Review: The Bronze Horseman

The book: The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

Published September 2009 by William Morrow (first published July 17th 2000)

The Bronze Horseman (The Bronze Horseman, #1)

The blurb:

The golden skies, the translucent twilight, the white nights, all hold the promise of youth, of love, of eternal renewal. The war has not yet touched this city of fallen grandeur, or the lives of two sisters, Tatiana and Dasha Metanova, who share a single room in a cramped apartment with their brother and parents. Their world is turned upside down when Hitler’s armies attack Russia and begin their unstoppable blitz to Leningrad.

Yet there is light in the darkness. Tatiana meets Alexander, a brave young officer in the Red Army. Strong and self-confident, yet guarding a mysterious and troubled past, he is drawn to Tatiana—and she to him. Starvation, desperation, and fear soon grip their city during the terrible winter of the merciless German siege. Tatiana and Alexander’s impossible love threatens to tear the Metanova family apart and expose the dangerous secret Alexander so carefully protects—a secret as devastating as the war itself—as the lovers are swept up in the brutal tides that will change the world and their lives forever.

And the review:

About six months ago, my friend Tara recommended I read The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons. I added it to my “TBR” list and went on with the other books I needed to read.

But I recently began using the library again (“Yay!” says my wallet), so I requested it and read it last week. It is enormous. That itself was a bit daunting; I’ve become used to reading on my Kindle and not only do I read faster, but I don’t know how big these books are. And it’s silly that I’d find the size of a book intimidating; I read huge books all the time. The Game of Thrones books (yes, I know it’s the Song of Ice and Fire but how many people know that unless they’ve read the books?) and the Outlander books come to mind.

Eventually, I picked it up, and once I did, I couldn’t put it down. We’re talking about “staying up all hours of the night until I can barely hold my eyes open” obsessed. The language is amazing. The descriptions of Leningrad and the surrounding countryside are so vivid you feel like you’re there. And when the heroine, Tatiana’s, family was starving to death, I felt like my own teeth were falling out. I was tired. I felt like I, too, was too weak to get out of bed. When the characters developed TB, I swear I had an asthma attack.

It was a part of history with which I’m not all that familiar. The book takes place in Leningrad during Hitler’s siege of the city in the winter of 1941-1942. The siege actually went on through January of 1943, but so many people died during that first winter, and a few were evacuated, so the second winter was slightly more manageable.  But that first winter was brutal. After all domestic animals had been eaten, some residents resorted to cannibalism. Many froze to death, and bodies lined the streets.

You see it all, you feel it all. There were quite a few parts that I thought dragged on too long. Sometimes there’s too much description, or long stretches of repetition. I think it could have been about 2/3 its length. But I skimmed those parts. Most of it moved along pretty quickly and some parts were really intense (I’m trying not to give away too much here). I didn’t like the main characters at first, in fact through a good portion of the book, but somehow I still kept reading. I had to find out what happened. And for me, that’s key.

It’s an epic, historical, tragic, love story and is in a style similar to The Thorn Birds or Gone With the Wind. If you liked those, I would definitely recommend reading this one.

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I’m in Love With Someone New

Don’t tell my husband.

This new man is perfect, so far. Sure, he has a few flaws; who doesn’t? But they’re minor and kind of endearing. He’s intelligent, and intense, and passionate, with a touch of boyish goofiness. And he’s oh, so sexy. His smile dazzles. There’s laughter in his eyes. His voice is low and smooth, and I hear it constantly. All day he whispers in my ear; all night he keeps me awake. We never fight, we never discuss mundane details like the kids or the house or what we ate for breakfast that day. I am his world–he cannot exist without me.

Did I mention he’s fictional?

I began writing a new book the other night. An idea that had occurred to me a few weeks ago, but in the middle of trying to get through the romantic suspense I’ve been working on forever, I jotted down a one-sentence description in my notebook and set it aside. But Saturday night, I was driving home and heard his voice. And he wouldn’t let me go. I arrived home around midnight to an empty house (husband away, kids at my mother’s), fixed a cup of tea, sat at my computer and wrote a thousand words before going to bed. It began as a short story, then I thought it might be a novella, now I’m thinking a novel. Because, why not?

I got stuck on a particular scene in the book I’ve been working on. And although I’d made a promise to myself to finish that book before starting another one, because I HAVE TO FINISH A DAMN BOOK, I finally decided it was silly to remain blocked and to not write and to just continue to obsess over this one scene. Why not follow the muse? Write the words that come to me, even if they’re in a different story. Opening the tap, so to speak. As long as words are coming out, they’re good words. Maybe writing this story will unstick the characters in that other one and get them to cooperate. Like when you’re trying so hard to remember something, it’s on the tip of your tongue, but you have to think about something else for a while. So, I’ve been writing like a madwoman for the first time in months. It feels so good. Such a rush.

