Stretching My Boundaries

cryI don’t like sad books. No. Strike that. It’s not that I don’t like them. I detest them. I avoid them. I read to escape and to experience something outside my everyday experience. Not that I have a lot of sad days, just enough of them that I’d like to keep some distance, if you know what I mean.

But I know that’s not healthy.

I know that some of the best books I’ve read, some of the books that have touched me the deepest, are those that made me cry. Made me feel. Made me live.

So, I need to stretch my boundaries. Not avoid books that look like they might take me through an emotional wringer.

I read Eleanor and Park.

And I survived.

Then I picked up Gayle Forman’s If I Stay. Even when a car accident happened in the first chapter, I kept going. TO THE END.

It’s like I’m a grownup or something.

Though I’m still avoiding books about adorable dogs getting up in years.

Baby steps.


Liquid Lies & Literary Lasagna

Recipe from The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook, p. 210.

So, I made lasagna last weekend. Thank you, thank you. Yes, it was a major achievement in my life. And it was the best lasagna ever made. In this house. By me. Okay, so it was the only lasagna I’ve ever made. But there was something magical about building up the dish layer-by-layer and watching it evolve into carbohydrate heaven while it baked. That, for me, is the beauty of cooking–transforming individual ingredients into something bigger, better, more meaningful. It’s magic.

The ugly side of cooking? Shopping. I mean, really, could they make raisins harder to find? But, that’s another post for another day.

I’ve been meaning to write about Hanna Martine’s excellent debut, Liquid Lies, for awhile now. As a librarian, I booktalk a lot of books–and I love it. For this book, I might say something like, “Oh, you might like Liquid Lies. It’s about a woman from a race of people who can control water and she wants to get promoted in the family business–but then she is kidnapped. Soon her only ally is the man who was paid to capture her–and the one man she can’t resist. Dum dum daah.”

Now, I think I’ll go with “Read this. It’s like literary lasagna.” Sure, you might not that see that in a New York Times review, but maybe you should.

Lasagna is as rich and textured, each bite a perfect combination of its ingredients. The same could be said for this urban fantasy. Martine deftly intertwines complicated characters like Gwen, the woman destined to be a leader for the Elementals (with an arranged marriage and everything) and Reed, a mercenary who keeps a solid wall between his heart and the job. Usually. 

And then there is the world–it’s our world, but not. Gwen’s people, the Ofarians, live amongst the Primaries (that’d be us ordinary-boring-humans) and they are good at keeping secrets, even from their own people. We soon discover another race, the Tedrans, and they also have a story to tell–but which is the truth?

Mix in a little bit of Gwen’s mission in life–which takes on a new and different meaning as her world unravels–and then top it off with a smokin’ hot attraction between Gwen and Reed. Boom. Now you have a book worth savoring. When you’re done, you’ll feel satisfied and a bit wrung out from the journey, in very good way.And, you’ll probably be a little thirsty, too…

Available December 31!

A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dara

A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare

A few days ago I reached into the TBR bag, closed my eyes and pulled about A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare. Don’t get me wrong, the books in the TBR bag–yes, I had to upgrade the pile to a bag–are all ones I want to read. It’s a fine balancing act between TBR books, writing craft books and books that leap of the library shelves and into my arms at the library. (Psst–did you know Tessa Dare is a part-part-part-time librarian? She is!)

I was lucky enough to meet Tessa at the recent Romance Writers of America National Conference and see her win the RITA award in the Regency Historical category. I had read another of her titles from the Stud Club Trilogy and had been impressed by the quirky humor, appealing characters and surprising story lines.

A Night to Surrender is the first in the Spindle Cove series. Susanna Fitch is a take-charge woman who transformed Spindle Cove into a welcome retreat for woman who don’t fit in any where else in society. Whether for their appearance, health or unusual interests. Susanna has created an environment for these woman to grow and explore without the usual limitations of the day–and without the presence of several bachelors.

Until Victor Bramwell comes to town, that is. A recently injured soldier, he is trying to get back to the front lines where he belongs. He’s been charged with raising a volunteer militia to prove he still has what it takes to lead soldiers in war. Unfortunately, men are hard to find in the Spindle Cove area. The few he does find start spoiling Susanna’s idyllic society–and sparks start to fly between her and “Bram”. Soon these sparks turn into more than just attraction and both will need to reevaluate their self images as well as goals in life when faced with their true feelings for each others.

A Night to Surrender was a terrific read, full of humor, sensuality, and unexpected twists along the way. But, don’t take my word for it–read the first chapter here.

