Feb 20, 2019

Baking - Far More Than Getting Food on the Table! - Annie West

Do you ever find yourself attracted to simple hands-on chores in the middle of particularly busy times? Strangely, often when I feel like I don't have enough time to get everything done is when I most often want to take time out to cook. By cook, I don't mean cook a meal - that's a job that just keeps coming around. I mean cook something extra - like a sweet treat.

I've been thinking about this recently as life in the West house has been pretty full and I've found myself thinking about taking time out to cook a treat. Years ago when there were more people in the house, including children and adolescents who could vacuum up snacks in no time, I did a lot more of that sort of cooking. Now it's an irregular thing, and I've discovered that I enjoy the making almost as much as I enjoy the results!

By the way, in the interests of honesty, I have to mention that this lovely mixed grain loaf was made by Mr West, not me. He's a whizz at nice bread!

I've come to the conclusion that baking can be therapeutic. There's something relaxing and reassuring about the down to earth, simple processes of measuring, mixing, kneading and baking. I'm sure the fact it involves using your hands is part of that, just like a little time gardening can be great for clearing the head and putting worries in perspective. Or painting, woodworking, sitting at a potter's wheel, sewing or, yes, maybe even tidying cupboards!

Sometimes I find myself wanting to cook comfort food I remember from years ago. Like this chocolate ring cake with coconut, which was a staple of my mother's when I was growing up, or the raspberry muffins - the first muffin recipe I ever made and still my favourite.

At other times it just seems the time of year to cook particular treats. Like German cinnamon stars for Christmas (and they always remind me of the German friend who gave me the recipe). Actually, quite often using favourite recipes, I think cooking is an act of love and connection, not just between you and the people you're cooking for, but you and the people from your past. 

Christmas means Christmas cake, made to an old family recipe.

It also means the joy of cooking with the family. In our house the Christmas shortbread is as likely to be in the form of pigs or rabbits as stars or bells. My kids still like to help make the Christmas goodies.

Or maybe it's just an excuse to smile and celebrate that it's the weekend and life is good. What could be better than raspberry sponge cake with a glass of bubbly with someone special?

Or individual birthday cup cakes?

Often as not the urge to bake comes upon me when the weather turns cool. I love the sighs of appreciation when I take a cheese souffle out of the oven, and the feeling of achievement that yes, it DID rise! Always makes me feel competent.

Or maybe the cooking is for a visit by a special friend. Something light to have with a cuppa.

 Contrary to what you might think, I don't bake very much these days. Too busy writing books and doing other things, but when I do it feels so good. Maybe because it means I'm getting together with some special friends or family, or just because the peaceful process of putting ingredients together is a satisfying way to spend a little down time. I feel pleased that I've accomplished something and more relaxed.

How about you? Are you a baker? Do you have any go-to activities to help you unwind?

Feb 17, 2019

Sunday Smooch - The Greek's Forbidden Innocent by Annie West

Welcome to another LoveCats DownUnder Sunday Smooch!

Today we have a smooch from Annie West's new release THE GREEK'S FORBIDDEN INNOCENT but first ... the winner of last week's Sunday Smooch Giveaway is 

Can you please contact Welcome to another LoveCats DownUnder Sunday Smooch!

Today we have a smooch from but first ... the winner of last week's Sunday Smooch Giveaway is Ginette KCan you please contact amy@amyandrews.com.au to receive your copy of The D.I.L.F.

And now for today's Sunday Smooch from Annie West.

The Greek’s virgin bride…
…is hiding her royal identity!

While helping her friend escape an arranged marriage dutiful Princess Mina finds herself captive on enigmatic Alexei Katsaros’s luxurious private island! Mina must convince Alexei that she’s his future bride—but she doesn’t expect their scorching chemistry to be so deliciously overwhelming… And after a night in the Greek’s bed suddenly there’s more at stake than just Mina’s hidden identity—her heart’s at Alexei’s mercy too!

Scene set-up
This is a masquerade story with a hint of the Marriage of Convenience trope. Mina steps in to save her best friend Carissa when Carissa's manipulative father offers her in a convenient marriage to tycoon Alexei Katsaros. Determined to give her friend time to elope with the man she loves, Mina goes to Alexei's island, pretending to be Carissa. To her surprise, she finds herself drawn to Alexei - far too much. It seems the feeling is mutual and Mina decides it's time to leave. When she tells him there will be no marriage, for the first time Alexei lets his formidable control slip...

