Monday, November 11, 2019

Excerpt for Bringing Back Emily

My writing is sporadic and slow, and I blame working full-time, aka earning a living.
I have nearly finished “Bringing back Emily,” which will be the title of the new book, unless I can think of something else. I’m open to inspiration.
It is the third in the City of Sails series, the the story of Emily Randell, the friend of Jack from “Falling for Jack” and his best mate Ethan, from “All About Sage. Emily was married to their friend, Brad, a former All Black, who left Emily, when she was pregnant. Now, she’s had the baby, Bella, and she’s just getting her life on track when it, life, gets in the way again.  Naturally, there's a bloke in there, the romantic interest, by the name of Patrick.
I am planning to have the book released before Christmas, cross fingers. In the meantime, here’s an excerpt:

Emily Randell’s eyes were closed as she stood silently in her bathroom. Her baby daughter, Bella, was sleeping in the bedroom across the hall, and there was no one else here. No one else within half a kilometre, unless you counted the cattle grazing in the paddock next door.
Emily counted from one to ten, then opened her eyes.
The line on the tube looked as if it were blue.
She closed her eyes, counted to ten again, then opened them.
Her heart slammed in her chest.
It was blue.
Clearly, undoubtedly blue.
She pressed her lips together, and nodded.
Of course it was blue.
Blue, blue, blue.
She looked up at the ceiling. It was cleaner than it had ever been because she’d spent the last week putting off this moment, and had thrown herself into something that most of the time she avoided.
She gave a weary sigh, the kind that if someone had been with her, they’d have turned to her and asked, “Are you all right, Em? Are you doing okay?”
Well, actually, no. She was not at all okay. Her life, a life she had only just got managed to get back on track, had disintegrated, yet again, so, no. She was not ‘alright.’
But she would be. It was all going to be okay.
She let the tube fall in to the sink with a clatter, and as she gripped the edge of the basin, she shuddered.
On whose planet was everything going to be all right?
What a joke.
What a freaking joke.
She stared at her reflection in the mirror.
There was a zit on her chin. She could squeeze it until it hurt, and for that second, she’d have a different kind of pain to the one she had right now. But the distraction would only be seconds long, and it wasn’t worth looking crap as well as feeling it. Not that anyone was around to notice.
“Un-be-freaking-lievable, Emily.” She let her voice rise. “Your life is falling apart and you are unbelievable.”
A bit of an exaggeration. Her life wasn’t going to ‘fall apart’ because it couldn’t. She’d had the ‘falling apart’ bit already. She’d survived her marriage dissolving in spectacular fashion, and weathered the public’s obsession with it. She’d prevailed. So, no. Her life was not going to fall apart like that again.
All she knew was that she was pregnant, and that she was going to have this baby. A life had begun growing inside her, and for the past two months without her even knowing, her body had nurtured that life, so there was no other option.
Besides. It wasn’t the baby’s fault it had an idiot for a mother and an arsehold for a father.
She took the tube out of the basin and dropped it in the waste bin. She soaped her hands, washed them under warm water and dried them before she looked at herself in the mirror.
“You idiot. How the hell did you let this happen? How the hell did you let yourself get knocked up like this?”
She stared at the zit. She knew painfully well how she’d done it. And damn it, she was too old for zits. She squeezed it brutally, washed and dried her hands again
Her chin throbbed and it was going to be there for a day or two, but it was the least of her worries.
Bella began to cry, and Emily took one last look at herself in the mirror.
A red spot on her chin was the least of her worries.
The very, very least.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Currently reading "Wanderers" by Chuck Wendig

I am currently reading this gripping novel, Wanderers by Chuck Wendig. I am saying "currently reading" because it might be a while before I finish it. The reason being it is a massive book, it is heavy, and I can't be lugging it back and forth on the bus from work every day or I'll do myself an injury, so I'm only reading it in my breaks at work. So clearly, I will be buying my own copy and not relying on the library one. It's due back in a few weeks anyway, and there's a hold list for it.  
I came across Wendig from a writerly-type blog he writes, Terrible Minds. I don't tend to read much science fiction or horror, which are two of the categories it's under,  although a local book chain calls it "The biggest thriller of the year."  Regardless of the genre, the premise looked compelling, I thought I'd give it a go, and damn straight, I'm hooked from the first page. 
I'm always in awe of authors who can write such stories and keep the characters and the plot all together, and this book is huge. But I am loving it, and being as I'm about to take a few days off from work next week, I think it behooves me to buy a copy and, over those days on leave, see where this story goes. (Although, I'm going out of town  and with only carry-on luggage, ie limited weight for the flight, I will have to hope that where I'm going has a book store that actually stocks it. Or can I get away with just carrying it in my hand? Well, not in my hand cos I'll break my fingers, but under my arm or something, and avoid the weight issue? Oh the dilemmas for the cheap frugal traveller, the dilemmas...) 
I've got a feeling it will be one of those books that, when you get to the end, you have to go right back and read it all over again, and marvel at the skill of the author in writing such a marvellous beast.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

