Ten Miles Past Normal

Audiobooks hold a special place in my literary heart. Not only do they make commuting time more enjoyable, but they have a way of immersing me in a story that is beyond compare. Recently, I listened to Ten Miles Past Normal, the YA debut by Frances O’Roark Dowell. In short, I didn’t want this story to end. Even though it doesn’t need a sequel, I desperately want one!

Janie used to love living on a farm, but now she just wants to be normal. As a high school freshman, she is having trouble finding her crowd (so realistic) and she ends up discovering how she can be a part of something bigger than herself, whether it be fighting for change or learning to play bass with the school’s jam band. I really liked Janie’s character, and I also loved Monster, the older high school student who takes her under his wing when she stumbles into a plan to learn to play the bass. An interesting, inter-generational subplot about the Civil Rights movement also move the story along.

Janie’s troubles adjusting to high school have turned her into an uncommunicative teen. I appreciated how this story helped us understand why she might be short with her parents, as well as why her parents react the way they do. For this reason, it would be a great family read or book discussion.

The narrator, award-winning Jessica Almasy, performed this story brilliantly. I plan to track down the rest of her work pronto. I loved how distinct and beautiful each of the characters’ voices were, including the Southern accents (again, LOVE Monster!).

The only thing that keeps me from giving this book a perfect 5 star rating was the fact that Janie didn’t have any major obstacles or missteps in this story. I’m okay with that, but I was surprised she didn’t need to be a little proactive in solving her problems or that she didn’t go so far off the deep end to experience some kind of consequence.

That being said, I very much enjoyed this book and believe it would be appropriate for 5th-8th graders to read and 4th-8th graders to listen to. This would also be a great family vacation listen and could be an interesting catalyst for conversations about family dynamics.


Go Ahead, Judge This Book By The Cover

The striking cover draws you in, but it’s the story that will keep you from putting it down. 17-year-old Maura “Mo” Fitzgerald wakes up in the hospital and finds out that the same brutal attack that put her there also killed her best friend, Verity. As the secrets emerge about that terrible night, her family and the friend she thought she knew,  Mo encounters two very different boys: one who was sent to protect her and one who wants her to help save the world.

Mo’s world is very real, even mixed with a fare amount of magic. Traveling between Chicago and New Orleans, she is faced with a decision that is wrapped in a debt-of-sorts to Verity. The more she learns about what is happening in her world, the more she learns about herself. The last few chapters race buy as the tension builds and lead you to a showdown you wouldn’t expect.

This is the debut novel for Erica O’Rourke, esteemed winner of the Golden Heart for Best YA Manuscript in 2010. It is sometimes difficult to be impartial when reading a book by someone you know “in real life”.  However, it was the storyline alone that kept me up too late reading it several nights this week. It will be hard to wait for the next one in the trilogy!


Multiple Personalities

I have multiple personalities. I am a full-time librarian and part-time romance writer. While attending the awesome Romance Writers Association national conference I realized there were some subtle differences between this conference and the library conferences I have attended in the past.

    • Networking, networking, networking. It isn’t easy, but networking in your field is important. The writers I met (biased sample size, LOL),  at this conference were there to connect with people as much as they were there to learn about their craft. I do know librarians that are very good at networking, however I was at a library conference recently that began each and every program with the explicit instructions to introduce themselves to people on their left and on their right.This was not needed at RWA. Often moderators needed to quiet participants down prior to beginning a session.


    • Friendliness, helpfulness, and checking your ego at the door. I found my fellow RWA attendees to be, on the whole, very friendly and helpful. The “First-timer” ribbon on my badge was a very effective icebreaker. Several times I spoke with presenters following a program panel or when I encountered them on the escalator. All were open and willing to chat, even if they were a NYT bestselling author and I was just a lowly unpublished author. Conversely, I can easily recall approaching program speakers at library conferences and having them listen to me with half an ear while scanning the room for someone more important or influential that they could ditch me for. Boo.


