Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!!!

As 2011 comes to a close, I know that -- as difficult as this year has been at times -- I have a lot to be thankful for... My husband and I have a New Year's Eve tradition of writing down the most memorable moments from the past twelve months and sharing them with each other. So often, until we start thinking and talking about it (I even flipped back through my calendar to jog my memory), we forget major events that happened during the year. We're so forward focused, which helps in getting work done, but it's not necessarily conducive to reflecting on all that's been accomplished and experienced.

This year, I visited a bunch of wonderful book clubs. I saw Dennis DeYoung perform live and my friends' band, The Mojo Daddies, open for him. I had the pleasure of meeting Kathryn Stockett and hearing her talk about The Help. I got a fun cooking lesson from Fabio Viviani. I released my first two digital-only novels, On Any Given Sundae and Double Dipping (which is on sale now for 99 cents!), and delved into the fascinating world of ebook publishing. My third Kensington novel, A Summer in Europe, was also released, and I got to snap pictures of it on the shelves at fabulous independent bookstores, like Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville (above left), as well as at one of my favorite local B&N stores (right). It was a December release, so I was especially honored to see it on two "Best of 2011" lists!! I was on a women's fiction writers panel with some terrific authors (Barbara Samuel O'Neal, Therese Walsh, Megan Crane and Jane Porter) this summer and got to visit New York City with my husband and son. I went on two writing retreats -- one in Wisconsin and the other in Oregon -- with lovely friends and critique partners. And I finally came to appreciate the way social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, really do help connect people, and I was delighted to make a few new friends as a result.

But I'm especially grateful to all of you who visit this blog -- for being here with me and sharing your thoughts throughout the year. I'm raising my glass to you in a toast (I followed the recipe for a Starbucks VIAtini -- see photo to the left and the recipe below ;), and I wish you all a 2012 that is peaceful, joyful, healthy and fulfilling. May your days be full of rewarding work and time spent with those you love, and may your nights be a time to dream of things that ignite your passions, fuel your imagination and inspire you. Happy New Year!

To make a VIAtini: 1 1/2 oz vodka, 1 1/2 oz prepared Starbucks VIA Ready Brew (cold), 3/4 oz amaretto, 1/2 oz Irish cream. Combine in a cocktail shaker, shake well, strain into a glass and top with a cherry.

Friday, December 30, 2011

A Tale of Two Veronas

As the travel/book tour continues, we make a quick return to a European country I never tire of writing about...but there's an American twist to it that, for me, is impossible to ignore. See, I can't think of the city of Verona, Italy without also thinking about the city of Verona, Wisconsin -- the town where I went to high school. In the warped, mash-up database that is my imagination, I combine the two Veronas, twining them with random lines from Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" and lyrics from Bon Jovi's "Who Says You Can't Go Home."

Maybe because Romeo and Juliet were teens in their Verona, as I was a teen in mine, and maybe because they didn't have the smoothest of adolescent love lives, a problem I could relate to altogether too easily, I've always felt a certain affinity for them and their hometown.

In A Summer in Europe, my characters visit the Italian Verona and they take in several of the well-known sites, most notably, the large Colosseum-like Arena in the center of the city and "Juliet's balcony."

The Arena di Verona is an amazing amphitheater. Unlike the Colosseum in Rome, the Arena is still in use today with operatic, musical theater and even rock performances being held there regularly (Sting, Pink Floyd and Muse have all done shows in the Arena). It's home to the Verona Opera, and four productions are typically planned for every year between June and August with up to 15,000 people in the amphitheater at one time.

Juliet's balcony is, of course, a touristy fabrication, but it's a delightful one, and the fact that Juliet was merely fictional in no way stops many of us from seeking it out anyway. My husband and I went there and snapped pictures along with dozens of other travelers, and the characters in my book did the same...all of us reciting at least a few of the lines from Will's famous tragedy while staring up at that balcony.

"But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
who is already sick and pale with grief
That thou her maid art far more fair than she."
~Act 2, Scene 2

Yeah. I first read the play in high school, in that Midwestern Verona, and spent most of freshmen English irritated by our teacher's required reading list. So many "classics" were forced on us -- Shakespeare, Dickens, that Austen woman. Stories that, in significant ways, changed my life. Funny how you so often don't realize the value of your education until long after you've left school. (Although, perhaps, I would have appreciated our teacher's choices more if I'd gotten to see Leonardo DiCaprio playing an urban "Romeo" when I was 14.)

