Friday, July 31, 2009

Smelling the Roses

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Um. My feature day sort of snuck up on me. I had every intention of expanding on last week's topic: PROTECT THE WORK. And I will.... at some point. Just now I don't have the brain cells or time. Instead, I'm going to quickly share a thought and a couple of pictures.

Today I ran across a journal that was connected to the best-selling book, THE SECRET. I've never read THE SECRET. I don't know what 'the secret' is. I just know this book was an Oprah pick and hence gazillion people just HAD to read it. Anyway, I read the intro of this 'SECRET' journal and essentially it was about postive thinking. I'm a big fan of postive thinking, although lately it's been a problem for me. This journal instructed you to write down things you are grateful for. Every day. It got me thinking about how, these days, I seem to worry more about what's wrong in my life, instead of what's right.

Today I choose to think about what's right, what's great in my life. I skimmed some photo files and came across pictures from a surprise party that my husband and entertainer friends threw me in celebration of the release of my first solo book, JINXED.
Wow. How lucky am I?

I'm grateful that a publisher took a chance on me.

I'm grateful that this launched a career that led me to HQN, Harlequin.

I'm grateful that people read my books (and email me to say they enjoyed them)

I'm grateful for my husband and friends who were so proud and happy for me that they threw a surprise party.

It's so easy to get caught up in the 'business'. So easy to obsess on the bumps and road blocks. So easy to forget to stop and smell the roses and to 'see' how very lucky we are.

So, slow down, step back, and tell me. What are you grateful for?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cafe Chaos -- Books

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Welcome to Café Chaos. Grab a cup of coffee or tea (we prefer coffee) and join us for a chat. Every Thursday we’ll offer recommendations for book lovers. Feel free to comment on our picks or to throw in a few of your own. We’re listening!

SIS Barb says...
I read Beth's pick before writing my own and I want to touch on something she said. The only downfall I can think of to being a writer is that you no longer have the time or the freedom to read as often as you used to. I miss that. A lot. Maybe once I master better time management I can get back to reading more. I used to average 3 books a week. Now I'm lucky if I make it through 3 chapters in a week. With that being said...I do have a bazillion books in my house that I did read in my past life and my pick this week is one of those. Drum roll please!

My Pick of the Week: Hunting Fear (A Bishop/Special Crimes Unit Novel)
Kidnappings, ransom, psychics and romance. This book has it all. It kept me on the edge of my seat the entire read. Some parts were disturbing--but in a good way. Noah Bishop has put together an elite group to solve crimes of an intense and disturbing variety. The entire series is great and incredibly well written. I chose Hunting Fear because it was the first book I read from this author and the one that got me hooked. Can't wait to read more!

Author: Kay Hooper

SIS Bren says...
I read mostly fiction. Mystery/ Suspense or Thrillers are my preference. But recently I picked up a book from one of my favorite authors thinking it was fiction since that is what he writes. To my surprise, it was his first non-fiction work and it was every bit as good as anything else I have read from him.

My Pick of the Week: The Innocent Man

I sat in disbelief as I read this book, thinking that nothing should ever go so wrong. To think that this sort of injustice could happen in America is disturbing. This book is an excellent read and when I had finished, it left me with such strong feelings of outrage and compassion.

In the major league draft of 1971, the first player chosen from the State of Oklahoma was Ron Williamson. When he signed with the Oakland A’s, he said goodbye to his hometown of Ada and left to pursue his dreams of big league glory.

Six years later he was back, his dreams broken by a bad arm and bad habits—drinking, drugs, and women. He began to show signs of mental illness. Unable to keep a job, he moved in with his mother and slept twenty hours a day on her sofa.

In 1982, a 21-year-old cocktail waitress in Ada named Debra Sue Carter was raped and murdered, and for five years the police could not solve the crime. For reasons that were never clear, they suspected Ron Williamson and his friend Dennis Fritz. The two were finally arrested in 1987 and charged with capital murder.

With no physical evidence, the prosecution’s case was built on junk science and the testimony of jailhouse snitches and convicts. Dennis Fritz was found guilty and given a life sentence. Ron Williamson was sent to death row.If you believe that in America you are innocent until proven guilty, this book will shock you.

If you believe in the death penalty, this book will disturb you. If you believe the criminal justice system is fair, this book will infuriate you.

Author: John Grisham

SIS Beth says…
Because of my hectic schedule, reading for pleasure is a luxury. Mostly I read for research. I think I own as many non-fiction books as fiction, and a good many of those books focus on the craft of writing.

My pick of the Week: The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes & Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes
I can’t tell you how many times this book has saved me. When I start writing a new story, I have a vague idea of who my hero and heroine are, what they do, what they’re like. As a seat of the pants writer, I’ve never been one for extensive character charts. Unfortunately, 75% of the time I reach a point in my story where I hit a brick wall. Sometimes it’s plot related. But often, it’s because I don’t know my hero or heroine well enough. More specifically flaws, virtues, qualities, etc. The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes & Heroines explores 16 different archetypes, breaking men and women into categories I can easily visualize. For instance: The Charmer, The Bad Boy, The Warrior…. Or for women, The Free Spirit, The Seductress, The Waif… Follows explanations of what shaped their personality, what occupations they gravitate toward, how they behave, and… how they interact with one another. The writing is down to earth, enlightening, and draws on various movies (something that helps me) to make a point. I HIGHLY recommend this book for every writer.

Authors: Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever, and Sue Viders

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


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Last week I started to write about angels and then decided that I wasn't sure if I wanted to post it on our blog. But, I saved it thinking I would finish it and use it another time. I moved on to another subject... um, the animal cruelty/child endangerment piece...and while writing that, something amazing happened.

I think it would be best to let you read what I had started on last week, and then I'll fill you in on what I think was not a coincidence, but a sign. I truly believe it was a message from an angel.

First let me apologize for my absence. I am once again in Indiana and getting internet access is not as convenient as I would like. So, sorry I missed my movie and music picks, but I'm on it now.

I'm sitting in my mother's living room with my 13 year old niece and my 16 year old son. I am desperately trying to come up with a topic to blog about and drawing a blank, so I asked them if they had any suggestions. My son suggested angels. Great topic, for me anyway.
I love angels. I collect them. My husband bought me a beautiful bracelet of angels that I never take off. There is something so comforting and powerful about them.

