Strength in Song: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir


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Two words describe The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir–heartbreaking and hopeful.

I liked the way it was written, a first person novel following the points of view of several members of an exclusively female choir. While the notion might not seem unusual now, it was previously unheard of in the book, and only formed because all of the men in the choir had gone off to war.

This choir unites the young and old, the foreign and the native, in a delightful example of how diversity can create the best music. This is, after all, what happened during WWII: people who wouldn’t have met otherwise were side-by-side in the struggle to survive, mentally and spiritually.

The ladies in this choir bond through their music. It can be seen in their letters and journal entries that, in the most desperate times, they are stronger when they come together. I think it is true that all of us are stronger when doing something we love with people we love.

Since these ladies are in different phases of life, we see the world through different lenses. We have the innocent perspective of fourteen-year-old Kitty, as well as her sister, Venetia, who is in the bud of womanhood, discovering new things. There is Silvie, a Jewish girl who is staying with them because her country is under attack. I thought it fascinating that, though Silvie’s journal entries were few and short, she was more alert.

This book shows how no woman sees the world in the same way, but friendship wins even in the midst of war. If war can bring about such growth in people so different, imagine what we could do if we would set aside our differences in times of peace!

The war inspired many stories, but The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is one I will remember because of the different colors each woman contributed; I will let it remind me that there is only so much we can do alone.

I will cherish this book, and hope that I can be strong as them, when adversity comes.

Q&A With Author Ashtyn Newbold


The Belles of Christmas collection has been the highlight of the season for me. Each novella is short and sweet enough to make the wait for Christmas Day more bearable! No two are the same, though they share similar elements–like handsome gentlemen, sweet dances, and the Happily Ever After!

Last week I got to interview author Martha Keyes, who wrote Goodwill for the Gentleman (read my review here!); this week, I interviewed Ashtyn Newbold, whose story The Earl’s Mistletoe Match (my review here!) played with my emotions in all the right ways.

Follow her on Instagram and on Facebook!


1- Where did you get the idea for The Earl’s Mistletoe Match?

The Earl’s Mistletoe Match is part of a multi-author series. Martha Keyes came to me with the idea for the series this summer, and it sounded so fun, that I had to join! The five of us authors collaborated on the idea to link our stories together by putting our characters all at the same masquerade ball at the beginning of each book. As I brainstormed my story, I wanted to play up the mistaken identity aspect that could come from a ball like that. I loved the idea of using mistletoe as well. The ideas came together and developed slowly as I came up with a title, my cover, and characters.

2- Do you believe in happily ever after?

Of course! I’ve been a hopeless romantic ever since I was a young teen, reading all the sweet romance books and watching all the cute romantic comedies. I’m a believer that books and movies should have that HEA, and that it can happen in real life too. Happily ever after encompasses so much more than romance though, and a theme I always try to put in my stories is that happiness is also a choice. No matter what life gives us, if we are always wanting or waiting for something more, we might miss out on the happily ever after we already have.

3- Do you have a Christmas tradition or memory you would like to share with readers?

I spend Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house every year, where we have soup for dinner, sing Christmas songs, exchange gifts, and watch the younger grandkids act out the nativity. For as long as I can remember, this has been how my family spends Christmas Eve, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Q&A With Author Martha Keyes


img_4797Goodwill for the Gentleman is one of the warmest stories I’ve read this year. If you want to know why, check out my review here. It is an amazing joy to have contacted the author, Martha Keyes, with questions about this charming Christmas story that had me believing in happy endings again.

I believe that speaking with the author and seeing their view of the world adds depth to a story, and the answers to these questions certainly did that. If you have not yet started the Belles of Christmas collection, I highly suggest you do so; each of these tales will leave you with a light heart and a great deal of hope.

Be sure to check out Martha’s new novel, Cecilia, which was released this weekend. I can’t wait to get lost in it!

Without further ado, here are the questions!


1. What was the inspiration for Goodwill for the Gentleman?

A few factors played into this, actually. Because the book is part of a multi-author series, we had to decide a few ground rules at the beginning. One of those was the year the story was taking place. The year we chose (1813) was a very, very cold winter in England. They had very intense winter weather, and I thought about that quite a bit as I tried to decide on a story. Interestingly, I decided upon a title before anything else. I had been brainstorming things we associate with Christmas—words, phrases, smells, etc.—and I came upon the word “goodwill” and the phrase “good will toward men/man” from a couple of well known Christmas songs. I thought that was an interesting concept if I just changed it to “goodwill for the gentleman.” And from that, the beginnings of the story were born!