Standing in front of that balcony in northern Italy, I laughed, remembering my high-school romantic dramas, one of which had actually taken place while we were reading "Romeo and Juliet," and appreciating the insight Will gave to us about teen relationships those many years ago. The dizzying power of infatuation. The allure of forbidden love. The irrationality of family tiffs. The ease of disaster at the hands of adolescents.

The ties connecting the two cities in my mind were strengthened yet again.

Did you read "Romeo and Juliet" in high school? College? Or was your first exposure to it through film? Do you think it's different reading it for the first time if you're a teen vs. an adult?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Great News, Great Books, Great Day

First and foremost, Happy Holidays!!!!

While the Winter Solstice may still be some 36 hours away, Hanukkah tomorrow, Christmas Saturday/Sunday and Kwanzaa the day after that, the holiday shopping madness is well underway. (I visited six B&N stores yesterday -- two of them in malls -- and I know of what I speak!)

It's a hectic time out there in Chicagoland and, here at home, I feel like I'm spinning about seventeen plates at once. Coming up tomorrow, I'll be visiting What Women Write to talk about Vienna, Austria for the travel/book tour, but there has been some great news from last week that I wanted to share, too: A Summer in Europe made TWO "Best of 2011" lists, thanks to these absolutely fabulous ladies: Deb from the Reading Frenzy/B&N General Fiction Book Club, and Andrea from Great Thoughts. Thank you!!!

Also, good friend and talented writer Susan McBride was on "Great Day St. Louis" Thursday, and she talked about my book and a couple of other stories -- such fun! You can watch the clip here.

Finally, the wonderful Ellen Meister recently compiled a holiday book buying guide that included novels by many friends of mine on the Girlfriends Book Club and A Summer in Europe, too! What I really loved was the "Who would like this book?" feature, so you can check to see if someone on your shopping list might like that style of story. Hope you will enjoy it!!


Set to release in February of 2012 and available now for pre-order, this 1840s historical relates the story of a woman whose grandparents must consider whether to stop keeping secrets and reveal the truth they’ve known—a truth that will make the difference between a life of obligation and a life of choice.Unlocking the past could open the door to a new future, but is the present worth the cost? Introduced in the novel is the custom of plaçage, known as "left-handed marriages" among those forbidden legally to be together.

Who would like this book? Readers of historical fiction and Southern fiction.

For more information visit http://christaallan.com/

SAFE HARBOR by Judith Arnold

Childhood pals Kip and Shelley spent their summers on Block Island, swimming, biking, discovering the world together. Then real life intruded, bringing tragedy and heartache. Years later, they both wind up back on Block Island. Can the island's rugged beauty and their loving friendship heal their wounds? An award-winning novel when it was first released, SAFE HARBOR is available to as a reissued e-book to a new generation of readers.

Who would like this book? SAFE HARBOR is the perfect book for lovers of romance fiction.

For more information visit www.juditharnold.com

LITTLE WOMEN AND ME by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

A contemporary teen finds herself literally sucked into the Louisa May Alcott novel Little Women and discovers she must change a major plot point in order to get back out again. "...a consistently entertaining read that delivers a genuinely original heroine and frequently hilarious satire." ~ Kirkus Reviews

Who would like this book? LITTLE WOMEN AND ME will appeal to adult fans of Little Women and girls ages 12 and up.

For more information visit http://laurenbaratzlogsted.com/

THE BLUE HOUSE DOG by Deborah Blumenthal

Love heals the heart is the message of this heartwarming picture book about a boy who saves a homeless dog and vice versa. Cody had his own dog once, but his painful loss is buried deeper than the feeding dish he hides away in his closet. All that changes when he comes upon a four-footed friend needier than he is -- a sad, lost dog from a mysterious blue house and both learn to trust and love again.

Based on a true story.

Who would like this book? Dog lovers of all ages.

For more information visit http://deborahblumenthal.com


How far will a mother go to save her child? Ten years ago, Ruby Leander was a drifting nineteen-year-old who made a split-second decision at an Oklahoma rest stop. Fast forward nine years: Ruby and her daughter Lark live in New Mexico. Lark is a precocious, animal loving imp, and Ruby has built a family for them with a wonderful community of friends and her boyfriend of three years. Life is good. Until the day Ruby reads a magazine article about parents searching for an infant kidnapped by car-jackers. Then Ruby faces a choice no mother should have to make. A choice that will change both her and Lark's lives forever.

