Tag Archives: Reading Recommendation

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 Romance Giveaway: 11 Books to One Winner

CONTEST NOW CLOSED  ****  WINNER IS KATHY OSBORN ******

THANKS FOR PLAYING ALONG!

Q: What’s more fun to read in the summer than a romance novel?

A: How about ELEVEN romance novels?

Yes, I’m giving away 11 Kindle ebooks (one for every week) to one lucky winner. I’ve picked a wide variety, including a sweet romantic suspense, a few heartwarming options, and some very spicy books, too. All of these authors do a really nice job, so I’m convinced that, even with varied tastes, you will like at least a few of them. Maybe I’ll even introduce you to your next favorite author!

That begs the question–which books!?  Here you go:

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Marina Adair’s CHASING I DO

Tamra Baumann’s IT HAD TO BE FATE

Miranda Liaisson’s THIS LOVING FEELING

Shelly Alexander’s IT’S IN HIS SMILE

Gail Chianese’s FIANCE FOR KEEPS

Regina Kyle’s TRIPLE SCORE

Jamie Pope’s LOVE AND A LATTE

Erika Kelly’s TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT

Katy Lee’s BLINDSIDED

Megan Ryder’s GOING ALL THE WAY

Jamie K. Schmidt’s LIFE’S A BEACH

Some of these will be pre-orders (they release in July), but they should show up on your Kindle on their respective release days.

For a chance to win all 11 books, make sure you’re signed up for my newsletter and then leave a comment below telling me what you love most about romance novels! I’ll choose a winner on Monday, June 20th.

PS  I FORGOT TO ADD A COZY MYSTERY TO THE MIX, SO I’M GOING TO THROW IN A SADIE HARTWELL BOOK, TOO! THAT MAKES A DOZEN BOOKS. YES, 12!!

Good luck!

XO – Jamie

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5 Ways to Usher in Summer Fun

WOO HOO, it’s June! Time to enjoy the good weather. Kids love summer because school is out and every day becomes a “play” day. Adults…not so much. We still have work to do, housework to deal with, and all those other responsibilities that kids don’t realize go hand-in-hand with the alleged “freedom” of being a grown-up.

But being a grown-up doesn’t mean we can’t also make the most out of the summer. We work hard, we deserve a little playtime. Here’s my shortlist of things that should be on everyone’s summer calendar:

  1. Theme Song. Yeah, this is kind of critical. Your summer theme song should be upbeat, catchy, and make you smile. This is the song you’ll crank in the car, or while at the pool or the beach. Your toes should tap of their own volition. It should make you smile. In fact, it should make you want to get up and dance. Mine? DNCE’s Cake by the Ocean. It may have come out last fall, but it is a summer song if I ever heard one.
  2. Farmer’s Market. Local grown fruits and veggies are everywhere, so it is easy to eat healthy. I love strolling through our local farmer’s market and picking out fresh tomatoes and flowers. Mine also has one group that makes the BEST pesto (which, if I pick up fresh mozzarella, basil, and Italian bread, makes one great sandwich). So look around your ‘hood and grab some stuff you can use for item #3.

  3. BBQ. Yep, time to kick off summer by inviting friends over for a casual BBQ. Few things say summer like a grill and eating al fresco. Whether that means burgers, dogs, and corn on the cob, or fancy steaks, is up to you. The key to a successful BBQ is actually the company. So ice down some beer (or white wine) and call your besties!
  4. Summer-Only Recreation. Take advantage of opportunities that can only come around at this time of year (well, at least for those of us who live in the Northeast). I’m talking about drive-in movies (yes, they still exist, although they are few and far between), outdoor summer concert series (we have great ones in Connecticut and New York), and swimming (whether you prefer a pool or a beach).

  5. Beach Books. This is the best time to pick up a few summer romances. Read those smarty-pants book club books some other time. It’s time for “summer lovin’!” Of course, I’d love for Secretly Hers to be on your summer romance reading list, but I’ll also recommend a bunch of other authors you can try:

Heartwarming: Kristan Higgins, Marina Adair, Gail Chianese, Liz Talley, Jeannie Moon, Tamra Baumann, Shelly Alexander, Miranda Liaisson *both Tamra and Jeannie are up for Booksellers Best Awards this year

Spicy: Regina Kyle, Jamie K. Schmidt, Erika Kelly, Megan Ryder *both Regina and Erika are up for Bookseller’s Best Awards this year.

Historical: Julie Anne Long, Lisa Kleypas, Elizabeth Hoyt *(I LOVED EH’s latest, Duke of Sin, and its amoral yet fascinating hero! Such fun). *Julie Anne Long is up for a RITA this year, with It Started with a Scandal…one of my all-time favorite books!

Hopefully this has given you a place to start your summer. I hope you have a great one! If you’ve got a tip or reading recommendation to share, please do!

XO-Jamie

Awards–What Do They Mean?

Yesterday was a monumental day in the world of romance authors, for some more than others. The Romance Writers of America announced the finalists is its annual RITA (published authors) and Golden Heart (unpublished authors) contests.

Alas, my books did not make the cut. But in all honestly, I had no expectation that they would. Thousands of books are judged by an equal number of readers, and the scores are largely subjective. To final, a book must not only be of a certain quality, but must also fall into the hands of three judges who love it. Ever read a book a friend highly recommended only to think to yourself, “meh?” Yeah. That happens, as proven by the fact that some of my favorite stories and authors from last year did not make the cut.

Authors’ reactions to losing can range from anger, cynicism, and defeat, to mild disappointment and a commitment to do better next year. Apparently, this disparity in response is universal in any artistic industry in which awards are distributed (music, television, film). In fact, I’ve pulled a bunch of quotes by famous people about awards. What shocked me is to see that Tom Cruise had the most balanced opinion (or, at least, the one that most mirrors my own).

