Monday, January 28, 2013



I think we need a group hug, my fellow Downtonites! I am supposed to be writing a recap of this week’s episode (the fourth of series three), but I’m too busy drying my tears and blowing my nose (Apologies to Lord Grantham who gets very squeamish when bodily functions are mentioned.) to focus on the task at hand. I shall endeavor to compose myself and carry on. Stiff upper lip and all that. Downton really was at its soapy best this week. There was drama, tragedy, love, loss, new beginnings, and sorrowful endings. Here are my impressions of all the sudsy storylines:

The Young and the Lifeless – The birth of Lady Sybil and Tom’s daughter is center stage this episode. When the hour starts, Sybil is being attended by Dr. Clarkson who assures the fretful family that the mother-to-be is just experiencing some false labor pains, nothing to be concerned about. <cue ominous music> Robert has doubts about Clarkson’s doctoring abilities (Lavinia died on his watch, after all, and he, also, declared Matthew permanently paralyzed and we all know how that turned out.) So, Lord G calls for Sir Philip Tapsell, a fancy London physician who’s helped other aristocratic ladies deliver healthy babies. Sir Philip has a very blasé attitude about Sybil’s condition once she goes into labor. Her ankles are swollen, and she’s babbling nonsense? Perfectly normal! You know how delicate women are! Dr. Clarkson thinks Sybil has eclampsia, which could be fatal to both mother and child, so he urges the family to transfer her to the hospital, where an emergency Caesarean can be performed. Cora is in favor of this, but Robert is on Sir Philip’s side (He doesn’t think Sybil has eclampsia and she’ll be fine delivering the baby at home.) Unfortunately, this is the one time that Dr. Clarkson makes a proper diagnosis. Although Sybil does deliver a healthy baby girl and seems to be fine afterwards, she starts screaming in pain and having seizures a few hours later.

I have to say that Sybil’s death scene is one of the most harrowing things I’ve ever seen on TV. It was truly upsetting, and everyone involved acted their butts off, especially Elizabeth McGovern. While the two doctors stand helplessly by, Cora screams for someone, anyone, to help Sybil. She tells Sybil to hold on, she’s going to be fine, and then after Sybil gasps her last breath, Cora collapses, sobbing on top of her daughter’s dead body. Absolutely heartbreaking, and an Emmy-worthy performance from Elizabeth. I should probably also mention that there are a lot of histrionics from Branson while his beloved shuffles off her mortal coil, but for some reason I wasn’t as affected by his lamentations. A mother’s grief trumps a husband’s, I guess.

If anything good came out of the youngest Crawley’s demise, it was that the loss  bonded her combative sisters, Mary and Edith. The anguished ladies hug it out and vow that they will try to be nicer to each other for Sybil’s sake. A really touching moment that was lovely to see. Sadly, this tragedy seems to have driven a wedge between Cora and Robert. She blames him for their daughter’s death because he wouldn’t heed Dr. Clarkson’s warning, and Robert doesn’t disagree with her. I think he’ll be carrying around some major guilt for the rest of his life over this (as he should.)

All My Footmen – Poor Man’s Simon Baker aka new footman, James, has caught Thomas’ eye, and O’Brien keeps encouraging James to ask Thomas for help. This results in Thomas giving James a very handsy demonstration of how to wind a clock. I haven’t seen a scene with that much slashy goodness since Queer as Folk was on the air! But Poor Man’s Simon Baker isn’t feeling Thomas, in fact he’s getting a little creeped out by the valet’s “familiarity” and he makes a comment to Mrs. O about it. She just smiles evilly and encourages him to stay on Thomas’ good side so that Thomas will talk him up to Lord G.

New kitchen maid Ivy, also, has hot pants for James, but he seems to be oblivious to her flirting while she ignores Alfred’s obvious crush on her. Daisy’s pining for Alfred, and she’s mean to Ivy because she sees that Alfred is smitten with the other girl. It’s a love quadrangle (or pentagon if you want to include Thomas) worthy of Melrose Place circa 1993.

I have to give a shout-out to Rob-James Collier for his performance this week. He did such a great job in the scene where Thomas broke down over Lady Sybil’s death, claiming that Sybil was one of the few people in his life who’d ever been kind to him. Nice to see a character, who’s usually stuck in one gear (self-serving) show vulnerability and grief. Anna proved herself to be incredibly kindhearted by offering Thomas comfort in his time of need.

One Prison Term to ServeYes, the Bates in jail storyline is still going on. Altogether now . . . GROAN Anna thinks that if Vera’s friend and neighbor, Mrs. Bartlett, will give a sworn statement that she saw Vera making the pie that later killed her, it will prove once and for all that Vera poisoned herself and Bates will be exonerated. Problem is they don’t think Mrs. Bartlett will give a statement if she thinks it will help Bates out as she’s still Team Vera. Whatever. Just resolve this painfully boring storyline off-screen and don’t take up any more air time with it, I beg you, writers. Oh, and Bates’ ex-cellmate and one of the guards are still conspiring against him. Why? Who knows? Who cares? 

