Thursday, January 27, 2011

Of RITA Books and Other Reading

For romance authors, receiving a RITA award is akin to getting the movie industry's Oscar. And this is RITA season. Throughout the world, authors who are published in romance have received a box of books to evaluate in this year's RITA contest. My own stack is seven novels high and, with just over a month to read and evaluate them, I'm buried in books.

But this week, I took a break from RITA reading to focus on Softly And Tenderly, the second in the Songbird series written by country music star Sara Evans and RITA finalist Rachel Hauck. And what a nice break it was!

A couple of years have passed since the ending of The Sweet By and By, in which Jade and Max discovered their love for one another. But, as in real life, all is not perfect in their world. Secrets hide beneath Whisper Hollow’s quiet fa├žade. As Jade worries that her barrenness might be a punishment for past mistakes, those secrets bubble to the surface. Max’s demons threaten their future when his own past and present struggles are revealed. His parents’ seemingly perfect marriage falters. Jade’s mom, Beryl, approaches the end of her fight against leukemia. And through it all, Jade struggles in her role as the glue that holds everything together.

Sara and Rachel have done an amazing job of “keeping it real” in this poignant next installment in Jade and Max’s journey. I’m a huge fan of romance novels, but every once in a while I hunger for something beyond that happily-ever-after moment. In Softly and Tenderly, I found what I was looking for. The authors delivered a story that touched my heart, made me glad for a handy box of tissues, and kept me rooting for the main characters all the way through.

And the ending of Softly and Tenderly left me with only one question—how soon can I read the next book in the Songbird series, Love Lifted Me?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Barbara O'Neal's "How To Bake A Perfect Life"

With “How To Bake A Perfect Life,” Barbara O’Neal once again shows why the Romance Writers of America awarded her their top prize for novels with romantic elements in 2010. And, in my opinion, she’s baked her own slice of perfection in this book. Yummy recipes and sensual descriptions of bread making and baking will satisfy the cravings of an ardent foodie. Those who want a story about family rifts and healing will find it in Ramona’s dealings with her strong, restaurant-owning clan. Lost love and teenage angst play against a hearty dose of war’s realism.

The creation of a book, much like the making of a loaf of bread, requires the careful combination and layering of many aspects—plot, structure, characterization, voice. “How To Bake A Perfect Life” takes all those elements and adds a dash of the unknown, a willingness to take a chance by focusing the story on an older heroine. There’s a lot going on, but somehow Ms. O’Neal simply makes it work, and the result is one of the best books I’ve read in ages.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Starting off the New Year with Some Magic

Happy New Year!

I started off the New Year by endulging myself with one of my fav activities. No, not eating. Reading. But I have to admit, the book I chose did have something to do with food. And it was a treat to read "The Perfect Dish" by Kristen Painter.

Food, fashion and romance--this book delivers on all three counts. The author even folds in a little bit of magic, just in case someone wants more than a hunky Texan who hand-delivers spicy chocolates and has FTD on speed-dial. As for me, Chef Kelly was yummy enough, but I savored the way his love for Meredith grew out of an honest desire to help his grief-stricken sister. Yes, magic is in the air--and elsewhere--but "The Perfect Dish" offers more than a great love story. Vivid word pictures, witty dialogue and a very engaging cast of characters keep the pages turning until, all too soon, it's time to look forward to Kristen's next great book. This is definitely an author who has earned a spot on my must-buy list.

So, that's the first book I read for 2011. I'm hoping to read many, many more. I hope you'll check back from time to time to see what I'm reading. And maybe to suggest a book or two from your own collection.