At one end of the spectrum, you have these:

Of course awards matter. Frank Ocean

It’s very validating when you are new in the industry to get awards. It boosts your self-esteem. Sheena Easton

I’ve won many awards and I want more. If you want to call it hunger then I’m hungry for awards. Shah Rukh Khan

At the other end, you hear this:

Awards are meaningless to me, and I have nothing but disdain for anyone who actively campaigns to get one. Bill Murray

Awards are so unnecessary because I think we get so much out of our work just by doing it. The work is a reward in itself. Natalie Portman

Do awards change careers? Well, I haven’t heard of many stories where that’s the case. It’s a fun excuse to meet colleagues and celebrate people who’ve done well that year in certain people’s eyes, and it’s nothing more than that. Benedict Cumberbatch

And then there is the Tom Cruise opinion, which is how I feel (except for the part about having won many, since I’ve yet to win any, LOL!)

Awards are wonderful. I’ve been nominated many times and I’ve won many awards. But my journey is not towards that. If it happens it will be a blast. If it doesn’t, it’s still been a blast. Tom Cruise

While Ms. Portman makes an excellent point, it seems a tad bit disingenuous. Yes, awards are not necessary, but they are fun. And I imagine it feels amazing to win (like Ms. Easton reports). However, I’d also guess that Mr. Cumberbatch is not wrong when he says it doesn’t necessarily change careers. For some it might, but there are certainly prior RITA winners whose names I’ve never heard before.

Basically, today I’m feeling proud of my friends who’ve been nominated and will cheer them on in July. Sure, I have a little envy for the thrill they must’ve experienced when getting the call, yet I am not depressed or jaded or bitter, because I know their accomplishments do not diminish my own.

I’ve released four books in my first fourteen months in the business. That feels amazing. I receive lovely emails from readers who’ve been touched by some of my work. Honestly, nothing could mean more than that to me. And I’m constantly making new friends in the industry, which has been such a gift for this stay-at-home mother of two.

Yes, next year I will ship off my work and cross my fingers, hoping I might get a turn in the spotlight. That nagging voice of self-doubt that says I’m an imposter might finally quiet down if I ever win a big award. But most importantly, I look forward to continuing to engage with my readers. They, after all, are the real prize to be treasured.

XO-Jamie

Bad Book vs. Bad Fit

One thing most authors stress about is book reviews: getting them, liking them, ignoring them, and of course, those pesky Goodreads ratings that show up before early review copies of the book have even been made available to anyone!

For those who don’t know, the number of reviews a particular book receives on Amazon is a critical factor in the algorithms that determine how visible that book will be on that site. Authors hope to see a lot of reviews go up quickly, especially if they are positive. But we also watch for book blog reviews (large and small), and finally, the trade journals (Kirkus, Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, RT Magazine, and so on). These latter reviews are the ones from which authors obtain pull quotes to place on their websites or in the “Praise” sections of their future books.25910958_s

We all celebrate and share the good ones, but inevitably (at least for me) there are the clunkers, too. Whether given by an anonymous Amazon reader, a popular blogger, or a trade journal, they can sting and create an enormous amount of self-doubt. On the other hand, they can also provide some insight into a writing element we might need to work on in that next book. I try, after two or three days of serious sulking, to learn something from any bad review I receive. I suppose it is up to future readers to determine whether I succeed!

But this all leads me to the real question: what defines a “bad” book?

I think we all know that there are genuinely “bad” books out there (poorly written, unedited or poorly edited, no sense of story and character arc, and so on). But what of the other books–the ones that have been vetted by an agent and revised with guidance from an experienced editor? How do some of those novels end up with really negative reviews?

I’ve given this a lot of thought, and my conclusion is quite simply that these review grades are wrong. I’m not suggesting that the reviewer didn’t dislike it, or that s/he didn’t have a right to give it a “hot steaming pile” review. But the fact that s/he hated it doesn’t necessarily make it bad. The reality is that it was probably more of a “bad fit” of a particular book with a particular reviewer.

To support my conclusion, I’ll recount last night’s dinner with two other authors. We were sharing thoughts about some of our favorite books within the contemporary and historical romance genres. Needless to say, sometimes we all agreed, but often a book beloved by one would be despised by another.

One reader may love a formal writing voice while another finds it pompous. Also, personal biases come into play with plot elements. For example, I do not like stories where either main character is engaged in an affair. I also can’t stand heroines who’ve hidden a baby from the hero (I can’t accept any justification for this aside from abuse, so I can never understand why a hero would trust her or fall in love with her AFTER such a betrayal). I also don’t love an aggressively snarky heroine because, to me, she comes across as a woman with a massive chip on her shoulder, and I end up shouting “Grow the F Up” at my iPad. Stories with any of these elements are likely to get an unflattering review from me if I finish it.

There are also reviews that laud a “strong” heroine (which heroine may, for another reader, be perceived as nasty or unfeeling), or criticize a “weak” heroine (whom someone else may admire for her well-intentioned self-sacrifice). Same goes for heroes. I typically find the overly domineering alpha hero to be offensive, but the popularity of the billionaire BDSM books proves I’m in the minority.

Thus, while there are certainly stories that are universally beloved with good reason (dynamic characters, exceptional pacing and tension, the perfect payoff), the great majority of perfectly good books are still going to end up with some negative reviews.

What does this mean for readers who use reviews to make purchase decisions? Two things. First, authors and readers alike should pay more attention to the content of the review than the grade, because what some dislike, others may adore. Second, when you find a reviewer who seems to share your taste, follow that reviewer’s future reviews to help find new books you might enjoy.

Do you agree with my conclusions? What personal biases or preferences do you think color your reaction to a story?

XO-Jamie