Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Banned Book Week Meme: How many have you read?

Celebrating Banned Book Week 2008, here is the ALA’s list of the 100 most frequently challenged books from 1990-2000. How many have you read?

How to Play:

1: Copy this list.
2: Highlight the ones you have read (or at least remember reading) in RED.
3: Tag five people to play.

My list:

1. Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
2. Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite
3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
4. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
6. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
7. Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
8. Forever by Judy Blume
9. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

10. Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
11. Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
12. My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
13. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
14. The Giver by Lois Lowry <-- ONE OF MY FAVORITES
15. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
16. Goosebumps (Series) by R.L. Stine
17. A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
18. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
19. Sex by Madonna
20. Earth’s Children (Series) by Jean M. Auel
21. The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
22. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
23. Go Ask Alice by Anonymous

24. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
25. In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
26. The Stupids (Series) by Harry Allard
27. The Witches by Roald Dahl
28. The New Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein
29. Anastasia Krupnik (Series) by Lois Lowry
30. The Goats by Brock Cole
31. Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
32. Blubber by Judy Blume
33. Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
34. Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
35. We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier
36. Final Exit by Derek Humphry
37. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
38. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
39. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
40. What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madaras
41. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
42. Beloved by Toni Morrison
43. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
44. The Pigman by Paul Zindel
45. Bumps in the Night by Harry Allard
46. Deenie by Judy Blume
47. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
48. Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
49. The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar
50. Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat by Alvin Schwartz
51. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
52. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

53. Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
54. Asking About Sex and Growing Up by Joanna Cole
55. Cujo by Stephen King
56. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
57. The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
58. Boys and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
59. Ordinary People by Judith Guest
60. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
61. What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras
62. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
63. Crazy Lady by Jane Conly
64. Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
65. Fade by Robert Cormier
66. Guess What? by Mem Fox
67. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
68. The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
69. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
70. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
71. Native Son by Richard Wright
72. Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Fantasies by Nancy Friday
73. Curses, Hexes and Spells by Daniel Cohen
74. Jack by A.M. Homes
75. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A. Anaya
76. Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle
77. Carrie by Stephen King
78. Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
79. On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
80. Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge
81. Family Secrets by Norma Klein
82. Mommy Laid An Egg by Babette Cole
83. The Dead Zone by Stephen King
84. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

85. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
86. Always Running by Luis Rodriguez
87. Private Parts by Howard Stern
88. Where’s Waldo? by Martin Hanford
89. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
90. Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman
91. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
92. Running Loose by Chris Crutcher
93. Sex Education by Jenny Davis
94. The Drowning of Stephen Jones by Bette Greene
95. Girls and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
96. How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
97. View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts
98. The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
99. The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney
100. Jump Ship to Freedom by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier


Naida from the bookworm

CarolynJean from The Thrillionth Page

Monday, September 29, 2008

Banned Book Week 2008

September 27-October 4, 2008

Banned Book Week was established in 1982 in order to raise awareness of the number of books that are challenged in schools, libraries and bookstores every year. Books are challenged by individuals or groups who feel the books are too sexual, violent, profane; think the books offensively portray racial or religious groups; and even think the books portray homosexuals positively.

The following is a list of the top 10 most challenged books in 2007 according to the American Library Association:

1. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
2. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
3. Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes
4. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
6. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
7. TTYL by Lauren Myracle
8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
9. It's Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I decided to celebrate my freedom to read by reading two books from this list during Banned Book Week. I selected And Tango Makes Three, a picture book by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole and the young adult novel, Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes, both of which I borrowed from the public library one day last week. I specifically chose And Tango Makes Three because it was the single most challenged book in 2007 and also because since it is a picture boo, it would be an easy book for every member of my family to read and discuss together. This was obviously also an opportunity to explain the concept of banned books to our daughters, why people feel books should be banned, and why it is so important to celebrate their freedom to read every day.

And Tango Makes Three is a picture book whose story is based on a true story about two male penguins named Roy and Silo in the Central Park Zoo in New York City who together, care for an abandoned egg and the baby penguin that hatches from it. It is a simple story with the simple message that there are all kinds of happy, loving families in the world.

I have to say it's a good feeling when your nine year older finds absolutely nothing wrong with a baby having two fathers and doesn't quite understand why someone wouldn't want to read this sweet story about a baby penguin being cared for and loved by its parents.

I have to say it's also a good feeling when your thirteen year old is shocked and outraged to learn that anyone would even suggest to ban any book from schools, libraries or bookstores simply because they disapprove of its content.

To find out more about Banned Books Week, visit the American Library Association HERE or The Banned Books Week website HERE.

Here is a picture of me reading And Tango Makes Three with my daughter:
Look for a post on my thoughts on Olive's Ocean later this week. Now its your turn. 

Celebrate your First Amendment rights and read a banned book!

Friday, September 26, 2008

REVIEW of Blue Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas and Personal Discussion on the Abuse Within

I have essentially written two parts to this post; a book review and a personal discussion on the topic of abuse within Blue Eyed Devil. I apologize for the length of the post, but I wanted the discussion to be included with the review, namely because it might be informative to some readers who happen upon my blog in search of the review and may have otherwise missed it if it were posted separately. Anyway, please feel free to read and comment (or not) on whatever part or parts of this post you feel comfortable with.