A bit of library trivia

I've had some fun recently doing a bit of research on how the romance genre came to be which was, in a phrase, Mills and Boon.
I didn't realise, for example, that the company cemented themselves as a romance publisher in the 1930s and that it was due in a huge part to the private or circulating libraries that abounded, especially during the war years. We had the private libraries here in New Zealand. I have a vague memory of going with my grandfather, when I would have been only about five (he was killed just before I turned six)  to one in his local town. I remember the beige-coloured covers the books all had, but that's about all.
In the UK, however, it was the Boots and WH Smith private libraries that were huge.
You paid a subscription and could get a book out at a time, or pay as you went. Romances were the most popular genre.
By the 1960s the popularity of the libraries was waning due in part to government legislation to encourage the building of public libraries for all, along with the cheapness of paperbacks.
The cover to the right is the Harlequin, not Mills and Boon, cover from the early 1960s.  The Mills and Boon version was called Jan Marlow, Hospital Librarian. Author Margaret Malcolm published over  a hundred novels between 1940 and 1980.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Buying an actual print book

I must confess I don’t often buy print books, as they are pretty expensive.
Buying a trade paperback novel is the equivalent in New Zealand of buying half a dozen flat-whites. But one day, inspired by a blog post I'd read which said you really should support bookstores and buy actual print books, I decided to stop off at one and not to leave that store until I had treated myself to a print fiction book from a new author. Plus I’d given up buying coffee, so, justified.
I walked out with Deborah Moggach’s The Carer.
It’s interesting to analyse why I chose that book when I’d never read anything of hers before, hadn’t read a review, in fact, hadn’t even heard of the book. I guess the cover grabbed me. Homely looking, with its shades of blue. I read the back cover, it appealed, I read the first page. I thought, yep, it looked pretty good.  I put it down and spent another five or ten minutes browsing (I found a cook book based on the food in the Enid Blyton stories, and I am so getting that one day) and then I went back to The Carer and decided, blow it. Don't dither, Jo. Buy the thing.
Did I like it? Yes. Very much. It was wonderfully written, and was a really good story. Had an element of intrigue, and the plot was about caring for an elderly parent, and the lives of the adult children of that parent, and most people my age have an elderly parent.
The only issue I had with the story was near the end when "something" happened that did put a damper on it, but I really liked the book and was glad I’d bought it, and no doubt will buy the next novel Deborah Moggach writes, and go back and read some of her earlier books.  Actually, there was so much in the book that was good, it was a 10/10 in spite of the "bit" I didn’t like, which if you’ve read it, had to do with the letter near the end. I thought it spoiled it.
This past week there was a booksellers' conference, and I followed some of the comments on Twitter. Fiction sales are flat in NZ. Non-fiction sells more. I posit fiction is flat because it costs a fortune to buy a book you might only read once. You can’t justify it on a tight budget but that’s what birthday and Christmas presents are for, right? I love my e-books from my fellow indie romance authors because they’re cheap to buy and there are so many good stories, and I quite like reading books on my phone now, especially on the commute to and from work (when I'm not catching Pokemon.) Spending one cup of coffee on a book you don’t like isn’t the end of the world. Six cups of coffee is a bit of a disaster. 
Anyhoo, that's a recommendation from me. And another trip to the store due real soon.
~ Joanne

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Debbie Macomber and a nod to LaVyrle

