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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Nora Breaks The Rules!


Once upon a time, when I was a newbie writer entering a butt-load of contests, I got this comment back on one of my manuscripts....

"Watch head-hopping! Who do you think you are? Nora Roberts?"

I was miffed. First of all, this was a snarky comment, and not 'constructive criticism.' Second of all, the paragraph receiving this comment was entirely written in one character's POV, and therefore not an example of head-hopping. However, I found the whole Nora-angle fascinating. Since I had never read a Nora Roberts book, I was curious. Who exactly was this Nora person and why was she allowed to break the rules when I wasn't?

After a weekend of pushing, pleading and prodding by several Quirky Ladies, I decided to jump on the Nora Roberts bandwagon. So far, I have inhaled Jewels of the Sun and Tears of the Moon, #1 and #2 of the Irish trilogy. Here is what I have discovered so far about Nora Roberts...

1) She changes POVs faster than Lady Gaga changes outfits at an awards ceremony. Seriously. One sentence: heroine thinking mushy thoughts about the hero. Next sentence: hero thinking some ridiculously romantic thing about the heroine. Me: Don't care, I am loving this book and want to move to Ireland.

2) Remember that rule about starting the novel with action? Nora obviously did not get that memo. These novels are started with faery lore and back story. Beautifully, emotionally written and with gorgeous description. Diagnosis: Kicks literary ass!

3) Rule #783: Must make characters likable or readers will hate your guts. Nora: Screw that! One heroine is a boring, self-doubting divorcee, one is a masculine, short tempered Irish gal, and one of the heroes is a lazy ass. Somehow Nora makes all of this work. Astonishing!

4) If you don't have a strong central conflict, your book will suck. Nora: No honey, all you need is romance.

So, here's my take on these books. Jewels of the Sun was absolutely wonderful for one simple reason. It is one of the most romantic books I've ever read. Aidan is a hunkalicious Irish hero from heaven above. The way he talks is so gorgeous and romantic, I was swooning as I read the dialogue. Swooning, people, swooning! Even though the heroine was a dud at the beginning of the story, it was sweet to see her blossom and learn to love herself. Roberts paints an incredibly lovely portrait of Ireland and the faery legends. The second book of the trilogy, Shawn's story, was not quite as good or romantic, but I still enjoyed it. My one and only less than stellar observation is that the paranormal aspect is not exactly woven into the story line, but rather plopped on top of it. This feels very much like a contemporary romance that has "paranormal" devices (ghosts, faeries, etc.) thrown in to liven it up a bit. The nuts and bolts of the stories are the relationship between the hero and heroine.

Am I on the Nora bandwagon? Not quite sure, but I am looking forward to reading the third book of the trilogy, Heart of the Sea.

These books have inspired me in more ways than one. I am amazed by her beautiful prose, gorgeous dialogue and romantic characters. I am also thinking that breaking some of the writing rules that have been drilled into my head might not be such a bad idea. Of course, I'm no Nora, as the contest judge rudely reminded me. But maybe someday....

Grade for Jewels of the Sun: A
Grade for Tears of the Moon: B+

Prepping for Book #3,
Penelope

Monday, March 29, 2010

Time To Jump On The Nora Bandwagon?


Quick Wrap Up of NEC Conference....

1) MaryJanice Davidson is hilarious.

2) Drinking tap water with orange slices is not as much fun as an appletini.

3) Attending workshops is a double edge sword. I get helpful hints. I become convinced my WIP is the biggest piece o' shite in the world, and if I don't start doing character interviews, I will end up making french fries at McDonald's.

4) I cry a lot. I have not made it through one speaker without crying. (Note to self: get water proof mascara).

5) I am finally ready to jump on the Nora Roberts bandwagon. Several Quirky Ladies convinced me to read the Gallaghers of Ardmore Trilogy. For some reason, I am totally in the mood for some hot Irish dudes this week.

6) The best part of the weekend? When I got home, both of my kids screamed "Mom!" and ran enthusiastically into my arms for a hug. My husband looked frazzled. My dog wagged her tail. And now, I'm ready to write....

Pumped for productive pandemonium,
Penelope

Friday, March 26, 2010

Beard of the Day and Happy NECRWA Conference!