When I was 13, I moved in with my grandparents. My grandma was always very special to me and we became extremely close. She listened to the troubles of a teenage girl and seemed to always have the greatest advice. She was loving and caring and no one could ask for a better Grandmother. Sadly, she died the week before my 14th birthday. I was devastated.
I remained living with my grandpa. Although my life seemed very empty without her, I always felt that she was watching over me. As a teenager, knowing she was always with me probably kept me from doing things I shouldn't. If ever I had to make a choice between what was right and what would surely be a lot of fun, but wrong, I would make the right choice. Most of the time anyway.

My grandmother has been gone for 30 years now, but I still can feel her every time I enter her old house. She is everywhere, but strongest in the kitchen and in her bedroom. Now, I know that people will say that my memories of her in those rooms are strongest and that's why it seems as if she is still there. But as I sit here and write this, the tears are streaming down my face as I think about the overwhelming feeling of her presence when I stand in her kitchen. I suppose it could just be that I miss her, but I choose to believe that she is my angel. That she watches not only over me, but over her entire family. I feel her with me every day.

There was a little more to it, but I've left it out because it involved an occurrence involving others in my family and I felt it is their story to tell.

So, anyway, I saved my work and started on the new subject. I don't have spell check on my laptop and needed to check my spelling on a word. I asked my mom if she had a dictionary and she said she thought she had a little red one around somewhere. While searching, she became excited over the book she had found.

She handed me a dictionary. A very, very old dictionary. She said, "This might be worth some money" and handed it to me. I carefully opened the cover and there inside, on the very first page, were two poems written in my grandmothers handwriting. I thought it was odd that I had just been writing about her but then I turned to the inside back cover and just about fell off of the couch.

There, written in pencil on the black cover so it was barely visible, was my handwriting. It said
Hi, from Brenda... Hi, from Brenda. I quickly flipped through this old dictionary looking for anything else, but all I could find was Grandma in the front and me in the back. To me it was definitely a sign. It was her way of letting me know that she IS here. That she is with me always.
Later that day we were going to stop by the cemetery and put flowers on my grandparents' and father's grave. While at the store trying to choose which bouquet of artificial flowers we should get, I noticed that the pink roses had something stuck in them. It was an angel. There were only two bouquets so we bought them both. I left an angel on my grandmother's grave and I took the other one and hung it in my car.

I believe in angels. No doubt about it. Of course now, I want to hear if any of you have had similar occurrences that you would like to share. I know B.J. does. Can't wait to hear!

SIS Bren

And by the way, I wanted to share one of things that Grandma wrote in the dictionary.
The clock of life is wound, but once.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cafe Chaos -- Music

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Welcome to Café Chaos. Grab a cup of coffee or tea (we prefer coffee) and join us for a chat. Every Tuesday we’ll offer recommendations for music lovers. Feel free to comment on our picks or to throw in a few of your own. We’re listening!

SIS Barb says…
I love when I turn on the radio the first thing I hear is something that I’ve never heard before that I instantly fall in love with. That happened to me this week and all of a sudden I may just have a new favorite band. The biggest surprise…it’s not a country band! Who knew?

My Pick of the Week: Kings of Leon

Their music is great. His voice is full and strong with a hint of rasp and a lot of heart. Apparently they’ve been around for a little while and I’m sorry that I’m only just hearing of them. Guess I should switch the station more often.

Recommended Album: Only By the Night

My Favorite Song: Use Somebody

SIS Bren says... As you know, I was in Indiana last week. What you may not know is that I drove there. 17 grueling hours of driving! EACH WAY! So before I left, I went on to my computer and pulled up my collection of songs and made some driving CDs. I had a pretty good mix of artists, but as I played the CDs I couldn't wait to get to the tracks of the man who I think is the greatest singer of all time!

My pick of the week: Stevie Wonder

I love everything this man sings. He amazes me with his soul and incredible voice. Just when you think he can't possibly sing any higher, up he goes, stretching his vocal chords and hitting unbelievable notes. His music is genious, his lyrics are catchy. Love him, love him, love him!

Favorite songs: I Wish, Saturn, Living for the City, Overjoyed, Superstition.....and many, many more.

SIS Beth says…
Charisma. If a singer/musician has this than he/she is blessed. There are a lot of talented musical artists, but charisma will launch you above and beyond. To this day there is one artist who moves me like no other… and I do believe, although I adore his voice and dance moves, it is mostly because of his undeniable, unexplainable, charisma.

My pick of the week: Elvis Presley
Love his voice, his music, but folks, you have to see this man in action. Thus I’m recommending, not an album, but a musical dvd. Elvis at his best, his most sexy, his most inspired. Admittedly, some of the production numbers are, um, weird. But the live, on stage performances... Elvis in black leather... priceless. Watch, experience, and melt.

Recommended Album: Elvis'68 Comeback Special
My Favorite Song: Heartbreak Hotel

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Next Level

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When I was a little girl all I wanted to do was sing. That was it. No back up plan. No need for one. I was never going to get married. I had no intention of ever having children. I was going to live my life to the fullest with no worries and no others to be responsible for. I was young and I had a dream.

For several years following high school I lived that dream, saw this country and visited another doing what I loved to do. Singing. Living my life the way I wanted to live it. Those were great years and if I have any regrets, it would only be one. My regret is that I didn’t push myself harder, didn’t make myself try to get to that next level.

I recently went to Nashville, TN for a work related function and I fell in love with that small city and all the people in it. Musician after musician after musician, pursuing their dream and doing what they love, anyway that they can. I met a couple of musicians who sang and played in a number of different bands from nine in the morning until closing time, moving from one establishment to the next. I envied them a little. I can be honest about that. Some have made it big while others are still trying. They are pushing themselves to get to that next level.

Well, as most of you know, I did get married and I did have children and I wouldn’t change that for anything. They are amazing! They have made me see life in a new way. I don’t take many things for granted anymore. Life is too short. We need to make the most of all our days and share it with people that we love and doing things we love to do.

Now as an adult, I have a new dream. Well, a couple of them. I want my husband to be happy and successful and I want my children to grow up and be good people loving life. My other dream…writing.

