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Connie Brockway: All-Time Favorite Scottish Romances, Part I

Connie-BrockwayGuest contributor Connie Brockway is a best-selling Romance author, eight-time finalist for the Romance Writers of America's prestigious RITA award, and two-time recipient for My Dearest Enemy and The Bridal Season.

My alma mater, Macalester College, used to hold a Scottish Faire during which Bonny lassies would cheer hirsute Braveheart wannabes to their best endeavors in a modern rendition of the Highland games. Now, I’m not claiming that the sight of brave young laddies in kilts heaving telephone poles (aka cabers) around a football field engendered my love of Scottish romances, but it sure didn’t hurt.

Highland-SurrenderAlas, the Highland Fair fell victim to the last economic downturn and it’s been several years since the ghost of Robert Burns has goosed the co-eds on Olin Field. My love of Scottish romance has not dimmed, however, so this past month I asked my readers to submit their all-time favorite Scottish romances. The results were unsurprising (to see a full list of the titles submitted, subscribe to my newsletter), but there were some “Hey! I haven’t read that one,” moments. In fact, there were so many fine suggestions (for both old and newer titles) that I simply can’t do them all justice in one column. So, next month it’s “Hoot Man, Part Two!”

Bewitching by Jill Barnett

Barnett pairs a somewhat inept, always adorable Scottish witch with a chill, pragmatic nobleman in this light-hearted take on Bell, Book, and Candle. I loved watching the cold duke’s heart being melted in spite of himself by the lovely Scottish girl whom he weds in haste, unaware of her magic propensities.

Highland Surrender by Tracy Brogan

Believing her in-laws murdered her mum is a valid reason for Fiona Sinclair to be an unhappy bride. And concern over whether his new bride's going to make herself a widow might dampen the spirits of a lesser man, but—need I say this?—not Scotsman Myles Campbell. Treachery and political intrigue provide a well-textured backdrop for a poignant romance in which a young girl, well out of her depths, struggles to reconcile what she thinks she knows with what her heart tells her. A classic sweep-me-away tale of romance and daring-do!

Son of the Morning by Linda Howard

Dumb Connie never read this book, despite the hype. But now that’s been rectified, and wowza, am I ever glad. Heart-pounding suspense, cool arcane tidbits, time travel, hearts afire across the centuries--this book is the whole package! An archeologist in possession of history-altering info is pursued by uber-bad guys and protected across time by a burning hunk-of-gorgeous Knight Templar. I know, crazy. But it works!

Laird of the Mist by Paula Quinn

This is as far from the tender Bewitching as you’re likely to find: Paula Quinn doesn’t hold back on the grit and gore in this tale of star-crossed lovers from bitter enemy clans. Callum MacGregor's set on revenge for the genocide of his clan--clearly, not without justification--so when fate delivers a fierce, fiery, and equally justified in hating his clans' guts lassie into his hands, it's up in the air whether he'll bed her, wed her, or dead her. (Couldn’t resist the rhyme.)

The Last Debutante by Julia London

London's in full winsome mode in this lovely Scottish romp. Spinster Daria Babcock hits the Highlands on a mission to rescue her dear old gran, only to discover the old lady tending a bloody laird (no, that’s not a oath--he really is bleeding) who'd come to reclaim the money the old lady had stolen and been shot by the same. The confounded Scotsman takes Daria hostage, and so begins a battle of the sexes and hearts. Great, great fun! --Connie Brockway

50 Great American Love Stories: How They Made Our Map

Great American Love Stories

Of all the projects I've helped launch in nearly 15 years at Amazon, this map of 50 Great American Love Stories, with the heart of each state linking to our picks, felt from the start like one of the most ambitious. But it's also been great fun. Since we unveiled it last week, we've had a steady stream of comments from readers, including some constructive criticism (which we took to heart), but mostly kudos and some welcome contributions. In case you’re curious, here's a peek at how our Great American Love Stories map came together.

Our Mission: To select and map the best books about love ever set in America, from before its founding into its hypothetical future. We sought books that captured the complete spectrum of love: the whole sweet, passionate, messy, ecstatic, devastating, depraved, beautiful universe of human experience.

