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Monday, April 30, 2012

Review of The Hostage Bargain by Annika Martin



Review of The Hostage Bargain by Annika Martin

There are some books that have a premise that is so ridiculous, you just can't resist. (At least I can't). As soon as I saw the blurb for this book--a sheep farmer who is abducted by three bad-ass bank robbers and subjected to super pleasurable sexcapades, I thought--"I have to read this one!" 

So, even though I normally don't read a lot of ARCs, I actually begged Annika Martin to read hers. And I must say that I was more or less blown out of the water.

There are not many erotic romances that can weave together ridiculous humor, a complex and suspenseful story line, intriguing characters, and sex so smoky and hot you're sweating as you read it. (I'm only slightly embarrassed to admit that I was, literally, sweating. Holy Old Spice Deodorant!) And.....the other really cool thing about this book is that the sexiest part of it was not the actual physical scenes of intimacy (although, don't get me wrong, those were also super sweat-worthy), but it was the anticipation of the sex that was so thoroughly, unbelievably, smoky hot. Martin is a master at building anticipation. 

This book is not really kinky. I have read erotica that is much crazier as far as sex acts and bondage. The wickedness of this story is the scenario itself....that a young woman desperate for excitement has it unexpectedly dropped into her lap in the form of three wild bank robbers. Because this story is told in first person POV, we are living the experience with Melinda. Annika Martin takes us on a very bumpy ride, creates nervous tension and anticipation, throws in some scary suspenseful moments, and manages, somehow, to end on a positive note. I really liked the fact that this book is not what you normally expect with an erotica. The only thing I can compare it to is Skin Game by Ava Gray. That was a wild, sexy ride, with truly unique characters. The Hostage Bargain takes you on the same sort of journey. I was totally mesmerized by this book.

After finishing it, I realized that the author is planning more books in this series. Yippee! (Note to self: stock up on Old Spice deodorant).

If you're looking for something outside-of-the-box of regular erotic fiction, then this one's for you. The Hostage Bargain is a delicious mix of snappy humor, wicked sexcapades and on-the-edge-of-your-seat suspense. I've never read anything like it. Debut author Annika Martin has a new #1 fan.

Grade: A

Available at Smashwords



Waiting for my own bank robber to fall out of the sky (preferably with a nice bushy beard),
Penelope

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Martini Club Welcomes Barb Wallace & The Preppy Gin and Tonic




I have a confession to make. I hate gin. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law love gin and tonics, and have tried to get me to jump on that bandwagon. But sadly, I was already firmly in the "I love vodka" wagon, which I must say is a very festive place to be.

Nevertheless, the G&T is a classic and deserves to be in The Martini Club spotlight for sure. So, huge thanks to romance author Barbara Wallace for treating us to a nice little history of this preppy drink. I especially like the whole "it's medicinal" approach for cocktails. Doctor's orders....I swear! :^)

Take it away, Barb........

*******


Grab your espadrilles and turn up your Izod collars!  As an honored guest of The Martini Club, I thought I’d take today and celebrate one of the classics - the  Gin and Tonic. 


Gin and Tonics (or G&Ts) are staples of the New England country club set.  The Ferncliffs of Nantucket, Daniel Moretti’s dysfunctional family in my book Weekend Agreement, down them with regularity. 

Believe it or not, when first created Gin and Tonics were medicinal.  Sort-of.  The British – those original waspy mothers of invention, created the drink in 19th century India as a way of encouraging people to drink Quinine Water.  Quinine, you may or may not remember, is used to treat malaria and was thought to repel mosquitoes.  It’s also a key ingredient in tonic water.  (Though to use G&Ts as a bug repellent now, you’d have to drink about 7 quarts.  I’m pretty sure you’d stop worrying about insects long before you finish treatment.)  Wonder if they had any idea that a couple centuries later, their medical breakthrough would become a favorite party drink among the rebellious colonists? 

Crafting a gin and tonic sounds easy enough – how hard can mixing gin with tonic water be, right?  But, as any good preppy mixologist would tell you, nothing as easy as it sound.  True G&T aficionados (like the Ferncliffs) won’t settle for anything less than the perfectly proper mixture. 

The key is twofold.  First, you need to use actual tonic water.  Club soda simply won’t do.  After all, the drink isn’t called a Gin and Soda; you need bitterness of the quinine to balance the taste.  (And before you think I am being a master of the obvious, my research revealed that using soda water spray is a lot of more common than you think.)

The second key is the right gin.  You want one that has a good botanical base – a technical term meaning the liquor needs to have a strong juniper base.  Naturally the higher end gins do.  My advice – you can’t go wrong with Tanqueray.

Once you have the proper ingredients, then the recipe really is easy:

2 oz Gin
Tonic Water (remember the quinine! We don’t want you getting malaria on the beach)
Wedge of lime
Ice

Fill a Tom Collins glass with ice 
Add Gin.  (Make sure your ice and glass are chilled)
Fill to rim with Tonic Water
Squeeze lime wedge to add a hint of flavor  (If you want, you can also rim the glass with lime juice or use the wedge as a garnish.)

There you have it!  A perfect Gin and Tonic just the way Daniel Moretti and his family would like it. 

