Wednesday, 25 September 2013

A Life In Cocktails (the post-18 years)

I would firstly like to highlight that I am not an alcoholic - despite what this post may suggest!

BA Year 1 – Between the Sheets

My first year of university was spent consuming copious amounts of alcohol, not least this little gem that we drank by the tumbler.  My first ever alcohol-induced-memory-gap occurred towards the end of first year, due to toasting my lovely Canadian friend, before she returned across the Atlantic.

BA Year 2 – Triple Archers and Orange

We bought a friend of ours a mini-fridge for his birthday and so Fred’s was born.  Essentially a bar in his university room, we’d pay for the alcohol we drank, but all funds would go towards replenishing the bar.  A triple at the Students’ Union cost £5; at Fred’s, a mere £1.50 (based on 50p a shot – we didn’t pay for mixers).  Perhaps unsurprisingly we spent most of this year rather intoxicated.

BA Year 3 – Blue Lagoon

The traditional Blue Lagoon cocktail is a beautiful rich blue colour, but I’d get the bar staff at Crosslands to add orange juice to it, creating a gorgeous swirl of blue, green and yellow.  We’d grab a pitcher of this in the summer, sit outside all day in the quad and revise.  Good times.

MA – Bellini

Whilst studying for my Masters I momentarily grew up a little, and turned to the Bellini.  It would be a lie to say that these are days that I have left behind me – it’s all about champagne cocktails and anything with bubbles in still does it for me – but that year I drank classy cocktails and extraordinarily good quality grappa.

Post-MA – Purple Rain

Then came the year I discovered clubbing properly.  We must have spent at least one night a week for around 6 months in Tiger Tiger in Croydon, and we almost always got through a whole pitcher of Purple Rain, accompanied by much singing.  With harmonies.

GTP – Porn Storm 

Roadhouse in Covent Garden is probably my favourite London club – in part due to the motorbike behind the bar, in part due to the live music every night (The Lettuceheads’ reggae version of Don’t Look Back in Anger is one of my favourite covers to this day) and in part to the fishbowls.  Fishbowls are exactly that, a fishbowl filled to the brim with a cocktail of your choice.  And my choice?  The Porn Storm as it came complete with two bottles of Prosecco.  And there’s nothing like drowning your sorrows whilst training to be a teacher.

NQT – Malibu and Coke

During the hardest year of my life (hence my recent career change), I turned to the old stalwart of Malibu and Coke.  It tastes like summer to me.

Present Day – Anything

And these days I’ll try anything, though in far smaller quantities than my university days.  What’s your cocktail of choice?

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Pursuit, or Why Romantic Heroines aren't Drips


Thursday, 12 September 2013

Since You've Been Gone, or Coming to Terms with Heartbreak

She's loved and lost - will she ever learn to open her heart again?

In one tragic moment, Holly Jefferson's life as she knows it changes for ever. Now, to the external world, everything's 'fine': she's renovating her cottage, running her own business, Cake - and generally just getting on with it. What she feels inside is a different story: lost, alone, unsure of the future - and certain she'll never love again.

When she meets handsome Ciaran Argyll, son of a self-made millionaire businessman, she thinks their worlds couldn't be more different. He's rich, confident and gets by on his looks; she's just trying to get by.

However, there's more to Ciaran than the superficial world that surrounds him, and he too is wrestling with his own ghosts. Will Holly find the missing ingredient that allows her to put her grief behind her - and embrace an unknown and unexpected tomorrow?"

Heartbreak’s something that most people go through at one point or another; whether it’s being rejected as a teenager, having someone break your unwavering trust or losing someone close to you, it happens a lot. 

And I find it hard to read.  It’s probably due to the resurfacing of emotions that I’d much rather leave forgotten.  I’m the sort of person who cries so hard at the end of The Notebook that when their housemate walks in they think that someone’s actually died, so when I read something that echoes what I’ve been through, I feel their pain so much it hurts.

So to read a book that starts with the heartbreak, and then works outwards, was a different experience for me.  Holly’s husband (Charlie) has died and she’s trying to get on with her life without him – even though there’s a large part of her that just wants to curl up and die – when she meets Ciaran.

There’s not just pathos though, it’s seriously saucy at times (in a very good way) and I was impressed at how well the sex scenes were written.  Those of you who know me, know that I get frustrated with books that insert sex scenes for the sake of it, and this certainly wasn’t the case here.  Each steamy interlude was just what the plot needed to carry the action forward, and I felt that my understanding of Holly, Ciaran and Charlie were developed through them.

For a first novel, Anouska Knight manages to capture the confusion of Holly’s emotions incredibly well.  There’s a particularly beautifully written scene where she wakes up and for a split second thinks it’s Charlie beside her instead of Ciaran and her heart breaks all over again.

But, Mills & Boon style, there’s a Happy Ever After – though I was seriously concerned at times that the whole thing was going to fall apart.  And amidst the delight and the relief, I felt an ache in that I was going to have to part from this characters after I’d invested so very much in their lives and their stories.