The Method to Our Mapness:

  • Compile a sprawling list of our favorite stories about love.
  • Weed out all the great love stories that aren't set in America and save those for a future feature.
  • Ask our Facebook fans and a few friends with great taste in books to send us their faves, to make sure we didn't miss anything wonderful.
  • Narrow it down to a more manageable hundred or so.
  • Sleuth out the settings for each of them.
  • Discover to our delight that The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is set in New Jersey.
  • Decide early on that we're OK with inevitable blowback from calling Gone Girl a "Great American Love Story," because it's the most twisted love story we've read in years, and America's really pretty famous for this brand of tabloid weirdness.
  • Realize we have about a dozen terrific picks for states like New York, and none yet for, say, Delaware and West Virginia.
  • Scour the heck out of the web for good books set in Delaware and West Virginia. Find some lovely choices for the latter; eventually decide that Delwarians will have to live with the fact that obsessive, murderous love is still a kind of love, and Ann Rule is the queen of true crime. Secretly hope someone from Delaware will tell us we missed something great. (Not yet--but there's still time, romantic readers from Deleware!)
  • Cull the list again, making painful choices about what to highlight and what will get honorable mentions. (Sorry, Time Traveler's Wife and Just Kids. You're still great!)
  • Notice that John Irving and Tennessee Williams are the only authors with two books in the top 50 (two incredible plays, in the case of Williams). Agree they deserve it.
  • Have the Fifty Shades conversation.
  • Write 50 blurbs that encapsulate why we picked each book in 15 words or less.
  • Make the page pretty.
  • Lose some sleep the night before we go live, hoping people all across America will love--or at least grudgingly like--the books we picked to represent their states.
  • Breathe an enormous sigh of relief when it's greeted with mostly great feedback: only one Facebook fan commenting incredulously on Gone Girl (and, OK, 3 other fans Liking her for it), one lone Deleware resident decrying our Ann Rule choice, and a history buff pointing out that John Smith and Pocahontas were never really intimately involved--so our original Virginia pick needed to go.
  • Feel a little guilty about leaving out D.C. Decide we'll work it in next year (even though it will totally throw off the symmetry of the rows).

Just like our country, our love story list continues to evolve--so please check them out and keep the comments coming. Whether you live in America or Antarctica, we hope you're living your own great love story. And if you've yet to be so lucky, you can always do it vicariously through a great book. X.O.X.! --Mari

Get Smitten With Zombie Romance

Warm BodiesIt took a while, but ultimately Beauty saw something special in the Beast. Then there's Bella, who just couldn't help but chase after that centuries-old vampiric hearthtrob Edward.

Let's face it: ladies like a little ... okay, a lot of challenge in their loving. And with the adaptation of Isaac Marion's Warm Bodies hitting theaters, we might just be witnessing the beginning of a whole new Hollywood epidemic of cinematic monster crushes.

Of course, the film world will find no shortage of material from which to choose; the popularity of zombie romance has been spreading like a virus among young adult readers for quite some time as quirky one-offs and entire series base themselves on these brain-eaters.

For genre purists, the story involves at least one undead protaganist. Marion, for example tells his story in first person from the zombie's point of view, allowing us to experience his emotional reanimation as he falls in love. For the more lenient, a zombie romance can be any love story told in post-apocalyptic setting.

Intrigued? Sink your teeth into some of these:

I Kissed a Zombie Chivalry is Undead Forest of Hands and Teeth

Married With Zombies The Z Word: Apocalypse Babes Breathers

Dearly, Departed Love With a Chance of Zombies My Life as a White Trash Zombie

YA Wednesday: He-Said/She-Said with Chris Crutcher and Kelly Milner Halls

When it comes to relationships, there are always two sides to the story.  In Girl Meets Boy, 12 top young adult authors came together to create an anthology of diverse, original, he-said/she-said stories of love and heartbreak. One of these dual narratives is a collaboration between bestselling author Chris Crutcher and the mastermind and editor behind the book, Kelly Milner Halls.  The two of them recently got together again in this exclusive author one-on-one.--Seira

Kelly Milner Halls on Girl Meets Boy: Creating Girl Meets Boy, a he-said, she-said anthology for Chronicle books was a new challenge for me because I am best known for creating high interest nonfiction. But picking the writers I wanted for my YA project was a no brainer. I wanted the writers about whom I’d written and I wanted the best. My friend Chris Crutcher is the best of the best, and he was my partner in our interactive story pairing. So I caught up with him to ask a few questions about writing for Girl Meets Boy, as well as a few questions about his upcoming Fall 2012 release, Period 8.