If you want to know more about Daniel, his family or his romance with Charlotte Doherty, check out Penny’s review.  Or, you can purchase Weekend Agreement and read it yourself. 


*******

Thanks, Barb, for this fun post! I loved Weekend Agreement and would heartily enjoy drinking any cocktail with Daniel Moretti.  The whole preppy thing is taking me back to high school.....


Remember these shoes?

Ugh! Did we really think these were cool? 


Happy Sloshy Sunday!
Penelope

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Whips and Kicks


Me last night: 4 Whips and Kicks

Me this morning: Tylenol and coffee

Guess who won Most Regal Tiara? hee hee.....



Bow down, minions! :^)

Off to breakfast,
Penelope

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Off To Conference!



Julia Rachel Barrett and I are heading to Salem today! Hope to see some of you at the NECRWA Spring Conference this week. Don't forget about the book fair on Saturday.

Julia and I were lucky enough to enjoy a fabulous dinner at Blue Ginger, and guess who stopped by to say hello (and who is totally adorable and gracious)? Ming! Thanks to John Malik for putting in a good word for us with the celebrity chef.

(Just in case you were wondering, I had a lychee martini. It was delish).

I may or may not be posting for a couple of days. I'll try to post some updates from conference! For sure I will be posting a cute piece about gin and tonics on Sunday for The Martini Club----by Barbara Wallace.

All my best,
Penelope

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tales of a Craft Show Drop-Out & Book Fair Announcement!



Many moons ago, I was a florist.

I decided to start my own business when I lived in Vermont. I made dried wreaths, gift items and wedding stuff. My house looked like a bunch of flowers exploded on the second floor. (My hubs was super nice about the whole thing). Anyway, during this time of my life, I decided to participate in one of the most dreaded undertakings known to mankind.

Yes....The Craft Show.

(Hubs likes to call them The Craps Show).

Anyhoo, I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for my first show. I had wreaths displayed. Some of my wedding work was there for folks who wanted to place orders. I had a portfolio with photos. I sat at my little chair and watched people walk by. And then walk by some more. And then avoid eye contact. And pretty soon I felt like the Biggest Loser On The Face Of The Earth.


And I swore, as I packed up my car to head home after making a piddly amount of money, that I would NEVER put myself through that humiliation again.

Which brings me to the next announcement....The Book Fair!

You know what I'm about to say. You've walked through the book fair room, avoiding eye contact with authors sitting next to a huge stack of books. You've suffered through the awkward conversation with a big name writer, who is sitting next to Miss Nobody with the sad puppy dog eyes. You've dished out cash for books you really didn't want, just because you couldn't take it anymore.

Hee heeee.......

Wellllllll.........I would like to invite you and your super guilty conscience to the Literacy Book Fair at the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, MA on Saturday April 28, at 4:30 pm. (How did you like that introduction? Are you feeling a compulsion yet?) Some big name authors will be there--Hannah Howell, Kristan Higgins, Annette Blair, Marie Force, Judith Arnold, Meg Maguire/Cara McKenna and more. (And some small name authors, including yours truly, attempting to hawk my Christmas book in April. I'm bringing a mini xmas tree and some candy canes).

It should be a frolicking good time, and a great way to end the conference weekend. Marley Gibson is also giving a Ghost Hunter tour of Salem after the book fair.

Any New Englanders interested in meeting some of their favorite authors (and making fun of Penny Watson, the nutball selling a xmas book in April), please stop by and say hello!

The NECRWA hopes to see you there!


Don't feel bad. Seriously.



Sure, just walk on by. It won't hurt my feelings.



You don't want to read a Christmas story in April? That's OK. *sniffle, sniffle*



Don't worry about me. It's nothing a cocktail (or 42) can't cure.


Did it work yet?

Having no shame,
Penelope


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review of Ride With Me by Ruthie Knox


Review of Ride With Me by Ruthie Knox

There are a lot of reasons I don't love contemporary romance. Too much reality. Recycled plot ideas. Lack of excitement. The ones that resonate with me usually have a real sweetness to them. Very romantic moments. I don't care about the sex as much as the love connection, baby.

Unfortunately, when I first read the blurb for this book, I thought to myself.....I'm never gonna read it. It just wasn't appealing to me. But because a lot of folks were chatting about how much they enjoyed this novel, I decided to read it for maybe 15 minutes? If I didn't like it by then, I would bag it.

It didn't take fifteen minutes.

Right from the start, the characters were engaging, the storyline was solid. There was a nice, slow simmer to this love story that was both believable and romantic. I don't care about biking. But I did relish the idea of a cross-country journey. I loved how Tom taught Lexie to loosen up and be more spontaneous. And I also liked the fact that Lexie was likable from the very beginning. Even as an uptight, by-the-book biker, she was a good person....someone who thought about others but also looked out for herself. A very modern heroine. I think it's pretty difficult to make a strong and determined contemporary heroine non-bitchy and appealing. Knox does a great job with Lexie. And Tom is utterly delicious. A tortured soul (my fav!) who gets all hot and bothered by his new riding partner.

The parallels between the bicycle trek and the romantic journey in this story worked out well. The sex was an integral part of their relationship. It made sense. It wasn't just thrown in for kicks. And it helped to solidify the growing bonds between these two unlikely partners.

