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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Living In The Moment


I am lucky to live close to a wonderful organic garden and farm stand, called Land's Sake in Weston, Massachusetts. At different times of the growing season, they have pick your own raspberries, peas, etc. They also have pick your own flowers, which is a huge treat for my daughter. Yesterday I took Natty and one of her pals to pick flowers.

It was a glorious day and an excellent reminder to live in the moment.

Happy to be alive!
Penelope

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Hero Named Kowalski And A Heroine Named Miss Fickle



I am fervently attempting to avoid all contemporary romance novels. Even ones that come highly recommended are pissing me off no end. However, one has been nagging at me for a while, and for one simple reason.

Kowalski.

As soon as I saw that Shannon Stacey's series had a family with the last name Kowalski, I knew I was going to read it. That is ballsy, funny, and so uncool it's totally cool.

Exclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey (Kowalski Family series #1) is just the way I like contemporary romance: fast paced, lots of comedy, lots of sexy chemistry between the hero and heroine, and a kooky family thrown in for good measure. The premise for the story is hilarious and cute--reporter is forced to camp with the subject's family for two weeks if she wants her interview questions answered. The prissy girl is not prepared for mud, kids, mosquitoes, and a still lingering attraction to her old high school boyfriend. They putt around on ATVs and butt into each other's business. Love it! All of the problems are tied up neatly at the end with a nice big bow. Great story!

Grade: A



Next up....I have recently read two Annette Blair books. One is phenomenal, one was okay. First up, Skirting the Grave. This is one of her Vintage Magic Mysteries. I have been really enjoying this series, which combines cute, cozy mysteries with a touch of paranormal and romance. Unfortunately, this was not my favorite of the series. The storyline was okay, but not stellar. I still enjoyed all the vintage clothing descriptions. There were a few totally unbelievable plot moments that popped me out of the story (Isobel finding out her cousin is dead and then joking around with Maddie a few moments later, etc.) that just didn't make sense.

Love triangles are tricky things. They can add sexual tension, but they can also make the heroine look like a fickle tease. The love triangle between Madeira, Werner and Nick was a great addition to the former books in this series. But in this story her waffling really got on my nerves. I'm not going to spoil the end of the book, but she went from struggling with her attraction for both men (and leading them both on) to making a split second decision, which, in my oh so humble opinion, was totally freakin' wrong! She picked the wrong damned guy! Ugh!

Overall, a cute story but not as sparkling as her other books. And the love triangle was a big downer and made the heroine look bad.

Grade: B




Sometimes it's hard to believe the same author can write two such totally different books. Here is a perfect example. Blair's mystery series is cute, fun, with lots of banter. There is not a lot of emotional depth since it's a cozy mystery. On the flip side, she has written an incredibly moving and emotionally intense novel, Jacob's Return. This is an Amish love story and it is a powerful bit of storytelling. I found this book mesmerizing--could not put it down. Blair has done a superb job immersing the reader into the Amish way of life. The characters are wonderful....real, nuanced, conflicted, loving. This book does not shy away from tragedy....it's simply unavoidable here. But after an emotional roller coaster, the ending was absolute perfection. Lovely, unexpected, and romantic. I bawled like a little baby.

This is a beautiful story....I highly recommend it.

Grade: A

Happy Weekend To Everyone,
Penelope

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Review of Heartless by Gail Carriger


Observations about Heartless by Gail Carriger.....


1.) The cover is wack. The models on Soulless, Changeless, and Blameless looked like they could kick your butt, admonish your improper behavior and have a spot of tea all without missing a beat. The woman on the cover of Heartless looks like she'll burst into tears if you look at her funny. Wack.

