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.

Broken Hearts & Happy Endings: 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!

Unmasking Lady Caroline & Building the Christmas Spirit


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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.

Wild Strawberries: Angela Thirkell’s Warped Downton Abbey


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Happy Halloween!

On the most magical day of the year, I’m sure many of you are bracing yourselves for the winter, preparing to write novels, or simply enjoying your pumpkin spice while wearing oversized hoodies (I am).

With a new novel to plan myself, I’m staying in today, but that doesn’t mean I’ll ignore the occasion; every Halloween I read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a tradition I created five years ago. It helps get me into the mood.

I won’t dwell on the spooky in this blog post. I’ve just finished a delightful novel called Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell. I can’t believe I haven’t heard of her before. I got it as an eBook this summer before my trip to Europe, but did not get to it until yesterday. I was not disappointed; short, sweet, and humorous, it had a springtime vibe that made me forget the chill outside.

I’ve never before read a book that made me laugh out loud. Certain scenes had me in tears. Poking fun at aristocrats with their dignified houses, Thirkell has a writing style that leaves you wanting more. She crafts characters you cannot hate, even if they behave in ridiculous ways. It made me think of Downton Abbey, especially scenes where the butler participates, except this butler is more keen to cause a fuss than Mr Carson would be.

I thought I was good at crafting characters; now I envy Thirkell, with her ease for giving each protagonist their color. There is the quirky Lady Emily Leslie, sixteen-year-old Martin who is spoiled and seems to know it, Lady Emily’s daughter, Agnes, who pulls off the “simple-minded” character–I felt like the characters had already existed, and Thirkell was commenting on the things they did, almost in a bored fashion.

After I finished Wild Strawberries, Goodreads told me it is the second book in a series; this means I will need to find the first one. I don’t know where Angela Thirkell has been all my life, but like Rosamunde Pilcher, she is a new voice that I’m glad to have found. They have different tones: Thirkell is humorous, Pilcher seemed rather melancholic, but both told tales that engrossed me.

If you like Downton Abbey, read Wild Strawberries. When I read the other books in the series, I’ll report on those as well.

Enjoy your Halloween, and I hope you get lots of candy!

Discovering The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley



This week, I am reading The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. It is another book I found at the thrift store, and I found to my delight that the writing is bold as the woman’s red hair on the cover.

Kearsley paints pictures so perfectly in my imagination that I am disconcerted when I need to put the book down.

Writing this blog post feels like a premature book review, but I need to talk about how I feel. I am fond of stories such as this, where the main character is an author; it’s fun to recognize problems in the writing process, storytelling quirks, and the determination of a writer to tell a tale.

It’s a book where the characters speak to their author. I wonder if my own characters speak to me as loudly and I do not hear. I find that, especially in the winter, it’s difficult to keep my mind clear enough to listen, in particular when I lack motivation. It must be something that comes with practice.

It breaks my heart when I find half-finished books at thrift stores. Whoever owned this copy of The Winter Sea before me read half of it and then gave up. I can tell because there’s a clean fold in the middle; the pages in the second half look fresh from a bookstore, while the first have dog-eared corners.

I’m glad to give it the love it didn’t receive from its first owner, using pencil to underline sentences I find lovely (something I would only do with a used book; I could not bear to write in a brand new novel). Some of those phrases wind up as quotes on my Instagram, because works of art should be admired, even if only a sentence out of five hundred pages.

Persistent as a cold winter breeze, the story soaks through me. It’s creeping into my list of favorite books. In it, historical fiction and romance balance like in ballet. The last time I felt this way about a book was for Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, another thrift store find that someone had abandoned half-finished.

Perhaps I’m noticing a pattern. Let the half-finished books come to me: I seem to fall in love every time.

The Empty House & Discovering Rosamunde Pilcher


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Thrift stores are exciting; one never knows what they will find. I’ve brought home things such as a teacup from Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation to a stuffed kangaroo. The clothes at thrift stores, at least in my experience, tend to be cozier; I’ve found my favorite sweaters there.

