Friday, February 14, 2020

Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue, Here's A Blog For You

Good Friday morning. Happy Valentine's Day.

I hope you are well and if, like me, you live in Louisiana your mood hasn't been too drastically altered by the deluge that has beset us lately. I actually love rain, but I know for various reasons many people do not. Not only do I love rain, I also think Valentine's Day is kind of ridiculous. You may be tempted to psychoanalyze me, but I don't say this as a bitter person who is unloved; I have a wonderful husband who appreciates my practical approach to life and consumer-driven, silly holidays. I don't want chocolates & flowers (I want a new house).

The rain appears to be gone for the moment, but it is frigid outside. Temps in the thirties & forties and a few hours to sit and sip coffee while I write and read is truly all I want for Valentine's Day.

While I do find Valentine's Day to be one of the countless silly, over-commercialized days we celebrate, don't write me off as a cynical old hag just yet. As any longtime blog reader or anyone who hasn't blocked or unfriended me on social media knows, I enjoy reading romance novels. I actually enjoy reading a wide variety of books, but all of my favorite books share one common trait: love is in the air.

It's been about a month since I blogged, and today I have returned to you with two goals. First I'll catch you up on the highlights of the last month or so, and then, then . . . you will love this . . . in honor of Valentine's Day, and because I am in the middle of reading the Outlander series and my whole world is filled with Jamie and Claire, I am going to share with you a list of books I highly recommend you read if you are, like me, a mom in her thirties who loves her life but also enjoys escaping reality via fiction. I note that after our long decade together laughing and sharing good times on this blog we are in the final stretch of time during which I can accurately refer to myself as a "mom in her thirties."

As I've mentioned before I don't know when or if I'll ever hang up an official Closed sign on the blog. I can tell you this: I will, the Lord willing, hang around long enough to share with you the details of my upcoming Scotland trip. I am also hopeful that as I enter another decade of my life later this year I will discover the things that will define my new decade, the things that will occupy my time and my thoughts (and thus my blogs) in my forties. My thirties were dominated by enormous changes, namely the birth of my children, Reagan's diabetes diagnosis and the huge learning curve that accompanied that, the publication of my book, finding and falling in love with my book club, a couple of job changes, and the ups and downs of the first decade of my marriage.

I plan to do more in my forties than simply finish reading the Outlander series, though I admit the thought of that alone sparks considerable excitement. I love knowing there are good books waiting for me. I should write more. I've no idea what form that will take. I enjoy writing and sharing political thoughts and commentary, but I also enjoy forgetting reality and immersing myself in a fictional world of my own creation. I suspect I'll spend a lot of time in my car over the next decade driving my kids all over town. Perhaps I might parlay that experience into a riveting novel about a woman who finds new meaning in life while seated behind the steering wheel in her Toyota Highlander listening to Tom Petty.

Anyway, let's get to the business of the moment. As you should know unless you live in a  cave the Tigers of Louisiana State University won a national title last month. It's the third national title they've won in my lifetime, and it was by far the most satisfying. The whole season was what you spend your life waiting for if you're a college football fan. You sit back when it's all over and you think, What now? It parallels my life at this moment in some ways. Many females spend their youth looking toward college and marriage and kids and what? My degrees are behind me, I've been married over ten years, my kids are growing and thriving, I wrote a book, so now what? I think this is one of the reasons I made the decision to go to Scotland, a most un-Anna like decision given that my kids and my dogs will remain in the states in the care of other people.

My whole life I've been very careful. I plan things and make lists and, well, the last ten years have taught me that life doesn't often unfold according to the plans and the lists you've made. Kids will teach you that. Diabetes will teach you that. So, here's to the LSU Tigers and their national title, and here's to spontaneity in your forties, aye?

I mentioned the kids are thriving, and they are. We visited Reagan's endocrinologist a few weeks ago, and her A1C was a 7.4. This is right on target. The prior A1C was a 7, which is fantastic, but I will always take a 7.4. On January 16 we marked the anniversary of her diagnosis by taking her out for dinner and dessert. She was diagnosed on Thursday, January 16, 2014, barely a month after she turned three.

Reagan's doing well in third grade, and all signs point to her advancing to fourth grade. Amazing, isn't it? I spent the early months of 2011 on the couch with Reagan, nursing her or soothing her or just holding her. I think about that time every Valentine's Day because the movie Valentine's Day was constantly on cable at that time, and I watched it over and over while sitting up with her at all hours of the day.

Henry is also excelling in Kindergarten. Yesterday we all ventured to the school for his Grandparents' Day program.

He continues to grow like a weed, loves all things Mario, and remains my biggest fan. Henry is another constant reminder that plans and lists are so often thwarted by life. I always assumed I'd have two girls, and I spent a few weeks in shock when they told me he was a boy. I remain thrilled I did not, as I'd always imagined in my head, have two little girls. 

At long last, as promised, here come the book recommendations. 

Disclaimer: I am not including any Young Adult books on this list. Some of these books I'm suggesting earn a solid PG rating, while others do not. I assume if you're reading this blog and considering reading some of these books you are an adult. 

 - - - >The following are classified as Adult Contemporary Romance novels, and I further categorize them as Contemporary Romance with few subplots, because sometimes you just want romance and not a lot of other busyness:

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne 

Roomies by Christina Lauren 

Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren 

The above books are excellent reads when you want to get lost and not think much at all. They're not overly complicated, and they don't require a dictionary, but they're legitimately well written. Christina Lauren is the pen name of two women who began writing together when they wrote Twilight fan fiction. Don't let that scare you off. I read some of their fan fiction, and I can tell you they've improved over time. Love and Other Words is a particularly well done little book. The Hating Game is the book you need to read if you love romance novels. Sally Thorne hit it out of the park with her debut novel. It's hilarious and just so much fun to read. I read it at least once a year.

