August 29, 2010

Conair "You Curl" Curling Iron

"You Curl" Curling Iron
Conair Cd117 Infinit Pro By Conair "You Curl" Tourmaline Ceramic Curling Iron, Red

Grade: C

Amazon Vine just posted my review of this curling iron. It begins...

In a classic episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, Ray and Debra make a deal: If she isn't ready to leave for the ESPY Awards at a certain time, he'll leave without her. She's just about ready to go when one last pass with her curling iron results in disaster. It gets stuck in her hair. None of us may ever attend to the ESPY Awards, but haven't all of us experienced an, "Oh, hair is stuck in this hot curling iron and I smell it burning!" moment?

Click here to read the rest of my review for Amazon


Damn, I'm Pissed!

How ridiculous is the person who, after I post reviews at Amazon, immediately swings by to vote "not helpful?" I thought it was particularly hilarious this last time as the book won't even be released until next month, and given that it's among the launch books for a new fiction imprint for a publisher previously best known for the Chicken Soup books, it's not as though readers the world over have been holding their collective breath for reviews to surface.

Speaking of ridiculous, that's the term I'd apply to yesterday's Glenn Beck march. Beck chose the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech to ask that his Tea Party followers "turn back to God," and focus on what we've accomplished in this country as opposed to our failures. Ironic much?

I was in a foul mood for most of yesterday, but it wasn't until dinner that I realized my mood was based on this march. Watching video clips of person upon person upon person decry how the U.S. has become socialist and that we need to "take back" this country, I wanted to shout at all of them, "You are nothing but a puppet on a string!"

How did we get to a place where so many people believe "We're socialist because Obama wants to spread the wealth"...ah, I think I understand now.

We can start with Rupert Murdock, who has used his Fox News Network (and I use the term very loosely), to promulgate his far-right agenda. I'm not name-calling here; I'm not particularly happy with anyone at end of the political spectrum. But even if you are not among those who believe the "news" they see on Fox is "fair and balanced," you may not know about the brothers Koch. Their combined wealth is surpassed only by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett in the U.S., and they have quietly bankrolled the "grass-roots" effort of the Tea Party by spending $100,000,000 so far to convince people that our president wants to destroy our way of life. Their efforts are not benign, and they most assuredly are not out to help the "little guy," whose strings they are silently pulling. In other words, moneyed interests, once again, have somehow managed to set themselves up as the champion of the working class when their true agenda is more basic: It's my money, and I will do anything to keep it. I don't want you to have any of it, but I'll do whatever must be done to convince you that I'm out to protect your interests.

The Koch brothers are particularly dangerous in that they combine greed with down-right scary beliefs, such as the abolition of public schools, the FBI and CIA, federal regulatory agencies - such as the EPA - and Social Security. Why? Because funding any of this causes them to pay taxes...or limits their business profits. For instance, they are working to prevent the EPA from classifying one of their products - formaldehyde - as a "known carcinogen."

The view that government is the root of all evil and business is the natural protectorate of the people has gained a great deal of traction since George Bush became president. It's as though the world turned upside down and we forgot what led us into the financial crisis we see today.

The Koch brothers don't like paying taxes, they don't like government impinging on their bottom line, and they think government regulations and safety nets are for pussies. Who needs unemployment protection? If you give somebody unemployment protection, he'll stop looking for work. Public health? I pay my own way...why the hell shouldn't you, even if you earn a subsistence wage? Global warming? Believe us when we yell Poppycock...even though we're in the fossil-fuel business! And so on and so on.

People with such one-sided belief systems used to be known as the "fringe." Not so anymore, if you consider the popularity of Sarah Palin, Rand Paul, that nut-job Sharron Angle, not to mention the perpetually orange John Boehner, who once handed out money on the floor of the House from tobacco lobbyists. No spending because it'll increase the deficit...but by golly, let's cut taxes. No more money for the unemployed, even though the "official" unemployment rate stands at 10% and doesn't include those who have been unemployed so long they've given up looking for work, the bums! Hold BP accountable for the mess in the Gulf of Mexico? So sorry, I apologize for so much as thinking of it.

Were the Koch's to have their way, those such as the man directly implicated in the recent outbreak of salmonella poisoning, long considered a habitual violator and forced to pay fines in the millions of dollars over the years, would go blithely unchecked.

I can't wait to see what they'll come up with next...abolishing child labor laws, perhaps?

NYT columnist Frank Rich writes that the brothers Koch "must be laughing all the way to the bank knowing that working Americans are aiding and abetting their selfish interests." He doesn't let Murdoch get away unscathed, though. While his network lambastes the "Ground Zero Mosque" and points fingers at a Saudi Prince said to be contributing to it, that same prince is "not only the biggest non-Murdoch shareholder in Fox News' parent company (he owns 7 percent of News Corp.) and the recipient of Murdoch mammoth investments in Saudi Arabia but also the subject of lionization elsewhere on Fox." As I like to say:


Before I sign off, just one more depressing item in the news. The Republicans, who smell victory in November, are preparing to launch a series of investigations against the White House similar to those which occupied most of the Clinton presidency. An aide to one of the congressman overseeing the groundwork has already mentioned impeachment. In a nation where 41% of Republicans believe Obama was "probably or definitely born outside the country" and roughly one-third think that Obama is a Muslim (so what if he is, and I ask this as a Jew?), anything's possible.


August 24, 2010

Musings on Hard to Hold by Julie Leto

After sending Alison Kent a copy of my The Icing on the Cake review as excerpted here and posted in full at Amazon, I received an email from Julie Leto, another author helping to launch the True Vows imprint (fictionalized versions of real-life romances) of HCI books. She'd read my review and wondered whether I'd be interested in reading Hard to Hold, featuring a hero with Tourette's Syndrome.

I don't know about you, but I'd never even heard of Tourette's until I watched an episode of St. Elsewhere back in the day. Jump forward a couple of decades, when Eric Cartman learns about Tourette's in the 2007 season opener of Southpark and decides to pretend to have the disorder so he can cuss at will. Other than also knowing that for many, Tourette's and OCD go hand in hand, such was the extent of my understanding of Tourette's Syndrome. Given my interest in psychological conditions (I've written a couple of times about Asperger's here and at Amazon), I said I'd love to read her book. After having done so, though, I decided that rather than review it, I'd prefer to write about some of its aspects, so if this essentially reads like an ATBF column, I apologize in advance.

