Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Little Awesomeness

We deviate from our regularly scheduled travelogs to bring you this video, because it just made me so dang happy I had to share it. Observe, the unexpected awesomeness of the impromptu duet:

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Asian Adventure: Part Two - Cambodia

Getting to Cambodia can be an adventure, but it's definitely worth it.  After our jam-packed first day in Thailand, we caught the ungodly early train north to the Cambodian border.  It's a rickety second class train with open air windows. 

We'd been told it wouldn't be crowded - we were told wrong.  By some miracle we scored seats so we weren't among the unlucky standing-room-only folks for the six hour ride to Poipet.  When we got off the train is when things really got interesting.  There aren't any trains in Cambodia, so you take a tuk-tuk from the station to the border and cross on foot.  In Asia, bribes are part of the culture in a lot of countries and that tradition is alive and well in Cambodia.  You want a visa at the border crossing?  That'll be a $20 (US) fee for the visa and 100 Baht (about $3) as a "thank you" to your friendly border officials. 

We crossed the border and made our way by taxi to lovely Siem Reap, the town that has developed as the jumping off point to Angkor Wat.  By the time we got there, it was too late for temples, but the perfect time to head down to Pub Street for a delicious taste of Khmer food.

But Pub Street isn't just great food and pubs.  It's also hour long full body massages for $3, a fabulous Night Market, and... wait for it... the fish! 

The Fish Foot Massage (or Fish Pedicure, as we also saw them called) is essentially a giant tank of tiny fish who will eat the dead skin off your feet.  So of course we had to try it.  (It tickles like you would not believe.)

The next morning, it was off to see incredible Angkor Wat!

The ruins were beyond incredible.  (If it looks familiar, I think this is where they filmed part of Tomb Raider.)  To see the temples, you hire a tuk-tuk driver for the day... and he may pause to let you visit with the monkeys if you're so inclined (be careful, they steal).  

You can also ride an elephant around the ruins, but I think the temples are best explored on foot.  (Though it helps to be in good shape.  There are a lot of steps and they redefine steep.)

The carvings are incredible...

And no two faces are alike in the entire structure...

We headed out one of the gorgeous gates (can you see the tuk-tuk driving through the opening?)...

And then, as the day rolled into afternoon, our driver presented us with a unique opportunity - the chance to see Angkor Wat from the air.  Turns out our driver knew a guy and he could get us onboard a fifteen minute helicopter flight to see the temples from the sky if we were willing to each chip in a little "incentive" (ah, the glory of the Cambodian bribe system).  None of us had been on a helicopter before and we all thought it sounded like an amazing idea, so we gave our driver the go-ahead to arrange it as we went to lunch

Little did we know...

This was our helicopter:

 Yeah, we had no idea what we were getting into - hopping on board with the Royal Cambodian Air Force as they were doing a training flight, but you can bet we saw Angkor Wat from the air - isn't it beautiful?

And I don't think I'll ever forget my first helicopter ride!

After that, it was off to my favorite temple of the day - Preah Khan.  It was the temple that nature had most reclaimed. 

We crawled around...

And then made our way back to the largest temple - Angkor Wat.

After a long day of crawling all over temples (seriously, guys, if you ever get the chance GO TO ANGKOR it is SO INCREDIBLE), we were ready to unwind on Pub Street once again.  We indulged in more massages (we were even offered the somewhat sketchy backroom ones, though we turned that down) and more delicious Khmer food - this time in the form of street pancakes (like banana crepes) and "Khmer BBQ", which is a hot grill in the middle of the table where you can cook your own frog, crocodile or snake (all of which we tried).  

It started to rain on us (but tropical rain isn't such a hardship) and at one point the power went out in the whole street during the storm, but we still had a deeply fabulous time.

The next morning, it was time to make our way to Phnom Penh.  We wanted to take a boat down the Mekong, but we were only at the very leading edge of the rainy season and there wasn't enough water in the river to make the trip.  Instead, we hired a minivan - some of the other folks in the van with us were Irish and loudly fearing for their lives as we drove, but we'd seen Cambodian driving already and knew that playing chicken with the other cars while leaning on the horn in a sort of "ready or not, here I come" announcement was just the way people got around in Cambodia.  (Cambodia was actually the one country we got into a car accident in, but it wasn't that drive.  We were in a tuk-tuk that hit a car in Phnom Penh - and neither one even reacted.  Our driver didn't even look at the damage until he stopped to drop us off.)

The scenery was incredible - houses built on stilts for when the rains come and long stretches of flat land that would flood during the wet season, with mountains in the distance.  The bus stopped at a sort of roadside market where locals were selling all manner of snacks... including fried tarantulas.

Now, I feel like I should take a moment to explain that I have a phobia (yes, I know it's irrational) of spiders.  They freak me out.  So I would like to report with extreme pride that I did not scream or hyperventilate once during the episode I'm about to recount. 

At this roadside market, there were these little girls.  Several of them.  Running around with defanged tarantulas, shoving them at tourists, grabbing your hand and putting the spider RIGHT ONTO IT.  Or, in one case, putting it on a guy's head.  I refused to get out of the van.  I did not want to hold the scary spider (though the little girls thought I was laughably adorable in my fear).  One girl put her spider inside the van's floor next to my feet while another put hers on the head of another passenger - all INSIDE THE FREAKING VAN WITH ME.  Eventually (thank God), they packed up their spiders and we went along our merry way, but not before one of the little gamines - who all thought I was hysterical - put her spider against the window next to my face and posed for me with a sweet little smile.  The cute little brat.

Next stop, Phnom Penh.  This city is amazing, developing almost entirely in the last twenty years... as the country began to recover from the horrors of the Khmer Rouge.  (We chose not to go to the Killing Fields on this trip because we had just been to the Bridge on the River Kwai and we were about to head to Vietnam and... there's a lot of heavy stuff in that part of the world, you guys.  A lot.)

We roamed around...
And promptly found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a political parade. (We're in a tuk-tuk and if you look behind me, you should be able to see mopeds flying banners and pick-ups full of people waving flags.)