Writing has changed my life. It has made me more confident, more diligent and well rounded. I have met some amazing people in the writing world, on-line and off, and I cherish them all. It has given me moments of frustration and moments of elation. I relish it all. I love what I’m learning and I love the escape. I love the connection it has given me with my siblings. I love that we are on this journey together even though we’re all at different mile markers of the path. This dream I will pursue to the fullest. I want to be at that next level and will do all in my power to get there. I recently told someone that I am trying to be a writer. This is not true. I am a writer and I will succeed. Dreams don’t always have to be just out of our reach, something we grasp for but never quite connect. Dreams can turn into reality, if we give it everything we got, if we don’t give up and sometimes a little luck can’t hurt either.

What was your dream as a child? What is it now? Same or different? Will you succeed? Please share.

SIS Barb writing as Elle J Rossi

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Cafe Chaos -- Movies

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SIS Barb says:
Hi all! I may be flying solo today. Beth is in the midst of a mad dash to finish her revisions and turn them in. Bren is driving back to Florida from Indiana and may not stop at Starbuck's for WiFi on her way. LOL

I thought I'd give this week of movie picks a theme. How 'bout we go with children's movies. Whether it be from the past or present, Disney or Pixar--you decide. Tell us your faves and why. Better yet...pick one classic and one within this decade. Let's have some fun!

My Pick from the Past: Mary Poppins (1964)
This wonderful movie stars the amazing Julie Andrews and one of my all time favorite actors, Dick Van Dyke. Every song is amazing and the story is fun and endearing. My favorite part: The carousel horse race. My least favorite part: the birds.

My Pick from this Decade: Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006)
This movie cracks me up every single time we watch it. I love the camaraderie between Diego, Manny and Sid. The characters are well thought out and adorable to watch. I can't seem to remember if the little guy chasing the acorn has a name. Anybody?

Those are my picks and I want to know yours. Please share.

Friday, July 24, 2009

What's Your Take?

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Last week I attended the National Romance Writers of America Conference. It was a fantastic, although exhausting, conference for me. I have several experiences and quite a bit of information that I'd like to share with you and blogosphere. BUT... I have two crushing writing deadlines. I must meet one of them tonight and the other within two days. Which means I need every spare minute. Which means this post must be brief. Which brings me to something one of the speakers said last week: PROTECT THE WORK.

I, of course, know what she meant by this and I promise to explain in a follow up post. But what do you think she meant when she said: PROTECT THE WORK.

Here are a few other quotes from various speakers. Sayings that resonated with me so much that I plan to tack them above my computer.

"Give up what brings you anxiety and you will have better control."

"The more you try to make sense of it, the further you are from the truth."

"Stay in the moment.... Go with the flow.... and when something bad happens, rise above."

Pick one or several of these quotes and, from a creative artist's point of view, tell me what you think they mean. What's your take?

SIS Beth

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cafe Chaos - Books

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SIS Barb says:

A couple of months ago I picked up a book from the .25 table at my local RWA chapter meeting. Members bring books they have read and others can buy them for .25 and those proceeds go towards future meetings. Anyway, I had never heard of this author but the cover intrigued me. To date, it is on my top five list and probably the best quarter I have ever spent!

My Pick of the Week: The Reincarnationist

From the authors website: “THE REINCARNATIONIST is equal parts modern-day thriller, historical fiction and love story. With one foot in present-day Rome and New York and another in Rome some 1,600 years ago, my story is about two worlds consumed by the fires of intrigue and passion.

This book had me intrigued from the get go. I couldn’t put it down and while it didn’t end as I had imagined—causing me to have an emotional tirade—I realized that it did what it was supposed to do. It made me emotional. It made me feel.

I recently heard that this author is a marketing phenom. Who knows, maybe I can learn something from her. This would be a good thing.

I am currently reading the follow up the The Reincarnationist called The Memorist and hope it is just as fascinating.

Author: M.J. Rose

SIS Bren says:

I was trying to think of a book off the top of my head to recommend since I'm not able to see my collection of books at the moment and then I remembered a conversation I had with my nephew earlier this week. I asked him why he never commented on our blog and he replied that if I were to mention a certain book, he would be more than happy to comment. So here you go Michael...

My Pick of the Week: the Harry Potter series

Someone suggested the first Harry Potter installment when my son was about 7. He didn't seem to have the discipline for a book that size yet, so I decided to read it to him. Before I knew it, he was hooked and so was I. I have read every Harry Potter and have enjoyed getting to know the characters as they grew and matured. I'm sure that most people know what these books are about but just in case...

From Barnes & Noble: Orphaned as a baby, Harry Potter has spent 11 awful years living with his mean aunt, uncle, and cousin Dudley. But everything changes for Harry when an owl delivers a mysterious letter inviting him to attend a school for wizards. At this special school, Harry finds friends, aerial sports, and magic in everything from classes to meals, as well as a great destiny that's been waiting for him...if Harry can survive the encounter. From an author who has been compared to C. S. Lewis and Roald Dahl, this enchanting, funny debut novel won England's National Book Award and the prestigious Smarties Prize.

Author: JK Rowling

SIS Beth says:

As most of you know, when I’m reading for pleasure, my genre of choice is romantic fiction. That said, sometimes I branch out, but even then it’s still mostly contemporary genres such as mysteries and thrillers. I haven’t read many of the classics although I often enjoy when those books are made into movies. For instance I’m a sucker for any story written by Jane Austen or Charles Dickens. I love any and all film adaptations of their work. I really should go to the source sometime. Recently, I’ve been intrigued by a subgenre called Steampunk. It sounds radical but it actually goes way back. Think Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne or, more recently, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore.

According to Wikipedia: Steampunk denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century, and often Victorian era England—but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date.

There are several other variations. Where movies are concerned, Will Smith’s Wild Wild West also falls into this category. At any rate, to explore this sub-genre in earnest, I decided to start with a classic.

My Pick of the Week: The Time Machine

I can’t review this book because I only started it. I will say that I am incredibly intrigued by the concept and charmed by the writing style. Written in 1895, H.G. Well’s use of the English language is fantastic. Why, oh, why don’t we talk like that anymore? So eloquent. I’ve seen film adaptations (or spin-offs) of this story and loved them, but they can’t compare to the actual book. Mostly because they don’t wholly capture his writing style. It’s not an easy read, but it a fascinating and inspiring read. I can tell you one thing… I’m broadening my vocabulary.

