Saturday, 22 December 2012

Tis the Season

It's that time of year again.

In our house that means checking all the bunks have fresh sheets for the influx of family.  This year we will have all seven children in the house plus a ring-in attached to No. 5.  No.2's fiancé is missing in action, spending Christmas with his family as his parents are just back from touring the country.   Seriously you don't need an occasion when the whole family is together to have a party, but these days with No.1 in Berlin more often than not, and Nos. 2, 3 and 5 living in Brisbane, it isn't that common to have everyone in one place.

I will probably dig out some favourite Christmas movies, "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Love Actually" and this year I'm thinking of watching "The Holiday" for a little romance with a seasonal touch.  Speaking of Jude Law...  No.7 and I went to see "Rise of the Guardians" at the cinema in the neighbouring town of Warwick.  Jude Law is the voice of Pitch Black aka The Boogyman.  Is there a reason why a British voice does evil villain so very well?  No. 7 thought it was the best Christmas movie she'd seen. It had humour, pathos and lots of good will and a hot Australian bunny voiced by Hugh Jackman.  What more could you ask for?

Still on the subject of Hugh Jackman, I hope to see Les Miserables in the New Year.  I've managed to avoid reading the book and the 'serious' movies for years.  Surely with music and singing it wont be depressing. Nos. 4, 6 & 7 are coming with me to see The Hobbit in 3D at a Vmax cinema in Brisbane on Boxing Day as a special treat.

Christmas reading.  So far I've read Christmas Wishes by Rhian Cahill, a spicy little short set in Australia.  Another Australian Writer with a historical in an English setting is Anna Campbell with The Winter Wife which is a nice little reunion Novella.  I also read and enjoyed Newborn Baby for Christmas by Fiona Lowe,  set in Australia too.  On my Christmas TBR I have a duet by Sarah Morgan Wish Upon a Star and a trilogy of linked stories, A Christmas Letter by authors Fiona Harper, Donna Alward and Shirley Jump.  Intriguing because each of the authors comes from a different country so I'm looking forward to seeing if there are any notable differences considering they are all snowy northern hemisphere stories.

I am in big trouble because I forgot the Baby It's Cold Outside Anthology which I read a while ago.  It's a terrific read from four of my favourite sizzling hot Harlequin Mills & Boon authors, Amy Andrews, Heidi Rice, Aimee Carson and Kate Hardy.  Sorry girls.  Don't know how I could forget those totally Hot guys.  Maybe it was jealousy, maybe I was blocking them from my mind.  Maybe I drank too much Bailey's...

Seasons Greetings

This is the picture we used on our Christmas Card this year created by No.6

DH and myself as Mr and Mrs Claus and the elves from left to right are as follows.

No. 4, No. 6, No. 1, No. 5, No.2, No. 3 and on the floor is baby elf No.7

To finish off, I'll include the 1k short I wrote for the latest Seasonal Themed Writers Challenge on the Harlequin boards. It's a matched set with my other reunion short. It didn't win so by all means finish reading here. 

A big thank you to all those people who have read my blog over the year.

Tis the Season 

The ice clinked and settled, melting slowly in the heat of a late December evening.  Dipping one finger into the glass, Jess swirled the frozen lumps into a whirlpool.  Her mother always said drinking alone was a bad sign.  As usual she was right.  Annoying woman.  She’d been right about everything even til the end.

‘This is my time, Jessica.’

‘That’s just stupid Mum.  You’re only fifty-four.’

Not that she looked it.  Years of fighting for her life, the chemo, the surgeries, the pain.  She looked old.  And tired. 

‘They’ve been fifty-four good years, in spite of losing your father so young.  Don’t hold on Jessica.  You’ve your own life to live.’

Maybe mum hadn’t known everything.  Not that it was her fault.  Oliver still turned up to visit the hospice regularly.  Pretended all was well between them.  He’d moved out a couple of months before the funeral.  That beautiful spring day at the cemetery was the last time she’d seen him.  Doing his duty, standing beside her through the Church Service and at the interment.  His grave expression suited his long patrician good looks.  Cool grey eyes mocked her gently when she had to beg a handkerchief.  She never could remember to bring her own.  Right to the end he did everything expected.  Holding her hand, his long elegant fingers threaded through her small slender ones.  Even letting her bury her face in his shoulder to dampen his dark, well cut suit with her tears.

Right until the end when everyone had gone home and just the two of them remained.  Embarrassed by the memory of how she clung during the service, she’d withdrawn from him, uncertain about his mood.  He stood silent, watchful, his thumbs hooked into the waistband of his trousers.  At some point he’d loosened his tie and run his fingers through the pale blond hair giving him a faintly disreputable air.

‘Thank you for all your support, Oliver.  I appreciated you being here.’  He didn’t answer, just stood there expectantly.  ‘Well, I suppose this is goodbye.’

‘Is it, Jess?’

‘You won’t need to come around any more now Mum’s gone.’  That tell tale nerve in his jaw pulsed.  He probably couldn’t wait to get away.

‘True.  I suppose there’s no other reason for us to see each other.’

That hurt.  Hearing him say it finally.  Cautiously, Jess extended her hand.  ‘Friends?’

A strange silver glint showed in his eyes.  ‘Friends?  I don’t think so, Jess.’

Scrubbing her face,  Jess frowned at a brightly clad Santa on a Christmas card.  ‘There’s no need to stare, haven’t you seen anyone drunk before?’

He didn’t respond, his jolly red-flushed face indicated he’d probably been into the Bailey’s too.  Bailey’s on ice.  She giggled.  Bailey’s on a snow cone at the North Pole.  Not sweltering in the heat of an Australian summer.
She could hear bells ringing.  Santa’s sleigh no doubt.  He’d have a hard time getting down the narrow flu of this fireplace.
A figure swam into view.  Not dressed in red.  Not Santa then.  ‘What happened?  Couldn’t Santa make it?  Fancy sending Frosty the Snowman instead.’

‘You’ve been drinking.’

‘Clever, clever Snowman.  Do you think your icicle heart will melt in the heat?’