As the Prostitute TurnsA newly child-free Ethel accepts an offer of employment from Isobel, but there’s some major fallout when Mrs. Bird, Isobel’s cook, quits in protest (She has to protect her good name and refuses to be associated with a former ho.) Mrs. Bird doesn’t go quietly either. She sends a letter to Mrs. Hughes and Carson, warning them about the corrupting influence who now resides at Crawley House. Carson is outraged, appalled, and adamant that no one on the Downton staff is allowed to step foot in Crawley House while Ethel is there. Mrs. Hughes thinks that’s a bit harsh, but she agrees that Isobel probably didn’t do the right thing in hiring someone with Edith’s checkered past. Isobel seems to be regretting her decision, as well, since Ethel is a disaster in the kitchen and is doing crazy things, like putting honey in Isobel’s tea (GASP!)

The Cold and the Beautiful – Guess how Lady Mary reacts to her sister’s death? She becomes even bitchier and more judgmental than usual! When she walks into the parlor and finds Matthew talking with the family solicitor about plans to change the way Downton’s run, Mary flips her lid and by “flips her lid” I mean, she gets all pinch-faced and icily reprimands the two men, invites their guest to leave, and accuses her husband of trying to take Downton away from her father while he’s still reeling from the loss of Sybil. Properly chastened, Matthew stumbles over an apology and looks like a kicked puppy (He’s just trying to save your family home, Mary!) If Matthew was too anxious to impregnate Mary before (This was Sir Philip’s diagnosis of why they weren’t having any luck in the fertility department.), then I’m sure that Mary’s tongue-lashing won’t help matters. Of course, they may want to reconsider the whole procreation thing after what happened to poor Sybil.     

Days of our Column-Writing Spinsters – Remember way back in the first series when Edith penned that letter to the Turkish embassy telling them about Mary’s involvement in the death of Pamuk? Well, that was foreshadowing, Downtonites! Turns out that our Edith has mad writing skillz. That letter she wrote to The Times about women’s rights last week impressed an editor at some publication called “The Sketch.” That name makes me think this paper is some kind of tabloid, but for now let’s just be happy that someone appreciates Edith and wants to offer her a job as columnist. Way to make a comeback from getting dumped at the altar, Edith! Matthew is thrilled for his sis-in-law, but Robert has to ruin it by saying something negative and more or less forbidding Edith to do it. Such a party pooper! The Dowager Countess is similarly disparaging when she hears about the column. “When may she expect an offer to appear on the London stage?” Come on, Vi, you told Edith to find an occupation. Be supportive! I am really looking forward to seeing how this storyline pans out. It’s about time Edith spread her wings and did something with her life.

I will end this recap with one of Lady Violet’s zingers (Yes, she still managed to lob a few despite the dramatic mood of the episode.)

“If there’s one thing I’m quite indifferent to, it’s Sir Philip Tapsell’s feelings.”

The #DowntonGala party will continue next week with a recap written by Canadian Chick Lit author, Cat Lavoie. If you’d like to check out some fabulous and clever recaps from previous weeks, click on the links below. And please share your thoughts and feelings about episode four below. Thanks for stopping by!

Episode 1 - Laura Chapman

Episode 1 - Elizabeth Marx 

Episode 2 - Tracey Livesay 

Episode 3 - Meredith Schorr

Episode 4 -  Me!

Episode 5 - Cat Lavoie (Coming on Feb. 4th) 

Episode 6 - Jen Coffeen (Coming on Feb. 11th) 

Episode 7 - Jenny Gardiner (Coming on Feb. 18th)

Episode 7 - Jen Tucker (Coming on Feb. 18th)


Sunday, January 20, 2013


It's my pleasure to welcome English author Sarah Louise Smith to Books by Banister. Sarah and I met on Facebook (We are both members of the fab Chick Lit Goddesses group.), and it's been so much fun to share in her excitement over the release of her Chick Lit novel, Amy & Zach. Read on to learn more about Sarah and her first foray into publishing and grab yourself a copy of Amy & Zach (It's a steal at just $2.99!) 

1) Can you give us a brief overview of Amy & Zach?

This is a story about a year in the life of these two characters, alternating between the two so you get to hear both sides of the story. Amy is British and has moved to Boston, USA in search of something new and exciting, and is trying to work up the courage to meet her father. She meets Zach, and it all gets complicated…

2) What's your favorite quality about your heroine/hero?

