What I’ve been reading on my holiday

Three Amazing Things About You by Jill Mansell
I don’t know how long I’ve been reading Jill Mansell but I do remember that it began with a free book that came with a magazine. That was Perfect Timing. I’ve read everything she’s written, and although I have my favourites, there are very few of hers that I haven’t enjoyed. Romance readers should be warned that these are (British-style) chick lit, and that although the books always end on a positive note, they do not always conform to the expectations of the romance genre. This book definitely does not.

Three Amazing Things follows three more or less separate storylines: Flo and Zander, Tasha and Rory, Hallie and Luke. Although their lives brush past each other occasionally, it’s not until almost the end of the book that the three parts come together, and although there are signals about how this might happen, it’s still worth reading for the way that Mansell executes the finale.

Hallie is the central character. She has CF and is on the waiting list for a lung transplant. I wished more than anything that Hallie did not have to wait until after her transplant for her romantic fulfilment, though I did appreciate that she had multiple men interested in her. The scene with the ex was my least favourite in the book because I think it was the one where she was treated as a Super Special Unicorn. No other single woman in Hallie’s situation would have asked for and been allowed to behave in that way.

The other thing I wished for was that the Evil Woman in the book had been a bit less one-dimensional. Deeply rounded characters aren’t really Mansell’s speciality but in Lena’s case it wouldn’t have taken much to make her a more sympathetic character. But still, I enjoyed the book and Mansell will remain on the auto-buy list.

Once Upon A Rose by Laura Florand
Florand is a much more recent addition to my auto-buy list, but no less beloved. I adore her gruff, sexy French heroes. Her new series is based in the south of France, rather than Paris, and focuses on the perfume industry, rather than chocolate. But the descriptions are as lush and lyrical as ever and the hero is just as good at putting his heart out there through his work. I love how Florand’s novels stay away from high drama and deep angst. Everything is internal – Matt’s deep love for his valley, his insecurity round his cousins, his need to fix problems; Layla’s fears for her career, her lack of roots, her instinctive desire for Matt. I love a man who gets so flustered round a woman that he forgets how a t-shirt works. Someone on twitter said they were looking forward to Tristan and Damien’s books, and so am I, but I am looking forward to Lucien’s even more.

Playing by the Greek’s Rules by Sarah Morgan
Much as I enjoy Morgan’s single title romances, I adore her categories and I’m so happy to see this new one. It has all the hallmarks of her best books – an adorable heroine who likes to talk a lot and about everything, a tough hero with a strongly protective side and a sense of humour, a complicated family background, and a good grovel at the end. I enjoyed the banter between Nik and Lily a lot, and I believed in their happy ever after. When Lily’s explaining to Nik why she wants a real relationship, she tells him that she wants to be someone’s favourite person. For me, that summed up exactly what it feels like to be a single person. You can have lots of great, close friends, and even family, but you don’t ever get to come first with someone. You’re never the top priority.

I did think that the set up was unnecessarily complex – Lily is a cleaner, and an intern at Nik’s company, and and archaeologist working on a dig. And I didn’t completely get Lily’s background. She’s British, but it seemed like she went to college in the US, in which case she’d either have had a full scholarship or had to pay up front. She wouldn’t have had college loans because she wouldn’t have been eligible for them. Maybe I misread and she went to university in the UK, in which case I’m not sure how she’d made so many US friends and spent so much time there. Hmmm.

Still, I’m not reading M&B’s for strict adherence to reality and I was perfectly able to suspend my disbelief long enough to enjoy this, and I’m sure I’ll be re-reading it.

Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist by M.C.Beaton
This was in the holiday cottage and since I failed to bring any paper books with me, I took it to read while sitting in the hot tub. It’s fine. If you’ve read any Agatha Raisin you’ll know exactly what to expect, although this particular volume has the added interest of being set in Cyprus rather than the Cotswolds.

Someone on KBoards recently suggested that cosy mysteries didn’t have murder in them. I can only assume he’d never read one. And if you’ve never read one I can see why you might think that. Murder is not cosy. And yet… cosy mysteries are an extremely popular genre. I don’t read a lot of detective fiction these days, but I still understand the appeal. It makes crime a less scary thing. It makes the world a less scary place. Even murder becomes almost domestic in this sort of world. And of course the murderer is always caught and justice is served. That doesn’t happen in real life but it’s comfortin sometimes to escape to a world where even murder can be reduced to an interesting puzzle.