    • Chicago-North Rocks. Okay, so I knew this already, but the fact was really driven home as I met several writers who don’t attend chapter meetings because they are too far away or the meetings are not productive. I firmly believe that joining my chapter and attending meetings on a regular basis has been one of the best decisions I have made in terms of my writing career. The group is full of supportive, successful writers and I learn something from them almost daily.


  • Story Arcs, GMC, Blah-blah-blah. Oh, I learned a lot of other stuff at the conference, too. A LOT. I learned how to put words to the vague knowledge that something was missing from my WIP (external conflict, baby). After the first full day of the conference, it was clear my contemporary romance would need more revisions before I would be able to confidently submit it. Therefore, I chose to cancel my pitch appointments with my selected editor and agent so others could have the opportunity. While some disagreed with my choice, after reading Scott Eagan’s post about pitching at conferences, I look forward to completing my revisions and submitting my work with a well-developed strategy.

I was fortunate to meet many people in real life that I have encountered in the Twitterverse. I hope to meet many more in the future. See you in Anaheim!


I Love NY!

Well, I am loving the RWA experience anyway. I could have done without my cab driver nearly hitting Leif Scriber on the long ride from the airport. I probably could have also done without the impromtu tour of the fifth floor men’s restroom. Seriously, I tried to leave those kinds of embarassing moments in junior high.

What I have enjoyed, even beyond the very informative workshops, has been the genuine helpfulness shown by unpublished and veteran writers, some from my own chapter and some I’m meeting for first time.

As a librarian and writer, I feel fortunate to be in such great professions. I am also glad that I finally made it to this national conference!


I have been assimilated

While I often read children’s fantasy and science fiction novels, I seldom select science fiction or fantasy romances. Am I prejudiced? Perhaps…or maybe I just never found the right author – until now!I have been assimilated and Susan Grant’s novel Sureblood: A Tale of the Borderlands is to blame. This weekend I raced through her storyso quickly I’m surprised my Nook didn’t catch fire.*Spoiler alert*The tale is set in the Borderlands of the Universe, where pirate clans clash with each other while raiding those that steal from their lands. Valeeya Blue has a lot to prove, both as a female raider and as the daughter of the clan captain. During her first raid as skiff commander, she boards a ship only to find that a rival clan, the Surebloods, has also decided to help themselves to the bounty. The Surebloods are led by their own young captain, Dake, and the sparks immediately start to fly between the handsome raider and the captivating she-pirate.The Blues and the Surebloods band together to escape a third enemy, which starts them down the bumpy road to clan unity. During a celebration that follows, Dake and Val follow through with the desire that has been quickly building since they met. Evil plots have been set in motion and, while they are indisposed, Val’s father is assassinated.Instantly, the Blues blame the Surebloods, the fragile peace starts to crumble, and Val’s life is forever changed. Dake leaves to help find out the truth behind the attack, but fails to contact Val in the months that follow. She becomes clan captain and soon after becomes a new mother, too.What Val doesn’t know is that Dake enduring the worst hell a pirate can imagine, but he never forgets his Blue girl and vows to return to her and to restore peace to all the clans. Will he return in time to help forge peace? Will Val believe in his innocence or has she found love with another?The pacing in this story was top-notch and I found it difficult to put the story down or to let it out of my mind. Just as I would catch my breath after a tension filled scene, the story would careen into another dangerous section. The elements of foreboding woven throughout added to the suspense, as did the evil villain present throughout the novel.The world was believable and easily imagined and I enjoyed the subtle physical and cultural differences between the clans. The perspective switched from Val to Dake (and sometimes others) and I believe that adds a little more depth to each character. The characters themselves suffer hardships that make you hurt for them and hope that things will, somehow, work out in the end.This was another title from the Harlequin’s Big Summer Reads (thanks HQN for the ARCs!). As a side note, even in the world of eBooks, cover art is still important. The stylistic cover immediately caught my attention. I look forward to catching up with Grant’s previous novelsand I am glad that my reading tastes were gently nudged in a new direction.


