Sunday, July 31, 2011

"Your Scandalous Ways," by Loretta Chase

The Chick: Francesca Bonnard. Her husband divorced her, society turned its back on her, but she refused to die in the gutter and instead became one of the most expensive and celebrated courtesans in Europe.The Rub: Her independence is threatened when shady men with shadier intentions start sniffing after some incriminating letters of her ex-husband she may or may not have stashed away...Dream Casting: Anne Hathaway.

The Dude: James Cordier. Before his superiors let him retire from the spy game, his last job is to retrieve some letters by any (sexy) means necessary from a courtesan in Venice.The Rub: He's a master of seduction and secrecy who's just looking to settle down with a nice, uncomplicated virgin to marry - too bad he starts falling for Francesca, the very opposite.Dream Casting: Eric Bana.

The Plot:
Spy Superior: Go and steal some secret letters from a famous courtesan!

James: Piece of cake...

Francesca: Hey there, sailor!

James:, delicious cake. Mmmmm cake. DAMMIT.

Evil Men: Die, whore, die!

James: *rescues* Hello, pretty lady. I am a totally trustworthy noble who is totally not trying to steal letters you've been hiding from the British authorities!

Francesca: Why thank you! Care for some free sex?

James: *so very tempted* Yyyyyyyyyyyno. No thank you.

Francesca: How DARE you refuse me! I'm awesome and expensive! Watch me go and have an affair with a boyish innocent prince!

Boyish Innocent Prince: Hi! You're awesome and expensive!

James: DAMMIT.

Evil Thugs: *loot Francesca's house*

James: For the love of all that is holy, Fran, would you give me those letters and have hot, semi-violent sex with me?!

Francesca: In that order? Wait, how the hell do you know about the letters? YOU LIED!

James: I LIED!

Francesca: I'M OUTRAGED!

James: SO AM I!


James: Wait, what?

Francesca: *jumps* Wheeeeee......

*several hot passionate lovemaking scenes later...*

Evil Sexy Villainess: Hey! Someone order a villain?

Francesca and James: *glare*

Evil Sexy Villainess: Well fine then. Rude. *jumps in canal, and is unrescued*

Francesca and James: Hooray!

Romance Convention Checklist

1 Evil Ex-Husband

1 Crazy Jewel-Hungry Whore

Several Very Nice and Well-Kept Whores

1 Innocent Boyish Prince

Several Expensive Jewels

1 Packet of Traitorous Letters

1 Surprise! Father

1 Instance of a Hero in Drag

The Word: Thank God for Loretta Chase.

Just when I thought I was getting tired of romance. Just when I thought I couldn't handle another book full of tired lustspeak instead of plot, cardboard characters, and meaningless sex scenes.

Thank God for Loretta Chase. I think one of the reasons I love her books is that in each one, she manages to break or at least challenge one of the Major Rules of Romance and get away with it.

In Your Scandalous Ways, she busts two of the biggies:
  1. Thy Heroine Shall Not Be an Unrepentant HoBag
  2. Thy Heroine Shall Not Enjoy Sex With Another Man After Meeting the Hero
But Francesca Bonnard couldn't give less of a crap. She's a courtesan - an actual courtesan. As in, one who actually has sex for money. No, she's not a courtesan's virgin twin sister who's taking her slutty doppelganger's place while Slutty Sis gets a mani-pedi. No, she's not a special "kink" courtesan for impotent men while preserving her virginity for a "special" customer. No, she's not earning money on her back to repair the leaky roof of the local Puppy Orphanage.

No, she's in it for the dolla dolla bills. And maybe a little payback. Francesca used to be the naive wife of an ambitious politician, until he decided he was better off without her. The ensuing divorce proceedings stripped her of every scrap of reputation, good name, and friendship she had. Knowing her ex-husband fully expected her to sink into impoverished, diseased obscurity - she threw herself in the opposite direction, turning herself into a celebrated, fabulously wealthy courtesan, the toast of the Continent.

James Cordier, an experienced British spy, has also earned enough of his pay on his back to apply for Francesca's union. He's had to play so many parts to save the British Empire from certain doom, that he wants nothing more than to retire and settle down with a nice, virginal English bride. Too bad he's got one last job: a powerful member of Parliament may be a traitor, and his now-infamous ex-wife may possess letters that prove it - and James needs to get those letters.