Set in Albany, newspaper reporter Anne Miller meets lobbyist Michael Davoli after a concert while on the way to a bar. The chemistry is electric, but Michael holds back; between antihistamines and his Tourette's, drinking would be ill-advised. They next meet when he moves into her apartment building, and though there's something there, he holds back again. Even after he is locked out of his apartment and Anne picks his lock, the best he can come up with is a thank you by post-it note.

After a dating lifetime of "let's be friends," Anne lacks confidence in her appeal to the opposite sex, so making the first move with a man sending her mixed signals scares her. She forges past her fear and asks Michael out, and he accepts. They get along wonderfully, and their kisses are electric. After Michael reveals his disorder, he's delighted that Anne isn't turned off, and they begin to date. But Michael is one of those people who thinks things to death and gets stuck along the way. In other words, he indulges in "mind-fucking."

It's never revealed in the story if this is related to his OCD-like tendancies or Tourette's, but I suspect it is. Stress brings on his symptoms, and deliberate thinking helps them subside. If being in your head helps you avoid stiff muscles or involuntary muscle movements, eye and facial tics, a lack of focus and an inability to control your vocal chords, resulting in barked-like speech (Michael, like most sufferers, does not go around cussing inappropriately), it's easy to imagine constantly being in your head and over-thinking your issues to death. The disconnect, of course, is that focusing on your thoughts interferes with dealing with your emotions. As a result, Michael goes into panic mode; he can't understand why he feels about Anne as he does, why he can't stop thinking about her and how good she makes him feel. So he decides they need to slow down and be friends before taking their relationship further, which unfortunately feeds directly into Anne's "let's be friends" history. She stands up for herself...for them...and because he can't get out of the place in his head where he's stuck, they break up.

I don't want to go into more detail about the plot, other than to say Michael soon comes to his senses and they resume their relationship, which turns physical, but his mind-fucking also gets the better of him when Anne goes on vacation. Later its adjunct, what I like to call "scheming and plotting" - the need to create sometimes elaborate plans combined with an inability to deviate from them once set in motion - appears when he decides to propose. It's frustratingly comical to watch him try and force his plan for the proposal on Anne when she and her family don't want to cooperate.

That's not the story's only comic note. There's a good deal of humor in their conversations, texts, and emails, and it's easy to watch them fall in love - even if Anne doesn't understand Michael's Phish obsession, is Oscar to his Felix, and sometimes feels Michael's dog doesn't understand who's the new top bitch. Their equally evident care for one another shows when they nurse each other back to health while on vacation in Peru, in how Anne trusts Michael would never hurt her (involuntarily) in his sleep...and how he tries to help her come to grips with her horrible boss at the newspaper simply by being a strong, silent force. For somebody as clueless as Michael can be, his care of Anne when she is moved permanently to the night shift, and his listening to her as she figures out what she needs to do to resolve her unhappiness reminded me of my own husband's care for me.

Good relationships are built upon care, concern, help, and trust, and all of these things allow each partner to not only give love, but to accept it, which isn't always as easy as it seems. That's a major Life Lesson it took thick-skulled me close to 25 years to learn, and that Hard to Hold reminded me of that surprised me. Acceptance, of course, goes further, and Leto shows that as well, as when Michael wants to see Phish in concert during their reunion tour for the sixth - or is it the seventh? - time right before their wedding, all the way across the country, and when Anne's new hours and unhappiness cause her to gain some weight.

These issues may not be yours or mine, but they resonate regardless because we all have our obsessions, each of us feels stress in a different way, and there are always disappointments along the way. Just last week, as we settled our daughter into her freshman dorm, my husband talked to her about cafeteria eating and said he'd "already lived through the crazy lettuce diet" when I was a college freshman. In writing this, I immediately remember all the times my husband has listened to me talk ad nauseum about this book or that book, and last night, although I generally ask him a question out of left field that apparently is not at all germaine, I once again stepped into a metaphorical jury box so I could re-live with him the trial that he's been prepping for since July which began yesterday.

Relating to characters and/or situations is not a requirement for enjoying fiction, but it can be nice to feel a connection based on personal experience. Nobody in my family has Tourette's, but mind-fucking and scheming and plotting live close by. And, as someone who developed, then ran an "Isn't It Romantic?" contest for a decade, I can attest to the joy of reading about another couple's romance. I may love werewolves, Medieval warriors, and bazillionaire Irishmen
who live in the future, but there's something to be said for the actual guy and girl next door.


The Icing on the Cake by Alison Kent

The Icing on the Cake

Alison Kent

Grade: B-

Contemporary Romance

Last week my husband bought some cupcakes at Sprinkles for his office manager's birthday. Somehow this otherwise together married mom missed the fact that in the past five years, we in the U.S. have gone cupcake crazy. She didn't know what Sprinkles was, nor had she ever had a red velvet cupcake. First she asked him how he knew she loved red velvet. His response was, "Teresa, you're from Alabama...of course you love red velvet." Then she asked him how he knew she loved cupcakes, and he answered, "Who doesn't love cupcakes?" Exactly.

Read this review in its entirety at Amazon. It is not a Vine review; the author sent me a digital copy.

BTW, if you're a fan of The Cosby Show, you should recognize a small reference to a favorite moment involving Rudy and Cliff Huxtable right near the end of the book. It put a smile on my face, and if it clicks for you, I'm betting you'll get a tickle out of it as well.


August 21, 2010


Ever since spending a few days in Cape May several years ago, I've been a hydrangea lover. There, in the quaint Victorian town along the Jersey Shore, they grow on large bushes into enormous flowers. Ever since that summer we've planted and grown pots of hydrangeas; my husband actually nursed last year's through the winter and some survived this summer. But nothing can compare with what we just saw at Central Market. On a day as hot as today - probably 105 and humid - there's not a whole lot I want to do, but looking at these brightened my sour mood immensely. If you're experiencing the dog days of summer, perhaps they will do the same for you.

If you'd like, click the photos to see them enlarged.