Orchard Valley Brides

Have you ever been strongly attracted to someone against your better judgment? That’s exactly what happens to the both heroines in the stories that make up Debbie Macomber’s Orchard Valley Brides, another of the Harlequin Big Summer Reads.In Norah, the heroine is working one last shift as an ER nurse before her sister’s wedding the following day when the lone survivor of a private plane crash is rushed in. His injuries are serious and things get complicated when Norah realizes the man was flying into town to stop her sister’s wedding because of his feelings for her.Wealthy CEO Rowdy Cassidy is a man used to getting his own way. When the pretty nurse Norah visits him after the wedding, he demands to see her more and has her reassigned to work on his floor. Norah soon finds herself captivated by this powerhouse of a man who can turn an entire hospital upside down, but she knows a relationship with him would be a mistake. After all, isn’t he still in love with her sister?In Lone Star Lovin’, Sherrie decides to move from Orchard Valley to a small town in Texas to work as a physician’s assistant. Her first patient is a handsome rancher struggling to parent a teenage daughter and before long sparks start to fly between them.Neither Cody or Sherrie trust the immediate attraction they feel for each other. Cody’s daughter is hell bent on getting a mom, which does not help matters. When Cody proposes to Sherrie, saying they might as well get married since he doesn’t have time for all the romance crap, she feels her heart deflate like a balloon with a slow leak. She is falling in love with the gruff rancher, but she wants someone who will share his heart as well as his bed.Both novels were originally published in the early 1990s, although they are timeless in their appeal. The stories include strong family ties and small town settings in Oregon and Texas. Macomber is best in the back-and-forth dialogue between the main characters, making it both fresh and funny. The sensuality is drawn more from the build-up of attraction between the couples than any detailed bedroom scenes. Those that have read Macomber’s titles will know exactly what to expect. New readers will find sweet stories of people learning how to listen to their hearts as well as their heads when it comes to love.


A Certain Fondness for Crazy

As I started to read my first Victoria Dahl book, Crazy for Love, I didn’t really know what to expect. I imagined humor, I imagined steamy love scenes, but I certainly didn’t expect to find a hero with anxiety issues. But, find him I did – and I loved Max for being strong, true, and admirably struggling to live with his control issues.
Max and his brother Elliott have decided to take a much-needed vacation. Elliott is a divorced workaholic from the CDC and Max is a sea-faring treasure hunter who feels responsible for the safety of everyone he encounters. Everyone!
Max has managed to hide his anxiety by playing the charming playboy and the ploy has always worked, until he mets Chloe, a fellow tourist in the cabin next door. She sees right through his act and makes him face the truth about himself and his life.
What Max doesn’t know is that Chloe has a secret of her own. A month ago, she was supposed to be getting married, but then her fiance died in a plane crash. Suddenly, she finds out he hadn’t died after all – he had staged the accident to escape from marrying her! That’s when the rumors start flying and suddenly Chloe is a national tabloid star as Chloe the Bridezilla! When Chloe’s identity is revealed, she and Jenn are forced to return home to prepare for the ex-fiance’s upcoming trial.
Reading Crazy for Love was a wonderfully refreshing experience. Dahl masterfully creates a main character that is strong, handsome, and neurotic. His anxiety issues reveal his true nature and make him endearing as we see him struggle to live with the worry that he battles 24/7. Chloe understands him and loves him, while also trying to help him be honest with himself as he starts thinking about changing his life.
Another of the Harlequin’s Big Summer Reads off the list – but now I have all the other Victoria Dahl books to look forward to! So long, housework!

All I Ever Wanted

A few months ago, I had the fun opportunity to write a blog post for the Borders True Romance Blog. I wrote about being in a reading slump and how I just couldn’t find a really great book to sink my teeth into. Well, I am in a slump no more, my friends! One of the reasons: Kristan Higgins, the next stop on the Harlequin Big Summer Reads.

