Release Day for Karina Bliss

fall-rock-solid-2-by-karina-bliss

I hoped to have my review up today, but life got in the way and I haven’t written a review for about a fortnight!

However, Karina Bliss’ current series is one of the VERY few I’ve read where the characters speak and act like people of their age, in their generation. I think Fall (Rock Solid #2) is a wonderful book. I’ve not yet read the first instalment in the series, but it didn’t matter when I read this second one. I often complain about contemporary romances that don’t come across as realistic – this one does.

So, keep a lookout for my review in the next forty-eight hours. And – in the meantime – keep a lookout for this series. Rock star books have the potential to be extremely sexist, but this one definitely is not.

You Had Me at Christmas

you-had-me-at-christmas-is-by-karina-bliss-stephanie-doyle-laura-florand-jennifer-lohmann-and-molly-okeefe

I know in the US there’s still Halloween and Thanksgiving to think about, but here we’re pretty much organised for Christmas already! Almost all the present shopping is done, we have a new tree ready to go (it’s pretty standard to have a fake one in countries where Christmas happens in summer!), and we’re looking at cocktail recipes!

There are a lot of Christmas books coming out at the moment, but I’d like to draw your attention to this anthology by some of the contemporary romance genre’s current best authors.

You Had Me at Christmas is by Karina Bliss, Stephanie Doyle, Laura Florand, Jennifer Lohmann and Molly O’Keefe.

optimized-yhmac-cover-ebook-anthologymockyou-had-me-at-christmas-is-by-karina-bliss-stephanie-doyle-laura-florand-jennifer-lohmann-and-molly-okeefe

I will be sharing excerpts over the next few weeks. Here is one from Stephanie Doyle’s One Naughty Christmas Night:

Kate stared at the glass of wine in front of her. Deep red, a robust flavor. She’d paid too much money for it, but hey, it was Christmas.

            She looked at her phone and wondered if she was really going to do this. Then she

glanced over at the clock on the wall. Eight-oh-three. Hours until she could go to bed. Hours until it would be tomorrow. The harmless, meaningless twenty-sixth of December.

            She took another sip of wine and reached for the phone.

The other day, her assistant had downloaded a dating app specifically for people over forty. A more serious, more mature group of single people looking to find each other.

“You’re hot, you own a company and you’re a total catch,” Sally had said. “You just need to get out there, and this is how you do it in 2016. Welcome to the new world of romance.”

It was the perfect distraction from her thoughts—and a way to kill the night without having to watch It’s a Wonderful Life for the thousandth time.

Tentatively, like it might bite her, Kate tapped the screen.

“Green for yes, you like his picture, red for you’re not worthy of me and I never want to see you again,” Sally had laughed as she showed Kate how to play.

So ridiculous, Kate thought. As if you could just look at a picture and know that you were interested in him without knowing anything about him. Of course, she imagined it wasn’t much different than going to a bar and making eye contact.

Attraction. It was the first step in the dance, really.

Keeping an open mind, Kate opened the app and waited a second before a picture popped up on her phone.

It was as simple as that. She was to look at the picture and make an instant judgment. Was she attracted to him or wasn’t she?

No.

Kate tapped the red button and tried not to feel guilty for rejecting someone for a completely superficial reason. The truth was, she thought he didn’t look very well-kept in his picture. She thought someone trying to make a first impression should have tried a little harder. The next man had a nice face, and she instantly went to green. The app told her that he had also seen her picture and liked it.

Awesome. Someone in the world found her attractive. See, Kate told herself, forty was the new thirty.

Now she had a choice. Keep playing or send him a message. Not really having any idea what to say, she chose to keep playing.

Five pictures later, two no’s and three yeses, and suddenly there was a blinking orb on her screen which, when she tapped, told her that someone had sent her a message.

“Geesh. That was fast,” Kate said to the empty room as she took another sip of wine. It was clearly best to play this game a little tipsy. She read the message.

Yum, me likee.

“Not exactly poetry,” Kate chuckled, and instantly swiped on the picture in order to delete it from her view.

While deleting someone over one sentence seemed harsh, Kate was very sure that if a man walked up to her in a bar and said such a ridiculous thing, she would have turned her back to him. The equivalent of delete.

