Dec 15, 2017

My Favourite Christmas movies!

It's not secret that I like romance...I mean, I write home and heart romances for Harlequin Special Edition and absolutely adore what I do. And I like to read romances. But mostly, I like to watch romances. I especially like to watch romantic Christmas movies.

I have a few long time favorites -

When Harry Met Sally....


Okay, so this movie gets played out over the course of ten years, but there are loads of Christmas elements in this film. The end scene, around New Years, is an absolute treat.

Love Actually.....



 
 
So, there wouldn't be a list of favorite Christmas movies without this one on it. Rickman, Thompson, Grant, Nigh, Lincoln, Neeson, Firth...even a cameo by Claudia Schieffer.....it's an all round, feel good (and sometimes achingly sad) film that is a 'must' around the holidays.

While You Were Sleeping.....



I love, love, love this movie. I have complete adoration for Bill Pullman's perfectly lovable beta hero Jack Callaghan...the scene at the hospital where lonely railway worker Lucy (AKA Sandra Bullock) tells the hero's parents that she loves their son and then points to Jack, and not the brother she was planning on marrying...priceless.

And of course, what would Christmas movie watching be without Hallmark film....Like this one....

Christmas Wedding Planner....

Which is based on a book by a fabulous Harlequin Special Edition author, Stacy Connelly.



So, if you have any favorites, let me know....I'd love to find a new little gem to watch this holiday season.

Merry Merry Merry Christmas!!!!! Have a safe and happy holiday season xx

Dec 13, 2017

The Romance of Christmas

I have a confession to make. I haven’t read a single Christmas story so far this year. Not one!

Christmas romances are close to my heart. In the ten years I’ve been writing, I’ve written four of them. And each one has been significant for different reasons.



  His Christmas Angel was my debut book. Rachel Bailey tells me that book is sprinkled with fairy dust. And it truly felt that way when I received the call from my editor in London. It signalled the start of my publishing journey with Harlequin Mills & Boon. It’s a book that will always hold a special place in my heart.





 Speaking of firsts, Christmas Wishes New Year Kisses was my very first self-published title. Some of you might remember that it was part of the LoveCats DownUnder Hot Summer Nights box set. It was a joy to work in collaboration with the other Cats who took part in the project, and to dip my toes into Indie waters. It taught me a lot! Also, it’s set on a tropical beach. What’s not to love about that? ;-)


As for learning experiences! No book I’ve ever written has taught me more than Christmas at Candlebark Farm. When I received the third set of revisions for that book (yes, you heard that right – the 3rd!), I realised the book had to be completely rewritten. So I rewrote it…in a month. It was the book that forced me to look closely at character motivation, to streamline conflict, and to focus it all on the hero and heroine. I hope that no book I ever write is that hard again. Still, I’m awfully proud of the book.




 Last but not least is The Nanny Who Saved Christmas. This one won The Booksellers Best Award (announced and awarded at the Romance Writers of America’s conference and collected by the wonderful Susan Meier on my behalf). I still get tingles whenever I recall her email telling me I won. Awards and kudos aren’t necessary, of course. But I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t enjoy it. :)


 You can probably figure out by now, after all of this talk of Christmas romances, that it's pretty unusual for me to not have drowned myself neck deep in Christmas titles. And, of course, all of this reminiscing has me dying to write another Christmas story.

First, though, I should be reading oodles and oodles of them for inspiration, right? So, have you read any brilliant Christmas romances so far this November and December? What would you recommend I pick up?

Dec 11, 2017

The Christmas Carol Debate

So, where do you stand on the issue of the Christmas Carol?

In our house, there is a diverse range of opinions. My husband loves the traditional carol. He loves The Little Drummer Boy. My daughter likes a Michael Bublé carol. My son couldn’t care less and I worked in enough retail outlets when I was at school and uni during Christmas time to develop a mild loathing for the Christmas ditties.

But yesterday (after being encouraged by Clare’s post about getting ready for Christmas), we put up the Christmas tree (we didn’t even have one, I had to buy one!). So, as my daughter and I had the task, we play Michael’s carols.

I have to say, it was really lovely. My daughter loves to belt out a tune and hearing her enthusiastically singing along was really cute and heart warming.

So, I’ve come around a little to the Christmas carol. And it is starting to feel a bit like Christmas.


How about you? Carol lover or otherwise?

