Category Archives: Ask the Sweethearts

Give the Gift of ….

The Sweethearts wish all of our readers a very happy holiday season! We hope you embrace the music, the decorations, the food, the fun, the time with family and friends, and of course … the gifts! For this month’s “Ask the Sweethearts,” we’re sharing our thoughts on the question: What holiday gifts do you recommend for someone who loves YA romance?

Darcy Woods: With so many swoontastic YA contemporary romance books on the shelf, it can be difficult to narrow your gift-giving list. But fret not! The Sweethearts are here to make holiday shopping for the bibliophile in your life a little less stress-inducing. And to that end, here’s a handful of my romantic faves (old and new) that have moved me to tears, made me cackle with laughter, and/or caused me to simply marvel at what it is love:
  • MUSEUM OF HEARTBREAK by Meg Leder
  • WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI by Sandhya Menon
  • MY BEST EVERYTHING by Sarah Tomp
  • WHY I LOATHE STERLING LANE by Ingrid Paulson
  • FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell
And if you reeeeally wanna knock your lit lovers socks off, you’ll add this vintage bouquet of book roses to the mix! Available at Amazon or wherever literary flowers are sold. 🙂
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Robin Constantine: I love giving (and receiving!) little luxuries — especially items for pampering!  I love anything from LUSH — like this gift set — their bath bombs and bubble bars are decadent and leave you smelling great!  Another great pampering item is a diffuser with essential oils like lavender to calm or citrus to keep your mind sharp and energized.
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Karole Cozzo: Here are mine!
  • Laura Mercier Lip Glace in Babydoll: Makes lips soft and silky for kissing — this is a color everyone can rock and (bonus!) it tastes like birthday cake and marshmallows.
  • LOVE candle lid magnet — This one won’t break the bank (think perfect stocking stuffer) and it makes candles every bit as pretty and romantic when they’re unlit as when they’re burning.
  • Kiss Me! bath bombs — Because it’s hard to think of a better fragrance for relaxing in the tub with your favorite book boyfriend.
  • Magic in the Air sugar scrub — Create a little magic with the scent of almonds and whipped vanilla and end up with skin that’s canoodling-friendly 🙂
  • Paperback book cover with bookmark — Protect the ones you love the most — available in a myriad of patterns for 10$ a pop.
Stephanie Scott: My gift recommendations are my two favorite contemporary young adult romances from 2017: WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI by Sandhya Menon and I BELIEVE IN A THING CALLED LOVE by Maurene Goo. You might want to pair these books with bookish candles from Novelly Yours, a reader-turned-candle-seller with scents like Currently Reading, Book Boyfriend, Romance Trope, and scents named after various book fandoms.
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Erin Fletcher: I have three recs:

  • Amazon Gift Card: Picking out a book to give someone else is tough. What if they already read it? What if they’re not interested in it? Save the stress. Go for the gift card! My favorite is this one in the shape of a bookmark.
  • Bookish Candle: There are a ton of book-related candles out there, perfect for reading by candlelight! Check out this one from one of my fav contemporary YA romances, “Anna and the French Kiss.”
  • Book Boyfriend Mug: What’s better than reading a book? Reading a book while sipping coffee, tea, or hot chocolate out of an adorable mug, obvs. I love this one that says “You can never have too many book boyfriends.”

Linda Budzinski: Well, obviously, the perfect gift is a Sweetheart book, along with some swag from the Ripped Bodice, the only book store in the United States devoted exclusively to romance. I especially love their “Smart Girls Read Romance” t-shirt (I wear mine all the time!) and their “I am the heroine of my own story” tank top.

‘Tis better to give than to receive, so have fun giving these sweet and swoony gifts to your friends! And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with gifting something to yourself as well. Go ahead, you know you want to! And leave your gift recs in the comments! xoxoxo

Our Fav Romance Movies

Welcome to the November (seriously?! how is that even possible?) edition of Ask the Sweethearts! Before we get to the post, congratulations to Sandra Owens, winner of our October giveaway, Jay Asher’s WHAT LIGHT!

