By Blonde Betty
I admit it: I’m late to the Julie James party. Despite hearing good things about her FBI / US-Attorney series and admiring the colorful covers, I passed by thinking I already had too many good books to read to add another author to my ever growing TBR pile. Then the second in the series A Lot Like Love showed up on my doorstep. Literally, the UPS man brought it after winning a Goodreads contest. Being the obsessive compulsive reader that I am, I had to go buy and read the first one (Something About You) before diving into the second.
I knew I would be continuing with the series before I had even gotten off the dedication page of the first book. Hands down, her dedication to the jokers in a neighboring hotel room is the best ever, hands down. The irreverent sense of humor weaves through the book with great characters and snappy one-liners. The writing makes up for the cover that drives me nuts. Oh don’t get me wrong, I love the bright fuchsia dress that actually plays into the story. A novel concept: a cover that actually relates to the inside text. What I don’t love it the way it drapes over the model; it gaps in the back making the whole ensemble look ill-fitted. Not the main character’s style at all. As authors have little to no control over cover art, I will applaud the continuity with the story and not let it detract from my enjoyment of the novel.
The text appropriate cover art continues with the second book. The dramatic purple dress – that fits the model much better, I’m happy to say – appears early on in the text. Instead of a FBI / US-Attorney pairing we have an FBI agent (Nick McCall) and a socialite that runs her own wine store (Jordan Rhodes). Nick is a dedicated undercover agent coming off a recent deep cover assignment. The Special Agent in Charge asks Nick to partner up with Huxley, another agent getting ready for his first undercover assignment. Not surprisingly Huxley comes down with the flu, forcing Nick to step in.
In nice foreshadowing for a later book, Jordan happens to have a twin brother (Kyle) who’s been convicted of cyber-terrorism. Kyle hacked twitter after a former girlfriend opted to use the popular social media to breakup with Kyle by posting pictures of her new beau. Jordan is convinced to help the FBI gain access to a local restaurateur in exchange for Kyle’s release from prison. Everything is supposed to be easy. Nick accompanies Jordan to an annual high society wine party at a local restaurant. Nick sneaks away to plant several bugs in the restaurant owner’s office to gain information on a local money laundering scheme.
Not surprisingly, the assignment doesn’t go quite as well as planned and Nick and Jordan end up spending far more time together than planned. Their supposed relationship is called into question so they are forced to continue to assignment. Nick and Jordan make an interesting pair. They do not immediately get along – a trope that seems to be a James standard. However, in her capable hands it seems to work. Their initial snark gives way to genuine sparks that drive the story.
Getting the bad guy takes a back-seat to Nick and Jordan figuring out initially how to work together and eventually to support each other whole-heartedly. The FBI operation provides enough forward momentum to keep the story moving, but doesn’t detract from the fundamental romance. This is most definitely a character driven novel. James has created characters that you enjoy and want to see move forward together.
In a nice move, the characters from the previous novel make appearances so we are able to catch up on their story without it being obtrusive. James has built a world and is not afraid to populate it with a variety of reoccurring characters. As someone who loves reoccurring characters I loved her willingness to tie the stories together and admire her ability to do so without it becoming overwhelming. I look forward to reading the next books in the series.
By Blonde Betty
I admit it: I’ve never read Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DL Lawrence. I know- great work of literature, scandal, and all that. Meh. Not running out to buy a copy. Interestingly enough the Dear Reader letter in the front of Waking Up to You says much the same thing. “I admit it – I had never read Lady Chatterley’s Lover until a few years ago. I remember thinking at the time about what a great romance novel it would be . . . if not for that pesky part about the heroine being married and cheating on her husband with the hero.” Leslie Kelly’s challenge then became how to turn the framework of the original into the modern day Blaze.
