Sunday, August 31, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 64 - The Meaning

The Meaning

The words that make me think of you are these
Soldier – for you had my back and I, yours
Department – with Cedric’s West Indian ease
For retail was our battleground, our shore

Kids – our tiny clientele… and parents
Lollipop – abandoned doll from glorious Oz
Thumbs in suspenders, kick, ‘We represent’
Leaving us bent and gasping with guffaws

‘Yarp’ – the Hot Fuzz joke is our souls bared
A laugh – it’s not a word. A laugh’s a sound
But laughter weaves through every hour we’ve shared
And every hour we’ve shared is treasure found

The words we say, the meaning of a phrase
Like ‘love’ that we write on a birthday card
The words for you embody all our days
The yarpy days and those that felt so hard

You’ve walked 500 miles for me and more
You’ve comforted and healed. You lift me up
I’ve hugged you tight when you shook to the core
Because we laughed soon after at the ‘Yarp.’

Copyright - 2008 - Julia Smith

In the photo: me, my friend Lisa and my husband Brad

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Happy Birthday My Friend

I've been very lucky to have my friend Lisa here with me for the whole week - and especially today, her 46th birthday.

We met 20 - count 'em - 20 years ago when we both worked in the children's shoe department at the Queen Street Simpson's store in Toronto. It's now The Bay.

Here we are all these years later and overjoyed to share this celebration together. A few years ago I was able to spend my own birthday in Cobourg, Ontario with Lisa, her husband and son.

We started the day off with a trip to the fabled Frenchy's. My family has always shopped at this chain of secondhand stores. When I lived in Toronto, my mom would send me boxes of clothes she'd picked up at her regular Frenchy runs. Lisa had always heard of Frenchy's, but on several trips to Nova Scotia had never been able to get to one - until today. Mom and I brought her to her inaugural Frenchy visit.

Here's Lisa checking out a blouse which didn't end up fitting, but her other finds were perfect.

For lunch we went to Bedford's landmark Chickenburger.

Then we drove out to Lawrencetown Beach so she could get some Atlantic Ocean time. This is my mom and Lisa.

Some beach rocks.

Some wave action.

My mom's addiction to beach rocks knows no bounds.

Back at the homestead, Mom put on a huge spaghetti spread in honor of Lisa's special day.

Lisa chats with my sister and Mom while my dog hangs out. My husband also joined us for the fun.

Happy Birthday, Lisa! You've made my world a spectacular place.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Thursday Thirteen - 70 - 13 Reasons to Read Love Thy Neighbor by Amy Ruttan

I'm thrilled to review this latest Amy Ruttan release. She's now working on an historical/paranormal series for Linden Bay Romance that the phrase 'I'm dying to get my hands on' barely describes.

1 - Amy is also the author of Fox's Bride, an historical set in 1720's Jamaica and Masque of Desire, a contemporary paranormal which takes place on a southern plantation.

2 - She's one of six talented erotic romance writers who blog at 6 Degrees of Sexy. All six women write for Ellora's Cave as well as for Cerridwen Press, Liquid Silver Books, Loose Id and Samhain Publishing.

3 - Love Thy Neighbor is part of the Ellora's Cave Oh Yum! series, featuring older women, younger men and lots of yum. The older woman here is a fabulous 40, while the younger man is a smart, ambitious 25-year-old.

4 - Beverly Robins moved into a beautiful home in Deerpark, Illinois two years ago with her husband, a former jock turned corporate suit. The day she saw the house with the real estate agent, she'd caught her first glimpse of the hunky son of the couple next door. The hunky brainiac son who'd just graduated Harvard Law - the type of guy she'd always admired from afar in college while dating jocks like the other girls from her social set.

5 - David Craig moved to Boston and a junior position at a law firm after graduation, but no amount of willing women could ever take his mind off of Ms. Robins. His parents' gorgeous neighbor was the real reason he'd never been home for a visit. But his sister's upcoming wedding was something he couldn't miss. And Ms. Robins was on the invitation list.