Dec 6, 2017

Satisfying Endings


When I was a teenager, I had a part-time job as a kitchen-hand to the most incredible Chef. She'd worked at The White House and an Executive Head Chef for chains of international hotels and I learned so much under her tutelage. She always used to stress the importance of Dessert - People always remember the dessert, she'd say in her thick German accent. It's the last chance you have to impress them! 

There is wisdom in this, and not just with regards to culinary creations. We do place a disproportionate value on the last of anything. I do, anyway, and particularly my entertainment. The last chapter or the epilogue, are all-important. It doesn't matter how much I've loved a book, if the ending falls flat, I won't read it again. Same goes with shows. 

There are a few shows that so completely nailed the Last Episode that no sooner have the credits started to roll than I go back to the first episode and start all over again. And so here I present a little listicle of my favourite ever last-shows/scenes. 

1. FRIENDS. 

The poignancy of the final season is an incredible achievement for a show that was delightfully funny throughout. Chandler and Monica's fertility issues, their adoption (hoorah! twins!), Ross and Rachel's reunion, Phoebe's wedding to Mike - finally, a man worthy of that kooky, unique character, and ultimately, Chandler and Monica's decision to move out of the city to start their family life in West Chester. I cry in most episodes of the last season, and all the way through the finale; it is such a fitting end-note to a show that rarely misses its mark.

2. SEX AND THE CITY. 

Carrie and Big's relationship was the undercurrent for the whole show - I'm sure I felt every bit as conflicted as Carrie did when she was engaged to Aidan but knowing, deep down, in her heart of hearts, that he wasn't right for her. Seeing Carrie grapple with being in a relationship with Petrovsky, a man who didn't want children, forces her to confront her own maternal urgings. Speaking of which, there's Charlotte and Harry and their quest to adopt a baby, and that beautiful moment when they learn that they have a little one, finally, is so perfectly handled. Samantha, accepting she's in love with Smith, that she can still be strong and fierce and in love, all at once, and Miranda making peace with the fact that sometimes, a slow pace of life is okay. Oh, I love this show so very much, and the last episode is just perfect - and we viewers are, of course, given the relationship reunion we've all been waiting for!

3. THE WEST WING. 

The more romance readers and writers I connect with online, the more I realise we almost all love THE WEST WING. It's not a romantic show, but it's a show about people and ideals, power and politics, and it is so full of authenticity and integrity that you can't help but love it. I must have watched it, in its entirety, at least fifteen times. I have an episode going almost every night.  And the last episode is perfection. We are filled with hope and optimism, and a weariness and nostalgia for the outgoing president, pride in what he's achieved. There's relationships tied up in big red bows, fitting farewells to lost loved ones, a return from Sam Seabourne (seriously, can I just say, Sam Seabourne is... yum...) though we still don't learn what the heck happened to Mandy!

4. ER

I don't even know where to start with ER. It is one of those shows that I just love - every episode had such an emotional impact on me. The writing was so brilliant, never more so than in those early seasons with Ross & Green at the helm, though the writers did a great job of sustaining the impetus through a lot of changes. Dr Carter remained an enduring favourite of mine, I felt he was such a complex and endearing character, and I was really saddened that his life was in a pretty dark place in the final episode. With that being said, there was a mix of hope and realism that made everything about the episode poignant - and there's a steady stream of old-favourites, which is such a sign of respect to the viewers who invested so completely over the show over the years. I can't watch an ER ep without a box of tissues, and the last episode damned near breaks my heart (in a good way.)

5. STAR TREK: VOYAGER. 

I'm a sucker for all the Trek franchises (except for the abomination that is Discovery - Gene would be rolling over in his grave) and particularly for Voyager - ironic given that I initially hated it on the first viewing. By season three, Janeway had worked her way into my heart. I'm hooked now, and enjoying re-watching it with my nephews. I can't wait to share it with my kids when they're a bit older. If you're not familiar with the Trek world, the show starts with a ship being flung to the other side of the galaxy, so far that at maximum warp (the fastest speed a starship can travel at) it would take them 75 years to get home. They're not equipped for this kind of journey and they face potential anarchy and mutiny, so Janeway runs a tight ship, literally. The series follows the crew's exploits in the Delta quadrant. There are lots of incredible moments along the way, but all the while, we're wondering if they'll make it home. I'm not going to give it away, but suffice it to say, the final episodes have you on the edge of your seat before delivering a very satisfying wrap up. 


