Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I met Diana - and I liked it!

Yes, Outlander fans, it's true!  I finally got my wish and met Diana Gabaldon, author extraordinaire of my favorite books ever! I'm still high on the excitement of this past weekend when I flew to Phoenix from New Jersey and attended The Poisoned Pen Conference at the Arizona Biltmore Resort.  Many authors were in attendance, and I got to meet the legendary Diana Gabaldon, who is the most gracious and charming woman. She must face slews of adoring fans who can barely form a sentence in her presence (such as moi!)  What patience and she is so lovely and serene in the midst of it!  I was tongue tied and flabbergasted when I first saw her, and my oldest sister dragged me over to Diana, who was quietly seated beside her husband on the end of a row.  She had told Diana that I was hyperventilating while I was dithering about whether to go over to her or not. I really wasn't hyperventilating - but you know how older sisters can be!  I just didn't want to impose! We chit-chatted briefly, I had my picture taken with her, as did my sister who had just read Outlander for the first time and is now hooked!  I hardly knew what I was saying I was so flustered and my heart was beating like crazy and I can barely recall what we talked about, but I must have sounded like such an idiot!  One thing I do recall is after I recounted my sad story about missing out on seeing her at the The National Book Festival in Washington, DC after A Breath of Snow and Ashes came out, she told me that she will be there this year in September right at the launch of The Exile, the Outlander graphic novel that's coming out!  I told her I'm driving down this time, not counting on Amtrak (the trains weren't running that day, long story.)

Then later on that evening, Diana signed books (I got a copy of the very green Echo in the Bone with The Exile preview in the back) and then she left early since she's still recovering from her knee surgery and she was so wonderful to even come to this event! All I can say is wow - she's amazing! I met her! I shook hands with her! *giggles* I'm still giddy just thinking about it!  Plus, there were hardly any people around - it was such a tiny little conference! No waiting forever in line, I just was dragged walked up to her!

Now, you're probably wondering how can anyone stand so much excitement in one weekend, and that's not even all that happened! Earlier that weekend, I attended a Georgette Heyer themed tea which was sponsored by The Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale.  The tea was led by two wonderful authors who I spent a lot of time with the whole weekend!

Lauren Willig, author of another one of my favorite series, known as The Pink Carnation Series was simply adorable and we talked and talked about her characters and future plotlines and books we've read and it was just great hob nobbing with a real live author!  She's an expert on Regency England and was the co-leader of the Heyer Discussion which was intimate and lively, only about 8 other women were guests at the tea and it was lovely.  Her co-leader was another talented author, Stephanie Barron who writes a well known Jane Austen detective series and some very interesting historical novels with a mystery side to them as well as several other crime novels under the name of Francine Matthews.   In anticipation of meeting Stephanie, I began reading her first Jane detective novel, which I'm still reading and loving it!  Stephanie wound up riding back to the hotel with us and she became a friend too, discussing Jane Austen, fanfiction, the ebook phenomenon and publishing - all in the back seat! We kept running into her all weekend!  It was so funny because she and Lauren led another lecture later on that weekend too, so we were all hanging around together! Really, we were NOT stalking them!  Of course I have pictures!

Here I am in the middle with Lauren Willig on the right and my dear friend and blogging buddy, Joanne from Slice of Life.  I can't say enough kind words about Joanne and how great it was to meet her for the first time - we are sympatico when it comes to books and it was a pleasure to meet her and her friend Cindy who came from New Orleans.  Thank God they had cameras, for all the pictures come from Cindy and Joanne! I was so giddy the whole time all I had was my crappy cell phone camera which is worthless indoors!  In any event, I am eternally grateful to both of them for having the good sense to bring a real camera!

Here is another picture of me with Stephanie Barron and my sister, Cathy on the right.  I'm looking starry eyed post Diana.  We all bought a copy of Stephanie's historical fiction novel, The White Garden which centers around the death of Virginia Woolf and what really happened to her during those three weeks before they found her body.  It's not what everyone thinks!  It sounded fascinating and clever when Stephanie was describing it, so we snatched it up and wouldn't dare let her go without signing our copies!  Another gracious and extremely intelligent woman - all the women we met were so friendly and incredibly knowlegable!  I loved every minute and all the book talking - I was in heaven! These people speak my language!