August 19, 2010

Kinky: Charlene Teglia & Cherise Sinclair

If you've read either my old blog or ATBF columns, you'll know that several years ago I embarked upon a reading journey into erotic romance. You might also know that a few years ago, after venturing into more hard-core content, I posed the following question: "If the point of erotic content is to arouse, and that's my dictionary's definition of it, then would reading more and more hard-core content be like over-reliance on a vibrator so that anything not super-kinky would leave me, fictionally and literally, numb?"

Eventually I decided that I'd stop with the Asking of Questions and read whatever the hell appealed to me. The result? Earlier this year I went through a mini-non-fiction glom. Right now I'm in the midst of reading quite a few erotic romances, and a couple of authors stand out above the rest: Charlene Teglia, and relative newcomer Cherise Sinclair.

Each author writes books in erotic romance sub-genres that attract me. With Teglia it's shapeshifters and other paranormal creatures. Sinclair, on the other hand, writes books and short stories with a strong BDSM theme. Like many woman, I'm drawn to erotic stories featuring women who cede control of their sexual pleasure to men who intuitively know how to play their bodies like virtuoso violinists.

I've often said that erotic romance blends oh-so-nicely with the paranormal because human social structures, norms, and mores simply don't apply, giving authors leeway with characters and storylines. Which, in turn allows me as a reader to accept behavior I would not otherwise tolerate, let alone enjoy. Such as a young woman who discovers she is a werewolf who must mate with an entire pack in order to decide upon her true mate. Or a witch who must have sex with a dragon, a fae, a vampire, a demon, and a werewolf in order to save the world from a demonic plot.

Let's face it...plenty of authors can write amazing, kinkier-than-hell sex scenes. But in order to actually interest me to read the author again, - let alone write about her - I need more. Teglia actually delivered poignancy, humor, and in both the books I just described (Animal Attraction and Claimed by the Wolf), she managed both simultaneously.

The second book I described, Claimed by the Wolf, is the first in a series, and I'm a little concerned about that because while I apparently have no problem with one female witch who has a werewolf mate yet is also a "junior wife" to four other paranormal hunks, I absolutely don't want to read a book two in which another female needs to sleep with all five heroes - including the witch's mate - in order to save the world again. Call me a greedy girl, but, hey, she's playing into my fantasy. It doesn't hurt that because none of the witch's five lovers is human...and each finds it erotic to watch her with his fellow's not a problem for them. If it turns out each of these heroes becomes monogamous as a single mate enters the picture in four subsequent books...fine. Otherwise, I'll be giving up on the Shadow Guardians tout de suite.

Writing about Cherise Sinclair presents a bigger problem. She writes about real people taking sexuality to an extreme on a daily basis, not just an occasional "kinky Thursday." Though I subscribe to the "anything goes between two consenting adults in real life" school of thought, it makes me sad to think of people who cannot enjoy sex unless they are playing roles, using toys, or giving/receiving pain. But that's reality, and as I have preached for almost fifteen years, fiction is not reality.

In my fantasy life I have no problem whatsoever with dominant men, feisty but submissive women, and the manipulative head games the former play with the latter to achieve multiple orgasms all around. In fact, I get off on it. And Sinclair, like Teglia, can write with tenderness and poignancy. Are all dominant men as handsome and psychologically astute as they are in her writing? Again...who cares?

While I've no interest in Sinclair's intergalactic The Starlight Rite, I have read the rest of her abbreviated back-list and look forward to more. Teglia's backlist is far lengthier, and she writes in a variety of erotic sub-genres, which means I'll be picking and choosing.

Though I've read a great deal of erotic romance over the years, I tend to be guarded about what I share with others because for me reading these stories is intensely personal and I feel the need to limit what I expose of myself. That said, I'm not ashamed of what I read, so every so often I'm going to put on my big girl panties and let my full freak fly.


August 16, 2010

Falling Out of Fashion by Karen Yampolsky

Falling Out of Fashion

Karen Yampolsky

Grade: C

Chick Lit

I just posted a very brief review of this book at here to read it.


August 15, 2010

When a Train Wrecks, People Get Hurt

In early July I mentioned that most of Bare Escentuals' colors are formulated for women with warm skin tones. Suzi McGowen commented about a line of mineral make-up with lots of cool toned choices that I'd never heard of - Aromaleigh. I visited the site and saw it was preparing to shut down. I didn't want to build up an attachment to something soon to disappear, so I stopped looking. Then, when FragranceX, a website that supposedly carries discontinued BE could not fill my order for Heaven blush, I decided to take a second look at Aromaleigh.

Soon I had three brand new blushes, heavily discounted due to the going-out-of-business sale, that were all in my color way, and at that point I thought to myself, "Why is this woman going out of business after twelve years?"

Both before and after my vacation last month, I alternated between investigating and ordering eye shadows, which were even more heavily discounted in the last two weeks. Tonight at midnight the website turns off its lights for good, and I am strangely bereft. Not because I'll need mineral makeup any time in the near future, but because of what I learned...and what I still do not know.

Did site owner Kristen Bell use unapproved ingredients in some eyeshadows? One group - whose members set up a forum ostensibly to provide a forum for all mineral make-up users to rant even though their intention, allegedly (and there is evidence of this), was to rant against Aromaleigh - says yes. Kristen Bell's defenders say they were told by FDA employees that the site was victim of a witch hunt.

Did Aromaleigh's owner fuck up with an overly complex point program, some iffy customer service, and erratic personal blogging? It looks like the answer to all three is yes. Staffing issues, a death in the family, and a all likelihood these matters contributed to some Bad Behavior, but compounding these personal problems were some women who decided they needed proof of her suffering, and by doing so, caused more suffering, and probably more erratic choices.

In the end all I know is this: I placed five orders in the last two months, during a period when Aromaleigh's owner was trying to get rid of inventory by using ingredients to mix probably a hundred and fifty shades of eyeshadows and forty shades of foundation in three formulations, and experienced terrific and personalized service, and near-immediate delivery. There's a whole lot involved in running a business that ships internationally, and hordes of the site's international and/or institutional customers, worried about order fulfillment, began filing premature claims with Paypal, resulting in thousands of dollars taken from the business account and presumably held in escrow in the interim. I don't envy Kristen Bell's life over the last two months, and in some way feel a kinship with her as a person who made some mistakes and suffered some very public consequences.

