March.15 Book Rec

This month’s book recommendation: Watership Down by Richard Adams. A great read for the advent of Spring, and simply a great book.


Being read a chapter a night for bedtime was my introduction to this story. I was enchanted by the world created and thoroughly believing in these rabbits and their epic journey. It’s the first “adventure novel” I read, and primed me as eager to devour other classics in the genre. Also, a detail I find compelling and heartening as an author, Watership Down is another book in the grand tradition of having been rejected several times before a publisher took a chance on it (and thank goodness they did!).

I’ve reread Watership Down twice since those bedtime hours; in junior high for a book report, and as an adult after reaching for it on a whim on a rainy, quiet day. The story rewarded my loyalty and my enchantment returned with each read, even as I gleaned new insights about the rabbits and their tale.

I have named more than one stuffed animal and glimpsed rabbit hiding in the grass Fiver in my day. I became friends with a dog named Hazel who, upon inquiry, was confirmed it was for the stout heroine of this book. And for a long while, Bigwig was an endearment in my house.

This is a story about struggling to survive and overcoming great challenges. Maybe most of all it is a story about family–having and creating one.

Brew a pot of tea and enjoy!


Friday Fun Five

Happy Friday! This week’s guest is Kate McMurray. Thanks, Kate!

To know more about Kate McMurray, check out www.katemcmurray.com or see what she’s up to on Twitter (@katemcwriter). Her latest literary triumphs are When the Planets Align and the upcoming Rainbow League series, which are available from Dreamspinner Press.

The Wind Up_FINAL

1) What toy do you remember most fondly from growing up?

I was a child with a short attention span—my mother still jokes that she thought she’d have to hire a circus to keep me from getting bored—so there wasn’t one toy, but I did have maybe 20 Barbies, and those were my favorites. My allowance money was divided pretty evenly between books and Barbie clothes. My Barbies were all fashion-forward and had great hair, and they lived out crazy soap opera stories I made up for them—I mean, they were as soapy as a 9-year-old could come up with. (The Barbie I remember best came wearing this hot pink lace number that was very “Like a Virgin”-era Madonna, because I was a kid in the 80s. I often paired her with ice skater Ken, who came with a sparkly mint green and pink skating costume, and in retrospect, I wonder if he was really all that into Barbie.) I coveted Barbie’s Dream House, but my parents couldn’t afford one, so I built one out of my brother’s Legos, and it was pretty sweet, at least until my brother got mad and took his Legos back.

2) Chocolate or vanilla milkshake?


3) Fifth Avenue or flea market shopping spree?

If money were no object, Fifth Avenue. My super power is that I’m really good at sniffing out sales, though, and I try to dress in a way that looks expensive but isn’t. I’m not really focused on labels except insofar as there are certain designers I like aesthetically. My personal approach to fashion is that I like to wear clothes that make me feel good, so I tend to pick things that fit well with lots of patterns and colors. (I like fashion and shopping, if that was not obvious!) I’ve lucked out at flea markets and clothes swaps too, though; one of my favorite dresses is one I got for free at a clothes swap. So the answer to this question is that it’s kind of a toss up!

4) What is your favorite word?

Well, James Lipton, the first one that came to mind was “pomegranate.” I like a multisyllabic word.

5) If you had one month where you didn’t have to worry about work or money, what would you do?

I’d hop a plane to Europe and spend the month traveling around and looking at art.

Kate McMurray is an award-winning romance author and an unabashed romance fan. When she’s not writing, she works as unnameda nonfiction editor, dabbles in various crafts, and is maybe a tiny bit obsessed with base­ball. She has served as President of Rainbow Romance Writers, the LGBT romance chapter of Romance Writers of America and is currently on the board of RWANYC. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.


Friday Fun Five

Happy Friday! This week’s guest is K.A. Mitchell. Thanks, K.A.!

To know more about K.A. Mitchell, check out www.kamitchell.com, see what she’s up to on Twitter (@ka_mitchell), WordPress, or sign up for her newsletter. Her latest literary triumphs are Bad Influence and Bad Behavior and are available anywhere you want to buy books. If you want to know what happens when a dive vacation goes on a little too long, read No Souvenirs.


