Monday, January 31, 2011

New Logo!

Screw winter! Here's my new logo, designed by the amazingly talented Anne Nydam. It's sunny yellow and filled with some of my favorite flowers. Any gardeners out there? Do you recognize some of the plants? I'm ready to start incorporating my botany background into my romantic fiction. I am affectionately referring to my current WIP (Diabolical) as "Botanists In Love." More details later.

Good luck to everyone battling Seasonal Affective Disorder. I just bought a bouquet of daffodils. I hope it helps!


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Review of Warrior by Zoë Archer

Warrior by Zoë Archer

I am in love with this book.

I am so in love with this book, I want to marry it, have a honeymoon, give it a dozen roses, and buy it lingerie.

Zoë Archer has created a thing of beauty with this novel. It is the perfect balance of adventure, lush scenery, magic and sorcery, larger-than-life characters, and extraordinary acts of love and heroism. It's Indiana Jones if it were jacked up on romance steroids, and a billion times better in every way. It is full of surprises, which is so very welcome to this jaded romance reader. It has the most incredible love scenes I've a long time. Possibly ever. Sexy, intense, emotional. Everything a romantic encounter should be, but rarely is.

The hero and heroine are just perfection. Huntley is Indy--strong, scrappy, capable, sexy--not as cerebral in a scholarly way, but very well experienced in strategy and war. He is a man of action, a man of honor. Not only does he risk life and limb for the woman he loves, and for her cause, he also does the "right thing" (saving a life) for a perfect stranger. I have a weakness for heroes who have a strong moral compass. For characters who see beyond their own needs, and do the right thing just because...well, because it's the right thing to do. There aren't a lot of people in the world like this, and those who are, in my mind, are truly heroes.

Thalia is his ultimate match. Beautiful, determined, strong, talented in ways that matter in Mongolia. Her loyalty to family, country (which is not England, as it turns out), and cause are undisputed. The love that blooms between these two characters is wonderful to watch....they complement each other, they fight side by side. They are both heroes.

This book magnifies the problems I just had with Naked In Death. While Eve battles the bad guys, Roarke drinks gourmet coffee. There wasn't a satisfying balance between their abilities and their actions. Huntley and Thalia make an incredible team. Huntley soon realizes that his lukewarm dream of settling down with a shy English maid pales in comparison to the reality of being with his warrior lover.

"I like this very much," he said, nibbling on the tips of her fingers. "An army of two."

"Who's in command?" she answered as she fought for breath.

What a wicked smile he had. "Let's take turns."

Archer is a very painterly writer. Some of the scenes in this book were pure magic. The unveiling of the secrets of the tea kettle, with a backward history of Genghis Khan, was just phenomenal. Absolutely spell-binding and beautifully written.

The suspenseful storyline, the gorgeous imagery, the fascinating secondary characters, and the incredibly satisfying love story between two heroic characters make Warrior one of the best books I've ever read. I can hardly wait to read the rest of the series...Scoundrel, Rebel, and Stranger.

2011 just got a whole lot more interesting.

Grade: A++++++++

Wondering if Zoë Archer is a pen-name, because it's totally kick ass,

Friday, January 28, 2011

Beard of the Day

Here he is....Beantown's Golden Boy, Ben Affleck. Honestly, I never thought he was that hot until I saw this photo. Here's a perfect example of how a beard makes the man. 

Rock that beard, my man. Looking fine!

Good things about Ben.....

1. He won an Academy Award.

2. He's a huge fan of the Boston Red Sox.

3. His middle name is Geza.

Bad things.....

One word: Bennifer.

Happy Hairy Friday,

ETA: Check out the quirkiest celebrity dresser at The Quirky Ladies today! hint: She always looks like she just stepped out of a wind tunnel! 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Review of Naked In Death by JD Robb

Naked In Death by JD Robb

I am close to speechless. I had two authors I wanted to check out in 2011 because I'd heard such fantastic things about them....JD Robb and Nalini Singh. Well, I decided to start with Naked In Death, fully expecting to love it so much that I would become obsessed with the whole series and enter a Robb-reading frenzy.

I expected good quality writing, a suspenseful story, and amazing characters, especially Roarke, a hero who countless readers gush on and on about.

What I wasn't expecting was a bunch of the most incredibly disturbing topics in one book that I have ever seen in my life. Violent, bloody rape and murder, child abuse, child rape/mutilation, incest. Vile, foul, dark and disturbing images. I got a stomach ache reading this book, and it still isn't gone. Not only did Robb toss all these delightful topics into one book, but the reader gets to re-live the incestuous abuse not once, but twice, through two different characters' recollections of events. And top that off with Eve's nightmare case with the three year old being tortured and abused by her father...I don't think a prilosec is gonna fix this upset stomach.

Disturbing material aside, the book didn't impress me. The writing wasn't stellar. The futuristic setting was just blah. After recently reading some books with impressive futuristic world-building details (Ella Drake's Jaq's Harp and Julia Barrett's Captured), I was expecting something pretty cool from JD Robb. Honestly, it felt like a contemporary suspense story with a few interesting details thrown in for good measure. Nothing that great.