Now, shows can shoot themselves in the foot, too, with bad endings, and there's one example that comes to mind immediately to demonstrate this: HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. I binge watched this show with my husband, and we caught up just in time for the finale. Which was a disaster. An absolute disaster. And despite the fact the show had been one of my favourite viewing experiences, I haven't been game to go back and watch any of it again, just because the last episode was so disappointing. 

Hit me with your favourite or most-hated last episode. Did you watch any of the above shows? Love them like I did? What have I missed?

Dec 1, 2017

a love letter to my daughter

My baby girl, my first born, recently turned ten.

10!

I know we've said or heard it a zillion times before but seriously, you blink and suddenly they go from a curly-haired moppet to an astute, droll, four foot eight, cello-playing, archery-loving, drama-loving kid who can't sit without grabbing a pencil and sketching a funny comic.

This sweet pea who used to hide behind my skirt when strangers tried to gush over her Shirley Temple curls now shines in solos in the school choir, joins every club available, and has her teachers talking up her good sense, her ability to stand up to those not doing the right thing, and her leadership qualities.

To say I'm super proud of this kid of mine is an understatement.

So of course this special milestone, this flipping of the book of her life from single digits to double, from little girl to pre-teen, called for a celebration.  More than a celebration.  As many as we could pack into her birthday week.

Starting with a mother daughter painting class at Cork and Chroma the day before - for those living in or visiting Brisbane who have a creative streak, it's a serious treat!

After school we surprised her with a birthday 'dinner' at Cowch - a dessert bar in the city.  Heaps of  family turned up to join us and she was in utter bliss.

We followed by our first ever trip on the Brisbane Wheel (one of those big ferris wheels that popped up all over the place around the year 2000).  It's a first as I get vertigo so have always managed to avoid their desperate pleas.  I spent the entire trip grinning like a maniac and trying not to let my kids see me sweat, so I see this as my most generous gift :).

And then there was The Party.  Ten friends for the ten-year-old with a unicorn theme.  Think sparkles, glitter, and rainbow food galore. Pin the horn on the unicorn.  A selfie wall and a pool filled with crazy floaty toys.  An Invent Your Own Dance Move game.  And - one of my favourite moments - a spontaneous drawing contest. Finishing off with Princess Diaries 2 on the projector and her three besties sleeping over.  The birthday girl's verdict?  "Epic!"

Safe to say we ten-year-olded the heck out of that week.  And since she's one of those magical creatures who never ever forgets a single thing, she'll remember every detail for a long long time.

As will I.  For she's not my little moppet anymore. She's my ten-year-old moppet. And I won't let her forget that either.

Ally
xXx


Nov 27, 2017

New Site for Romance readers!

Have you heard about the new kid on the block?

It's a great place where romance readers can go and follow their favourite authors and read snippets from books, deleted scenes, teasers, scenes from works in progress. These outtakes are called Bites and, I gotta say, the way they're presented reminds me very much of Tumblr. Oh and it's very very pretty :-)

It's called Book + Main Bites. No....I have no idea why its called such an uninspiring name... but if you're a reader it's free and what better way to check out an author's work?

My profile is HERE and here's one of my bites as an example - (if you click on the images they'll come up larger)


See, what I mean by pretty? And at the end of each snippet there's even links to where you can find the book should browsing turn to buying.


Here's a list of all my bites and I'm adding to it daily -



I'm absolutely in love with the site both as a reader and an author - I've already one-clicked 3 books from reading Bites so I'm keeping my device well fed! But it comes with a warning - you can fall down a rabbit hole where you lose a few hours!

This is the main page where you can go to sign up and I urge you all to check it out.

And I'd love for you to come back here and let me know what you think!








Nov 26, 2017

Sunday Smooch with Clare Connelly


This week's smooch is coming to you from Clare Connelly, but first, the winner of last week's Sunday Smooch Giveaway is Sarah Lehman, who commented over on Facebook. Sarah,  please get in touch with Amy Andrews to claim your e-book of Playing with Forever (one of the hottest books I've read all year!)  


Today's smooch is from INNOCENT IN THE BILLIONAIRE'S BED, a passionate story of forbidden desire and need... and the innocent lie that threatens to pull it all apart. I'll have a paperback copy of the book to give away to a commenter (anywhere in the world), either here or over on Facebook, where we are now cross-posting. If you don't follow LoveCats on Facebook, you've really got to wonder why? Ha! Lots of fun conversations happen over there - come join us!