Author: H.G. Wells

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


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First let me apologize for my absence. I am once again in Indiana and getting internet access is not quite as convenient as I would like. So, sorry I missed my movie and music picks, but I'm on it now.

So, like I mentioned, I'm in Indiana. It's been great to visit with my family and reminisce. Some memories are good, some are bad, some are hysterical. It is great fun to watch my mother as she sits in disbelief while we are telling of the awful things we did as children that she never knew about. For me, most of my entertaining stories involve my brother.

I think we've mentioned here on our blog that we have a large family. Six girls and one boy. When people hear that, they always say how bad they feel for my brother. I always say, let me tell you some stories and you tell me who you feel sorry for.

Beth is the oldest, and Bobby was born three years later, and two years after that I was born. The next sibling, B.J., was not born until I was 7 so Bobby and I were playmates. Beth was a great sister to me, but she was a little older and usually off with her friends. Although I recently learned from her that she kept me out playing in the snow too long and I got frost bite. But that's a story for her to tell.

Bobby and I got into all sorts of trouble as kids. His fault of course. He always had these bright ideas. Lucky for us, sometimes we wouldn't get caught. Like the time he wanted to see who would hit the ground first after falling from the roof. I don't mean us... and I guess you wouldn't call it falling as much as being dropped. He decided we should take our beloved dog, Tiny, and one of our cats (can't remember it's name) to the roof and drop them. You know, like a race of some kind. My brother never liked school, but I guess he was into experiments. So up we went, him with the dog and me with the cat. We dropped them and I don't even remember what happened after that. Just that I was terrified that Tiny would be hurt and that we'd better hurry up and get off the roof before we got caught. We never told anyone and I'm not sure that my mom even knows to this day. By the way, Tiny and the cat were fine and Tiny lived a good, long life.

Come to think of it, my brother must have really been curious about gravity. Fast forward a few years, and now all but the last sibling has been born. Another light bulb goes off and my creative brother decides it's time to do some more dropping. Only this time it wasn't the roof of a single story house. It was the second floor bedroom window. And it didn't involve pets. No... he had moved on to humans now. Yes, his little sisters. Now, I was too big for him to even try to drop me out of the window so I was given the job of standing outside on the ground and catching them. But before you go and say how stupid we were, at least we had the sense to push a mattress out of the window so just in case I missed them, they would be cushioned as they hit the ground.

One by one, he dropped them, B.J., Barb, and then Brandy who was barely a year old. Were we insane? Probably just Bobby was, but I was a follower and I guess that makes me just as guilty.
My mother heard that story not too long ago, and although they all lived through it, and we are grown adults now, I could still see that look in her eye that she used to get when you were about to get an ass-whooping! We should probably spare her the horrible images, but we can't. It's just too much fun to think of the crazy things we did and got away with.

So it's sharing time again. Please tell. And don't be shy. What could be worse than dropping small animals off of a roof and young children out of window? I'm sure if we ask my brother he can come up with something much worse!

SIS Bren

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cafe Chaos -- Music

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Welcome to Café Chaos. Grab a cup of coffee or tea (we prefer coffee) and join us for a chat. Every Tuesday we’ll offer recommendations for music lovers. Feel free to comment on our picks or to throw in a few of your own. We’re listening!

SIS Barb says...

These days, more often than not, we fall in love with an artist only to find out they can’t perform live or they’re not really playing that instrument or worse, they’re not singing at all—ever. But there are times when the world is introduced to someone who has it. Pure talent.

My Pick of the Week: Rob Thomas

Singer, songwriter, solo artist and frontman. Rob Thomas is pure talent, hit after hit after hit. Whether he is fronting Matchbox Twenty or doing the solo deal, he never fails to put anything but the best out there. His current solo album, Cradlesong, was released June 29, 2009 and is a must have for every music library.

Recommended Album: Cradlesong

My Favorite Song: Mockingbird

SIS Beth says...
Different music and artists inspire me in different ways. Sometimes I want to dance. Sometimes I want to sing along. Sometimes I want to set or invoke a certain mood. And sometimes I just want to be transported to another world. There are many new age and Celtic groups who fulfill that need, but I admit, there is one artist who mesmerizes me with his eclectic songs.

My pick of the week: Yanni
He’s not for everyone, but he's certainly for me. I find his compositions, his arrangements, magical, haunting, and electric. His music soothes. It inspires. Most of his selections are instrumental, but he does, at times, highlight various singers. I own many albums, but Tribute is my favorite. It features an entire orchestra and often highlights an amazing violinist that can rock, as well as a dynamic female singer. When I need to lift my spirits or calm my soul, all I have to do is crank up Yanni .

Recommended Album: Tribute
My Favorite Song: Niki Nana

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Weeper

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I want to start off by expressing enormous gratitude to SIS BJ! She really handled things for us this week and she was great!! BJ, I hope you join us many more times to come. It was a blast.

Now, I don’t know if I’ve always been this way—I’ll have to ask my siblings for verification—but lately I’ve been a spicket, a virtual waterfall, a leaky faucet. I am the weeper.

I cry at the drop of a hat and before you start wondering if I’m depressed or falling off the deep end, I’ll explain that these are mainly good tears, cleansing tears. These are happy tears.

I would like to share with you a couple of circumstances that have initiated these tears and caused the weeper to emerge.

Last week—after having received free tickets—my husband and I were able to take our two children to The Jonas Brothers concert. My son who is only four years old didn’t last past the second song of the opening act. Too loud. And boy was it. My daughter, on the other hand, was in heaven. She’s seven years old and was completely in awe of the entire set-up. The screaming audience, the stage, the light show, the “talent”, she couldn’t get enough. Perched on the edge of her seat beaming from ear to ear and loving life as much as anyone could in those moments. I didn’t watch the show, I watched her with a thick throat and soggy cheeks. I am the weeper.

A couple of months ago I took my first online class. The class was called Deconstructing Emotion and it was supposed to be an interactive class. There were homework assignments to turn in and lessons to learn. Only a few of us were brave enough or willing to share our work with the others. I was timid at first but realized I wouldn’t learn as much if I didn’t participate to the full extent. There was one assignment that was particularly difficult for me but I plowed through and turned it in. The instructor, who happens to be a best selling author and respected instructor, gave me such a wonderful reply acknowledging how much she enjoyed my excerpt and thought it was quite good, I immediately broke down with excited, astonished tears. I am the weeper.