Kate played on, acknowledging that the satisfaction she got when she got a hit was way better than wallowing in self-pity on Christmas night.

Then his picture came up. She had no idea why it struck her, but it seemed to go right through to her very core. Nothing like the pictures of men with their cars, or their dogs, or their kids. Or her least favorite: standing in the bathroom with the toilet seat in the background, trying to take a picture in front of what must be the only mirror in the house.

No, this wasn’t a selfie. This was a picture someone had taken of this man, who was looking at something in the distance. Something that made him profoundly sad. Or maybe it wasn’t what he was looking at that made him sad, maybe it was just how he’d been feeling at the time.

Sad. Or lonely.

Kate couldn’t help herself. She imagined a million stories that made up the lines in this man’s face. Around his eyes, his mouth. His actual age wasn’t listed. It didn’t matter. He could have been older than her, or younger than her, but either way she realized he’d lived more in the years he’d been on this planet. That’s what his face said. She had this crazy idea maybe he could show her how to do that.

How to really live.

Kate hit the green button and held her breath.

How did 2015 go? Contemporary Romance.

Sarah Mayberry Julie James Contemporary Romance Book Covers

How did my wishes for contemporary romance for 2015 match up with how contemporary romance in 2015 actually turned out?

My number one wish for contemporary romance for 2015 was for authors to stop being so bloody misogynistic.

Did they do this? Some are great, and I’ve been really happy with some series that celebrate the female characters at least as much as the male characters:

Win Me (The Outback Bachelor Ball Book 1) by Joan KilbyWoo Me (The Outback Bachelor Ball Book 2) by Karina BlissWait for Me (The Outback Bachelor Ball #3)  by Sarah Mayberry

But the subgenre as a whole? Nope, not really.

I read some books that were truly horrifying and made me disgusted with women writers for hating their own gender so much. Such as this one.

Something reading romance teaches you is exactly how many women are misogynists, and how many fantasise about bad things happening to other women. We’re not at war with each other, and if your male characters don’t act like this, the women sure don’t have to.

This needs to change.

Category Romance. No more home renovation. No more ageing parents going into homes. No more bakers. No more etc. etc. etc.

I was sick of the same themes and occupations over and over and wanted more variety.

Did I get it? Well, publishers themselves have been starting to put out calls for more variety. No more home renovation and no more ageing parents (why people in their twenties would be putting their parents into nursing homes is beyond me!). Publishers are tired of reading about bakers – and so am I.

PLEASE no more traumatised navy SEAL cowboys returning to small town Texas. PLEASE. I beg you!

Change doesn’t come fast though, but I have hope that this is something that IS changing. I’ve read some more modern and relevant contemporary romance this year. It’s just a matter of dumping the traditional Harlequin tropes and recognising the real world is a whole lot more interesting than that.

I wanted contemporary romance to tackle real world issues.

It’s utterly bizarre how contemporary romance tends to ignore reality. So much is going on in the world and there are so many places and issues that books could deal with. A lot of readers steer clear of contemporary romance because they find it too mundane.

It doesn’t have to be.

I think this might be changing gradually too.

I was sick of all the sex and wanted this amazing little thing called a PLOT to return.

This is a generalisation, and it depends on the author and the book. However, I know I’m not the only one who has said this recently. The sex-obsession has actually sent me in the direction of Christian fiction. I don’t want to be preached at or converted, but I also appreciate the time taken to develop a relationship before everyone jumps into bed.

Yes, I read some good contemporary romances in 2015, but I also didn’t read all that much of this subgenre this year. Hopefully I’ll do better next year, and hopefully I’ll discover that the issues I have are being changed!

Wait for Me (The Outback Bachelor Ball #3) by Sarah Mayberry

Wait for Me (The Outback Bachelor Ball #3) by Sarah Mayberry

Sometimes it pays to wait for the things you want, even if it’s the hardest thing you ever do.

Beth Walker hasn’t just been burned by her philandering country music star ex, she’s been barbequed to a crisp. Coming home to Australia and into the arms of her best friends is exactly the balm she needs. Cocktails and laughter at an Outback Bachelor and Spinster Ball seem like the perfect distraction. Until she bumps into the last person she wants seeing her heartsick and pathetic — Jonah Masters, rising country music star and witness to the failure of her marriage. If only she’d met Jonah first. Now she’s broken and won’t ask him to wait until she heals.