This was actually the second political parade we inadvertently joined while in Cambodia (the other was up near Siem Reap).  We were there a week before their elections and for the first time in a gazillion years, the Opposition Party had a chance.  The ruling (or People's) party ended up carrying the election (though there were some murmurings of tampering, which make me nervous especially considering my track record with visiting countries immediately before crucial elections.  Sorry, Egypt.  I love you.  Hope things get better for you soon.).

We made our way up to Wat Phnom, visited the Buddha and the cool giant snake sculpture, and explored the lovely riverfront, enjoying some more local Khmer dishes.

 And thus ended our time in Cambodia (easily one of my favorite stops on our trip).  Next up, Vietnam!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Asian Adventure: Part One - Thailand!

That's right, boys and girls!  It's travelog time!  Without further delay, I bring you THE ASIAN ADVENTURE!

It all started about two months ago when I flew to Ashland, Oregon (that famous Asian destination) for a few days of fabulous Shakespeare before leaving the country.  I gotta say this year's season is crazy good - King Lear, Taming of the Shrew, Midsummer Night's Dream, My Fair Lady (soooo good), and Streetcar Named Desire in three days?  Yes, please!

Then it was up to Seattle for some baseball (my poor Mariners, one of these years they will get the winning record they deserve) and then it was a little eleven-teen-bajillion-hour flight to Beijing! 

My first week in Asia was spent defeating timezones (I am a rockstar! I got adjusted to all nine hours in one day!) and visiting friends in the polluted concrete jungle that is China's capital city.  I had already been to Beijing on my first trip to China, so I wasn't as worried about hitting the classic tourist sights.  Instead my friend and I made plans to tour Southeast Asia.  So after week one it was off to, you guessed it, THAILAND!!!

We arrived in Bangkok on a Friday evening, settled into our hotel and wandered out to grab dinner at a little sidewalk cafe which had a very loose interpretation of sidewalk - our little folding table and rickety chairs were actually sitting in the street, but the food was amazing so no complaints!  Thai food is my personal favorite of all the Asian cuisines, so I was in heaven.  We popped next door to the 7-11 to grab snacks (seaweed flavored potato chips, anyone? dried tamarind strips?) for the next day (knowing we had a full day tour and they may not feed us regularly).  7-11s were so ubiquitous in Thailand we actually started using them as a unit of measurement.  "How many 7-11s are we away from the hotel?" "Oh, three or four.  It's a short walk."

The next morning, at the crack of seven, we hopped into a cushy minivan (which reminded us not to put our feet up on the bench at the front of the van because that is where the Buddha is) and headed off the Kanchanburi province, west of Bangkok.  The drive itself was fascinating - with construction trucks painted in bright Thai patterns, entire families riding stacked on mopeds (including some with children sleeping draped across the handle bars), and at one point an entire band (including a drum kit and keyboard) playing away while standing in the back of a pick-up truck (I wish I'd been quick enough to grab a picture of that).  We later learned that in Thailand weddings, funerals, any sort of party really will begin with a really LOUD band doing a parade and collecting people.

Sadly, we were not available to be collected.  Our first stop was the World War II Cemetery, followed by the war museum and bridge over the River Kwai.

It was a powerful place to be, where so many had died during that horrible time, but it was also hard not to be taken aback and even amused by the bizarre use of English - including a description of the destruction of the bridge which mentioned bodies lying "higgledy-piggledy" in the water, or this uniquely after-the-fact sign asking us not to kill the Buffalo... skulls?

In the museum, we also met our first example of the local wildlife.  This big fella was just chilling along one of the walkways. 

And right outside the museum, a local safari park was trying to lure tourists in by holding and petting a leopard cub.  With mama prowling only a few feet away...  Isn't she gorgeous?

After that it was off to a floating restaurant for some more utterly delicious Thai food....

And then off to one of the many elephant camps in Kanchanaburi for a ride through the jungle.  (This pic of the mahouts ordering ice cream from this cart is one of my favorites... just a day in the life at an elephant camp...)

We got stuck waiting behind a busload of Russian tourists, so before we could take our turn aboard a friendly pachyderm we wandered over to watch the elephant show - they had one throwing darts at balloons with his trunk, and every time he would hit one, he would stampede toward the audience (who were armed with bananas) and shove his face several rows back to claim his prize.  Then, what should come on the stereo, but Gangnam style.  (I kid you not.)  The elephant "danced" (rising up on his hind legs and rocking back and forth) - which I found kind of disturbing, though it certainly wasn't the strangest thing we saw in Thailand.  

After the show, we were invited over to have our picture taken being picked up in one of the elephant's trunks.  There was a guy standing behind to give you a boost, so I thought, "Sure, okay, I'm not super light, but at least the guy will make sure I don't hurt the animal."  I go over, the elephant wraps his trunk around me and whoosh - I'm four feet off the ground before the guy has a chance to get close enough to spot me.  Those babies are strong.  (This pic is as the elephant is putting me down.)
After the show, our driver came back to pick us up - but we hadn't ridden yet so we were rushed to the front of the line.  The platform is raised and you literally walk right across onto the back of an elephant.  We climbed into the basket on his back and buckled in (yes, there were seat belts).  They took a picture which they would try to sell to us later (okay, yes, we bought it) and then it was off into the trees.  And that was when it got really fun...

As soon as we were out of sight of the main camp, our mahout asked if we wanted more pictures, handed my camera to a mahout on another elephant and we posed for tons of snaps.  The elephant (smart guy) knew all sorts of verbal instructions and would flap his ears or curl his trunk to pose for the camera.  Then the mahout asked me if I wanted to sit where he was sitting.  

Hell yes, I did. 

The elephant reached back and grabbed my hand with his trunk, then we rode for a while.  After a bit I swapped places with my friend (who was bit more timid about the experience) and then we headed back to the platform (putting our seat belt back on) and waved goodbye. 