1) When you’re flipping channels, what movie will you always stop on to watch?

I love old movies, and even if I’ve never seen that one, I can get sucked into a screwball comedy. But in terms of the modern stuff, I can never flip past The Mummy. “I…am…a librarian.”

2) Hamsters or chinchillas?

I’ve had them both. I still miss my chinchilla Joey terribly. He’s been gone 13 months. He was a sweetheart. He gave kisses and loved to be petted. He lifted his arms up for scratches. We shared lots of greens together, and I fed him roses from the garden too. He was here for over ten years.

However, the story of the hamster Killer-I-Bite is much more entertaining. He was once Speedy, a classroom hamster with a genial personality. Unbeknownst to the teacher (a.k.a. my wife) they decided to release some very serious fumes in carpet cleaning over one weekend. The chemicals wreaked a Mr. Hyde-like transformation in Speedy. He became vicious, attacking even his food when it was offered to him. We took him in, changing his name to Killer, which had the I Bite warning added as a sign on his cage that became part of his name. He was often seen hanging from the top of his cage bars by his hind feet and swinging, much like a bat. He lived out the rest of his typical hamster life span in solitude and earning deep respect. Feeding him was like throwing something to the velociraptors in the first Jurassic Park, cleaning his cage required a game warden’s assistance.

3) Sunny spring day or rainy fall day?

Rainy fall day, please. Love them. Give me a drive and rain and fall and some Chris Cornell coming out of my speakers, and I’m in heaven.

4) What is your favorite word?

Sesquipedalian. It’s so much fun to say. I like its literal meaning best (a foot and a half long) but it’s great at describing what it means, an overly long word. However, my critique group and editors might weigh in and say that I have a deep and abiding love affair with the word even.

5) You can travel anywhere in the world, but only stay two hours. What’s your destination?

Dive boat off Oahu or any Hawaiian island, I’m not picky. Can I start out already 50 feet under water? By the way, you know I can’t fly right away after I’ve been diving, right? I’m going to have to stay or risk decompression sickness. And you wouldn’t want that, right? Right, Elle?

K.A. Mitchell discovered the magic of writing at an early age when she learned that a carefullybadinfluence crayoned note of apology sent to the kitchen in a toy truck would earn her a reprieve from banishment to her room. Her career as a spin-control artist was cut short when her family moved to a two-story house, and her trucks would not roll safely down the stairs. Around the same time, she decided that Chip and Ken made a much cuter couple than Ken and Barbie and was perplexed when invitations to play Barbie dropped off. She never stopped making stuff up, though, and was surprised to find out that people would pay her to do it. Although the men in her stories usually carry more emotional baggage than even LAX can lose in a year, she guarantees they always find their sexy way to a happy ending.

do good, Uncategorized

Do Good February.15

Every month I feature a way to give back by sharing things I’ve found meaningful to champion. For February 2015 I went with three things I love all combined: Dolly Parton, books, and supporting literacy.


Dolly Parton‘s Imagination Library

Children in need can be registered to receive free books. Donations can be made or merchandise purchased. And reading programs can be set up in your area.

Mission statement:

In 1995, Dolly Parton launched an exciting new effort, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, to benefit the children of her home county in East Tennessee, USA. Dolly’s vision was to foster a love of reading among her county’s preschool children and their families by providing them with the gift of a specially selected book each month. By mailing high quality, age-appropriate books directly to their homes, she wanted children to be excited about books and to feel the magic that books can create. Moreover, she could insure that every child would have books, regardless of their family’s income.

Happy giving, in whatever way you choose to better your world!


Friday Fun Five

Happy Friday! This week’s guest is Tere Michaels. Thanks, Tere!

To get to know Tere, check out www.teremichaels.com, visit her on Facebook (Tere Michaels) or connect via Twitter (@TereMichaels). Her newest book “Cherish & Blessed” is part of her Faith, Love & Devotion series. Find all her books at Dreamspinner.


1) Which element would you choose to have the power to manipulate?

Time! Because I never seem to have enough of it.

2) Castle or cottage?

Cottage. Castles are too drafty and I would spend all my time muttering about the heating bill while stomping about wearing a blanket like a cape.

