Amelia Windsor left Sydney for the small town of Whylandra in the hot, dry outback of NSW after realising her fiancé cared more about being associated...moreAmelia Windsor left Sydney for the small town of Whylandra in the hot, dry outback of NSW after realising her fiancé cared more about being associated to her famous business tycoon father than her, and set up her own speech pathology clinic, Little Poppies. The day Kade Reid walks into her office with his four-year-old niece and ward, Tilly, the air conditioning had broken and Mia's already spilled her drink all over Tilly's file - and her clothes. Meeting Kade doesn't go much better: the man is aloof and cold and reminds Mia all too vividly of her own father, whose number one priority in life is making money - something he's extremely good at, to the detriment of his family.
Tilly's parents, Kade's younger half-brother and his wife, died not that long ago, leaving their only child in the care of a man who knows nothing about children and who is eager to get her speech problem straightened out as soon as he can so that he can foist her off onto a nanny while he goes back to the office. As CEO of his own company, worth millions, Kade has no time or patience for children, but mostly he simply can't relate. He didn't have a mother at all, she died at his birth, and he never had any toys either - he was given his first share portfolio when he was four, and when his father remarried he was sent to boarding school.
Now he's out at the old heritage homestead, Berrilea, that his grandmother left him - the only person to have given him a hug or show love for him during the two weeks he once spent there as a child. A three hour drive from Whylandra, Mia's only choice in treating Tilly is to move out there for the five weeks it'll take to work on Tilly's pronunciation of K and G sounds. Kade does everything he can to contain them, insisting they confine themselves to the music room, but in every way Mia defies him. She uses play to help Tilly learn, and the two of them are soon seen all over the house and garden. He can't concentrate on his work and flying his helicopter* back to Sydney to get work done there is worse: he can't think without seeing what Mia's up to.
In all ways, Mia makes Kade confront who he really is and what kind of man he could aspire to be, knowing that for Tilly, the little girl needs a father figure and desperately wants Kade's love and attention. Yet Mia has her own father issues, and showing Kade that he doesn't have to be the man his own father shaped him into is only the first step. Can she heed her own advice and learn to trust men, and Kade in particular? Or will she remain the woman her own father indirectly made her into?
This was my first foray into the new sub-genre of "rural romance" that's all the rage in Australia these days, and I must say it was really enjoyable. The setting - mostly Berrilea, an old two-storey brick homestead with wide verandahs and large gardens - carries an understated atmosphere, a sense of heat and wide open vistas and isolation, as well as the occasional lurking danger (snake!).
While the millionaire-tycoon-businessman hero is a stock character in romance, I do like it when efforts are made to make it part of the plot (and by plot I mean the emotional growth of the characters, which is what romance is all about really). There wouldn't have been a story if Kade hadn't been the man he was, and there's the connection to Mia's own hardball father too (I picture someone like Kevin O'Leary but without the love for family, or maybe, ugh, Donald Trump - that kind of entrepreneur). I felt immense sympathy for Kade, especially Kade-as-little-boy, who never had toys to play with or someone to read to him or play games with him, who was taught instead how to make lots of money, as if that were the point of living. Mia sees her own father in Kade, which enables her to keep her armour on around him, but despite their clashes the growing sexual tension between them is palpable - and lots of fun.
I liked Mia a lot, and I loved reading the scenes where she works with Tilly on her speech - and luring Kade in to join them in their games. I could empathise with both girls, because when I was a kid I had to see a speech pathologist too. I was in grade 2 and I couldn't say "S" or "R" properly (I couldn't even say my own name or my sister's right!). The pathologist would come to the primary school every week in a mobile truck-van thing, same as the dentist, and work with the kids who needed it. We played a lot of games, though the only one I remember is Memory (which I was very good at!), and she corrected my speech quite beautifully. I am very fond of speech pathologists, and it seems to me like they combine pathology with child psychiatry. Mia certainly does, and it's that side of her that prompts her to try and get Kade to change, for Tilly's sake.
In the end it's harder for Mia to change than it is Kade; Mia prefers to run away than take a chance and trust Kade, feeling that she can't cope with more betrayal from the men in her life. As much as I dismayed at this fairly standard romance-genre device, I did like how it was handled and how undramatic it was. There is somehow more power and more emotional oomph in scenes that are fraught with tension and emotion and yet, on the surface, seem almost ordinary. It carries greater weight, to underplay it like that. And the whole time, the setting itself held the characters and the story safely in a gentle hold - Berrilea made an impression on me perhaps because it reminded me of old farm homes I visited as a child, nothing so big and grand as this one but old and stately and big in their own way, and with impressive gardens too. There was one around the corner from us that was probably smaller than it seemed but always felt huge to me, and had a rather grand terrace-balcony thing in a semi-circle coming off the lounge room, high up enough to give lovely views (southerly though, so not much light). There were other homes like that that I visited because friends lived there, and they were always interesting to explore. I have a great love for old houses, especially the farm ones. So many gems, tucked away like that!
