Friday, December 31, 2010

My Favorite Books of 2010 (And a Few Other Things)

As we say goodbye to 2010, I thought it would be a good time to look back on this fabulous year, to say a few thank yous and to list my top three favorite books of the year. First, a look back. As some of you who've known me for a while now will recall, 2009 was a bummer around here. My dad suffered a life-threatening head injury, my brother got divorced (sniff), my father-in-law died, two of my aunts died, my best friend's mother died far too young and we lost our darling 17-year-old dog Consuela who'd been with us since the second month we were married. A bummer of a year by anyone's standards. 2010 had to be better right? Well, it was!

While my family and friends thrived and good health abounded (other than those two unfortunate episodes of diverticulitis for yours truly), my writing "career" finally seemed to take off in 2010. As of today, I will have signed FIVE contracts with Harlequin for four Fatal books and a novella. I could hardly have seen that coming going into this year when Fatal Affair was on submission to Harlequin's new Carina Press. Over the years I have learned to submit and forget about it until you get a reply. So it was with great delight that I heard of Carina's interest in Fatal Affair in early February. They bought it later in February, Fatal Justice went in May (and is out on MONDAY!), Fatal Consequences in August, Fatal Destiny and Fatal Flaw in November. A very, very good year indeed. In 2010, I wrote a book to deadline for the first time and survived the process, proving a few things to myself. This fall came the spectacular news that Fatal Affair had been chosen for one of Harlequin's direct-to-consumer programs and will be sent—in print—to all of HQN's mystery and romantic suspense subscribers in July 2011. It was also released in October as an audio book. Some days I still wake up and want to pinch myself over all the good stuff that happened this year. And that brings me to my first thank you: To all the people who bought Fatal Affair, who wrote to express their love for Sam and Nick and Freddie and the rest of the gang, THANK YOU! I can't tell you how much it means to me to be writing this series the way I wanted to write it, with Sam and Nick front and center in every book. If there's one thing I know for sure about publishing it's that there would be no book 4 in the works if book 1 hadn't done fairly well. That is all on you, my faithful readers and I thank you so profoundly for that. I fought hard for this series, and I knew there were readers out there who would embrace this couple, so thanks for coming through for me! :-)

The second thank you is to ALL the readers who have checked out the two offerings I posted to Amazon: True North and The Fall. You guys have OVERWHELMED me with your response to these two books. People have asked me why I went ahead and posted some of my unsold books on my own. Well, the answer to that is easy: no one was interested in them except my readers. I had a feeling you all would connect to Travis and Liana and Ted and Caroline, and judging by the numbers, the reader reviews and the emails you've sent, I was right about that. So thank you. Truly, you have humbled me with your support. There will be more coming in 2011, so keep your eyes posted here and on my Amazon author page for more of my favorite books!

The next thank you goes out to all my new friends! Whether we found each other through Facebook or you wrote to me about my books or we met at a conference, I am deeply grateful for each and every one of you. The fun we've had on Facebook has made my somewhat lonely existence working two jobs from home so much brighter. I look forward to our daily banter and can't wait for more fun in 2011. I want to say a special thank you to Ronlyn Howe, Alyson Hackett, Kara Conrad, Hope Frost, Kris Gilson, Anne Woodall, Mary G and all the ladies who've supported our new Romance and Oreos Book Club. The book club has been GREAT FUN and I'm so glad we've gotten it up and running in 2010. I'm looking forward to a fun year of new books and fabulous authors in 2011. I have read some truly AMAZING books this year thanks the recommendations from the Whip Cracking Book Club Wenches, so thank you for that, too! Thank you also to the amazing authors who have come bearing gifts and given of their time and insight to the book club. We appreciate you more than you know!

Finally, this year I decided to keep track of how many books I read and to note the ones I particularly loved. You've heard me say before that I am not a big fan of authors rating other authors so you won't see me scoring books on Goodreads or Amazon. Instead I give a little * to those that really resonated with me. That doesn't mean I don't like the others. I liked most of the books I read this year with few exceptions. The final total for the year was 112. To be honest, I am surprised it's that low. I would've guessed closer to 200. In years past, it probably was 200 or more. But now that I am having to be even more disciplined about writing, the reading time is getting ever more precious. I still read for fun every single day. My day is simply not complete without at least 30 minutes of reading time. And in 2010, I became an e-book convert. In early November, I downloaded the Amazon app to my iTouch (okay, let's be real, Emily did it for me) and have become an e-book reading fool. I'm a total convert. I never imagined I'd love it so much!

So now without further ado, I give you my top three favorite books for 2010:
1. A Summer in Sonoma by Robyn Carr. This book contained all the things that make a book unforgettable to me: amazing, well-crafted characters dealing with serious issues in their lives along with a healthy dose of romance. Four interwoven stories told from Robyn's unique perspective made this book a total winner for me. I know I will remember it for some time to come. And, I'm delighted to call Robyn a new friend in 2010. Her Virgin River books rank right up there among my all-time favorites.

2. Hot Island Nights by Sarah Mayberry. What a terrific book about a hero dealing with unimaginable grief and all it's accompanying issues. I love the way Sarah tackles the subject of post-traumatic stress in the context of a new romance. To be honest, I've come to expect a lighter, fluffier read from a lot of the Blaze line and with the title of this book, I was expecting a sexy beach romp (not that there is ANYTHING wrong with a sexy beach romp!). This book was SO much more than that. I thought about it for weeks after I finished it, and that made this book one of my top 3 for 2010. Well done, Sarah!