All that said, had I been a customer made to feel guilt over the mention of poor service, if I felt blown off after questioning the safety of a product, no doubt I'd feel somewhat differently. After all, look at how publicly I've announced my anger toward Penguin books, but Penguin is a large corporate entity and not a small business. Then too, I'm not out to close Penguin down...I just want them to treat their ebook customers as they treat their print customers.

So it's not quite an apples to apples thing.

As midnight approaches on the East Coast - it's slightly less than an hour away - my thoughts are with Aromaleigh and its owner, and some disgruntled customers who apparently played a part in its closing down. I'm reminded of some instances in my own online past and some individuals who caused me personal pain as a result of my public position. I didn't lose my livelihood as a result and therefore cannot truly know how Kristen Bell feels, but I do wish her luck in the future and hope she finds a creative outlet for her talent.


Then...and Now

Almost exactly 32 years ago, when I was barely seventeen, my parents and I flew from LAX to DFW and moved me into my second floor dorm room in one of the all-girl freshman dorms at SMU. They've since been renovated, but at the time the rooms were spare and small, to say the least. Ours, like the others, was long and narrow, with perhaps two feet in-between the beds, and, IIRC, the lay-out you see to the right is pretty close to how it looked. The only "addition" we made was a long wooden board we bought and set from top desk shelf to top desk shelf upon which we set up my stereo's turntable. That's TV, no microwave (they didn't exist), and certainly no refrigerator. There were two communal bathrooms on our floor and a TV in the lounge on the first floor, on which I can recall watching Rescue from Gilligan's Island with a large group of people.

After Charity, my roommate, whom I'd never met nor spoken to before we moved in, and I got settled and we'd kicked out our parents, she and I went to a discount linen store - well before the days of Linens 'N' Things or Bed, Bath, & Beyond - and bought loud floral matching bedspreads. I kept mine until about four years ago when it was destroyed during a concert picnic.

Last night Rachael finished reading The Trial of Socrates and answered the assigned essay question due tonight as part of a two-day pre-orientation program she's attending. She was disciplined and focused and though she didn't do it on my schedule, she got it done with time to spare. In other words, she didn't do it as I did, but she "did good."

Earlier today my husband and I moved Rachael into her dorm room at Hendrix College. She and I had seen the dorm during her interview/visit in January, and we'd downloaded the floorplan last month, but it's huge! You could easily fit my dorm room into hers two times over. It was tense for perhaps a few moments, but as soon as I found something she needed in one of her boxes, it was Chillsville. A markedly different experience from the one I had with my parents back in 1978. Thank god.

She and her roommate have spoken several times in the last six weeks or so; they didn't do matching linens (I don't know why) but shared color schemes. Harley's bringing the area rug and refrigerator. Rachael brought the TV and a large bookcase my husband set up for her before we left. The room has a sink, and can be configured in a variety of ways. As it's set up now, bunks are set over desk/computer terminal spaces, but I imagine that will change in future weeks.

Harold had to drive back to Dallas in the rented Suburban we needed for All The Stuff, so we rented a car for me before he left as I'm staying for parent orientation. He's just stopped on the road for a bite to eat and I'm going out to get one myself. Oops...I just got a text message from Rachael asking me for the mattress pad I suggested we buy last week. I guess I'll be picking one up at the Target down the street before seeing her on Tuesday.

When I get home Wednesday night, I plan to open a bottle of wine and share a toast of this wonderful milestone. It's been a long time coming.


August 11, 2010

Still Reading After All These Years

When I finished reading Anne Stuart's The Wicked House of Rohan and Ruthless, it occurred to me that she is one of a very select group of authors I've continued reading since discovering the joys of romance novels in 1993. Of the select group of others, most fell by the wayside immediately or almost immediately. I read 23 books by 13 authors the first year I read romance, and Anne Stuart is the only one I continue to follow oh-so-closely. I don't read all of her romantic suspense, but have read every one of her Ice books and nearly all of her historicals (and have TBR some of her very old category titles). Lisa Kleypas and Teresa Medeiros are nearly auto-buys, but much less read.

Rather than going year by year, let me list my most frequent romance DIK authors (from most to fewest multiple DIKs), whether or not I continue to buy and/or read them, and if not, how long they lasted. It's not a tremendously large list, so it shouldn't take that long.

Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, with 11 DIKs, the 11th added just last year with 2009's Promises in Death: I discovered Roberts in 1997 but didn't read her as J.D. Robb until 2006. I continue to read her as the latter, not so much the former.

Julie Garwood, with 9 DIKs: I read Garwood's 1993-published Castles in 1994, beginning a string of DIK reads. Sorry to say, but I gave her up when she moved into romantic suspense in 2000. She wrote another historical a couple of years ago, and though I bought it, it remains unread.

Catherine Coulter, with 5 DIKs: Coulter was among the thirteen authors I read in 1993. While her quality varied from terrific to horrendous - and some sub-genres went off-limits quickly - I continued to read her Regency-set historicals long after most, stopping after Pendragon, with 25 books by her under my belt..

Kathryn Lynn Davis and Anne Stuart, both with 3 DIKs: If Kathryn Lynn Davis hadn't stopped publishing with Somewhere Lies the Moon, no doubt I'd have continued to read her. As for Stuart, she continues to amaze me.

Connie Brockway, Christina Dodd, Jillian Hunter, Mary Alice Monroe, Julia Quinn, Deborah Simmons, and Katherine Sutcliffe, all with 2 DIKs: I have several of Brockway's books TBR and will probably buy her again. As for Dodd, I continued to read her long after she and her closest attacked my integrity, and that of AAR, but at some point I realized I could no longer give any author business if she actively tried to destroy my website. Eventually that extended to Julia Quinn, whose behavior was more subversive. She was the only author contacted in 2007 to participate in AAR's 10th anniversary who refused, and unless she hears of this, she probably has no idea that I know why. (Hey, as a private citizen, I'm no longer obligated to take the high road.)

I continue to buy and read Jillian Hunter, even though it's been two years since reading Wicked as Sin, which I thought was only slightly better than average. I only fell in love with Mary Alice Monroe in 2002, and until last year's Last Light Over Carolina, she'd consistently blown me away. I look forward to her next book.

