Writing

NaNoWriMo Nov 2018: Day 2

Another crappy start for the day, though the fact that the cold I thought I was getting has finally shown up so at least I have something to blame.  Wasn’t able to get up early, but I dragged myself out of bed and drank my weight in tea so I was able to get on with the day.

Finished Chapter 1, wrote a Luke/Laura scene and then a Jason scene. It was fun to write the Jason scene because I set it in Miami and had to do a little research to find a setting.

Spent about an hour and 18 minutes writing today, finished two scenes and 1735 words. I’m not hitting the totals I wanted to yet, but I’m keeping pace and that’s important. My total is 3512 words so far. I hope to be able to double it tomorrow and start having better days. We’ll see.

I did finish the soundtrack this morning so super excited to have that to listen to. Your song for today is not on the soundtrack though. I wanted to add it, but I couldn’t find the right place for it.

Writing

NaNoWriMo Nov 2018: Day 1

I did not get off to a good start today. I had a crappy night sleeping, so I woke up late, and then my allergies and I battled the whole time. I wanted to get off to a really good solid start with hitting maybe even 2000 words and finishing Chapter 1.

But I wrote, and that’s just as important. I hit the event goal of at least 1667 words and my own personal goal of two scenes a day. I wrote 1777 words, leaving me with 48,223 words.

I wrote an Elizabeth scene and then a Sonny/Alexis/Carly scene which was fun, but I’m not sure I’m nailing the Sexis banter, so I’m marking it for review during the revision process. Your soundtrack for Chapter One is Before I Cry by Lady Gaga:

Particularly this set of lyrics:

I can’t believe the things you said
Right now I wish that you would try
Try to stay near me
Try to be near me
Before I cry
‘Cause I am gonna need a well
To catch the pain and lift the spell
Like you won’t hear me
Can you try to heal me?
Before I cry

I’ll be back tomorrow!

Writing

NaNoWriMo Nov 2018: Day 0 (Prepping)

My Life

Let me start and talk about the project I’m working on this year, and the obstacles I expect to face along the way.

In a lot of ways, it’s crazy for me to take on NaNoWriMo this year since I have a 20 page paper due at the end of the month, and while it felt like it was going okay a week ago, it feels less that way now. I have a meeting with my professor tonight to hopefully get the whole thing back on track.

So why do NaNoWriMo? Well, I miss writing, and November usually offers me a chance to get back on track. Going back to graduate school and my job as a substitute teacher usually takes over my life and saps my energy in September and October, and I almost always forget to write. Last year, I did better with that and wrote Mad World and Bittersweet. I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest that making my writing a priority made that semester more bearable.

That being said, I know the best way to get everything done this month that needs to be done is to make some big changes in my life and routine. I recently left my second job that ate up a lot of energy and time at night and on the weekends, so that’s a step in the right direction.

I’ve been lazy lately, sleeping in and not sticking to my list of things that need to be done every day. I need to stop that and get up earlier. That’s the only way writing is ever going to fit back into my daily schedule. At least for the next few months.

I’ll be tracking that part of my routine as well as the actual writing during this month.

The Project

As for what I’ll be writing — it’s the first time since 2016 that I’ll be writing a new project. For the last two years, between Camp NaNoWriMo in July and regular NaNoWriMo, I’ve alternated writing Mad World and Bittersweet. Both of those are done, so it’s time to introduce something new.

I did a poll at Crimson Glass and let my readers choose what they wanted next, and overwhelming Counting Stars won. It was already in the lead in the original larger poll, but it won 50% of the vote in the run-off last month.

Counting Stars is set in 2000 and looks at the aftermath of Jason’s decision to leave town. I revised some of the elements in Jason leaving–no Carly pregnancy, and a few other things–but it’s one of two versions of I’m working on that are set in this time period. What would have happened to Jason and Elizabeth if Lucky had never turned up alive in 2000? Counting Stars is that story with Jason leaving, while Signs of Life is that story if Jason had stayed.

I’ve always been intrigued by the story the show gave Jason and Elizabeth in the fall of 1999. Did they intend for it to be what it ended up to be? At what point did Steve Burton decide to leave? Was the Elizabeth stuff a placeholder–something for both of them to do while they set up Lucky’s return and Jason’s exit?