And I realized one reason why I love reading and writing romance. It’s that first blush of passion. You know when you first meet someone, and they’re all fresh and new and can do no wrong? You’re positively giddy with the thrill of getting to know each other, because here is this brand-new person to you and you have to find out everything that has ever happened to them. And why. And how it has shaped their personality. You’re a sponge, soaking in the essence of what makes that person unique. You can’t get enough of each other. It’s lovely and exhilarating and exhausting. Quite the high. A hot flash of fire like when a match catches and burns brightly for a fraction of a second.

But then, like the match, the blaze deepens to a slower burn. It’s steadier. It lasts longer. It lights other fires, sometimes with another quick burst and sometimes without it, and that’s how you keep the fire going.

Given the choice, I’d much rather stick with the lasting heat. But, through fiction and living vicariously through people who exist only in my head or on paper, I still get that initial high now and then when I start a new book.

I have friends who won’t read romance because they feel that initial flame is too much, too tempting, too unrealistic. They feel it leads to dissatisfaction with the real, slow burn they already have. But I think the opposite is true. That flame renews the source of heat and makes you appreciate the fire already burning that much more. At least it does for me.

And on a creative level, this story is simple. No major subplots, no suspense angle, no fantasy. Just a boy and a girl, and some sparks, and a few obstacles to overcome before reaching their happily ever after. Hopefully this time I can get there. Meanwhile, it’s writing, it’s practice, and I’ll get there eventually.

But for now, my new man is calling to me again. He’s so demanding. I love it.

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Portrait of a Book Addiction

I have a problem. It’s not uncommon for me to have several books going at one time. Maybe a few nonfiction or writing craft books, a Kindle book, a 3M Cloud Reader book from the library, a paperback or two. They’re usually from all different genres or sub-genres, though, so I don’t get too confused.

I picked up a book a few days ago, one from the library, but it held my attention for only a day–through no fault of its own– before another one caught my interest. Iced, by Karen Marie Moning, the next book in the Fever series. If you’ve read the series, you’ll understand. I discovered her only through the recommendation by a friend, and raced through the Highlander books only to move on to the Fever series and become utterly enthralled. So it was with this one, too, and I quickly finished it so I could return it.

Sunday night, I again picked up the library book, and was drawn into that world. It’s WWII-era Soviet Union, not a time period I’m familiar with, but I found it utterly fascinating. Until an e-mail from the library let me know Divergent was available on my e-reader.

Decisions, decisions. E-books can’t be renewed, but paperbacks can. So, yesterday, I set aside the Russian book and picked up Divergent. I know how the series ends, I’ve heard the big spoiler, so it’s interesting to read this knowing what is ultimately coming my way. I’ve written about my love of post-apocalyptic fiction before. And someday, I swear, I will figure out what happened to everyone and what will happen to Ben and Jodi.

Anyway, I had to force myself to shut down my tablet last night and get some sleep. And since I had work of my own to complete today, I hadn’t yet picked it up when I received an offer I couldn’t refuse this morning.

I set aside Divergent and picked up the first in Kimberly Kincaid‘s Pine Mountain series, Turn Up The Heat. I love Kimberly’s foodie romances. I was introduced to Kimberly via an Avon Addict sister of mine, Amy at Unwrapping Romance. She sort of burst onto the scene last year with her Line novellas, all of which I loved, and her print debut was this past Christmas with a novella in the anthology The Sugar Cookie Sweetheart Swap. When I read it, the descriptions and emotions evoked were so captivating, I expected to see snow when I looked outside, I wanted to listen to Christmas music and eat Eggnog Snickerdoodles.

And it was March, at the tail of the winter that would never end, so that says a lot.

When I got the book this morning a little after nine, I planned to post a review by the end of the week. OK, it’s now 2:05 pm and I just finished. I had to take time out to shower, run errands, eat breakfast and lunch…all of which were very difficult. I did not want to put it down.

The one thing about her novellas that I didn’t like was that they were too damn short! I couldn’t wait to read her full-length novels and, OK, finally I am satisfied. This had everything I wanted it to have. The very title, Turn Up the Heat, makes a promise and it follows through.

Bellamy Blake suffers a very public, humiliating, breakup with a news anchor and, tired of fielding phone calls about it, decides to get out of Dodge. She grabs her two best friends and hightails it to a mountain resort to get away for a few days, but becomes stranded when her car’s transmission blows. Oh, stranded at a spa…sounds like Heaven right about now!

