Wednesday, August 31, 2011
I was watching the movie Baby Boom recently....remember the one from 1987? Diane Keaton plays a Manhattan yuppie who "inherits" a long-lost baby, loses her high-powered job in NY, moves to Vermont and buys a dilapidated old house, meets Sam Shepard, starts her own baby food business, and then becomes a great success. Her old company in Manhattan offers to buy her out. There is a kick-ass scene where she returns, victorious, to New York and meets with her colleagues who are trying to convince her to turn over the baby food business to them.
As I watched this scene, I saw parallels between little self-pubbers who are "making it work" and the big publishing houses who are offering them contracts after the fact. Some of the little self-pubbers are saying yes and selling their book rights to the big guns. And some of the little self-pubbers are not.
Here's the line that clicked with me from the movie.....
"To be quite frank, if the Food Chain can put Country Baby on every supermarket shelf in America, so can I."
If the big kahuna publishing companies can do it, so can I. I'm every bit as smart and determined as JC Wiatt in this movie. I only wish I could get that apple orchard in Vermont and Sam Shepard thrown into the self-pubbing deal. Sigh.
Dreaming of shoulder pads and adorable Vermont country doctors,
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
We survived the hurricane with very little damage. A few branches down...that's it. In the meantime, my garden has gone to the dark side. It has escaped the confines on my little white fence, and is now spilling over onto the sidewalk. Morning glories, tomatoes, and gigantic pumpkin vines are all living in peace and harmony, like some crazed mutant plant. I even have mini pumpkins developing on the sidewalk....
I am expecting that at some point, a person who is walking his dog will see the insane pumpkin patch and start helping himself to the cornucopia. Free pumpkins for everyone!
My mom's visit is over. ☹ We have enjoyed apple picking, shopping, a visit to the plant nursery, and looking over old photo albums....
School starts in about a week....woo hoo! I'm sad to see summer vacation over, but I'll be glad to get back to writing. Here is a tiny snippet of a botanically-inspired paranormal romance I am writing called L'Araldo Di Primavera....enjoy!
Twenty years ago....
When Flora LaGuarda was five years old, she discovered an overgrown, weed-infested garden hidden behind her Papa's tool shed. A rusty gate creaked open as she approached, which she found quite welcoming and polite. Vines of bittersweet tugged at her anklets and milkweed pods exploded, showering her with silky fluff. She touched a thorny rose, and all at once the baby buds swelled, then burst, releasing a heady fragrance. Within seconds magenta blooms weighed heavily on the bush, the lush flower heads nodding in the sunshine. Flora turned to find Papa behind her, leaning thoughtfully on a rake.
"Hmm," he said.
"Hmm," she replied.
He pulled off his faded Red Sox cap and scratched the small scrub of hairs on the top of his head. "Well, looks like you got a green thumb, Flora LaGuarda. Just like your Grandma." He slapped the hat across one thigh, dislodging a cloud of dust, then set it back on his head and nodded to her. "Time for lunch."
Flora ran out of the garden, leaving a path of lush green growth in her wake. The gate banged shut behind her, and a clump of moss fell from the sign at the top. L'Araldo di Primavera it read.
Monday, August 29, 2011
From the Boston Globe, Sunday August 28, 2011....."Sam Worthington: Actor Wants To Be Much More Than The Quiet Action Hero" by Lynda Gorov.....
"He's chatty and freckly, and, well, hairy. Wildly hairy. Chin-length shag. Thick reddish beard. Neck, chest, forearms, hands, all covered in hair."
Feeling wildly fantastic about bearded Aussie actors,
Friday, August 26, 2011
I appear to have developed a wee little shopping problem, courtesy of Etsy, the most kick-ass online shopping site in the world. (Thanks a lot, Heather).
Anyhoo, in case you haven't discovered this incredible spot, I will pass on the unhealthy addiction. Here you go..... Etsy
Penelope's Top 10 Coolest Etsy Discoveries For The Week!