Most recently I received a phone call from my sister, Beth. She asked if I had a moment to talk and I answered, “of course I do.” She told me that someone wanted to talk to me and I immediately got nervous, sweaty palms and all. See, I knew Beth was at the RWA National Conference, and all of a sudden, I had a feeling I knew who was about to be on the other end of that phone. I have a favorite author; I think we all do. This author happens to be a friend of Beth’s. I didn’t know this until recently. I’ve been reading this author’s work for years and have loved her since the first one. Okay, back to it, I knew, knew she would be saying hello any moment and all I could think was please don’t be her, please don’t be her. Now, I know you think I’ve lost my mind but I didn’t want to talk to her because I knew I was going to sound like an idiot. I hear someone come on the line. “Hi, Barb. This is such and such.” (I’m afraid to share her real name for fear I will embarrass her) My response… “Shut up!” oh yeah, I am so witty. Anyway, I held it together (barely) and she was absolutely great. I hope I came across sounding at least halfway intelligent, but I really doubt it. I was in heaven and bumbling my words. But I was touched and when she gave the phone back to Beth, the faucet started and didn’t stop for a long time. It meant the world to me that Beth took the time to do this for me, to honor me with that phone call. Thank you, Beth, from the bottom of my heart, and because of you, once again, I am the weeper!

Anyone else been weeping lately? Do share. I’ve got the box of tissues all ready!

Also, I've decided on a pen name and barring no complications, I will be able to use it. From now on I'll add it to my signature!

SIS Barb writing as Elle J Rossi

Sunday, July 19, 2009

I'm Back!

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It's not my day to post, but I did want to chime in to say I'm back from the RWA Conference. Exhausted, but inspired! I also wanted to thank my sister, B.J., for being such an interesting and fabulous sub all week. I hope she'll agree to do more!

Hope everyone enjoyed the week. I'm off to catch up on the gazillion things that fell through the cracks of my life while I was gone.

Oh, one of my favorite things that I heard at the conference...

"Give up what brings you anxiety, and you will have better control."

SIS Beth

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Cafe Chaos -- Movies

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SIS Barb says:
Sometimes you come across a film that evokes every emotional reaction. Laughter, tears, anger, sorrow and hope. Last year I watched one of these films with my husband. I walked in one night to hear him laughing hysterically. I sat down next to him and was surprised at what I saw. My husband is city and I'm country. He was watching an HBO Documentary on the lives of people living in Anderson, IN. For those of you who don't know, Anderson has a racetrack (car) and that's what people do there. It is their source of entertainment and for a few, a chance to win a little money or lose a lot. Money most of these people can't afford to lose. They don't have mechanics. They work on their own cars or have friends help. There is no other work to be had in this small community. What work there was once has closed down and moved out. It is rapidly turning into a ghost town. Very sad indeed.

My Pick of the Week: Dirty Driving: Thunder Cars of Indiana
For anyone who has ever lived in small town America, this documentary is a must see. For those of you who haven't, I recommend it to you as well so that all can see how people everywhere  struggle, fight and love when all odds are against them. I will warn that this is for adult viewing only.

SIS Bren says:

SIS B.J. says:
Heart pounding, sitting on the edge of your seat, knowing that something is about to happen, yet when it does you still scream and jump.
Horror movies. Either you love them or you hate them. I love them. One of the best horror films (IMO) is a black and white silent film made in 1922.F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu.
This cult classic is an adaptation of Bram Stoker's DraculaMax Schreck as Count Orlok is the creepiest vampire I have ever seen. ( Sorry Barb, I know you like your vampires sexy.)
My pick of the week: Nosferatu 

Friday, July 17, 2009

First Concert Memories

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I will never forget my first concert. It was the summer of 1984. My dad dropped me off at the entrance and I quickly found my friends. It was an outdoor concert so we were able to get close to the stage while we eagerly waited for her to make an entrance.
Cyndi Lauper, with her crazy hair and funky outfit, finally came out. I remember screaming like the girls who now scream for The Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus. After the concert, I could barely talk after singing along to Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, She Bop, Money Changes Everything and all the rest.
Now, when I hear Cyndi Lauper on the radio, it brings back such great memories of that summer in 1984 when I got to see my teen idol in concert.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Cafe Chaos - Books

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SIS Barb says:

I hate scary and creepy movies—even the corny ones. But I love books that creep me out and give me nightmares. I can’t explain why there’s a difference between the two, but there is. So when I come across a book that has that creep factor along with a good dose of romance…I’m hooked!

My Pick of the Week: The Sign of Seven Trilogy

This trilogy includes Blood Brothers, The Hollow and The Pagan Stone. Follow the story of three young boys who perform a blood brother ritual over a stone deep in the woods, emerging never to be the same. Every seven years they must fight to save the ones they love. As adults they meet three women who will change things further and maybe give them a chance to stop the evil once and for all. I will say that book one—Blood Brothers—was my favorite but all three were fabulous.

Author: the incredible Nora Roberts

SIS Bren says:
I admit that I need a book to grab me pretty quickly. I'll ususally at least read a chapter or two, but I love it when I'm intrigued within the first few lines.

My pick of the week: Honeymoon

From the inside cover:

Beautiful interior designer Nora Sinclair is a devious romantic living two lives. Secretly married to a bestselling author in Boston and engaged to a wealthy Greenwich, Connecticut, investment banker, Nora travels to and from her New York City home base where she is known as the widow of a top New York cardiologist. When her fiance dies a mysterious death--similar to that of her first husband--FBI agent John O'Hara is onto her. Working for the Joint Terrorism Task Force, O'Hara has been monitoring Nora's bank transactions to the Cayman Islands and suspects she's either a spy, a terrorist, or a pathological killer. Disguising himself as an insurance agent, John pursues Nora--then finds himself irresistibly attracted to her. Can O'Hara stop the deadly enchantress from killing again, or will he, too, fall under her lethal spell?

