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On Romance Reading and Writing

I spent the week before Christmas on vacation in Providence, RI. Before hopping on that Amtrak train, I hit Barnes & Noble to stock up on a genre I'm further studying: romance novels. It's a not-so-hidden secret that I'm a fan, and I've attempted to write one before, though half heartedly. This fall, I made major steps in that direction. I have 40-something pages of my first real shot at a novel almost done (the photo includes pages that are part of that manuscript), and I'll be submitting a sample from that book to a competition in January. I have a pen name picked out, too, but I don't know if I'll use it. More on that in another post. While I've read romances and I'm a member of RWA , I've stuck to a few authors whose work I know I'll love, so for vacation, I went judging books by their covers, honing in on contemporary romance whose authors had hit the New York Times bestseller's list: Only His by Susan Mallery and Coming H

On bad books

I was in New York this weekend on a two-day writing retreat, and brought a book I'd expected to review for Guyspeed.com along with me (I stayed in Red Bank, NJ, which meant I had some down time on the train to and from New York). But the book was so rotten that I emailed my editor and said I just couldn't do it - and this is a site that will list things that they hate. Could I have done that for this book? Yes. I didn't, though, because I hadn't read the whole thing. Two chapters was enough. In order to do a proper "I hate it" review, I'd have to read the whole thing (yes, I have ethics!), and I didn't want to subject myself to that. Two reasons why the book was bad: 1. It was written by someone who said they were an 'expert' on the topic, though she'd only been doing it for four years. Sorry, writer. Four years does not make you an expert on something as multi-level and complicated like this, especially when you write about the peop

Let's talk about Eloisa James

I've been doing some book review for this site , which is very fun. I've also been plowing through two tomes on personal finance, which is not very fun. And then there's holiday and family stress, and I decided I needed a break. This year, those kind of reading/mental breaks have been spent with Eloisa James . Eloisa James is the pen name for Mary Bly, a Shakespeare professor at Fordham. I interviewed her back in 2009 for a story I wrote on the real lives of romance writers. I'd never read her books before, but included her because of her fun story, and because she lived in New Jersey. She was incredibly friendly and smart - a great interviewee. I read one of her books for the story, and enjoyed it, which surprised me because she writes historical fiction. Most of her books take place mostly in the Regency time period (1811-1820). Historical romances were never really my thing, probably because my first experiences with these books were sneaking reads from the b

Four years later, an essay

If you've read Book a Week with Jen - the ebook or the blog - you know I kept referencing an essay I was writing about the person who dumped me, an event that was one of the things that lead to me starting the 52 books in 52 weeks project. Four years later, here it is. It's been completely rewritten, revised and rewritten again since I first wrote it, and I obviously updated it, but it's finally seeing the light of day. I wrote then that, if it were ever published, that "the sh*t would hit the fan." I don't think it will now. That great big thing called "time" and "perspective" have changed things, and gave me the space from the actual event to write an essay I felt like I could share. It's not pretty, and part of me is still very embarrassed that I let myself get into that situation. But if this essay helps one other person, then it's worth it.

Reading 2011

This came in the mail yesterday. Well, these. I'm starting to review books for a new website, and I called in a specific kind of book from publicists on my book PR list. I thought I'd get a few. Didn't think I'd require a crate. I spent some time with Book a Week with Jen when I was turning it from a blog series into a book. One thing I realized is how little I write about books anymore compared to 2007-2008. A few reasons for this. First, my writing was deflected into travel writing when The Jersey Shore: Atlantic City to Cape May was published - more than I could have imagined. It's now in its second edition, so I've spent a large chunk of my writing time on the shore in the last four years. I mean a really large chunk . Second, there just aren't many book review outlets anymore. When Frank Wilson retired as the books editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer , I lost my reviewing gig there (yes I tried, but that editor who took over his role has never

Book a Week with Jen - now on sale!

"In 2007, freelance journalist Jen A. Miller got dumped, lost her grandfather, wrote a book and bought a house - all in a four month span. She couldn't run, she couldn't write, and spent most of her time lying on her office floor. To break herself out of her depression, she decided to read 52 books in 52 weeks, and write about them all. In Book a Week with Jen , Jen recovers from the worst year of her life by reading - everything from dating books written for men to foodie lit to running books to romance novels (and even an instruction guide to threesomes). Funny, inspiring, and full of essays about good books, Book a Week with Jen is how one writer used the power of reading to pull herself through to a brighter side." It's finally here! The Book a Week with Jen eBook! Thanks to everyone who supported this project, both when I first started writing it in 2007 and those talented pros who helped the actual eBook happen. I hope you enjoy it - and for only $

Book a Week with Jen: The ebook!

This blog isn't dead yet! In fact, it's now an ebook! Well, partly. I don't want to say too much since the book's not actually on sale yet, but if you read this blog from the beginning, you'll be very familiar with what the book is about. More details soon!

