Monday, December 10, 2012

Penelope's 2012 Top 20 List

1. Longest, Most Tortuous, Riddled With Errors, Strangely Satisfying Romance With A Cussing Bearded Hero:

Sweet Dreams by Kristen Ashley

I still can't decide if this was a favorite romance or an extended form of torture. Somehow Kristen Ashley manages to make her 10,345,672-page epic romance with a well-accessorized heroine, hard-cussin' bearded hero, and enough plot twists and turns to make your head spin like Linda Blair in the Exorcist, into a satisfying story. I feel like I deserve a medal for making it to the end. But I don't think I'll be reading her again. I just can't spare the 14 years of my life.

2. Favorite Werewolf Story:

Desperately Seeking Shapeshifter by Jessica Sims

I'm tired of vampires, and most of the werewolf books I've been reading lately are too bogged down with politics and confusing storylines. Just when I thought I would retire shapeshifters from my reading stash, I discovered Desperately Seeking Shapeshifter by Jessica Sims (Jill Myles). Yippee! This book had the perfect balance of story, humor, adorable characters and sexy shapeshiftin' lusty times. And best of all, werebears are...hairy.

3. Favorite Vintage Harly:

The Other Laura by Sheryl Lynn (aka JW Manus)

Most of you know I have a love-hate relationship with Harlies. Sometimes the formula is entertaining, and sometimes I want to chuck the billionaire Greek tycoon off the nearest bridge.  Lucky for me, I discovered this 1996 vintage Harly with a superb mystery/romantic suspense storyline. I was utterly riveted by this tale of a heroine with amnesia. Highly recommend!

4. Favorite Erotica Novel About A Sheep Farmer And Some Bad-Ass Bank Robbers:

The Hostage Bargain by Annika Martin

Annika Martin (also known as Carolyn Crane), has crafted a quirky, kinky, incredibly well-written and smoky, smoky hot erotica about a bored sheep farmer and three mysterious and sexy bank-robbers. This is so right up my alley, it's ridiculous. Can't wait to read the rest of the series.

5. Favorite Cocktail:

Cranberry Mojito

What do you get when you mix fresh cranberries, sugar, rum, lime juice and a few other tasty items together? A totally festive holiday drink that packs a wallop.

Here's the link to the recipe. Try it!

6. Favorite Totally Mindless Teen Movie With Vomit Snow-Angels:

Pitch Perfect

Usually when I get excited for a film, it fails to live up to my expectations. (*cough* *Avengers* *cough*). However, Pitch Perfect not only lived up to my mindless-teen-film expectations, it surpassed them. The perfect combination of gross-out humor, adorable characters, fabulous song-and-dance numbers, and the exquisite Rebel Wilson made this my favorite movie of the year.

7. Favorite Flash Fiction:

One of my most favorite discoveries in 2012 is Tom Janikowski (formerly known as Prince, I mean Tom Andrews). He drinks classic martinis, loves Ernest Hemingway, and writes brilliant, and sometimes horrifying, flash fiction. My favorite Martini Club post this year is Tom's original piece titled Cocktail (the movie). He also wrote another hilarious piece called Bile, and more Bile on his blog, mentioning Penelope and a wiener dog. I can't wait for his first novel to published!

8. Favorite Furry, Bearded Russian Heroes:

Bearing All by Tiffinie Helmer and The Blacksmith's Lover by Heather Massey

This category is a tie. I read these two fabulous stories in one weekend, and they couldn't be more different. Bearing All is a thoroughly modern, action-packed Russian spy romance with a hero named "The Bear" (yowzah!) and The Blacksmith's Lover is a quirky steampunk romance set in the 19th century with a heavily-accented Russian blacksmith who is "bearded and barrel-chested...with a thick rug of black fur covering his chest" (double-yowzah!).  Penelope hearts Russian dudes. Sigh.

9. Favorite Sexed-Up Cowboy Story:

All Jacked Up by Lorelei James

Lorelei James has created a cowboy series that will burn the fringe right off your chaps. Some of these are great, and some are less successful. All Jacked Up is fantastic. The fake-engagement, sexy suit and bad-girl combo, and the build-up to one of the best black moments I read all year, make this a must-read for romance lovers who love alpha cowboys. Yeeeeee hawwwwww!

10. Funniest Stupid-Ass Syfy Made-For-Television Movie:

Jersey Shore Shark Attack

My daughter and I are addicted to the cheesy Syfy Saturday night movies. Horrible special effects, awful dialogue, and copious decapitations make these films a light-hearted form of entertainment. (And potential drinking game). Jersey Shore Shark Attack tapped into the perfect angle for these films: self-parody. I thought the characters were hilarious, the dialogue was fab, and Joey Fatone got eaten by a shark. What more could you ask for?

11. Favorite Sci Fi Amuse Bouche:

Invasion of Blood by Joseph Mazzenga

I really got into flash fiction and short stories this year. This quickie sci fi has a surprise ending that I didn't see coming. It's well-written, has excellent imagery, and perfect pacing for a short story. I'm stoked I discovered this author. 

12. Most Conflicted Zombie Novel That I Never Finished:

I've Been Deader by Adam Sifre

This indie author zombie "romance" had some of the funniest one-liners I've seen in zombie humor fiction. Unfortunately, it was billed as "romance" and quickly deteriorated into straight up horror. Nevertheless, I think Sifre is an author to watch. He has a lot of writing talent, and a sufficient dose of self-deprecating humor to make it in this business. (And he's ballsy enough to battle it out with the old guard at the Amazon message boards. Hope he has armor).