‘I don’t have a heart remember.  You told me I came fully formed in solid marble.’

‘Marble.  Cold hard marble.  I remember now.’

The tears came, trickling beside her nose.  He’d liked her nose once upon a time.  Liked the freckles,  the ginger curls, even the muddy hazel brown eyes.  Liked the fact she was only as tall as his heart. 

‘I’d forgotten what a maudlin drunk you were.’

‘I’m not mor…maudlin.  I’m just tired.  I’ve been working right up til this evening.’

‘Saving the world from silence at the music store.’

‘Music is very shmoozing.   Soothing.’

‘I think it’s time for bed, Jess.’

‘Didn’t you bring me a Christmas present?’

‘I did, but I don’t think you’re in any condition to receive it.’

The world spun as strong arms scooped her up.  ‘Marble, cold hard marble.’

Daylight illumined the sleeping figure, the milky skin with the smattering of freckles on shoulder and nose.   The kissable lips, the lush curve of… 

‘Oliver?  What are you doing here?’  She pulled the sheet up, hiding the tantalising curves.
‘Sleeping.  What one usually does in bed.’

‘Not this bed.’

‘Why not?   This is the marital bed and we are married.’

‘You left.’

His chest tightened painfully at the memories.  ‘You threw me out.’

‘No I didn’t.  Did I?’  Her forehead creased in a frown.  ‘Did I?’

‘I certainly understood “Get out and stay out” to have that meaning.’

‘I didn’t mean it.  I was upset.’  She struggled into a sitting position holding the sheet across her chest.

‘Not surprising.  It is upsetting when your exceedingly heartless husband demands sex of you now and then.  But I think you did mean it.’

‘My mother was dying.’

‘And in my purely selfish male way I thought I was offering you comfort.  I was wrong apparently.’  He could see her eyes studying him.  So much hinged on her response.

‘No you weren’t wrong, Oliver.  I just wasn’t prepared to see it.’

‘You could have just told me you weren’t in the mood.’

‘You said I was immature and needed to grow up.’

‘I cared about your mother too.  You never gave me credit for that, Jess.  You were hurting but so was I.   You were slipping away from me.   Every day you seemed more distant.  It’s hard to be shut out.’

‘I didn’t know I was doing it.’

‘I know.  And every time I pushed, you just retreated more.  So when you told me to go, I went.’

‘Why are you back?’

‘Christmas is the Season for Peace and Goodwill to all men.  I was hoping for a little of that to come my way.’

‘You want to come home?’

‘I would very much like to come home.’

Her hand reached out and her fingers intertwined with his.

‘Tis the Season.’


Friday, 12 October 2012

The Ghettoisation of the Medical Romance

Where have all the Doctors Gone...

I used to read doctor and nurse romances all the time.  But I have hardly touched a "Medical" romance for years.  I've recently started reading them again after discovering some authors that really captured my imagination.  But I am still reluctant at times to pick up a "Medical" off the shelf.

I spent a few minutes rummaging through my vintage Harlequin Mills & Boon romances this afternoon looking for a quick read.  After the intensity of the voting section of the So You Think You Can Write competition and late nights trying to Mr Sheen my manuscript into a pristine polished condition, I needed a break.

 The selection I picked out as possibilities included books by Jean S. Macleod and Jane Arbor who were mainstream romance writers.  All of the books are standard Harlequin Romances, all of them included nurses and doctors. Of course there are authors who are known for Doctor/Nurse romances like Betty Neels, Lilian Chisholm, Marguerite Lees, Vivian Stuart and Juliet Armstrong.

I've been puzzling about this for some time for a number of reasons.  One is that the manuscript I submitted to the competition features a surgeon as the hero.  I happen to like writing romances about professional men.  Doctors, Lawyers, Architects and so on.  This particular story, and all the others I am working on with doctor's and nurses, don't fit the current "Medical" category because the guidelines stipulate that both the hero and heroine must be professionals working together in a medical environment of some kind.  My doctors have a fancy for glamorous models, and artists and my nurse is tangled up with a lawyer.

There is also a discussion on the Harlequin boards on "Medical" romance that bemoans the lack of broader distribution of the line.  Apparently they are not available in store fronts in the U.S. though they are here in Australia.  Then there is the fact that only eight people submitted a manuscript to the SYTYCW competition under the "Medical" imprint.  So is there a problem?  And does it lie in the extremely rigid guidelines about what comprises a "Medical" romance.

The difference?  Why do I relish reading these vintage authors and their doctors and nurses and yet hesitate to read the more specific "Medical" category?  Perhaps because "Medical" category romance takes itself so seriously.  If I buy one of these modern Doctor/Nurse romances, I will almost invariably be seeing my hero and heroine interact in a medical environment.  It's certainly a great way to throw them together and offers some interesting and occasionally heartbreaking story lines.  But it's all a bit intense and to a former nurse (of the very lowest, bottom of the rung kind) it's also a bit like work.  Every...single...time.

Not that I don't enjoy the occasional visit to a hospital. Though in real life I don't want to stay there!  And the writing is amazing.  The quality of the "Medical" stable is high and includes some of my mainstream favourite authors like Sarah Morgan, Kate Hardy and Olivia Gates from the Desire line.  There are exciting things happening in the "Medical" with some of the new authors really stretching the boundaries.  I mean that mostly in a good way <G>.

How to Mend a Broken HeartBut if there is an attitude to "Medical" romance that keeps it marginalised, all this will go unnoticed and unappreciated by the general populace of romance readers. While I can appreciate the Harlequin Mills & Boon dedication to the promise they make to readers to give them what they want and expect, perhaps it can be carried to extremes.  In the case of Doctor/Nurse romances, perhaps they have made their promise too narrow, too confined.

I notice that the new KISS Riva lines promise an arc from mild and sweet to hot and sexy but with an overall promise of alpha males and a flirty modern take.  Wouldn't it be nice if there could be a similar arc with Doctor/Nurse romances so that people who find too much hospital and medical jargon off-putting could ease into it gently while still enjoying the pleasures of McSteamy and McDreamy.  And maybe there could be more Tulips and Manorial homes, more cruises to exotic destinations, and maybe doctors and nurses could marry outside the profession.  Maybe they could marry artists and models and lawyers and billionaires and princes that don't coincidentally happen to be doctors as well.