Expected Obstacles and Challenges

I’ve never really written anything set in this period, so I’m worried about capturing voices of characters who aren’t Jason and Elizabeth.  I was about 15 when this stuff originally aired, and I only half-watched from time to time. We didn’t have DVRs or Tivos in my house until 2005, so sometimes I sat with my mom and watched while she caught up on her VHS at the end of the week but mostly I had checked out when Jonathan Jackson left.

I had watched the show religiously in the summer and fall of 1998 because my school had split sessions — our elementary school had asbestos removal scheduled, so the high school kids went to school in the morning and elementary in the evening. I was home every day until December to keep watching GH, but once the full schedule returned, it was harder to keep up.

I have DVDs but they’re all couple-related (LL2, Liason), so characters like Alexis and Sonny are a bit of a challenge. Alexis, in particular. Late 90s Alexis is a lot different than today’s Alexis, or even mid 2000s. I want to spend some time this weekend looking at old clips to get a feel for their voices and who they were in this period. It’s so important to me that I can hear the actors in my head as I’m writing so that you guys can really feel like this could have happened on the show.

I’m also worried about the amount of story I have to fill sixteen chapters. Those of you who picked Counting Stars did so on the strength of the first two scenes — which I had planned to be both be in Chapter One. When I sat down to outline, I realized I had maybe ten solid chapters (if that) so I needed to change it up. The first scene is still the opening scene, but that second scene between Sonny and Elizabeth is now in Chapter 4.

I’m trying to do a bit of an ensemble piece — with Sonny and Alexis, Luke and Laura, and some Stefan thrown in there. To really build the world as it existed back then. I don’t write a lot of Luke and Laura for some reason, and I’ve never really written Sonny and Alexis. So those are new challenges. Sexis happened mostly while I was a senior in high school and busy with activities, so I’ve never gotten a handle on what made them so popular. I’m looking forward to exploring that.

I’ll be back shortly with an accounting of how things went on the first day!

Books · Summer Reading

Summer Reading Project

So I didn’t end up reading half the books I set out for my Master Reading List. I didn’t even read all of the series that I promised to when I cut the list in half a month ago. Oy. But I’m going to concentrate on the fact that I did read 46 books out of my overall 123 so far this year, which is roughly 38% of the whole total. So I’m actually pretty happy about that.

I want to finish up the Spindle Cove series because I am actually almost finished reading it — I haven’t written all the reviews, and there are about three more books to read.  But then I want to concentrate on making sure I write reviews for every single new book going forward. This was a fun summer reading project, though, and I’ll have to start thinking about what I want to do next year.

A Week to Be Wicked (Tessa Dare)

Overall Response

I actually wrote a review of this story when I first read it (I do that sometimes, just not enough). Here it is, posted on March 27, 2012:

Listen, until now there's only been one Colin in my life and I'm not saying Tessa's Colin has replaced Julia's Colin, but there's competition. There's something lovely about a hero who so clearly--at the start--NOT really a hero. And yet, of course he is. He wants to do good. He has nice intentions, but things always get away from him. He's charming and just a little damaged. He needs a good woman. A quirky woman. He needs Minerva. And isn't Minerva lovely? She needs him too. God. If you loved Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, then Minerva and Colin will appeal to you because it's quite the same type of relationship. An ugly duckling who turns out to be quite more than she seems and the charming man who is a lot more than he seems. And Tessa Dare, whom I picked up only on Julia Quinn's recommendation, keeps getting getter. This is the eighth effort from this author and not only has she never stumbled, but she continues to exceed my expectations. Worth waiting for!

That's actually a pretty accurate description of my overall response, to be honest, but I'll try to be a bit more articulate with better spelling.

One of my favorite romance heroes has always been Colin Bridgerton from Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia Quinn. I love a good beta romance hero. He's not a man of action, but rather he's a good, charming man who just hasn't found the right woman yet. Colin Sandhurst from A Week to Be Wicked has given Colin Bridgerton serious competition.

In A Night To Surrender, Colin was a bit of a charming rake who didn't seem to take anything seriously. Until the end of the book, when we saw a different side of him--and we got our first scene with Minerva. Minerva changes a bit from Surrender, or maybe it's because we saw her through Susanna's eyes. Minerva was a bit annoying actually early on, and I didn't think I'd like her nearly as much as I did.