Smooch  -
‘Not so fast, princess.’
 Alexei took in her startled expression, and the quick, convulsive swallow, the darted look at his hand on her arm – her warm, bare, silk-fleshed arm.
For two days he’d been careful not to touch her. Not even to brush against her, for his awareness of Carissa verged on the primal and he preferred to keep a cool head where the Carters were concerned. Especially as her father still proved elusive, despite the efforts of a top investigator to locate him.
Alexei breathed deep, scenting her, that tantalising aroma of exotic spice that made him want more. Far more than a single touch.
More than a provocative game of advance and retreat.
More than this brush off.
The marriage arrangement was a sham, yet Carissa’s dismissal rankled. Did she really believe she could simply turn her back on him?
‘You want chemistry?’ His voice hit a bass note and he felt her shiver. Her eyes widened and he caught a hint of vulnerability in that sherry brown gaze. But then she lowered those long lashes, veiling her eyes before turning her head to survey his restraining hand. Her pointed stare and haughty expression were a silent demand that he release her.
Why silent? Because she didn’t trust her voice? Alexei watched Carissa’s pulse thrum at the base of her throat.
How could she say there was no chemistry when the air was charged with animal attraction?
He stepped close and still she didn’t look up. Alexei frowned. She wasn’t scared, was she? The bizarre thought hit out of nowhere, tangling his thoughts. It was contrary to everything he knew of her.
Carissa was proud, opinionated, and brave, considering how most people bowed to his wishes. It wasn’t as if she were inexperienced. Carter had mentioned a failed affair with a Frenchman.
 No, it wasn’t fear holding her still. He read the shallow rise and fall of her breasts, the rushing pulse.
‘I can give you chemistry,’ Alexei murmured. He put his hand beneath her chin and lifted it till she had no choice but to look at him. Her mouth was a mutinous line but her eyes... Her eyes glowed dark gold. Desire slammed into him.
She lifted a hand to his chest, pushing as she opened her lips, no doubt to protest. So Alexei stopped her with his mouth, muffling her words, drawing in her warm breath.
For a moment there was stillness as shock tore through him. Just this simple touch and he felt poised on the brink.
Then Alexei gave himself up to instinct and delved deep, cradling her head with one hand, shuffling his legs wider as he lashed his arm around her and fitted her in against him.
He’d known this would be good. How right he’d been.
She tasted like every desire made flesh, rich and tantalising. Different to any other woman yet somehow familiar. Alexei pressed harder, simultaneously demanding and coaxing a response till finally her tongue slipped against his, tentatively at first, almost shy.
This was unlike anything he could remember. A judder of pure need ripped through him. His hands tightened as she caressed him again, slowly, learning the taste and shape of his mouth. As if he were some new treat to be savoured.
That slow, cautious exploration was more arousing than anything he’d experienced in years. It was all he could do to stand there, letting her take her time, when every lick threatened to blow the back off his head. He shuddered and his groin tightened as if she’d reached out and taken his burgeoning erection in her hand rather than simply returned his kiss.

Alexei’s breath expelled in a huff of satisfaction as her responses grew more voluptuous. Leaning in, he demanded more.

Mina's attempt to deflect Alexei by telling him they can't marry because they have no chemistry backfires badly. Or well, depending on your point of view! 

Have you ever done something and found the result was the opposite of what you expected?

Leave a response here and go in the draw to win a signed copy of THE GREEK'S FORBIDDEN INNOCENT.

Come back next Sunday, when the winner of today's giveaway will be announced and a new smooch will be posted!

Smooch Graphic by WebWeaver

Feb 13, 2019

Miscellaneous musings

Musing #1
I’ve recently-ish (towards the end of last year) dipped my toe into Instagram waters. I LOVE glorying in photos of the Greek Islands and mouth-watering donuts. However, what I find odd are the pics of mine that get the most likes. I put up pretty beach pics (or pics of gorgeous trees or books etc) and as a rule I get between 18 and 35 likes. I put up a picture of my painted toes after a pedicure and I get 85 likes…and weird personal messages from men who tell me how gorgeous my feet are. Really? Social media is an odd animal, yes?

Do you really think this...

...is better than this?

Musing #2 (which follows on from Musing #1)
Many moons ago I worked in a call centre for a bank and we had a regular caller named John who would ask us what shoes we were wearing? The very first time I had him on the line my supervisor was walking past as I said, “You want to know what shoes I’m wearing?” My supervisor leaned over and spoke into my headset: “Go away, John. We’re busy.” And ended my call. Another time I told John I was wearing a very boring plain black court shoe. And his breathing got…laboured. This is why I can never write a hero whose name is John.