Thursday, 11 October 2012


The Devil and the Deep
The Devil and The Deep by Amy Andrews      *****

This book should come with a WARNING. Do NOT choose this book to read while sitting at the bedside of a dying relative. You will make enemies when you glare at the nursing staff for interrupting you. Because you will not want to put this book down. This book also has really sizzling love scenes, so it is not the book to read in the presence of your Mother-in-Law. Even if she is in a coma and will not notice your heavy breathing and hot flushes.

Seriously this book has some wow factor. I always loved those old musicals in which there was a story within a story. This book has a story within a story that will have you running to the fridge for an Icepack.

The heroine Stella Mills is a best selling author of a historical romance featuring a pirate so hot he would turn the seven seas into a steamy desert when he captures Lady Mary Bingham and seduces her. The funny thing is that Vasco Ramirez is based on Stella's real life childhood friend Rick Granville who would never be interested in doing any of those interesting things to Lady Mary's alter ego, the real life Stella Mills.  Or would he?

The long time friendship between Stella and Rick is sorely tested when her father leaves them a treasure map in his will, sending them on a Treasure Hunt together. Or is it a Pleasure Hunt?  Rick is a hero to die for, though early in the book when he displayed his flirty technique with OTHER women I was ready to clip him under the ear. But once he got going, he had me under his spell like the rest of those poor bemused women. I thought I knew better but apparently I'm a sucker for a gorgeous guy with a nice line in flirty charm.

Stella is a wonderful heroine. In spite of her denials, it's obvious that Rick was always the one for her from the time she was ten years old. Even her ex is so opposite to Rick you can see how hard she was running. But her book gives her away every time. So imagine what might happen if Rick should get hold of it. Lucky a macho seagoing treasure hunter isn't likely to read a romance novel.

If you've read Amy's recent books Taming the Tycoon and How to Mend a Broken Heart, you wont expect this. Just as they are entirely different, this is different again. It has the wit and humour of Taming the Tycoon but the added vibe of a rollicking sea going adventure and don't forget that sizzling hot historical pirate.  Amy's heroes and heroines are so incredibly real you have this sneaking feeling you've met them somewhere. They aren't perfect but they are likeable as well as loveable. If you are after a feel good read that still packs a punch emotionally and with nicely graded sizzle on every page, this is the book for you.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

SYTYCW : The Fireman- A Short Story

This is another short story from the Writing Challenge competition on the Harlequin Community boards. The story had to include a Firefighter and a dog.  I include it on my blog today in honour of the So You Think You Can Write Competition raging merrily at the moment.  
If you would like to read my entry you will find it under After the Funeral in the new Kiss imprint section.  There are some fantastic submissions and I recommend you go browsing. I've found quite a few that I am desperate to read so I can see them have their Happily Ever After.  
Some of my favourite recommendations can be found on some other blogs here and also here and here and here
But don't restrict yourself. There are dozens of Supernaturals, Historicals and Suspense as well as Inspired and Heartwarming.  And don't forget Medicals. Over 600 entries to browse through in 19 different categories. 
 If you like any of the stories be sure to vote.  You get to cast one vote per day until the 11th October. Use your power wisely.

The Firefighter.

The taste of smoke sits uneasily on her tongue, drying her mouth.   She can’t see it, but it lingers in her nostrils after every breath, stinging her eyes, making them water.  It must be long past midnight, that gulf of darkness when everyone is asleep. 

The silence is broken by a frighteningly insidious sound.  A crackling, a sudden gasping roar as something succumbs to the ravenous monster.  The curtains in the lounge room across the hall perhaps.  Those thick, dusty velvet drapes would cling to the heat, welcome the licking flames like a lover.

Her phone must be somewhere.  Fumbling across the bedside table, she knocks something to the floor and kneels down to scrabble on the carpet.  The mobile must be in the kitchen.  Probably on the bench beside the microwave.   Groping her way into the hallway, she dismisses the morbid thoughts that stir.  Which way to go?  The front hall tempts her with its promise of freedom only metres away. Yet if the fire has taken hold in the lounge...  The kitchen holds the best hope.  But she has to find Abby.

‘Abby.  Abby.  Here girl.’  

 Is she stuck in the laundry?  The polished timber, cool under her bare feet, comforts her as she moves along the hallway, hesitating at each doorframe.  If only she could see.
Sweat trickles down her spine under the thin cotton nightdress.  Not far now. A faint whisper of fresh air greets her at the open door of the kitchen.  From the window over the sink.  More confident now she walks around the table to the bench.  Her reaching hands find the microwave, and in moments, close over the mobile phone.

File:YellowLabradorLooking new.jpgNothing happens as she keys in the emergency services number.  A dead battery.  Dropping the phone with a clatter, she presses her hand to her racing heart.  So this is fear.  Changing direction she aims for the back door, her hands clutching at the knob, fingers reaching for the key on the deadlock.  Finding nothing.

She left it back in her room with the rest of the keys.  Dare I go back for it?  The windows, all with security bars, aren’t an option.  Back in the hallway the smoke fills her lungs with just one breath. Coughing she staggers across to the laundry.  The door is shut, but opens easily and she almost falls into the room.

‘Abby?  Please, Abby.’
Her fingers close over a coil of leather. She’ll need it, if she finds Abby. It’s becoming harder to breath.  They say to go low and crawl to escape the smoke.  The laundry is empty.  Abby must be elsewhere. Is ringing in the ears a sign of smoke inhalation?  Coughing, choking, she lies on the floor, the tiles cool under her damp cheeks.

He didn’t think they’d find anyone alive, the way the fire took hold at the front of the old Queenslander.  The slender figure, lying on the tiled floor of the laundry caught him by surprise. 
‘One adult female.’  He informs his team as he rolls her over, ready with the portable oxygen.
 She coughs as she draws clean air into her lungs.  Cornflour blue eyes stare up at his mask blankly.

