Jan 16, 2019

My 2018 Reading Review

by Bronwyn Jameson

For the 2nd successive year I set my GoodReads Reading Challenge at 50 books.  In 2017 I limped over the line with 50 books read.  In 2018 I totally crushed this goal with a grand total of 85.  This may correlate directly with my non-achievement of other goals in 2018, and also with my increased number of long haul flights.  There is nothing like a long flight to get me immersed in a book or three.

It's fair to say that I love reading, and that in 2018 I rebounded winningly from several years where I wasted reading time in favour of social media.  It's also fair to admit that I love statistics, and so I offer my 2018 reading year broken down.

I rated 17 books as 5-star reads, and that is a hard-won rating from me.  It truly does mean memorable, amazing, I-could-not-get-enough-of-this-book.  A further 38 I rated as 4-star, meaning that I REALLY liked 63% of my list.  Is it any wonder that I kept on reading?

At the other end of the scale, I only gave 5 x 2-stars and 1 x 1-star, probably because if a book isn't working for me it is DNF'ed and not counted.  Those 6?  All rated according to my extreme disappointment scale, because I'd expected so much more.

21% of my "reading" was audiobooks, up on 2017 and I suspect that will rise again this year.  Already I am listening far more than I'm reading.

Romance represented 55% of my reading. Mystery/Thriller/Suspense 28%. General Fiction 8%.  Non-Fiction 9%, which sort of fulfilled by vague goal to expand my reading beyond the usual suspects.

My favourite read in 2018: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.  Since I was listening to the audiobook at a time when I'd vowed to only listen while walking, I broke my all-time step-count record day after day.  Unique, brilliant, involving. And unexpectedly romantic. 

My favourite long romance: The Art of Inheriting Secrets. Mystery, secrets, romance, food, an English country village and a magical mysterious mansion. All told in the wondrous voice of Barbara O’Neal. *Happy sigh.*

My favourite short romance was a 2017 release. Casey by Kelly Hunter may well be my new favourite KH story (a big call, I have many Kelly Hunter favourites.) A bull-rider hero and a stock contractor heroine, set on the American rodeo circuit, but not your typical western romance. You know when a story, the characters, their conflicts and how they deal are just perfect for you? 

My favourite category/series romance: Undone by the Billionaire Duke by Caitlin Crews. Loved the setting and the gothic overtones in the wilds of Yorkshire. My Jane Eyre loving young heart embraced its OTT wonders. Puffer coat for the win!!!

My favourite suspense/thriller: Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts. Examines the impact of a mass shooting on the families of victims, and on the survivors. Super chilling and thought-provoking. One of my favourite NR’s of recent years.

New Discoveries:

Patricia McLinn’s Caught Dead in Wyoming series (I read the first 5 and am currently on #6.) A cozy mystery series set around a TV station in small-town Wyoming, featuring a fish-out-of-water heroine who is sharp and resourceful, and a band of friends and colleagues who form a loose alliance as amateur sleuths. A well-written series that’s as much about the characters as the mysteries.

Kaylie Newell, a new-to-me author, has become an instant auto-buy. Loved her RITA finalist Christmas at the Graff.  Sure, it’s packed with all the Hallmarky Christmas baubles but Newell’s writing and her characters absolutely charmed the grinch out of me. As did the tale of family forgiveness at its heart.  I may have enjoyed Tanner’s Promise even more.

My aim this year is to continue expanding my reading list by reading a minimum of 4 classics.  I will point out that this doesn’t preclude me choosing romance classics: I feel a need to revisit some Bronte and Austen. 

How was your 2018 reading year?  Did you break any records (in reading or step-counting)?  Do you have any newly discovered authors or series to share?  And have you set any challenges or goals for reading in 2019?

Jan 14, 2019

How is it possible?

Is it just me or does everyone have about twenty books on their bedside table waiting to be read. Actually, they don’t all fit on my bedside table and are lined up by the wall next to my bed.  How will I ever get to all the books I want to read? Right now within reaching distance are:

  • ·      all four of the Elena Ferrante books
  • ·      The Lost Man, Jane Harper
  • ·      Bridges of Clay, Markus Zusak
  • ·      The Last of the Bonegilla Girls, Victoria Purman
  • ·      Underworld, Don Delillo
  • ·      Yates Garden Guide (one day I will start a veggie patch)
  • ·      Northerly, Byron Writers Festival magazine
  • ·      WQ, Qld Writers Centre magazine
  • ·      Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman
  • ·      SweetBitter, Stephanie Danler
  • ·      The Barefoot Investor, Scott Pape
  • ·      How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie  - I’ve had this book for about twenty years and have always meant to read it

...and the two I have just finished, The Children Act by Ian McEwen and Out of Sight by Elmore Leonard. I loved both of them. And, that’s not counting those downloaded on my iPad.

