Her Name in Lights

I am writing from Florida where I shall begin my mission to read real books again. I brought a few with me, although I did have one final full priced Kindle book I traveled with, a memoir I really liked.

Cassandra King was married to a preacher and lived the life of a parish wife and mom to two sons when she met famous author Pat Conroy at a literary event. King was a teacher who had just written her first novel, about to published by a small press. Her marriage was falling apart. She lived in the same house with her husband but they had separate quarters.

Conroy’s situation was a bit different. He’d just published The Prince of Tides to great acclaim. He was a friendly guy who loved talking about writing and books. He also told and heard many a tall tale. He drank to excess and ate the same way at fancy restaurants. He’d already divorced two wives. He had a serious lover, but was trying to extricate himself from that relationship.

Then King met Conroy and the rest is literary history. Conroy was a megastar, his books had been turned into movies with top actors, the biggest novel of his already stellar career was taking off. And he asked to read her book and loved Cassandra’s writing. He offered to blurb her debut. And that’s about all I knew of this later in life marriage. (They were in their 50s). At the time, I thought wow good for her. She’ll be fast-tracked up the author ranks. And I never thought of her again. I continued to read Conroy’s novels. But I never picked up any of King’s fiction.

Until this one. A favorite genre is memoir. Memoir by a fiction writer is icing on the cake. Especially a memoir written by the wife of an author I’d long admired. I knew Conroy’s history: his brutal childhood, his drinking, his fame. His novels drew heavily from his tormented early life. Now I’d learn the whole story. And wow.

King and Conroy remained phone friends for a number of years before they started seeing each other IRL. By this time they were both free of the relationships that had been in trouble when they met and the very romantic Conroy proposed. I can’t say more without spoilers except that they had twenty years together, full of drama and fueled by their twin creative spirits. Cassandra met all Pat’s famous writer friends, wrote many more books, went on author tours and became a bestselling novelist herself.

She did well and judging by the blurbs on her book covers, she was a wonderful writer. Certainly in Tell Me a Story: My Life with Pat Conroy (the title puts the word CONROY in extra large letters on the front cover) she tells a good story herself. She brings the writing process alive and includes all the fine trappings of a fortunate writing life from an almost bygone era. The agents, publishers, book parties, contracts, book tours. There’s conflict, too. Conroy had a temper.

I really liked this memoir of the high-style writing life. Pat Conroy was quite a character and he seems to have met his ideal match in Cassandra King.

Christmas Reading

So far this holiday season (I started before Halloween this year) I’ve read ten Christmas novels. My very favorites are the classic “sweet” Regency romance novellas of Mary Balogh. She’s been reissuing these and I’m collecting them all over again on my Kindle. My top pick for holiday reading so far is A Christmas Bride, which is paired with A Christmas Beau. All Balogh’s books are excellent, well written and poignant. A Christmas Bride reached inside and grabbed my heart.

Balogh only writes historical romance, and she used to bring out a Christmas title every year, but this year she didn’t. Her newer books are not “sweet” (meaning they have sex scenes) and they are longer novels, not novellas, but they’re still delicious. Also re-read (so far) this year: A Christmas Promise and Under the Mistletoe.

Another favorite author, Anne Perry, also does a Christmas book every year. She’s another historical author. Her books are set in the Victorian era. This year she published A Christmas Gathering, which featured a wonderful minor character from the Charlotte Pitt series. Perry’s themes are often centered around forgiveness and loneliness. In this novella, a gentleman cannot forgive himself for a past failure and because he keeps this secret from his wife, they both feel that essential loneliness that somehow bites sharper during the holidays. But these are romances, so the endings are always happy.

Happily ever after is not just for historical fiction. I’m really fussy about what romance novels I read these days, but I always enjoy Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series, especially the humor. Thus, I had to read the newest title Shopaholic Christmas. At first I was a bit worried. She’s married and rich now, so she won’t be having the debt dilemma of that first (and best) book in the series. It was a bit slow to warm up, but when it did, I laughed on almost every page. For sure a feel-good holiday book.

Brenda Novak is another go-to contemporary romance author (she writes mystery too) when I’m in the mood for a HEA. Her Christmas at Silver Springs was lovely. An ex-con and a rock star’s almost ex-wife seem like an unlikely couple–I was curious to see how Novak handled the ex-con character–but this prolific author skillfully navigated a tricky romance that includes kids who are missing their rock star dad.

I love books set in Nantucket and Nancy Thayer’s An Island Christmas gives readers a peek at this summer haven in the off-season. There was a hint of Scrooge in the ailing and elderly curmudgeon, but the island native heroine manages to capture his heart along with his more age-appropriate son.

I’ve read and enjoyed a few more Christmas titles, including the funny contemporary The 12 Daves of Christmas by K.L. Brady (fiancee leaves her at altar, the rat!) and Invitation to a Cornish Christmas, two historical novellas by Marguerite Kaye and Bronwyn Scott. All three of these authors are new to me. I loved Brady’s humor. Kaye surprised me with the sensual aspect of her lonely hearts characters–I think because I was raised on the sweet Regencies which are truer to the era IMO.

Romance readers know that these days even historical authors often go “all in” on the sex scenes. Kaye took her time with these lovers in Cornwall, so the sex is more a simmering slow boil. I really liked how she played with the ocean and swimming and incorporated them into the storyline. Makes me want to watch the series finale of Poldark, which I taped last night! Have not read Scott’s novella yet, but anticipate another hit of Cornwall after Poldark.

I know it’s a bit early, but here I am already reading for Christmas spirit and so want to say happy holidays to lovers of Christmas. ‚̧