Monday, July 7, 2014

Penelope's Fun, Different, Quirky, Not the Same Old-Same Old Summer Reading Recommendations

After reading my 3rd "summer reading recommendation" list and falling asleep, I decided it was time to offer something a bit different, instead of the same old-same old authors/books.

Here are some of my favorite recent reads, in a variety of genres, that would all make fabulous "beach" reads this summer. They run the gamut from sultry, sexy, romantic to scary-as-crap, hilarious, bittersweet, charming, fascinating, and finally...hipster.

I like my summer reading to be light, quick, and fun for the most part. Most of these fit the bill.

Work on your tan, and fall in love with these delightful books!


1. HORROR/DARK FANTASY: Waking The Merrow by Heather Rigney

If you're looking for something unexpectedly funny, scary as hell, incredibly well-written, and chock full of history and suspense, I highly recommend this debut novel.

READ IT IF YOU DARE! Here is my review.

2. COMEDY: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

This is such a cute, quirky, adorable, fun, and romantic story. It's one of my favorites this year. I can see you reading this on the beach, while sipping a frozen mango margarita, and laughing out loud.


3. HISTORICAL ROMANCE: The Pirate's Secret Baby by Darlene Marshall

Ms. Marshall is just a fabulous historical romance writer. She has the perfect combination of excellent writing, romance, and storytelling. She also has a real knack for fun banter and larger-than-life characters. A lovely, lusty book, perfect for a summer read.


This "vintage" Harly (1995) was so sweet and adorable. I think it was recommended on the Amazon message boards, and I took a chance on it. I was so happy I did! It has a super sexy hero and a very romantic storyline. I have been heartily enjoying Harlies recently, and this one is a fav.

5. QUIRKY HIPSTER ROMANCE: Geek With The Cat Tattoo by Theresa Weir

This book is a little gem of a story. Beautifully written and balanced and fun (cat's POV included!) and filled with old-fashioned romantic moments. I also highly recommend the first book in the series, Girl with the Cat Tattoo. Here is my review. Theresa Weir is a supremely under-appreciated author. Her work is flawless and wonderful.

6. MYSTERY: The Gamache Series by Louise Penny

Best. Journey. Of. Your. Life.
You. Must. Read. These. Books.
On a beach. On a plane. On your porch.


7. HARLEQUIN PRESENTS: Marchese's Forgotten Bride by Michelle Reid

Thanks to Lexxi Callahan, I am now hopelessly addicted to Harlequin Presents! It's such a fun addiction. I have read about 100 of these books in the last month. It was difficult choosing just one HP for this list, but I think Marchese's Forgotten Bride is a good one. It includes amnesia, betrayal, and secret babies for the win! Warning: HPs include overbearing heroes, wispy heroines, lots of bad behavior, and extreme groveling. It's all about the grovel!

Here is my review.

8. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE: Sweetened with a Kiss by Lexxi Callahan

Speaking of Lexxi, here's another perfect summer read. This book made my list last year, and it's up here again. For a good reason. It's sexy, sultry, steamy, set in New Orleans, with amazing chemistry between the hero and heroine. Sex-ay, baby! 


I read this collection of short stories on the beach in Florida and I loved them. Each one is beautifully crafted and written, thoughtful, bittersweet. They are snippets of life, set in Maine, and Anderson's writing is truly inspiring and lovely. Highly recommend this collection.

10. CULINARY ROMANCE: The Chocolate Rose by Laura Florand

This new-to-me author has a gift for blending the deliciousness of Paris, gourmet chocolate, and romance. It's a heady treat. The hero in this story is such a wonderful mix of vulnerability and cocky-alpha male French chef, I couldn't get enough. And he ROARS when he gets angry. SO AWESOME! Like an angry French lion. LOVE IT! This book is currently free...guaranteed, it's the best freebie you'll download this summer. HURRY!


JAWS by Peter Benchley

Yes, the film is extraordinary. But this novel is fun, too, and quite different from the movie. It could be the perfect beach read. Unless you want to go swimming.

So, there you go. A nice mix of romance, mystery, horror, lit fiction, and comedy. Try one of these books and spice up your summer reading.