Speaking of the wrecked transmission, her love interest, Shane Griffin, is a mechanic hiding many secrets under his hood. Why are mechanics never that hot in real life? And dark and brooding and oh, so sexy?

This is why we write fiction, people. To make our world the way it should be, to right its wrongs– whatever your genre.

Back to Shane. Of course these two meet and there is immediate spontaneous combustion. Who could resist Shane? I don’t think I could. Although very little time passes in the story, the romance didn’t feel too rushed. It was the perfect blend of sweet and sexy and with a little stubbornness added so it doesn’t go too smoothly. It’s a great, happy read complete with love scenes in the backseat of a car that may or may not have taken me back to my younger years. The story is supported by a cast of secondary characters that are well-rounded and promise several more entertaining books to come–and I can’t wait!

So if you love small-town, contemporary romance with enough talk about food to make you drool (yeah, it was the food, that’s it), check out Turn Up the Heat, or any other of Kimberly’s works. You can find the links to your store of choice here.

Now, I need to get back to Divergent.

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Post-Mortem: Book Reviews

A little warning: if you’re extremely squeamish or rabidly pro-animal-rights, the first paragraph or so may offend.

When I was in graduate school, I killed a lot of mice. Like, hundreds, if not thousands. At the time it didn’t bother me too much, except when I had to cull the colony and euthanize entire families. This later led to a minor case of neurosis and paranoia regarding mice. But the necropsies weren’t as bad, somehow. They had a purpose. We were investigating a virus and attempting to grow tiny human-ish organs inside the mice, implanted just under the kidney capsule. It was pretty cool. Once upon a time I could find the review on which I’m listed as a co-author, but it’s not online, alas. Suffice to say, it was good work, noble work. The ultimate goal was saving human lives, after all.

But the thing I loved about the necropsies was teasing open the layers of tissue, investigating why the animal passed away. Was it an overgrown thymus? Spotted and enlarged liver? So many mysteries revealed just by taking apart the pieces. OK, I’m a science geek at heart, I admit it. This was why I had such a hard time as a kid, deciding what to do with my life when I grew up. I loved reading and writing and all things literary, but I adored science, too: how things worked. I made a decision, and it was the right decision at the time for me. And now it’s time to go the other way.

The great thing about writing is I never have to give up anything else. I can research various topics I still find interesting, and maybe use them in a book. At last, there is an outlet for the many hours of random research I’ve done over the years on a multitude of unrelated topics.

Also still in use is my natural curiosity, my desire to dissect. I read a book, and whether I liked it or no, have to immediately sit back and discern the appeal–or lack thereof. Often, it’s apparent as I read. A lovable heroine, maybe a lot like me. A hero who reminds me of my husband. A bromance–I don’t know why, but I love a good bromance and Jill Shalvis writes some great ones. So do my favorites, Jennifer Bernard and Candis Terry. Humor, or crazy suspense, or a paranormal with fabulous new world-building (if you’re a vampire fan and haven’t read Pamela Palmer’s Vamp City series, you’re missing out. And I hear her shifter series Feral Warriors is excellent).

In the non-romance genre, and I do read those, I love very traditional vampire novels like The Historian, epic historical fantasies like Game of Thrones and Outlander, and urban fantasy (I’m currently reading a new Tad Williams series that I’ll review when I finish the first book. Yes, I read many books at one time and it drives my husband crazy). The same talents appeal in those as well. Because what it comes down to is a good story. Even if it’s not executed perfectly, if it draws me in, if I think about it when I’m not reading– it’s a win.

Every now and then, though, I’m stymied. Have you ever hate-read a book? You begin reading the book, and it takes a bit to get into it but you keep going. And by the time you realize there’s something you don’t like about it, there’s also something drawing you in, so you have to keep reading, even though you don’t want to. Maybe you’re thinking you should really put it down, but there’s an answer you need, a resolution you’re waiting for. Then, when you finish, you’re furious with the author, the characters, everyone who ever recommended the book.

Perhaps you even reconsider your friendship with people who adored this book, made you read it, and wasted your time.

I finished a book today that was a little like that. It’s one that people have raved about, quite big with the populace who love their Grisham and Sparks and Picoult. There’s even a movie coming out. So many people adore this book that it gave me enough reason to avoid it. I’m just that contrary. Contrary enough that no, I won’t tell you what the book is.