But what I find most enchanting about thrift shops are their books.

In thrift shops we find hardcover copies, most of them characterised by age and use. I have found poetry books in which passages were marked by the previous owner, little notes in the margins; it is a lovely sense of not reading alone. Also, thrift stores let us find novels that aren’t well-known; we rediscover the bestsellers of yesteryear.

I have felt tempted to weep at the books that exist but I will not have time to read. I am glad, though, that I discovered Rosamunde Pilcher in time to revel in her heartwarming stories. I will read as many of her books as I can; perhaps some brilliance will rub off on me. They have the feel of a warm cup of tea on an autumn afternoon.

The first book of Pilcher’s that I read was The Empty House. A powerful, clean romance, it gave me hope to follow Virginia’s journey as, after a tragedy, she found her own identity. She built herself from scratch, took back what was hers (including her children), and chose at last to live the life she’d dreamed of. She discovered what love is, and what it is not.

If you want a story that will make you feel good, The Empty House is a short read, and you will remember it. Not all books need to be long in order to make an impact.

It’s a lesson I learned this year: often the best stories are the ones that can be finished in a day. However, it will not be an ordinary day. If a story is good, if it has the author’s heart in it, the reader will never forget the day the book was read.

The Written World by Martin Puchner


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On the surface, The Written World looks to be a history book on the topic of literature. I discovered it was something deeper, far more delightful.

Author Martin Puchner has a love for books much like my own; this book is his journey to find the soul of literature, the source of her power, the reason she can change the world. Its reflective nature made it more powerful than a history book. Because the author included himself as the explorer, the journey feels romantic.

I have always had similar reverence for the power of reading. There is more to any book than symbols on a page; the classics, for example, have become immortal for a reason. Something about them reached into the soul of society; something about them survived, while other manuscripts vanished into history, only a few to be discovered later.

From this memoir, I gathered something I already knew: give someone the gift of literacy and they will never be helpless. Teach a child to read and you never know what they will achieve. They will discover topics that fascinate them; they’ll find their vocation, and perhaps go on to win Nobel prizes.

Of course, it suffices that they read. The power is, in the end, to read.

Once upon a time, books were expensive to own. Only the wealthy could afford to build a library. Books are more accessible now, but do people recognize their value? It is not the same to download a file off of the Internet. Books were expensive back then because of their power; let us not lose sight of that power now that they can be obtained for free.

The prices of books have changed; their value remains the same. A book can still turn the world upside-down. It was worth reading a book about books to put this into perspective. It was worth reading The Written World so that I could understand my place as a writer. It opened my eyes to the great power I have: I can read, and in doing so, I can change my world.

The Captain’s Daughter by Jennifer Delamere + Author Q&A!


Captains-Daughter-3D-trimmed-209x300I enjoy it when historical fiction books are written in different settings. So many seem to take place during the Season or inside of country houses. Though these books are enjoyable, a different setting ensures that I will remember the story.

The Captain’s Daughter by Jennifer Delamere provided a new setting. A good deal of the novel takes place backstage at a theater! Before reading this book, I hadn’t pondered how playwrights enchanted their audiences. How did they produce the special effects? It was no small feat!

The novel follows two characters involved in theater. First, we meet Rosalyn who, having fled a sticky situation, finds herself alone in London. Her hope was to join her sisters in Bristol, but when she is robbed of her belongings, it becomes clear she’ll need to work to keep a roof over her head. That is when she is hired by a theater to help with the costumes.

The second character, Nate, is a soldier. Having been injured in battle, he’s waiting at home for the wound to heal. He blames the accident on having been reckless and in love, and has sworn never to fall again, convinced it only weakens the judgment. Much to my delight, his conviction wavers when he meets Rosalyn.

If you’re looking for clean, entertaining historical fiction, The Captain’s Daughter is bold and unique! I finished it in a day!

Author Jennifer Delamere was kind enough to answer some questions about her novel. She offers words of encouragement for writers like me who might see the writing process with apprehension. I’m sure they will help you, too. To learn more about Jennifer, visit her website–and read her books!