And then I read this book. And this book, my people, is everything. We take the usual tropes: a damaged hero who turns to women to avoid being alone and a bluestocking heroine, and somehow, when Tessa Dare writes these tropes, they feel fresh and original. Colin has good intentions and never sets out to hurt anyone. Things just always seem to get away from him because he's not really great at thinking about the big picture. All Minerva ever does is think about the big picture, so she loses of a lot of every day details. And that's what makes them fun to read.

Their mad dash to Scotland is filled with adventures, danger, and risk-taking along with highway men, missionaries, and princes. We spend time with the hero of a future book (Any Duchess Will Do's Griff, who I did not like much until his own book) and we get a beautiful subplot with Kate and Thorne, the stars of my other favorite Dare book, A Lady By Midnight.

Everything about this book is clicking on all cylinders and it's a joy to read it again and again.

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Once Upon a Winter’s Eve (Tessa Dare)

Overall Response

When I originally read and rated this story, I gave it three stars. After reading this time, I've definitely revised how much I like this novella. I'm always leery of novellas with characters I don't really know or haven't yet met because novellas are short spaces to write an entire romance. Often authors spend more time on on the plot than they do on the characters and romance which leaves me less than satisfied.

That's not the case with Once Upon a Winter's Eve, though these characters are basically strangers. Violet shows up in A Night To Surrender, but only briefly, and Christian is entirely new. Tessa Dare smartly doesn't give us a separate plot for these characters or develop an entirely new romance between them. Violet and Christian knew and had a relationship before the story opens. This is the story of their reunion and what's happened since he left for the West Indies--which turns out he went to war.

Because the plot is literally Christian being mistaken for a French soldier who speaks a dialect only Violet can understand, it puts their relationship at the center and that's really smart. Violet doesn't know if she can trust him, and Christian is trying to beg her forgiveness and understanding -- it's a great small-scale plot for a novella.

Character-wise, these are both shining examples of people I like to read about. Christian is layered, flawed, and determined. Violet is quick and capable of holding her own against basically the entire world. The romance is great and fun to read. This is one of the best novellas I've read in a long time.

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Summer Reading

Series Review: Samantha Jellicoe (Suzanne Enoch)

This is, hands down, one of my favorite series. If I were to make a top five favorite series list, this makes it. (Oooh, I think I’ll have to do that.) I don’t read a lot of contemporary novels. I’m not really sure why I connect more with historical romances, but it’s likely because I am obsessed with history, and the romance genre allows me to explore worlds I study and write about.

In fact, most of the contemporary novels I read are authors who also write historical. I remember reading Suzanne Enoch’s historical romances — I’m not sure which one–and it had an excerpt from Flirting With Danger at the back. I read it and immediately bought it and got hooked.

What makes this series work? First and foremost, it’s fun. And that cannot be overrated in the current climate. This is the kind of escapism I go to my fiction for, and Suzanne Enoch delivers on every single page. Second, the characters of Rick and Sam are deep and layered, each with flaws that create good conflict and force the other to make adjustments, to compromise. Their relationship as it builds through all six books is the best part of this series.

So when I talk about weaknesses, least favorite, it is with this caveat: I love every book in this series.

The best book, objectively, remains Billionaires Prefer Blondes. It has the highest stakes of any of the other plots, and the romantic conflict between Sam and Rick is the closest they come to breaking. They’re each really forced to examine each other and whether they’re being unrealistic that this could actually work. It has the best supporting characters.

Don’t Look Down is probably the weakest book, only because the conflict between Sam and Rick is a little forced and I’m a bit less invested in the murder. It’s still a really fun read, and I never skip when I do a full reread, but it’s probably the book I open to reread the least of this series.

The other books fall between these in the spectrum. Flirting with Danger and Touch of Minx have strong plots, good romance, great cast. If you were to read one over the other, I think Minx is probably a bit more fun and frothy and has some really fun subplots. Flirting is still great, but it has to set up the world and has more heavy lifting to do.

Twice the Temptation honestly suffers because the first half of the book — the historical romance portion — is not nearly as strong as the series overall. When I reread, I generally skip the first half. That being said, the Sam and Rick part of the book is just fine.

Barefoot in the Dark is a special case. I like it a little less than Don’t Look Down, but I wonder how much of that is because it’s ten years later and I’m reading it knowing that. I’m still rating it above DLD because I like the character-driven nature of the plot, and I imagine the second time I reread it, I’ll probably like it even better.