But it was a hate-read. I was browsing my local library’s available e-books, and since it was a popular one but available immediately, I grabbed it, thinking “Why not?” The first part took a bit of work getting into, but something drew me in. And then there was this huge mind-blowing twist, so I couldn’t put it down at that point. Leaving me this morning, with a ton of stuff to do, trapped on my bed reading this book until it was finished. And then I was furious. I hated the ending, I hated the people, I couldn’t figure out why the book had me so thoroughly engrossed. I think it came down to the suspense. I had to find out what happened next, even when I didn’t like it.

Food for thought, especially since I write it. Another “master” to study and learn from. I cobble them together, taking tips from this one and techniques from that one, creating a Frankenstein’s monster of creative muse, hoping and praying I can make it cohesive.

 

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Of Rakes, Rogues and Romance

Today was release day for three of my favorite historical romance authors. I began writing about them and it got me thinking about why I love them so much.

I think my first historical romance was one of the old “bodice-rippers”, stolen from my mother’s side table: Prairie Embrace, by FR Bittner. Actually, I’m not even sure if I read the entire thing. I confess, my best friend and I may have just read the juicy parts. Shortly thereafter, my mom brought home Jude Devereaux’s A Knight In Shining Armor. Not strictly a historical romance, as it’s a time-travel story, it nevertheless got us into her historical books all about the Montgomery family. Which then led to Kathleen Woodiwiss and Catherine Coulter, and then scores of others.

And the genre back then…well, it’s come a long way. Back then, many of the heroines were innocent virgins, unwillingly swept along on some adventure. There were a lot of kidnappings that grew into love.

What, then, was the draw? It might have been the pretty dresses. Seriously. Women living in a different time, experiencing things I never will, good and bad. Balls and dances and days at court, being wooed by a gentleman. The essence of reading for escapism: to visit new places, live in new worlds, if only for a little while.

Heroines–and heroes–have really grown up. Today’s historical heroines are smart, sassy, independent, and passionate women, giving back as good as they get. I’ve come to appreciate them for different reasons. It’s still a new world to visit, but now as a writer, I love the authors’ voices. They are melodious in a way that contemporary books are not. It’s hard not to try to replicate it, but as a contemporary author, my voice works for me. 🙂 So I get to just enjoy reading someone else’s works.

And there’s something to be said for the way things were back then: the modesty, the etiquette. The tension built by catching a glimpse of ankle, of being unable to touch each other in public, and barely able to escape for a private interlude away from the prying eyes of society, parents, and chaperones.

For a few years I just read whatever I could find at the library. But some friends recommended Eloisa James and Julia Quinn, who sort of led the way with the “newer” heroines. And my tenure as an Avon Addict introduced me to a few new-to-me authors. Here are the three who released today:

Wallflower Gone Wild by Maya Rodale.  This author has a relatable, almost contemporary voice and interesting, modern characters in a historical setting. The series is interspersed with contemporary novellas in an interesting way; the one that corresponds with this book is The Bad Boy Billionaire’s Girl Gone Wild.

The blurb:

In the second in Maya Rodale’s delightful Wallflower series, London’s Least Likely to Cause a Scandal is taking Society by storm . . .

Being good has worked out very badly for Lady Olivia Archer. All she has to show for four seasons on the marriage mart is the nickname Prissy Missy. Her prospects are so bleak that her parents have betrothed her to a stranger with a dire reputation. If Phinneas Cole—aka The Mad Baron— wants a biddable bride, perhaps Olivia can frighten him off by breaking every ladylike rule.

Phinn has admired Olivia’s poise and refinement from afar . . . qualities that appear to have vanished now that they are officially engaged. This Olivia is flirtatious, provocative, and wickedly irresistible. She’s not at all the woman he bargained for, yet she’s the only one he wants.

He’s determined to woo her. She’s determined to resist. But Olivia is discovering there’s nothing so appealing as a fiancé who’s mad, bad, and dangerously seductive . . .

I was intrigued by the modern takes in the novellas of the historical stories going on in the novels. I definitely recommend checking it out.

Moonlight on my Mind by Jennifer McQuiston

To ruin a man’s life once takes a regrettable mistake. To do so twice takes a woman like Julianne Baxter.

Eleven months ago, Julianne’s statement to the authorities wrongly implicated Patrick, the new Earl of Haversham, in his older brother’s death. The chit is as much trouble as her red hair suggests, and just as captivating. Now she has impetuously tracked him to the wilds of Scotland, insisting that he return home to face a murder charge and save his family from ruin. A clandestine wedding may be the only way to save her reputation—and his neck from the hangman’s noose.