After that, it was time to visit the Tiger Temple.  The story of the temple is that years ago an injured tiger was brought to the monks, who nursed it back to health and released it back into the wild.  After that, more tigers were brought to the temple when they were injured or orphaned and it became a tiger sanctuary.  Now, all of the tigers who live there (or at least the ones we saw) were born and raised in captivity.  I had heard that the tigers were sedated (not surprising if they are letting tourists touch them), but my fascination with big cats meant this was someplace I had to see.  The temple was interesting - a handful of monks, a bunch of Thai people making money off the tourists, and several international workers (volunteers, I think) who seemed like zoo workers you might meet in any country (though obviously Thailand is not so much with the regulations). 

We were instructed not to wear certain colors (red and yellow were strictly forbidden) and there was a laundry list of things we were instructed not to do - don't approach a tiger head-on or try to touch their face at any time, etc (and we had to sign a waiver promising not to blame them if we were eaten).  But then we went down into this little ravine area where there were probably a dozen sleeping tigers.  A guide takes you by the wrist and leads you through the maze of tigers, making sure you approach the correct way and putting your hands on their backs (my guide seemed to be in a hurry, but I didn't care - I GOT TO PET A TIGER!!!!!!). 

They were so strong, their bodies so firm with muscle, and their fur isn't soft necessarily, though it isn't rough either.  Though I didn't notice a particular tiger aroma, the area they were in had a distinctive scent (sort of like stables tend to eventually saturate with the scent of horse).  There is such an incredible sense of power in them.  And their paws are HUGE.  When one rolled toward me, all of my survival instincts woke up and told me to move the hell out of the way - even though the lazy girl was just changing her sleeping position. 

I didn't get to cuddle with them the way the monk was, but I'm not sure I really want a tiger (this one did not seem particularly sleepy) to be patting me on the head with his gigantic paws.

We headed back to Bangkok after that and finished the day at the bar on the rooftop of Siam@Siam, looking out over the city.  Not a bad way to start our trip... 

We would be back in Bangkok, but next it was off to Cambodia!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Stork

Hello, darlings!  Today I'm over at the Ruby Blog talking about where ideas come from.  You see, Junior, when a Mommy Idea and a Daddy Idea love each other verrrrrry much...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Excerpt-a-ganza: Beauty Bites by Mary Hughes

Mary Hughes is a master of paranormal romantic comedy.  I never miss one of her Biting Love books - and another one hits the digi-shelves today!  Observe:  Beauty Bites!

Beauty is skin deep…but the beast goes all the way.
Biting Love, Book 6
When top Minneapolis ad man Ric Holiday is asked to design a campaign for a quaint little town, his first reaction is absolutely not. Meiers Corners is too near Chicago, home of the vampire who turned him as an orphaned boy.

Then the city sends an angel-faced med student with a body made for sin to plead their case. Synnove Byornsson is the ray of sunshine Ric hasn’t felt since he was human.

Armed with determination and a micro miniskirt, Synnove is prepared to crash Holiday’s penthouse cocktail party—and to dislike him on sight. But Mr. All-Style-No-Substance turns out to have a deadly smile, a barely restrained, feral strength, and piercing blue eyes that look at her—not at her cleavage.

Unfortunately Synnove has competition in the form of a sly temptress with a counterproposal. For the first time in her life, Synnove must cash in her genetic lottery ticket and fire back with some sizzle of her own—or her beloved Meiers Corners could become the new Sin City. 

Product Warnings: Contains a doctor with a bod for sin, an ad exec with a chip on his shoulder, sarcasm, sex, and a cabin full of annoying friends. Secrets are revealed. One heart-stopping, horrific moment leads to the ultimate of happily-ever-afters.

