Nine Ladies Dancing: Clinging to Youth


It’s frightening to grow up. Taking on responsibilities, leaving old habits behind, speaking of childhood in the past tense—it’s no wonder so many people take their time, whether or not they realize it. The world is a scary place, after all.

I believe this message was the strongest theme for Nine Ladies Dancing, the fourth novella in the Belles of Christmas collection, which I have been enjoying thoroughly.

Add to my above list the future inheritance of a grand estate and title. It’s no wonder the male protagonist, Matthew, has not yet grown up, seeking comfort in the things that make him feel free…such as horses. His parents have noticed, though, that he isn’t getting any younger, and neither are they.

With this in mind, his mother strikes a deal with him: he must get to know nine ladies before Twelfthnight. If he does not fall in love with any of them, she will finally stop telling him what to do with his life. To make the deal sweeter, his father promises him a new horse if he doesn’t fall for any of them.

As a reader, I laughed quite a bit at the horse detail. He prefers a horse to true love! But, back to the review.

It sounds easy to not fall in love, so Matthew accepts the deal with his mother. The catch, which he does not realize until several embarrassing incidents later, is that he was already in love…but with the last person he could have imagined. Meg does love him, though, and puts up an admirable fight.

Too bad he’s so obsessed with the new horse that, eventually, Meg gives up. When Meg gives up fighting for him—well, something doesn’t feel quite right with his head…or is it his heart?…he cannot decide. Suddenly, though, he’s far more interested in her and what she’s doing—and the gentlemen she’s talking to.

Eventually, the horse is no longer so enticing.

My heart ached many times over the course of this book for Meg and for silly Matthew. It’s a well known truth that you do not know what you have until you lose it; however, this book has a happy ending, which soothed that ache. Matthew finally does grow up.

I waited eagerly for this book to release, and finished it in a day. All of the novellas in this collection have me enchanted, and I’ll be sad when there are no more. Also, I think the cover for Nine Ladies Dancing is the most beautiful of the five. However, they all make me dream.

I’m already reading the final novella, A Duke for Lady Eve. Thankfully, there are more sweet Regency novels from these authors, and I won’t have to say good-bye to the magic that is in this collection. I am so glad to have found it; every book was worth the read!

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!

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.

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 Charles Dickens Museum


I have a confession to make: I almost did not leave England. I can’t tell you what I would have done should I have stayed, being utterly unprepared for a move to a different country. Still, I cried on the night before we were to fly out. It had been lovely to walk the streets, take buses, and admire old buildings. I knew I was going to miss them, and I already do.

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I can’t say that, during this trip, I found the London I read of in books. I didn’t expect to, either. A lot of time has passed between now and the England of Charles Dickens. Buildings have been torn down or made into shops; skyscrapers have been built that he would likely have thought hideous.

Yet beneath all this change, this modernisation, something felt familiar.

I might have been a tourist with only distant relations to England (ancestors from Derbyshire) and I might not have known where anything was. Still, there was something about the air as I walked. In my heart I couldn’t help but think, Ah, this is familiar. I am where I ought to be.

What is this magic that made me feel as if I had been there before? I can only think it is the power of story. The novels I read paint a different place than that which I saw, but those words captured the soul of that city like a sponge. When you tell a story about a person, you’re speaking of the person, whether they change or not. The same is true for cities.

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I almost did not leave London. The only thought that got me into the plane out was the knowledge that I hadn’t the money to start over. I also did not want to make a rash decision blinded by the charm of tourism. However, I have every intention of going back, and perhaps the second time I will stay.

I was in love with England from the moment I stepped onto her soil.

Ten days in England was not enough to see all I wanted to, but it was possible to cover the basics. Buckingham Palace, the National Gallery, the Tower of London–it was all lovely. Having said that, my favorite place was the Charles Dickens museum.

You might call my love for his work an obsession. He had a grip with the English language that I cannot find with other authors; if you know of someone else whose work I might enjoy that much, I am open to suggestions.

We visited the Charles Dickens museum on our last day, with four hours to go before a rush to the airport. We rose earlier that morning and my mother asked me, “Do you want to see the Charles Dickens house?”

I had resigned myself to putting off my visit for the next trip; it was a sweet, unexpected surprise when she woke me to such an invitation. I dressed in a heartbeat and we called a taxi.

I felt chills as we wandered the museum, which is actually his house. It is encouraging as a writer to know that one of the greatest authors of all time had a desk to work at, a piano to play; he needed a bed to sleep on, and he had a library. His talent was great, but he was  human like me. I can be a successful author while being myself.

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A family photo with Dickens’ silhouette next to me–how charming!

There came a moment when I was alone in his library, and I told him, “Thank you for the stories.” Maybe he heard me; if not, at least I tried.

I think some of his inspiration rubbed off on me, because now that I am home I feel like writing again. I feel like publishing another book. I want to go back to being a writer.