I think both Amy and Zach are fairly determined. They know what they want, and have the courage to go with their gut instincts.

3) What made you want to write Amy & Zach?

I’ve been wanting to write a novel for years; I kept starting them and never finishing. Amy & Zach was born out of a variety of ideas from those previous attempts… The idea to set the novel in Boston comes from a trip I made there a few years ago, I wrote a bunch of notes and felt inspired to set a story there.

4) How long did it take you to write Amy & Zach? What is your writing process like?

Once I’d committed to actually finishing it (rather than writing random notes and paragraphs now and then!), about six months. I work full time, so it’s often difficult to have the time to write but I now treat it as a part-time, second job and ensure I sit down regularly to write. I am a morning person, so I prefer to get up early and just get started; often not stopping to drink or eat or even pee for several hours! 

5) If Hollywood comes calling and asks you to sign over the movie rights for Amy & Zach, who would you like to see play Amy, Zach, Libby, and Tim on the big screen?

That’s a tough question (but a lovely decision to make, of course!) Amy would have to be someone British and gorgeous. Zach, maybe Zach Braff – I used to have a thing for him, and my Zach is Jewish, so he’d fit the part well. Libby and Tim would again be British… I wouldn’t be too picky, just decent actors!

6) How do you think of titles?

I find titles really, really hard to come up with so that’s why I ended up calling this by the two main protagonists! Summing up a whole novel in just a few words is an art that I’m yet to master.

7) Tell us about your cover art design. How did you come up with the concept? Did you execute it yourself or have a professional do it?

My publisher (Crooked Cat) produced the cover for me. I made the suggestion of using a silhouette of a couple, and they took it from there – and I loved the end result! 

8) The fiction market is so competitive now. How did you find an audience for your work? What do you think are the most effective ways an author can promote herself?

I have a slight advantage as I have worked in marketing communications for the past 8 years. So I’ve tried to take the same “professional” approach to my writing and look at all avenues. Word of mouth is key and I think right now, social media is the best tool. You need to ensure you reach those people who may influence others and really target those who read a similar genre. I’m aiming to engage with readers, rather than blast them with sales messages over and over. I’m also looking to learn from others as much as I can and try to keep up with the latest trends.

9) What are your thoughts on love scenes in books? Do you prefer to read/write sweet/romantic encounters between your hero and heroine or spicy ones?

I like a little spice but I’m not so keen on explicit scenes (I’d read erotica if I wanted that but for chick-lit I’m looking for a feel-good romantic moment rather than a sexy one), but that’s just me. Amy and Zach reveal a little, enough I hope to give you an idea, but without lots of detail!

10) What are you working on now?

I’m writing my second novel. I’m not sure what it’ll be called yet (like I say, I’m terrible with titles!) but it’s more of the same; girl meets boy and the path to happiness has many complications.

11) Who are the authors who inspire you?

My favourite author is Jane Austen; I love Pride & Prejudice and the fact that she’s still so hugely popular 200 years on, is amazing. My favourite chick-lit author right now is Paige Toon – she’s fabulous and I devour her books! Lisa Jewell and Marian Keyes are also an inspiration, they engage you into a story really well.

12) What genres do you like to read? Do you stick to one or are you eclectic in your reading tastes?

I mostly read chick-lit, but I do occasionally read other genres if a book appeals to me, is recommended or made into a movie. I really enjoyed the Twilight books, but I don’t usually like vampire/paranormal or teen books, so it’s good to keep an open mind. I quite like historical fiction too.

13) What was the last book you read that really WOWed you?

Chasing Daisy by Paige Toon. I’d never heard of her but a friend recommended and straight away I was hooked, and wondering why I hadn’t read any of hers before! I also really enjoyed Slammed by Colleen Hoover recently, I couldn’t read that quick enough. 

14) If you could be plopped down in the middle of any book, which one would it be?

Pride & Prejudice. I love that time period – the clothes, the etiquette, and so on. 

15) If you could invite any five people (living or dead) over for a dinner party, who would they be and why?

1, Jane Austen – because she’s my favourite author
2, Robbie Williams – because I’ve had a crush on him since I was 12 years old :)
3, Leonardo DiCaprio – for eye candy :)
4, Miranda Hart – a British comedian, she makes me laugh out loud
5, John Lennon – just to mix it up, and because I find him interesting…

Fast and Flirty 

Favorite scent?  Armani Mania (for men)
Favorite color?  Purple
Favorite food?  Cadbury’s milk chocolate
Favorite word?  Books
Favorite article of clothing?  My rainbow socks
Dream vacation spot? 
Anywhere mountainous
Favorite time period in history?  The Tudors (1500’s)
Favorite girl's night out drink?  Red wine
Favorite date night activity?  Dinner & wine in a nice city
Favorite song?  Shine by Take That
Celebrity hottie on your laminated list?  Leonardo DiCaprio
Novel hero crush?  Mr. Darcy

Author Bio:   

Sarah Louise Smith lives in Milton Keynes, England with her husband, two cute cats and a loopy golden retriever. She has a 12 year old step-daughter, a huge extended family that resembles the Brady bunch, and likes to cook, travel and read chick lit. She's been writing stories ever since she can remember. Amy & Zach is her first novel.