In many circles the Harlequin category romances (of which the Blaze line is a part) are derided as being trash and not requiring much thought. They certainly don’t rise to the current level of being degraded by the phrase popularized by EL James’s Fifty Shades of Gray. Yes, I hate that phrase and refuse to give it credence by using it. More often than not, the response to the category romances is more along the lines of: oh, you read those books. Complete with sneer and a knowing look. The reality is this line owes quite a lot to classic literature. There have been retellings of classic fairy tales, Shakespeare, Dracula, Zorro, and others. Waking Up to You is just the latest in a long line of tributes to stories that have long been part of our culture. These adaptations bring these stories to a whole new audience, including those that might not otherwise be interested (myself included).
Kelly does a masterful job with her retelling. How do you turn a story about cheating into a story that really isn’t about cheating? By adding a couple modern day twists, of course. Candace (the heroine) isn’t actually married yet; simply engaged to her gay best friend Tommy. Tommy is a mega-movie star / action hero trying to avoid the tabloid rumors that he’s gay. He believes that such rumors will kill his action star career. He convinces Candace that five years as his wife with an amicable divorce will solve all his problems.
Before they announce their engagement she is called to her ailing grandfather’s bedside. Grandpa has bought a winery in northern California, despite knowing nothing about wine. After he falls off the porch and breaks his hip, Candace goes to take care of him. While there she meets Oliver, a former Orange County prosecutor who left the DA’s office after whistle-blowing on the DA and his colleagues. The winery is a way to get away from his past and determine his way forward.
Not surprisingly Candace and Oliver hit it off: though not immediately. Their first “meet cute” involves her throwing pots at him when he surprises her in the kitchen of her grandfather’s house. The scene is deftly written and makes you laugh out loud. It also brings to mind Jenny Crusie’s heroine Agnes. Both characters also see the humor in the situation and it brings them together quickly.
As this is a Blaze, time is of a premium. The story isn’t very long so it must move at a fairly fast pace. Kelly keeps the story moving. I really wanted more backstory on both characters, but I like backstory. Even so, they are well-developed and likable. This is more of a snapshot as opposed to a full-blown character development. That’s okay, though. There is enough to satisfy your curiosity about both characters.
The resolution of the story ties things up in a neat bow, while leaving room for future books involving these characters. I really hope there is at least one more book because the Tommy story is not fully resolved. However, the seeds of the resolution are planted early so there is not a deus ex machina feel to it.
I have long enjoyed Kelly’s books. I am not a fan of cheating stories either so I admire her skill staying true to the original story without it actually being a cheating story. For those that have read Lawrence’s original I’m sure you will enjoy finding her “easter eggs” peppered throughout the story. Personally, I find her retelling sufficient and will continue to leave Lawrence’s book off my TBR list.
By Blonde Betty
It takes a rare author to develop characters that stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. Jessica Scott is one of those authors. We first met Shane Garrison and Jen St. James in Because of You. These two tragically flawed characters managed to find their way together despite initial reluctance on both of their parts. Jen is a breast cancer survivor with internal and external scars. Shane is an injured war veteran fighting to return to war. It was not an easy story; readers looking for a light escapist read just move along. However, there was something about those characters that drew you to them. You wanted them to make it, despite the challenges they both faced. Because this is romance, we delighted in the HEA they managed to reach in the end.
As we all know, the HEA isn’t the end of the story. What happens the next day or the next week is a question that often crosses readers’ minds. In well-established series we often see hints of the joy of the HEA (weddings, children, etc.). In other instances we create our own future. Jessica Scott has ensured we don’t have to create our own life after story by providing us a short interlude into what happens after with Anything for You.
Like the original novel, this short story is not a light and fluffy read. It deals with the very real decisions that must be faced between two people who care about each other and want to spend a long happy life together. It is about sacrifice and love and the lengths we are willing to go for our partner to ensure the HEA lasts forever. In Shane’s case this means giving up his ability to father children to protect Jen from the potential return of her cancer that pregnancy might bring. The decision making process isn’t easy, but then neither is life and this story reflects that so very well.
