Thursday, June 30, 2022

Come Be My Pen Pal

Hello, dear readers! 

I greet you for the last time from this blogspot because I am moving my book news, book recommendations/reviews, research tidbits, and so on to my monthly reader newsletter. Hope you will join me there.

To subscribe, click HERE and enter your email address. Once you confirm, you'll be whisked off to BookFunnel, where you can download a Kindle copy of A Fair Judge, a Hapgoods of Bramleigh novella! (Even if you don't own a Kindle, you will be able to read on the Kindle app on your phone or tablet or desktop.)

Hope to hear from you soon!


Monday, March 7, 2022

The Countdown for THE PURLOINED PORTRAIT is on!

Book Five in the Hapgoods of Bramleigh series drops Friday, March 18, 2022, a day when I will be distracting myself by going on a little road trip with my mom down to pick up my son for his spring break! If you would like to pre-order your Kindle copy, please click here. Paper copies will be up around the same date, but there isn't any pre-order option for paper, unfortunately.

The Purloined Portrait tells the story of Edith Hapgood's journey to becoming an artist, with the devoted support of her family, including her cousin Lionel. Like the course of true love, the course of becoming an artist doesn't run smoothly either, but that makes for all the fun.

Speaking of art, take a moment to admire my cover designer Kathy Campbell's work. She has taken up portrait painting(!) and offered to do some hand-painting on Lionel's coat here, because the original painting was rather flat. I am so, so amazed by and grateful for her work.

I am drawing near the end of this series I've loved writing. I know I've lived with these characters in my head for the past several years, but a couple readers mentioned wishing there were a family tree or character list in the last book Matchless Margaret. Readers, I have listened! In The Purloined Portrait I've included a couple family trees. This one of the squire's family, for example:

There will be one more book in the series, cousin Hetty's story (of which I'm currently on Chapter 4), and then I'm already kicking around ideas for the next.

In researching Edith's story, I plunged into her contemporary art scene and would love to do a little art viewing as a book launch. Stay tuned. In the meantime, here is one very famous portrait of Napoleon that gets mentioned in the book as a resemblance to one of the main characters:

David's Napoleon Crossing the Alps (1801)

Who knew marauding conquerors with dreams of empire could sometimes be dishy? (The ones we have today don't have the option of controlling and projecting their desired image with the help of talented artists like Jacques-Louis David.) 

Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose encouraged me to make more efforts to market and reach readers, so I've been experimenting with Amazon ads and such. All marketers seem to agree email lists are key, so I can tell readers about launches and giveaways and promotions and such. Message received! If you'd like to join my email list, sign up with this QR code. My first book promotion is coming end of March!

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Favorite Reads of 2021

Photo by Charl Folscher on Unsplash

The list is a little early this year, but with all the fuss about supply chain, I wanted to make sure you had time to get your hot little hands on any interesting titles (since some of you refuse to buy a Kindle and get your books instantly, no matter what I tell you)!

I recently ordered some copies of my latest books and discovered Amazon has a new strategy: they tell you the delivery date is approximately when Jesus comes again and then surprise you with it arriving earlier! For example, my copies of School for Love and Matchless Margaret were due December 16 (I kid you not--about six weeks after I ordered them), but they came today.  I see what you're doing there, Amazon, and it's very effective.

If you haven't been on Facebook to be bludgeoned by my announcements that I've written my fourth Regency romance, I've written my fourth Regency romance! And it's available now!

A reader emailed me to say that, while The Naturalist is her favorite, she has enjoyed them all. I'm curious to hear the favorite title of other readers. No matter what I write, my favorite book always seems to be the last one I've written, which is a good thing, I suppose. I haven't decided yet if there will ultimately be five or six books in the series--it depends on if I give Hetty a book after telling Edith's story...

Anywho, on to my yearly eclectic list of favorite reads, of which possibly only two were published this year. (And some were published quite a while ago, so, even if you gift it to someone who already read it, they probably read it so long ago that it's practically new again.) May you find something here which appeals to the readers in your life!

