Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Nora Ephron and the modern Romance.

True Magic

Over on Facebook they are talking about Nora Ephron.  That clip from When Harry Met Sally is circulating.
You know the one.  

If you know and love the film (aka Movie) you will have quoted from that scene at least once in your lifetime.  I know she wrote other stuff (Silkwood) but this is about the light and fluffy love stuff.

Noted romance author Sarah Morgan mentioned loving three of Nora's most well known romances.  She asks which of them is our favourite and I started to answer.  And then couldn't decide. I love each of them for differing reasons. But when you think about it they are sort of the same reasons. 

1.  They are about people you relate to and the casting is brilliant, both leads and supporting cast.  Everyone relates to Meg Ryan in whatever guise she assumes. Which mostly seems to be slightly ditzy, naive, girl next door.  Tom Hanks?  What is there not to love about this guy who manages to be a top Hollywood actor with that face.  Even in his early B-Grade attempts he was lovable and the characters he plays are almost invariably loveable. (I say almost because there may be a film I haven't seen where he plays an Axe Murderer).  Actually I take that back.  He would be a loveable Axe Murderer.

2.  Witty script writing. If you are as old as I am, and older, you would remember a time when you complained about the demise of Wit in Film. You would reminisce about those old Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn's in which the protagonists were clever and well read and could carry off witty badinage in lieu of hot and heavy love scenes.  Then came Nora Ephron and we forgot there had ever been a time when light and clever romance was too low brow for Hollywood.

3.  Referencing.  This is the bit where Nora made us feel really clever.  Like the scene in Sleepless in Seattle where the girls are sobbing over 'An Affair to Remember' and the guys are screwing up their noses and suddenly getting all emotional over the ending of 'The Dirty Dozen.'  Not only do we 'get' the reference but Nora also 'gets' us.  There is this mutual understanding thing happening between us the audience and the scriptwriter.  She does it again with 'You've Got Mail' with 'The Godfather' references. 'Go to the Mattresses.'  It's the only quote I know for sure from The Godfather. And what was with the whole documentary feel of 'When Harry Met Sally' with those cute little romantic vignettes of 'real' couples?  Just a bit of art-house for us low brows.

So you are thinking, 'why the hell is she writing about Nora Ephron films on a category romance blog?'  I got that word for word didn't I?

It's because Nora Ephron can teach us wannabe (and published) authors a whole lot of things about characterisation, story arcs, pacing, dialogue (especially dialogue).  Whatever!

Because her lighter screen fare are really category romances. Feel good reads that are supposed to engage us, make us love the protagonists and bat for them to reach their happy ending.  Yes the happy ending and feel good stuff are guaranteed.

They are like a spectrum with 'Harry Met Sally' a classic Friends to Lovers story.  Then you have 'You've Got Mail' where they fall in love over the internet while not being really certain of how the friendship will develop in real life. You know the trope.  Meet, hate each other, fall in love.  Ooops!

Then Sleepless in Seattle.  Is it really possible to fall in love without really meeting each other?  The sound of a voice, the touch of a hand.  Magic!   It just chokes me up every time.  And this is the true magic of these stories. The true magic of any story that will have you watching them over and over again and still laughing and crying and having that emotional connection.

And that is the true magic of the written word.  When a book is on someone's 'keeper' shelf.  A book that someone will turn to again and again over the years because there is something inside those covers that takes them to a magical place, to laugh, to cry, to care about people who only exist inside our imagination.  Because somehow the writer has made a connection through the written word with the heart and soul of the reader.

That is the legacy that Nora Ephron leaves behind.  It is a legacy all writers can aspire to.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Taking the Sour with the Sweet

When innocuous pleasures come with bite.

In any kind of women's fiction, there will be times when a writer deals with a subject that is challenging.  For different people different things will press the wrong buttons.  I found this some weeks ago when I forced myself to read a romance that dealt with infidelity.  As I half expected, I struggled with  it.  It was a well written book and I vaguely thought that if it were well written, (it's been nominated for awards), I wouldn't find it so difficult. I did find it extremely difficult to finish.  I kept reading, hoping that somehow I would feel better about it by the end.  Technically I should have.  The subject was dealt with sensitively and realistically.  It still made me nauseous.

This week I've read two books on topics that press emotional hot buttons for me.  The first is The Tycoon Millionaire's Secret Daughter by Susan Meier.  It deals with alcoholism, a subject I had considerable experience of as a child.  What are the chances of picking up a romance novel, a reunion story of course, because I love reunions, and finding the hero not only has the same addiction as my father, but shares the same surname. That was bound to press a few buttons.

Max Montgomery reacted badly ten years ago when a family secret exploded in his face and he turned to alcohol to help him through.  His marriage to Kate suffered as for three years he became more and more violent and out of control.  While he never actually hit Kate, her fears multiplied when she realised she was carrying a child.  Afraid of the power wielded by the Montgomery clan she fled.

