

At its heart, The Night Circus is a fairy-tale for adults.

The book hinges around a wager between two men—one a magician, Prospero, who pretends not to be doing real magic and the other a mysterious man known only as Alexander. Morgenstern skillfully leaves more concealed than revealed about these two characters, so it is up to the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks of her canvas. I found myself questioning if they were men at all. What readers are told is that the two have a long and complex history. And that it’s not the first time they have played this game. This time around the opponents are Prospero’s natural-born daughter, Celia Bowen, and Marco, the orphan that Alexander adopts, or perhaps a better word would be appropriates, and trains. All else—characters, such as the charming clockmaker Herr Friedrick Thiessen and the mysterious and wise contortionist Tsukiko, plot, and setting—serve as an arena for the competition. Readers are left to wonder how this decades-long competition will be decided, who will choose the winner, and exactly what will happen to the loser. Although I won’t ruin it for those who haven’t yet read the book, the words “there can be only one” kept repeating in my head. This was unfortunate as I grew to love both players. And, of course, like the characters in every fairy tale ever written, Celia and Marco grow to love each other—desperately, passionately, and to the exclusion of all else.

If you haven’t read The Night Circus, I urge you to take the time to explore Morgenstern’s world. You will likely be as captivated as Bailey, a character in the book who explores the Labyrinth at Le Cirque des Rêves and finds it to be: “a dizzying network of chambers, interspersed with hallways, containing mismatched doors. Rooms that spin and rooms with glowing chessboard floors. One hall is stacked high with suitcases. In another it is snowing.”

For me, the opportunity to read a book that was truly magical, conjuring a world of unparallel delights and characters that I grew to care about, was a gift. And the world needs more of these types of gifts. But perhaps Morgenstern said it best herself when she describes the creation of the circus: “What it needs is style, panache. Ingenuity in its engineering and structure. To be infused with the mesmerizing, and perhaps a touch of mystery.”

And so, that’s just what Morgenstern gave us.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A So-So Year

Last year, for the very first time, I tracked every book I read. Diligently gathering titles, authors, and thumbnail cover illustrations, I compiled the information into a 10-page word document. I thought about including a synopsis or review of each book, but ultimately decided against it. After all, I never forget a book I’ve read—right? But who knows how long that’s going to last? So this year I plan to write a few sentences after I finish each one.

With this list in hand, I sat down to write my first blog for 2012. First step: a catchy title. Unfortunately, I gave away a really good title to a friend who blogs on food—Eat, Blog, Repeat. Wouldn’t that have been just as great as Read, Blog, Repeat? Maybe even a little better because of the alliteration? Sigh. So here I sit, racking my brain, and coming up empty. Not an auspicious beginning to 2012. Eventually I decide on a riff on Russell Crowe’s, A Good Year, a gem of a movie that never received the recognition it deserved. It’s a lazy choice, as my parents just watched the movie on Netflix, but there you have it.

I type the words and then go back to my 2011 reading list. Then something unexpected happens. I realize the title doesn’t actually work with what I'm about to write. It wasn’t a “Good Year.” In terms of reading, 2011 was only a “So-So Year.” Which begs the question—why? To answer that, I’ll have to mine my data. So, here goes.

Last year, I read a total of 108 books—not nearly as many as I thought I’d read. On average, it’s only slightly more than 2 books a week. In my defense, I subscribe to two weekly magazines that I read from beginning to end—even if I wasn’t interested in the subject. Don’t ask me why. I blame it on my OCD tendencies. Once I start reading something, I find it nearly impossible to stop. But back to my list. After doing some data diving, I start to notice some trends.

Trend # 1: The Resurgence of Regency. I read a whopping 33 regency romances in 2011—by far the largest category. In fact, it was followed a distant second by historical romances, which I categorize as anything outside of the regency period. I read 17 of those. Regency and historical romances are trending hot in the publishing industry. Don’t believe me? Just take a walk down your nearest romance aisle. Unfortunately, I found many of the new regencies and historicals enjoyable but virtually interchangeable. The standout was new author Kieran Kramer, who I blogged about last month ( Perhaps that explains why I spent time re-reading some of my favorite regency and historical romances by Julie Garwood, who unfortunately has abandoned the crowded genre, and Suzanne Enoch, whose newest regency was the first book I read in 2012. I have my fingers crossed for new ones from Julia Quinn and Christina Dodd, which I have been saving for some uninterrupted reading time.

Trend #2: Vampires Still Bite. My next most popular choice of reading material was what I call “Romantic Fantasy.” I devoured 14 of them. While this category was still filled with fangs, I’m glad to report that I branched out with some witches, werewolves, dragons, demons, chimera, angels, warlocks, faeries, and one shape-shifter. How’s that for diversity? Unfortunately, like with Regencies, I found that many of the books I read last year came up short against ones I’d read previously. For example, while I still love the Jeaniene Frost series, I’ve only read the first three books multiple times. The notable exception was a relatively new author, Kimberly Frost, who I plan to blog about in 2012, so stay tuned.

Trend #3: It's Time to Re-brand Chick Lit. Apparently these two words have become a harbinger of doom in the publishing industry. Women find the words off-putting and demeaning; men are allergic to them. Then again, did the publishing industry really expect men to buy Chick Lit—literature intended to appeal primarily to women, especially books that emphasize human relationships and emotions rather than action or adventure, as defined by my brand-spanking new 5th edition of the American Heritage Dictionary? Maybe it’s me, but if men don’t like to talk about or share their feelings, why would they want to read about them? My advice for chick lit authors who want to attract male readers—play up the humor and the sex. And if there’s a girl-on-girl fight, you’re solid. Now, I adore chick lit, but it’s getting hard to find. Some of them slip in under the romance sections; others are lost in the overflowing fiction or literature section. And then there are those chick lit books that randomly appear on end caps or in the “New in Fiction” or “New in Trade Paperbacks” tables at my local bookstore. This likely explains why I only read 5 of them last year. Still, 4 of them were among the books I enjoyed the most. My takeaway: Katie Fforde and Jill Mansell need to write faster!

Trend #4: YA is the New A. As embarrassing as it is to write, some of the best books I read last year were categorized as young adult. The genre is red hot. And it’s also the first to make really good use of Q-codes, book trailers, and mainstream advertising. Check out Cassandra Clare’s book trailers for Clockwork Angel at: or City of Glass at: Like Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games series, the first book in Clare’s Mortal Instruments series has been made into a movie that will be released this year. And I’m sure that Veronica Roth’s Divergent series will likely follow. So, for all of the adult readers out there who like fantasy, action, and/or romance, I suggest trolling the YA section of your local bookstore. It shouldn’t be hard to find. My Barnes and Noble recently moved it from the back of the store (next to the Children’s section) to right behind the dreaded Nook section.

Trend #5: Re-reading Books. I approach this last trend with a somewhat heavy heart. On the one hand, it gives validity to holding onto your books. Personally, I have an entire room devoted to my books. Because they currently share space with a guest bed, I’m always looking for new places to store my books. Just yesterday, I found a cute little project table that is held up at both ends by bookshelves. If I only had somewhere to put this innovative piece of furniture...On the other hand, it makes me sad to write that the “older” I get and the more books I read, the tougher it is to find truly exceptional books. Sure I've run across plenty of books that I enjoy or even love, but it’s been a long time since a book has knocked me on my ass or, as the British like to say, knocked me arse over tip. But I am ever going to stop searching for those rare treasures? Not on your life. In fact, one of those exceptional books is on my 2011 reading list. Hands down, the best book I read in 2011 was Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. And I’ll be blogging on it next week.