When in my world, research is anything but tedious, and never dull.
I’m one of those annoying writers who love to research everything. Like Liz Harris, who wrote a blog in June called ‘Research diet’; I also forget to eat when researching.
I recently released a book in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, as it’s one of my favourite places, so what better excuse than to go there for a holiday and do a little research. I have family in and around Ravenna and Bologna. It made all the difference; opening up so many opportunities to see and experience things the normal tourist misses.
My latest Steele Ops release, Jewel of the Kimberley, is set in Broome, Western Australia. My hero is a Black Hawk pilot and as such there are several intense chopper scenes. So, it was important I have a little understanding of how they work. This has to be one of my greatest research projects. Initially I approached Skyline Helicopters with the intention of picking their pilot’s brains, watching a video and having the controls explained to me. By the end of the day I was flying over the port of Newcastle, handling the dual controls of a small chopper. Fantastic. Thanks to a Facebook friend, I was also put in touch with a Navy Seahawk pilot, who has been instrumental in helping me with the mechanics of flying those big choppers. Also for this book, I went undercover as a work experience ship surveyor, so I could explore a coal freighter from top to bottom. What an experience. I also had access to a master mariner, who happily answered all my questions.
For another Steele Ops book, Precious Gems, I travelled to Vietnam and stumbled across the hill-tribe women of Sapa, where it’s not unusual for young girls of thirteen to be married off. In Hanoi, I found unwanted and abandoned children being cared for by female monks, a better outcome then living on the streets, where their future isn’t so good. For my first Steele Ops book, The Kalista Diamond, I interviewed a man who once belonged to Melbourne’s underworld. That was very interesting, especially when he asked if I was wired. Yikes. I also have a sister who is not only a fabulous Jillaroo, but she owns a Hereford Cattle Stud. This comes in very handy for the horse and cattle scenes in my books.
My latest venture is set around the world of cyber fraud. So far I have interviewed Professor Pablo Mascato, a leading figure in computer science. He introduced me to one of his analysts, who has agreed to help me. Next I need to find someone in the field of theatrical make-up, and research some small out of the way islands.
Jewel of the Kimberley
Nick Flanagan had two passions—his fiancée, Ava, and flying Black Hawks. Then he was accepted into a special unit within the SAS, it was a dream come true. That dream cost him Ava. In the four years since, he’s lived hard and fast. Now, having discovered a treacherous lie, Nick wants Ava back. First though, he must contend with a rival, who has an agenda of his own.
Ava Mitchell’s parents had been cool and distant her whole life, so when she fell for fun loving Nick Flanagan, he became her world. After three wonderful years together, Nick joined the SAS and cancelled their wedding. Devastated, Ava walked out, hoping he’d resign and come after her. Several weeks later her biggest fear became a reality when she received word he’d been killed.
Now a successful designer, Ava is about to risk her heart again when the unimaginable happens—Nick walks back into her life. Can she trust the man she once adored, or will he and a band of smugglers destroy her life? To survive she will need a miracle or perhaps a team of heroic commandos.
The Summer Bride by Anne Gracie
It is Daisy’s turn to find love no matter how resistant she is to the idea, but she goes down fighting for her independence.
Daisy Chance is not interested in participating in the season. She just wants to sew dresses for the wealthy and open a shop. She spends many hours sewing her signature clothing items. She has many more orders that she can handle but feels that she should do all the work herself. She does have others help her from time to time but Daisy is more than fiercely independent. Daisy feels that her leg, broken years ago and never set properly, is a good enough reason to not dance and have her season. She prefers to hide and sew.
Patrick Flynn has money to burn. His latest shipload has some cloth that Daisy may appreciate for her clothing venture, and he takes her to the ship. Flynn is entertained by how Daisy ducks out of events and is more than happy to join her as he is not a fan of these events. Flynn decides it is time to marry. He has the perfect candidate. When he kisses Lady Elizabeth, it is odd and he says it is like kissing a fish. He then kisses Daisy and this upends his world. Daisy tells it like it is, and Flynn realises that Lady Elizabeth may not like men after all, but is willing to help her escape to Italy. But it is Lady Elizabeth holding a teapot that makes Flynn realise what he really wants in a wife.