6 - Amy fills this quick read with strong secondary characters, including Janie, David's sister and the bride-to-be. She's a good friend to both him and Beverly, and I quite liked her. Her unfortunate choice of bridesmaids gives us Brenda, a rival for Beverly for David's precious time during the week-long wedding preparations. David's mother and Beverly's ex-husband also give lasting impressions.

7 - There is room for occasional hilarity in this otherwise scorchy novella. Like this moment from the pre-wedding luau at David's parents':

"He cocked his eyebrow. 'What do you have against…' he trailed off as he caught sight of his eighty-three-year-old grandfather hobbling by in a garish Hawaiian shirt, Bermuda shorts hiked up and belted under his armpits and black socks to his knees with mesh shoes.

'Hey sonny,' he called out as he walked by.

Ms. Robins was giggling into her hand.

'Point taken, Ms. Robins,' David said.

8 - I really, really love Amy's dialogue. She spins speech like a screenwriter. Every character has his or her own voice, and their dialogue is natural and moves characterization and plot forward. Can anyone ask for more? (A clue - no.) Here are seven lines of dialogue that pack a lot of info as well as convey character:

"She came out of her bedroom and was startled to see him standing in the branches, out of breath.

'The back door was open,' she chuckled.

'I like climbing trees, so much easier than climbing corporate ladders. Less work and less pain,' he said, trying to keep himself from panting and wincing from the pain in his abdomen from pulling himself from branch to branch.

'I see. Are you going to be all right? You’re breathing pretty heavy there,' she asked, cocking a thinly arched brow. He could tell she was trying to control her laughter. He beat his chest and gave a soft Tarzan yell.

'Just the sight of you, it takes my breath away.'

9 - I admire Beverly's desire to reach for her own brass ring. She's a woman who married when she didn't truly know herself or what she wanted out of life. David's attraction to her gives her a new appreciation for the woman she has become.

There are many women who may have found themselves in Beverly's situation at some point in their lives, and I once again cheer ePublishers' willingness to offer stories that veer away from idealized female characters that continue to populate print romantic fiction.

10 - Amy really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

"He wanted to make this last forever. He wanted to bring her such pleasure that she would forget about every other lover she had. 'What’s that smell, that fragrance?'

'Your sister asked me the same thing. Are you two into selling perfume or something?' she teased, cocking a finely arched brow.

'No, but I like to know what my woman wears.'

'Your woman?' she asked, surprised. 'Am I your woman now?'

His answer was to reach down and pick her up in his arms, slinging her over his shoulder and slapping her on the ass. 'After tonight, you will be.'

11 - The Oh Yum! series is a wonderful concept which I heartily applaud. Modern women hold the reins of their own sexual lives, and they also enjoy relationships with younger men - if that's what life presents them. There's no need to resist an attraction to a younger man because women aren't so hung up on calendar years. If she feels a kinship to a younger man, her healthy and youthful state these days can more than keep up with him.

Just ask:

Lorraine Bracco and former basketball player Jason Cipolla (21-year age difference)
Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher (15 yrs)
Mira Sorvino and actor Christopher Backus (14 yrs)
Kathy Najimy and musician/stage actor Dan Finnerty (13 yrs)
Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins (12 yrs)
Julianne Moore and filmmaker Bart Freundlich (10 yrs)
Sigourney Weaver and film & theatre director Jim Simpson (7 yrs)
J.K. Rowling and anaesthetist Neil Murray (5 yrs)
Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell (5 yrs)
Eve Mavrakis(production designer) and Ewan McGregor (5 yrs)
Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin (5 yrs)
Bo Derek and John Corbett (5 yrs)
Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas (3 yrs)

12 - As with all the Ellora's Cave ebooks, the heat level is turned way up. Way up. The language is explicit in all the right ways. Our Amy spins a very sultry tale.

