October 29, 2010

Steve Tyrell in Concert

Music has always been a big part of our lives; both my husband and daughter live and breathe it, and while I don't have the knowledge or the talent they possess, I find magic in listening to music and watching it performed live.

One of our very first dates was a Ramsey Lewis concert at SMU's acoustically perfect McFarlin Auditorium. I may not have heard of him before that evening (you can forgive me...I was seventeen years old at the time), but I loved Earth, Wind & Fire, with whom he'd collaborated. Because I'd inherited my dad's love of jazz - he loved Pete Fountain and the entire New Orleans style of jazz - and because the piano is just about my favorite instrument (and I miss it in much of today's rock), I fell for Lewis's meld of R&B and jazz.

I mention the Ramsey Lewis concert because it occurred during fall of my freshman year. I may no longer be a freshman (does having a freshman count?), but we're smack dab in the middle of fall, and a Steve Tyrell concert more some 30 years later during the same time of year offers a certain symmetry that I find cozy.

I'd never heard of Steve Tyrell until we saw the remake of Father of the Bride. It, btw, is one of the few instances in which the re-make is as good as the original...the jury's still out on whether Father of the Bride II equals Father's Little Dividend, but as much as I liked The Way You Look Tonight from the first movie, his rendition of Give Me the Simple Life from the second captured my imagination, and when iTunes came to be several years later, Steve Tyrell was among the first few artists I downloaded.

Cut ahead many years on a long, long drive in Utah from Salt Lake City to a wilderness program in the middle of nowhere. We're listening to XM or Sirius radio on the rental car's radio of Steve Tyrell hosting a show about Burt Bacharach and playing cuts off his new CD, Back to Bacharach. By the time the show ended, we'd already stopped at a music store and bought it.

So when several weeks ago I heard about a Steve Tyrell concert on the radio, I called my husband, and as I'd hoped, he suggested I buy tickets. The concert was last night, at the historic Lakewood Theater, and it was oh-so lovely.

I hadn't realized until then that Tyrell began his career on the other side of the microphone way back when, working for Burt Bacharach, and that he only got into singing when producing the soundtrack for Father of the Bride. Apparently he recorded himself as filler and test audiences loved it so much that, in his 40s, he embarked on a new career as primarily an interpreter of the American Songbook.

I'm not sure I totally agree with his definition of a standard - using his logic both Highway to Hell and Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah are standards - but he sure can sing 'em. And the musicianship of his band - the arranger/piano player, keyboardist, drummer, bassist, and guitarist - really, really tight. One of the reasons I'm blown away at jazz concerts is the level of musicianship and how seamless it sounds, even if they're riffing. My favorite rock bands also feature fabulous musicians, but their skill can sometimes get lost in the sound and the theatrics of a live show.

What I love about Tyrell, Mel Torme, Michael Feinstein, and even Michael Bublé - and what is sometimes missing in modern music - is the interpretation. I don't actually listen to standards for the lyrics; for me it's the song in its entirety, or in how a certain phrase is sung, a piano bridge played, or a mood evoked. Come to think of it, that's how I judge music of any era.

I feel kind of unique in that regard. I can listen to a song over and over and over simply to hear a sigh, a wail of a saxaphone (I also miss horns) at a certain moment, or when a singer's voice goes thready and it fits the lyrics perfectly. I've talked to my husband and daughter about this, and they don't quite understand, but in a way these small sounds do for me what music on a far larger scale does for them, and for that I'm grateful.

But back to this specific concert...Steve Tyrell created an intimate atmosphere just perfect for his song list. The stories he wove around the songs were filled with love, about his two careers in music, the people he's met and collaborated with, and the woman he giddily introduced as his wife-to-be. IIRC, his first wife, also in the biz, died several years ago after a lengthy bout with cancer. His long experience as a producer - his attention to sound levels, timing, and the overall production of each number - only added to the musicality of the evening. The only off note for me was a special encore he sang to a woman celebrating her 95th birthday; it was corny, cheesy, and a teensy bit creepy, but his heart was in the right place.

I've a lifetime of concerts to store in my aural memory, from Elton John in 1976 (I know the year because Kiki Dee was his opening act), the Electric Light Orchestra in or around 1978, Mel Torme at the 1981 Playboy Jazz Festival (and if anyone knows where I can put my hands on his version of Come On-a My House, please let me know), Billy Joel multiple times, Les Paul at Fat Tuesdays during almost annual pilgrimages to NYC in the mid-late 1980s, David Benoit and Earl Klugh in the early 90s, Maroon 5 a few years ago, to Steve Tyrell last night, with many others in-between. How very lovely.


October 28, 2010

Whisper Falls by Toni Blake

Whisper Falls

Toni Blake

Grade: C

There's absolutely nothing wrong with Toni Blake's Whisper Falls. Both lead characters are nicely developed and each has a personal issue they work to overcome during the course of the story. That said, though, the book did nothing for me; I never felt the immense chemistry Tessa Sheridan shared with Lucky Romo, and as a result, labored to finish the book because of my commitment to review it.

Tessa Sheridan returned to small-town Destiny, Ohio after her newly-diagnosed Crohn's disease disrupted her interior design career. She bought a cabin and works part-time at the local bookstore while trying to start a small design business. Her first client is neighbor Lucky Romo, also recently returned to Destiny. He left after high school, got involved in an outlaw biker gang, and a decade after extricating himself from it, determines to make a real life for himself and be a father to the son he never knew he had. In the back of his mind, though, he worries that the leader of his old gang might seek him out and hurt him or those he loves because the crazy criminal holds a grudge. That's just one reason he hasn't sought out his parents or brother. The other is that they're part of the reason he left in the first place - after the death of his sister, he'd become the family's forgotten child.