The characters? Eve is a bad-ass heroine--an alpha, tough cop who has risen to success in her department despite her horrible past--and Roarke is....well....a weenie. He's a rich, pampered billionaire. I'm sure there is more to him and his history that will be revealed in later books, but in this book, I didn't see any of the hot Irish guy I was expecting. While Eve is taking down villains, investigating corrupt politicians, being stalked by a deranged murderer, and obsessing with the bloody and gruesome details of a serial killer, Roarke is.....

....putting out bottles of vintage wine to "breathe."

A lot.

Like, in every freakin' scene.

Oh yeah, he also likes to wear impeccable clothing and fly around on his super sonic jet and go "off-planet" for some wheeling and dealing.

Can you say metrosexual wuss?

In the final scene of the book, Eve is threatened with rape and murder by the killer, back-handed, punched in the ribs, head smacked against the floor, choked, and shot while she scratches, hits, kicks and punches her attacker, breaks his nose, bloodies his mouth and pins him to the ground. After she has already incapacitated him, Roarke comes running into the room, picks the near-lifeless guy up off the ground and slugs him in the face. Hee hee...well, gee, thanks for that! I think Eve had it pretty much under control..... Somebody's got big balls in this story, and it ain't Roarke.

I keep hearing about this sexy, Irish character. Huh? Not seeing it in this book, at all. I loved Nora Robert's Jewels of the Sun. Aidan was a super hunky, romantic Irish hero. I swooned every time that guy said something. Roarke might as well be from Antarctica.

And the attraction between Eve and Roarke? Totally not buying it. She's a scruffy cop, he's an elegant and sophisticated man. The instant sexual attraction between them is inexplicable, really, and the love that develops makes no sense. They hardly even know each other! Roarke is obsessed with Eve...why? Never quite sure, and at the point in the story where he admits he's in love with her I almost snorted out loud. Why would Roarke fall in love with her? I have no freaking idea, nor do I care to find out, since I will never read another one of these books.

The one positive thing I will say for Naked in Death is that the storyline was quite suspenseful, especially at the beginning before the icky factor got turned up. (Rape is a difficult topic for me, but child rape/incest is beyond horrifying.)

I have never given anything less than a "C" rating on my blog. But I just can't give this book a good grade. Thanks to an overabundance of foul and disturbing material, a wussy hero, lack-luster futuristic details, and an unbelievable romance, I am dinging this book. Ugh!

Grade: C-/D+

Another thing: Maybe the series gets better. Maybe Roarke grows a pair and loses his metrosexual vibe. But a series is only as good as its first book....that's the one that's gotta hook you. I'm not hooked....this one is a catch-and-release for me.

And now I need a mega-dose of some alpha-male hero action, and something light and fluffy to offset this read. Unicorns, rainbows, and maybe a Julie Garwood Scottish dude. Yep, that sounds good.

Not Feeling The Love,

Part 2 of Penelope's I Wanna Stay Alive Plan: The Diet

Welcome to Part 2 of Penelope's I Wanna Stay Alive Plan! Part 1 (which was posted yesterday) was all about exercise. (Walking!) Today's post is about my new diet. After having a heart attack in August, I completed re-vamped my eating. No more McDonald's french fries. No more nacho platters at the Mexican restaurant. I have 2 main health concerns to address: heart health and diabetes. So, according to the nutritionist at the hospital, my diet needed to be low-sodium, low-cholesterol, low-fat, low-carb, low-calorie (low-taste...hee hee). After I compared the Do Not Eat List and the Okay To Eat List, I was left with...
Celery Sticks.

And Water.

All right, maybe not that bad, but pretty damned close. Some things were okay on one list, but not okay on another. So, what did I do? I took all the lists and made up my own diet, with a heavy emphasis on the super-foods, and stuff I liked. Here is what I eat every day. You might think that eating the same thing every day sucks, but actually it's great. I don't have to think about it...I know it's healthy. And of course, I can mix it up a bit when I want to!

Breakfast: 1 piece of whole wheat toast w/ lo-fat, lo-sodium peanut butter, some walnuts, tea or coffee

Morning Snack (if needed): half an apple w/ peanut butter, or banana, or 1/2 container fat-free Greek yogurt w/ blueberries and wheat germ, or handful of walnuts; water

Lunch: mini whole wheat pita pocket stuffed with veggies (cuke, tomato, sprouts, greens, mushrooms, avocado, and hummus) or mini whole wheat pita grilled on panini maker (with spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, 1 slice lo-salt, lo-fat cheese, avocado). 5-10 "healthy" chips, such as Food Should Taste Good olive chips. Water. (fruit for dessert if I want it)

Afternoon Snack (if needed): hummus and pita chips or carrots/celery to dip (part skim ricotta cheese also a good dipper!), 1/2 container fat free Greek yogurt (w/ fruit if desired).