‘You came.’

Recovering his voice, he nods. ‘Yes, what’s your name sweetheart?’

‘Sarrah.’ Her voice, husky from the smoke, still sounds like music.

‘Saaarrah.  That’s pretty.  Now we need to get you out of here.’

Light as a feather, she curls against his chest trustingly.  From nowhere comes a surge of protectiveness, well beyond his usual fierce determination.

Her hand clutches at his collar, bumping at the mask. ‘Wait, you must find Abby.  Have you seen her? A big golden Labrador.’

‘We’re searching the whole house Sarrah.  One of us will find her.’

She settles then, holding the mask against her face in one hand, the dog harness in the other.
Reluctantly he relinquishes her to the paramedics.  Her hand comes out wildly, snagging his gloved wrist as he moves away. ‘You will find Abby wont you?’

Enveloping her fine boned hand within his large ones he squeezes. ‘Sure we will, sweetheart.’

File:ACTAS 315 Sprinter.jpgLying back at the behest of the paramedics, Sarrah sighs, releasing her grip on the coiled leather.  If anyone could save Abby, he would. 
From the moment she heard his voice in the darkness, that hammering of her heart eased.  His strong arms and broad chest embraced her easily.  Like home.  Her fears melting away like willo-the-wisps in the dawn.
A loud crash, followed by a thunderous roar and she struggles against the restraining arm of a paramedic. ‘What happened?  That noise…’

‘The roof caved in on the house, love.  Now, just lie back and put that oxygen mask back on for just a tic.’

Fighting back the moisture building in her eyes, she slumps back on the gurney.  Abby and the fireman are still in there somewhere.  She can hear yelling and people running past the door of the ambulance. Oh please let them both be ok.
A scuffling noise and a protest from the paramedic alerts her and she wrenches off the mask. A large bundle of damp fur lands on her lap. ‘Oh Abby. You’re safe.’  Burying her face in the rough fur, she surreptitiously dries her tears.
File:NSWFB112.jpg‘There you go Sarrah. She’s safe and sound.’

Extending her hands in the direction of that deep, reassuring voice, Sarrah lifts her chin, revealing her blank stare to the man standing at the door of the ambulance. ‘Thank you.  You don’t know what this means to me.’

Warm hands return her grasp, tightening convulsively, as if he feels the same magic. ‘I think I do sweetheart.  I think I do.’

One hand pulls away, the leather harness replacing his clasp.  She grips his remaining hand tighter. ‘You do understand.’

A touch on her cheek answers her, a feather-light grazing of firm lips, a finger tilting her chin. ‘I’ll be seeing you, sweet Sarrah.’

It sounds more like a promise than a goodbye. 

The End-Maybe

Thanks for Reading.

Monday, 3 September 2012

A Short Romance

Coming Home -Seasons

The trees along the driveway showed bright orange and yellow.  They’d been a fresh green the day she’d left, the light breeze stirring the tops of the avenue of liquid ambers.  Today the wind gusted, bright leaves scattering across the dirt of the drive, into the overgrown grass of the neglected paddock.

She accelerated up the narrow track, noting the last remnants of wattle flower in the bush that surrounded the house.  It sat, squat and broad, the veranda empty apart from a table and two chairs.

They’d been wedding presents.   That first year she and Trey used them every weekend, even in the chill of Winter.  Trey’s parents chose them, the stained timber table and cushioned chairs suiting the Federation style of the newly built home.  Would they ever forgive her?  Would he?

A light showed in the study, the mountain behind the acreage shadowing the sturdy building once the Autumn sun lowered in the late afternoon.  Trey must be home.  His parents said he would be, but she’d not taken it for granted.

Edging the car around the circular driveway, she slowed to a halt at the front stairs.  If he was in the study he would see her.  How would he react after six months?  That last fight had been horrific.  Even now she still saw his harsh face vivid in her memory, taut with anger, his grey eyes pale as ice.

He recognised the car immediately when it stopped at the gateway.  He’d chosen it for her not long after they returned from the honeymoon.  The personalised number plate provided the final confirmation, if he’d had any doubts.  Her initials and year of birth.  Lacey Ann Cruikshanks, aged twenty-three.
She laughed every time she said the name, like she had the first time she’d heard it.  ‘Next you’ll be telling me your mother’s name was Widdershins.’  He’d laughed too.  He couldn’t help himself.  And as he laughed, he’d fallen in love.

Now the joke was on him.  He’d been a fool to think staid Trey Cruickshanks, lawyer and stalwart of the town, could hold a dancing sprite twelve years younger than himself.  She’d danced into his dull life, tossing her bronze curls and making his world sparkle with the light of her amber eyes. 

He’d noticed how blue the Winter sky could be after a frost.  The brightness of the Spring flowers.  The misty arc of a rainbow after a Summer storm.  He’d enjoyed snuggling with her in front of the wood fire, stoking it to a blaze to keep them warm as they made love on the woven rug she’d bought on one of her trips to South America, before they met.

She’d seen the world and all he’d seen was his home town, and the city where he’d gone for those few years to university.  No wonder, when that second Spring came around she’d gone.  He could barely remember why now.

She’d been so young, he’d not wanted to tie her down with children before they had a chance to have adventures together.  A chance for him to prove he wasn’t the stick in the mud she’d teased in those first months together.

Now it was too late.  Lace would breeze in and pack up the last of her things.  Her musical instruments, the carved wooden ornaments from all the corners of the world, that rug in front of the fireplace…  The breath he drew hurt and he rubbed the heel of his hand against his chest, through the light cotton of his plain white button up shirt.

He’d put away the bright colourful polo shirts and printed T-shirts and jeans she’d given him over the short months of their marriage.  The plain navy slacks and long sleeved business shirts suited the man he was.  Boring.  Ordinary.
She could see into the office now.  Empty, the large window framing the antique timber desk with the matching swivel chair.  Solid, dependable, like Trey.  It had been that air of permanency that first drew her to him.  Apart from his looks of course.