Who would like this book? Anyone, especially book clubs who like a good moral debate, will like this smart, haunting, and gorgeously written debut novel that propels a whip-smart plot that will keep you thinking.

For more information visit www.amybourret.com

A SUMMER IN EUROPE by Marilyn Brant

It’s not where you go, it’s what you take back with you… On her 30th birthday, Gwendolyn Reese receives an unexpected present from her widowed Aunt Bea: a grand European tour in the company of Bea's Sudoku-and-Mahjongg Club. Gwen initially approaches her first trip abroad as if it's the homework she assigns her students, diligently checking monuments off her must-see list. But amid the gorgeous bougainvillea of southern Italy, something changes. She begins to live in the moment—skipping down stone staircases in Capri, racing through the Louvre and taste-testing pastries, wine and gelato. Reveling in every new experience—especially her attraction to a charismatic British physics professor—Gwen discovers the ancient wonders around her are nothing compared to the renaissance unfolding within...

Who would like this book? Romantics and lovers of travel fiction who might enjoy a grand journey of self awakening amidst the classic architecture and stunning vistas of Europe.

For more information visit http://www.marilynbrant.com


Still reeling from divorce, Trish Taylor is in the midst of salvaging the remnants of her life when she uncovers a shocking secret: her sister is alive. After years of drawing on the strength of her ancestors, Billie Cousins is shocked to discover that she was adopted. Though Trish longs to connect with her long-lost sister, Billie's feelings of betrayal are waters too deep to cross. But when both women are forced to confront their demons, they begin to realize that each may have what the other needs.

Who would like this book? This is a contemporary story between two women who discover they are sisters. Great for fans of smart, moving women's fiction. Women in interracial relationships or with mixed-race children will especially like it.

For more information visit www.carleenbrice.com


Aspiring food critic Hayley Snow follows the man of her dreams to Key
West, FL. Instead of landing the job of her dreams as a food critic,
she lands in the police blotter, the main suspect in her now-ex's new
girlfriend's murder.

Who would like this book? Fans of Diane Mott Davidson's cozy culinary
mysteries will enjoy this book.

For more information visit http://lucyburdette.com/buy-the-books/

SLIM TO NONE by Jenny Gardiner

Abbie Jennings is Manhattan's top food critic until her expanding waistline makes staying incognito at restaurants impossible. Her cover blown on Page Six of the New York Post, her editor has no choice but to bench her—and suggest she use the time off to bench-press her way back to anonymity. Abbie’s life has been built around her career, and therefore around celebrating food. Forced to drop the pounds if she wants her primo gig back, Abbie must peel back the layers of her past and confront the fears that have led to her current life.

Who would like this book? SLIM TO NONE is the perfect book for anyone who's ever gone on a diet (or believes they should).

For more information visit www.jennygardiner.net


A young woman who has squeezed herself into undersized relationships all her life hopes to realize her dream of living in a novel when she is invited to participate in a Jane Austen literary festival in England. She jumps at the chance to reinvent herself, imagining escape into Austen’s fictional world where bookish women are heroines. There, in the rich, promising world of Mansfield Park, Lily finds people whose longing to live in a novel equals her own. But real-life problems have a way of following you wherever you go and unless Lily can change her ways, she will share the fate of so many of Jane Austen’s characters who repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

Who would like this book? MY JANE AUSTEN SUMMER is a fast-paced, romantic, and humorous book that will appeal to book lovers, especially those who can't get enough Jane Austen.

For more information visit www.cindysjones.com

ALL THE NUMBERS by Judy Merrill Larsen

An arresting, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful first novel. A recently divorced mother of two boys, Ellen Banks is just learning to make her way through the uncharted territory of single parenthood when the unthinkable happens. Determined to seek justice, and to mend the deep wounds in her family, Ellen must first heal herself, finding a way out of a grief that soon turns to defiance. This is an unforgettable journey of power and emotion, poignantly depicting a woman as she reckons with her own vulnerability and finds in the wisdom of motherhood, the redemptive grace to begin again.

Who would like this book? ALL THE NUMBERS is great for discussion so it's perfect for anyone in a book club or who just wants characters you'll argue with, worry about, and hope they make the right choices (and yes, I love connecting with book clubs!).

For more information visit http://www.judymerrilllarsen.com/


Two sisters whose lives seemed forever intertwined are torn apart when a magical little black dress gives each one a glimpse of an unavoidable future.