3) Dot-to-dot or paint-by-number?

Dot-to-dot – man, I used to love those things! I tried my hand at paint-by-number but, if I recall correctly, my horse looked like he was melting. So you know, stick to dots and a ballpoint pen.

4) What is your favorite word?

Oh my gosh, that’s such a hard one!

I think I’ll go with “love.” It’s my business, it’s my birthday (Valentine’s Day!), it’s my favorite thing to confirm with my husband and son. Acts of love can change someone’s day or their destiny and whatever the flip side, the world is still so much better off with it in existence.

5) If you could visit any place in any time, where would you go?

I would like to be sitting in Mission Control, watching the moon landing happen in real time. I can’t even imagine the awe and excitement – we did this, we made it happen, this impossible dream. We took what people assumed was a fanciful act of fiction for so long and made it a reality. Could you imagine? I would love to experience that moment in time.

Tere Michaels unofficially began her writing career at the age of four when she learned that people got paid to write stories. It seemed the most perfect and logical job in the world and after that, her path was never in question. (The romance writer part was written in the stars—she was born on Valentine’s Day.) Her home base is a small town in New Jersey outside NYC, a city she dearly loves. She shares tereher life with her husband, her teenaged son—who will just not stop growing—and two exceedingly spoiled cats. Nothing makes her happier than knowing she made a reader laugh or smile or cry. It’s the purpose of sharing her work with people. She loves hearing from fans and fellow writers, and is always available for speaking engagements, visits and workshops.


Friday Fun Five

Happy Friday! This week begins a new feature I’ve dreamed up to host: Friday Fun Five. Five fun questions I’ll pose to various people in the writing world. Every Friday there will be a new guest and a new set of questions. Huge hugs and thanks to the delightful Alyssa Cole for helping me kick things off!

To know more about Alyssa, check out www.alyssacole.com or see what she’s up to on twitter (@AlyssaColeLit). Her latest literary triumphs are Radio Silence and Agnes Moor’s Wild Knight and are available here.


Friday Fun Five: Q&A

1) If you could bring one fantasy creature to life which would you choose?

Okay, this question has one obvious answer: Falkor the luck dragon from The Neverending Story. He’s cute, furry, and I’d never have to worry about airfare again.


2) Do you have a green thumb or a black thumb?

I am a plant killer. Whereas plants begin blooming when my mom walks by, I didn’t inherit that trait. Some of my plants have jumped out of their pots rather than be under my care.

3) IKEA and Pottery Barn decor or a mix of antiques and thrift store finds?

IKEA! Mostly for the meatballs.

4) What’s your favorite word?

Judging from the word I have to cut out of my manuscripts the most: ministrations.

5) Say there’s no limit on budget or materials. Design your dream piece of jewelry.

Ooo! The first piece of real jewelry I ever got to pick for myself was a full-finger ring that looked like it was from a suit of armor. I’d try to recreate that, but I’d have all of my favorite literary quotes inscribed in tiny lettering on the ring.

Alyssa Cole is a science editor, pop culture nerd, and romance junkie who splits her time between fast-paced NYC and island-paced life in the Caribbean. In addition to writing, she founded and hosted the Jefferson Market Library Romance Book Club, in addition toAlyssa and Girly teaching Romance Writing for Beginners.  When she’s not busy writing, traveling, and learning French, she can be found watching anime with her real-life romance hero.


February.15 Book Rec

This month’s book recommendation: The Promise of Happiness by Betty Neels. A perfect read for the month of Valentine’s Day, and a perfect read outright.


I’ve said many times, and will gladly say many times more, how much I admire Betty Neels. She’s one of my life heroes and writing idols! I love her comfort-food novels, and I love that she found her authorial voice at 64 and wrote 134 books thereafter. Neels banged out several iterations on limited themes, and Happiness is one such at its best. A Cinderella story of ever-optimistic Becky Saunders, down on her luck and running away from home (and an evil stepmother and stepbrother!) who is rescued by a not quite charming prince, Tiele. Baron Tiele Raukema van den Eck, to be exact.