This month’s question: What is your favorite romantic (or rom com) movie and why?

Darcy Woods: With so many favorites, it’s hard to choose just one! But there is a movie that stands out for a multitude of reasons, including its obscurity. Ever heard of Bernardo Bertolucci’s Stealing Beauty? I’m secretly hoping you haven’t, because I love nothing more than sharing cinematic, off-the-grid treasures! In this 1996 film, Liv Tyler stars (in one of her first roles) as a budding young poet who travels to the lush Tuscan countryside following her mother’s suicide to reconnect with family friends. But she also has two ulterior motives for her journey: to uncover the true identity of her biological father (hinted at in her mother’s letters), and to lose her virginity. This film is rife with heartache (shout out to Jeremy Iron’s exquisite performance as a dying playwright), eccentric characters, sensuality, gorgeous Tuscan landscapes with villas you’ll ache to visit, plus a kickass musical score (Liz Phair, Portishead, Nina Simone, etc.). While this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I gulped it down and returned for seconds.

Karole Cozzo: My current favorite romantic movie is the live action version of Cinderella. I was not ever a fan of Disney’s animated version, and I think that’s in part why I was blown away by how much I enjoyed the live action film. Every aspect of the movie — the cinematography, the sets, the wardrobe — was utterly romantic. I also greatly appreciated the direction they took the film in, and some of the deeper thematic elements about love they chose to explore in this version. I love how Ella and Kit’s relationship wasn’t one-sided — she “saved” him in equal measure to him “saving” her. I loved how both were drawn to the idea of putting down their defenses when together, and how they were willing to take the risk of revealing their true selves, with the faith that they would be loved regardless. So many great quotes from this one! “Was who she was, who she really was, really enough? Perhaps this is the greatest risk any of us will ever take — to be seen as we truly are.”

Erin Fletcher: For my favorite romantic movie, I pick Dear John (the 2010 Nicholas Sparks film). I love the movie because of the super sweet romance, the inclusion of a character with Autism, and (let’s be honest) the fact that you get Channing Tatum on a screen for about 100 minutes. The movie is also at the top of my list because I was lucky enough to attend the Charleston, S.C., premiere! Not only did I get to see the movie early in a beautiful downtown Charleston theater, but I got to attend the after party, which was held at an aquarium and featured red carpets, amazing food, and mingling with the cast and crew. Yes, I met Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried. Yes, they were both even more gorgeous in real life than on the screen. Watching the movie now brings back a ton of fun memories, which is why it will always be a favorite!

Robin Constantine: Hands down my favorite rom com is You’ve Got Mail. Any time I come across it on TV, I have to watch it, no matter if there’s two hours or ten minutes left. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s chemistry is insane. I love their back and forth both via anonymous email and in person. It’s pretty much the perfect movie. And that ending!!!  Don’t cry, Shopgirl. Don’t cry. I wanted it to be you … I wanted it to be you so badly.  (A very close second is The Holiday! When Jude Law sees Cameron Diaz in the pub … sigh.)

Linda Budzinski: I’m going to go with 500 Days of Summer, about a guy who believes in true love and a girl (named Summer), who does not. It’s quirky and funny and bittersweet, and it stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, who each is adorable in his/her own right but who are honestly I-cannot-even together. Not sure if it qualifies as a true romance because the ending is not quite a “happily ever after,” but it is the perfect ending nonetheless for this movie. If you haven’t checked it out, I hope you will!

Stephanie Scott: One bummer about romantic comedies is you have to go back 10 -15 years to find any (come on, Hollywood, why no more rom coms?!). One of my favorites is a lesser known movie from the mid-2000s, Catch and Release with Jennifer Garner, Timothy Olyphant, Kevin Smith, and Joel from the Parenthood TV show (who didn’t love Joel?). In “Catch and Release,” Jennifer Garner’s fiance is killed right before their wedding. She ends up moving in with his three best friends, and subsequently realizes her fiance had a secret life she didn’t know about. I’m sure you can guess, she falls for one of her ex’s friends, who happens to be the one who kept her ex’s terrible secret. I love the Boulder, Colorado, setting; lots of outdoor shots and the whole town looks comfortably livable. Timothy Olyphant is so great in a romantic role! Proof he’s a great actor, if you’ve seen him in Deadwood or Justified where he’s totally different. If romantic comedies hadn’t died their slow death, I would expect Jennifer Garner would have been in a ton more of them too.