Deborah Simmons only recently returned to publishing after a hiatus, and I continue to buy her books, though it's been a while since I've read one. Finally...Katherine Sutcliffe, who stopped publishing in 2005. I stopped reading her after My Only Love, which I liked, mainly because her books' premises stopped interesting me and I knew she was capable of some real clinkers. Then too, she became the poster child for Bad Author Behavior. I felt she was misunderstood and tried to help her navigate what was at the time uncharted territory, and it exhausted me.

What other authors have been published for a very long time whom I continue to read today? The first who comes to mind is Mary Balogh. I didn't "get" Balogh until 2001, but my favorite book by her to date was just published this summer: A Secret Affair. She's been published since 1985, Linda Howard is another long-published author to have thrilled me fairly recently - with her Blair Mallory books. Though I only first read her in 1999, she was first published in 1982, so

Other authors published way back when whom I read for quite a while, even if none of their books ever earned DIK status: Let's start with Loretta Chase, whose 1995 "classic," Lord of Scoundrels I only first read in 2006. More than a decade after publishing LOS, she published Your Scandalous Ways, which I truly enjoyed, and I happily look forward to reading both back-list and subsequent releases as time permits. Chase's first book, btw, was published in 1987. Next up: Patricia Oliver, who died several years ago. She's the only Trad Regency author I "got" for many years, and deserves mention simply for that reason. Also, Lorraine Heath and Leanne Banks - both of whom I continue to buy if only rarely read - and Elizabeth Lowell, Ruth Langan, and Jill Barnett, all for whom I have multiple books TBR, even though I stopped buying them some time ago.

I'm sure I've left out many authors I'll later wish I'd included, buts it's time for the flip side, and a few long-time authors I eventually gave up on. Obviously there are many, many, oh-so many I can't possibly list them all, but these three came to mind for three different reasons, so I'm listing them: JAK/Amanda Quick, Marilyn Pappano, and Elizabeth Bevarly. I read many books by each of these authors, and gave up on Krentz/Quick when she eventually became derivative of heself. As for Pappano, while I have many from her backlist, and even am a fan of books following Season for Miracles in her Bethlehem series, once I subsequently read SFM, I was turned off so strongly that I never bought another of her books. With Bevarly the reasons are many, and not all are book-related. Apparently I do hold a grudge. 'Nuff said.

After writing all this, it amazes me that Anne Stuart, Mary Balogh, and J.D. Robb continue to thrill after so many years in print. I look forward to additional greatness from them, others on my list, such as Loretta Chase, Linda Howard, Lisa Kleypas, and Terersa Medeiros, and still others - from Madeline Hunter (whose first book came out a full decade ago!), to Elizabeth Hoyt to Rhyannon Byrd to Cherise Sinclair - whose careers are not yet as long-lived. And if Sinclair's name comes out of thin air, know that I rarely write about the erotic romance I read, although that will likely change in the very near future.



The following is a note I originally wrote and posted onto my Facebook page in February. Today for some reason I am waxing nostalgic on the experience; perhaps it remains close to the front of my memory after talking about it a couple of weeks ago with some of my mom's oldest friends, who are practically like parents to me, while we were in L.A. (pre-cruise).

I've lived in Texas since I was a college freshman, and being from California, had no clue what BBQ was all about. My mom always sauced her steaks prior to cooking, so the concept of eating plain meat never appealed. My husband, a Texan through and through, gave up in his efforts years ago of trying to convince me to partake of BBQ at his favorite joints whenever we drove through Central Texas, but when I took our daughter on a college road trip, I decided to give it a try. She loves the stuff, my husband loves the stuff, and as I've since come over to their side re: coffee (coffee flavored coffee) and chocolate (dark), perhaps it was time to give myself over to the meat.

While on our way from Austin to Georgetown late last month, we drove to Taylor and the wholly unprepossessing Mueller's Market, where I'd planned on simply ordering my usual sausage. That was my plan until the woman behind the counter put a morsel of glistening brisket on my tray...and I ate it. OMG, I had a foodgasm right then and there and changed my order. My daughter was so proud of me she announced to everyone that this was my first "real" bite of BBQ.

After calling my husband and yelling at him for simply not stuffing my mouth full of the stuff years ago, I went over the eating experience in my mind. For days. I love caramelized food...from onions and carrots and a nice crust on a medium rare steak to actual caramel. The brisket at Mueller's was simply sublime. Crusty, fatty, melt-in-your-mouth meat.

When I found out last week I wasn't working from Tuesday through Friday, I told my husband and he asked me to drive down to Austin with him for those days. He had some legal CLE and I could have the car during the day to do whatever I wanted. I jumped at the chance - and not only because I suspected we could work in some BBQ - and we had a nice drive down there, stopping, of course, in West at the Czech Stop.

Let me break in at this time to say that it's always baffled me that Texans are so jingoistic about their state. Part of it, I'm convinced, is almost Jungian, though instead of a collective unconscious there is a collective map. It's impossible to drive through West, for instance, without stopping at the Czech Stop...everyone I know who lives in Texas knows the place and can name their favorite kolache.

When Rachael and I drove home from Georgetown to Dallas, we, of course, stopped there, to surprise her dad with his favorite cottage cheese kolaches. We varied from our usual, which is his usual; I got blueberry cream cheese and they were unbelievable when warm. As for the collective mapism, here's mine: I far prefer the market to the bakery, even though the kitchen is shared. I dunno why.

But I digress. This collective map includes BBQ. Texans love their beef. My daughter has always loved both fruit and meat, and my husband first introduced her to BBQ prime rib years ago. Again, I'd demurred. Stoopid, stoopid me.

BBQ in Texas is a lunch-time affair. The best places sell out some time in the afternoon, so unless I drove to Lockhart while my husband was in his classes, we were probably going to have to settle for what some people believe is terrific stuff; BBQ at the Salt Lick, which my husband deems "commercial."

The first thing I noticed? That they ruined the meat, even the end piece in all its crusty glory by glopping sauce all over it. But, as my husband said, if I was going to truly try BBQ, I had to try a variety. Yes, this was better than the stuff you can buy in Dallas, but it was not foodgastic by a long shot.

By the time we'd finished our meal, our plans had changed; instead of his staying in class all day Friday, he'd omit the afternoon session and we'd drive 40 minutes out of our way to Lockhart, and two, or if necessary, three, of the BBQ markets he'd frequented for years that always seem to fall off the lips of Texans when they discuss, nay, argue, BBQ.

