It’s my most popular series and I think I can safely say it’s one of the most popular horse book series in the Amazon Kindle era: The Eventing Series. Beginning with Ambition and chronicling the (mis)adventures of an ambitious young woman who just wants to make it as a top event rider and trainer, The Eventing Series has been thrilling readers since 2013!
It’s hard for me to believe now that Ambition was conceived as a stand-alone novel, to give me something new to work on in-between writing volumes of my horse racing series, Alex & Alexander. Thanks to the many emails and messages I received asking for a sequel, I wrote Pride, then Courage, then Luck…you can see where this is going. Many readers thought book five, Forward, was the end of the line. But where some saw a Happy Ever After, I saw a new challenge.
That new challenge is Prospect, and it comes to Kindles and bookshelves everywhere on April 27th, 2021. You can pre-order Prospect now and be assured it will download on release day, or bookmark the page so you can order the paperback as soon as it’s available. For now, though, get excited for Prospect with this special preview of the first three chapters, available for free download!
I thought it would be really fun to make notes on every book I read in 2021. It’s easier than writing book reviews individually, which I almost never find time to do – I can jot down something quick for the book’s Amazon page, but to write a full blog post? Far too much work.
But I love sharing reads! And I devour a decent variety of books. So hey, this might help you find your next book to read.
So, here it is: every book I read in January, 2021!
The Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich
One word: sensational. I’m really glad this was the first book I finished in 2021, because it felt like I was starting off on the right foot. I didn’t know about Louise Erdrich — I’d seen her books but the cover design never resonated with me. Then one night I was playing with some book lists and read the blurb for this one. Mid 20th century, Native Americans trying to preserve their tribal status when the government is trying to strip it, a huge cast of characters. Somehow I just knew it was going to be an amazing read.
And it was! The Night Watchman is beautifully written. Erdrich’s style of short chapters featuring the POV of many diverse characters allows readers to go on a real journey. She has a real sensibility about the way words go together, too. “The Chippewa Scholar” is one of my favorite things about this book: not just the character, who is great, but the fact that the tribe calls her this, and the way the words roll off the tongue. The “waterjack” was another fascinating, almost totem-like word.
I highly recommend The Night Watchman and I’m looking forward to digging into Erdrich’s backlist.
I picked this one up for free because I liked the concept – a small New England town transforms itself into a Christmas village every year, but not in a fairy-tale, Dickensian fashion. Oh no, this town goes full Hallmark. Obviously themed entertainment is a huge deal to me, so I wanted to explore that concept.
Well, honestly, this book doesn’t talk much about the nuts and bolts of a town transforming itself for Christmas. It’s a rom-com and the entire focus is on the relationship growing between the son of a town resident and a curmudgeonly Christmas-hater who has gone there on holiday with her best friend. You have to like Hallmark movies to like this book. If you do, give it a read!
I read this as an ARC from NetGalley. The Four Winds is coming out later this year. If you’ve read The Great Aloneor The Nightingale, you know Hannah’s trademark is big, sweeping, heavily-researched novels featuring women who have to make incredibly hard choices, generally again and again and again and again. I’ve read both of those novels and heartily recommend them, without hesitation.
In fact, I’d really like to read The Great Aloneagain — I find Alaska fascinating, and the idea of survivalists going there and literally farm, fish, and hunt like mad for four months a year so they can hunker down for the other eight, just trying not to freeze, is absolutely wild to me.
The Four Winds was a must-read for me because the Dust Bowl is another one of those wild periods of history which is really misunderstood, and there’s a lack of accessible literary fiction around it. This is a mother’s story as she tries to hold together the family she was so desperate to have in the first place.
The first third of this book held me riveted as it described life on the Texas plains during the Dust Bowl. Just gutting. The second third of this book held me riveted as it described the plight of the Okie. Heading west in hopes of work, finding racism and prejudice and armed police at the borders of American states, keeping out other Americans — well, that really will make anyone pause and have a good think about this country’s recent history.
The last third of this book hits some really strong themes. Ultimately, I think Hannah missed the mark with the ending, but with that caveat, it’s still a very worthy read and you should grab it as soon as you can.
This contemporary romance is set between a village on the Isle of Skye and Edinburgh. I picked it up for free and then found it was on Kindle Unlimited, so I read it that way instead, so the author got paid a little bit. I read it quickly, liked the characters, loved the settings, laughed out loud a good deal. A nice bit of escapism, great for before bed, so if you have KU, a good bet. I started reading the next one,The Castle by the Loch, but I haven’t finished it yet.