I spent an enjoyable hour reconnecting with Jen and Shane and watching as they came to terms with their new reality. The emotional storytelling will suck you in, as will the strong characters. Now that we’ve gotten the hard stuff out of the way, perhaps Ms. Scott will grace us with a more upbeat look into this couple’s lives. After all they’ve been through it would be nice to see some of their HEA reflect their changed reality. Either way, I will continue to follow these characters wherever they go. They have worked their way into my heart.
By Blonde Betty
I first “met” Deb Webb when she was still part of the amazing blog team at Murder She Writes (murdershewrites.com). I had never read any of her books, but always enjoyed her bi-weekly blog entries. One day she was giving away books. As we all know, I’m a book slut, so I was in. Comment for free books: Where’s my pen (or keyboard in this case)? I found her early works to be fresh and interesting. A little bit of everything backed by strong characters and good writing.
Then there were the Colby Agency books; a long running series of connected stories. It made my series loving heart go pitter-patter. Well, maybe not. As all the Colby Agency books are Harlequin categories I was limited to reading the more recently released ones. However, the sense of continuity in the stories is apparent. The even better part? Those of us who are late to the party don’t feel like we’ve missed out. Each book stands alone while still providing enough background to make sure we know they are part of the larger picture. Not an easy feat.
About the same time, Deb ventured into her Faces of Evil series. Another long series, twelve books total, the first three were self-published and successful enough to catch the eye of a traditional publisher. Obsession, Impulse, and Power, the first three, are being released in mass market paperback on March 26th with amazing bright covers and a special low price $3.99 each. If you haven’t checked them out, I highly recommend them.
Deb was gracious enough to take time out of her busy release week schedule to answer a few questions.
Deb, thanks for joining us. Tell us a little about yourself?
Well, let’s see, I was born on a farm in northern Alabama. I started writing as a kid. I have handwritten short stories and screenplays going back to age nine. By thirteen I was adding a dash of romance to my stories. But it wasn’t until many years later that that I decided to actually attempt writing a novel for publication. As I set out to make writing my official career, I realized that what I really wanted to do was delve into the arena of suspense. I’ve always loved the genre but it wasn’t until I spent three years working for the military behind the Iron Curtain—and a five-year stint with NASA—that the need to add that volatile element caught fire in my blood. I’ve published around 100 novels since 2000.
I married my sweetheart 38 years ago and we have two precious daughters and three loveable dogs. We live in an old house that we resurrected by repurposing castoffs and frequenting salvage stores. We love gardening and exploring the good old USA.
So as you know we are the Betties. Each of us has a Betty name that describes something about us. If you were to choose a Betty name what would it be and why?
I’m sure this is not what you mean, BUT…I would choose Betty White! LOL! I love her. I want to grow up to be just like her! Feisty and fun!
You’ve been highly successful with your Colby Agency series for Harlequin (50 books!) why the switch to the Faces of Evil books? Why now?
The Faces of Evil is the sort of storyline that comes naturally to me. I love delving into the darkness with a villain. My heart races when I find a new, daring way to put my characters in danger. Basically, I just like making people sweat! Jess Harris is a character who’s lived in my head for a very long time. She wasn’t going to give up until I gave her a turn. I absolutely love this series. Each time I start a new story (I’m working on number seven now) I feel like I’m coming home.
Are there going to be more Colby agency books?
Absolutely! Watch for BRIDAL ARMOR in September!
Why did you decide to self-publish the FoE books? What advice would you give to our writing readers?
At the time I wasn’t in a place physically to take on any deadlines. I was healing from a terrible injury. So, friends urged me to give self-publishing a shot. I could take my time. Do the stories my way and see what happened! Since then I’ve partnered with Grand Central Publishing’s Forever Romance imprint to bring the books to paperback. The first three are out in paperback now for only $3.99 each!!!
I would highly recommend self-publishing. I believe authors need to be versatile and resourceful in today’s market place. Some projects are perfect for traditional publishing but others fit better outside that realm. A good example is my book DIRTY. I couldn’t get a traditional publisher to publish the book so I did it myself and I had a blast. Do what feels right for you and for your work. Three things are essential to success in any market: Write the best book you can. Make sure you polish it to a brilliant shine. Package it appropriately.