Meat-a-pooluza commenced at 12:30 when we hit the road. We drove up to Kreuz's Market shortly after one and ordered brisket - an end cut - and some sausage. Unlike Mueller's which supplies trays, this is totally old school; butcher paper only, and instead of the oven above-ground, a pit of fire that hits you in the face as you walk from the meat room to the "dining" room.

Kreuz Market

Kreuz firepit

Kreuz butchering order

Kreuz brisket & sausage

I took my first bite of brisket as soon as we sat down and immediately knew this was better than what we'd eaten at Salt Lick, but was disappointed that it didn't live up to Mueller's. Was this yet again a case of First as Favorites, applied to meat rather than authors? After all, Kreuz tends to rank higher up on most lists of BBQ than Mueller's, although, to be fair, it's the latter with a James Beard award.

Regardless, I enjoyed the brisket, but didn't love it. The sausage was very different than any other sausage I'd ever eaten in a BBQ joint; it wasn't smooth on the inside. It was very textured and you could see bits of spice and fat and much darker meat. It was yummy, but it was time to move on.

We then drove for the two minutes it takes to get to Smitty's, where another pit of fire hits you in the face...this time the moment you walk in the door. We order both brisket and prime rib, so much of it that I felt like a glutton. We sat down...I dug in. OMG, the mouthgasm was back with a vengeance.


Smitty's firepit

Smitty's butchering order

Smitty's brisket & prime rib

The brisket was thisclose in goodness to what I remembered at Mueller's, and far better than what we'd had at Kreuz's. It was all in the rub of spices. And then I took a bit of the prime rib, which I still can't quite figure out - how in hell can you smoke meat for hours and have it be medium rare in the middle?

If the brisket wasn't quite, quite, quite as good as Mueller's the fact that Mueller's doesn't serve prime rib put Smitty's over the top in my book. Both briskets were crispy, fatty pieces of deliciousness - but the prime rib was as buttery as prime rib, yet at the same time smokey. My mouth was confused but ultimately very, very happy.

It was not necessary to move on to Black's, which my husband was prepared to do had I not been satisfied with what I'd sampled. We packed up what was left, drove past the cool courthouse (at least we think it was the courthouse), then returned to Austin where we broke our nearly four-year art glass ban at Austin Art Glass, a gallery I'd spied the day before. Here are the pieces we bought as installed on a wall in our home.

As if that weren't enough, my husband decided we should walk across the street to the airstream trailer that had a revolving cupcake atop it and buy a couple of cupcakes for the road. I've never had a designer cupcake, but know that the Central Market vanilla/vanilla buttercreams are damned good, so that's what I went for. The DH chose a red velvet, and we left to come home. Of course, given the cupcakes, there was no reasonable reason to stop at West, but it did occur to me that I now have kind of have an inkling of why Texans are such Texanists.

When I told Rachael about the particular the prime rib...I got a big, fat, knowing "I told you so."

Earlier this year, but after Meat-a-pooluza (and my note on Facebook), the Travel Channel aired a show called Food Wars, and one of the battles was between Kreuz and Smitty's. They judged on brisket and sausage, and it was tied until the very last judge, who basically flipped a coin. Kreuz won...and I lost interest in Food Wars. Clearly, they got it wrong, and clearly, after an entire adult lifetime lived in Texas, I feel as though I'm (finally) one. Well, except for that whole Rick Perry thing.


August 10, 2010

Ruthless by Anne Stuart


Anne Stuart

Grade: B

Historical Romance

If you're old enough to remember the 80s, you might recall the Eurotrash excess of those wacky Germans, the Prince and Princess Thurn and Taxis. For a decade now now I've considered the hero of Gaelen Foley's Prince Charming the historical romance version of modern Eurotrash. It's time for Prince Rafael de Fiore to move've been replaced by Francis Rohan, le Comte de Giverney, from Anne Stuart's Ruthless.

Read this review in its entirety at Amazon. It is not a Vine review; the publisher sent me a digital copy.


August 9, 2010


Over the weekend I posted my download wish list, and forgot altogether the original CD that spurred the list's creation while on vacation: the Talking Heads' True Stories album. It wasn't until we re-watched Byrne's movie of the same name earlier this summer that I realized my iTunes Talking Heads collection was woefully inadequate and should also have included Hey Now and Love for Sale, as well as this classic, among others:

Every time I hear Wild, Wild Life I hear John Goodman (near the start of his career) telling David Byrne as narrator that "I'm 6' 3" and maintain a consistent panda bear shape."

Coming later today, at least one review, and possibly two.


August 8, 2010

Available BE

I decided to actually list the BE eye colors I have that I'd love to have find another home. All have been opened...I think...but most have never been used, or used once, and with clean brushes. If you are interested in any of these, please let me know and for postage and a pittance, I'll send it/them to you.

  • Enchanting glimpse - dusty pink (not currently available through BE)
  • Idol shadow - dusty/smokey purple color (not currently available through BE)
  • Sincerely, Donna glimmer - mauvey, beige with green iridescence (not currently available through BE)
  • Hyacinth glimpse - light silver lavender
  • Emotion glimmer - deep, cool-toned purple
  • Freedom shadow - medium teal-blue
  • Aubergine blush - described as shimmery rose pink, but to me it looks very warm toned (small sample size, yours for postage only)
  • Smokey Sequins liner shadow - dark, smokey violet purple with glitter, kit-sized
  • Praise glimpse - deep blue-gray
  • Plush Purple shadow - mulberry plum, kit-sized
  • 1990s glimmer - smokey plum
  • Ulta brand Amethyst eyeshadow - plum (very warm toned)


House...and Bare Escentuals (Looking for some?)

When House first came on the air several years ago, it captivated my family. We loved the misanthropic House, and one of the very few things we did together during that time in our lives was sitting down to watch it every week. And then in its last moments an episode turned me off the show so profoundly I stopped watching.

Since Rachael came home for the summer, she's happily watched the House marathons that air Saturday nights on Bravo. Early this summer I worked closing most Saturdays and returned home most midnights to find her and her dad ensconced on the couch, catching up on what they'd missed over the years (and re-watching episodes they'd already seen).

While my interest level never returned to that pre-horrendous episode level - and regardless of the show's medical accuracy - I never returned to my original level of interest, as the summer progressed and bookstore hours became fewer and more far between, I started to join them for those Saturday night marathons. Even after Rachael "got a life," (hooray!) and was no longer home on Saturday nights, my husband and I continued the ritual.

