The Romance Reviews

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Plot Twists Galore


Art forgery, a vendetta, murder, and what’s supposed to be a simple heist…add in a cast of quirky, loveable, drawn to perfection characters—a few of whom aren’t quite what they seem—toss in a dash of a snarly, spoiled toy poodle and you’ve got a completely enjoyable romp of a read.

The plot twists were amazing and well thought out, the main characters well developed with believable foibles. Gino is a damn good vintner, but a lousy gambler. He’s into a casino for half a million and some change. He needs a miracle if he’s going to save his vineyard and small winery. Unfortunately, his dying grandfather needs him to carry out a vendetta—not quite the miracle Gino was hoping for. But, how can he turn down a dying man’s request, especially when that man raised him after his parents had died?

Carla, Gino’s cousin, is such a free spirit I fully expected her to take flight from the pages of this novel. I loved Carla. Her boyfriend, Morrie, is one of those characters who isn’t what he claims to be but in spite of what seems to be a questionable background, he’s truly a good guy.

Even the villains were fairly well developed, with believable motivation.

Brees use of location and description helped to firmly root me into the book and the story line. I could see the grittiness of the neighborhood Carla emerged from, taste the dust of the roads on Gino’s trip early in the book to his dying grandfather’s bedside, feel the fog of San Francisco.

I started reading in one afternoon and honestly could not put it down until I was finished. I’d recommend this book to anyone looking for an enjoyable read.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Think Before You Hit Send

So, I was in Norman, Oklahoma this past weekend for three days of collie specialty shows—six of them to be exact. It was exhausting but fun. I got to spend time with people that I usually only see at the Nationals, met a new collie person who bought a smooth tri girl from an outstanding breeder in Tennessee, made two new friends, and even had time to work a little bit on the contemporary WIP in the evenings in the quiet of my hotel room (until the exhaustion overtook the brain).

As a writer, I try to be careful with the words that I put onto a “page”—whether an actual physical page as the end product or a page that exists only in cyberspace—so I was careful with what I said about the wins I and my client dogs had this past weekend, and especially with the words I used to describe the non-winning events this past weekend.

In this world of nearly instant response time because of the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, and the like, we can post something that we feel is completely non-offensive, and still manage to offend people. There’s no help for that. However, I would like to caution that we think for a moment before we hit “send” or “enter” on some things.

An exhibitor posted about the collie this person owns and how wonderful this dog is. I am not arguing that this collie is a very nice example of the breed, but the exhibitor’s comment under the picture left me grinding my teeth and questioning some things. I am certain that the post was not meant to slight any other collie being shown, but I rather felt that my dog was viewed as little more than chopped liver as were so many of the other collies actively campaigned into the top ten for their variety.
GCh. Bandor's The Wyching Hour--Vander

Loyal readers of my blog know that my smooth boy, Vander, was campaigned last year to a top ten placement in the breed. According to the Canine Chronicle, he finished at # 6. He did this by winning at both specialty shows and all breed shows, including multiple group placements. He’s not perfect—there hasn’t been a perfect dog born yet—but he’s a damn good representative of the breed.
Final Results for 2013



So, what should have been a moment to remember the fun and the laughter involved with the shows in Norman instead became of moment of defensiveness and even anger that so many of our beloved collies were slighted and insulted. I’m not defending the person who posted that picture and made that comment, because I honestly believe the comment was not made to insult or belittle any other collie. Unfortunately, that’s what the comment ultimately did—insulted the other animals competing that weekend and who compete weekend after weekend after weekend. Insulted their accomplishments, insulted their ability to conform to the standard, insulted the efforts of their owners and handlers, insulted the sacrifices so many owners make to get their dogs out and campaigned.


So, in closing—PLEASE think before you hit the “send” or “enter” button. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Standing on My Soapbox

I am going to climb onto my soap box for this blog, so I’d suggest that everyone buckle up, please keep your hands and feet inside the car at all times, and hang on.

The “blurb” for my blog says that I am animal lover and a dog show addict. I have no problems admitting that I breed dogs—collies to be exact. I will also admit, very quickly and readily, that I have never even come close to breaking even with this hobby/business. Anyone who makes money selling puppies and doesn’t at least let you see mom to said puppies, doesn't show (and I'm not talking about only conformation), and has a website full of cute puppies with nary a mention of AKC titles of some kind—RUN away as fast as you possibly can.

Because of the new APHIS guidelines, I am lumped into the same category as a commercial breeder because I have more than four breedable females on my property. Even though three of the six females are too old to ever be safely bred, under these new guidelines some APHIS inspector is going to determine their breedability, ignoring my own concern for those geriatric girls and even my girls’ veterinarian. At this point, spaying one of those girls would be the same as subjecting a ninety year old woman to a complete ovarian-hysterectomy. I very deeply resent being categorized as a commercial breeder. I am a reputable breeder.