Now it's back to real life, but I have the best memories.  The Arizona Biltmore was a gorgeous resort, the landscaping and grounds were amazing!  On a funny note, the entire time we were there, there was a huge Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority Convention going on - they were everywhere!  It was almost surreal!

The major highlights of the weekend were getting to see my two sisters who live far away from me, laughing and catching up with them and letting them see first hand what my "other life" is like concerning books and romances and the wonderful world of Outlander.  Plus, it was great to meet and hang out with Joanne and talk books non-stop as well as all sorts of things! It was all incredibly special, particularly meeting Diana, Lauren and Stephanie - an unforgettable weekend! 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

BBAW - Book Blogger Appreciation Award Week September 13-17


I missed out on Book Blogger Appreciation Week last year, I didn't even realize it was happening until it was over!  This year, I thought I'd enter the fray and submit my little blog for consideration.

This is what it's all about (lifted from their site):

What: Book Blogger Appreciation Week is a week long festival celebrating the community of book bloggers and their contribution to preserving a culture of literacy through book reviews and recommendations, reading reflections, and general bookish chat. BBAW also includes an awards component. For more information on the BBAW 2010 Awards and how to participate, please visit the BBAW 2010 Awards Blog. (click on above picture).  BBAW events include daily blogging topics, blogger interview swaps, special guest posts, and so much more!

Who: If you self-identify as a book blogger, this festival is for you! We have been excited to welcome participants from all over the world for past BBAWs.

When: September 13-17, 2010.

Where: At the Book Blogger Appreciation Week blog. You can participate in the comfort of your own home and the convenience of your own time zone.

Why: Because book blogging is a fun and time intensive hobby that has created communities around books and played a crucial role in the continuing evolution of what books mean in our society.

How Can You Participate? You can participate by filling out the registration form for BBAW 2010. Subscribe to the blog’s feed and keep up with all of the developments!

In addition you can nominate yourself for a particular niche award and an overall award.  My niche is obviously romances and I also nominated myself for another featured award - best written blog *snort*  I have to choose five reviews for each category and here they are - not easy and I probably didn't put enough thought into which ones to choose, but here goes!

Niche - Romances

Something About You

Duke of Shadows

Seduce Me at Sunrise

Highland Fling


Featured Category - Best Written Blog

Far From the Madding Crowd

The Summer Garden

Flowers From the Storm

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie

Dark Seduction

On another note, I'm flying to Phoenix tomorrow to attend the Poisoned Pen Conference.  I am psyched! I will finally meet Diana Gabaldon who is one of the attending authors as well as Lauren Willig - oh boy, both in the same place! I can't wait! Plus, my two sisters who live in the Southwest are meeting me there and we'll have a sisters reunion while living it up at the Arizona Biltmore! But, that's not all, I'll finally get to meet my fellow romance blogger and Outlander friend, Joanne from Slice of Life!  I'm so looking forward to meeting face to face - I will post details when I get back!  Tootles!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Other Mr. Darcy by Monica Fairview

Book Description:
Did you know that Mr. Darcy had an American cousin?!

In this highly original Pride and Prejudice sequel by British author Monica Fairview, Caroline Bingley is our heroine. Caroline is sincerely broken-hearted when Mr. Darcy marries Lizzy Bennet— that is, until she meets his charming and sympathetic American cousin…

Mr. Robert Darcy is as charming as Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is proud, and he is stunned to find the beautiful Caroline weeping at his cousin's wedding. Such depth of love, he thinks, is rare and precious. For him, it's nearly love at first sight. But these British can be so haughty and off-putting. How can he let the young lady, who was understandably mortified to be discovered in such a vulnerable moment, know how much he feels for and sympathizes with her?

I really enjoyed this Pride and Prejudice variation.  Having read tons of P&P fanfics, I consider myself somewhat of an expert on the genre, and this was a most pleasant addition!  Anyone familiar with Austen's original would probably feel less than enthusiastic at the idea of reading a "what if" about Caroline Bingley of all people, but this works!  Caroline is an insufferable snob with aspirations to becoming Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy.  But, as we all know and can appreciate, Elizabeth Bennet won that coveted title.  This book opens with Caroline boo-hooing on Elizabeth and Darcy's wedding day alone upstairs while the wedding reception is taking place below.  In a Scarlett O'Hara/Rhett Butler moment, Caroline is surprised to find she is not alone after all.  Mr. Darcy's American cousin happens to have been in the room with her, though unnoticed.  He makes his presence known, and after the usual, "Sir, you are no gentleman!" moment, he promises to keep Caroline's guilty secret and leaves her to her renewed tears.

