Category Archives: Blog

February In Review

It’s March first as I’m working on this post and still we have had no winter here in my corner of Texas. Yesterday the temperature hit 86 degrees, squelching my dream of reading books beside the fire with a hot cup of cocoa. Time to make lemonade and dig out my flip flops. Jake, too felt the hotter days and wound up with a nasty hot spot that required a trip to the vet. Happily he’s on the mend.

img_2840This week we spotted the first of the bluebonnets, our state flower. Our wildflower experts say we should have a good showing of all our spring flowers, thanks to some good winter rains and now these warm temps.

I didn’t let the hot winter interfere with my reading, though. Last month I read a few books for research for a forthcoming book, and rewarded myself by digging into the books of two authors new to me. I wanted to introduce you to them in case you haven’t met:

Colm Toibin is an Irish writer with a resume a mile long, but because I specialize in writing about the 19th century, and most of his books are closer to contemporary times I was unfamiliar with his work until I saw the movie trailer for Brooklyn and discovered his novel by the same title. Set in 1950’s Brooklyn it’s the story of Eilis Lacey, a young Irish girl who comes to America to find work as a bookkeeper and assimilates into American culture,  including falling in love with Tony, an Italian boy. But just as they plan for a life together, Eilis is summoned home to Ireland, changing everything. Toibin’s spare prose and masterly evocation of mid century Brooklyn held me spellbound. I can’t wait to read more of his work.

Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams is the story of a 1960’s family that bears a striking resemblance to the Kennedys, Christina “Tiny” Hardcastle is married to Frank, a rising star in Massachusetts politics, a handsome and charismatic man who showers Tiny with jewels and beautiful clothes even as he becomes more emotionally distant. Frank’s father is a ruthless manipulator who will do anything to ensure his son’s rise to power. But both Tiny and Frank are hiding explosive secrets that could ruin everything. Williams does a great job of evoking the details of life in America during the mid 60’s. But I had a hard time caring about Tiny’s problem, and the author left a couple of loose ends but perhaps this was by design; Tiny Little Thing is a sequel to an earlier book. Perhaps she’s planning to write more about the Hardcastles. If you enjoy books about the glitz and glamour of life in the spotlight you will find this book fascinating.

Foodie Fix: We wanted to explore a different cuisine last month. Here in Texas the temptation is to stick with the familiar which means an endless supply of Mexican food. So we visited two Thai restaurants. At a place called Lemongrass we tried the curries and I had a shrimp dish that came with a wonderful ginger sauce that had that gingery bite I love. The next week we went to Pacific Moon. Honestly there was nothing on the menu that jumped out at me, so I ordered a salad that came with grilled chicken, apples, grapes, and brown rice wonderfully flavored with sesame oil. We didn’t order dessert at either place. Maybe next time.

Wishing you a beautiful spring wherever you call home. Till next time,




January Round Up

I’m a few days late with my regular monthly update but I have a good excuse–I had my left hip replaced at the end of December and I’m now in the middle of a months-long recovery, going to physical therapy three days a week. It’s proving very beneficial to my regaining mobility but it cuts into my writing time.

51imExjlyUL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Books read:  I received Stacy Schiff’s book about the Salem witch trials as a Christmas gift and wow, is it an interesting read. I’m not a fan of the Colonial period so I haven’t read much nonfiction about that time, but I’m learning a great deal about societal beliefs and the psychological factors that turned ordinary teenagers and older folks too, into “witches.” This book is not a light read–it’s very detailed and scholarly but if you are a fan of the colonial period in America, you will enjoy it immensely.

On a much lighter note, my friend and colleague Robin Lee Hatcher sent a copy of her latest novel. Keeper of the Stars is the final book in her Kings Meadow series and it’s every bit as good as the others. Readers who have enjoyed the series will be delighted to revisit some favorite characters and to meet new ones.

