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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Historical Love

Does anyone else feel like the wheel is turning and bringing historical romance back to prominence? It seems that every book I hear about on Twitter and from friends is a historical. At Borders, the co-op tables are full of them, and not just the standby favorites like Eloisa James and Suzanne Enoch, either.

I'm willing to believe it might be a personal perceptual thing--I'm going through quite a historical renaissance myself just at the moment. I've read three historicals in the last couple of weeks that have completely rekindled my adoration for my first romance novel love.

The first was The Legend of the Werestag, a novella prequel to the upcoming series by Tessa Dare. Werestag, much ballyhooed and buzzed by such difficult critics as Jane from Dear Author and Smart Bitch Sarah, was published by Samhain as a way to build excitement before the debut of Tessa's first trilogy, being published back-to-back by Ballantine. I will confess, I read it because I follow Tessa on Twitter and I like her, and also because I wanted to find out what made Sarah and Jane so excited about this weirdly titled non-paranormal historical. Almost immediately, though, I forgot why I picked it up, or even that I was reading at all. I was THAT sucked into the story, which is deliciously gothic and sexy. The writing is atmospheric without veering into melodrama, and the characters are beautifully drawn. I never wanted it to end.

But it was a novella! Satisfying, yes, but still short enough to whet my appetite for more. While I definitely plan to buy Goddess of the Hunt when it hits shelves at the end of July, I couldn't wait that long to feed my historical hunger.

So I turned to another book I'd heard about on Twitter (this is turning into a blog about how Twitter can help you find the perfect read for any mood, isn't it?) when it came out, and several of the authors I follow, including Tessa, were going ballistic over it. That would be the boringly packaged, incomparably exciting latest by Jennifer Ashley: The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie. Ms. Ashley isn't a new author, but she was new to me, and I had no preconceived notions of what to expect when I picked up her book at my local Borders. Oh, not precisely true--I had heard several people comment that they almost didn't read it, not expecting to be able to enjoy a hero like Lord Ian, but when they gave it a chance, they were blown away. Also, Lord Ian was compared to Christian, the stroke victim hero of Laura Kinsale's classic (and one of the first romance novels I ever read) Flowers from the Storm. So. He had a lot to live up to, did Lord Ian.

By page four, I wasn't remotely concerned that he would. Lord Ian Mackenzie is unique in the world of romance. The comparison to Christian is valid and justified, but to compare them implies a similarity that detracts from Ian's originality and utterly endearing individuality. I could not have loved him more. Ms. Ashley did an incredible job of showing the world through his eyes, giving us his skewed, awkward, beautiful perspective without reducing him to an object of pity. And the heroine! Beth is a widow...who actually loved and had pleasurable sex with her first husband! Talk about pushing the envelope and trashing tropes.

From there, I was good and hooked. Of course, The Madness of Lord Ian turns out to be the first in a new series--but the story of Ian's next Scottish brother isn't out until the middle of next year. *sob* So I went back to (where else?) Twitter for my next reading rec. It turns out that when you ask a group of avid romance readers what their favorite historical romance is, half will respond with Flowers from the Storm, and the other half will say Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase. Having already read and re-read everything Kinsale ever wrote, I decided to give LoS a try. I'd never heard of Loretta Chase before Berkley bought and published Miss Wonderful, amid great rejoicing, in 2004. I heard nothing for weeks but how fabulous an author she was, but I was buried under a pile of slush manuscripts and the last thing I had time for was to read for pleasure.

Having recently decided that I don't have time NOT to read while I'm writing, I started Lord of Scoundrels last night. And finished it this morning around 11. I'm not kidding; I woke up at 6:30 to read this book. I can't believe how many times I laughed, got teary, and nearly threw my hands up in despair of ever writing a book half so entertaining and heart-wrenchingly wonderful. The heroine? One of my best friends in the whole world. I want to BE Jessica Trent when I grow up. Practical, tough-minded, utterly unabashed by whatever the hero throws at her--and all in a convincing, unshrewish way! And the hero. Oh my word. From the masterful prologue describing him as an ugly, uncertain child with a violent temper, I was completely entranced. Every mean, sarcastic word out of his mouth, and there are plenty, makes sense. He's the antithesis of the cold, unfeeling aristocrat who often stomps through the pages of historical romance. While Dain couldn't be more alpha, he's also sensitive as a raw wound and willing to do anything to protect himself. I believed every reaction, every word from his mouth, and felt like I knew him better than most people I hang out with on a day-to-day basis. I can see precisely why Lord of Scoundrels is such a favorite. I'm not sure if it's usurped Shadow and the Star or Flowers from the Storm as my personal top pick; those were the books that started me down the path that led to my lifelong obsession with romance, after all. Ask me again in a few years, when I've had a chance to reread Lord of Scoundrels as many times as I've enjoyed those books I discovered at twelve.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Nice Day for a Black and White Wedding