However, James is not the only one after those letters, and he ends up rescuing Francesca from hired assailants. So now he must juggle the daunting tasks of Protecting Francesca, Finding Those Damn Letters, and Avoiding Francesca's Wiles - and Francesca throws wiles like it's her job - oh wait, it IS her job!

Francesca is a fantastically involved character. She's not only an experienced whore, but she actually enjoys the life she leads and all the luxuries that come with it. None of this "secretly I cry myself to sleep in the shower trying to wash my soul free of sin" nonsense. While yes, she does harbour a small, secret yearning for England and the life she used to lead, she relishes the independence she traded it for and balks at the idea of giving it up for any reason, even her own safety.

But James? He's all about the protection. He can't understand why this stubborn woman won't let him swoop in and take over everything like the Captain Britain Superhero he's used to being. But she's not one to sit quietly by and sip tea while James does all the legwork. James is so used to going alone, or with the aid of women he seduces and manipulates, that he's engaged and enchanted by this woman who refuses to relinquish her hold on life - even if it's for her own damn good, the silly wench.

And honestly, I loved every minute of it. This whole book seemed, well, sumptuous. The descriptions, the dialogue, the setting of Venice - Loretta Chase's writing style makes reading this book like running one's hands down a string of pearls - each word smooth, polished, beautiful, just the right fit for its place, all running together into a luxuriant, rich piece. I don't know how else to describe it, for my own words fail me. But Chase doesn't stop with words - you feel for all her characters (Francesca in particular), their development and romance.

Your Scandalous Ways is perfect indulgence - the kind with substance along with style.

Monday, July 25, 2011

"The Hunger Games," by Suzanne Collins

Our Protagonist: Katniss Everdeen. A hardbitten teenage
survivor of impoverished District Twelve, she's gotten by with few resources and fewer emotional entanglements.
The Rub: When her one emotional entanglement (her younger sister Prim) is endangered by the brutal custom of the Hunger Games, Katniss takes her place in the fight-to-the-death tournament.

Our Supporting Cast:

Gale: Katniss' BFF and Possible Love Interest #1. A fellow hunter and scavenger like herself. Promises to look after Katniss' family while Katniss is gone.

Peeta: District 12's other tribute for the Hunger Games, and Possible Love Interest #2. A lowly baker who's never had to struggle for survival the way Katniss has, he still has a few canny tricks up his sleeve.

Haymitch: Katniss and Peeta's mentor for the Hunger Games, a previous Hunger Games champion who's quite capable and helpful - when he's sober. Which isn't often.

Cinna: Katniss' surprisingly sympathetic and helpful stylist for the Hunger Games.

Effie Trinket: Bitchy McBitchface.

Cato: A ferociously violent boy from a wealthy district who is the odds-on favourite to win the Games.

YA Convention Checklist

1 Dystopian Setting

2 Possible Love Interests

1 Fake Relationship that Evolves Into More (?)

1 Grizzled Rebellious Mentor Figure

Several Costume Changes

1 Thankful Loaf of Bread

Several Explosions

1 Convenient Poison

The Word: Katniss Everdeen is a survivor. An inhabitant of the impoverished District 12, her days are consumed by endless hours of searching, hunting, scavenging, trading, and stealing to make sure her family has food on the table. She wastes nothing - not time, not food, and certainly not emotion. Her father is dead, and her mother can't be trusted - at least in Katniss' eyes.

There are only two people in the world she spares feelings for - her innocent kid sister, Prim; and Gale, her friend and partner in food acquisition. Nothing and nobody else matters - not the privileged (few) rich folk, not the other eleven districts, and not the Capital.

Until the annual Hunger Games roll around - a barbaric tradition where two teenage "tributes" are selected from each district to participate in a brutal fight-to-the-death tournament for the nation's entertainment. The Games' lone winner goes home set for life - and the winner's District is showered with wealth and support for an entire year. The other twenty-three kids come home in boxes.

Katniss worries that her name might be selected (the tributes are chosen by drawing names, but teenagers who put in their names more than once are rewarded with extra food), but something far worse happens - sweet 12-year-old Prim's name is drawn instead, so Katniss volunteers to go in her place. The other tribute is Peeta, the son of the local baker whom Katniss recognizes but barely knows.

Now, at least for the first few chapters, The Hunger Games sounds a lot like the Japanese manga/film series Battle Royale, since they both involve corrupt societies forcing teenagers to kill each other until only one remains. But The Hunger Games goes further than that, showing us the media and societal aspect of the Games themselves.