The Spindle Cove series continues with the titles below, including A Lady by Midnight that was just released this week. They are already downloaded to my e-reader–just don’t tell my TBR bag. It killed a spider for me last night, and I’d hate to make it an enemy now…

 A Week to Be Wicked by Tessa DareA Lady by Midnight


Bound to Love the Torn Trilogy

My reading tastes fall all over the literary map, but the stories that I love most are the ones that I find myself thinking about after I’ve put the book down. The ones that have scenes that keep coming back to mind at random points throughout the day and scenes that you find yourself reenacting for friends.

Egads, I do reenact scenes from books to friends. Sorry, friends!

One series that I have talked up a lot over the last few months is the Torn Trilogy by Erica O’Rourke, and this isn’t just because I know how awesome Erica is (and she is!) but because the series truly deserves talking about. Maura Fitzgerald wakes up in the hospital at the beginning of the first book, Torn. The incident that puts her in the hospital killed her best friend and Maura “Mo” vows to do whatever she needs to do to avenge her friends death. Mo also discovers that her best friend has been hiding a secret, magical life. So, unmagical Mo decides to pick up where her friend left off and soon finds herself trapped between two worlds and two boys.

Throughout the series Mo learns more secrets about those around her–and more about herself. Where do fate and choice intersect? All of the books in the series captivated me until the wee hours of the morning and I didn’t want to see the series end. In Bound, the final book in the trilogy, Mo struggles to separate her own dreams from others’ expectations. She’s bound to the magic and still feels a responsibility to the memory of her friend, but she has also bound herself to dangerous alliances in order to protect those she loves.

Along with the textured magical world created in the series, I loved watching Mo change and grow. I struggled right along with her in deciding who I liked more, Colin from her life in Chicago or magical Luc from New Orleans. By the time we reached the end, the resolution worked perfectly for me–and also surprised me at a few turns.

An all around wonderful and satisfying read and I can’t wait for Erica’s release next year!

This just in: Erica will be with appearing several amazing YA authors at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, IL, on Thursday, August 30. Act now and get exclusive content from authors such as Veronica Roth, Erica O’Rourke, Dan Krokos, Susan Dennard and Leigh Bardugo. More info on the event can be found here.


Storm by Brigid Kemmerer

My To Be Read pile is like another person living in our house. Each day, I look over to find it staring at me—taunting me with the rich stories just waiting to be discovered. So, this weekend, I said, “Okay, fine. I won’t clean the house. I won’t write. I won’t cook. I will only read, IF IT WILL MAKE YOU HAPPY.”

The pile took me up on the offer. First up was Brigid Kemmerer’s Storm, from the Elemental Series. I have been following Brigid on twitter for several months, and I had the pleasure of meeting her at the Romance Writers of America Literacy Signing this past July. Now that I read it—in a matter of hours—I can only say this: Go forth and read!

Becca Chandler is a teenager dealing with the typical high school dramas—and some not so typical. Before the story starts, she’s involved in a bad situation with an ex-boyfriend. This escalates into lies that spread like wildfire, leaving her reputation in tatters. She’s leaving the school after a self-defense class one night and spots two guys beating up on a third. Becca’s phone is dead and the parking lot is deserted, so she uses her car to save classmate Chris Merrick.

Chris’ family is no stranger to secrets. Becca soon discovers that the Chris and his brothers are anything but average. Chris can control water—while his brothers control wind, fire, and earth. They struggle to keep their powers under wraps, knowing that if the extent their abilities is discovered, it could spell disaster for them all.

The more time Becca spends with Chris, the more she starts to learn their secrets—and then she is targeted by the same people out for the brothers. Soon, a hunky new boy shows up and seems like everything Becca has ever wanted…but is he?

I couldn’t read this book fast enough. Realistic teen issues blend seamlessly with the troubles that magic can bring into our lives. The relationships between the four brothers was complicated and endearing—and I very much look forward to reading about the other brothers in the family.

Spark, Gabriel’s story, will be released Tuesday, August 28. Thank goodness for holiday weekends!


The Hunger Games: An Amateur Review

So, while there aren’t a lack of The Hunger Games movie reviews out there, I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts after watching the movie last night.

What I liked

Overall Essence of Book Achieved:
As I watched the movie, I remembered what made the books so captivating. For me, I was caught up in the relationship between Katniss and Peeta. I was never really sure where she actually stood with him, what was real or what was for the cameras. The movie nailed this aspect of the movie. This tension made it just as uncomfortable to watch the movie as it was to read the book. It takes a lot for a movie to match this kind of emotional intensity created by a book.