Kelly Milner Halls: How did you feel about contributing to Girl Meets Boy --the concept of two authors exploring the same plot points from two different points of view?

Chris Crutcher: It's a very interesting idea, and novel. Perspective is always an author's friend, and the idea that perspective alone can create two different stories from one point of view is intriguing.

Milner Halls: You created the lead story for the pair of stories we wrote together. Were John Smith and Wanda Wickham characters you created just for Girl Meets Boy or were they rooted in other creative projects?

Crutcher: They were created for Girl Meets Boy. I'm sure I've used pieces of their personalties elsewhere, but they were specific to this anthology.

Milner Halls: Have you ever considered writing a book from alternating points of view as Joyce Carol Oates did in Big Mouth & Ugly Girl?

Crutcher: I haven't read that particular book. Angry Management contains a novella that tells the story from three different perspectives. It's not all that hard to do.

Milner Halls: Girl Meets Boy is often controversial in the topics it examines including sexual abuse, homosexuality, transgenderism and inter-racial relationships. Is there emotional value in fictionalizing realistic life issues?

Crutcher: I'm sure there is, but the emotional value of any story comes from the reader.

Milner Halls: Which is more difficult, writing a full-length novel or writing a short story for an anthology like Girl Meets Boy?

Crutcher: It's probably a toss-up. Short story is easier from a plot point of view because usually it's about a single thing and there's not room for great complexity like there is in a novel. But short story requires word economy and straightforwardness to a degree that a novel might not. Writing Short Story is a great way to train for writing longer material.

Read the rest of the conversation between Chris Crutcher and Kelly Milner Halls here

Why we picked them: #96 to #100.

Something about Best of the Year lists seems a little unfair. There are great books and brilliant authors all up and down the 2011 Amazon Best Books of the Year, and yet it’s always the Top 10, or maybe the Top 20, that gets the majority of the attention. Because we’re not all the same and (thankfully) don’t all share the same tastes, one person’s 98th-ranked book might be included in another’s Top 10. And vice versa. So, in honor of our differences, and to highlight the lower ranked but still great books farther down our Best of the Year list, I thought I might explain why we picked them, five at a time. I hope to work my way to the top five by the end of the year, but if I don’t it will be ok—the top books are going to get their share of attention anyway.

#100 – Delirium by Lauren Oliver


    The 100th pick this year is a young adult book. There aren’t a lot of young adult books on the Top 100 list, so it’s good to see one get the last spot on BOTY. In this case, Delirium was a February Best Book of the Month, and in her review, Jessica Schein (the books team’s primary YA expert) described it as a “powerful and beautifully written novel.” The hook of the story—that in the near future love has been identified as a disease—immediately grabs hold of your imagination. The Amazon customer reviews echo this point, and a number of our editors loved the book as well. It’s one that readers of The Hunger Games might find appealing, a book that, in Schein’s words, “throws readers into a tightly controlled society where options don’t exist, and shows not only the lengths one will go for a chance at freedom, but also the true meaning of sacrifice.”

Continue reading "Why we picked them: #96 to #100." »

Navy SEALS and Special Agents: Crime-Fighting Contemporary Romance Heroes


Last week on Omni, we highlighted our #1 pick from our Best of the Year So Far list for Romance, Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart, by Sarah Maclean.

This week, we’re featuring two more of our BOTYSF picks in Romance—this time focusing on the contemporary crime-fighting heroes from Breaking Point, by Pamela Clare, and Face of Danger, by Roxanne St. Claire. Both of these stories were taut and action-packed, and both featured hard-as-nails heroes who were more than just white knights sent to rescue the damsels in distress.

In Breaking Point, Clare crafts a realistic, ripped-from-the headlines story about a journalist, Natalie Benoit, who is captured by a terrifying drug lord. Also imprisoned at the same time is a former Navy SEAL, Zach McBride. Natalie and Zach take turns saving each others’ lives as they escape the cartel and make their way through the scorching-hot (in more ways than one, wink, wink) Sonoran desert and over the U.S. border. But getting Natalie safely home is only half the battle…

In Face of Danger, tomboyish private investigator Vivi Angelino takes on a case to protect a Hollywood starlet by acting as her body double, and by-the-book FBI agent Colton Lang is sent along to protect Vivi. Vivi soon discovers that the starlet is into more than bad movies, and Vivi and Colton join forces to uncover the truth about the actress’s dark past.