I know it seems like I got way off-topic there, but that's one of the reasons why I love these Aussie romances: they're so familiar, in their way, so homey, in ways that romances from other countries just never are (I don't think I've read a Canadian romance yet, apart from a couple of Lynsay Sands' books set in Ontario, which have a similar effect on me). I feel comforted by them. They make me think of my childhood, my home, my love for my country, and they deliver really good stories, like What Love Sounds Like Like. I found it very easy to immerse myself in Mia and Kade's world, and to watch their feelings grow and get all tangled up. It's satisfying almost in a personal way. What Love Sounds Like Like is lively, fun and deceptively simple storytelling with great emotional depth.
My thanks to the author for a copy of this book.
*This is not so strange as it might seem: many farmers on the "stations" (massive farms) in the outback of mainland Australia use helicopters just to get around their land, and even to herd cattle, not just in Australia but in New Zealand as well. (Horses are still popular though, as are four-wheel motorbikes.) Granted, Kade isn't a farmer, but still. (less)
Rachael DeSalvo is so close to nailing her dream job as project manager for the renovation of historical Turtle Tear Hotel on Turtle Tear Island, in t...moreRachael DeSalvo is so close to nailing her dream job as project manager for the renovation of historical Turtle Tear Hotel on Turtle Tear Island, in the Everglades of Florida. She's sure she's impressed the CEO of Rocha Enterprises, which bought the island, during her final interview. And when she's offered the job, she's ecstatic. So when she has to turn it down because she can't leave her overbearing, widowed mother - who's never been alone - it's the end of her dream. Or so she thinks.
While at a nightclub with her best friend and flatmate, Shannon, she accepts a drink from a tall, deliciously handsome man - and wakes up in an unknown location, tied to a bed. At first, it seems pretty clear that she hasn't just been abducted, she may have been - and could be, soon - molested or even raped. What else is she to think? The truth is even more staggering: the beautiful, intelligent and absolutely sexy CEO of Rocha Enterprises and real estate mogul, Merrick Rocha, has abducted her and brought her to Turtle Tear Island. Clearly, a man who doesn't take No for an answer.
As Rachael gets to know Merrick more, while exploring the island with him, she learns several things about him. He's something of a tortured soul, and mostly estranged from his family. He's not good at thinking things through, having become used to people giving him what he wants. He thinks Rachael belongs on Turtle Tear Island, and he does realise that his method of bringing her there has damaged, perhaps irreparably, any trust there could be between them. And, most agonising of all, he desires her as much as she desires him. The sexual chemistry and tension between them is staggering, but Rachael can't and won't give herself to a man who drugged and abducted her. Not only that, but Rachael has never been someone who opens herself up to rejection - as she puts it, she's a successful overachiever because she doesn't take risks.
Spending time alone with Merrick on what feels like a deserted island is definitely a mellowing experience, and after being reassured that no one's looking for her because Merrick "took care of it", Rachael lets herself be swayed into taking on the project management role when the construction crew arrive - and Merrick's beautiful blonde assistant, Joan, who so clearly idolises Merrick and will do anything for him. When Merrick crosses a major line with Rachael it's the last straw, and Rachael leaves both the island and a devastated Merrick behind. But both the island and the man have got under Rachael's skin, and moving on with her life just doesn't seem possible. But how can she move past the things Merrick's done to her?
I came across this book rather randomly, but after the reading the blurb I couldn't resist getting it. Mostly, because it sounded like a trainwreck. It didn't really make sense to me, for the most part, though it does once you've read it. But it was the idea of turning an abduction story into a romance that had me curious, in a gross-fascination kind of way, because to my mind there isn't anything romantic about it. Interestingly enough, I quite liked the story, but there were other elements to it that were lacking and ultimately made it an unsatisfying story.
Rachael isn't a bad romantic heroine - she's fairly believable, in her reactions, and is tormented by her sexual attraction to a man she doesn't trust, who took away her control and made her utterly vulnerable. But she does listen, and this is a good quality to have in a heroine - they don't always have that ability. She listens not only to Merrick's words but also his body language, and what he doesn't say, and learns a lot. This all happens quite smoothly, which aids in believability - the obstacle a story like this is always going to have. Still, I never got over my unease that she could be attracted to a man based on his looks alone, despite what he's done to her. I just don't think women work that way, psychologically - and hormonally - speaking. If you are angry with someone and afraid of them, if you have no trust in them, you really can't also lust after them. That was a real sticking point for me. It speaks badly of Rachael's character, no matter her resistance at the start.
Merrick came across as a bit of a lost little boy - and when he didn't seem lost, he was an over-eager little boy. I guess making him a sweet, "innocent" and therefore harmless man is the author's only way of redeeming him for what he did to Rachael, but it didn't really work - also, it just made him come across as a bit pathetic and clingy. Very very clingy. He's worked hard to turn a modest property investment inherited from his grandfather into a massive national real estate company worth billions, but he's so out-of-touch and has almost childlike ideas for pleasing other people that doesn't take their feelings into consideration. There's quite a bit of emphasis on Merrick wanting Rachael to teach him, and honestly, his need for a woman to guide him should have been the main thing that made Rachael run screaming to the hills. No woman wants to be cast in the role of mother to her partner. Merrick's not completely useless though, he is considerate and loving and caring, and he's no alpha male who wants to dominate and protect her. He's more simple than that. I can't say I ever really understood him, and his explanation for his plans for Turtle Tear Island and his company (which involves a legal battle with his father) made zero sense to me.