Review: American Wife

This is a curious book. Joyce Carol Oates called Curtis Sittenfeld's third book, American Wife: A Novel , her most ambitious project. I might agree with her there. But I'm not sure I agree that the ambitionof this novel quite followed through. American Wife is about Alice, a small town girl who lives a dull, normal life. As a teenager, she kills a classmate in a car accident. She eventually because a librarian. At 31, she meets Charlie Blackwell, a loveable but somewhat dim man who has inherited fortune as part of a well known political family name. They marry. They falter. He buys a baseball team. He drinks. He stops drinking. And he eventually becomes President of the United States. Sound familiar? That's because Alice's story mimics that of former first lady Laura Bush. Sure, Charlie works in meat packing and lives in Wisconsin. But there is no way to not see the similarities, right on down to Laura causing the death of a classmate in a car accident. Sittenfe

Interview: Michael Uslan

Check out the August issue of New Jersey Monthly for my interview with Michael Uslan about his new book, The Boy Who Loved Batman: A Memoir Uslan is responsible for getting every modern Batman movie - from 1989 to today - on screen, and the book is about his journey in making that happen. Believe it or not, it was not an easy road. But it's more than just a "my life in movies" book. It's a wonderful memoir about being a kid growing up in New Jersey. The writing is vivid and lively, and I devoured this book in three days - three very stressful, busy days where all I wanted to do was drop everything to finish the book. It's a great read.

Observation Part 2: More Hair Covers

So apparently this is still happening. Those were all taken yesterday at Barnes & Noble. I didn't go looking for them - they were all in the same "new releases" shelf. I barely even had to move to take a picture of all of them. Why? No clue. Any thoughts?

Review: Everything I Know about Love I Learned from Romance Novels

Welcoming back Sarah Wendell, aka Smart Bitch Sarah to the blog today. She was co-author of Beyond Heaving Bosoms , and my go-to person for two articles I wrote about romance writers . As her website says, she is "Man Titty Media Pundit." Her new book, Everything I Know about Love I Learned from Romance Novels , comes out in October. If you haven't checked out her site , please do. It is everything you want a website to be: funny (very funny), informative, and opinionated. Her topic is romance novels. As I am a defender of the real Jersey Shore , she is a defender of a genre that generates over $10 billion a year. Still, despite romances being one of the most if not the most profitable segment of a declining book industry, romance writers and readers are easy targets. Want examples? This , this or this will do. Dumb. Epically stupid. To suggest that women who read romances are addicted to porn is idiotic. Would you say your grandfather is addicted to mystery bec

For Dads and Daughters

If you've got a daughter active in sports - or your said girl who was/is active in sports (hello my fellow brethren!), check out Daddy's Little Goalie: A Father, His Daughters, and Sports by Robert Strauss. Robert is friends with my aunt and uncle, and his daughters - yes of the book - are classmates with my cousins. He is also a skilled journalists, and we often share bylines in the same section of a magazine or newspaper. Example: for the July issue of New Jersey Monthly, he wrote a feature about Atlantic City, and I wrote the sidebar about Miss America. Anyway, it's a recommend.

Book Expo America Book Signing

For anyone going to the Book Expo America conference: I'll be signing copies of my book on Tuesday at 11am. I'll be at booth 3424. AND I WILL HAVE SALT WATER TAFFY.

Anatomy of Two Articles

As you probably know from reading this blog, I'm a freelance journalist, and sometimes I write about books. For the last year or so, I've been reviewing books for American Way magazine, and I can't review those books right after reading them because of my contract. But now that these two stories are out, I thought you might be interested to see how two assignments from the same book came about. In September, I get a slew of catalogs from publishers, showcasing what books will be coming out in the next season. After I think most of them have hit my mailbox, I sit down with sticky notes and a pen, and start marking what books I might want for what magazines. One of those books was Halfway to Hollywood: Diaries 1980--1988 by Monty Python's Michael Palin. "American Way," I marked on the sticky, and requested the book. I pitched it to my editor who said yes. I then proceeded to read all 660+ pages of the book. The assignment was only 125 words. I was get

Review: Fool for Love by Eloisa James

Oh HELL yeah I read another romance novel. C'mon, folks. Smart chicks read them, too, especially when they're written by Shakespeare professors from Fordham. Quick refresher: Eloisa James is really Mary Bly, who I wrote about here . I don't really dig historical romance - especially when the hero is named "Darby" in an obvious one-letter difference from hero of heroes Darcy. But Bly's books are so researched, and interesting and funny, and such a window into another time period that, when I wanted something fun to read, and couldn't quite handle another Nora Roberts murder-mystery themed romance, picked up Fool for Love , which James published in 2003. The heroine here is Henrietta, a country bumpkin of sorts but Heiress whose mother died in childbirth. She has also inherited her mother's weak hip, which doctors told her was the reason her mother is dead, and warned Henrietta that she cannot have children. Darby (yes, see?) is a bit of a city fo

Review: Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and the Marriage of the Century