Favorite Noir Mystery

I taught another mystery class at Timber Ridge this year, and they do love their mysteries there. The class sent me on a little side trip of noir, and, since I adore Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon (and named Matchless Margaret's hero after the author), I gave Raymond Chandler's most famous book a try.

If you've seen the famous Humphrey Bogart movie, you'll be delighted to hear his voice every time Philip Marlowe speaks, and it's also quite interesting to find the book is racier than the movie, given the era in which it was adapted for the screen. I'm not sure the plot makes total sense, but the book is so stylish that you hardly care. Los Angeles in the 1930s! A pornography book ring! Two daughters living high-risk lifestyles! Read the book and then pop some popcorn and dial up the movie.

Favorite Literary Fiction

If you gift this one, there's a danger that your recipient might already have it on the nightstand, since everyone (except my 22YO daughter) read and loved Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See

This book is quite the departure, but equally wonderful. We have interlocking stories with multiple points-of-view that cross time (and space). What brings them together is some manuscript of a comic ancient-Greek story. It is absolutely literary fiction, not crowd-pleasing WWII historical fiction (which has become kind of the McDonalds of historical fiction). So beware. If your reader doesn't love books and imagination and even a little sci-fi, they are not gonna love this book.

Favorite Nonfiction Author I Might Now Be a Little in Love With

If I can't marry C. S. Forester for his Horatio Hornblower books, I may have to run off with Ian W. Toll for his naval history books, of which I read THREE in 2021. Which you might prefer depends on if you would rather pick up a Horatio Hornblower book or a WWII history.

Loving both, I couldn't choose. Six Frigates looks at the founding of the U.S. Navy and the War of 1812. War in the age of sail! What's not to love? You'll immediately want to plan a trip to Boston to see the U.S.S. Constitution.

And then Toll has a trilogy about the War in the Pacific, of which I read the first and second volumes and especially loved the first, Pacific Crucible. Pearl Harbor and codebreaking and the struggle upward from such a bad beginning (for the Americans) is absolutely riveting.

Favorite Female Friendship Fiction
I realize I read both "girl" and "boy" books, but if you have women in your life who only read "girl" books, they might love this one, for its humor and pathos and for the female friendship at the heart of it. It was my mom's choice for the Family Zoom Book club.

A big, sad woman goes in search of her dreams and a golden bug in New Caledonia, accompanied by the assistant she didn't know she needed.

Favorite "Memoir"
I put memoir in quotes because Gerald Durrell has taken some liberties with these stories inspired by his family's time on Corfu between the Wars. The book "inspired" (i.e., had almost nothing to do with) the television adaptation The Durrells of Corfu, which I didn't even make it through one episode of because I was being such a disillusioned book snob about it. The Durrell family is hilarious, and little Gerald lives a young boy's dream of a life, exploring the island and collecting whatever fauna catch his eye. His long-suffering mother indulges all her children, really, which, in Gerry's case, means letting him bring home all manner of creatures and neglecting his education. There are three books in the series, all worth reading, but the first is my favorite.

Favorite Adventure/Survival Book
This one also came from a Timber Ridge class I taught called "The Adventurers," and everyone loved it. An oldy but a greaty. 

Alfred Lansing follows Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated trans-polar expedition that didn't even make it to Antarctica before getting ice-locked. You know I love people facing frostbite and shipwreck and abandonment. You'll come away from this amazing story admiring Shackleton's leadership and the endurance of the crew of the Endurance.

Favorite Microhistory

Absolutely fascinating history of one of the world's most famous diamonds. Knowing nearly nothing about the diamond, the Moghul empire, the history of Afghanistan, and the history of the Punjab, this was all news to me and just about putdownable. (Warning--it's also quite violent and features lots of people and governments and rulers behaving badly and people being literally blinded.)

