It’s Beginning to “Have to” Look a Lot like Christmas

What a month. Between the never-ending election and my kitchen after Thanksgiving, I’m almost inclined to skip right through December and start fresh with 2017. I doubt I’d miss searching for extension cords and red and green light bulbs. Untangling all those nasty lights I was sure I untangled last year. I wouldn’t miss the calories that’d come from making homemade salted caramel and gingerbread. And the parking. I hate shopping, but the parking? I keep telling my seventeen-year-old she’s not ready for her license, but come Christmas I’m ready to negotiate. “Okay honey, just promise me two things. Don’t kill anyone and drive Mama to the mall.”

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Our daughter’s 1st Christmas with us 2008

But, then there’s the yard that looks like a fairy-tale when the lights are untangled and wrapped around the trees. The boring tan siding that’s suddenly washed in red and green. Homemade salted caramel and gingerbread. And spending a whole day with my daughter without fighting because, well…presents.

Most of my friends have had their trees decorated since the day after Thanksgiving, but we aren’t built that way. It takes me days just to plow through the dishes. Even longer to put away my grandmother’s china, the ceramic turkeys, the plastic gourds. It’s been almost a week and I still haven’t erased the menu from my chalkboard. Why would I? Technically, we’re still having turkey and dressing…leftovers. I’m sure my family is beginning to wonder if I’ll ever cook again.

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At  the Majestic Theater in San Antonio 2008

We must sound so old, but you try throwing a week-long Halloween party followed by Thanksgiving! Last year we were so spent, we paid our daughter and her friend to put up the tree! Then we made plans to leave town for Christmas just to get out of any additional decorating. Funny thing? The closer it got, the more we dreaded leaving. So, the trip was cancelled and with only a few days left, we decked the remaining halls and planned another feast.

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Thanksgiving 2016

This year we’re doing it a little differently. We’re planning to enjoy the Christmas season. The shopping. The decorating. We’re even kind of excited about it. Saturday night we’ll have eggnog and cider and listen to Bing Crosby on the turntable. I won’t complain that Jesus isn’t perfectly centered between Mary and Joseph on the tree. Or that the angel on top is so crooked she looks like she had a few eggnogs herself. We’ll unpack and display the nativities I’ve collected since I was a little girl and laugh at the one with the singing lamb. Within the thickest branches, we’ll hide the “sacred” Christmas egg and (my favorite) the rubber snakes that didn’t manage to get put up after Halloween. Because we’re weird like that. And because it’s our tradition. Our family. Our Christmas.

So, whatever it is you celebrate, even if it’s nothing but the beginning of winter, I hope you enjoy it all month long. Happy Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays, Happy December!

XOXO, R.

caramel

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My Review of An Exaltation of Larks by Suanne Laqueur

I have exactly 3 favorite authors. I LOVE them. I LOVE their writing, and I’ll inhale anything they put out there. Anything. If they’ve got old post it notes or shopping lists lying around that t29637128hey want to stick on eBay…sold. I’ve read all of their books, and for the most part, none of them have dipped below 4 stars.

That being said, there is high probability I’m going to love anything new I read from them.

Suanne Laqueur is one of the aforementioned writers, and I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to read her latest work. The fact that it’s her signature style of writing is going to shoot it into 4-star territory right off the bat. Whether or not the book gains a star, loses a star, or stays still at 4 depends on the story itself as well as the execution. It can go either way, but based on my love of The Fish Tales, it’s unlikely it will drop.

It didn’t.

An Exaltation of Larks is not an epic romance like The Fish Tales, but it is epic. It’s a tragic family saga that’s spans three decades.

From the blurb:
Alex, Valerie and Jav meet first in their twenties, with a sudden attraction each finds strange and compelling. When they meet again in their forties, they discover not only is their bond still strong, but their life experiences are strangely similar. All have been shaped by separate 9/11’s, and their unfinished business from the past will change everything they know about love, loyalty and friendship.

Their story is fascinating, sometimes heartbreaking, and real. Their relationships are enviable (and at times, smoking hot) and provide a high dose of romance that kept me swooning.

But, what took Larks from four to five stars wasn’t the romance or even the brilliant writing. It was the feelings it evoked in me from the very first page. Filled with beautiful highs and heartbreaking lows, it captivated me. It also disturbed me, charmed me, broke and fixed me. It exalted me.

I’ve come to the conclusion that reading a Suanne Laqueur book is, and will always be, an involved, emotional experience. It’s not a simple pastime. If you pick up one of her books, be prepared to feel everything.

Her storytelling capabilities are genius. Her writing is poetic. Words spill onto her pages in sentences that make my heart clench and swell, and my eyes water.