3. Extreme Exposure by Pamela Clare. I chose this book because it set me off on a reading frenzy that reminded me of when I read the Virgin River books. For about 20 days in November I was all Pamela Clare all the time. Her I-Team series, which begins with Extreme Exposure, was some of the most riveting reading I've done in a long time. I tend to shy away from contemporaries and romantic suspense because that's what I write, and I never want to be influenced by other books. However, my book club wenches insisted I read this series, and WOW, I am so glad I did. As a former reporter myself, I loved reading about Pam's investigative reporters and their many adventures. If you haven't read this series, what are you waiting for? Even though I listed Extreme Exposure as one of my top three, I am STILL on team Julian (ALY)! He is the hero from book 2, Hard Evidence. One word: YUM. Thank you for the many hours of entertainment, Pamela!

Honorable Mention
1. Last Chance Rescue Series by Christy Reece. Riveting. Amazing. Heart-pounding.
2. Kelly Group International Series by Maya Banks. Outstanding. Sexy. Thrilling. Can't wait for the third book! Six yummy brothers. What more do we need?

So much for avoiding romantic suspense, huh? :-) I am shocked to not see a historical on my top 3 list. I truly enjoyed Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean (coming soon to book club) and 10 Things I Love About You by Julia Quinn. And, of course, A Wallflower Christmas and the final Hathaway book by Lisa Kleypas.

I end 2010 a thankful, grateful wife, mother, daughter, sister, cousin, friend and author who is surrounded by amazing people who make life a happier place to be. Whether you are near or far, I love you all and look forward to 2011. Happy New Year!

Now, tell me your top three favorite books for 2010 and your resolutions for 2011!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Home for the Holidays

I first discovered Sarah Mayberry's books through the Blaze line. Hot Island Nights was one of my favorites of 2010. So when someone suggested we do Home for the Holidays this holiday week, I was all for it. This wonderful contemporary, set in Australia, didn't disappoint! Joe is a widowed dad with two kids who were old enough to be traumatized by their mother's sudden death in a car accident two years before the story opens. What I really loved was that the kids were very realistically drawn. They weren't just plot devices. They were critical to the story. Joe's daughter forms a bond with his new next-door neighbor Hannah, a rough-around-the-edges mechanic who has been shattered by the betrayal of her fiance, who hooked up with her SISTER! A month before the wedding. OUCH.

So when Joe and Hannah meet, both are recovering from loss and disappointment. Their relationship develops slowly and the focus for a long time is Joe's daughter's friendship with Hannah. Throughout the whole book, Hannah talks about her goal to ride her motorcycle around Australia. To be honest, I didn't think she'd really go once she formed the bond with Joe and his kids. So I was surprised when she actually got on her bike and drove away, leaving the three people she'd come to love. It doesn't take her long on the road to realize that she'd left her heart behind and she returns home to them.

They are on their way to happily ever after when Hannah discovers a lump in her breast. I gotta tell you, when the breast cancer thing came up, I was shrieking NO NO NO! I didn't think I was going to like that storyline, but after reading the ending, I loved what Sarah did with it, how Joe made the children part of the decision to keep Hannah in their lives and to confront her illness as a family. I also loved that Hannah came right out and TOLD him she had breast cancer rather than breaking up with him for some manufactured reason and then expecting him to believe that she really wanted to end it with him. That was very well done! Hannah was a terrific heroine who remained true to herself even as she watched her life spin out of control as she fell for Joe and his kids. I've since read The Best Laid Plans, and I really liked that one too. Sarah does something in her books that I try to do in mine: she keeps the couple TOGETHER for most of the book rather than constantly apart (a pet peeve of mine in a lot of contemporary romance these days). I love seeing them work it out together. I will definitely be reading more of Sarah's books!

I'm looking forward to welcoming Sarah today and to talking about Home for the Holidays and her other books. Sarah has graciously agreed to give away three books today: Hot Island Nights, Best Laid Plans and her upcoming February release, The Last Goodbye. Please join me in welcoming Sarah!

Find out more about Sarah and her books on her website!

For today's recipe, I give you Ronlyn's AWESOME Firecracker Marinade. If you haven't tried this, you are missing out!

Firecracker Marinade

1/2 cup BBQ sauce
2 Tbsp packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp olive or veg. oil
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1-2 tsp red pepper sauce
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped.

Mix it all up and serve it over pork loin or whatever tickles your fancy. I've had it on pork tenderloin and it is AMAZING!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Next Up for Book Club: Home for the Holidays

We're looking forward to welcoming Sarah Mayberry to Book Club on Thursday, Dec. 30. I've read several of Sarah's books this year, including Hot Island Nights, which was one of my favorites this year. I really loved Home for the Holidays, next week's book, as well as Best Laid Plans. I love the Australian settings and the wonderful romances Sarah gives us in every book. Home for the Holidays was no exception!

About the Book:
Joe Lawson has a thing for his new neighbor Hannah Napier. As a single dad, he shouldn't be thinking what he is about her. Still, that doesn't stop them from getting close. And the way she connects with his kids, it's as if they're a family.

Turns out it's too good to be true. Seems Hannah has plans that don't include staying in Melbourne. Joe won't stand between her and her dreams, even though letting her go is nearly impossible. The holidays are looking grim, with him and his kids missing Hannah like crazy. But it is the season of surprises, and Hannah may have one for them!

There was a lot to love about this book, including two very appealing and well-written kids. Looking forward to chatting with Sarah about this book and her others next Thursday. She'll be giving away Hot Island Nights, Best Laid Plans and her upcoming February release, The Last Goodbye.

So get reading and get ready for another fun meeting! See you then!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Book Club: A Wallflower Christmas

Taken from Lisa Kleypas's website:

Wealthy entrepreneur Rafe Bowman has come to London to marry Lady Natalie, an aristocratic bride who will help to further his ambitions. But two things stand in his way : Lady Natalie's disapproving companion Hannah . . . and Rafe's passion for a woman he should not want and can never have . . .