Brittney Joy’s equestrian saga, Red Rock Ranch, has been around for years and she has dabbled in fantasy as well, but this is her first contemporary romance! Small town romance often has some distinct geographic sub-genres, and this one is in the Great Lakes category, but instead of being set amongst a little vacation town, like they usually are, it’s set on a lovely horse farm.
This book is gentle and soft-hearted, offering readers an escape to a place with friendly neighbors, kind families, big Sunday dinners, and fun at the annual town rodeo. The writing is lovely, and all in all, this is an excellent romance for when you don’t want your blood pressure raised, just a nice relaxing read.
Last year I read Alternate Side, the first book I’d read by veteran women’s fiction writer Anna Quindlen, and I was simply blown away by how much I loved it. Quindlen seems to understand New York City much as I do, and the street in this book was actually a lot like my first block when I moved to the city in 2004. The entire concept of the book, looking at class and race from the eyes of a rather tired liberal woman who has done well for herself in the last generation that could buy a brownstone for a song and fix it up, worked on every level.
In contrast Rise and Shine is not generally lauded as her best, but I think the first 2/3 of this book are really excellent. I doubt its reviews were helped by making the heroine a social worker who rides her rich sister’s coattails to all the best dinners in town — there’s something about that “my best friend is rich so I am rich by association” trope that’s a little tired. That being said, the characters are interesting, the settings are very real, and the heroine actually lives on my first block, which is kind of hilarious (to me). I liked it; I thought the resolution was weak, but overall it was a good book, and Tequila is a great sidekick.
This was a total surprise. I picked this one up free, although I had serious misgivings about it based on the cover — the irony!! Seriously, though, it’s not a very good cover. But it turned out to have a great story, a great understanding of New York settings, and a lot of fun.
The heroine is desperate to escape her Long Island background by making it in Manhattan, but things are not panning out for her. When she finally gets rolling thanks to a shove from a benevolent alumnae from her alma mater, she immediately takes risks only a rich woman should take. This is what happens when you get your advice from a rich woman.
It’s not always a romance, but the ending is decidedly contemporary romance. Still, a good KU escape read.
There are so many things to love about this novel. The setting, the hilarious family, the dry observations of the heroine. Wilkinson has put together a kind of hybrid horse novel here, with the dynamics of National Velvet — the huge family really gave me Brown vibes — but none of the heroic drive Velvet shows. Instead, her heroine really just wants to enjoy her horse.
At times, this book is so character-driven as it follows Rio’s personal growth, I wondered where it was going. Then I realized I was getting used to the plot devices that drive so many equestrian novels forward — the need to acquire the horse, the need to win the show, the need to save the farm — that it had been a while since I’d looked at a horse plot from the perspective of a young woman who is just trying to understand her place in a very strange world … the horse world!
That’s what makes the book so lovely, and that evocative title makes sense: it’s about the most simple joy of all, a horse-filled summer.
Adored. Top pick. READ IT. Yes, it’s in Kindle Unlimited!
This was the most disappointing thing I’ve read in ages. I’m only including it because I said every book I read in January. There’s such a thing as a novella to get readers interested in a series. And then there’s whatever this is: a handful of chapters with set-up, character building, setting description, a catalyst moment — and then it just ends. It simply stops being. Who on earth thought it would be a good idea to publish the first third of a book and call it a day?
And it’s not like this is a tease of a book. It’s a tease of the Little Bridge Series, which at the moment is two books, both of them great, but neither of them featuring the romance that is set up in this short. I can’t comprehend why this exists, and I’m super mad about it.
(That being said, No OffenseandNo Judgmentsare actual Little Bridge romance novels, set in the Keys, and they’re super fun. Meg Cabot has lived in the Keys for a while and she gets Floridian life, especially the cavalier attitude towards hurricanes.)
Well, that’s my list! I found this really satisfying to write, and I hope you’ve found some interesting books to read!
Now, it’s your turn! What did you read that belongs on everyone’s list? Comment away!
The latest award for my novel The Hidden Horses of New York has arrived!
This book won the WINNIE Award for Horse Racing Books at the 2020 EQUUS Film & Arts Festival. This is the second award for Hidden Horses, which also won for best fiction in the American Horse Publications’ 2019 awards.