Ruthie Knox is a talented writer. The story was addictive. The characters were wonderful. I was feeling pretty nervous about the end. But in spite of gigantic obstacles, Tom figures out a freakin' fabulous HEA for them. (Go, Tom! Go, Tom!) Which was just perfect. He finally admits his love for Lexie. I turned the digital page, ready for the next chapter.

And there wasn't one.

At first I thought Amazon had flubbed up and cut off the end of the book.

And then I realized that I had finished the story.

NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If this book hadn't been so damned good, I guess I wouldn't have felt so cheated at the end. But it was damned good. Really damned good. And so the abrupt ending really sucked. I sat with a super-sad look on my face for a couple of minutes.


Prior to the non-ending, this book was heading for a solid 5-star review. But getting gypped at the end was a big downer. Nevertheless, I would definitely recommend this book. Especially for folks who enjoy contemporary romance. There are some very sweet and touching moments in this story. And Knox has a gift for bringing her characters to life.

Grade: B/B+

I'm really looking forward to reading her next book. And hoping that she gives the HEA the attention and time it deserves. If you are going to write romance, you can't skimp on the HEA.

Wondering what my hubby would look like in bicycle shorts,
Penelope

Monday, April 23, 2012

Review of Casino Royale by Ian Fleming



Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

This book, which was the first installment of the James Bond series by Ian Fleming, was published in 1953. (Interesting fact: Fleming chose the name "James Bond" for his protagonist from an ornithology guide--author's name). My introduction to 007 was through the films, not the books, and so this novel came as quite a surprise to me. The films are very tongue-in-cheek, packed with humor and extravagant thrills and spills, and very little real suspense. It's pretty obvious that Bond will save the day, and the girl, etc etc. The actors who have portrayed Bond over the years were really chosen to create a metrosexual character....a dandy who likes his clothes and cars and romancing gorgeous women. David Niven, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan had that vibe.

Fleming's Bond may have been obsessed with fast cars and elaborate cocktails, but he was first and foremost an ice cold killer and machine. There is none of that trademark humor from the films in this book. It is a fascinating portrayal of a spy and how he must live in order to survive. All the things that we take for granted in 2012 (spies hiding things in the toilet, putting a hair or piece of tape on the door to see if anyone broke into the room, leaving messages in code, etc) were all brand new to readers in 1953. And so Fleming spends a lot of time describing, in great detail, how Bond goes about his business. In particular, there was an astronomically large number of pages devoted to his gambling strategy at the casino.

Bond is meticulous with everything in his life...his clothes, his drinks, his surroundings, and how he plans for his job. Everything is in its proper place. He assesses people the same way. They fit tidily into a niche. That's it. I have seen complaints from readers about how misogynistic Bond is. Two things about that. One, it's 1953. And two, I think his feelings about women reflect more about self-preservation with his occupation. There is no room for shades of grey in his life. Or feelings of protectiveness or empathy. Women are good for one thing....sex. He is uncomfortable with them professionally, and he is unable to function as a stone cold killer with emotional complications. And so, one moment he is planning a seduction as an amusement. The next he is thinking that if his female colleague is raped and tortured, that's her own problem. She signed up for this job. She knew the risks.

Bond's state of mind is fascinating. I really enjoyed this book. It paints an intriguing portrait of this man and how he functions. Of all the actors who have portrayed Bond over the years, I think Daniel Craig is the best fit for the real character from this book. (And of course, Craig starred in Casino Royale, the film). He is able to balance a certain elegance and ruggedness and intensity that I think captures James Bond from Fleming's original novel.

And of course, he looks totally bad-ass in boy-short swim trunks, too. :^)

Grade: A



Happy Monday!
Penelope


Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Martini Club Welcomes Heidenkind and Winston Churchill



I am thrilled to have Tasha (Heidenkind) from Truth, Beauty, Freedom and Books as a guest today. Not only does she have a wicked entertaining book blog, but she also has a tumblr site called Liquid Persuasion that is a fantastic taste test for all kinds of cocktails. Recent drinks include a whiskey sour, martini, hot buttered brandy, and brandy sour. Tasha takes a funky close-up shot of the drink, then tries out a new recipe and gives her assessment. Here's a snippet from Martini Take 2: "I'm beginning to see the appeal of the martini: it's only 2 ingredients...it's like a PB&J sandwich-you CANNOT screw it up."


Huge thanks to Tasha for writing this excellent piece about Winston Churchill's drinking habits. ☺


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


My cocktail blog, Liquid Persuasion, focuses on classic cocktails. When you're studying the history of cocktails, certain people seem to pop up. A lot. I had only been looking up cocktail recipes for an hour before I realized Winston Churchill was to cocktails what Tim Tebow might be to a summer school Bible camp for football players.