So the past couple of years have to have been a wild ride. What are the best and worst parts?
The best – Personally : My baby girl’s wedding. Professionally: The first two books in the Faces of Evil series hitting the top 100 bestselling romantic suspense list on Amazon and staying there for six months. (OBSESSION’s digital version is on sale for $.99 right now!)
The worst – Personally: The injury that stole my ability to use my right hand properly. Everything I love to do is harder now. Professionally: This is one of the most amazing times for authors in recent history and the injury has slowed my ability to work to a crawl! I would love to be writing more!
I’m working on Vicious, the seventh book in the Faces of Evil series. Look for RAGE next month, REVENGE in late July and RUTHLESS in late August!
Interview by Kimberly, Rock Star Betty
A bunch of us Betties were over on Facebook, chatting away as usual, and the whole conversation spiraled into vulgarity. It happens. It started innocently enough though, with Katrina asking a question about making money from blogging. That’s when we were all treated to the revelation that our own Sonja Foust gets 250,000 page views a week on Pintester.com. We Betties love us some blogging action- that’s how we all found each other after all– and we began clambering for advice on how we too could attract fame and wealth with our own snark and sass. Sonja was gracious enough to agree to answer some questions about how she works it for money– the blog, I mean. She’s also agreed to answer any additional questions in the comments, so if there’s something I didn’t ask, feel free to ask it in the comments.
Rock Star Betty: So, 250,000 page views a week, huh? Admit it, you really are putting up nekid pictures as Deborah suggested, aren’t you? No? Okay, I believe you. So to what do you attribute your success in getting people to your site? I mean, aside from your wit and charm. Those are a given.
Sonja Foust: Well, patience for one thing. The blog is over a year old now, but I didn’t get any significant traffic for 6 months. Many blogs take much, much longer than that to gain traction, but I happened to have a really Pinterest-heavy presence at just the right time, and I went viral there.
So the big take-aways here are: don’t give up, and figure out where your audience is and BE THERE. Mine was definitely on Pinterest, so I made sure that everything I ever created was perfect for Pinterest.
RSB: Tell us about the road that led you to become a professional blogger.
SF: It was sort of less of a road and more of a got-shoved-out-of-the-truck-and-had-to-do-something. I’ve been a blogger since blogging was a thing, but I never thought I could actually make money at it. When I came up with Pintester, I knew it was a really good idea (“crunchy,” as Jenny would say), but guys, it’s SUPER HARD to make blogging lucrative. As luck would have it, though, I hit the Pinterest trend at just the right time, so it worked out.
I probably still would be a blogger “on the side” except that I got laid off in July last year. So it was either make the blogging thing work, or go find a new job, and I decided to put my energy into blogging. It paid off!
RSB: What does a typical day in the life of a professional blogger look like?
SF: Um… There is much poor posture, and eating weird things at odd times of the day, and rarely bothering to wear anything besides pajamas. It’s a little sad, actually.
Of course, I spend probably three hours or so testing, photographing, and writing each blog post, and I put up a post between 3 and 5 times a week, so there’s that.
I spend a lot of time researching (which looks like dicking around on the Internet to everyone else), and I spend a significant amount of time on some other projects I’m working on, too, that have yet to be revealed. (Ooooh, secrets.)
And then there’s all that marketing and business stuff, like promoting on social media, keeping track of my revenue, taxes (blargh), website maintenance, and all that. I actually really like doing that stuff and can get lost in it if I’m not careful.
RSB: So let’s say I want to take my humble little blog and turn it into a money making career, outline the steps that you would advise me to take. Start at the beginning and don’t leave anything out. I’ve got a precocious four year old at home with a fairly serious Lego habit, and those suckers ain’t cheap.
