Rereading Old Favourites

Her Best Friend by Sarah Mayberry

I know I’m not the only one who’s been rereading a lot of favourite books in the past few, pandemic-stricken months.

One book I picked up (well, opened on my Kindle!) is Her Best Friend by Sarah Mayberry, which was published ten years ago, and which is the book that convinced me to read more category romances.

The book is due to be rereleased in a few months.

A recent discussion amongst authors showed the general consensus is the Superromance line was amazing and should never have been discontinued. Australian author Mayberry and Kiwi author Karina Bliss were two of my absolute favourites, writing realistic, complicated characters.

Her Best Friend is about a woman who stayed in her hometown to pursue her dream of buying and restoring an Art Deco theatre. It used to belong to her family and is now under threat from developers. Amy has been in love with her best friend for sixteen years, but he married another woman from town and moved away to live in the city and have a big, flashy legal career.

Cue angst!

What makes this book stand out is how real the characters feel – from their conversations to their choices to their mistakes. I’ve read more books than I can count, but this one still resonates with me.

My only complaint: how heavily the editors Americanised the language and terminology. There’re a lot of words (and systems of measurement!) we don’t use here!

National Dog Day

1Dog-200952_640 Yorkshire Terrier


Tomorrow is National Dog Day.

The Other Side of Us by Sarah Mayberry

I was going to recommend some books with dogs as secondary characters, but then I realised just HOW many there are!

The Spring Bride (Chance Sisters #3) by Anne Gracie

From companion dogs in books like Bronwyn Parry’s As Darkness Falls, to goofy dogs like in Jill Shalvis’ Simply Irresistible, to rescued dogs like in Anne Gracie’s The Spring Bride, to the dogs that bring a couple together in Sarah Mayberry’s The Other Side of Us, to the gazillion Harlequin/Mills and Boon category romances with dogs on the covers, they’re everywhere!


Anzac Day – Recommended Reads

Vietnam War Memorial Canberra Australia Sonya Heaney 30th May 2015

Me on Anzac Parade, the huge, memorial-lined road that leads up to the museum.

Today is Anzac Day, Australia and new Zealand’s biggest day for our war veterans. The national ceremony at the Australian War Memorial here in Canberra is televised, and before that there’s a dawn service (which I have never been to, despite coming from a family of veterans, but I always hear the neighbours getting up at about 4am!).


We usually drop by the War Memorial a little later in the day and spend some time at the Vietnam War section.

I was trying to think of romance and suspense reads that involve Australian military or veterans, and came up with a few authors.

Hélène Young writes suspense books with some romance, and featuring Australian military characters.


Barbara Hannay’s The Secret Years is set half in the Second World War and half in the present, and I really enjoyed it. The woman in the WW2 part is posted to the consulate in Canberra.

The Secret Years by Barbara Hannay

Sarah Mayberry has a really good book about a female veteran.

More Than One Night by Sarah Mayberry

Joan Kilby’s Protecting her Son involves an Australian Special Forces veteran, and has a scene at the end set at the War Memorial above!

Protecting Her Son

Fiona Greene’s Home For Christmas – well, the cover and title tell you what you need to know!

Home For Christmas by Fiona Greene

Karly Lane writes contemporary romance and women’s fiction, with some themes involving veterans.


And, for Kiwi veteran heroes, there is Karina Bliss’ New Zealand Special Forces series, beginning with Here Comes the Groom.


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!

The Week: 26th October – 1st November

Tuggeranong Canberra Australia Sunset 28th October 2015 Sonya Heaney Gowrie Sky Clouds Spring Garden Nature

Wednesday’s sunset in Canberra

Halloween Gowrie Tuggeranong Canberra Australia Sonya Heaney Jack-o-lantern Pumpkin Orange Glitter Sparkles

Halloween… We’re trying in Australia. This is the first year younger generations won out over the older generations’ “We’re not celebrating that American holiday!” whingeing! In the Canberra region we actually did some decent Halloween celebrating on the weekend!

I was so thrilled last night. We went out to dinner at Italian & Sons for a different reason, but while dropping people off on the way home I saw plenty of Halloween parties and decorations. We’ve finally embraced it!

Even though we were out all evening, we did a few decorations:

Halloween Gowrie Tuggeranong Canberra Australia Sonya Heaney Oksana Heaney 31st October 2015

Shameless self-promotion: you can buy my Halloween designs HERE.

It’s a little late for this year, however!

Magpies Tuggeranong Canberra Australia 29th October 2015v Sonya Heaney Birds Native Animals Nature

Here are our idiot magpies I accidentally tamed, and now they hang around ALL day like they’re pet dogs or something! Whenever they want a snack, they turn up, do this, and then look at me and wait for their reward:

I complain about romance authors and readers who say I don’t watch the news because I don’t like hearing bad things. Because, seriously, that’s pathetic, and I bet when something bad happens to them they want people to care!

I can’t care about everything, but two things that matter very much to me are Ukraine, and the treatment of women in India (my family was based there for some time, and while the women were begging us to raise awareness of these issues, Westerners were too busy loving Bollywood dancing to listen or care). People probably remember all the fuss made about that gang rape case a few years ago, but what most don’t realise is that that sort of thing happens EVERY DAY.

This week, some men in India dug up the body of a woman who died from complications from a miscarriage, and raped her, and then left her body naked and twenty metres from her grave. I’m so sick and bloody tired of any little thing in certain countries making international headlines, but nobody ever hears about this sort of stuff! Articles about it: #1 #2

A very good site to read more about female infanticide and dowry deaths and general misogyny in India is 50 Million Missing. The blog’s name refers to the number of women who have disappeared from India’s population. It’s a shocking statistic, and is the number one reason I’m totally against legalising sex-selection for parents.