Julianne has no objection to the match. More and more she’s convinced of Patrick’s innocence, though when it comes to igniting her passions, the man is all too guilty. And if they can only clear his name, a marriage made in haste could bring about the most extraordinary pleasure . . .

While the previous book in her Second Sons series may be my favorite due to its freestyle-swimming heroine (simply NOT DONE in those days), this was equally entertaining. I loved how she took an unlikable character from the last book and made her the heroine here. Seeing characters evolve over the course of more than one book is always satisfying. And with the addition of a mystery to solve, bringing in the romantic suspense angle, this was a great read. I also may or may not have a girl crush on the author, as she has the job I wanted myself, once upon a time. A great new voice.

Between The Devil and Ian Eversea by Julie Anne Long

She might look like an angel . . .

The moment orphaned American heiress Titania “Tansy” Danforth arrives on English shores she cuts a swath through Sussex, enslaving hearts and stealing beaux. She knows she’s destined for a spectacular titled marriage—but the only man who fascinates her couldn’t be more infamous . . . or less interested.

But it takes a devil to know one . . .

A hardened veteran of war and inveterate rogue, Ian Eversea keeps women enthralled, his heart guarded and his options open: why should he succumb to the shackles of marriage when devastating good looks and Eversea charm make seduction so easy?

And Heaven has never been hotter!

When Ian is forced to call her on her game, he never dreams the unmasked Tansy— vulnerable, brave, achingly sensual—will tempt him beyond endurance. And fight as he will, this notorious bachelor who stood down enemies on a battlefield might finally surrender his heart . . . and be brought to his knees by love.

******

A couple years ago, a friend posted she’d just read one of her favorite books of the year. It was A Notorious Countess Confesses, an earlier book in the Pennyroyal Green series. She was right, it was fantastic. I was immediately drawn into the town, into the feud between the Redmond and Eversea families. Like many readers, I can’t wait for the resolution and to find out what happens between Lyon Redmond and Olivia Eversea. But that will be bittersweet, because it will be the end of the series.

The characters are real, flawed and likable; her voice is beautiful and no one, no one, can convey sexual tension like Julie Anne Long. At least once per book, I have to set it down to fan myself. Talk about electricity.  When I read the first book, I had to go through and buy her entire backlist. She’s now an auto-read author, one whose books I anxiously await, and I hope she becomes that for you, too.

 

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Finally, a Light

My children have been asking me for weeks, “When is spring coming?” And every week, I’ve said, “It has to be soon.” And crossed my fingers, and hoped.

But last night, once again, the temperature went down to near zero. Today, we warmed up, finally. So they asked if they’d be able to swing on their swingset yet. Alas, no. The swings and teeter-totter are still firmly frozen in place by a foot of snow.

The nice thing is this winter has been easier on me. (Because that’s all that matters, right?) I don’t know what the difference is. It’s been so damn cold that I barely leave the house. Hibernation is nice. Maybe I just accepted it. Yoga pants, a pot of tea, and multiple blankets on the sofa and I’m a happy camper.

It’s only been this past week, though, that I’ve realized the extent of my nesting. I entered the YMCA today for the first time in weeks. It was nice to see the few friends who were there, but wow, there were so many new faces! And a meeting with my running buddy, our first run since October, felt so amazing. The company, the cold sunshine, the movement.

It had me thinking today of “The Long Winter,” the Little House book about the winter of 1880-1881. As a child, I was fascinated by that book, and the differences between then and now. My friend Connie, though, hated that one. It dragged on forever. Maybe it’s the introvert in me, but the thought of being snowed in always appeals to me. At first, anyway. It’s part of the reason I go into what I call “squirrel mode” every August. Stock my freezers and pantry for winter. Just in case we’re snowed in and can’t walk the three blocks to the local Tops, of course.

The downside to this winter has been my inability to run outside. OK, I know, I can run when it’s cold out. But I don’t want to (whine). And I’m all right with that (remember, no shame). It would have been nice if I’d had the energy to ride my bike trainer inside, however. Oh, well. Over it.

The long-range forecast has sun and fifties. FIFTIES! It’s still going to be cold as sin at night, but fifties! Soon! I can deal with the snow we’re expecting on Thursday because there is home, dammit. The end is in sight. That, and the short taste of warmer weather I had in North Carolina a couple of weeks ago will be enough to get me through this last burst.

I feel a kinship with the crocuses, the buds on the trees, the animals leaving hibernation. I’ve enjoyed the winter, but am ready to rejoin the world. Before we know it, we’ll walk outside and there will be that fragrance in the year. You know the one I’m talking about? Like everything living has finally thawed and the air smells green and fresh and new.