They walked through the winter garden in silence, while Hannah struggled with the certainty that Rafe Bowman was even more dangerous, more wrong for Natalie, than she had originally believed. Natalie would eventually be hurt and disillusioned by a husband she could never trust.

"You are not suitable for Natalie," she heard herself say wretchedly. "The more I learn about you, the more certain I am of that fact. I wish you would leave her alone. I wish you would find some other nobleman's daughter to prey upon."

Bowman stopped with her beside the hedge. "You arrogant little baggage," he said quietly. "The prey was not of my choosing. I'm merely trying to make the best of my circumstances. And if Lady Natalie will have me, it's not your place to object."

"My affection for her gives me the right to say something"

"Maybe it's not affection. Are you certain you're not speaking out of jealousy?"

"Jealousy? Of Natalie? You're mad to suggest such a thing"

"Oh, I don't know," he said with ruthless softness. "It's possible you're tired of standing in her shadow. Watching your cousin in all her finery, being admired and sought-after while you stay at the side of the room with the dowagers and wallflowers."

Hannah sputtered in outrage, one of her fists clenching and raising as if to strike him.

Bowman caught her wrist easily, running a finger lightly over her whitened knuckles. His soft, mocking laugh scalded her ears. "Here," he said, forcibly crooking her thumb and tucking it across her fingers. "Don't ever try to hit someone with your thumb extended—you'll break it that way."

"Let go," she cried, yanking hard at her imprisoned wrist.

"You wouldn't be so angry if I hadn't struck a nerve," he taunted. "Poor Hannah, always standing in the corner, waiting for your turn. I'll tell you something you're moore than Natalie's equal, blue blood or no. You were meant for something far better than this."

"Stop it!"

"A wife for convenience and a mistress for pleasure. Isn't that how the peerage does it?"

Hannah stiffened all over, gasping, as Bowman brought her against his large, powerful form. She stopped struggling, recognizing that such efforts were useless against his strength. Her face turned from him, and she jerked as she felt his warm mouth brush the curve of her ear.

"I should make you my mistress," Bowman whispered. "Beautiful Hannah. If you were mine, I'd lay you on silk sheets and wrap you up in ropes of pearls, and feed you honey from a silver spoon. Of course, you wouldn't be able to make all your high-minded judgments if you were a fallen woman . . . but you wouldn't care. Because I would pleasure you, Hannah, every night, all night, until you forgot your own name. Until you were willing to do things that would shock you in the light of day. I would debauch you from your head down to your innocent little toes"

"Oh, I despise you," she cried, twisting helplessly against him. She had begun to feel real fear, not only from his hard grip and taunting words, but also from the shocks of heat running through her.

After this, she would never be able to face him again. Which was probably what he intended. A pleading sound came from her throat as she felt a delicately inquiring kiss in the hollow beneath her ear.

"You want me," he murmured. In a bewildering shift of mood he turned tender, letting his lips wander slowly along the side of her throat. "Admit it, Hannah, I appeal to your criminal tendencies. And you definitely bring out the worst in me." He drew his mouth over her neck, seeming to savor the swift, unsteady surges of her breathing. "Kiss me," he whispered. "Just once, and I'll let you go."

Sigh. Wow, what a scene, and it's one of many awesome and breathtaking moments in A Wallflower Christmas. What a great story! I loved how Rafe fell not for the woman intended for him but for the woman's prickly companion. My favorite scene in the book was when Rafe loses a silly wager to Hannah and has to give her something of his as a prize. He hands her a worn tin soldier he carries in his pocket. Hannah thinks nothing much of the toy trinket until Rafe's sister Lillian, one of the original Wallflowers, tells her about the significance of the toy soldier to her brother. That story, that scene, was amazing. The way Lillian let Hannah know that Rafe giving her that item was NOT a casual gesture got my heart pounding and made me so sad for what Rafe had endured as a child.

I also loved the snippets of our earlier wallflowers. Seeing them with the men they loved, living happily ever after, was so fun and added such a nice element to this Christmas story. Furthermore, I enjoyed the way Lisa brought in the historical significance of the Christmas tree and treated us to some back story of how trees in the home came into vogue. Can you imagine all the lit candles in today's dried up old trees? HELLO, fire hazard?!? Yikes!

To get the discussion started, tell me what you thought of the book, your favorite scene and share some of your favorite Christmas traditions or memories. I will be giving a $25 Amazon gift card to one lucky commenter today, so let's get the party started and let's hear it for all the Wallflowers out there! May they find their happily ever after in 2011!

For today's recipe I am sharing my late mother's Pumpkin Bread. It's not the holidays in my house without the scent of Pumpkin Bread cooking in the oven!

Barbara's Pumpkin Bread
*This recipe makes 2 loaves
3 C sugar
1 C vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 small can of pumpkin
1 C raisins (or go without if you prefer)
3 1/3 C flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. of baking powder
1 tsp. each of cinnamon, nutmeg and ground cloves

Sift dry ingredients together
Cream sugar and eggs and then add oil and pumpkin
When blended well, add dry ingredients and mix well
Bake in large, greased loaf pans at 325 degrees for 1.5 hrs

Enjoy and my best wishes for a peaceful holiday season and wonderful New Year!