Note: If you haven't yet read Sugar Daddy, the following review of Blue Eyed Devil does contain spoilers from Sugar Daddy. Read at your own risk.

Review of Blue Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas.

When Lisa Kleypas revealed at the book signing in March of 2007 that she was writing Hardy Cates' story, my first thought was, "Excellent! I can't wait to read that!", and my very next thought was, "Really? Wow. How is she going to pull that off?!" By the end of Sugar Daddy, I was annoyed and disappointed with Hardy's behavior and couldn't imagine him as hero worthy material. I was curious to see how Ms. Kleypas would do it, and after reading the excerpt to Blue Eyed Devil on her website, I was beyond impatient to read this story. It turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Ms. Kleypas pulled it off with ease and truly revealed Hardy's worth as a hero.

Finally, March 2008 rolled around and I bought Blue Eyed Devil once it hit the bookshelves, willingly paying the hardcover price this time! I expected another beautifully written and touching story of self discovery and romance, but I did not expect how deeply this book would affect me on a personal level.

To be honest, I was barely halfway through reading Blue Eyed Devil when I had the revelation that this novel was going to be one of my favorite books of all time. I wanted to share my love of this novel by writing a book review, but in the end I realized that this novel's impact on mepersonally was preventing me from being objective, so I stopped trying to write one. Instead, I showed my love for Blue Eyed Devil by commenting almost everywhere I read a review on the internet, affirming all the many rave reviews.

This week, however, I was inspired by Ana and Thea's Lisa Kleypas Week at The Book Smugglers blog and decided to revisit my thoughts on Blue Eyed Devil and now here I am, writing a review for a book I read six months ago.

Like Sugar Daddy, Blue Eyed Devil is another story of a young woman's journey to find herself and the true love she deserves. Blue Eyed Devil is the story of Haven Travis, the youngest and only daughter of business tycoon Churchill Travis, who was Liberty Jones' 'sugar daddy' so to speak in Sugar Daddy. The story opens at the wedding of Liberty Jones and Gage Travis from Sugar Daddy. Haven Travis is engaged to Nick Tanner and accidentally shares an intimate kiss in a dark wine cellar with Hardy Cates--Liberty Jones' long ago, long time childhood crush--thinking he is Nick. After much embarrassment, Haven composes herself and they part ways.

Haven marries Nick and their relationship quickly proves to be an unhealthy one. Nick emotionally abuses Haven, beginning with subtle insults and degradations, and building slowly as he isolates her from her family and friends, controls how she spends her time and money, intimidates her, and purposely destroys personal items in the house. Ultimately he controls Haven in such a way that she loses sight of her individuality and her right to be free and happy. As the frequency and severity of Nick's emotional abuse of Haven increases, eventually the physical and sexual abuse begins. In final bout of rage, Nick severely injures Haven and locks her out of their home. Finally, Haven is able to walk away and save herself.

Haven's road to healing begins as she puts in a call to her brother Gage Travis--husband of Liberty Jones, both of whom give Haven shelter, loving support and personal space for healing. And let me just point out that I loved Gage in Sugar Daddy, but I love loved him in Blue Eyed Devil. He was perfect and very heroic. Haven then divorces Nick, seeks professional help for her abusive past, starts working for her brother, Jack Travis and begins to put her life back together and become whole again.

Blue Eyed Devil is the heart wrenching story of how Haven Travis lost herself in a damaging and unhealthy way as a result of her abusive marriage to Nick Tanner. It is also the heart warming story of how Haven Travis put herself on the path of healing and self empowerment and how she found the genuine, healthy, unrequited love she deserves. Haven Travis finds such a love with none other than Hardy Cates, the self made Texan business tycoon who has been on his own path to find himself for some time as well. Their story intense and beautiful, filled with heart aches and emotional healing and some very tender and very sexy love scenes. Together Haven and Hardy provide what the other one needs in order to heal. Blue Eyed Devil is a story of personal triumph with a romantic happily ever after that will stay in my heart forever.


You can read more about author Lisa Kelypas and her work on her website HERE.

Note: For those readers whose first reaction is to shy away from reading Blue Eyed Devil because of the nature of the abuse, I just want to let you know that although the impact of the abuse is a thread throughout the entire novel, the scenes of the actual abuse are very carefully written such that the violence of the abuse is real, but it's not excessively graphic. I'm not saying it's not difficult to read. It is. It's just that Ms. Kleypas did not under or overplay the nature of the abuse, and readers shouldn't avoid reading it for its graphic nature.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Personal Discussion on the Abuse in Blue Eyed Devil.

What If?

As I mentioned in my review above, I had a difficult time effectively writing an objective review of Blue Eyed Devil back in March when I first read the book. I felt too personally affected by Haven's abuse to properly compose my thoughts, so I sort of just let it go without following through with a book review.