Once Katniss and Peeta are chosen and taken to the Capital, they are given over to a professional team that involves their "mentor" Haymitch (a canny drunkard who is the last person from District 12 to win the Hunger Games), a prissie PR expert named Effie Trinket, and a stylist named Cinna. While Katniss and Peeta also receive some weapons training, they also get training in attitude, personality, and how to perform well in interviews. Because the Hunger Games, it seems, aren't just for the tributes - they're also the nation's entertainment. Enormous amounts of money change hands during the Games as people bet and place odds, and wealthy people can even "sponsor" a tribute who stands out from the pack by sending them hints and even supplies during the Games themselves.

It's the social aspect of the Hunger Games that fascinated me the most while reading this book - the fact that even once the Games have started and Katniss has to fight for her life, she still has to consider the millions of people who are watching her every move from hidden cameras. The more audience sympathy she has, the more sponsors she can get, and the more secret advantages she'll be given. However, if she appears too rebellious or starts openly questioning the Powers That Be, those same Powers can manipulate the Games to make them that much harder for her.

This plays especially well into the complicated relationship she develops with Peeta, her fellow tribute. At the beginning of the book, Peeta surprises them all by declaring to the media that he and Katniss are in a romantic relationship. The "tragic romance" angle gains them so much audience interest that Katniss plays along with the ruse in order to survive - even as she increasingly starts to question how much of it Peeta's actually faking.

Katniss is the central character of The Hunger Games and she doesn't disappoint. She's a girl who has had to fight for all the she has and she refuses to deal with deadweight - such as her mother, whom she rejected after the woman's depression nearly caused their family to starve. She's unaccustomed to trifling with people who can't keep up with her, so having to slow down and help Peeta (in order to support their cover story of being tragic lovers) goes against all of her stronger (if not necessarily better) instincts. Their interactions are fascinating, and I look forward to reading how they continue their relationship (along with Gale) in the following books.

As a book, The Hunger Games is excellently paced. The language is precise while still evocative. The worldbuilding - well, that's a shakier subject. The novel's focus is more on the story and less on where it happens, so a lot of the sci-fi, the technology, the history, and the dystopian aspects of the world itself seem a bit vague or convenient. But maybe I will learn more when I read the following books. As it is, The Hunger Games was thought provoking and entertaining with a strong female protagonist. Thumbs up!

Friday, July 22, 2011

"Talk of the Town," by Karen Hawkins

The Chick: Roxie Treymayne. Newly divorced from her cheating husband, she's all set to change her life, change her hair, and become the bad girl she never got to be.
The Rub: Until her mother suffers a heart attack, and she now has to drag herself (and her new hair, piercing, and tramp stamp) back to her hometown of Glory, North Carolina, where she was the perfectly-perfect Prom Queen.
Dream Casting: Rebecca Romijn.

The Dude: Nick Sheppard. Formerly the town troublemaker, he left
Glory to become a straight-arrow cop. Now he's back in Glory as the sheriff, just in time to see his first love, Roxie, roll back into town with a whole new look and a taste for trouble he no longer shares.
The Rub: He left his big-city cop job after his supervisor let a pretty young thing lead him into police corruption, so he's determined that no woman will let him stray from the straight and narrow.
Dream Casting: Harry Connick Jr.

The Plot:

Roxie: Hey now that my husband's run off with a dude I'm going to be all hawt and free-wheeling and tattooed and stuff! I'm going to see the world!

Mother: *heart attack*

Roxie: ...crud.

Nick: Hey now that I'm a sheriff after having to leave the big city when I ratted out my cop buddies, I'm going to have to stay completely clear of troublesome women in order to maintain my integrity!

Roxie: Hey y'all! I got a tattoo! Close to my BUTT!

Nick: ...crud.

Random Old People: Let's solve crimes! And be nosy busybodies and make snap judgements! We're old and sick and going to die soon, so that makes it funny and okay!

Nick: Don'thavesexwithRoxieDon'thavesexwithRoxieDon'thavesexwithRoxie.

Roxie and Nick: *have sex*

Nick: D'OH!

Roxie: Hey, remember when we were hot teenagers whose love burned out really fast for no reason?

Nick: I only heard the first half of that sentence.

Random Evil Assailant: Hey look! I'm evil! And not who you expected! Die, Roxy, die!