Antonia Ashton has worked hard to build a thriving career and a committed relationship, but she realizes her life has gone off track. Forced to return home to Blue Hills when her mother, Evie, suffers a massive stroke, Toni finds the old Victorian where she grew up as crammed full of secrets as it is with clutter. Now she must put her mother’s house in order—and uncover long-buried truths about Evie and her aunt, Anna, who vanished fifty years earlier on the eve of her wedding. By shedding light on the past, Toni illuminates her own mistakes and learns the most unexpected things about love, magic, and a little black dress with the power to break hearts . . . and mend them.

Who would like this book? The story of the Little Black Dress weaves together bits of history, mystery, magic, and family, so I hope it appeals to readers who love women's fiction in the vein of Kate Morton and Sarah Addison Allen.

For more information visit http://SusanMcBride.com

THE OTHER LIFE by Ellen Meister

"A resonant story about the importance of mothers, both having one and being one ... making for a riveting tale of love and choices." - BookPage

Quinn Braverman has a perfect life, with a loving husband, an adorable son, and another baby on the way.

Quinn also has an ominous secret: she knows there's a portal to another life, one in which she made totally different life choices. But she's never been tempted to switch lives ... until a shocking turn of events pushes her to cross over, and she discovers the one person she thought she'd lost forever. Her mother.

But Quinn can't have both lives. Soon, she must decide which she really wants—the one she has ... or the other life.

Who would like this book? Anyone interested in the beautiful, heartbreaking and complicated relationships between mothers and daughters.

For more information visit ellenmeister.com

MOMFRIENDS by Ariella Papa

Momfriends is a story of three vastly different people who meet through motherhood and become friends through womanhood.

Ruth is almost at the end of her rope with her new baby when a knock on her door changes everything. Claudia's life is all about rules. Everything is going perfectly until a flirtation with colleague makes her throw out her rule book.

And Kirsten is an artist and a dreamer. What she discovers late one night confirms that her life is not everything she dreamed. Momfriends is about how people roll with lives they can’t control. And whether they choose to swim with the current or against it, it’s about the realization that everyone needs someone to throw out a life preserver once in a while.

Who would like this book? Momfriends makes the perfect gift for your best friend, the new mom in the neighborhood or the mom you'd like to invite over. It's an ebook so it's even easier to read and multi-task.

For more information visit ariellapapa.com

DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD by Saralee Rosenberg

In Mindy's yoga-obsessed, thirty-is-the-new-wife neighborhood, every day is a battle between Dunkin' Donuts, her jaws-of-life jeans, and Beth Diamond, the self-absorbed sancti-mommy next door who looks sixteen from the back. So much for sharing the chores, the stores, and the occasional mischief to rival Wisteria Lane.

It's another day, another dilemma until Beth's marriage becomes fodder on Facebook. Suddenly the Ivy League blonde needs to be “friended,” and Mindy is the last mom standing. Together they take on hormones and hunger, family feuds and fidelity, and a harrowing journey that spills the truth about an unplanned pregnancy and a seventy-year-old miracle that altered their fates forever.

Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead is a hilarious, stirring romp over fences and defenses that begs the question, what did you do to deserve living next door to a crazy woman? Sometimes it's worth finding out.

Who would like this book? DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD is perfect for anyone who loves to discover friendship in surprising places ... while laughing out loud on every page.

For more information visit saraleerosenberg.com


Charm, Southern sass, and suspense abound in the sixth delightful cozy mystery.” –FreshFiction.com

Super-organized Ellie thinks she’s prepared for everything when she and her family set off for an extended visit with her southern in- laws in Alabama, but the one thing she hasn’t planned for is cold-blooded murder. When the patriarch of the family passes away under suspicious circumstances, the quirky Avery family closes ranks and Ellie can't help looking for motives among the mourners.

Publisher’s Weekly called it “winning” and described it this way: “A rumor of hidden money, secret letters from a famous recluse, a fire, a threatening message, and a crazed gunman add to the cozy mischief.”

Who would like this book? Fans of mysteries and southern fiction will enjoy Mimosas, Mischief, and Murder.