At first Lucky intimidates Tessa; his reputation precedes him, and all those tattoos don't help. But Tessa yearns to rejoin the land of the living and stop being fearful; her motto might as well be "Just keep swimming," the line Ellen DeGeneris' character Dory is known for in Finding Nemo. Part of feeling alive includes feeling like a woman and being sexual, and though she knows Lucky is attracted to her, his staying away from her for her own good doesn't cut it for long. She asks her close friend Rachel, who's engaged to his brother Mike, to accompany her to a local dive owned by Lucky's friend and former biker gang compadre, and just as it appears she's convinced him to have his way with her, Mike arrives on the scene. Their family reunion goes badly, but later that night Lucky and Tessa finally become intimate.

Tessa plays a major role in his reunion with his parents, although Mike isn't buying what Lucky's selling until Rachel convinces him to listen to his little brother and hear what he has to say. Meanwhile, Lucky begins a relationship with his son, including Tessa as his girlfriend. Each remains tentative about sharing the bad along with the good, yet both profess their love and their relationship develops believably. But Lucky fears an annoying man from his past might mean trouble for his future. He's no longer the man he once was, yet when faced with danger, will he revert to form, and if he does, will "good girl" Tessa understand?

Nothing egregious about the storyline, right? Right. Toni Blake's journeyman effort fails in no particular way, although too-frequent musical references annoyed me for some reason. The author writes competently, but to use a musical reference of my own, "I felt nothing" while reading her book. It's not as though Tessa and Lucky are stereotypes, or that she doesn't create romantic moments for them - or that she tells rather than shows their love and their attraction. Even so, I never felt a connection to either of them, and nothing in the story surprised me as it unfolded. I keep turning pages in some books because I can't wait to see what happens next; in this instance I kept [virtually] turning them hoping something would happen out of the ordinary. But nothing did...and I felt nothing.

Whisper Falls won't be released until December; I read an advance copy provided by the publisher.


October 27, 2010

We Are Becoming Wylie E. Coyote

John Avlon writes in today's Daily Beast something I've long suspected given that I started working at Barnes and Noble almost immediately after the 2008 presidential election: Anti-Obama screeds fill our shelves in unprecedented numbers.

According to Avlon's article, at this point in Bush's presidency, just five anti-Bush books had hit the shelves. So far the tally for anti-Obama books stands at a whopping 42.

Let that sink in...and think about it. For a country led around by a liberal media, how is this conceivable?

That's not really the point, though...and I'll cop to it being a bit of a cheap shot. Avlon's actual point is that these "fear-mongering" books written for "personal and partisan profit" won't end with this election cycle. He argues that because politics tends to follow "the lines of physics - every action creates an equal an opposite reaction," welcome to the "new normal."

I'm going to take Avlon's argument further than he does, though, especially after viewing the actual book titles he lists. I've shelved them all at the bookstore and watched our conservative readership gobble them up during the past nearly two years, but seeing them listed one after another takes things to an altogether new level of crazy. Because we live in the Information Age, as these (please, please, please follow the money) screeds become the new normal, we risk inciting ourselves out of our "can-do" spirit and into a nation of cartoonish behavior wherein we become the Wylie E. Coyote of the First World, always searching for ways to "get" the metaphorical Roadrunner, but being unable to accomplish that - let alone doing the things that really matter - out of impotence. If you're looking for something to be scared about, I suggest worrying about this instead of a secretly Muslim, socialist president who wants to send our kids to the gulag.


October 26, 2010

Marvin "Bubbles" Strin

Marvin "Bubbles" Strin - IMDB page

Marvin "Bubbles" Strin (on the far left)

At a 1980 reunion (he's 4th from left on top row)


The Last Thing I Expected

The last thing I expected to see when I walked into the Verizon store on a Tuesday morning in Dallas, Texas, was Jason Bateman. Nobody else in the store realized it was him, but I did, and I think I did because I'm from Los Angeles, and very attuned to sighting celebrities.

When you grow up in the Los Angeles area, you see famous people at country clubs, grocery stores, and shopping malls. Sometimes you will even go to school with them. My sister went to high school with Maureen McCormack - aka Marcia Brady - and Lisa Kudrow and Dave Koz were a year behind me. My parents, active in liberal politics, often took my sister and I to fund-raisers where we'd see celebrities (even as a child I was a policy wonk and was thrilled to meet Senator Alan Cranston...years before he disgraced himself by being a member of the Keating Five). One night when I was in high school my parents came home from such an event and my mom literally gushed about meeting Warren Beatty, who was in his prime at the time. On the flip side, my parents were also at the Ambassador Hotel the night Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. They woke us up when they came home to share the horror of what they'd witnessed.

I'm not sure how often I mention this nowadays - I did write about it once on my old blog - but in the 1930s my dad supported his parents for more than a year when he played "Bubbles" in the Our Gang Comedies. There's no photo online, but I just located his his IMDB page. He was a very minor character, but it does make for an interesting conversation starter when I need one. Oh, and according to my cousin Jeanette, Herb Alpert is my sixth cousin, although given how far removed sixth cousins are, you might be as well.

Speaking of my cousin Jeanette, she worked in the entertainment industry for years, first in film and television, then in music. As a result I visited many a TV and film set; I met Jack Albert while he filmed a scene for The Poseiden Adventure and was lucky enough to meet all three leads in The Mod Squad; even though I was very young, even I knew how cute Michael Cole was.

After I moved to Texas, I realized my celebrity sightings were likely behind me. Over the years I've occasionally seen celebrities when out and about, but mostly through SMU, where I went to college and graduate school. I was lucky enough to sit on a panel with Jimmy Carter while in graduate school, met Bob Woodward when he gave a lecture, was lectured to by Milton Friedman...and one of the professors I chose to sit on my Master's thesis panel was famous locally, having been the political analyst for the Dallas ABC affiliate for many years.

The first time my husband visisted L.A., I told him we'd likely see somebody famous, and almost every time we visit, we see a celebrity. His virgin sighting was Morgan Fairchild, but perhaps the most exciting was actually meeting Gene Kelly at an event in Beverly Hills. By then I was already a fangirl for musicals and comedies of the 30s, 40s, and 50s, so it's something I'll never forget.