He had a body to die for, tall and lean, his angular hard boned face topped with a mane of dark blond hair that never seemed to sit neatly, for all his attempts to tame it into submission.  His eyes seemed chilly at first but when he laughed they softened into a cloudy grey.
Kind eyes, that until those last weeks always crinkled tenderly at her when she did something ditzy.  He’d been a rock that she could cling to in the stormy insecurity of her life.  All those years battered from pillar to post with her unreliable mother, a virtually unknown father, had left her lost.

Travelling the world, she’d searched for a place to call home, yet she’d found it here in this small rural town, while backpacking across the country.  Now she’d risked losing it all because she’d done what she always did when things didn’t work out.  She’d run.

The call to his parents, just to ask if Trey was ok, had brought her back.  They’d always been so kind, but when they’d told her how he’d withdrawn into his shell, she’d heard the condemnation in their normally gentle tones. 

Gathering her courage, she climbed out of the car, rubbing the small of her back as she stretched after the long drive.  Trey stood at the front door, watching her.  What would he say when he saw her stomach?

Nothing.  He just stood there, face drawn and closed, waiting for her.  The six steps up to the veranda felt like a hundred under those cool eyes. 

‘What brings you here, Lace?’
No welcome, no pleasure.  His eyes lingered on her stomach and those sensual lips tightened.  Suddenly all the things she rehearsed to say seemed unimportant.  ‘I’m sorry Trey.’


‘For running.  I should have talked about it.  I should have stayed.’

Lifting her eyes to his face, always a journey in itself, he was so tall, she caught her breath at the expression in his eyes.  Not cold or angry.

‘Are you staying?’ 

‘Will you have me?’

His large hands cupped her face.  ‘Do you doubt it?’  The soft tones wrapped her in warmth.

Closing her eyes she let him draw her into the solid strength of his embrace.  ‘I love you, Trey.’

‘Welcome home, love.’

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Romance V. Porn. The Final Battle!

The Mommy Porn Phenomena leads to Rabbit Catching journalism.  

This is a slightly expanded copy of my comment posted at the newspaper. The difference is due to word count limitations on the SMH site.

This article starts off on the wrong basis by taking this assumption as true.

“Porn is bad because it fosters unreal expectations about what women should look like and how they should behave in bed.”

There are a lot of arguments about why Porn is bad. This is not a legitimate or even widely used one among people who think seriously about the issue. Upon which the whole argument relating it to Romance falls.  Along with the Headline which clearly shows the Editors are Rabbit Catching it trivialises what could have been a meaningful discussion on the place of romance and porn in modern society.  People think that the popularity of BDSM lite romance 50 Shades has blurred the lines. Note the use of it as the illustration for a 'typical' romance novel.  Another anomaly that a good number of reputable authors of romance would take issue with.

I characterised this article as trite and meaningless the first time I read it. Sure it's a nippy little article, presses the right buttons to spark peoples interest and got the twittersphere in a minor buzz. But if porn and romance demeans the roles of those reading it, surely rabbit catching does the same for journalism.  Even the loose interpretation of variant figures makes one wonder how much serious thought went into the article.

This might have started off intending to be a lightweight rather humorous take on the whole 50 Shades as Mommy Porn phenomena, but it signifies a deeper malaise when editors waste the talents of their writers skimming over issues, trivialising real concerns and appearing to criticise the simple pleasures of large sections of the populace.

The only possible excuse for it is that it appears on the Life & Style pages and therefore is probably targeted at women who don't think deeply about anything other than their next manicure or romance novel.

File:Women hunting rabbits with a ferret.jpg

The Pleasure and the Pain

How to Mend a Broken Heart

How To Mend a Broken Heart by Amy Andrews ****

This is one of those wow books when you are amazed at the story but shattered at the same time.  This was such an emotional read for me even though I've never lost a child post-natal. Fletcher and Tessa are such remarkable characters you just ache for them right from the first moment. Each of them have dealt with the loss, the grief and the guilt of losing their only child tragically in different ways.

Fletch looks whole on the surface but inside he has a hole in his heart that not only is the place where their son should be, but also his soulmate Tessa. He has chosen to devote his life to improving the chances of children who drown by researching and trialling methods.

Tessa has withdrawn entirely from feeling, from living, and this was essentially the breaking point of the marriage. They still loved each other but they lost their way in expressing that love, in validating their feelings. By denying her grief and through that, giving her husband no outlet for his, Tessa pushed Fletch into an action that became the final straw.

Now they have to work together to help Fletcher's mother who is sinking into the frightening world of Alzheimer's. Tessa is experienced in nursing such patients since she left paediatric nursing to avoid children and Fletch desperately needs her assistance.

Thrust together, these two have to start dealing with the issues that tore them apart ten years ago. And it is a painful process, not just for the hero and heroine, but for us living through it with them.
I felt battered when I finished the book. Yes, it has a happy ending. But as the author informed me when I asked halfway through when I was panicking, it is a tempered one.  Damaged people do not have euphoric happy endings, not in the real world.

But this book, painful as it is, is a book about hope. It is about healing that can come if we are willing to work towards it, within ourselves and together with those we love.

The writing, and the way the author deals with such a deeply sensitive issue is beautifully done. It isn't an easy book to read but it is a very worthwhile one. Anyone who denigrates the quality and depth of romance novels has never read authors such as Amy Andrews. Thank you Amy for the pleasure and the pain, and the healing tears.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The heartbreaker of Hope's Junction is back...

Jilted by Rachael Johns ****`


 Four and a half stars. So what can I say about this gem of a story. They call it 'chook lit' as the aussi version of Chicklit which reminds me of a very confused German exchange student when I was a child asking what a 'chook' was.  I reckon it's a great little romance and a lovely snapshot of country town living in rural Australia.

This book had it all, the footie on Saturday arvo, the gossipy hairdresser, the CWA crafts and cooking, the local pub.  All very familiar to those of us living or having lived in outback Australia.