The award had to shipped, of course, as the physical festival had to be scrapped because of the pandemic. What a shame, because you can see all of the fun things that came with it – credentials, a medal from the literary corral! I am so hopeful we can all gather at the Kentucky Horse Park in late 2021 to celebrate another year of great horse books…and of course, the return of our real lives.
It’s especially poignant to win an award for a story about New York City, whose residents have been through so much over the past year. I can’t wait to be back in my favorite city. Hopefully it will be this year, because I have an idea for a follow-up to this novel and I’d love to walk the streets again for inspiration.
One of the best things about publishing your own works? You get to design the covers – or hire the designer of your choice. And when you don’t think you’ve gotten the design quite right, you can always change them!
I had a very definite vision for the cover of Sunset at Catoctin Creek, but it just didn’t work out. I have the paperback with the original cover, and I’m happy about it, but from a bookshelf sales perspective, I could see it didn’t do a good job of selling itself. It didn’t tell readers what was under that cover.
I hired a cover designer and I think the work she did was very pretty. I really liked the first two covers she designed. In fact, when she found a picture with a cute dog for Snowfall at Catoctin Creek, I wrote in the dog. If you’ve read that book, you know how important that dog is to the story. So it’s crazy but true: the dog wasn’t even in the first draft!
Ultimately, these covers skewed too young. My characters are in their early 30s and the covers just felt much younger than that. And they didn’t express the sense of place that I wanted to convey. Catoctin Creek isn’t just about the people — it’s about the place.
When fellow author Brittney Joy wrote to tell me about her new small town romance, Starting Over at Maple Bay, I took one look at her cover and nearly screamed. It was perfect! I was so happy for her — but I also knew I had to get Catoctin Creek right.
That night I redesigned the covers, and I finally felt like I had the right formula for this series. The new Catoctin Creek covers express everything I want: this is a series about a beautiful, natural place. There are horses. The typeface is clean and easy to read, showing these are contemporary reads. I think these covers scream pick me up. I definitely would.
I’m so happy with these covers, and I’m excited to start working on the cover for the third novel, Springtime at Catoctin Creek. Writing Sean and Nadine’s romance is like a little treat I’m saving for myself, and once I have the cover ready, I think I will have the inspiration I need to really jump in and create this new sweet tale.
My recent release, Snowfall at Catoctin Creek, features amateur chef and professional restaurant manager Nikki Mercer. By day, she’s overseeing the serving of traditional diner dishes at the Blue Plate, where she’s been working since she took over from her aunt. The Blue Plate Diner is a venerable country cookin’ establishment, with tried-and-true recipes like fried chicken and meatloaf. The whole town loves the Blue Plate, but Nikki’s culinary aspirations run a little higher…
Nikki whips up a few delicious recipes throughout the course of the book, many of them for Thanksgiving dinner at Notch Gap Farm. When I originally envisioned the book, I planned to include recipes in the back copy. But time got away from me and, it must be admitted, they’re not my recipes!
There is no copyright on recipes, which makes the world of cookbooks and cooking blogs a wild, wooly one I don’t care to enter at this time. Instead, let me link you to the recipes which I used for inspiration as I wrote Snowfall at Catoctin Creek.
Sweet Potato Cinnamon Pecan Casserole
Nikki makes this casserole to replace the usual mini-marshmallow sweet potato casserole at Thanksgiving dinner. I took the idea from Cooking Classy. I meant to make it at Thanksgiving this year, but I didn’t have time to cook, so maybe next time!
Whiskey Glazed Carrots
I called these honey bourbon carrots in the book, but I was working off memory. When I looked up the actual recipe I used, I found they’re called Whiskey-Glazed Carrots. These carrots are absolutely delicious. I made these for Thanksgiving one year when I lived in Brooklyn, and when I poured in the bourbon, a purple flame shot up and I thought I was going to burn my entire building down. Find them at the Pioneer Woman site, and they’re also in her holiday cookbook.
Orange-Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Butternut Squash
Joining Kindle Unlimited is the best life-hack a reader could ever want. Yes, I genuinely love this program. While I think as authors, we all have gripes about the exclusive-to-Kindle requirement to keep our books in KU, the positives outweigh the negatives.
Since I know a lot of readers are on the fence about Kindle Unlimited, I thought I’d lay out my favorite things about it in one post.
Note: This post contains affiliate links for Kindle Unlimited, but it is not sponsored content. I just genuinely like KU, and not everyone’s library supports digital reading, which makes this a cost-effective alternative.
Positive 1: Kindle Unlimited makes reading more affordable for more people.