The biggest hurdle for me, and one that I couldn't overcome no matter how hard I tried, was how this novel was written. Rachael is a first-person narrator, but she shares her story in second-person present tense. That means that Merrick is never "he", he is always "you". On the one hand, I can see what Maine was trying to do, and I could even say she mostly succeeded. It puts us right in Rachael's head, and we see Merrick only through her eyes - this is always the case with first person voice, of course, but using second person intensifies this. It heightens the fact that they are two people alone on an island together, and makes Merrick a larger-than-life figure. He dominates her perception, her vision, her thoughts. It also positions them like they are going to battle, I vs. You. And it also gives the story the tone of a diary entry or a letter, or an inner monologue addressed solely to Merrick.
On your feet, you lean your elbows on the railing. Both hands run over your head, fingers gripping and sliding through your hair in frustration. "If I could go back to that night, I'd leave you alone and find a way to forget you. Nobody has ever distrusted me like you do. It's eating away at me. I can't fix it. I can't make you forget. You'll always think of me as the monster who abducted you." I swallow hard against the sob gathering in my throat. "You're not a monster." You let out an indignant snort and pound your fists against the railing. "I'll take you home." Your words are a slap to my conscience. Panic digs its fingernails into my spine. I'm on my feet and standing behind you in an instant. "No." You turn to me, your face a cocktail of guilt, surprise and reluctance. "I'll take you home, Rachael. You don't want to stay here with me." [...] I dive to me knees beside you, pulling your hands out of the basket so I can take them in mine. But you nudge me away from you. "I wanted you Rachael, and not as an employee." You grab the olives, sending them rolling over the blanket and deck. "You're right, I don't think. I act. I do whatever I need to, to get what I want. I fuck everything up - all the time. We were fucked before we had a chance to even begin." You reach in the basket, come out with a handful of chocolate cake and throw it against the side of the tree house. "Fuck." [pp. 107-8]
[Best display of emotional manipulation in this book: you're in the wrong, but you make the other person feel sorry for you by acting like this. The mix of acknowledging his wrongs and faults, insisting she be the one to initiate anything sexual between them, and the way he completely violated her - not sexually, but in every other way - makes for an uncomfortable read, when you're trying to balance sheer romance and an intriguing psychological dilemma with that inner instinct that's screaming "Wrong! It's all wrong!"]
The problem lies with the reader. When you read this, and you keep reading "you" all the time, of course it feels like she's talking to you, you-the-reader. And since I'm a woman, it is very disconcerting to be put into the shoes of a man, a billionaire, a walking penis, and a stalker and abductor. I really, really didn't like being in that place. At times my brain switched "you" to "him" or "he", but it doesn't work grammatically because the latter means verbs are pluralised, whereas "you" doesn't go with plurals. It was all very alienating, distracting and confusing.
On the up side, this is a very short book and a very quick read, though sprinkled liberally with typos (from its self-published days). There is a follow-up novella but I don't have much interest in reading it. The characters weren't ones I could readily identify with, and the scenario just didn't sit well with me. There were times when I enjoyed it, or certain scenes, especially the playful ones, but between the problems I had with the characters and the plot, and the use of second person (which I hope doesn't generate a new fad for using it, because I'm already sick to death of present tense!), this book wasn't very successful and failed to convince me that you can have a real, trusting, equal relationship with a man who once abducted you.(less)
Toni Lau hasn't been back to her home town on the coast of NSW for quite some time. After uni she secured a great job in London as an accountant at a...moreToni Lau hasn't been back to her home town on the coast of NSW for quite some time. After uni she secured a great job in London as an accountant at a big firm, along with her husband, Nick, but her marriage has ended and she's finally returned, planning to find work in Sydney. First, though, she has to see her parents, who run what used to be the only Chinese restaurant in Piper Bay - along with the Chan's - and her childhood friend, Dion Chan.
Dion has changed since she last spent time with him (he was at her wedding five years ago but she had eyes only for Nick - what a fool she was too!). He still doesn't seem any closer to settling down, but he's taken on the responsibility of running the restaurant, Happy Palace, beginning with a complete makeover and a revitalisation of the menu, returning to more authentic Cantonese roots. What Toni doesn't realise is that, after being caught smoking dope with his flatmates by his father, he drove down to Sydney University to see Toni and declare his feelings for her, only to see her making out with Nick instead. After that, he reassessed his life, went to Hong Kong to learn how to cook, and convinced his dad - and Toni's parents - to let him run the restaurant.