The story of Flynn and Ellie is a classic reunion of two young people in love who don't quite know how to cope when things go wrong. Ellie ran, leaving Flynn humiliated and bewildered. On the surface she made a success of her life, becoming a famous soapie star beloved by all Australia, except in her home town of Hope Junction.

Flynn didn't deal so well, making some poor choices in his grief and anger. But all is well now to all appearances, though he is still a bachelor, having taken over the farm after his father's death.

When Ellie's only real family member, Matilda, needs her support after an injury, Ellie knows she has to do the right thing, even if it means facing the townsfolk, and Flynn, after ten years.

When the two former lovers meet, it is obvious that they are kindred spirits though Ellie is determined her stay is temporary and Flynn is equally convinced that Ellie is off limits.

The dangling of another woman in Flynn's life at this point was entirely too stressful for me. I don't cope well with those potentially lethal plot elements and it trickled on quite a way through the book.  If I was Flynn's auntie at that point I would have clipped him under the ear and told him think about what he was doing in no uncertain terms. Unfortunately much as I would love to live in Hope's Junction, I don't and had to chew my fingernails, watching helplessly as disaster seemed only a drink or two away.

Flynn and Ellie really had to work for their happy ending, and there were moments when I really wondered if I was reading a classic HEA romance because there was an element of Nicholas Sparkes, almost inevitably doomed relationship thing, happening now and then. There is probably a reason why I keep my angst reading to categories under 200 pages generally. The dark parts of their mutual and separate history make for some heartbreaking reading.

Now all this being said. In spite of my angst and nail biting and stressed out hand wringing, I loved this book. If I hadn't been totally engaged and loving the characters I wouldn't have cared what they did and whether they got their happily ever after.

Flynn is just gorgeous and Ellie is such a sweetie you want them so much to overcome the tragedies of the past.  They are so real you could just about touch them, with flaws and fears and little quirks that endear rather than irritate.

The setting of Hope Junction is beautifully and lovingly drawn and for those of you who haven't ever been there, presents an accurate if rather rose coloured portrait of a town that could exist anywhere in Rural Australia.

Now I have a special give-away for one person who comments on this blog.

I was fortunate enough to get a second copy of Jilted at the recent RWAus12 conference at the Gold Coast.  I got it signed by Rachael and will ship it anywhere that doesn't cost a fortune.  Luna residents please take note.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

His Unexpected Family by Debut Author Robyn Thomas

His Unexpected Family
His Unexpected Family
by Robyn Thomas     ****

This is a lovely romance about second chances and new starts from debut author Robyn Thomas.  Set just outside Melbourne, Australia and in Melbourne itself, the story is about young widow and new mother Renata, Ren, and her husbands friend and adventure seeking colleague Cole.  Cole comes looking for Ren to help deal with his guilt over the death of Danny, who died on a climb Cole arrived too late to join. Cole's brother Nate died at the same time causing alienation with his family.

The instant attraction between these two is complicated by Ren's feelings of inadequacy over the large amount of debt Danny left her with. Cole too is not looking for permanency so their relationship is a constant dance around guilt from the past and unacknowledged hopes for the future.  Ren is wary of becoming involved with another man like her husband who would never be satisfied with a home life and must be always seeking out new thrills. Cole is constantly aware of the shadow of Danny and the type of man he was as he starts to see himself with a future based around this small family of Ren and her daughter Char.

This is a very sweet story and the hero and heroine are well drawn and very likeable people. At times I felt the emotional depths were skated over a little and we didn't really see much complexity and inner workings of the protagonists considering the issues both were dealing with.  As such it was a lightweight and very enjoyable read.  I recommend it to anyone who wants a sweet not overly hot read with just a nice touch of sizzle.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

If Ever I Review You...

Ten Things I Review About You.  Give or Take.

I've been doing a lot of reviewing lately and it occurs to me that because I have some peculiarities, it might be wise to let people know what they are getting into when I review their book or if they read my reviews.  Especially as I notice there are some concerns over Reviewing practices going around the Twitterverse, Blogosphere and Goodreads. Once we have things clear you can take or leave my reviews.

When I review a romance novel, particularly of the Harlequin Mills & Boon persuasion, I am looking for something very particular that I don't look for in 'mainstream' fiction.  For this reason, I score these books just a little differently.

I use four of the stars to score the book on writing, style, story, and the usual things.  The fifth star is about the HEA.  As in My Happy Ever After. It is purely about how I feel when I get to the end of the book. Yes it is subjective and that's why I think it only fair to make it quite clear that when I review a book I am using one of those stars to score My personal HEA based on FEELINGS.

Because I read these romances to make me feel good.  They are my Prozac, my stress relief, the medication I turn to after a rough day or week.  So it is very, very important to me how I feel when I finish the book.  I want to feel REALLY good.

It's not about whether I cry at the end, though there is nothing more cathartic than a good weepy Happy Ever After when the real world is offering you less pleasurable reasons to cry. In fact I count it as a plus if I get that involved with the characters.

I think I'm pretty easy to please when it comes to a romance, give me an interesting story, protagonists I can engage with and a Happy Ever After and I'm good for the most part.

But there are some things that will impinge upon how I score that last star.  And this is where my own peculiarities come into play.  For a purely stress free read that resolves everything to my total satisfaction some key ingredients come into play.

These are not secrets to anyone who knows me and reads my blog.  I've always been upfront about them.  For instance I like virgins.  That's not to say I won't find a non-virgin heroine satisfactory but it is a small part of the mix that gives me my feel good read.  I prefer a hero who hasn't been obviously sleazing around with a stack of mistresses or one night stands.  At least not recently.  I don't demand a virgin hero, but I prefer not to have his ex's in my face. Or hers for that matter. Once again that isn't set in concrete, but on the whole I prefer a misogynist to a philanderer.

Then there is the fidelity thing.  This particularly comes into play in one of my favourite tropes, the reunion romance.  I prefer it if both the hero and heroine have been faithful to each other once they actually have sex with each other.  I've read stories where they don't remain faithful and enjoyed them,'s going to have to be a pretty spectacular story to get me over the ick factor enough to feel REALLY good at the end.  Not impossible, but not common in my experience. I don't mind thinking he's been unfaithful throughout the book, but I get a nice little bump on the satisfaction meter if all is revealed at the end and there was NO infidelity.