Then today, something changed. I read Ana's review of Blue Eyed Devil on The Book Smugglers blog where Ana and Thea are showcasing the works of Lisa Kleypas all this week. Perhaps it's because I haven't discussed or read a review of Blue Eyed Devil in a while, but as I read Ana's wonderfully written review, my vision blurred, tears rolled down my cheeks, as I became flooded with similar emotions I had as I read the novel several months ago. It was then that I realized I really did have something to share about this novel that could be of some value to other readers. What I have to share is perhaps subjective, and probably most readers don't want or need to know about this novel's personal impact on me in order to help them decide whether or not to read Blue Eyed Devil. But what if there is someone who comes across my blog, and what if they have experienced something similar to me, and what if my post is what inspires them to read Blue Eyed Devil? And what if that person reads it, and what if that person is similarly affected by Haven's story? And what if by posting my personal thoughts on Blue Eyed Devil, I was playing a part in helping someone else heal? So I decided to share why and how Blue Eyed Devil is such a special book to me.

As the abusive part of Haven's story unfolds, I began to identify with Haven in an alarming way, as I was subjected to similar abuse in my youth from my father. While my circumstances were slightly different from Haven's--namely that I was a child without choice and the abuse was from a parent and not a chosen partner-- I readily related to Haven's plight and recognized the pattern of Nick's behavior as the same of my father's. As I read the chapters of Haven's abuse, my heart rate elevated and my chest tightened as I identified and empathized so astutely with Haven and her state of desperation. The whole time, I was thinking to myself, "I know how this feels. I know what it's like to fall victim to this kind of manipulative abuse and not be able to get out. I know this." Lisa Kleypas wrote this part of the story so incredibly accurately, which thoroughly impressed me. I was impressed that Ms. Kleypas wrote all aspects of this abusive relationship with such amazing realism. I was also saddened as I was reminded that this kind of abuse exists in the first place and keeps happening to women all over the world.

Tears continuously slipped down my cheeks as I read the chapters of Haven's abusive marriage. I refused to put the book down until I knew she was out of the relationship and on her way to her happily ever after, which I knew would happen. This is a novel by romance author Lisa Kleypas after all. My empathy for Haven was so intense as I read on; I was desperate to find out how she managed to break free from the destructive relationship. I cried tears of relief when Haven started on the road to recovery. I continued to cry tears of sadness for Haven because while I knew that she would heal, I knew it would never be completely, because sadly, you never forget the pain and sorrow. After a time you don't think about it every day or even every week. But it's always a part of you that still puts an ache in your heart.

Then I got to Chapter 5. Haven started going to a therapist and I was given a revelation to my own past that I didn't quite expect. Haven's therapist Susan Byrnes told her that Nick suffers from narcissistic personality disorder or NPD, and proceeded to explain some of what that entails.

"A person with NPD was domineering, blaming, self-absorbed, intolerant of others' needs . . . and they used rage as a control tactic. They didn't respect anyone else's boundaries, which meant they felt entitled to bully and criticize until their victims were an absolute mess."

I can barely explain explain the intense and odd mixture of emotions rushed through me at that point as I learned for the first time that there was an actual clinical diagnosis for people like Nick Tanner and my father. I was a bit stunned, relieved, angry, sad, and . . . interestingly, I felt validated. As if having a name and description for my father's behavior actually brought some logic to the emotional abuse he subjected his family to all those years. At least I now have a little piece of understanding, for which I have Lisa Kleypas to thank.

By now my tears are not just for Haven Travis, but also for myself and anyone else who has suffered abuse by a loved one like this. I know how desolate it feels, and I know how terribly difficult it is to finally end the relationship. To better understand this kind of desolation, consider this quote from Lisa Kleypas, taken from the comments section of Ana's review of Blue Eyed Devil at the Book Smugglers blog just a few days ago:

"One of the experts I consulted told me that most abused wives have no more ability to leave than a young child would have to leave his or her home. It has nothing to do with the victim's intelligence or morality or anything like that . . . it's a mental prison that the abuser creates."
Thankfully, I am also fortunate to know how it feels to be in a healthy relationship and to be a part of a safe, happy, and loving home. I know this because nearly twenty years ago I found the wonderful man who is my husband and the father of my daughters and I'm living the happily ever after that I deserve. Not that everything is perfect . . . but it's pretty close and it's definitely healthy and loving.

Any reader who reads Blue Eyed Devil and can't believe or understand how Haven could remain with Nick for as long as she did is both fortunate and ignorant. They are fortunate simply because their incomprehension suggests they've never known someone who has NPD, they've never been in a relationship with someone with NPD, and they've never been abused by someone whom they trusted and or loved. They are ignorant because the story of Haven's abusive relationship with Nick is written with exceptional realism that I and many many others can attest to first hand.

To any reader who reads Blue Eyed Devil and recognizes themselves as the victim in an abusive relationship, I hope Haven's story of triumph comforts you as it did me. Not only is it comforting to know others know exactly how you feel and its affects on your soul, but it is also reassuring to know that recovery and progress to a better life is possible. I also hope that Haven's story inspires you to seek the support that you need to end the abusive relationship and move forward toward a healthier life. In the author's note at the end of the book, Lisa Kleypas has shared some links to websites that she found to be informative and helpful to understanding abuse and personality disorders.