The sorry tale of Sikh child-maharajah Duleep Singh handing over the diamond to the British East India company was no shining moment for the British empire, but I was interested to see that his interesting and tragic story has been made into the movie BLACK PRINCE, which is streaming on Netflix currently.

 And certainly another visit to the Tower of London to see the crown jewels is in order. You never know when the world might get upside-down enough that international courts decide that, yes, Britain should honor the Taliban's demand to return the jewel to them! (Out of all the groups claiming the Kohinoor, this was the most ridiculous, since Afghanistan stole it from India, and one doubts the Taliban would put the funds to the best use.)

And, finally:

Favorite Trash Classic

My book club added this particular subgenre this year after getting tired of YA. (Our fatigue probably has a lot to do with raising teenagers ourselves. Do we have to read about them, too?)

Not only did we resurrect the trash classic V. C. Andrews' Flowers in the Attic and add The Clan of the Cave Bear to the to-read pile, but I finally got to read Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls.

 This book has aged so well! Its themes of fame, wealth, career, the pressure on women not to age, the pressure on women to be beautiful and thin, substance abuse--all still so timely and so worth discussing.

 And the funny thing is, because it was written in 1966, it's pretty darned tame now. Frank, but tame. (You don't realize how used to graphic sex we are until you read what used to be considered trashy.)


Hope you found something here, and may 2022 be another good reading year! This is the first year I think I'm not going to complete my Goodreads challenge because I spent so much time writing, but tomorrow is another day.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Cover Reveal for Matchless Margaret! Pre-Order Now


Whose "fine eyes" are these?

Dear readers, I'm happy to announce Matchless Margaret is just about finalized, and I've set her up for pre-order on Amazon! There will be both Kindle and paperback versions, and I managed to get Matchless Margaret down to 99,000 words so that you won't feel like you've committed to War and Peace.

Matchless Margaret's birthday will be Thursday, November 4, 2021, and, as promised, we will celebrate with a tea party and walk through early 19th century Bath in person (and over Zoom) on November 20. More on that later.

If you haven't gotten around to starting my traditional Regency romance series, the kickoff book The Naturalist is going to be a mere $0.99 on Kindle this weekend! (Or read it as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription.)

Just $0.99 on Kindle (10/21-24)!

Matchless Margaret is the fourth book in the series, but they all work as standalones, too, so don't be daunted. It just adds to the fun to know everyone's story and to see people at different points in their lives.

All righty. On to the cover reveal! My designer Kathy Campbell did her usual impeccable work, combining the lovely person of Elizabeth McEuen Smith and a period illustration of Milsom Street to create this wonderful book cover:

Won't you join her in Bath this winter?

Pre-order now by clicking here! And thank you for your faithful readership.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Margaret on Milsom Street

Oh, happy day, I have finished the rough draft of the next installment of my Hapgoods of Bramleigh series! Four years have passed since the events of the first three books (because I can't marry Margaret off at age 15-16), but only one year in my writing time, which must be something of a record for me. This is what a nearly-empty nest and COVID remoteness have done for me! Cover design for Matchless Margaret is underway, and I'm starting to kick around launch plans.

But first,

Question: What do I, as an author, have in common with J. K. Rowling?

If you answered mind-boggling book sales; untold wealth; side hustles of amusement parks, movie adaptations and merchandise; or red hair, you're wrong.

Correct Answer: My books get longer and longer.

Yes, folks, so far Margaret's story is clocking in at 115,838 words, which is about 25,000 words longer than School for Love, which was longer than A Very Plain Young Man, which was a whopping 25,000 words longer than The Naturalist. In brief:



Young Man.........................91,805


However, unlike Rowling, I am putting out my own books and really cannot afford to be so prolix when the word count determines how many pages the paper book will be and how wide the spine and how much the darned thing will cost to print. (If I could get all my readers to move to Kindle or reading on their phones/tablets, I could give Gone With the Wind a run for its word-count money if I felt like it, but not so with physical books.)