Some of your fantasies might be woven within these pages. I know some of mine were.

...just warnin' ya...

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"She cooked him a delicious seafood linguine. One of her specialties. Her grandmother was Sicilian and had taught Beverly all her coveted recipes when she got married. She had tried a few times and wasted her energy on cooking these very all-consuming meals when her ex just either gulped them down in a heartbeat or never showed up for dinner. After a while she had given up trying.

She hadn’t made this recipe in almost eighteen years. She had been quite pleased that David seemed to enjoy it. Of course, they both had ended up naked, sitting at her antique dining room table. She wore only her heels and a string of pearls.

He wore nothing but a smile as they enjoyed the dinner, the wine and good conversation. She couldn’t remember the last time that she actually had a good, intellectual conversation. They talked about everything and nothing.

He talked about his job as a lawyer in Boston. He talked about his time at Harvard. She talked about her brief stint in college before she got married to her ex and became a wife.

She was relieved to know that he loved to read and he liked just about everything except romance, which she was addicted to.

He liked jazz music, so she padded over to her stereo and put on a great jazz album, a mix she had burned with some of her favorite singers like Diana Krall and Lena Horne.

After dinner they headed upstairs where, according to her fantasy, she had a nice luxurious bubble bath with him.

'What is with women and bubble baths?'

'They’re nice, relaxing.'

'And these bath salts like to effervesce up my ass.' He moved slightly as she began to laugh.

'That too.' She was quiet as she rubbed his arms under the suds.

'How come you’re so quiet?' he asked.

'Just wondering, I mean why me? I am so much older than you. I mean I’m not expecting a future with you or anything—'

'Sssh, let’s not talk about that. And as for why you, you’re an extremely attractive woman. Age doesn’t matter to me — there has always just been something about you.' He stood up, the suds sliding off his naked skin. He climbed out of the tub and rubbed himself with a towel.

'What are you doing?' she asked, leaning her head on the tub, admiring his taut, yummy ass.

'I’m going to show you exactly what I think of you,' he said, reaching down and lifting her out of her soaker tub. He set her down on the floor and toweled her off. He picked her up again and carried her to the bedroom.

He laid her down on her silk sheets. He didn’t say anything and she didn’t need him too. She stared up into his dark and serious blue eyes. He leaned down and gave her a tender kiss. She could hear him breathing in her ear.

'Nothing else matters this week but us. This is how much I want you.'

She pulled him tight against her, loved the feeling of him. She broke off the kiss to listen to the rapid beating of his heart beneath his chest. She felt his hands rub her back gently, his fingers trailing down her spine.

They didn’t say any more to each other. There was nothing to really say. But this was turning rapidly from a mere lust, infatuation situation for her.
Dammit, I’m falling in love with my neighbor’s son."

- Amy Ruttan, 2008

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Wordless Wednesday - 63

Photo by Newt Killen

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 63 - You've Got a Friend

My friend Lisa has arrived from Cobourg, Ontario, to spend some East Coast time with me - *jumping for joy*

This is a picture of the two of us taken in Toronto over New Year's when I was there for my father-in-law's passing. I took an afternoon to myself, and Lisa took the train into the city to be with me and give me a boost so I could be strong for my family. As you can see, it worked wonders.

We've been friends for 20 years. She's very precious to me. So today's Poetry Monday offering is a song about us that Carole King wrote, strangely without ever having met either of us.

You've Got a Friend

When you're down and troubled
And you need a helping hand
And nothing, nothing is going right.
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest nights.

You just call out my name,
And you know wherever I am
I'll come running
To see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall,
All you have to do is call
And I'll be there.
You've got a friend.

If the sky above you
Should turn dark and full of clouds
And that old north wind should begin to blow
Keep your head together and call my name out loud
And soon I will be knocking upon your door.
You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I'll come running
To see you again.
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you got to do is call
And I'll be there, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Hey, ain't it good to know that you've got a friend?
People can be so cold.
They'll hurt you
And desert you.
Well they'll take your soul if you let them.
Oh, but don't you let them.

