Monthly Archives: December 2015
Democrat, Republican, Independent, naturalized citizen, American-born, permanent resident, foreign visitor, adult, child. No matter who you are, it is always a thrill to cross the threshold into “The People’s House” aka The White House. But during the holidays, it is magical. This year you are greeted by giant penguins as you enter through the East Visitor entrance.
Portraits of First Ladies line the walls as you walk up the steps toward the East Colonnade–Nancy Reagan in her signature red and Bess Truman exuding Midwestern warmth. The first tree you see is the Gold Star Tree in honor of the men and women who gave their lives in service to our country. It is always surrounded by a crowd of people, writing messages of hope and gratitude and remembrance. You, too, can send a message to our troops and their families by visiting Honoring Our Troops on the White House website.
The East Colonnade is a winter wonderland this year (even though the temperature outside is well-above freezing). Hand-crafted snowflakes bearing the hopes and aspirations of D.C. public school students float in the air and a cheerful cadre of snowmen have invaded the East Garden.
Rounding the corner, you enter the East Garden Room. Tennis ball trees surround the First Family’s dogs Bo and Sunny.
Milk bones dangle from the branches of a Douglas fir while Abe Lincoln looks out from a corner, reminding us of where we are.
Pass through the long central hall way on the ground floor. Peek into the White House Library where six trees are trimmed with novels and manuscripts, the Vermeil Room with the ethereal portrait of Jackie Kennedy, and the China Room with the striking portrait of Grace Coolidge and her white collie Rob Roy. In addition to the holiday decorations, these rooms brim with antique furniture from the Federal period. Then up the stairs to the East Room where I stopped to pose for a photo.
If you look closely, you’ll see the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington—the one First Lady Dolley Madison saved when the British invaded Washington D.C. and ransacked the White House in 1814. Festive trees fill the Green Room, Blue Room, and Red Room, but my favorite eye-candy is the artwork hanging on practically every inch of wall space: Portraits of iconic statesmen like Benjamin Franklin, sweeping landscapes of America’s West, scenes from America’s past, and modern masterpieces like The Builders by Jacob Lawrence.
Onward to the State Dining Room where the eye-candy really is candy!
The forty-five minute holiday tour ends in the Cross Hall and Grand Foyer. Here images of our late-twentieth and twenty-first century presidents stand sentinel. The haunting, almost surreal portrait of John F. Kennedy across from the eternal optimist, Ronald Reagan, as you enter the Cross Hall. And George W. Bush and Bill Clinton on opposite walls in the Grand Foyer. Music spills into the air as a pianist seated at the 1938 Steinway plays holiday tunes.
One last look, then you exit out the front doors, down the steps of the North Portico, and head toward Pennsylvania Avenue.
Before I leave the White House grounds, I take a moment to savor the view of D.C. from inside the wrought iron fence that surrounds The People’s House.
Happy holidays! Wishing you and yours peace, love, and joy in the New Year!
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And the baby’s name is… ARRESTING DEVELOPMENTS! Lena’s 12th published romantic suspense novel is out in paperback now. The ebook version releases on January 1st. This is the second of four books in the Marshland Justice series, featuring a quirky, lawless, fictional town called Mystic Glades, hidden deep in the Everglades off Alligator Alley.
Here’s what RT Book Reviews said about this book: “Diaz is on a streak with her latest. With a host of suspects and hiding places, Arresting Developments is packed with action, suspense and mystery–not to mention a charming hero.”
And here’s a full description of the story…
A mysterious beauty had nursed him back to health–and attracted the attention of some very bad men…
Somewhere over the Everglades, the airplane’s engine failed and Dex Lassiter plummeted into the swamp’s murky depths. Amber Callahan didn’t expect to find any survivors in the wreckage, but Dex was about as tough as they came. And too smart not to dig into why a woman like her had run away to settle in remote Mystic Glades. Or why a killer circled their every move. As floodwaters rose, deputizing Dex was just what this lawless small town needed. Because escape wasn’t possible. And the only thing Dex did better than starting things was defending them.
I hope you’ll give ARRESTING DEVELOPMENTS a try. If you do, please drop me a note and let me know what you think of it!
To learn about all of my books, visit my website.
This year has been another busy year of reading and writing. And like last year, my reading list was filled with all sorts of Young Adult books.
Similar to the Romance genre, the YA genre is broken down into smaller groups. The first division is by age of protagonist (not age of reader!): Upper Middle Grade (age 13-14) Lower YA (age 15-16), YA (age 17-18), and Upper YA (age 18-19).
These age divisions are averages and some books, especially series, will cross the age barrier as the protagonist grows up, like Harry Potter.
The next division is by type: sweet romance, summer romance, suspense/mystery, thriller, speculative (incl. dystopian and magical elements), paranormal romance, sci-fi, realistic fiction, historical, fairytale retellings, as well as a few others.