There is a HUGE difference between a commercial breeder and a reputable breeder. As a reputable breeder, I do health testing on all my breeding stock. That means I do routine thyroid function testing (because as a breed, collies do tend to have a lower thyroid function than other breeds); I study pedigrees—not just to determine where to breed my girls or if one of my boys will bring to the table what a female needs to improve her, but because I want to know what I am breeding will be genetically sound; I do eye testing of my puppies and CERF my breeding dogs; I do the MDR1 mutant testing. Ask a commercial breeder what health testing they do with their dogs. The answers might surprise you. Or, maybe not…

Even though I am no longer a member of my parent club (that’s a whole other story), I attempt to abide by the code of ethics put forward by the Collie Club of America. I attend dog shows where I allow what I have bred to be judged as to how closely my breeding program conforms to the standard of perfection as set forth by the Collie Club of America and approved by the American Kennel Club. How many commercial breeders even follow a standard, other than “If the check doesn’t bounce, it’s all good”?

I am available all the time for the people who own one of my “furkids.” I still get Christmas cards from a few of them. I answer questions, offer solutions, make suggestions. I am responsible to that puppy for his/her whole life. If there is a problem with one of my puppies, I want to know about it. I want to help that owner. Think you could call a commercial breeder if there is a problem with your puppy? And if you bought that puppy from a pet store, do you even know how to contact your puppy’s breeder?   

Yes, my dogs live outside. They are a double coated breed, developed and bred to work sheep in the Scottish Highlands. I’ve never been to the Highlands, but from what I understand—it’s cold there. It’s often wet there. And, they have winter—with snow. Even though my collies live outside, they don’t live in small boxes. They have large kennel runs. There is no way on God’s green earth to develop muscling, bone, and proper body conditioning without exercise and they get plenty of it chasing my chickens and the horse. 

Yes, I have sold a few puppies sight unseen, but that was ONLY after long telephone conversations, at least three letters of recommendation (one of which MUST be from the prospective new owner’s veterinarian), calling the people who wrote those referrals, and then and only then, will I sell that puppy.  A few times when I insisted that the prospective new owner come to my house to get their puppy, I lost the sale. Frankly, I’d rather lose the sale than put a puppy from a breeding I have planned for over a year into a home where the new owner isn’t willing to come to me to get that puppy. 

My companion puppies are sold on a contract that insists the puppy be neutered before that puppy is six months old. The main portion of that contract though states that if at any time in the life of the puppy the new owners cannot or will not continue to care for the puppy, I get that puppy back. PERIOD. This is non-negotiable with me. How many commercial breeders will take a puppy back that doesn’t work out? Or a geriatric that the owners decided just won’t work with their newborn child so the dog was dumped in a shelter? (Yes, that happened to one of my “furkids” and I drove three hours to get that old lady and her companion that I didn’t even breed. They lived the rest of their lives on my couch. Thank God she was microchipped. When I sell my dogs, that chip number stays registered in my name.)

As I reputable breeder, I offer myself as a mentor to people who want to become involved in this hobby of breeding and showing dogs. That isn’t to say that I know everything there is to this crazy life, but after thirty-five years, I do know a little bit. Without mentoring, newbies coming into the breed and the sport burn out fast, become completely disillusioned, and leave. Where is the future of a breed if there are no mentors and no one to mentor?

I fully understand that there are some small hobby breeders who do not show in the conformation ring, obedience ring, or sporting events. Most often that reason for not showing in conformation is listed as “politics.” Yes, Buttercup, the dog show world is cut-throat and it can be political, but if you do your homework, learn how to handle your dog to his/her best advantage, and have a good dog, those things will overcome the perceived “politics.” Another reason listed by some hobby breeders is the people in the dog show world just aren’t nice people. You’re right. Some of them aren’t. Some of those people live and die by those championship points because those championship points mean their breeding program conforms to the standard of perfection for their chosen breed. Most of us are able to leave that competitiveness in the breed ring. What happens in the breed ring should never affect what happens outside of the ring. For the most part, dog show people are good people. If you had a bad experience with some people in the breed you’re involved with, find other people in that breed. Find your mentor.

I’d like to think I’m good people. And, I’m really tired of being lumped into the category of commercial breeder (read puppy mill). I am reputable breeder.



Thursday, January 16, 2014

First Things First

I was thinking about firsts today. Being the first born child, I had a lot of firsts in my life, but those aren’t the firsts I was thinking of. I thought about the first time I could vote. It was 1980 and Ronald Reagan was challenging Jimmy Carter. (I voted for Reagan, in case anyone is wondering.)

I thought about the first time I drove. My first car was a 1977 Chevy Suburban (fire engine red, no less) and that thing was crap for gas mileage, but she was built like the proverbial tank. I was tail-ended about a year after getting my license and the car that hit me was totaled. My tank had a scrape on the rear bumper. I don't miss the lack of gas mileage but I miss the security of that vehicle.


I recalled the first time I had a crush. His name was Mark Engeberg and he was my eighth grade history teacher. Talk about a long, tall, drink of water…he was 6’6” if he was an inch tall. I aced history because I wanted to impress Mr. Engeberg. Thanks to him, I also became a major history geek. I still love history to this day because of him.