The plot and the action in Breaking Point kept me glued to my chair for an entire afternoon—I literally could not put it down. I loved the progression of Zach and Natalie’s relationship, and I loved that Natalie did her fair share of butt-kicking.

What I loved best about Face of Danger was the strongly developed personalities of Vivi and Colton. Our first glimpse of Vivi is at a skate park, and she’s dressed in clothes normal women would wear on the weekend—baggy t-shirt and comfy cargo pants. It was refreshing to read about a heroine who isn’t perfectly polished in stylish, sexy clothes every hour of the day. And Special Agent Colton Lang is kind of a hoot—he struck me as a Mr. Hospital Corners in his Dockers and ironed polo shirts. Vivi and Colton are an odd couple, for sure, but when they finally get together…it all fits.

Did you love Breaking Point and Face of Danger? Let us know what you loved—or didn’t—in the comments!

Best of the Year So Far: Romance Books We Love


Earlier this week we launched our Best of the Year So Far lists, and I’m particularly excited about the Romance list we put together. It was so difficult to choose our favorites for this year—there were way more than ten to choose from!—but as these lists tend to do, it forced us to think about what makes a Romance book truly great and focus on the ten most memorable books of the year (so far).

Our number one Romance pick of the year was Sarah MacLean’s Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart, starring feisty, Italian-born Juliana Fiori (who you might remember from MacLean’s first book in the Love by Numbers series, Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake).

Juliana is notorious for her difficulties conforming to the inscrutably complex rules of London society. One night, after thwarting the advances of an unwanted suitor, Juliana hides in a carriage—only to be discovered by its owner, Simon Pearson, Duke of Leighton, a man famed for his hauteur and aversion to scandal. Juliana resolves to teach him a lesson about living a passionate life before he marries his proper (read: dull) fiancée, while the “Duke of Disdain” agrees to watch over Juliana and protect her from further faux pas before she brings ruin to her family. But the Duke is hiding a scandal of his own, and when he becomes the center of the ton’s gossip, he realizes that the woman he wants by his side is the one who has caused—and weathered—a few scandals of her own.

I loved the realistic yet delightfully witty banter in Eleven Scandals, and I felt for both Juliana, who tries so hard to repress her unconventional nature (it’s not worth it, Juliana!), and Simon, whose primary motivation is to protect his family’s secrets, even at the expense of his own happiness. But what propelled this novel to the top of our favorites so far this year were the brilliant, fully realized set pieces (the best being a bittersweet Guy Fawkes Day bonfire) and the heart-wrenching role-reversal at the end. We won’t spoil it here—you’ll have to read the book to find out how it ends.

We’ll be discussing our Best of the Year So Far picks in Romance here on Omni over the next few weeks. We’d love to hear what you thought about our picks, as well as the ones we missed—join the conversation in the comments!

Omni Daily News: CWA Awards, Monroe & Duff's Reading, Mandela's Writing

Crime Writer's Association winners announced: This year's CWA Gold Dagger went to Belinda Bauer for her chillingly convincing debut, Blacklands. Simon Conway took the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for A Loyal Spy, while Ryan David Jahn won the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger with Acts of Violence.

On Marilyn Monroe's shelves: Another sneak peek at Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters (available tomorrow) via GalleyCat Reviews should put to bed even casual comparisons between Monroe and Lindsay Lohan, who--we can only assume--has yet to read Beckett, Flaubert, Camus, Conrad, Steinbeck, Kerouac, Hemingway, or Ellison.

On Hilary Duff's shelves: As the pop singer and Lizzie McGuire star's paranormal romance novel, Elixir, releases tomorrow, Duff gives The New York Post a look at her library, starting with The Hunger Games and The Pact, and advises aspiring authors that "I wrote a book, so it goes to show you that anyone can write a book if they have an idea." It's that easy.

Moving and shaking: Released today, Nelson Mandela's new memoir, Conversations with Myself, delves into his private archive of letters, private recordings, and diaries--including those he kept during 27 years in prison, recording everything from his blood pressure to the content of his dreams--to deliver (in the words of Verne Harris, an archivist at the Mandela Foundation who put together the book) a "Mandela who is fallible, who is quirky, who is vulnerable, and that opens for me a Nelson Mandela who's far more accessible" [via CNN]. It's moving up our Movers & Shakers list--and nearing the top of our Bestsellers in Books.