My oldest friend in the world is getting married in two weeks. We met the first day of nursery school, when she comforted me after my mom left, and were inseparable for many years after that. We've kept in touch amazingly well (mostly due to her, she's awesome at that) and now I'm doing a reading at her wedding. (The reading is another blog for another day. I'm supposed to write something about love. To read in front of people. Because I'm such an expert. o_O)

So of course, the age old question--what will I wear? I'm apparently considered part of the bridal party, and will walk down the aisle (aka the cement pathway that leads to her dad's old Virginia farmhouse, where the wedding is taking place) so I must conform to the wedding colors. Which are? Black and white. Bride wearing a gorgeous white dress with a black sash--bridesmaids (and me) wearing little black dresses. Now, my hard and fast wedding rule was Never Wear Black, but as we all know, the bride's wishes supersede all rules, so I dutifully ordered about seven dresses to try. Five were eliminated easily, but the final two are really hard to choose between. Both are flattering on me, both are short and short-sleeves (essential for an outdoor June wedding in Virginia) and both should travel well.

Obviously, I need your help to decide which is more wedding appropriate. One is slightly sexier (read: shows more cleavage) and the other feels slightly less dressy. Here they are:Note: The first dress is not as demure on me as it is on Miss Ironing Board Model up there. But it's not obscene, either.

So what do we think?

Friday, May 22, 2009

It's Alive!

For those of you wondering about the health of my laptop, thank you for your condolences and support, but it's home from the hospital now and seems to be recuperating nicely. The top cover was replaced, which makes it look like new! And also it turns on, which is a lovely feature.

In other news, my business cards came in a few weeks ago and I forgot to show them to you, so here! Take a peek. (Sorry for the blur, I took ten pics and none of them is sharp.)I like them because they are the card equivalent of the mullet: business in the front, party in the back.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Can't Stand the Heat ARCs!!!

Got my box of Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs) for Can't Stand the Heat last night, and screamed the house down. I'm so happy with them! They are gorgeous, full color covers and inside--omg, inside, it looks like a REAL BOOK! Thrills and chills over here today. Which is great, because the adrenaline from this will propel me through the rest of my page proofs. Ugh!

What are some ways you've heard of/thought of for using ARC's? I know some people give them away as contest prizes, and a portion of them should go to reviewers and booksellers, although my publisher is handling a lot of that. Anything else that's innovative and fun?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Movie Madness

There are so many awesome-looking movies coming out this summer! Here are some of the ones I'm stoked about:

What summer blockbuster are you most looking forward to?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Get in the Kitchen May '09 - Rhubarb Raspberry Pie

The unthinkable happened: this month's Get in the Kitchen recipe, the top pick of my voters, was a disaster.

Rhubarb Raspberry Pie sounds like a good idea in theory. Or does it? In fact, when I first saw the combo of sour rhubarb and tart raspberries, my mouth puckered involuntarily. But I trusted Gourmet to get the pucker effect under control, so I wasn't too worried.
I started with the pie crust dough, since it was supposed to chill for a couple of hours before being rolled out. I'm not a pie crust goddess (yet); my mother is the real dab hand. Her crusts are always flaky and perfect, while mine are hit or miss. Always better than store-bought, though, so I try to be happy with that and practice a lot. The pie crust dough called for in the Rhubarb Raspberry Pie recipe is "frozen butter pastry dough", which involved grating a stick and half of frozen unsalted butter into a chilled bowl of sifted cake flour, salt, and sugar.

My mom's crust recipe definitely doesn't call for sugar, and uses all-purpose flour and cubed cold butter, so I was interested to see how this turned out. Answer? BAD. Like, pastry dough from hell bad.