Monday, December 20, 2010

My Core Story

Since last year's RWA Conference, I've been thinking a lot about something Jayne Ann Krentz said in her luncheon speech. It was about knowing your core story as a writer, and remaining true to it in all your books because it's what readers come to expect from you. So I started to think: What is my core story? I'm not sure I have just one. I've given this a lot of thought, mind you, and these are the core stories I've come up with that resonate through most of my contemporaries (I am excluding the Fatal books because they are an entirely different animal altogether!):

1. I'm told I do love triangles pretty well. I enjoy writing them and examining all the various implications for all three parties.
2. For some strange reason, I like to write about fame in all its many iterations and what it does to regular people.
3. I often work in the "gray area" between the black and white of right and wrong. I like what goes on there, the murkiness and the uncertainty.
4. I like to write about families and family dynamics.

You will find some or all of these themes in all of my books. Line of Scrimmage and Love at First Flight featured love triangles. Everyone Loves a Hero looks at what fame can do to a regular guy and his relationships with regular people. Recently I decided to post two of my unsold books because readers were asking for more, and I have plenty more to give! True North touches on issues related to fame and how it can impact one's desire to lead a "normal" life. In a way, it contains a love triangle because Liana has to choose between the man she has come to love and the high-profile career she thought she wanted. The Fall is all about that grey area, what goes on in the murky place between right and wrong. It was fun to take a doctor who thought he knew himself so well and show him he knew nothing at all. It also contains one hell of a love triangle and is fat with family dynamics! Here's some more about True North and The Fall:

True North
The first time Travis North lays eyes on Liana McDermott, she’s wearing the most hideous bridesmaid dress he’s ever seen. He doesn't immediately recognize the world-famous model who is attending her cousin Enid's wedding at the country club he owns. Thanks to Enid's shameless matchmaking, Travis and Liana become acquainted and later embark on a two-week fling intended to be free of emotion and entanglement. As Liana's return to work gets closer, however, Travis wonders how he'll ever let her go when the time comes while Liana considers whether he might be her true north. Two high-powered careers, two amazing weeks and a love that comes along just once in a lifetime. Is she ready to give up her career for a different kind of life? Does he want the same things she does? After insisting on an emotionless affair, she can't very well ask him. Or can she?

Find True North here. Thank you to everyone who has bought True North this month. I'm truly blown away by the reception it has received.

The Fall
Dr. Ted Duffy has finally met a woman who makes him ache with desire. Too bad she’s dating his best friend of twenty years. This simple premise has momentous consequences for Ted in “The Fall,” a story that explores the bonds of friendship, the expectations of family, and the power of love to unite and divide. Ted is a third-generation pediatric oncologist in Boston. He is thirty-seven years old, married to his work, and his patients are his kids. He and his college friends spend summer weekends in Newport, Rhode Island, which is the only break Ted gets from the grind of his job. After a devastating loss at work, he leaves for Newport where he meets his friend’s new girlfriend, Caroline. During that first weekend together, Ted and Caroline fall in love. When they later act on their feelings, shock and disbelief ricochet through his tight-knit group of friends and family. A highly respected doctor, a beloved son and grandson, a loyal friend, Ted is stunned by his sudden free fall from grace. Sometimes love is not enough...or is it?

Find The Fall here.

Hope you enjoy these new offerings and I'm curious to know what you all think about core story. Do your favorite writers tend to stick to certain themes? Are you always looking for those themes in their books? Are you disappointed when you don't find them?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Next Week on Book Club: A Wallflower Christmas

Okay, I am laughing because I REALLY thought this book was new this year, but it was released in 2008. Duh! I wish I'd known about it before now because I really loved it. I adored all the Wallflowers and enjoyed seeing snippets of their happily ever afters in this charming addition to the series. From Lisa Kleypas's website:

Wealthy entrepreneur Rafe Bowman has come to London to marry Lady Natalie, an aristocratic bride who will help to further his ambitions. But two things stand in his way : Lady Natalie's disapproving companion Hannah . . . and Rafe's passion for a woman he should not want and can never have . . .

I loved that the wealthy American had his eye on the companion rather than the high-society woman everyone expected him to marry. I've said before, and I'll probably say it again: if Lisa Kleypas wrote the phone book, I'd want to read it. She's that good. So come on over to book club on Thursday, Dec. 23, to talk about A Wallflower Christmas. I know we're all busy with holiday prep, but this book is just what we need to put us all in the mood for our own happy holidays!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Book Club: Welcome to Virgin River and a Visit with Robyn Carr

As I mentioned a time or three last week, I'm so excited to welcome one of my favorite authors to book club this week! I first discovered Robyn Carr's Virgin River series in the summer of 2009 and spent four memorable days devouring all seven of the available books. I've since read last year's trilogy and the start of this year's trilogy, "Promise Canyon," which Robyn sent to me as a special thank you for having her at book club. I should be thanking her because Jack, Mel, Preacher and their ever growing gang of friends and neighbors have brought me many hours of entertainment. So when Aly Hackett, today's co-hostess, suggested we do Virgin River for book club, I jumped up and down (cyber jumping that is) with excitement. Here are some of Aly's favorite moments in Virgin River:

Page 140 – The interaction between Jack and Rick is just fantastic. It speaks volumes of Jack as a man. This is where Jack gives Rick the condoms to use with Liz but is very torn about it. He wants them to have them just in case but doesn't want Rick to think he is endorsing the act. (From Marie: The Rick and Liz storyline was one of my favorites. Heartbreakingly real.)

Page 156 – Jack’s easiness and sense of humor just cracks me up. When Mel kisses him the first time after she declared that she was to make the next move. Jack doesn’t really respond to her kiss. “Did you not like that?” she asked. “Oh,” he said. “Am I allowed to respond?” (Marie says: I love Jack. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE him. I love his storyline in Promise Canyon and so will all you VR fans.)

Page 206 – This is when Preacher moves Jack to his apartment after The Boys leave, he gets drunk and Mel stays with him. She sniffed the pillow – Downy. Who was this guy? she found herself asking. Looks like Paul Bunyan, runs a bar, has all these guns, and clean and launders like Martha Stewart. I loved Mel’s description of him! (Awesome. Loved the Downey moment, too!)

