April 30, 2012

book reviews: april 2012 recap

My Read of the Month: E L James' Fifty Shades trilogy. These books have
a lot going for them. I inhaled these well-written, entertaining and super sexy
books. They even inspired some of the most... interesting dreams I've had
in a while. I recommend them to anyone looking for a spicy beach read.
Another great month of reading with a mix of genres, from women's literature to erotica, dystopians to chick lit. These books were all written by new authors for me, and I was amazed by how strong their writing styles were. I love finding new writers.

I also stepped out of my comfort zone this month. I tried science fiction and erotica — something new for me. And you know what? I adored them. Granted, the erotica made me blush (and still makes me when I think about it), but it was so well done, it never made me feel like I was being bad. Well, not too bad. Just bad enough.

So check out my recap of this month's book reviews. You will find several good reads in here.

Blame it on the Fame by Tracie Banister
Rating: 4.5 of 5
Award show junkies and cinema fans alike will find an entertaining and well-executed read in Tracie Banister's debut novel, Blame it on the Fame. The ballots are in, and the story begins as Hollywood announces its nominees for the upcoming Academy Awards. Up for best actress are a golden girl with a careful image to mask her natural bitchiness; an unknown Brit who can't seem to stay away from her bad boy ex-boyfriend/co-star; an ex-model turned actress who loves parties, too much; the daughter of two past Oscar winners keeping a big secret from the world; and a comeback has-been warring a personal battle.
Read the rest of the review here.


Children of the Gods by Monica Millard
Rating: 4 of 5
One one level, Monica Millard's Children of the Gods tells the story about making the best of a situation when decisions are made beyond an individual's control. But it goes beyond that.
Read the rest of the review here.


Jackpot by Jackie Pilossoph
Rating: 4.5 of 5
Frankie Jacobson's friends give her a better chance at winning the lottery than of getting grandchildren any time soon. In Jackie Pilossoph's Jackpot, she sets out to accomplish one after doing the other.
Read the rest of the review here.


Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
Rating: 4.5 of 5
E L James' debut novel Fifty Shades of Grey had me blushing fifty shades of pink before I was halfway through the story.

Ana Steele is about to graduate college, but first she volunteers to interview Christian Grey, the university's elusive eligible bachelor benefactor. Sparks fly instantly between the pair, and Ana soon finds herself the object of Mr. Grey's interest.

Innocent to relationships and sex, Christian catches her off guard with an indecent proposal to be the submissive to his dominant self -- in and out of the bedroom. In return, Christian agrees to delve into a side of relationships he has never before embarked on: intimacy and romance. What follows is a journey filled with confusion and turmoil as each tries to make it work without compromising who they are.
Read the reset of the review here.


Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James
Rating: 5 of 5
After leaving us hanging at the end of Fifty Shades of Grey, E L James brings Ana Steele and Christian Grey back together in Fifty Shades Darker.

Vowing to find middle ground and compromise, Ana and Christian throw themselves into their relationship to make it work. What started as an instant attraction between the couple in book one manifests itself into deep commitment and love throughout the romantic story.
Read the rest of the review here.


Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James
Rating: 5 of 5
In the final installment of E L James' Fifty Shades trilogy, the main characters settle into playing house, albeit unconventionally, while facing the past and present obstacles that prevent them from living happily ever after.

Fifty Shades Freed begins with Anastasia Steele Grey and Christian Grey on their honeymoon after a short engagement and even shorter courtship. Even though they are obviously in love and manage to positively affect each other, life is far from a perfect paradise.
Read the rest of the review here.


Blue Straggler by Kathy Lynn Harris
Rating: 4.5 of 5
In Kathy Lynn Harris' Blue Straggler, a woman on the verge of a meltdown breaks away from her life to discover the truth behind a family mystery while finding herself in the process. 

At 30, Bailey Miller feels her life slipping away. She is disconnected from her family in rural Texas, works at a job she barely tolerates and is unable to maintain romantic relationships. After trying to fix her problem by creating a new persona (RODA), visiting an unhelpful Ed Harris-look-alike shrink and self-medicating with booze, Bailey is farther from inner peace than ever. Even her friends -- diner owner Idamarie and college buddy Rudy -- are at a loss to help her get it together.
Read the rest of the review here.


Love by Design by Liz Matis
Rating: 4.5 of 5
Sexual tension in the workplace has never been greater than in Liz Matis’ Love by Design.

Victoria Bryce is living her dream as the host of the successful home makeover show “Design Intervention.” But when her fabulous co-host takes an indefinite sabbatical, she finds herself paired with Russ Rowland, an Aussie invader better known for being built than what he builds.
Read the rest of the review here.

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review: love by design

Sexual tension in the workplace has never been greater than in Liz Matis’ Love By Design.

Victoria Bryce is living her dream as the host of the successful home makeover show “Design Intervention.” But when her fabulous co-host takes an indefinite sabbatical, she finds herself paired with Russ Rowland, an Aussie invader better known for being built than what he builds.

Sparks fly instantly between the Victoria and Russ. Though both are willing to admit the fact to themselves, neither is willing to give in to their more carnal impulses. He’s not her type – she does not deal with bad boys. And she’s not his kind of girl either – she is a lady, which means she comes with the trappings of commitment rather than a one night stand. Each knows the other is off limits as long as they have a professional relationship. But the longings are deliciously there.

Fortunately for us readers, the two don't waste much time fighting those urges. Or doing anything else for that matter.

Frankly, I was blushing before I even started this book. I mean, look at the cover. Total swoon. I'm pleased (or flustered) to report the contents lived up to the standard set by that picture. Now to change the subject before I start giggling again.

Though a bit frigid, Victoria is likeable. Instantly, the reader knows most of her hang-ups come from a lifetime with an overbearing socialite mother. In one aspect, she is her own woman, or wants to be. In the other, she cannot shake her mother’s influence.