1. Japanese paper-wrapped pencils....great for back-to-school!
6. Beer soap
9. Fantabulous Bag! Love this!
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Thanks to my diabolical friend Heather, I am now the proud owner of Liam The Lumberjack. This sweet little dude was an Etsy purchase, from the LicoriceWits shop. Note the fine beard/stache combo, curly chest hair poking through his plaid shirt, and friendly owl. Also note (see below) his cute tushy.
I'm going to re-decorate my office and use Liam as inspiration. I was so inspired by all the lumberjacky items at Etsy, I made my own collection, For Girls Who Love Lumberjacks. See it here.
Happy Plaid Wednesday,
Monday, August 22, 2011
Summer is almost over. I managed to pack in three vacations, a visit with Mom, a nervous break-down, cleaned the garage, read some fun books, and got a bumper crop of pumpkins. You're probably wondering how the whole mid-life crisis thing is going. Well, it's going pretty well as a matter of fact. I finally figured out the meaning of life, which has two parts.
1. Live In The Moment.
2. Get A Williams-Sonoma Panini-Maker.
I know this sounds odd, but bear with me. Let's start with #1. Initially, I was convinced that the answer to my mid-life crisis was something huge and monumental. I needed to go to Alaska and see a glacier. I needed a vintage Porsche sports-car with racing stripes. I wanted to move to Hawaii and live in a grass hut on the beach. I was mulling over these options on the day I decided to take my daughter to an organic farm to pick flowers. It was a sunny and gorgeous New England summer day. Breezy and light. And my daughter and her friend ran around a field of luscious flowers, laughing and singing and dancing with the butterflies. (See post for photos).
I stood watching them, and I found that I had tears streaming down my face. I realized something profound. I didn't need to go to the Great Wall Of China, or see a volcano in Hawaii, or buy an over-priced sports car to feel better. I just needed to focus on the small things. Really focus. Instead of thinking about my to-do list for the day, or the fact that my car registration was expired, or that I had a mound of laundry to fold on my bed.
Live in the moment. Enjoy the breeze and the sunshine. Go pick flowers with my daughter. And not rush her. Not rush us. Enjoy that simple moment because that's what life really is. Not the big moments, which are wonderful and exciting, and definitely have their place in our lives. But more importantly, the small moments we have each and every day. The ones we miss because we are too busy picking up the dry-cleaning. Most of our lives are the small moments. And taking the time to enjoy them, savor them, appreciate them, is a gift we should embrace.
After making that profound observation, I decided to put my new attitude into action. When my daughter asked me to stop at the pet store on the way home from camp--for absolutely no good reason--instead of automatically saying "No...sorry honey I have to get home to cook dinner," I said...."Yes." She was delighted. We meandered around the pet store, visiting with the turtles and puppies and finches and frogs. That night we had pizza for dinner.
When my husband said "Let's go to Newport for the day" I didn't answer "No, I have too many chores, and what about the dog, and the drive is too long" instead we jumped in the car and drove to the beach and had a blast with the kids and the neighbors were happy to walk our dog. I was being spontaneous. This was something new and different and sort of scary.
When I complained about my hideous commute into Boston this summer, while driving my son to his camp, my husband said "Try to enjoy it." Enjoy it? So with both kids in the car, fighting traffic on Huntington Avenue, we played the license plate game. And people-watched. And picked out our dream cars. And God Christ Almighty, I actually did like it.
And after I signed up Natty for soccer and skating, and Cristian for swimming, I decided I wanted to take a class, too. So I'm taking stained glass window design, and a glass-blowing workshop this fall. Me. Taking a class for fun. And Natty and I are taking a cooking class together....Dessert Party. Hee hee.
Which brings me to Part #2 of The Meaning Of Life. The Williams-Sonoma Panini Maker. If I'm living in the moment, and making chocolate brownies with Natty, how am I supposed to cook dinner and do the laundry and take care of all of the mundane details of life that suck the joy out of my day and crush me under a to-do list from hell? Well, I decided I have one hour a day to do that shit. One hour. That's it. Pay bills, make the beds. Whatever. After that, if I want to take a yoga class or write a romance novel, or play with the weenie dog, then that's what I'm going to do.