A shiver hit me at Ric Holiday’s hot, promising smile. Testosterone plays a starring role in sexual arousal in males, but in women its purpose is less clear…
Argh. What was wrong with me? No lusting, especially after the opposition. My cousin had charged me with a job, and while I wasn’t against sex overlapping with work per se, I’d seen it cause aggravated stupidity too often. Extended bathroom breaks and three-hour lunches, sneaking around like nobody knows when in fact everybody does and resents the extra work.
Holiday’s smile sharpened, a wicked glint of teeth edging it like a knife. Pure lust shimmered through me. Oh yeah. Lubrication is followed by vasocongestion of the vaginal walls…crap.
I had to escape that promising smile, stat.
But the path to the study was clogged with people. I was screwed, and not in the good way.
Then Ric “Moses” Holiday extended one elegant hand toward his study. The sea of black, gold and silver miraculously parted. “Off you go now.”
All that, with just the force of his personality. Ooh.
Before I got too girly over it, I paused to wonder if he had any real character to back it up. I heard sizzle. Didn’t mean he had the steak.
His smile broadened. His eyes twinkled with an I have all the steak you need.
I gasped and escaped into Holiday’s study.
It was an upscale man cave—walnut wainscoting, leather couches and recliners, a leather-and-oak wet bar, and a seventy-inch smart TV, the ultimate in flickering fires. Its impressiveness was kicked stratospheric by the 7.1 surround sound, eight speakers’ worth of movie-quality goodness.
But an upscale man cave is still a man cave, and I’m not much into sitting on skinned cow. I crossed the room to a set of French doors cracked open to an evening breeze.
My breasts tightened. Not arousal but simple chill; I’d let go of the suit coat. I pulled it closed. Maybe Holiday made a habit of loaning articles of clothing to women. None of my business, but strangely, the thought bothered me. As if, for some reason, I wanted to be special to him. Had to be hormones making my brain mushier than normal. Stupid norepinephrine. I shook it off.
Nudging the French doors wider, I inhaled. The air, lightly scented with petunias, reminded me of home, back before my mother and father sold the house to travel the world, currently in Turkey or Abu Dhabi or something. Under the floral odor was a darker scent, mellow wood smoke with the tang of something spicy, elusive but mouthwatering. Unconsciously I turned my head to take the scent deeper—and buried my nose in the shoulder of Holiday’s suit jacket.
My cheeks burned. The cooler outside air seemed less a treat and more a necessity now—nothing to do with Mr. Flamingly Handsome Holiday. But of course I was lying to myself.
Didn’t matter. Uncomfortable was uncomfortable. I slipped outside. And stopped when my mandible hit the floor.
The terrace—it was too large and elegant to be a simple porch—was the size of my whole student apartment. Its black basalt surface was swept clean. An artful scattering of potted trees and graceful, discreet statuary merely enhanced the terrace’s stark elegance.
I crossed to the far side.
The edge was safeguarded by a heavily lacquered oak railing supported by worked iron spindles. I ran one hand along the rail’s silky smooth surface. This wasn’t conspicuous consumption supported by a maxed-out credit card. This was a sign of solid wealth. Advertising sizzle apparently paid better than I knew.
The cooler air, combined with the railing’s smooth feel, soothed me. Tensions I’d carried since even before the elevator incident drained out of my muscles. What a mess my life had become, that even that obnoxious incident seemed mostly an annoyance.
Leaning elbows on the railing, I looked out onto the Minneapolis-St. Paul night. Holiday’s penthouse was high enough that the view was rooftops and stars instead of the sides of buildings. Random fireworks burst in the air. Below me, streetlights blazed. The lamps were so distant they might have been stars.
What the heck was I doing here in Rich Man’s Canyon? Despite my runway looks, I was a hometown girl, raised in the small German-immigrant-settled city of Meiers Corners, Illinois. Ric Holiday’s rich penthouse and vast terrace made my tummy shimmy. If I hadn’t heard the desperation in Twyla’s voice, I’d have thought she’d reverted to another of her endless childhood pranks on me.
But she had been desperate, and I loved her like a sister. Besides, she invoked You Owe Me A Favor, calling due everything from when I’d borrowed her best suit for my med school interviews to covering for me the time I’d broken her Grandma Tafel’s reading glasses using them to magnify bugs. Although I put my foot down when Twyla added twenty years of interest. Favor interest, really. Everyone knows you have to call “Bank” or it doesn’t count.
Twyla was actually my second cousin, our grandmothers being sisters, although Meiers Corners was so insular I was related to half the population. If my father had been a native too, that percentage would have been higher.
But Twyla had a problem. Meiers Corners’s local economy was too local; the city was in danger of going bankrupt. The solution? Tourism. The single benefit of straitjacket insularity is that we’re steeped in local flavor. We have Quaint Local Shoppes coming out Ye Olde Sphincter.
So tourism seemed a natural fit, and was indeed working great, except for getting the word out. After all, tourism without tourists was, um…M.
Which was where Ric Holiday came in. Holiday Buzz International was the Número Uno ad shop for innovative campaigns. Holiday thought so outside the box that even circles were too square. Meiers Corners needed that desperately. We’re hard workers but tend to think right angles are the epitome of chic.
So Twyla, wearing her city admin hat, called Holiday. But he said no.
So the mayor called him. Holiday said no. Our chief of police called him. Holiday said no. The mayor’s secretary Heidi called, cracking her whip. Holiday said something unprintable that translated to no. Then our top lawyer and prime negotiator Julian Emerson called.
Holiday wouldn’t even speak to him.
Twyla said enough. Time to meet Holiday face to face, to find out what the sticking point was. Then she could apply either carrot (the mayor) or stick (Heidi) as necessary.
Time, Twyla said, to confront the lion in his den.
If she’d met lithe, tawny, forceful Ric Holiday in person, she couldn’t have gotten that any more right.
I fingered the expensive material of his suit coat. There was something untamed about him, sinewy strength barely civilized by suit and tie.
A bolt of lust sheared through me, so long and hard that I shuddered.
Which was of course when the French doors behind me opened.
“Here you are. Escaping the heat? I knew you were beautiful, but now I see you’re smart too.”
I spun to behold the owner of that deep voice. He’d changed into another suit, this one a charcoal gray that contrasted sharply with his azure eyes. In even those few moments I’d forgotten how handsome he was—so gorgeous he made my eyes hurt, my only excuse for blurting, “Did you know that seeing a good-looking person of the opposite sex makes the brain release dopamine which triggers pupil dilation?”
I slammed my stupid dopamine-dilated eyes shut. This was my opponent. I tugged his coat tighter, thought constricting thoughts, opened my eyes and tried again. “If I were smart, I wouldn’t have gotten my blouse torn.”
He glided closer. “The smartest move of all. Not your fault and yet effective, since you’re here to ask a favor. Visual aids are always useful in negotiations.” His eyes, sparkling with sensual intent, dipped to where his coat covered my cleavage. A smile, full of promise, curved his lips.
That wicked smile was a pilot light to the broiler of my body, igniting every cell, whoosh. I flushed hot, shivered with it.
But my brain wasn’t all that charmed. “Visual aids? Implying I should use sex to negotiate? That was beneath you.”
His smile pursed. “The bra isn’t a Temptress Siren Special? Retail $199. A thirty-six D unless I miss my guess, but a bit too small for you.” His eyebrows rose. “It’s not yours, is it?”
“I find it disturbing that you observed all that in a glance.” I’d thought his gaze had been on my face in the lobby.
“Good peripheral vision.” He quirked a grin. Devastatingly handsome morphed to boyishly attractive, actually even more devastating.
I squashed a groan. “Then what were you suggesting with the ‘visual aids’ crack?”
“My dear Synnove, I wasn’t suggesting anything. Merely observing.” He handed me a champagne flute. “Housekeeping is bringing you another blouse.”
I clamped the coat with one hand to accept the cut crystal with the other.
“And in observing, I find myself curious.” He sipped his champagne. “A beautiful woman from out of state attends my third annual Christmas-in-July house party, bearing a gift no less, but not because she wants something? I’m not sure I quite believe that.”
I sipped champagne too, ended up with my lips in my esophagus. The stuff was dry. “You invited me.” The words rasped like sandpaper. I coughed and tried again. “Do you always invite strangers to your house party?” Better.
“I’m in advertising. Even the people I know are strangers. But in this case, my admin handled the invites.”
Which reminded me that, though we were strangers, he’d named me on sight. I again opened my mouth to ask how the hell he knew, when he hit me with those startlingly blue eyes and drilled both question and oxygen from me.
He wedged his own question into the gap. “Why go to so much trouble to see me?”
It took a few quick breaths to pump up air for an incautious answer. “You’re a hard man to see.” Hard. I clutched my champagne and dredged my brain up from the gutter of my hormones. “You’re something of an enigma, Mr. Holiday. We want to negotiate, so we want to get to know you better.”
“We? I’m disappointed. I was so hoping this was about you.” Lean fingers slid under my chin, raising my face.
Our eyes collided. His sparkled with intelligence and confidence and a sexuality so blistering I couldn’t breathe. My body flooded with begging-for-sex estrogen. “M…me?”
“Yes. Your partners have sent the perfect leverage. The perfect female.” His voice deepened, husky. “You.”
“I’m…I’m not…” I cleared my throat.
He bent closer until his mouth hovered over mine. “You’re not perfect?” His breath heated my lips.
Desire arrowed straight through me, sudden and splashing and hot.