I love Margaret's story. I hate to think of cutting any of it, so I'm giving myself a couple days to let it sit before I start hacking away. Maybe I'll even keep a copy of the original for my e-book readers who might be interested in the "director's cut" later--although I've often thought director's cuts aren't as good as the theater versions. It never hurts writing to be gone over and gone over and pared down for economy and elegance.

While I ponder, I've been drinking my "Jane Austen Blend" tea that I bought in Carmel (delicious) at the charming Jane Austen at Home shop.

Speaking of Jane Austen at Home, I've also been re-reading Lucy Worsley's bio of Amazing Jane that happens to have the same title.

I actually have no memory of having read it before, but Goodreads tells me I gave it a star rating in 2017, and Goodreads never lies.

Much of Matchless Margaret takes place in the beautiful city of Bath, England, and the husband and I had planned to visit again this fall on an empty-nest, hooray-COVID-is-over trip. I'd even picked out the hotel I wanted to stay this time, just a hop, skip, and a jump from where Margaret lodges in Henrietta Street. 

[Pardon me while I weep a little while...]

Well, as long as the U.S. requires a (negative) COVID test before flying home, this trip is off the table. We both work, and his is the kind of job (pastor) that does not allow him to get stuck in foreign countries for weeks at a time. 

Which makes me think that, when I launch Margaret on the world, the launch parties (both the in-person one and the Zoom one) will include a virtual "walk through early 19th century Bath"! After I've spent all that time poring over old maps and peering at old engravings and reading excerpts from odd little random books, I'm taking you readers with me.

So mark your calendars for sometime in November or January and we'll go for a stroll on Milsom Street:

and grab tea and a scone at the Pump Room:

More to come. Thank you, dear readers.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Indulge Your Valentines with Book-and-Tea Pairings


In this season where we can't all be together, what better gifts to show your love than a book and a cup of tea? The combination spells c-o-m-f-o-r-t to me, and, while I don't want to discourage you from also purchasing some quality dark chocolate, let's be honest--we've probably all been eating more chocolate than is good for us lately. Those COVID pounds don't gain themselves.

For some months now, my oldest daughter has been working at the Queen Mary Tea Emporium in Seattle, which is a dangerous place for me to spend time because I invariably come home with new flavors to try. The girls and I already had a yearly tradition where we would go for high tea, and, in fact, it was the last "normal" outing we had before everything shut down last year.

Seriously, we need to make this happen again

Because the tea room itself is so cozy (besides being darling and delicious), it has been closed this whole time. Opening at 25% capacity wouldn't allow enough customers to make business sense, but they hope to re-open as restrictions loosen. In order to do this, the Queen Mary Tea Room needs our help! You can donate to their GoFundMe account, or you could also just buy yourself and your loved ones some of the most tasty tea you will ever encounter. They ship all over the country! To help you help yourself, I've suggested some tea pairings with some of my latest favorite reads below!

For the Valentine who could use a mental getaway...

This is the first book in the delightful trilogy that inspired The Durrells in Corfu. Take my book snob warning, though--once you've read the books, you can never go back. Apart from the great scenery and the characters' names in the TV show, the show has little to do with the books, and the books are in every way superior. Both lyrical and laugh-out-loud funny. Having transplanted themselves from England, with its dreary (Seattle-like) weather, the Durrells escape to paradise. But no matter what adventures they are having with the Corfu natives or with Corfu fauna, they and the other British expats never fail to stop in the afternoon for tea.

In honor of little Gerry's obsession with the island animals and insects, I would pair this book with Queen Mary's Golden Monkey tea, the first Queen Mary Tea I ever tasted and still one of my very favorites, for its lovely caramel-y notes.

For the Valentine who loves London and a good mystery...