And the undisputed answer to this dilemma is the Williams-Sonoma Panini Maker! I shit you not! It's the greatest invention of all time. I can make dinner for the whole family in five minutes. I can make breakfast sammies, lunch for the kids and neighbors and a quick dinner before swim practice. Veggie sammies with grilled vegetables and fresh basil from the garden and yummy melted cheese. Plain old grilled cheese for the kids. Carnivorous stuff for the hubs. I use that damned appliance every single day and it rocks. Anything that saves me time and still provides a nutritious meal for the family frees me up to do fun stuff. And it's all guilt-free.
So, that's what I learned over summer vacation. How about you?
Friday, August 19, 2011
I've been pondering the strong opinions folks have concerning JR Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series, and why there are such feelings of betrayal by some of its readers. When this series started out, it created some rabid, truly enamored fans (I was one of them). But over the course of time, some folks got very disgruntled (me included). Some people felt the series had jumped from romance to urban fantasy. Some folks felt the heroes were getting gypped by being paired with wishy-washy heroines. Some folks were pissed with inconsistencies with time lines and world-building details.
My introduction to paranormal romance was Christine Feehan. I read the entire Dark series in chronological order. Some readers totally dig the caveman mentality/lifemate thing, and some readers think she is way too melodramatic and over-the-top. But one thing I'll say for Christine is that she is consistent. Those damned Carpathians have one lifemate, and that's it. They don't turn gay half-way into the story. They don't have menages. They don't identify a lifemate, then walk away. From the very first book, Dark Prince, she sets up her world-building details for this race and she sticks to her guns for the whole damned series. (Which is 22 books long so far). This concept of having one lifemate, for all of eternity (they are immortal) is incredibly romantic. Which is why I suspect most of her fans love these books. It's not for the bloody vampire fights, for Christ's sake. It's because no matter what else is going on in the world, our lives, the book, we know that the male hero of her story will move heaven and earth to be with his mate, to protect her, to love her. Period.
When the Brotherhood series started, it had that same vibe about "mates"....the heroes became obsessed with their mates, released yummy smelling scents (hee hee), fed them by hand, worshipped them, etc. There are definitely more layers of complexity and gray areas in the Ward series, but the fact that a very basic world-building detail (indisputable mating of one male vampire to the heroine) has been bobbling around, is a problem. A very big problem. Because romance fans want something they can count on. Even if it's a big-ass, scarred vampire with a tortuous past loving his mate beyond anything else in this world. We can get through the torture, the pain and suffering, because we know in the end, the hero will find his salvation through love with his mate.
I don't have a problem with series growing and changing over the course of time. Some of Feehan's heroes have been beta males, some are warriors and some are not, some are brutally dominant, some are more thoughtful. But the basic premise for the Carpathian people....one lifemate, no cheating, no second chances....stays consistent throughout the series. It's the glue that holds it together, and why Feehan fans remain steadfastly loyal. If you create a paranormal series with certain world-building details, and your readers totally buy into that whole thing, then you can't start messing around with it. Cause folks will be all.....what the....????
By the way, Feehan's 22nd installment of the Dark Series, Dark Predator, is coming out Sept. 6. Zacarias' story!
Here's hoping everyone has a super-duper weekend!
Thursday, August 18, 2011
The Red Hot Cajun by Sandra Hill
Genre: Contemporary Romance
The bad: The ending was a bit too fast, story slightly overstuffed.
The good: Sexy, delicious hero, hilarious Cajun family, loved the awesome romantic ending and epilogue. Made me feel like I was in the steamy bayou!
The Many Sins of Lord Cameron by Jennifer Ashley
Genre: Historical Romance
The bad: No real plot, just ridiculous storyline involving a love letter from the queen.
The good: Fabulous characters, especially Cam, another kick-ass Mackenzie brother; a sexy and emotional story. Jennifer Ashley excels at not only creating wonderful heroes, but also strong, interesting heroines. I love that! Bravo!
Operation: Spank Me by Christina James
Genre: Erotic Romance
The bad: Way too much sex! Book could have been easily 50% shorter. Terms like "drenched p*ssy" used repeatedly.
The good: Surprisingly engaging story. Loved the Vermonty stuff, loved the roses, the story was compelling and sweet. A nice happy ending, although a bit rushed.
