Monday 1 February 2021

The Breathless List – Pandemic Style

And an update from the Breathless in the Bush ladies

(Sorry in advance! This is a long one)

Normally, in January each year, the Breathless in the Bush ladies reveal their favourite ANZ romance read of the year.

But, let’s be serious, 2020 wasn’t a NORMAL year.

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And so, while we didn’t want to leave you hanging without a list, we did take a slightly different approach this year – compiling a list of the books (or not books) that got us through 2020 (and, we do note that they are not all Aussie or Kiwi this year).

First up, our book reviewer extraordinaire, Miranda who, when asked which books helped her survive 2020 gave us the following great recommendations;

I found The Great Escape From Woodlands Nursing Home by Australian GP Joanna Nell a terrific example of the endurance of the human spirit, friendship, and love. This book is a story of connection in a nursing home, an environment most people don't want to find themselves in, told with great warmth, empathy and lovely gentle humour. It gives hope that no matter what the circumstances, others are also going through tough times, and there is always a kindred spirit who understands - or has an inkling - what you are going through. Every time I think of the book, I smile. The perfect thing to read in lockdown. 

Another wonderful pick-me-up romance to read in these troubled times is Marry in Scarlet by Anne Gracie. This book is the end of a 'Marriage of Convenience' series, so I'd met and been highly entertained by these characters before (although you can read this stand alone - but why would you when you can have 4 delicious books to inhale?). I think the anticipation of reading the fiery marriage of the icy cool duke and the wonderfully independent and slightly reckless, impetuous George (Lady Georgiana) was just fabulous. She turned every stuffy outdated thought he had on its head, and made him completely rethink the way he treated women and marriage - for the better (yay!). In the process she was still honest and 'herself' to the core, a complete heroine. I absolutely loved their rocky road to love; the story showed that love changes everything. The romantic in me loves that!

For the wonderful Breathless lady, Lynne, she discovered the wonderful Natasha Lester and devoured all of Natasha’s backlist. Lynne said:

I read all her wonderful books taking me to what I have found to be a most romantic time in history.

Amongst all the dangers and atrocities, there are incredible stories of love and survival and Natasha has certainly recreated wonderful stories in this time frame.

So hard to pick a favourite but if pushed would have to say The Paris Secret which combines a compelling romance with an intriguing mystery.  Definitely a can't put down story which I found to be case with all her books.

Lynne also told me that as long as there are books like Natasha’s to read, lockdown can go on forever.

Yeah, nah Lynne… I love your thinking, but I cannot be stuck in my house FOREVER 😉

And then the fabulous historical romance author Cassandra found solace in Amy Rose Bennett’s How to Catch a Sinful Marquess. This story is book three in Amy Rose’s Disreputable Debutantes series, described by the author as: a reserved debutante and a former soldier make an unlikely but fated match as they hasten for the Isle of Skye and, I mean, who doesn’t like disreputable debutants, soldiers and Scotland! Cassandra said that this book was "just the tonic I needed after finding it hard to read anything."

And finding it hard to read ANYTHING was certainly an affliction suffered by others in the Breathless in the Bush team. Both Jayne and Alyssa reported finding it hard to find the energy to read with everything else happening – whether that was writing work, work work or family and friends. Jayne did find some escape in Tricia Stringer’s The Family Inheritance – which, she says, highlighted the importance of family and communication. Jayne said:


One thing I really felt through Covid was how lucky I am to have my family all living in Australia, even though I wasn't able to see them as often as normal due to living in different states, at least I knew they were safe and close. A few friends of mine have family overseas and I couldn't imagine how painful it must be knowing that it could be years until they would be able to easily visit each other in person again. 

Alyssa, on the other hand, commented that she had found some solace in work. Working as a speech pathologist in the day job, Alyssa noted that it was good to know she was helping, and that there was plenty of variety coming in her front door!

And then there was Marilyn, who struggled with romance and happily ever afters in 2020 (SHOCK! HORROR! KIDDING!).