While researching, did something surprise you about the time period? Why?

I was surprised to discover that London’s Underground Railway (now generally referred to as the Tube), was the first in the world—and that it was opened in 1863! I had always thought subways were a much later invention. However, I should not have been surprised, as the Victorians were at the vanguard of so many engineering feats, from railroads to massive city sewer works. The first underground trains used steam engines, making the ride smoky, as you might imagine. They were not electrified until the early 20th century. For books two and three of this series (The Heart’s Appeal and The Artful Match), I enjoyed being able to set scenes on the London Underground.

What are some old customs you would like to see return to fashion?

I would love to see more etiquette in our dealings with one another. Today our social interactions are somewhat of a free-for-all. Although often dismissed as stuffy and constraining, I think having agreed-upon standards could actually make people more comfortable instead of less so. They would know what to do instead of wondering or feeling clueless. And I’d love to see a return of real dancing! From English reels to waltzes to the foxtrot. Very few people seem to know how to dance today, but it used to be a common pastime. Seems like it made courtship a lot more interesting, too!

As a historical fiction author, which titles would you recommend to fans of the genre?

There are too many good ones to name! And of course, it depends on reader preferences. I can recommend the website for the Historical Novel Society (historicalnovelsociety.org), where anyone looking for a great read can search the reviews by genre (romance, mystery, thriller, western, etc.) and by time period. You might even find yourself stretching a bit by choosing a novel set in a time period or place that you haven’t read about before.

Do you have words of encouragement for the author struggling through the writing process?

Yes – keep at it! Do all you can to learn more about the craft. This includes reading books on writing, attending workshops, and considering feedback from fellow authors. While doing all this, keep writing. It takes time and application of what you’re learning to really digest the information you find in other sources, and then to figure out what to keep and what to set aside. Certain things, such as good story structure, are fairly immutable. Learn those rules well before trying to break them. Other things, such as writing style or how to write your drafts (outlining vs. not outlining, for example), you can refine as you discover what works for you. Ultimately your writing process will not be exactly like anyone else’s. So embrace that! Enjoy the discovery process of how you write as well as what you write. Also remember that no one’s first draft is perfect. Even the best authors have to edit and rewrite. So don’t get discouraged. Just keep writing.

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens


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After one month in its pages, I have finished The Pickwick Papers. It is part of my 2019 Classic Novel Challenge, one of the longer ones on the list. I’m unable to critique writing by my favorite author. How can I nitpick the gripping prose, the humorous twists and turns, the delightful poetry?

I cannot criticize work by Charles Dickens, so instead I will continue wishing I could write like him.

If I were to write like Charles Dickens, I imagine I would focus on the characters. There are so many, and the author follows many of their storylines. This way, we can see him weaving an elaborate world. How could I follow so many characters at once? If I wanted to write like him, I would need to practice having an eye on each and every one of them.

There would be a past for every traitor, a flaw for every hero. I would make readers hesitate to judge anyone harshly. I would give even the most unlikeable characters their humanity. Dialogue would be a treat to read because of my attention to dialect, the nuances that separate one protagonist from the other.

With enough detail, the most fantastic main character will feel real.

I would use words to bring out the chasm between the wealthy and poor, the places no one wants to go and the places everyone wants to be. I would show readers the homeless and destitute, how they are forgotten but still human. Men, women, and children in factories and poorhouses would have their voices heard.

My prose would have to be so graceful that the words melt into poetry. I would paint pictures in which the walls, the carpet, the tea kettle all play a part. They would be like blended colors. With my art, readers would drink in the paragraph without complaining about its length. I would immerse them so that they don’t remember how long the book is; they are part of the story.

I cannot criticize Charles Dickens. I can only hope that one day I will write something with such immortality. His works can be heavy because of their length. These novels have many chapters because they were first published as serials. Oh, to go back in time! What a delightful thought: a world in which people all went to the news stand, looking for the next chapter of their favorite story.

Maybe one day, that trend will return to life. For now, I will read these stories and bask in their light.