Until the day comes when I can return to England, I will read more about her. There is so much to know. I will learn her literature and poetry, I will explore my roots, I will improve as a writer.

This trip to Europe has done wonders for me. I doubt I will have my house made into a museum like Dickens’, but I will at least have a reader or two. I will at least write again.

Walking the Unpaved Road


I know few people can travel for the sake of creativity. It isn’t the only way to overcome Writer’s Block, but it does work. I am blessed to have been able to visit lovely places and have new experiences.

It’s true that adventure, exploring the world, will do your creativity a wealth of good. Here in England, I have been brave enough to start a new novel.

There are many firsts in this novel. To start with, it’s inspired by what I see: old buildings, rides in the train, rainy weather. The first scene takes place in a train, albeit an older version. Secondly, I am not planning to make it a series. I don’t care about the length of the piece; what I want is a good story from beginning to end.

Leave your comfort zone and drink in what you see. I promise that eventually you will feel a new story growing in you, a flower pushing through hard dirt. It might take years for the seedling to see light, but if you’re patient enough, it’ll be something you love—something you want to write.

My favorite quote has always been by Vincent Van Gogh—

Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.

I am fascinated by Van Gogh and his very sad story. I did not expect I’d be able to see some of his work in person.

Today we visited the National Gallery in London; I saw wonderful works, including his famous paintings of the chair and the sunflowers. I obtained a copy of his letters. I want to know how he saw the world, and connect with him a bit.

Museums give me chills. It’s a shame we went too late and were not able to see all the paintings, but I am happy with what I ran into. It’s possible we might return before we leave England, but if not, I have art books at home.

Reading about art isn’t the same; books are still magical.

I am not the same person I was when I left home. When a dream comes true, something in you feels brighter. You are like the flower pushing through the dirt, except the flower has bloomed. Eventually it’ll wilt and drop seeds for new flowers, new dreams. I have grown and I know it.

If you can travel, do.

Thoughts on the Louvre


I mourn that I was unable to see all the works in the Louvre and appreciate them. It would require a lifetime studying each piece from every possible angle. I would have to make my home in the halls of the museum: each piece of art offers hours of contemplation.

I cannot live in the museum; this is the reason that art books exist, so that we can take the pieces home with us, in a sense.

However, books do not give us chills in the same way as the real works. Gazing at an original painting, we imagine the artist before his canvas, working to shade an eyelid or smile, or chiseling the look of agony on a statue’s face.

Books will not give us the same connection with the creator. Museums have this power: walking from frame to frame, statue to statue, goosebumps rise on our skin.

We feel mixed emotions. First comes hope—because such beauty is possible and can come from the human imagination, can be created by human hands.

Then follows a sense of despair, because to create such glorious pieces, we must dedicate our lives to practice. Most of us give up too easily.

But there is another despair: many of these artists had no way of predicting their work would be loved centuries later. They died in obscurity.

Does this not also give us hope? Art is not about fame, but fulfillment.

I choose to hold onto the positive feelings that gave me chills at the Louvre. My writing might seem scarce at this moment. I sense I am not doing enough to create something immortal. Fame is not the point. Perhaps my words will become famous after I have left this world.

What to do in the meanwhile? I will continue to create—because it heals me and fulfills me. I will not worry about fame.

In peace and in love, I will live a life of creating and learning.

My Own Account of London


When I first started reading books, I discovered their ability to transport the reader to different places. Between covers I have been to many locations, a good percentage of which are not real…but many that do exist somewhere on this planet. Of these I have enjoyed glimpsing between the lines.

How strange to think I am visiting these places. France? England? These were lands I knew because I read of them. For years I devoured written accounts from authors, fiction and nonfiction.

I’ve seen different versions of England, from Dickens to Rowling. Many French authors—classic and contemporary—have taken me to Paris. What a blessing to be going. I will have a chance to see these countries from my own angle; I will be able to tell readers of my own version.

I will have accounts of my own. My feet will tread cities ancient, sidewalks that have seen revolution and change. I’ll encounter buildings immortalized in beloved novels. I will have a chance to visit the graves of great authors, pray in old cathedrals, see castles.

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As I packed, I listened to The Four Seasons and La Vie en Rose, letting the beauty of song mingle with my excitement. I have chosen Pride and Prejudice to read on the plane from San Francisco to Paris. I have daydreamed.

Oh! the stories I will write. My craft will be changed permanently. I will gather magic wandering these places so old but new to me. The stories growing in me! They might be novels or short stories, but whatever they are, they’ll be the most poignant tales of my life.

I had always thought that, if I were to see these places, I would be old and gray. No, I am blessed to see them with the energy of youth. Thanks to my mother for helping my dream come true so much earlier than I imagined. She is without a doubt the greatest and I love her.

Oh, the poems I will write. I am ready to meet the muses who helped build these great cities. I won’t have enough time to see all I want to, but there will be pictures, and the memories will stay. I won’t forget a moment of this visit—not a smell, taste, sound, flavor—I cannot forget.