This all comes down to my conviction that a really heroic hero is not ruled by his libido and has the capacity to remain faithful to his true love, no matter what the odds.  That if he cannot have the heroine, he doesn't want anyone.  If he cannot do this, there is always the faint chance that he will fall down on that in the future. It leaves a shadow. Shadows impinge on my HEA.

I will always mention in a review if there was something that made me uncomfortable in this way. I will not leave a question mark about the writing or technical excellence of the book.  Usually that commentary will be somewhere down near the end of the review where I give overall views on what I've read.

All this being said.  Your mileage may vary.

Huh?  Yes.  There are variables. Sometimes it's not about what happens but how it happens.  And it isn't always obvious.

I'll give you an example surrounding two Sarah M. Anderson Desires I read this week.  Just take a look at the blurb for 'A Man of Privilege.'   I will be talking about things that may constitute minor spoilers but should not impinge upon the actual storyline.  Stop reading now if this worries you.

A Man of PrivilegeThe heroine in 'A Man of Privilege,'  Maggie Eagle Heart, is introduced up front in the book as a former prostitute and drug addict.  The hero, James Carlson needs her as a backup witness in a corruption case that is going to be his stepping stone to a political career.

Right there you are thinking. 'Dammit, that star just went right out the window on that one.  A non-virgin and a prostitute.  No way is prudish Fiona going to let that one pass.'  Actually that wasn't a problem in the context of the story.  I love a woman who has been strong enough to get over something horrendous like that in her past and comes out of it pure and wholesome.  It could have been a no brainer, but Sarah made me love and appreciate her.   Maggie was as good as a virgin because she was strong and she didn't sleep around even though she could have.  Having nothing to lose, so to speak ;-].

I loved this story and I was just dying to give it the five star treatment.  Then the modern world caught up with me later in the book.  The nonchalance of the casual affair and the civilised aftermath. Yup, it was that darned hero who mucked it all up.  If he'd kept his thoughts away from the past and not compared our little Maggie with his ex-lovers we would have been home and hosed.   So what did he do, you ask?  It was a simple thing that no one else in the whole universe would have been bothered by.  But it bothered me.

A Man of His Word by Sarah M. AndersonYou see there was this ex-girlfriend.  Sure the assumption was he'd slept with her in the past.   It's what people do, but I could have overlooked it.  Shut my eyes, put my fingers in my ears and gone LALALA really loudly.  But here we were, on the last stretch of the book.  This woman had been mean to Maggie and then he explicitly tells us through the medium of his internal dialogue, he'd slept with her back when they were dating.  Hell James, you slept with that snarky b*tch.  T.M.I.  I did not want to know that.  I already knew you'd been with the other chick cos you'd ruined my perfect ending for 'A Man of His Word' by being all macho with the heroine's new love.  

I have enough trouble trying to remember who used to sleep with who in the real world I inhabit.  It's not comfortable because not everyone stays friendly and nice like Rosebud and James.  They are more like snarky Pauline. Nuff Said.  Don't bring the stresses of my real world into my fantasy world.

This being said, the books are a fantastic read with the most wonderful heroes and incredibly brave strong women.  I gave them four stars because they were perfect in every other way.  The writing, the story.  Just wonderful.  If I could have given them another half a star I would have but Goodreads doesn't allow for partials.

This being said, I am always painstakingly honest in my reviews.  I will say if there is something I struggled with so readers can judge for themselves.  I will say what I loved and what I hated.  Rarely is there something I hate. I will always try and give credit where credit is due.  I am willing to be pleased and I appreciate how lucky I am that so many authors write things I love.

I can understand that knowing all this you might not want to have me review your books. Allowing for my peculiarities and the weight I put on a subjective feeling based on personal foibles may not suit some writers.  It's up to you.  I'll keep reading and reviewing.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

A Rose By Any Other Name - Ida Pollock

One of my favourite of the vintage authors is Ida Pollock who wrote under a multiplicity of pseudonyms.  The very nicest of comfort reads, I include reviews here of a number of recently read books.

From Wikipedia
Ida Pollock, née Crowe (born 12 April 1908), is a British writer of several short-stories and over a hundred romance novels under her married name, Ida Pollock, and under her numerous pseudonyms:Susan Barrie, Pamela Kent, Averil Ives, Anita Charles, Barbara Rowan, Jane Beaufort, Rose Burghley, Mary Whistler and Marguerite Bell. She is also an oil painter, who has been selected for inclusion in a national exhibition in 2004.[1]
Ida and her husband Lt-Colonel Hugh Alexander Pollock DSO (1888–1971), a veteran of war, Winston Churchill's collaborator and editor, had a daughter Rosemary Pollock, also a romance writer. Ida's autobiography, Starlight, published on 15 November 2009, tells the story of the start of her career, her marriage, and the relation of her husband with his ex-wife Enid Blyton.
Pollock has lived in LanreathCornwall since 1986.

So Dear To My Heart  1956    ****
Susan Barrie

I'm particularly partial to Susan Barrie heroes. Not quite alpha but not really beta, they are charming and handsome, well groomed, tall and lean. Mostly dark haired and dark eyed. A little cool, a little distant but capable of passion when roused. Not of course that we see more than a few kisses in these older vintages.
Dr Leon Hanson is a famous Swiss surgeon, called upon to use his considerable talent to cure Lisa Holt, a young pianist with an injury to her hand. She is accompanied by her less vibrant but very sweet sister Virginia. You can see where this is heading can't you?
It is the sweet sister who catches the eye of the distinguished doctor but complications in the form of a young Englishman and an attractive young female friend of the doctor contrive to multiply misunderstandings.
This is not a fast, angsty read but a sweet meditative story of a love that is formed almost immediately by two people of different social and cultural backgrounds but goes unacknowledged because of misunderstandings and misapprehensions.
I love this kind of book at the end of a day that has been full of real life angst as a pick me upper. It soothes like Prozac with the only side effect a couple of missing hours from the day.

