New year, new look, new plans

I hope you like the new look website. For a while now I’ve wanted to consolidate some of my different sites into one, and I’m so glad to have finally done it. I hope you’ll find it easy to locate the content you’re interested in.  Occasional posts (like this one) will appear in several of the different blog pages, but mostly they’ll be separated out.

If you have any feedback, especially about accessibility, please let me know.

Plans for 2016:

In the Resources section, I do plan to make some Christian colouring and meditation resources available. I’ve got a couple of Bible study guides to polish up and format for the site. I’d like to finally start getting some Song of Songs resources together this year.  Of course, a lot of my time is now spent producing various resources for the Online Pastor website that I run as part of my job, so you might be interested in checking that too.

Under the Romance heading, I am very hopeful that following the hiatus in 2015, there will be some new content here in 2016. I’ve started working on a story for an anthology of over-40s romance which won’t be out until October. But I think there might be one or two other things coming sooner than that. Stay tuned!

And, always the most fun part of the new year, I have lots of new craft plans. I’m going to sign up for a weekly art class – I signed up in September but it was cancelled, so I’m really hoping that won’t happen again. I’ve got a cardigan to finish knitting and a quilt to finish hand-quilting. I started a new embroidery project yesterday, which I LOVE. After that’s finished, I am going to work through my RSN embroidery book, tackling the lessons and projects in an attempt to improve my technique. I’ve just joined the Embroiderers’ Guild and I’d like to start going along to the local branch whenever possible.

That seems like plenty to be getting on with, now that I’ve got this full-time job taking up all my free time!

Not a review of That Book

Because I couldn’t bring myself to keep reading past 13%. But some assorted thoughts.

First, it’s obviously true that the story of Esther is not a romance.  However, personally I don’t think this means it can’t ever be reimagined as a romance or inspire a romance. Plenty of satisfying romance novels draw on non-romance sources such as ancient myths, fairytales and classic literature. I do think it means that you can’t simply do a re-telling of Esther and call it a romance. You have to transform the story to make it a romance.

Second, I don’t think it is per se appropriative or oppressive for Christians to claim the Hebrew scriptures as their text. I understand why Jewish readers feel that it is and I agree that they have every right to express those feelings. In a sense this issue is at the heart of what divides Jews from Christians – the Christian claim that the NT is the fulfilment of the Hebrew Scriptures is fundamentally opposed to the Jewish belief that it is not. But since Jesus himself and all his earliest followers were Jews, they were not outsiders appropriating a text which did not belong to them. They were insiders, seeing how the promises they knew from their own text were being fulfilled in Christ and extended to people from all nations. I can’t apologise for that.  I can’t apologise for believing that the Hebrew scriptures are fundamentally Christian since that’s where I believe they find their fulfilment. I don’t expect Jewish readers to agree with me on that, obviously.  I do think it’s worth realising how deeply-seated this issue goes – it’s not just about politeness, it’s about matters which are fundamental to the distinction between the two religions.

Third, I think it’s really, really important that we tell stories about Nazi Germany. We need stories to help us remember and to help us understand. Germans in the 1930s and 40s were not a different breed from the rest of us. They were not a separate species of monster. They were people who through a combination of circumstances ended up behaving and believing in monstrous ways. If we start to believe ‘we would never…’ or ‘it could never happen here…’ or ‘it could never happen now…’, we open the door to letting it happen again. We need to realise that people are capable of horrific brutality and inhumanity, and work hard at stopping the circumstances and ways of thinking that let it happen.

Fourth, I do believe that nobody is beyond redemption and that anybody can be forgiven. That’s hard to understand, but it is a fundamental part of my Christian faith. The God I believe in is a God of redemption. That’s what he does – he takes people who are his enemies, he forgives them, he renews them, he gives them a new life and his own Spirit to help them keep living differently. Redemption is God’s work, not ours.  In a narrative, a character can be redeemed in other ways, as the author shows us their repentance and real change.  But for a character whose actions have taken them way beyond normal limits, that sort of narrative redemption is hard to pull off in a way that demonstrates real repentance, real change and also appropriate consequences for his actions. Any redemption narrative for a Nazi prison guard is going to need to involve a war crimes trial, for instance.

Forgiveness is different from redemption. People who are utterly unrepentant and unchanged can still be forgiven.  Forgiveness comes from the injured party and entails them letting go of their anger, bitterness and hurt towards their oppressor. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you waive any consequences of the action, or that you have to re-establish a relationship in exactly the same way as before. Broken trust, for example, may still have consequences. But forgiveness does mean not seeking vengeance and not feeling animosity.   Corrie Ten Boon’s autobiography shows just one example of people who were imprisoned in concentration camps and were able to forgive their guards.

Forgiveness is hard and it gets harder as the wrong done against you and those you love increases. For Christians, forgiveness is a command. We are to forgive those who wrong us, because God has forgiven us for all the wrong we have done him.

Fifth, and this is more or less why I couldn’t read That Book, I don’t believe that there is any room for romance novels between Nazi officers and Jewish prisoners. A romance novel requires a central relationship with an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. It seems to me that there are several reasons why this is never going to work:

(i) The power imbalance is so great that the central relationship is never going to be emotionally satisfying.

(ii) The romantic leads need to be ‘heroes’. That is, they need to be people we care about, people we are rooting for, people who ‘deserve’ a happy ending.

(iii) The religious differences between the protagonists can’t be overlooked in this setting. I do think you could have a successful Jewish/Christian romance novel set at a different time, but not in this case. Not with a hero who has chats with Eichmann before breakfast and a copy of the Final Solution in his office.

(iv) There is no happy ending. There just isn’t. The only suitable ending which might redeem his character at all is going to involve him being convicted of war crimes and thrown into prison for the rest of his life. This is not exactly your romance HEA.  The best ending for her is that she survives, gets to move to a new country and build a new life.

Sixth, there is definitely no way this works as an ‘inspirational’ – read ‘Christian’ – romance. There is an ambiguous conversion in the book. Some readers think that her reading of John 3:16 and subsequent prayer imply a conversion to Christianity and others don’t. My sense is that within the expections of the inspie subgenre, that should probably be taken as a conversion, since the genre requires both protagonists to be Christians for their HEA.  I’ve talked before about my issues with conversion romances, but in this case the issues are so much greater than that, given the set up.

 

So, yeah. Don’t read this book. Just don’t.

 

 

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.

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.”

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