I’ve found time to read historical fiction this year, modern works I haven’t included in my reading list because they’re not classics. I’m doing this for research: the novel I’m working on is historical fiction. There is no better way to know the time period than reading stories about it. However, the titles on the 2019 Classic Novel Challenge are priorities.

My next classic read will be My Antonia by Willa Cather.

I hope your springtime has been pleasant; what are you reading now?

Netherwood by Jane Sanderson



Netherwood was a side read to space out my 2019 Classic Novel Challenge. Like The Lady and the Gent, it is historical fiction. Though they share a genre, these novels are delightful in their own ways.

Netherwood is more sober than The Lady and the Gent. It’s the story of a widow named Eve and her struggle to survive following the death of her husband at a coal mine. Urged to make a living doing what she’s good at, she starts baking and selling pies from her own home.

Eve’s business soon becomes so popular that there are too many customers for her to manage. Wanting to help this remarkable widow, the Earl of Netherwood gives her a building to transform into a bakery. Soon she is called to bake her pies for parties at aristocratic houses. Her work even delights the king.

The story is told from multiple points of view. We see Eve’s world through the eyes of love interests, enemies, friends and her children, giving the story layers. Each character is strong because they are flawed; each has a lesson to learn, and we feel sympathy for them.

In my opinion, Netherwood’s strength is that it’s a story about a woman surviving on her own. Unlike Margaret in The Lady and the Gent, Eve is not thinking about love. She is too busy keeping customers happy in order to feed her children. Though she does fall in love towards the end, it isn’t because she needs someone. It’s because she finally found a person who could made her smile.

Jane Sanderson’s writing style is a delight. She crafts whole characters, dialect and all, and knows how to describe emotion in a way that tugs at my heart. Setting, dialogue, character—these things are what win me over, and Netherwood excelled in them. I hope one day I can spin a story with that much skill!

What have you been reading?

The Lady and the Gent by Rebecca Connolly


Last week, I took a break from my strict 2019 Reading Challenge and searched for some historical fiction to provide a quick, happy read. Three books by Rebecca Connolly caught my eye, and in two days I had finished the first, The Lady and the Gent. The book did not disappoint; I was smiling by the time I reached the epilogue.

Wealthy and lively Lady Margaret has had three London seasons to no avail; for some reason, she fails to catch any man’s eye. At twenty-two, she is now considered old. Facing the possibility of their daughter becoming a spinster, her parents take matters into their own hands. They suggest finding her a husband in the continent.

However, Lady Margaret loves England and wants to stay. She convinces them to let her try for one more season; meanwhile, they return to the continent, scouting out potential suitors. None of them will do for her, though; she has already given her heart to a man she has never spoken to. She only sees him for ten seconds a day while on the streets.

It is perhaps not a new plot, but something about Margaret’s questionable taste struck a chord in me. I am a daydreamer; I would do the same thing. Margaret knows nothing about this man, but he is so mysterious that she cannot forget him. He is everywhere and nowhere; though he always finds her, she cannot find him.

He is a spy called The Gent by those who know him, and he is London’s best and worst kept secret. He is friends with gypsies and orphan children and all sorts of undesirables. He seems too perfect to be real, but I believe that’s why I enjoyed this story. We see his darker side when he is forced to choose between love and work, leading to disaster. When I reached the point where I wondered if even The Gent could fix it, I knew the book had hooked me.

The Lady and the Gent is a love story with a happy ending. I think we all need those every now and then. Whether or not the plot is realistic, our hearts want to believe that there is the chance of love prevailing. We want to believe two people can fight for it against all odds, risking work and reputation, always choosing each other.

This book was the highlight of my week, and I recommend it to fans of romance and historical fiction. I have Connolly’s other two books and will be reading them soon. These days I can’t help but long for stories that take me back in time.

I am also reading The Pickwick Papers, and predict at least two blog posts about it. The first will come in the next week or so. I always have a lot to say about work by Charles Dickens, and Mr. Pickwick’s crowd have given me much laughter.