Events Happening Outside of Katniss’ POV
The book is written from Katniss’ point of view, so it was a pleasant surprise to see what was happening in District 11, District 12, and the Capital during the games. An even better surprise, to see that Suzanne Collins worked on the screenplay! As I have read the second book in the series, it was nice to see these glimpses into activity outside the arena that may indicate some events in the future.

What Surprised Me

Katniss Dominating The Screen
I never doubted that Katniss was beautiful, as well as strong, smart, and agile in the book. In the movie, Katniss stole every scene. The lighting, the make-up and the wardrobe made her a force to be reckoned with.

Chemistry between Katniss and Cinna
What the what? Great fodder fan-fiction and that’s all I have to say about that.

What I Didn’t Love

Shaky Camera Work
During several of the action packed scenes, the use of the not-so-steady cam made it hard to keep perspective on what was happening. I don’t know if it was a device used to blur the violence of some scenes or not, but it was distracting all the same.

Lukewarm Girl on Fire
While reading the book, one of the most moving scenes was when Katniss and Peeta arrived in the Tribute Parade. I was expecting a lot from this scene in the movie, and I was left underwhelmed by the on-screen version of events. I could sense Katniss’ apprehension and reluctance, but the powerful impact of their appearance was missing. For months, I have imagined what music would accompany this scene in the movie. Now, I can’t even recall any specific music during the scene. So, the next time I watch it, I will imagine this song instead (“When I arrive, I bring the fire…”)

In summary, I think this was a good movie and true to the essence of the book. It was also great being in a theater for a movie again and hashing over the movie with friends after. What opens next week?


In Bed with the Duke and Stolen Seduction

Recently, I attended a library conference program by several romance authors and good fortune rained down upon me! Little did I expect that Christina Dodd would be both signing and giving away copies of In Bed with the Duke which I had been hearing some good buzz about. Seriously, how can you not want to read a book called In the Bed with the Duke?I must admit, historical romances are not usually my first choice. However, this one drew me in from the start! Endearing Emma Chegwidden is wandering lost in the countryside after losing her job when suddenly the masked “Reaper” appears. The next thing she knows, she is waking up in elegant house and offered employment. A few nights later, the Reaper enters her room to escape from the evil Prince that rules the land. Our Emma offers the Reaper a place to hide and thus begins an affair with a man with a secret identity.Emma and the Reaper are both wonderful characters: strong, vulnerable, and passionate. Full of intrigue, steamy love scenes, and adventure, this historical romance is worth the read.At this same library conference, I also picked up a signed copy of Elisabeth Naughton’s Stolen Seduction during an author signing. Oh, happy serendipity! This book is third in a romance/adventure trilogy, and I like to describe it as a very grown-up 39 Clues.Hailey Roarke leaves her job as a Florida police officer to run the family business in Chicago. Her father’s death starts a chain-reaction of events all surrounding a quest to find some missing statues. Hailey is on the search when she accidentally-on-purpose runs into the hunky cop Shane Maxwell. Their brief romantic moment makes things complicated the next morning when he arrives to question her as a murder suspect.Here the tale takes some surprising twists-and-turns as the pair flies from country to country in search of answers. Full of action, romance, and true emotion, this is definitely a book you won’t want to put down and you’ll race to track down the others before time runs out!


Faith, Hope, and Ivy June

Ever since the tragic explosion at the West Virginia coal mine earlier this week, I have been thinking a lot about a book I listened to a few months ago, Faith, Hope, and Ivy June by Phyllis Naylor Reynolds.Ivy June Mosley and Catherine Combs both live in Kentucky, but they live in two different worlds. Ivy June lives with her grandparents outside a small coal mining town while Catherine goes to a private school in Lexington. When the girls are chosen to be exchange students, they spend two weeks at each others home learning about their differences, their similarities, and ultimately themselves.When Catherine visits Ivy June’s small town – tragedy strikes them both. An incident occurs out at the mine and Ivy June’s grandpa is one of the miners trapped inside. At the same time, Catherine learns that her mother faces a serious medical crisis back home and anxiously awaits news of her condition. During these events, the girls each face uncertainty, helplessness, and grief. The desperation that Ivy June’s small town faces is palpable.Consequently, I was moved during the recent news coverage, when a miner at the West Virginia coal mine said, “Every time you turn on a light, you should think of these guys.“He is right. Coal mines are not a thing of the past-they are a reality today and it is important to put a human face on the cost of electricity. This book would be an interesting discussion book to use with older elementary age students, both because of the real way it connects with the dangers of coal mining and because it provides a glimpse into prejudice from several important angles.Are there other titles you think are important to discuss during this eco-friendly month?