Dinner: Bowl of greens! Use different kinds of greens...spinach, mesclun with herbs, red-leaf, whatever; add on top, grilled salmon, chicken, steak, small portion--whatever I am cooking for the family; plus, sprinkle of cheese, such as goat cheese, feta, or blue; plus walnuts, pumpkin seeds or other nuts; plus dried fruit if desired--such as dried cranberries, etc. Sprinkle olive oil and a dash of vinegar on top. Water to drink (add slice of orange in water to spiff it up a bit!) This winter I have also been roasting veggies (squash, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, fennel, beets, etc) and plopping them on top of my bowl of greens, just to have something nice and warm to eat.

This diet works for me. I love veggies. Well, I love food. But I've learned that my life can't center around my meals anymore. Being healthy is more important.

Here's my new motto: Nothing tastes as good as being alive.

Here are some more tips and ideas...please leave a comment and let me know some of your tips, too!

**Your diet needs to be about quality AND quantity. Sure, you could lose weight by eating crap at McDonald's all day--if you ate small amounts of food--but eventually you would still die from a heart attack. It's not just the number of calories you consume, but the quality of calories. You need to eat heart healthy stuff...walnuts, salmon, blueberries. Check out this great website (Heart Healthy Living) for more info about heart healthy foods.

**Sodium is a killer. Prepared foods and restaurant foods are on the no-no list. This was really hard for me. I love eating out and I love the convenience of prepared foods. Even supposedly "healthy" foods and soups have astronomically high amounts of sodium. DON'T EAT THEM. Freeze your own home-made soup, make a healthy sandwich for lunch, if you go out to eat order a salad with no dressing--ask for oil and vinegar and make your own. Also, try appetizers...better portion size. Veggie sushi is good (no soy sauce!). You'll get used to it.

**You don't need to join Jenny Craig. Any diet plan that uses prepared foods is bad (and expensive)...and worst of all, the probability of gaining all the weight back after the "diet" is over is pretty high. That totally sucks. Weight Watchers seems good to me because it's teaching people to eat healthy without using prepared foods, and there is a good support system.

**Red wine is heart healthy!--have half a glass. So is dark chocolate...have a tiny square.

**Find recipes you like and make a batch for the week. My two favorites are chick pea and feta salad (I make it with whole wheat couscous and stuff it in my pita pocket) and homemade chicken soup.

**I eat a lot of chick peas and nuts for protein. If you need more protein in your diet, try lean turkey on your sammie, or tuna (make your own salad w/ fat free mayo and lots of veggies) or egg salad (make your own!).

**Going to a party? Is it Thanksgiving? Fill up on a big salad, then have one bite of something bite of the cake, or pumpkin pie, whatever. That's all you really need. You'll already be stuffed from all the veggies!

**After every meal, I walk. It burns up calories, it increases your energy level. It makes you feel better.

This is what has been working for me. I gave up white pasta and white bread, which hurt like a bitch. I love that stuff! But I got used to this new diet pretty quickly, and I noticed right away I felt better eating this way. I no longer have horrible acid reflux, I don't get tired so easily.

I would love to hear from all of you and find out your diet tips. What works? What doesn't work? How do you incorporate healthy eating if you have a family, and your daughter only eats chicken nuggets? Stuff like that.

Let's chat!


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Penelope's I Wanna Stay Alive Diet and Exercise Plan

A lot of folks have been asking me how I lost 48 pounds. Honestly, the threat of impending death is a super great motivator. It makes you go for a walk in the pitch dark and freezing cold when you'd rather be home in bed watching TV. It prevents you from eating a brownie with your kids (just picture a skull and crossbones on top of the brownie pan). Having a heart attack at 44 was a wake-up call like no other. The fear of death jump started my diet. But common sense is keeping it going.

Today, I'm going to talk about my exercise plan. Tomorrow, my diet.

All it goes...(drum roll please)...

I walk.

That's it. I walk.

I don't do any fancy-pants machines at the gym. I don't take hot yoga or spinning class or karate or high-impact aerobics.

I just walk around the block.

I don't walk with weights or a pedometer, or fancy lycra pants, or sporty pull-over jackets. I wear a t-shirt and black pants, and in the winter I wear lots of layers, a dorky hat, scarves and my sneakers.

I know. This is boring. It's not glamorous, or sexy, or exciting. But frankly, I don't give a rat's ass, because it works.

Walking is free. All I need is a pair of sneakers and I'm all set. I get fresh air, I can listen to my music if I so desire, I say hi to my neighbors. Sometimes I see cool birds. If it rains, I wear a rain coat. If it snows, I wear a parka.

Walking is easy, low impact, and works like a freakin' charm for weight loss. I lost almost 50 pounds just by walking around my neighborhood.

I walk for 30-45 minutes in the morning. I take another walk at lunchtime...maybe a quickie 15 minute walk, maybe longer if I have time. Then, I take another walk later in the afternoon...sometimes walk the dog, or walk with the fam (son on his skate board, daughter on her scooter, hubby hanging out with me). If I can hack it, I squeeze in one more quickie 15-min. walk at 7 pm before I wind down for the night.

