Friday, September 30, 2011


It's done.

Over 200 of you followed me in less than a week.

Now one of you will decide what books I am allowed to read in 2012.

If you want to win, please carefully consider your answers to the following questions:

1. What does being in charge of what I read mean to you?

2. How will we make it work?

3. What was the last book you read?

Please send an email with your answers in the body. Do not send an attachment. Send your answers to:

Include the word CONTEST in the subject line. Sign your email with your twitter username (or a link if you can). The deadline for entry is midnight on Tuesday, October 11th (Eastern time). I will announce the winner here and on twitter on Monday, October 17th.

Here are a few final things to keep in mind:

-You must follow me on twitter in order to win. You can still do that here.

- I am only interested in books by women. If you plan on assigning me men's books, please do not enter.

- If you are an author, please do not just assign me your books and nothing else. I am looking for an experience with depth and diversity.

-I will link to your twitter, blog, website or anywhere else you want me to. With your permission, I will use your name in my blog posts to talk about our interactions and my responses to your choice of books. This yearlong project is a chance to promote yourself as much as it will promote me.

Again, and I cannot say this enough, thank you to every one of you for following me, mentioning me, reading my work, and asking me to read your work. You are all fantastic. I am honored to be part of such a literate, passionate, creative community.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


As of this writing I have 105 followers on twitter. I need 96 more to decide who will tell me what to read in 2012.

This is all happening far faster than I planned. Thanks to follower Rowan Coleman for replying to this morning's tweet, thus forbidding me to read any men's books. I had thought I could get away with it for a few more months. Rowan, I edited my profile after your tweet.

If you still have not joined the contest by following me on twitter, you can do so here. Offical contest rules are still here.

The internet is a wonderful thing. I am now following and being followed by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus . Whoever wins this contest, I hope you will let me read their books next year.

Another follower, Chrissie Manby, asked me if the contest was really for a whole year. Yes, it is. It will take that long to document what I learn from this experience, and how it changes me. So if you are in it for the long haul, go ahead and follow me.

As always, thank you to everyone who has followed, messaged, retweeted and otherwise shown an interest in this project.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


As many of you know, I recently started a contest on twitter to decide which of my followers will earn the right to tell me what to read in 2012. Thank you to everyone who has followed me, retweeted my contest posts, messaged me, and mentioned me. As of this writing I have 57 followers. I need 201 to announce the winner.

Since I am gaining followers so quickly, now is a good time to explain how the contest will work. Once I reach 201 followers, I will tweet a link to a page on this blog. This page will ask you to answer 3 questions, and give an email address for your answers. I will accept answers for 10 days, then take four days to go through your emails and pick my winner. I will announce the winner here and on twitter.

It wouldn't be fair to keep those questions secret... so here they are:

1. What does being in charge of what I read mean to you?

2. How will we make it work?

3. What was the last book you read?

If you want to answer early, feel free to do so. If you have any other questions I will be glad to answer them.

I will be blogging about the books you assign me and about how this experience changes my attitudes towards literature. I will link to your blog/twitter/website; I want this to be a shared public endeavor. After all, learning, sharing, and changing are the main reasons for doing this.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Two Kinds Of Fiction?

Note: I would like to thank the women of Book Lovers Inc. for starting this conversation.

Here is the best and most well-informed thing I can say about the distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction:

The more I read about it, the more I realize how little I know.

For example, romance novels feature tropes. A trope, according to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, is "a common or overused theme or device." We are all familiar with the tropes of romance. There's the Lead Woman, who has suffered some trauma before the start of the book. This could be a divorce, the death of a loved one, or just a string of crummy relationships.

Then there's Lead Man, or, as one of my recent reads calls it, the Alpha Male. He usually shows up on Lead Woman's turf. This is what happened in the first romance I ever read- Kay Hooper's Elusive Dawn. Robyn Lee, bookstore owner, is at work when Shane Justice approaches her. Shane is a race car driver. His job is another trope- the Alpha Male often has a dangerous occupation, or one that requires him to be away a lot of the time. In recent years we have even seen Nascar, military, and police/fire/rescue romances. These are all new twists on an old trope.

We all know what happens once Lead Woman agrees to see Alpha Male a second time. She sees him, decides not to see him, and changes her mind. He charms her by violating her boundaries. She agrees to have these boundaries broken, sees that they were holding her back, and is recast in Alpha Male's image. At the same time Alpha Male, who has trauma of his own, learns how to be both sensitive and a can-do guy.