Buy It Now.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Win a Print Copy of Finder's Keeper!

Hear ye, hear ye!  We have books up for grabs, folks!  In a little over a month (October 1st!!!), Finder's Keeper, the sixth Karmic Consultants story, will be available in shiny, petable, print editions.  And you know what that means?  Advanced copies to give away!

This time I'm running the giveaway through the goodreads community, so hie yourself on over and enter to win.  It's totally free and you could win this Karmic rom-com which was hailed as "thoroughly captivating" by RT Bookreviews.  Go forth and enter, my lovelies!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Finder's Keeper by Vivi Andrews

Finder's Keeper

by Vivi Andrews

Giveaway ends September 26, 2013.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Pardon My Bragging...

I was just going through my piles and piles of backlogged email and what to my wondering Google Alerts should appear?  A review for Super Bad from The Book Reading Gals!  An A!  They liked it, darlings!  They really liked it!  This story has a special place in my heart, so I had to take a moment for a little gush.  Thank you.  We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Nomadic Author Returneth!

I'm back!  Asia was awesome and I will have many pictures and many stories... soon.  Just as soon as I get over this jet-laggy nonsense.  Patience, my lovelies.  The Travelogs will commence later this week! (Or early next week at the latest.) In the mean time... Hi, there! How've you been?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Excerpt-a-ganza: Party Like It's 1899 by Amanda Brice

Today for the Excerpt Extravaganza, we have a sneak peek at a young adult time travel story that comes out this fall:  Party Like It's 1899 by the delightful Amanda Brice.

An enchanted Jules Verne book bought during a Spring Break trip to Paris sends Julie and Ben back in time to 1899. Can they put away their iPads and animosity long enough to figure out how to get back from the Belle Epoque and maybe learn something about themselves in the process?

Finalist for the Golden Heart Award for Best Young Adult Romance from Romance Writers of America.