Speaking of new, my friend Isabel Sterling‘s blog post today is pretty cool. She echoes a problem with which I struggle: making the time to write, even when you can’t pull an all-day stint. I like the ideas she links to, and plan to implement at least some of them. Check it out.

Meanwhile, to bed, and dream of spring.

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Where is My Jet Pack?

One of my more recent role acquisitions has been that of Brownie co-leader. My daughter was in Daisies last year and has graduated to Brownies, and I love that I’m able to be a part of it. Last year and in the very beginning of this year, I just dropped her off/picked her up. But this year since I’m not working I was ready and willing to step up when my friend first needed a helper, then a co-leader. My mother was one of my Girl Scout leaders and I really appreciated having her around.

Personally, I’ve enjoyed being the helper. Just being there to add an extra body, an extra voice, an extra pair of hands, helping out before and after our meeting. However, last week my friend and co-leader, a longtime scout leader herself, asked me to plan this week’s meeting.

Oy. My fear of public speaking reared its ugly head. How quickly we get out of practice. If she’d needed me to make phone calls, the panic may have been crippling. Fortunately, my role ended at planning and presenting the lesson.

The badge we’re working on is the Inventor badge. It’s a lot of fun–badges are way different now than they were 30 years ago. Last week we talked about famous female inventors and did some exercises designed to get the girls thinking independently. They had to walk from one end of the room to the other, in a manner no one else had. At first, they thought they’d never be able to come up with so many different ways. And, I have to admit, I agreed. But then I watched these girls hopping, rolling, and dancing across the room. And laughing. The laughing was great. Then they all had to go back, and somehow, they all found even more ways to move.

The bar was set rather high. But in my reading, I hit upon one suggestion that I loved: the “What if?” game. A writer’s favorite game! The timing was fortuitous as well, since a friend’s daughter was asking me about writing the other day but said she had a hard time coming up with ideas.

Two birds, one stone.

I tend to forget about the “What If?” game when I’m in the midst of a WIP, because I think I don’t need added inspiration for a story already in progress. But I had forgotten that I can always use it to come up with new ways to torment my main characters.

Food for thought…

I loved to see the young minds hard at work. Especially while brainstorming, once I explained that no idea was too crazy, or too silly, to be counted. Everything goes down on the paper. And I realized, I need to do this more often.

My Brownies came up with robot cats and jet packs. For everything. In their eyes, our future is full of robot cats who make our beds, and everyone wears a jet pack. I find this amusing because I am pretty sure people have been predicting we’d all be using jet packs in the future for at least 50 years, right?

I want my jet pack, dammit.

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On the Subject of Shame

Frankly, I’m sick of hearing about shame. Slut-shaming. Fat-shaming. Poor-shaming. And I’m tired of feeling shame, and its partner, guilt. So when I saw a friend of mine mention she was giving up shame for Lent, I thought, “What a brilliant idea.”

No longer will I feel shame for eating a cookie. Or a real sandwich, on artisan bread, with cheese on it. You should never feel shame about food. Sure, some foods are more nourishing to the body; I won’t dispute that. And some are…less so, shall we say? But after so many years of my orthorexia I’m embracing all of it. The processed food, the “junk” food, and the other day I even drank a glass of (gasp!) soda. 

I’m over it.

Last night for dinner I made Beef Stroganoff from scratch. Over–are you ready for it?– egg noodles. Noodles! The dreaded pasta that sticks to your ribs and hips and causes pot belly and insulin resistance and oh noes! The pasta will kill us all!

Yeah, definitely over it. Because I realized I had missed it SO MUCH. Missed being able to enjoy that type of comfort food for the guilt, the shame, that came from eating carbs when I “shouldn’t.” I mean, it’s just food. Food shouldn’t dictate how you feel about yourself. It shouldn’t dictate how you interact with others. When I think about how I must have sounded over the last few years…well, I don’t feel shame. I refuse to.

And I don’t feel shame for reading and writing romance novels. I love them. I love exploring how people find their soulmates, and I love seeing them end up together, even when they’re fictional. I love a happily ever after. I have friends who scoff at the genre, saying it creates unreal expectations.

Well, why should they be unreal? Why should we settle for something less than true love, a happily ever after? HEA doesn’t meant the road is never rocky; it means you face those obstacles together. My own husband and I have been together almost 17 years. Our road to happiness would make a boring romance novel. There were no ups and downs. We had no “dark moment.” We knew pretty much right away that we were meant to be and I’m perfectly OK with that. And while our life together hasn’t been perfect, our marriage and solid relationship have helped us weather the bumps we encountered. 