Authors: James Patterson & Howard Roughan

SIS B.J. says:
I have a fondness for fantasy novels. One of my favorite authors is Terry Goodkind. His first book in The Sword Of Truth series is the basis for the television series Legend Of The Seeker.
My pick of the week: Wizard's First Rule
From the back cover:
In the aftermath of the brutal murder of his father, Richard Cypher encounters a mysterious woman, Kahlan Amnell, in his forest sancturary. She seeks his help...and more. His world, his very beliefs, are shattered when ancient debts come due with thundering violence.
In their darkest hour, Kahlan calls upon Richard to reach beyond his sword-- to invoke within himself something more noble. Neither knows that the rules of battle have just changed... or that their time has run out.
This is the beginning. One book. One rule. Witness the birth of a legend.
Author: Terry Goodkind

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bucket List

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I have been daydreaming often lately of winning the lottery. I check the lotto numbers on the lotto web site and see that I have won. I scream and jump up and down and shout to my husband, "We won. We finally won!". It doesn't stop there though. I think about the steps we will take to claim our prize. We debate taking the lump sum or taking the payments. We choose the lump sum of course. I have even gone as far as to look at real estate on line so I can get an idea of what would be available. I dream about the endless possibilities of the wonderful things we could do with all of that money.

And then I plummet back down to earth and face reality. The chance of us actually purchasing a ticket with those winning numbers is, well, not great. But that's okay. There are plenty of things that I would like to do that wouldn't require large amounts of money.

There have been so many times that I have thought of something that would be exciting and fun for me or just something I really want to achieve and I always say to myself, "I should do that sometime". Problem is, that sometime never seems to come. I just keep putting it off and putting it off. Always thinking that there will be plenty of time for it. But what if there isn't? Why not do it now? Why wait until I'm old and not able to enjoy some of these things as much as I would now?

I've decided to make a list. My bucket list. Yes, like the movie. Some of the things on my list are easy enough to achieve while others require a little more effort. Some of them may never happen. But there are many that I have complete control of and could accomplish simply by taking the time to do them. Ah, but finding the time is not so easy.

So I've got my list and now I need to make the time. If it means getting up a little earlier or maybe skipping some internet time...I have to start crossing things off of my list. I know the incredible feeling I will get when this happens. I should prioritize. I should put the things that require nothing but my sheer will at the top. Things like eating better and exercising more. It is my wish to get back into the shape I was a few years ago when I was kick boxing. I have the gloves, I have the bag, and I'm sure I could find some "Rocky" music. I'll get it from Barb. Everyday I say "tomorrow" but the next day comes and goes. I'm running out of time! NOW is the time to start!
I challenge you all to make your Bucket List, if you haven't already. Start crossing them off! I can't wait to actually do some of the things I've been thinking about for years! I'll even share some of mine with you in hopes that you will share in return. Maybe I'll get more ideas for my list.
My Bucket List:
(in no particular order)
Go to Italy
Paint a picture (one that I could be proud of and actually hang on my wall)
Get a photo published
Write a novel
Learn to jitterbug with my husband
Work with clay (with a pottery wheel and everything. A ghost can even come and help me!)
Ride in a hot air balloon
Learn to cook an amazing Italian gravy (Beth, any chance Steve's mom could pass on some advice?)
Cruise Alaska
Get in shape
Get a tattoo

Okay, you get the idea! I think tomorrow I'll start on that first one. Ha. Right after we win the lottery. Like I tell my husband, "Somebody has to win it. Why shouldn't it be us?"

Have an incredible day!
SIS Bren

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cafe Chaos--Music

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SIS Barb says:

Lately I find myself a little behind the times but better late than never. Right? I vaguely remember my pick this week getting some “buzz” at the music award shows early this year but I was too busy to give her much notice. Until…I stopped at my favorite coffee shop yesterday morning and heard a song. It sparked a memory but I couldn’t place the voice. I kept humming the tune so I could ask my girls at work who it was. Apparently my humming wasn’t good enough (gasp) or the song wasn’t very popular because my girls were no help at all. So—I googled a phrase—low and behold I found it! They said “Oh that song!” I guess it was my humming.

My Pick of the Week: Adele

She is an amazing British singer and she's only 19 years old. She describes her music as “heartbroken soul”. I agree with her whole-heartedly. She won two grammy awards in 2009 for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Both were well deserved in my opinion. Her song “Chasing Pavement” is the most popular to date although many on the album are superb. Her voice…sultry, smooth and soulful. I downloaded the entire album yesterday and I’m loving it.

Recommended Album: 19

My Favorite song: (sorry guys, it’s too soon to tell)

SIS Bren says:

I admit it. I'm an American Idol junkie. I can't wait for each season to start and watch every single episode. Yes, even the ones at the beginning where they waste your time showing you all of the crazy and really bad singers. For me the excitement starts when they get through Hollywood week and the real competition begins. It's interesting to watch how these singer grow week after week. Sometimes, the winner is not my favorite.

My pick of the week: Daughtry

I loved him on Idol and I love to listen to him and his band on the radio. Great, down to earth songs. Nothing fancy, just good, melodic music. I haven't heard all of the songs from their first album, but I do enjoy the ones I've heard so far. A new album is being released today.

Suggested album: Daughtry

Favorite songs: It's Not Over, Home

SIS B.J. says:

I love to dance. Whether I'm on the dance floor or in the kitchen cooking dinner, if there is music, I'm dancing. My children get a kick out of watching their mom dance. They tell me I'm crazy.

This week I am choosing my favorite dance song. You play it; I will dance.

My pick of the week: I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor

Released in October, 1978 and still one of the top dance songs of all time.

Monday, July 13, 2009


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I just spent a wonderful weekend with family in farm country, Indiana with little to no, I repeat no internet access. A trip to Starbuck’s for WiFi was an ordeal to say the least. (Thanks for the help Syd!) I returned home yesterday only to find that my internet was down. Way down. This is not common at my house and I struggled all night trying to get it up and running. I’m not addicted by any means but I had things to do. Check email, blog, research…all the things I wasn’t able to do over the weekend. I felt lost and frustrated.

However, I knew I needed to get my Monday morning SIS post uploaded, so I woke up extra early and made my way to a coffee shop just so I could share this with you. See…I’m focused. Read further!