Okay, so technically, this isn't really a beard. It's maybe a little bit of scruff. But I don't care! I love, love, love Ed Harris and he looks so bad-ass in this photo (from Appaloosa) it's ridiculous. I seem to be developing a love for men in westerns. Hmmm. Verrrrry interesting. Another one of my fav guys, Viggo Mortensen, is also in this movie (see photo below). He is actually the one with the beard, but to be honest, his beard is so wacky, even I am not loving it. Hee hee....



Today I am off to the NECRWA Conference in Framingham. The Quirky Ladies and I will be having a rockin' old time. Hope to see some of you there.

Ciao!
Penelope

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Review of Mind Games by Carolyn Crane


Mind Games by Carolyn Crane

Whoa, Nelly.

This book is the perfect package. It's totally original, quirky, unexpected, has fascinating characters, an incredible story line, crazy-ass tension (sexual and otherwise), excellent pacing, is super sexy, and finally....a fabulous ending. The fact that it was written by a debut author blows me right out of the water. Carolyn Crane, who also writes a witty romance blog, The Thrillionth Page, has just set a new standard for first time authors.

What's so great about this book? The originality of the story concept, the mastery of first person POV, and the writing....Holy Mother, the writing....it is smooth as butt-ah. The quirky POV of Justine paints a fascinating portrait of her environment, her delusions about her health, her conflicted nature. She is the perfect anti-hero/heroine, struggling with her own selfish desires and her need to do the right thing. She is as real as any heroine can get.

The unexpected premise for this story, which involves Justine's obsessive hypochondria and a totally cool paranormal super secret vigilante group, is completely engrossing. The group's leader, Packard, sort of reminds me of Karen Marie Moning's character Barron from the Fever series. He is mysterious, sexy, powerful, and we're not quite sure if he's a good guy or a bad guy.

The pacing and suspense of this story are amazing. Each "client" Justine has to work on is fraught with uncertainty. Is the person harmless, kooky, or a raging psychopath? We're never quite sure. The last book I read like this was Skin Game by Ava Gray. You keep thinking, there is no way this is going to end well, but I really, really want it to. Without giving anything away, I will say that Crane does a superb job with the ending. It is emotionally satisfying and makes the reader starved for book #2, Double Cross, which is coming out September 2010.

The "love triangle" between Justine, Packard, and Otto is just utterly delicious, and I can't wait for this to be further explored in the rest of the trilogy. I also love how Crane takes a character, such as Foley, who is skank personified, transforms him into a contrite and upstanding citizen, defuses the hatred of his enemies, and leaves us hanging with the uncomfortable feeling...okay, what now? We don't quite trust what's happening. These characters are the antithesis of your typical, easy-to-digest romance characters. They're complex, confusing, and the jury's still out as to their true natures.

There is no question that Mind Games will be on my Favorites List for 2010. It's just chock full of goodness. In fact, I was sort of pissed off when I finished it. I wanted it to keep going on forever, which is, of course, the ultimate compliment for any author. Bravo to Ms. Crane for this kick-ass debut. I have a sneaking suspicion that she is going to sky rocket in the next ten years as one of the most talented new writers of the genre.

Cool.

Grade: A+

Penelope

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Coming August 2010: Dark Peril!


This sounds awesome!!!!.....I can't wait. I was wondering if Christine Feehan was planning on writing a book for Dominic. He has been super heroic and selfless in other Dark books. Also, Solange deserves a happy ending....Jiminy Cricket! She's been through the freakin' wringer.

Here's the blurb for Dark Peril, coming out August 2010...


DARK PERIL

Dominic of the Dragonseeker lineage, one of the most powerful lines the Carpathian people has, ingests vampire blood laces with parasites in order to be able to go the very heart of the enemy camp and learn their plans. It is a one way mission. He knows he has little time once the parasites and the blood go to work. He plans to get in fast, relay the information to the leader of the Carpathians living in the area and go out fighting—an honorable way to end his life.

Solange Sangria is one of the last of the jaguar people, a royal pureblood. Her people, once many are now nearly extinct, a dying species that cannot recover from the choices they made over hundreds of years. She has long been alone, fighting to save the remaining women who are able to shift, from the hands of Brodrick the Terrible, her own father who slaughtered her family and everyone she loved. Wounded, weary, she plans one last battle, hoping to stop the man who has made an alliance with the vampires, accepting she will not come out alive.