When we come to the end of the book, Lead Woman almost always marries Alpha Male. We, the readers, knew all along. We would not go back to an author who ended her romances any way other than happy.

There. Romance novels are genre fiction. Right? They named a whole genre after them. There's a problem, though. Webster's defines literature like this:

"Writings in prose or verse, especially writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest" (italics mine).

What is more permanent or universal than wanting to be loved?

Have you ever finished a romance novel that did not express this theme in an excellent way?

I am not arguing that romance novels are literary fiction. Going strictly by the book, they are genre novels. My point is that the terms are confusing. As a teacher, a literary critic, and a reader, I am rejecting them. I know enough to discuss them, and I have some idea what other people mean when they use them. But I am letting go of the need to categorize the books I love.

Here's a final thought. Reading romance novels has changed me. I now view myself and other people differently than I did before. I expect different things from my reading experience, and I care more about character than I do plot. These changes are starting to show themselves in my writing too. Any text that changes you has to be literature.

I support every person's right to decide for herself where the lines are, what the lines look like, and whether they even exist at all. And I encourage every reader to allow the books she reads to change her. If that isn't happening, why read books at all?

Friday, September 23, 2011


These are books my readers and followers have suggested or assigned for me to read:

1. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

2. Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding

3. Shallow Water, by Cathryn Grant

A huge thank you to the women who suggested these!

If you would like to decide what books I can read in 2012, please follow me on twitter:


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Second Guessing Fate

AUTHOR: Claire Robyns

PUBLISHER: Carina Press

RELEASE DATE: 9/26/11; 153 pages; digital e-book.

Buy on Amazon

Claire Robyns writes perfect love scenes. Whenever catering company owner Gemma meets with recently jilted business mogul Nick, the reader is treated to a tryst containing just the right proportions of steam and sensitivity.

The book starts when Gemma’s friend Helen takes her to a psychic, Madam Hooch. Helen’s devotion to and faith in Hooch’s predictions are a little hard to believe, until they begin to come true for Gemma. Upon leaving Hooch’s office, Gemma and Helen have a wreck in Helen’s car. Nick is the driver of the other car, and their first date is an attempt to bribe Nick so he will not go after Helen. One thing leads to another, and after some hemming and hawing on Gemma’s part, Robyns brings the couple together for the first of her stellar bedroom narratives.

The lovemaking both thrills Gemma and causes more problems for her. Madam Hooch predicts Gemma and Nick's meeting, but also says Nick must dump her before she can meet her true love. This leads to some hilarious scenes reminiscent of How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days. Robyns also drops references to Shakespeare and has Nick's barroom buddies tell him to become a "beta male," i.e., a man who listens to his partner and sees things from her point of view. This is an oversimplified version of masculinity and gender roles, but I applaud it anyway. I named myself the Chick Lit Guy, for goodness sake- I talk about gender roles so much it even makes me sick.

Robyns handles the psychic element well, making it part of the story without it seeming like a gimmick. Watching Nick and Gemma evolve is a pleasure- Nick becomes more sensitive while Gemma learns to trust other people. Robyns's references to literature and feminist thought show that she is astute, well-read, and progressive. I look forward to reading her again, and I am glad I had the chance to read Second Guessing Fate.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Guardian Of The Green Hill

AUTHOR: Laura Sullivan

PUBLISHER: Macmillan Children's Publishing Group

RELEASE DATE: October 25th, 2011

Hardcover, 304 pages.

Laura L. Sullivan has crafted a fine fantasy story with enough intrigue and adventure to keep young readers interested. The heroine, Meg Morgan, is a young girl coming into her own as the titular Guardian. The Green Hill is a place where humans and fairies coexist. The Guardian’s job is to preserve the fragile peace between the two societies. The job is more complicated than it sounds- fairies in this book are not sweet-natured Tinkerbell types. They are spiteful, mischievous, and childish, closer to the Irish version of fairies than anything from Disney.

Meg’s life is further complicated by Gwidion, a sinister artist whose accomplice is a talking goat. Gwidion’s paintings have the power to weaken and coerce their subjects. He comes to the Green Hill to paint a portrait of Phyllida, Meg’s great-great aunt and the current Guardian. The portrait is supposed to weaken Phyllida and put her under Gwidion’s thrall. Meg also has three siblings- Rowan, James, and the appropriately named Silly. Taking care of them in their parents’ absence causes more tension for Meg. They live with Phyllida, but many of the duties fall to Meg.

