Coming in 2010! My first TBR list of the Year

Yeah, I should be writing something about my favorite romances of 2009, but I’m ready to move on!  Here are 5 books I look forward to reading in the New Year:

1.  A Matter of Class, by Mary Balogh: I enjoy marriage of convenience stories, partly because the two people involved have to find a way to work things out.  Mary Balogh’s tales draw you in with their wonderful sense of time and place.   AMOC came out this month and is next on my To Read list.

2. To Tame a Dangerous Lord, by Nicole Jordan:  A ‘dangerously sexy’ lord marries a plain girl.  She wants to gain his attention by becoming a beautiful temptress.  I am a total sucker for a good makeover, and if the first chapter is any indication, this one revolves around an extremely attractive hero and a very likable heroine.  Release date: January 2010

3. Scoundrel’s Kiss, by Carrie Lofty:  An opium addict heroine and a hero who has taken a vow of chastity — wow!  This one I’ve got to read!  With their backgrounds, these characters sound like they go through a lot of angst, and the setting, in Spain, also intrigues me.  Release date: January 2010

4. Rogue in my Arms, by Celeste Bradley:  The next in her Runaway Brides series features what sounds like an interesting triangle involving a nobleman, an actress and her seamstress.  And don’t forget the motherless waif and the seamstress’ young brother!  Release date: February 2010

5. All Night with a Rogue, by Alexandra Hawkins: Another rouge! A notorious, handsome and decadent hero and a heroine who wants to live by her own talents.  Sounds like my kind of book…yummy 🙂  Release date: February, 2010

And in an utterly brazen plug, don’t forget To be Seduced, by ME!  I enjoyed writing this story so much.  Richard, a honey-voiced Cavalier, will use any means necessary to rebuild his home.  Bethany, whose Puritan upbringing hasn’t blinded her to worldly ambition, insists on turning the situation to her own advantage.  Mutual suspicion wars with mutual attraction in the turmoil of the early English Restoration.

Confessions of a Tree Tyrant

I freely admit that I suffer from OCTD: Obsessive Christmas Tree Disorder.  I put ornaments on the tree from the top down, with the smaller ones at the top and the largest at the bottom.  By now, I’ve trained my kids to do this as well, although my husband remains immune to my attempts to convince him that this is really important.  I keep my ornaments boxes out when my family and I have finished trimming the tree, because I know that next day, I’ll find bare places in the branches to fill up, or a dark spot that needs something nice and shiny to brighten it up.  Yup, it takes a minimum of two days before I can pronounce the tree finished.  Where my mom used tinsel, I use bead garlands, and it can take several minutes to adjust a ‘swoop’ the way I want it.

The first ornament that goes on is always the angel my parents bought for my first Christmas tree, the one that fit on a tabletop in their apartment in Germany.  The next ones are my girls’ first ornaments, and then the tiny balls that perch on the topmost branches, just below the spire that we use instead of a star or an angel.

Why? Why do I take such pains (and according to my kids, pass them on to everyone else)?  Most of the time, decorating anything is as much a challenge to me as a calculus problem.  Yet when the Barbie ornament is too close to the teapot, I make a mental note to move one or both of them when their owner is not looking.  Not that that works, because the she tells me I’m stifling her inalienable right to put her ornaments where she wants to, and returns them to their original spots.  Anarchist.

I learned my wicked ways from my mother, who makes beautiful, magic Christmas trees that range from elegant, with gold and crystal, to whimsical, with toys, Santas and candy canes.   She got the knack from her mother, who managed to dress up her aluminum tree by selecting a couple boxes of plain balls from the drugstore.  One year Grandma used red and green, another year, shades of sky blue, and another, her favorites: purple and lavender.  My college student put our tabletop tree up in her dorm and assured me she placed the ornaments in their proportional places and made sure the wires for the lights were hidden.  As my tree-tyrant bosom swelled with pride, the Anarchist just rolled her eyes.  I reminded myself that at least one of my children would carry the Persnickety Tree Gene into the next generation, and that the other is getting an A in chemistry.

Then a few days ago, we made spritzer cookies.  My oldest and I were happily sprinkling them with colored sugar when the Anarchist let out a gasp of horror. “You can’t just dump on sugar like that!  These aren’t just cookies, they’re works of art!”  My momly heart overflowed with joy.  She might not care if the tree looks just right, but even she can’t deny her Inner Tyrant.

Huh?

Earlier this month, writer Alan Elsner wrote an article for the Huffington Post entitled How Romance Novels take the Romance out of Romance.  I haven’t read any of Mr. Elsner’s novels, but he sounds like an intelligent man. He simply misses the point of romance novels.