And by this I mean the whole series of mysteries not-so-secretly written by J. K. Rowling. They're great fun, and you can follow Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott all through the neighborhoods of London on Google Maps, if you like, because Rowling grounds them in a contemporary London as real as that of Sherlock Holmes in the 1880s. These are also fun if you like a little romantic tension in your books, because the two detectives have it in spades. Like the Durrells in Corfu, Strike and Robin are always heating up the kettle for a cup of tea, and Robin knows that Strike prefers his "like creosote"-- dark, dark, dark, with no cream or sugar.

While I suspect Strike brews his tea beyond the 3.5 minutes recommended by Queen Mary (maybe because he has inferior tea), I think he would enjoy a favorite wake-me-up tea of mine, Queen Mary's Irish Breakfast.

For the Valentine who loves Napoleonic-era adventure on the high seas...

Forget Master and Commander and the other Patrick O'Brien, wannabe Forester books. Horatio Hornblower is where it's at. If you want to read the books in chronological order, according to Hornblower's age in them, start with this one, where our favorite seaman is but 17.
"Hellish cold" said Preston. "The devil of a morning to turn out. Nelson, where's that tea?"

The mess attendant came with it as Hornblower was hauling on his trousers. It maddened Hornblower that he shivered enough in the cold for the cup to clatter in the saucer as he took it. But the tea was grateful, and Hornblower drank it eagerly.

 "Give me another cup" he said, and was proud of himself that he could think about tea at that moment.

I'm guessing the British Navy couldn't afford to furnish its men with the good stuff, but perhaps by the end of Hornblower's career he could sip a cup of Earl Grey in retirement (it was named for an 1830s Prime Minister). Let's hope it was as good as Queen Mary's Earl Grey or (my daughter's favorite) Queen Mary's Creamy Earl Grey.

And, finally, for a Valentine who just wants a love story...

If you've read any of my Regency romances, set in Somerset in 1808 (not technically the Regency, but you know what I mean...), you know the Hapgood sisters and their neighbors frequently enjoy a good cup of tea, whether they are welcoming a new eligible gentleman or simply talking over the latest goings-on.

I know without a doubt that my characters would love a pot of Queen Mary's Queen's Royal Afternoon tea because I certainly drank enough of it when creating them!

So here's wishing you and yours many more years to love, and wishing the Queen Mary many more years to reign!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Favorite Reads of 2020

Whenever the Goodreads "Best of..." voting rolls around, I'm always predictably disappointed. I don't seem to read the same books as everyone else, or certainly not the books the industry pushes the hardest. Which means some books I loved don't even get a nomination, and others which I found meh or meh-plus are semi-finalists. What the heck? And you can only vote for the nominees or else, as in the presidential election, write in a candidate on principle, knowing you are throwing away your vote.

If you suffer from this same frustration, I recommend you start a blog, so you can at least have the satisfaction of putting your choices out there and having 5-10 members of your family read about them.

Since I haven't done this for a while, may I remind my 5-10 readers that I don't at all feel bound to choose books published in 2020 because I often enjoy reading books that have been out a while and are available from the library without six-month waitlists.

So let's get to it.

Favorite "Huh--I never thought about that" Reads:

The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power by Deirdre Mask. My kind of nonfiction. This super-fascinating book explores the history of assigning addresses to people, and the effects it had. Mask travels the world, looking into Empress Maria Theresa having houses numbered in and out of Vienna, to street-naming as revolutionary act in Iran, to buying vanity addresses in Manhattan. She relays eye-opening research on the fate of too many Martin Luther King Jr. Avenues and investigates the difficulties of finding a job or getting emergency medical care if you don't have an address because you're homeless or live in unnumbered slums. A very worthwhile, interesting read.

The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson. This book fascinated me. It combines natural history, fashion history, true crime, and the weird subculture of men who tie Victorian-style salmon flies using exotic feathers of endangered or extinct birds, Johnson dives into a burglary I never heard of and makes me care about it exceedingly. Be careful about giving it to any friends who weep uncontrollably over animal fates because this will likely send them into an emotional spiral. 

