The Week: 21st – 27th November

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Hot and sunny start to the week in Canberra. And the last of the spring flowers in the garden.

I feel like a proud parent, but here are our two baby magpies. I filmed them on Friday afternoon (and the video is a bit shaky because I was trying to fix my hair at the time!). Apparently every magpie family has its own song, and every late-spring-early-summer the young birds start practicing their singing.

These two are disturbingly tame. They try to follow me into the house! Their parents drop them off here at about five-something in the morning, and they stay here all day, until around sunset (I swear, they’re the same as humans!). They’re so cute. Also, they like standing on one leg for some reason.

(I’m going to rant a bit now, so you might want to skim to the next part!)

We went to see The Nutcracker on Saturday night. Back when I was a ballet dancer, there was nothing better than dancing in falling snow.

However, I AM deeply upset they not only called a dance in act two the “Russian dance”, but that they called it the “Gopak”.

“Gopak”, which is actually the Hopak (because Ukrainian and Russian alphabets are different), is the national dance of Ukraine, and has NOTHING do to with Russia. Talk about “cultural appropriation”! On Saturday night it got THE biggest cheer out of all the dances, and it makes my heart hurt.

HERE is the proper Ukrainian (not Russian!) dance! Skip to two minutes in to see the big tricks.

One of the men looks disturbingly like my brother, who used to do this stuff a little while ago.

However – has anybody heard of the book Mao’s Last Dancer? It was also made into a movie. It’s a true story about a Chinese dancer who was forced into the communist system as a ballet dancer, but then defected to the United States, and now lives here in Australia. We got to talk to him, Li Cunxin, again last night, for the first time in ages. He is the director of the ballet company we went to see.

My review of Someone to Love (Westcott #1) by Mary Balogh

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My review of The Dare and the Doctor (Winner Takes All #3) by Kate Noble

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My review of The Governess Was Wild (Governess #3) by Julia Kelly

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You Had Me at Christmas #1

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You Had Me at Christmas #2

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You Had Me at Christmas #3

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You Had Me at Christmas

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One month until Christmas (if that’s the calendar you follow – my family follows both!). The final excerpt from You Had Me at Christmas is for Christmas Eve: A Love Story by Molly O’Keefe.

For a minute, before opening her eyes, Trina Crawford allowed herself to believe she was in her own bed.

But there was someone else in this one.

And there had not been a someone else in her bed for a very long time. Oh no, what have I done?

Trina turned her head on the pillow and nearly bumped noses with Dean. Dean McKenzie. I did Dean McKenzie.

She clapped a hand over her mouth, squelching a delighted squeak. Maybe this is a dream… just some strange stress-and-coming-back-to-Dusk-Falls-induced dream.

But when she squeezed her eyes shut and opened them again, Dean was still there. So was the headache pounding behind her eyeballs.

I slept with Dean.

His long, angular face was relaxed in sleep, his black hair like great sweeps of ink across the white pillowcase. His mouth, those wide lips—she curled her fingers against the urge to touch them, trace their edges—they’d been soft, softer even than she’d dreamt.

And she’d dreamt about Dean McKenzie’s lips a lot.

The second half of her senior year, after that night on her porch. Her first year of college. After breaking up with Trevor after the party, she’d spent several long months counting every opportunity she’d missed with her once-best friend.

That all ended last night.

Needing a shot of courage before facing her future—which, oddly enough, looked a lot like her past—she’d stopped at Holly’s on the edge of town, and there was Dean, sitting alone, nursing a beer. Blinking Christmas lights from the mirror over the bar had been reflected in his dark hair.

Like a Christmas sex fantasy come true.

After that, all of it—every moment, every breath and touch—had seemed inevitable.

As if, since their birth, they’d been working their way to this. I blame Christmas. And our fathers. I blame Christmas and fathers for everything. Romeo and Juliet have nothing on us.

You Had Me at Christmas

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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.

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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.