Through a series of encounters with supernatural creatures, Meg comes to accept her destiny. She battles Gwidion and comes to accept that Phyllida’s life is nearly over. Guardian Of The Green Hill is a fantasy book, but it is also a coming of age saga with which middle grades readers can identify. It is the second in a series by Sullivan, the first being Under The Green Hill (2010).

Monday, September 12, 2011

Learning What I Like

I am almost done with Forever by Jude Devereaux. I liked it, and I will read more of Jude's work, but it didn't light me up. It wasn't one of those books that I couldn't put down.

My next read was supposed to be 1105 Yakima Street, by Debbie Macomber. But I cheated a little. I got another bestseller- Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovich. I will read it next and come back to Debbie.

Why? Because after reading Forever I know that I like stories with supernatural and paranormal elements. And I have always loved books written in first person. I identify with Lizzie (the heroine of Wicked Appetite), because she is in her late twenties and still seems to be finding herself. That's how it was for me, too.

Also, Janet doesn't mess around. I only skimmed over the first few pages, and the villain has already shown up. He is evil and attractive, like a bad guy should be.

I am still finding my way around the romance genre, and women's books in general. My guiding principle is to pick those books that appeal to me, that speak to me and make me want to pick them up. I know I will end up reading Charlaine Harris, Laurel K. Hamilton, and Heather Graham soon. I think of Janet's new book as "paranormal lite."

What about you? Who are your favorite supernatural authoresses? Now that I've shared a little, do you have any suggestions for me?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Every Other Day

By Jennifer Lynn Barnes.

Release Date: December 27th, 2011.

Publisher: Egmont USA.

You're a normal teenage girl at a new high school. You spend half your time worrying about boys, friends, and how you are going to pass that history test next period.

You spend the other half battling hellhounds, dragons, zombies, and other entities that can kill, eat, or maim you with the flick of a scaly, rotten, putrefied wrist.

How do you live?

This is the question Jennifer Lynn Barnes poses in her latest novel Every Other Day. Barnes's 2010 novel Raised By Wolves won accolades including the title of "the best YA werewolf novel out there" (Melisa Marr). I don't know enough about YA werewolf books to agree or disagree, but if Raised By Wolves is anywhere near as much fun as Every Other Day, I will be looking for it soon.

Kali, the main character and narrative voice of Every Other Day, is virtually untouchable in battle, but only... well, every other day. When the power takes her over, she roams the streets of her suburban town, taking out evil with as much style and wit as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Fans of that franchise will enjoy this book. The story is complex, the characters are compelling, and the action is fast and relentless. The first chapter begins with Kali taking on a pack of bloodthirsty hellhounds. She then goes home to her emotionally distant father. Their strained relationship forms an intriguing, real-life subplot.

One of Barnes's strengths is her willingness to play with fantasy and horror conventions. For example, in Kali's world, a chupacabra is not a toothy rodent that devours livestock. It is a fatal parasite that attaches itself to one's nervous system and drains out the life force. The hellhounds are an endangered species, which makes fighting them an ethical quandary. Dragons exist, some breathe fire, and, like bears, are only a problem when they show up in the wrong place.

Teenage readers will identify with Kali's anxieties and obstacles, both supernatural and ordinary. Boys and girls alike can identify with her voice, which is snarky and mostly confident without ever being cocky. Although Barnes writes on a high school level, the book is appropriate for some middle grades readers. There are a few deaths, but Barnes handles them with taste and uses violence to move the story forward.

I recommend Every Other Day to fans of young adult books, even those unfamiliar with the fantasy or paranormal subgenre, because Barnes's breezy writing style makes the book so accessible to a diverse set of readers.

Monday, September 5, 2011


I am still reading Forever by Jude Devereaux. A few days ago, I said that Darci Monroe, the lead character, was naive. I was wrong about that. Now that I am over halfway through the book, I can see that Darci overcame a sorry childhood with her positive attitude.

She and the male lead, Adam Montgomery, have gotten past the stage of driving each other crazy. Darci is letting Adam hold and comfort her. Plus, she can telepathically make him want to kiss her. This is what I love about romance novels- I feel like Darci and Adam are a couple that I know. I do not get that personal connection from mens' books.