My So-Called Life (in Books)

Our winner from last week’s contest is Joe! Congratulations, Joe. Tina will be in touch regarding your prize.

I’ve been looking forward to writing this post. Fair warning, gentle reader: it will probably be long winded.

How could it not be?! We’re talking about the books we love, for crying out loud. Like many of you, I’m happiest with a book (er, e-book) in my hands. And I still geek out over books all the time. (Just ask Jenna Blue, who patiently listened to me gush about “Cut & Run”, a m/m romance series I recently fell in love with.) So I had a really, really hard time whittling down my list to one—or even two.

First off, I have to give props to my girl Nancy Drew for kicking it all off for me. These weren’t the first books I read, but they were the most important of my early childhood. I worshipped Nancy. Smart, beautiful, brave…was there anything she couldn’t do? To boot, she had a super cute boyfriend, Ned. I lived for those interactions between Nancy and Ned. And there were never enough! I hadn’t even hit puberty yet, but I was dying to find out what Nancy and Ned did “off the page.”

Hmmmm… Maybe that was a sign.

Now onto the good stuff. My love of romance didn’t start with Austen or Heyer. Instead, it started with Lindsey, Krentz, Garwood, Coulter, and Deveraux. Amanda Quick was a HUGE influence on me, too. Her stories are simple and quirky, packed with witty dialogue and unusual settings. Typically, I have a hard time connecting with heroines in romance novels—except for the Quick heroines. They’re smart and interesting, and aren’t pushovers by any means. In fact, I can’t remember any Quick heroes, but several heroines come instantly to mind. Above all, I thought her books were fun—and that’s what I strive for in my stories, too.

I have two life-changing, desert island books, one historical and one contemporary. Both center on my favorite story thread: revenge.

The Historical: “Lions and Lace” by Meagan McKinney

Published in 1992, here is the blurb: “After his family is snubbed by the elite Knickerbocker families of New York, self-made millionaire Trevor Sheridan – known as the Predator of Wall Street – vows to take revenge on them all. But he saves his most bitter venom for the family of Alana Van Alen, a flaxen-haired beauty who had once been friends with his sister. When this notorious Irishman causes her family to fall into poverty, Alana is forced to accept his offer of marriage, but Trevor is only using her to gain acceptance into society. In spite of her hatred for him, Alana is irresistibly drawn to Trevor’s handsome, brooding face and muscular body. Soon she falls in love with him, but will he return her passion or try to destroy her?”

McKinney’s writing is detailed and rich. There is so much research here into late nineteenth century New York, both of the Knickerbocker world as well as the views of immigrants, particularly Irish, that the reader is immersed into world of Trevor and Alana. The story is loaded with conflict right from the start, when the heroine’s uncle ties her to the bannister of the Sheridan mansion and abandons her to the mercy of our hero. Here’s one of my favorite passages:

Left alone with her husband, Alana heard the ensuing silence like the boom of a cannon. Trevor turned to her, and the room seemed to echo with his rage. She was aghast at the emotion in his eyes. Part of her quailed at the fury she found there, but another part of her, the part that had paced in her room all night and longed for a husband who loved her, rejoiced. He was jealous, wildly jealous. If their relationship held any promise, it was in that streak of possessiveness that had flared when he caught her in Eagan’s embrace.

There was a long foreboding pause while he stared at her. He seemed to be contemplating his next move and going through all the possibilities before making his decision. But he was Trevor Byrne Sheridan, and once his decision was made, he acted. “Go to my room, Alana,” he said quietly.

Her eyes locked with his. She knew what he was thinking. His jealousy gave her new hope, but the time for what he intended now was wrong. He was only accepting Eagan’s challenge. He didn’t want to make love to her because he cared for her but because of the man he was. She could see it in his eyes. He’d never let a dare go unanswered.

“No,” she said just as quietly, just as firmly.

He nodded. Not a good sign. “You’re my wife, Alana, my legal wife, wed in the Catholic Church. I’ve rights. Go into my room, or I’ll get a policeman off the avenue to drag you in there.”

“If you do this, there’ll be no annulment.”

“Then there’ll be no annulment.”

These two fight. A lot. They’re both strong willed, and neither one of them is what the other believes, each hiding behind a façade for a different reason. I can’t say enough how much I love the story. Even flipping through to find my favorite passages proved impossible because so many scenes gave me the shivers. If you love historicals, I beg you to try this one. You can borrow my copy, but you damn well better give it back.

The Contemporary: “Paradise” by Judith McNaught

Published in 1992 (an excellent year for books, it seems), the blurb: “Ruthless corporate raider Matthew Farrell was poised to move in on the legendary department store empire owned by Chicago’s renowned Bancroft family. In the glare of the media spotlight, it was a stunning takeover that overshadowed the electric chemistry between Matt, once a scruffy kid from steel town Indiana, and cool, sophisticated Meredith Bancroft. Their brief, ill-fated marriage sparked with thrilling sensuality — he was the outsider who dared to rock her country club world — and ended with a bitter betrayal. Now, locked in a battle that should be all business, dangerous temptations and bittersweet memories are stirring their hearts. Will they risk everything on a passion too bold to be denied?”

There is so much here that shouldn’t work for me. It’s long. There’s headhopping. It starts with huge (almost unbelievable) misunderstandings. And yes, it has the “wait, you mean we aren’t really divorced?!” trope at play. But with her talented writing, McNaught made me believe it and fall in love with these two characters. You root for them, even as they’re biting each other’s heads off.

Angry at his deliberate and rude reminder that his wealth was now far greater than hers, Meredith looked at him with well-bred disdain. “Money was all you ever thought about, all that mattered to you. I never wanted to marry you, and I don’t want your money! I’d rather starve than have anyone know we were ever married!”