Churchill is famous in the US for being a badass British politician. But did you know whinging MPs and generals weren't the only things he ate for breakfast? He also had a Jack Daniels highball first thing in the morning, every day of his adult life. His daughter called it "Papa's cocktail." One of his biographers wrote of him that it would be inaccurate to call him an alcoholic--"no alcoholic could drink that much!" And although Churchill himself always protested that legends of his drinking were greatly exaggerated, the facts sort of speak for themselves. One doesn't earn the nickname "the boozy Bulldog of Britain" without cutting one's teeth on a few bottles of gin. And whiskey. And champagne. And whatever else happened to be around. William Manchester commented after one visit to Churchill's estate, "There is always some alcohol in his bloodstream, and it reaches its peak late in the evening after he has had two or three Scotches, several glasses of Champagne, at least two brandies, and a highball." 

But to be fair, Hitler was a teetotaler. Drinking Axis powers under the table was practically Churchill's patriotic duty.

In addition to highballs and champagne-soaked lunches ("In victory, deserve it; in defeat, need it"), there are numerous cocktails associated with Churchill--so many, actually, that I think Winston Churchill cocktails (Winstails?) deserve their own classification.

The Manhattan

Arguably the world's most quintessential cocktail, the story of its invention is tied to Churchill's mother, American heiress Jennie Jerome. While pregnant with Winston, Jennie hosted a party at the Manhattan Club in New York City where Dr. Ian Marshall introduced a cocktail in her honor. The banquet (and drink) was so successful people began ordering the cocktail by the name of the club, Manhattan. 

Churchill was off to a great start with his prenatal cocktail. Later in life, he was known to haunt the American Bar in the Savoy, where famous bartender Joe Gilmore invented several drinks in his honor:

The Churchill
  • 3 parts Scotch whiskey
  • 1 part lime juice
  • 1 part sweet vermouth
  • 1 part Cointreau
Shake together with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass; drink straight-up.

The Fourscore was invented in honor of Churchill's 80th birthday
  • 3 part brandy
  • 2 parts Lillet
  • 1 part Yellow chartreuse
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass; serve with a twist of lemon.

The Blenheim is similar to the fourscore and was invented for Churchill's 90th birthday
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass:
  • 3 parts brandy
  • 2 parts Yellow Chartreuse
  • 1 part Lillet
  • 1 part orange juice
  • 1 part Dubonnet
Drink like a boss.


Churchill also invented his own cocktails! He drank gin like water and was famous for enjoying extremely dry martinis. Here's Churchill's version of a martini:

Churchill Martini
Shake gin with cracked ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an olive. Drink while looking at a bottle of dry vermouth.

We should all aspire to have as many cocktails created in our honor as Winston Churchill, especially at the age of 90! It's my goal in life to host party with ONLY Churchill cocktails.


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Papa's Cocktail! Churchill was pretty much the Master of Drinking Disaster. I'm impressed.


Thanks, Tasha, for this highly informative and frighteningly sloshy tale.

In the immortal words of Heidenkind,
Drink like a boss!

Penelope

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Music Video For A Crazy Fan Girl


This one's for you, Bobbi Baby!

Bobbi Ruggiero, who is a very nice person and an excellent writer, was recently strong-armed by certain unscrupulous folks (me and Ruthie Knox) into reading Sweet Dreams by Kristen Ashley. Now I am feeling sort of guilty because she's being tortured by writing errors, clothing descriptions, and visualizing Joe Manganiello as Tate.

To make her feel better, since she'll probably be reading that sucker until 2015 (it's seriously the longest book in the world), I am posting a Duran Duran video. Bobbi is one of those slightly unbalanced super enthusiastic fans who follows bands all over the country and sneaks into their dressing rooms gets photos to post on Facebook. Really! So, here's one of my favorite Duran Duran songs.....

How awesome is this video of A View To A Kill (1985)? The hair! The eyeliner! The blazers with the sleeves pushed up. The "high-tech" gadgets...hee hee! I love this little ditty.

Enjoy, Ms. Bobbi! Hope you are still hanging in there with The Book.

ETA: Don't forget to stop by for The Martini Club tomorrow. Heidenkind will be here with some crazy stories about Winston Churchill and his wee little drinking habit.

All my best,
Penelope


Friday, April 20, 2012

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Penny, Penny, Easter Bunny


One week to go until I leave for Salem (with Julia Rachel Barrett) for the 2012 NECRWA Spring Conference! Yippee!

In the meantime, I need to prepare my talk, aptly titled Penelope Channels Miss Manners: How To Promote Yourself Without Peeving Everyone Off. Unfortunately, my talk takes place during the cocktail hour, which means I'll be sipping my martini during the workshop. (I'm super good at multi-tasking). I am also busy polishing my tiara and putting together these table centerpieces for Friday night's dinner.

I'm like the freakin' Easter bunny assembling my goody baskets!

Here's a quick preview of some of the fun stuff I got at Etsy...

* Hand-wrapped pencils made with Japanese paper







* Tons of books, bookmarks and other promo items from fabulous romance writers

* Candy (if I can keep my daughter from eating it)


Yes, perhaps I went a bit overboard. And yes, perhaps this wasn't the best task to assign a person with an Etsy shopping problem (thanks a lot, Conference Committee!). But hell if I didn't enjoy being the Easter bunny this year. ;^)

Can't wait until next week.

Hop, hop, hoppity hop hop,
Penny

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Paris, Gods & 007


My current reading list is all over the place....