2.) The humor is spot-on--Alexia waddling around London, thwarting would-be paranormal crimes with a massive pregnant belly barely slowing her down. The characters are brilliant--the effeminate vampires, lesbian steampunk inventor, over-protective alpha werewolf hubby, catty suffragette sister, and best of all the no-nonsense soulless heroine. The storyline has ups and downs....interesting investigations, fabulous climatic scene at the end with the octomaton rampaging through town, but also occasionally bogged down by too much paranormal political stuff. Pacing slowed a bit in the middle, was just perfection at the end. With a killer cliff-hanger.

3.) This series is straight up the most original, clever and humorous bit of storytelling in the romance genre. Although it is truly a mish-mash of romance, steampunk, paranormal, historical and comedy. It's quirky. It's well-written. It's got Penny's Seal Of Approval.

4.) I was heartily disappointed with the lack of romance in Blameless. Due to a totally exasperating misunderstanding, the hero and heroine were apart for the bulk of the book. Heartless was an improvement, although still not enough for my romantic inclinations. It is definitely a sexy story, but I just can't get enough of Conall the gruff and grumbly werewolf. More, more, more!!!!!

5.) Favorite lines....

      "No wife. I mean to say, you are not exactly up to your usual galavanting about London with parasol at the ready, now, are you?"

      Alexia glanced down at her overstuffed belly and then got that look on her face. "I am entirely capable."

     "Of what, waddling up to someone and ruthlessly bumping into them?"

hee hee heeee..... 

And I love this line, too. Leave it to Alexia to tell it like it is. 

     "Goodness," said an exhausted Lady Maccon, "are babies customarily that repulsive looking?"

Why yes, yes they are. ☺

Looking for an entertaining steampunky historical romance with a kick-ass sense of humor? Look no further. 

Grade: A-

Pleasantly Pleased as a Peacock,
Penelope

Monday, July 25, 2011

What Is This Place? Ohhhhh....A Bookstore!



Since I have become the proud owner of a Kindle, I have frequently commented that print books are Satan. Kidding, of course. Kidding. But seriously, it's been a while since I read a print book. The last time irritated me no end. I couldn't adjust the font size. I couldn't leave bookmarks and memos for myself (which is such a great option for reviewers!). The book keeps snapping shut when you're trying to read and eat your heart-healthy lunch simultaneously. I cursed the heavens above and swore, as God is my witness, I would never read a print book again!

And then I went to the New England Mobile Book Fair.

There are bookstores. And then...well...there is the New England Book Fair.

I went for one reason. To get a book from my son's summer reading list. One. Single. Book. I forgot how seductive this shop is. A giant warehouse, utterly chaotic and mesmerizing. Are the books organized according to subject? By author? By title? Hell no. This place is organized by publisher, and it's fabulous. When you finally locate a book you are searching for, it's like finding a hidden treasure. Books are stacked on shelves. Piled in boxes on the floor. Forgotten in corners. It is a bibliophile's Shangri-La. This is no chi chi Barnes and Noble, with a Starbucks in the corner. This is for hardcore readers, baby, and I love it!

Back to my story. I forgot about the wonder of meandering through a kick-ass bookstore, discovering dusty treasures and exploring like a turn-of-the-century adventurer. Yes, I did get the one single book on my to-do list. I also got a vegetarian cookbook, 2 mysteries, 2 romance novels, a cookbook about cupcakes, a cookbook about cake pops, 4 Highlighter magazines, 2 guide books about Maine, and a kid's almanac 2012 by National Geographic. (My daughter was with me). We had a blast. And frankly, it made me sort of sad. I have a bad feeling all bookstores are going to bookstore heaven in the not-so-distant future.

Needless to say, I will be very busy this week. Baking cupcakes. Reading romance novels. And planning my trip to Maine.

As God is my witness, I will never ding print books again.

Penelope

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Alaskan State Troopers, Sparkly Vampires and The Upside Down Fish


Here are some updates from the sweltering world of Penelope....

1.) Update on search for the meaning of life.....air conditioning.