Russ is totally crushable and adorable from his grand entrance. The man has a lot going on for him. Physically, he is a hunk of Aussie man, well-built and gorgeous. Personally, he is a bad boy packed with edge, wit and charm out. If his abs are anything like the ones on the cover of this book, holy crikey! (Back to that cover. Oh no!) Plus, he teaches Victoria and her friends Australian slang and has a fantastic little secret that left me humming Men At Work's "Land Down Under" long after I finished the book.

Go ahead and watch the video so you can have it stuck in your head, too.


Though maybe not the most realistic of circumstances -- unfortunately -- because everything happens so fast, the whirlwind of Victoria an Russ' romance is fun to follow. The banter between the two had me laughing at loud almost as often as other scenes had me turning crimson.

Humorous and sexy at the same time, Love By Design is a fast and enjoyable read. Matis knows how to tell an entertaining story that had me laughing and blushing at the same time.


Rating: 4 of 5

About the Author
Liz Matis is a mild manner accountant by day and by night a writer of fun, flirty, and fiery romps! She is a Kindle Best Seller and winner of the NECRWA First Kiss Contest. Married 26 years and counting she believes in happy ever afters.

Buy the Book!


Read an excerpt of Love by Design.

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excerpt: love by design

Blogger's Note: I'm pleased to have Liz Matis stop by to share an excerpt of Love by Design as part of her Chick Lit Plus blog tour. This is a spicy read -- just look at that book cover. I get giggly and blush every time I see it. Enjoy at your own risk.

About Liz Matis' Love by Design:

Design Intervention starts the second season with its own surprise makeover. Interior designer Victoria Bryce must break in her temporary co-host, Aussie Russ Rowland. Victoria, former socialite wild child hopes the reality show will give her the clout to launch her own design line without her family connections. Russ, former bad boy Australian TV star is using the show to launch his acting career in the States. Sparks fly on camera as they argue over paint colors and measurement mishaps leading to passions igniting behind the scenes. But when their pasts collide with the present will the foundation they built withstand the final reveal?

Excerpt from Love by Design:
The glossy ink blackness of her hair should’ve made the pale color of her skin appear washed out, but instead it shone like a South Sea pearl he once retrieved on a dive when he was twenty-six. Russ didn’t have to caress the elegant curve of her neck to see if she was just as smooth. But he wanted to.

The sharp angled cuts of her hair mirrored her cheekbones, contrasting with full soft lips tinted with pink gloss. He wondered if it was of the flavored variety. Cherry? No, not red enough. Bubblegum? She licked her lips as if he’d willed her to do so. Maybe he had.

Dressed all in black, from the killer spiked heels, leather skirt, and v-neck shirt, she resembled a comic book vixen. Except for the eyes. As clear blue as the waters off of Fraser Island, her eyes were like going through the New York steel jungle and coming upon Central Park. Unexpected, but welcomed. A haven. A haven?

“Russ, do you think you can handle that?” asked Brett Hartman.

“No worries.” With Victoria doing a walkabout inside his brain, he had no idea what Brett had said.

As beautiful as a comic book vixen and just as dangerous, easily leading a man to his nefarious end. You’d think he would’ve learned the lesson taught to him only a month ago, sending him a half a world away to start over. Russ always thought of himself as a smart guy, but one look at Victoria had dropped is IQ by a third and him behaving like the bad boy the Australian press made him out to be.

Not that he was a saint. Far from it. But he would never leave a woman at the altar because he’d never agree to arrive there in the first place. Just the word sent a shiver down his spine. To him, altar was synonymous with sacrifice, with his balls offered up to the matrimonial gods.

Much to his mum’s distress, Russ was a bachelor for life. Did that make him a bad boy? No, but the things he wanted to do to Victoria’s body did.  

About the Author
Liz Matis is a mild manner accountant by day and by night a writer of fun, flirty, and fiery romps! She is a Kindle Best Seller and winner of the NECRWA First Kiss Contest. Married 26 years and counting she believes in happy ever afters.

Buy the Book!

Read my review of Love by Design.

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April 27, 2012

the bloomwood bloom


The things I do for literature.

In a great (or dumb -- I haven't decided yet) moment, I decided to create a spin-off of my beloved Reading in the Kitchen series: Reading in the Bar. I wrote about it yesterday (you can read it here). The plan was simple. I like books. I like booze. Why not put them together?

Here's why: because it's much harder to write a blog post after testing your alcohol-infused recipes compared to regular food. In future, I'll plan ahead better and make the mixed drinks a full 24 hours before I plan to write about it. It's only fair. After all, I'm a talker when I drink -- not a writer. So keep in mind, I'm writing this post with a little (but responsible) buzz, and forgive any grammatical errors or nonsensical prose.

With that disclaimer in mind, join me for a drink or four as we discover a cocktail describe in Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series.

In Shopaholic Ties the Knot, Becky Bloomwood and her fab friend/neighbor Danny celebrate her most recent purchase -- a vintage cocktail cabinet -- by mixing up a few drinks.

"We've had a margarita each and a gimlet, and my invention called the Bloomwood, which consists of vodka, orange and M&Ms, which you scoop out with a spoon."

The drink makes a reappearance in Mini Shopaholic, and I've always wanted to try it. The vodka and M&Ms were simple instructions, but what did Becky mean by orange? I tried Googling "what does orange mean in cocktail recipes" and a few other derivatives without much success. I was going to have to use trial and error to determine the most authentic version of the Bloomwood.

Business brought me to my parents house last night. They have a better liquor stash than I (which is not hard to be, because I have two beers and a few empty bottles in my collection), so this seemed like a good opportunity to get down to business. So while Dad was at band practice, Mom and I raided his liquor cabinet (with permission). It was all in the name of research, and my father is nothing if not a supporter of learning.

"I feel like a scientist," I said to Mom, as I assembled the collection of orange-infused beverages in our house. She corrected me, pointing out that cocktail making is actually mixology, but I still prefer to think that this was a science project gone terribly tipsy. We had four options to choose from. Being the dedicated scientist/mixologists we are, we decided to give each a whirl in this experiment.