Book Blurb:  

Meet Amy & Zach

Flying home to the
UK from the US for her sister Libby’s wedding, Amy has some major issues with her homecoming.

She is furious with Zach, who should have been travelling with her, but after he dropped a bombshell the day before she left, she hid his passport and flew alone.

Now, can she act normal when she meets Libby’s fiance Tim?

After he finds his passport, Zach heads for the
UK to surprise Amy. He wants to apologise to her and finally meet her family. He has kept his secret for way too long and knows he has a lot of explaining to do.

So, how did Amy and Zach get to this point? What is Zach hiding anyway? And what's going on between Amy and Tim?

How well do Amy and Zach really know each other?

Buy Amy & Zach:
Amazon USA
Amazon UK

Connect with Sarah Louise Smith:

Thursday, January 3, 2013


I am very excited to be a part of #DowntonGala, a multi-tiered online event celebrating the S3 premiere of the highly addictive period drama, Downton Abbey. To  kick things off, eight authors/bloggers and I are answering the same set of Downton-related questions in our own unique and clever ways. Read on for my responses and don’t forget to leave a comment so that you’ll be entered in our fabulous giveaway of To Marry an English Lord, a book that inspired the creator/writer of Downton Abbey.

1) You're planning a dinner party for the Downton crew - who would be No. 1 on your invite list?

Who else? Lady Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. It wouldn’t be a party without her droll comments about the guests, the food, the efficiency of the staff, etc.

2) Whose closet will you raid before the party?

Lady Mary Crawley’s. She seems to wear either red or black in the evening, and those just so happen to be my favorite colors for a gown. And while I’m in her closet, I’m stealing some of her fabulous hats. I love a jaunty chapeau!

3) Once the guests have arrived, who are you most likely to flirt with?

Forget the guests! I think I'd have a lot more fun flirting with one of the servants. If a hostess can't exhibit shocking, inappropriate behavior at her own dinner party, who can? The object of my affections would be that one-handed purveyor of evil, Thomas the footman. He deserves to be sexually harassed after all the nasty things he's done on the show. P.S. I recently saw Rob-James Collier (Thomas) on The View, and he is quite the cutie when he's not scowling and plotting.

4) Who will you likely smack before the dessert course?

I know it's not good form for a lady to strike a servant, but if Branson were to try and throw a tureen full of oil, ink, sour milk, and cow poop on me or one of my guests, he would most definitely get a well-deserved smack!

5) Let's adjourn to the drawing room for some not-so-polite conversation: What's your theory on Patrick Gordon aka The Bandaged Man? Imposter or legitimate Crawley?

Clearly a fraud! And not even a good one. The only person who bought his nonsensical story (Survived the sinking of the Titanic, had amnesia, fought for Canada in the war - as if!) was poor, gullible Edith. The fact that he had no trace of an English accent should have been her first clue that she was being led down the garden path. Too bad they didn't have DNA testing in the early twentieth century, so the earl could have outed The Bandaged Man as an imposter right away!

6) How about Bates? Did he do it? Could he do it? If not, who killed Vera?

If Vera had died in some violent fashion (shot, stabbed, bonked over the head with a biscuit tin), I might suspect Bates. But she was poisoned, and according to all the detectives on the cop shows I watch, poisoning is a woman’s game. So, I think Vera killed herself in order to have the last laugh on Bates. Now how this will ever be proved on the show I can’t imagine unless Vera stashed a diary somewhere. ‘Dear Diary, Bought some rat poison today. Haven’t decided yet if I’m going to use it on John or myself. Either way, it’s a win for me. Wish I had enough to take care of Sir Richard, too. Still can’t believe I let him trick me like that. Why is everyone so mean to me? <frowny face>’

7) Favorite quip from the Dowager Countess?

"I hate Greek drama, when everything happens off-stage." <Me, too, Violet. Me, too.>

8) Favorite Downton spoof?

There are a lot of great ones, but I’m partial to Dollshouse Downton, which I discovered through a tweet from Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley.) He said that the spoof was hilarious and very clever, and I wholeheartedly agree! I love the character voices done by the two women who created Dollshouse Downton. It never stops being funny that Dollshouse Branson says, “Potato, potato, potato,” every time he appears to remind us that he’s Irish. 