Nick: No, don't!

Random Evil Assailant: Okay.

Nick: Let's get married.

Roxie: Hooray!
Romance Convention Checklist

1 New Tattoo

1 New Body Piercing

1 Surprise! Gay Husband

1 Comic Relief Maid Who Is In Reality Incredibly Annoying

1 Possible Murrrrrder

1 Secret Murrrrrder Mystery Club

1 Secret Murrrrrrder Mystery Club Bong

The Plot: Roxie Treymayne has had it up to here with her charmed life. After years of being the perfect daughter, student, Prom Queen and wife, Roxie finds herself set adrift (albeit with a huge monetary settlement) after she discovers her husband in bed with another man (a development that is played, rather uncomfortably, for laughs).

So Roxie decides to HELL with being the Good Girl. She dyes her hair blond, changes her wardrobe, gets herself pierced and tattooed and is all set to jet off to Venice or Paris to live the high life she never allowed herself to - just in time for her overbearing mother to have a heart attack, necessitating Roxie's return to her hometown of Glory, North Carolina, to help care for her.

On the way into town, she runs into none other than Nick Sheppard - the former town bad boy, whose teenage fling with her was the only rebellious move Roxie'd ever made under her mother's roof. He's cleaned up into the town sheriff, and he's more than a little surprised by Roxie's new attitude on life.

Their attraction flares back to life almost instantly, now with the added spice of having their moral standpoints reversed - now Nick is on the straight and narrow while Roxie is determined to cause trouble. However, neither is willing to renew their relationship. Roxie wants nothing more than to settle her mother's affairs (one of which involves babysitting a senior citizen's club and their birdbrained attempts to solve a mysterious death) as quickly as possible so she can resume her plan to travel the world and have an adventure.

Meanwhile Nick's viewpoint on women has been tarnished by his past as a big-city cop who was forced to rat out a beloved mentor who turned corrupt thanks to the wiles of a Troublemaking Woman, and he's afraid that succumbing to his renewed lust for Roxie will lead him down a similar path.

First of all, for this book, I liked the protagonists and I really enjoyed the idea of the novel - that of the Bad Boy and Good Girl who reunite years later with their standpoints reversed. While I found the hyuk-hyuk Roxie's Husband Loves a Transvestite! plotline trite, unnecessary, offensive, and even a little nonsensical (Roxie feels she wasn't feminine enough for her husband - um, he's gay, femininity was the problem), I loved her new attitude and how she moved on from it. Similarly Nick Sheppard manages the toe the fine line between Distrusting Himself Around Women and Distrusting Women, so his romantic reservations come across as a little paranoid but not misogynist.

I also enjoyed the mystery element - the bad guy was not who I thought it would be, surprise, surprise.

But at the same time, I wasn't totally engaged. The two protagonists are generally reasonable but they also aren't very interesting beyond their initial problems. As well, the humour is pretty hit or miss. Madcap humour is especially difficult - there is a thin line between crazy-hilarious and crazy-annoying, and I felt most of the characters and their depictions fell into the latter category, particularly Roxie's housekeeper Tundy who seems to be there mainly to spurt anecdotes and wacky words of wisdom.

I'm also not a fan of mystery romances where the heroine, who is not in law enforcement and has no law enforcement training, gets butthurt when the cop hero won't let her ride along on a case or handle or keep crucial evidence. I'm sorry, but the reason he won't let you do that is because it's the law, not because he doesn't trust you. Calm your tits.

As it is, Talk of the Town was a pleasant but not very memorable read.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

AnimeJune Takes Manhattan: RWA 2011

Well, now that I'm all rested and ready to leave for Ireland tomorrow (hectic jetsetter that I am), I thought I'd give you all a recap of my trip to the Big Apple for the Romance Writers of America's 2011 National Conference.

Did I do some things differently this year? Yes. I didn't attend as many workshops. I didn't pitch. I researched YA, and I didn't go hog-wild at the booksignings this year. In fact, I think I attended three signings and walked away with fewer than six books total.

Did I have a good time, though? YOU BET I DID!

Day One started on Monday. Flew into New York, and despite a bit of panic over a very, very tight connection, arrived in one piece and on time to reconnect with 2011 RWA Librarian of the Year Wendy and Rosie! We fell into chatting (while I unhinged my jaw and devoured a chicken quesadilla - due to the tight connection, all I'd had for lunch was a banana, some string cheese and a Fresca) just like old times, like we totally hadn't been separated by geography for a year!