The way I see it, my sedentary life needs to be offset by moving. So if I spend time writing or reading, then I need to compensate by doing something. It could be going grocery shopping, walking into town to mail a letter, pulling weeds in the garden, whatever.

There are 2 states of being. Moving. And Not Moving.

Moving=working out my heart, burning calories, toning my body, producing endorphins, making my head clear and focused, all good things.

Not Moving=sedentary lifestyle=bad, bad things. Death and Destruction. The Apocalypse. Diabetes. Heart Disease. Big, fat ass. You get the idea.

The hidden benefits of all this exercise...1) my skin looks really good, 2) I never get sick, and 3) I have fantastic brain-storming sessions where I work out all the kinks in my WIP, including pages of dialogue.

So, that's it. I try to move around a lot, burn calories, keep my heart rate up. So far, so good. The diabetes is gone, my heart has healed, my blood pressure is great, my cholesterol is excellent. I'm on the right path.

What are you guys doing for exercise? Any cool suggestions? Things you love to do? Let me know!

Tomorrow...Part 2 of Penelope's I Wanna Stay Alive Plan: The Diet.

Not Embarrassed To Be Walking Like A Little Old Lady,

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bucket List Update

So, how am I doing with my bucket list?? (see side bar and this post). I put together a list for myself after being inspired by Mia Marlowe's list....hers included taking ballroom dancing lessons and going topless in St. Maarten! Ack! More power to her.

Here's how I am doing.....

Penelope's Bucket List for 2010-2011....

1. Attend the opera with my husband. (Not happening this year. None of the operas look appealing. Maybe next year.)

2. Plant hundreds of daffodil bulbs in my garden to enjoy next spring. (Did it. Can't wait for spring.)

3. Write a quickie botanical paranormal story with a bearded hero. (Decided to work on my full-length botanical mystery/romance. With a bearded hero. Of course.)

4. Heal my heart. I want to hear these words from my cardiologist "Your heart is back to normal!" (Did it! My heart is back to normal...yee haw!)

5. Go for a run. (Did it. It wasn't very long, but it was good enough for me.)

6. Visit the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. (Not yet, but I'm still planning to do this one soon. Can't wait.)

7. Attend the NJRWA conference this October and the NECRWA conference next spring.(Already did the NJRWA meeting. Looking forward to NECRWA and probably the national RWA meeting in NYC, too. Also attending the Empire State Book Festival in April and will be moderating a romance panel...yay!)

8. Go birding at the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Sanibel, Florida. (Oh boy, am I looking forward to this...coming up in April!)

9. Plant a terrarium this winter. (Not yet. Still on my to-do list. My daughter wants to add a turtle or frog into the terrarium. Uh oh.)

10. Lose 50 more pounds (already lost 30) and reverse my diabetes diagnosis. (I have lost 48 pounds, and I no longer have diabetes. I am so stoked about this. I am still working on losing 30 more pounds by summer. I feel so much better.)

11. Go to the Nutcracker ballet with my daughter this Christmas. (Daughter nixed this one. Instead, we are going to the Westminster Dog Show in NYC on Valentine's Day!!!!!! Sooooo out weenie dogs, here we come!)

12. Finish edits for Sweet Magik and look forward to my 2nd book publication next year.(Sweet Magik is all done. Will be released in both digital and print format on Nov. 4, 2011. My first book in print...yay! I am very excited about this!)

13. Spend hours puttering around the fantabulous antique mall in Quechee, Vermont, followed up by a glass of sparkling apple cider at Simon Pearce. (Did it. Had a fabulous weekend with my hubby, as a belated celebration for our 20th anniversary. Had the most incredibly delicious dinner at Simon Pearce...holy cow, after eating such a strict diet for months, that meal was magnificent.)

14. Walk Sachuest Point in Middletown, Rhode Island and see the harlequin ducks. (Not yet...hopefully soon...when the weather is no longer -24!)

15. Become involved in heart health education. (Working on it...I will have some more posts soon, and I'm helping my daughter to raise $$ for the American Heart Association right now.)

Well, working on this bucket list should be keeping me busy for the next several months. This week I'm reading Naked In Death by JD Robb (first time reading her...can't wait to meet Roarke) and an erotica by Amber Skyze called Naughty St. Nick. I thought I was finally finished with my holiday reads, but evidently not.

Happy Monday,

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Reinvention and Inspiration

I read a terrific piece about Sigrid Olsen this morning in the Boston Globe I wanted to share. She is 57 years old, a breast cancer survivor, and faced the failure of a once-thriving fashion design career with quite the intrepid attitude. Instead of wallowing in defeat, she decided to reinvent herself. She's an artist, an entrepreneur, and a yoga instructor. She is a source of inspiration for women of all ages, someone with the chutzpah to embrace change and see hidden opportunities where others would see failure. The thing that really captured my attention in this article (which is not included in the online version, unfortunately) is her 8-Step Guide....this is so close to my own approach to living I can't believe it.

These are her steps of "essential practices" to "regain equilibrium and redefine themselves after a major life change"---(can you say heart attack?)