Finding it hard to find romances that interested her, Marilyn turned to other genres to fill her well but (OF COURSE!) returned to romance via a Barbara Erskine dual timeline historical romance, Sleeper’s Castle. Marilyn LOVES time slip stories, and said that she had been meaning to read this one for a long time as Barbara is the QUEEN of time slips (at least according to Marilyn!). Marilyn said:

'Two women, centuries apart. Linked in a place haunted by its history' is the tagline that drew me in, that and the fact that it's set in Wales (we had to cancel our third trip there in mid-2020, and I am so missing it!). It's a haunting tale with one heroine's story set in the 1400s, the other, a modern-day heroine. 

Great characters, fabulous settings. If only we could travel back in time... 

And then, unlike many of us, who did not get the memo until Netflix launched Bridgerton on Christmas Day, Sharon found the Julia Quinn bandwagon early in 2020! She, of course, started at Book 1 with The Duke and I but then read through all 8 of the Bridgerton books and followed those with the Rokesby series. Sharon said:

I loved escaping from the worries of the pandemic year into a world of romance, particularly Regency romance. Julia Quinn’s characters are the sort of people I would love to know well, and her novels are real page turners. Of course, my Regency romance year culminated with the release of the first series of Bridgerton on December 25. I’ve watched it twice already.

Then, last but not least, is the gorgeous Enisa, who returned to an old fave, Nora Roberts (Queen Nora, if you please!) and a new series, The Chronicles of the One. Enisa said:

Part fantasy, part romance, part adventure, the series (written over 3 years just before 2020), starts in Ireland with an event that causes the outbreak of a deadly virus that kills off most of the world's population (an eerie echo of Covid-19). Many who survive discover they have abilities stemming from 'magick.' This magick creates fear and hatred in those who aren't left gifted and wars break out, threatening humanity. It is up to one such gifted girl, and the boy who is her destiny, to save her new people. Loved, loved, loved this series. 

That the book was about a virus pandemic that has love fighting hate drew me in. I'm a sucker for stories where good wins against evil.

Who isn’t a sucker for good winning against evil? Seriously? Who isn’t?

Oh, yeah. And then there’s the book that got me through 2020.

I actually read more than I thought I did this year, but I did tend to read in fits and starts rather than consistently. And when I read – I binged authors and backlists. Katee Robert, Kylie Scott, Amy Andrews, K. Bromberg and Helena Hunting all have lots of entries on my ‘have read’ list. Yet, when I looked at my list I can’t say that any single book got me through 2020 – it was probably a podcast that saved my sanity – the Fated Mates podcast with Sarah Maclean and Jen Prokop (hey, I’m writing the list, I can go off track if I want!). If you aren’t already listening to this podcast, what are you waiting for? There are THREE seasons to catch up on. Sarah and Jen are knowledgeable, honest and if you don’t laugh at least five times during each show, I don’t know what’s wrong with you!

An update from Breathless in the Bush

On 19 March 2020 I (Kristine), like who knows how many other people lucky enough to be able to do so, I started working from home.

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Since that day I’ve been into the office on less than 10 occasions (most of them actually in January 2021). Like almost everyone in the country I’ve spent innumerable hours staring down the barrel of my laptop’s camera, on Zoom, Skype, Teams and Facebook Messenger, ‘virtually’ talking to all the people I’d usually be seeing face to face. I’ve been entertained by and wanted to strangle my mother* in equal measure (we live together), I’ve missed family dinners, Easter and Christmas gatherings, conferences, travel and hoarded just a little toilet paper. 

I even started watching Netflix (yes, I was LATE to that party…).

Others have lost friends and family members, or have not been able to see and spend time with loved ones, whether those loved ones were in aged care homes, interstate, or across the world. They’ve been sick and they’ve been scared. This virus has been serious business. Honestly, I don’t know how many times I’ve been just a little thankful that my father passed away in November 2019 and not November 2020 because I DO NOT KNOW how I would have said goodbye from such a distance. 

Love your family and friends peeps. From a safe distance. With masks. And hand sanitiser.

And yes, in saying all this, I recognise how lucky we have been in Australia. Less than 1000 dead is still too many, and yet still much better than the numbers we’re seeing in the US, UK and Europe. We’ve also had significantly less people fall ill and, like always, we’ve recognised the Aussie spirit – pulling together off the back of floods and fires, to manage this virus as best we can.