Now Toni's back in Dion's life, and he can't help but feel glad, relieved, that her marriage is over, that he might have a shot now. But Toni's only ever seen him as her friend, the attractive boy with a string of casual girlfriends and no interest in having a family. He'll do whatever it takes to convince her otherwise, but one thing he won't do is stand in her way of making a new career for herself in Sydney. He's smart enough to know that would only make him another Nick, someone for her to resent. But how can they make it work?
I am absolutely loving these romance e-books from Harlequin's Escape Publishing (and Penguin's Destiny Romance), all fairly short romances from Australian authors, many of them never published before. They are fresh and alive and familiar in tone and cultural references, something I've sorely missed these last, oh, ten years. I next have to try Random House Australia's romance imprint, Random Romance. When it's so hard to get Australian books overseas, these e-book imprints are a great idea. But that's enough promotion for now!
Short Soup was a breath of fresh air, truly it was, and I really enjoyed it. I don't think I've ever read a contemporary romance featuring Chinese characters before - well, Chinese-Australian, but you know what I mean. They have retained enough of their culture to be both different and familiar, like I knew them personally but still recognised them as, well, not white. I didn't get the sense that Kwan had utilised cultural stereotypes; hers is an honest, frank and open depiction of Chinese immigrants and their children, people who have been in the country for decades and are perfectly comfortable there, bridging the line between cultures. "Cultural identity" wasn't at issue here, which was great - that would have been too corny. Instead what we get is a very sweet romance between two genuine characters, people who really came alive for me.
Kwan writes very well, knowing just how to bring Toni and Dion to life - and their small-town life and history - without being repetitive or too introspective. She deftly created these characters with some well-written lines and suddenly, BAM! there they were in front of me. Well, inside my head, really. I loved following their story and feeling the chemistry, the sexual tension, build, and then watching how they sort it all out. And their parents were pretty funny, in a really endearing way. This isn't a funny novel per se, but there's definitely humour woven in, some of it in dialogue, some of it situational, some of it more subtle irony, but all of it contributing to that atmosphere and tone of freshness that I just love.
Short Soup is named after a Chinese dish, a wanton soup which you can find recipes for online, like this one. I confess I didn't get the reference though, or any double meaning - I'm just not clued into the Australian-Chinese culture for that - but I can see that their love story was sweet and just a bit spicy, as I imagine the soup is (I've never tried it). I like the title for its own sake, it just somehow captures the flavour of the story. I do wish it had been a bit longer - the ending felt a bit too, ah, convenient, like it was all just suddenly resolved, but mostly I just wanted to spend a bit more time with Toni and Dion. Dion was just lovely, I could picture him so clearly, and I think I have a bit of a crush actually. I liked Toni too, and nothing could have pleased me more than the way it worked out for them. I love stories like that, where you feel such immense satisfaction and pleasure at a happy ending because you came to feel like the characters were friends, people you care about. For such a short novel, that's quite the accomplishment! Will definitely keep an eye out for more stories from Kwan.(less)
Vera Cole is twenty-five and still recovering from having a heart transplant, after years of suffering the debilitating effects of a disease she inher...moreVera Cole is twenty-five and still recovering from having a heart transplant, after years of suffering the debilitating effects of a disease she inherited from her father, who already died of it. It's been about a year, and while her family and others in her town are still careful around her, Vera has overcome the guilt and depression she felt after the operation that saved her life, but she still suffers from a deep-seated self-consciousness and belief that men would find her repulsive once they see the large scar that runs down the centre of her chest. But Vera is not about to sit back and let life go on without her: the budding artist and sculptor has booked her flight to Spain where she'll live with an aunt for a year and study sculpting, and with just six weeks to go before she leaves, she can't wait.
Everything she felt certain about in her life is shaken when she meets Leeson Stone, her mentor Kelly's younger brother. Kelly died a month ago, leaving her art gallery in Melbourne empty, and Leeson has been looking for Vera, hoping she will take Kelly's place to keep the gallery going. Leeson is devastatingly handsome, a young and very successful entrepreneur with a big secret he's terrified will come out and ruin everything. Because of what he's hiding, he's never had a committed relationship with a woman, but his attraction to Vera - who is clearly hiding something herself - draws him back to her again and again. Having her stay in his little-used house in Melbourne for five weeks gives him ample opportunity to see her, and as their chemistry ratchets up hotter and hotter, everything Leeson thought was certain in life becomes shaken, too.
With her time in Leeson's gallery so short, Vera must make a decision to trust Leeson with her secret and brace herself against his rejection. But can Leeson make the same leap, and trust Vera in turn? Or will he risk a long future with the woman he's fallen in love with for the sake of a childhood shame that he's never overcome?
This romance e-book from Penguin's new imprint, Destiny Romance, won me over from the first line: "How much for the TARDIS?" I'm a huge Doctor Who fan, and the humorous references scattered throughout the story made me feel like I was in the hands of a very good friend. That was just the first little nod: I quickly became enamoured of this story for many reasons, and found it very hard to put down.