After that, Caroline seems to run into this American Mr. Darcy over and over again, much to her chagrin.  Some very funny plot twists ensue, blundering around the English countryside, a Nottingham Goose Fair and a reunion of many of P&P's beloved and not so beloved characters (thankfully, Mr. Hurst is now deceased, leaving Louisa, Caroline's sister, a merry widow.)  Due to some wagging tongues and the need to save face, Caroline and Robert Darcy must pretend they are engaged to be married.  As much as Caroline finds the turn of events undesirable, the idea begins to grow on her.  Little does she know that her Mr. Darcy has always fancied the idea, but is afraid she will turn him down if he proposes for real.  You can guess the outcome, and it is amusing getting there.  In addition, Caroline must deal with some hard truths about herself and society and finally is able to face up to her past faults and changes for the better.  I rather liked her!

The author is true to the many Austen characters from P&P, particularly Mrs. Bennett and Lydia.  It was fun to see many of my favorites and it was like visiting with old friends, though Lizzy and Fitzwilliam Darcy were facing some melancholy moments for most of the time which deepened the storyline.  Charles and Jane were just as you'd expect and I laughed at Col. Fitzwilliam and his proposal to Caroline, for I've already read many P&P fanfics online involving Caroline and Richard Col. Fitz as a couple!  I was surprised to find I really wound up liking Caroline here, and I was rooting for her and hoped she'd find love in all the wrong places!  Robert Darcy is an intriguing man from Boston, who has a Corinthian reputation about London, he's full of surprises!  If it's love at first sight for him upon meeting Caroline, he keeps his cards close to his vest.  She has no clue to his real feelings, though it's apparent to the reader. I had to scratch my head a few times at Caroline's dimness when it concerned this man of mystery who was so obviously fond of her.  Even so, I enjoyed their banter together and their country adventures on the road from Hertfordshire to Derbyshire, though there were some slow moving moments where the book dragged and I wanted Caroline to get on with it and open her eyes to what was right in front of her - Robert Darcy!  Finally, she gets the point by the end, though it took her long enough and I was biting my nails thinking it was too late!

I really enjoyed this sequel to P&P. Funny, and I was surprisingly entertained and became a sympathetic fan of Caroline.  Some nods to the original with a few parallels in the plot, it even includes an obligatory wet Mr. Darcy pond scene inspired from the 1995 movie no doubt!  I'm sure any fan of Pride and Prejudice will appreciate this well written and witty homage to the beloved classic, and it will make them a fan of Caroline as well, viewing her in a whole new different light! Highly recommend!


Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn (audio)

Book Description:
A husband, a family, a comfortable life: Theodora Lestrange lives in terror of it all. With a modest inheritance and the three gowns that comprise her entire wardrobe, Theodora leaves Edinburgh - and a disappointed suitor - far behind. She is bound for Roumania, where tales of vampires are still whispered, to visit an old friend and write the book that will bring her true independence. She arrives at a magnificent, decaying castle in the Carpathians replete with eccentric inhabitants: the ailing dowager; the troubled steward; her own fearful friend, Cosmina. But all are outstripped in dark glamour by the castle's master, Count Andrei Dragulescu. Bewildering and bewitching in equal measure, the brooding nobleman ignites Theodora's imagination and awakens passions in her that she can neither deny nor conceal. His allure is superlative, his dominion over the superstitious town, absolute - Theodora may simply be one more person under his sway. Before her sojourn is ended - or her novel completed - Theodora will have encountered things as strange and terrible as they are seductive. For obsession can prove fatal...and she is in danger of falling prey to more than desire.