Tempted by the tycoon’s touch…

Rio Mastrangelo doesn’t want anything from the father who never acknowledged him. So when he unexpectedly inherits an island paradise, he’s determined to sell it as fast as he can! But the potential purchaser who lands on his shores is not the spoiled heiress he’s been expecting—and her luscious body fills him with a rush of hot, undeniable desire.

Cash-strapped Tilly Morgan accepted a payment to impersonate her best friend, but she hadn’t bargained on sexy Rio. When a storm hits, trapping them together, there’s nowhere to run from their raging hunger—and passion threatens to uncover Tilly’s every vulnerability…

“I absolutely loved where INNOCENT IN THE BILLIONAIRE’S BED just swept me off to… This book will capture you heart, body, and soul and will leave you breathless.”

—NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Vanessa Fewings

The hero of this story, Rio Mastrangelo (whom I fell completely in love with while writing this story) is my 'Hero of the Month'. If you want to learn more about the inspiration behind the character, you can read about him here.

Here's what's happening in the scene you're about to read an excerpt from...

Stranded on a Mediterranean island with the man of her dreams, Tilly is trying to remember all the reasons she can't act on the desire she feels for her super-sexy, billionaire host. Only, a thunderstorm has struck Prim'amore, taking out the electricity generator for the small shack they're sharing, and an already flammable situation gets set to explode! When Rio goes to investigate the damage, Tilly insists on accompanying him, despite Rio's strong objections. He doesn't want Tilly to get hurt in the wild storm, but Tilly isn't a woman to be told what to do! This scene comes after a lot of resisting temptation and being strong; they're at breaking point and the storm pushes them over the edge...


‘What is it?’ she shouted. ‘Why do you seem so angry with me?’
‘Angry with you?’ He pulled the door to the cabin inwards. ‘You think I’m angry with you?’
‘You’re shouting at me!’ she yelled back. ‘Why?’

He shook his head; water droplets fanned out, splashing against the walls. ‘Because!’

‘That’s not an answer. What is it? I’ve already… I said I was sorry about yesterday.’
He closed his eyes for a second, and when he opened them she felt as if he was trying to get a grip on his temper. His eyes were a storm that raged as intensely as the one outside. He swore sharply—a sound that tore through the house as he moved towards her quickly, crushing her body with his far bigger one, pushing her back until she connected with the wall.

His kiss had the strength of an ocean. His tongue drove into her mouth, clashing with hers, his hands pushed at her shoulders and his legs kept her pinned to the wall.

‘I am not angry with you, cara,’ he muttered into her mouth.
The words came to her from a long way away. Her senses weren’t capable of absorbing anything but this—this feeling that was tearing her body apart with a need she had never known possible.
Her fingers pushed at his wet clothes; they stuck to his body stubbornly and she groaned into his mouth, pushing her body forward, needing closeness, wanting more. So badly wanting more.
He had far more success—tearing the dress over her head, breaking the kiss for the smallest moment possible in order to shift the fabric over her face. Her mouth chased him, seeking him, needing him, hating his absence. Her pulse was louder even than the thunderstorm.
His hands ran over her sides and she shivered.
‘You’re cold,’ he said, lifting his head.
She shook her head. ‘No.’
‘You are covered in goosebumps,’ he pointed out thickly, the words dragged from him.
‘Not cold.’ She shook her head and pulled at his shirt, bringing him back to her.
His kiss was everything that had been building up inside her since she’d arrived on Prim’amore. It was all the longing and wanting, the needing and watching. It swirled around them both, churning them, changing everything.
Her fingers tangled in his hair and he groaned into her mouth—a guttural sound that perfectly expressed what she wanted. He pushed at her, guiding her, pulling her, until she was through the door to her bedroom. But he didn’t stop. His body kept pushing at hers until she fell backwards onto the bed, a tangle of limbs and desire.
His mouth on hers was demanding; she gave him everything. But then he moved, dragged his stubbled jaw down her body, pushing at her bra so that he could take a nipple in his mouth.
His tongue flicked at it relentlessly, and the pleasure was so intense it was almost too much. She cried out, her hands needing to touch him, to feel him. She pushed at his shirt and finally he paused, so that he could remove it for her. She drove her nails along his back, feeling his supple skin as he turned his attention to her other breast, his fingers picking up where his mouth had left off. She arched her back as pleasure throbbed hard in her abdomen.
‘I am not angry with you,’ he said again, though she was no longer worried he was.
She nodded, words failing her. He brought his mouth to hers and his kiss was gentle. Slow. Deep. As if he could taste her soul and wanted to cherish her.
It was the most erotic thing she’d ever felt.
‘Rio…’ she whispered, her skin flushed, her heart thumping.
Rain lashed at the window and lightning struck, but it was mute to them. Only the thundering of their own need registered.