A recent read, back in the old romance vein, that I adored was
Cottage by the Sea, by Debbie Macomber.
Macomber has moved more into women's fiction in recent years, and I do prefer these to her category novels ~ unlike Nora Roberts, whose categories I prefer to her single titles. Don't get me wrong, though, I love them all.
Cottage by the Sea is a wonderful story, with romance, friendships, tragedy, redemption and great characters. I read it over two days and couldn't put it down. Gotta love those books. While Annie and Keaton are the main hero and heroine, the character of Mellie was particularly wonderful, and added nice touches of humour, the more you got to know her.
If you've ever read Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer, possibly my most favourite book ever, then  Mellie was reminiscent of Elly Dinsmore.
On that note, my memory is so shocking I had to google Morning Glory to remember what Elly's name was. If you've never read LaVyrle Spencer, then  do check out this review of Morning Glory. The reviewer calls it her masterpiece and by George, I completely agree.
~ Joanne

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Baking biscuits~ Peanut and chocolate chip

I made some biscuits aka cookies the other night. It turned into an episode of the Great British Bake Off with the sampling, the analysing, the dissecting both in terms of the actual product and the discussion, but it was good fun, albeing fattening fun. Fatteningly fine fun. Naturally, I indulged in too many, along with huge amounts of the uncooked mixture, oh the joy.
The only thing, of course, is that you can’t really go and re-do the biscuits if they're a disaster after you’ve spent all the time, all the mess-making (oh, the mess-making), and the money to buy all the ingredients. Especially at ten o'clock at night when you're taking them to work the next day for a Bake Sale.
However, praise be, they were fine. Absolutely fine.
The recipe, replicated below, is for them: Peanut cookies. The only thing I did differently was add chocolate chips to them, as one does when one can. Also, I had normal peanuts that I roasted in the oven for a bit and rubbed most of the skins off after, not blanched ones.
I do think the chocolate was a nice addition and they were quite yummy and peanutty. I made about 16 of them so they were a respectably good size.

125 g
1 cup
1 tsp
1¾ cups
1 tsp
1½ cups

.    Heat an oven to 160C.
     Place the butter and sugar in a mixer bowl and beat until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat again.
    Sift in the flour and baking powder and combine. Lastly, mix through the peanuts (and the chocolate chips, I used about a half cup of these divine morsels.)
  Place tablespoons of mixture on a greased baking tray. Press gently with a fork. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and cooked through. Remove and cool on a rack.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Cats and writers

I found this Irish poem, The scholar and his cat, in a book on Celtic wisdom, author unknown.
There seem to be different versions and I won't reproduce the whole poem, but some of the verses I do rather like. Notice the picture of one of my cats, Billie, is as far off catching mice as you can get...

I and Pangur Ban, my cat,
'Tis like a task, we are at;
Hunting mice is his delight
Hunting words, I sit all night.

So in peace our tasks we ply
Pangur Ban, my cat and I;
In our arts we find our bliss
I have mine and he has his

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Nevil Shute and Pied Piper

My love affair with Jack Reacher has come to a bit of a halt. I am discovering that binge reading 
Reacher doesn't work for me. Slowly does it, is the way to go, with Mr Child's creation,  so he's on hold for a bit.

However, in the meantime... I was chatting to a man the other day who was researching a paper on the late British/Aussie author, Nevil Shute, and I recall reading Shute's "On the Beach" some years ago. So I searched the library catalogue. The book "Pied Piper" took my fancy so I got it out and 24 hours later, on the bus, in my lunch breaks, on the bus again, and at home when I should have been doing actual writing of a romance novel, I have devoured and finished this wonderful story. 

It is set soon after the beginning of the Second World War, and is the story of an Englishman, John Howard, who is in France when the German army is advancing.  His pilot son has died and, grieving, Howard heads over to do some holiday fishing, not aware that life there is about to become very dangerous, very soon. He ends up with a bunch of children (that he picks up along the way), as he tries to get them to safety. Hence the Pied Piper title.

They are of different nationalities, these young boys and girls, and he cares for them, determined to somehow get them out of harm's way, even as his plans seemingly fall apart right in front of him as the Germans advance closer and closer.
It is filled with detail, like what they eat (the kids all drink coffee and there's lots of bread and wine, of course, and smoking), and details of this perilous journey as they navigate occupied France to try to make it north and head across the Channel to England.

You know, there is even a kitten called Jo-Jo, at one point. Jo-Jo! Such an adorable name for a kitten.