Since moving to Canada in 2006, I have read so many American novels and books with an American setting, I have to say it was refreshing and endearing to read a book set in my home country. It's not that there's a great deal of referencing to the setting here - it's a romance, after all, with a focus on the characters - but everything from the way they speak, their expressions and turns of phrase, to how they react to situations etc., is different from the American romances. I felt much more comfortable, reading this, than I ever have reading a contemporary romance set in America. It's just what you're used to, right? And I wouldn't say it was drastically different, not at all - it's subtle, I think, and I only noticed it because I hardly ever get to read Australian novels these days, while American ones dominate my shelves and reading lists. I don't at all mean to imply anything negative by this, it's more an observation and a reminder of just how different English-speaking Western countries really are from each other.
That aside, the characters, the story and the romance were key elements in cementing my enjoyment of Uncovered By Love. Ash writes smoothly and articulately, wasting neither words nor time on padding of any kind, focusing her astute eye on these troubled individuals who together find the strength to face life without ducking and hiding. Romance novels always revolve around conflict of some kind - conflict and/or obstacles (sometimes one word works better than the other). Ash deftly balances Vera and Leeson's personal obstacles, their secrets and the barriers these create within themselves, as well as the conflict generated by the resulting trust issue.
I could completely sympathise - empathise even - with both Vera and Leeson, even though I've never suffered from either of their problems (I won't tell you Leeson's, don't want to give everything away!). It's a fine achievement in writing this kind of story, when you can create characters that you can relate to no matter how different they are from readers, and personal, inner conflict that has readers both sympathising with them and yet also urging them to take a leap of faith and move on. I had that with Vera and Leeson - I could completely understand why they were keeping things hidden, and why they had trust issues, but I also desperately wanted them to reach out to each other. This nice balance was achieved through the great chemistry that exists between them, and a fleshed-out sense of humanity in both their characters.
Their conversations were often full of witty banter, which I very much enjoyed, and the novel also touches on class issues and disparity of wealth. While the focus is very much on the two main characters and their personal lives, we get to see enough of their working world to get a three-dimensional picture of them, and see how their individual principles and work ethics carry out in a broader sphere. It's just enough to satisfy my curiosity, at least.
I didn't mark any pages while I was reading this because I was too caught up in the story and wanting to see how it was resolved. Which is another thing I liked: the ending wasn't a drawn-out melodrama. It is of course based on a misunderstanding, as romance novels often are, a very believable misunderstanding and both of them handle it very maturely, I felt. The resolution is likewise free of self-indulgent dramatics (if there's one thing I hate in fiction, it's self-indulgence); it's refreshingly simple and clean and quite beautiful for it. Granted, part of me wanted a longer ending, to spend more time with them, but that's just because I was enjoying it so much.
Uncovered By Love emphasises chemistry and sexual tension over graphic descriptions of sex, but where there is sex, it's nice and simple and as far as I can remember, never corny or cliched. Though there was a moment where I thought we were getting the famous scene out of Ghost, which I'm sure Ash purposely, jokingly intended. The sense of humour that balanced the darker issues inherent in the characters' secrets was nicely done. I also loved Jayden, one of Vera's twelve-year-old twin brothers, and the close bond they shared. For a minor character, he certainly made his presence felt!
This is a really lovely romance story, the kind of story that makes me want to use the cliche "heart-warming" in all sincerity. Ash's ability to write drama without being melodramatic wins major points from me, and I loved how naturally her characters grew up and matured. They felt like real people, with real problems, even if the hero was a multi-millionaire as romance heroes so often are. The fact that Leeson's success and the emphasis he placed on monetary wealth were all important facets of his character made it much more interesting and original. Highly recommended.
My thanks to the publisher via Netgalley for a copy of this book.(less)
Cora has had enough of being alone. Now that her father is dead, she has no family left, no boyfriend, and no one to spend Christmas with, and she's n...moreCora has had enough of being alone. Now that her father is dead, she has no family left, no boyfriend, and no one to spend Christmas with, and she's never felt so lonely. It's September now, and she comes to a decision: she will take matters into her own hands, meet a man, and have someone to spend Christmas with. And, hopefully, the rest of her life, too.
The night she stays up doing "research" - poring over romance books and movies - her loud music brings her downstairs neighbour, Matt, up to complain. They've never met before, but soon Matt is hearing all about "the man plan" - a safe person to talk to, since Cora quickly learns he doesn't commit and has no interest in finding a woman to love and stay with.
Their friendship takes off from there. Cora finds it easy to talk to Matt and share her ideas for meeting men, and doesn't mind when he laughs at her - like when she pretends she can't change a tyre while wearing skimpy shorts, waiting for a man to offer assistance. And Matt enjoys spending time with Cora, hanging out on the weekends, making her dinner - she's a low maintenance friend, a woman who's not trying to get into his pants. Their feelings for each other creep up unnoticed, and, they each think, unreciprocated. Worse, they both think there's no point. Cora understands that Matt could never offer her what she wants, what she needs. And Matt, an only child, still suffers from the emotional and verbal abuse of his parents, who hate each other and drag their son into their conflicts. With role models like that, he doesn't even think he's capable of having a real relationship.