Books are expensive, and for voracious readers that can gobble up one, two, or even five+ books per week, there’s almost no way to keep up! Libraries help sate my constant need for new reads, but even my tech-forward library can’t keep up with new books in every genre I’m looking for. I couldn’t possibly afford my reading habit without my library and Kindle Unlimited working in tandem.
Positive 2: Kindle Unlimited helps me deal with my short smartphone attention spans.
Weirdly, it even helps me cut down on the time I spend scrolling social media. If I always have a book ready on my Kindle app, I can usually catch myself when I’m just “scrolling to feel something” and click out of Twitter or Facebook and onto a book instead! What if I can’t focus on a thick contemporary fiction novel and need something lighter? No problem, I can quickly download a rom-com or a marketing manual to get my brain ticking properly again.
Positive 3: Kindle Unlimited works for my writing style.
Yep, as an author, Kindle Unlimited works for me. Does keeping my books in Kindle Unlimited affect the way I write? Yes, but probably only in ways that readers appreciate. Two things that work great for Kindle Unlimited page reads: long series, and books that are at least 85,000 words. That’s about 350 pages, in paperback terminology.
So if you like a nice, thick book with lots of substance, and if you like long sagas with plenty of updates on the characters you love, KU’s pages-read royalty program actually encourages authors to work in those formats.
Fortunately for me, that’s how I’ve always written. Not that I haven’t considered writing shorter books to get them done more quickly! But when I did the math, continuing to write long, detail-packed novels is a better business proposition for Kindle Unlimited books. Going short to save time doesn’t make sense. And frankly, I’m relieved, because I didn’t want to try brevity for the first time in my life!
Positive (for me): Ebook prices are going up.
Have you noticed the trend in ebook pricing? Authors are starting to ask for what they deserve for all of that hard work. Not too many years ago, the top-priced self-pub ebooks were going for $2.99. Now, many authors with big backlists are hitting $5.99 or more, and they’re still seeing great sales numbers.
This is important because we share our royalties with the ebook store, and we also bear significant marketing costs to get our books in front of readers. Not to mention that most books take between two months and a year to complete, and have behind-the-scenes costs like cover design, editing, formatting, and large bags of fun-sized candy bars for when the words just aren’t coming.
Rising cover prices are a positive for me when someone buys my books, but they’re a negative for me when I want one of those higher-priced books! In fact, the rise of the $5.99 ebook is why I joined Kindle Unlimited. Buying two books would cover my monthly cost and then some. Easy decision.
Negative: Kindle Unlimited ebooks are exclusive to Amazon.
Obviously this is a negative, because I’d like my ebooks to be available on every platform. But I have hope that ebook subscriptions will open up in the future. After all, music and podcast subscriptions don’t have this exclusivity issue. And while no one wants to give Amazon too much credit these days, I have been self-publishing for ten years, and Amazon is the platform which gave me that ability. They still have the most accessible ebook store that works for both readers and authors. I have to give them credit for that. Would I have my career if Amazon hadn’t normalized self-publishing? Doubtful.
It’s too good a promotion to miss, and since 95% of my books are available on Kindle Unlimited, it’s the perfect way to read everything by Natalie Keller Reinert… and a load of other equestrian authors!
And if you’re having trouble finding authors who write about equine themes, take a look at some of my favorite Amazon bestseller lists. The category titles can be a little deceptive because there is no General Fiction: Equestrian category, but we do our best to group our books together!
November brings the 8th anniversary of the EQUUS Film & Arts Fest, celebrating cinema and literature with a focus on the horse! This year, The Hidden Horses of New York is part of the festival’s Literary Corral. Since we couldn’t all get together in person, the festival has gone virtual this year.
I did a special video interview to talk about The Hidden Horses of New York just for EQUUS Film & Arts Fest, which you can watch below!
You’ve been asking for it — now she’s here. The prequel to the bestselling Alex & Alexander Series is coming in just a few weeks!
Runaway Alex has been my biggest project of 2020, and I’m so excited to bring you the backstory of this horse racing duo. Alex and Alexander have taken me so many places: to Saratoga for horse racing’s first-ever con, Equestricon; to Keeneland for the finalist party of the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award; to Pimlico for a signing on Preakness weekend…the list goes on and on. And I can’t even begin to list the amazing people I have met because of this book series.
So it’s my very great pleasure to bring you the story of how they met, what drew them together, and the first days of the Alex and Alexander story.