SF: Well, I think first you need a really good idea. Here’s the thing: Lots of people have personal blogs where they talk about their cat or their kids or their lunch or whatever. That’s fine. But it’s probably never going to get a lot of traffic, because not too many people outside of your mom really care about that. Tough love, I know, but it’s true.
Once you have a great idea, the rest is mechanics and consistency. For the mechanical aspect, I shall direct you to an article by Joel Runyon, fellow blogger: http://impossiblehq.com/how-to-start-a-blog-guide For the consistency aspect, well, just make a schedule, stick to it, and don’t be a quitter. You have to be the most enthusiastic person about your blog. If you’re not gung-ho and super excited about it, no one else will be either.
RSB: What resources did you find helpful when you were first getting started?
SF: See Joel’s article above about all the mechanics of creating a blog.
The other thing I leaned on heavily was my experience in online marketing. None of it is rocket surgery (uh…), but you need to know some principles.
You need to know how to use social media. (And I mean use it the RIGHT WAY, not in the “I know how to push the tweet button so I must be doing it right” way. To learn any social media platform, you might have to observe for a while and figure out best practices and accepted methods.)
You need to know what makes people want to click a button. Excellent post titles are key. (And “excellent” does not necessarily mean cutesy or funny or clever. In my case it means super duper straight-forward.)
You need to know how to tell people what you want them to do. In marketing-speak, it’s called a Call To Action. All of your pages should have a way to get people to do what you want them to do, whether that’s to click to the next post, leave a comment, Pin It, or whatever.
RSB: Can you explain how page views and hits translate into actual dollars?
SF: Nope. There’s not a single formula that’s going to give you this answer. It depends greatly on what ad networks you’re using, etc. In a vague-ish formula, more page views equals more ad impressions equals more dollars. How many dollars depends greatly on where your ads are coming from.
You can also generate revenue in other ways besides ad impressions. For example, you could sell a consulting service, or an eBook, or t-shirts. All of those are other ways to monetize your blog. Problogger.net is a great place to look for information on that.
RSB: Who are your own blogging role models?
SF: Well, of course I totally want to be The Bloggess when I grow up. (TheBloggess.com) I also learned a whole lot from Brittany at BrittanyHerself.com when I was ramping up Pintester.com, just by watching how she communicated with her readers and looking at her funny, over-sharey writing style.
RSB: How much of your time is spent marketing your blog? And in what ways do you do that?
SF: I spend less time marketing my blog now that it gets good traffic, because I can depend a little bit more on my readers to market for me. When I was first starting out, though, I’d write a blog post and probably spend another hour on marketing just for that one blog post.
I made sure to pin, tweet, Facebook, and Google+ everything. Later, I added Tumblr. And I was super duper careful about tailoring everything specifically for that social network. So for Pinterest, I was sure to pin a really riveting image with a funny caption. For Twitter, I’d write some really compelling line of copy intended to make people want to click the link. And so on. For some of the networks, I scheduled posts to go up when I knew it would get seen by the most viewers. It was a lot of work, but I think it was TOTALLY worth it.
Now more of my stuff is on autopilot because I trust my readers to share things and hit their networks at the appropriate times, so I spend less time scheduling and composing everything exactly perfectly.
RSB: Is there any one thing or group of things that you think are most responsible for your success as a blogger?
SF: Probably consistency. There have been many days when I did not feel funny or was not “in the mood” to write a post, or just plain wanted to sit on my butt and watch The Avengers for the 11th time instead, but I pulled myself together and posted anyway. You have to treat it like a job if you want money from it.
RSB: I know that Pintester is not your first or only blog. How did you come to decide on Pintester as a career blog?
SF: I don’t think I really decided on it as a career. I hoped it would be, but I started it really because it sounded like the most! fun! ever! and I really wanted to do it. I knew I wanted to move away from a personal journal style blog, and I knew I wanted a blog with a pretty tight theme, and when I hit on this idea, it was pretty much lurve.