It will take a leap of faith from both of them to not let this chance go, to take a risk and leap together.
Quite simply, I LOVED this book. It had everything I liked and plenty I didn't even know I liked. Maybe I don't read enough contemporary romance, but it was fresh and, while staying true to the genre, deviated from many typical cliches. Matt was no billionaire, for a start. He's a hard-working middle class man, a project manager for a construction company. His parents are middle class too, though they way they speak to each other, and to him, makes them sound incredibly vulgar and lower class. Cora, likewise, is middle class, working as an editor at a publishing house. This puts them on equal footing from the beginning. Money isn't an obstacle or a sticking point. An abundance of it doesn't give Matt a position of authority over Cora. No, they're just two adults who live in a low-rise apartment building in Port Melbourne, the kind of people that Melbourne is full of (especially in the suburbs around the bay), and this is the fun and lively story of two of them meeting.
One of the things I loved about this book was its tone. Ackers writes with a light, friendly, bantering kind of tone, setting an atmosphere that is so welcoming, warm and, why not: cuddly. The kind of story you can snuggle with, a real comfort read. It connects with your emotions without being at all melodramatic or manipulative, and is realistic and familiar in setting, plot and characters which makes it easy to simply enjoy it for its own sake. It's well grounded in the familiar, with popular culture references and a running Superman joke. There's also humour here, with light banter between Matt and Cora, and some of the characters are funny in the way they're described. Matt continuously makes fun of Cora, calling her crazy because of her man plan, and in true Aussie style, she goes along with it, giving as good as she gets.
She watched him, too surprised to comment. He dumped the pan int he sink, ran the water for a moment then helped himself to the cutlery drawer. Seconds later, he was pressing the bowl into her hands, a fork poking out of the top. She gazed down at the spaghetti bolognese. "Are we sharing?" He laughed. "No. That's just for you." "Where's yours?" "Are you kidding? I don't want to have dinner with you. You're as nuts as they come; you'd probably think it meant something and then go ahead and fall in love with me." "You're safe there," she muttered, stung yet amused. "I'd never fall in love with someone like you." "Someone like me?" "A hopeless case. What's the point of falling in love on your own?" "I couldn't agree more. And on that note, I'm out of here."
It was so much fun, watching their friendship grow, seeing Matt become increasingly jealous of the men Cora does meet, yet in such good-natured denial about his own feelings. He doesn't agonise over it, his turmoil isn't belaboured, there's just enough self-reflection to flesh him out and get the reader on the same page, without boring you. Certainly there are men out there who are like Matt without having any kind of reason for it, it's just their lifestyle of choice and I don't know, maybe they're just inherently selfish. While there are other romance books where the male lead is reluctant to commit because of his parents' example (like Jennifer Probst's The Marriage Bargain, as a recent example), but the fact that Matt's parents are just so ordinary in every other way, and whose horribleness is so believable without the artificial gloss of wealth - everyday people are much more relatable, rather than alienating, and this was, overall, one of the things I loved the most about this book.
It didn't hurt that I loved Cora and Matt. Cora is grieving over the loss of her father, but turns her loneliness into a positive plan for action, rather than wallowing. She's frank and open about it, and her motivations are believable, understandable, and make her very human.
"... I want someone for me. Just for me. Who gives a damn if they don't hear from me during the day, who calls me with their news. I want to be someone's top priority." She pressed her thumb and forefinger to her closed eyes and sighed. "I know it sounds like a lot to ask, but it's really not. I just want to be the one for someone. I want to be a part of something bigger than me." He was quiet for so long that she lifted her head and opened her eyes. "This Man Plan..." he said, trailing off. "Feminists might hate me for saying it, but I need a man. If a man loves me, he might marry me. If he marries me, we might have kids." "You want to build a family for yourself." She nodded. "Exactly. My parents met when they were toddlers. My mother once pushed mud into my dad's mouth. They went through school together and became a couple at my mum's fourteenth birthday party. They completed each other, you know? They were all either of them ever needed and they took on the world together. I want that. Even to be a fraction as happy as they were would be a dream come true."
And that is, of course, the point of romance fiction, why it's the biggest selling genre of all genres: the fantasy - if it even is a fantasy - lives strongly within us. Because very few people actually like being alone. Matt thinks he does, he likes his life, but after spending so much time with Cora - on outings and hanging out that, to anyone but those two, looks clearly like they're a couple - his life starts to feel increasingly empty without her. There was good solid chemistry between them, a slow-burning sexual tension, one that isn't satisfied until the very end - and no graphic content (if you like romance but don't like the sex scenes, you might be interested to hear that).
And finally, I loved the conversation between Will and Cora at the end, that made her take that risk, to take a chance on Matt.