The National Domestic Violence Hotline and website:
(800) 799-SAFE

On a final note, I just want to say that as you can imagine, writing this post was rather difficult. I revisited a very sad part of my life, and shared some very personal things about myself that many people may find uncomfortable knowing about. I guess I've taken a risk of sorts by putting this piece of me out there for all the world to see (well, mostly maybe only 20 people?), but my intention is to put this out there in the chance that by sharing this, I may help someone else. What if, right?

I also want to state that I don't want to make you to feel uncomfortable about what I've shared in this post. To the readers of my blog who regularly visit and leave me comments, I know you are all warm, loving people whom I consider friends and I certainly apologize if I've made you uncomfortable. I'm not looking for sympathy and I want you especially to be assured that my experiences with abuse happened a long time ago and while the hurt and sorrow never completely goes away, I'm thankfully in a very happy and healthy place in my life now, forever moving forward. And you know what? Life is good, because I've got my very own version of Hardy Cates . . . in my husband.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

(Mini) REVIEW: Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas

As you can see from my post previous to this one, having only been reading romance for a few months, I took a big leap out of my newly discovered reading genre of paranormal romance paperbacks when I purchased and read Lisa Kleypas' first contemporary novel, Sugar Daddy--in hardcover no less-- for the mere reason that I had the opportunity to meet Lisa at a booksigning in my local Barnes & Noble. That was back in March 2007, and it turns out that the risk of spending $20 risk and a few hours of time was one of the best investment in books that I've made in a long time.

Sugar Daddy was more than I ever expected out of a contemporary romance about a poor mixed race Mexican American girl named Liberty Jones, who after innumerable losses and struggles that life has thrown her way, finally finds her happily ever after. I think it's a true testament to Ms. Kleypas' talent as a writer and a story teller that I was able to easily connect with and empathize with Liberty--someone seemingly so different from me-- so much so that I felt I was living life vicariously through her for those hours I spent reading this novel. Sugar Daddy is the story of Liberty's emotional journey as she struggles to find herself and the meaning of true love, delivered in richly written novel that shouldn't be missed.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Loving Lisa Kleypas!

In case you haven't yet heard, Ana and Thea from The Book Smugglers blog are celebrating the works of author Lisa Kleypas all this week on their blog. So far I have only read Ms. Kleypas' contemporary romances, Sugar Daddy and Blue Eyed Devil, and both were phenomenal novels. The next novel in this contemporary world is titled Smooth Talking Stranger and will feature Jack Travis, who appeared briefly in Sugar Daddy and then more prominently in Blue Eyed Devil wherein he hired his younger sister and the heroine of Blue Eyed Devil in his firm. Here's a look at the newly revealed bookcover of Smooth Talking Stranger, revealed for the very first time yesterday by Ana and Thea on The Book Smugglers blog.  And a book blurb, also supplied by Ana and Thea... and was also on Ramblings on Romance several weeks ago. 

Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas 
(March 2009, St. Martin Press)

Jack Travis leads the uncomplicated life of a millionaire Texas playboy. He makes no commitments, he loves many women, he lives for pleasure. But no one has ever truly touched his heart or soul. Until one day, a woman appears on his doorstep with fury on her face and a baby in her arms. It seems Jack is the father and this woman is the baby's aunt. The real mother has abandoned the child to her more responsible sister. And now, Jack is being called upon to take responsibility for the first time in his life.

You can also read an excerpt of Smooth Talking Stranger on Lisa Kleypas' website HERE.  Ooo la la! I want this book yesterday! 

Be sure to visit The BookSmugglers all this week as Ana and Thea (and I believe a brave DARE guest reviewer... ) will be reviewing and discussing various novels of Ms. Kleypas. They also have an interview and book giveaway planned toward the end of the week. Don't miss it!

How I came to read Lisa Kleypas. 
i.e., How I came to Love Lisa Kleypas! 

As I've mentioned in the past (see my very first blog post HERE), I only started reading romance novels almost exactly two years ago from today's date! After a long hiatus from reading recreationally-- aside from baby books, cookbooks and magazines, that is-- I started reading Young Adult fiction, starting with the Harry Potter novels in the summer of 2003 (read aloud to my girls) right up to Twilight and New Moon which I read back to back in September 2006. Immediately after devouring the two Twilight novels, I fell in love with the romanticized vampire and knew I needed to read adult fiction with vampires as not only the good guy, but the love interest, too. After a little research on Amazon.com, I discovered paranormal romance. Imagine! An entire subgenre of romance with 100s, if not 1000s of books to choose from!

I instantly became a paranormal romance junkie, with a particular addiction to vampires. J.R. Ward became my favorite author and I was thrilled when I found out she would be doing a book signing in my local Barnes & Noble on the release day of Lover Revealed in early March of 2007. While in the bookstore that night, one of the employees was handing out a B&N newsletter and schedule of upcoming events for the month and I learned that author Lisa Kleypas would be visiting the same B&N a few weeks later. I recognized her name as a prominent romance author and even took pride in myself for knowing she wrote historical romances! About a week or so later I found myself back in my Barnes & Noble standing in front of the display of Sugar Daddy novels silently debating whether or not I should buy and read the book just so I could go to a book signing for an author I barely knew. I mean, I liked the idea of meeting another successful author, but I wasn't really into historical romances. And now this latest novel is this author's first contemporary romance? And it's hardcover? Nah, too many risks, I thought. But... Lisa Kleypas is a big name in romance, and how often does one get the opportunity to meet not one, but two successful and well known authors in her very own Barnes & Noble? Right? As I stood there debating, an employee of B&N who is also a romance reader, remembered me from Ward's signing and convinced me to buy the hardcover copy of Sugar Daddy