It builds to a gripping climax with an unexpected (I thought) ending. It’s the kind of book that makes you wonder how you'd have coped if you were in Mr Howard's position, back in the war, as our ancestors did. I also rather liked the odd bits of French. Isn't it amazing how you can remember so much French from school girl days? I impress myself at times.

Thus I do believe I'm on the cusp of a Nevil Shute binge.
Oh, there is just so much to read in this world, and so little time.
So little time!!

Friday, May 17, 2019

Books from the past

I was talking to a friend the other day about reading, and happened to mention that one of the things I liked about romance when I was a teenager was that they were quite empowering books. She went silent (as in, I can't believe you read romance!) so I proceeded to tell her what I meant, specifically that there's a lot more to it than the romance. There are other things at play here, such as overcoming past difficulties, challenges with the family, things that lead into the conflict that will rear its head between the protagonists and get in the way of the Happy Ever After.... So much more.
But enough of that, and on to these so-called empowering books of mine.
A lot of these novels revolved around careers, hence the empowerment thing of being independent, following your dreams, moving out of home, getting a flat, managing your finances and paying your bills, and all that grown-up stuff.
One of the series I adored as a girl were the Sue Barton books.
They followed the young Sue Barton through her student nursing days, progressing up the career ladder in nursing, getting married and having a family. I liked the whole notion of them, of the camaraderie of the nursing schools, and all that. They were great books, a great series.
Then there were the career novels such as Janet Carr Journalist, and Jill Kennedy Telephonist. They
were English, and being a Kiwi, one had plans to travel to England but one I never actually did. (I am still waiting for that experience.)
Clearly these stories are from a time when the 'telephonist' was a career option. Nowadays, who would know what one even is? Was it even such a great job? Well, it was for Jill Kennedy, I suppose, but I'd have to dig out my copy (yes, I am 99% 50% sure I still have it in a box somewhere) to find out about it all. Of course, the journalist thing, as in Janet Carr Journalist, well, that appealed hugely because I loved reading magazines that had sailed all the way over to New Zealand from England, and of course there was Fleet Street, the place to go and be a journalist. I probably set my sights a bit closer to home in Wellington, where they published the Dominion and the Evening Post newspapers, but like my trip to England, that never eventuated either.
And neither, it must be said, did a career in nursing.
I think I'll dig these books out and see what they're like now. I could read them on the bus to work. What a hoot, a middle-aged chook reading Sue Barton on the bus. Yes, I am totally up for that.
~ Joanne

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Autumnal reads

Ah, reading. Perfect all the year round, but even better in the best seasons of the year, autumn and winter, hence the picture of some wintry trees in the Manawatu.
I’m starting back at the beginning, and I’ve read the first Jack Reacher, Killing Floor. It went with me on the bus to work, to the staff room for my breaks, on the bus back home, and at home. Boy, it was gripping. However, I did do one bad thing in that I had to skip to the end to see what happened to Reacher’s love interest, Roscoe. I just could not face reading the second half not knowing if she made it or not. I had to be prepared, I’ll say no more on that (Yes, I'm a failure when it comes to suspense.) I also decided I should read Pride and Prejudice. I hadn’t watched the Colin Firth TV series, but I had seen the movie with Keira Knightley and rather (very much) liked it. I especially liked Donald Sutherland as the pop. What a character. So I dragged out a copy of P & P determined to read it. But I couldn’t. There I was thinking I’d become an Austen girl, going around quoting bits, wearing Austen fan girl T-shirts, but I just couldn’t. This is terrible, so I think maybe I should read one that I haven’t seen the movie of. I recall that once, a long time ago, I got out the TV series on DVD for a blitz, and only watched one episode. Maybe there’s actually no point, I don’t know. I did read a new author, however, that I totally loved,  Illona Andrews. It was a novella called Magic Steals, in an anthology. In fact, I read it on a short flight recently, and was hooked. Could not put it down.  I'm not an urban fantasy paranormal reader really (an exception is Nalini Singh’s Psy Changeling series) but I totally loved the novella, and Illona Andrew’s writing, and I've got some in a series to get stuck into soon, just ready and waiting. I am also one day going to really stop saying "I am not an urban fantasy reader" because clearly... I am!! I just haven't read a lot of it - yet!
~ Joanne

Excerpt for Bringing Back Emily

My writing is sporadic and slow, and I blame working full-time, aka earning a living. I have nearly finished “Bringing back Emily,” whic...