And Times Square, let me tell ya, it's a glorious spectacle the first, oh, three times you walk through it to the hotel, but afterwards, well, it's kind of like being assaulted by real-life Internet pop-ups. All advertisements, all the time, great big neon letters. After a while, I totally understood why all the native New York attendees advised us to get the hell out of the Square to experience the real city life. Honestly, it made the merchandising in DisneyWorld look subtle.

Anyhoo, the next day (Tuesday) was my Annual Day of Not Pacing Myself. For my three years of attending RWA, I've turned Condensed Sightseeing into something of an art form. In 2009, I tramped over the National Mall in Washington DC in one day - taking the Metro, seeing the Smithsonian, the National Monument, and the memorials for three different wars. In 2010, I explored three Disney parks in two days swimming through Floridian humidity in July.

Firstly, though, I picked up my Conference Swag:

Bitches can't handle my swag! Books that I really wanted to read, a beautiful conference pen, a flashdrive (of course!), a booklight, a water bottle bag thing that leaked all over the place, and a really helpful New York map from Carina Press and the Smart Bitches!

After that, it was time to really explore New York. I decided to forgo the $17 waffle offered by the hotel restaurant and foraged through Times Square, eventually settling on an EZ Deli that made a mean pancake platter for $4.50 - so quite the bargain in comparison to the overpriced hotel meal.

After that, I took the New York subway to the Museum of Natural History. Now, I'm young and Canadian and watch far too much TV so I was really touristy about a lot of things - like how, "oooh! The subway looks like just it does in the movies!" A lot of New York appeared "just like the movies" or "just like TV" to me. Sad but true.

The museum itself was amazing - lots of dioramas, dinosaurs, giant whales, and stuff animals (not the cuddly kind).

After that, since the museum skirts Central Park, I decided to walk across Central Park to reach the Metropolitan Museum of Art (which also borders Central Park - on the other side). First, though, lunch - a soft pretzel and mustard. I shared the pretzel with a horde of fearless, well-fed New York pigeons and the mustard with my pants. And none with the homeless person sleeping on the bench since I didn't even notice him until I threw the rest of my pretzel in the garbage.

Central Park was glorious - everything was ripe and green, the day was hot but not too hot. Again, the movie-lover in me took over, because I flipped out over the bridge from Enchanted (and the New York episode of Glee) as well as Bethesda Plaza where the musical number of "That's How You Know" (again, Enchanted) was performed.

Central Park is a bit of a maze, though, and it turned out to be a pretty long hike from one end to the other, with a lot of twists and turns and misdirection.

But it was fun to walk. I mean, I had no real idea of how enormous Central Park was. I kept thinking, it's one park in the centre of an enormous city. How big can it be?

The answer - pretty fucking big. But after about an hour and a half of walking, I finally made it to the other side, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

First of all, it's a gorgeous building all on its own, with loads of Palladian columns and people hawking their own art in front of it. Inside, there were loads of different exhibits. I wanted to see the Savage Beauty exhibit (dedicated to the art of Alexander McQueen's fashion) but there was an estimated 45 minute wait and a line of about two hundred people just to get in to that, and as it was already mid-afternoon I decided life was too short and went and explored the exhibits for 19th century portraits as well as armour and weaponry.

There was so much to look at - gorgeous pictures, cool swords, statues and sculptures and pastels... after a while it became a bit of a sensory overload and even then I had to pry myself away and cab back down to the hotel to get there in time for the Literary Autographing.

I arrived in time, starving and footsore as expected.

But I saw Christie Ridgway!

And Shirley Thomas! Who told me she'd read my review of His At Night and thought my casting for Spencer Stuart was spot on - and that it got her to watch Downton Abbey (always a plus!).

Then I saw Kate Noble and got her newest book, Follow My Lead.

Reconnected with Courtney Milan and bought a copy of Unveiled.

Fangirled over Rose Lerner! Although her new book still isn't out yet!

FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY got to meet Marjorie M. Liu! I love her books!

Met with Victoria Dahl and Joanna Bourne again, as well.

Checked out both Jennifer Echols and Simone Elkeles, too, as I'm now trying to write YA and they seem to be the best in the biz right now - I also went to Elkeles' very helpful YA workshop with David Levithan.