Happy Reading!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Summer Math

Uh oh. Did you fail math this semester? Time for summer school! 
Here is Penelope's Summer Math Tutorial...


2. ADD 2 OZ. VODKA (I used blackberry vodka right out of the freezer!)







Equation: 1 copper mug + 2 oz. vodka + 6 oz. ginger beer + juice of 1 lime + 1 T simple syrup + fresh mint + ice + big summer thirst =

Drink up.

Congrats! You have now passed Penelope's Math Tutorial!
The MOSCOW MULE is my new favorite cocktail. Very refreshing and perfect for summer.



Sunday, June 22, 2014




Here are 10 awesome things coming up this summer...

1. Family trip to Lake Champlain

 We haven't been back to the Basin Harbor Club for years, since the kids were little. 
I love this place. It has a charming, old-fashioned vibe that is both relaxing and rejuvenating. 
And I get to see the kingfishers in the morning. Can't wait!

2. Writer's retreat with the Junior Mints to Woodstock, VT!

My second trip to Vermont for the summer!
The gals and I will be diligently working on our latest novel antiquing, noshing, exploring, and generally having an excellent time.
Oh yeah, we'll probably work, too.


I have been patiently waiting for the day when Louise Penny would tour New England.
She will be reading and signing books at the adorable Norwich Bookstore in July.
 And I think I was the first one to get tickets. Hee hee!
This is how I feel about that...


So, this will be my THIRD trip to Vermont for the summer. I am not complaining!

4. Family reunion in Jamestown, Rhode Island

My hubby grew up in Rhode Island, and we try to get back here every summer.
My favorite things to do? Cliff Walk, Sachuest Point, and getting a Del's lemonade by the beach.
It has chunks of lemon peel in it. YUM!



I finally figured out what story to finish over the summer. 

6. Kids are going to movie-making camp, art camp, overnight camp, and community service camp.

7. I'm doing the "get hot while it's hot" challenge with Sue.
Check out her blog and her inspirational story about losing weight and getting healthy!

8. Newport Kite Festival

The Kite Festival at Breton Point State Park in Newport, RI is a blast.
This park is right next to the ocean--gorgeous! 
And the sky is filled with kites of every shape, color and style.

9. Summer Cocktails!

My new favorite summer drink is the MOSCOW MULE.
I'll have more about this tasty cocktail later in the week.

10. Gardening in New England

Pumpkins are growing. I have squash, peppers, raspberries, tomatoes, fresh dill cropping up.
I've been using my fresh oregano and lemon balm every day.


What is everyone doing this summer? Anything fun? Let me know!


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Pet Party and Lumberjack Sale!

Snuggle Time! My favorite!

A few important announcements...

1. Please join me at the Must Love Pets Facebook party tomorrow, Monday June 16, from 1:30-2 pm. Lucy and I will be chatting with folks and giving away two fun prizes!

Join us on Facebook. I'll be there from 1:30-2!

PRIZE ONE: Some goodies for you and your dog...includes a copy of LUCY THE WONDER WEENIE, Magic Beans Lip Balm from Be Greatful, a cute nylon chew toy for your pet, and a bag of home-made, all-natural dog biscuits from The Playful Pup. (Lucy ADORES these biscuits!)

PRIZE TWO: For fun-loving grown-ups or kids...includes a copy of LUCY THE WONDER WEENIE, a Beanie Baby weenie dog plush toy, Magic Beans lip balm and Licking Lucy lip balm from Be Greatful.

Stop by tomorrow and join the chat!

2. Who needs a healthy dose of lumberjack? I DO I DO! I decided to put LUMBERJACK ON LOVE on sale for the summer...



Purchase for $0.99 at...

I'll be back later with more announcements and links. Only FOUR MORE DAYS OF SCHOOL!


Monday, June 2, 2014

Reading and Reception at 13FOREST Gallery, June 5, 7-9 pm...Don't Miss It!


Arlington, MA


7-9 PM

CB Anderson, award-winning author and journalist, and Penny Watson (that's me!), will be reading from our recent releases at 13FOREST Gallery on Thursday evening. I'm bringing apple wine, apple cider, apple desserts, and other apple goodies. Also, we'll be selling our books after the reading. Anderson's collection of short stories, RIVER TALK, is a wonderful, beautifully written, often bittersweet exploration of life in Maine. I highly recommend checking out her book. 