You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I'll come running
To see you again.
Don't you know that
Winter, spring, summer or fall,
All you've got to do is call.
Lord, I'll be there, yes I will.
You've got a friend.
Ain't it good to know you've got a friend.
You've got a friend.

- Carole King, 1971

Friday, August 22, 2008

Our Own Amazing Race

Yesterday my office held our own version of The Amazing Race. Did we have a good time?

Everyone meets in the office kitchen for the lo-down.

First task - take Fred, the free downtown Halifax bus to Citadel Hill.

Everyone piles onboard.

The CEO awaits with the official kick-off.

One lucky member of each three-person team got to run up the stairs by the Town Clock carrying a water balloon and counting the steps.

My manager (at right) and her team wait for their photobooth pictures to develop.

I don't have any pictures yet of the other challenges, which included eating six suicide-hot chicken wings, finding six features at Public Gardens and finding several names at the Old, Old Cemetery at the corner of Barrington and Spring Garden Road.

During the meanwhilst, I hung out with the two rickshaw guys waiting to take each team to the grand finale site. Both university students, the guy at left is a future power engineer. The guy at right is a future urban planner.

First team to arrive - from investments.

My manager's team - close on their heels. Pink Powah! They ended up winning the race, due to a penalty given to investments.

After a brief wait, the other teams started running in.

This would have been my team - but my sweet little dog got overly joyful Monday when I got home from work. She ran full speed into my injured knee, the one I fell on, fifteen years ago, had surgery on and still had a torn ligament. Now it's completely shot.

First team that needed a beside-the-rickshaw runner.

Yellow team had another runner. It's scary when the rickshaw first tips back.

The royal blue team thinks it's scary, too.

The less-ruthlessly-competitive investment team.

Final rickshaw ride - before I got to ride in one all by myself!

There was a final fishing challenge before everyone did their own version of Irish step-dancing, as encouraged by real dancers.

Here's my Worker Bee team. That's me with my gram's cane - fits me perfectly.

The Worker Bees did a group Irish dance that they learned on the spot.

Those Bees are buzzin.

The one who adores dancing more than anything watched and clapped. I was totally impressed with how well everyone did.

Of course, the whole event was just an excuse to gather at the pub afterward. I sat at the investments table - and the CEO decided he'd sit next to me. Because that's just the kind of office I work in. We're fun, not stuffy.

I was awarded a fairy godmother prize for my rickshaw station. I granted everyone at my table their wishes - and today, the guy who'd sat across from me said his wish had come true. "I wished my kids would be asleep when I got home. And they were. It worked!"

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Thursday Thirteen - 69 - 13 Reasons to Read Invasion Earth by Loribelle Hunt

1 - I discovered Loribelle Hunt through a recommendation by my blog buddy, Jennifer McKenzie, who also writes as Jennifer Leeland.

Loribelle Hunt and Jennifer Leeland both write for Liquid Silver Books, ePublisher of erotic romance.

2 - Invasion Earth is part of Liquid Silver's science fiction category. This is a new direction for Loribelle, who has published eight shapeshifter ebooks and three contemporary ebooks prior to Invasion Earth.

3 - Loribelle's previous titles include:

Special Branch: Kane
Vegas Magic: Gone With the Wolf
Captured Moon
Christmas Moon
Call of the Moon
Chasing the Moon
Bad Moon Rising
Under Cover of the Moon

Rules of Engagement
Bound by Love

Her Shifters paranormal series and two of her contemporary stories are published with Cobblestone Press.

One contemporary story is published with Samhain Publishing.

4 - Invasion Earth introduces us to Sergeant Major Laney Bradford. She's a brilliant strategist fighting for the Earth Alliance army against an alien aggressor known as the Delroi. When she realizes they have gained control of the Doomsayer experimental bomb - something she had protested - Laney is willing to become a diplomatic bargaining chip to save her people from its destruction.