The Tycoon's Secret Daughter by Susan Meier

Four Stars ****

Seven years later she is back in town for a family crisis and meets Max accidentally.  The existence of his daughter is revealed immediately and both Kate and Max have to deal with it.  Max has been sober since not long after Kate's leaving gave him a wake up call.  Will the stress of finding himself a father, and the emotional issues involved in meeting his ex-wife, the anger at finding she hid his child from him, send him back into the spiral?

For Kate, it is all about trust and guilt.  She doesn't feel she can trust the man who let her down so badly but she feels a sense of guilt about keeping her daughter away from the little girls father.  She wants to be fair, but it becomes even harder when she realises her feelings for Max may just still be lurking.

I admit I found the first chapters worrying as Max struggled with his anger at his wife's betrayal.  Then the lessons he learned over the years with AA started to kick in.  Lessons about responsibility and about asking forgiveness.

The challenges this couple face are heart wrenching at times when you realise how much everyone has missed out on over the years because of Max's weakness.  They have both changed and grown stronger because of the circumstances they've had to deal with.  By the end I had a very positive feeling about the future of this little family.  Susan Meier has done a wonderful job bringing these very real but wounded characters to life.

How a Cowboy Stole Her Heart (Harlequin Romance #4270)

Four Stars ****

The second book is How a Cowboy Stole her Heart by Donna Alward  which is the story of a young woman recovering from treatment and surgery for breast cancer after a year away.  It's emotive for me as it is only a little over a year since my sister-in-law, a truly beautiful person, died of untreated breast cancer.  This is a reunion story of sorts as well, friends to lovers.  Clay and Megan shared a special friendship as children after Clay's dad died of cancer and his mother abandoned the family during his long illness.  So when Megan developed breast cancer, this was going to trigger a few hot buttons for Clay.  He's decided that marriage was not an option considering his own experiences so when he realises his feelings for his buddies little sister are more than friendly, he isn't going to be happy.

Megan of course has loved Clay since before she really understood what love is.  But now that she is a cancer risk, along with the difficulties the chemo might mean for having a family, she's put those dreams aside.  Instead she's going to build a different dream, a riding school that will give her a future and help her struggling family ranch.

Funny thing is that Clay is the only one who takes her dream seriously.  Seriously enough to bankroll it when other finance isn't forthcoming.  Now Megan has to deal with Clay as a sleeping partner in her business, tied to him through their financial agreement.

It takes quite a bit to convince both these stubborn people where their destiny lies.  Donna Alward writes a sensitive and sweet romance that deals with the issues without overwhelming us with the tragedy of the subject matter.  I really enjoyed it and will look out for the other stories set in Larch Valley.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Vanishing Virgin

Such Is Love by Mary BurchellThe first thing I need to say is that I like virgin heroines in my stories.  The ones I read, and the ones I write. I like them because if you get it right first time it's special. Virgins are a tricky thing these days.  Firstly, because no one believes in them any more.  But in category romances, virgins still pretty much ruled until the last two or three decades.  Probably around the time I officially stopped being a virgin.  Synchronicity?

Bleak Heritage by Jean S. MacLeodIn most HM&B romances up to the seventies the heroine was almost guaranteed to be a virgin.  If she wasn't a virgin, she would be a widow.  One interesting exception I've come across is a Mary Burchell book originally published in the late thirties called "Such is Love" which features a heroine who entered a brief bigamous marriage as a teenager, six years before the story starts.  While dated in many ways it is a beautifully written story, full of emotion with a fascinating hero.

0263719006The introduction of the Presents line in the seventies started to change things, heating up the stratosphere.  Anne Mather wrote a book called "For the Love of Sara" in which the heroine had an affair with the hero resulting in a child some years previous to the action of the book.  There may have been others but this was the first time I came across this scenario within the HM&B line.

By the eighties, heroines regularly 'slept' with the hero before marriage.  But usually only the hero.  In the nineties this definitely changed.  Serious relationships with a previous boyfriend often involved assumed or explicitly mentioned sexual relationships.  An interesting phenomena is that in my reading patterns it began to seem that the steamier Presents line has become the last bastion of the virgin.

The Single Mom and the TycoonRomance/Sweet lines began to feature more and more single mothers looking for men who were not the father of their child.  This has become the norm in many of the current books with very few being reunions between the both father and mother of any child involved.  A recent head count showed four of twelve current 'baby' books where the child belonged to both hero and heroine.

When One Night Isn't Enough by Wendy S. Marcus
Medical lines were some of the earliest to introduce story lines with heroines having previous sexual relationships.  This is logical considering the average age of heroines in that line has generally been older, due to the professional nature of their career paths.  The nature of medical life would also impact.

