Thursday, December 29, 2016

WRAPPING UP MY READING YEAR


Thanks to a flood in my basement last spring that knocked out the cable in my workout room, I started reading my Kindle while walking on the treadmill, which gave me a good chunk of reading time every day and got me back into the reading groove big time. I went from reading a couple of books a month to plowing through 3-4 a week! I was shocked when I counted up my reads for the year and realized that I completed 65 books in 2016. Go, me! I enjoyed most of what I read, so it wasn't easy to narrow that list down to just 12, but I did my best.

A few notes about my selections—some of these books were released in 2014/15; I just discovered them this year. Also, I decided to limit this list to full-length novels. You will notice that I like to genre-jump with my reading depending on my mood and what I'm writing myself. (I didn't read Foodie Fic at all while working on Mixing It Up, then went on a Foodie Fic binge once I released the book.) Without further ado, here are the dozen books (in alphabetical order) that made my reading year special. I wholeheartedly recommend them all!

1) A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn (Historical Mystery): This book boasted one of the most unique and entertaining heroines I encountered this year, Veronica Speedwell, a Victorian Era lepidopterist who gets caught up in a web of intrigue, murder, and conspiracy relating to her parentage. I can't wait to read the sequel, A Perilous Undertaking, which will be out next month.

2) Flirtinis with Flappers by Marianne Mancusi (Time Travel/Fantasy/Chick Lit): This book was the last of the Timeless Love trilogy, a series that I mainlined over the summer. I loved all three of the books, but this one ended up being my fave because I adore the 1920s (the era the heroine travelled back to), I thought the romance was deliciously steamy and gripping, and there was a twist in the final act of the book that was a jaw-dropping shocker.

3) Gamer Girl by Glynis Astie (Chick Lit/Fantasy): This is really two books-in-one as each chapter opens with the protagonist disappearing into a virtual world where she's a fierce, butt-kicking fairy. How the author ties the characters and relationships in the game into what's going on in the heroine's real life is incredibly clever and I found Meri's journey to be a compelling one.


4) How to Look Happy by Stacey Wiedower (Chick Lit): One drunken rant about her cheating boyfriend and bitch of a boss on Facebook and interior designer Jen Dawson's life is forever changed. The power of social media and how it leads us all to have unrealistic expectations is explored in a very funny and engaging way in this book.  


5) Melody Bittersweet and The Girls' Ghostbusting Agency by Kitty French (Cozy Mystery/Paranormal/Chick Lit): This book was quirkily charming in the way only a British novel can be and packed an emotional punch that took me by surprise. (I had tears streaming down my face while reading the scenes where ghost whisperer Melody helps a trio of ghostly brothers resolve their issues and move on.) I loved the characters in this book and look forward to reading the next Melody adventure when it comes out.

6) Mug Shot by Caroline Fardig (Cozy Mystery/Chick Lit): I read all three of the books in the Java Jive Mystery series this year, but this second one was the biggest page-turner for me because this was when things got real for heroine Juliet. Her archenemy, Cecelia, is murdered, her best friend/Cecelia's boyfriend, Pete, stands accused, and her maybe love interest, Ryder, is involved in the investigation. The climactic scene at the end of the book when Juliet faces off against the deranged killer was the most suspenseful and nerve-racking thing I read all year!

7) Scared Witchless by Amy Boyles (Cozy Mystery/Paranormal/Chick Lit): The Bless Your Witch series is just plain fun. The author's writing style is breezy and engaging and I love her unique take on witches and magic (queen witches, witch police, intra-coven magic-stealing—it's all here). This first book is a great introduction to the characters who are all well-defined and interesting and the local color provided by the small-town southern setting adds a lot to the story.


8) Styling Wellywood by Kate O'Keeffe (Chick Lit): This was the first book I read that was written by a Kiwi and set in New Zealand, so that alone makes it memorable to me. Aspiring stylist Jessica Banks is the heroine of the story, and she grows a lot both personally and professionally over the course of the book. I liked how relatable and flawed Jessica was and how the story zigged when I thought it would zag. The Will They?/Won't They? dynamic between Jessica and her longtime friend Ben was delicious, and I appreciated that the author explored some pretty profound issues via Jessica's past and the guilt she felt. A very strong and engrossing debut. I've got the other two books in the series on my TBR pile.