I mean, I love shoes as much as the next person, but come on!

Musing #3
Does anyone here follow a sporting team? When I was growing up, my dad would drag us along to the local Rugby League games—all three grades, thank you very much. I loved it. I stopped going in my later teenage years, though. And then in my early twenties I met Mr Douglas who was a first grade soccer player in Sydney back in the day, and an avid soccer fan. So he now knows the names of lots of romance writers and I know the names of lots of soccer players. A few years ago we got season tickets for our local A-League team. We thought it’d be fun. We came second last the first year, dead last the second year, we made the grand final last year, and this year…sigh… This year has been particularly frustrating. I can’t decide if it’s better to play really well and lose, or to play really bad and win. Still, sitting on the sidelines of a sporting game is one of the few places where you can yell as an adult and it’s entirely acceptable. This has been very…uh, freeing during the times when my PhD has been driving me particularly crazy.

This was the half-time entertainment a few weeks ago.

Dinosaur soccer may, in fact, have been the highlight of my soccer year. ;-)

Musing #4
Speaking of PhDs…I believe mine might be done. ;-)

Has anyone else been having any miscellaneous musings this week?

Feb 11, 2019

One of those weeks!

Image courtesy: pixabay.com
I’ve experience on of those weeks.  You know…stressful, little sleep, grabbing food on the run (and not the healthy kind)…you know…just seriously crappy.

An increased work volume and family emergency (all fine now) created a vortex of hell. Everything went boom! I’m now completely wrecked, so I thought I’d use this post to elicit your advice on the best recovery strategies for such a week.

So far I have:
  • Walked to the Byron Bay Lighthouse with one of my besties on a beautiful sunny morning
  • Booked a massage for next weekend
  • Thought about (but not yet booked) a lovely holiday
  • Eaten a yummy dessert (when I wouldn’t normally)
  • Dumped some of my domestic responsibilities onto the rest of the family (really liked doing this one and wonder just how long I can keep this in place)
This article from Huffington Post had a few good suggestions.

I would like some of your ideas.  What do you do when you’ve had one of those weeks? What helps you get back on track? I’d love to hear.

Feb 6, 2019

The Art of the Nap

I'm going to dedicate this to my writing friend Aislinn Kearns, who was only last week bemoaning the fact she cannot nap. I, on the other hand, am what you’d call a professional-napper. To some, naps are a luxury, to others an inconvenience, but to me they’re an essential part of my daily life, my rhythm, my creative flow and my general well-being. I am a huge fan of the nap (is it any wonder both of my kids were still nap-takers - three hours a day - until they started school?!). 

However, napping is a serious sport, and over the years, I’ve refined my napping practices to make sure I’m really getting the most out of these micro-kips.

First of all, never nap after 4pm. Push through, have a little coffee if you need it, and go to bed early instead. As for over-napping, it might seem like a good idea but it’s actually a disaster. Long naps counter-intuitively seem to zap you of energy, so you run the risk of waking up feeling disgruntled and as though you’ve been roused from your night-sleep. I recommend a twenty minute nap as the optimum, however you’ll need to allow a half hour – I’ve got it down to an art. Five minutes to fall asleep, five minutes to doze after my alarm’s gone off.

Which brings me to another pro-tip: always set an alarm. You do not want to forget to pick your kids up because you’ve slept past 3pm (teachers tend to frown on that, ahem).

So, how to learn to fall asleep on command? It’s all about two things. Comfort, and breathing.

Choose a good spot to nap – I like my sofa rather than my bed (to differentiate between my night time sleep and my quick kip). However, I bring my pillows to the sofa so I can achieve maximum comfort – it’s like lying on a cloud.

Breathing: I guess this is tied in with meditation, but when I lie down, I force myself to switch off my brain and not think about anything. Not a book I’m writing, not the book I’m reading, not the million and one kid-tasks I have waiting for me, not the washing, not the weekend, not the anything. I think about my breathing: in and out, in and out, in and out, listening to the sound of each exhalation. Sometimes, I imagine each breath out is a colour – purple or grey, seeing it leave my body as I lay still.