They are two warriors who have lived their lives alone. Now, at the end of their time, they find each other, a complication, neither saw coming.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

NECRWA 2010 Let Your Imagination Take Flight Conference

It's almost time for the NECRWA conference....yippee! Next Friday and Saturday, March 26 and 27, the New England Chapter of the RWA is hosting their annual Let Your Imagination Take Flight Conference in Framingham, MA. It's a great opportunity to meet and mingle with other authors, attend cool workshops, listen to inspiring talks by writers such as Mary Janice Davidson, and even try your hand at pitching your story if you're willing to brave the dreaded...dum, dum, dum...editor/agent appointment. There are a ton of cool workshops, including the ever popular Surviving the Editor/Agent Appointment by Jess Andersen, Kate George's Finding Your Voice, and Katy Cooper's World Building For Everyone. Oh, and don't forget Penny Watson's How to Mix a Mango Martini. (OK, it's not really on the workshop schedule, but it should be, dammit!). I'm really looking forward to meeting Mary Janice Davidson, since I love her quirky and humorous paranormal romances. There will also be a book fair and signing on Saturday evening from 4-6. Here's the conference link. Hope to see some of you there...I'll be manning the registration table with some of the other Quirky Ladies, so please say hello.

Happy Wednesday,
Penelope

Monday, March 15, 2010

I'm King of the World!


Okay, maybe not really King of the World. More like Princess of the Burb? Penelope's Romance Reviews made Love Romance Passion's 2010's Top 50 Romance Blogs! Here's my description...."Penelope's Romance Reviews - Paranormal and historical romance are just the tip of the iceberg with Penelope." Woo hoo....now are you getting the Titanic reference in my blog title?

Well, I'm off to work on Sweet Magik. I will also be reading Goddess of the Hunt by Tessa Dare as time permits this week. And, if the rain doesn't let up soon, I may be forced to build an ark.

Happy Romance Reading to All!
Penelope

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Review of Moonlighting in Vermont by Kate George


Moonlighting in Vermont by Kate George

Once upon a time, I lived in Vermont. I loved picking fresh blackberries in my backyard on a summer morning. I loved growing my organic garden. I loved going into the general store and choosing penny candy out of a jar and putting it on my "tab." I loved antiquing in an old barn, snowshoeing on fresh snow, and driving without fear of being run off the road by an enraged madman talking on a cell phone. Yes, I have very fond memories of Vermont and a distinct longing to move back there someday, preferably in a little cottage with a couple of wiener dogs.

Kate George's novel was wonderful for many reasons. One was the setting, of course. I loved hearing about my old favorite places in the "Upper Valley"--which is the area around Hanover, NH, where Dartmouth is located. The lifestyle there is a breath of fresh air, and I do mean that literally. The heroine Bree lives on a "farm" taking care of chickens, horses, dogs, cats, etc. She mucks about in mud and crap and wears hiking boots. The author's obvious love of animals is never more apparent than when she is describing Bree's menagerie of dogs, all with their own adorable personalities, heaping love and affection on the heroine. Well, I'm a dog person, so this really appealed to me. And I loved how the "city" folk were completely undone by this natural environment. When I lived in Vermont, we called city folks "flat-landers" and would make fun of their fancy clothes, luxury cars, and snooty attitudes. (Folks in Vermont drive pick-up trucks, wear sensible clothing, and are very down to earth. Seriously, it's my Shangri-La!).

Bree is a great heroine...plucky, always getting herself into scrapes, fiercely independent, loyal. And she has a wicked sense of humor. There are a lot of physical mishaps, including a motorcycle wipe-out, getting stabbed with a pair of sewing scissors, and a hilarious mud wrestling scene with Bree's best friend. I also love the fact that the heroine is juggling a bunch of guys, including a lawyer, auto mechanic, police officer, and stone mason (Go Bree!). There are a lot of flirtations and sexy interludes going on, which adds great sexual tension to the story.

The "mystery" was actually the weakest link of the story, mostly because Bree is more of a passive observer than an active participant in solving the crime. Instead of sitting at home waiting for something to happen, she should have been out badgering the cops and looking for clues. That seemed more in line with her personality. I'm praying there will be another book about Bree, and hopefully she will take a more active role in the mystery.