Pages 221 – 223 – Mel’s breakdown in the rain just about killed me the first time I read it and still makes me ache when I reread it. I had read Robyn’s previous books—she was not a new author to me—but this is what made me fall in love with Robyn Carr as an author. It takes a lot to make me feel alongside the characters and Robyn got it. She made Mel’s pain—and Jack’s pain on her behalf—come off the page. (An amazing scene.)

The supporting cast of characters is great. Meeting The Boys—all the Marines—Rick, Preacher, Doc—they all make this book phenomenal and make you want to know more. Actually, it makes you want to move to Virgin River to find a “Jack” for yourself—even if you are happily married :)

Couldn't have said it better, Aly! It's the sense of community and neighbors becoming family to each other in their remote corner of the world that keeps me coming back for more whenever a new VR book is released. I'm looking forward to welcoming Robyn today and she is giving away a signed copy of Promise Canyon to one lucky commenter! Trust me when I say you'll want to comment to win this book!

Oh and hey Whip Cracking Book Club Wenches, if I am a dorky fan girl, have an intervention, will ya? Don't let me embarrass myself in front of Robyn. :-) She needs to leave here thinking I'm *ahem* a SERIOUS author. Got me?

Find out more about Robyn Carr on her website and on Facebook.

Here is what's in store when we head to Aly's house in Georgia for Book Club! (These recipes look like they could've come right from Preacher's kitchen!)

Grilled Pork with Glazed Apples and Yam Mash
3 ( 1 ¼ lb) yams, peeled and cut into cubes
¼ cup milk
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
2 tsp unsalted butter
¾ tsp salt
¾ tsp pepper
½ cup frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed
2 Tbsp yellow mustard
1 Tbsp grated onion
½ tsp each ground cumin and apple pie spice
3 large Golden Delicious apples cut into 4 thick slices
8 (2 oz) thing cut boneless loin pork chops

Combine yams and milk in a bowl; cover with vented plastic wrap. Microwave on high 10 minutes; let stand 5 minutes. Add sugar, butter and ¼ tsp each of the salt & pepper; mash until smooth. Keep warm.

Whisk juice concentrate, mustard, onion, cumin and spice; microwave on high 3 minutes or until glaze boils and begins to thicken. Arrange apple slices on a broiler pan (or a cookie sheet will work); brush apples with glaze. Broil 3 minutes, turn slices, then brush with more glaze. Broil second side for 3 minutes or until slightly brown and tender.

Season pork chops on both sides with salt & pepper. Grilled approximately 7 minutes on each side until just barely pink at the thickest part.

Serve with apple slices & mashed yams

Cranberry-Pear Pie
Premade pie crust or your homemade one
3 large ripe but firm pears, peeled, cored and sliced
1 ½ cups fresh cranberries
½ cup dried cranberries
¾ cup sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp lemon zest
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp salt
1 Tbsp milk
1 Tbsp coarse sugar

Preheat oven to 425.

Mix pears, fresh & dried cranberries, sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest, ginger and salt; spoon into pie crust; cover with top pie crust. Fold top edge under bottom crust; crimp to seal. Brush with milk; sprinkle with coarse sugar. Cut vents in top.

Bake for 10 minutes at 425. Then lower temperature to 350 and back until the crust is brown, about 55 minutes.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


This afternoon, I bailed out my son. No, not from jail. He's 12! He was six chapters behind on the book Hatchet, about a boy who is stranded alone in the wilderness after the pilot flying his plane has a heart attack. The boy crash lands the plane and is left to fend for himself. So while practicing my speed-reading tactics and reading aloud to Jake, I realized something. This was the first book I've read in YEARS that is not a romance. In other words, no guarantee of a happy ending. *GASP*

But what, I wondered, if Brian dies at the end or never gets rescued? What will I do? Would either of those scenarios ruin the book for me? Well, duh. YES! It would totally ruin the book if Brian goes through bears and wolves and porcupines and skunks and starvation and making fire—all for nothing. Picture Castaway without the rescue (ohh, weird, just as I typed the word "rescue" Brian Williams said that word on the news, but I digress...)

Romance has ruined me! I now have expectations. BIG expectations. I need my HEA, which stands for happily ever after for those of you who don't speak romance. I not only need it, I EXPECT IT! When it occurred to me that this book might end badly—because, let's face it, the books they make us read in school aren't usually about making us happy—I wanted to quit reading or do something I NEVER do when reading a romance: flip ahead to the ending to make SURE Brian is rescued before I invest any more time. Well, I have to keep reading because Jake on his own wouldn't have finished that book by the end of the school year let alone before Christmas vacation...

Good news: my skimming indicates a rescue. Phew. Thank goodness. Now I can sleep tonight. Am I alone in this state of great expectation? Please tell me it's not just me...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Love this Picture

I love this picture of my new best reader friend in Uruguay, Lady Vale, with the two books I sent her for showing me the love on Goodreads! Isn't she so cute?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Book Club: Up Next, Virgin River by Robyn Carr

I am jumping up and down like a squealing fan girl over next week's guest, Robyn Carr. Special thanks to my co-hostess for next week, Alyson Hackett, who said, "You know, we should do Virgin River." I couldn't agree more!