Here's my question for you: If you were going to be stranded on a deserted, tropical island for a sultry week, who would be your partner of choice and why? No real-life spouses allowed ;) 



Come back next Sunday when the winner of today's giveaway will be announced, and don't forget to follow us on Facebook so you never miss a LoveCats purr-post.







Nov 24, 2017

To gift or re-gift? — Kandy Shepherd



Today is Black Friday—the day after Thanksgiving when shopping venues across the United States (and now online too) turn on a shopping frenzy with heavily discounted goods. The idea has now spread to other countries who don’t even celebrate Thanksgiving. Like the UK. And now Australia. (Where our traditional shopping frenzy day is Boxing Day, the day after Christmas Day.)

Being somewhat of a shopaholic I rather welcome another bargain shopping opportunity. Working at home on writing a book that doesn’t seem to want to end in spite of a looming deadline, I’m easily distracted by the cyber shopping mall that surrounds me. I have now done all my Christmas shopping—ninety-nine percent done online.



Which brings me to the vexatious question of re-gifting/recycling to someone else the unsuitable/unwanted presents you might receive. The body lotion in a scent you know will make you sneeze. The wrong size T-shirt. The book you’ve already read. I’m sure you can think of lots of examples. There’s the second-hand gift dilemma too. Does a present have to be brand new to be worthy of being a present? Would a pre-loved item do as well?

Does it matter if theyre recycled?

 Problems can abound if you choose to re-gift. You forget to take off the tag gifting the item to you with love. Worse, you re-gift the present to the person who gave it to you in the first place. Do you tell the recipient that the gift is recycled or pretend it was all your idea?

In an era of “too much stuff” I think recycled gifts are a great idea both for the planet and for over-stretched budgets. One of my most cherished presents is a small blue vase I admired in a relative’s house. I was thrilled when she gave it to me as a gift. She’s long gone now and I always think of her when I use it and how lovely it looked in her house.

What are your thoughts? Do you have any funny stories of when re-gifting went wrong? I’d love to read your comment!

Nov 20, 2017

Changing my behaviour with Stefanie London

Before
About 6 months ago I decided to overhaul how I "consume" clothing. This is something that has been building for a while, like a niggling thought about something I knew wasn’t right in my life. There are plenty of facts and figures on the way that we over-consume fashion these days, but this article is a good start: https://t.co/QacevqGPsR or here: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/transforming-the-fashion-industry_us_57ceee96e4b0a48094a58d39

The upshot is that back in the 50's the average woman owned about 9 outfits. From the above articles, people have an "average of 16 items only worn once and 11 still with the tags on" in their closets.

After
The increase in consumption has much to do with fast fashion and the low cost of garment production by fast fashion companies. Why spend $100 on one top when you can get 5 or 6 for the same price at H&M, right?

The problem is, the cost cutting not only effects the quality of the garment (meaning they degrade quicker) but the wages and working conditions for people making the garments as well as the environment (watch this The True Cost on Netflix for more info on this. Ne prepared, having a box of tissues handy.)

What am I doing about it?
1.     I've put myself on a temporary fast fashion ban. No H&M, no GAP, no Old Navy etc. It's been just under three months so far. Ideally, I'd like to go a whole year. I've realized that I actually need a lot less clothing than I'd previously thought.
2.     Taking better care of the clothing I own, learning how to mend things instead of replacing them.
3.     Shopping more carefully and thoughtfully when I do buy something new. I’m trying to choose more sustainable fashion brands or at least buying an item of high quality that I know I will use lots and will last me longer than one season.
4.     I am now learning to sew and knit. This definitely isn't me saying we should all make out own clothing, but to me it was a natural part of changing my habits.

The easiest thing you can do to lessen your fast fashion impact is to simply buy less, buy thoughtfully and buy better

quality. I feel that this is one of those things where small behaviour changes across larger groups of people will have massive impact. Try “shopping your closet” by creating new pairings of items you already own, or making a promise to finally get those jeans hemmed so you can wear them out instead of leaving them unloved in your closet.

Is this something you’ve thought about? How have your shopping habits changed over the years?