- - - > The following are Contemporary Romance with elements of mystery:

Cancel the Wedding by Carolyn Dingman

Lying Beneath the Oaks by Kristin Wright

Both of the above books have flown under the radar, but I thoroughly enjoyed them both. There's a lot going on in terms of plot in both of these, so while there is romance it is not always the central focus of the novel . . . but they're both excellent reads.

- - - > Contemporary Romance + nerds who write letters:

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay 

This book is a gem. I believe Ms. Reay has published a few other novels I've not yet read. My book club read this a few years ago, and it was probably my favorite book we read that year. It's a slow burn, but there is romance, and it is wonderful. 

- - - > Classic Romance with elements of mystery:

If you've not read Bronte's Jane Eyre or Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca, you should do that.

Last but not least, my favorite sub-genre of romance:
 - - - >Historical Fiction that is heavy on the romance:

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Now, I know. I know this book is not often found on lists of best romance novels. It doesn't have a happily ever after, but I mean Hemingway wrote it, so what do you expect? There is romance, though. There are some lovely, lovely lines, some very tender moments, and a very interesting relationship that develops between Frederic and Catherine. Give it a chance. It inspires me so much I wrote a whole book titled Dear Miss Moreau about two people who love Hemingway so much they fall in love while discussing his work over coffee. I'd share the Amazon link with you, but it's actually out of stock on Amazon right now, which I suppose is a good thing. I think the paperback's available online from Barnes & Noble and Walmart (those are linked to your right on the blog), or you can still download it to Kindle from Amazon. 

The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester

This is another one I discovered via book club, and it is fabulous. It's the only Natasha Lester book I've read, but some of the lovely book club ladies have read additional titles by Ms. Lester and rave about everything she writes. 

Okay. We're nearing the end, and you likely know what I am about to say. If I could pick two books to erase from my memory so I could enjoy them all over again for the first time, those books would be The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons and Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.

The Bronze Horseman is historical fiction set during WWII. I may've mentioned it on this blog before or pestered you about it in person. The novel is set inside the USSR and opens on the day Hitler invades the Soviet Union. The love story that unfolds is rivaled only by Jamie and Claire's love story insofar as fictional romance goes. There are three books in this series: The Bronze Horseman, Tatiana and Alexander, and The Summer Garden. They are long books as they were written by a Russian, but they are wonderful. Ms. Simons's life story is as fascinating as her books, by the way. She now resides in America, but she grew up in the Soviet Union, and her appreciation for America is woven throughout her books. 

What can I say about Outlander? I  won't belabor this novel or this series at this time as this blog is already too lengthy, and of course I've not yet read all of the Outlander books (and two have yet to be published). As always if you have questions or simply need someone with whom to discuss fictional matters, I am here for you, reader. 

Finally, if for some reason you consider yourself a well read person and/or a fan of romance and have not read Pride and Prejudice by Miss Jane Austen you should get on that. This is the book from which all romance flows, both in novel and film. This is the blueprint. The angst in The Hating Game? The witty banter we all love on page and on the screen? The misunderstandings? The turmoil caused by an unwillingness to grapple with our own issues that prevent the happy ending we want? It's all Austen. She showed everyone else the way. There is no fictional male I love who doesn't mirror Mr. Darcy in significant ways. I may further explore that idea in a future blog only two people will read.

I'll mention one more book to provide some balance: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn is an excellent, dark, twisty read that will stir no romantic feelings at all if you're in the mood for that sort of thing.

All roads lead to Outlander these days in my world. I am aware the premiere of season five is to air soon. Please understand I will not watch the show until I've read the book, nor do I care to enjoy a season of Outlander bit by episodic bit. Right now I'm in the middle of book four, Drums of Autumn. It's slow going at the moment because life is busy and also because Ms. Gabaldon's books are the length of three or four normal books. When I finish it, it's my hope that Netflix will have at that point begun to stream season four. If that's not the case, I will rent it or something and binge the entire season while ignoring all my responsibilities because that is what I do; I, like Claire, suffer for Jamie Fraser.

You will no doubt be interested to know that my sister and I have decided that while we are in Scotland we will reread the first book, Outlander, because that's the obvious thing to do. I read it so quickly the first time, and there are no doubt details I missed and details to which I want to return and obsess over again. 

I now officially have a passport, friends. I am mentally considering what I might pack. We're about three months out from my departure date. My time between now and then will be filled to the brim with the details of my own life such as the care of my dogs, the incessant laundry, the requirements I must meet to keep my adjunct teaching job, etc., as well as the myriad of details pertaining to my kids' busy lives and full schedules. I am also attempting intermittent fasting hoping to drop a few pounds and get myself physically prepared for the rigorous journey to Scotland, so it's likely I will spend the next few months busy and hangry. It's actually going well so far. I eat only between eleven am and seven pm, trying not to do stupid things like eat two cupcakes for lunch during the eating hours. 

I will return in a few weeks, the Lord willing, to inquire about what you might've read off my list of recommendations and let you know how the intermittent fasting is going. I hope we all have good news to share at that time. Happy Valentine's Day, friends. 


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