The Secret to an HEA

Welcome to the October edition of Ask the Sweethearts! First, congratulations to Sioux Trett, winner of our September giveaway. She receives a Sweetheart book of her choice, just for being a subscriber. Thank you to all of our wonderful subscribers! xoxoxo

This month’s question: If you had to pick one thing that is key to a “happily ever after” relationship, what would it be?

Karole Cozzo: Being on the other person’s side. I think the need to be on one another’s sides manifests in hundreds of different ways, often daily. It means recognizing their needs when they’re different from your own. It means having their back against problems or people or the world at large. It means supporting their interests or ambitions even if they don’t interest you or involve you. It means nurturing when nurturing is called for, or realizing you need to step back when you can’t fix a problem or they don’t want you to. It means celebrating a person’s accomplishments or recognizing their strengths at times when you might be experiencing struggle or defeat. Recognizing as a couple that you’re on the same team, even when you have your differences and arguments, and truly wanting for the best for the other person…. I think that’s one of the most critical components of a happily ever after, in fiction or reality.

Robin Constantine: One thing I think is key to a happily ever after is a sense of humor. Humor is such a personal quirk — there’s nothing quite like sharing a good laugh with someone to realize how well a person “gets you.”  Making the object of your affection laugh (with you, not at you, although I guess under the right circumstances that would be okay too!) is one of the best feelings in the world. If you can keep a sense of humor through the tough times, you know you’ve got someone you can count on.

Erin Fletcher: The one thing I think is key to a “happily ever after” relationship is happiness. Okay, okay, maybe that’s cheating, but hear me out. Happiness means joking and laughing together. It means not taking the other person (or yourself!) too seriously. It means spending time doing things you both truly enjoy. It means brightening the other person’s day and savoring every second when they do the same for you. With happiness, there’s no room for sweating the small stuff. There’s no room for anger or jealousy or other challenges. See? Happiness leads to happily ever after. Simple but true!

Linda Budzinski: As Aretha Franklin says, R-E-S-P-E-C-T. (And more than just a little bit.) Because if you’re together long enough, you’re going to hit a rough patch or two or twenty, but if you respect each other, you can get through it. Respect isn’t enough to get through everything, but it’s essential to get through anything. Without it, you don’t stand a chance. The tough times will tear you apart.

Darcy Woods: Ever read or attend a workshop by story master Michael Hauge? If so, my answer’s going to have a ring of the familiar. (If not, I can’t recommend him enough!) The key thing that makes for enduring HEAs is when two characters connect at their essence. Sound too New Agey? Don’t worry, you won’t need a mystical satchel of crystals to understand. This is basic human psychology, folks! Because we each believe ourselves to be a particular kind of person. We lead entire lives fulfilling this narrative. This is the face we show the world, but not necessarily the full truth of who we are. Our “essence,” or core, is who we are when you peel away all the defenses and limiting self-beliefs. It’s our purest self. Now, think about some of your favorite literary couples and what’s the common denominator? They almost ALL share this innate ability to see something in one another that the rest of the world does not (or doesn’t see with quite the same clarity). This is the person they fall in love with — their truest, most unfiltered self. And how can you not hardcore swoon for a love so deep?

Stephanie Scott: While in romance books it’s often true that opposites attract, in real life you need at least some common interests — a shared sense of humor or similar way of looking at the world. I do think a little bit of opposite interests helps so each person maintains his or her own identity and strengths. Being able to value each other’s unique interests is key to the “ever after” aspect of happy.

What do you think? What is the key to an HEA? Tell us in the comments! xoxoxo

That’s Great Advice!

Welcome to the September edition of Ask the Sweethearts! Before we begin: Congratulations to Katrina, a.k.a. Bookish Kat, winner of our Instagram giveaway of Darcy Wood’s Summer of Supernovas! Many thanks to all who entered and to all who follow us on IG!