It’s my birthday, I’ll read if I want to!

While counting the days to my birthday, and moving up to the next demographic, I decided that I should plan a birthday party. They aren’t just for preschoolers anymore! My husband and I brainstormed several options and finally I decided to have a Birthday Bookclub Party. Lame? Think again.First, I needed the perfect location. One phone call to the Southern inspired Mint Julep Bistro in Palatine, IL and the party quickly started taking shape. This intimate, gourmet restaurant offers an afternoon tea service with tea, soup, finger sandwiches and desserts.Next, a book to read and discuss together. Why, you ask? Well, most of the party goers would be the diverse, quirky, and never-shy-about-their-opinions women that have become the Women Walking Fast bookclub. Given the ambiance of the Mint Julep, I chose to provide a copy of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil with each party invitation.The afternoon spent with dear friends, delicious food and literary discussion went beyond my expectations. We were definitely on Southern time and were able to savor the food and conversation.An added bonus was a visit by one of the owners who gave us an impromptu history lesson on English high tea. After the party, I learned that the other owner of the restaurant was from Savannah and she shared thoughts on the book, the movie, and the events from the best-selling true crime novel. We also learned that the soon to be opened Mint Julep Room would be hosting literary events in the future!All in all, it was a memorable afternoon. Many thanks to the party goers who made arrangements to spend their Saturday afternoon celebrating my birthday, good friends, and great literature.


Top Ten Books

What would be on my Top Ten Books list? A hefty question, that. For me, a favorite book is the result of the work itself combined with the time and place it came into my life. Not necessarily literary merit, but a measure of how the work resonated with me. A glance over the bookshelves (and even décor) in my house and on my Good Reads page illustrate the books I love the most (in no specific order):1. Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery.Who doesn’t love fiesty, unlucky Anne and her beau-to-be Gilbert? Amy and I are traveling to Anne’s land next month. First on my to-do list: take a carriage ride with Matthew Cuthbert (creepy, yes but I wouldn’t miss it).2. Suzanne Brockmann’s Navy Seal series (Troubleshooters, Inc. and Tall, Dark, and Dangerous) Romance and adventure mixed with some historical fiction make up these steamy military novels. Hubba hubba.3. Nora Roberts books. Yes, Nora Roberts. Don’t judge me – just admire my honesty. Specifically, I love these series: The Gallagher’s of Ardmore (Irish Trilogy), Born In… (Irish Trilogy), and The Chesapeake Bay Saga. Love set on the shores of Ireland or New England – sigh.4. The Lord of the Rings series. One of my best ever memories – Amy and I getting tickets to the Lord of the Rings movie marathon when the third book was released! Frodo lives!5. Walk Two Moons/Bloomability by Sharon Creech. Huzzah, huzzah. Lyrical language and touching stories are the draw for me in both of these wonderful novels. The audiobooks are terrific, as well.6. Truman by David McCullough. Ok, so I haven’t actually finished it yet – probably because the a few hundred pages literally fell out of the book. For an inside look at a president as well as the historical perspective of the day – there is no one than McCullough.7. The Ender series by Orson Scott Card. I read Ender’s Game on Christmas Day while driving from Denver (away from the hospital) to Omaha. The complex and compelling science fiction saga of young, genius Ender being taken to the military school in the sky was just the thing to distract me during the 9 hour trip. I also really enjoyed Ender’s Shadow. Go Bean!8. The Chronicles of Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander. The perfect fantasy series complete with a courageous and naive assistant pig keeper/hero, a clever princess, a wandering bard who just happens to be a king, and a smelly creature always looking for more crunchings and munchings.9. Tamora Pierce’s Tortall Universe Books (Song of the Lioness, The Immortals, Protector of the Small, Daughter of the Lioness) I’ve read and listened to these series more times than I can count. I have several favorite scenes – Alanna standing up the bullies, Kel’s friends following her when she goes AWOL to save the people she vowed to protect, and more!10. Harry Potter / His Dark Materials. Of course.Honorable Mentions: The Thief series by Turner, The Cassen Family books by McKay, the Chicago Stars series by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and I suspect the Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins will soon rate up there as well.