A Noble Masquerade (Hawthorne House #1) by Kristi Ann Hunter

I reviewed A Noble Masquerade recently, but here is another review of it that I think is spot-on. Especially important is the mention of the North American evangelical Christianity forced into Regency England. This is something Christian publishers do all the time, and it’s ridiculous. Different country, different era, and a different sort of Christian!

My review of Forever His Texas Bride (Bachelors of Battle Creek #3) by Linda Broday

Forever His Texas Bride (Bachelors of Battle Creek #3) by Linda Broday

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

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

My review of Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas

Cold-Hearted Rake (2015) by Lisa Kleypas

My review of Forever and Always (Cactus Creek Cowboys #3) by Leigh Greenwood

Forever and Always (Cactus Creek Cowboys #3) by Leigh Greenwood

Cover Love

The Lodger by Louisa Treger

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.

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.

All those misconceptions about Harlequin/Mills and Boon

 Within Reach by Sarah Mayberry

The world’s massive category romance publishing house does itself no favours. Don’t worry, I know it. With titles like The Playboy Sheikh’s Virgin Stable-Girl and Pregnesia you can’t really blame people for some of the things they assume.

The Playboy Sheikh's Virgin Stable-Girl by Sharon Kendrick Pregnesia by Carla Cassidy

However, I recently read a one star review for a Harlequin book (Mills and Boon is the original company, and the name it still goes by in places like Britain and Australia). The reviewer’s problem? She’d picked it up because there were no intimate scenes and she’d been led to believe these books were riddled with explicit sex.

And they’re just not.

Similarly, people who have come to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander since the television show started – and who don’t like the rape and abuse in the book – insult it by calling it “a glorified Harlequin romance”. Same is said to insult Fifty Shades of Grey.

Even a lot of ardent romance readers dismiss the books without giving them a try.

Ugh. Just… ugh!

 Married by Christmas by Karen Kirst

I didn’t start reading category romance until recently, very recently. So recently that my first book was Her Best Friend by Sarah Mayberry, published only a few years ago. I wanted to try something to come to my own conclusions.  Sarah Mayberry is an Australian author, and the book is set somewhere I’ve been, so I thought if nothing else, I might enjoy that aspect of it.

 Her Best Friend by Sarah Mayberry

Sarah Mayberry converted me.

Beyond the cheesy cover and generic title was a great story, and – shock, horror – they didn’t have sex in every chapter! It was tame, it was about friends and family, it was about a woman who at thirty was getting on with her dreams – career dreams, not romance dreams.

The thing about category romance is that the books are literally divided into categories. Multiple branches of these are Christian fiction, so you’re going to be lucky to even get a chaste kiss. Other lines are about police officers and crime, about Jane Austen’s England, about all sorts of things.

This is not pornography. And many of the books have heaps of storylines going on beyond the romance.

Yes, there’re still category lines for all the sheikhs, secretaries and billionaires you could want, and yet even then if you’re looking for something racy, you might be disappointed.

 Season of Change by Melinda Curtis

As I said, they don’t do themselves any favours with the titles and covers, but these publishers aren’t cranking out garbage. There’s good and bad in every genre, from every publisher, but I will defend category romance to anyone. You can’t dismiss thousands and thousands of books with many themes and settings just like that.

I’ve read some truly terrible category romances, but some others also consistently make it onto my “Best Of” lists each year.

Taken with You by Shannon Stacey

Taken with You (The Kowalski Family Book 8) by Shannon Stacey

Hailey Genest has seen most of her friends marry and have babies, and she’s happy for them, but it was a lot easier before she hit forty. She’s spent her entire life in Whitford, Maine, and if she hasn’t found her Prince Charming by now, she has to accept she’s probably not going to. When a new friend suggests they go on an adventure and embrace being single, Hailey agrees.

Surviving in the woods is game warden Matt Barnett’s idea of a relaxing vacation. But when he meets two women in need of help, he leads them back to safety—a task that proves more fun than expected, thanks to a certain hot blonde. He can’t resist pushing her buttons, even though she’s made it clear that the rugged, outdoorsy type just isn’t for her.

Hailey is glad to see the back of her tempting-tour-guide-slash-pain-in-the-ass. When he shows up in her life again, she’s determined to avoid him, no matter how good he looks in his uniform. But that’s easier said than done in Whitford, especially when he’s renting the house right next door…

Taken with You (The Kowalski Family Book 8) by Shannon Stacey

I’ve only read one other book in this series (and it wasn’t the first) so picking up book eight could be a bit risky! I thought the blurb was interesting, so I gave it a go anyway.

Shannon Stacey writes some of the most *contemporary* contemporary romances around at the moment. Authors like Stacey and Sarah Mayberry show us the 21st century as it is, with characters who believably live in it, unlike many “contemporary” romances that are Brady Bunch versions.

Yes, there’re about a million characters in this book I’m not familiar with, but I didn’t feel like I was wading through them to get to a part of the story I could enjoy. It’s a struggle in a long series to keep new readers interested, but I think Stacey managed it.

It was just so nice to read realistic contemporary dialogue and realistic contemporary characters.

This is also the first book I’ve read where Pinterest was mentioned!

I think most readers of these books already know what they’re in for. Quality, believable contemporary romance.


Review copy provided by NetGalley.