Faith Seeking Understanding by Kevin Vanhoozer
I’ve enjoyed and profited from a Vanhoozer’s academic works in the past so I was pleased to see that he’d written something aimed at the popular market. Well, kind of. If you’re okay with 50 endnotes to each chapter, complex philosophical ideas and specialist language throughout, then this will be fine. I was hoping for something that I could actually recommend to people at my church, but I don’t think this is it. To be honest, I think if you can read this, you could easily read his other books. Which is a shame, because I think Vanhoozer’s ideas have a lot of value for thinking about how doctrine needs to be enacted in the life of the church.

Lessons in French by Laura Kinsale read by Nicholas Boulton
I’ve read this before but I wanted an audiobook for the long drive and I’m so ridiculously cautious about them that I didn’t want to take the risk on a title I didn’t know I’d like. Anyway, I’m very much enjoying it again and I like the narration a lot. He doesn’t over-act but it’s still very easy to follow.

balloon
Not a book, but another holiday activity which I have thoroughly enjoyed: this jigsaw. I do use a variety of techniques when doing a jigsaw, such as sorting (edge pieces, sky pieces), and testing (trying pieces to fill a particular gap). But my very favourite is when you can take a piece, compare it with the box and find the specific place to put it straight in. This jigsaw is perfect for that. I did the yellow first and then enjoyed myself enormously with the patchwork balloon. Highly recommended.

A little spring cleaning

For a while, I’ve been aware that my website didn’t display well on mobile devices, tablets etc. So I’ve finally got round to changing the theme to a responsive one and doing a little bit of other tidying up around the place.

Please do let me know if you have any problems with the site. It’s helpful if you can specify what device you’re using (laptop, phone, tablet etc.) and what browser you’re using (Chrome, IE, Firefox, Safari etc.), but even if you’re not sure about that information, it’s still worth letting me know what the problem is. I can’t promise I can fix everything, but I’ll try!

2015

2015

I’m not much of a one for resolutions, but I do like to have some plans and goals. Here are some things that I’m thinking about for 2015:

1. Read one BFB a month.
2. Publish one new thing on my other website each month.
3. Work out a system for keeping the house generally cleaner and tidier. And then do it.
4. Write two more Regency serials.
5. Write two contemporary category length books.
6. Find a publisher for the non-fiction Christian book I want to write.
7. No knitting for other people.
8. Work out a better system for budgeting and be more financially solvent by the end of the year.
9. Start doing morning pages again.

I have printed out some of the weekly project planners from here, and I’m hoping that they will help with knowing what I want to be working on when and making better use of time. I want my time off to feel properly relaxing and that means getting my work time under better control.

Some of the best things that happened for me in 2014

Some of the best things that happened for me in 2014

In no particular order and certainly not an exhaustive list:

1. The Best Holiday in the History of Holidays Ever including…
1a. Meeting some of my twitter friends;
1b. Shopping at Mood;
1c. The Charles James exhibition at the Met;
1d. ICELAND;
1e. CRUISE including…
1f. Swimming in the outdoor pool on the ship in the middle of the Atlantic.
2. Getting my PhD.
3. Finally getting An Unsuitable Husband out.
4. Working with Karen Dale Harris on Island Fling.
5. Launching the new website.
6. Learning that a new niece is on the way.
7. Being asked to be a bridesmaid.
8. Winning a new sewing machine!
9. Going to the life drawing classes.
10. Olivia Waite’s series of blog posts in April.
11. BFB readalongs, especially the Hilary Mantel books.
12. More opportunities to do the kind of teaching I really love, at church and in other places.
13. Yarndale.

Not to mention the many excellent ongoing blessings of great friends, a great job working with great people, a beautiful place to live, generally good health.

I know 2014 was a terrible year for a lot of people, and it hasn’t been unalloyed pleasure for me. But I’m grateful to be able to look back and have so many wonderful things to remember.

New covers, new titles, new books!

New covers for old books:
photographers-irresistible-  tcw-cover

tempsec-cover

Aren’t they pretty? I’ve been going through my back catalogue, updating the covers and these are the latest. The Boss’s Temporary Secretary is the new name for Reckless Runaway at the Racecourse and The Photographer’s Irresistible Model is the new name for Flirting with the Camera. I’m still deciding what to do about the anthology covers but all the individual titles now have their new look.

Entangled have also given me a new cover for All I Want For Christmas:
aiwfc new cover Pretty!