2.) Most Excellent Discovery for July: Dana Stabenow's Liam Campbell mystery series. What do you get when you mix one sexy Alaskan state trooper, one sassy pilot love interest, lots of cool details about Alaskan history and culture, juicy plot lines, juicy sex scenes, complex relationships, and a little touch of the paranormal? The Liam Campbell mystery series. I read all four books back-to-back and inhaled them like a greasy cheeseburger at Bill's diner. I think Stabenow has done a fabulous job balancing the storyline and characterization in these books. Sometimes mysteries are too light on the characterization, and the stories suffer as a result. Not so with this series. She creates complex characters and real issues for the characters to deal with. Although I do think she went slightly overboard with Liam's troubles....adultery, scandalous demotion from a tragic accident, kid killed by drunk driver, and comatose wife would have been enough. Then she heaped on Liam having to confront the drunk who killed his son in a routine traffic stop....that was pushing it. Nevertheless, I loved how Liam and Wy had to deal with difficult decisions in their lives, and how their love continued to grow and flourish. This is a great mystery series for romance lovers! (I did have a bit of a problem with book #3....it deals with the abduction, rape and murder of women by a serial killer, a topic that was a bit too gruesome for me). Overall, this series is a super epic win! Highly recommended!!!!

3.) I watched Twilight for the first time last night with my daughter. Christ on a crutch, that movie sucked! It was boring, slow, ridiculous, and the acting was so hideously bad, my daughter and I were laughing out loud. Seriously, that was one of the worst movies I have seen in my life. I can't believe so many folks are manic about this film. Not sure if the book is any better than that, but I hope so. My "favorite" scene is when Edward tells Bella she has to see the real him in sunlight. I thought he would look hideous, grotesque, etc. Instead, he sparkles like a shirt from Justice. Hee heeeeeeeeee! Oh, snap!

4.) Due to my daughter's incessant badgering, I caved and got her another pet. I talked her down from the boxer puppy, to the guinea pig, the finch, and finally.....the fish. Yep, we got two new fish and a fish bowl. I tried to explain the concept of "starter" fish to her, and made her promise not to get too attached to Jo Jo and Hazel. Nevertheless, she got teary-eyed when Hazel started swimming sideways, then upside down. Sigh. Life Lesson #49....Sometimes we have to flush the ones we love.

Signing Off And Praying For A Day Cooler Than 101 Freakin' Degrees,
Penelope

Friday, July 22, 2011

What To "Cook" For Dinner When It's Freakin' 100°?



There's a rule in my house. When it's hotter than hades, the oven stays off. Grilling only or cold meals will suffice, thank you very much. Since we are enjoying a prolonged heat wave in the Boston area right now, I thought I would share my favorite cold dinner.....gazpacho! It's the quintessential summer meal.

I use a modified version of the Moosewood Cookbook recipe.


Gazpacho


Ingredients:

4 c. cold tomato juice
1 small, well minced onion (I use Vidalia sweet onion)
2 c. diced tomatoes (I like multi-colored cherry tomatoes for their sweetness and color)
1 c. minced yellow or orange pepper
1 diced cucumber
2 chopped scallions
juice of 1/2 lemon and 1 lime
2 T wine vinegar
1 t. honey
1 clove garlic crushed (I sometimes skip this)
dash of cumin
dash of tabasco
2 T good quality olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
several handfuls of chopped fresh herbs: basil (I use sweet, purple, lemon and Thai), tarragon, dill, cilantro, chives, parsley, lemon balm, etc.

Combine all ingredients and chill for at least 2 hours. I love this soup because it's chunky!

Top with home-made bruschetta or croutons if you'd like. I also often top with low-fat sour cream and fresh herbs and Johnny Jump-Up flowers on top....yum!

For a delicious bruschetta to serve with this gazpacho, take a loaf of country peasant bread and slice into 1" slices. Drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper. Place on a hot grill and grill both sides, being careful not the burn the bread (it will grill quickly!). Remove bread from grill, and spread with goat cheese. Sprinkle the tops with a mixture of finely chopped herbs (dill, cilantro, basil, chives, lemon balm, etc). Drizzle again with a bit of olive oil and S/P, then serve with the soup.