"Tell me this: do you think he is incapable of love?" "No." "Then do you believe that when - yes, when he falls in love with you - that he'll do it to whatever capacity he can?" Something light and ticklish fluttered in her stomach. She pressed a hand there to stop it. "Yes." He nodded. "Isn't that enough? Isn't that all we can ask of anyone - to love us with all that they are?" Her hand found her mouth. "I'm being an idiot, aren't I?" "No, Cora. You're just taking a breath before you take the biggest chance of your life. [...] Don't do this if you're hoping to change him." She blinked up at her old friend, aghast. But then she considered this more deeply. Will waited in silence, understanding the gravity of the moment, then he smiled when he saw something new in her eyes. "He's perfect as he is." "Right answer."
Yep. I completely adored this book.
My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book via Netgalley. (less)
In Dr Chandler's Sleeping Beauty, Dr Katherine "Kitty" Cargill has come to Sydney for a three month appointment in the emergency department to give h...moreIn Dr Chandler's Sleeping Beauty, Dr Katherine "Kitty" Cargill has come to Sydney for a three month appointment in the emergency department to give herself time to recover from her fiance's betrayal with her best friend and the end of a relationship that dates back to childhood. Her first meeting with Dr Jack Chandler, the head of the department, doesn't go well and the two seem to instantly dislike each other. But they're also drawn to each other, attracted by looks and the thrill of going at each other - and they're neighbours, living in the same townhouse complex near Bondi Beach, and keep running into each other outside of work too.
But Jack's never hidden the fact that he's not interested in a relationship, preferring one-night-stands and short flings, and Kitty's still bitter and resentful about her best friend Sophie sleeping with her boyfriend, Charles - and to top it off, Sophie's asked her to be her maid of honour at their wedding. They both have personal obstacles to overcome; can they take open their eyes to see what's right in front of them before it's too late?
In Her Christmas Eve Diamond, Cassidy Rae returns to her post as the formidable dragon lady in charge of the nurses in her ward at a hospital in Glasgow after seeing her gran settled into a care home, to find three new doctors in the ward - and one of them, registrar Brad Donovan, takes it upon himself to charm the nurse into friendship. As Christmas - Cassidy's favourite time of year - nears, her relationship with Brad only strengthens, until he tells her about his little girl, a daughter he had with another doctor back in Sydney who he's been trying to find ever since the mother disappeared with her, possibly to America.
Knowing that Brad isn't going to stick around once he finds his daughter, Cassidy despairs - after all, she has no intention of leaving Scotland, no interest in living anywhere else. Can they find a middle ground, a way to stay together without compromising the things they love most in the world?
I've never read a Medical Romance before, and it not something I ever saw myself reading either. I don't remember where I came across this, possibly on an e-newsletter late last year, and at the time it appealed. I thought both stories were going to be set in Australia, which was one reason why I wanted to read it, another being a possible Christmas theme (I got this in December last year). The first story is an Australian one, while the second, even though it has an Australian character, is British.
I didn't mind the medical setting, even though some of the details - people's job titles for example - were over my head; I'm pretty well practiced at simply ignoring details I don't understand. As Mills & Boon stories, I was surprised at how little graphic content they contained - they were almost (but not quite) PG rather than MA. The sex was disappointing mostly in how it was described rather than quantity - it was quite dull. The only thing that actually stood out to me is how, in the first story, he puts on a condom before she gives him fellatio. Now, the first thing that makes me think is how disgusting that would be, as the woman, and secondly: Jesus, just how many STDs does he have that he needs a condom for a blowjob?! Let me discuss these stories separately now, as they're quite different.
Dr Chandler's Sleeping Beauty has nothing to do with the fairy tale, just in case you were wondering. If Kitty is a sleeping beauty, it metaphorical only: she needs to be woken up, to see things differently. But so too does Jake Chandler. He's your classic Mills & Boon hero: a womaniser - a slut, if you will, though I don't like to give that word any credit - and arrogant to boot. He's a doctor, not a millionaire, but he has the attitude of one. I didn't find him to be an attractive character which was part of my problem in connecting to this story - the other being Kitty herself, who didn't strike me as very bright and I couldn't see what the attraction was except for her cleavage. How am I supposed to believe people like Jack and Kitty fall in love with each other in just a few months when, rather than give me any reason to believe in it, you've gone out of your way to make them quite unloveable? I wasn't able to buy into it, it was just too forced and contrived.
Her Christmas Eve Diamond was more interesting and a bit different, and I liked Cassidy a lot more than I liked Kitty. More importantly, Brad was very likeable, very honourable, a real dear in fact. Only problem was that, funnily enough, he lost his sex appeal along the way. The two are not mutually exclusive, but there wasn't enough focus on the romance/sex side of the story, the relationship/family drama/character side took precedence instead. I normally wouldn't mind, but for as strong as Cassidy and Brad's friendship was, they lacked chemistry. I mostly just empathised with Brad losing his daughter like that - that would be so horrible, his ex sounds like a right cow, it's not like he was abusive or anything but she acts like he's a bad man. Though he's a bit of an idiot for not setting up formal custody rights at the very beginning. The romance is a bit of a side issue, the focus being more on Brad finding his daughter and Cassidy learning not to be afraid of living in other places.