A few days later I picked up the book and started reading. At first, I was thinking that contemporaries are just not my thing. I had enough strife in my own young life, did I really want to read about someone else's struggles? I wanted the extreme escapism I found in paranormals. But then, before I knew it, I was completely sucked in to Sugar Daddy and the story of Liberty Jones. I laughed, I cried, I got nervous, excited and mad. I ended up devouring it even more readily than some of my favorite paranormals and Sugar Daddy became one of my favorite reads of 2007. 

A few days later, I attended Lisa Kleypas' book signing and was so utterly impressed by her. She was poised, articulate, friendly, and really down to earth. Ms. Kleypas even made me teary eyed when she talked about her passion for writing romance stories ever since she was 12 years old and again when she shared a personal anecdote in order to show why reading romance is important and comforting for us. I walked in to that signing as the newest fan of Lisa Kleypas the author and walked out of that signing as the newest fan of Lisa Kleypas the person.   

Here is a picture of me with Lisa Kleypas at the Sugar Daddy book signing at my local Barnes & Noble in March 2007.
My hair was really long then. A few months after this picture was taken, in August 2007,  I got it cut and donated 12 inches of my hair to Locks of Love.  I had previously donated 12 inches in August 2005, too! Just a little tidbit about me. ;) 

If you haven't already read Lisa Kelypas' contemporary romances, you really should. Right now you can buy Sugar Daddy in hardcover at amazon.com at the Bargain Price of $5.99! Go HERE. It is an A read for me.

Of course, you're going to want to read Blue Eyed Devil, so you may as well order it as well. Blue Eyed Devil is an A+ read for me and currently my favorite novel of 2008.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

POLL: What do you want to read about on my blog?

Sharing tales from the 'happily ever afters' I read in books, as well as from those in my real life!

As you can see from my blog description, I started this blog because I wanted a place to share my thoughts on the books I read, but knew I would occasionally post things about my personal life here and there. I've noticed that as of late, I've been posting more and more about my interests outside the books I read. I guess the more I've gotten to know the readers of my blog, the more I've come to see you as my imaginary-invisible-online friends, and the easier it is to share stuff from my personal life here.  All of which is still part of my happily ever after theme as it pertains to me, anyway.  

I started a separate blog over the summer to document the construction that we're doing on our house. Mostly for myself, but also so members of my husband's extended family who live across the country can follow along, and likewise for a few of my close friends who don't live nearby. Now I'm wondering if I should start a separate blog where I can also post about interests of mine other than reading, such as cooking, gardening, crafts, photography and my family. 

So herein lies my dilemma. I know most of the readers of my blog read what I post because we share a similar interest in books. But do my readers want to read about my other personal interests?  Right now I'm inclined to keep this as my main blog where I'd post about books and then have a link in the sidebar to a separate blog where I'd post about my personal interests. Recipes, family, crafts, etc... But if most of the readers of my blog are interested in reading it ALL, I'll just post it all here. Hmm.... maybe I should post everything here, but just recipes separately? I'm so indecisive. Give me suggestions! 

To help me make my decision, I created a poll in the sidebar for my readers. I'd appreciate it if you took a moment to vote on what kind of content you're most interested in reading here at The happily ever after...  Please be honest, don't worry about hurting my feelings if you don't care about my personal interests. That's totally cool, I get that.  [Although not really. I'm a people person. I used to think maybe I'm nosy, but I'm not really. I don't pry. I just like to learn about people... friends and strangers alike.] Feel free to leave me comments telling me what you like, too. 

Thanks for your input! 


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

TBR Challenge Review: Catch of the Day by Kristan Higgins

CONFESSION: While this novel was published in 2007, it wasn't exactly on my TBR pile all that long. I won Catch of the Day and Fools Rush In, both written by Kristan Higgins from author Jaci Burton on the Writeminded author blog shortly after Catch of the Day was awarded a RITA at the 2008 RWA Conference in July.

Catch of the Day is a contemporary romance novel by Kristan Higgins told in the first person point of view of the heroine, Maggie Beaumont. Maggie lives in the small fishing town of Gideon's Cove in northern Maine, and is the proud owner of the much loved Joe's Diner (inherited from her grandfather) where the locals come to enjoy her home cooked food and exchange friendly doses of local gossip. Maggie is an upbeat, attractive, and warm hearted 32 year old who happens to have the worst luck in the love department. Nine years ago, Maggie was publicly humiliated when her high school sweetheart broke up with her in front of the entire community, and she hasn't had much success with relationships since then either. Consequently, Maggie's love life--or lack thereof--is often the topic of public discussion in Gideon's Cove.