1. Connect with nature. Next to the grandeur of nature, your problems seem very small.

2. Inhabit your body. Breathe, move, dance, run--anything that helps you feel awake and alive.

3. Find a community. Seek out people who are honest and fun, who will listen and tell the truth.

4. Clean house. Literally and metaphorically, clear the clutter that complicates your life.

5. Cherish beauty. Try to put beauty in your path each day and take the time to enjoy it.

6. Open your heart. Give of yourself. Generosity breeds abundance.

7. Create. Make something. Paint, sculpt, cook, plant a garden, keep a journal.

8. Celebrate life. Eat good food, have a party, travel, laugh a lot.

(From And Now For Something Completely Different, by Linda Matchan, Boston Globe, January 22, 2011).

This is so right up my alley, it's not even funny! This is why I walk outside everyday. Why I connect with my on-line friends, fellow romance writers, neighborhood friends, family, college buds, and Quirky Ladies as often as possible. This is why I take a single violet from my front lawn and display it in a teeny, tiny bottle on my windowsill. This is why I write. This is why I offer free advice to colleagues and revel in their success. This is why I love my little home and garden, and try to make my living space as "Vermonty" as possible. This is why we entertain so much, not with good china and crystal, but micro-beers and grilled veggies. This is a great way to live a life.

Rock on, Sigrid...I love your attitude! And this concludes our touchy-feely segment for the day. I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend.

Embracing life in all its glory,

Friday, January 21, 2011

Beard of the Day

3 Interesting Things About Chris O'Donnell....

1) His middle name is Eugene.

2) He is the youngest of 7 children!

3) He's all grown up and rocking his facial hair nicely. Remember when he was a baby-faced kid in Scent of a Woman? Now, he's in NCIS and he's looking the part. The scruff is just what he needs to give him a little bit of panache. And his eyes are swoon-worthy.

Has everyone recovered since reading Shadowfever? Still reading it? Staring glassy-eyed at the wall?

Happy Weekend To All!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Review of Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning

(Warning: Spoilers always, proceed with caution....)

Readers have expectations.

Romances should be about love. The story is about the relationship between the hero and heroine. Love saves the day. HEA forever.

Women's fiction is about the heroine. Her growth, her journey. Romance might be involved, but ultimately it is the heroine's story.

A fantasy is about the story itself. The story is the star of the show...filled with out-of-this-world details, plot twists and turns, gorgeous imagery, shocking imagery. It's most often a plot-driven work, not character-driven.

So what happens when a well-beloved romance author decides to write an epic fantasy series? Hmmm. Her fans expect romance. Her readers expect real character development. Some of them might jump on the fantasy bandwagon and enjoy the craziness of it all, but some of them still crave hot sex scenes and a hero to die for.

Karen Marie Moning has accomplished something extraordinary with this Fever series. She has transformed Dublin into a mythological battlefield filled with scrappy humans and horrifying imaginary creatures, where every shadow is feared. She created a heroine whose journey transformed her from a fluffy pink priss into a raw warrior. She provided a hero full of mystery, a storyline filled with shocking revelations, simple truths and painful betrayals. And she took the reader on the journey using a first person POV, so that we lived each moment with Mac herself....reveled in the victories, wept at the tragedies, wavered back and forth between hopeful and helpless.

This series is exactly what an epic fantasy should be. An adventure. In every way.

Now, I'm not gonna tell you that this book was perfect. The beginning was too slow, too repetitive and became frustrating to read. I was tired of Mac being in the dark, because it meant we, the readers, were in the dark, too. I wanted answers. I was tired of not knowing. The whole "he's not really dead because he can come back to life" thing was too gimmicky. The "big misunderstanding" plot device going on (Barrons thinking Mac slept with Darroc, her not clearing this misconception up) dragged on for too long and was irksome.

But Holy Christ On A Cracker, once the pacing picked up and the story finally began to unfold, KMM totally got her groove on. The fantasy part of this book was simply amazing. Winged Hunters flying through the sky, terrorizing Dublin, magical castles filled with mirrors, grotesque creatures sucking the life out of unsuspecting humans. Moning's imagery is captivating.

But here's the thing. After the battles, the chases, the explosions, the decapitations....I was expecting one of two things: A) Love would save the day, or.....B) Mac would save the day. Turns out the Un-Seelie King saved the day. Huh. Didn't see that one coming. Karen Marie Moning managed to keep the story itself as the star of the show. The plot twists and turns, the mythology and fantasy, became the focus of the climax of this book. But neatly tucked into this rich and complex narrative, she included a couple of other things. A couple of things that will make every romance reader sigh with happiness.

It didn't come with a big explosion or save-the-day plot device (like I thought it would). It was a simple, lovely, oh-so-satisfying declaration of love and trust.

"He went very still. Is that how you think of me?

Time seemed to stand still.....

Bet your ass you're mine, bud, I shot at him...

Barrons tossed his head back and laughed, teeth flashing in his dark face."

What we'd all been waiting for, for 5 long books. And finally, this....