The constants:
12 M&Ms
6 ice cubes
1 shot of vodka
1 cocktail glass
1 shaker

The variables:
1 shot of grand marnier
1 shot of triple sec
1 shot of curacao
2 shots of orange juice

Process: All things equal, changing the variable in each cocktail will yield a different result. Each cocktail will be made by putting 12 M&Ms in a cocktail glass. The remaining ingredients will be placed in a shaker. After vigorous shaking, the contents of the shaker will be poured into the glass. The drink will be consumed by sipping the beverage and eating the M&Ms with a spoon.

Our hypothesis: Based on the previous beverages made, the most likely alcohol used in the Bloomwood was triple sec (which is frequently used in margaritas). The least likely is the orange juice (which would make this a screwdriver with M&Ms).

Bloomwood No. 1 - Grand Marnier


Results: Not good. The booze was just too much in this one. When I pointed out that the M&Ms were quite good, Mom said they were ruined by the alcohol. We ended up taking a couple of sips from this one and throwing out the rest. However, in all fairness to drink, Mom later pointed at that it is possible this bottle of Grand Marnier has been sitting in our liquor cabinet for as long as I've been alive. We also did more research after the fact and decided we should have included 1.5 vodkas for every 0.5 Grand Marnier. So, I say this is inconclusive. It was our least favorite of all, but maybe we would have liked it better if we did it differently.

Bloomwood No. 2 - Triple Sec


Results: Much better than the last. We are pretty sure this is what Becky and Danny threw back when they went to town with the stolen liquor from Danny's brother. If I make it again, I would probably use slightly more vodka this round (maybe 1.5 for every 1 triple sec). I will tell you this -- drink this one responsibly. I had a little more fun this time around, and I stirred the M&Ms for several minutes to get some of that hard candy shell to melt into the drink. Fun fact: Did you know that after soaking in booze, M&Ms turn white? I know. It's amazing.

Now if only Sophie K. will confirm if this is what she had in mind when she wrote the books...

Bloomwood No. 3: - Curacao


Results: Our third favorite of the bunch, this one was pretty delicious. However, it's the one I think least likely of the bunch to be the real deal. Until last night If I made it again, I'd use my new Grand Marnier recipe and go 1.5 to 0.5. Not much else to say. Drinkable, but probably not it.

Bloomwood No. 4 - orange juice


Results: Mom and I's favorite from the bunch, this one is a screwdriver with M&Ms. What's not to like? But... I doubt this is what Sophie K had in mind when she envisioned this drink. Still, it's pretty tasty if you want something to drink.

In conclusion, I think the triple sec wins for best overall. It was yummy and authentic-seeming. And really, for all my initial belly-aching, this was not a bad way to spend a Thursday night.

If you would like to pair this beverage with a Shopaholic-worthy drink, be sure to check out my edible version of Becky's homemade curry here. The dish is delicious, and I can only imagine how much easier it would be to do this recipe on a tummy full of food.

Please be sure to let me know if you have any book-inspired drink ideas (or food) so I can keep this series and Reading in the Kitchen going.

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April 26, 2012

new spin to reading

As mentioned in previous posts, the book I am working on centers around a bar where the main character and half of the secondary characters work. Everyone else is a regular customer, so a lot of the story takes place inside the hallowed halls of a drinking establishment.

If you follow me on Twitter, then you know I am taking my commitment to this story to a whole new level. I've done a lot of first-hand research by hanging around a couple of bars every weekend. OK, what it really comes down to is my little sister is a bartender downtown, and I like to visit her on the weekends. And I also like vodka. But, I do a lot of research while I'm there. I watch how the regular and not-so-regular customers interact. I watch the different bartending/cocktail waitressing styles of the staff. And I put it all together to create the ambiance in my book's bar.

On the rare occasion I have a little more to drink than I should, my little sister has me wait at the bar until after close so she can make sure I get home safely. In preparation for the possibility of spending an hour alone at a bar while the staff cleans up, I've started packing a book along. Mind you, I can't read if I'm too inebriated, so I always make sure to keep a certain level-headedness to ensure the readings are good.

Do you know how fun it is to read in a bar?

Blog followers will also recall that I converted turned my home's basement bar into a barbrary -- half bar, half library -- and I distributed a majority of my World Book Night 2012 books in bars during happy hour.

From where I'm standing, books and booze go hand-in-hand. With that thought fresh on my mind, I decided it might be fun to recreate some of the notable beverages mentioned in my favorite books in a manner similar to the way I've made food from the same stories.

So, tomorrow, and whenever the mood strikes me...


... will be...

Never fear, Reading in the Kitchen fans, I will still run those posts, too. This will just be a different take from time to time. Let me know if you think of any boozey book moments you would like me to feature.

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script frenzy update - 4/26

Another eventful week for the books, but I have to be brief -- I have a 100-page deadline to meet.

First, and most important, I caught up on my Script Frenzy projects, as promised. I am on target to finish by April 30, if not sooner. So... yay.

How did I do it? Mainly, I forced myself to write in long stretches. I found that while I can dabble at my novel with 100 words here or 6,000 words there, I do my best screenwriting in big chunks of time. For example, last night I wrote seven pages in a few hours put together. While I managed a couple of others throughout the day, I did my best work when I sat down, focused and went for it.

There's a lesson to be had there, I'm sure.

As a reward for hitting 50 pages, I spent three hours at the salon getting my hair summerfied. I found my first gray hair four years ago, and at 25, I'm not giving up without a fight. In addition to feeling happier with my well-covered roots and some highlights for spring and summer, the salon also gave me time to think about my writing projects. I plotted out a scene and dialogue while the stylist took my hair lighter than it has been since I was 6.

Between the screenwriting, book reading/reviewing, hair changing, book giving (for World Book Night 2012) and bouts of mayhem with my friends (another Saturday night of research for my bar-based book?), I also worked on my latest novel. It's a slow, but steady process at the moment. I'll hope to do some real damage on that word count come next month.