Catch of the Day starts with Maggie meeting a potential candidate for love in her diner when an exceptionally handsome man with a sexy Scottish lilt comes in for breakfast and not only is she attracted to him, but after they talk, she feels a strong connection with him as well. Of course, in her excitement she tells friends and family that she thinks she's finally met
the man for her, only to then find out that the man she has fallen in a mad crush for is none other than Father Tim O'Halloran, the parish's new priest. Despite this second public humiliation over her love life, Maggie holds her head up and she and Father Tim become very good friends. They spend a lot of time together and he often solicits her help with various church committees. Maggie's major crush on Father Tim remains intact, and while she barely manages to stifle those feelings, she is at least realistic and attempts to find love elsewhere. She gets repeatedly set up on blind dates, even a few set up by Father Tim himself, all of which go terribly awry. Of course.

One night, Maggie is in a restaurant waiting for one of her blind dates who is apparently not showing up, and she runs into her high school sweetheart and his wife for the first time since he humiliated her. The ex-boyfriend has no qualms about declaring how happy and perfect his life is and simultaneously reminding Maggie how lonely and stagnant her life has remained over the years. Maggie valiantly attempts to maintain her composure, and just when she shows signs of crumbling, she is rescued by Malone, the local loner who moors his lobster boat next to her brother's. Malone comes over to the table and acts as Maggie's date sending the ex on his way and in essence spares Maggie from further pain and dejection. He later surprises her with a kiss that curls her toes and sets off something in her heart that she just may never put out. By the end of the story, Maggie learns that true love often comes when you least expect it and from the most unassuming men. And that there's no use fighting something that seems out of place when it feels so right.

Catch of the Day is a simple, sweet contemporary romance about a regular small town girl who finds true love when and where she least expected it. I didn't think I could get so easily swept away by such a straightforward romance, but this story had me at times amused and at other times teary eyed. I found myself easily relating to Maggie and rooting for her to find love from the very first page. I enjoyed following her mishaps and heartaches as much as I enjoyed her triumphs. The secondary characters and their side stories are all very well written and connect to Maggie's story in just the right ways to bring extra depth and life to the story.

Maggie is such an easy character to like. She's warm hearted, generous and really loves life. She just wants to share her good life with someone she loves. She tries to keep a positive outlook on life, which is very challenging considering the disaster called her dating life, not to mention the added challenge that her twin sister has the perfect life Maggie's always wanted-- a hardworking, doting husband, a beautiful baby and a charming home. I admired Maggie for her perseverance and for doing her best to be optimistic. She has the tendency to talk a lot, as in she rambles incessantly when she's nervous, a trait that proved both humorous and charming. I loved the way she could be so straightforward and confess truths about herself despite the fact that some of those truths were often a bit embarrassing. Maybe that's because she's had so much experience being embarrassed? No matter the reasons, Maggie was adorable.

Malone. What's not to love about the quiet, almost brooding town loner? He has a hidden sex appeal that surfaces only after you've noticed his enigmatic vibes and then you can't help yourself from wanting to know what he's all about. The fact that he's a man of so few words makes figuring him out even more difficult, but he's a man whose actions are both careful and purposeful. I really loved the fact that the author never compromised Malone's character throughout the novel. Several opportunities arose throughout the story where Malone could have said or done something to get what he wanted and set the record straight, and sometimes I wanted him to! --but that would have been completely out of character. It wasn't until I got to the end that I realized I wanted someone to fall for Maggie for the exact person she is, faults and all, so wouldn't I want the same for Malone? And isn't it more realistic that people fall in love with each other for the who they truly are and not what we think they should be? So as much as I wanted to better understand the quiet mystery of Malone and I kept waiting for him to open up, I love him just the way he is which is perfect for Maggie. And based on something he shares with Maggie on the last few pages, I know he'll be opening up for the woman he loves and that's good enough for me.

I can't really think of anything negative to say about this book. While Catch of the Day may not be the knock your socks off kind of love story--the beauty of it is in it's fun and heartwarming simplicity. I'm looking forward to reading Fools Rush In and will probably even pick up Kristan Higgins' most recent release, Just One of the Guys. You can visit the author HERE at her website.

Grade: A

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Katie(babs) is Babbling!!!

Katiebabs' icon designed by Lara.

In case you haven't heard the news, romance reader, reviewer, and blogger extraordinaire--and also good friend-- has started a brand new blog called Babbling About Books, and More.

Today is the grand unveiling and she's kicked off her new blog introducing herself and welcoming you to her new space on the internet with a post about 'What's In A Name?' Stop by and show her some love, then add Kate's blog to your daily blog roll so you don't miss a beat!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

In Remembrance . . .

This is a photograph of the memorial in my town honoring the six residents who died on September 11, 2001. 

I hadn't planned on posting anything about the tragedy of 9/11 today, because . . . honestly, I think about the tragedy pretty much every day. I live in a suburban town in New Jersey in which many residents commute daily into Manhattan. On September 11, 2001 six people from my town died in the World Trade Center disaster. One of those people was a man who lived on my street. He left behind a wife and three small boys. I drive or walk past their house every day. Every day. I see the wife and her boys a few times a week, sometimes daily at school, in their yard, at the ball field, at the pool, at the supermarket. Every day I remember and every day my heart aches for this family and all others who suffered loss on that horrible day. But, it hurts the most today.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Author Anya Bast is Giving Away Books!