Jonah can’t believe he and Beth are finally standing under the same stars. The connection they shared on the road years ago has haunted him but he wouldn’t pursue a married woman. Now she’s free, and Jonah can’t refuse the one night Beth impulsively offers. Can he convince the woman he’s always loved that he’ll wait — however long it takes — for her trust?

Wait for Me (The Outback Bachelor Ball #3) by Sarah Mayberry

Book One Review

Book Two Review

Firstly: I cannot tell you how happy I am to see a prologue. Mainstream publishers are always screaming: DON’T DO THAT!! but no matter what they say, sometimes I really like one, and it’s important to the story.

This is the third and final novella in a series set in regional Australia. The books are about a group of three friends (women, and I’ve said already that I love series where female friendships are strong, and it’s not about a gang of interchangeable studs), who attend one of those crazy B&S balls rural Australia is infamous for.

Each of these women’s relationships blossoms over the course of the night, but this final one takes the focus away from the ball itself, and gives us time with hero and heroine. The two of them do a pretty good job of escaping the insanity of the night, whereas the other couples are caught right up in it. This makes sense, considering our leading man is a celebrity, and our heroine is trying to evade pretty much everyone after being internationally humiliated.

There are a few contemporary romance writers from this part of the world who write excellent MODERN books, and Sarah Mayberry is one of them. These are modern people acting modern, with modern wants, plans and needs. They speak and act like people their age should, and they have none of the conservative hang-ups category romance publishers STILL encourage in many of their books.

One thing I always notice about Sarah Mayberry’s books is that she writes really nice men. Much more attractive than those sexist bastards some favour these days!

But, really. We have ARSES in Australia, not ASSES! Different word, different meaning, and different pronunciation, and it’s nonnegotiable which of the two words we say!

I think this conclusion to the series did a good thing, as it would have been too much for all three books to follow the evening at the ball too closely. I think this one is just connected enough to the other two to make sense, but it takes us in a new direction.

However, I hope hero and heroine never get a hangover again. With Australia about to ban pretty much any effectual painkillers, they won’t have a cure next time!

Review copy provided by the authors.

The Week: 19th – 25th October

Spring Sunset Tuggeranong Canberra Australia Sonya Heaney 21st October 2015 Sky Clouds Pink Grey Orange Nature

Wednesday sunset in Canberra. *

Well, it’s 4.29 here!

4:29pm Wednesday (which we had about a day too early here, considering time zones!) was the time and day Marty McFly was supposed to arrive in 2015, according to the Back to the Future film franchise. The future is officially in the past now!

Wednesday Sunset Tuggeranong Canberra Australia Sonya Heaney 21st October 2015 Magpie Bird Sky Clouds Pink Orange Purple Blue Spring Nature - Copy

I accidentally tamed some baby magpies this week. I figured as I’d already started the job, I might as well continue.

Now they come every evening, standing there and waiting for their snack. A few years ago we had one that used to peck on our back door when it was hungry!

Magpies in Australia are vicious monsters in spring. They swoop everything that moves, putting many people in the hospital every year.

1410931203806_wps_1_Magpies_are_now_in_swoopi

However, they have the most beautiful song of all our birds, and if you tame them early enough they will still be wild, but will be fine around you. One of them started eating out of my hand after three days.

11th February russian shelling in Ukraine - 2015

What has been going on in the past fortnight?! Whenever I open a news site – especially a right-leaning site – everyone is in love with Vladimir Putin. Kremlin propaganda has literally turned the whole lot of you. I’ve had a few teary days in the past week, seeing how many people I know now think Putinist Russia is great. I’ve unfriended a whole lot of people online. I’ve cried again. I’ve ranted. I’ve raved. I don’t understand human beings.

Do you support Hitler? Stalin? Kim Jong-un? No? Then why are you supporting a man as evil as the rest of them? Why are you supporting the man who made my own family members refugees?!

I deleted my (pretty damn popular) Tumblr account. I will no longer be on Facebook. Humans horrify me at the moment.

This week I found out that the most amazing Sleeping Beauty ever is available to watch on YouTube. This is an almost painfully long ballet, but I am SO happy to have found it. It features so many gorgeous dancers I have worked with over the years. It’s from 1993, but I think ballet was better and more artistic then than it is now.