IMG_9452.12. Is there a message you want readers to learn from it?

I really wanted readers (and myself) to think about the way we view the people around us. We are always operating with limited information as we make judgments and assumptions about others, just as Emma is in the book. She has taken the behavior of Hugh in jilting her sister and kind of assumed the worst of him. As she comes to know him, she realizes that there is so much more to him than the one thing she has judged him on and that even that action wasn’t as selfish as it appeared. I am a religious person, and I find that Christmas is a wonderful time of year for us to reevaluate any grudges we are holding and try to do for others what Christ does for each of us—believe in us and the believe the best of us. I hope that those things come through a bit in the story.

3. Do you have a nice Christmas memory or tradition you would like to share?

I grew up in a family that focused heavily on music, and one of our Christmas Eve traditions is for each of us to choose our favorite Christmas song or hymn to sing together while my mom plays the piano. There are eight kids in my family (plus a number of spouses), so it actually takes quite awhile to do this, but I think it brings a special spirit that only music can. Over the past five or so years, we have shifted things a bit to where we don Santa hats and go caroling to a few of our neighbors who are home-bound or elderly, bringing along a bag of caramels to gift them. I live in Utah, and we often have snowy Christmases, so we are all ready to cozy up when we get back from doing this. I love bringing a bit of Christmas cheer to people who might otherwise spend Christmas Eve alone.

Review: The Earl’s Mistletoe Match


The Earl’s Mistletoe Match by Ashtyn Newbold is the third book in the Belles of Christmas collection. However, it seemed to me the most powerful.

It must have been the characters; their attitudes and motives are very real. They are not perfect, and they know it. They make decisions they regret. They struggle.

It starts out with romantic drama. Olivia, a spinster, pretends to be her cousin Esther at a masquerade, when she suspects an earl plans to court her.

Olivia does this out of mistrust for the earl, Andrew. She has been hurt in the past by men of rank; being in charge of her cousin now, she does not want Esther to endure the same.

Olivia does not count on the earl falling for her, instead.

Their conversation at the ball was short and did not end well. However, it was long enough for Andrew to fall in love with the lady behind the mask, the one he believes to be Esther.

When Andrew goes to Esther’s house to apologize for his behavior at the ball, he is no fool. The Esther he meets sounds and acts nothing like she did while hidden behind the mask.

It’s not long before he spots Olivia and realizes there was a switch. What he cannot figure out is why. How come Olivia mistrusts him so?

High expectations from families and a fear of disappointing are the driving forces for these characters. How I love it when, in a story, expectations are tossed out the window and love wins, as it should.

The Earl’s Mistletoe Match is a quick read that will lift your spirits. I promise there is a happy ending; we can all certainly use more of those.

Goodwill for the Gentleman: Emma & the Beast


The second novel in the Belles of Christmas collection, Goodwill for the Gentleman by Martha Keyes was a delight. It tugged at my heart in all the right ways; it was a balance of sadness and romance that kept me hooked.

I love to read about tormented characters, and this book had just that. Lieutenant Hugh has returned home from war to a house where his family has thought him dead, because he has not written to them in a long time.

Why did he stay away for so long that they thought him dead? The answer is simple: matters of the heart. Love can make us do things that we regret; thankfully, in fiction, there are happy endings.

He left for the war after refusing to marry a woman he did not feel he loved enough. The decision to set her free, though well meaning, made him the beast in the eyes of society—including in the eyes of the woman he truly loves, Emma Caldwell.

To complicate matters, Emma is the sister of the young lady he turned down. Can love get more complicated? Well…yes.

When at last Hugh returns home, he finds that none other than Emma has come over to visit, and she is not pleased to see him. Can it get more complicated? Yes—because a snowstorm kicks in, making the roads unmanageable and trapping them under the same roof for Christmas.

Not wanting to spoil the family reunion, Emma suggests a truce: they will pretend to get along for the benefit of his mother, who is happy for the first time since he left. How long will their truce last? How long before they are no longer pretending to be kind to each other, but gentle words come from the heart?

I waited impatiently for Emma’s heart to melt; I felt Hugh’s pain when he sensed no one needed him. By the end of the book, I was an emotional wreck, but it was worth it.