Becky is dismissed by Tiele as mousy and gauche. Becky finds Tiele remote and ungrateful. But as their lives continue to intersect, and Tiele provides the reluctant rudder to Becky’s at last opening sails, they are provoked into noticing one another and rethinking those initial impressions. The whole book is a charm and without a clang, and provides a replete and well earned happy sigh at the end.

Happiness was the first Betty book I read. Through dozens more, it has remained one of my favorites of hers, and of all romances. I fell in love with Betty while reading Happiness, and have held her close to my heart ever since. She shares her own passions and wish-fulfillment in her heroines’ tales, her writing straightforward and stout of spirit. I hope you find this book and fall in love with it–and wonderful Becky and her hot, hot Baron Tiele as they fall for each other–as well.

Brew a pot of tea and enjoy!


When the Hat, Belt, and Shoes Don’t Match

The book I am working to finish is in its third trimester, which for me is always the slow-down sticky place in the process. This is where I overthink far too much and put to paper far too little–regardless how I feel about the story as a whole–and wind up noodling through several aimless days before putting my nose back to the grindstone. There’s no compelling reason or rationale as to why this happens other than it’s when I feel most vulnerable as a writer. But that’s an entire post (or whole blog!) all its own.

My aimless noodling this round has been delving into a reread of the many Betty Neels Harlequin romance titles I own. She represents my introduction to Romance, the nascent concepts I had for writing Romance, and endures as a favorite. Owing to and despite her chaste and tenacious revisits of a scant few types and tropes. Reading her work is like visiting an old friend, replete with comfortable conversation, reassuring treatment, and a warmly rewarding end. It should also be noted–in no small part due to its notability–that Neels began writing at 60 after retiring from nursing and subsequently had 134 novels published. Inspiring and remarkable!

If anyone is unfamiliar with the work of Betty Neels, I would describe it as “written by someone whose favorite novel/movie is Rebecca and maintains a quaintly old-fashioned view of how life ought best be lived.” When you cozy up with a Neels novel, you’re settling in for a Vintage Harlequin read–even those she wrote in the 80’s and 90’s. Time marches on. Neelsdom is eternal.

I described these days as “aimless noodling,” and that’s correct. There’s nothing concrete to show for them (except all the chores done I would have happily put off during productive writing days). But thanks to my peccadilloes, the noodling is not without organized focus. To mount this actively purposeful reread, I identified it as a Project and treated it thus. There’s a spreadsheet with colored cells for titles owned, titles reread, titles rated, titles to keep and those to give away. There are orderly stacks of Betty Neels books bedside, so I can keep them in order to match the spreadsheet. There’s also some lost hours and funds on eBay adding to this library I’m not admitting to at this time.

As a dutiful completionist I sought out a definitive bibliography for Mrs Neels to build the spreadsheet around. This led me to the inevitable wiki page, which in turn led me to discover the incredibly delightful blog The Uncrushable Jersey Dress. What a wonderful stumble-upon! I had found (albeit belatedly) my people! My–as they call themselves–Bettys. To my further delight the Bettys equaled my enthusiasm for Mrs Neels and conveyed this with no shortage of smarts and snark. The cherry atop the marvelous concoction of thick cake generously laden with nuts and chocolate and lashings of cream? A Betty review for each Betty book.

Take me shopping for a camelhair topcoat and feed me a delicious dinner at a quietly posh restaurant, I’m that pleased.

All elements were coming together to make my seek-information, collate-information, mull-information, get-organized-then-more-organized brain very, very happy. I could read a book on my own, ponder it, then read the Betty review, and after tinker at perfecting the spreadsheet.

It’s early days yet and I am reading chronologically. Yesterday I finished A Star Looks Down. Afterward I trotted to Uncrushable’s review. Imagine my surprise at finding such a storm of controversy in the comments! (I am not, however, surprised at the passion shown nor the articulate arguments made.) I enjoy this novel but it’s not a favorite. My feelings about this book are conflicted, as are the other Bettys’, but mine for different reasons than discussed in the review. That of course got me to thinking on why, then thinking a little more, until I was mentally drafting a comment and replies while washing the dishes.

So I put the kettle on, brewed a strong pot of tea and set out the biscuits, and at last opened WordPress.

Let’s talk about that why, and how it differs.