The main two dancers are the nicest people in the world

And if you go to the soloist at 1:37:35, you will see the dancer who took me under her wing when I was a silly little thing. A gorgeous woman and dancer. The very skinny, very young man who comes on after her is from here in Canberra.

In Odesa this week, Ukrainians turned a statue of Lenin into a statue of Darth Vader:

22nd October 20153

Despite Putin putting up more and more and MORE Lenin and Stalin statues (and statues of HIM), Ukraine has a law that all those things have to be gone by this month. Tens of millions of people (the majority of them Ukrainian) died in the name of those monsters.

This Cover

Pirate Fabio

Contacting Me

social-media-logos_15773

Pride and Prejudice Adaptations: BBC 1995

Colin Firth & Jennifer Ehle in Pride and Prejudice (1995)

My review of Win Me (The Outback Bachelor Ball Book 1) by Joan Kilby

Win Me (The Outback Bachelor Ball Book 1) by Joan Kilby

My review of His Housekeeper’s Christmas Wish by Louise Allen

His Housekeeper's Christmas Wish by Louise Allen

My review of Woo Me by Karina Bliss

Woo Me (The Outback Bachelor Ball Book 2) by Karina Bliss

Woo Me by Karina Bliss

Woo Me (The Outback Bachelor Ball Book 2) by Karina Bliss

Can true love overcome a bad hide day and a series of unfortunate events?

Disillusioned in love, Jen Tremaine is done with men. So when her best friends dare her to wear a cow costume to their reunion at an Outback Bachelor and Spinster Ball, she’s all over it. Who would have thought dressing as a heifer would make her irresistible to a bunch of lasso-twirling, drunken cowboys?

Maybe you should have thought this through, says the sexy security guard who keeps finding her at the centre of trouble. Even though Jen’s always dismissed soul mates as a load of bull, the sizzle between them is making her wonder: What if you met The One while wandering lonely as a cow? Would you find the courage to become a believer?

When ex-Special Forces soldier Logan Turner is roped into helping out with security at the B&S ball, he isn’t expecting to find love – but after months in all-male company he sure is hoping for lust. He certainly isn’t expecting to fall for a feisty, funny, trouble-making Cowderella. Only problem is, she’s leaving Australia tomorrow. Convincing Jen they can still have a future together may wind up being the toughest mission of his life.

Woo Me (The Outback Bachelor Ball Book 2) by Karina Bliss

Book One Review

I start to sound like a broken record when I’m reviewing contemporary romances by a certain group of authors. Karina Bliss is in that group, as are the other two authors in this series.

The reason I like this sort of book is because everyone is So Normal. Not normal as in boring, but normal as in I believe they exist. They don’t talk or act like Romance Novel Characters. I love it.

One thing I want to mention near the top is that the hero is a former Special Forces soldier who had something bad happen. However, he DID NOT carry on and mope about it nonstop like every other Special Forces soldier in the romance genre. He didn’t use his past as an excuse to refuse to commit.

This is the second in a trilogy set in Australia and written by Australian authors Joan Kilby and Sarah Mayberry, and Kiwi Karina Bliss. I have no idea how it was written without a lot of drama and confusion, because the stories are all happening at the same time, they’re closely connected, and some scenes overlap, but from different characters’ points of view. It must have been a challenge to make it all fit!

This is a novella, which means the timeframe is short, and which means it’s hard to make a reader believe in the relationship. Even more in this second book, because hero and heroine have never met before.

HOWEVER I was convinced, which was pretty impressive. I can only think of a couple of books where an author convinced me of a relationship this fast.

I liked how this one was plotted. A lot has to happen fast, and while it was all a little crazy, that’s what these silly B&S balls are like, so I was happy to go with it. I also LOVE a book where the hero knows what he wants, and goes for it.

As with the last book, things have been Americanised. The worst offender has to be the “fanny pack”, as outside US English “fanny” is slang for a woman’s… erm… the same way “dick” is slang for a man’s… erm… The metric system has ceased to exist, and proper nouns have been changed into US spelling (such as CENTRE becoming CENTER in the first sentence).

I know I should give in and accept I’ve lost this battle, because the publishing industry expects American English no matter where a book is set. However, I’m not flying the white flag just yet!