9) Now you've done it! You've landed a guest spot on the show. What's your storyline?

I would be a sassy American heiress named Ruby Radford who comes to London with her zillionaire father for the opening of one of their family's high-end department stores. Because Ruby is so rich and fashionable, she's the toast of the town, getting invited to all the best parties. At one of these soirees, she meets widower Matthew Crawley (His wife Mary died the previous year in a tragic curling tongs accident - What? It could happen!) He falls madly in love with Ruby because she's so vivacious and fun (unlike Wife No. 1.) They have a whirlwind romance, get married on the sly, and return to Downton Abbey as husband and wife. The Crawleys are scandalized because Ruby isn't English, nor does she have a drop of blue blood, but they grow to love her money, which saves Downton when the family can't afford to pay their exorbitant taxes.

10) What would you like to see happen in series three?

I don’t care if Robert has to bribe a judge, Bates needs to be released from prison without delay! I can’t take anymore of him and Anna being so tortured and angst-ridden.

Matthew and Mary get married (finally!) and have tons of fabulous sex, which will hopefully loosen them both up!

Edith meets a young, handsome marquess or duke (which means she’d outrank Mary if she married him) who is instantly smitten with her. I would be delighted to see the “plain” sister make the best match out of the three Crawley girls.

I want to see more Crawley relatives. Maybe Rosamund’s children could be worked into the storyline? Or some of Matthew’s family? I think the show would benefit from some fresh blood.

I know the show is called “Downton Abbey,” but I would love to see the characters visit London once in a while, where they could be more social and interact with other aristocratic families.

Daisy needs to get some gumption! I’d love to see her discover that she has a real talent for something that could help her rise up. We already know she can’t cook, but maybe she loves fashion and starts secretly sketching dress designs in her bedroom late at night? One of the Crawley girls could see a sketch and ask Daisy to make the gown for her, then she wears the garment to some fancy party and it wows everybody. It’s not such a far-fetched scenario as Coco Chanel’s clothes were all the rage in the ‘20s and she had very humble beginnings.

And now for the giveaway! One lucky winner will receive a paperback copy of To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace:

From the Gilded Age until 1914, more than 100 American heiresses invaded Britannia and swapped dollars for titles–just like Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham, the first of the Downton Abbey characters Julian Fellowes was inspired to create after reading To Marry An English Lord. Filled with vivid personalities, gossipy anecdotes, grand houses, and a wealth of period details–plus photographs, illustrations, quotes, and the finer points of Victorian and Edwardian etiquette–To Marry An English Lord is social history at its liveliest and most accessible.

To enter the giveaway, please answer the following question in the comments section below:

You're planning a dinner party for the Downton crew - who would be No. 1 on your invite list?

Don’t forget to leave your e-mail address so that we can contact you if you win. You may enter this giveaway up to 9 times by leaving a comment on each of the participating blogs. The giveaway will end at midnight on Thursday, January 10th and a winner will be announced on Friday, January 11th. This giveaway is open to US residents only.

Thanks so much for visiting Books by Banister! Here’s a list of all the other wonderful blogs where you’ll find more Downton Q&A goodness. I hope you’ll join us at the #DowntonGala Twitter Chat on Sunday night (details here.) We’ll be watching the premiere episode together while having a lively discussion. I’m sure it’ll be a blast! 

Jenny Gardiner

Meredith Schorr


The authors/bloggers involved in this fabulous event are: Yours truly, Laura Chapman, Jen Coffeen, Jenny Gardiner, Cat Lavoie, Tracey Livesay, Elizabeth Marx, Meredith Schorr, and Jen Tucker. We'd love to see you there! And stay tuned because tomorrow morning all of us will be doing a blog hop, where we'll be answering some fun Downton-related questions (i.e. Favorite spoof? If you were to join the show, what would your storyline be?) and we'll be giving away a copy of an amazing book, To Marry an English Lord by Cail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace, to one lucky winner.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


It’s a new year and I’m already anticipating the upcoming releases of not only several of my favorite authors, but some talented new voices in fiction that I discovered in 2012. Hopefully, this roster will give you some ideas for your 2013 Wish List. I should mention that this list is by no means all-inclusive as I’m certain there are oodles of books being released this year that I will want to read once I find out more about them and that’s half the fun of being a reader, isn’t it? You never know when you’ll find a new favorite! 

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger (Release Date- February 5, 2013)

I fell in love with Gail Carriger’s witty, imaginative writing when I picked up Soulless, the first book in her Parasol Protectorate series a few years ago. Steampunk, paranormal, romance – these books were the most delightful blend of genres! I loved the characters and their clever, rapid-fire dialogue and marveled at Gail’s ability to bring this amazingly entertaining world of hers to life on the page. I was sad when the PP series ended after 5 books, but was intrigued when she announced that she was going to write a YA series set in the same world as the Parasol Protectorate books. I look forward to seeing what she does with a new (younger) set of characters.