Two and a half years ago I went to L.A. to help take care of my mom, who was having major neck surgery, and my sister decided we needed a short break. We left the hospital for an hour or so to grab a cappuccino at a nearby restaurant. Not only was it the best damn coffee I've ever had, it was one of my best damn celebrity sightings. As we were waiting for the valet to bring our car, who did we see getting into his car? None other than Tom Selleck, who even in his 60s fills out a pair of blue jeans better than men half his age.

And then there was this sighting, at a pie shop in Sandy, a suburb of Salt Lake City, this past spring: My husband, daughter, and I saw Jamie Hyneman of TV's Mythbusters, a show on the Discovery Channel that explores urban myths but in actuality is an excuse for the guys who make the show to blow up things in a spectacular fashion. He lives in Salt Lake, but it seemed such an odd place to see somebody "famous" that neither my husband nor I will ever forget it. Rachael...not so much. BTW, after I tweeted about this experience, author Adele Ashworth informed me that she was once crowned Miss Sandy City; her picture hangs in city hall.

Adele is but one of a myriad of authors I was lucky enough to meet in my former incarnation as Laurie Likes Books. I think I'll leave it at that.


October 23, 2010

Old Movies

B&N's simply phenomenal DVD sale allowed me to buy The Producers and Blazing Saddles for my DH and The Princess Bride and Monty Python & the Holy Grail - for me - for just $28, using my membership (on sales like these, the employee discount isn't as good). I just swung by another B&N for a $6.21 copy of Emma (Paltrow and Northam...sigh) after ordering online Keira Knightley's Pride & Prejudice (although the ending is not true to the book, this is my favorite version - I know, heresy, but I think Matthew Macfadyen is to die for). The Knightley P&P, btw, set me back a mere $6.88...I also used coupons for the Austen adaptations.

All of this started last weekend when I worked music and Marie, one of our lead cashiers, came back to buy a bunch of sale DVD's. After I took a look at her booty, I decided it was time for me to get in on the action. She is far better than I am at discerning great values; during the last semi-annual employee sale, she bought an entire library worth of books for a pittance. It was impressive. I bow to Marie.

Anyway, I worked in Music again last night, and directed every customer to check out the sale; nearly everybody found something to buy. As for me, I noticed The Glass-Bottomed Boat among the sale DVD's, along with Nicholas & Alexandra. While I've read the latter probably a dozen times, the original price of $19.95 halved wasn't quite cheap enough for me, so I added it to my Netflix queue, along with Hello, Down There, a ridiculous movie from the 60s that I adore, one which pops into my head every time I think of The Glass-Bottomed Boat (probably because of the Doris Day/Tony "Have some Madeira, M'dear" Randall connection - I think he co-starred in each of her movies with Rock Hudson).

While I was at it, I looked for two more ridiculously fun flicks: The Impossible Years and Love in a Goldfish Bowl. The former, btw, starred a teen-aged Cristina Ferrare, once married to the infamous John deLorean, while starring in the latter was...wait for it...Fabian. Alas, neither of these is available on DVD at Netflix, or B&N or Amazon, although I could buy the Ferrare/Niven movie on VHS for a mere $145.

I don't know why I love so-bad-they're-good old comedies. I've got far better taste where musicals are concerned. Regardless, if you ever come across any of these three cheese-tastic choices - feel free to add Otto Preminger's The Moon Is Blue, once considered oh-so-shocking that it was banned in parts of the U.S. to this list - on TV, sit down and watch them. As for the Austen adaptations, which are your favorites?


October 22, 2010

The Debutante's Dilemma by Elyse Mady

The Debutante's Dielmma

Elyse Mady

Grade: B

When I requested The Debutante's Dilemma from Carina Press via netgalley, I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but the summary harkened back to the days of the Traditional Regency Romance, which I've missed desperately since Signet and Zebra cancelled the last two remaining imprints. I have a stack of un-read Trads that I turn to as palette cleansers - 11 made it onto my Top 100 Romances ballot - and with this one available digitally, couldn't wait to dive in.

In no way am I an expert in Trad Regencies, like Ellen Micheletti at AAR or my friends Cheryl Sneed or Myretta Robens from Pemberly, but after having read seventy or so in the last decade, I like to think I can "hear" a book written with a genuine Trad tone. I heard that tone in Elyse Mady's debut, although this is a most untraditional Trad Regency, something that doesn't become apparent immediately. But before I get ahead of myself, let me provide a brief synopsis:

Miss Cecilia Hastings is a diamond of the first water enjoying her First Season. Beautiful, intelligent, kind, and well-versed in all the feminine arts, two eligible men vie for her hand. Jeremy Battersley, the Earl of Henley, and Richard Huxley, the Duke of Wexford, fought together in Spain, and their friendship has lasted for twenty years, but both intelligent, handsome, and wealthy men are in love with Cecilia. At a crush during which Richard lets down his guard and allows Cecilia a glimpse of the depth of his feelings, Jeremy gives him the direct cut. Both are willing to forego their friendship in order to win Cecilia's hand, but she needs to know which man will give her the sort of passion she desires, the sort of passion her parents never experienced. And so she pens a letter to each, inviting them to a rendezvous to ask them for a real kiss.

I've left out some pertinent details, but until a moment at the previously-mentioned crush, the story reads as a strict Trad. And then a decidedly un-Trad-like word appears on the virtual page and I started to wonder just what I was reading. The narrative immediately returns to its Trad moorings, though, and it isn't until awhile later that it morphs from a Trad Regency into an Erotic Trad Regency.

Although the result is an untraditional Trad, it remained a surprisingly romantic read. That said, I couldn't help but wonder what would have happened had Mady written her story two ways, with the second following a traditional Trad path. I would have loved to have read it - more than I enjoyed this eroticized version - because I do so miss the Trad sub-genre. If the author, her editor, or her publisher gets wind of my assessment, I hope one day to read a true Traditional Regency Romance from Elise Mady because of her voice. My view may horrify most Trad lovers and/or readers who don't care for erotic romance, but there you have it.

The Debutante's Dilemma won't be released until November; I read an advance copy provided by the publisher.