RSB: How long did it take you to get to a level of success, whether measured in income or site stats, that you were happy with? We Betties are an impatient lot you know. We want it all and we want it delivered yesterday.
SF: Well I think I will never be completely “happy” with my income and stats. That sounds snotty, but I always want to keep growing and iterating and doing new, bigger, better things. And, like I said above, I probably would not have ever been satisfied enough with the income to quit my job if I hadn’t been booted out. Sometimes you have to get a little kick in the pants to see how awesome your life could be, I guess.
RSB: What’s the best thing about being a career blogger? The worst?
SF: Best: It’s no-pants Friday EVERY DAY.
Worst: Sometimes I get a little bit crazy if I’ve been in the house all week with only the dog for company. Also, I feel like I’m never really not working… which isn’t THAT bad a of a thing because I like working so much, but it still means I never really unplug.
RSB: What’s next for you?
SF: Oh, I’ve got some stuff in the works. Hopefully a Pintester book, soon. And I’m working on a non-fiction project I’m not quite ready to talk about yet. In the nearish future there will be a redesign of Pintester.com. Annnnnd, someday I’m going to be on the Ellen Degeneres show. Just putting that out there.
RSB: Any other wisdom for us wannabes?
SF: 1. Start monetizing now. Put an Adsense ad up or something, for the love of Pete. You might not make any money, but you’ll know how it works and you’ll be ready when you start getting more traffic.
2. DO IT! Be consistent. Do it when you don’t want to. Treat it like a career if you want it to be your career eventually. Don’t give up. But don’t be afraid to try new things, either.
Thanks Sonja! That all sounds like wonderful advice. So get busy Betties, there’s a whole world of people out there in dire need of Betty brilliance. And naturally, that world can’t wait to shower us with adoration and riches. Remember to ask any other questions in the comments. Happy blogging!
It’s been a pretty crap week here in the Noirverse. Besides the things going on in my own body, friends and family have fallen ill while their physicians prove fallible, yet exceedingly slow to allow alternatives to their incorrect theories. Fallibility is acceptable, we’re all human, but stubbornly refusing to entertain any possibility other than the one you’ve chosen as correct, even as evidence mounts that you’re wrong, is not. And it makes me want to walk up and kick you in the shin, which is about as violent as I get.
Rather than focus on the harsh words I want to speak to my friend’s doctors or on the very close call she had (we all had, really, because this woman would be missed), I’ve decided to throw out a fun survey to the Betties. Come answer some questions and let us try to figure out what your answers say about you.
Those of you familiar with Inside the Actor’s Studio will recognize these questions, but they originally came from a French series, “Bouillon de Culture” hosted by Bernard Pivot.
- What is your favorite word?
- What is your least favorite word?
- What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
- What turns you off?
- What is your favorite curse word?
- What sound or noise do you love?
- What sound or noise do you hate?
- What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
- What profession would you not like to do?
- If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Here are my answers:
- Favorite word: If you look at my writing, you’d think it was “suddenly,” but it’s actually, “included.”
- Least favorite word: Pleaded. It’s an irregular verb, people. Please say pled.
- Turns me on: A good story, especially one with an underdog who gets justice in the end.
- Turns me off: Intolerance
- Favorite curse word: One I learned from my step-father and I always have to say it with his Texas drawl, “Well, shit-fire!”
- Sound I love: My younger son laughing. He has the most joyfully free laugh I’ve ever heard.
- Sound I hate: Fingernails on a chalkboard.
- Profession I’d like to attempt: Forensic pathologist
- Profession I would not like to do: Used car sales
- Like to hear God say: “I know, right?”
How about you, Betties?
I love what Betty Fokker said after the shooting in December: “Betties also give me faith in our species.” Me, too, Fokker. Me, too.
I’ve been working on the piece about the bullying Zoo Keeper experienced this year because I think it strikes a hopeful note, but it’s not quite ready yet. I want to share it with Zoo Keeper’s teacher first and that will take a little time, as we’ve just come back from break.