This collection of Christmas themed stories has not been a disappointment; I cannot wait for the third, which I will start tomorrow. What a warm, cozy way to settle into the holiday spirit!

Review: Unmasking Lady Caroline


Hoping to feel the Christmas spirit early this year while easing into my genre, I’ve been looking for Christmas-themed regency books. Imagine my delight when I found a collection exists of Christmas stories which bring to mind the smell of pinecones and the splendor of Downton Abbey! It’s called Belles of Christmas, and I have to say the covers alone are beautiful.

Of the five novels, three have been released, and two remain for pre-order. The three available are Unmasking Lady Caroline, Goodwill for the Gentlemen and The Earl’s Mistletoe Match. To find the books, click here!

Naturally, I began the series with Unmasking Lady Caroline. I could not put it down. Lady Caroline is a spinster; her mother seems convinced there is no hope left for her. I felt sad for Caroline. Though she played a silly game that could have cost her her happiness, I cannot judge.

When, at a masquerade, she spots a friend she’s always had feelings for, she keeps on her mask and does not tell him her name. Instead, she keeps her secret and adopts the alias of Miss Tree. Drawn to her and frustrated, her friend, Peter, is determined to find Miss Tree and win her heart.

He does not realize for a long time that Miss Tree is his friend, Lady Caroline, with whom he played as a child. He hasn’t seen Caroline in ten years, having spent that time traveling to escape a scandal; now that he’s returned and she’s grown into a woman, everything about her has changed, including his feelings for her.

It amused me that he became so taken by the anonymous Miss Tree while obviously harboring feelings for Caroline, but we all know that the heart does strange things. There’s a happy ending in this book: he finds his Miss Tree, but not without a roller coaster of trouble and emotion.

What struck me about this story is the personal growth of Lady Caroline. She’s been told for so long that she’s not needed that she’s grown to believe it. I think that’s why she chose to hide as Miss Tree, why she held on to that alias until circumstance pulled it away.

She never thought someone could fall in love with her; for Christmas, she was proven wrong.

A clean and short read, I finished Unmasking Lady Caroline in a day. It’s a page turner. The minor characters are endearing, and the description is so well done that I could smell snow and feel the trees when they went into the forest.

Lovers of historical fiction must give this charming novel a try. Meanwhile, I’m eager to get to the second book in the collection, Goodwill to the Gentlemen.

The Novel-In-Progress: Twins & Swans


Along with hundreds of writers all over the world, I began a new novel earlier this month.

When I chose to write a high fantasy this November, I expected it to be difficult. Self-doubt crept up; I almost chose to work on a series I’m already writing, because the setting would be familiar. High fantasy seemed a daunting challenge; I feared I hadn’t read enough of it to write my own.

Ten days later, I had written the fifty thousands words; the story breathed itself to life. I feel like the characters dictated their journeys, for they use their own voices. Every time I sit down for a writing session, I feel that I’m living a second life.

This month I remembered how it feels to write a new book, exploring new territory. Being a pantser most of the time, I wander without a map. 50k spilled out in ten days because my writing muscle had been neglected for too long.

Since January, I have been editing a book to publish next year; how refreshing it is to be in an unfamiliar world, where I can get lost and make up my own rules.

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Things turned interesting when I decided to share snippets of my story on Instagram. I did it because I wanted to try something different; everyone clings to quotes about writing by dead authors, such as that about moonlight on broken glass.

Since it is my Instagram, I thought it would make the scene more personal if the words shared were mine. I wasn’t expecting so many people to enjoy the snippets; I’ve had offers to beta read when the project is done. Knowing that people look forward to the novel as I write it–oh, it keeps me motivated!

The working title for this novel is The Swan, but it is liable to change by the time the book is done.

Having reached the word count goal, I’ve decided to keep writing. I won’t rush it, though. I want to reach a satisfactory ending, since I don’t plan to make it a series; it’s going to be a stand-alone novel, a very long one. When it is on paper, whether traditional or self-published, the weight of those words will bring me joy.

This might be my one great work, or the beginning of many; I only know that the writing process has been a source of joy. It has helped me cope with dark moments as we enter a season plagued by grief.

When I read my draft, I can hardly believe that I wrote it. It’s brilliant, compared to my first books. One day, I hope you will be able to meet the Princesses Tressa and Roisin; they have become two very different sides of me.