To understand the full extent of my love for this series, come with me back to the summer of 2009. I had seen Virgin River around the book stores for years. I'd picked it up a few times, put it down, picked it up. You know the dance. Finally, I bought a copy and brought it home to add to my TBR. Then, after my work conference was over and my life had returned to some semblance of normal, I picked up Virgin River and decided it was time to dive in. Well, four days and seven books later I had devoured the entire series. Some of them I read on the computer because the bookstore couldn't get them to me fast enough. When I wrote to Robyn to tell her how much I'd loved the series, I told her that my children didn't get fed (thankfully they are old enough to feed themselves during a crisis), my job didn't get done (that's not entirely true and if my boss is reading this, come on, you know better!), no writing got done (that's entirely true), and I thought of little else but Jack, Mel, Preacher, Jack's Bar, and the town of Virgin River.

So what do I love about this world Robyn has created? I love that if you have a problem or are just in need of someone to listen, you go see Jack. He'll lend a shoulder while he draws a beer, and he's a damned good listener. Just be prepared for him to try to fix whatever ails you in his own special buttinsky way. If you need a hearty meal or a random piece of information drawn from the Internet, see Preacher. Having a baby? Mel is your girl. Building a house? See Paul about that. Crisis of faith? That's Noah's department. You get the picture. Everyone has their role in the small, remote town, and they look out for each other the way an extended family would. In this world in which we are so connected to each other yet oddly disconnected, too, I think that's what I loved so much about these characters. They are connected to the people in their town in a way most people aren't anymore. Everyone should be so lucky to live in a town like Virgin River.

If you haven't read this series, obviously I recommend it. However, make sure your affairs are in order because once you get sucked in, you'll be absent from life for a few days!

When I asked Robyn to come to book club she graciously agreed and offered up a signed copy of her January release, Promise Canyon, number 11 in the Virgin River series. (Yes, of course I've read them all!) I told her that I was so excited for the new trilogy to come out in 2011. She said I shouldn't have to wait until January to read the new one and offered to send Promise Canyon to me. Hmmm, what's an author/fan girl to do with an offer like that? This is what I said to her (geek alert!): "You are too kind! Even though my first impulse was to say, no, Robyn, that is not necessary because I am thrilled to welcome you to my book club, the other (less rational fan girl) half of me is saying, ARE YOU CRAZY? A sneak peek at the next Virgin River book??? I am too weak to say no to this offer, so thank you very much!" It's an addiction, I tell you!

Please help me to welcome Robyn Carr next Thursday (and do let me know if I'm acting like a dork in front of her—please!) Now I have to get back to reading Promise Canyon...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Book Club: Just One Taste by Louisa Edwards

I'm pleased to welcome author Louisa Edwards to the Book Club with her book Just One Taste. Louisa has generously offered a complete set of her Recipe for Love trilogy to one lucky commenter! This book was recommended by Mary Grzesik, our co-hostess for this week. Here's what Mary had to say:

I had seen Louisa’s Can’t Stand the Heat & on the Steamy Side in blogland. I kept reading great reviews. I bought them & put them in my HUGE TBR pile since I was on a rom. susp. kick. I finally decided to read them & I wanted to kick myself for waiting. I read the first 2 back to back just before Just One Taste released & while I went crazy those 2 weeks, Just One Taste was worth waiting for.

I just adored sexy, bad boy Wes & sexy, adorable nerd Rosemary. Wes came from a questionable childhood with a scam artist dad & he is trying to get a life. Rosemary is a child genius who feels she lacks social skills because of the way she grew up—not much interaction with people her own age. She wears Star Wars T-shirts & has Star Trek dreams. She is a sweet combination of passion & logic:

Page 202
May the force be with us—we’re so about to have sex in the middle of Central Park!

And on the same page:
Someone should do a study of the makeup sex phenomenon.

This book is sexy, funny & endearing and it made me smile, cry, ache. The path these two took to get together was not smooth. I have sticky notes all through this book because Louisa’s writing is so wonderful, there were many scenes I just kept rereading. Some of my faves:

When Wes realizes that he wants to be worthy of Rosemary:
Page 54
The idea of wanting something real was like a new cut from a clean, sharp knife-it seemed okay on the surface of it, but give it a good poke and he was ready to whimper for mercy.

I read that over & over—so powerful.

page 72
She fit against him like a teaspoon inside a tablespoon...with a nearly audible click of perfection.

page 161
Hope was a living thing breathing gently to life inside him...

page 283
Wes felt his heart splinter right down the middle, spilling acid and pain out into his rib cage.

page 311
it was like a kick to the head, rearranging everything inside as if someone upended a drawer..

There was a secondary romance that weaved through all three books. Frankie, another bad boy, and best friend of Market restaurant owner Adam, was another person wanting to deserve happiness. In Book One, Frankie meets Jess, brother in-law of Adam, when Jess starts working there too. Jess has just come out and Frankie doesn’t trust that he is it for Jess. They broke up in book two. While I was waiting to read JOT, part of the anticipation was wondering how Frankie & Jess were going to work it out.

There was a touching parallel too, with Wes and Rosemary & Frankie and Jess.Both Wes & Frankie want to be loved so much but were so afraid to accept it. Wes recognizes this and tries to give Frankie advice he’s too afraid to take himself.

page 268
Wes tells Frankie, “Not pretending to be psychic, man, but I know that look… the expression in your eyes that says you’re in way over your head…. I know that look, because I see it in the mirror every day.”


This secondary story was so poignant. It made me feel that Louisa wrote about the kind of love that matters, that love is universal. The wanting & yearning would have worked no matter what couple she wrote about. It was a wonderful icing on the cake that is this book. Just One Taste is one of my treasures of 2010, a book that is so much more than I expected.

Louisa has shared one of her favorite recipes with us:
These are my Gram's famous, old-fashioned Fruity Cookies--perfect for the holidays, because the candied fruit in them is so festive, and because you can keep the dough chilled in the fridge and just bake them off when unexpected company drops by!