It’s important to control your environment too so you can fully relax: turn your phone to flight mode, make sure the room is a comfortable temperature – and isn’t too dark – and trust me on this: set the alarm. Without it, I can’t relax enough to sleep. It’s as though I’m afraid I’m going to be sucked permanently into the nap-vortex.  

Finally, accept that napping isn’t a lazy habit: it’s a smart one! I feel 100% refreshed after a nap and I am able to concentrate way better because of them. It’s the battery recharge I need, the mind re-set and the reward for keeping my brain running hard and fast during my work hours.

Who’s with me? Are you a napper or a no-no-nap? Any pro-tips I missed!? 

Feb 1, 2019

The Train Boyfriend

I don’t get the chance so much anymore, but I used to love taking the train into the city; the soothing rock of the carriage, watching the play of sunlight over pitched roofs and barren winter trees, tracking the changes in architecture as we moved through different suburbs.

It was also great for people watching. The school kids – some quiet and thoughtful, others rowdy with youthful confidence. The elegantly city workers who look so slick in the morning and less so come evening. The families taking their weekly trips to parks, museums, the big wild world beyond home.

And then there was the Train Boyfriend.

You’ve had one of those, right? Yes?  No?  That one cute guy who takes the train with you. (Well not with you, but at the same time.) He reads a book. Or keeps his friends entertained with his great wit. Or people watches like you.

For those who bus or train or fly to work, the commuter boyfriend can be the one who gets you through the long-haul trip and the work day ahead.

When I sat down to write my current book I knew it would start on a train. Years ago I'd snipped out a Lonely Hearts column in a commuter newspaper and was waiting for the right story to come along in which to use it.

Evie - our heroine in what would become HIRED BY THE MYSTERIOUS MILLIONAIRE - has a Train Boyfriend. Not that he has a single clue, of course.  They never do. That’s the beauty of the Train Boyfriend. They are so much better in your imagination than they could possibly be in real life.  Or so Evie thinks…

Evie looked over at Bryon’s hotter descendant. She couldn’t help it. Heck, at that very moment the train rounded a bend and a slash of sunlight lit him up like something out of an old film.
“He’s dreamy, Evie,” said Zoe, though Evie hadn’t said a word.
Evie blinked, only to find she’d been staring too long as a pair of stormy blue eyes caught on hers. Her breath lodged in her throat. Her cheeks burned as her very blood went haywire.Look away, her subconscious begged. Look. Away. Now!
Instead habit overcame instinct, and she smiled.Growing up in a country town, she’d been smiling at strangers since she’d learned how. Saying hello to anyone who made eye contact. Waving in thanks to cars that stopped to let her cross the street. It was simple good manners.
Now, on a packed train hurtling towards the big city, she felt like an utter fool, her smile frozen into place as those fiercely blue eyes stuck on hers and didn’t let up.
Then a small miracle happened. The man blinked, as if coming to from a faraway place. The corner of his mouth kicking north into what could only be a return smile. And then he nodded. Nodded! Sending her a private hello from across the way.
She felt the train concertina as everything beyond the tunnel between their gazes turned fuzzy and out of focus. 
And then those eyes slid north, pausing at the top of her head. Catching on her beanie, the wool suddenly itching like crazy against her scalp, the bob of the pom-pom like a pulse at the top of her head.
He blinked again, then those stormy eyes slid away.
“Oh, my ever-loving gods,” Zoe said. “Did you see that?”
Hell, yeah, she had.

Have you ever had a train boyfriend?  Or a work husband? A regular stranger who doesn't know you from Adam, yet whose presence lightens your day?

Jan 30, 2019

Did you hear the news?

Our very own Helen Lacey’s A Fortunes of Texas Christmas is being made into a movie! Straight from the horse’s mouth:

“VERY VERY VERY excited to announce that my Harlequin Special Edition book, A Fortunes Of Texas Christmas is being made into a television movie with Brain Power Studio!

Thank you to my fabulous editor Susan Litman and agent Scott Eagan and to Harlequin!

I'm still in shock, but over the moon!”

How cool is that? Congratulations, Helen!

The announcement has me thinking about other romance novels adapted for the screen. I know there are some Harlequin category romances because I’ve seen the trailers, but they can be difficult to access in Australia. Has anyone seen them?

I have watched some of the adaptations that Passionflix have done, and especially liked The Matchmaker’s Playbook. I’m a bit behind on those, though, so there are probably some other great gems on Passionflix waiting to be uncovered.

What others have you seen, or been meaning to see?

And a more fun question: what romance novel would you love to see adapted to screen?