More on that later. While the Satan Dough was chilling, I blithely went about preparing the pie filling, which involved boiling chopped rhubarb, cinnamon, and sugar into a chunky syrup thickened even further with corn starch.
Once the rhubarb cooled a little, I folded in the raspberries and some more fresh rhubarb, and chilled the filling.

It was at about this point that all hell broke loose. Because I'm having an extremely bad tech week, my camera battery died even though just minutes before it had shows 2/3 battery life left. So no more photos, sorry! And then, when I took the very chilled dough out of the fridge and tried to roll it, the entire mass glommed to the floured countertop like it was trying to chemically bond to the granite. I had to use a pastry scraper to get it up, at which point it in no way resembled anything that could be used to line a pie plate. I've never seen such a sticky pastry dough--it was more like brioche dough or something. I stood there, dismayed, wondering how on earth I was going to fix this.

A little background--we had friends over who had brought hamburger makings for us to grill on the understanding that we would provide rhubarb pie for dessert. So this wasn't just me and Stinger alone, where I could scrap the whole thing and call it a night. I decided to repurpose the filling and dough into a cobbler, spreading the rhubarb raspberry mixture in a baking pan and dotting the top with globs of pastry dough. Then I brushed the pastry rounds with an egg wash, sprinkled it with sugar, and baked for about forty minutes. The end result was not stellar. It tasted like what it was: boiled, too-tart pie filling with gommy pie crust on top. Our friends had luckily been drinking all night, so they didn't appear to notice. They cleaned their plates! So I was saved from public humiliation and learned a valuable lesson.

When you are already in possession of the best rhubarb pie recipe on the planet, don't go looking for variations and ways to gild the lily. We bought new rhubarb, and I plan to make Mrs. Schroeder's Rhubarb Pie, my family's recipe, to get the taste of that nasty faux cobbler out of my mouth.

I still have no idea if the recipe sucked or if I did, but either way, kitchenFAIL.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Launch Party Details

It's official--my launch party for Can't Stand the Heat will be at Blue Hill in Manhattan. I just got the contract and here's what we're planning:

A three-hour cocktail reception with one hour of passed savory hors d'oeuvres (minimum of six!), one hour with two passed small plates, one hour of passed desserts (don't worry, I already asked them to specify HOW many desserts), open bar (woo and hoo!), one red wine, one white wine, one sparkling wine and one specialty cocktail, coffee and tea service.

Because of the kind of restaurant Blue Hill is, with its dedication to seasonal produce, the menu won't be determined until two weeks prior to the event, when the chef can see what's available at the farmers' markets. I kind of love that--the food will be like this glorious surprise! I wonder if I can specify ahead of time if there are certain things I DON'T want. For instance, Stinger is allergic to scallops, so that would be less than fun. Other than that, I don't know, I'm pretty happy to leave the menu in Dan Barber's capable hands! Since the party is in September, I imagine we're likely to see a lot of late summer stuff like sweet corn and eggplant, mixed with early autumn stuff like fennel and leeks. I can't wait!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

America's Next Top Mute

Well, Cycle 13 is over now, and cute, weird little Allison lost to wind-in-the-face Teyona. I liked them both, but I will admit to liking Allison a scoche more. Her dark side made her interesting and she often reacted to drama in the house in such a familiar way, it was like watching myself. For instance, describing one of the other girls' impassioned speeches about what she'd been through as "a little bit too Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul" or when she got totally nonplussed by someone getting up in her face and yelling. Rather than yell back and descend into catfight, she was more like "um, why are you shouting at me and repeating yourself when I'm not even arguing with you?"

Plus, she was definitely one of the most amazing transformations I've yet seen on ANTM.
She started off so mousy and strange, with a walk like a skinny Clydesdale and one single expression: shocked surprise. By the end, she was versatile and able to speak in front of a camera (something Teyona totally failed at) and confident enough to play and have fun on the runway. There was a moment during judging when I really thought she might win, when they were discussing how impressed they were with her leaps and bounds of improvement. And that's a compelling story. But even more compelling, for these judges, was the moment when Ms. Jay brought up the fact that out of the two of them, he thought Teyona wanted it more.