Since I have a son and a daughter, I read a ton of YA in all of the genres. So this year, just in time for Christmas, I’d like to share some of my favorite YA books that had some sort of suspense and/or mystery with an underlying love story.
The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey
Amazon blurb: After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.
Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother–or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.
SW: My kids and I read this book, and the sequel The Infinite Sea, in one weekend. And when we heard they were turning it into a movie to come out in 2016, we threw a party. This book won a ton of awards, too many to list, and they were all well deserved. A great science fiction/adventure with a compelling love story woven in so well that my son didn’t even mind it. This is a great book and series for the whole family. This book is YA Science Fiction with Romantic Elements.
The movie opens January 15, 2016 and here is the trailer!
I Was Here by Gayle Forman
Amazon blurb: When her best friend, Meg, commits suicide by drinking a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how did she miss the signs of Meg’s depression? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. About Ben McAllister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, and some secrets of his own. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open—until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question.
SW: Anytime Gayle Forman writes a book, I cry. There. I’ve admitted it. Just like one of her previous books, Just One Day, I sobbed my way through the second half of this book. It’s heartbreaking and sad and wonderful. It’s an upper YA book, and there is an “adult encounter” between the heroine and hero, but it’s behind closed doors. Still, the adult situation and the topic of suicide was enough to make my daughter want to wait to read this book. (I usually read the Upper YA books first because I know what my kids like and don’t like at this age). But I have no doubt that once she reads it, it will change her forever. Gayle Forman is that kind of writer and I Was Here is that kind of book. This book is Upper YA Realistic Fiction.
In the Afterlife by Alexandra Bracken
Amazon blurb: Ruby can’t look back. Fractured by an unbearable loss, she and the kids who survived the government’s attack on Los Angeles travel north to regroup. Only Ruby can keep their highly dangerous prisoner in check. But with Clancy Gray, there’s no guarantee you’re fully in control, and everything comes with a price.
When the Children’s League disbands, Ruby rises up as a leader and forms an unlikely allegiance with Liam’s brother, Cole, who has a volatile secret of his own. There are still thousands of other Psi kids suffering in government “rehabilitation camps” all over the country. Freeing them–revealing the governments unspeakable abuses in the process–is the mission Ruby has claimed since her own escape from Thurmond, the worst camp in the country.
But not everyone is supportive of the plan Ruby and Cole craft to free the camps. As tensions rise, competing ideals threaten the mission to uncover the cause of IAAN, the disease that killed most of America’s children and left Ruby and others with powers the government will kill to keep contained. With the fate of a generation in their hands, there is no room for error. One wrong move could be the spark that sets the world on fire.
SW: This is the third book in a blockbuster series that my family and I just loved. This book is non-stop action with the fulfillment of a poignant teenage love story between Ruby and Liam. But the love part is subtle enough not to bother the boys (so says my son who hates romance in his books). One of the many things I liked about this book is that the parents eventually take control of the chaos and help the teenagers heal. There is one brief behind-closed-doors adult situation, but I don’t think my son even noticed! Beware: once you start this series, you’ll have to clear your schedule to read all three books in the shortest period of time possible. This book is YA Speculative Fiction (Dystopian).
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Amazon blurb: With this stunning debut novel, New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver emerged as one of today’s foremost authors of young adult fiction. Like Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why and Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, Before I Fall raises thought-provoking questions about love, death, and how one person’s life can affect so many others.
For popular high school senior Samantha Kingston, February 12—”Cupid Day”—should be one big party, a day of valentines and roses and the privileges that come with being at the top of the social pyramid. And it is…until she dies in a terrible accident that night.
However, she still wakes up the next morning. In fact, Sam lives the last day of her life seven times, until she realizes that by making even the slightest changes, she may hold more power than she ever imagined.
SW: From the first page, I had mixed feelings about this book. I’d read other books by Lauren Oliver and loved them (Delerium Trilogy, Panic, Vanishing Girls), but her debut book was hard for me to get into because I really didn’t like the heroine. Then my daughter told me that I’m not supposed to like her but that by the end I’d be crying for her. And my daughter was so right!
This book was spectacular and has been optioned for a movie. It is a teenage take on Groundhog Day, but much more poignant and powerful. The book does deal with powerful themes of teenage death and redemption and was emotionally hard for me to get through at times, but Lauren Oliver’s prose is so lovely that it carried me when I wanted to hide under the covers. This book is hard to classify but I would say it’s YA Speculative Fiction (Magical Elements).
Midnight Sky by Suzanne and Melanie Brockmann
Amazon blurb: Destiny has chosen Skylar. Now it might destroy her.