I want to read more, but where to you find time? I only read at night before going to bed and even then I’m often distracted by the headlines online.

I know I should get my act together with audio books as I do commute two and half hours each day to and from work. This would help.

So, how do you get all the reading you want to do, done? I’d love to know.

Jan 11, 2019

Word of the Year

This time each year we Love Cats often talk about resolutions, hopes and plans for the new year. Knowing by now how limited my willpower is, I don't do resolutions, so for me it's all about the WORD OF THE YEAR.  

This year my word of the year is LIGHT.
Created by Freepik

For oh how that word can mean so many good things such as fairy lights, chandeliers, joy, glitter, happiness, ease, starlight, sunshine, rainbows, glints, glimmers, shiny things, delight, warmth, fun, laughter, a child's smile, simplicity... Letting in every ounce of light is my plan for the year. Gorgeous right?

But today I'm going to talk about a word that came really close. 

Who here has heard the Danish word "hygge"? (Pronounced hue-guh.)  Well, if you haven’t I know you’ll be glad you now have.

Here is what it means:

How lovely does that sound?!

And in order to give yourself over to hygge, you need not adopt it as a lifestyle choice, buy any special outfits, there is no set menu or adjustments to your food intake required.

It’s much more of a feeling.

Hygge simply asks that you be more present, more conscious, and that you slow down so that you might recognise those things that make you feel cosy, warm, secure, reassured, simple and content.

It could be lighting a scented candle. Making a cup of coffee or tea. Choosing a beautiful china cup from which to drink it. Covering yourself in a blanket. Eating a home cooked meal. Settling into a nook with a book.

It’s found in ritual. In making the every day into an art form. In seeing domestic life as something beautiful.

This word is my bliss. My happy place. I am a natural. I literally get goosebumps every time I think about it. For I cannot imagine of a more perfect, comforting, warm, wondrous way of choosing to see those moments that over the course of our lives we discover give us the simplest joy.

So this year, as I endeavour to let there be light, by turning my face to the sun, soaking in every one of my children's smiles, and being a conscious hyggelist, who’s with me?

Jan 9, 2019

Introducing debut author Ella Hayes

It's always exciting to welcome a brand new author to the romance community, and today I'm delighted to introduce Ella Hayes with her debut book: Her Brooding Scottish Heir. Hi Ella, it’s wonderful to have you join us today. Can you tell us a little about your journey to publication with Harlequin Mills & Boon?

 Hi Michelle, thank you for having me! There’s a bit of a story to my journey (which probably answers one of your questions below too).

I’m here now because I entered a competition that Mills & Boon were running in association with Prima Magazine in the UK. The #lovetowrite competition invited writers to submit an opening chapter and outline for either a “True Love” or “Medical” romance.
My friend, Sophie sent me a link to the competition and said I should have a go. I wasn’t sure about it to be honest. It had been years since I’d read a Mills & Boon romance… so the competition details sat on my desk for a week or two… and then suddenly I had an idea for a story! I wrote it and sent it in, not for a second thinking I had a chance. But a couple of months later, I had an email from M&B telling me I was on the short list! That’s a surreal moment – suddenly you catch yourself wondering about your chances of winning…and you keep telling yourself not to think about it. Anyway, about three weeks after that the phone rang. I was editing photos and I almost didn’t answer. (I screen calls because we get a lot of spam phone calls and I didn’t recognise the number.) I’m so glad I picked up! It was Bryony Green from Mills & Boon – when she told me I’d won the competition I almost dropped the phone! 

Her Brooding Scottish Heir is your debut romance. It’s no secret that I love the Romance line (Forever in Australia/New Zealand, True Love in the UK), but can you tell us what drew you to write for this particular line, and what it is that you love about it?

So, as I said before, I submitted to True Love because that was what M&B were looking for. (I couldn’t have written a medical without a lot of research.) I know a lot more about the True Love line now, and I think it’s a great fit for the kind of stories I like to write. I like emotionally intense stories that have a strong current of sexual tension, but I don’t want to write explicit love scenes. I admire writers who can do that, but I prefer to set things up then let the reader imagine the rest!

Is there a particular incident or inspiration that led to the writing of Her Brooding Scottish Heir? And what’s your favourite scene in the book? Would you like to share a (shortish) snippet?