As well, I managed to snag the last copy of It Happened One Season (a project-sequel of sorts to the lovely anthology It Happened One Night) and got it signed by Stephanie Laurens, and I met Jo Beverley, who very kindly signed my old, yellowed, used copy of Forbidden (which I'd read on my flight over) instead of making me buy the new re-issue.

I couldn't stay for the whole signing however - I was swaying on my feet by then, not to mention starving. I'd also been invited to the Nelson Literary Agency party (for being an author-friendly blogger, as it turns out!) and if I didn't have anything to eat before then I wouldn't be fit company for anyone, much less a party of authors and literary agents and publishing industry professionals.

So - I caved. One of the things I wanted to do while I was in New York is find one of the great, fabulous, glamourously secretly awesome restaurants and eat there but I was short on time and long on hunger so I ate at the McDonald's on Times Square - but walking, food in hand, I ended up having an unexpected celebrity experience.

I'd noticed in the morning that the middle of Times Square had an enormous Transformers display, with smashed cars and cranes and a life-size replica of Bumblebee. Well, now that it was evening, I discovered it was actually for the New York premiere of the third Transformers movie, Dark of the Moon - and I actually got to see Josh Duhamel walk by. I got a video of him, actually, which was pretty cool. I didn't have time to wait and see if Shia LaBoeuf showed up, unfortunately, so I made my way back to the hotel, gussied myself up, and shared a cab with fab author Carolyn Jewel to the NAL party.

The cocktail party hosted by the Nelson Literary Agency was amazing - it was held at a restaurant on the roof of a twenty-story building, so I could see brilliant New York skyline at dusk. Spoke to some authors, some agents, ended up in a long conversation with Andrew Shaffer and one of the writers for GeekMom, a lovely women who also writes Viking erotica whose name I have forgotten, as well as a couple of people who worked with digital books whose names I have also forgotten (I'm still rifling through my business cards, bear with me). Great conversation. Amazing view. Open bar. I was in heaven, although honestly, by the end of the day my knees were wobbling - I'd probably sat down for maybe 20% of the day, with the other 80% spent walking, running, and standing.

So I poured myself into bed and woke up the next day to start with the full conference experience. Today I actually did cave and get a $17 waffle because this year the conference didn't offer complimentary continental breakfast, and yet the opening session still started at 8:30 in the morning. But whatever. The opening session with Diana Gabaldon, Tess Gerritson and Steve Berry was eye-opening (Outlander apparently started as a "practice" book that was never supposed to be published), and Madeline Hunter gave a lovely speech for her keynote address at the luncheon.

In between that and the Book Blogger Tea, I ran into Jodi Thomas (who wrote Rewriting Monday, which I reviewed), and had a lovely chat with her and her friends. I told her I wanted to be published, and she said, with absolute certainty, "You will be. You know why? Because you care enough about it to come here." What a sweetheart!

After that, I went to the Book Blogger Tea hosted by Harlequin's Digital Team. We got to fill out survey sheets about what we liked to read and review (although I doubt I'll get anything because I said I preferred print to e-pubbed books), and we all got handmade fascinators (I kept mine - I'm the one in the pink shirt on the photo on the right). Saw Kristie J there, too (the woman in the red plaid in the picture on the left).

I could only stay for about half an hour, though - I had other things to prepare for. Big things. One big thing in particular that's been on my Bucket List since I was about seven years old.

My first live, real, original cast Broadway show!
I saw The Book of Mormon at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, and the experience was, well, pretty much beyond words. Amazing, hilarious, and life-changing are pretty mild, surface-scratching descriptors.

Needless to say, it was the highlight of my whole trip. The songs, the dancing, the actors, the jokes ... it was amazing! I sat in row B, close enough to spit on the actors (not that I would - they were awesome!), and I saw everything.

After that, well, the rest of the conference was still pretty good. On Thursday, I went to more workshops, cheered for SuperWendy upon winning the Librarian of the Year award, listened to Sherilyn Kenyon's depressing, inspiring, horrifying, uplifting keynote speech. Met author Lila diPasqua at our table (and she convinced me to pick up a copy of The Princess in his Bed at one of the signings the next day), and then did more sight seeing.

This time I went and explored 30 Rockefeller Plaza. The home of NBC Studios and the Top of the Rock Attraction. Weirdly enough, the security to get to the top of a building was more rigorous than the security at LaGuaria Airport, but the view was sure worth it!