13. Favorite "Penelope" Book:

A Rogue By Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean

While trapped on a flight to Hawaii this summer, I sucked down about 10 novels. One of them was A Rogue By Any Other Name. This was recommended to me for my "Penelope Project" because the heroine is named Penelope! I adored this romantic story, which reminded me of Lisa Kleypas' Dreaming Of You. Can't wait to read more of Sarah MacLean's books!

14. Favorite Bearded Vermont Firefighter Romance:

Firefly Mountain by Christine DePetrillo

This book took all of my favorite things--beards, Vermont, scarred and tortured hero, romance, paranormal stuff, good writing, and a sweet HEA--and mixed them up into a delicious smoothie. Which I sucked down with a smile on my face. I'll be re-reading this lovely story.

15. Penelope's Authors-To-Watch: Amber Lin, Heather Rigney, Victoria Morgan

I read a lot of new-to-me authors this year, but there are three I would like to give a special shout-out. One is Amber Lin. She writes dark erotica that I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot-pole because I'm way too big a wussie for that stuff. But her alter-ego also writes sweet, sexy stories that are perfect for me. I am thrilled that one of her wonderful novels has been picked up by Carina Press--Chance Of Rain. I LOVE this story. Cannot wait for its release! WTG, Amber!

I also read Heather Rigney's debut quickie "Mermaids Are Not Nice" in the anthology DIVE. She is another author to watch. This horror story blew me out of the mermaid-infested waters. Fresh, different, unique. She told me she's working on a full-length book as a sequel. Excellent!

Last and certainly not least, my Quirky Lady critique partner, Victoria Morgan, is about to publish her debut historical with Berkley. For The Love of a Soldier is an emotional, funny, and touching debut that had me crying more than once. I am thrilled for Vicki. I'll let you all know when she gets a firm release date.

16. Ballsiest Sex Farce With A Unicorn:

Honeysuckle by Anny Cook

The blurb sold this book for me. Peter and Dick Hieney. The heroine is Honey. And then I saw that it had a well-endowed unicorn. I was a goner! Honeysuckle is an outrageous take on King Arthur, with very tongue-in-cheek humor and some surprisingly sweet moments. I am always impressed when writers are willing to take a big risk. And this was certainly a big, kooky risk. Ballsy!

17. Film Most Likely To Make You Fling Yourself Off A Bridge:

The Grey

I thought I was getting a survivor/adventure movie with a beardy Liam Neeson. I didn't realize it was a no-survivor movie. With no hope. No faith. No light. Everything is dark. Everyone dies. The End.

*Penny flings herself off a bridge*
*Penny runs off to watch Pitch Perfect again*

18. Favorite Romance Of 2012:

Castaway Dreams by Darlene Marshall

I've noticed that some folks save up their highest, 5-star rating for super emo, angsty, pull-your-hair-out books. Well, I don't. If I read a romantic comedy that I think is perfect, funny and has a satisfying HEA, I will gladly give it five stars. Comedy/humor is tough to do well. More difficult than serious material. Not everyone shares the same sense of humor, so you are always taking a big risk with comedy.

Of all the romance novels I read this year, one really stands out for me. Castaway Dreams by Darlene Marshall was my absolute perfect package. Light, sweet, funny, sexy and romantic, perfectly satisfying. I love the premise of a grumpy ship's doctor paired with a bubble-headed beauty on a deserted island. Their love story was swoony and wonderful. I am totally, totally digging Marshall's sense of humor. It pairs perfectly with a light romance. Bravo, Darlene. Castaway Dreams is a winner for 2012!

19. Favorite Memoir (and Runner-Up for Favorite Book Of The Year):

Paris In Love by Eloisa James

At first I was unsure about this book. It is jumpy and choppy and seemingly random. And lovely and touching and delicious and a perfect microcosm of life. It's also inspiring and life-affirming, which I find a wonderful breath of fresh air in our cynical times. If you have not read this book yet, I implore you to treat yourself this holiday season. This book is a gem and my most recommended book this year.

20. Favorite Series of the Year/Best Books of the Year:

The Inspector Gamache Series by Louise Penny

Restless in the Grave by Dana Stabenow

Funny how this obsessive romance reader became so enamored with these mystery novels. The truth is, they are chock full of romance. And they are chock full of beautiful writing, unsettling revelations, larger-than-life and shockingly real characters, and stunning settings (Canada and Alaska).

Penny's Inspector Gamache Series (currently 8 books and a novella, starting with Still Life) is simply outstanding. She has layered the secrets of small town life and its inhabitants into a complex and alluring series. Her writing humbles me as an author. I became completely emotionally invested in these characters' lives. That has only happened to me one other time--while reading the Amelia Peabody Series by Elizabeth Peters. Inspector Gamache is in some ways an unlikely hero, and in other ways such a fascinating and enigmatic character. He is a superb captain of this literary ship. I'm signing up for a cruise!

I spent a ridiculous amount of money for these books, and I would gladly do it again. I CANNOT WAIT for the next book , which is coming out next year.

Restless in the Grave by Stabenow took two of her well-beloved characters, Liam Campbell and Kate Shugak, and put them into one phenomenal novel. I honestly didn't think she'd be able to carry it off. But this book was incredible. The end was tragic, inevitable, shocking and brilliant. Liam is a fantastic hero for the romance-lover looking for an excellent mystery series. I am also humbled by Stabenow's writing and how she brings Alaska to life in these books. The setting is integral to the story, which is one of my favorite fictional elements.

So, 2012 was The Year Of The Mystery for Penelope. As much as I enjoyed all the romances I read, these mystery series were the pinnacle of my reading-year.

I hope all of you had a great reading year, as well. I'm looking forward to 2013!

All my best,