All my best,
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
....a novel? How embarrassing. Don't tell anyone. Scandalous, I tell you.
....popular fiction? Really. That's rather lowbrow don't you think?
.....romance? Bodice rippers? Ha! What a bunch of crap!
.....an erotic story? Oh my God! That's pornographic. Certainly not "real" fiction.
....BDSM/menage/slash stories? That's unnatural. Perverse. No worthwhile publisher would consider that.
....an e-book? How cheesy. Those aren't real books.
....something published by a small, independent publisher? If it's not out of New York, it doesn't count.
....a self-published book? Any loser can do that. It has no value.
Pondering the prevalence of pompous comments on the internet and over the course of history,
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Thanks to recently reading the book Operation: Spank Me, I am now using this expression constantly. Operation: Clean the garage! Operation: Cook dinner! Operation: Walk the dog!
Anyhow, for today's "Operation" my daughter and I are gearing up for Operation: Popovers. The one brief, shining, sunny moment during our vacation to Acadia was at the Jordan Pond. After a quick nature walk, we enjoyed the delicious popovers at the Jordan Pond House Restaurant. Of course, I quickly ordered a popover pan from Amazon, and today we are going to attempt to bake these delicious treats. Hopefully they won't sink like the Titanic.
I'm trying this very simple recipe from Allrecipes.com.....
ETA: Operation: Popovers was a big success! Here is our basket of goodies....
Monday, August 15, 2011
I read a few books over vacation, and one of them was Too Perfect by Julie Ortolon. A formerly chubby slightly agoraphobic woman gets "stranded" on a tropical island and becomes a housekeeper for a reclusive man who refuses to be seen. Just to win a bet with her friends. Sure, that sounds....totally plausible. Anyhoo, the "recluse" is actually a big, jaded Hollywood star who is gorgeous and sexy. Since we can't have a frumpy, chubby girl get the hottie guy, said girl undergoes a transformation....transformation.....transformation....(imagine "Slim" from A Bug's Life is saying this part, which should be easy if you have kids and watched that movie 10 million times).
Needless to say, Chubby Girl gets a make-over by Hollywood Dude aka French Dude With A Fake Goatee aka The Recluse. Gone are the big, baggy clothes, replaced with bright colorful shirts with parrot motifs, chunky jewelry, and hair loosely piled on her head instead of pulled back in a tight bun. Because nothing says New And Improved Sexy Girl like a parrot motif.
(Yeah, I'm being sort of sarcastic here but as soon as I read "parrot motif" I got thrown out of the story.)
So, as I'm reading this, I'm thinking.....(A) Make-over books are sort of irritating, and (B) If I was getting a make-over and someone made me wear a shirt with effin parrots on it, I would be seriously pissed off, and (C) Why can't the chubby girl get the hottie guy?
There is something inherently romantic about a mousy little thing transformed into Cinderella for a night. But there is also something distressing about it, too. Can't a mousy little thing be beautiful, appealing, sexy, loved? Do we really need clunky jewelry or mascara for men to find us attractive? Who the hell finds parrots sexy? (Maybe a zookeeper or something?) The point is, I think the "make-over" theme in romance novels is pretty juvenile....it seems like the kind of thing a teenager would like. Teens, who spend millions of dollars on hair products and make-up and accessories and shoes with sparkles on them. I am hoping that adults have realized there are more important things than soft, wispy tendrils of hair falling seductively around one's face. And I would surely, surely hope that a hero would realize it, too. Even if the heroine is slightly chubby, or wears drab clothes, hopefully he could see past that and find her kind, generous, funny, sweet and lovely personality a big win. Because otherwise, he's looking pretty shallow.
The hero in this book is actually pretty cool. He does recognize that the heroine is genuine and wonderful, even without the bird-inspired apparel. As far as contemporary romance novels go, this is a cute book, although the make-over details were definitely overdone. (Grade: B+)
How do you feel about "make-over" books? Love them? Hate them? Do they make you feel inadequate about your own style, which may be sadly lacking in parrot shirts?
Happy Monday To All!