I usually report on great food I enjoyed but sad to say mostly it has been hospital food and frozen entrees that can be prepared while hobbling about, first on a walker and now with a cane. I’m looking forward to getting out to check on some great new foodie places here in SA.

Writing stuff: Just after I came home from the hospital the page proofs for Mrs Lee and Mrs Gray arrived. The novel will be published at the end of May and is available now for pre order and delivery in mid June. This book is a departure from my usual work. It’s a biographical novel about the 50 year friendship between Mrs. Robert E Lee and her slave, Selina Gray. It’s a remarkable story of loyalty and courage that crossed racial lines during the most turbulent period of our nation’s history. I spent months poring over letters from Mrs Lee and Mrs Gray, journals, and articles and dozens of biographies of General Lee, pulling out the tidbits about his wife. I was captivated with this beautiful and poignant true life story and I hope readers will be, too.

Now I’m working on more story ideas and looking forward to completing my recovery and getting back to work.

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and New Year and that the year ahead will be your best ever.

Sit Here for the Present

As a teacher of first graders I began the year reading aloud Beverly Cleary’s hilarious Ramona the Pest in which 5 year old Ramona goes off to kindergarten. The teacher shows Ramona to a chair and says, “Sit here for the present.”

Ramona sits there all day, growing more and more irate as the present she is expecting from her teacher never appears. Meanwhile, all around Ramona, children are playing games, and having fun and she, so focused on what is missing,loses out on the pleasures of the day.

ID-10040283Especially at this time of year when so many of us are rushing about getting ready for the holidays the simple pleasures can get lost in the shuffle. In the run up to the big gift exchange, the big meal, the big game, the quiet conversation with a loved one, the sound of a carol, the card or letter from an old friend gets pushed aside. This year I’m making an effort to appreciate the small things happening all around me, to pay attention, to let go of the past, to worry less about the future, and simply to sit here for the present.

Wishing you all the joys of the season and the happiest of new years.

November Wrap Up

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Ours was very quiet this year.  Mom took a bad fall in early September and broke her hip so we dispensed with the traditional celebration and stayed home. I made all our favorite dishes, with Jake “helping” as only a golden retriever can–and we rested and watched football and caught up on our reading. Which brings me to

Books Read: The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver is an absorbing WW2 era novel set in Massachusetts. I’ve always wanted a cottage on some rocky, windswept seacoast and I got to go there in the pages of this family drama.

Family Pictures by Jane Green is a tale of two families who discover their husband and father has been leading a double life. I read mostly historical fiction but I very much enjoyed this tale by the author of Dune Road and The Beach House among others.

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant is a wonderful historical novel about a determined daughter of immigrants, set in turn of the century Boston. Addie Baum is a fully-realized character and the historical details add to the believability  of this lovely novel. My favorite of the three.

Meals consumed:Isn’t it  funny how our childhood preferences and prejudices about food follow us into adulthood? I remember when then-President Bush said he hated broccoli,  he was President of the Untied States and he was not going to eat broccoli. I feel the same way about beets—or I did until I tried them at a local eatery called Cured. The beets I remembered from my childhood were soggy purple things that tasted like dirt. But the ones at Cured were small and firm and just a bit briny. I loved them. Emboldened by my beet experience I tried kale. I’m still not a fan but the kale at Napa Flats, one of our favorite local hangouts was better than I expected.

Which goes to show we should always embrace the new even when it seems unpalatable.

Book News:  This month I finished the line edits for MRS LEE AND MRS GRAY, my new biographical novel to be published next May. I’m very excited to bring readers a never-before told story of a remarkable friendship between Mrs Robert E Lee and her servant, Selina Gray. I’ve seen the cover and can’t wait to share it.

I’m taking December to finish some other writing projects and of course to celebrate the Christmas season so my next post will be in 2016! This year has flown by.  I’m  deeply grateful that I get to do the work I love and grateful for so many readers who have become cherished friends.To all of you near and far, thank you for supporting my books, and may you have a lovely December, wherever you go and whichever holidays you celebrate.

See you next year.