What Was Your Favorite Book of 2011?

Whew! Well, I finally updated my Currently Reading page.

Here’s what I read in 2011 (in reverse order):

  • Holiday Affair — Lisa Plumley. Another cute contemporary. This one was about Karina and Reid who meet at a holiday B&B during the Christmas season when she brings her kids there — super cute setting and a cute plot, overall. But I didn’t quite buy the character of Reid at all. He didn’t seem to think or talk like any man I ever knew. But I liked the Karina character, who seemed realistic, and her recent divorce managed to seem funny.
  • Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor — Lisa Kleypas. Contemporary about Mark and Maggie, who fall in love on an island off the coast of … um … I can’t remember. … (Washington???). I pictured a lot of Sleepless in Seattle. (They even meet over a little girl that the hero is raising — his niece.) But it was cute and, for a Christmas story, it didn’t rely on tropes. In fact, it seemed like a regular book that simply took place at Christmas (which I liked a lot!)
  • When Beauty Tamed the Beast — Eloisa James. I’m obviously a big Eloisa James fan, and I looked forward to this new book of hers about Piers and Linnet. For the first half of the book, though, I couldn’t get over how similar her hero, Piers, was to Gregory House from television’s House.  (Although Piers is living in a 19th century Welch castle.) Although House has long been a FAVE show of mine (and I always loved the character of House), the similarities were more distracting than enjoyable. I could even hear his voice in all the dialogue. Then I started Googling it, and realized that at the end of the book, James actually SAYS this character is based on House! Somehow that eased my mind from the distraction and I enjoyed the second half of the book. But I think this book would be more enjoyable for someone who didn’t watch so many episodes of House and could “meet” that character for the first time.
  • Storming the Castle — Short Story — Eloisa James. I got this one for 99 cents on my Kindle! This is the story of Phillipa and Wick, and I got the impression there were characters from James’ longer book A Kiss at Midnight, which I didn’t read. (But might soon!) In this one, Wick is pretending to be a butler at his brother’s castle, and he falls in love with Phillipa, who is there pretending to be a nursemaid. I thought the characters were really well drawn for a short story — normally that’s a tricky thing to do.
  • Duchess in Love — Eloisa James. Cute Regency about Cam and Gina, childhood friends who are forced into marriage when they are young teens but Cam flees before the marriage day is even over. They reunite as adults, supposedly to get a divorce, but things rekindle, of course, when they join a weekend-long house party. (Those Regency folk sure know how to party, man.) Anyway, this was okay– for some reason, I wasn’t particularly fond of Cam or Gina, so I didn’t love it as much as I love other books. But there were great secondary characters and the story moved along well.
  • Outliers — Malcolm Gladwell. Nonfiction. Fascinating discussion about what makes one person a success and another person not. I loved all the examples he gave. this is the book where he discusses the 10,000 hours necessary to make anyone an “overnight success.” (His point being that no one is an overnight success — you may not see it, but 10,000 hours of practice went into whatever that person succeeded at.) It makes me want to read Gladwell’s other books, Blink and Tipping Point.
  • The Alchemist — Paulo Coelho. I enjoyed this fable, which made me think a lot about my son in the days when he was deciding his future (where to go for college). It’s a fable about how far you should go in getting what you want, and how to know when you get it.
  • As You Desire — Connie Brockway. This is an older book, but it’s in the top 10 of AAR’s Top 100 Romances list, and it’s the only author I haven’t yet read in the top 10. And, I must say, Connie Brockway doesn’t disappoint. This is a really cute story of “Dizzy” and Harry, set in Egypt in the 1800s. Both are English and are living in Egypt temporarily, but Dizzy wants to go back to England and Harry absolutely doesn’t — he’s fine living in Egypt as a collector, plus he’s got a secret he’s trying to keep. When I read the back of this book, the writing sounded silly and flowery, but when I actually read the excerpt (downloadable on Kindle — you can read the whole first chapter as a sample), I realized the “flowery” writing was actually Dizzy’s attempt to concoct romance writing from that day. Pretty funny. Connie Brockway actually handles the writing quite well, with humor and wit. This makes me definitely want to read the other Brockways on the top 100 list.
  • Call Me Irrisistible — Susan Elizabeth Phillips. This was one I was waiting on with bated breath — I knew the release date was Jan. 18, and I was up that morning, downloading this to the uber-cool Kindle that’s exactly awesome for this very reason. And I did enjoy it. It didn’t topple my other fave SEP, but I liked it. Two things I didn’t like though: (1) I didn’t like that there were so many old characters showing up — it sort of frustrated me and made me feel like I had to remember them all. And, because they’re old characters, they weren’t very well developed in this book. (2) I was disappointed that we didn’t get the alternating point of view between the hero and the heroine, which is usually entertaining when handled by someone as funny as SEP. We finally got Ted’s POV at the very end, but by then I didn’t really like him all that much. I realize that the alternating POV really helps you fall in love with both characters.
  • Blue-Eyed Devil — Lisa Kleypas. Okay, I’m hooked on Lisa Kleypas already. After finishing Smooth Talking Stranger (below) the other night, I went on the Amazon Kindle store and immediately downloaded this one, which is about another Travis. (It occurred to me, later, after reading the reviews on Amazon, that I’m reading these all out of order, but oh well.) This one is even better.
  • Smooth Talking Stranger — Lisa Kleypas. This was my first purchase with my Christmas Amazon gift card from hubby. I’d only read one Lisa Kleypas before, from the AAR Top 100 Romances list (Dreaming of You, a historical, which I liked), but everyone seems to love her contemporaries, too, so I’d always wanted to add one of her contemporaries to my TBR pile. This is the one I picked on Christmas Day. I don’t know why this one, but there it is. And it was a good choice — I really enjoyed it. I’m not crazy about romances in the first person for some reason, but I eventually got past that and just enjoyed the story. This one is about Jack Travis and advice columnist Ella Varner.