1. The Gods

I just finished a totally unexpected erotic romance by a debut writer. I don't normally go for ARCs, but the blurb for this one looked good (sheep farmer abducted by bank robbers, held captive and subjected to lots of good lovin'). Well, how many books combine hilarious snarky humor, on-the-edge-of-your-seat suspense, crazy hot sex-ay times, and are well-written, excellent bits of storytelling? (Answer: Not many). Annika Martin's debut novel The Hostage Bargain will be self-published next week, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Also, the tagline for her website totally cracks me up...."All smutty deliciousness....all the time." Are you kidding me? That is ridiculous. I love it! I will post a review for this book next week. The "Gods" reference....the three hunky bank robbers are Odin, Zeus and Thor. Oh.....yeah.

2. 007

I am still working on Ian Fleming's Casino Royale. I am digging the weird 1950s vibe and relatively slow pace of the book. How do you like this quote....

"Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon-peel. Got it?"

Got it, baby.

3. Paris

I splurged on Eloisa James' new book Paris in Love: A Memoir. I have heard fabulous things about this book and her adventure, and I cannot wait to read it.

I also have a ginormous backlog of books I am supposed to read. I am hoping to get to many of them in May, once conference is over.

All my best,
00XXOOXXOO (that's my spy name)
Penelope

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

New Website Launch!


I am doing back flips with excitement!

*picture an Olympic gymnast with my face pasted on her head doing a perfect back flip*

Since I decided to start writing some non-Christmasy stories (Lumberjack in Love--coming soon, as well as a children's book, steampunk book, paranormal romance and mystery), I figured it was time to turn my holiday-inspired website into a more general writer's site. I need to transition from the holiday stuff to other material, but I still have to include the Klaus Brothers Series.

Well, I've spent the last couple of months collecting jpegs, working on text, picking out colors and fonts, and collaborating with my stupendous website installer, Sharon. (Here's the link to her website, Sites by Sharon). What has emerged is a totally Penelope-esque site. It's mod, it's funky, it has quotes from Sherlock Holmes and The Big Bang Theory, and the background color reminds me of the chocolate river from Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory (original movie, not the remake, thank you very much).

Please take a look and let me know what you think! PENNY WATSON BOOKS

*now pretend I'm doing a full twisting layout with my tiara securely fastened on top of my head*

Loving my new website and wishing I had a candy bar,
Penelope

Monday, April 16, 2012

Boston Marathon Day: A Celebration


Today is Patriot's Day in Massachusetts. This holiday is especially important here in Boston since it's also Marathon Day. The Boston Marathon is the oldest annual marathon in the world, started in 1897. It is a huge and historic event. And I'm lucky enough to live about 3 miles down the road from the course.

Fifteen years ago, my husband and I moved from Vermont to a western suburb of Boston. I cried my eyes out. I absolutely loved Vermont. I loved the practical, down-to-earth people. I loved the quiet and solitude of our little spot in the woods. I loved the slow and easy pace of life.

When we first moved to Boston, I had serious culture shock. In Vermont, no one cared how big your house was. What clothes you wore. What car you drove. Or if you had the latest technological gadgets. The chief of surgery wore a Carhartt jacket, drove a pick-up truck, and had a cell phone that looked like a walkie-talkie from MASH. Suddenly, I'm in the western burbs where moms had cashmere sweater sets and Kate Spade hand-bags, everyone drove a BMW, and I was the only non-nanny at the playground. 

I was totally depressed. I HATED Boston.

And then, in April, my husband and I walked down the street to watch the Marathon. Our little town was transformed. Old people, young kids, snotty mothers, college students all lined the streets screaming and yelling and cheering for the runners in this Marathon. It was the first time I got a sense of what Boston could really be. 

It was exciting and joyful and supportive and magical. Everyone was on the same page that day. It didn't matter how rich you were. Or what neighborhood you lived in. Every single person was cheering for the runners. Some participants were in wheelchairs. There were shirtless old timers, and young mothers pushing their babies in strollers, running clubs, college students, and lots of baby boomers covered with sweat and accomplishing an amazing feat. Running 26 god-damned miles.

The by-standers cheered and pumped our fists in the air. We offered fruit and drinks. We boosted their spirits at the half-way mark. And they needed it.

When we got home that day, I told my husband I finally liked Boston.

The Marathon was, and still is (in my opinion) the very best of Boston.

Happy Patriot's Day! Happy Marathon Day! Best of luck to all the runners!
Penelope

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Martini Club Welcomes Smexy Books & A Box O' Wine


Welcome to another rousing romp with The Martini Club. When you think about sexy cocktails, you might envision a frosty martini glass. Or perhaps a shot of tequila with lime and salt (and licking the salt from Hugh Jackman's bicep.......uh........)

What was I talking about? Oh yeah. Sexy drinks. A frozen margarita? Scotch? An elegant bottle of red wine? Typically a cardboard box doesn't pop into your brain. But wine in a box doesn't have to mean this....



Boxed wine could also mean this....



See how elegant she is? So refined. Really.

Anyway, the surge in popularity of boxed wine (which is basically wine in a plastic bag inside a cardboard box) is due to various advantages. The boxes hold more wine. They don't break like a bottle. They're easy to open. And they chill quickly. If you're looking for a good party option, this could be it!