I recommend you first read the lovely Betty Review, as it offers a fuller synopsis and observation of the issues than I’ll compact in a paragraph or few here. But know our heroine is Beth (a plain girl acting temporary nanny), our hero is Alexander (the ubiquitous Neels Rich Dutch Doctor-Surgeon), and events conspire to happen. What’s important and causing this reader conflict isn’t the exact plot, it’s the disjointed ending.

The book transpires in two parts and two locales. The first in London where we meet Beth and her brother William, who leads her to meeting and working for Alexander. The second we hie off to Holland where Beth fulfills her temporary nanny duties and falls in for sure love with Alexander. (There’s a subthread of dastardly step-siblings to Beth and William, but it’s immaterial to the botched ending.)

Dirk, ten years old and the eldest of the children Beth is nannying, plays mischief a few times in the story. It causes trouble for Beth, but each time Beth is worthy and doesn’t tell on Dirk. Alexander is left to figure out the mischief and reason for it on his own, which he reliably does. The ending set pieces are built on Dirk’s final big act of mischief that embroils them all: a stolen sailboat, anger and worry, then a beaten hasty retreat with followed hard upon reclaiming.

On a soon-to-be-stormy afternoon, Dirk encourages his siblings onto a sailboat and puts out while Beth is distracted passing a hello with a convenient happenstance character. Beth becomes aware, abandons her idle chitchat and her shoes, dives in and managed to get on board. No one knows how to sail, but they do their best. The whole episode ends with Alexander having to rescue them, late in the night, from a far-flung village pier. He’s angry with Beth. Angry, harsh, and unforgiving.

But once again, Beth is worthy and won’t explain what happened–even after they’ve returned home and Alexander’s anger has spent itself and she’s given a second, then a third chance. It’s important to mention once home again, Alexander’s sister appears on scene. She’s lazily hysterical and cannot believe Beth would behave in such a reckless, endangering fashion. She doesn’t outright condemn Beth, but in light of everything that’s happened, Beth says it’s probably best she leave. No one immediately contradicts this assertion. She gathers her battered pride and runs for the hills. Later Alexander gets the true story out of Dirk and goes after her, all the way to England, where we get our now too complicated HEA.

Many a Betty feel these events quite keenly through Beth’s hurt and confusion: why, with Dirk’s mischievous past, would Alexander automatically hold Beth responsible and blame her? Need he be so intractable? They don’t blame Beth for her silent outrage and hurt in the face of Odious Alexander. Uncrushable reader Betty Magdalen came closest in her comments to matching my thoughts; she is far more sympathetic toward Alexander, and with sound reason. He understandably held Beth responsible given she’s the adult in the situation, he only has so much information to go on, and after his initial anger he softens and is willing to talk things out. Here it’s Beth who becomes intractable, and she refuses.

This puts the Bettys in two camps. Blame Alexander! for initially being such a reactive ogre, and Blame Beth! for being too stubborn to bend and explain. I’m in a third camp. My umbrage was never in blame laid on Beth or Alexander–rather I put it on our dear Venerable Betty herself.

Dear Venerable Betty, like everyone, has a few foibles in her writing habits. One I have noticed the through years of reading her is the distinct lack of seizing opportunity to make parallels, or use of what I thought for certain was a Thing Purposefully Mentioned so it could later be a pivot point. This happens more than once quite glaringly in A Star Looks Down, and causes the entire romance and its characters to lose their effectiveness.

Key elements established before we get to the Horrid Sailboat Incident:

  • Beth’s younger brother. He isn’t a bad sort really, but he’s also a loutish sponge. She affectionately indulges him despite this. He is the device to get her the nanny job and into Alexander’s life.
  • Alexander’s sister (who Beth nannys for). She is rarely on scene. We get the sense she’s not a bad sort really, but she’s spoiled and not very nice. He affectionately indulges her despite this.
  • Dirk feels threatened by Beth–she is garnering attention from Alexander he holds as his preserve–and so he causes mischief. Alexander is willing to get things sorted even if initial blame has been mislaid.
  • Alexander has acted the Big Dashing Hero by rescuing for Beth her beloved childhood pets, two elderly horses. He more than proves himself here, has his important dependable man and knight-in-shining moments, and gives sound reason for Beth to be completely besotted. This satisfying proving occurs somewhere mid-book.
  • Beth is in love with Alexander. She tells him such outright, and not during a heated moment. He goes into the final act of the book aware of this truth.