The answer is YES! When I was thinking about a story, I knew I wanted to write something set in Scotland, but Scotland has a low population and a lot of space (like Australia!) so romantic plot lines don’t automatically jump out at you. Then I started thinking about an artist I follow on Facebook/Twitter. Her name is Ellis O’Connor www.ellisoconnor.com When she was an art student in Dundee she used to model part-time and a few years ago, we were booked to do a photo shoot together so we’d connected on social media. In the end, she couldn’t make the shoot, but I carried on following her because I like her work. She’s written some great blog pieces about her isolated residencies in the Hebrides and Iceland, and really it was thinking about that that gave me the idea for my Irish heroine, Milla O’Brien. Milla is seeking refuge in an isolated Scottish bothy so that she can work on her portfolio – but she’s also running away from a broken engagement. She wants to be alone to lick her wounds but instead she meets Cormac Buchanan…

When I emailed Ellis to tell her that she had inspired my character she was shocked (in a good way). She’s thrilled about it, amused, amazed. We emailed back and forth a bit – I’ve sent her a copy of the book!

Favourite scene? Gosh, I love my characters to bits, so this is tricky! I suppose the first time they are physically close (but not wanting to be physically close) is a fun bit. Milla has gone over on her ankle and Cormac has swept her up in his arms to carry her back to the house… 

    ‘You’re strong. Do you work at it?’
    He stepped over an exposed tree root. He couldn’t very well dodge her question when she was fused closer to him than his own shadow. ‘I have to be fit…for my job.’
    ‘Oh, right—Sam mentioned it. You’re in the Army—a captain or something.’
    ‘Troop Commander—I’m in the Engineers.’ He wondered what else Sam had told her.
    ‘Well it’s lucky for me you’re so— Can I rest my head against you? It’s kind of hard, holding it away.’
    She didn’t wait for him to answer but dropped her head against his. Her hair felt soft on his cheek, the clean scent of it filling his nostrils while her breath warmed his neck. He didn’t want to like it so much and lifted his head a little higher, ordering himself to ignore the sensory overload that was Milla O’Brien.
    He felt her cheeks lifting into a smile. ‘I might have guessed you were a commander.’
    ‘When you ordered me to get my wheel fixed you were kind of bossy.’
    He tried to stop the smile twitching at the edges of his lips. ‘It’s important to have a working spare.’
    ‘I know that. My father’s a motor mechanic.’
    He laughed. ‘No surprise there.’
    ‘How so?’
    ‘Not many girls I know can talk so knowledgably about air ratchets.’

That was such a fun scene! :-)

Who are your favourite contemporary romance writers (we’re all devout romance readers here so I’m just going to take it for granted that like the majority of us you love Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and Georgette Heyer :))?

Hmmm. Dare I admit that I don’t read a lot of genre romance? I’ve just completed a Master’s in Writing Practice and Study at Dundee University (my first degree was History) so my reading over the past year particularly has been heavyweight stuff. However, I do love Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice is a favourite – and I love The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller – more heartbreaking because it’s a true story! I recently read The Governess Game by Tessa Dare and I absolutely loved that! I was laughing out loud – she has a great voice and paints very likeable characters. I’ve got a few romance books on my Kindle, including Cotillion by Georgette Heyer. Now that I’ve been so thoroughly welcomed into the romance fold by the other Mills and Boon authors, one of my goals for 2019 is to read more romance – especially True Love and Historical.

And finally, we love pets of all shapes and sizes here at the LoveCats. Do any furred or feathered friends share your life…or maybe you have plans for one to grace the pages of an upcoming book?

I’m afraid I have no furry friends! We used to keep chickens but now the kids have left home there’s no point – you just get too many eggs. One of my sons had a very comical hamster called, Spud – he was a nice little thing – sweet tempered but sadly they don’t live very long. My next book won’t be featuring any pets either – I feel like I’m failing miserably here – although this time the story is set in Italy, so there’s plenty of sunshine and lots of romance! 

LOL, not failing at all! How can Italy, sunshine and romance fail? I adored Milla and Cormac's story and I'm looking forward to your next one. For anyone who'd like to grab a copy of of Her Brooding Scottish Heir, the buy links are below.

Ella, super-duper congratulations on your debut book! What do you think, folks? Does a romance set in the Scottish highlands -- in a Scottish bothy no less -- sound romantic or what? I've not been to Scotland, but I think a reading and writing retreat in the highlands sounds like a rather nice plan, yes? Join me in welcoming Ella to the romance community, and don't be shy -- if you have a question for Ella, ask away.

Dec 21, 2018

Happy Holidays

by Helen Lacey

This will be the last LoveCats post for the next two weeks, so we just wanted to say to all our followers and readers...

However you celebrate, whether it be with family and friends, or perhaps you work in hospitality, or retail, or emergency services, or the military, or aged care, or disability care - have a safe and wonderful holiday break.

Take time to reflect and think about the year gone by, about achievements, even about loss, and about what makes you happy. Take time to think about what you want for the coming year.

It's been an exciting year for the LoveCats crew - with so many books published, with some wonderful awards won, with plenty of exciting travel. And we'll be back with more in 2019. But thank you, from us all, for your support and friendship this year. Thank you for commenting on our Facebook posts and our blog. Thank you for being a part of this wonderful journey we're on.