I don’t think this is, or should be, an unreal expectation.

So, I won’t feel shame for writing stories to promote that, and encourage others to never settle for less.

And I don’t want my children to feel shame, either. It’s a terrible feeling. Worse than fear, worse than sorrow, worse than grief…because it comes with regret. And regret is useless, because we can’t turn back time. 

So for Lent, which I barely observe as a lapsed Catholic anyway, I’m giving up shame. Already, I feel more free.

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My Avon Addiction

It’s not what you think. Or what my UPS guy thought as he delivered shiny pink packages to me every month, to the “Avon Addict” at my address.

About two years ago, in the midst of my historical romance/Julia Quinn/Eloisa James reading jag, Julia posted a link about her publisher’s new program, a street team of sorts who would receive advance copies of upcoming books.

Free books? I was immediately intrigued. Wearing out the route between my house and the library, I was also nearing the end of each author’s backlist, and needed something new. New authors, new genres–I thirsted for more.

So I applied for the program, and was lucky enough to be one of a group of 25 readers to be selected. And then the boxes began arriving. Once a month, full of paperbacks, swag, and a welcome letter from the publicity team that made me feel so special. It was like Christmas, but better, because I don’t *always* get books at Christmas!

And in return, I posted reviews of these books on Amazon and Goodreads, if I liked them. The funniest part of it all for me, though, was the discovery of book blogs. Now, perhaps I was behind the times. I knew about blogs, I have a scrapbooking blog and follow quite a few. And my husband has a food blog, and we follow a few of those too. But the thought of book blogs had never occurred to me, as odd as it sounds for someone who was reading over 100 books a year. Blogs where people discuss my favorite topic? Where I can go for recommendations on what to read next? It blew my mind. This was even better than the better-than-Christmas deal of receiving books every month. Even more so because I became friends with all these bloggers, my sister Avon Addicts. Built-in friends who all share a common interest? Score!

And I learned so much. In the beginning, my reviews consisted of a number of stars and either “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it.” (Though now I rarely post a review of a book I don’t like. If it doesn’t appeal to me, it may appeal to someone else). But after reading the reviews other people wrote, I learned more about plot, character, description, etc. than I think I ever had in high school English class (sorry, teachers). And while I learned about what I liked and didn’t like in a book, the long-suppressed dream of writing my own book resurfaced. The idea scared me at first. I’d read bad reviews and didn’t want to be on the receiving end of them. But ultimately the need to do it won out, and, well, I’ve blogged about my first NaNo experience before.

And then the cool part: our six months were up, and we found out we were white-listed on Edelweiss, which means eARCs for life! Christmas 365 days a year! They’ve kept us around, and we’ve made new friends with every group that comes in, and it has truly been a life-changing experience. It helped me finally figure out what I want to do when I grow up.

Anyway, now that I’m trying to blog more often, I thought I might start sharing book recommendations here. Not just romance, so don’t worry if that’s not your genre. I read it all. I’m currently finishing a fun urban fantasy that is not a romance, recommended by my husband. I love that we share books (except on release day of the new Game of Thrones books, because then things get bloody. Which is appropriate).

The first one, which I just finished, is an interesting piece of historical fiction called The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. I adored Caleb’s Crossing, and this one was book-related so I snapped it up. My mother and I were taking a road trip and were looking for books we could listen to on the way that would also be OK for the kids to overhear, and this was perfect. So perfect, we hated having to pull over for rest stops. I highly recommend it.

The next few are Avon titles releasing today. I’ve read all three of these, which are each a part of their own series.

HARD AS YOU CAN by Laura Kaye

A great romantic suspense series about four ex-soldiers who run a renegade operation against an organized crime ring out of the back of a tattoo shop. Each book has its own love story, and its own suspenseful subplot, but there’s also an interesting overarching story line across the series.

This may sound odd, but I think what I like most about these heroes is that their tattoos are not part of a bad boy trope. The author goes into the meaning behind their tattoos, and they’re about the art, and I like that. My husband has four tattoos himself so I like the respect given to the ink, you know?

The first in the series was great; the second one is even better, and out today:

Four Weddings and a Fireman by Jennifer Bernard. This link will lead you to the blurb, and links for e-book or paperback: http://www.avonromance.com/…/jennifer-bernard-four…

I love this series, and again, they just keep getting better. The best part of series like this and Troubleshooters by Suzanne Brockmann and the other ones on this page is getting to know the side characters bit by bit– and anticipating the day when they get their own love story.

Not to mention, she’s a thorough researcher so you feel like you’re learning something about firefighting and everything the firefighters do. So it’s educational!