Now, to the joining of all the above rambling.

I argue there was no need for Beth to dramatically flee the scene and Alexander’s subsequent pursuit. I can only think Neels sweated making word count or feared there somehow just wasn’t enough careening of emotion and setting as yet–and didn’t have a content editor who felt it necessary to question her decisions–because the means to create a dramatic and satisfying end were already in place.

There was no need for an Admission Under Duress. She had already made her endearing admission, which removes the impetus to have Beth run so she could be found again and blurt out the I Love You. There was no need for The Heroic Gesture of Alexander pursuing Beth to world’s end (well, a train station platform) to reclaim her. Alexander already did that, commandingly and worthy of a swoon or two, when he rescued Beth’s elderly horses.

The brother also acts as a wonderful foil to Alexander, to allow Beth to realize love doesn’t have to be tolerant and labored in providing, but can claim its own reward back. He is also there as a ready parallel for Alexander’s sister. She’s spoiled, not always kind, but he’s a bit blind to that, so when he goes to comfort her after the confrontation, Beth interprets it as a snub and Alexander’s chosen loyalty.

Neels’ necessary motive to separate them before the final HEA scene was there. She could easily have put the irrational, repelling action on the sister (she in part did but negated that by turns). Heretofore absent and clearly willing to allow Beth all care of her own children, saying something to the effect, “How dare you, Alexander don’t allow her to remain another moment, be gone!”

Beth could have been given a moment of pluck without directly snitching–and our dear Great Betty hated a snitch–on Dirk in front of the boy’s mother. She could say something to the effect of “like the prior incidents of mischief all isn’t what one naturally assumes” in a firm but not accusatory manner. Alexander would know what she was alluding to, and it would make him think twice about the situation.

Alexander would frown, in that particular to Large Rich Dutchmen Doctor-Surgeon way, then bid Beth stay put while he goes to settle his sister.

Instead Beth would flee, taking this as evidence Alexander was putting everyone’s feelings and version of events above her own. Of course a distraught but determined Alexander would go after her, and allow her to run smack into his vast handsomeness in a place secluded and entirely their own, so they could have their explanations, declarations, and at lasts. Thankfully they would still be near home, and with his reassurance and reassuring presence, they’d return for restorative fireside tea, a plate piled with sandwiches and fairy cakes, and implied gentle canoodling.

It’s that simple!

We readers already liked them both immensely, and liked knowing they liked each other. We like who they’d been and who they were becoming as the plot unwound. But from the Horrid Sailboat Incident on, they were moved like chess pieces instead of the independent characters we’d developed such fondness for. Their separate actions and reactions to the Horrid Sailboat Incident weren’t entirely off or lacking personal credulity unto themselves, but became so abruptly escalated, the story needed more than the authorial “because I said so” it got to satisfactorily resolve. The story’s end betrayed the characters, a betrayal made worse by how charming as people, and sweet a couple, Beth and Alexander presented up to the contrivances.

As a reader I’m disappointed. I love so many details and moments and things shared in this tale! But Beth and Alexander had the story they deserved ruined by a one too many flourishes ending. My spreadsheet line for this book is tepid with cooler color tones and a question mark in the “Keep” column.

As a writer I’m reminded of the importance of truth. No amount of zing or excitement inserted into the plot is worth undermining the integrity of the people we painstakingly create, because no grand gesture or sweeping event can make up for the disappointment of a betrayed character and their readers. (And if it does come down to a matter of word count, instead of tacking onto the end, go back and add where it makes sense!)

For now I’m setting A Star Looks Down aside to continue my owned titles reread. When I’m to the sort-keep-rid point in the Project I’ll revisit whether or not it’s earned remaining in my physical library. But if kept it will be with the caveat “I pretend it ended as I rewrote it in my imagination.” Which, while a workable fix, does not a whole book make. Something else to keep in mind as I eyeball the grindstone and open my neglected novel draft file.