October 21, 2010

My Eyes Really No Longer Have It

Until we took a family vacation to New York City and Washington, D.C. before I started the fourth grade, I had perfect vision. That summer, though, when I couldn't read the plaques at the National Archives, my parents realized I needed glasses, and it's been downhill ever since.

I just came from my fourth visit to the eye doctor in three months. For years I've hated going because my more than occasional inability to choose between "one" and "two" frustrates my doctor and embarrasses me, and because unlike most people whose eyes start to "even out" at a certain age, mine continue to get more nearsighted and astigmatic each and every year.

When I went in for my annual exam in August, I complained that my left eye didn't feel right when I wore my contacts. My doctor diagnosed chronic dry eye and started me on the obscenely expensive Restasis. The drops helped, but when I went to pick up my new prescription for contacts in early September, I couldn't see well out of them...and my left eye still felt strange. So he adjusted the prescription.

I picked up that pair of contacts a couple of weeks ago, and rather than waiting to try them on at home, I tried them on in his office, and lo and behold, I couldn't see well at all. The tech freaked me out and suggested all kinds of horrendous reasons why my eyes had gotten so bad in such a short period of time. But then I realized that she couldn't be right because I could still see relatively well with my glasses, which were one or two prescriptions old. So the problem couldn't be with my eyes, but rather with how the contacts fit them.

My doctor agreed, and that my left eye continued to feel very strange when wearing a contact lens indicated to him that I needed a different fit. Because of my nearsightedness and astigmatism, only one kind of contacts have been available to me for years, and when I reminded him that when I used to wear gas permeable lenses he had to send me to a lab for them to map my cornea, he decided that the curvature of my lenses needed to be increased. When I left his office early this month, it was with a right lens that provided reasonably good vision, albeit a bad fit, and with a left lens that in fact was over-correcting, and with a decidedly bad fit. I've walked around like that while waiting for the new lenses to arrive, which hasn't been at all pleasant, and today I picked them up.

I'm happy to report that my left eye no longer feels strange, and that with my new lenses my nearsighteness basically disappears. Unfortunately, the farsightedness that only recently cropped up - and only when I don't have enough light to read - is all of a sudden markedly worse. So much worse, in fact, that now I'm unable to use my smartphone easily. In response my doctor suggested keeping the right eye's contact lens as is while backing off on the correction for the left eye in order to balance the farsightedness he kept waiting to hit. After trying a variety of lenses, we settled on one. In the interim I'm going to keep those drugstore reading glasses I picked up awhile ago very close by, particularly while working when I need to read an ISBN because it won't scan.

Hard to imagine that in my small immediate family I'm the one with the best vision, isn't it?


Top 100 Romances

AAR is re-running the Top 100 Romances poll for the fifth time (and the first since I left the helm). Although I don't participate at AAR anymore (other than an occasional AAR After Hours blog comment), I decided to submit a ballot, and as my shift at the bookstore last night was cancelled, thought I'd take it off my to-do list. So I printed out my 2007 ballot, then listed all my DIK's and B+ reads, ordered and re-ordered, worked and re-worked it, and finished devising my revised, 2010 ballot before going to bed.

If this blog were more widely read, I'd hold off until after the poll closes, but as my daily average remains fairly constant with about 20 visitors, I'm in no danger of influencing the votes of others. As such, I'm listing it here, but won't actually submit it until right before the poll deadline in case I tweak it some more - and as I'm a known tweaker, that's a distinct possibility. And if I do tweak, I'll correct it here.