This is a fun series, and I think the length of the stories is just right. I’ve read plenty of collaborations, particularly those being put out by Mills and Boon and Harlequin, but in those there’s always a weak entry or two. Not the case here.

Review copy provided by the authors.

Win Me (The Outback Bachelor Ball Book 1) by Joan Kilby

Win Me (The Outback Bachelor Ball Book 1) by Joan Kilby

She’ll do anything to get him to see her as a woman…

Feisty, fearless Ellie McFarlane has tried forever to get cattle station manager, Rick Drummond, to notice she’s not another cowhand. So when her gal pals talk her into glamming up for an Outback Bachelor and Spinster ball she’s eager to prove she’s all woman, all the time, and leave her boneheaded cowboy eating dust.

Sexy wrangler Rick is crazy about Ellie just as she is but her father – his boss – told him long ago that his daughter was off limits. Even though she’s all grown up now, Rick still feels it’s his job is to protect her, not seduce her. Plus, he’s finally got an opportunity to buy back his family farm, which means moving far away.

Ellie’s transformation from Cinder-Ellie to belle of the ball has Rick’s jaw dropping – and all the other cowboys falling at her feet. Ellie tries to revel in her new-found sex-pot status but without Rick it’s a hollow victory. Has Rick left it too late to claim the only woman he’ll ever truly love…

Win Me (The Outback Bachelor Ball Book 1) by Joan Kilby

It was a given that I would really like this trilogy, considering three of the best contemporary romance authors around collaborated on it.

It’s sort of a dream come true for a lot of readers to have Joan Kilby, Karina Bliss and Sarah Mayberry do a series, as their stories FEEL contemporary, their characters are so realistic, and they’re not trying to package younger adults into the neat little rainbows and unicorns and cupcakes corner of the genre the way too much category romance does.

It must be a nightmare trying to figure out a collaboration, especially with the characters in this one so closely linked, and the stories happening at the same time!

These are shorter stories, and this one involves two people who have known each other since adolescence. It’s a friends to lovers story, but with two people who have wanted each other for a long time. Our heroine, feeling rejected, has spent the past six years working in the United States, but now she’s home for good.

The great things about these stories, and apparently particularly about authors writing stories set in Australia, are numerous. One is that they have rounded lives, which involves close friendships with people of their own gender – and how wonderful to have a series that is based on female friendships rather than a gang of interchangeable studs!

Another is that the characters speak like people of their age, even when that means they’re a bit cruder. This is believable dialogue.

In this case, yes the heroine is returning to her roots, but not because she failed in the big city, or because she has a desperate need to open a quilting shop (see: pretty much all contemporary romance at the moment). She has ambitions that take her home, instead of her needing to go there because she failed elsewhere.

Also nice to read about familiar places and to see references to places like Gundagai, which is just down the road from me.

I have my usual complaint about the language, which is a direct result of the romance industry being so US-centric. It is a terrible balance authors are always trying to strike, making the thoughts and dialogue realistic without alienating American readers. Even so here, with Australian and Kiwi authors writing a series set in Australia, things have been changed!

It’s an arse, and it’s a mobile phone. Petrol goes in cars. We have the metric system, and I’m the same age as the hero and I have NO idea what distance a yard is. No way would either character give distances in yards or miles!

However, I really have nothing negative to say about the story, the characters, the anything. Novellas are hard to pull off, because they require a shorter timeframe, which means much less time to convince us of the relationship. I think I was convinced here.

Now to move onto the other two in the series.

 

Review copy provided by the authors.

The Week: 22nd – 28th April

Only a couple of weeks before I head overseas, which means I’m running out of time to do pretty much everything! We also have Ukrainian Easter coming up (yes, it still hasn’t happened), which is a big, big celebration in Ukrainian culture. That, alongside Mother’s Day… there’s no time for all of these special occasions!

 Canberra Autumn Sonya Heaney 23-4-2013

Canberra looks so pretty at the moment, with big blue skies and lots of autumn colours!

  The Perfect Rake by Anne Gracie

My review of The Perfect Rake by Anne Gracie is HERE.

 A Prior Engagement by Karina Bliss

My review of A Prior Engagement by Karina Bliss is HERE.

 Heartland by Cathryn Hein

I read Cathryn Hein’s new release this week. Hein is one of the better authors in the Australian rural fiction genre.