I am very impressed with Ms. George's writing. She has a fabulous voice....fresh, funny, irreverent. It lends itself perfectly to this genre. I can't wait to find out which of the hunky Vermonters will win Bree's heart! And in the meantime, I'm booking a weekend at an inn in Woodstock. Only this time, I'll be the flatlander tourist from Massachusetts with my SUV and cell phone. How embarrassing!
Grade: A-

Penelope

Friday, March 12, 2010

Beard of the Day

I have never actually watched the television show Prison Break, but I love Dominic Purcell's super serious, intense look, the scruff on his face, his almost bald head, and the bulging biceps look pretty damned good, too. I could totally get into modeling an alpha male hero after this dude. Yum! Happy Friday!

I took a few days off after "the heart attack that never happened" from my writing, and then cranked for the rest of the week. The WIP is coming along nicely, and I'm fitting in my powerwalks each day and eating things like grilled tofu (not kidding....it was delicious!), and more spinach. I also read Sarah Jane Osborne's book Arranged Marriage while in the emergency room, and I loved it! It's a great romantic comedy, and the humor was much appreciated at the time.

Hope everyone is having a good week!
Penelope

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Heart Attack Waiting To Happen


So, my week started out with a bang.

After getting short of breath and suffering from chest pains, I decided....

1) I had indigestion, so I popped a prilosec.
2) I was suffering from anxiety due to my self-imposed 30,000 word deadline for March.
3) I was having a heart attack.

Normally, I'm the sort to totally ignore all physical symptoms until an emergency situation arises (death would constitute an emergency situation). However, on the off-chance that I was actually having a heart attack, I decided to go the emergency room Monday morning. First, I downloaded a book on my Kindle, figuring I would be waiting a while. (What? There's no rule that says you can't read a romance in the emergency room while having heart failure). They slapped the EKG doo-dads on me, and....huge sigh of relief....my ticker was doing just fine. I fist pumped into the air and yelled, "Well, all right. I was just being paranoid!" Then they told me one of my blood tests was weird, and I had to stay for chest x-rays, a CAT scan, a stress test, etc. Needless to say, four hours later I went home with my husband who figured out I've been getting exercise-induced asthma, so he gave me an inhaler. It worked great!

So, the good news is....my heart is healthy. And, I got to read a really funny book on my Kindle.

On Monday night, my son asked me if I'd been bummed as I pondered my mortality in the hospital, thinking that I would never finish my book. I told him, truthfully, that it never crossed my mind. I was thinking about my kids and my husband and how much I love them and need to focus on being healthy for their sake. My son got teary eyed and hugged me. My husband got teary eyed and hugged me. My daughter asked if she should eat the pink candy or the yellow candy.

Today I ate some spinach and went for a power walk. I'm feeling better already.

All my best,
Penelope

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Tasty Mysteries and Hilarious Vamps: My Weekend


Here's my quickie weekend reading update. I realized recently that my long reviews turned into short reviews, which turned into one sentence summaries. Pretty soon I'll be writing in shorthand. Trying to get 40,000 words written in one month while still maintaining my regular reading schedule is getting tough. Needless to say, my kitchen is a mess and I can't see my husband past the pile of laundry on my bed!


Fatally Flaky by Diane Mott Davidson (#15 of the Goldy Bear Culinary Mystery Series)

Before I became addicted to romance novels, I was addicted to mysteries. This series is right up my alley....no blood and guts, lots of humor, a cute curly haired heroine married to a big cuddly teddy bear-police officer, and a smidge of romance thrown in for good measure. Because the heroine is a caterer, there are recipes included in every book (love it!). Fatally Flaky was a fun addition to this series. I like the fact that Goldy has finally gotten some self-confidence after all these years. And, I can't wait to try the Nutcase Cranberry-Apricot Bread. Grade: B+



Oh. My. God. I thought I had hit my limit with first person snarky vampire heroines, but evidently I was wrong. I loved this book. Loved. Loved. Loved. There are so many excellent one-liners in this book, I don't even know where to begin. I could not stop laughing out loud. Harper has done a fabulous job with the humor, pacing and hilarious characters in this story. Here is one of my favorite snippets...