Stay cool!
Penelope

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Penny Read A Mystery And She Liked It



(The following is to be read to the music of Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl".....start singing!)

Penny read a mystery and she liked it
The taste of an Alaskan state trooper
Penny read a mystery just to try it
I hope my romance addiction don't mind it
It felt so wrong
It felt so right
Don't mean I'm in love tonight
Penny read a mystery and she liked it
She liked it.


Fire and Ice by Dana Stabenow.....Grade: A
Alaskan state trooper....nom nom nom

Guess who just broke her "I'm only buying one book this month" vow? heh heh heh....I have no honor! Off to read books #2, #3, and #4 of the Liam Campbell series......

Ciao!
Penelope

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Review of Incorporeal by J R Barrett



I am popping up from my self-imposed exile, where I have been searching diligently for the meaning of life, to post a review. I decided to attempt reading again. Believe it or not, I am checking out a non-romance--Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff--and a new romance by Julia Barrett, who is also publishing under the name JR Barrett.

As for the meaning of life, the only significant discovery I've made in the last week is that Francis Ford Coppola makes a really kick-ass Merlot.

As for the new reading materials, Cleopatra seems promising and fascinating. And Incorporeal was a wonderful surprise.

Barrett has managed to combine true romance, eerie paranormality, a bit of history, and an interesting commentary about the state of publishing in this tale. The story starts in a weird place, not at the beginning of the two main characters' journey together. I'm not sure I would have chosen to start the story here. We jump right into the midst of this incorporeal love affair, between ghost-man and aspiring romance writer. So we miss their introduction and beginning of their dream-induced sexual affair. Barrett gets us up to speed pretty quickly with the state of their relationship. Sara is a sympathetic character, with dreams to be a writer, and saddled with an unwelcome affinity for ghosts. Natan is a very sexy and protective hero....with a troubled past, and an unclear place in this paranormal world. Normally I hate dealing with the learning curve of confused heroines thrown into a paranormal setting (in particular, Katie MacAlister often creates TSTL heroines dealing with unknown paranormal forces, and the lack of clear direction drives me up the freakin' wall). But Sara's gradual understanding of her circumstances unfolds in a logical way, and is shadowed by the growing emotional pull between herself and her ghostly lover.

One thing I have discovered about Barrett's writing is that regardless of the setting, she is able to create very intense emotional and sensual connections between her hero and heroine. And romantic. This seemingly tragic love affair reminded me of one of my favorite Karen Marie Moning books, Kiss of the Highlander. When Sara, pregnant with Natan's child, must convince his "reincarnation" that he is indeed her lover, you feel her frustration and Natan's confusion. The resolution of this conflict is wonderfully satisfying and romantic.

Barrett's portrait of the bitchy romance publisher is, unfortunately, a rather telling exasperation with the state of the romance industry today. I love this bit....

"To sell books, just like McDonald's, you have to make the same cheeseburger over and over again....that's how you win the game."

The completely self-absorbed diva of a publisher is balanced out by Sara's kind and supportive friends. Eventually, there is a HEA (happily ever after) for Sara's writing dreams, and indeed the story within a story (the heroine has written about her ghost lover in a book titled Incorporeal) is used to draw the hero and heroine back together at the end. After Natan reads the manuscript, he is able to reconcile his dreams, memories and past existence with this new reality. And so Sara's romance novel leads to her very own HEA, and a future with her delicious lover.

Me likey!

After a somewhat slow beginning, I got completely sucked into the book and couldn't put it down. The end is sweet and romantic and life-affirming. In Incorporeal, true love survives even death. Sounds pretty damned good to me.

Grade: A-

Available on Kindle
Available at Smashwords


Penelope....Slinking Back Into Exile (With a glass of merlot)......