Isn't that a gorgeous widget?!

Author Anya Bast is hostessing a month long giveaway on her blog to celebrate her upcoming book releases, particularly her new paranormal romance series that begins with novel, The Chosen Sin coming out on October 7, 2008 [click on the image of the novel in the widget above to read more about The Chosen Sin]. Grand prizes include very generous gift cards to major booksellers and she's even giving away a book every day (except Sunday's) over the next few weeks on her blog. In addition to giving away books from her own backlist and an ARC for the next novel in her Elemental Witch series titled Witch Heart, Anya's daily book giveaways will include books by authors Lauren Dane, Cynthia Eden. Lora Leigh, Megan Hart and others. Visit Anya at her blog HERE for more contest details and how to enter.  
Good luck!

Win a copy of HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is a young adult novel to be released on September 14, 2008.

Book blurb from the author's website:

Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games." The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When her sister is chosen by lottery, Katniss steps up to go in her place.

Writer and avid reader and reviewer of Children's, Young Adult and Teen literature, Cheryl Rainfield is giving away three copies of Hunger Games on her blog. To enter the drawing, leave a comment on Cheryl's book blog on the contest post here. If you mention the contest on your blog, you earn yourself a second entry. Check out Cheryl's review of Hunger Games here.

Thank you to Angie at Angieville book blog for the heads up on this contest and the glowing review by Jia on Dear Author that I read earlier today that sold me on wanting to read Hunger Games in the first place!

You can also read the Entertainment Weekly review of Hunger Games written by Stephen King here.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Toasted, Not Burned!

I know, I know ... not the book review I promised would be the next post. Shhh! 

I invented a new variation of the much beloved after school snack, the rice crispy treat. I'm calling it the 'Toasted, Not Burned' Marshmallow Treats. The recipe:

'Toasted, Not Burned' Marshmallow Treats

1 Tblsp. butter

1/2 10 oz. bag of marshmallows

3 cups rice crispy cereal

1. Put butter and marshmallows in large pot on stove set to med-high.
2. Go to laptop to look up a phone number in your address book, quickly check Twitter, tweet a popsicle stick joke, notice The Pioneer Woman is giving away Wustof knives on her site and get excited since you've had the same cheap set of four knives since your first apartment after college (i.e., a loooong time), go to PW Cooks and get distracted by carrot soup recipe, in the back of your mind you start to smell some sweet, caramelized scent . . . what is that yummy smell? *pause*  THE MARSHMALLOWS IN THE KITCHEN! Rush to kitchen!
3. Turn off heat on stove.
4. Frantically stir the butter marshmallow mixture that has by now started to burn, but smells really delicious.
5. Add rice crispy cereal and stir.
6. Spoon into a lightly buttered 8 inch square baking pan and press flat with a piece of waxed paper.
7. Serve to children, emphasizing the word TOASTED.  ;)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Pit Stop!

It's been only two days since my New School Year's Resolution and I'm already failing! After this post, I've promised myself my next one will be a book review. Promise. In the meantime, I've got some adorable pictures to share. My husband gave me his hand me down digital SLR Rebel X camera earlier this summer and I've recently took it upon myself to play around with it outside the automatic mode. That basically means I'm taking tons of pictures--a couple hundred a week--in all the different settings. And frankly, messing up quite a bit. Good thing this camera is digital or this would be a hugely expensive learning curve.

Yesterday, my BFF from childhood pit stopped at our house on her way from her home in upstate NY to the NJ shore for a week's vacation. She and I used to live down the street from each other growing up and have been playmates since we were four years old! We are barely three months apart in age, but were in different grades due to the fall cutoff dates for starting school. She moved when she was in fourth grade and I was in fifth grade, but we were loyal pen pals and occasionally visited each other during school breaks and summers as we got older. Now we have families of our own and see each other several times a year. Here are some photos of yesterday's pit stop visit.

A few of the photos are a bit blurry--I'm still learning how to manually control the exposure rate thing. My husband is tutoring me a lot, but if you're a photographer and have some suggestions, by all means suggest away! Thanks.

My BFF has three bright, adorable children. Big Boy is four, Little Twin Boy and Girl are two. 

Big Boy.

Little Twin Boy.

Little Twin Girl.

Learning to hula hoop like the big girls.

IN the hammock. Literally. LOL

A look of adoration.

Comparing friendship bracelets.

I knew there was a reason I just couldn't let go of this little tikes car.

This is my BFF's husband finishing off the blueberry pie I made. Notice he's eating right out of the pie plate. A huge compliment to the chef, I think. ;)

My husband is like the pied piper with children. They always gravitate to him. Of course, it helps that he can do neat things like magic tricks with rubber bands.

Here's the Big Boy trying figure out the trick for himself.

The look of an angel.

Girl talk.

Sister love.

That's it for now. I've got a review to write . . . 

Saturday, September 6, 2008

New School Year's Resolution

My girls started school last week and so far so good. Well, aside from the fact that the fourth grader was almost late on the second day because she didn't like the way any of her 5 pairs of shoes fit. Actually, the one new pair fit fine, but she wore those the first day of school and they didn't match her outfit for the second day. I tried to tell her that any shoe would feel uncomfortable after wearing flip flops all summer long, but she wouldn't hear it. Guess who's going shoe shopping tomorrow? 