Last night Rachael was home, and as my husband is preparing for trial, it was just the two of us on the couch. We were engrossed in the 11:00 episode, Meaning, co-starring Kathleen Quinlan (from that perfect summer flick, Lifeguard, with Sam Elliott at his hunkiest, and also the star of that Private Benjamin movie-of-the-week rip-off She's In the Army Now) and then that last moment happened...again. I jumped up off the couch and practically screamed at the TV: "Now I remember why I stopped watching this show!" Forget how House didn't need Cuddy's permission to give the patient a shot of cortisol, once in the last moments Wilson suggests keeping from House that the simple shot allowed a nearly vegitative man in a wheelchair to walk again after eight years and hug his wife and son because it would only feed his ego - and she agrees - I could no longer tolerate another second. My daughter, dumbfounded, was shocked at my "passionate" response, and since it was now midnight, I left her to her own devices but was too wound up to sleep.

Instead, I reorganized my make-up drawer. BTW, if any of you are looking for some never used, others rarely used, Bare Escentuals eye colors, let me know and I'll send you a list of what's available so I can mail your choices for a pittance...basically postage and perhaps a tiny bit more. While I'm keeping plenty, many of the colors I bought once upon a time are either too dark for me now, or aren't cool toned enough to really suit me (particularly now that I've bought several more suitable purple and gray shades from Aromaleigh in their going-out-of-business sale - thanks again for the tip last month, Suzi). I've got plenty of colors in the purple/plum range, as well as several pinkish toned colors.


August 7, 2010

New Download Wish List


August 6, 2010

Talk Dirty To Me by Ginny Glass and Inez Kelley

Talk Dirty To Me

Ginny Glass and Inez Kelley

Grade: C

Contemporary Erotic Romance

Ginny Glass and Inez Kelley's Talk Dirty To Me continues my losing streak of this premise: Hunky guy accidentally discovers an uptight heroine yearning to get her full freak on, and tries to fulfill her fantasies either anonymously or without revealing his knowledge of her secret desires. What hinders this particular story is that Nora MacGregor is too often a pill and too much word count is devoted to the Jarod/James "secret." The result is not enough of a non-annoying Nora and an over-abundance of Jarod acting like a spurned lover once he realizes that James, his "talk dirty to me" telephone alter ego, is as much of a lure to her as he is in the more romantic flesh. Not that Jarod as Jarod didn't present his own problem for me; his literary references to James Joyce (he's a literature professor to her biology PhD candidate) canceled a great deal of the story's eroticism because of their purple proseyness.

Read this review in its entirety at Amazon. It is not a Vine review; the publisher sent me a digital copy.


August 5, 2010

Penguin...why don't you want me at your party?

I worked last night for the first time since going on vacation, and saw that in celebration of Penguin's 75th anniversary, they are offering through B&N a "buy one, get second 50% off" sale on specific books. That's terrific, you say. Well, it would be if that sale extended to all readers of Penguin books. Unfortunately, it only applies to those who buy print versions. Those of us who prefer digital reading material are not included in Penguin's celebration.

Just this morning I read in this week's Newsweek that the average production cost for an e-book is fifty cents, which I kept in my mind when perusing some of the titles from the sale that garnered my interest.

Although I have a B&N membership, I'm not going to include any extra discounts in this little experiment. So, let's see...I've had my eye on Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind for some time. The B&N price online is $11.52. To download the digital version, I'd pay $12.99. As for the second book, while we already have a print copy of Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, I wouldn't mind having a digital copy. B&N's online price is $10.80. The e-book sells for $12.99.

The Penguin discount is not based on the online price but on the list price, so Pollan's book, after the 50% discount, comes to $7.50. The total for both books in celebration of Penguin's 75th anniversary? $19.02, a very nice price for two trade paperbacks. Unfortunately, as a digital reader I am not invited to the party. My price would be $25.98 - nearly $7 more.

Let's try another duo, shall we? Three Cups of Tea sells very well at the bookstore. To buy Greg Mortenson's non-fiction book in print, my online price at B&N is $9.36. Once again, the digital download is $12.99. Tanya French's In the Woods also sells well; the online price is $8.25...yet again the digital price is $12.99. After application of the 2nd book discount - which puts French's book at $7.50 - the total is $16.86. The digital price comes to $25.98. Penguin seems to be telling me, quite loudly, that it is holding its nose to sell me e-books. Rather than inviting me to its 75th anniversary celebration, it is telling me I can't participate, and as a result, I would be charged more than $9 more to read the same books a print customer would.

If my previous blog on the topic didn't send you over the edge, I imagine this one just did.

None of this should reflect badly on B&N. The publishers who went with the agency model set their own e-book prices and do not allow sellers to discount digital content. On the other hand, discounting of print books occurs everywhere - from your local bookstore to your local CVS.


August 4, 2010

The Last Days of a Rake by Donna Lea Simpson

The Last Days of a Rake

Donna Lea Simpson

Grade: B

Historical Fiction

I've long been a fan of Donna Simpson. Her traditional Regency, Lord St. Claire's Angel, is among my all-time favorite trads, and is actually responsible (along with Anne Gracie's Tallie's Knight) for turning me into a rabid trad reader nearly a decade ago. I also enjoyed Lady Anne and the Howl in the Dark and was frustrated when it did not result in a series as expected.

Earlier this summer I finally activated my long-dormant membership, and among the first stories I asked to read were Simpson's Love and Scandal, and its "companion piece," The Last Days of a Rake, a free download available at Carina Press, the digital-only imprint from Harlequin. Most people would have read the full-length book first, but I like to whet my appetite when possible with shorter stories, and TLDOAR indeed hit the spot. This death-bed confession of a cad and roué should be required reading for those of us who romanticize rakes. If you've adored more than a few reformed rake romances in the past - and who hasn't? - I think you'll be captivated by this first-person narrative, in which the dying Edgar Lankin traces his rise as a man devoted to slaking his desires and eventually falling into loneliness and self-loathing.