With that, it's back to writing for me. Wish me luck as I head to the finish. Be sure to check back tomorrow for an all new Reading in the Kitchen, which also plays homage to a recipe from the past.

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April 25, 2012

book review: blue straggler

In Kathy Lynn Harris' Blue Straggler, a woman on the verge of a meltdown breaks away from her life to discover the truth behind a family mystery while finding herself in the process. 

At 30, Bailey Miller feels her life slipping away. She is disconnected from her family in rural Texas, works at a job she barely tolerates and is unable to maintain romantic relationships. After trying to fix her problem by creating a new persona (RODA), visiting an unhelpful Ed Harris-look-alike shrink and self-medicating with booze, Bailey is farther from inner peace than ever. Even her friends -- diner owner Idamarie and college buddy Rudy -- are at a loss to help her get it together.

After finding a photograph of her long-lost great-grandmother, Bailey leaves Texas to follow the woman's secret past in small-town Colorado. There, she finds more than she was looking for in terms of her family history and her personal self-discovery.

Well-paced and -written, Blue Straggler does more than create a portrait of a troubled woman on a road to healing and discovery, it paints an image of Americana. Though I am no expert of Texas, having only lived in southern Texas for 14 months, I was well able to imagine the circumstances Bailey begins with. Tight-knit family, open spaces and feeling out of place in such a connected community. A Texas native herself, Harris captures the spirit of the area, which provides a solid backdrop for parts of Bailey's journey.

On another level, Bailey was relatable for any person who reaches a point in his or her life and wonders "what the hell am I doing?" As protagonists go, Bailey was far from perfect. But she recognized this flaw in herself and understood that she was on a self-destructive journey. As she made mistakes, she knew -- or at least admitted it soon after -- that she made them. And through it all she wanted to change. Those factors made it difficult to be mad at her. It made me commiserate.

From secondary characters, such as the fabulous Idamarie and Rudy and love interest for Bailey, to smaller characters, such as her aunts, uncles, cousins and boss, Harris excelled at creating a cast that was entertaining, frustrating or supporting as needed to progress the story.

A well-told story of making life choices and changes on the road to self-discovery, Blue Straggler is a solid read, stirring tears and laughter.

Rating: 4.5 of 5

About the Author:

Kathy grew up in rural South Texas — and comes from people who work hard, love the land and know how to have a good time on a Saturday night. As a writer, Kathy was lucky to have been surrounded by exceptional characters throughout her life, many of whom have lived their lives exactly the way they wanted. The rest of the world could take `em or leave `em! Inspiring, to say the least.

In 2001, Kathy made the move from Texas to the Colorado Rockies to focus on her writing and soak up All Things Mountain. She lives in an authentic log cabin near the southernmost glacier in North America, at 10,500 feet above sea level, with her husband and son, plus two fairly untrainable golden retriever mixes. It is there that she writes.

Read more from Kathy on her blog, You Can Take the Girl Out of Texas but...

Add Blue Straggler to your Goodreads Shelf
Follow Kathy on Twitter
Follow Blue Straggler news on Facebook

Blue Straggler is available on Amazon in eBook and paperback format now!

Read an excerpt of Blue Straggler here

View other reviews, interviews and guest posts from the author on her Chick Lit Plus Blog Tour here.

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excerpt: blue straggler

Blogger's Note:  I am pleased to share a summary and excerpt of Kathy Lynn Harris' Blue Straggler with you, today. Be sure to check back later for my review of the novel.

About Blue Straggler:

A blue straggler is a star that has an anomalous blue color and appears to be disconnected from those stars that surround it.

But this is not a story about astronomy.

Bailey Miller is “disconnected” from the cluster of her rural south Texas family. She has never quite fit in and now in her early 30s, she finds herself struggling with inner turmoil and a series of bad choices in her life.

Bailey’s drinking too much (even for a member of her family), has a penchant to eat spoonfuls of Cool Whip, works in a job that bores her beyond description and can’t keep a relationship longer than it takes for milk to expire in her fridge.

Even with the help of her two outspoken friends, Texas gal Idamarie and her quirky college pal Rudy, she’s having a hard time.

So she packs up her Honda and heads out of Texas in search of herself and answers to secrets from her great-grandmother’s past. The novel takes readers on a journey from San Antonio, Texas, to a small mountain town in Colorado and back again, as Bailey uncovers not only the secrets of her great-grandmother’s life, but also some painful secrets of her own. All while finding love along the way.

If you have ever wondered why you got stuck with the family you did, what you are doing with your job and your life, or had a sudden desire to run off to the mountains, sit back and join Bailey for this laugh-out-loud, yet poignant ride. It’s women’s fiction at it’s best!


Excerpt of Blue Straggler:
The air in my parents’ living room feels dense with the age of old furniture and paneled walls. The quilt curled around me is worn and nearly sheer in some places, and the smell of mesquite smoke lingers on my clothes and hair. A tractor engine grinds from gear to gear outside. I squint at the grandfather clock across the room. Ten o’clock. Sunday morning.

I’m unsure why I’m on the couch and not tucked in my old bed upstairs. Then I remember fragments of how last night played out. I let Floretta, who will remain in Texas for the time being it seems, talk me into one of her world-renowned margaritas. And then another. Most likely another. I fuzzily recall thinking the stairs to my bedroom were not something I wanted to tackle. I’m certainly on a roll when it comes to tossing down booze like water. Or bad medicine. My dad would say I’m on slippery slope. And I know it.

The ticking of the clock, which used to offer such security in its steady tempo, is as obnoxious to me right now as the heat in this house. My parents installed central air years ago but never turn the unit below eighty. I kick off the quilt, knocking over three framed photographs from the table at my feet. I know without looking they’re of Mike in his high school baseball jersey—sophomore, junior and senior years.

I move to the end of the couch, in what could appear to someone else as slow motion, and slide the pictures of Mike behind a lamp. I open the creaking wooden doors of the lamp table, knowing that’s where Mom keeps a lot of old photos she hasn’t placed in one of her scrapbooks yet. I’m hoping I’ll find at least one decent one of me to replace one of Mike’s.