Favorite Book-Soon-to-Be-a-Major-Motion-Picture:

Actually, the latest movie version was supposed to be out in a couple weeks, and I fully planned on going to the theater to watch it, as a birthday present to myself (since I couldn't get anyone else in the house to read the book). Now we must wait until October 2021, but at least I got to see the trailer on the big screen, when I went to see Tenet with fifteen other brave, adventurous souls.

The Emperor of Some-Silly-Name has given the spice-drug-laden planet of Arrakis to the House of Atreides to run, but there are competing factions in play, and violence and betrayal ensue. Duke Leto's son and his mother the witch-concubine escape. Could they be the fulfillment of prophecy?

May I just say, there are not enough mother-son adventure stories? I loved that part and found myself recommending the book to other mothers of teenage sons. (I tried to hype it up to my own teenage son, but he finally said, "You're not going to tempt me with that book." So stubborn.)

Favorite Series (and latest installment)

I come to sci-fi late in life, having exhausted many favorite genres after decades of voracious reading. Apart from discovering new favorite genre classics (see Dune above), I'm also enjoying some current authors, like Martha Wells and her wonderful Murderbot series. Network Effect is the fifth(?) installment, and the first of novel length. I love the entire series, where Murderbot, a cyborg security unit who has gone rogue and possibly has a murderous past, wrestles with existential questions, relationships with humans, lots of deadly combat, and the age-old question of which TV series to binge-watch next. Funny and exciting. I made my family Zoom book club kick off with All Systems Red, the first in the series, and everyone gave it high ratings except my 17-year-old, who dinged it with a 6 out of 10. Ouch.

Favorite Sports Book, Even for Non-Athletes

This was a walloping good read, and I'm not even a runner and hate running! But this book had me out this morning running little 5-meter barefoot sprints in the dewy front-yard grass (my quarantine equivalent of a Leadville 100) and Googling all sorts of places and people. The side trips into human running physiology and evolution and hunting and shoe-design were super interesting--maybe even my favorite part. Long live the Tarahumara, and everyone else stay out of their canyon.

Favorite True (White-Collar) Crime

I couldn't put this one down. Clearly I've been under a rock because I never heard of Theranos before picking up this book. Carreyrou, a Wall Street Journal reporter, tells the story of the meteoric rise of Elizabeth Holmes and her groundbreaking company, which promised to put quick, convenient, versatile finger-prick blood testing in every Walgreens, Safeway and army base, if not in your very own home.

I was hoping for a little nostalgic visit home, like when I read the also-wonderful The Innovators, but this turned out to be quite the thriller as well. A thriller punctuated with familiar places--the Fish Market! Page Mill Road! Wilbur Hall! Fuki Sushi!

Favorite Mindbender Thriller

My first book by this author, but it won't be my last! A mind-bending, time-bending tale of a scientist who explores the nature of memory and ends up building a Destroyer of Worlds. Quite page-turning, at times. If you like physics and philosophy, you'll find this a good read, though that makes it sound heavier than it is.

I've never been much of a thriller reader, and character development isn't Recursion's strong suit, but I love a good plot, and this book has that in spades. (This was a 4-star read for me, unlike the other 5-stars in this post.)

Two Great Social-Issue Nonfictions, One Encouraging, One Discouraging

(I'll let you read them both and guess which I thought encouraging and which discouraging!)

Dreamland. This 2015 explores the parallel tracks of Purdue Pharma (and its wildly bestselling OxyContin) and a community in Xalisco, Nayarit, Mexico (and its wildly bestselling heroin), which dovetailed to create an addiction epidemic nationwide. Well-researched and compelling, Dreamland is alarming, infuriating, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful. I wish it could have an updated chapter on the introduction of fentanyl to the picture.