1. Castles by Julie Garwood, European Historical Romance
2. The Real Deal by Lucy Monroe, Contemporary Romance
3. The Secret by Julie Garwood, Medieval Romance
4. Bewitching by Jill Barnett, Fantasy Historical Romance
5. A Basket of Wishes by Rebecca Paisley, Fantasy Historical Romance
6. The Vicar's Daughter by Deborah Simmons, European Historical Romance
7. Velvet Bond by Catherine Archer, Medieval Romance
8. The Bride by Julie Garwood, Medieval Romance
9. The Lion's Lady by Julie Garwood, European Historical Romance
10. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Classic Fiction
11. Guardian Angel by Julie Garwood, European Historical Romance
12. A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught, Medieval Romance
13. To Die For by Linda Howard, Contemporary Romance
14. Born in Fire by Nora Roberts, Contemporary Romance
15. Mrs. Mike by Benadict and Nancy Freedman, Fictionalized Biography
16. Dawn's Awakening by Lora Leigh, SF Romance
17. Soulless by Gail Carriger, Steampunk Romance
18. To Love a Dark Lord by Anne Stuart, European Historical Romance
19. A Rose at Midnight by Anne Stuart, European Historical Romance
20. A Fire in the Heart by Katherine Sutcliffe, European Historical Romance
21. Once an Angel by Teresa Medeiros, Historical Romance
22. Lord St. Claire's Angel by Donna Simpson, Traditional Regency
23. The Ideal Bride by Nonnie St. George, Traditional Regency
24. A Family for Gillian by Catherine Blair, Traditional Regency
25. Tallie's Knight by Anne Gracie, Traditional Regency
26. Then Came You by Lisa Kleypas, European Historical Romance
27. Scoundrel by Elizabeth Elliott, European Historical Romance
28. The Rules of Seduction by Madeline Hunter, European Historical Romance
29. Lady Be Good by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Contemporary Romance
30. Saving Grace by Julie Garwood, Medieval Romance
31. A Secret Affair by Mary Balogh, European Historical Romance
32. Calypso Magic by Catherine Coulter, European Historical Romance
33. Moonspun Magic by Catherine Coulter, European Historical Romance
34. Midsummer Magic by Catherine Coulter, European Historical Romance
35. The Serpent Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt, European Historical Romance
36. The Last Rogue by Deborah Simmons, European Historical Romance
37. The Music of the Night by Lydia Joyce, European Historical Romance
38. Dream Fever by Katherine Sutcliffe, Frontier Historical (Australia)
39. How to Marry a Marquis by Julia Quinn, European Historical Romance
40. Chesapeake Blue by Nora Roberts, Contemporary Romance
41. A Dove at Midnight by Rexanne Becnel, Medieval Romance
42. The Secret Passion of Simon Blackwell by Samantha James, European Historical Romance
43. Naked in Death by J. D. Robb, Futuristic Romantic Suspense
44. Portrait in Death by J. D. Robb, Futuristic Romantic Suspense
45. Survivor in Dath by J. D. Robb, Futuristic Romantic Suspense
46. Ceremony in Death by J. D. Robb, Futuristic Romantic Suspense
47. Rapture in Death by J. D. Robb, Futuristic Romantic Suspense
48. Seduction in Death by J. D. Robb, Futuristic Romantic Suspense
49. Promises in Death by J. D. Robb, Futuristic Romantic Suspense
50. Ice Storm by Anne Stuart, Romantic Suspense
51. Breathless by Anne Stuart, European Historical Romance
52. A Well Pleasured Lady by Christina Dodd, European Historical Romance
53. Indiscretion by Jillian Hunter, European Historical Romance
54. My Dearest Enemy by Connie Brockway, European Historical Romance
55. Sea Swept by Nora Roberts, Contemporary Romance
56 My Favorite Bride by Christina Dodd, European Historical Romance
57. Jewels of the Sun by Nora Roberts, Contemporary Romance
58. Night Fire by Catherine Coulter, European Historical Romance
59. Splendid by Julia Quinn, European Historical Romance
60. The Prize by Julie Garwood, Medieval Romance
61. Fairy Tale by Jillian Hunter, European Historical Romance
62. Too Hot to Handle by Elizabeth Lowell - Category Romance
63. Rebellious Desire by Julie Garwood - European Historical Romance
64. Prisoner of My Desire by Johanna Lindsey - Medieval Romance
65. The Beach House by Mary Alice Monroe - Contemporary Romance/Women's Fiction
66. The Bargain by Jane Ashford, European Historical Romance
67. The Gift by Julie Garwood, European Historical Romance
68. Day Dreamer by Jill Marie Landis, Historical Romance
69. The Sherbrooke Bride by Catherine Coulter, European Historical Romance
70. Honor's Splendor by Julie Garwood, Medieval Romance
71. All Through the Night by Connie Brockway, European Historical Romance
72. The Wind from Hastings by Morgan Llywelyn, Historical Fiction
73. The Royal Mess by MaryJanice Davidson, Alternate Reality Romance
74. Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase, European Historical Romance
75. Smooth Talkin' Stranger by Lorraine Heath, Contemporary Romance
76. Phantom Waltz by Catherine Anderson, Contemporary Romance
77. The Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas, European Historical Romance
78. Captive of Sin by Anna Campbell, European Historical Romance
79. The Book of Scandal by Julia London, European Historical Romance
80. Only Mine by Elizabeth Lowell, Frontier Historical Romance
81. Winter Fire by Elizabeth Lowell, Frontier Historical Romance
82. The Heartbreaker by Rexanne Becnel, European Historical Romance
83. The Temporary Wife by Mary Balogh, Traditional Regency
84. The Obedient Bride by Mary Balogh, Traditional Regency
85. Married by Mistake by Melinda McRae, Traditional Regency
86. High Energy by Dara Joy, Contemporary Romance
87. The Anonymous Miss Addams by Kasey Michaels, Traditional Regency
88. A Highly Respectable Widow by Melinda McRae, Traditional Regency
89. Scandalous Secrets by Patricia Oliver, Traditional Regency
90. Derik's Bane by MaryJanice Davidson, Urban Fantasy Romance
91. Shadow Touch by Marjorie Liu, Urban Fantasy Romance
92. The Darkest Night by Gena Showalter, Urban Fantasy Romance
93. Fair Game by Diane Farr, Traditional Regency
94. Ecstasy by Jacquelyn Frank, Urban Fantasy Romance
95. Edge of Hunger by Rhyannon Byrd, Urban Fantasy Romance
96. Lion in Love by Elizabeth Lapthorne, Contemporary Erotic Romance
97. Fever by Kimberly Dean, Contemporary Erotic Romance
98. Against the Wall by Rhyannon Byrd, Contemporary Erotic Romance
99. Duncan's Bride by Linda Howard, Category Romance
100. Chain Lightning by Elizabeth Lowell, Category Romance

Numbers 1 - 71 reflect all my romance DIK's (most that are hybrids didn't make the list, although at least one - The Wind from Hastings - did). Ranking them, and deciding which of my B+ reads to include was the toughest part, as was the decision to eliminate any short stories this time around.

With the exception of my J.D. Robb picks, I'm confident that my ballot will bear little resemblance to the final poll results. That said, have you started working on your ballot, how do you feel yours will match up, and if you've participated in an earlier poll (or all of them), how different is today's?


October 20, 2010

In the Dark of Dreams by Marjorie M Liu

In the Dark of Dreams

Marjorie M. Liu

Grade: D

It pains me to write this, but I think Marjorie Liu's Dirk & Steele series jumped the shark with In the Dark of Dreams. Like all the books in this series, I couldn't put it down, but unlike my experience with the earlier installments - which kept me continually turning the page out of excitement - this time I couldn't stop reading because I couldn't figure out what the hell fuck was going on. Liu eventually makes sense of it all near the book's end, but by that time my frustration level was through the roof. Equally as annoying is that Liu chose this book to explain the genesis of The Consortium, and to connect some of the previous stories' loose ends. Long-time readers of the series deserved a better vehicle for this information.

Jenny first encountered Perrin on the beach when both were children and for many years the merman and the woman whose history is littered with pain shared each others dreams. But when he was exiled and forced to go to land, their connection ended...until Jenny, who works as a marine biologist for the legitimate off-shoot of her family's nefarious business, discovered the body of a dead mermaid. The death triggers a chain of events that could have cataclysmic results for humanity. It forces Perrin to seek out Dirk & Steele and links Jenny to him once again.

To say that Perrin suffers from self-loathing puts it mildly; to say that he is reviled by other paranormals who live in the sea is also true, but Liu takes forever to state his case. Until then he comes across simply as a tortured seven-foot albino with startlingly blue eyes who will do anything to protect Jenny and save the world. Which is laudable, of course, but without context his strangeness mostly seems...strange.