The maître d’ chose that untimely moment to appear at their table to inquire if their meal had been satisfactory or if they wanted anything else.

“Yes,” Matt said bluntly. “I’ll have a double shot of scotch on the rocks, and my wife,” he emphasized, taking petty, malicious satisfaction out of doing exactly what she’d just said she never wanted to do, “will have another martini.”

Meredith, who never, ever engaged in a public scene, glowered at her old friend and said, “I’ll give you a thousand dollars to poison his drink!”

A former steelworker who works his way up to tycoon, Matt is one of my all-time favorite heroes. He’s ruthless, angry, and has a giant chip on his shoulder, but he rides to Meredith’s rescue when the going gets tough. I swear, the press conference scene gets me every time. LOVE him. After Christian Grey, we might all be a bit tired of the self-made gazillionaire, but trust me, Matt Farrell was there first.

Thanks for letting all of us share our most memorable romance books. It’s been interesting to see what everyone chose. And keep the comments coming! We want to hear YOUR life-changing romance books. Or tell me if you’ve read either of these stories (so we can geek out together). Anyone who leaves a comment in July will be registered to win a trio of books.


Leave a comment


  1. Nancy Drew and her friends George and Mary. I always wished they hooked up with Frank and Joe Hardy. The cross over books gave me that idea.

  2. I have to say I had never heard of “Lions and Lace” by Meagan McKinney before reading your post. I am intrigued to read more about that time period. It’s going on my TBR list right now.

    • I love that time period, so that’s probably why it’s always stuck with me. You may have a hard time getting a hold of a copy, but it’s worth it!

  3. I was more of a Hardy Boy book fan growing up. I never read the other books you mentioned (not surprisingly). The description of the Lions and Lace book reminds me of Barbara Taylor Bradford’s A Woman of Substance. That was about a young woman, Emma Harte, who clawed her way up the ladder of success and was all about seeking revenge. There’s a few books in the series and well worth the read.

    • I never read the Hardy Boys, but I did watch the TV show. (Duh. Who didn’t?) I don’t remember ever reading BTB, but sounds like it’s right up my alley!

  4. jennablueblogs

     /  July 30, 2012

    OMG Joanna! I had totally forgotten how much I LOVED Megan McKinney stories! : ) Thanks for reminding me!

  5. hieubietusa

     /  July 31, 2012

    Talk about a gender gap…but, that’s what makes a horse race.
    Skimming through your recollections, you will be happy to know that young women today are influenced by the same type of books. It may be what women are looking for or imagine a future could be like.
    Guys…let’s face it…we mature at a later age…maybe around 40? Maybe?
    I once pointed out books or writers that influenced me, a central theme seems to be prevalent in all literature that stimulates the male psyche.
    A lone hero fighting against the world, surrounded by evil…with no escape.
    Add a pretty young woman by his side and you have a story.
    To quote one of my heroes in a short story…he is surrounded by an enemy and is minutes from being overrun with a heroic death or survival(always have an out) his next adventure. A fellow soldier recounts the obvious situation. His answer was…
    “I’ve been waiting for this moment my whole life.”

    What a guy!

    • That’s a beautiful sentiment. And I think a lot of people like those types of story. I’m just not one of them. Revenge stories are my favorite. Don’t know why…

  6. hieubietusa

     /  July 31, 2012

    also…I can not wait for Tina’s book. I intend to read it before the next meeting and will be ready for questions

  7. Nicole Doran

     /  July 31, 2012

    Yes…it was Nancy Drew who started me with loving strong heroines too. I had the whole series. And, Shaun Cassidy all the way! I even had bluejeans with his face on one leg when I was a young lady…HAHA…ahh the memories.
    Kathleen Woodiwiss is one of my favorites for writing great heroines. Her Petals on the River is one of my DIK for sure!
    Here’s the Amazon description:
    A proud and spirited woman whose life was stolen from her … A man of secrets accused of a terrible crime … In a place of new beginnings their destinies are joined.

    Great post and comments – as usual! Nicole 🙂

    • Thanks for stopping by, Nicole. Glad to hear I’m not alone in my Nancy Drew fan club. I would give anything to see a photo of those Shaun Cassidy jeans! Priceless.

      I haven’t read that Woodiwiss story. Another one for the TBR pile. Thanks!

  8. Yes, I too loved Nancy Drew. And Jo March, who dared to follow her dream of a career (and still got the guy!).

    I’m trying to remember if it was Parker or Shaun I liked…I guess I liked both. Shaun was a bit too pretty boy, but yes, did have great eyes. Parker was a little more subdued…so like the strong, silent type in boy form. More mysterious.

    I love your breakdown of the McNaught book…so many things “wrong” with it, and yet good writing always prevails. There’s a lesson in that somewhere, folks. Like, maybe we should dare to be daring, and not write specifically to what the market is publishing in numbers? Does Fifty Shades make the case for thinking outside the box?

    Hmmm. Interesting, too, Joe’s comments about what women seek vs. what men seek in literature?


    • Re: The Hardy Boys, you took the words out my mouth. I saw Parker Steveson getting on his bike on the streets of NYC not too long ago, so I had my 8 year old fan-girl “squee” moment on the inside.

      And you’re right about Fifty Shades. Some books do break the conventions and succeed nonetheless. Everyone loves to trash FSoG, saying what James did wrong. I think it’s more important to ask what she did RIGHT. Who wouldn’t give their right arm to have a book take off like that??

  9. hieubietusa

     /  August 2, 2012

    My ears are burning…but remember…does a man really know what he wants?
    I’m still trying to figure it out…
    Talk about thinking outside the box…I have a problem thinking in the box…

    Good Luck with the contests


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