Book blurb:  It's one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It's quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time. Welcome to Finishing School.

Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is a great trial to her poor mother. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners--and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. So she enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

But Sophronia soon realizes the school is not quite what her mother might have hoped. At Mademoiselle Geraldine's, young ladies learn to finish...everything. Certainly, they learn the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but the also learn to deal out death, diversion, and espionage--in the politest possible ways, of course. Sophronia and her friends are in for a rousing first year's education.

Set in the same world as the Parasol Protectorate, this YA series debut is filled with all the saucy adventure and droll humor Gail's legions of fans have come to adore.

The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig (Release Date – April 9, 2013)

Lauren Willig has been writing the very popular Pink Carnation series for 7 years, and I am a huge fan of those books as they are a wonderfully humorous hybrid of Chick Lit, Historical Romance, and spy novels. If you’d like to give the series a try, I suggest reading them in chronological order starting with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, but for the record my favorites are The Masque of the Black Tulip and the delightful Christmas story, The Mischief of the Mistletoe (Jane Austen is a character in this one!) Lauren is stretching herself as a writer and trying something new with The Ashford Affair, which will be her first non-Pink book. I had the pleasure of reading a “sneak peek” (the first chapter) of TAA on Lauren’s site a few months back and was instantly swept away by the characters, the time period, and the setting. I am itching to read more and can’t wait to get my hands on the book in its entirety!

Book blurb:  As a lawyer in a large Manhattan firm, just shy of making partner, Clementine Evans has finally achieved almost everything she’s been working towards—but now she’s not sure it’s enough. Her long hours have led to a broken engagement and, suddenly single at thirty-four, she feels her messy life crumbling around her. But when the family gathers for her grandmother Addie’s ninety-ninth birthday, a relative lets slip hints about a long-buried family secret, leading Clemmie on a journey into the past that could change everything. . . .

Growing up at
Ashford Park in the early twentieth century, Addie has never quite belonged. When her parents passed away, she was taken into the grand English house by her aristocratic aunt and uncle, and raised side-by-side with her beautiful and outgoing cousin, Bea. Though they are as different as night and day, Addie and Bea are closer than sisters, through relationships and challenges, and a war that changes the face of Europe irrevocably. But what happens when something finally comes along that can’t be shared? When the love of sisterhood is tested by a bond that’s even stronger?

From the inner circles of British society to the skyscrapers of
Manhattan and the red-dirt hills of Kenya, the never-told secrets of a woman and a family unfurl.

The Elite by Kiera Cass (Release date – April 23, 2013)

I read The Selection, the first book in this series, last spring after seeing it described as “The Bachelorette meets The Hunger Games.” Dystopian YA novels aren’t usually my bag, but I loved the concept of the series with a regular girl being plucked from obscurity to appear on a televised competition where the prize was the hand of a handsome prince, so I gave it a shot. And I really enjoyed it, even though America, the heroine of the series, isn’t the easiest girl to love (That’s okay, though, as a I enjoy a flawed heroine.) The character I did fall head over heels for was Prince Maxon. And yes, he’s young enough to be my son, but this is Fiction Land and I can crush on whoever I want! (2012 was the year I officially became a cougar because I also lusted after T.J. in On the Island and he’s even younger than Maxon!) The Selection ended with quite a romantic cliffhanger as America and Maxon were starting to develop serious feelings for each other when Aspen (America’s first love) made a reappearance. What’s a girl to do? Hopefully, I’ll find out in The Elite!

Book blurb:  Thirty-five girls came to the palace to compete in the Selection. All but six have been sent home. And only one will get to marry Prince Maxon and be crowned princess of Illea.

America still isn’t sure where her heart lies. When she’s with Maxon, she’s swept up in their new and breathless romance, and can’t dream of being with anyone else. But whenever she sees Aspen standing guard around the palace, she is overcome with memories of the life they planned to share. With the group narrowed down to the Elite, the other girls are even more determined to win Maxon over—and time is running out for America to decide.

Just when
America is sure she’s made her choice, a devastating loss makes her question everything again. And while she’s struggling to imagine her future, the violent rebels that are determined to overthrow the monarchy are growing stronger and their plans could destroy her chance at any kind of happy ending.

Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella (Release date – May 7, 2013)

I’m on a Kinsella-induced reading high at the moment because I blew through I’ve Got Your Number during the holidays. That book really was the perfect blend of comedy and romance. The good thing about being so late to the party in reading IGYN (It was released almost a year ago!) is that I now only have to wait four-and-a-half months for the release of Sophie’s next book! I think the premise of Wedding Night sounds super fun. I love the honeymoon on a Greek Island bit – reminds me of Mamma Mia! I have no doubt that this book will be another winner in the eyes of all of Kinsella’s fans, including me!