For more information visit http://sararosett.com


As a college student in Athens, Georgia, Mia Wells meets Flynn, an enigmatic stranger who pushes every boundary she knows. Their relationship is intense, passionate and, for Mia, life-changing, making it all the more painful when he vanishes. After finding the wherewithal to move on with her life and pursue her goals, Mia eventually marries. Twelve years later, Flynn mysteriously resurfaces, gravely injured. Mia is terrified that he will die, awestruck at the prospect of his survival. Flynn’s return ignites a powerful tale, a story that is greater than honor or friendship or the passing of time. More than a romance, this 2011 Penguin release was recently named Best First Book in the NJRWA Golden Leaf contest.

Who would like this book? BEAUTIFUL DISASTER is women’s fiction with a heavy thread of romance, making it the perfect book for readers who like relationship fiction that includes a thought provoking love story.

For more information visit lauraspinella.net

LOVE IN TRANSLATION by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

After receiving a puzzling phone call and a box full of mysteries, Celeste Duncan, 33, is off to Japan to search for a long, lost relative who could hold the key to the identity of the father she never knew. There she stumbles head first down the rabbit hole into a weird, wonderful world where nothing is quite as it seems.

Not knowing Japanese, Celeste finds a friend in her English-speaking homestay brother, Takuya, and comes to depend on him for help. As they cross the country following a trail after Celeste's family, she discovers she's developing "more-than-sisterly" feelings for him. But with a nosy homestay mother scheming to reunite Takuya with his old girlfriend, and her search growing dimmer, will Celeste find what she’s looking for in Japan?

Who would like this book? Love in Translation will appeal to armchair travelers who love a good love story!

For more information visit: http://www.WendyTokunaga.com

Most of the these books are available at your favorite bookstore. To buy online, visit the author's page for ordering links.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Happy Birthday, Jane Austen!

Time for a giant party!! First of all, many thanks to Maria Grazia of My Jane Austen Book Club and Katherine Cox of November's Autumn for coming up with the idea of having a worldwide celebration in honor of Jane's 236th birthday! Every one of these sites below (mine included!) will be giving away a different gift to commenters on each blog's birthday post -- the winner for every individual blog to be randomly chosen on December 23rd. So feel free to stop by as many of these wonderful sites as you can over the next week. Commenters here will be entered in a drawing to win an According to Jane canvas tote bag and a pair of A Summer in Europe luggage tags! The other thing we're all doing is sharing either a birthday gift or a birthday card/letter for Jane. Since anachronisms pose no problem with such a flight of fancy, cost isn't an issue, and realism is not at all required here, my gift to Jane is...2 first-class around-the-world plane tickets

I know she will want companionship on this massive foreign adventure, so one ticket has her name on it and the second has her sister Cassandra's name. (If they should meet anyone interesting on their journey, well, who am I to stop them? But those handsome individuals will have to procure their own means of transportation!) The thing is, I don't think Jane was really in need of travel to broaden her mind. She already had the gift of great intellect and imagination, and she saw a world of human nature in her little neighborhoods with "four and twenty families..." No. She was not in need of travel, but I do think she would have enjoyed it, especially if the means of circumnavigating the globe were clean and speedy, comfortable and without fear of illness. Long ship voyages would not have been for her, but even those she never would have been able to purchase for herself. 

So, to me, if I could really give her that kind of painless and quick travel experience, I would. Although, I'll admit, I'd love to be able to meet her in London for tea upon her return and hear firsthand her impressions of the world. What about you? If you could give Jane just one gift or send her a birthday wish...what might it be? Take a peek at what some of the other Austen lovers are sharing with Jane today and offering as prizes on their blogs, and here's wishing you all a wonderful weekend -- even if it isn't your 236th birthday ;).