So, have a wonderful and safe Christmas. Hold close those you love. Cherish the memory of those who are no longer with you. May your holidays be filled with love and laughter, with time spent with family and friends, with good food and conversation, with cuddles from your kids, your grandkids, your fur kids.

We'll be back on January 7 with more books, more stories to tell, more exciting news to share with all our friends and followers. Take care of yourselves, enjoy every moment, and we'll see you all very soon.

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!

From the LoveCats Downunder

Dec 19, 2018

Beauty Beneath Your Feet - Annie West

It's the end of the year and I was organising some travel photos and discovered something. Over the past several years I've taken lots of unexpected photos of an art form I know very little about - one we don't see much in Australia, but which I keep tripping over, almost literally on my travels. Mosaics. They're not something we learned about in school art classes, and though I know what they are, it wasn't till I travelled elsewhere that I really discovered them. I love the fact they're tough, incredibly durable yet beautiful and created with such love.

How about this public path on a hill above the old town of Nice. Isn't it charming?

And now I think of it, I did have an artist heroine who was fascinated by them in my second sheikh romance. Maybe because I wanted to learn more myself. 

Here's a touch of splendour in Paris: very regal an elegant.

 Personally I loved this ancient Roman mosaic floor in Ostia, outside Rome. There's a whole terrace filled with mosaics advertising the traders who had their stores there.

And modern mosaics can be functional too. Take this one in the Black Forest town of Freiburg. The old town is full of mosaics of pretzels advertising bakeries, scissors for hairdressers, glasses for optometrists, etc.

Then there are the just plan cute, like this leopard in Rome, watching a couple of gladiators.

Or informative. Here's one of a series of mosaics in Breisach on the French, German border, explaining which government controlled the town at various times.

Now I'm thinking maybe there's a reason I've been taking these photos - a subliminal message. Maybe I need to branch out in 2019 and try a mosaic making class or try something else I've never done.

Do you have a hankering to try something in the new year that you've never attempted before? Maybe something artistic that you've never found time for in the past?

I'll leave you with Penelope, patiently weaving her tapestry of her husband's travels. She had such patience to weave it for ten years! Maybe that's what I need - patience to carve out time from all the busyness of life and patiently work at something new.

All the best for the festive season! See you in the new year! 

Dec 12, 2018

Rom Com Glom

I recently had a mini romantic comedy DVD fest—all in the name of research, of course. I was looking for beta hero inspiration, and… Okay, okay. I was looking for some light relief from my thesis, so I turned to my film genre of choice: The Romantic Comedy. I watched The Proposal, which I adored. And then I asked my Facebook friends for recommendations. I spent a weekend watching these three:
* What’s Your Number
* 27 Dresses
* P.S. I Love You

 I really really wanted to love What’s Your Number because my friends’ enthusiasm was so intense. And it’s a hilarious film, and I love the two leads, and they did belong together and… And I couldn’t get beyond the gender politics. Folks, this is what happens when you do a PhD on romance and feminism. I know the romantic comedy genre is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek and not to be taken seriously, but…

Simply put, the premise is if a woman has slept with 20 men (so a magazine article claims), she’s unlikely to ever find love, marriage, and a happy ever after. Guess how many men the heroine has slept with? That’s right—20. Her solution isn’t to blow raspberries at said magazine article. No, it’s to panic and not sleep with any more men, and to go back and check out all of the men she’s already slept with because Mr Right must be there somewhere. On the surface, the movie seemed to avoid slut-shaming. But… As this magical number 20 didn’t apply to men, the double standard was too glaring. And that made me mad.

27 Dresses had more of an emotional hit without as much madcap hilarity. To my mind it’d make a better book than movie, because there were times when the heroine did things that seemed out of character and had me scratching my head. If I’d had access to her internal thoughts, though, I expect I’d have been more on-board. It was a lovely film, though.

I actually didn’t expect to like P.S. I Love You very much. I thought it’d be a bit too sentimental and saccharine. But it was my favourite of these three, and I’m looking forward to watching it again. In the interests of full disclosure, though, it wasn’t really a romance (and that might be a spoiler if you haven’t seen the movie—sorry). It was a story of grief and growth, and I loved that aspect of it.

I didn’t love any of them as much as I love The Proposal. I’ve watched The Proposal twice now, and I think it simply holds together better than the other movies. It has an internal logic that’s compelling—everything follows on naturally from what came before which is a mark of good storytelling. The two leads are intriguing and ultimately likeable, and the heroine’s character arc is a joy to watch. It has a HUGE hit of emotion that made me cry. There’s a big sacrifice. There’s a big declaration. And there’s a happy ever after. And that’s pretty much what I want in a romantic comedy, be it a film or book.

What about you? Have you discovered a romantic comedy this year that you adored? Let me know, because I’d be super-keen to check it out. :)