Castle Thunderbird  1965     ****
Susan Barrie
A classic governess tale with the heroine Noel travelling to Austria to be a companion to the sixteen year old ward of the hero Gerard de Freer. In a fairytale Austrian Castle.
The fly in the ointment is the bad tempered old friend of the family Harriet. She is Gerard's housekeeper and the bane of the servants lives. Her ambitions are clear and of course young Noel is immediately singled out for trouble.
Add in some other gentlemen who seem rather quicker to appreciate the attractive young heroine and we have plenty of misunderstandings and hurt pride and feelings. Until Harriet carries her jealous temper too far.
Another lovely sweet story from a favourite vintage author.

The Quiet Heart   1966   ****
Susan Barrie

Alisoun Fairlie is the step mother of three young people not much younger than herself.  After the death of her husband she continues to caretake Leydon Hall until the arrival of the new owner.

Charles Leydon has a lot of ideas about changing Leydon Hall and for Alisoun, his arrival brings the fear of homelessness for her and her family.  When the rather hard businessman falls ill it is her task to nurse him back to health with the assistance of the housekeeper and her two older stepdaughters, both of whom fall under the spell of the handsome owner.

It is not the attractive older girl, Marianne that seems to appeal to Charles but Jessamy, with her limp caused by childhood polio.  Alisoun must watch their developing friendship with a strange feeling of helplessness.  When he insists on buying Jessamy a car and arranging for treatment for her limp it seems obvious his plans for the future include the sensitive young woman.

How Alisoun finds her happy ending is a sweet and tender tale of a young woman who has never known real passion even though she had been a married woman.

Moon at the Full  1961    ****
Susan Barrie

When the rich Liane Daly loaned Stephanie a flat in Paris to recuperate from a recent illness, she had no idea how Stephanie's life would be changed.

Because the flat was not actually hers and as Stephanie settled into the luxurious apartment, the real owner arrived.
What could a young and rather naive English model expect of a man who's family crest bore the motto 'Black is the Knight and blacker is the heart.'

The Comte Leon de Courvalles was certainly very dark in colouring, suave and a little jaded, his smile sardonic.  I'm loving him already, never mind how young Steve feels about this sophisticated Frenchman.

How he feels about Steve is something that she finds most puzzling.  Especially when he gives her a job as his social secretary.  Monsieur le Comte is taking a cruise and on that cruise will be some very lovely potential brides.
What seems to be a developing friendship is soon tested when a glamorous actress on board involves Steve in a questionable exchange of messages. Luckily a young Englishman on the cruise is there to comfort her.

Cruising through the Mediterranean and then traversing the Suez Canal to the Indian Ocean, Steve watches as one by one the potential brides fall away until only the troublesome actress is left in the running.   They say romance and cruises go together but Steve is pining for the wrong man entirely.  Until danger on the high seas brings everything to a head and the true nature of Leon's heart is revealed.

Star Creek  1965     ****
Pamela Kent
This is a modern (for 1965) take on the Jane Eyre franchise. Pamela Kent is another pen name for Ida Pollock who also writes as Susan Barrie, Barbara Rowan and several others. 

Helen arrived at Star Creek after her father's death to the casual guardianship of his old friend and former pupil Roger Trelawnce. The setting is an old house overlooking the sea at Cornwall, historically connected with smugglers.

Roger is a former surgeon, now retired and running the family estate after losing his right arm in an accident. He is fiercely independent and always immaculately turned out. And rather susceptible to the sweet young thing flung into his household.

Helen is drawn to the rather enigmatic Roger, until she discovers the resident of the forbidden part of the house is none other than Mrs Valerie Trelawnce, beautiful, volatile and unstable. Helen befriends the woman, torn between her attraction to Roger and concerned about his lack of love towards the lovely young woman.

When Helen finds Valerie is romantically linked with the rather unsavoury cousin of the house, Peregrine Trelawnce her feeling are even more confused.

Drama involving a wild storm, mysterious caves and secret tunnels plays it's part in bringing the story to a climax and the HEA.

Mountain of Dream  1958    ****
Barbara Rowan

 A Swiss Hotelier, Pierre Larouche, is the hero of this tale of a young English woman who falls in love with the mountains and wants to stay on after a holiday. A temporary job as secretary of Pierre is the ideal method to achieve and extended stay until his permanent secretary recovers from an accident.

Pierre is of course all those things that a charming Pollock/Kent/Rowan/Barrie hero should be. Much admired by the ladies and there is one in particular, Freda, the daughter of a fellow hotelier who is doing the running.

Which doesn't cheer up young Patricia, even after a wonderful day on the mountains with Pierre that culminated in a kiss. The very next day disaster strikes with Pierre hospitalised and the attendance at his bedside of the wealthy heiress.

The lies of this young woman and the attentions of another rival to Pat's hand almost end the burgeoning romance but Pierre responds to the challenge with typical panache and some timely grovelling to bring us our HEA.

Mountain Magic  1964    ****
Susan Barrie

Kurt Antoine is an Austrian Hotelier.  He meets Toni when she's stranded on a ledge on a mountain walk and offers her a job.   Toni's existing employer is a rather unpleasant woman and when her honesty is called into question she quits and takes Kurt up on his offer.

Unfortunately the Manageress of the Hotel where Kurt installs her has a rather different view of her employer bringing strange and attractive young women into the hotel.  Putting her in the most  unpleasant room and giving her the most unpleasant jobs, Toni is exhausted and humiliated.

Her plight draws the attention of an English visitor and with Kurt so taken up with the attractive manageress, it isn't surprising that she allows Philip Gresham to take her about.  Especially when it seems Philip knows Toni's estranged uncle.

All this makes it rather difficult for the relationship between Kurt and Toni to develop but somehow it does and finally all is settled.  A small hiccup at the end leads the way to a smooth and certain HEA.

Another Susan Barrie review appears in my May blogs.