I loved The Fish Tales. I miss The Fish Tales. But a few chapters into Larks, and I thought, Well, here you are.

Here I am, it whispered back.

6 beautiful stars!

 

My Review of All In by Emma Scott

***This review contains spoilers for Full Tilt***

If you’re on Goodreads and haven’t blocked me from hijacking your feed yet, you may have noticed I’ve spent the last few days beta-reading for Emma Scott. If this had been an ARC, I would have inhaled it in one sitting. As it was, I had to keep reminding myself that I was not reading purely for my enjoyment. Even though I did enjoy it. Immensely.

And that is the magic word folks… “ENJOY.” If you’re reading this, like myself you probably LOVED Full Tilt. You probably had one hell of a book hangover. You probably felt oddly motivated and forever changed. But did you enjoy it? Did it not twist your stomach into a pretzel? Rip your heart to shreds? Did you not throw your kindle at your homemadeEmma Scott dart board even though you knew what was coming? (don’t lie, we all did).

Yeah, OK…maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration.

Full Tilt was a piece of art. It was gut-wrenchingly, heartbreakingly, beautiful.

All In is its perfect counterpart.

The Band-Aid on the wound.

The crème brulee at the end of dinner.

The H. E. A.

If Full Tilt broke you, All In will heal you.

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As always, Emma Scott’s writing is absolutely beautiful. If you follow my reviews, you may have noticed I’ve started DNF’ing more and more lately. That is why. She spoils me with her words. If she wrote a book on the effects of watching paint dry, I’d pre-order it.

One thing I love when it comes to a book series is consistency. All In flows nicely from Full Tilt, even though it is a completely different book with a completely different tone. Both books are bright, colorful, and vibrant—not only in their gorgeous covers, but also on their pages. And just as Las Vegas provided the perfect backdrop for Kacey and Jonah, New Orleans does the same for Kacey and Theo. Its old, deep-south vibe is a nice contrast to the vibrant newness of Las Vegas, yet it somehow maintains a similar feel.

My husband took me to NOLA once. “Let me plan the trip,” he said. “You’ll love it,” he said. We went during Mardi Gras and while waiting for a parade to start, he decided to refill our daiquiris. He crossed the street and disappeared into the crowd. THEN the parade started. Just an FYI, nothing good can come from a stranded husband with two daiquiris. My first NOLA experience was reduced to Bourbon Street and our hotel. Thanks to Emma Scott and her uncanny ability to set a scene, I finally feel like I’ve seen a bit of the city. Just yesterday, my husband promised me a do-over. I handed him All In and told him to use it as a travel guide.

Aside from one notable absence *deep breath, long swallow* all the characters from Full Tilt resurface in All In as well as the addition of a few more, most notably Yvonne, who had me in hysterics more than once. As far as the MC’s, Kacey is still beautifully flawed, but following Jonah’s death, she’s lost her way again. She’s broken and struggling, desperate to numb her pain—falling victim to old habits that, this time around, really have their claws in her. Enter: Theo. Without his POV in Full Tilt, he came off guarded, protective, and somewhat icy, but within the very first pages of All In, you discover so much more about him. He’s loyal and selfless. Honorable. He keeps his promises. As far as book boyfriends go, he’s perfection.

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There was so much to love about this book: Kacey’s affinity for eighties movies, Viv’s magic 8-ball, palm reading, beignets, and the steamiest NON-sex scene I’ve ever read. The romance is off the charts swoon-tastic. I grinned. I giggled. At one point I broke into song.

Because I read this in beta, I was able to shoot anything Ididn’t love back to the source…but there really wasn’t anything.And believe me, I pored over the pages, looking. I pointed out every little thing I could find until I felt stupid for trying so hard. Finally, at about 1am last night/this morning, I realized…if Emma Scott is the standard I compare everything else to, is it really such a shock I can’t find anything to dislike?

All In isn’t dramatic. There’s no unnecessary angst. The relationship isn’t rushed; its progression is natural.

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It is simply a love story. And I loved every perfect word.

Mexico. Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You.

Erica Lynn and her husband, Billy, joined my family in Cozumel, Mexico. We survived. This is our story.

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Are you familiar with the ever dangerous all-inclusive? Four nights in a tropical paradise–all the food, alcohol, and fun in the sun you can handle? Sounds awesome, right?

BEWARE. It can hurt you.

It was a rainy day in Cozumel when our van pulled up to the resort. We didn’t care. We were greeted by iguanas and flamingos and bartenders.