9) Summer at Sea by Beth Labonte (Chick Lit): Hands down the funniest book I read all year. I snort laughed several times while reading it. The author has a deft hand at finding the comedy in any situation, and she's equally good at building romantic tension. I fell in love with both Summer and Graham and rooted for them throughout the book. Their journey toward coupledom makes for a great read, and I can't wait to read more about them in the just-released sequel, Summer at Sunset.


10) The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller (Women's Fic/Foodie Fic): When the story opens, pastry chef Olivia's life is in shambles. Not having many options, she ends up working in the kitchen of a country inn in Vermont where she slowly but surely finds a new lease on life via the friends she makes and a surprising romantic connection. Like Olivia, I quickly became attached to all the characters in this book and was touched by how she was embraced by the townspeople and started to feel like she'd finally found a home.

11) The Gargoyle Gets His Girl by Kristen Painter (Paranormal/Chick Lit): I've read three of the six books in the Nocturne Falls series now and continue to be awed at the imagination and creativity of this author. Her world-building is just incredible! I picked this book as my fave of the series so far because the two leads were so different. (I've read a lot of books with supernatural creatures and Willa and Nick were my first fae jeweler/gargoyle security guard.) Beyond the romance, this book delves into the fae world and all the court intrigue and politics there, all of which I found very interesting.  

12) Wedding Girl by Stacey Ballis (Women's Fic/Foodie Fic): How could I not love this clever riff on the classic enemies-who-fall-in-love-under-assumed-identities plot? The kooky supporting characters in this book are an absolute delight, and I enjoyed seeing pastry chef Sophie's evolution after she's left at the altar and loses her fancy job then has to reinvent herself by going to work in an old-school Jewish bakery. This book left me with a smile on my face and a craving for some freshly made bread!

What were your favorite reads of 2016? I'd love it if you'd tell me about them in the comments below. I'm always looking to add to my TBR pile and I'll need lots of books if I'm going to reach my very ambitious goal of reading 100 books in 2017.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

RELEASE WEEK BLITZ


Congrats to the winner of my Mixing It Up Release Week Giveaway - Bonnie Zobel Karoly! 

Alert the media! Mixing It Up is now available in both e-book and paperback formats on Amazon. I am so excited to share this book with all of you and can't wait to hear what you think of Cecily and the gang.


Purchase a copy of Mixing It Up during release week (October 19th-25th, 2016) and you could win this fantastic prize pack inspired by the book’s heroine and her love of French food!

 This prize pack includes:

Garnier-Thiebaut Oh, La La, Chéri French-themed 4-piece Kitchen Linens Set

(Apron, kitchen towel, pot holder, and oven mitt.)


Kate Spade Deco Dot Recipe Box with 8 tabbed dividers and 40 recipe cards

The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook by Mireille Guiliano 
 
To enter this giveaway, simply e-mail me with your proof of purchase. Entries will be accepted until midnight on October 26th, 2016 when a winner will be selected via random drawing. This is an international giveaway, so anyone who buys Mixing It Up within the allotted time frame is eligible to win. Good luck and thanks so much for your support!



BOOK BLURB

Born with a silver spoon in her mouth, Manhattan upper-cruster Cecily Sinclair now uses that pricey utensil to dish up fancy French fare on her cooking show, Serving Romance. When there’s an executive shake-up at the network, she’s not worried. Not much anyway. Her show’s a hit after all. Why would the new CEO want to mess with success?

The driving force behind several buzzed-about networks, Devlin Hayes is considered to be a wunderkind in the television industry. Although his plans to rebrand CuisineTV and make Serving Romance more Millennial-friendly don’t thrill Cecily, her charming, blue-eyed boss is a hard man to say “no” to and she really wants to keep her jobeven if that means sharing screen time with a loathsome blast from her past.
  
Mercurial Italian chef Dante Marchetti a.k.a. “Il Duce” was once Cecily’s boss, and she has the PTSD to prove it. Now the owner of one of the hottest restaurants in town, Dante’s egomania knows no bounds and his constant attempts to provoke and upstage Cecily make her want to conk him on the head with a sautééé pan. She thinks they’re toxic together, but viewers love their chemistry and clamor for more.

As Cecily battles to maintain the integrity of her show, she finds herself scheming and manipulating right along with Dante and Devlin. Is she fighting a lost cause? Does she really belong on TV, or would her culinary talent be better served elsewhere? And could one of the men who makes Cecily’s blood boil ignite a passion in her for something other than food?
 