So, instead, I’m going to link to the piece I just posted on my personal blog. And, though I also shared the link in that blog post, I want to want to share this article remembering the lives cut so very short that Friday in December.
by Kimberly, Rock Star Betty
I make lists. Of everything. Things to do, things I’ve done, things to think about, things to try not to think about. Really, it’s a sickness. One of the things I keep a list of is the books I read. It’s nothing fancy, just a text document of book titles and their authors. Now I know all about Good Reads and Shelfari and the like, but I’ve resisted. Their allure calls to me, but I have thus far avoided them. It’s like how an alcoholic knows that avoiding heroine is probably a good idea.
One of the reasons I like to make my book list is so I can look back at the end of the year and review it. Remembering that I read my first Sharon Shinn fantasy novel while I was on vacation in the Smokey Mountains can help bring back the pleasures of that vacation, much like how a smell can trigger a memory. It’s one more way that I experience life through the books I read. So I thought I’d share some of my 2012 with my Betties.
My year started with The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, which I resisted reading because it is totally not the kind of book I typically go for, but which hooked me from the very beginning. Michael and I listened to the books together on audio release from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, NLS. We finished up the series in the car coming back from Nashville where I had my annual appointment with my neurosurgeon. Way back in late 2010, we spoke with the doctor about maybe having another baby. He assured me that my scans were clear and that, in so far as a brain surgeon can give the green light for a pregnancy, he was doing so. At my 2012 visit, he really, truly, honest to God teared up a little when he walked in the exam room and saw the tiny little redheaded baby girl in my lap. I tried to focus on the beauty of that moment in the car on the way home from Nashville to Bowling Green, Kentucky as Rosebud tried with all her little but tenacious might to drown out our book with her screams and wails.
The next high point was the release of our own Alpha Betty’s A Little Night Magic, which was a great read, and not just because that book was part of bringing all us Betties together. I love Lucy March’s style and voice. One of my wishes for 2013 is that Lani and Alastair will be able to release her backlist in audio format.
First person point of view romances, those that a decade ago would have been called Chick Lit, were my reading passion this year, which is odd since the Chick Lit of a decade ago annoys me to no end. But this year I glommed Kristan Higgins, who shot to the top of my favorite romance writers list after I read The Next Best Thing, the story of Lucy, a young widow who decides to begin dating again with the goal of getting a husband so she can have kids. She wants a man she won’t fall in love with, but Ethan complicates that plan, and not only because he’s Lucy’s dead husband’s brother. If you haven’t read it, do not let 2012 end without rectifying that situation. It was so good that I read it twice this year. In addition to Higgins, I also went on a glom of Sarah Addison Allen, whose books I believe are classified as romance with elements of magical realism. Whatever they call it these days, you should give her work a try.
January was a big reading month for me. In addition to The Hunger Games books and Lucy March’s first release, I read the much anticipated Ghost Story, the then latest offering in the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. I anxiously awaited the release of this book because the book before it in the series, the aptly named Changes, had a cliffhanger ending. But I had to wait even longer than most Dresden fans because I had to wait for the book to be released by the NLS. Sure, I could have bought the commercial audio book, but the NLS reader, Gregory Gorton, has become the voice of Harry Dresden for me. I simply couldn’t switch. Now I find myself in the same situation as at the beginning of the year as I await the NLS release of Cold Days, Harry Dresden’s most recent adventure. I have been mollified somewhat by my discovery of Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles, which begins with Hounded. Atticus O’Sullivan is a centuries-old Druid with the ability to shift from one plane of existence to another, leaving pissed off gods and mortals alike in his wake. I just finished Trapped, the fifth book in the series and am already anxious for the release of the next book. Hearne, like Jim Butcher, has created a character who has some thoroughly kick-ass powers, but also some deep vulnerabilities. Both main characters spring off the page with wise cracks and smart humor.