Utterly delightful and charming.  Loved it.

Mills & Boon Boy 8:
David (aka The Banker)

Reaction to Photograph Request:
Being possibly one of the wisest and definitely the most intelligent person I know, David nodded sagely and then suggested his London balcony as the perfect setting for his pose.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Last Groom Standing, or Why Repression's Never A Good Idea...

Marnie Price’s guide to surviving the bridesmaid blues…
1. Get a new man
2. Find a new job
3. When in doubt, drink wine!

Having watched her three closest friends all find love, Southern belle Marnie Price feels as if she’s the only single girl left. Luckily she’s found a solution – one sizzling night with Dylan Brookes. This man wears a wedding tux better than anyone, but all Marnie wants to do is get beneath it!

Dylan is all about making the sensible choice, and a fling with his ex’s friend Marnie is about as far from sensible as he can get! Marnie might prove to him that taking risks is worth it, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to give up his bachelor status quite yet, does it…?

I have a habit of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time; for being a little too impetuous and not always engaging my brain before speaking.  As well as kicking myself massively when this happens, I also find it rather humiliating to look back on those mistakes I’ve made.  So out of all the Wedding Season heroines, I think Marnie’s the one that I can identify with the most.

The argument that she has with Gina, and the ripples of discord that flood out throughout the rest of their group of friends, sets up her discomfort at the beginning of the novel.  She’s lost her job, and on top of that, has been forced to face the fact that her reaction all those years ago could have seriously ruined the lives of people she care most about.  Perhaps then it is unsurprising that she gets rip-roaring drunk – and with none other than Dylan Brookes, one of her best friends’ ex-fiancee.

Kimberly Lang highlights how repression and constant attempts to live up to an ideal can undercut reality, making it increasingly difficult for anyone to truly experience life.  Marnie’s fling highlights for her how safe and sensible she’s been being, and how fun it really is to cut loose. 

Of course, there’s the complication that Reese decides that Dylan’s company should hire Marnie – cue a very hot sex scene in an office.  Pretty much ideal situation.

It does make you ask questions of yourself – when looking at yourself and past mistakes, how do they temper the way we act or view life?  Is it right to continually punish yourself for something that happened so long ago that you can barely remember it?  As a woman, I find that my friendships with other women help mould my path and support me when I’m struggling, so I like the fact that Kimberly Lang doesn’t shy away from showing the good and bad sides of her characters.

And there’s a sweetness to her writing that makes the ending even more satisfying.

NB:  This is the final book in the Wedding Season Quartet.  I’m biased, but I personally think that y’all should go pre-order / buy each book as they’re all well-written, enchanting and sassy as hell.

Mills & Boon Boy 7:
Mark (aka The Cool One)

Reaction to Photograph Request:
A startling enthusiasm and thought went into his poses; Mark clearly relished the M&B boy role and has promised to brandish Mills & Boon books on public transport in the name of all M&B boys if required.

Maid of Dishonour, or Why to Fall for Southern Charm

When she’s very, very bad…

Gina Carrington knows exactly how to have fun! But when she slept with her friend’s brother, the off-limits Carter, she quickly discovered she’d overstepped the mark. …life is so much more fun!

Years later Gina sees Carter again, and can’t help but wonder what the harm would be in one more night… He’s available, gorgeous, and behind that laid-back Southern charm there’s a wild side even she can’t tame! But Gina has secrets which she can’t hide for ever – will their chemistry be strong enough to keep Carter by her side when they come to light?

Secret affairs and dark pasts always make for gripping reading, so revisiting an affair that went wrong sounds like the perfect plot for the third in the series.  The whole Gina-Carter thing had been hinted at and set up in the previous two books (The Unexpected Wedding Guest and Girl Least Likely to Marry) so I’d been dying to find out what had happened.  And when it did I was torn.  Torn between Gina, who was reacting to Carter’s rejection, and Marnie, Carter’s sister who lashed out the only way she knew how.

Neither Gina nor Carter are anywhere near perfect, but boy do they have some perfect chemistry!  That reunion night was steaming to the point where I may have had to take a breather due to commuting at the time.  I also liked the fact that he tried to take some of the burden from Gina about their past; it takes two to tango and he admitted that.

But when Carter sweeps her away to do the marketing for his business, and hits her full on with that Southern charm, it takes off.  The unravelling of their past and the building of their future, intertwined with the thread of concern about how Marnie will react, was gripping and charming.

Being a Wedding Season Quartet book, I love how the pinnacle of each novel seems to tie in with a different wedding.  And I was really impressed with the way that Heidi Rice is happy to leave certain storylines untied – it makes the link between her book and Kimberley Lang’s (and more importantly between Gina and Carter’s sister Marnie) even stronger.  I literally devoured this and then immediately pounced on Last Groom Standing. 