I grab handfuls of pictures and separate two or three. Most are Polaroids, gradually losing their color bit by bit. Miniature specks of green and red are peeling from a Christmas picture; images of one hunting dog are fading onto another. I do find a picture of me, with a particularly puffy perm, festooned in a pink chiffon prom dress. A boy named Bubba hangs on my arm. This was Bubba Number Three. I dated two other boys named Bubba. Statistically, in this county, it was bound to happen.

Another photo catches my eye—this one’s much older. The corners are smoothed to rounded edges, and the blacks and whites have mellowed to grays and sepias. A handwritten note on the back shows through to the front. It says, “Annie and Will, 1932.”

Something about the woman’s eyes, the way she’s holding her mouth, her posture even, seems familiar—as if I’m looking at someone I’ve known my whole life. Yet I have no idea who she is.

The woman is lovely in a natural way, her brown hair all in curls. Her arms are wrapped around her waist, like she’s giving herself a hug. The man standing next to her, dressed in a suit, is at least a foot taller than she is. He sports a set of very large ears. They both appear to be in their twenties, though I’m never good at judging the age of people from other generations. They seemed to age faster than we do now.

I jump at the slam of the screen door and catch a glimpse of my mother carrying in a large Tupperware bowl full of okra and yellow squash. I can smell the Suave lotion on her legs from here.

“Well, well, Sleeping Beauty awakes,” she calls from the kitchen, making far more noise than any kind person would. “Could you turn it on the Classics channel? I think they might be having that Elvis movie marathon today.”

She stands in the hallway, turns on a small fan and looks at me. “You know not to have that many of Floretta’s mixes, Bailey.”

I lean back on the stiff woven fabric of the couch and watch in near-horror as she removes the vacuum cleaner from a hall closet. As she reaches for the power cord, I wield the photograph like a white flag.

“Mom, who’s this picture of?”

She drops the cord. A reprieve.

She wipes her hands on her cotton shirt. It’s one of the old promotions for the business and reads “Don’t be Chicken about your Movable Cows” across her chest. She sits down on the couch, almost crushing my toes. I put my feet on her lap, and she turns her nose up at my fuchsia toe ring. I try to spread my toes apart by sending spirals of good thoughts like my yoga instructor tells me to do. I end up flicking the toe ring off. We both watch it fly across the room.

“I hope Willie or Waylon doesn’t get a hold of that,” she says.

She grabs the picture from me and puts on her glasses, which were buried somewhere in the blond-silver hair on her head. “That’s your great-grandmother Annie and husband number one of five.” She hands me back the print, takes her glasses off and begins to stand.

I sit up and try to stop her with my legs. “What? How come I’ve never seen any pictures until now? And more importantly, why didn’t I know I had a relative who was married five times?”

Mom acts distracted by non-dust on the coffee table for a second, seems almost embarrassed that she’s let out some long-hidden secret. “I don’t wish to discuss this.” She shifts and has this look on her face as if my dad, with receipt in hand, has just caught her in a lie about how much she spent on Christmas decorations again.

“Mom, I realize you weren’t close to this woman. But she was your grandmother.”

“Skip it, Bailey.” She gets up and begins to tidy her already-tidy knick-knacks.

“But …”

“That woman doesn’t deserve one ounce of conversation.” She pushes Mike’s pictures back to their original placement and puts her hand out, palm up, a signal for me to place Annie’s photo in it.

I don’t.

“What’d she do that was so terrible?” I’m trying to sound nonchalant, but this little segment of family history is stirring up my mother like a swarm of yellow jackets.

“There is no story. Period.”

“I think there is,” I say. This is getting under her skin more than any other conversation we’ve had in years.

“Maybe …” I say, watching my mom’s face. “Maybe she was just misunderstood.”

She flushes, and I can tell she’s mad—mad I’ve defended Annie. “Does running off to another state and leaving your family,” her words are as harsh as if I were the one who left, “leaving your two little children, does that mean you’re just misunderstood?”

“Oh,” I say, for a number of reasons.

Mom picks up the remote to find Blue Hawaii. I can tell she’s tucking the anger back in place. When she turns to me, she seems to have moved on, and now clearly does not like what’s in her direct line of sight. That being me.

She frowns. “Bailey, I swear you look like ten miles of bad road.”

I fall backwards again and hug a crocheted pillow to my chin. The yarn is rough, and I can feel the fibers sneaking their way into my nose.

“Are you drinking like that all the time?” she asks.

I wish we could’ve stayed on the more benign topic of my wicked witch of a great-grandmother. I pull the pillow over my eyes and miniature fuzz balls grab my eyelashes.

“No ma’am.” I’m sixteen again.

“Your daddy is worried sick.”

I let out a sarcastic laugh. “Dad is not worried about anything but the hay crop this summer, and oh yeah, I think we’ve exchanged four words since I got home.”

She wrestles the pillow out of my hands. “Please don’t exaggerate, Bailey. Michael said you were hung over yesterday, too.”

“Michael lies.”

“You lie,” she says, then turns her attention to Elvis. Thank God for the King.

At a commercial, she grabs my quilt to put it away and a pack of cigarettes tumbles out. I squirm as she picks up the gold wrapper as if she’s found a used condom.

“Don’t tell me you’re smoking again?” Her words are chock full of disappointment. Like she’s just found out I’m a prostitute. Or worse, a Yankee. And like my father doesn’t smoke a pack a day.

“It surely does look that way, doesn’t it?” I say. But I’m thinking, do people not understand everyone needs at least one ongoing vice? And don’t they realize nicotine is chemically addictive and I’m not really at fault here? Okay, maybe a little at fault.

Mom sighs, long and drawn out. “Well, let’s get lunch going.”

She says this as if it will change everything about me.