Skylar is a girl with extraordinary power. A girl with a mission to use her Greater-Than gifts to stop the makers of Destiny from getting people hooked on their deadly drug. But Sky is still mastering her new abilities, and her first mission to destroy a Destiny lab leaves her best friend addicted to the drug. For a few days Cal will be able to walk again – until it kills him. Time is running out for Sky to save the world without sacrificing her friends, to become truly Greater-Than…
SW: This is the second book in the Night Sky series (my daughter and I recently interviewed Suzanne and Melanie Brockmann about the first book Night Sky), and I enjoyed it even more than the first. It’s another fast-paced, action-filled story with fabulous characters. The love story is lovely and moving and age appropriate (which I appreciate), but so are the relationships between all of the characters. In true Suzanne Brockmann fashion, you’ll end up loving the secondary characters as much as the primaries. The two books in this series would make a wonderful gift for any avid reader! This book is YA Paranormal Romance.
Forget Tomorrow by Pintip Dunn
Amazon blurb: Imagine a world where your destiny has already been decided…by your future self.
It’s Callie’s seventeenth birthday and, like everyone else, she’s eagerly awaiting her vision — a memory sent back in time to sculpt each citizen into the person they’re meant to be. A world-class swimmer. A renowned scientist. Or in Callie’s case, a criminal.
In her vision, she sees herself murdering her gifted younger sister. Before she can process what it means, Callie is arrested and placed in prison. The only person who can help is her childhood crush, Logan, a boy she hasn’t spoken to in five years. Logan breaks her free, but can she trust him? He’s almost the same boy she remembers, but now he’s a whole lot hotter. And he’s got his own past to deal with. Callie’s falling for him, fast, but she soon learns he has secrets of his own. Secrets that mean they can never be together. Now, Callie’s on the run not only from the government, but also from her fate. If she wants any hope of a future with Logan, she must find a way to protect her sister from the biggest threat of all — herself.
SW: I loved science fiction as a teenager, and this reminded me of Philip K. Dick’s short story Minority Report, but much more updated and far more romantic. It’s a fabulous debut by a new YA author and well worth the time to savor. It’s a harrowing yet deeply emotional story that will keep you guessing until the very end. If you end up with an unexpected snow day, this is a perfect book to curl up with next to a fire with tea and leftover Christmas cookies. Because once you sit down to read it, you won’t get up until you finish. This book is YA Science Fiction Romance.
Here is an official book trailer:
Champion by Marie Lu
Amazon blurb: The explosive finale to Marie Lu’s New York Times bestselling LEGEND trilogy—perfect for fans of THE HUNGER GAMES and DIVERGENT!
He is a Legend. She is a Prodigy. Who will be Champion?
June and Day have sacrificed so much for the people of the Republic—and each other—and now their country is on the brink of a new existence. June is back in the good graces of the Republic, working within the government’s elite circles as Princeps Elect while Day has been assigned a high level military position. But neither could have predicted the circumstances that will reunite them once again. Just when a peace treaty is imminent, a plague outbreak causes panic in the Colonies, and war threatens the Republic’s border cities. This new strain of plague is deadlier than ever, and June is the only one who knows the key to her country’s defense. But saving the lives of thousands will mean asking the one she loves to give up everything he has. With heart-pounding action and suspense, Marie Lu’s bestselling trilogy draws to a stunning conclusion.
SW: Oh. My. Gosh!!!!! This book, the third in the trilogy, made we weep for days. Then my daughter read it, and she cried. Now her best friend is reading it, and she didn’t want to go to school because she was up all night crying. This book, along with the entire series, is a perfect blend of action, adventure, and love. I have to admit that my son hasn’t read this yet, but when he heard it might be made into a movie he moved the books to his TBR pile. I have no doubt he’ll love it too, but for other reasons. There is enough danger and excitement to keep any teenage boy interested. There is one closed-door adult situation scene toward the end of the book, but my kids never even mentioned it so I’m not sure they noticed. This book is YA Speculative Fiction (Dystopian).
Here is the official book trailer:
Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater
Amazon blurb: The third installment in the mesmerizing series from the irrepressible, #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Maggie Stiefvater.
Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs. The trick with found things, though, is how easily they can be lost.
Friends can betray. Mothers can disappear. Visions can mislead. Certainties can unravel.
SW: This is the third book in Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Boys series (The Raven Cycle) and my daughter and I think it’s our favorite (and we loved the first two!). This book is a paranormal romance with so many twists and turns that you have to keep reading because you have no idea what’s going to happen next. It’s the story of Blue Sargent, a local young woman with psychic abilities, and her relationship with a group of wealthy boys from nearby Aglionby Academy.
Together, they are determined to prove that the ancient Welsh King Glendower, and his sleeping knights, are buried somewhere in Virginia’s Shenandoah mountains. And those who wake him will be granted a wish. To add to Blue’s problems is the prophecy that she is cursed to kill the only boy she will ever love. And of course the boy she’s crushing on is one of the Raven boys. Fabulous series for both girls and boys, but I should note that it’s written at a higher reading level. While the story is very YA, Maggie Stiefvater writing is complex enough that some younger readers may not be able to keep up. This book is YA Paranormal Romance.
So what books have you read that you loved this year? I still have gifts to buy so I’d love to know!
All photographs courtesy of Sharon Wray. Copyright 2015.
All book covers courtesy of Amazon.