5 - General Alrik Torfa leads the Delroi to its invasion of Earth in search of mates. Their seers have foretold he will find the mate of his heart among these Earth dwellers, but even he is not prepared to discover that the woman fated to be his own is called the Butcher of Roses by his people. Responsible for a bitter victory over the Delroi, this warrior woman will discover the true reason her Alliance had held out so long against superior forces. It was her destiny alone - to become Lady Torfa.

6 - There is a strong diplomatic side to the storyline, which gives the military aspects a broader context. Spys and family loyalties, outmaneuvering hidden agendas and culture clashes between Earth's marriage-bound hostage - Laney - and the Delroi give this futuristic story a Tudors-style backdrop.

7 - I really, really love Loribelle's authoritative military voice. I'm a huge fan of the Richard Sharpe Peninsular War series, the Band of Brothers take on WWII, the battle scenes in the Star Wars saga, the Middle-earth wars of The Lord of The Rings trilogy. I'm not the type of woman who wants to read about a sergeant major heroine as simply a kick-ass kind of gal. I want that sergeant major to know her way around tactical command.

8 - The sexual tension between Laney and Alrik is immediate, because they are of the fated class of lovers. What could be more romantic than the Some Enchanted Evening type of love at first sight? Loribelle's version goes farther than 'across a crowded room'. They lock gazes across a raging battlefield.

9 - Laney and Alrik have given their individual lives to their respective people. What Loribelle does so well is to load their sexual discovery with emotional realization. Can a trained soldier make a marriage work on a planet where women defer to men? Can a royal son of Delroi ignore the historic role of women when he's fallen for a warrior, like the fictional warrior women of his legends?

10 - Loribelle really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

"Alrik needed to distract her and thought of the small rose tattoo on her breast. He found it sexy, but it had been a surprise. Women on Delroi did not mark their skin permanently like that, but there was an old, mostly abandoned tradition he wondered if she’d adopt.

In the past bonded females, of warriors in particular, had pierced their nipples. It was a painful procedure, and a show of submission and strength. He hardened again and shared the image with her. He wanted her to do it, needed that sign of her surrender. He crossed his arms over his chest, snaring her with his gaze, watching the blush spread up her neck to her face. Felt her arousal. He watched the emotions play over her face, knew some of what she was thinking. She didn’t think there was a submissive bone in her body, yet she responded to the carnal demands of his shared visions. He wanted to drag her from the room and demonstrate exactly how much mastery he would have over her body. Thankfully, he was spared the embarrassment of dragging a kicking and screaming woman off by the arrival of his brother. It was time to get down to business.

11 - Loribelle's steamy scenes need special mention. Laney's vulnerability issues are worked out in the bedroom with her dominant alpha husband-to-be. This works perfectly in a story that has a strong role-of-women subtext, especially since Laney's desires aren't what you'd expect from a sergeant major.

12 - There are lots of scenes that belong to Laney and Alrik, but Loribelle has built a very lived-in world in Invasion Earth. Government officials, royal family members, soldiers from Laney's unit - everyone walks onstage with a fully-formed backstory.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

" Leaning forward, he grabbed her upper arms and pulled her close, not allowing her any freedom of movement.

She’d never liked being ordered around, especially in bed, but it wasn’t protest that rose. He was a man she’d never be able to push around. She couldn’t fight the urge to give him control, didn’t even try.

Eagerly, she straddled his hips and looked him in the eye. He gripped her ribcage, guiding her. She gasped and closed her eyes. He held her there until she met his gaze, saw the stark need stamped across his features. Then he plunged deep, building a slow steady rhythm. She leaned forward, a little wobbly while incapable of bracing her hands on his shoulders or chest, but unable to resist the allure of his skin, the compulsion to taste his lips. She flattened her tongue against his neck, following a leisurely trail up his salty skin, smiling at his grunt when her teeth closed over his ear lobe and nipped.