I read a pretty even blend of fiction and nonfiction, with memoir, that grey area in between, being one of my favorite genres. Bossypants, Tina Fey’s autobiography, was hilarious and poignant When she referred to an electric breast pump as a “Williams-Sonoma tit juicer,” which I read while nursing Rosebud, I swear I nearly peed my pants. One oddly interesting book I read was The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald, a memoir of the author’s first year of marriage, which coincided with her husband’s pursuit of his lifelong passion to become a chicken farmer. The book was written decades ago, but it’s wit and humor have withstood the test of time. Another of my favorite memoirs of 2012 was Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, by Jenny Lawson, A.K.A The Bloggess, which is full of the popular blogger’s trademark quirky way of looking at life.
One book that is deliberately absent from my list is Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I’ve never read it. When The Lord of the Rings was being hyped a few years back, I bought the audio books, loved them, and then adored the movies. This time, I wanted the experience of watching the movie before reading the book. The only other instance of that for me is Gone with the Wind.
So far this year, I have totaled ninety-six books. Books only make it onto my list if I read them beginning to end. Cookbooks, books for research, and reference guides don’t make it on the list. Nor do books that I start, but don’t finish. I discard a lot of books. I give them two chapters to make me forget I’m reading a book rather than living an alternate reality. If they don’t hook me by chapter three, I move on. I’m kind of a slut that way. There are just to many awesome books to spend my time on books that, for whatever reason, just don’t do it for me. In case you wondered, yes, the writer in me wants to kick my ass.
My days here in SAHMville are long and predictable. I love my children and husband dearly and wouldn’t trade this glorious life I have for anything, but there are weeks that I don’t encounter another human being besides the ones who live in my house. It gets hard. It gets boring. It gets lonely. But there is always a book, another story that will shape me, change me, if only for the hours I spend reading it. I believe completely in the transcendent nature of art.
So Betties, what were the highlights of your reading list this year? Let’s take it to the comments for some book talk.
by Deb, Witchy Betty
I have a confession to make: Christmas is not my holiday. Never has been. I grew up Jewish, and the only time I ever celebrated Christmas was the couple of years I was married, way back in the 1980′s. And these days, as a Pagan who runs an artists’ cooperative shop (and sells her jewelry there), I am mostly just grateful that it isn’t my holiday, so I don’t have to feel guilty about focusing all my energy on making money…
This doesn’t mean I don’t celebrate at all, though. Every year, my group, Blue Moon Circle, gets together for a Yule dinner party at my house. We don’t do a ritual, so it is a “safe” time for people to bring the husband who isn’t comfortable with witchcraft, or the kids who don’t sit still well. We usually invite a pagan-friendly friend or two, too. BMC is really one big family anyway, so for us it is a time to gather as an extended tribe and enjoy being together and celebrating the light in the midst of the darkness.
We always have a big feast. Everyone brings a dish to share, all of them made with love (and no little cooking talent). Unlike the post-ritual feasts we normally have at the other sabbats, where we tend to sit around the living room with paper plates on our knees, we actually put all the leaves in the dining room table and sit down together. There are often over a dozen of us, so it can be kind of crowded, but nobody minds.
We usually exchange gifts in one way or another; sometimes we play a silly gift-stealing game, and this year we’re each pulling one name and getting a gift for that person. (The kids get gifts from everyone!)
I keep the decorations simple, since I haven’t got the time or inclination to put up a big tree (see “not my holiday” above, plus I have 5 cats). I have a couple of lovely evergreen and juniper swags (about 6′ long) that a local artisan made, and I hang them up, along with strings of white lights to symbolize the light of the Yule holiday. I may put up a few shiny ornaments here and there, but otherwise, that’s enough to give the house a festive look.
If I’m really feeling the desire to go all out, sometimes I dig a small volunteer pine tree up from my yard, where they tend to sprout up where I least expect them. They’re always a little “Charlie Brown” looking, but that’s okay.
Sometimes we light candles on a Yule log we’ve made, and talk about our wishes for the year ahead. Mostly, we just enjoy being together. Friendship is the greatest light in the dark there is.