We were too late for the pool (they close at 6-ish for GOOD reason–although at the time we were somewhat disappointed) so we opted for dinner–which was fantastic, BTW. It was a buffet. A HUGE buffet. You know, I’ve read several reviews online. WTF are people talking about saying the food is whatever? This isn’t the Four Seasons. It was a $600 per person package. ALL INCLUSIVE (flight too). It was awesome! There were french fries! *rolls eyes*

After dinner, these places do some kind of nightly variety show. They’re usually pretty lame and we rarely go, but I’d heard good things and…Orlando. (He’s part of the entertainment staff and he’s very pretty. Right Erica?)

So, when did all-inclusives start doing Cirque Du Soleil? They did some seriously bad ass productions. The first night was horror themed, complete with musical renditions of Thriller, Rocky Horror, Phantom of the Opera, and The Ring.

The second night was The Beatles Show and it was even better. I think I cried through Hey Jude.

The 3rd night…needed some work, but I was told I REALLY enjoyed the 4th night! (I was celebrating my birthday and can’t be too sure). I did see pics, though, so I know I danced. A LOT. With…Orlando (yeah, I deleted those).

And this part really shocked me. The drinks were fantastic. Usually at these places, the beer is skunky, the wine is a no-go, the cocktails are watery, and your choices are limited. This place had Campari. CAMPARI. I was in heaven. But now I’m pretty sure I’m never drinking Campari again.

In addition to eating and drinking everything in sight, we swam with barracuda and stingrays (not on purpose), snorkeled, and shopped for “high quality junk.”

The resort we went to was the Iberostar Cozumel. I’ve been to several (different brands) and this one is hands down the best so far. I can’t vouch for Iberostars in other locations, but I imagine they’re similar. Great drinks, great food, killer entertainment…Orlando. The rooms are so-so, but who cares? Again, not the Four Seasons. This particular beach doesn’t have a “sandy” entrance (it’s rocky), but you can get in at the pier (where it is sandy).

 

Here are some tips if you are considering tackling one of these unassumingly dangerous vacations:

1. Don’t drink ALL of the drinks. Take my word for this, I tried.

2. Eat something leafy and green at least once.

3. French fries should not be consumed four times in one day.

4. Stay away from the Cantina. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t close.

5. Mudslides are yummy.

6. Don’t sleepwalk to the pier at 1 am, strip down to your skivves, and forget to put them back on before walking back to your room.

7. If you happen to do #6, try not to leave your wallet.

8. Don’t put creamy sunblock on wet skin.

9. Tequila is not your friend.

10. And contrary to what you might think after 57 shots of tequila, neither is Orlando.

Thanks for going with me Erica!! I can’t wait for next time!

The Write Drunk, Edit When You Get Home 2016 Summer Writers’ Retreat

After months of waiting with bated breath, I finally got to meet some of my favorite book peeps!  But it didn’t feel like I was “meeting” them. It felt like I’ve known them forever. There was no awkward introductory period; we just fell into the same crazy convos and antics we get into online.

For our first retreat, we had three writers (Erica Lynn, Ashley Drew, and myself), an avid reader (Fabi), a couple of husbands (Erica’s and mine) and a poodle (Alice Malice). Neil Christiansen had to cancel, but he was here in spirit!

We ate a lot. We drank even more. We made margaritas, bloody marys, pina coladas, mojitos, mimosas, micheladas. We taught Ashley about “hair of the dog” and that coozies didn’t go out in the eighties. We talked about books. We talked about hot guys on twitter. We stalked hot guys on twitter. We talked about books some more. We laughed. We floated the river. We slip n’ slide-d. We played table pong and washers.

 

We watched Fabi kick our asses at Cards Against Humanity. We watched distorted eighties porn on the side of the house while listening to “Peter the old British guy” read naughty scenes from our books (Thanks Neil for your contribution!). We had a seafood boil. We had midnight banana splits with Erica’s homemade ice cream. We had theme dinners for Never Stop Falling, In the Shadows, and one of Fabi’s favorite books, Surviving Raine. We turned ribs to sawdust (yeah okay, that was me).

The only thing we didn’t do, oddly enough, was write!

Erica, Ashley, and Fabi…I heart you guys big time! You’re not just some of my favorite book peeps anymore, you’re some of my favorite peeps period. I can’t wait to do this again come winter. Yes, I said winter. There’s no way in hell we’re waiting a whole year, so check your calendars and get back to me!

Because…Writer’s Block…

OK Erica. I’ll bite. But only because I’m trying to beat Ashley to it since I don’t even know 11 writers and I want to make sure I tag them before she does.

Blatantly plagiarized from @writegavingayle per his blog, “Erica Lynn, the prolific author of the Love And Justice series has asked me to complete the Sunshine Blogger Awards 11 question chain letter. Per the description on her site:

“The Sunshine Blogger Award is a ‘get to know the writer better’ type of blogging exercise, with a couple of rules attached:

  1. Answer all 11 questions asked by the blogger who nominated you.
  2. Nominate eleven bloggers in return and write eleven (possibly fiendish) questions for them to answer.”