*** Katherine Cox ~ November's Autumn $10 Barnes & Noble gift card Maria Grazia ~ My Jane Austen Book Club a selection of Austenesque novels Marilyn Brant ~ Brant Flakes According to Jane canvas tote bag & A Summer in Europe luggage tags Karen Doorbebos ~ Fiction vs. Reality Smackdown Definitely Not Mr. Darcy (2 copies), 2 Jane Austen candles, & drink coasters and tea Regina Jeffers ~ Regina's Blog Christmas at Pemberley Alyssa Goodnight ~ Alyssa's Blog Jane Austen Action Figure Sharon Lathan ~ Sharon's blog Miss Darcy Falls in Love Abigail Reynolds ~ Pemberley Variations Mr. Darcy's Undoing C. Allyn Pierson ~ Semi True Stories Mr. Darcy's Little Sister Cindy Jones ~ First Draft My Jane Austen Summer & package of Lily Berry's Pink Rose Tea by Bingley Teas Vera Nazarian ~ Urban Girl Takes Vermont Vera's Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration in hardcover Jane Odiwe ~ Jane Austen Sequels Mr. Darcy's Secret & a mug with a Jane Odiwe illustration Susan Kaye, Laura Hile, Pamela Aidan, & Barbara Cornthwaite ~ Jane Started It! Young Master Darcy: A Lesson in Honor by Pamela Aidan set of Frederick Wentworth, Captain by Susan Kaye Mercy's Embrace: So Rough a Course (2 copies) by Laura Hile set of George Knightley, Gentleman by Barbara Cornthwaite Juliet Archer ~ Choc Lit Authors' Corner Persuade Me & The Importance of Being Emma Jane Greensmith ~ Reading, Writing, Working, Playing Intimations of Austen and Sense & Sensibility Marvel graphic novel Emily Snyder ~ O! Beauty Unattempted Letters of Love & Deception Farida Mestek ~ Regency Sketches I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend by Cora Harrison vvb32 Reads Jane Austen's Little Instruction Book (Charming Petites) Jane Austen in Vermont JASNA 2012 calendar from Wisconsin JASNA Region Becky Rhodehouse ~ One Literature Nut selection of Austenesque reads Jennifer Becton ~ Historical Fiction & Thrillers Personages of Pride and Prejudice Collection eBook Courtney Webb ~ Stiletto Storytime Noble Satyr by Lucinda Brant Adriana Zardini ~ Jane Austen Brazil Sense & Sensibility 1995 DVD - English with Portuguese subtitles Patrice Sarath ~ Patrice Sarath blog The Unexpected Miss Bennet Kaitlin Saunders ~ Kaitlin Saunders blog A Modern Day Persuasion Laurel Ann Nattress ~ Austenprose Jane Austen Made Me Do It Prue Batten ~ Mesmered's Blog Georgiana Darcy by Anne Elliot Jenny Allworthy ~ The Jane Austen Film Club Northanger Abbey 2007 DVD Sitio Jane Austen ~ El Salon de Te de Jane Spanish and English DVD package of Jane Austen adaptations Erin Blakemore ~ The Heroine's Bookshelf Pride & Prejudice notecards Austen Authors Georgette Heyer's Regency World by Jennifer Kloester ***

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Winners and More Europe Love!

Just did the drawing for the landmark ornaments and the winners are: LIZ V. and BRETT -- Congratulations!! If you could please email me with your street address, I'll get them sent out to you this week. (MarilynBrant AT Gmail DOT Com) Hope they'll look good on your tree!!

Also, today I'm at Great Thoughts blogging about "My Love of Europe." Coming up this week, I'll be visiting Get Lost in a Story on Monday (French Riviera!), Fly High on Wednesday (Pisa!) and being a part of an international Jane Austen Birthday Soiree on Friday (all over the web, so I'll have links posted here). And, hopefully, if all goes well, there will be an online giveaway through WGN Radio on their Facebook page this Tuesday, too -- so it's going to be an active week!

What's going on for all of you? Any special celebrations in the week ahead? Kids' holiday concerts? Parties?? Would love to hear about what's happening in your corner of the world ;).

Thursday, December 8, 2011

It's Lovely Weather for a SLEIGH RIDE!

As the weather turns colder up here in the chilly regions of northern Illinois and the snow is threatening to arrive soon, it may well be the perfect weather for a sleigh ride by this weekend. However, you don't have to wait...
Sleigh Ride: A Winter Anthology features seven wintry tales by seven women authors, a number of whom I'm delighted to call friends: Malena Lott, Maria Geraci, Maggie Marr, Samantha Wilde, Jenny Peterson, Dani Stone and Megan Barlog.

Called "well-written" and "moving," each short story includes a sleigh ride - some dramatic, some romantic and one futuristic adventure. Megan Barlog, who found out about the anthology online and entered her debut short, "The Escape," is a graduating senior at California State University. Some of the Sleigh Ride authors share their favorite holiday recipes at the back of the book. Here' s Megan's!

Grammy’s Monkey Bread by Megan Barlog

2 cans refrigerated buttermilk biscuits
1/4 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped pecans

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Grease an 8” round cake pan.
3. Separate biscuits and dip in butter.
4. Coat entire biscuit with mixture of sugar and cinnamon.
5. Place coated biscuit in pan. Repeat until you have placed 15 to 16 biscuits in pan. Biscuits should be around outer edge of pan and overlap to fill in center.
6. Pour rest of butter over top.
7. Sprinkle with nuts.
8. Bake 25 to 30 minutes.