And this is another issue with virgins.  With the average age of heroine's now being in the mid to late twenties and creeping into the thirties, there has to be a good reason for a heroine to be a virgin in the current day and age.  So how do we justify a virgin in her mid to late twenties?  Religious reasons would fly but would pretty much cut out publication in all but Inspired lines.  Religion is usually very delicately handled in the regular imprints with either no mention or only very vaguely.  And if you want your heroine to lose her virginity to the hero on the page, well there go the Inspired options.

The Billionaire's Virgin Bride by Helen BrooksOther reasons would usually involve angsty traumatic pasts that might go down well in Presents, which is probably why Presents still seems to have the highest percentage of virgins among the main imprints.  Though it is harder to pick them without the generic Billionaire Greek, Virgin Bride type titles that ruled until the last couple of years.  All the same, a reading binge a couple of months ago of a stack of recent Presents books still only came up with four virgins out of twenty consecutive books.

So there we have it.  The case of the Vanishing Virgin.

Saturday, 2 June 2012


#The Sisterhood of the Travelling Harlequin/Book -The Aussi Road Trip

You wouldn't think a group of writers would be so derivative would you.  Hell yeah, why not.  It worked great as a hash tag.  After travelling across the U.S.A. our travelling Maisey Yates book "One Night in Paradise" landed in Stanthorpe, a small inland town on the border of Queensland and New South Wales.  Not quite the paradise our traveller expected.  Lucky we were heading off on a road trip.  I've included links so if you want to find out a little more about the places mentioned you can do so.

Yes we are driving on the right (actually left) side of the road.
As passenger I was able to show Maisey Yates the scenery.
Travelling from Stanthorpe to Toowoomba.  

Doctors waiting rooms are boring.
While DH did his thing in Toowoomba
we discussed travelling to Paris and read three chapters.
Pity DH was so quick.
Took Maisey Yates to Picnic Point in Toowoomba.
She thought the Australian flag flying was most patriotic.
As you can see our little book is a long way from home.
At the Picnic Point Lookout gazing towards Brisbane
Couldn't find a real Koala this trip.

But coincidentally my daughter Pernell was
filming at Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo that day.

Mt Coot-tha lookout.  In the centre distance is the City.
You can see Moreton Bay on the horizon.
Next stop the America's via a few Islands

Hanging out with the Aussi editions.
Lunch at the Lookout.
Yes we have windmills in Australia too!
Maisey flirting with a Calendar Boy

These lovely young ladies attend the very same
school as I did when first discovered HM&B romances in 1976.
Thanks girls.  Stuartholme uniform hasn't changed much.

Watching footy at King George Square
Checking out the competition.  Brisbane City at night.

Busking off King George Square near
City Hall.
Maisey made a donation to the Starlight Foundation
Some high school film students interviewed me about tattoos.  Then they kindly
re-enacted a scene from the book.

This lovely young woman just happened
to be standing outside a Gentlemen's Club.
No link as I wish to remain PG rated.

We finished off the night at a film festival.  Here mylovely and talented daughter struggles to hold back tears as the film they entered failed to place. Click on this text if you want to view
the film they entered. Not suitable for children.  Language and violence.

And here we are at the end of our Odyssey.
The truck is waiting to take the parcel on its journey back to the U.S.A.

One Night in Paradise by Maisey Yates     *****

One Night in Paradise (Mills & Boon Modern)If you know an absolutely gorgeous man who is hiding dark tragic secrets and a broken heart, this is what you do. Send him along to Maisey Yates and she will find him the perfect heroine to put in his life to heal him and bring out the best in him. He will grow and mature and be really really incredibly hot in bed. Not that the last bit is important. Really it isn't. I'm telling you this for your own good.
Zack Parson is not one of those broken men that need fixing. Because he fixed himself years ago and he knows exactly how to keep control. Firstly, you don't do "Love". That's a no brainer, because love makes you lose control. So when you meet someone who might threaten that, you slot them into a neat box under "friend" or "employee". You stick with that, because that is how you stay in control.
That's what Zack did when he met Clara Davis in a bakery seven years ago and realised she was everything he ever wanted or needed. For his business. She really had the goods and none of it was to do with her sinfully sexy body which he could carefully ignore, but all about the cupcakes. The baked ones of course. Keep your mind out of the gutter puhlease.
Somehow in those seven years Clara also became his best friend. Which makes it quite natural for him to think of her when he needs a replacement for his Fiancée when she left him at the altar. To take on his honeymoon. NO! You are doing it again aren't you. It is a purely business arrangement. Really! Seeing Clara in the surrounds of a romantic holiday resort is not going to change anything. Or is it?
This is a classic friends to lovers romance and in Maisey Yates inimitable way she gives us all the emotion and angst we could possibly want as these two friends struggle with the fallout of taking that friendship beyond the boundaries already set.
There are laugh out loud moments and gutwrenching revelations and we are with both Zack and Clara all the way to the end. I love Maisey Yates stories. No matter how miserable they make me in the middle as I empathise with the pathos and misery and suffering, they always leave me feeling really good at the end.