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

10 Signs It Might Be Time To Take A Break From Reading Romance Novels




1. Your Kindle breaks and you don't care.

2. You start looking for excuses not to read....like cleaning the toilets.

3. As an alternative to romantic fiction, you turn to Great Expectations and think, "It's only 544 pages long. That's not too bad."

4. Your reviews have morphed from well-written essays to "quickies" to a couple of sentences, to "meh."

5. You would rather watch Sharktopus on SyFy than read a romance novel.

6. You finish a book and the best thing you can come up with is..."Well, I guess the boinking part was okay."

7. You find yourself muttering "...the Brothers, blah blah blah, who cares..." under your breath.

8. You're personally offended by grammatical errors.

9. You realize that your husband cleaning the house is way more romantic than a hunky Scottish laird wearing a kilt. No contest.

10. It's summer vacation!


I never thought it would happen, but I've finally "hit the wall" with my romance reading. This may or may not have something to do with the fact that I appear to be having a mid-life crisis. Yes, a "perfect storm" of events (turning 45 and having a near-fatal heart attack last August) have me questioning my purpose, my importance, my hobbies, everything. For some strange reason, I am totally wigging out about the upcoming anniversary of my heart attack (which is August 3).

It's easy to focus on the physical part of recovery. You eat the right foods. Do the exercise. Take your pills. But contemplating the whole "I-have-a-second-chance-for-life" thing is much more difficult and troubling. I am nervous about August 3rd. What have I done this past year since God/Fate/Destiny/A Random Occurrence decided I would live? Am I squandering my second chance? What is the best way to make it count? What is the best way to make myself happy? Fulfilled?

I have no freakin' clue.

If this was a movie with George Clooney and Marky-Mark, someone would probably take a break in the action (giant waves crashing down upon our little fishing vessel) and give me some super profound advice, about how small and insignificant I am compared to the great big ocean, yada yada, or something like that. But unfortunately, George and Marky-Mark are no where to be found.

I guess I have to figure this out for myself. That whole idiotic saying "Life Isn't A Dress Rehearsal" has taken on new meaning for me. Because it isn't a dress rehearsal. One of my on-line friends was talking about the NKOTBSB concert, and I thought "That sounds really fun. I wish I could go." And then I thought "Why can't I go? WTF?" and then I called my sister, who is the best, and she said "We're there. Break out your sequins." And we went. And it was ridiculously fun and excellent...and alive. I felt alive and joyful and celebratory. As I swayed with 20,000 other screaming women while Donnie Wahlberg ripped off his shirt.

I'm not gonna read about other people doing fun things anymore. Like going to concerts with aging boy bands. Or heading to Alaska for a vacation. Or kayaking with whales. Or going to glass-blowing camp in Vermont. I'm gonna do those things, too. Which may cutback on my reading and blogging time. And that's okay. I will definitely pop in from time to time. And hopefully get my reading mojo back. And fall in love with writing again. I have a delicious fictional bearded lumberjack who is clamoring for some attention.

So, I'm hanging this sign on my blog.....

Gone Fishin'

No, that's not quite right. How about this....

Temporary Hiatus Due To Mid-Life Crisis, Hopefully Resolved Soon By George Clooney, Or My Own Self-Discovery, Whichever Occurs First


You might not see me on Twitter or the boards for a couple of months. Hopefully I'll be on a life-affirming adventure.

I hope that all of you have a wonderful summer adventure, too, something that makes you happy to be alive. ☺☺☺☺

Pondering Profound Platitudes,
Penelope

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Happy Independence Day!



My New England town embraces July 4th like nobody's business. We have a huge-arse fireworks display, and an adorable old-fashioned parade. The first year my daughter attended the parade, she was thrilled to discover that many of the participants throw candy to children on the side of the road. Needless to say, she showed up the next year with buckets and a willingness to elbow any other greedy children out of her way. She has two Spongebob buckets ready for action.

Hope all of you have a wonderful weekend!
Penelope