About the Author:

Kathy grew up in rural South Texas — and comes from people who work hard, love the land and know how to have a good time on a Saturday night. As a writer, Kathy was lucky to have been surrounded by exceptional characters throughout her life, many of whom have lived their lives exactly the way they wanted. The rest of the world could take `em or leave `em! Inspiring, to say the least.

In 2001, Kathy made the move from Texas to the Colorado Rockies to focus on her writing and soak up All Things Mountain. She lives in an authentic log cabin near the southernmost glacier in North America, at 10,500 feet above sea level, with her husband and son, plus two fairly untrainable golden retriever mixes. It is there that she writes.

Read more from Kathy on her blog, You Can Take the Girl Out of Texas but...

Add Blue Straggler to your Goodreads Shelf
Follow Kathy on Twitter
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Blue Straggler is available on Amazon in eBook and paperback format now!

Check back for my review of Kathy Lynn Harris' Blue Straggler. View other reviews, interviews and guest posts from the author on her Chick Lit Plus Blog Tour here.

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April 24, 2012

wbn a success

I'm calling it: World Book Night 2012 was a success. Thanks to my little sister who came along for the ride, we gave away 20 copies of John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany throughout Lincoln.

Overall the response was positive. Once people figured out that they didn't have to buy anything and heard about WBN's mission, they were pleased for the gift. They liked the premise of WBN and hoped this year went well enough for it to come back next year. And more importantly, everyone who took a copy said they would at least try reading it.

Here are photos and Tweets from the day:

Giving a book to a co-worker who is a light-reader. Jess enjoys reading, but
says she doesn't make time. She plans to add reading to her schedule.
Hitting downtown Lincoln with my sister during Happy
Hour. Armed with books, we hit up the after work crowd
on O Street, Lincoln's main street.
First stop of the night: Cliff's Lounge, where we shared a few books and
discussion over Happy Hour cocktails.
We also gave out books at a pizza parlor on O Street.

@lmchap: No. 1 question asked: What do I have to do with this? Does it cost anything. Me/ : It's free. Just read it.

@lmchap: No. 2: Is this a religious book? Us: No. Just undertones. Seriously. Read it.

@lmchap: Main reason people said they don't read: lack of time. We discussed ways to make time.

@lmchap: Overall, once people understood what we were about, they loved the concept of and hoped it would continue in the future.

Thank you to everyone who gave their support. It was great to receive Tweets and messages throughout the day from fellow givers and readers. It was a positive experience, and I enjoyed talking books with strangers and acquaintances alike. Hopefully, I'll have the chance to do it again next year.

Read about my thoughts and goals going into WBN here.

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April 23, 2012

a prayer for world book night

Me picking up my copies of John Irving's
A Prayer for Owen Meany, last Monday
from a local bookstore. I will share these with
20 lucky Lincolnites, today.
I love books and reading. Obviously. It's more than a hobby. It's my passion.

I am honored and excited to be a book giver for World Book Night 2012. Established in the United Kingdom and Ireland in 2011, WBN aims to spread a love of reading and books. WBN does it through social media and passionate readers -- like me -- going into their communities to distribute books to light or non-readers. This year the U.S. joins the festivities, and I hope to see more countries involved next year.

(Read more about World Book Night here.)

After reading dozens of articles about bookstores closing and an increasing number of adults giving up reading, spreading literacy is critical. When I heard about WBN in January, I knew I had to get involved. I went through the application process, put down a request for my top three books and patiently (and sometimes impatiently) waited to find out if I was selected.

I confess, I shrieked when I received my acceptance letter from the WBN team. I love books, and thanks to WBN, I had a new avenue for sharing that love with my community. How awesome is that?

In my excitement, I showed up at my local bookstore during lunch the first day my books were available. I couldn't wait to get my hands on them and visualize my strategy. As an added perk, I spent an enjoyable 10 minutes chatting up a few women while I waited. Each had a copy of E L James' Fifty Shades of Grey and one had Suzanne Collins' Mockingjay for her daughter. I told them my thoughts about each book, and we swapped recommendations. It took the edge off a difficult Monday, and I was in a much better mood the rest of the day. This is why I love books. They always make me feel better.

I woke up this morning with a smile on my face, not typical for a Monday. I am excited to get out there and talk to people. Through the conversations I have with acquaintances and strangers, I hope to learn more about why people don't take time to read. I don't plan to become preachy or condescending. I want to know, because as a writer, reader and book lover, I  want to find different approaches to reach people.

Today, I will share copies of John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany with 20 lucky Lincolnites.

About the book: In the summer of 1953, two eleven-year-old boys—best friends—are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills the other boy’s mother. The boy who hits the ball doesn’t believe in accidents; Owen Meany believes he is God’s instrument. What happens to Owen, after that 1953 foul ball, is extraordinary and terrifying. 

This book was my No. 1 pick for a few reasons. First, I have read a few of John Irving's books, and he's a great author with a unique perspective. Second, I like this book. Third, both of my parents love this book. My mom considers it one of her all-time favorites, and I grew up watching her read and re-read it. Mom lent me her well-loved copy more than a year ago, and she has been nice enough to not ask for it back, yet.

I am fortunate for my upbringing. I grew up with parents who read to me and read to themselves. They took me to the library regularly. They let pick out books from the school book fairs and book orders. When I was in trouble for fighting with my sisters or not cleaning my room, they never took away my reading privileges. They gave me a reading lamp for my bunk bed so I could read before bed. They were even cool enough not to chastise me for frequently staying up past my bedtime when I was too caught up in a story to sleep.

When I thought about the book I most wanted to share with others, I picked one that my parents -- who gave me and supported my passion for reading -- would give. As I talk to people, today, I am not only sharing my love. I'm sharing my parents' love, too.

Check back tomorrow to hear about my WBN adventure. I will also post live updates on Twitter throughout the day.

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April 20, 2012

hunger games encore

In the midst of my obsession The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, I decided to indulge it with a three-part series in the kitchen. For three weeks, I featured homemade foods based on dishes from the book.