As for Jenny, after the death of the mermaid she goes diving and a parasite of some sort attaches itself to the base of her skull. She becomes violently ill, and as the parasite becomes a part of her, she begins to change. For a good half the book I wanted to scream, "Jenny, tell Perrin about the goddamned parasite!!!", but it's only much later that the author reveals why she did not and could not. I've not even hit upon the danger to Jenny by a long-time friend and members of her family, which prompts Perrin to rescue her, but that's because - once more - motives are revealed in such a piece-meal fashion.

The book is filled with action and death, and the interaction with Dirk & Steele agents is limited to the pyrokinetic Eddie and Rik the dolphin shifter, the latter of whom harbors a deep hatred of Perrin. As with most of the important facts that the author fails to divulge early on, we learn quite late how familiar Jenny is with Dirk & Steele, its history, and its members. If it was Liu's intention to keep readers as off balance as her lead characters, she succeeded...but not in a good way.

I realize I'm sounding like a broken record, but Jenny and Perrin's connection only began to make sense to me quite late in the story. Yes, throughout the book references are made to their childhood meeting and their dreams of one another, but I never felt them as a couple until they actively work together to prevent that cataclysm. As for a sexual charge between them, once more Liu delays their coming together. That's not been a problem for me in some of the other books in this series, but because I remained clueless for so long, and because Perrin remains so mysterious, I had no real interest in them as a couple until shortly before the book ended.

What saves the book from total failure is that when all the threads tie together in the last fifth, when it all falls into place and makes sense, the story became the magical read I'd looked for all along. Unfortunately, my frustration level by then was impossible to mitigate. I'll give Liu one more Dirk & Steele book to redeem herself, but unless she writes the book of her life, I'm giving up the series for good.

In the Dark of Dreams won't be released until December; I read an advance copy provided by the publisher.


October 19, 2010

Queen of Your Own Life by Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff

Queen of Your Own Life

Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff

Grade: C


Queen of Your Own Life would have been a five-star magazine article, but there's not enough content to justify a full book. Kathy Kinney, who portrayed horny librarian Miss Goddard on Newhart and Mimi on The Drew Carey Show to perfection, co-wrote the book with her long-time friend Cindy Ratzlaff, who created the marketing plans for more than a hundred NYTimes bestsellers. The book features "the seven bet gifts a woman can give herself": 1)Claim your beauty and feel your power; 2) Clean your mental closet and find your queen voice; 3) Admire yourself for who you've become; 4) Build deep, fulfilling frienships with other women; 5) Establish firm boundaries that will strengthen all your relationships; 6) Learn the simple trick to finally being happy; and 7) Proclaim yourself queen of your own life.

Read this Amazon Vine review in its entirety at Amazon.


Second Chances by Lauren Dane

Second Chances

Lauren Dane

Grade: B-

I've previously read two books by Lauren Dane: Laid Bare and Sweet Charity. While the romance in the former eventually included more than two in a bed, in the end I preferred it to Sweet Charity because of the author's handling of difficult emotional content. I don't choose to read any romance for Big Issues, but Laid Bare just so happened to tackle some - surprising enough where erotic romance is concerned - and tackled them well. So when Carina Press made available via netgalley Dane's re-write of Second Chances (originally published by Loose I.D. in 2005), I asked for a copy to read. As with her other books, I couldn't put this one down, but I encountered some problems along the way.

Rori Simon returns to her small Texas hometown after ten years. She left overweight, shy, and brow-beaten by her mother for her lack of appeal to the opposite sex. Now, after college, a Rhodes Scholarship, and time living in Paris with a boyfriend she eventually found cheating on her, she's back...and confident, attractive, and secure in herself and her sexuality.

She soon appears on the radar of all the town's hunks, including Jude Callahan, the gorgeous bad boy who works with his brother Mac, also Rori's brother-in-law, on the police force. Though the two were friends in high school, now he wants her in his bed, and though she understands he's not in it for the long haul, she wants to act upon their attraction as well. The two share a night that shakes each to the core. She discovers she craves domination while Jude realizes that Rori is not only the perfect submissive - she's also the perfect woman for him in a long-term kind of way. Not only does he actually like her as a person, she is the one and only woman who matches his every sexual need. But because he's a Bad Boy Who Never Felt That Way, he throws another woman in her face and she dumps him.

Not long after she meets Zach Helm, a friend's younger brother who'd been a nerd in high school. Now he's all grown up, in a very, very good way. Like Jude, he recognizes the perfect submissive, but unlike Jude, he's not about to throw away what might be the best thing in his life. Their relationship progresses, with some obnoxious interruptions by a jealous Jude, and it looks as though Rori and Zach are the book's happily-ever-after.

But not entirely...the book's title is a constant niggle that something else is going to happen and bring Jude back into Rori's life and bed. Mac diagnoses his obnoxious behavior: Jude's being an ass because he loves Rori. He realizes his brother is right and works to redeem himself in Rori and Zach's eyes so he can at least resume their friendship.

I can't actually get into more of the "niggle" feeling without revealing spoilers, but can say that Rori's relationship with Zach is slightly "off." Zach adores Rori and seems to do and say all the right things, but occasionally he'll make a whopper of a mistake. From what I understand by reading BDSM stories, Dominants are all about psychology, and arranging a piercing for Rori without her knowledge and/or agreement and not understanding why that might bother her seemed out of character. Even more out of character was his plan to change their living arrangements drastically for a six-month period without first discussing it with Rori.

A tragedy fairly late in the book changes everything. It resolves that niggling feeling - I thought I knew what was coming, although didn't know how it would happen - but in a manner more clumsy than I expected from author Dane. On the one hand it brings the story back into balance and allows growth for Rori's mom and for Jude to become the man he was meant to be, but on the other, I expected the author to get from Point A to Point B in a better way.

That I'm still thinking about the book days after finishing it says something. This isn't the perfect book by a long shot - there are some real "wow, that's creepy" moments, but in the end I give Second Chances a qualified recommendation for those of you looking for a contemporary erotic romance offering real depth and complexity.