Here's the flyer for our event...

Hope to see you there!


Friday, May 30, 2014

It Is What It Is -- Who Dictates The Book?

I've been thinking about this a lot lately: industry-driven and reader-driven publications vs. author-driven work.

Here's how I see the break-down...

1. Industry-Driven

This is NOT the "book of your heart."

This is the book--you/your editor, publisher, agent--anticipate will SELL.

Many professional authors write this way, trying to anticipate/predict what will sell, what is hot, what is the latest trend.

This is why so many authors "jump on the bandwagon" (writing billionaires, NA, BDSM, serials, a few years ago it was vampires, etc).

Example #1: I know an author who was given a list of "hot topics" by her publisher. She had to choose one to write about. She chose "motorcycle clubs."

When an author does not have the creative freedom to even choose her own book topic, this is an example of industry-driven writing.

Example #2: I know an author who wrote a lovely historical romance. Her agent told her it was not sexy enough to sell in the market, and made her "up" the heat level. This level of sexiness was not appropriate for the story. Nevertheless, the author complied. She had no choice.

When the market dictates sensuality level in a book, instead of the author/story itself, this is an example of industry-driven writing.

Example #3:

When jumping on the bandwagon of hot trends trumps good writing, good storytelling, unique story ideas, this is another example of industry-driven writing.

2. Reader-Driven

What do readers want?

There are plenty of non-discriminating readers who are cheap and like porn.

Exhibit A...Monster Erotica.

These books are poor quality and priced accordingly. They also sell like hotcakes.

Books of questionable quality are popping up on the NYT Bestseller list. What does this mean?
A) The NYT Bestseller list is no longer a badge of honor.
B) People are cheap.

Is there a disconnect between what industry predicts and what readers really want?

I see readers complaining bitterly on the message boards about serials and feeling manipulated by authors/publishers with cliffhanger books and over-priced serials. It is one of the most passionate topics. Nevertheless, the publishers keep cranking out over-priced serials with cliffhanger endings. I'm not sure what this means. Are they really selling well? Are there plenty of readers who love them, buy them, and are just not represented on the message boards? Or is there a huge disconnect between what publishers are peddling and what readers really want?

This is a good question, and I don't have the answer.

I'm not sure if "reader desires" and "publisher desires" are actually the same thing. There is over-lap, but I get the distinct feeling that the pubs are flailing in a lot of ways.

3. Author-Driven....

You write your own story.

You come up with the idea on your own, don't copy it from someone else.

You have no idea how long it will be.

You focus on good-quality writing, good storytelling.

You are not anticipating trends, how to market it, etc. You just write it, tell the story.


You let it develop organically, naturally. It could be short, or long, or plot-driven, character-driven.
And then, AFTER you write it, you can figure out the proper way to publish and market.

There are pros and cons with all three of these.

What if you write the "story of your heart" and no one wants to buy it?

What if you write a monster erotica and become a millionaire (laugh your way to the bank)?

What if you follow all the rules your publisher dictates, and book doesn't sell well because it doesn't "sing"--sometimes writing is stale if you try to write to market.

I don't think any of these are right or wrong necessarily.

You have to decide what your goal is when you write.

To make money?
To become a bestseller?
To satisfy your readers? yourself? your agent?

To satisfy a creative need?

To establish a professional career?

Can you write the story of your heart, and satisfy the readers and industry at the same time?

One can only hope.

Signing Off,

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Review for WAKING THE MERROW by Heather Rigney

Let me just get this right out there from the get-go.

This is without a doubt the coolest debut novel I've ever read.

Heather Rigney, who the hell are you? And where did you come from?

WAKING THE MERROW is a cross-genre, horrifying twist on the mermaid legend. Rigney has seamlessly woven a story that combines horror, comedy, colonial history, fantasy world-building, flawless writing, and the most unappealing yet strangely mesmerizing "heroine" I've ever read. Evie is a short, fat, self-loathing alcoholic who manages to get the reader, against her will, rooting for her in this fascinating tale.