Long title. Longer book. But worth it. I'm 30. When I was a kid, the Elizabeth Taylor I knew sold that White Diamonds perfume and was good friends with Michael Jackson. I saw her and Burton in the movie Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe and, like most Hollywood icons, thought she was gorgeous, but that's about it. When she died, I asked both my boss and my father who they thought would meet her at the pearly white gates. "Richard Burton," they both said. On a Facebook recommendation, I picked up Furious Love to get a better understanding of what everyone talked about between these two. Goodness. Talk about a love hate/relationship. I don't know if I hoped that Burton met her at the gates of heaven, or if they should still stay in their separate quarters. If Taylor were one of my friends, I'd have told her a zillion times to just stop talking to him, knowing that she couldn't stay away. It's a sad book, too. What if they hadn't been so pub

Review: Just Kids

Not sure what I can say that hasn't been said already about Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids . Not only has it been widely praised, but was also a nominee for book of the year in the National Book Circle Critic Award in the autobiography category. Smith, I didn't know, grew up in the South Jersey area. I also had no idea that she lived at the Chelsea Hotel , that she never thought she'd be a singer, that she went to New York to be an artist in drawing and poetry. I had no idea that she was such an amazing writer, either. It's not really a rock and roll memoir. Instead, it's a coming of age story about a confused young woman who moves to New York at 20 years old after giving up a baby for adoption. She lives on the streets for a while until she meets the artist Robert Mapplethorpe . Together, they struggle with their work, themselves, and if not each other, then their relationship with each other, particularly Mapplethorpe, who was exploring his homosexuality

Review: Spoiled

In July, I bought a pair of pink loafers. I had just started a full time gig and needed something other than flip flops to wear to work. Closed toe shoes were vital, too, since I'd banged my toes up pretty good running, and no one wanted to see that. After an hour in DSW, I found a pair of pink loafers. They seemed ridiculous. I hate pink. I don't really like loafers. But they were deeply discounted, so I figured I'd give them a shot. Eight months later, I traveled to a conference in Tampa with only one pair of shoes in my bag: the pink loafers. They are comfortable and, believe it or not, go with almost anything. I tell this story because that's how I felt about Spoiled . Looking at it, I thought that the book wasn't for me. It's a young adult book about a spoiled Hollywood brat and the stink she puts up when the half sister she never knew moved into her mansion. Not exactly my kind of thing, especially since (aside from the half sister part), I figured i

Review: Drinking with Miss Dutchie

My feelings on Drinking with Miss Dutchie : mixed. And short. On one hand, Ed Breslin's story is worth telling. He finally was able to commit to sobriety and quit smoking after he and his wife adopted a lab they named Dutchie. He circled the drain multiple times with his drinking, and having a dog helped him, he thinks, finally pull out of that death spiral. On the other hand, the narrative of this book is a muffled. Breslin jumps back and forth from the current day to the past and back again, and repeats himself. I think this would have done much better told in a linear fashion. It would have given strength to the memoir element rather than shucking it behind the story of a couple and their dog.

Review: Rules of Civility

Rules of Civility was on the top of the stack of galleys in my office when I was about to leave on vacation. I saw the cover, read through the preface and though, OK, this book might have a shot. It had more than a shot. It's a stunning novel, and one that I read in just over a day. Rules of Civility is about Katey Kontent, a 25-year-old secretary who, with roommate Eve, meets a Tinker Grey on New Year's Eve, 1937. Katey is a legal typist. Grey comes draped in a fine cashmere coat and orders the girls champagne just as they ran out of nickels for martinis. Yes, he is Gatsby-like, but without the overlapping obsession about one woman. And since the book starts in the 1960s with Katey looking at an art exhibit featuring Tinker as a poor penniless man, you know that this wealth will not last long. The trio hit it off, and eventually make dates together. Tinker seems to be leaning toward Katey, which doesn't rest too well with Eve. Right when Eve seems to shake it off, t

Review: In Office Hours

Well, this was a dishy little novel. In Office Hours is about two women who have affairs. One, Stella, is a higher up at a ginormous oil company in London. She starts sleeping with a 27 year old male new hire - yes, she's married, but not to him. The other is Bella, a 20-something single mom who works at the same company and starts banging her married boss. In each case, we only get inside the woman's head. It's the kind of book that makes me wonder why ANYONE would have an affair. They both seem to know it won't end well, but they forge ahead anyway. But why? It's not that author Lucy Kellaway doesn't explain the (gravely flawed) rationale for their actions...but maybe it's me. Kellaway is an editor and columnist at the Financial Times, which is why the office part of this book is spot on. That, combined with the British melodrama feel of the book, makes for a light read. I'd have enjoyed this on vacation if I was away.

Review: The Secret Lives of Dresses

I don't know if I've ever described a book this way, but here goes: The Secret Lives of Dresses is cute. I can't think of a better word to wrap up this sweet story about a college senior who, after her grandmother ends up in the hospital, starts working at her grandmother's vintage clothing store. It's written about Erin McKean, the woman behind the super fun Dress a Day blog. Talk about the right book at the right time, too. Last year, I wrote this piece about vintage in Tampa for the New York Times . I'm trying to find the perfect vintage dress to wear to my book launch party in May, and I've been talking to a few dealers about my options (late 60s, early 70s, something along the lines of Halston designs - apparently that's what I'm after). I also made a big vintage buy in December - probably the most expensive dress I have ever purchased - and I think it was worth it. I'm flying back to Tampa in March for Phillies spring training, and try