October 18, 2010

Do Over by Mari Carr

Do Over

Mari Carr

Grade: C

Mari Carr's Do Over sounded romantic and sexy - a long-married woman whose second child just left the nest and whose husband works long hours is offered a "do-over" on their 25th wedding anniversary - but didn't do much for me.

Read this review in its entirety at Amazon. It is not a Vine review; I received a digital copy from the publisher.


October 15, 2010

Goodreads & Kindle 3 Update

I spent much of the past several days doing three things: reading; moving my book database from Shelfari to Goodreads; and working on my Kindle 3 library. I read three books and the review for the first of the three is excerpted here on my blog...the full review is at Amazon. My book database now resides in full at Goodreads and I'm slowly deleting all but my DIK's from Shelfari, after having removed the Facebook apps for Visual Shelf and IRead. And as of this evening, using the same tags I set up on Goodreads, I've re-organized more than 110 titles in my library and now have close to 300 of my 1,200 book collection on my Kindle all catagorized, thereby fulfilling my librarian complex.

While going through my old blog to catch any stragglers to add to the Goodreads database, I came across my original entries deciding on Shelfari as opposed to Goodreads. Now I remember it had to do with the rating systems; on Goodreads the one star rating is for books I don't like, the two star rating is for okay books, and the three other ratings are for levels of like. At the time that bothered me. Now...not so much. Does it really matter how much I dislike a book if indeed I dislike it? I'll continue to maintain a personal book database on my computer and will grade books on my blog, but I'm satisfied with letting other Goodreads users know which books I found okay, liked, liked a lot, or loved, and using the "didn't like" option for books I grade C-, D, or F.

I plan to review the other two books before reading anything else, and will probably spend an hour or so a day working on my Kindle library using Calibre. It's pretty phenomenal and I hope it can withstand the size of my library. But right now I'm watching Bill Maher and deleting books from Shelfari.


Compromising Positions by Jenna Bayley-Burke

Compromising Positions

Jenna Bayley-Burke

Grade: B-

As a general rule I'm not one for contemporary romances featuring virginal heroines well into their twenties. All too often these women seem to have sexually-defined careers - they are radio sex therapists or some such - yet also manage to remain wholly unaware of their own bodies. Thankfully petite Sophie Delfino doesn't fit the mold, although the romance is centered around the Kama Sutra/yogo fitness classes for couples she is sub-teaching with David Strong. Sophie is the majority - but silent - partner in a fitness club also owned by Daphne, her sister, and managing partner. When Daphne got pregnant and put on bed rest, Sophie left her job as a forensic accountant to keep the club going. As for her virginal status, well, first she spent years caring for ailing parents, and while she dates plenty, she's fantasized with her trusty vibrator about David ever since spying him at Daphne's wedding. She wants him...and only him...to relieve her of her virginity. Trouble is, David doesn't do virgins, he only sleeps with tall blonds - and never more than once - and his best friend Craig, Daphne's husband, would probably kill him if he took advantage of her.

Read this review in its entirety at Amazon.


October 14, 2010

Changing Tastes

The other day while working at B&N, I hand-sold the entire House of Rohan print trilogy to a customer, and noticed that when I was telling her about its heroes, all of whom go over the "heroes on the edge" boundaries, mentioned that had I read the books ten years ago, I would not have liked/loved them as I do now. The customer was intrigued enough by that to buy the series.

Just now, while putting making sure all my AAR reviews were entered onto my Goodreads page, my review for Jayne Castle's Zinnia caught my attention because I remembered this snippet from 1997 (I may not remember having met you last week, but I remember just about all the books I've read, and most of my reviews): "I didn't care for the author's reference to proud nipples or to the use of such clinical terms as the c-word that rhymes with Lavoris or "vagina" when describing a love scene." That may have been true thirteen years ago, and while "clitoris" still doesn't do much for me, "clit" does. Sex at its best is a raunchy proposition, and while "clit" isn't romantic, it's definitely raunchy.

So it seems my tastes have gotten darker over the years. Is it my age, the number of romances I've read, or something else? My two favorite romances for the year - A Secret Affair and Breathless - are light years away from each other in terms of sexuality (Balogh's Regency in Disguise is mild in comparison to Stuart's book, which is based in large part on sex, though it dials back the love-making in comparison to the earlier books in the series). As far as tone, Balogh's book isn't light, and it's not as dark as some of her others, while Stuart's is on a par with my beloved Ice series...or perhaps a tinge darker. As for my third DIK of the year - which was published in 2007 - Jonathan Tropper's How to Talk to a Widower is both dark and a comedy.

Very few of you respond to the questions I pose on this blog, but I'll try again: Have your tastes changed over the last decade or so, and if so, how?


October 8, 2010


My first generation Kindle is as basic as basic can get. Yesterday I realized the memory is completely used up, which explains why I'd been unable to download, so I began to move items over to my SD card. Then I sat back and began to think about how difficult it is for me to find things now that I have more than a thousand items on the device, and said to myself, "I think it's time to upgrade." The decision made itself once LinnieGayl explained that Kindle 3 offers a folders option, which means I can create alphabetical folders and/or book type folders to make it easier to find what I want. I called my local Super Target this morning and they said they had both Kindle 3's in stock, so I decided that's where I'd get my flu shot. Alas, they lied. They had neither in stock and the only store that might was near downtown and it's Friday and getting close to rush hour. Best Buy had none in stock either.

I'd worked out what to do instead by the time I got home: I'd order Kindle 3 from Amazon and in the interim would use Calibre to change the meta tags and clean up my library. Then I realized I could get a month free of Amazon Prime, and overnight shipping for $4 an item, an ordered the Kindle 3 wifi and a cover to be delivered tomorrow.

Of course, the decision to order the wifi-only versus the 3G version took me many agonizing hours of dithering, and it was only on a call with Myretta Robens that I realized my 3G phone is always with me - if I need to order a book when I'm not at home or at an AT&T hotspot (which includes all Starbucks), I can always rely on the phone. Besides, the $50 difference between the 3G and wifi-only will pay for several books. My mom's cheapness always vies with my dad's "spend it while you got it" nature, so a decision like this does not come easy to me.