This story jumps back in forth from current times to colonial times in Rhode Island, and mixes intriguing bits of maritime history with the familial history of the Irish Cantillon family. Not only is Rigney a fine writer, but she is also an excellent storyteller. The pacing and time-jumping are perfectly executed, and I raced along with the story to find out what would happen to Evie and her family.

Warning: This is not your mother's cutesy mermaid with the sparkling tiara and clam-shell bra. 

Not even close.

I love a good horror tale, and this certainly delivers. Rigney calls this novel "dark fantasy" and I agree. It's fantasy. And it's dark. And the juxtaposition of mundane real-life details with horrifying merrow behavior works spectacularly well.

There was a wee lull in the story during the tribunal near the end, but other than that, it was close to perfect. And the ending promises more in this series.

Forgive the pun: this baby blew me right out of the freezing cold Rhode Island waters, and I can't freakin' wait to dive back in with the next book.

If you are looking for something unique, creative, well-written and satisfying, I highly recommend WAKING THE MERROW. In a sea of cookie cutter releases, this book stands out as one-of-a-kind, which is quite a feat for a debut author.

Highly recommend! Grade: A


Check out Heather's cool website!


WAKING THE MERROW is a horrifying, addictive, and intriguing twist on the mermaid legend, and takes the reader on a bone-chilling ride through colonial and current times in Rhode Island. This is a fabulous debut novel by Heather Rigney.

Read it if you dare.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Stuff We've Been Doing

1. Shopping for plants.

2. Shopping for seeds.

3. Planting stuff.

4. Sowing seeds in veggie garden. 
(Hubby put up fence to keep out bunnies!)

5. Hubby went fishing in New Brunswick.

 6. Reading some books.

WINNERLAND--intense story of survival, just started...LOVE it!

A CONVENIENT ARRANGEMENT--Loved The Italian Wife, The Spanish Groom was not my fav.

BUSHWHACKED--cute novella set in Alaska with beardy hermit hero!

7. Listening to some music. From Pitch Perfect.

Happy Spring,

Friday, May 9, 2014

How Romance Is Like Lacrosse

How Romance Is Like Lacrosse

Bear with me. I know these two things seem totally unrelated, but based on my personal history, they're actually quite similar.

I coached girl's lacrosse for fifteen years. It was my favorite sport in high school, I started the club team in college, and then after I graduated I coached. When I started playing we had wooden sticks, no headgear, no sidelines, and set offense and defense. It was an elegant, skilled, exciting game.

I coached "old-school." I taught the girls that "cradling" (a motion where you cradle the stick back and forth to keep the ball secure) was the most important skill.

And then something happened. The sport started to change. The wooden sticks were replaced with plastic. Then, they instituted sidelines, and offsides on the field, the positions disappeared as the game turned into a fast-break for the whole team and zone defense replaced man-to-man. It got more physical, like the boy's game, and the girls were required to wear headgear. Cradling sort of disappeared, as it turned, more or less, into the boy's sport.

Fast, physical, structured.

So, what happened? I stopped coaching. This was NOT my lacrosse anymore. It was new, it was like men's lacrosse, and it wasn't fun for me anymore. I was sad, but I figured it was time to move on.

About fifteen years ago I started reading romance. My son was one, we had just adopted him from the Philippines, and I was an exhausted new mom. I needed some light-hearted entertainment that would make me feel good. I discovered romance novels! Happy endings! Real heroes! Lusty sex! Romance!


I devoured Julie Garwood historicals, Amanda Quick, vintage Julia Quinn. I fell in love with the Carpathian world of Christine Feehan with the super romantic notion of one mate for eternity. The stories were fresh and new, the writing was excellent. I didn't love contemporary romance--too much like real life. I stuck with mostly historical and paranormal, which had that added element of creativity or historical detail which transported me to another world.

I loved it.

And then something happened.

It started to change.

Contemporary romance and erotica began to take over the market. Real heroes--men who had integrity, loyalty, protective qualities--were replaced with abusive motorcycle guys who passed their girlfriends around to their buds.

The old-fashioned romance was replaced with BDSM, orgies, and cheating.

As paranormals/historicals fell from popularity, books catering to a younger crowd--YA and NA--surged. And books with violent behavior toward women became commonplace.

The excellent writing became something special, not the norm, as typos/grammatical errors, and generally piss poor writing started to crop up frequently.