That was when I knew Allison was going to lose. Because whether it was true or not, "Teyona wants it more" is a better story than "Allison improved so much." It certainly convinced the ANTM judges, which I can understand, because of course they want to bestow their honor on the competitor who is the most passionate and invested in it. But the reason I felt let down by the decision was that as a viewer, I was more caught up in Allison's ugly duckling story, because I could relate to her more. Also? Teyona couldn't speak! She could barely make it through the commercial. I know the judges tend to care more about editorial fashion potential than they do about personality and verve for the Cover Girl position (otherwise, McKey would never have beat out bubbly Sam last cycle) but seriously. They better make sure Teyona never has to open her mouth.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Yesterday I woke up with a flash of brilliance that solved all the problems I've been having with my current book, On the Steamy Side (Spring '10). It was the best feeling! Pacing, chemistry, plot--it tightens and simplifies everything! I'm now as excited and energized to write as I was when I first started the manuscript. I've got that feeling you can get from a good revision letter, where you see the story opening up in front of you, bursting with possibilities and potential and the freedom to play with your characters and see what happens.

So I'm going to get on that! I wrote 13 pages yesterday, and my goal is at least ten pages today, probably more. Hope you're all having good, productive days. What are your plans for today?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Excerpt Monday - May 09

It's a brand new Excerpt Monday! I've been too sequestered in the Writing Cave (patent pending) to have noticed when it was time to send in excerpts, but I definitely plan to participate next month. It's such a cool idea and seems to be growing by leaps and bounds! Check it out here for some fabulous writing by a wide variety of published and soon-to-be-published authors. Too participate in next month's roundup, click on the guidelines link; tons of good information there.

Yay! I'm off to read...

Friday, May 8, 2009

Get in the Kitchen: Rhubarb

After some investigation, I have discovered several local outlets where I may purchase that most beloved of all spring produce: rhubarb! So, for this month's Get in the Kitchen, I'm going to ask you all to vote on one of the fabulous-looking rhubarb recipes currently featured in a slideshow at Of course, none of them stand much of a chance of being better than my family's favorite, Mrs. Schroeder's Rhubarb Pie, but this blog feature is all about pushing myself to try new things and experiment with new recipes, so command me! I'm at your service. Comment with your vote on which dish you'd like to see me attempt, and I'll try my hand at the one that gets the most votes, documenting the whole process faithfully.

Check out the link above for the slideshow. Here are your choices (with my commentary):
Rhubarb Sorbet with Vanilla Rhubarb Compote
--Could be fun, and I do have a shmancy Cuisinart ice cream maker to play with...
Pistachio Rhubarb Trifle
--I looove trifle, it's a very old-fashioned dessert that really doesn't get enough play anymore. Does anyone know if that salmonella ban has been lifted from pistachios, though?
Strawberry Rhubarb Compote with Matzoh Streusel Topping
--Looks like it would make a good breakfast. Sorry, can't get more excited about it than that.
Rhubarb Streusel Cakes
--These, on the other hand, are darling! Don't know why they flip my switch when the other streusel thing didn't. *shrugs*
Rhubarb Strawberry Pudding Cake
--I'm not sure what makes a cake a 'pudding' cake, but I'd love to find out.
Country Rhubarb Cake
--Hmm. Seems a bit like a tarted up cobbler with the biscuit topping. Not that I'm complaining!
Rhubarb Gingersnap Parfaits
--Oooooh, my two favorite ingredients in a single, elegant dish?
Millefolgia with Grappa Cream and Rhubarb
--Ugh. I don't like it in Italian or in French (millefeuille) and grappa might be hard to come by in Sandusky, Ohio. Not that I would ever try and influence the vote.
Rhubarb Raspberry Pie
--A combination I've never seen before and am a little scared of. Seriously, isn't your mouth puckering just reading that? But I bet Gourmet makes it work. Would be fun to see!

Okay, there are three more recipes featured in the slideshow, but they're for a savory hors d'ouevre and a couple of punch-type non-alcoholic drinks, and was anybody going to vote for that over a sweet? I didn't think so.

Send in your votes and I'll tally them up!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Dirty Minds

Dirtiest commercial ever. I'm not even kidding. Tell me I'm not just reading into it with my dirty mind! You see it too, right?