Of the two, Her Christmas Eve Diamond was the one I liked more, it had atmosphere and a good sense of setting - it's winter and the hospital is freezing, and most of their patients are old people who can't afford to turn the heater on and nearly die of hypothermia - and focused on developing the characters. But neither of the stories offered the kind of emotional intensity or sexual chemistry - let alone tension - that I appreciate in romance fiction, and that made this a disappointing read.(less)
The Bite Before Christmas contains two novellas, "The Gift" by Lynsay Sands (Argeneau #15.5) and "Home for the Holidays" by Jeaniene Frost (Night Hunt...moreThe Bite Before Christmas contains two novellas, "The Gift" by Lynsay Sands (Argeneau #15.5) and "Home for the Holidays" by Jeaniene Frost (Night Huntress #6.5).
In "The Gift", Port Henry's middle aged bachelor police chief, Teddy Brunswick, gladly accepts Margeurite Argeneau's offer of her cottage in Muskoka to avoid being alone and pitied on Christmas. But the morning after he arrives, he wakes up to find that a storm has taken out the power, his truck is completely snowed in (even the door handle is frozen), and a fallen tree has blocked the road. He has no food and his mobile phone needs recharging - all he has is a fireplace and some heat.
When he treks out to the road to survey the damage, he encounters a lovely young woman called Katricia, who is also alone and borrowing the neighbouring cottage which belongs to friends of hers (Mortimer and Sam, from The Rogue Hunter). She has loads of food but no heat, so they decide to pool resources. Tricia brings over the food, something she didn't think she'd need since she hasn't been interested in eating for centuries - but now that she's met her life mate, Teddy, it's one of the things that's returned to her.
Like all her kind, she'd despaired of ever meeting her life mate, and now here he is - and they're confined to a cottage on a lake for a few days. It seems the perfect situation to Tricia, but Teddy is fifty and thinks he's way too old for her, and that his attraction to her is a little creepy. But he knows about her kind, coming from Port Henry where immortals are a kind of half-open secret, so Katricia has every hope that he'll welcome the idea. She just has to find the right moment to tell him.
"Home for the Holidays" begins with a surprise birthday celebration for Bones, organised by his loving wife Cat, to which all the old crowd is invited (their main paranormal crew is there except for Vlad - Ian, Spade, Fabian, Elisabeth, Denise, Mencheres, Kira and Annette). Annette is late to the party, though, and when Ian goes to her hotel to fetch her, he finds her being assailed by an unknown man, the room covered in blood. The assailant flees out the window and Annette is strangely reticent in giving Bones any information.
That night, a stranger breaches their property, a vampire in a frilly shirt who calls himself Wraith and claims to be Bone's half-brother, and a loner whose Sire is dead. Bones is sceptical, but hopeful, for he's never known where he came from. But soon after Wraith is welcomed into the house, Cat notices something strange. Everyone except her, Denise and Ian are entranced by the vampire as he tells long-winded story after long-winded story. When Bones completely loses interest in Cat and doesn't show any of his usual reactions towards her, she becomes as worried as Ian. The two of them have to work together to figure out what's going on and how to fix it, before Bones is lost to her forever.
I enjoyed both of these stories a great deal, though "Home for the Holidays" was the stronger one - and glad I was of it too, since the last Cat and Bones book I read was pretty disappointing for me.
"The Gift" was a fun read, returning to the lighter early books in the series in tone, with no dark sub-plots, just a scenario that brings together two people and gives them time to explore things. Interestingly, after Teddy is turned (not a spoiler, since of course he's turned) and becomes young again - about twenty-five - I found myself missing the Teddy I'd come to know, the older man facing retirement. Of course it changes things, getting your youth back, and if this were a longer story, or a work of speculative fiction rather than romance, it could have become a very dark story, if Teddy wasn't as lovely as he is. But I really liked him, so it was easy to be happy for him and to smile at his sudden youthful enthusiasm. Still, when you fall in love with a person, having them suddenly lose decades would make me feel like I was now stuck with someone I didn't know. Interesting thought, anyway.
Overall, it was great getting back to Canada and a quieter, more light-hearted story in the Argeneau series.
With "Home for the Holidays", Frost struck gold, creating a neat, tight story, plenty of action, a situation that seemed unsolvable (Kresley Cole has turned me into a fan of these kinds of twisted plots!), and Cat gets to seriously kick arse, again. Plus, you will actually like Ian in this story, since he gets to act hero without losing his crude and irreverent sense of humour.
More than that, though, we learn more about Bones' lineage and past, and that glimpse of repressed hope that Cat sees in his eyes when Wraith dangles the long-lost-brother card makes your heart break a bit. The ghosts get some good air time too, action-wise, which I always love, since the vampires always ignore and underestimate them. And on the romance front, there are some lovely intense scenes between Cat and Bones - not the sex, interestingly enough, but before that.
Overall, a winning novella in the Night Huntress world that reinvigorates my previously waning love for the series.(less)