"If you want to hurt me, fine. Take my books. Burn down my house. Shave my head while I'm sleeping. But nobody, nobody screws with my dog."

Hee hee hee. I couldn't agree more! Grade: A

Penelope



Friday, March 5, 2010

Beard of the Day


It's Friday! Time for....Beard of the Day. (Or rather, Scruff of the Day, as the case may be). Clive Owen looks way hot in this photo, and ready to rumble!

Super quickie reading updates.....I read Guardian Cowboy by Crystal Rain Love this week. It's a "sweet" (rated G) e-book about a sexy cowboy named Presley (guess who his Mama likes?). Even though I was sad we didn't get to see Presley in any good lovin' scenes (he has that whole hot cowboy thing going on), I really enjoyed this sweet, well-written and emotional story. Now I'm in the mood for some more cowboy books!

Also read: I Thee Wed by Amanda Quick. AQ never disappoints....I got a spunky heroine, a highly disciplined hero who is shocked by his passionate response to the heroine (so shocking!), a fun mystery/story line, and an HEA. What more could a girl want?

Hope y'all have a good weekend,
Penelope

Monday, March 1, 2010

Review of First Drop of Crimson by Jeaniene Frost




I love Jeaniene Frost's Night Huntress series. I love the over-the-top paranormal stuff, the intensity, the explosive chemistry between the characters, the sizzling sex, even the horror and violence. Cat's first person narrative gets us right into the thick of it, and makes these books come alive.

First Drop of Crimson is absolutely nothing like that series.

But it is nevertheless a fantastic book.

First Drop is coming from a very different point of view. Instead of Cat's bitchy first person narrative, we are watching a story unfold about a normal human woman who has suffered debilitating trauma. What if you were a normal human woman and you had your entire world turned upside down? Your new husband, who you adored, was horribly murdered by paranormal beings? You watched ghouls torture and destroy your friends and family? You miscarried your first child?

This is the story of Denise, a regular woman suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and how she finds the strength and integrity to fall in love again, do the right thing, and battle evil. In a sense, this is much more impressive and dramatic than having a paranormal heroine battle evil. Denise is just a regular schmo who becomes a true heroine by the end of the book. In spite of her horrible fear of paranormal beings, she is willing to do whatever it takes to protect her family, and eventually the vampire she loves.

Spade is also fascinating. He fell in love with a human once before, and was destroyed by her gang rape and death. He vows never again to become involved with a mere mortal. In spite of an intense sexual attraction to Denise, he tries to distance himself from her. He grudgingly begins to respect Denise, as he sees her rise above her PTSD and feelings of guilt about her dead husband. Their love story unfolds slowly, step by step, in a very subtle way.

Subtlety is certainly not Frost's M.O. in the Huntress series, so I was very pleasantly surprised by her approach to this story. It's not the crazy, intense thrill ride we get with Cat. The Huntress books don't really deal with believability. They are so over the top, that just isn't in the mix. But I found Denise a much more plausible and likable character than Cat. She is a real woman. With real issues, dealing with a horrifying situation. Denise's growth over the course of this book was very believable, and her growing trust in Spade was believable, too. She grapples with an intense sexual attraction to him in spite of her guilt feelings about her dead husband. I also love her humor thrown into every situation....she is a great character!

When Spade finally professes his love for Denise, it is an incredibly romantic and touching moment. I think the love story between Spade and Denise is...I can't believe I'm going to say this...sweet. I know, hard to imagine a love story between a hard-hearted killer vampire and a frightened human-turning-into-a-demon as a sweet romance, but there you go. I loved it!

My favorite part of this book is when Denise saves Nathaniel at the end. It bothered me a lot that he was a throw-away, a means to an end, when in fact he seemed like a nice person who had been horribly abused. I LOVE that Denise saved him, and tried to protect the man she loved at the final climatic scene. She showed tons of integrity and grit--a perfect match for Spade.

Okay, maybe I lied when I said it is nothing like the other series. There are still some elements reminiscent of the Huntress books. The sex scenes are very hot, the build-up for the suspense is excellent, and this story has plenty of wit and humor.

I am very impressed with this book. Jeaniene Frost has shown another side to her writing chops, and I, for one, think she rocked the house. I am looking forward to more Huntress books, as well as more installments of this spin-off series.

Grade: A

Penelope