Saturday, August 13, 2011
For a quick weekly summary from Penelope, please take this matching quiz. Thank you very much.
1. Jo Jo
2. The Many Sins of Lord Cameron
3. Cadillac Mountain
4. Too Perfect
5. Daughter's unfortunate discovery on lobster boat in Kennebunkport
6. Sentence most repeated by 13 year old son during vacation week in Maine
7. Sentence most repeated by 8 year old daughter during vacation week in Maine
8. Favorite activities during vacation
9. Wackiest news of the week
10. Operation Spank Me
A. "What's for dessert?" (#7)
B. Dead fish found floating at top of tank when we returned home from vacation (#1)
C. Excellent historical romance with no real plot to speak of, but wonderful characters (#2)
D. Riding go-carts and playing mini-golf (#8)
E. Evidently, a nice mountain in Acadia; wouldn't know, since it was completely obscured by fog (#3)
F. Cute contemporary romance with extended make-over for heroine, including a shirt with a "parrot" on it (ugh!) (#4)
G. It's a bad idea to eat Doritos before getting seasickness (#5)
H. My sis got married unexpectedly, on my anniversary! Yay! (#9)
I. Embarrassingly-titled erotica I hid on my Kindle (#10)
J. "Does this place have wi fi?" (#6)
So, I'm back from vacation. I read 3 books (mini reviews to come later). Some things didn't work out so well (dead fish, seasickness, rain and fog at Acadia), and some things were wonderful (hanging out with the family).
Hope everyone has a great weekend!
Sunday, August 7, 2011
I'm off for my Maine adventure! We are doing a coastal exploration, and stopping at Kennebunkport, Camden, Mt Desert Island, Freeport and Portland. It's been 15 years since I was in Acadia. I can't wait!
See yinz all in a week or so.
Happy Summer Days!
Friday, August 5, 2011
I think it's pretty apparent why shapeshifters and romance became a successful genre. There is something inherently sexy and domineering and elemental about a wild beast. Strip away the humanity, and what you have left is a being who thinks about eating and survival and sex and protecting his pack and loved ones. There is nothing sexier than an intense, mysterious werewolf claiming its mate (oh, how I love you Vane Kattalakis).
I love serious, intense shapeshifters (Sherrilyn Kenyon). I love funny shapeshifters (Molly Harper). I love steampunky shapeshifters (Gail Carriger). And I especially love Scottish shapeshifters tortured by vampires (Kresley Cole). But for some strange reason, I am not getting the whole Shelly Laurenston thing.
I know folks who absolutely adore this author, but I couldn't stand the first two books I read by her. Beast Behaving Badly was a bad introduction to the Pride series. I thought Blayne was a horrible heroine--irritating and hyper. There were too many confusing characters and I didn't get the humor. Pack Challenge (Magnus Pack series) was even worse. I hated the hero, the heroine, and all of their friends. I didn't find cussing, slapping, and constant insults funny, nor did I find it sexy or romantic.
I just finished reading The Mane Squeeze (Pride series #4) and I really enjoyed this story. (I will get back to that review in a moment.) But it finally dawned on me what is totally bizarre about these books.
In a nutshell, it's Animal House. With real animals.
All of the characters act like drunken fraternity brothers. The guys. The girls. Their parents. Their grandparents. And I'm not talking about one of those geeky fraternities where the guys wear glasses and are computer geniuses. I'm talking about John Belushi-style fraternity boys, waking up in a pile of their own vomit and drool, and wearing underwear on their head. The animals in Laurenston's books act like a bunch of immature, idiotic fraternity boys. They party. They slap each other around. They cuss and insult each other. They resort to violence in short order. And the girls are actually worse than the guys! Even the parents act like imbeciles. Honestly, I think Laurenston is giving the animal kingdom a bad rap. Real animals behave better than most of these losers.
Now, it could be funny I suppose. Some folks find these very humorous. But I keep waiting for a real grown-up to show up. They never do.
I think one of the reasons I really enjoyed The Mane Squeeze is that it has a lot more subtlety than the other two I read. The hero is a sweet beta bear, and the heroine is not as unlikable as the other heroines. The over-the-top antics are still here, but slightly toned back, and the humor was perfect. I did laugh out loud more than once.