I knew right away when I decided to do a post about boxed wine that I had to call Mandi, Connoisseur O' The Box. I know from drunken tweets, embarrassing Facebook pics and thinly veiled references in her blog (maybe not that thinly veiled) that Mandi is on Team Box and enjoys this wine with her gal pals. So I thought she could recommend some good ones for those of us looking to dip our toes into the brand new world of....cardboard!

Take it away, Mandi!

*******





(An aisle of boxed wine! I know! I’m excited too!)

When Penny wrote me an email, that started with “Hey Sloshy,” I knew we had something special going on.

I love wine. I love cocktails. I love beer. (Are you understanding the sloshy part now?)

[Quick note from Penelope.....photographic proof of former statement.....]


[Back to Mandi....]

I adore getting together with friends. Having some drinks and just chatting about everything and anything.

[Another quick interruption from Penelope....more proof that Mandi and her friends enjoy having drinks together....what the hell is that thing on her head?]



[Back to Mandi.....]
But above all, my one true love – is boxed wine. Is it because I’m a redneck? Possibly. Because it is cheap? Well, yes. But there is more to it!


The Almaden Cabernet is one of my all-time favorite wines. And yes I joke about how I only drink boxed wine, but remember I’m Sloshy! I have gone to numerous wine festivals, and have been drinking wine, both boxed and bottled for many years. And while I’ve fallen madly in love with some malbecs out there, whenever I go back to my beloved gold and black box, it is like coming home. Boxed wine stays fresh for so long! Bottled wine gets a weird, molasses type flavor if you have to re-cork it (let’s face it though- when I open a bottle of wine, the cork never goes back in).

For those special occasions where it might not be appropriate to slurp from a box, here are my recommendations for bottles of wine:

J. Lohr Cabernet
Ménage a trois (I bought it for the name, but it has become a favorite)
Francis Ford Coppola Malbec
Kendall Jackson Chardonnay

Are you a boxed wine drinker? What are some of your favorite wines?

[Final comment from Penelope.....this is the cutest pic ever! I think Mandi's dad is King O' Boxed Wine!]



******

Thanks, Mandi! First, I must say that the black and gold box (which would be perfect for Steeler's games) is veryyyyyy sexy. Or smexy. Also, I love Coppola wine! I can't wait to try these out.

For some more recommendations, check out this article from Epicurious.

Also, The NYT did a taste test...hee hee!

And here's one more from Real Simple Magazine

I'm trying Mandi's rec for the Coppola Malbec. Here is Francis Ford Coppola wishing all of you a Sloshy Sunday!



Sloshy Sunday To All!
Penelope

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Helpless When She Smiles



You can make fun of boy bands all you like, but this song kicks ass. I first discovered it when I attended the NKOTBSB Concert in Boston last year. These guys are just too adorable, and this song is a terrific ballad. Love it!




Don't forget to stop by for The Martini Club tomorrow. Mandi (from Smexy Books) and I will be discussing an extremely important topic.....boxed wine. Foxed by the Box. That's right. Don't miss it.

Hope you have a smiley Saturday,
Penelope

Friday, April 13, 2012

Beauty and the Feast Revisited


Happy Birthday, Julia!

This is a very nice birthday gift for Julia Rachel Barrett....her book Beauty and the Feast has been reissued with a new cover and a new publisher (herself)! It's been almost two years since I read this delicious story and "met" Julia on-line. Our "relationship" started with an email -- I sent her a note letting her know how much I enjoyed this book and introducing myself. Since then, we have become kindred spirits and I bug the crap out of her each day. And she puts up with me! So, I'm going to post my original review from 2 years ago...I haven't read the new, updated version yet, but I will. If you're looking for a sensual romance, I highly recommend this one!



Here is my original review from Sunday, May 2, 2010......

Review for Beauty and the Feast

I'm obviously someone who recognizes the sensuality of food...I made the hero and heroine of my first novel (Sweet Inspiration) pastry chefs. When I saw Mandi's review for Beauty and the Feast, I knew I had to read it. The heroine is a caterer and the hero falls in lust with her before they've ever met, just by tasting the incredible meal she has prepared for him. Holy Mother...the food descriptions in this book are to die for! Check out the first course...chilled melon soup: "...pureed honey melon, a tiny bit of sea salt, a few splashes of a light German Riesling, a squeeze of lime, half a seeded Serrano chili, cilantro and a bit of palm sugar..." Starving yet? You will be if you read this baby. Make sure you have a gourmet snack and a nice bottle of wine on hand. I am not kidding. 

I love the fact that Barrett has these characters becoming interested in each other without them even meeting. Just the sound of their voices over the phone peaks their interest. Then, Gabe smells Eva's scent on his pillow and knows she's laid down on his bed. He starts falling for her after eating the sensual meal she has created for him. This is a great way to start the romantic tension in a book....using other senses to create an attraction between two characters.

Here's a quote that sums it up best...."His interest in Eva Raines had once again grown in direct proportion to the size of his erection, the erection induced by the images tasting her food brought to mind."