I do have one properly new book:
traitor-cover
It’s available for preorder on Amazon now and will be at other places soon. It will be on sale from Dec 24th. The preorder price of 99c will go up to $3.99 in the new year, so buy early, buy cheap!

The compilation volume of An Offer She Can’t Refuse is available now and I should have the first part of my next serial on sale next week.

Traitor in the Sheikh’s Bed

traitor-cover
Mariyeh Karimi is getting married. To Sheikh Salim of Abuqir. A man she’s never met but already hates. Not because they want to. Not because they are in love. No, this marriage is all about political alliances and military threats. So Mariyeh is entering this marriage with eyes wide open and mouth tightly shut. She’s marrying Salim to spy on him and seduce him into sharing political secrets. Only she’s not a good spy and she’s even worse at seduction.

Salim doesn’t care who he’s marrying, just as long as he can take the throne of Abuqir away from his father before he thrusts their country into a pointless war with their neighbours. It’s a shock to discover his innocent little bride spying on him, but that’s just the first revelation. After a lifetime of being shielded from power and responsibility, both are suddenly thrust upon him and Salim is rushing to catch up.

He needs to protect his people, prevent an unnecessary war, and win the loyalty of his treacherous little wife. Winning her love will be an unexpected bonus.

Now available for pre-order on Amazon US | Amazon UK

Excerpt

Sheikh Salim presented his offer with such a cool lack of emotion that Mariyeh actually shivered. To say it was a proposal would imply an element of romance which was wholly absent from their negotiation. No, this was a proposition. A business transaction. And it wasn’t even directed towards her. The sheikh was negotiating with Mariyeh’s brother, Shah Zayd, ruler of the small country of Kurastan. Mariyeh was no more involved in the discussions than the vast marble-topped table between them.

Mariyeh gripped the seat of her chair and tried not to mind being spoken of as if she weren’t in the room. She’d never been the kind of girl to dream of the romantic fairytale. She hadn’t wanted a handsome prince to sweep her off her feet. Mariyeh had always preferred the exciting tales, the ones with fire-breathing dragons, marauding armies and heroic deeds of courage. And in Mariyeh’s childish fantasies, the glorious moment of victory belonged to her. She didn’t sit around waiting for a man to ride in and slay her dragon. No, she’d wield her own sword and save the people herself. But in the fantasies, she’d never had to marry the monster.

The adult Mariyeh was learning that sometimes dragons came in human form, sitting in the Council Chamber, wearing all the appearance of sophisticated civility. He might not have come with a marauding army, but the supporting ranks of politicians behind him made a chilling substitute as they negotiated a truce between the two nations. A political alliance with a very personal involvement, to be ratified on the day when Sheikh Salim, the Crown Prince of Abuqir was married to Mariyeh. Her marriage would be the heroic act of courage that would protect the people of her beloved Kurastan.

So this wasn’t a good time for Mariyeh to discover that she wasn’t quite as brave as she’d once blithely assumed.

Never let the enemy see your fear.

It was a silly thing, a line that her online gaming friends said to each other before launching an attack on another tribe. But now, facing the man she was going to marry, with her chest tightening against every breath, and her knuckles gripping blue-white, she was surprised to find that it helped. However scared she felt, she wasn’t about to let Sheikh Salim see it. Taking her cue from the politicians around the table, Mariyeh forced her features into an emotionless facade. She relaxed her shoulders and silently counted her breaths, keeping them slow and even. Her fingers uncurled and she rested them on the table, unconcerned, unafraid.

Until she made the mistake of risking a glance in his direction. Deep, dark eyes met hers with a cynical glint that sent her gaze skittering away and set her heart racing. Swiftly, she looked away, and clasped her hands on her lap so that no one could see them trembling.

The crisp white robes he wore only served to emphasise the strong masculinity of his features: sharp-cut cheekbones, a dark beard, and a large, hooked beak of a nose. Mariyeh didn’t wonder that women from a dozen countries or more chased after Salim. The pictures she’d seen online and in the security files hadn’t done him justice. On the page he was handsome. In person, he was overwhelming.

She steeled herself to take another look. In two days’ time she would be married to this man. She would be alone with him. Naked with him. She had to be able to look at him without being reduced to a quivering wreck.

He was still watching her, but something in his expression had softened slightly. As she reached for her glass of water, she thought she saw the hint of a curve at the corners of his mouth. Was he smiling at her? Did that mean the dragon was human, after all?