First day of fourth grade. Look at those cute shoes!

 The first day of eighth grade. I actually made her pose after school, because I didn't quite have my act together at 7:45 am when she left for school. 

And no sooner is she home and she's already off with her friends. *sigh*

Two days down, one hundred seventy-nine to go until summer vacation! But who's counting? I am!

So I've decided to make a New School Year's Resolution. I figure the household schedule gets rearranged this time every year, so it's a great time to resolve to make some improvements in my time management. Time management not my strongest suit, which isn't such a good thing for a certified teacher and girl scout leader to admit. You think? 

I've done this New School Year's resolution in the past. One year I resolved to have dinner ready by 6:30 pm every night and I. Just. Couldn't. Do. It. I finally resolved to let that one go so now dinner is at 7 pm and everyone's happy. This year, my time management resolution doesn't have anything to do with improving the efficiency of the household, but my blog. Sweet, huh?

I've procrastinated writing reviews for some fabulous books I've been reading in these last few months, so I'm resolving to write more book reviews in a more timely fashion from here on in. 

Around the time that I started this blog, I had been keeping track of the books I read each month on my myspace blog, often including some commentary. Because my myspace page is private, I started duplicating those myspace blog posts on a livejournal blog so that anyone not on my myspace friends list could read my entries. Way too much redundancy. So tonight I decided to consolidate my blogging spaces. I'm no longer going to blog on myspace or livejournal and will keep track of the books I'm reading each month on an archive blog that is linked to this blog and my blogger profile. 

On the side bar there is a link to my Book Archives where you can see the books I've read each month. I figure this is my first step at better organizing myself and I'll write less commentary in the archives and write more reviews here. Well, that's my plan anyway.  

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Hostage To Pleasure Release Contest

This post is an entry to the Hostage to Pleasure Release Contest hosted by author Nalini Singh.

To celebrate the release of Nalini Singh's fifth full length novel in her amazing Psy-Changeling series with Hostage to Pleasure (which releases today, September 2, 2008! Yipeeee!)--Nalini is running this contest and it's all about being a hostage to pleasure. ;)

The winner, chosen at random, will receive a US$75 gift certificate from the online bookstore of your choice. Very generous!

Visit Nalini Singh's blog at nalinisingh.blogspot.com for contest details. Entries must be posted before midnight September 5th, 2008, PST. Have fun and good luck!

Which fictional world would you most like to be held hostage in?
That would be Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling world, without a doubt and to belong to a Changeling pack. The changeling world sounds incredibly exciting and satisfying. All the intensity of alpha males who are aggressive and dangerous, yet oh so tender, adoring, and protective of their women.

In case you haven't seen it already, Nalini has recently posted excerpts to her two upcoming novels in 2009, Angel's Blood which is the first in her new vampire hunter series, and Branded By Fire which is up next after Hostage To Pleasure in the Psy-Changeling series. Branded By Fire is Mercy & Riley's story-the first leopard and wolf pairing! YES! I've been waiting for this! Go read the excerpts. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, September 1, 2008

I scream for Ice Cream! Do you?

I love ice cream. Just had to get that out there. 

Although not the official end of summer, Labor Day still symbolizes the end of summer vacation around here as the pools and beaches close for the season and the school year begins in just a few days. To celebrate summer and the beginning of a new school year, I made an extra special dessert for my family tonight. . . homemade peach ice cream. Earlier in the day, I made homemade peach jam with a lot of the peaches the girls and I picked last week and when I asked my husband and girls what peach dessert they preferred: ice cream or pie, they chose the ice cream. Which was fine by me because it is so incredibly easy to make. I even created my own recipe! 

Homemade Peach Ice Cream

2 1/2 cups coarsely chopped and mashed fresh peaches
1 tsp. lemon juice 
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 pint half and half

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Pour into freezer bowl of your ice cream maker, and process according to the directions of your machine. 

In twenty or so minutes, we had perfect soft serve peach ice cream. It was so delicious. My recipe yielded an ice cream that was not super sweet, which my husband and I really enjoyed. The girls said they would like it sweeter, so next time I may add another 1/4 cup or so of sugar.

I have the Cuisinart 1 1/2 Quart Automatic Ice Cream Maker (shown at left) and love it. My friend has the next model up (shown at right) that makes 2 Quarts and it works like a dream. If I hadn't received mine as a gift, I'd probably have splurged for the 2 Quart model so I could make enough ice cream for company. 

For more fun, an Ice Cream Personality Quiz.  Answer five basic questions on your ice cream preferences and the results reveal some insights to your personality. Most of these are amazingly accurate for me. ;p

Your Ice Cream Personality:
You like to think of yourself as a fairly modest person. And it's true that you don't talk yourself up... but you're also pretty happy with who you are.

You are incredibly cautious. You rather miss out on something than make a mistake. No one would ever call you wild... but they would call you responsible.

You are a fairly open minded person with a wide range of tastes. You are quite accepting of unusual ideas and people.

You tend to have a one track mind. You prefer not to multitask.

You can be a big dramatic and over the top sometimes. You are bold in every way