Quickie review:

As a Deanna Raybourn fan, I've enjoyed her Lady Julia Gray historical mystery novels, but this novel, which is a departure from Lady Julia, was not my cup of tea. I just could not get into it. The Gothic overtones were much too obvious and forced, I don't need to be beaten over the head with it - I get it! It's a gothic novel! The darkly handsome and brooding Count Dragulescu - is he really a vampire, or is it his father, the late Count, who is killing innocent serving girls? Do werewolves roam the hills on full moons and does madness run in the Dragulescu family? What evil lurks in the dark and forbidding medieval castle with it's looming Devil's staircase that climbs up to it's castle doors?

Frankly, I just thought a lot of it was silly. On audio, the narrator, Charlotte Perry did a so-so job with the differing voices. Theodora wasn't bad, if only she had kept up the Scottish accent, it seemed to come and go. And for a Scot, if would have been nice if Theodora knew how to properly pronounce the city of Edinburgh (it should be pronounced eddinburra, not eddinburr) In fact, there were several instances of mispronounced words, I've heard worse in audiobooks, but it was distracting and sometimes jarring here and I kept wanting to correct her! Adding to my disatisfaction with the narrator, her voice and accent for the Count was unbearable - it ruined him for me as a leading man and I disliked him throughout the entire book. I kept trying to overlook it, but it was impossible to ignore. I'm sure if I had read it in print, I would have felt differently towards him, but there was too much about him not to like, aside from his accent.

Theodora, a young Scottish Victorian novelist visits her friend Cosmina who is getting married in her native Transylvania to the darkly handsome Count. As soon as she arrives, she finds out that there is to be no wedding, the Count is not going to marry her after all - he never intended to. Instead, he seems to set his sights on Theodora who is no match for his seductions. She gives in easily. All too often raising her lips to his in supplication. And what is his story anyway - is he good or evil? What is he really? Is his dead father a strigoi? An undead? There is a lurid scene in which all the inhabitants of the castle (or the ones we know about) go to the family crypt to finish off the late Count who was hated by all for he was evil and cruel to the peasants and the people around his castle. They go to cut out his heart and burn it with Count Andrei leading the way for we learn he is a dhampir, born to defeat and kill the strigoi. Yet, Andrei cannot do it, though he succeeds in impaling a stake into his father's chest instead - eww. We never do find out if the father was a vampire or not - one of a few loose ends in the book. How come no one seems to worry about this?

Eventually, Theodora's lacklustre publisher, Charles who wants to be her husband, shows up unexpectedly all the way from Scotland, and brings some energy to what had been a tedious and slow moving story. By the time he shows up, Theodora is ready to give herself up to the Andrei's seductions and I was almost glad Charles showed up as chaperon (though it doesn't do much good). Ironic, since he is supposed to be a stuffy and boring suitor in Theodora's eyes, yet he made the plotline more interesting and added a much needed diversion, though he was by no means, the life of the party (and for a Scot, the narrator didn't even give him a Scottish brogue - for shame!) I became so tired of all these lugubrious Transylvania-ites talking matter of factly about werewolves and hanging basil at their windows. At least Charles was normal! At one point, I felt Cosmina was attracted to the publisher, but nothing comes of it (she has her own set of problems) One of my major gripes about this book is the unsatisfactory outcome in much of the sideline stories. We get to know many of the side characters, yet there is no closure with them - Cosmina is up in the air, whatever happened to Florian? Is the Count really a vampire, has he been been killed for good? Whatever happened to Charles once they return to Scotland? This was so unlike her other novels in which all the loose ends are neatly accounted for.

I'm going to stick with Raybourn's Lady Julia novels - I think Ms. Raybourn gave this the old college try, but should steer clear from paranormals in the future - "Resist!" I say! "Resist the dark side!" If you want to write about dark and brooding heroes, make them human and more like Nicholas Brisbane if you please!


Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Last Highlander by Claire Cross

Book Description:
While celebrating the reclaiming of Edinburgh Castle, a Scottish warrior heads down a flight of stairs - and into another century...

Scotland, 1998. When a beautiful American traveler stumbles upon this handsome Highlander, she is intensely drawn to the mystery surrounding this man, a mystery that has the power to alter history - and her heart - forever...