Friday, October 14, 2016

MEET JESSICA (MIXING IT UP)

Cecily doesn't just battle men in Mixing It Up. She has a very formidable female foe in Jessica, Devlin's right-hand at Modern Media, or as Cecily often refers to her "his henchwoman." These two ladies get off on the wrong foot, and it's pretty much downhill from there. Jessica is always vamping it up around Marchetti and takes his side whenever he and Cecily have a skirmish on-set and Cecily is convinced that the two of them are plotting against her, a theory that is validated on more than one occasion. What really drives Cecily nuts about Jessica is that Devlin seems to value her opinion above all others. He's constantly waxing rhapsodic about Jessica's business savvy, but Cecily has no respect for her get-good-ratings-at-any-cost m.o. 

Author's Note: I didn't realize until I'd finished writing the first draft of this book that I never gave Jessica a last name! In the end, I decided she didn't really need one, so she's following in the footsteps of other strong, ballsy women like Cher and Madonna. I do enjoy writing a good bitch, and Jessica definitely fulfills that role in this book. She's one of those women who always has men eating out of her hand, but other females are completely put off by her. 

When thinking of Jessica, Melanie Griffith's famous line from Working Girl, "I have a head for business and a bod for sin," comes to mind. Jessica wears a lot of makeup and dresses in a somewhat provocative way for work. (This is what Cecily thinks anyway. The men at Modern Media don't seem to mind!)

Quotes: "What's going on with your face? You look like a clown, with a bad case of rosacea."

"He is one tall, cool drink of grappa, an alcohol I've heard is very potent."    

"Are we going to shoot these pictures or what? We only have the studio for another forty-five minutes. Tick-tock."


Casting: I immediately thought of Holland Roden (best known for her role on Teen Wolf) as Jessica. Physically, she's perfect as she has the wavy, dark red hair, the pouty lips, and the va-va-voom figure, plus she's great at giving attitude. No one does a disgusted eye roll better!


Poor Cecily really has her hands full in this book, doesn't she? To see how she handles Jessica and all the other obstacles I throw in her path, be sure to pick up your copy of Mixing It Up when it's released in just FIVE days!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

MEET DINA SINCLAIR (MIXING IT UP)

More like sisters than cousins, Dina has been Cecily's bestie since the two of them were born just eight days apart. They couldn't be more different in both looks and personality, but they share the bond of being Sinclairs and all the expectations and responsibilities that come with the name. Of the two girls, Dina is the more free-spirited and uninhibited. She follows the beat of her own drum, only worries about pleasing herself, and is very quirky in everything from her wardrobe choices to her men. She would ascribe all of this to being an easygoing Libra. Oh, that's right, I forgot to mention that she makes her living as an astrologer, a career path no one in her family, except Cecily, supported. And she doesn't make enough money doing people's natal charts to actually pay her bills; she has to rely on the allowance from her trust fund to do that.

Author's Note: Dina is an easy character to love and a fun one to write for, because I was never quite sure what was going to come out of her mouth! She was the perfect complement to Cecily, because she's such a non-conformist while Cecily is more conservative. Dina is always encouraging Cecily to let loose and take risks, which the latter needs because she's too cautious by nature.

There are some surprises in this book in regards to Dina's love life and I don't want to spoil any of them, but I will say that Dina's casual attitude about men and sex never ceased to amuse me. The woman has no hang-ups whatsoever in that department! If she'd been around in the '60s, I'm sure she would have been a member of the free love movement! 

Quotes: "Rich people are weird."

"Aries are formidable, but not unconquerable. He's a Fire sign; you're a Water. Water can douse flames."

"I have to cut you off before you stress eat yourself into a wardrobe of clothes with elastic waistbands."

Casting: I was racking my brain trying to think of twentysomething actresses who have heart-shaped faces and long, curly brown hair like Dina and came up with bupkis. So, I asked my pal, Melissa Amster, for suggestions, and she came up with a couple of really good ones! In the end, I decided to go with Rachel DiPillo. (Melissa and I know her from Jane the Virgin, but she's also a regular on Chicago Med.) Rachel's a little funky and bohemian-looking, which is exactly how I pictured Dina. And even though she and Laura Vandervoort, who I cast to play Cecily, aren't twinsies; they both have delicate facial features and an aristocratic look about them that would work for the characters and make it believable that they are cousins.

I look forward to hearing what you think of Dina once you've read Mixing It Up, which will be out in only six days! Oh, and I just consulted your horoscope for tomorrow and it says, "You will return to a favorite place (Books by Banister!), where you will receive enlightening information (The final Mixing It Up character profile!)." Who is this character? Hint: another thorn in Cecily's side.