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Summer Reading Recommendation

I haven’t offered a reading recommendation on my blog in quite some time, but I’m inspired to do so today. I spent the better part of my free time this past weekend reading Elinor Lipman‘s On Turpentine Lane. This author had been highly recommended by many, but I’d never actually read her work until now.

To orient you, here is the book blurb:

At thirty-two, Faith Frankel has returned to her claustro-suburban hometown, where she writes institutional thank-you notes for her alma mater.

It’s a peaceful life, really, and surely with her recent purchase of a sweet bungalow on Turpentine Lane her life is finally on track. Never mind that her fiancé is off on a crowdfunded cross-country walk, too busy to return her texts (but not too busy to post photos of himself with a different woman in every state). And never mind her witless boss, or a mother who lives too close, or a philandering father who thinks he’s Chagall.

When she finds some mysterious artifacts in the attic of her new home, she wonders whether anything in her life is as it seems. What good fortune, then, that Faith has found a friend in affable, collegial Nick Franconi, officemate par excellence…

Ms. Lipman has drawn a wonderful, kooky cast of characters and combined it with great wit, snappy dialogue, and a nice little mystery to keep you guessing. This is the first book I’ve read in a while that I resented having to put down throughout the day in order to attend to chores and other matters.

My only quibble with the story is the fact that, at times (especially the first half), Faith could be somewhat dim-witted when dealing with Stuart (although she did wise up before the halfway point in the story). In all other regards, she was quite worthy of affection for the way that she handled her family and co-workers. Her neuroses made her quirky in the best way.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story’s secondary characters, all of whom were well-developed and interesting. The Frankel family certainly encountered its fair share of drama–some manufactured, some real, and always portrayed with real warmth and endearing peculiarity. There were several moments when I laughed aloud and recognized some of my own family dynamic being played out on the page.

If you enjoy humorous fiction with a hint of romance and mystery, I highly recommend this book. If you grew up in a big, nosy family, I also recommend this book!

And although it wasn’t a romance, Faith’s friend/crush Nick will make your heart flutter with his humor and thoughtfulness. Without spoiling anything, let me also add that I was extremely glad with how Faith’s mother ultimately handled her marital woes!

Now I’m off to decide which other of Ms. Lipman’s other books I should read next.

xo-Jamie

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Summer: Bring It On!

Here comes summer!

Temperatures have jumped dramatically. My kids are currently taking finals. And the gardens are in full bloom. Yes, summer is officially here. As usual, our family calendar is stuffed with various out-of-town sports and leadership camps, as well as pleasure trips and family visits. My car will gain thousands of road-warrior miles, along with plenty of battles for control of the radio. But wait! This is supposed to be a season to kick back and relax, right? Yet you can probably feel my anxiety tripling because I’m unconvinced I can balance family time with my work obligations. Add to that the pressure to “have fun” and all of the hiding from the sun to prevent skin cancer and premature aging, and summer can be anything but relaxing.

This year, I’m determined to map out a daily plan so that I can both accomplish my work and enjoy my kids’ time off. They’re teens now, and I know I only have a few precious years left before they no longer spend their summers in this house. That thought forms a lump in my throat, so I won’t dwell on it.

I look forward to reconnecting with my cousins in Virginia, Maryland, and on Hilton Head Island. I also look forward to hearing about my kids’ adventures at camp (which hopefully won’t be tales of misadventures!). I have a lengthy “to be read” list that I hope to tackle at the beach. Grilling and eating outside is always one of my favorite things about summer evenings. And I’m particularly fond of the summer day dress. Is there anything more comfortable on earth? I doubt it.

So I’m breaking out the bright nail polish and reminding myself to smell those gorgeous roses in my yard.

What’s your most-anticipated summer activity? And tips for keeping cool on a hot, busy afternoon?

xo-Jamie

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5 Things To Do With Your Friends

Being a woman can be hard. A lot is expected of us. Not only do we hold jobs, raise kids, and keep a household running, but we’re expected to do it all with a smile (and to look fit and pretty, too!). It can be daunting at times, which is why it’s so important to keep connected to our friends.

Sure, your mom and sisters can be a source of support, as can your partner. But there’s something special about friends–the people who choose you to be a part of their life journey–that nourishes the soul and rejuvenates the spirit. Here are a few of mine on a recent girls’ trip we took to Arizona, where I laughed more in five days than I have in the past month. I can’t tell you how much that hit the reset button on my stress level.