He purposely plots as part of his debauchery the ruination each Season of a beautiful young woman simply because he can. This raises the stakes as the reader realizes she's reading about a thoroughly selfish and unlikable character, and while Lankin remains a small man throughout, his efforts at redemption after he hits rock bottom (think the scene in Inception of the opium-like den) are filled with poignance because of their futility. And because he knows they're futile.

Simpson's novella is serious, thoughtful, and well-written. It packs a punch in a limited word count and I look forward to reading the full-length book it accompanies.

I reviewed this book after receiving a digital copy from the publisher.


The Wicked House of Rohan by Anne Stuart

The Wicked House of Rohan

Anne Stuart

Grade: B-

Historical Romance

In The Wicked House of Rohan, the prequel to Anne Stuart's House of Rohan series, the author continues to push the boundary of "appropriate behavior" in terms of her heroes, whom I've for years argued define Heroes on the Edge. I read the e-book as a free download, which it continues to be as of this writing at Amazon for Kindle, and it served its purpose well as an appetizer by whetting my appetite for the series, which begins with Ruthless, on sale just a few days ago. I've already read it and you can look for my review shortly.

Read this review in its entirety at Amazon. It is not a Vine review; the publisher sent me a digital copy.


August 3, 2010

Spending Spree

Yesterday I tweeted that I'd put myself on a Starbucks ban for a year in order to pay off the jewelry I bought during our cruise last week to Mexico. None of the pieces alone are very expensive, but even after dickering, which resulted in a pair of "free" earrings, it all added up. Although each piece was worth it, I liken the overall experience to binge eating. After years of deprivation and scaling back, I went a little crazy.

It appears as though, after all these years, my "thing" is watches. For my husband it's long been pens, and his collection is gorgeous. My watch collection consists of a few expensive watches given to me as a teenager - none of which I've actually worn in almost twenty years - along with a couple of inexpensive Swatch watches I bought in the middle-late 80s, and before this summer, an equally old Fossil watch now belonging to my daughter. will not give her the expensive ones, even if I don't wear them, no matter how much she begs. She can wait until I'm dead for those.

But, as always, I digress. After discovering the quite costly "Omega watch of my dreams" a couple of years ago, I attempted to locate a reasonably priced version. I found one - a man's watch - but the face, at 40mm, was too large for me, or so I thought, and the woman's version was not large enough. In the end I bought not one watch, but two. The blog entry I linked to earlier depicts the first watch I bought...which I later gifted to my daughter when I located the second watch (view on the right), which has been my actual day-to-day watch ever since, on deep discount at Kohl's. The craze for women wearing large-faced watches was just about to hit, so my buying a man's watch turned out to be a very good thing.

In addition to this diving watch, which glows in the dark and allows me to tell time in the middle of the night when I'm not sleeping, I have a tank-style watch from Talbot's that I've owned for many years. So my actual collection consisted of just two wearable watches. Now I've got three...the third I bought on sale on the cruise ship, and while the price I paid was less than what it sells for at Zappos, I didn't quite get the deal I thought. Still, it's lovely - a little blingy - and out of the ordinary, and you can see it to the left. Apparently I go for big watches, which is odd because my taste in jewelry otherwise tends toward the delicate.

I love tanzanite, and I love opals, and the combination of both is irresistible. My first pair of tanzanite earrings were bought on a cruise to Alaska with my extended family in 2003. At that time tanzanite offered a terrific opportunity for buying a gemstone that often looked like sapphire, but at a much lower price. Since there is only one tanzanite mine and it will be completely barren by 2020, prices have steadily risen over the years; it remains far less costly than sapphire, but it's no longer all that affordable, which is why I've moved on to iolite, a gorgeous stone, but one mined in fairly small pieces so that while the jewelry made from it is lovely, it's more lovely for the design than any single stone. My husband bought me a gorgeous, delicate necklace a few years ago with small, oval stones attached to strands of white gold chain, and I am consistently complimented on it as it rarely leaves my neck, but the possibility of finding tanzanite and opal together in Mexico really got my juices flowing, and when I hit the stores in Puerto Vallerta, I went into overload almost immediately.

But when Abraham at the seventh store didn't have quite what I was looking for in terms of color and cut, he sent me to his brother down the way, and even then, the brother needed to run between three stores to help me find just the right pieces. I'd gone in looking specifically for one ring, but ended up with a bracelet as well, then "free" mystic green topaz earrings, and on the way out the door, a second ring, so deeply discounted he practically threw it at me.



I realize that dickering is part of the game, and even though I'd knocked the price of that second ring down by two-thirds, I'm sure I could have spent even less, but in the end, it's the jewelry I'll have, and while I can tell the story of the free earrings and the ring for a third of the original price, those bragging rights aren't nearly as important. Yes, I would likely have benefitted from having my daughter with me to possibly curb some impulses, but she failed to show at the appointed time and place to leave the ship - even with a half-hour grace period - so what could I do? She turned up by the time I returned to the ship two hours later, and I went back out with her so she could buy some of her own trinkets.

Included in that shorter visit - she just doesn't have my stamina - was a trip to Tanzanite International, where I saw the most stunning 20 karat stone that one would presumably buy simply as an investment. She fell in love with orange and red sapphires, which I didn't know existed, but they are as costly as the deep blue ones I adore, so we moved on. By the time we got back onboard, I'd bought her an adorable hat and she'd picked up a pair of RayBans, which satisfied her "thing" - sunglasses - as well as some "pile it on the forearm until there's no room left" bracelets and a necklace.

Yesterday morning I stopped at Starbucks for my last hurrah before taking her into the doctor, and after two sips, she asked what I'd gotten. I told her it was a plain latte and before I could stop her, she took a sip, meaning that my last hurrah ended before it began. Protestations aside, my choice to have her throw it out when she decided not to drink it herself was a good one because she was diagnosed with tonsillitis an hour later.

Actually, though, I'll have two more hurrahs in about a week. At the airport at LAX before boarding our plane back home, I tried to buy a latte. They charged me for two, and ten minutes later, when they still could not credit my Starbucks card, it was time to get on the plane. Yesterday when I called Starbucks to get a credit, I was told they could not do that, but instead would send me two coupons. When they arrive I plan to selfishly hoarde them, and in the interim, my husband will teach me how to use our espresso machine with which he makes me delicious lattes. I figure in a year I'll have paid for my spending was worth it.

And now it's time for me to start writing the five reviews for books I read on my Kindle last week.