Gram's Fruity Cookies

8 oz dates
8 oz golden raisins
8 oz candied cherries
3-4 candied pineapple rings
2 cups pecans, chopped
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus 4 more cups
1 lb butter, softened
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
Special equipment: wax paper or aluminum foil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Chop the fruit (doesn't need to be a perfectly uniform dice, but should be chopped small) and mix with the chopped pecans. Dredge together in one cup of flour.

Cream butter with eggs and sugars.

Sift the remaining four cups of flour together with the baking powder, soda, cinnamon, and salt, then add the dry ingredients to the creamed egg mixture.

Stir in chopped fruits and pecans.

Chill dough in refrigerator for at least two hours.

Remove dough from fridge. Working on sheets of wax paper or aluminum foil, form dough into logs, two inches in diameter and six to eight inches long. Wrap tightly in paper or foil, then chill again.

When the dough is firm and easy to handle, slice into 1/4-inch-thick rounds and bake on a cookie sheet for about seven minutes, until cookies are golden brown.

And since we're traveling to Canada to Mary's place for book club this week, here's what she has in store for us: While it’s not Christmas yet, the parties have already started. These are 2 faves that always go over well.

1 large round of Brie cheese
pecans – enough to cover the top
Brown sugar – enough to layer on top
Place cheese on oven proof plate (I use a big quiche dish so I can lay the bread around the cheese after it’s done). Trim the rind off the top of the brie. Spread top with butter; cover with brown sugar & pecans. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, depending on size. Center should feel soft when you push down with a spoon. Serve warm with sliced French bread or crackers.

Even though I’m the Italian descent half, hubby is the talented baker. Every Christmas he makes biscotti. He uses one recipe. Just Google Joy Of Cooking Biscotti. The recipe is basically the same for all the flavors. Last year he made Anisette (licorice liqueur) & Orange Peel & Hazelnut. My fave is Cranberry/Pistachio – I'm just adding the link so you can see the pic as well.


Thanks Marie & Louisa for letting me dish about this book. Now, tell us what you thought of the book!

Find Louisa Edwards on her website, on Facebook and on Twitter.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Two New ARCs to Give Away

I've posted a new giveaway copy of Everyone Loves a Hero on Goodreads and on Facebook. To enter to win, either go to my Marie Force Facebook account and enter a comment under the GIVEAWAY entry. On Goodreads, do a search for my name and scroll down to the bottom of my author page to find the giveaway.

Here's some info about the book, which is out on February 1:

Everyone loves a hero. That's the problem.

Hero pilot Cole Langston is learning to live with—and enjoy—his newfound fame and the rabid female attention that comes with it until a lucky punch knocks some sense into him and opens his eyes to true love. When his copilot suffers a heart attack in flight, Cole lands the jetliner in a blizzard and revives the stricken captain. Catapulted to national hero status, Cole has more women vying for his attention than he knows what to do with. They all have one thing in common: they try without success to bring this happy-go-lucky pilot down to earth. Then comes an airport altercation, a punch to the face, and the lovely Olivia—a shy, timid artist who does what no other woman has ever managed to do: steal Cole's well-protected heart. With women coming on to him everywhere they go, Olivia struggles to believe that Cole is ready for a committed relationship. His biggest problem is getting rid of all his extra ladies before the only one he wants figures out that she's one of many.

Read an excerpt and then go sign up for one of the giveaways. The Facebook giveaway ends tomorrow night at midnight. The Goodreads giveaway is open until December 18.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Book Club: Next Up Just One Taste by Louisa Edwards with Giveaways!


He has a hungry mind.

Bad-boy chef Wes Murphy dreads his final semester cooking class—Food Chemistry 101—until he meets the new substitute teacher. Dr. Rosemary Wilkins is a feast for the eyes, though her approach to food is strictly academic. So Wes decides to rattle her Bunsen burner by asking for her hands-on advice—onaphrodisiacs . . .

She’s got love down to a science.

Rosemary is a little wary about working with Wes, whose casual flirtations leave her hot under the collar. But once they begin testing the love-enhancing power of chocolate, oysters, and strawberries, it becomes scientifically evident that the brainy science nerd and the boyish chef have some major chemistry together—and it’s delicious . . .

We'll welcome Louisa to Book Club next Thursday, Dec. 9! Join me, co-host Mary G, and the rest of the whip-cracking book club wenches for lively discussion and recipes. In light of this week's book, I expect the food to be even more amazing that we've become accustomed to (no pressure Mary and Louisa) even though nothing is better than some Oreos with your romance!

Louisa has graciously agreed to donate signed copies of the entire trilogy to one lucky winner!

Start reading and get ready for another wild day of fun at book club!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Book Club: Rescue Me by Christy Reece with Giveaways!

We're really pleased to have NYT bestselling author and our good friend Christy Reece as our guest today. Author of the captivating Last Chance Rescue series, Christy has quickly become a leading voice in romantic suspense.

When today's co-hostess, Hope Frost, suggested Rescue Me for this week's book club, I was really excited because I've been wanting to read more of Christy's books. I read Last Chance, part of the second trilogy, earlier this year, and I really loved it. And, no surprise, I really loved Rescue Me, too. Eden and Jordan were a fabulous couple who sizzled on the page (and in the bedroom). The suspense was gripping, and the secondary characters were amazing. Meeting Noah in Rescue Me had me running over to Amazon to get Return to Me (Kindle app on iTouch: dangerous), which I've also finished and loved. Moving on now to Run to Me. Not sure I can keep up this reading pace that the "whip-cracking book club wenches" have inflicted on me, but for now, it's some kind of fun! Like with Pamela Clare's books, I love how Christy keeps the romance front and center in her romantic suspense. That's a critical element for me as a romance reader, and it has put both Christy and Pam at the top of my RS favorites list! (I'm traveling today for the day job, so I'll be in and out, but mostly in later tonight. Hope will be holding down the fort in my absence!)

