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.