But, 2020 has also invited us all to rethink our relationships with work, families, friends, and, importantly for us Breathless in the Bush ladies, writing. I don’t know about you but the one benefit I saw of working from home – avoiding the commute and WRITING ALL THE WORDS, funnily did not materialise in the way I’d imagined 😉 Yes, clearly I can still procrastinate like a boss.

So, in light of 2020, and on behalf of all the BitB clan, I’m writing to share an announcement.

Breathless is NOT going anywhere but, at least for 2021, we will be a little less prolific, publishing our blog every second month or so, rather than pretty much every week. We love everyone in our community – and we love blogging for you, but it’s just not feasible for us to keep up this pace!

We will be back later in February with our stalwart, Enisa Haines, leading the charge. We’ll then have posts up in later in February and around mid-month in April, June, August, October and December and, last but not least, OF COURSE, will be Miranda with her annual, and irreplaceable, Christmas round up. 

If you haven’t already read 2020’s round up, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? IT’S HERE.

We might also pop by from time to time when we have NEWS to share… a fabulous read, a celebration (when, finally, I’ve FINISHED a manuscript!) or just something funny (because, frankly, we need more funny in 2021). But we won’t be in your eyeballs every week.

We hope that you, our amazing community, understands our need to take a little breath (tee hee, see what I did there…) and we hope you’ll stay with us – and share with us in the comments below some of the reads (or other things) that got you through 2020.

Kristine xx

* PS, just to be clear, I don’t REALLY want to strangle my mother. It’s a turn of phrase… Don’t call the cops on me!

Kristine Charles writes sexy tales where coffee (and red wine) is abundant, designer shoes and handbags are cheap, chocolate has no calories and men always put the toilet seat down. Find her at, or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

LOVE TO LOVE: the Aussie romance writing, and reading community, who all pulled together in 2020.

LOVE TO LAUGH: At quarantine jokes… Come on, tell me these (from Fatherly) don’t elicit at least a chuckle…

Ran out of toilet paper and started using lettuce leaves. Today was just the tip of the iceberg, tomorrow romaines to be seen.

After years of wanting to thoroughly clean my house but lacking the time, this week I discovered that wasn't the reason.

The World Health Organisation announced that dogs cannot contract COVID-19. Dogs previously held in quarantine can now be released. To be clear, WHO let the dogs out. 

And yes, thank me for putting that earworm in your head. Woof! 

LOVE TO LEARN: Or, at least, to sign up for learning. I’ve signed up for MasterClass, and Babbel in the last year or so and yet… I still procrastinate by watching reruns of The West Wing… go figure.


  1. What a fabulous collection of authors and books! It's always interesting reading everyone else's choice of a great read. Looking forward to following up on some of these recommendations.

  2. Thanks so much Kristine, for being the voice of our new 2021 (and maybe even improved) blog! I'm like Marilyn, I absolutely adore seeing what people are reading, and making lists, and all right, improving them twice... (sorry). After your quarantine jokes (which I absolutely laughed at), I feel I'm allowed to make that little one. Is it bad to already be excited about my post in December? BECAUSE I AM. So hang in there, readers, it's all happening here this year and we love you and value your comments. xx

  3. P.S. I absolutely *adored* watching my way through Bridgerton, and like Sharon, did my reading homework before I watched. Bring on Season 2!

  4. What a great list. I also re-read the Duke and I before watching Bridgerton. Such a great series of books by Julia Quinn and a delightful tv series.

  5. Love everyone's book selections! Each sounds enthralling. Am so tempted to add to my TBR pile which I recently culled...and culled. Sigh...

  6. It’s great to have everyone’s reading recommendations. My “to be read” pile is about to grow.

  7. A fantastic list and contribution as always Kristine ☺️ Thank you for putting this together! X

  8. Thank you Kristine for compiling all the recommendations and comments. I'm feeling nothing like a writer at the moment because my day job spills over very late into the evening, and I'm just not getting time to read either. However, it is still great to be connected to the romance community through our Breathless in the Bush group; Romance Writers of Australia and the Australian Romance Readers Association. Looking forward to getting my author's hat back on as soon as possible!


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