The result was bread (the kind I imagined Peeta threw at Katniss years before the games), a dandelion salad (what Katniss and her family ate many nights to survive) and an apple and goat cheese tired (as described by Peeta while he and Katniss stayed in a cave.

The process was fun and the dishes varied in level of difficulty (with the dandelion salad being the easiest and fastest and the tart taking the most time and having the most complexity). I learned a lot about bread baking, eating dandelions and picking out cheeses. Even if the foods would have tasted like crap, the lessons I received were worth the effort.

But they didn't suck...

Each turned out as I imagined them in the books. The bread was hearty. The salad was bitter, but filling. The tarts were simply amazing. Did I make each of them the way Suzanne Collins imagined when she created the book? Probably not. Or maybe. I'd have to ask her. What I do know was making the foods brought a small piece of the book to life for me.  And I want to try more of the dishes. (I really want that lamb and berry stew, but I'll have to wait until my year of pescetarianism is up to indulge in something like that.)

I had a blast making these dishes, and I hope they help any of you hoping to recreate a piece of the stories for yourselves. In case you missed them on their first run, here are the recipes and links to the original posts.


Peeta's Bread

Ingredients
19 ounces whole grain wheat bread flour
1 packet bread yeast
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup sun-dried raisins
2 tablespoons cooking oil
11 ounces warm tap water
Cornstarch (to cover surface)

Directions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and place pizza stone on top shelf. Mix together the dry ingredients. Add warm tap water to mix and kneed dough. Once it reaches an elastic state, cut into two equal portions. Place in large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise 45 minutes, or until bread doubles in size. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool before serving. Makes two loaves of eight servings each (16 total).

Read the original post here.



Dandelion Salad

Ingredients
1 cup of fresh, clean dandelion greens
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon roasted sunflower seed hearts
1 tablespoon raisins
salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Pick fresh dandelion greens in your backyard (make sure they have no been treated with poison) or get them from the fresh produce section of a grocery store.Wash the leaves well with water. Toss wit red wine vinegar. Allow to sit for 10 minutes, or until leaves wilt slightly. Mix in sunflower seed hearts and raisins. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Read the original post here.



Mellark Bakery's Apple and Goat Cheese Tarts

Ingredients
Tart crust (makes a double batch)
3 cups of flour
1 cup of shortening
1 egg, beaten
5 tablespoons cold water, divided

Egg wash
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon water

Goat cheese mixture
4 ounces goat cheese
2 tablespoons honey
2 egg whites
2 tablespoons sugar

Apples
1 large apple (2 small) sliced
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons corn starch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons honey

Directions
Make the crust about two hours before the rest of the dish. Mix together the dry ingredients in one bowl. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender or a fork and knife until it resembles crumbs. Mix 4 tablespoons of cold water with one egg in a large bowl. Add the other mixture in small sections. Do not overmix. Add final tablespoon of cold water. Gently roll into a ball without over-handling and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate about two hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix together goat cheese mixture until it is creamy. Mix egg yolks and water in a small bowl and set aside for pie crust.

Remove half of the pie crust dough from the fridge and freeze the remaining portion. Divide into 12 small balls. Roll out and place in small tart pans or in lined-muffin tin. Dust the dough with egg wash. Bake crust in the oven for five to 10 minutes.

Spoon cheese mixture into the dough, filling each about halfway. Bake for 10 minutes until the cheese sets.

While cheese bakes, peel and slice apple. Mix with sugar, corn starch and cinnamon. Arrange slices on top of the cheese. Drizzle honey on top of the apples. Bake for 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool about 20 minutes. Serve warm.

Read the original post here.

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April 19, 2012

virtually grey

Blogger's Note: This post contains spoilers.

I first heard about the Fifty Shades trilogy a few weeks ago when Katie, one of my besties, told me about it. 

The buzz was good. Really good. And we liked the premise. A lot.


Neither one of us had read it, yet, so we decided we should do it together and have a virtual book club. (We are about 900 miles apart right now and online is the only way we could swing it.)

After we both finished E L James' Fifty Shades of Grey, we hopped online to chat to compare notes. In addition to discussing the first book, we also delve a little into the second, Fifty Shades Darker

Here is the transcript of our inaugural book chat:
Laura: I call this meeting of the Virtual Smut Book Club to order. All present say "aye"

Katie: Aye!

Laura: Aye! First order of business: Fifty Shades of Grey. What were your overall thoughts?

Katie: Overall, I thought it was a solid exploration of a complicated relationship. I chose to focus more on the relationship than the sex, which I think is important. It's the relationship that kept me most interested.

Laura: Me, too. And really, I think the sex is a symptom of a very complicated man who has trouble with human contact after a troubled childhood. How do you think it compares to Twilight, the series it was originally based on?

Katie: Hmm. While the overall theme is similar between the two, I feel like Fifty Shades of Grey does a much better job of actually making the relationship believable, not just because Twilight has to do with Vampires. When I read Twilight, I never fully understood what Bella and Edward liked about each other, because all they did was stare into each others' eyes and talk about how they can't live without the other. To sum it up, I like the characters in Fifty Shades of Grey more than Twilight. They're not so one-dimensional.

Laura: Right. Even the secondary characters have more depth. While there are some comparisons to Edward, overall Mr. Grey is different, because he has been his whole life. He's not bad. He's not a sexual predator. He is a complex man with stunted emotions. That alone is fascinating. And I found Ana much more likable than Bella. We understand her reservations. It's because she is less experienced and young. I never quite understood why Bella would hesitate to marry Edward when she was planning to spend eternity with him. Ana is hesitant to get too involved, because so little time has passed and the man is complicated. Your turn to pick a topic. I've been a little controlling. Don't wanna pull a Grey.

Katie: GOD GREY. I totally agree with your thoughts on Ana. That's why I loved the ending so much. It showed that even though she had given so much of herself to this man, she was still a strong woman and she stuck to her morals whereas Bella let Edward do whatever the eff he wanted.

Laura: Exactly

Katie: I would argue that THIS is the book that young girls should be reading, not the book that teaches girls to be submissive and have a demon baby.