You can still enter a giveaway for this book.

I’m reading a number of books at the moment, having trouble focusing on just one! Some I will review before I leave, but others have later release dates, so the reviews won’t be up for a number of weeks.

A Prior Engagement by Karina Bliss

A Prior Engagement by Karina Bliss

He’s back from the dead, on a new mission…because two can play her game!

After two years as a POW presumed dead, SAS soldier Lee Davis is finally going home. Back to his family, friends and…fiancée? He doesn’t have a fiancée…the night before his last deployment, Juliet Browne rejected his proposal. That makes the sight of her playing the grieving almost-wife beyond infuriating. Feigning amnesia, Lee decides to put Juliet’s “commitment” to the test.

Yet tormenting her conscience isn’t as easy as Lee thought it would be. Juliet’s still the woman whose memory got him through the worst of his captivity and her actions now prove she cares—a lot. And despite her betrayal, he needs her more than ever. Because Lee is beginning to realise that for him, Juliet is home.

A Prior Engagement by Karina Bliss

A Prior Engagement is currently available from the eHarlequin website, and will be available elsewhere in May.

I didn’t know this book was ever going to be written, but am happy there was some closure given to unfinished business from past books. Karina Bliss’ series about returned NZ Special Forces soldiers has made for some great reading, but I’d recommend reading them in order, because by the time we reach this one, there’re a lot of characters with a lot of tough backstories.

The reason this book surprised me is because it is about a character everyone thought had died in the Middle East.

Is the setup for this story a little farfetched? Of course it is. However, there’s something appealing about ‘back from the dead’ stories, and I’m willing to forgive an author for improbabilities as long as they can draw me in. I think Bliss managed that here.

Really, really, don’t read this one first or you’ll miss out on a lot of the emotional impact. In addition to Lee Davis, our returned from the dead hero, we have Jules Browne, the woman he loved. Nobody knows she actually turned down Lee’s marriage proposal immediately before he was deployed; everyone thinks they were happy together until the end. Now he’s back, and things aren’t going to be easy to work out.

Because of the situations they have been thrown into, neither character is as immediately likeable as most others in the series, but by the end of the book you’ll be able to see where they’re coming from and how past events have shaped who they are.

There’s a lot of involvement of previous characters in this book, so I would recommend giving yourself a quick refresher of past plotlines before diving in.

Harlequin still commits the crime of removing most things that make this book distinctly Kiwi (metric system, British English etc.). For example, you can’t just replace kilograms with pounds and have it mean the same thing. 20 pounds (9.07 kilograms) does not equal 20 kilograms (44.09 pounds). We’re supposed to be shocked by Lee’s weight loss in captivity, but because the number wasn’t changed along with the system of measurement, it just… wasn’t… shocking…

However I really enjoyed the use of distinctly Kiwi words in some places. Maori terminology that was somehow allowed to be kept in added to the New Zealand flavour of the book. Now, if only editors would allow us non-Americans to use the word arse!

I’m glad Bliss wrote this book. It had a lot of themes I enjoy reading, and made for an enjoyable – if emotionally difficult – read.

Review copy provided by NetGalley.

A Prior Engagement by Karina Bliss

A Prior Engagement by Karina Bliss

I didn’t realise this book was going to be written. New Zealand author Karina Bliss’ series about NZ Special Forces soldiers returning home is one I have been following, so this book – about the soldier who was supposedly killed in the Middle East – is going to be interesting! It is available for purchase on the eHarlequin site at the moment, though the official release date is next month.

A Prior Engagement by Karina Bliss

He’s back from the dead, on a new mission…because two can play her game!

After two years as a POW presumed dead, SAS soldier Lee Davis is finally going home. Back to his family, friends and…fiancée? He doesn’t have a fiancée…the night before his last deployment,  Juliet Browne rejected his proposal. That makes the sight of her playing the grieving almost-wife beyond infuriating. Feigning amnesia, Lee decides to put Juliet’s “commitment” to the test.

Yet tormenting her conscience isn’t as easy as Lee thought it would be. Juliet’s still the woman whose memory got him through the worst of his captivity and her actions now prove she cares–a lot. And despite her betrayal, he needs her more than ever. Because Lee is beginning to realise that for him, Juliet is home.