"I was happy. I knew why you'd lied." His dark gaze was ancient, inhuman, and uncharacteristically gentle. Because you love me.....

Barrons held out his hand. "Don't leave me Rainbow Girl."....

The best part of this book, for me--lover of romance above all else--wasn't the sifting Fae, the frozen concubines, the spear-stabbing kick-ass action scenes, the bellowing beast in the basement. The best part was the end of the journey for Mac. Things in Dublin are still weird, unfinished, and fraught with uncertainty. But finally, after her epic adventure, Mac knows that she earned the love and trust of her beast, and can trust in herself and the choices she has made.

Simple, really.

Grade: A


Monday, January 17, 2011

Irksome Heroines, Beanstalks and Hot Aliens: I'm Exhausted and It's Only Monday

Here's a quickie update on my 3 latest reads.....

This was an ARC....will be released by Carina Press in February. The premise for this story is fantastic. It's a futuristic sci fi take on the legend of Jack and the Beanstalk. I adore funky new twists on fairy tales and legends. Drake calls this book a "twisted fairytale, biopunk romance." What I liked....the sci fi details are awesome. Drake does a tremendous job with her world-building. The bio-engineered beanstalk, the floating "islands," the hovercrafts, the dark, gritty, and desperate feel to life for the poor schmucks left on the surface of the earth, all make for a stunning vision of a world gone awry with technology. I also liked the heroine, Jaq, a lot...she is the quintessential kick-ass heroine, complete with roundhouse kicks, etc etc. The storyline was solid (with bitchy villainess and a-hole villain), had lots of action and suspense, and was extremely well written. Which may have worked against Drake in the end...I wanted more to this story. It was too short for me. The sci fi part worked great, but I wanted more about the characters and their relationship. I tend to gravitate to character-driven stories, not plot-centered stories, but even so....I still was fully engaged in this one.

Grade: B+

Sci fi/futuristic book #2 for the weekend! This one was quite different than the first. Captured was not about the action, it was about the characters. It still had tons of cool details about this alien society, but the real story was about the relationship between the alien hunter and his human cargo. Barrett puts forth an incredible thought-provoking premise for this novel...what if an alien species sees humans as a source Kidnaps us and treats us like cattle, then auctions us off to hungry aliens? me shivers just thinking about it. Needless to say, this brings up a lot of disturbing themes, including similarities with Jews in Nazi Germany. Barrett certainly does not shy away from difficult material. The bottom line: the book is very well written, the love story is totally believable and evolves in a very emotional way, and the plot had me spell-bound (if not a nervous freakin' wreck) until the very end. The end was perfect for a sci fi story, although the romance-lover in me wanted an epilogue...hee hee! My only concern with this book (and frankly, all of the sci fi books I have been reading lately) is that I'm not quite sure erotica and sci fi is a great combination. It is sometimes jarring to have hard-core erotica scenes mixed into a sci fi story. I think romance and sci fi would be okay, but erotica (especially the terminology, etc) is tough to blend in with this type of story. Bottom line: loved the premise, the characters, and Barrett's intelligent narrative.

Grade: A-

Mistake #1: I paid a lot of money for this sucker. Mistake #2: It's not the first in the series, and I was completely confused about the enormous number of many my eyes were crossing. Mistake #3: The heroine was the most irritating, annoying, pinging-off-the-wall, irksome, hyper, basically unlikable heroine I have ever read in my entire freakin' life.

Saving grace: the hero was absolutely adorable...I totally want my own lion-polar bear. Stat! By the end of the book, the heroine slightly redeemed herself by her loyalty to the abused hybrids, and I managed to finish this book, although it was extremely close to being DNFed. Extremely. Freakin. Close.

Bottom line: Start at beginning of series. No more flaky heroines. Get my own lion-polar bear.

Grade: C+

Whew! I'm exhausted and it's only Monday. And I think there's a new book out tomorrow or something like what is it again? Let me think......


Friday, January 14, 2011

Beard of the Day

Say hello to Stephen.

"Hello, Stephen!"

Good things about Stephen Dorff: He's a bad-ass actor (evil vampire in Blade, etc.) He is cute, cuddly and adorable like a koala bear. Also, he has excellent sexy, scruffy facial hair and thus has earned his place in Penelope's Beard of the Day hall of fame.

Bad things: He once dated Pamela Anderson. Ouch!

Happy Weekend To All,

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Review of The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

I was not prepared for this book.

My expectation for a steampunk romance was based on The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger. Those books are light-hearted fun, filled with kooky inventions and a no-nonsense heroine. The steampunk part of Carriger's world provides an entertaining and funky backdrop for the story. The humor is very tongue-in-cheek, right up my alley.

The Iron Duke couldn't be more different. While Carriger's world is political, it's also quite silly (the effeminate vampire friend, quirky side kick, lusty werewolf husband). Brook's post-apocalyptic world is dark, atmospheric and sinister. There is nothing remotely funny about the politics in this book. The hierarchies of her society--the bounders, the buggers, the Horde, the military--are fraught with hostility and racial discrimination. While Carriger's creative steampunk inventions elicited a smile--such as Alexia's fully outfitted parasol--the mechanics of Brook's world are straight from a horror movie. Mechanical "bugs" infiltrate the human body, and are controlled by radio frequencies enslaving the entire human population of Great Britain. Horrifying images of humans with machines as body parts reminded me of Quentin Tarantino's movie Grindhouse...remember Rose McGowan's half-machine gun leg? She would fit right into this troubling world.