I thought about the first show dog I ever bought, and the first dog show I ever went to where I showed my own dog. I thought about the first dog I ever put points on. He was a sweet, charming gentleman named “Spock” and when he died of acute leukemia, I was crushed.
Lancelot's Dr. Spock--Spock


My first homebred champion was a dog named “Floyd”. Floyd was a sable and white smooth coated collie. He never really got the respect he deserved, but as I asked my mother many times, “How much respect can a dog get when you’ve named him ‘Floyd’?”

I remembered the first time I said I wanted to be an author when I grew up. I was about sixteen. I never really got serious about writing until I was married to my first husband and writing became an escape for me. Combining my love of history and my love of English and writing has paid massive dividends for me. When I finally got serious about writing, the only place for me was in the past as a historical romance writer.

I will never forget the first time I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and realized that the character of Snape was the perfect Gothic hero. Nor will I forget the satisfaction when Snape was vindicated in the last book of the series. And, by the end of the third book, my suspicions about Dumbledore were confirmed and I knew he was a genuinely evil, manipulative man—cloaking his manipulations and a callous disregard for everyone around him with what appeared to be concern and the wisdom of an elder. (That may evoke some flames.) I admit, without any reservation, that I am a Harry Potter geek and ALWAYS trusted Snape. To a certain extent, the Harry Potter series is Snape’s saga, told through the biased lens of a less than reliable narrator.

The first time I completely geeked out over anything was the movie Star Wars. My grandfather had given me Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces the summer before for my birthday and I devoured that book. When the movie ended, I wanted to jump up from my seat and shout “Hallelujah!” The arc of the Hero’s Journey was so clearly defined in that movie. And, no matter what anyone thinks of the first three with Anakin Skywalker, kudos have to be given to George Lucas because he carried Anakin’s story arc and the Hero’s Journey over all six movies. As I said of the last of the first three movies, “Damn it, I waited over thirty years to see Anakin Skywalker become Darth Vader. I’m not missing this movie.”


I also thought about the first time I queried an agent and got that first rejection letter. I thought about quitting—except for one line in that letter that said, “You’re a good writer, but this just isn’t for me.” Okay. That agent took time out from a busy schedule to add that personal note at the bottom of the form letter. Keep on plugging away.

And the first time I got a request for the full manuscript from a query letter put me over the moon. It soon was followed by a rejection letter, but, I was making progress.

And, then the first time I was signed to a contract with a publishing house, it took me a full week to stop grinning. And, with that first came another first—I doubted my ability to be a writer. Doubted that I could really be all that good when I opened the first edits and saw all the red bleeding all over the pages and into the margins; doubted that I’d be able to recapture lightning in a bottle and sign a second contract; doubted that I’d even sell enough books to merit my publisher signing me to a second book; doubted every word I wrote…

That doubt was an odd first, because I’ve always been a good writer. I never stop trying to improve and become a better writer. My goal is to be a great writer. I’m usually plagued with doubt with the exception of two things: I know I’m a good writer and sometimes I veer into the “damn good writer” lane. I’m also a damn good dog handler.

With the first book came some other awesome firsts: first sales, first request for an autograph, first time to speak to a group about my writing life. That was an incredible first. One of the professors I had as an undergrad English major asked me to come and talk to his Pop Lit and the Mass Media class (a required class for English majors/cross-listed as general education) about my book. MY BOOK! He used my book as the romance for his class. MY BOOK!

I’ve found while thinking about firsts that I don’t want to stop having firsts. It’s rather like learning. I don’t want the learning to end.







Monday, January 6, 2014

Saying "Thank you"

I received the cover for my latest novel, coming soon from The Wild Rose Press. I LOVE this cover. It appears simple, but more and more detail emerges, the longer I look at it. I LOVE it!

Because of events in the novel, I don’t have the usual dedication page within Smolder on a Slow Burn. However there are people that I want to thank for making this novel everything that it is.

 First of all, I want to thank my awesome editor, Anne. Even though she’s on the other side of the pond and there were some language barriers (I know that what we speak here in America isn’t quite the “King’s English”), working with her has been a wonderful experience and I hope to be able to work with her again when I submit another historical to TWRP.

I want to thank Nancy and Sarah for being the first people to read the very first rough draft of Smolder. Both of these ladies had great insights into the novel and offered suggestions that ultimately made the story stronger. Yes, Nancy, I know you still hate the title.

I also want to thank Jacque and Tenna for listening to my ranting and raving about this novel. I will admit I was quite obsessed with both the hero and heroine when I started to write this novel and you two ladies let me babble like the proverbial brook to you both. Jacque, the work you did on that cavalry officer’s uniform still has me in awe and every time I look at it hanging in my office, I get chills. Tenna, your comment of “It happens in the best of families,” still makes me laugh.

Nicole, how can I thank you for talking me through writing one of the roughest chapters/scenes I have ever written? Your insights and advice have been invaluable. Thank you.

Karen, for letting me read aloud parts of scenes that I didn’t think were working right, thank you.

You ladies are the best!




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