As a series, I’m impressed by the way that all the books fed into each other and – with the authors’ permission (*cue puppy dog eyes*) – I’m hoping to include the series in my analysis of weddings in popular culture for the International Association of Popular Romance Studies’ Annual Conference in Greece next year…

Mills & Boon Boy 6:
Ed (aka Jekyll&Hyde)

Reaction to Photograph Request:
Wanted to do two sets of photos: one suited up (Jekyll) and one complete with leather jacket and cigarette (Hyde).

Whose Bed Is It Anyway?, or How Celebrity isn't All it's Cracked Up to Be

“You’re wearing my T-shirt.”
Returning home after a daring rescue mission, all James Wolfe can think of is sleep. So he’s furious to find a beautiful stranger curled up in his king-size bed! Normally no woman ever gets between his sheets without prior invitation – who does she think she is?
Disgraced celebrity Caitlin Moore has been offered a place to stay and she won’t give it up – not with the paparazzi outside, baying for her blood! Reluctantly she agrees to share the apartment with James – but, with enough electricity to short-circuit the whole of Manhattan, keeping to their own sides of the bed might prove impossible…
As has been previously acknowledged, I’ve a bit of a thing for literary men who have returned from war zones.  They can be reporters (see Joss Wood’s If You Can’t Stand the Heat) and they can ex-military (see Aimee Carson’s The Unexpected Wedding Guest) – I veritably melt at the mere thought of it.
I blame Sean Bean as Sharpe really.  *swoon*

So when James Wolfe – a man who spends his time rescuing children in war zones – comes home to find a woman in his bed, I couldn’t help but wish myself in Caitlin’s place.  There is, however, a reason why he spends so much time abroad and their attraction gets place firmly in the ‘dalliance’ category at first because of this.
It’s also nice to see a female character who is less interested in being a celebrity, and far more interested in developing her own creative business idea.  As I’ve highlighted before, one of the main reasons why #ModernTempted’s my favourite Mills & Boon imprint is because its heroines are smart– they’ve got careers and they’ve no intention of sponging off anyone!  Natalie Anderson extends this idea, having Caitlin shy away from the spotlight due to the negative impact it had on her as a child.  In the consumer-heavy society that we have today, I felt that Anderson’s portrayal of an ex-celebrity went a long way to helping us understand the pressures that fame can bring.
An extra shout-out for the awesomeness of this title.  As a massive Whose Line is it Anyway fan, I adored the little nod.
On starting the book...

And on finishing the book - note the tension...

Mills & Boon Boy 7:
Mark (aka The Cool One)

Reaction to Photograph Request:
A startling amount of enthusiasm and thought went into his poses; Mark clearly relished the M&B boy role and has promised to brandish Mills & Boon books on public transport in the name of all M&B boys if required.

Backstage with her Ex, or Why Louisa George should abandon Medical for ModernTempted

Her ex…the VIP!

Hiding out in the gents’ toilets backstage is not the way Sasha imagined bumping into her significant ex. Especially when that ex is notoriously damaged, famously wild rock god Nate Munro! She has a massive favour to ask him, but one glimpse of his sinfully dark eyes and all she can think about is that he’s seen her naked!

Nate’s used to women doing anything to get his attention, but he never pictured bubbly schoolteacher Sasha as the groupie type – she’s far too sweet! But when the paparazzi get a hint of their reunion, it’s scandal all the way. Now the question on everyone’s lips is this: In this showdown between the girl next door and rock-and-roll royalty, who’s going to come out on top?

Everyone’s fantasised at one point or another about someone famous (I, for example, had a surreally delicious dream earlier this week in which I went on a date with Nathan Fillion) but very rarely does this ever translate to real life.  Far more common is the concept that everyone knows someone who knows someone who knew a celebrity at school/when they were starting out.  And that’s where Backstage with her Ex comes into its own.

Sasha is a secondary school music teacher who wants to take her show choir to Manchester for a competition so, with a determination that is characteristic of pretty much every teacher I’ve ever worked with, she hunts down her ex-boyfriend (now international rock star) and persuades him to help her raise money.  Of course, there are a number of issues that this brings up, mainly the fact that Nate wants nothing to do with the school in question, plus the emotional history between the two of them.

There are a number of things that I fall in love with when it comes to romance novels: one is a dark brooding hero (check), another is any kind of food description (check check) and finally, any mention or use of Italy as a setting (check check check).  Being half-Italian I was absolutely thrilled when Louisa George moved the action from London – a city where I work and relax – to Tuscany.  She manages to capture the bustle and ambience of a country that I adore brilliantly, and it’s fairly difficult to impress me when it comes to Italian settings!

And in addition to this there’s the twist that Nate realises that he’s in love with her first, and then has to spend a good chunk of the narrative trying to win back her trust once more.  There’s nothing better than a man in touch with his feelings.

This is Louisa George's first #ModernTempted book (she's usually over at Medical), but based on the utter delightfulness of Backstage with her Ex I really hope it's the first of many!

Mills & Boon Boy 6:
Ed (aka Jekyll&Hyde)

Reaction to Photograph Request:
Wanted to do two sets of photos: one suited up (Jekyll) and one complete with leather jacket and cigarette (Hyde).