Flynn tries to make Daisy’s life easier for her but it gets him into all types of trouble as Daisy takes it the wrong way. He tries to fix it so that her favourite shoes have an insert that will assist her when she dances. Daisy takes that the wrong way until she realises the gesture was a caring one and was designed to make her happy. When she understands this, she realises how loving the gesture was.
This couple are friendly but the others, Lady Beatrice and her adopted sisters are all hoping she will see what is in front of her and take what is being offered.
Daisy is conscious of her working class background and this impacts upon all her decisions. Daisy tries not to care about what society thinks but is always being reminded now that she is Lady Beatrice’s ‘niece’. Flynn is also conscious of his beginnings but doesn’t care as to what others think. In this the pair are very suited. Flynn has the backing and the money to not worry what others think, and he can protect Daisy.
I’m sad. I’m sad that this is the last book for the Chance sisters. However, I am happy all the girls found their HEA and with men who love them for who they are and not because of their background. I am happy that I was able to be on this journey with the sisters. Love, love this story.
Reviewed by Heather
A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.
Today is the official release of Indebted to Moreno by Kate Walker (paperback and ebook, Harlequin). Here’s the blurb:
Sins of the past must be paid!
On trembling legs, dress designer Rose Cavalliero stares up at the man she never thought she’d see again. Tall, dark and dangerous, Spaniard Nairo Moreno took Rose’s virginity before a misunderstanding led her to nearly destroy his life. But now he’s back and determined to collect the debt she owes him.
Designing his precious sister’s wedding gown will cement Rose’s career. But if she’d known that accepting Nairo’s offer would see her blackmailed into becoming a more-than-convenient fiancée to the man who broke her heart, Rose would have said no…wouldn’t she?
Kate dropped by today to tell us a little about this book:
Different things are the ‘seed’ for each new story. When I was thinking of the plot for this book, the ‘seed’ was the phrase ‘scarlet and black’. It’s the title of a nineteenth century novel, but it kept running over and over in my head and I began to picture the characters who would fit those descriptions. Rose came first—a red Rose was easy to think of and it gave me an instant image of her. Black—well, that was my hero Nairo Moreno. Moreno means dark—dark-haired—and it just fitted my hero with the dark past and dark heart. My hero and heroine met years ago when they were ten years younger, in very different circumstances—and they didn’t even know each other’s real names! Fate drove them apart because of a dark secret and a terrible lack of trust but now they are brought together again by another twist of fate. Rose is a skilful dress designer, specialising in bridal wear and Nairo’s sister wants her to design her wedding dress. So it’s the perfect time, he thinks, to set the record straight on those past betrayals. With the preparations for a huge society wedding going on around them, old feelings, old desires surface all over again and Rose and Nairo have to find the courage to truly trust each other this time around.
Today is the official release of The Go-Between by Darcy Delany (book 2, The Modern Day Fairy Tale series) (ebook and paperback, self-published). Here’s the blurb:
Amalie Duckworth has been harangued by her perfect boss, Natasha, for years. While she dreams of running her own business and wearing a fishtail wedding dress, the pictures symbolising her goals seem destined to grace her ‘Wall of Destiny’ indefinitely.
When Amalie loses her job in a departmental restructure, she’s determined to get her revenge on Natasha by making her dreams come true. Inspired by her own bad break-up experience, she starts a business: The Go-Between Break-Up Facilitator Service. One dream down, one to go.
Carpenter Dean Lawler is taken for granted by his troubled childhood sweetheart, Zara. He’s in love limbo, caught between his desire to make Zara feel cherished and his own need for emotional fulfilment. But when he catches Zara cheating, it’s the break he needs. He calls Amalie to help send Zara packing, only to find himself entranced by Amalie’s inner and outer beauty.
When Zara returns, Dean is forced to choose. Will he fall for Zara’s damsel in distress routine? Or will he choose true love with Amalie, and make both their dreams of a happily ever after come true?
Darcy dropped by today to tell us a little about this book:
I love a good ‘goodies vs baddies’ story, and had a great time writing this one! Amalie and Dean are two lovely people being taken for granted at work and home by Cruella De Vil types, until circumstances push them to change their lives. They accept the challenge and as they work towards their dreams, fate brings them together. But their happily ever after is in jeopardy if they can’t move past their old relationship patterns. A sweet, light romance loosely based on The Ugly Duckling, The Go-Between is a story about triumphing over cruelty and saying ‘yes’ to the life of your dreams.