As you all know, I’m working on my first book—sort of—a couple of years ago I dabbled with writing but never made it past the first two chapters. I still think that story has substance and I may get back to it in the future. But I call this one—my first.

In the meantime, I’m struggling to set aside another plot in hopes of completing my current book. I love these characters and how they are connecting to each other. I love the story I’m telling but still…I get this niggling feeling in the back of my head. OFTEN.

That feeling is my next story. The one begging to be told. The one I have dreams about and make notes about while I’m supposed to be working. Working my day JOB and working on my current WIP. The story is so very different from this one that I find it incredibly hard to stay focused at times.

Should I stop what I’m working on and put all my energy into the untold story? “NO!” Screams a voice in my head. “You must finish this.” If I don’t, I fear I may not know the proper path to completion and in my mind I will have failed.

That’s not to say that others haven’t succeeded in this way. Some may be able to start a new project without finishing their current one and be fine with it. Excel even. I may be one of those people, but this is not the time to find out. I can’t give in to that urge to write this new story.

What I can do and what I will do is push on with my “first” story and make notes on the next one. Write down the dreams and keep the research down to a minimum. Allowing myself to be excited about an upcoming project just reassures me that I am in this for the long haul. I am committed.

Now if only I could stay focused.

Can you work on multiple related projects at once? Are you focused? Please share!

SIS Barb

SIS Switch

Hi, all!

Just a quick note to remind you I'll be attending the National RWA Conference this week. Workshops, publisher parties, dinner with my agent and editor. Lots of business, but lots of fun. Fortunately we won't be short here at SIS because our sister, B.J., agreed to sub for me. Please make her feel welcome! I'll shout out when I can with reports from Washington DC.

Have a great week!
SIS Beth

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Cafe Chaos -- Movies

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Sis Barb says . . .
Unfortunately, I really don't get to watch many movies. There just doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day. Seriously. But there are times when the family and I sit down to watch some incredibly entertaining today, I'm recommending a TV show. Hope that's okay.

My Pick of the Week: Wipeout
I know what you're thinking. Is this girl kidding me? Oh, I jest not. You must watch this show. My family and I are hooked and now since I've talked about it so much at work, others have jumped on the bandwagon! The pleasure of seeing these brave and silly contestants getting socked in the head by a mechanical boxing glove or struggling to stay atop the "big balls" only to bounce off into the murky water beneath is more than anyone can ask for in an hours worth of mindless entertainment. I recently told Tori how I dream of a Wipeout theme park. Build it and I will be there! (no cameras please!) Catch it on ABC on Wednesday evenings! You won't be disappointed.

Sis Brenda says . . .
While sitting here bored out of my skull on a Friday night, I decided to go through my DVD collection and find something to make my night a little more exciting. I came upon a movie that I have not watched in probably five years and now I can't wait to watch it!

My Pick of the Week: The Count of Monte Cristo

Here is an excerpt from the back cover of the DVD...

When the dashing and guileless Edmond Dantes (Caviezel) is betrayed by his best friend (Pearce) and wrongly imprisoned, he becomes consumed by thoughts of vengeance. After a miraculous escape, he transforms himself into the mysterious and wealthy Count of Monte Cristo, insinuates himself into the French nobility and puts his cunning plan of revenge in action. This swashbuckling thriller will have you sitting on the edge of your seat until the last ounce of revenge is exacted.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and am thrilled to be watching it once again. Enjoy!

SIS Beth says…
The other day I tripped upon a trailer for the new Sherlock Holmes movie directd by Guy Ritchie (who’s style admire) and starring Robert Downey Jr, (whose acting I adore).
I can’t wait! But I’ll have to. It doesn’t come out until Decemeber. Darn. In the meantime, I’ll recommend one of my favorite films of last year. Saw it twice in the theater and bought the DVD. It also stars Robert Downey Jr.

My Pick of the Week: Ironman (2008)
Here’s the plot in a nutshell coutesy if IMDB: When wealthy industrialist Tony Stark is forced to build an armored suit after a life-threatening incident, he ultimately decides to use its technology to fight against evil.

One of the best things about this movie is the setup. So often movies rush to get to the action and fail to spend enough time focusing on who the protagonist was before and what made him tick prior to his/her metomophisis to ‘hero’. Braveheart did an excellent job of this. Gladiator, not so much, hence I never rooted for Crowe’s character nearly as much as Gibson’s. Ironman delivers in spades, focusing Tony Stark’s unhero-like persona for quite some time as well as the events that ‘changed’ him.

was a joy to watch. A clever adventure with nail-biting tension in addition to thrilling action scenes. Oh, and some sweet sexual chemistry! Rent it. Buy it. Watch it. Inspiring fun for all ages.

Friday, July 10, 2009


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Life is always chaotic, but especially so now. The day job aside, I’m up against a crushing deadline for my next book. On top of that, next week I’ll be away attending the RWA (Romance Writers of America) National Conference in Washington DC. I don’t actually leave until Wednesday, but I have a lot of preparing to do… plus there’s the deadline thing.

Before I move on, I have to apologize to those of you who won a book from me. I have not forgotten. I swear. The days have blurred, dealing with the above as well as some personal things. Still, no excure. I will get those out pronto. Thank you for your patience. Now. Moving on...

Since I’ll be slammed next week, I asked my (our) sister, B.J. (a regular visitor here at SIS) if she would sub for me. I’m thrilled to announce she agreed. So next week, all week, B.J. will be blogging with Bren and Barb in my place. Please do check back and make her feel welcome. She’s a fantastic friend and sister, and a lot of fun.

As for my feature today… I’m going to cheat a little and dip into my personal blog archives. Follows a post that I wrote two years ago almost to the day. It highlights a subject near to my heart: NETWORKING. This is only one of five articles I wrote on the subject. It’s timely, given I’m heading to a business conference. I hope you find it of interest! NETWORKING isn’t just for writers, but for anyone who’s trying to build a career in any field.

(Originally written July 7, 2007)

Day Four of my series of posts on Networking. I hope some of you’re finding some of these tips useful. For more extensive views on the subject, I highly recommend “Power Networking – 55 Secrets for Personal & Professional Success”, by Donna Fisher and Sandy Vilas.

Today I’ll highlight a few active networking tips. I’ll use Fisher and Vilas’s bullet points and elaborate from my own perspective.