Heat rose in her cheeks. No man had looked at her like that in years. Not that
she had wanted them to. She hadn’t wanted to be the object of any man’s desire. Content with her teaching job and her circle of online friendships, she hadn’t needed anything more intimate. Only now, Sheikh Salim had smiled at her, just barely, and her pulse was skipping and her mouth was dry. With fear, certainly, but also with an unsettling desire that was bringing back all kinds of memories Mariyeh would rather have kept hidden.

She took another gulp of water and tried to think about it rationally. She was going to be married to this man. More than that, she was going to be in his bed. Desire for one’s husband wasn’t a bad thing. Not even in a marriage such as this. They were going to have to have sex and it would surely be better if they both found it a pleasurable experience.

Better for Kurastan, too. Mariyeh remembered the agonisingly awkward training session she’d had with one of the female intelligence officers. Seduction techniques to get a lover to spill political secrets. Ways to distract him during important conversations so that he didn’t realise she’d been listening to every word.

Her meeting with the IT team had been a whole lot less uncomfortable and much more interesting. They’d shown her how to install keylogging software that would give the Kurastani officers direct access to Salim’s computer. She’d memorised the keycodes for sending encrypted messages back to Kurastan. It had been fun to crack the challenges they’d set her, though she guessed it wouldn’t feel quite like that when she was doing it for real.

Ever since the marriage had first been proposed, the Kurastani intelligence service had been gathering information on her future home and husband. Every night she’d studied the dossiers they gave her, learning that Salim preferred sweet foods, that he excelled in languages, but achieved only mediocre grades in mathematics at school, that his great passion was horses and his favoured pastime was polo.

When she’d asked why she needed to know such trivial details, Zayd had told her simply, “Information is power. It is impossible to know in advance what piece of information will be needed. Perhaps the password to his computer is the name of one of his horses.”

Mariyeh had flicked through a few more pages of the report. “No, it’s A78czJ4217. Good choice. Only a fool would choose the name of a pet.”

Zayd had rolled his eyes at her. “Only a geek would choose a password that’s impossible to remember.”

“I can remember it.”

“My point, exactly.”

Passwords were one thing, but the reports had contained endless minutiae about Salim’s favourite books, the names of his former girlfriends, the colour of his underwear. Well. Public speakers were supposed to imagine their audience in their underwear in order to help overcome stage fright. And perhaps it did help a little bit to know that under all his robes, the man looking down on her from the other side of the table was wearing black Calvin Kleins. He was just a man, after all, not a monster.

The studying had been the easy part for Mariyeh. She’d always enjoyed reading, learning, passing exams. But that wasn’t going to be enough in this situation. If she was going to be effective in passing on intelligence of real significance, she was going to have to convince Salim to trust her with his secrets.

“Seduce him,” Zayd had said, with a little grin. “Make him believe you have fallen in love with him.”

She’d choked on her drink and told him, “I think you’ve picked the wrong person for that. I have no experience with men.”

It was almost true. She didn’t have any experience that she could tell her brother about and none that was relevant. One disastrous night at a gaming convention while she was a student had hardly equipped her to seduce a man like the sheikh. Her one and only lover would laugh at the very idea of it.

“Nevertheless, you are a woman and a beautiful one, ya danaaya.” Zayd had tried to reassure her. “You can do this. Once he trusts you, he will not guard his tongue in your presence. We need this. We need to know what they are planning.”

She gritted her teeth again at the thought of it. Zayd could not know how much he was asking of her, nor how unlikely she was to succeed.

Mariyeh hoped it would be different this time. She was older now, and even if she didn’t have any more sexual experience, she did have a better understanding. She’d done a lot of reading, and if nothing else worked, she had a better motivation to fake it. Her country needed her to do this. To face her dragons. The ones inside her as well as the one sitting opposite her.

On the other side of the table, the elderly cleric cleared his throat. The politicians came to attention as the mullah first addressed Sheikh Salim, with all due deference.

“Will you give your consent to this marriage?”

Looking down his hooked nose, the sheikh shrugged slightly as he replied, “I will.”

Mariyeh took a deep breath and remembered the role that had been scripted for her: naive, biddable, unobservant. A woman who would pose no threat to Sheikh Salim or to his country. So she put on her blandest smile and turned to the mullah, when he addressed the same question to her.

“Yes, I give my consent.”