Book blurb: Lottie is tired of long-term boyfriends who don’t want to commit to marriage. When her old boyfriend Ben reappears and reminds her of their pact to get married if they were both still single at thirty, she jumps at the chance. There will be no dates and no engagement—just a straight wedding march to the altar! Next comes the honeymoon on the Greek island where they first met. But not everyone is thrilled with Lottie and Ben’s rushed marriage, and family and friends are determined to intervene. Will Lottie and Ben have a wedding night to remember or one to forget?

[Cover art for The Week Before the Wedding coming soon.]

The Week Before the Wedding by Beth Kendrick (Release date – May 7, 2013)

2013 looks to be the Year of Kendrick as one of the author’s earlier novels, Nearlyweds, has been turned into a TV-movie and will air on the Hallmark Channel on January 12. See the trailer for Nearlyweds here. And she’s got a new Romantic Comedy coming out in May. The premise of The Week Before the Wedding sounds really cute (Love triangles are always fun in Chick Lit!) I’m tickled that Beth is keeping the dog love going from her last book, The Lucky Dog Matchmaking Service, in this new one by giving one of the heroine’s love interests “an adorable retriever.” 

P.S. If there really is a town called “Valentine” in Vermont, I need to find someone to marry and go there right now!

Book blurb:  After enduring a chaotic childhood, Emily McKellips yearns for a drama-free life, complete with a white picket fence. Her dreams are about to come true: She has a stellar career, a gorgeous house, and a fiancé any woman would die for. But as friends and family arrive in picturesque Valentine, Vermont, for her wedding, an uninvited guest shows up.

Ryan is Emily’s first husband from a disastrous starter marriage. They wed on a whim, only to discover that combustible chemistry couldn’t ensure a happily ever after. But Ryan is no longer the headstrong boy she left behind. He’s now a successful film producer who just happens to be scouting a resort in Valentine with his adorable retriever in tow.

As the bridesmaids revolt and the mothers of the bride and groom do battle, Emily is surprised to discover new sides of both her ex and her fiancé. She thought she had life and love all figured out, but the next seven days might change her mind—and her heart.

The Last Camellia by Sarah Jio (Release date – May 28, 2013)

I recommend Sarah’s books to everyone as I think she’s one of the most talented and exciting voices in Women’s Fiction right now. I had the pleasure of hosting her at #ChickLitChat a few months back, and she mentioned that her next novel was going to be Downton-esque as it was set at a beautiful, old house in the English countryside. I’ve been dying to know more about the book ever since and was all atwitter when the book blurb was released. I love a story that toggles back and forth between present-day and some romantic bygone era, so The Last Camellia is right up my alley. Sarah always does a masterful job of weaving romance and mystery throughout her stories, and I’m sure that she will take readers on another exhilarating ride with this book. Is it May yet?

Book blurb:  On the eve of the Second World War, the last surviving specimen of a camellia plant known as the Middlebury Pink lies secreted away on an English country estate. Flora, an amateur American botanist, is contracted by an international ring of flower thieves to infiltrate the household and acquire the coveted bloom. Her search is at once brightened by new love and threatened by her discovery of a series of ghastly crimes.

More than half a century later, garden designer Addison takes up residence at the manor, now owned by the family of her husband, Rex. The couple’s shared passion for mysteries is fueled by the enchanting camellia orchard and an old gardener’s notebook. Yet its pages hint at dark acts ingeniously concealed. If the danger that Flora once faced remains very much alive, will
Addison share her fate?

Dancing With Paris by Juliette Sobanet (Release date – Spring 2013)

I have been waiting impatiently for this book to come out ever since Juliette first revealed the cover art on her website. A couple doing the Tango, with Paris in the background - what’s not to love? And the tagline “Midnight in Paris meets Moulin Rouge” totally sold me. Juliette is branching out into new territory with her third novel, adding a little mystery and time travel to her romance, and I’m excited to see how she blends all of these elements together. I have no doubt that this will be a fabulous read!

Book blurb:  The story of a woman who is sent back in time to 1950's Paris to revisit her past life as the dazzling star of a scandalous Parisian cabaret club, where she must deal with murder, danger and unexpected love.

Pie Girls by Lauren Clark (Release date – Spring 2013)

If you want funny, Southern-style romance, nobody does it better than Lauren Clark. I adored her last book, Dancing Naked in Dixie, and the minute she told me her story idea for her then-titleless third book, I knew she had another winner on her hands. As Lauren and I are friends, I got to weigh in with my opinion when she was mulling over titles, cover art options, etc. All of her decisions have gotten a big thumb’s up from me, and I get more and more excited about Pie Girls every time she shares another tidbit about the story with me.