Networking in Action:

* Dress to Impress
I attended my first Romantic Times Booklovers Convention in 1994. I attended alone and I didn’t know a soul. I knew that the convention was for booklovers, therefore a lot of readers would be there and probably dressed more casually. But I was there for the writing workshops. My goal: to someday be published. I was there for business so I dressed accordingly. The very first night, at the welcome reception, a published author and her husband came over to me (I was drinking a soda and doing an incredible impression of a wallflower) and engaged me in conversation. I was thrilled! At one point, the husband glanced at my nametag and saw that I was an ‘aspiring writer’. He said, “Oh. We came over to speak to you because you looked like somebody.”

Meaning somebody they should get to know… like an editor or an agent. Not something I would have said, folks, however they were very nice and instead of dwelling on that odd comment, I reflected on the fact that they’d cited my attire. I looked like an industry professional. Lesson learned? If you want to be perceived as a professional, be sure to portray professionalism through your clothes, speech, and mannerisms. Please note that this doesn’t mean I wear conventional suits. I’m not a conventional kind of gal. I wear funky suits and dresses with stylish but comfortable shoes. Professional yet fitting my personal style. Whether you're conventional or quirky, just strive to make a statement that shouts, "I'm somebody you want to know!"

* Make a Strong First Impression
Introduce yourself in a concise way. Who you are. What you do. A strong handshake shows confidence.Long ago my husband taught me the importance of a firm handshake. Just because you’re a woman that doesn’t mean you should shake like a lightweight. He calls it the limp-fish handshake.In my previous life, I was a longtime professional performer. One day, following an audition at an unnamed casino, my agent introduced me to the VP of Marketing. A young woman. I expected a firm handshake. A VP for gosh sake. I got the limp-fish. My first thought was that she lacked confidence. She was also uncomfortable making eye contact. Neither of these things made for a strong first impression.

*Memorize Names and Faces
Listen when they say their name, glance at their nametag, use their name in conversation. People are flattered if you remember them the next time you see them. In turn, if it seems someone does not recognize you, spare them any awkwardness by reintroducing yourself. I confess this is a huge problem for me. I have a horrible memory. It can be mortifying. Especially if I’ve had a conversation with this person at a previous conference. I should know their name. I should remember specifically what we spoke of. But often it’s a blur. Not because they’re not memorable, but because something doesn’t fire right with my memory skills. It’s forever something I’m trying to improve upon.

*Be Gracious and Courteous
Hold a door or an elevator for someone. Ask how you can assist the host/hostess. RSVP promptly to invitations. Send a thank you note after you attend a meeting or special event. In other words, be considerate.

*Give out Business Cards Appropriately
Passing out your business cards randomly is not an effective use of your cards. An exchange of cards should happen following a discussion or to provide an individual with requested contact info. Later you can also jot notes on the back of the card to reminding you who this person is or what he said. Especially helpful for someone like me, someone with a faulty memory.

*Acknowledge Contacts – Follow Up
If someone provides you with their contact information, try to follow up with a card or email. This helps to establish a relationship. If someone judges your work in a contest, follow up with a note. If an agent or editor rejects your work, follow up with a thank you note. Even if they do not acknowledge your ‘thank you’ you just put your name in their mind again and in a positive way.

Quote for the Day:
“The power of networking comes from people and the development of strong solid relationships.” -- Donna Fisher and Sandy Vilas, authors of Power Networking

Thoughts, feeling, added tips? Do share!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Cafe Chaos - Books

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SIS Barb says…

I read A LOT. Most of the time, I read fiction, however, since starting my writing endeavor I’ve picked up a couple of “how-to” books. These books have been incredibly helpful and as my writing talent grows, so does my passion and confidence.

My Pick of the Week: The Magic of Writing (How to Write and Publish the Book that is Inside You)

From common mistakes to inspiring homework assignments to incredible tips, this book has it all. The Magic of Writing inspired me more than any of the others I’ve read. It kept me interested with great examples of good vs. better, showing vs. telling, the –ing and –ly words and everything in between. I HIGHLY recommend this book to any beginning writer.

Author: Linda J Falkner

SIS Bren says...

I love it when I pick up a book, begin to read, and can't put it down until I have finished reading it. Of course I take breaks for things like feeding the children and sleeping, but other than that, non-stop reading. I usually finish books like that in two days! The down fall is that it almost always leaves me with the feeling of wanting more. And so it was with...

My pick of the week: ANGELS & DEMONS
This book captured me from the very first lines of the proloque. Although it is a fictional work, it is also filled with many facts...ancient and current...that had me intrigued. I know that most people have probably already read this book from the author of "The DaVinci Code", but I couldn't help but recommend it. I read it once and then, when the illustrated version was released, I bought that and read it again. It was great to be able to see the works of art as he was describing them. I preferred this book to "The DaVinci Code" and can't wait for September when his newest novel "The Lost Symbol" is released. Happy Reading!

Author: Dan Brown

SIS Beth says…

This week’s recommendation is a no-brainer and very fresh in my mind. I gobbled it up over the holiday weekend. It was my treat when breaking away from the intense revisions on my own book. Lucky for me, it proved inspiring as well as entertaining. Bonus!

My pick of the Week: Dead Until Dark

I’ve never been huge on vampires. There have been a few exceptions—movie wise. Dracula starring Gary Oldman, Interview with a Vampire starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, and, most recently, Twilight starring those beautiful young people. I was entranced. . . seduced by the fanged wonders, even though I find the whole blood drinking thing disgusting. Although, all adapted from books, I never read the original works. (Bren’s cringing right now.)

Recently, I’ve been hearing a awful lot about the HBO series True Blood. Adapted from a series of Charlaine Harris books featuring heroine Sookie Stackhouse. These books are incredibly popular, and though intrigued to check out the TV adaptation, I decided to read the book first. I started with the first in the series, Dead Until Dark, and was blown away. I adored Harris’s voice, her writing style, her storytelling. I was sucked into her vampire world and seduced by her vampire, Bill. That’s right. A vampire named Bill. Gotta love that. How to describe the story… Quirky, endearing, creepy, mysterious, sexy…engrossing. I’ve already ordered book two. Oh, and I put the first season of True Blood on hold at my library. I am officially a Sookie/Bill geek.

Author: Charlaine Harris