Friday, 1 June 2012

A Hot Night or two in Sicily

Sarah Morgan is one of my favourites of the new wave of romance authors.  First published with HM&B in 2001 she does Medical romances but I like it most when she gets all angsty in Presents.

A friend of mine referred me to this little gem of information on the Ferrara name.  It is also a place.

Once a Ferrara Wife     *****

Once a Ferrara Wife...Well I should probably give myself breathing space before I write a review on Once a Ferrara Wife. Yes. it was that good. I'm still smiling stupidly at the thought of it. I've had this book sitting here for weeks after reading the first few pages and getting dragged away to other things. I've always loved Sarah Morgan's stories so I decided today was the day. Even if it killed me. It nearly did. A sinus attack forced me to put the book down halfway through so you can imagine my angst. A vapour inhaler and three hours sleep and I was able to stagger back to my Kindle and continue the journey.

And what a great journey it is. I love a good reunion story and this was perfect in every way. Christiano is the ultimate macho Sicilian male full of overweening arrogance and an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, to family, and most of all to business. The only person who apparently missed out was his wife. On the one day of her life she needed him most, he let her down.

After the emotional desert of her childhood, Laurel had enough of disappointment, of rejection, of hoping, only to be betrayed. Christiano demanded trust and when he failed her two years ago, there were to be no second chances. Laurel left, her emotions, and her marriage, in tatters.

So what was Laurel doing at his sisters wedding, acting as her Matron of Honour, locking eyes with Christiano while Dani and her new husband exchanged vows? She was only there for Dani, her best friend in college. After the wedding she would return to London to await the finalising of the divorce.

Only it wasn't to be so easy. Christiano had always read her heart and when he saw what was in her eyes he determined not to let her go.

This is where the real fun starts. Watching Christiano do what has to be done to win back the love of his life is an emotional rollercoaster. Both of them have to step out of their comfort zone to achieve some kind of reconciliation. Christiano does this in a spectacular way that explains why a crowd of women in an airport are prepared to go into bat for him.

For Laurel the journey is even more painful and as revelation upon revelation comes out, we understand exactly why their marriage has come to this place, and the tremendous amount of work needed to get it back on track.

Right from the start Sarah Morgan invests us in the protagonists. We want to see the happy ending, even though we know the way back will be fraught with difficulty. Sarah doesn't make us wait until the very end for the positives. As in so many relationships it is one step forward, two steps back. Some scenes were incredibly moving and the ending left me both choked up and smiling. A real achievement.

The Forbidden Ferrara     *****

Don't ask me how it happened. It was supposed to be just a little peek before bedtime. I read the excerpt on the authors site and it finished at a point of maximum impact. I just wanted to know what came next. What came next was 1am and it was all over bar the clean up.
The Forbidden Ferrara
Fia is a resiliant woman who responded to her loveless childhood by building herself a little family around her restaurant to provide a loving environment for her son. Having watched the Ferrara family from a distance as a child, due to a feud between the two families, her one wish was to be part of that extended happy family. They do say, be careful what you wish for.

Santino Ferrara is a cute little puppy dog who follows Fia around with his soft Spaniel's eyes. Nah! Just kidding. Santino stalks into the story smouldering with a heat just a smidgeon lower than 280 degrees C. If Christiano was hot then Santino is off the charts. If we met a third Ferrara with the heat rising exponentially he would have to take the entire responsibility for Global Warming.

Both the heroine and hero are still recovering from the conflagration of their time together one tragic night three years ago. When Santino walks into Fia's kitchen, there is a lot more simmering than what's on the stove. The revelation that Fia has more than memories of that night knocks Santino for a loop and brings out the Sicilian Family man to a macho extreme.

So shocked and concerned is he about his son that he fails to consider Fia at all in his plans except as mother to his son and bedmate. Though bedmate isn't entirely the right term when these two get together. Things got so hot I had to step back and take a breath. (If you don't believe me, check my Twitter feed) 

But I couldn't stay away for long. I had to know what happened next. Cos this is where the story became really interesting. I don't know what it is about these Ferrara males and their penchant for emotionally unavailable females but they sure do know how to up the ante when it's needed.

By the time I was cleaning up the salt water from my keyboard I was one very satisfied camper. A lovely ending to a well written book. 
Just my cup of hot chocolate.

Lucrezia de’ Medici, by Bronzino,  Married to the fifth Duke of Ferrara