You have to go up 67 floors to get to the top - the ride lasts 45 seconds and they play images and music on the ceiling of the elevator as it goes up and down.

But I got my sightseeing on and returned down in time to take the NBC Studio Tour - there we got to see Dr Oz's studio (getting renovated) and Jimmy Fallon's studio for The Late Show with Jimmy Fallon. Jimmy's studio was tiny. Like, living-room tiny. All the studios in NBC are small because they all started out as radio studios, so they've had to make due. Apparently, Jimmy can only seat an audience of about 182 people (Leno gets twice that, at least), and the producers use a wide-angle lens and never pan between Jimmy, the floor, and the band in order to trick people into thinking the studio's bigger.

Seeing that was nothing compared to seeing the studio for Saturday Night Live - a show I've been watching religiously for about ten years now. I actually got to walk down the hallway where you see all the pictures of the cast and the guest stars! They were renovating inside, too, but we still got to see the major stages - there are three. The middle stage is where they have the monologue and the easily collapsible stages like Weekend Update.

The right stage is the semi-permanent stage which they use for difficult-to-set-up bits like sets that require stairs or water falls or something. The stage on the left is the one for the musical guests, and the guide (an actual page! Like Kenneth!) told us they've now had to include the stage's size in their contract with the musical artists because both times Kanye West forgot and had to squeeze forty ballerinas and giant gospel choirs onto that tiny stage.

After that dream come true, I trecked up to see and pray at St. Patrick's Cathedral. It even had a teeny-tiny gift shop.

And after that was the Gathering, the party for the FF&P Chapter of RWA. Great hors d'oeuvres, chocolate fondue, and goodie bags for everyone.

After that, it was Friday. The last day of the conference. I actually went to a couple of booksignings today, mainly to get Jennifer Echol's Love Story (which I did!), and some other cool books, too.

For my last afternoon of sightseeing, I checked out the Paley Center for Media - the new name for the Television and Radio Museum. When I walked in, I was greeted by this small, neat British man who introduced me to the exhibits - it's not a museum for walking around. For the price of admission, you can go downstairs to the theatre and watch all the specials and retrospectives and documentaries about television, and you can go upstairs and have an hour and a half of time watching anything from their enormous, enormous library of shows and archival footage. I watched a little bit of everything - some of the original pilot of Sesame Street, to 13-year-old Alannis Morrisette in You Can't Do This On Television, to the incredibly silly pilot of Cop Rock (America's one and only musical police procedural).

I got back in time for dinner before the RITAs - with a pretty sad result. I asked a certain other blogger to a Japanese place a friend of mine had suggested. She accepted, then turned around with a bunch of other attendees and told me we were having Thai. We walk from the hotel to the famous Restaurant Row, and I discover I can't eat at the restaurant because they cook with a food to which I am fatally allergic. The response from everyone? Oh well. Everyone went in. I stayed out. I got ditched.

It would have been easier to take if the Thai restaurant had been in the middle of nowhere, but we were on Restaurant Row, where you could literally cannot throw a rock without hitting a restaurant. They were up and down ninth avenue, all different styles and ethnicities of cooking. We could have gone anywhere else. Literally. And while I'm used to eating alone, I guess, it felt so depressing to be left on my own for the my last dinner at RWA. I just wish they'd told me they didn't want to eat with me while I'd been at the hotel. Because then I could have flagged down someone else.

I ended up eating alone at a Cajun place (with a yummy fried shrimp po'boy), cheered myself up by reading Jo Beverley's Forbidden, then went to the RITAs. And that was pretty much my New York vacation. I had a blast, I saw some great sights, and ... well, I have to admit that it wasn't so much about the conference this time. Going back over my memories of the trip, 90% is what I saw around New York and The Book of Mormon, and about 10% was the conference itself.

I don't know what that means, exactly. I still like writing, and I'm still working on a novel and want to be published, but the conference experience just wasn't with me this year, I guess. I'd let myself grow apart from my writing (or at least that part within the romance genre), so I felt a bit of a disconnect this year.

But I still managed to carry home some swag! Yeah, that's what I wrote - carried home. No shipping for me this time. I just took the books I wanted, and only enough to fit in my suitcase Hurrah for tiny apartments and will power!

We'll see what next year brings! AND NOW - ONTO MY ENORMOUS REVIEW BACKLOG!