He didn’t give her the chance to kiss him. After pulling her flat against his chest, she heard him murmuring something in his own language. Struggling to breathe, dragging his masculine scent deep into her lungs, she didn’t have time to consider the words, or the radar-like pinging she felt straight to her marrow. Replete and exhausted, she collapsed against him, barely registering when he freed her arms or stood and carried her into a bedroom.

* * * *

It was done. Alrik hadn’t planned on doing it so soon. The binding prayer had burst forth from him when he felt her tighten. Even if he could take the words back, he wouldn’t. She was his now. She might despise him in the short run, but in the long run, it was the right thing to do for everyone.

Tomorrow they would begin negotiating trade agreements that would put more of the Delroi’s unattached males on Earth. Hopefully, it would be enough to save his people. Until then, he had a warm soft woman in his arms and duty could wait.

Her hair was still up and braided, the length twisted and pinned against her head. He pulled the small pins out and dropped them on the bedside table until finally the length was free. Surprised, he noted it reached the bottom of her back. Removing the band holding the end, he slowly worked the plait loose.

Wavy from the braid, her hair was like heavy silk in his hand. He held it to the light to examine its color, a deep brown shot through with big streaks of red. He brought it to his face and breathed in its sweet scent, which smelled faintly of the flower called gardenia on this world, a plant the Delroi women with them had quickly discovered and adopted. He loved it.

Alrik dropped the strands and they fell around her like a curtain. Grinning, he wondered if it would drape them both when she rode him. He would test that at the earliest opportunity. For now, he was content to explore her without her yammering at him.

He had admired the tactical cunning of this woman for months. Her body was just as impressive. The bulky uniform concealed feminine curves. A small waist accented her flared hips and high breasts. Her skin was smooth and blemish free except for the small rose tattooed on one breast. Laugh lines around her eyes added to the appeal of an already pretty face.

He rested his palm over her flat stomach, wondering how she would look swollen with his child. Nostrils flared in desire when he realized she could even now carry a babe. Would she give him girls? A houseful of females with their mother’s warrior spirit?

She moaned in her sleep and leaned into him. Spooned up behind her, he pulled her leg over his. With a long sigh, she cracked an eye open and looked up at him.

'Not a dream,' she murmured, moving against him.

'Shh,' he answered, hand sliding down to where their bodies joined.

He was content to hold her, drifting between sleep and wakefulness. Some time later, a soft knock came at the outer door. After untangling himself from her limbs and pulling on his pants, he let his brother in. Daggar glanced over at the sleeping chamber.

'It’s done then?'

'It is.'

- Loribelle Hunt - 2008

Join me next week when I review Amy Ruttan's Love Thy Neighbor.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Wordless Wednesday - 62

Art work by Cadre Picariello

Detail of art work by Chris Dien

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 62 - I Can’t Be Your Captive If I Give Myself To You

Here is a second backstory poem about my latest character, Scorpius. I've been writing about him all weekend, so I did up a poem that delves deeper into his psyche. Scorpius is Chamberlain of the Keep for Lady Elysande, in a fantasy world that combines medieval society with technology. You can read the previous backstory poem and catch up on excerpt 1 and excerpt 2. I've modelled Scorpius after English actor Richard Armitage.

I Can’t Be Your Captive If I Give Myself To You

My tunic covers scars upon both wrists
Their silent witness to the blows I bore
I pulled and writhed but he would not desist
Until I would have crumpled to the floor

The manacles prevented my escape
They also meant I somehow kept my feet
The manacles preserved my pride from japes
Which never pulled the screams as when he beat

My tunic covers scars that she’s now seen
My lady with her cuffs chained to her bed
Her fingers lock me into place, between
Two posts, my clothing gone – those words I said

I hand myself to her, to be her slave
Surrender is my only hope...or grave...

Copyright - Julia Smith – Aug. 17, 2008