Mina's very existence is the result of unspeakable acts, and the fact that everyone recognizes her as a product of Horde rape is crushing. This blatant racial discrimination also evoked images of half-white/half-Asian children left behind in Vietnam after the war. There is a lot of dark and ugly political stuff in this book....a much darker spin on the alternate industrial revolution reality of a steampunk world than Carriger's version.

Overall, the book is excellent. The story is very compelling--suspenseful, riveting. Brook is a powerful storyteller. The heroine Mina is incredible. Saddled with an unbelievably traumatic family history, she has risen above it to become a force to be reckoned with...courageous and filled with integrity. Which is most troubling to the hero Rhys, who is mercenary without shame.

Mina is the real hero of this book. She is phenomenal. The scene where she saves Rhys and his crew from a sea monster is extraordinary. Dangling upside down from a rope, she shoots a harpoon into the creature's eye and saves the ship from its evil clutches. Rock on! The climatic scene where she again saves Rhys by throwing her body in front of a bullet intended for him is heart-wrenching. How fantastic that her mother quickly whips together a mechanical heart from various body parts to save her daughter. I have to admit that I thought about the metal stent in my artery as I read this scene. It made me feel a little bit better about my "spare part" and sort of cool in a steampunky way!

The relationship between Rhys and Mina is intense. He is the rugged, swash-buckling legendary hero...fearless, but filled with moral ambiguity. Mina fears the powerful feelings he evokes inside of her, reminding her of her mindless past, dictated by the Horde. The heady lust building between them is fantastic, but I actually found their physical relationship at times distracting from the overall story. (Did I just say that? What is happening to me????) It's difficult to blend a romantic and erotic story with a political fantasy like this. I sometimes felt like the story was jumping back and forth between the lusty relationship and the plot. I also wish we had a bit more insight about Rhys' character.

A few things bothered me. One, I didn't like the threat of Mina's younger brother being sold into sexual slavery/torture (or worse) being dangled over our heads for a good portion of the book. It made me tense and worried, and ended up being a false threat when we discovered he was fine.

Also, the hero's past was difficult to reconcile with his intense sexuality. If a hero has a sexually tortured past, it needs to be be pretty strongly addressed in a romance. (JR Ward did a fabulous job with this in Lover Awakened. She clearly showed how Zsadist's relationship with Bella healed this part of his tortured psyche). I don't think that Brook adequately addressed this in The Iron Duke, even though it did occur to Mina in one of the erotic scenes.

Finally, my biggest beef was the ending. Rhys was incredibly single-minded for most of the book...he would have Mina no matter what. He was willing to go to any lengths (illegal, immoral, etc) to possess her. Then, he sends her away after learning of her public humiliation concerning their relationship, and that's it. Even after she takes a bullet for him, he doesn't visit her. He just happens to see her in the street and stops to talk to her. A totally random meeting! Get out! That sure doesn't seem in character for this guy. The wrap up at the end (they finally profess their love for each other) could have been longer. It was a bit too rushed for me. If you're writing a romance, don't skimp on the HEA, baby!

Overall, this book is astoundingly good. It has fascinating world-building, strong political symbolism, and truly memorable characters. It opened up a whole new side of steampunk fantasy that has me utterly intrigued. Although I must admit Brook's vision scares the holy hell out of me. I think I'd rather visit Carriger's steampunk world--armed with a kick ass parasol of course.

Grade: A-/B+

(ETA: Please stop by The Quirky Ladies blog for a discussion of the steampunk genre. Is it here to stay? Or just a temporary trend?)


Monday, January 10, 2011

Monday Morning Update

I can't believe it! I already have my first DNF for the year, it's only the 2nd week of January for God's sake.

I'm sort of surprised, because I thought I would absolutely love this book....Touched by an Alien by Gini Koch. It seemed right up my alley. Quirky, funny, alien-y. The writing was great, I loved the humor, and the characters were interesting. But I only made it half-way through, then I had to bail. I just couldn't take it anymore.

Why, you ask.

Well, the problem was an unbelievable case of information dump. There is a fine line when writing a paranormal story around bringing the reader (and in some cases, the characters) up to speed about the paranormal setting. What are all the rules and regulations (and possibly history) of this new paranormal world? As an author, you need to relay the pertinent information, but without bogging down the narrative. It's tough. Sometimes, there's too little info and the reader is confused about the new terrain, and sometimes there is way too much info, and the reader's eyes start glazing over and she starts thinking about her grocery list, and her son's next swim meet, and that she is almost out of dog food.....

You get the idea.