Whether you're interested in criminal justice reform or know nothing about it, Brittany Barnett tells a compelling story. Interweaving her own family story of her mother's crack addiction and subsequent prison sentence with the plights of other families in the same situation, Barnett explains how the sentencing mandates put in place by Clinton and upheld until Obama impacted low-level dealers, users, and other non-kingpins unjustly. I remember the "three strikes" law being passed in California and not being aware at all of how such a law would play out across the socioeconomic and racial spectrum. It was a different era, for sure.

 I echo what Barnett says of herself at one point, that she wishes there were more of her, so she could both practice the corporate law she loves and also save those unjustly condemned to life imprisonment. Yes--it was a shame she eventually gave up her corporate law career because of how vitally important it is to have more women and POC in the "room where it happens," both to inspire others to achieve and to share their unrepresented perspective.

Favorite Formulaic Harlequin Author

Oh, my goodness! In addition to exploring some sci-fi and fantasy, 2020 marked my first foray into Harlequin romances. My mom recommended an old-timey author named Betty Neels, so I gave her a try and ended up reading maybe five or six Betty Neels books this year. But I can safely tell you that, once you've read one Betty Neels book, you've read them all. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, if you're looking for a comfort read.

All Betty Neels books feature a young, capable English nurse, who is more often plain than otherwise. She falls for a tall, broad-shouldered, brusque, handsome, older Dutch doctor/surgeon, and, at some point in the story, visits the Netherlands and stays with his older female relative, worrying all the while that the hero is actually in love with some pretty Dutch girl in his social circle.

Because Betty just seemed to do Find/Replace on the characters' names as well as the Dutch town visited in each book, and to flip a weighted coin as to whether the heroine would be plain or not, I wonder if I wasn't the only reader to enjoy most the first Betty Neels I picked up, because it was all fresh, that time around. In my case, that first book was Cassandra by Chance, and I really did enjoy it. In this case the capable young nurse meets the Dutch doctor while he's on medical leave for blindness(!) on some Scottish island. A very sweet story. And how pleasant to read romances that don't have the requisite five pornographic scenes! These books can be recommended to family members without a blush. (Caveat: my 21-year-old daughter did not find it as charming as I did. Nor did she go on to read five more variations, as I did. I guess one generation's comfort read is another one's cringe-inducer?)

Favorite Book That Did Make the Goodreads List

A page-turning family story that also manages to be about race, identity, yearning, brokenness, connection, and America. I appreciated the roundness and complexity of all the characters--when one identical twin abandons her sister to pass as white, Bennett digs into what motivates each woman and what that costs. What it costs themselves and their own daughters.

 Recently I read Charles Yu's Interior Chinatown, one half-comic theme of which was that the story of race in America is mostly framed as black and white, or black versus white. All other races get the bit parts, the roles of extras in the exciting police drama. It's certainly the case in The Vanishing Half, and I even grinned when a black family moves into the white neighborhood, and the black husband earns his living playing a black cop on TV. But Bennett recognizes that feeling split down the middle, or feeling rootless, or feeling alienated from even large parts of yourself, is not limited to the black experience. Stella Vignes is not the only one going to great lengths to deny and forget who she was born as. There is also Reece, a transgendered young man who binds himself and injects himself with street steroids. Both characters are treated with sympathy by their creator, but the high price of their choices is never overlooked.

I hear HBO is adapting it, though I have no idea how they can ever cast it, and there weren't a lot of topless scenes, which is kind of HBO's bread and butter. Do yourself a favor and read the book, which is sure to be much better. The only drawback of giving it as a gift is that they're probably already sure to have read it.

 And finally...

Favorite Historical Regency Romance Series I Wrote

Cheating here, since this is actually the only Regency Romance series I've written. I'm still waiting on the official reviewers, but here are some emails readers have sent me:

"LOVED the Naturalist!!  Very well written & loved it.  Characters were great & couldn’t put it down."

"Loved the book. Didn’t grade papers for three days since I couldn’t put it down."

"Christina--I finished your book last night at 1am...I really enjoyed it."

Have a happy holiday season, 2020-style! The best thing about running out of shows to watch is that there are so, so many wonderful books to read.