I'm a sucker for Scottish time travel novels, obviously, since I'm such a fan of Outlander, and I enjoyed this time travel Scottish romance, though it was nothing more than a light piece of fluff. Not bad, but not great. Morgan Lafayette is an American illustrator of children's books who is still suffering the after-effects of her no-good womanizing ex-husband. Her confidence in men is at an ebb. While traveling in Scotland with her sister and brother-in-law she hopes to find inspiration for a new book of Scottish fairy tales while in the Highlands. To add to the mix, her sister, who means well, is always on the lookout for a new man for her sister as well - any man, it seems, will do.

Earlier, we meet Alasdair MacAuley, a Scottish Highlander who has been celebrating his victory and is now in his cups after taking Edinburgh Castle on hehalf of Robert the Bruce in the fourteenth century. He meets an old hag in the dark hallways of the castle, who dares him to follow her and recite a chant and turn three times on behalf of the legendary sorceress Morgaine le Fey. His friends egg him on to do it, and before he knows it, he literally winds up at the feet of our present day Morgan while she is touring the same Edinburgh Castle seven hundred years later. He is perplexed for one minute he's in the fourteenth century and the next, his bearings are off, everything looks different - yet the same. What has happened and what alternate world is this? He is convinced that the legendary Morgaine le Fey has put a spell on him and taken him to her domaine, the land of fairies. This answers our question of why he isn't more freaked out to be in modern day Edinburgh with electric lights and motor cars and restaurants - he thinks he's in fairy land!

Of course, he's not, but he doesn't know that until much later. Morgan is under the misunderstanding that he is some drunken actor who works at the castle as a reenactor for tourists. Despite his rugged blonde good looks she takes an instant dislike to him for she also thinks he's a thief and wants nothing to do with him. There is lots of confusion and miscommunication. From the time Alasdair lands in the twentieth century, history has suddenly changed, yet the only ones who seems to know this are Morgan and Alasdair, though neither of them knows why. Alasdair seems to think he must seduce Morgan to get back to his own world, so he sets out to do it, but she'll have none of him, despite her body's natural inclinations to do otherwise. It was fun to read about his attempts and the way she cleverly foiled each one. Her sister doesn't help matters for she instantly takes a liking to Alasdair and invites him to have dinner with them, which eventually leads to their sharing a drive across Scotland to his home which is far away on an island. Along the trip, Morgan and Alasdair share the back seat and become closer while her sister smiles approvingly encouraging them (and giving them no choice) to share a room at the roadside inns and B&B's they stop at.. Their feelings for each other are growing, yet they're both frustratingly under the wrong impressions about each other! Gradually, Morgan figures out he's a time traveler and she wants to help him return to his century, despite the fact she's falling for him.

How can Alasdair get back to his own time and seven year old son, and will Morgan be able to resist his kisses and kilted sexiness before he goes back - if he even can go back?

This was a cute story and the Scottish folk tales that are interspersed throughout the storyline added to it. The tales, recounted by Alasdair, add a poignancy and foreshadowing to what we suspect will ultimately happen at the end. It would have been a really good book, if only Morgan hadn't been so incredibly stupid and naive when it's staring her right in the face that Alasdair is a good man and he is not still in love with his dead wife! She was so dense! But, it's understandable since she's been hurt before and is not sure of herself and how men think of her. There were also some ramblings bits of description that I found unecessary - do I really need to know what it's like to watch the ferry guys direct cars and point to where they're supposed to park so as to fit every car in?

I really loved Alasdair, he was adorable at times and he really grew on me. I enjoyed the many faux pas he makes in modern times and the way he handles them (still thinking he's in the land of fairies). It was so funny and absurd that he thought Morgan was the great Morgan le Fey with her sister and brother-in-law as her loyal advisors. I did wonder that Morgan didn't think he was kind of nutty since he kept calling her milady and referring to her domaine and stuff. She's pretty clueless most of the time. Morgan is so ordinary and normal with no hint of grandeur or the makings of a sorceress, yet Alasdair is smitten with her on first sight and it was very cute how he tries to win her, for he thinks by wooing her she will send him back to his world. It was sad and touching when he finally finds out that Morgan is not a great fairy and she doesn't have the power to send him back. I felt sorry for him for he became so disheartened and realized the hopelessness of his situation. Despite that, the book has an overall lighthearted humerous feel to it with many funny moments, though they were offset by Morgan's density, bordering on TSTL. She was hard to like because of it, but overall it was a good story and not bad for a Scottish time travel novel, though I've read better.

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