I’d read a novella in this series last year and immediately had to read the author’s back list. For this one, I’d read the excerpt in the previous book and was really happy it was coming soon. It releases today and if you like small-town romances, this is a great one. Very sweet, funny characters, great story.
So, if you’re looking for something new to read, check out one (or, you know, all) of these!
And now I have to get back to writing my own story. Maybe someday I’ll have great release day news of my own to share.
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Things That Keep Me Awake At Night: Mice.

We live in a very old house. I love it. Well, most of it. I don’t love its lack of a garage, though I was moved to look beyond that when I entered and beheld the gleaming carved oak banister and original stained glass window on the landing. And I love the real parquet flooring on the stair landings. No peel-and-stick tiles here! The original hardwood floors have seen much worse than my children and the cat racing back and forth, so there’s one less thing to worry me.

The downside, of course, is that this house was built before the days of “mouseproofing.” And “insulation.” And “energy efficiency.” The previous owners did a lot of work to update a number of features, but let me tell you: mice can fit through a hole the size of a pencil. And they will! So we’ve had a mouse problem as long as we’ve moved here.

At first, it wasn’t too bad. We had a dog, and I think her presence was enough to keep away all but the most daring rodents. Not that she was any good at hunting them, mind you: for all that she was part labrador, part shepherd, and part something small because she wasn’t as big as you’d expect, she was utterly useless when it came to actually killing them. She saw them only if we were lucky; more often than not, she’d just go dancing by, oblivious to the tiny thing staring at her from the middle of the room, or rushing past her as she slept on the floor.

Useless.

But a sweetheart nonetheless. We’ve missed her since her passing, five and a half years ago.

In the intervening years, however, the rodents have attempted to take over. Without the presence of a large prey animal (Ha!) they have felt no qualms at all about moving in. We tried everything: traps (got sick of changing them), mouseproofing the entire house (that’s a joke), different traps, still different traps. I’d had no idea how many types of mouse traps are out there. And do you know, no one has built a better one yet than the classic snap trap? 

I couldn’t bring myself to buy glue traps. After hearing stories of mice chewing off their legs or taking days to die, I realized even I could not be that inhumane. That doesn’t seem right. Inmurine?

Last winter, our problem became particularly bad. It wasn’t bad enough to find droppings in the kitchen, or that they’d helped themselves to cereal, or that I’d walk in the kitchen at night only to be surprised by a mouse leaping from the counter as he ran away. 

Now they were in my walls. Chewing. Running. Squeaking. I heard them as I was drifting off to sleep. Or they’d wake me from a sound sleep. Or I’d be trying to read, really into the throes of a gripping novel, when one would run across the wall by my head. 

I began to hear them even when I knew they weren’t there. I’d wake my husband but of course he ever heard them. And he’d give me that look. You know that look, right? That half-pitying, half-exasperated look that says “Drink a glass of wine, go to sleep, and stop hallucinating, will you?”

Oh, am I the only one who gets that look? Damn.

Regardless, over the winter my sleep worsened. I’d lie awake, listening to the squeaking, running, and chewing, and imagine them shredding my electrical wires. Wondering when they’d cause a fire. Getting up to check the smoke alarm batteries. Making sure my phone was nearby in case I had to call 911. Sleeping fully-clothed, in case I had to grab the children and run out the door from the fire.

Yeah, it wasn’t pretty.

Then I had the thought. Those two words that, in the mind of a writer, can wreak havoc in good ways and in bad. “What if…”

What if they really were starting a fire? What if they were doing it on purpose? No, that’s not right. Why would they want to destroy the house they lived in? No, what if they were trying to make me crazy? Make me look like I’d lost my mind, so my husband would have me locked away forever, and I’d stop trying to kill them, and they could have their house back to themselves.

I finally bought poison and set it out. There were a few spots around the house that smelled for a few days as their little corpses decayed within our walls, but then they went away.

And sanity returned, with a few good nights’ sleep.

What if….what if that would make a fun story?

So I wrote it. And I really liked it. It’s called “Pitter, Patter,” and with any luck, you’ll be able to read it in an anthology my critique group is putting together. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, we adopted a cat. He’s a sweetie. His mom is a great hunter, an outdoor cat, though our Chicken Nugget (yes, that is his name) is an indoor cat. He’s not yet had the opportunity to find a mouse but it’s not for lack of trying. We let him roam in the basement now and then, but no luck. Ah, well, if his presence keeps them away I’m OK with that.

And yet, the other night, I was awakened by the sound of tiny feet going pitter-patter within my walls.

So it begins anew.

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