Laura: That's a very good point. And another component of the story. Even the most confident and independent of women sometimes war with the desire to be cared for. It is tempting to have someone take care of you. However, you can be too independent, too. In a relationship, you must find middle ground.

Katie: Yes! And I totally related to her being inexperienced and being drawn to the attention this man was giving her, any insecure, innocent girl would've done the same thing she did, simply because they want the attention.

Laura: Very true. With Ana leaving Grey at the end of book one, what do you think will have to happen to bring these two characters back together? Do you think it's acceptable for her to go back to the man she left?

Katie: Actually, that is the main problem I have with the first couple chapters of the second book. He makes her apologize for not using the safe word, when HE was the one hitting her! And she's just like, you're right! Let's be in love again! And I'm like, guuuurl please.

Laura: Well.......... I can see where he was coming from a bit (but then again, I've finished the book). He told her to tell him when to stop. And she didn't until he went past her comfort level. She BEGGED him to do it. Still…. Maybe I'm making excuses for him!

Katie: It's very easy to make excuses for him, because he actually is a very likable character.

Laura: And deliciously flawed.

Katie: And you can't blame him for his flaws! I like that we're learning more about him a little bit at a time. Poor guy.

Laura: Keeps it interesting. I have to say, even though it took me the longest to read, I think I liked the second book best of the trilogy. I think.

Katie: I'm really enjoying it so far, I was sad to put it down. I noticed on Facebook you said the kinky sex goes away?

Laura: Well.... It doesn't completely go away. There's just a lot more vanilla. And it's hot as hell.

Katie: YESSSSS. LOVEIT.

Laura: However......... I must say, I think there is something wrong with me that I prefer a man saying "I'm going to fuck you" to a man saying "I'm going to make love to you." Unless that man is the band Boys II Men, it gives me the heebie jeebies.

Katie: Hahahaha. I think it's more romantic! And not so vulgar.

Laura: I know it's more romantic. I actually wrote a whole blog post about it, but I think it just makes me uncomfortable.  And I'm not saying I want a guy to use the f-bomb to me... maybe...  It's just "lover" and "make love" makes me feel funny. Maybe I'm jealous? My sister said it well, though (and I thought this was well done by the author) that there is a big difference between making love, having sex, and effing. Sometimes, it is about the love. I just don't know if I could ever say it out loud with sincerity.

Katie: I understand. Is Sarah (your sister) going to read it?

Laura: I don't know. She's hesitant. So I've been giving her a play by play. I imagine she'll do it eventually, though. I'm good at wearing her down. Let's see what’s next. I will say that Ana's BFF annoys me a little. But that's maybe something from the whole trilogy. I just think she goes from "OMG Grey is into you, you should go out with him" to "I think he's sketchy" a little quickly and inexplicably. Like, she changes her tune before shit gets real weird.

Katie: Yeeeeah, I don't think she'll win the award for best literary BFF anytime soon, but I guess that's how girls can be sometimes. And I'm curious to see what happens with Jose. I'm not particularly a fan of his either.

Laura: Me neither. Then again, I wasn't a big fan of Jacob's either. And really... he totally tried to take advantage of her when she was drunk. Fifty Shades might've been a little creepy with the stalking, but he kind of rescued her.

Katie: True that. I'm kind of ready for him to go away. But I guess you have to have a character that plays as a threat to Grey.
And that’s it for our inaugural virtual book chat. I had a blast, and I hope Katie did, too. As you can probably tell by our talk, nothing is off limits and our conversation was fun. I hope we’ll do it again for the next two books and perhaps others in the future. If we do, we’ll be sure to share our notes.

Be sure to check out my official reviews of Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed






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book review: fifty shades freed

In the final installment of E L James' Fifty Shades trilogy, the main characters settle into playing house, albeit unconventionally, while facing the past and present obstacles that prevent them from living happily ever after.

Fifty Shades Freed begins with Anastasia Steele Grey and Christian Grey on their honeymoon after a short engagement and even shorter courtship. Even though they are obviously in love and manage to positively affect each other, life is far from a perfect paradise.

Ana continues to adjust to her new life as the wife a gazillionaire. At the same time, she wants to make a name for herself professionally, but finds that difficult with her newly-acquired fame. It's a struggle many woman face. We want to be independent. We want to rely on ourselves. But then again, it is also nice to have someone take care of you. Is it possible to have it both ways without compromising your values? That is Ana's quest.

Though making strides to heal the deep wounds from his past, Christian still defaults to his controlling and bristled manner when he feels threatened. Unfortunately, though falling madly in love with Ana has brought him out of his shell in many ways, it also makes him vulnerable. Sometimes, his control appears with him showing up unexpected in Ana's office to lay down the law and others in the bedroom (or playroom... or car... or yacht... or...)

While in the first novel, Christian's control was basically incomprehensible and seemed cruel, now it's different. Building on the last book, this installment further explains Christian's past, making his actions more understandable and less freaky. He controls, because he after years of no control, he needs something to hold onto. For the most part, his actions have mellowed, because of Ana's influence. He genuinely loves her and does not want to hurt her.

That is what makes these books so interesting. It is not the S&M or sex that makes these books appealing. It is about finding out what brought Christian to this point. It is about the journey of watching Ana bring him out of his shell. It is about watching them fall in love, accept responsibility for the past and build a fresh life together with the lessons they learned.

This final piece also contains a bonus short story titled Fifty Shades of Christian. In it, we see Christian's first Christmas with the Grey's and his point of view during his initial meeting with Ana. After reading the books, this was a welcome addition and gave even greater insight into a complicated man.

Overall, the characters are fascinating. The story is compelling. The words are well-written. It was definitely worth the hours I spent reading, and it went by quickly. Plus, it was super hot. And I even managed to get through this book without blushing.

Read my review of Fifty Shades of Grey (book one) here and Fifty Shades Darker (book two) here. Read the transcript of my friend and I's virtual book chat on book one.

Rating: 5 of 5








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