For one thing, he makes the common mistake of confusing all romance novels with porn.  I’m very fond of the graphic sex scenes that “quite surprised” him.  Very very fond of them.  (Btw, we’ve been out of the Victorian era for over a hundred years, Mr. Elsner — why does the discovery that women enjoy reading about hot sex startle you?) But it’s safe to guess he didn’t pick up an inspirational romance. Or anything from Harlequin’s tamer imprints. Or by Georgette Heyer.

He has also either forgotten the meaning of the word ‘romance’ or didn’t look it up.  It’s the wee hours of the morning as I type and I didn’t feel like going downstairs to my reference books, so here’s the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary’s definition (the italics are mine):

Romance Function: noun  Date: 14th century

1 a (1) : a medieval tale based on legend, chivalric love and adventure, or the supernatural (2) : a prose narrative treating imaginary characters involved in events remote in time or place and usually heroic, adventurous, or mysterious (3) : a love story especially in the form of a novel b : a class of such literature 2 : something (as an extravagant story or account) that lacks basis in fact  3 : an emotional attraction or aura belonging to an especially heroic era, adventure, or activity.

Most readers of the genre know perfectly well that sex and love are two different things.  These days, a good romance of any genre depicts the development of an intimate relationship, physically and emotionally.  The level of physical intimacy varies greatly from inspirational to erotic romance, but the emotional connection between the hero and heroine must be there.

Mr. Elsner doesn’t say in the article what books he based his observations on.  If they were straight-forward erotica (a venerable literary genre, but not romance), that might explain his claim that in romance novels “love is expressed through sex and only through sex”.  Or he might have been reading through testosterone-colored glasses and not registered the emotional content.  He does assert that “love takes place in the mind where it has to fight for its existence against all the other challenges presented by life.”  Maybe for him that’s true, but it isn’t for me.  Loving my husband was not a rational choice on my part.  (I would never have deliberately chosen a man who thinks I should enjoy housework.)  It just happened.  After experiencing “an immediate and powerful mutual attraction”, I might add!

Christmas Lists

Not a ‘Get’ list or even a ‘To Do’ list.

This time of year, families celebrate the holidays with a myriad of traditions: favorite foods and meals, favorite movies and books, favorite activities. Here’s some of the things we do at our house each year, with a few reasons why I love them. (Just a heads up…some of them might not match up with the customary images of joy and family togetherness.)

Favorite Movies
The Lion in Winter: Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine celebrate Christmas in France. Except he keeps her imprisoned most of the year, she aids their sons in rebelling against him, and he’s doing the nasty with the future Richard Coeur-de-Lion’s betrothed. And you think your family has rotten holidays.

A Christmas Carol: The version with Patrick Stewart only. Captain Picard as Scrooge! Make it so!

Holiday Inn: Bing Crosby first sang White Christmas in this movie, which premiered in 1942.  Fred Astaire co-starred as a rival performer.  The movie was remade in 1954, again with Bing, entitled — you guessed it — White Christmas.

Favorite Rituals:
Some of these are done in lots of families. Some are very, very different. Allow me to emphasize that no one has ever suffered permanent injury or death as a result of any holiday activity in my home.

Putting up the World’s Biggest Cat Toy:
In non-feline homes, this object is referred to as a ‘Christmas tree’. The cats get very excited when they see the boxes and love to help, especially when we’re engaged in weaving the long strings of lights through the branches.

Wrapping presents: Okay, it’s a bit of a chore, and the cats like to help with this, too. But if you’ve got company, it’s fun to outdo each other in disguising gifts with unique packaging. We once convinced my youngest that she was getting the world’s largest piece of salt-water taffy. (It was a pillow made by my oldest.) And who knew duct tape could be so festive!

Christmas Eve at my in-laws: Pandemonium! 25 people on my hubby’s side, including some small children. Potluck buffet, champagne, and little ones asking if it’s time for presents every five minutes. It’s a blast!

Late Christmas Eve Service: The celebration of Christ’s birth moves me every year. The service ends with the congregation singing ‘Silent Night’ as the lights dim. With the altar candles glowing in the darkened church, I reflect on how small the lights of Grace and Mercy are in our world, and yet how brightly they shine.

Christmas Brunch with my family:
More pandemonium, particularly if my sisters are visiting. Let’s just say we tend to get creative with ribbons and bows once they’re off the gifts. My mother says we look silly, but we ignore her.

Sparring matches: These break out periodically over Christmas season between my daughters, both of whom are testing for their black belts in taekwondo this month. They spar over who gets which of my ornaments when I’m dead, over who gets to use the prettiest wrapping paper first, and over the last dinner roll. Among other things.