Now that I've got my new Kindle coming, I will work on a few Calibre meta-tag changes, then will do the rest slowly over time, as I learn how best to use the folders. One thing I know for certain...LinnieGayl's use of a TBR folder is one I am appropriating for myself.

But for now, I'm going to spend the next hour or so doing some final clean-up work on my Goodreads library as compared to Visual Bookshelf.

This project is likely to consume me for awhile; luckily my husband knows when I get into something like this I hyper-focus and hunker down. I work tomorrow night and Sunday afternoon, and have to squeeze in a very short book to review for PW for mid-day Monday, but since it is super short, I can handle it.

See you when I come up for air.


October 6, 2010

Goodreads, Facebook, and Shelfari

I committed to Shelfari quite awhile ago, but to be honest, have always found it cumbersome and slow. The bigger my bookshelf, the more slow and cumbersome. Up at Facebook I shared my Shelfari shelf through their app, and also used LivingSocial's Visual Bookshelf for all my reading, and WeRead for my Desert Isle Keepers, mostly because other friends used those apps and I wanted to stay connected. But when Facebook eliminated third party boxes and rendered their Boxes page useless, those apps lost their potency because I could not nearly as readily see other peoples' bookshelves, and more importantly, that Facebook had basically turned into the old AOL. Neither appealed to me in the least.

So earlier this week I set up my Goodreads page and imported my Shelfari shelf, then went through my blog and Amazon to add more books, and my PW reviews as sent via email to my editors to add even more. I'm still not entirely up to date, but I'm closer. Yesterday I changed my two star ratings into one star ratings and my three star ratings into two star ratings, and tomorrow will work on the fours into threes. I'm still figuring things out over there, and very few of my friends from Twitter and Facebook have found me, but perhaps that will change in future days and weeks. If not, oh well.

This morning I changed my profile on Shelfari to provide my Goodreads link and plan to delete all but my DIK's when I have time. As for Visual Bookshelf and WeRead, I haven't decided whether or not to delete them entirely; it wouldn't be hard to maintain my DIKs on WeRead, after all.

Slowly but surely I'm deleting most of the apps I once had boxes for on Facebook. My decision after that, since at this point I plan to use it primarily for birthdays, email, and keeping up with friends and family, is to defriend most people so that it doesn't take me an hour a day to scroll through updates in order to find the people I really care about. I'll be missing news for authors and artists and friends I used to play games with, but it'll make Facebook usable for me in a way it hasn't been for some time, particularly since I use it via my phone so often.

So I've got three choices...cut my losses and eliminate Visual Bookshelf and WeRead entirely, pick one and delete the other, or maintain them both as I plan to maintain my Shelfari shelf, with DIK reads only. Let me know what you think.


October 3, 2010

Art Glass

Last month I wrote about breaking one of our three pieces of art glass from Austin Art Glass, and how the owner had allowed us to replace the piece, and obtain additional pieces, at an incredibly low price. Well, when we drove through Austin a few weeks ago on the way to visit my m-i-l in Corpus Christi, we picked up our new works of art and yesterday we hung them on the wall. Here is a picture of our new installation (the green, teal, and blue pieces are new):

Do you think that angular blue piece should be tilted slightly downward?


October 1, 2010

Bulova Women's 96R000 Sport Marine Star Diamond Watch

Bulova Women's 96R000 Sport Marine Star Diamond Watch

Grade: A

I've been a Bulova lover for awhile now, ever since buying the Bulova Men's 98C62 Marine Star Watch as an inexpensive alternative to the Omega diving watch Daniel Craig wore in his first James Bond movie. While that watch is great, with its over-sized face, it's a sporty watch and for women, not quite suitable for dressier ensembles. As a result I began to look for a less casual watch, and once again found a Bulova to suit my sensibilities.

Read this review in its entirety at Amazon.


Believe Twitter Habit Under Control

After a week of restraint, I believe my Twitter habit is under control. So I'm cautiously tweeting again, but will no longer be a maniac about it. No more tweeting every review I post, every newspaper article of interest, or every clever thought to pop into my head. I do like the idea of using foursquare/tweeting when traveling, but not making myself crazy with #ff's or simply posting five tweets in a row after reading the New York Times. Hopefully this will have been a good lesson learned, or I'll just have to re-ban myself in the future.

Some 400 people are signed up as my Twitter followers, and more lists than I can comprehend tune in to my inanities as well. Only 20 or so of you visit this blog, which I'll continue to use for the majority of what I want to share with the world. I may be writing almost entirely for myself, but I find I'm my best audience anyway. <g> Do I wish more people read what I write here? Yeah, but if it hasn't caught on in six months, I accept that there just aren't many people interested in my meanderings. So be it. But thank you for taking time out during your day to stop by for a visit.


Breathless by Anne Stuart


Anne Stuart

Grade: A-

Stuart's House of Rohan series marks a spectacular return to the level of historicals she wrote in the 1990s, only with darker heroes, stronger heroines, and more divine love scenes. That last - the love scenes - concerned me a little because a lengthy seduction took a large chunk out of Reckless' word count and I worried that Breathless might over-do it. I have nothing against a well-written love scene of any length, but in too many series the love scenes get out of hand with each successive installment. Not to worry...while sex plays a large part in the storyline and there's lots of frank language, this book actual dials back the lovemaking, leaving more delicious spider/fly, cat/mouse action.

Read this review in its entirety at Amazon. It is not a Vine review; I received a digital copy from the publisher.

Breathless, btw, is my fourth Anne Stuart DIK, which moves her up on my list of multiple DIK authors. Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb has earned the most, with eleven to her credit, followed closely by Julie Garwood, with nine. Next is Catherine Coulter, with five, although she earned all five from me in the first year or so that I read romance. Very nearly the same can be said for Julie Garwood, which means that of my most-favored authors, only Stuart and Roberts/Robb continue to make this list grow.