What a thrill to receive a review copy of All I Ever Wanted from Harlequin! Kristan Higgins has quickly skyrocketed to a permanent place on my list of favorite authors. Her ability to create quirky characters, charming small towns, and relationships that suffer from insecurities, uncertainties and misunderstandings.
In All I Ever Wanted, Callie is ready to celebrate her 30th birthday (that’s right, the big 3-0) when her boss/crush/ex gives her a gift, tells her she is special and then hits her right between the eyes with the news that he is seeing someone. Callie reacts much as the rest of us would, she runs to the DMV and has her breakdown there, much to the dismay of the uptight, Russian assassin in line behind her.
She tries to move on with life, so when she hears there is a cute new vet in town, she tells her dog to look sick and makes an appointment. Sadly, the new vet is the same Russian assassin from the DMV and is still ice cold, but that’s when the fun begins.
Callie and Ian (who, it turns out, is not a Russian assassin after all) keep running into each other and eventually Callie breaks through the cold demeanor to find the shy man with a big heart that lies beneath.Callie’s life could probably be more complicated, although she isn’t sure how. Her divorced dad is trying to make up with her mother 20 years after they split-up. Her man-hating sister is sleeping with the creepy mortician that works at their family funeral home, and her Gramps, well, Gramps has a story all his own.
Once again, Higgins has created a story full of people just enough and stories just weird enough to make it easy to fall into and difficult to remember that the characters aren’t actually real! I find it interesting that while reading, I am fairly sure of a happy ending, I’m just not quite sure how it is actually going to happen.
The laughter, the tears, the romance – these books are money well spent (or library card well used). Don’t just take my word for it, Higgins was awarded a RITA last month for Too Good to Be True. (Seriously, how awesome are these covers? Beautiful.)
With the holidays coming, Higgins’ publishers should bundle her books for big holiday sales. Check out her other titles on her website and ENJOY!

How the West Was FUN!

Next up on my TBR pile: Harlequin’s Big Summer Reads. I am determined to make this summer last longer and that won’t be a problem because there are some great titles on this list!

First up: How the West Was FUN!
Cowboys and romance novels, now that is a combination that appeals to many. Some may be attracted to the cowboy stereotype simply because of biological tendencies – the desire to be provided for and protected. Others may be charmed by the strong silent type that cares as much for animals as they do people. No matter what attracts you to cowboys – you’ll want to consider these two series.

Prolific author Linda Lael Miller has written several western romance series, both historical and contemporary. In McKettricks of
Texas: Garrett, the second in the series, Garrett works for a married political giant who has taken a wrong turn by going public with an illicit affair. He feels betrayed by the man he idolized, so he quits
and returns home to the family ranch. Upon arrival, he finds that the family’s home is currently inhabited by temporarily displaced Julie, her son, Calvin, and their three-legged dog, Harry.
Julie can’t deny her attraction to Garrett, but she is determined to be cautious both to protect her young son and because she can’t imagine that as a high-powered political insider would settle down with a small town girl. To complicate her life even further, Calvin’s dad is back in their lives, she’s overwhelmed at work, and their home is being sold out from under themI enjoyed returning to the world of the McKettricks and catching up with Tate and Libby while looking forward to Austin’s story. Miller is able to present a contemporary story with enough of the wild west to make you feel right at home on the Texas ranch. She also write children and animal characters particularly well, making the family dynamics ring true.
Another steamy title is Claimed by Vicki Lewis Thompson from her Sons of Chance series. Ten months ago, Jack was reluctant to leave the warm bed he shared with girlfriend, Josie, so he told his dad to go pick up a new horse without him. When his dad is later killed on the trip, Jack feels responsible and breaks up with Josie as his penance.
So, when he decides to visit Josie after a night of drinking in the small Wyoming town, he shouldn’t have been surprised that the encounter goes badly. She pushes him away, and he makes a fool of himself. Jack is going to be the best man at his brother’s upcoming wedding (on horseback, naturally) and guess who is the maid of honor? Yes, fair Josie – and she doesn’t know how to ride a horse. Jack himself offers to teach her and soon their lessons turn into a secret affair. Josie wants to give her heart to Jack, but is he ready to take it for real?
Claimed is part of the Harlequin Blaze series, which are shorter, steamy contemporary romances with an emphasis on the development physical relationship between the two characters. I don’t read this series too often, but check them out if you want a quick, sensual read (kind of like dessert!). I have, however, thoroughly enjoyed Thompson’s Hex and Nerd series. You can learn more about these fun, sexy series on her website.

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!