If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is why I don’t like Bentley, or whether I actually had some weird little crush on him (yeah, right), and all that Bridget Jones kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
“I can’t believe you didn’t buy those black shoes.” Maggie stared into the mirror as she meticulously applied a smudged line of kohl above her eyes. “You’re definitely gonna regret it, Jules.”
“Explain again how I’m going to regret not spending more euros than I can afford?” I asked as I piled my curls up on top of my head and secured the twist with a large rhinestone clip from the treasure trove known as Maggie’s travel accessories kit. “Not everyone can just whip out Daddy’s credit card.”
Lauren shimmied into a sparkly halter-top. “Don’t you want a souvenir of your time in Paris?”
“Malls are everywhere in Northern Virginia. I can just go to Tyson’s back at home. And black heels are pretty standard. I’ve already got a couple of pairs.”
I glanced over Lauren’s head to sneak a peak of my reflection. Even though I felt like I’d probably gained ten pounds at dinner alone, it would do. “Now the red ones...”
Maggie let out one of her famous overdramatic sighs. “We’ve been over this already. They weren’t you.”
“Whatever,” I said. “Besides, my memories of this trip are priceless. I don’t need some cheap trinket.”
Maggie let out a musical lilt of a laugh. “Those were hardly cheap trinkets. Geez, Julie. You’ve got no sense of style.”
She said it like it was a bad thing.
* * *
Half an hour later, a leering cab driver, muttering words under his breath that shouldn’t be repeated in either language, whisked us away from our hotel in the Latin Quarter to the rue du Bourg-L’Abbé.
We pulled up in front of an unassuming 18th century townhouse on a quiet residential street with a red velvet rope outside on the sidewalk and a line of limousines wrapping around the block. Considering as most vehicles in this city looked like those circus clown cars, the limos stuck out like Balenciaga at a barn dance.
I had a bad feeling about this.
Lauren paid the driver and joined Maggie and me on the curb. She squinted as she scanned the crowd of immaculately dressed stick-figure girls who looked like they subsisted on a steady diet of nothing but vodka and cigarettes. We’re talking skeletal, except for a ginormous pair of boobs that were probably as fake as the ID they were using to get in. “There they are.”
I followed her line of sight and saw Bentley and his wingmen, Hayes Kelly and Jon Brier, the Alexandria Academy quarterback and star defensive back, respectively. They were standing in a knot toward the back of the line.
When we reached them, my friends launched into the traditional French cheek-skimming air kiss routine with the guys, including all the permutations guaranteed to make your heard swim with the possibilities. I never know how many or which side first, but somehow it always seems to work.
Bentley leaned in, obviously expecting me to comply. I must have hesitated too long, because Maggie called out, “Oh, that’s right. I forgot Julie’s saving herself for Taylor Lautner.”
I shot her a look that would win the war in five seconds flat if General Petraeus could just bottle it. Why did my friends have to choose now of all times to adopt French customs? It seemed a little silly, given that we already knew these guys and it’s not like we were good friends with them or anything, but I could see I wasn’t getting out of it easily.
When in Paris, right?
So I dove right in. It was just a kiss. Nothing really. An integral part of French life, and even people who barely know one another will jump into an elaborate series of bisous. It would definitely be rude to avoid him, especially considering he already thought I was a bitch.
I leaned in to his right cheek and wound up inadvertently locking lips. Guess he planned to kiss left first. And I hated to admit it, but for just that most fleeting of moments, it was nice. Strong. Warm. Welcoming. The kiss flowed through me with the delicious decadence of a profiterole, that sinfully wonderful marriage of hot pastry and cold ice cream, creating a rush of sensations unlike anything I’d ever felt.
I felt dirty.
I pulled away quickly and glared at him.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, turning away.
Let’s go!” ringleader Maggie called, clapping her hands like a preschool teacher herding toddlers to the swingset.
“Um, guys,” I said. “Where exactly are we?”
Jon’s eyes crinkled in a smile. “L’Iguane Blue.”
“Blue Iguana?” I felt a frown form between my eyebrows. “Sounds like something we’d find in LA.”
Lauren nodded. “It’s a really hot club my sister told me about. Loads of celebs. When she was here a couple of years ago for study abroad, she saw Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.” She stopped abruptly and bit her lip.
“But I thought we were going to a café in Montmartre,” I said, referring to the touristy portion of the city north of the red-light district, famous for its sidewalk artists and the onion-domed Sacre Coeur cathedral.
Maggie shrugged. “Changed my mind.”
Oh boy. As if it wasn’t bad enough we broke the pledge we’d signed at school before we left the States by sneaking out of the hotel after curfew, we had to go to an 18-and-over club? And with Bentley and his friends, no less?
Not that it was terribly challenging to sneak out. Our chaperones barely let us out of sight during broad daylight, yet once dinner is over, they trust us to return to our hotel rooms and simply remain there, watching TV or something.
I don’t think so.
It was really quite laughable, actually. We’re teenagers --clearly, we’re going to get into trouble if given the chance.
But not me, of course.
Okay, fine, I admit it. I was planning to sneak out tonight and indulge in a little wine at a café. Who are you? My mom? Sure, I’m underage in the U.S., but not here. Just need to be older than sixteen.
Besides, it would be rude not to have a glass of wine with dinner. Even little kids do it. It’s part of the culture. And that’s what we’re here experience the real France.
When in Paris.
So, really, even though we promised we wouldn’t do it, going to a wine bar was perfectly legal. Sorta. Practically expected even. But a dance club was an entirely different matter.
“I’m not sure I like this,” I said.
Hayes laughed and punched me in the arm. “Live a little, Julie!”
“How are we even going to get in?” I asked, folding my arms tightly across my chest.
Bentley pulled out his wallet and produced a driver’s license. “Meet Harrison James Moore, age 21, from Gulfport, Mississippi.”
Maggie giggled. “Better work on that Southern accent. You sound like a Kennedy.”
“I live in the South now so it shouldn’t be too hard. Just throw in a few ‘y’alls’ and ‘bless her hearts’ and I’m all set,” he said.
I rolled my eyes. “Yes, it’s below the Mason Dixon Line, and yes, there is actually a statue of Robert E. Lee blocking traffic smack dab in the middle of Washington Street, but Northern Virginia is hardly the South.”
“Like the French’ll be able to tell the difference,” he scoffed.”
I shrugged one shoulder in the direction of the card. “Where’d you get that, anyway?”
“Harry and I went to Exeter together,” he said.
“I forget, was Exeter before or after St. Albans?”
He ignored me. “Besides, I heard most bouncers don’t even bother to check ID. And it’s not a fake, because it’s real.”
“Just not your real one,” I said.
“And I’m Brittany Noel Harper tonight, age 22,” Lauren piped up. Guess she was borrowing her sister’s ID.
“But that’s illegal,” I sputtered.
Maggie rolled her eyes. “So’s going to a wine bar.”