My favorite thing about following couples through one series in the romance genre is that, if the author does their job well, the characters I read in the last book should be different from the first. I love to read the growth. J.D. Robb does this really well with In Death, and it’s really done well here in fewer books. Sam & Rick grow separately and together so that by Barefoot in the Dark, these guys are a team in the way they’re not in Flirting. That’s the best thing about these kinds of series and few authors can really do it well.

I hope that I get to come back and revisit my series review because I’m getting more Sam & Rick in my life.

The Governess Game (Tessa Dare)

Note: I received this an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Overall Response

I actually read this in about two hours on Monday, the day my request to review it was approved. There were lots of squeeing and happy sounds -- and then of course, I couldn't write my review right away because it be a lot of gifs of hearts and exclamation points. I wanted to take a day, reread some parts of it and try to be a bit more objective.

We first met Alexandra Mountbatten in The Duchess Deal, and to be honest, the only thing I remembered about her was that she set clocks. I reread The Duchess Deal to see if I had missed anything and it turns out the prologue from this book is a scene in Deal. I had forgotten that 😛 So we actually meet Chase Reynaud at that point.

This is one of the delightful books where the romance is the plot driving the story forward, so when I talk about the plot, I'm also talking about the romance. There's a lot here to like. Alexandra is a sweet heroine who you immediately root for because she has the sort of fantasies I've had. She meets Chase in a bookstore, but no names are exchanged and she thinks about it a lot -- so much that when Chase does introduce himself, she immediately in her mind, thinks about her name if they were married.

I don't care how old you are, that's something you can relate to. Even today when women don't change their names as often. We all doodled it on our notebooks. I filled notebooks in my first grade composition book with my crush's name and a heart. Page and page. For two years. So yeah, right from the start, Alexandra was my spirit animal.

Chase is a bit more foggy. He seems to live a dual life of dissipation and reluctantly affectionate guardian. He spends the first 75% of the book claiming he doesn't have any affection for Rosamund and Daisy, but he trudges off every morning to eulogize a doll that Daisy keeps killing off with some sort of disease. Chase has a seriously low opinion of himself (like criminally low) and I'm not entirely convinced it comes from what happened with his cousin. He is, however, delightfully charming and that takes care of a lot.

The supporting cast is great. We get more Nicola and Penny, and now I'm salivating for their books because they are so quirky and sweet and supportive that I want them to have HEAs too. Tomorrow. I love John Barrow, Chase's solicitor and illegitimate half-brother. He keeps Chase grounded. I love Ash coming back with his Shakespearean curses. And Rosamund and Daisy are the best. I hope that I get to see how they turn out.

The romance is well-done and takes the twists and turns one would expect. Nothing surprises you in this book, but that's not a bad thing. One of the things I hate is constant twists and turns when there's no reason for this. This is just two slightly damaged people coming together and figuring out they're not that damaged at all. I'm here for the journey, and I don't mind predictability. I love the astronomy in this story, and Chase's support of things he doesn't even really understand.

This is a really sweet book that I would happily recommend to anyone who will listen (and will, I promise you that).

Spoilers Ahead

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Barefoot in the Dark (Suzanne Enoch)

Overall Response

For much of the decade since the last Sam & Rick book, Suzanne Enoch has pretty much specialized in Scottish Highlander romances.  Her last two series have been set or populated with wild Highlanders in the Regency period. Barefoot in the Dark takes all the contemporary fun and suspense of those historical romances and sets them in a historical setting -- a village in the Scottish Highlands complete with a drafty ruined castle.

Considering the fact that this is the first book in the series in a decade, I was happy to see that Sam and Rick were still relatively the same. I'd say it took a chapter or two to get settled back into their old banter, but by the middle of the book, every piece of the plot and all the characters are trucking along.

Something that might be jarring to those of us readers who read the books a decade is that while we're picking up two weeks after A Touch of Minx, Barefoot is set in contemporary times so there are references to Outlander (the TV series), a 2015 Honda Civic (I drive a 2009 Civic so this made me ridiculously happy), and even Downton Abbey. It jarred me a bit and took me a little out of the setting only because I had read the books when they were originally published. If you're a returning reader like me, just be aware of this. People who are newer to the series probably won't even blink.