But you don’t need to spend a ton of money to enjoy the benefits of friendship. Here are five inexpensive things you can do to keep connected with your friends:

  1. Start a book club (or another club involving a mutual hobby or interest, like knitting, hiking, or music). Naturally, talking about books is a favorite pastime of mine, but book club evenings eventually evolve into sharing stories and laughs over wine. What’s nicer than that?
  2. Host a potluck. This sounds old-school, but it’s a nice way to host a party without doing all the work and spending all the money. The host can prepare the main dish, but assign others the salad, sides, and dessert (dessert to be given to your most-trusted friend, as it is the most important part of the meal!).
  3. Take an exercise class (or meet for a long walk). The long walk allows for lots of catching up, but then again, going to Pilates with a friend makes that endeavor less painful.
  4. Watch a series togetherliterally. When I was young and single, I did this with a friend (Melrose Place, anyone?). More recently, a friend and I did this for LOST and American Horror Story. We’d take turns going to the other’s home to watch, leaving the hubby and kids to fend for themselves for an evening each week. It turned TV watching into a social endeavor, and it was fun to snack away while discussing the episode (my husband hates when I ask questions during a show–and during LOST I had a lot of questions).
  5. Plan an “at home” spa day. Drug stores sell a ton of inexpensive face masks and nail products. Pick up some collagen masks, Emory boards, and brightly colored polish and call your friends. You might want to send your partner and kids out to the movies so you have the place to yourself, but it can be fun to engage in these girly activities no matter your age, and you end up feeling fresh and pretty when it’s over.

Those are a few of my ideas, but I’m sure there are plenty more. If you have a good idea, please share!

xo,

Jamie

 

 

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April Fool’s Pranks

Happy April Fool’s Day! I’m not much of a prankster these days, but when I was younger, my stepfather and I used to try to sneak up and surprise the other. I’ll admit, he won the best “scare” attack of our ongoing battle.

One school night in the early-mid 80s, my mom and he went to bed about thirty minutes before I did. When I finally got sleepy, I climbed the stairs–arms loaded with school books–without turning on the lights, as was my custom. On the left side of the top of the stairs was a set of double doors that opened to a hallway that led to two bedrooms (including mine, which sat at the far end of that hall). The right wall of that hall had a built-in set of drawers with a marble top for folding things, which unit was flanked by two sizable closets. That particular night, unbeknownst to me, my rather large and clumsy stepfather had crawled up onto that slab and huddled in a ball–hidden by the closet walls–and was quietly waiting for me to appear. If you could see that space and know his size, that feat alone is remarkable. When he heard me come through the double doors and start down the hall, he screamed and flailed his arms about, nearly toppling off his perch. My books flew into the air and I fell to the floor, heart pounding, flopping like a fish on dry land, spitting out the words, “That. Was. The. Best. Scare. Ever!” My mother came rushing through the house, yelling at him for giving me a heart attack. He was laughing so hard, he was bent over, unable to breath. Good times, I tell ‘ya.

Yes, we were a bit twisted, and I probably wouldn’t enjoy that kind of scare today nearly as much as I did back then. But I still smile when I remember that prank.

He died almost fourteen years ago, and I haven’t engaged in any kind of real prank in at least a decade. My kids are teens now, so maybe it’s time I did. It’s not child abuse to torment your kids a little, is it?

To prepare, I did a little web browsing, hoping to poach a clever idea from people with more practice. Some good pranks I discovered include: putting tape over the sensor at the bottom of a mouse or the TV remote, making caramel covered onions and watching that first bite, turning someone’s clock ahead by an hour while they are asleep, putting a donut box with veggie snacks on the table, and texting someone “What’s your ETA?” when you have no plans.

While cute and not too time consuming, none of those ideas strikes the right chord for me and my family. I’m hoping you might have a suggestion. Make it quick, ’cause I’m running out of time!

xo-Jamie

 

When the Dream Doesn’t Come True

If you’re an avid romance reader, you’ve probably heard about the Romance Writers of America’s annual RITA® awards competition. Essentially, thousands of romance novels are submitted and judged by multiple, random members (typically 5-7 judges per book, I believe). If you enter, you must also volunteer to judge, and each book is graded on a 10-point scale.

Needless to say, it’s a massive undertaking. I entered my 2016 releases, Worth the Trouble, Worth the Risk, and Secretly Hers, in the relevant categories for each of those books. I’m proud of all three stories and each has also enjoyed mostly positive feedback. While I didn’t have an expectation of making the finals, I did have hopes.

Today, RWA announced the 2017 finalists. For hours, thousands of romance writers were sitting by their phones, hoping for that call. More than a few were probably frustrated by the stray telemarketer call, too. I tried to put it out of my mind and focus on work, but that wasn’t easy. I kept refreshing the RWA page to see how the categories were shaping up, but as each hour passed, the fact that my dreams for a nod would not come true this year sank in.

It’s never easy to face defeat, especially such a public one. But then I think of all of the wonderful books that were released last year, many of which also did not make the cut, and I realize that I am not alone. I know the loss of that recognition isn’t a wholesale rejection of my work. I think of all the lovely fan mail I received this past year, and how much I adored writing those books. And I remember that I typed “THE END” on yet another manuscript today.

So, I’ll be cheering for my friends who got good news (Michelle Major for Christmas on Crimson Mountain, and Virginia Kantra for her excellent book, Carolina Dreaming), and for one of my favorite books of last year, Duke of Sin, by Elizabeth Hoyt, which also made the list.

I will rally tomorrow (after I finish my little pity-party) and look forward to celebrating the winners in July, when we all gather for the annual conference, where we learn from each other how to write, how to navigate this competitive profession, and how to pick ourselves up and get back in the ring. There’s always next year, after all!

But for right now, I wonder if you’d make some authors happy by sharing one or two or your favorite romance novels from 2016?!

xo-Jamie