Now, for this month’s question: What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

Robin Constantine: I love reading craft books and talking to other writers about their process! I’m constantly collecting tips and strategies to improve my writing. It’s hard to pinpoint the best writing advice because I think my needs change with each project. One of my recent favorites comes from Ingrid Sundberg’s vlog — Ingrid’s Notes. Ingrid is the author of the YA novel All We Left Behind, and if you haven’t subscribed to her channel, you should. It’s a virtual treasure trove of writing gems and she is super inspiring! In her vlog post, Creating Your Own Writing Philosophy, she talks about trusting yourself and using what works for YOU, as opposed to thinking there’s only one way to write and if you have problems working that way you’re a failure. I love that! It’s a very freeing way to look at the creative process!

Darcy Woods: I’ve been incredibly fortunate to get great advice from so many generous souls in this industry. “Keep your eyes on your own paper,” has always been a perennial favorite of mine. This simple phrase (that you probably heard on repeat in elementary school) does the job of succinctly reminding writers not to use others’ “success” as a measuring stick for their own. Does it sound easy? Perhaps. But it isn’t. Because it goes against our human nature to compare, which inevitably pulls us down that dark, spiraling suckhole of despair. I think Teddy Roosevelt really nailed it when he said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” So stay joyous! And maybe invest in some horse blinders to wear along the way.

Erin Fletcher: The best piece of writing advice anyone ever gave me went something like this: “If you’re bored writing it, the reader will be bored reading it.” That applies so often when I find myself stuck writing a boring scene where I’m just waiting for the next big thing to happen. Chances are good that my readers (if they haven’t abandoned the book yet!) are waiting too, so why not just jump to that next big thing right now? The advice taught me not to waste my time or my readers’ time. It taught me to include what’s truly important in the book and to let the rest go.

Karole Cozzo: I’ve received so many tidbits of advice over the past few years, all of which has shaped my experiences positively, but I tried to pick something that is extremely practical and hopefully useful to aspiring authors out there: When seeking publication, follow the rules. As an unpublished author, I believed it was “okay” that I was querying YA manuscripts that were around 120k in length. I believed that querying a trilogy was a good thing, because I had more “product” to offer a publisher. I kept running into the wall, hoping an exception would be made for me, even though YA novels are most typically much shorter, and very few agents/publishers are eager to take a chance on ONE book from an unknown, let alone three! I finally achieved success (aka published my first novel) when I told myself: “Okay, you’re going to sit down and work within the framework you know exists. You’re going to write a stand alone novel within the typical word range and start there. You may have other aspirations and ideas, but until you start playing by the rules, they’re not going to let you into the game.” I’m glad I finally listened to this advice I’d heard many times instead of thinking I could work around it when I was so green. And I think it’s important for all hopeful authors to keep in mind when submitting.

Stephanie Scott: This is more editing advice: To get a fresh look at my writing, I load the draft into my ereader where I can’t edit. I have to resist the urge to tweak and fine tune while getting an overview of the story. It also helps to change to a different font for reading than I use for writing to get a new feel for the words. I’ve only just started this, but you can have Microsoft Word read text aloud. Hearing your own words back highlights so many inconsistencies.

Linda Budzinski: “You must have tension on every page.” Early on in my writing training, I took a series of workshops with mystery writer Noreen Wald. She was full of fantastic advice, but this is the gem I remember best, perhaps because she would say it every week, and she’d pound the table with the palm of her hand four times as she said it. “You must have tension on every page.” This advice is critical for mysteries, and it’s true for YA romance as well. A page without tension is lifeless. It fails to engage the reader and pull them along. The tension can be external or internal, but it has to be there. On EVERY page.

What about you? What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received? Share in the comments! xoxoxo

Um. What Do You Mean, ‘Not Writing’?

Welcome to the August edition of Ask the Sweethearts! Before we begin: Congratulations to Melanie Hooyenga, winner of a signed copy of Erin Fletcher’s TIED UP IN YOU! Many thanks to all who entered our July giveaway.