This book had relatively low stakes--no one is trying to blow Rick and Sam up, slice them through with a sword, or making them commit a multi-million dollar theft from a museum. For the first time, we're solidly in Rick's territory. It's his castle and his family--his history we're steeped in for most of the book. I'm sure most readers have wondered about Sam's mother (and I'm sure we'll get something more about that at some point) but must of us didn't think of about Rick's.

I'm actually really happy that we got a more character-driven plot with ghosts and long-lost treasure to reorient ourselves to Rick and Sam. I remarked in my review of Minx that I wondered how these two would do with an engagement and predicted it would be rocky.

There were some definite bumps and bruises that told me that Sam is actually not the problem--Rick is. He's very carefully trying to handle Sam all the time--he approaches things with the same precision he might approach a business deal. He tries to plan for all eventualities, predict all the ways she might react, and it's probably exhausting. It also makes a lot of sense and was useful early in their relationship but it's like a part of Rick is still pretty sure something is going to scare Sam off. I'm looking forward to seeing what is really going to convince him all the way down.

The supporting cast is great -- we get a return of some of the usual suspects, Stoney and Tom, as well as Rick's family. I liked his aunt and uncle--they're a bit stuffy but they're British upper class and they warm up by the end. The fact Mercia ends up loving Stoney is a huge point in her favor.  His cousin Reg and his girlfriend Eerika work great as antagonists, and there's a small piece of me that likes Reg and hopes he finds someone better. I like exploring the dynamics of Rick's family and how he juggles his massive success with relationships with his family.

The plot of the buried treasure was good, and I liked the resolution. I found myself as frustrated as Sam that Rick was being so cagey, so maybe if we'd gotten a more clear POV of Rick's motives, that would have helped. I think it was halfway through before we learned Rick had made a promise not to tell the truth. Once everything gets clearer, it works just fine.

This is a great return to the world of Samantha Jellicoe and I can't wait to see where it goes next.

Spoilers Ahead

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A Touch of Minx (Suzanne Enoch)

Overall Response

For about ten years, this book represented the end of Rick & Sam's story, and I think it was a good finale. The romance gets to a resting place that serves as a HEA, the conflict is crazy over the top (and will make it hard to match), and the characters have come a long way in the chronological year since they met in Flirting With Danger.

I'm pretty excited that this isn't the end of Rick & Sam's story, though, so I'll be reviewing Barefoot in the Park next week after its released. I'll be holding off my on series review until I've read the final book.

I really love this book. It's my second favorite in the series--my idea of favorite is for readability factor--the plot is just a smidge less entertaining than Billionaires Prefer Blondes, but the stakes are about as high as Flirting with Danger.

We find Sam returning to the idea that she could help museums recover stolen artificacts--which would allow her to use her black hat expertise and skills on behalf of the white hats. Rick is less enthusiastic since he knows it might bring Sam danger from thwarting other thieves, and the two conflict over how much danger she should put herself in and what lines she should break. Sam also investigates the theft of Donner daughter Olivia's anatomy project which allows the mood to be a bit lighter in some areas.

The plot of Sam working in museum recover doesn't just bring her conflict with Rick, it also brings conflict with her surrogate father, Stoney. Stoney isn't in this book much (which is a plot point) and his absence is keenly felt. Stoney was left interested in retiring than Sam and this factor remains a thorn in their relationship. Aubrey plays a bigger supporting role here and I find him really entertaining.

One of the small recurring bits about Rick and Sam arguing about Aubrey's sexuality hasn't really aged very well. They go back and forth based on what trait Aubrey exhibits as part of one "team" or another. This was definitely more common a decade ago, so I'm not taking any points off. I have high hopes that it won't show up in the next Rick & Sam books because it's really just not funny.

It's like watching the Chandler jokes on Friends about whether or not he was gay -- and yeah, that was funny in the 1990s. It's just not anymore. Like I said, I'm not going to take any points in this last 2007 outing. I just hope it's gone going forward.

The new cast of possible museum thieves bring us some interesting supporting characters, and Wild Bill Tombs is...colorful. I also like that Kate and Tom are back--their normalcy is such a lovely contrast to Sam and Rick--and their kids are great too. Olivia reminds me of my own niece, Olivia.

This was a great finale to the series, but I am so excited to see where Rick & Sam go next.

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