I also readily admit I like fast-paced stories. When things start slowing down the narrative (which can include too much deep POV, which drives me nutso, or an enormous info dump, etc) I get antsy. I know, I'm shallow and superficial and need instant gratification. Whatever. The point is (there's a point????) that this book had info dump after info dump, and they kept interfering with a very nice storyline. Bummer. Gini Koch seems like a great writer, so I'm willing to try another one of her books, but this one couldn't keep my attention span (which appears to be the same as a three year old...heh heh).

After that fiasco, I re-read Stephanie Lauren's Captain Jack's Woman, which is the pre-cursor to the Bastion Club series. The premise for this book is utterly ridiculous...a gently-reared member of the ton disguises herself as a boy and becomes leader of a smuggling gang. O-kay. Sure. This has all of the classic SL stuff in it...alpha male hero, gorgeous and courageous heroine, interesting historical storyline, sex against a tree (okay, that's not actually in every SL book, but it's in this one), and chapter-long sex scenes. It's a fun SL re-read!

Next up....The Iron Duke! I will be posting a discussion about the steampunk genre on The Quirky Ladies blog at some point this week, and I'll have the review for The Iron Duke on my Penelope page.

Happy Monday,

Friday, January 7, 2011

Beard of the Day

Don't think you like country? Uh-huh. Take one little ole look at this sweet hunk o' man (Tim McGraw), then listen to him sing. (Oh yeah, he's got a great beard, case you didn't notice!)

Here's the preview for Country looks fantabulous!

Happy, Happy Weekend,

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Versatile (and Discombobulated) Blogger

Okay, so the award isn't really for the discombobulated blogger. But I was tagged in November, and am only now getting around to this. If there really was an award for the Discombobulated Blogger, I would totally win first prize (with a slightly skewed tiara on my head, I'm sure).

Anyway, thanks to Julia Barrett (Julia Barrett's World), I was tagged with The Versatile Blogger Award. Here are the rules and regulations.....

1--Share 7 things about myself.
2--Pass this award on to 15 other bloggers recently discovered.
3--Notify recipients.
4--Link the blogger who gave this award.

Since I'm a chronic, life-long rule breaker, I'm not doing #2 and #3 exactly. I'm going to make a list of some fun blogs I've discovered over the last couple of years--most having nothing to do with the romance industry. Just keeping it real!

Okay, first up.....7 things about myself.....

1) I have really big hair. I had big hair when it was cool (1980's), before it was cool, and after it was cool.

2) I was a dirty lacrosse player in high school and college. I liked to trip people, elbow other players, cuss a lot, etc. I got a lot of yellow cards (pretty much every game) and some red cards, too. For some reason, I'm not really that ashamed.

3) I was a dolphin trainer in high school (he was a horny Amazon River dolphin named Chuckles...hee hee!)

4) I took piano lessons from a Russian concert pianist at Carnegie Mellon University when I was a teenager.

5) I am an obsessive organic herb gardener (not those kinds of herbs....get your minds out of the gutter!). I usually have at least 8 types of basil in my garden every summer (basic sweet, purple, cinnamon, orange, lemon, thai, globe, African blue). I love cooking with fresh herbs!

6) I sometimes dress my miniature dachshund in humiliating outfits. But not that much.

7) The first time I saw my husband in college, I turned to my friends and announced "I'm going to rock his world."

All right, enough pointless information about me and my dachshund. Now onto the fun blogs....

For any fans of Top Chef, this blog is a must-see. I love their snippy observations.

First of all, the title alone is excellent. Second of all, she has funny, irreverent and sometimes ridiculous posts....all quite entertaining. She loves birding (me too), Jean Claude Van Damme (me too) and crossword puzzles (I suck at those).

Just freakin' hilarious.

Blog by the ultimate masters of the birding universe, the Stokes. One time (in band camp...hee hee...just kidding)....when I was at Ding Darling in Florida, checking out some birds with my binocs, this nice couple started pointing out all these awesome birds, and later, my husband said..."Do you know who that was" and I was all "No" and he was all "That was Donald and Lillian Stokes" and I was all "Holy crap!"

Anne Nydam is a wonderfully talented artist and writer. Her blog always has something cool and interesting to see.

KMont, who also pens a romance blog (Lurv a la Mode) has a fabulous recipe site with her sis. The photos alone are worth checking out. And how about these recipes....cranberry swirl cheesecake with cranberry-raspberry compote? Pumpkin and brown sugar crème brûlée? Israeli couscous with crispy greens? Hungry yet?

This is a great author's site. She has a mix of fun, serious, thoughtful and sexy. I stop by every day!

I love seeing updates about her garden. And lemon verbena is one of my's a keeper!

I find this blog bizarrely interesting. Trying to quantify/qualify happiness. Bizarr-o but also sort of cool.

What? You didn't think I'd leave out the dachshund blog, did you? My favorite doxie hot, videos, sob stories, dogs in humiliating outfits, wiener dog races. It's all here.

Thanks to Julia for this prestigious award! Just wondering where the hell my $100,000 prize money is. I'm still waiting.....

(who is considering changing her pen name to Penny O. Watson, just so my initials will be POW)