Strangely, I loved Blayne in this story. She is still hyper and weird, but also charming and sweetly loyal to her friend. Too bad those qualities didn't dominate her own book. However, I still found the number of characters overwhelming, the complicated family structures confusing, and the politics of all the different packs difficult to understand. On the plus side, I love that Laurenston has Asian characters and black characters and hybrid characters, and deals with the bigotry and intolerance they experience.
I'm glad I finally read a Laurenston book I liked, but I think I'm done with her series. I can only take Animal House in small doses, and I like my shapeshifters a bit more dignified and sexy. (Playing with one's toes is cute and goofy, but not so high up on the sexy meter.) I'm sure the Shelly Laurenston fans are going to let me have it. Bring it on. I can take it. I already got slammed by a JD Robb fanatic at Bertucci's and I lived to tell the tale.
Struggling with a strange urge to do a beer bong,
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
"We all have big changes in our lives that are more or less a second chance."
Guess who uttered these words of wisdom? Gandhi? The Dalai Lama?
Nope, it was Harrison Ford.
Today, August 3, 2011 is the one year anniversary of my heart attack. The day I got a second chance.
I would like to thank my son who held my hand while I waited for the ambulance to arrive.
I would like to thank the Needham Massachusetts fire department and police department, who saved my life.
I would like to thank everyone at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston who took care of me and fixed up my faulty heart.
I would like to thank my friends and family and colleagues and neighbors who went way beyond the call of duty to help me and my family, whose generosity and love were the key to my healing and recuperation.
I would like to thank my husband Carl who is my true soulmate and best friend.
I would like to thank my children who are the joy of every day.
I would like to thank my dachshund Lucy who gives unconditional love to our family.
I would like to thank all of my on-line friends for your support and kindness this past year.
Embracing second chances,
(Photo taken by my very talented son.)
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Here is a great recipe to take advantage of the delicious fresh corn available at farm stands right now. It's Cheddar Corn Chowder, a healthy recipe from Martha Stewart. I made it this weekend for my guests and they loved it!
Cheddar Corn Chowder
2 T olive oil
1 med finely chopped yellow onion
1 finely chopped celery stalk
1/2 t. ground coriander
1/4 t. ground cumin
1/8 t. cayenne pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 Yukon gold potatoes, cut into cubes (Martha removes the peels, but I don't!)
2 c. chicken broth (low sodium, low fat)
1 c. nonfat or 1% milk
3 c. fresh corn kernels (about 6 ears of corn)
salt and pepper to taste
2 oz. sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
Heat oil in a pot over medium heat, add onion and cook for about 4 minutes. Then add celery and cook for 4 more minutes. Add coriander, cumin and cayenne. Raise heat to med-high and add wine. Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated (just a couple of minutes). Then add potatoes, chicken broth and milk. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.
Add corn and cook for 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat. Put 2 cups of slightly cooled soup into a Cuisinart and puree. Return puree to the pot and stir into the soup. Warm up the soup again, season with salt and pepper. When serving, top the soup with a sprinkle of sharp cheddar cheese.
Tip from Penelope: Before cutting the corn kernels off the cob, cut the ends so they're perfectly flat. This makes it much easier to chop the kernels off the cob.
Monday, August 1, 2011
Monday morning quickie updates.....
I read Sheila Connolly's mystery Let's Play Dead. It is a very subdued style of mystery, about a museum director in Philadelphia. Not a lot of action, no real romance to speak of, and lots of mundane details about daily operations at a museum. Even though it was pretty dry reading, I still liked it. The mystery itself is the star of the show, and Connolly does a good job with the plotline. Also, the cover is simply adorable! Grade: B
I finally got to read Hannah Howell's latest addition to the Wherlocke series, If He's Dangerous. What a great story! I am totally digging the paranormally-enhanced Wherlocke family. They are bad-ass, mysterious and oh so sexy. Schwing! I am now in love with the name Angus. It's hot! I thought this book was the perfect package....great romance, terrific characters, engaging storyline. Grade: A
Thanks to People magazine for this inspiring photo of Hugh.