The contemporary romance novel virgin: still in vogue?
It’s almost forty years since I started reading my grandmother’s Barbara Cartland novels, and my sisters’ Mills & Boon. So, I grew up on romance novels where the heroine was most definitely a virgin. She wasn’t a virgin for any particular reason other than it was a given she would be. Even if she’d been married, there would always be some reason why she hadn’t consummated her marriage.
All these decades on and romance novels have evolved in many ways, including women exploring and enjoying their sexuality in a variety of situations or combinations. Yet, stories centred around the virgin heroine still fly off the shelves. Why?
Maybe it’s because for most people, first sex is a huge milestone. But, even if it isn’t seen as a major life event, it’s certainly something we can all relate to. We’re either virgins or we’ve been virgins, so when the heroine makes love with the hero for the first time, we can either relate to it or, if inexperienced, we may want to relate to it.
Perhaps the reason the virgin heroine is popular stems back to childhood fairy tales. We’ve lived through the happy-ever-after romances of Cinderella and Snow White. Don’t we automatically assume that Prince Charming is Cinderella’s first lover? And who, for a second, would think that Snow White had made the most of living in close quarters with seven males and suspect she’d been deflowered by one of the dwarfs? (Although I suppose in Snow White’s case, sex wouldn’t have been particularly satisfying with a partner who kept sneezing, fell asleep in the middle of it, was too shy to take his clothes off, had a hissy-fit and stormed off during the act, or one couldn’t indulge because he’d taken the Hippocratic oath and was her doctor. And … quite possibly … Happy was happy because he’d already looked after himself!!)
What of the hero’s reaction to our heroine’s virginity? Sometimes he sees it as a turn-off because he doesn’t want to become involved with an inexperienced woman who might romanticise sex. Typically, however, he’s feeling incredibly honoured and macho that he’s been ‘the first’, (even though he’s often believed up to the point of breaking through the hymen, that our heroine has been promiscuous). Most modern men don’t seem to care they’re not the woman’s first lover—or at least they don’t admit to it. So, how do you feel as a reader about the hero’s caveman like satisfaction in having deflowered the heroine?
A common gripe from readers is the well-worn scenario where the experienced hero ‘claims’ the heroine’s virginity, she suffers fleeting pain, then proceeds to have multiple orgasms until dawn breaks. Oops! I confess to having been guilty of writing said scene. Why have I fallen into the trap of writing it? Seriously … do I want to read that the heroine was unsatisfied by our hero? A resounding no. I’d rather live the fantasy than have such a pivotal scene end with disappointment. Imagine if the heroine looked into the hero’s eyes and asked, ‘Is that it?’ So, I suspend disbelief—ignore the fact that our hero obviously runs on Eveready batteries and our heroine must have a Teflon-coated vagina to have enjoyed a night of non-stop orgasms—and I read on.
Readers on other blog sites have basically said they don’t really care whether a heroine is a virgin or not, but that if she is a virgin (especially if she’s in her twenties) they want a compelling reason as to why she’s a virgin. Without a compelling reason, it just isn’t believable given the general lifestyle in modern society. (Historical romance is a different scenario as it was more important in regency society for a well-bred young heroine to be a virgin—however in historical novels a non-virgin heroine can be an unexpected plot twist.)
A much rarer creature in romantic fiction is the male virgin. Why is that? Is it that if our hero is inexperienced in the bedroom we doubt his virility or his ability to satisfy our heroine’s sexual needs? He definitely makes fewer appearances in romance novels than the virgin heroine, but I can think instantly of two virgin heroes who’ve been written extremely well. Our own Anna Campbell wrote the fabulous Lord Sheene in Untouched, and of course there’s Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, Jamie. Neither of these heroes is lacking in virility and both novels have been supremely popular.
Is the virgin heroine outdated in today’s contemporary romance novels? What do you think? Feel free to share your pet peeves, or if you’re a fan of the virgin heroine, can you identify why those novels hold appeal?
Alyssa J Montgomery