“Totally different,” I said and was greeted by a snort that sounded like it came from the senator’s son.
“What, are you going to tell the gendarmes?” Jon asked with a laugh. Right, like I’d really rat them out to the cops.
I looked around and saw all my friends brandishing fake IDs. Was I the only one who took the school’s rules seriously? Was I the only one who didn’t want to screw up her chances of getting into a good college?
Was I the only one who hadn’t thought to plan ahead and pack a fake?
As I debated what to do, the line grew shorter until we were the next group up. It was now or never. I eyed the three-hundred-pound bouncer — yeah, I didn’t think the French got fat, either — armed with his headset, a guest list, and a scowl, and made up my mind.
“I’m going back to the hotel,” I announced.
“But we just got here!” Maggie’s dark eyes pleaded with me to stay. “Besides, how will you get back?”
“I don’t know. But I don’t have a fake.”
“It doesn’t look like he’s even checking,” Little Miss Helpful Lauren piped up, gesturing to the front of the line.
I shook my head. “I can’t risk it. Maybe you don’t care about the rules, but I’m leaving.”
“I think I better escort Morland.” Bentley raked his fingers through that boudoir ‘do of his. “You know, make sure she gets there okay.”
Lauren shot Bentley a pointed look. “Maybe I should go with her, make sure she actually gets there.”
Bentley rolled his eyes. “Whatever. I’m not going to try anything. I just want to make sure she gets home okay. I’ll be right back and then we can party without Sister Morland here spoiling all the fun.”
“Gee thanks.” I held up my hands in defense. I didn’t need their charity. “I’ll be fine by myself,” I said, although I didn’t exactly love the idea of walking alone at night in a strange city, even if it was a very safe part. “I’m a big girl.”
“No, you should never walk alone,” Lauren said. “Haven’t you seen the reports on CNN about girls leaving bars and never being seen again?”
“Really, I’ll be fine,” I said. “I’ll just take the Metro.” Maggie shot me a look that said I was crazy. “I’ll take a cab.”
I was actually hoping the girls would leave with me, so I gave them my most pathetic puppy dog look. But I guess I was too subtle, or maybe I just hadn’t perfected my Jedi mind tricks, because they didn’t pick up on my real meaning.
With me, come home, you will. There is no try.
Or not.
“Actually, maybe we should all go home,” I said. “We’re supposed to leave pretty early tomorrow for Giverny.”
But by that point I was talking to myself. From deep inside the club, I could hear that the DJ had changed the tempo to one of those Eurotrash acid trance grooves that couldn’t possibly sound good unless you were tripping. Not that I would know, of course. But it definitely didn’t sound good sober, yet people were dancing and enjoying themselves, so I assumed there had to be some kind of artificial mind-alteration going on. Besides, Johnny Depp just walked by and nobody seemed to notice.
Clearly, those Frenchies had to be on something.
And where were my friends? The line shrank and I was at the front. I craned my neck to see inside. Maggie was already dancing with some random guy, Hayes was chatting up an impossibly thin Parisienne who looked like she should be home sounding out the words to a picture book, and Lauren and Jon seemed to have disappeared entirely. The only one left was Bentley.
The mammoth bouncer peered down at me. “Mademoiselle?”
Bentley nearly yanked my arm out of the socket as he dragged me out of the line. “Forget them. They’re staying.” His eyes turned the color of the famous Van Gogh sky at midnight as he intently gazed at me, making my stomach do an Olympic-gold-medal-worthy tumbling routine. “I’ll walk you home.”
I broke eye contact. “Shouldn’t they come, too?”
Bentley shook his head. “Who are you, their mom? They’re big kids. I’m sure they know their limits. Come on, let’s get you home before you turn into a pumpkin.”
Oh, that was rich. Sure, go ahead. Make cracks about the scholarship student. Nice. I crossed my arms, stuck out my lower lip, and stood glued to my spot. But the protest was futile, because I really did need to get home. So I gave in.
“Fine, but don’t expect me to talk to you,” I said over my shoulder as I turned the corner.
He laughed, causing small creases around his eyes. “Tough punishment. I don’t know how I’ll ever manage to get over that.”
We left the oh-so-trendy Marais district and walked along the Rue de Rivoli. We were all alone and there was a full moon in the sky. Had it not been Bentley, it would have been -- dare I say it? -- romantic.
I almost wanted to slow down and luxuriate in the act of le promenade, just like the French do, but I wanted to get back. And I wanted to get back now. Ugly American, I know. Rush, rush, rush, whereas the French view the process of walking to be almost as important as the destination.
But I’m not French.
And what would be the point, anyway? So I could savor the thrill of being in the City of Love with Alexandria Academy’s biggest himbo?
Yeah right.
Not that actually going back to the hotel held such promise either.
Should I have stayed at the club? I know it wasn’t practical and I could have gotten in a lot of trouble if we were caught, but I didn’t want to be known as a party-pooper. I let out a small sigh of frustration.
Bentley slowed his pace. “Still upset over that kiss? It wasn’t that bad, was it?”
I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of letting him know he was right, so I refused to meet his eyes, still not saying anything, and instead I’d never noticed it before, but he had a dimple in his left cheek.
“I was mocking myself.” He raked his fingers through his tousled locks again. “Self-defecating humor, you know?”
I stifled a giggle. “Don’t you mean self-deprecating humor?”
“No, Morland,” he responded in an especially obnoxious version of his most patronizing tone and oozing the derision he’d so completely perfected. “Defecating. You know, like you’re shitting on yourself.”
This time I didn’t even bother to hide my amusement. I definitely felt better already. “Wow, so apparently you can’t speak English either.”
“What do you mean by ‘either?’” He slowed to a stop, turned around, and put his hands square on my shoulders. “No really, Julie, what’s bothering you?”
That was new. What was up with the Dr. Phil impression? It’s not like we’ve ever been confidantes or anything.
I’m not sure why I told him. Maybe it was the perfectly clear sky with the full moon casting a silver glow over the stone buildings. Or the magic of a narcissistic city that celebrates the senses like no other, glowing in the warmth of candlelit bistros and streetlamps.
Or maybe, just maybe, it was that tiny spark of electricity I felt when his fingers touched my bare shoulders.
“I wish we didn’t go to a club tonight,” I asked. “Why couldn’t we just go to a café or something?”
“It’s not like you had to drink.”
“That’s not the point. That club was 21-and-older.”
“But I saw you had a glass of wine yesterday,” he said. “You didn’t seem too concerned about getting in trouble then.”
“The drinking age is sixteen here.”
“And it’s still twenty-one at home,” he said. “You’re no angel, either, Morland.”
“But,” I started.
“You know, the French might have some weird ideas, but it makes a lot of sense to let kids have some wine when they’re young.” He rubbed his chin. “Takes away the taboo. No need to binge drink each time your friends’ parents go out of town if it’s something you can just do whenever you want without sneaking around.”
Had to hand it to him. He had a point.
“Better not say that too loud, or MADD might stop donating to your dad’s campaign.”