Instead of fresh, new, creative ideas, copycat books sprouted up like weeds. 50 Shades is popular? Great, let's crank out 100 books with the same cover and concept.

Here I am, 15 years later, wondering what the hell happened to my romance novels.

I'm sad. But the truth is the best books I've read recently are mysteries, horror, humor, literary fiction.

I spend a lot of time doing re-reads. My Julie Garwood books are falling apart.

If this is the "new" world of romance: copycat books, degrading behavior, sloppy writing, and a distinct lack of romance, then maybe it's time to cut my losses. Just like I did with lacrosse.

The game has changed, and I'm not sure I want to hang out here anymore.

There are still some wonderful authors and books coming out, but they are lost in a sea of mediocrity and flat-out porn.

And I wonder if the whole concept of "romance" the way I see it is so hopelessly old-fashioned that it no longer exists.

That sort of breaks my heart.

I hope the romance genre circles back and a renaissance occurs. I'm not sure if that's going to happen or not.

In the meantime, I have my old copies of Julie Garwood and Amanda Quick, and I'll keep taping the pages back in.

Old-school and proud,

Monday, April 28, 2014

The End Of An Era

About six years ago, I started my book blog Penelope's Romance Reviews. I was a super enthusiastic romance reader who loved to chat about books.

I still am a super enthusiastic reader who loves to chat about books.

Unfortunately, the other part of the book blogging community--the part that is essentially an industry-driven business--is not really my cuppa tea. And the associated ruckus and melodrama that's going on constantly--about plagiarism, badly behaving authors, reviewers, publishers, etc--is a huge downer.

And so I've decided to "officially" hang up my book blogger hat. I'll still be here as Penny Watson. But Penelope, the Book Blogger, is retiring to Florida, to live out the rest of her days in a retirement community with shuffleboard and cocktails by the pool.


I'm replacing "Penelope's Romance Reviews" with "Penny Watson, Quirky Fiction." This will now be a personal blog that continues to explore ground-breaking topics such as dachshunds, lumberjacks, alcoholic beverages, assorted reading material, 1980s music, and any other fun bit of business that strikes my fancy.

Who wants some retirement cake? ME! ME! I WANT THE CAKE!

I have more or less already made the transition from book blog to personal blog. Just wanted to make it "official."

My reading goals have definitely taken a turn towards quirky, innovative, unique, creative. I'm tired of the bandwagon copycat books in romance. Now I'm reading humor, mystery, short stories, horror, and romance that is pushing the boundaries with a creative flair.

I read some great books over vacation, and will post some reviews when I get the chance.

Happy Spring Day To All!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Off The Beaten Trail

1. Living Plant cool is this? Check out Passionflower To Wear shop at Etsy...she has live plant rings, necklaces and bracelets. LOVE THEM!

2. Looking for something new to read? Check out this debut collection of stories by CB Anderson--RIVER TALK. I love this quote, from Monica Wood...

"I adored these stories, every one of which engaged my mind and my heart. Anderson writes with wisdom, generosity, and beauty about people we don't see often enough in contemporary literature. She gives us minimum-wage strivers, doing their best and sometimes their worst, and asks us to see them, hear them, walk with them for a while. Anderson is a marvelous writer, but her best gift is simple and rare: empathy."

I already got my copy, and I can't wait to read this over my spring vacation. You might want to visit Anderson's website, too.

3. There is a giveaway at Goodreads for Heather Rigney's debut novel WAKING THE MERROW. Go enter! This is one of the most amazing books I've read in recent memory. A mixture of New England history, raw yet compelling characters, and horrifying fantasy. It's a must-read! The release date is June 2014.

4.  On Sunday my family is heading down to Sanibel for a week of spring vacation. We'll be doing the regular stuff: collecting shells, paddle-boarding over manatees (my son did that last time...hee hee!), and biking around the island.

But my favorite activity is visiting Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. It is a gorgeous spot to see wildlife of all kinds...mangroves, birds, fish, alligators.

If you are ever in the Fort Myers area, I highly recommend this spot if you get the chance for a visit. It's spectacular.

All right, my little chickadees. Enjoy the spring sunshine. I'll check in after my vacation.