Oh, yum! This sounds delicious... Thank you, Megan!

Sleigh Ride is available in trade paperback at Amazon and BuzzBooksUSA.com and as an ebook. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the domestic violence prevention cause through the Alpha Chi Omega foundation. The anthology was edited by author Malena Lott (Dating da Vinci, Life's a Beach.)

I have my copy already, and I'm REALLY looking forward to getting to relax and read it leisurely, just as soon as my book/travel touring winds down a bit! Today, I'm not blogging about one specific city, but I do have the pleasure of visiting Great Thoughts and writing a little bit about travel as an author. I hope, after you check out Sleigh Ride, you'll make some monkey bread and join me ;).

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Lake Como: A First Glimpse of Italy

The first time I went to Lake Como, I was 19 -- a few years before I met my husband and a full five years before this photo above was taken. I'd been a part of a college dance group that first time, and we were representing the USA at a large folk dance festival in northern Italy. We entered the country from Switzerland, not stopping at any large cities or seeking out the well-known landmarks, and we stayed for a full week on the outskirts of Como. During the day, we were in parades and we hung out with the dancers and musicians from other countries -- talking, flirting, eating truly enormous quantities of gelato -- and during the night we danced.

It was great fun, but it was also a little difficult for me to be so very close to Venice, Florence and Rome and NOT see ANY of those cities on that first trip... I did, however, see the lovely city of Como. And I can tell you now, that alone was enough to ensure my desire to go back. Not only so I would be able to explore the rest of Italy, but specifically to return to the beauty of the Italian Lake District.

I knew exactly what I was going to do when I got back there again. I was going to relax in the sunshine and stroll along the floral walking paths. I was going to sit at a quaint cafe in the middle of town, scuffing my sandals at the uneven stone beneath my feet. I was going to admire the water sparkling in the daylight and imagine what it must be like to live in one of those pastel-colored hillside villas.

When I did return, however, it was with my new fiance -- a man who had a very different idea of "relaxing." We did stroll for a while along the paths. We did eat something at a cafe (I remember a rather delicious ravioli one night). And we did admire the the gorgeous lake. But my husband-to-be was a man of action, and he didn't really want to stay on the gentle walking path. So he talked me into going for a pedalo ride one afternoon on the lake -- peddling this little, reddish, floating contraption that required a bit more of a cardio workout than I'd been anticipating.

But that still wasn't enough activity for him.

No, we'd no sooner docked our pedalo boats when he started talking about seaplanes with the owner of one who was standing near the shore. Initially, I just thought it was a guy thing -- "Oh, look! Something with an engine! How fast does it go?" -- but I was wrong on that. My husband's father is a pilot. A former Thunderbird from WWII, in fact. His son didn't just want to TALK about the plane, he wanted to get in it. And he wanted me to get in it, too.

My attempts at resistance ("Um, isn't that kinda dangerous, honey? We don't know enough Italian to deal well with a medical emergency...") were pretty much ignored and, once I'd made it through lift off, I forgot my own hesitations. If I thought Lake Como looked beautiful from the ground, it looked simply gorgeous from the air.

These days, if I'm remembering the tabloid details correctly -- and if they're true, LOL -- George Clooney has a villa somewhere in the area. (We'll visit him next time.) But you don't have to be a handsome, multi-millionaire actor to feel like a celebrity walking (or flying) around this stunning lake. It just happens that you will.

~ . ~ . ~

I don't have to tell those of you here about my Virtual European Travel/Book Tour -- you know all about it ;). But I do have the itinerary updated and listed on the first page of my website. The French Riviera and Pisa will be next week (plus an Austen birthday celebration), with Vienna, Brussels and Paris coming up soon after.

And, finally, I was really delighted to be asked to contribute "five book suggestions for romantics" to the Goodreads December Newsletter. My recommendations are here and I'd LOVE your thoughts on them! In celebration of A Summer in Europe and my love of both Italy and England, I'm giving away two sets of holiday ornaments -- each pair contains a Big Ben and a Leaning Tower of Pisa ornament. If you leave a comment on either this post or the Goodreads one, you're entered to win a set. If you leave comments on both, you're entered twice!

Hugs and thanks for being so awesome...and wishing you all a happy start to December!! xox