Effective, though. I now totally want a sandwich. Or maybe some gay porn, one or the other.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

James Beard Awards

This year's James Beard Award winners were named, and guess what? Dan Barber at Blue Hill in New York City won the outstanding chef award! This is exciting because Blue Hill just so happens to be the restaurant where I'll be hosting my launch party for Can't Stand the Heat in September. I'm in the middle of looking over proofs of the invites now, so check out the Blue Hill website and imagine yourself there this fall!

Space is very limited (it's a small, intimate restaurant) so I'm going to have to cull the guest list pretty carefully. However, I do plan to record the party for posterity on my website, so even if you don't get to experience it in person, you'll have the chance to see what we get up to. The only menu item I know for sure is the signature cocktail I developed for my heroine, Miranda, to get drunk on in the first chapter. I think I'll call it Miranda's Downfall. The recipe is included in the book, but here's a sneak peek for my faithful blog readers:

Miranda's Downfall

1 oz rose-petal-infused vodka

3 whole raspberries

Your favorite champagne or sparkling wine

For infused vodka:

2 cups of vodka
2 large red roses

Remove petals from flowers and wash well. Add petals to the vodka and stir around. Let sit, covered, overnight to allow flavors to steep. Put the berries in the bottom of a champagne flute or saucer, pour in the vodka shot, and top up with your favorite bubbly! For a drier cocktail, choose brut or rosé; if you want it sweeter, the next level would be a crémant, followed by the sugariest of all, a spumante. Makes one cocktail.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

In the Zone

I wrote 50 pages last week, which was great, but afterward my brain felt mushy like overcooked spinach and I ended up slacking off on the page count all weekend. I did a lot of thinking about the book, which is a huge part of my process, but still, when the time came to get my rear back in gear yesterday, I struggled to hit my stride.

Today? That's not an option. I must produce! So I'm heading into the zone (where there is no Twitter, no email, and in fact, no internet) and not coming back out until I have at least ten pages written. If I can get more than that? Great. But ten is the minimum. My plan is to reread and polish the last chapter I wrote to get me back into the story, then surge forward.

How do you get yourself in the writing zone? Music? Images? I'm open to suggestions!

Oh, and one quick thing before I unplug--today is the release day for Maria Geraci's fabulous, fun, sexy debut, Bunco Babes Tell All! This is the quintessential beach read, people. So you're not heading to the beach for a while yet? I know you wish you were there already--and that's what the Bunco Babes of Whispering Bay deliver. Crack this book and you'll be instantly transported to sunny Florida, where Kitty and her friends party, gossip, and fall in love. Mmm, I can smell the salt from the ocean already--or is that from the margaritas?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Spring Awakening

I've got garden-fresh asparagus! Seriously, look at them. Dirt is still clinging to these bad boys. After a very successful, productive meeting for the nonprofit I'm on the board of, Veggie U, we lucky board members were given some uber-fresh spring asparagus to take home. And I don't care what else happens today (ten pages? what?) I'm cooking those pretty green spears for dinner tonight. Question is, how? I love asparagus raw in salads, grilled over an open flame, oven-roasted with olive oil, drizzled with balsamic vengar. Considering how new and tender this batch is, though, I could go the fast and easy route and just steam them. They don't need a lot of gussying up, but I made mayonnaise last week, which has got to be the most perfect dipping sauce. Especially if I maybe swirled in a little extra lemon and garlic for an impromptu aioli. Deborah Madison, my vegetable guru, recommends cooking fresh asparagus in a skillet of boiling water, just until the spears turn an even brighter green. I've always steamed asparagus in a basket over boiling water, so I'll be interested to see if I can tell the difference. I agree with Deb, though, the main thing is not to overdo it. Take them off the heat before they're done--they'll keep cooking for a few minutes after they're out of the pot. I'll let you know how it turns out.

What's your favorite way to cook asparagus?

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Obligatory Cute Dog Post

Many of you know and love the dog of my heart, Hunter. He's a three-year-old Border Terrier with a sunny disposition and an inordinate love of cuddling. He was unhappy as an only dog, though, so we bought him a pet, Oscar. Oscar is nearly six months old now, also a Border Terrier, and some days pushes me past what I think I can bear. He's a bit of a holy terror. Hunter loves him, though, and very occasionally, they're so sweet together it makes my teeth ache. I took some pictures to try and capture those moments for later, when Oscar's being a bastard again. Yes, my house is a mess. Don't judge me. This last one is of Hunter alone, because he's ludicrously adorable and I can't help myself.

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