Now, onto our get-to-know-us-a-bit question: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Linda Budzinski: I’m a total homebody, so I like to hang out with my husband and our chihuahua, reading, doing crosswords, and binging on shows (current favorites include Mozart in the Jungle, Turn, and The Americans). I’m also involved with my church youth group, so I have fun doing stuff with them. My current project combines my love of puzzles and the youth group, as I am constructing an escape room for them. Oh, which reminds me, I love escape rooms! < — Nerd.

Karole Cozzo: When I’m not writing or at work (part-time as a school psychologist at an area high school), most of my time is spent hanging out with my husband, 7-year-old daughter, and 3-year-old son. They’re a loud, high energy, fun-loving gang, and we’re always on the go. Somewhere in there, I squeeze in some training runs. I’m super excited to be participating in the RunDisney Princess Half Marathon in February 2018; I’ll be running as the “live action” Cinderella, Ella, who’s definitely my favorite version of the princess. It’s also quite likely you’ll find me in the dollar spot at my local Target. I love crafting, decorating, and gifting, and the dollar spot has the best finds, hands down. This past year I took on the endeavor of starting up a kindergarten Daisy troop, of which I’m the co-leader. Then when I finally, finally sit down at night, favorite shows include The Blacklist or Below Deck (our guilty pleasure) and we just started binge-watching Game of Thrones. That’s my life in a nutshell, maintained by an obscene number of vanilla lattes!

Erin Fletcher: When I’m not writing, I’m usually working! My day job requires lots of math, which is great because it uses a completely different part of my brain than writing. In my free time, I love seeing as many plays and musicals as possible. My current favorites include Hamilton, Newsies, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, and Dear Evan Hansen. I also enjoy reading, drinking more coffee and tea than I should, going on walks and hikes, volunteering at my church, and trying different Mexican restaurants with my friends.

Stephanie Scott: When I’m not writing, lately I can most likely be found outside walking or taking a Zumba or other fitness class. I’ve been working hard to not sacrifice fitness for the sake of getting more writing done, which is essentially sitting hunched over a keyboard. It’s really hard when you’re in a story-writing groove to get up and move around, let alone leave the house for an hour or two to do something else. I do active things I enjoy, which helps. I look forward to my favorite classes at the gym, and when I walk I listen to audio books. Currently I’m on a Katie McGarry kick. Her Thunder Road series has great narration.

Darcy Woods: Tromp, footslog, rove, traipse — in other words, when my fingers aren’t fused to the keyboard, I loooove hiking! Few things clear the cobwebs and dust bunnies from my mind quite the way hiking does. And I’ve had the good fortune of getting to enjoy some pretty spectacular pedi adventures around the globe! When I lived in Germany for several years, I participated in countless volksmarches. These are essentially organized hikes — often through meadow and woods — but with the added treat of giant pretzels and schnapps. And, people, I ask you, WHAT COULD BE BETTER?! I’ve explored everywhere from the tranquil Dutch countrysides and enchanted forests of Luxembourg, to the sweeping beauty of the Nepali Coast in Kauai. And while cars will always be a great way for getting from point A to point B, I still prefer to experience a destination (even if it’s in my home state of Michigan), without the cool indifference of a pane of glass between us. Because some places, to be felt in the heart, must first be felt in your feet. Or maybe that’s just the Hobbit in me talking. 😉

Robin Constantine. I love to travel — especially taking road trips — and if there’s a beach involved, even better! I also like spending time with my family and friends. The best times are when I combine all of those together. I’m a DisNerd and make frequent visits to WDW — and the trip is not complete until I ride Haunted Mansion and have some sort of Mickey-shaped food. I also love the theater (just saw Hamilton in NYC!) and going to the movies. Reading for pleasure is sometimes tough to fit in, but when I have the time, I love to discover new-to-me authors. Have been voraciously reading Liane Moriarity all summer! What Alice Forgot is a new favorite.

We want to get to know you, too, so tell us: What do you like to do when you’re not reading or writing? Share in the comments! xoxoxo