“Like I give a shit about my dad’s campaign.” He knit his brows, and the ensuing wrinkle didn’t mar any of his practiced gorgeousness. In fact, it only served to impart an air of wisdom. I mean, if you go for that type of thing.
He turned towards me, his light blue eyes catching a shimmer of moonlight like the ocean on a cloudless day. Such a pretty color, almost girly, yet he was all guy. Whoa, what was I saying? Had to stop that dangerous line of thinking.
I shook my head to wash away the craziness. I turned abruptly and said, “Don’t you have to get back to your friends?”
“Suddenly they’re my friends, and not yours too?”
I sped up to get away from him. Because of the late hour, the green metal boxes of the bouquinistes, the antique bookstalls lining the riverbanks, were locked and I almost didn’t recognize the neighborhood without them. On a sunny day, those treasure troves of second-hand books and prints call out to passersby to stop and browse. If we’d had more time here, it could easily become my all-time favorite Parisian pastime, casually examining the tomes, both old friends and new.
I’ve always loved reading, ever since I was a little girl and my mom took me to a Dr. Seuss storytime and then signed me up for my very first library card. Who wouldn’t? There’s just something amazing about curling up with a good book and traveling to whatever world’s inside. All your troubles melt. Unfortunately, lately I didn’t have time for anything other than community service hours or dusty research volumes on topics like the motif of lightness and darkness in “Jane Eyre” or the role of women in shaping the American identity. Inspiring, yes, but escapist?
Not so much.
Across the street, warm golden light glowed from the sole awake building on a rare quiet Latin Quarter street. As we got closer, I could see it was a used bookstore. Perfect!
“Um, can we stop somewhere?” I asked.
“I thought you wanted to go back to the hotel.”
“Just a quick detour.”
Bentley shrugged. “You need a coffee?”
“Not exactly.” I pointed at the store. “I need a book.”
“You’re kidding me.”
“If I’m keeping you from returning to the club, just go. I can find my own way.”
Bentley glanced at his watch and then mumbled under his breath. I didn’t catch it and wasn’t sure whether it was English or French, but I had a feeling it wasn’t something that could be repeated in polite company. “Fine.”
The store was small and somewhat disorganized, but oh so cozy. The walls were lined floor to ceiling with stacks of books and patrons filled the overstuffed armchairs as they read.
Bonsoir, mademoiselle, monsieur.” A grandmotherly woman with gray upswept hair nodded as we came in. She wore a deep mauve pantsuit, cut in a classic style with dainty silver buttons. Probably Chanel. Large creamy pearls decorated an elegant aristocratic neck. Her accent was flawless, but she couldn’t fool me. I could tell a fellow American.
Bentley stopped at the front display and examined a copy of Catch 22. I wandered towards the back of the store. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, but that was the point. Bookstores are magical places where you can never know what you’ll find. It’s the only time I let my guard down and do something not on The List. I’m totally organized and planned in my everyday life, but not in a bookstore.
Especially not tonight.
I knew I was smart. I didn’t need to read “literature” to prove it. I could quote the English canon with the best of them, but tonight I was in the mood for some sex with my symbolism.
I needed escape. “Where are your romance novels?”
The other patrons started laughing. The shopkeeper had an apologetic expression on her face as she answered. “I’m sorry, dear, but we’re not really a romance novel type of store.”
Boy, was she right.
All around me were stacks of dog-eared literary fiction and historical treatises. Forget second-hand. If I had to guess, I’d say at least fourth-hand. An occasional genre fiction book was interspersed, but I had a feeling I wasn’t going to find Twilight.
Tucked into the bottom shelf in the far back corner of the shop, a very innocuous phrase stamped in gold on a book spine caught my eye: Paris dans le 20eme siecle.
“Paris in the 20th Century.”
Nothing special, really. Not sure why I even bothered to pick it up, but there was just something that drew me to it. As my fingers grazed the cover, I got a tingle up my spine, unlike anything I’d ever felt before.
I pulled the book off the shelf. Jules Verne? Didn’t he die more than a hundred years ago?
“What’s that?” Bentley’s deep voice snapped me out of my reverie.
“I don’t know.” I turned the book over. It wasn’t a terribly thick book, yet somehow it felt heavy. “Did you know that Jules Verne wrote a book set in the future?”
“Didn’t he write lots of stuff he didn’t know?”
I ignored him as I read the blurb on the book’s dust jacket. I finally understood why they called it that -- I nearly had a sneezing fit from the collected grime. I blew some off and it actually sparkled in the air, like fairy dust. I almost expected Tinkerbell to appear.
According to the blurb, the grandfather of science fiction wrote the manuscript in 1863, but put it aside because his publisher thought it was too depressing. The novel was about a young man living in a world of glass skyscrapers, high-speed trains, gas-powered automobiles, and a worldwide communications network, yet who cannot find happiness and comes to a tragic end.
Verne’s publisher thought the story’s pessimism would ruin his booming career — apparently dystopians weren’t the mega-trend back then they are today — so he suggested he wait twenty years to publish it. Ever the dutiful author, Verne locked the manuscript in a safe, where he later forgot about it. It remained there until discovered by his great-grandson in 1989.
I could feel a steady warmth breath on the back of my neck and looked up to see Bentley reading over my shoulder. And call me catty, but I fully expected to see his lips moving as he read.
“Sounds cool,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind reading that.”
That clinched it. I was already pretty fascinated by the history, but wasn’t sure if I wanted to buy it. But I wasn’t about to let him get it.
I pulled a really disingenuous smile, like my Southern Belle cousins from Georgia do. “I found it first.”
He shrugged. “No prob.”
Either my powers of persuasion were even more impeccable than I’d thought, or he didn’t really care. Whatever. Julie, one. Bentley, zero.
Forget shoes. Maggie might not agree, but I finally found my souvenir from Paris.
My mind made up, I carried the book to the counter. As the elderly woman swiped my card, she stared at the cover, not saying a word. An entire range of emotions crossed her face, like she was trying to figure out what to say. Weird.
After she handed me my package, I turned to go, but was stopped by a hand on my wrist. The old woman locked eyes with me. “Please take care of my book.”
Um, okay. I tried to loosen myself from her grip.
“Please,” she said again, violet eyes boring into me with an uncomfortable intensity. “Books can take you places you’ve never dreamed of. You just have to let them.”
Well, duh. What was up with the creepy tone to tell me something so self-evident?
“Sure,” I answered. “Um, I better get going.”
“Of course.” She dropped her hand and the hard stare immediately melted away as she morphed back into the cheerful grandmother from earlier. “Have a nice night, ma cherie.”
“Come on, Bentley,” I called. “You don’t want to keep the hot chicks at Blue Iguana waiting, do you?”
I stepped into the night, Bentley behind me. Far in the distance, a bolt of lightening snaked across the sky. We decided to make a run for it before we got hit by the rain.