From our co-hostess, Hope: Rescue Me was my very first Romantic Suspense book. I was at a point where I needed SOMETHING to read and the cover jumped out at me. I had gotten about half way through the book, and went back to the store to buy the other two that were already out. I was not an avid reader until I got in to this book, and had a hard time putting it down. It is hard for me to write about Eden & Jordan's story, for fear of revealing to many spoilers...

Rescue Me is an exciting and suspenseful tale that never seems to stop moving forward. Eden is a smart intelligent heroine who'd overcome so much which, while it made me like her even more, may be hard for Christy to top in my opinion. Christy paired Eden with a hunky hero Jordan. A man with a sense of honor, family, and a dedication to "right." Truth be told, he's the type of man that I would like to get to know A LOT better. The pairing of these two made for a very compelling story that I go back to over and over again. Christy Reece introduces us to compelling characters who pull us into the weave of soul-jerking pain, love of life and the desire to fight for others. Rescue Me is the first of six (so far). I laughed, cried and was on the edge of my seat, all of which has cemented Christy as one of my all time favorite authors.

Find Christy on her website, her blog (where she does a great feature called Recommend Mondays when readers can stop by to recommend their favorite reads of the week), on Facebook and on Twitter.

Since we're hanging out at Hope's house today, here's what she has in store for us on the buffet table:

Pesto Chicken Pizza
Pesto: (you can use store bought pesto, but it is yucky lol)

1 cup of basil
(you can also use the basil paste that you can get in the herb section in the produce isle, if you use that, use the whole tube)

2 - 3 cloves of garlic

1/3 - 1/2 cup of grated parmesan
(not the time for the cheap stuff girls)

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
(toast them until the have a little color)

1/2 - 3/4 cup olive oil

Combine everything but the olive oil in a food processor. After that is all chopped up, slowly start to add the oil. You want the consistency of thin peanut butter. You don't want to much oil. Taste and salt and pepper to your taste.

I use thighs cause they bake easier and don't dry out, but use whatever you want. I also make the chicken different ways. You can fry them with a little olive oil, lemon and herbs for a lemon chicken flavor. I also make it as a teriyaki chicken. What ever your feeling that night.

3-4 boneless skinless chicken thighs cubed

You will also need fresh mozzarella
(I have also used the marinated herb mozzarella balls. In that case I cube those)

So to put it together, just take your pizza crust (I usually use bobolli since it is quick) and spread the pesto all over the crust

Sprinkle with the chicken and cheese

add whatever toppings you like, Keith like tomato and fresh basil added.

Bake until the cheese is melted and yummy.

Banana Nut Bread
1 cup granulated sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
3 ripe bananas
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup walnuts (optional)
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips (optional)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan.

Cream the sugar and butter in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
In a small bowl, mash the bananas with a fork. Mix in the milk and cinnamon. In another bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Add the banana mixture to the creamed mixture and stir until combined. Add dry ingredients, mixing just until flour disappears.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside to cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Remove bread from pan, invert onto rack and cool completely before slicing.

Enjoy ;o)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

To Review or Not to Review...

There's a great discussion going on over at Dear Author about authors reviewing other authors' books on Goodreads and other online venues. This issue is a murky, swampy mess for authors, and shocker, I do have an opinion on it. Rather than spout of on Dear Author, I am spouting here, in my own cyber living room.

I decided years ago to keep most of my opinions to myself when it came to the work of other romance writers. It goes back to the "do unto others as you'd have done to you" credo we were taught as children. If I don't want other authors spouting off about all the things that are wrong with my books, why would I do it to them? Why would I give a fellow romance writer a one-star review on Goodreads when I might someday be asked to work with her in some capacity or another? What do I gain from posting that negative review about her work in a public setting?

This goes for my friends, too. I would never give an author friend anything less than a five-star review on a public site. Why? Because anything less than a five suggests there were things about the book I didn't like. Maybe they were small things that really didn't matter much in the grand scheme, but I would not want my friend to wonder what it was about her book that made the difference between a four and a five for me. Why should she have that question in her head from me when she has so much other praise and criticism being hurled her way? Authors have enough arrows slung at them—friendly and not-so-friendly—to be wondering what it was about their book didn't work for their writer friends.

If I wouldn't give a friend less than a five-star review, that pretty much removes any value the reading public might place on my reviews, right? So why bother? The closest I will come to expressing an opinion is the list you see on my sidebar of books I've read in 2010 with stars next to the ones I truly loved. The remainder span a wide range from what would be a DNF on a traditional review site to a 4-star review. I don't feel the need to differentiate between them. That list began more as a curiosity experiment. I knew I read a lot, but I had no idea what the full number of books for a year would be. As the list unfolded, I realized I wanted a way to highlight the books I truly loved, thus the star. I never felt the same need to show which ones didn't work for me.

I was talking books yesterday with a group of reader friends and one of my all-time favorites came up. One of my close friends HATED that book. Another started it but never finished. How a story hits one reader vs. another is always going to be a subjective exercise. As an author, I believe it is far more important for me to be supportive of my author colleagues than it is for me to express my negative opinions about a colleague's work. And whether we know each other or not, whether one is small potatoes like me or a NYT bestseller like Nora Roberts, we are all colleagues in a business where we put our souls on display in every book. That's why when we started the book club, there was one major rule I emphasized and that was respect for the work. You don't have to like the book, I said, but you must respect the author. I believe that with every fiber of my being, and I try to live it in my online interactions.

What about you? Where do you stand on authors reviewing authors?