Omni Crush of the Decade: Ann Patchett's "Bel Canto"

Winnowing a year’s worth of memorable reads to a list of our top 100 picks has always felt--to our pack of rabid Amazonian booklovers--agonizing at times, but we now have new appreciation for the luxury of having slots enough for (almost all of) our true favorites. Compiling a short list of 10 books representing the best of the past decade was a much more unforgiving exercise, and I suspect some tears were shed (if only silently, in the shower) over the sidelining of the wondrous Oscar Wao.

The only personal pick I truly miss having on our decade list is Ann Patchett’s Pen/Faulkner Award-winning Bel Canto, which will surely be among the very first books I revisit someday (in that mythical time when I have time to reread). Other books may have had more objective literary merit (whatever that means), but for me, a tiny handful were as memorable.

Set in an unidentified South American country, Bel Canto takes place almost entirely within the walls of a palatial home, where a crowd of diplomats enjoying a famous opera singer's performance at a birthday party become the hostages of young insurgents--and remain their prisoners for weeks that stretch into months.

The story draws much of its dramatic tension from its moments of violence (and the knowledge that this situation cannot end well for captors and captives, all of whom we come to know and care for), but Patchett's characters transform most profoundly when hit by the power of love. They fall under the thrall of the soprano's extraordinary voice, of music itself, of a language they have just begun to understand, of the garden that surrounds the house with increasingly untamed exuberance. Some find themselves utterly transformed by their longing for each other, and they dwell in a sort of blissful paradox, imprisoned, yet unmoored from the structure of their outside lives, so that their mutual captivity becomes a new kind of freedom.

Bel Canto feels subtly, deeply romantic from its opening scene, which I share with you in the hope that you won't let another decade go by without willingly making yourself its hostage (if only for a few hours). --Mari

When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her. Maybe he had been turning towards her just before it was completely dark, maybe he was lifting his hands. There must have been some movement, a gesture, because every person in the living room would later remember a kiss.

They did not see a kiss, that would have been impossible. The darkness that came on them was startling and complete. Not only was everyone there certain of a kiss, they claimed they could identify the type of kiss: it was strong and passionate, and it took her by surprise.

They were all looking right at her when the lights went out. They were still applauding, each on his or her feet, still in the fullest throes of hands slapping together, elbows up. Not one person had come anywhere close to tiring. The Italians and the French were yelling, "Brava! Brava!" and the Japanese turned away from them.

Would he have kissed her like that had the room been lit? Was his mind so full of her that in the very instant of darkness he reached for her, did he think so quickly? Or was it that they wanted her too, all of the men and women in the room, and so they imagined it collectively. They were so taken by the beauty of her voice that they wanted to cover her mouth with their mouth, drink in. Maybe music could be transferred, devoured, owned. What would it mean to kiss the lips that had held such a sound? --Ann Patchett

YA Wednesday: Forks!

Jean No Vampires Beyond This Point
No, I'm not in Forks, WA. Debbie Reese posted photos of Twilight locales Forks and La Push on her blog, American Indians in Children's Literature. Reese has been talking this week about how Quileute legend in real life doesn't quite match up with New Moon (they do both have wolves!), including this article from Penninsula Daily News (the local paper).

Quick links...
A movie theater in the UK spoils all the fun, banning fans from kissing Robert Pattinson's cardboard cutout: "Please help reduce the spread of germs by refraining from giving Edward, or any other character for that matter, a kiss or hug."

Pattinsoncutout SLJ's Jonathan Hunt names his top YA fiction picks of 2009 on NPR:
Charles and Emma
Lips Touch: Three Times
The Lost Conspiracy
Marcelo in the Real World
When You Reach Me

Read Roger points out that one of the books is not fiction, and another is not YA.

Jen Robinson sneaks away from her guests for a while to read an advance copy of the moon-apocalypse sequel This World We Live In. (My kind of girl.)

bookshelves of doom reviews Cybils nominee (and one of my favorite YA books of 2009), This is What I Want to Tell You.

Looking for holiday YA recommendations? The Telegraph lists the books of the year for teens (in the UK, but some of them are out here). Chasing Ray has books for girls, more books for girls, and even more books for girls.

Think books for the holidays, and happy reading!--Heidi

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

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