Knitsonik stranded colourwork project

I heard about the Knitsonik book ages ago, but I was a bit wary of it. I’d never really understood Felicity Ford’s connection between knitting and sound, and I wasn’t at all sure I needed a book of stranded colourwork patterns based on bricks or leaves or whatever. But now that it’s out and after I’d read a couple of reviews of it, I realised that this wasn’t quite the book I’d imagined. So I ordered it, and I’m so glad I did!

It’s a bit shorter than I’d imagined, but the pages are beautifully printed and the images are amazing. The book it most reminds me of is Kaffe Fassett’s Glorious Inspiration, which is full of beautiful pictures of all kinds of things and shows how he translates images into needlepoint. I love that book so much. And I think the Knitsonik book will become equally beloved. It’s mostly about colour and pattern which are two of my favourite things in the world. Also it’s about colouring in graph paper, which is excellent. And, yes, it’s about knitting.

There are knitting patterns (two) and colourwork charts (not sure how many), but they are not the point of the book. This is not a book for following instructions to end up with a particular garment. This is a book helping you work through a design process in a really fun way. So I thought I would attempt to follow her process and document my results here on the blog. The first step is to find your inspiration.

Ford is very keen on finding inspiration in your own location and its history. That’s fine, but actually the method works wherever you like to take inspiration, and I could have done with slightly less pontificating on finding links with the people who used to live and work where you do now, and such like. YMMV.

Anyway, in the spirit of the book, I’ve taken inspiration from my house.

knitsonik-003

My house has beautiful walls which are excellent for insulation and rubbish for keeping mice out. I cleared away vast quantities of a sprawling clematis a couple of weeks ago and discovered that underneath it, some of my geraniums (yes, I know, pelargoniums) are still flowering.

I love the vivid pinks and greens of the geraniums, the dark compost and the bright white of the belfast sinks. I love the multiple shades of sandstone and mortar and moss on the wall behind. I love the irregular shapes of the stones, forced to tesselate with each other in order to make a stable wall. Almost literally a stable wall, though this building was originally for sheep, not horses.

The next part of the process is to make a simple drawing of the inspiration and add some more photos. And then the really fun part starts – picking your palette. Not having access to the entire Jamieson and Smith range, nor even a shade card, I am going to have to improvise here, but I think I have some ideas for how to make it work.

An Offer She Can’t Refuse: complete

An Offer She Can’t Refuse: complete

The final part of the Regency romance serial went live today. Buy or borrow all four parts at Amazon US/Amazon UK.

Because this experiment has gone so well, I’m planning another one! Lady Selina’s Season will also be a Regency romance serial, in three parts. I’m aiming to publish it in December. I’ll let you know how that goes!

Also, I should let you know that if you downloaded part 1 of An Offer She Can’t Refuse before Nov 7th, there is now an updated version which has the Battle of Waterloo coming at the right time after the Congress of Vienna, not before. #embarrassed. Anyway. Amazon won’t push the new version out – I did ask – but if you email them at kindle-generalist@amazon.com they will make sure you get the new version. Or you can just squint and pretend it isn’t there. Sorry!

Bonfire Night Book Bonanza

Bonfire Night Book Bonanza

Here’s a quick plug for my newsletter. Sign up here! You’ll get all the news straight to your email. I don’t send out chatty newsletters full of holiday photos. It’s straight up book releases, and this month’s is a doozy. You can read it here to get an idea of what you’re missing!

What you’re missing this time is FREE BOOKS!!!

Let me say that again even louder: FREE BOOKS!!!

To celebrate the publication of my latest short romance, Bonfire Night, I’m having a FREE BOOK BONANZA!

These titles are all completely FREE from now until Bonfire Night (5th November)! Get them for yourself! Tell your family! Tell your friends! Tell your enemies! Tell everyone who reads books! Tell anyone who doesn’t read books yet!

FREE BOOKS!

Twelve Days
Last Night of the Summer
Island Fling
Not My Field
Bonfire Night

But wait there’s more! The first two parts of my Regency Romance Serial under my NEW pen name are ALSO FREE until Nov 5th:
An Offer She Can’t Refuse part one
An Offer She Can’t Refuse part two

But wait, Bonfire Night? Is that a new story? YES, IT IS! Cover and blurb and all the details are here.

And wait, wait, An Offer She Can’t Refuse? Is that a new pen name? YES, IT IS! All the details about that are here.

I told you there was lots of news, didn’t I?! It’s all in the newsletter, hint, hint.

But wait, THERE’S STILL MORE. I now have an anthology of four of my short stories available digitally AND IN PAPERBACK! All the details are here.