Okie dokie:

  1. Do you have a favorite character? If so, who? (Can be from your own work, or something you’ve read before.)

Hmm…already stumped on the first question. The kind of books I read don’t really provide what I’d consider a worthwhile character, someone good enough to be considered a favorite, anyway. They’re usually seriously flawed, almost past the point of redemption. But in that regard, seriously flawed characters can be fun, and the one sticking out in my mind right now is Fiona Drazen from Songs of Perdition. The fact that she made it through that book still breathing is pretty impressive.

  1. If you could only watch one movie for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

Dirty Dancing. Why? Really? Next…

  1. Do you write under a pen name? If so, why?

Yep. Small town and why not?

  1. Name one thing from your bucket list and explain why it’s on there.

To live in Italy. Anywhere in Europe, really. But Italy is my preference. Why? Wine.

  1. We all have our guilty pleasures… what’s one of yours? (for example, I love, love, LOVE reality TV.)

Super long bubble baths with Bordeaux and an awesome book. It’s not so much a guilty pleasure as a daily occurrence, but there you go.

  1. If you could only recommend one book, what would that book be and why?

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Two sisters surviving Nazi occupied France. OMG. It may be fictionalized, but EVERYONE should read this book. So beautiful.

  1. What is one way you show people you love them?

Well…I used to clean the house, cook, grocery shop. But then I discovered writing and now I say “hi” when we pass each other in the kitchen.

  1.   What do you feel you need to fix / adjust in your writing style?

I need to listen to my own voice and quit comparing myself to everyone else.

  1. What are your favorite genres to read?

Romance, romance, and romance. The sweeter the better

  1. What is your ultimate goal as a writer? I’m talking your big picture, I’ve made it dream.

Big picture to me is people actually wanting to read my book, then having more of them like it than hate it.

  1. I saved the most important question for last… I feel like there are 3 types of people in this world. People who like the Sharknado movies, the ones who don’t, and the ones who haven’t seen them (mind boggling!). This question alone tells you a lot about a person. So, which one are you? If you’ve seen them, did you like them or not? Why? (FYI… I LOVE THEM!)

I’ve managed to avoid them, but I did mention them in my book. Does that count?

*****************

So now my 11 questions and the people who are to answer them…

  1. Best Halloween costume you’ve ever donned?
  2. When’s the last time you did something really stupid?
  3. Who do you stalk on social media?
  4. What book would you like to see made into a movie?
  5. F&ck, marry, kill: Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, —or— Chandler, Ross, Joey?
  6. Jim Morrison, Van Morrison, or no Morrison?
  7. Favorite place you’ve traveled?
  8. Last book that turned you to mush?
  9. Last book you wanted to throw across the room in a heated rage?
  10. Favorite book cover?
  11. Favorite book by a new writer?!)

Tagging: (and I don’t want to double tag so I’m only going with 8!)

@MimiMarten

@AliyaDalRae

@threerabbits

@isabellerjoshua 

@locherre

@TheCrazyWriter1

@LeilaLMiller 

@AnnColeRomance

 

 

My Review of Full Tilt by Emma Scott

ARC provided in exchange for an honest review.

 

I’m going to try to get through this without crying. Much. I don’t even know where to start. I loved RUSH. LOVED RUSH. As far as books are concerned, it was the perfect “hit,” and I’ve been chasing that high ever since. I’ve read all of Emma Scott’s books, and some have come damn close, but this one did it. THIS is the book that follows RUSH, and it maybe the book that surpasses it.

It isn’t angsty. It isn’t unnecessarily dramatic. As far as a romance goes, I’m not even sure it’s classically “romantic.” But it is perfect. It’s sweet, honest, gritty, heart-wrenching perfection.

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It’s about two people who meet by chance and who both desperately need each other, neither of them realizing it. Yes, they fall in love, but the beauty of this story is not so much their love affair as it is their friendship. The way they lean on each other, sometimes unknowingly. The way they fill an emptiness in each other no one else can fill.

Time isn’t on their side. But they don’t fight it or run from it. They just live each second—each moment—so perfectly it really makes me think of how often I waste my own moments. How many moments do I spend with people I don’t want to be with? Doing things I don’t want to be doing? Reading books I don’t care for, watching movies I don’t like, eating salads instead of cheeseburgers, working in the yard instead of playing in the yard… Lots and lots of moments. But it doesn’t matter, right? I have an unlimited amount of moments to waste. Don’t I?

Full Tilt is a gorgeous slow-building love story…that leaves a big finish. One that will make you think, make you feel. One that will carry long past the last page.