I really loved this sexy book...I loved the characters, the setting, the food descriptions (of course). It was adorable, right down to the recipes at the end. Bravo, Julia Barrett!
Grade: A-


********

Beauty and the Feast is available on Kindle right now for FREE! So treat yourself to a delicious story and celebrate Julia's birthday. If you want to stop by her blog and wish her a happy day, here's the link to Julia Barrett's World.

Happy Birthday, Julia!




Now I want a cupcake,
Penelope

Thursday, April 12, 2012

What Have You Done For Me Lately? E-Pubs Need To Step It Up



Nothing gets me more incensed than hearing an e-publisher tell an author "Selling your book is YOUR responsibility. If your book isn't selling, then you're doing something wrong."

I don't know one single author who is not busting her hump to promote herself. Authors are on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, blogs, book tours, etc. They are working as hard as they can to sell their books. I keep hearing about what writers should be doing to promote themselves and their work.

How about e-publishers?

E-Publishers need to promote themselves, too. No matter how hard authors work to sell their books, if the e-publishers are not doing just as much work to create a high-quality, high-profile presence on-line, then the authors are not going to be successful.

Let's talk some turkey, shall we?

1. Website

Just as an author's website is critically important, an e-publisher's website can create a professional and polished image, or it can crash and burn as amateurish-looking, pornographic and tacky. It is the first impression you get of an epub. When you visit their site, is it easy to navigate? Do they make you jump through hoops to buy a book? Does it look like a college kid set up the homepage? E-publishers need to spend the time, money and energy to create a professional and efficient website/bookstore.

2. Book Covers

You can't run, and you can't hide. Cover art is the first visual impression you get of an epub. There is absolutely NO FREAKIN' EXCUSE ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH for piss-poor book covers. NONE. My 9 year old daughter makes up book covers that kick ass. Use a simple image. Use a solid cover. Whatever. What is an epub offering authors that they can't do on their own as self-pubbers? Cover art, editing, distribution, promotion. If an epub can't manage to create good cover art, they should bail. And don't tell me cover art isn't important. It is. If your cover art looks like someone slapped a head on top of another body, has naked body parts flying through the air, or looks like a Saturday Night Live skit, get out of the business. No excuses for crap covers.

Bad (Changeling Press):


Good (Samhain):



3. Editing

Editing matters, too. This goes for book blurbs, website text, the book itself. Formatting matters. If you are an epublisher, that's your business. You put out digital books. They better be formatted correctly. And don't tell me it's Amazon's fault, B&N's fault, blah blah blah. It's your fault. Make sure your books are properly edited and formatted before you put them out there for public consumption. Otherwise, you look like a loser. And while we're on the subject of grammar, typos and spelling errors, if you send your authors an email message, make sure it is edited, too. I've seen emails from publishers with hideously bad spelling mistakes, and I've seen publishers leave blog comments with grammatical errors. For cripe's sake, writing is your business. Don't look like an ignoramus.

4. Act Like Professionals

Don't leave snarky comments for reviewers. On Twitter. On Facebook. On blog posts. Publishers need to take a step back and stay out of the fray. It's unprofessional to do otherwise.

5. Reviews

Put your money where your mouth is. Send your books out to well-respected review sites. Using half-assed sites that crank out 10,000 generic reviews a week is lazy. Push it. Try for Publishers Weekly, RT, and some of the other larger romance sites. Your authors deserve it. It will increase your respectability in the industry. No one (except authors) is visiting those other sites. And you know it.

6. Make Sure Your Books Are Widely Available

I have a Kindle. I like to buy my books on Amazon. If you're a small epublisher and you only offer your books through your own website, you are doing readers and authors a disservice. Make sure your books are offered at a wide variety of booksellers, so readers have a choice, and sales will increase.

7. Use Your Best Authors As A Promotional Tool

Do you have authors who are winning awards? Making bestseller lists? Gaining popularity? Use them. Post a bestseller list on your homepage. Post quotes from high-profile reviewers. Put up banners on your homepage with stuff like "Congrats To Susy Q, NYT Bestseller For 10 Weeks!" and "Congrats To Jennie J, Winner of the RITA Award" and "Check out Nancy Nee's Hot Cowboy Series!" There is a trickle-down effect. The high profile, award-winning authors will bring in visitors to your site, which benefits ALL your authors. Announce your good news on Twitter and Facebook. Set yourself apart from the dozens of other epubs by promoting your success and good news.

8. Treat Your Authors Right

Pay them on time, offer them fair contracts, don't cheat them and misrepresent sales. Once your reputation suffers by mistreating your authors, it's hard to regain trust.

9. Promote Yourself

What does this mean? I'm not talking about authors promoting themselves or their books. I'm talking about epublishers promoting their companies. Go to conferences. Give on-line workshops. Participate. Write articles. Visit blogs and do guest posts. Talk about your company. Why is it good? What do you do? How can you make yourself a high-profile and respected presence on-line? Take out ads. Tweet. Be active on Facebook. Talk about the genre, changes and trends. Show people that you are professional and on top of this business. If you want to compete with the other epubs, you need to provide high quality books and promote them. If you can't afford good cover artists, editors and a marketing department, then don't get into this business.