Book blurb:  Princess, Southern belle, and spoiled-rotten social climber Searcy Roberts swore on a stack of Bibles she'd never return to her hometown in Alabama. After eloping with her high school sweetheart and moving to Atlanta, Searcy embraces big city life Carrie Bradshaw-style. But now, Searcy has a teeny, tiny problem:  Her husband's had a mid-life crisis. He's quit his job, cancelled her platinum American Express, and run off with the "new" love of his life. Searcy finds herself back in Alabama with no job, no money, no husband, and no plan. After a frigid welcome home, she finds out that life in the small town Deep South is much harder at 36 than it ever was at sixteen. When she's forced to take over her mother's fledgling business, Searcy deals with sullen employees, strange ingredients, and the business owner next door who's made it his mission to make her life miserable. Will 'Pie Girls' be an epic failure, or will Searcy find the courage to persevere?

[Cover art for The Selkie Sorceress coming soon.]

The Selkie Sorceress by Sophie Moss (Release date – Spring 2013)

I just read the first book in Sophie Moss’s Seal Island trilogy and thoroughly enjoyed it. The second in the series is now on my Kindle, waiting to be devoured, but I’m already giddy with delight at the thought of this third book, which will feature two of the supporting characters from Book 1. I was instantly fascinated by earthy, loyal Glenna and rough-and-tumble American detective Sam when they first appeared on the pages of The Selkie Spell. They had so much chemistry that I swear I could see sparks flying off my Kindle whenever they interacted. I can only imagine how sexy and entertaining the two of them will be when featured in their own story.

Book blurb:  In this modern-day fairy tale romance, Irish artist Glenna McClure must stop American detective Sam Holt from uncovering a dark secret that could destroy the lives of everyone on Seal Island. Sam has always had a strange knack for finding things (and people) that shouldn't be found. When his last case almost killed an innocent woman, he swore off detective work forever. But when this same woman asks him for one last investigation--to find her husband's long lost mother--Sam cannot refuse. Sam hopes this case will prove to everyone on the island, especially Glenna, that he has changed. But what Sam doesn't realize is that the closer he gets to the truth, the more danger Glenna is in. Glenna will do anything to stop Sam, even if it means teaming up with a powerful sorceress who finds great pleasure in toying with people's love lives. But when the petals of a mysterious night-blooming rose begin to turn black, Glenna realizes that an even darker force is at work. To protect the people she loves, Glenna will have to face the terrible curse that has haunted her all her life before the final petal fades to ash.

Covet by Tracey Garvis-Graves (Release date –
September 17, 2013)

I’ve made no secret of the fact that my favorite book of 2012 was Tracey Garvis-Graves’ On the Island. It was a truly captivating story that made me experience a whole gamut of emotions while reading it. I actually wept at three different points in the book because I was so emotionally invested in the characters and so anxious to see them safe and happy. I can’t wait to see what Garvis-Graves has cooked up for her second novel. Looks like there will be a forbidden love angle in Covet and I adore fictional relationships with a slow burn, so color me excited! When Tracey was a guest at #ChickLitChat a few months ago, she mentioned that the heroine of Covet is a Type 1 diabetic, which really piqued my interest as I have lived with that disease for 25 years and can’t recall it ever being represented in any of the Women’s Fiction I’ve read. So, Covet is appealing on many different levels for me and I’m chomping at the bit to read it!

Book blurb:  What if the life you wanted, and the woman you fell in love with, belonged to someone else?

Chris and Claire Canton's marriage is on life support. Downsized during the recession and out of work for a year, Chris copes by retreating to a dark place where no one can reach him, not even Claire. When he's offered a position that will keep him away from home four nights a week, he dismisses Claire's concern that time apart could be the one thing their fragile union can't weather. Their suburban life may look idyllic on the outside, but Claire has never felt so disconnected from Chris, or so lonely.

Local police officer Daniel Rush used to have it all, but now he goes home to an empty house every night. He pulls Claire over during a routine traffic stop, and they run into each other again at the 4th of July parade. When Claire is hired to do some graphic design work for the police department, her friendship with Daniel grows, and soon they're spending hours together.

Claire loves the way Daniel makes her feel, and the way his face lights up when she walks into the room. Daniel knows that Claire's marital status means their relationship will never be anything other than platonic. But it doesn't take long before Claire and Daniel are in way over their heads, and skating close to the line that Claire has sworn she'll never cross.

There you have it – my reading roster for 2013. Looks like I’m going to be giving my Kindle a workout. I’d love to hear what you’re excited about reading in the coming year. So, please feel free to share in the comments below. And happy reading to all my book-loving followers!