I think I probably said this already last year (gah! Am I repeating myself already? I guess that’s what you get after running a blog for four years…), but I really like making a list of everything I’ve read. It’s fun to look back on (and think, gosh, was that just last year???) or to reflect on which books were standouts and which were not.

I woefully read very few book club books (like … er … one??? eek) — I vow this year to read more of those and get involved in the discussions. (When I don’t read the book I still go to the meeting for the wine and good company!) 🙂 This year’s book club list looks great, so I’m really going to make more of an effort. I think I’ve read most of the romances I need to read for research on style and pacing, so now I can read a mixture of genres.

Anyway, did you make a list this year? What was your favorite standout book from 2011?

Art Auditions

Rene auditioned for Orange County’s High School of the Arts today. She scored two auditions  — one for the Fine Arts Conservatory, and another (later in Feb) for TV/Motion Picture Conservatory.

 I was so proud of her as I saw her trudging toward the high-rise city school, toting her huge portfolio at her side, with all her paintings and sketches in it. It’s hard to put your work out there when you’re in a creative field — hard to be judged, especially when you’re young. (You create a thicker skin as you get older, but still it’s hard.)

And her odds at this school are slim, since she’s coming in so late to the four-year program (she’d be coming in as a junior). There has to be a spot open, and there’s no telling if there will be or not.

But … she trudged along anyway, that huge portfolio at her side, looking pretty determined about walking into her first art audition.

Even if she doesn’t get in, I’m really proud of her for trying.

That girl’s got grit. …

Great Discussion of Heroes and Heroines

Over at Jenny Crusie’s blog, Argh Ink, she’s chatting with her friends and writing partners Anne Stuart and Lucy March (a.k.a. Lani Diane Rich) about various writing challenges.

I thought last week’s discussion and this week’s were particularly excellent — about writing the hero and writing the heroine in romance. (And then deciding which is your protagonist, which is a discussion my writing partner and I have all the time!)

Check them out if you’re interested:

The Three-Goddesses Chat: Heroines
The Three-Goddesses Chat: Heroes

She also has a great picture of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ uber-clean writing desk! (That entry is just called “Thank God My Friends Don’ t Gloat.”) 🙂

And yes … ANOTHER Favorite Show: The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

So I’ve covered my newest obsession with two TV shows: Breaking Bad and The Bachelor.

Here’s my other guilty pleasure:

The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

Yes, I’ve been a housewives fan for a long time. (I’ve even blogged about it before, here and here.)

Orange County was always my favorite – Not so much because I  like the women but simply because I KNOW ALL THOSE PLACES THEY’RE SHOWING! They film in Coto de Caza (right up the street from me), Rancho Santa Margarita (my town), and Ladera Ranch (down the street from me). So I know all those restaurants, all those shops, all the freeways I can see in the backgrounds, all those park benches, all those beaches, the schools they mention, and that lake they walk around is my lake. So that’s why the show is fun. We’ve seen them filming around town, and we’ve seen quite a few of the housewives out and about – I saw Vickie and Don in the parking lot at Lowes; Tamara and Simon at Target; Chris has seen Jeanna on a few occasions at Starbucks and Pavilions; and Ricky sees one of the sons at the gym. So that’s what makes that show exciting for me. But …  Continue reading

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