10. Walking That Fine Line

There is a fine line between porn and erotica. If you crank out Daddy, Spank Me books with covers that have naked body parts, you don't look like a professional publishing company. You look like a pornographer. Now, you might be making buckets of money selling skanky ho books. Good for you. But don't complain if you don't get respect in the publishing world. If you look like a pornographer, smell like a pornographer, and talk like a pornographer....you get the picture.

11. Book Costs

We all know that ebooks priced over $5 are not doing well with sales. If you're an epublisher, and you are consistently pricing your books too high, you look idiotic. Like you are not on top of the trends. And like you really don't give a crap about your authors. Be thoughtful about book pricing. Offer sales and specials. And promote them. Readers love that. Obviously, epubs can't price their books as low as self-pubbers are doing.....they still have bills to pay to keep up a business. But they need to stay competitive. And pricing ebooks over $10 is not going to cut it right now.

12. $$$

The national RWA has set certain criteria for PAN-eligibility. (PAN is the Published Authors Network). In order to be considered PAN-eligible, an author needs to earn a minimum of $1000 on a book. Let's face facts. $1000 is not a lot of money. It is certainly not enough to use for living expenses. This is a reasonable amount to expect an author to earn from sales for a single book. Every publishing company should be able to guarantee its authors to earn at LEAST this much. Hopefully, much, much more. Any publisher, big or small, digital or print, who does not have the majority of its authors earning this minimal amount of money, should be ashamed. If the majority of authors for a publishing company are not PAN-eligible, then something is wrong. And it's not the authors' problem. It's the publisher's problem.


I am not singling out any one epublisher as being good or bad. I have seen good and bad things from all of them. However, I spend a lot of time on-line and I definitely think that all of them could be doing more to promote themselves as publishing companies. Some are better than others. But they all need to step it up. Their authors deserve it.

With great perspicacity,
Penelope

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Best Quote of the Week: "I Like My Boobs. They've Always Served Me Well."


1. Best Quote of the Week: Oh, how I love Jennifer Love Hewitt! Ever since the time she took credit for the stretched-out-sweater-cuff look (I read an article where she said she felt flattered that young teenage girls were all wearing their sweaters stretched out with the cuffs hanging down their hands, since she invented that "look"...hee hee), I love her. I especially enjoyed this quote....

"...I like my boobs. They've always served me well. They're good."

Heeeeeeee!!!!!! Boobalicious!

2. I have been following the heart-breaking story of Lola the Dachshund, an adorable 10 week old doxie who was thrown out of a 3rd story balcony. She almost died, but luckily she has survived and Natty and I really, really, really, really want to adopt her. Really. We are ready to jump in the car and drive to Alabama to get her. Unfortunately, so are 10 million other people, thanks to People Magazine! I filled out an adoption application, but I'm pretty sure my chances are hideously bad. :^( But at least Lola is on the mend!



3. I am so excited for The Avengers movie, I can't stand it! It's coming out May 4th....here is a link for the trailer!




4. Cool new website alert! Coffee with a Canine. Lucy and I will be interviewed there soon. I will be sipping a cup of French roast coffee. And Lucy will be sipping a latte with cinnamon on top.

5. I decided to read Casino Royale by Ian Fleming for my Penelope Project this month. It doesn't have a heroine named Penelope, but it does have Miss Moneypenny, which is just as good. It's the very first installment of the James Bond series by Fleming. And it doesn't hurt that I keep imagining Daniel Craig in boy short swim trunks. Schwing!


6. I also added Avi Steinberg's book Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian to my TBR pile. As you may recall, Avi wrote an article about porno librarians, and my book Sweet Magik was casually mentioned as a soft-porn selection. (*waiting for laughter to stop.....still waiting...Christ, it's not that funny already*) Anyhoo, I decided some payback was in order. So, I'm going to read his book. Which I am pretty sure is not pornographic. But it is about a librarian.

7. Well, that's a wrap for today. I'm off to plan my workshop for conference.

Ciao,
Penelope


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Secret


She reached up to stroke the side of his face with her fingertips.

"What are you doing?" He captured her hand but didn't push her away.

"Touching you," she answered. She tried to sound nonchalant, yet she knew she hadn't managed the feat. The intensity in his expression made her heart take notice. "I was curious to know what your whiskers felt like." She smiled. "And now I know." She pulled her hand away from his and let it drop back into her lap. "They tickle."

She felt like a fool.


(The Secret, Julie Garwood)


There's nothing quite like travelling to the Scottish Highlands via Julie Garwood's romantic tales. Just finished The Secret and now I'm ready to eat the rest of the potato chip bag. 

Hope all of you have a lush, green, Highlandy Tuesday,
Penelope

Monday, April 9, 2012

Uhhhh.....


I think I ate too much ham yesterday. (And couscous, focaccia, devilled eggs, cake....never mind).

It's gonna take me a while to get functioning again. My kitchen is filled with dirty dishes and I'm just drinking my coffee.

My only update is that I'm re-reading The Secret by Julie Garwood right now and totally loving it. (Thanks to Julie at Outlandish Dreaming...she just did a review of Honor's Splendour, and we are having a bit of a chat about JG's books. Stop by and join in the fun!).

It's hard to find your coffee cup when your eyes are closed. Cripes.

One more week until Spring Break. Here we go!

Have a nicely caffeinated Monday,
Penelope