Horse racing isn’t for nice girls like Alex. She’s been told again and again: stick to horse shows, stick to riding lessons, stick to the relative safety of the suburban equestrian center where she has been a working student since grade school. Even better: go to college!
But Alex can’t shake the conviction that the Thoroughbred life is her destiny.
Can’t wait to get started? Here’s the introduction where we meet Alex for the very first time…
Runaway Alex: Prologue
My feet hit the ground with a little puff of dirt. Grass won’t grow in this spot anymore. My dad, the resident gardener, does everything he can to fix the bare patch outside my window. He doesn’t understand why the thick runners of St. Augustine grass can’t overcome the gray sand. Some day, I won’t have to jump out the window anymore, and then the grass will grow back in a thick, lush, tropical carpet, and he’ll never be able to explain it.
He’ll never know it was because I was running away, every chance I got.
Although at some point, he’ll probably wonder how I got so good at riding horses.
If you want to read on, click here to sign up and I’ll send you a link to read the first three chapters in a special preview ebook!
2020 is going down as the year of constant distraction.
Well, among other things.
For many of us, the difficulty of being stuck home through lockdown and the subsequent months of unending, ongoing “quarantine” has been made so much worse by an inability to pay attention to one thing. Namely, to books! I think in March, a lot of us looked at our TBR pile and thought: “Well, at least I’ll get a lot of reading done.”
(This is also what I think anytime I consider what would happen if I were ever jailed for some reason. And it went down just as successfully as I guess it would if I were ever jailed.)
Not a lot of reading got done.
It was impossible to concentrate long enough to finish a book, or even get halfway through it. I abandoned book after book after just a few chapters, tweeting mournfully that another appealing novel had gone back to the library unread, or that I just couldn’t seem to get into the plot.
It was starting to look like I was going to fail at even reading a lot during a mandatory stay-at-home order.
Sound familiar? I’ve talked to so many people, all year, who have said the same thing. Lots of doomscrolling on social media, but not enough brain power to lurch through a novel.
Then I found a solution…romance!
I had started to write a romance novel as a sort of feel-good escape from reality. I did some reading about the art of romance-writing and was getting familiar with the “beats” and general requirements of the genre. Romance readers are known for being very persnickety about their books following a certain arc, and, having basically spent the past ten years writing character-driven literary fiction, I had never worked within a prebuilt structure before. It was really interesting.
I had looked back at a few historical romances I had really loved over the years (especially My Sweet Folly and Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale) but now I did something (in the name of research) I hadn’t ever really done: I picked up a new contemporary romance and started turning the pages.
The book was No Offense by Meg Cabot and I was intrigued because it was set in the Florida Keys, and I knew it would be light-hearted and fun, and wow was it ever! I read that little book in two days and was hungry for more. My year took an abrupt shift — suddenly, I couldn’t read enough. I was devouring contemporary romance like it was a plate of cinnamon buns with extra icing which were guaranteed to give me energy and shiny hair.
I started hitting my Kindle hard for Prime Reads titles in the genre. I subscribed to Contemporary Romance in BookBub and Freebooksy. My library’s holds section is under constant assault. Place hold, place hold, place hold, I click. Yes, I will go on the waiting list!
And as I’ve started replacing doomscrolling, little by little, with romance reads, my life has gotten better. I don’t have extra energy or shinier hair, but I do have more ideas. And I think less about the things I’m not doing, and more about the things I’m going to do, On The Other Side, When This War Is Over, etc.
Three reasons I think contemporary romance is absolutely saving my life in 2020:
The lightheartedness. With some exceptions, I’m reading books that are joyful, humorous, or at least not too bogged down in deep thinking on the human condition. Listen, I love reading deep thinking on the human condition. Just not right now, okay? I need some happiness. And the most essential, happiest part of the human condition is being in love.
The Happy Ever After. I require a guaranteed happy ending right now. I’ve always been pretty naughty about ambiguous endings in my books, because I have always been suspicious about happy endings. But this isn’t strident realism in lit fic. This is a romance. We’re gonna have a wedding, people! Or at least a big ol’ kiss. HEAs are the Official Ending of 2020, in my book.
The predictability. Yes, I’m having fun with this. Not because I know how an author is going to hit each beat, but because I like guessing how the author is going to hit the beat. I like realizing which section belongs to which part of the story arc. It’s a little nerdy, but what part of being a novelist isn’t nerdy?
So, listen. If you’re still having trouble finishing books because of everything (I’m waving my hands in the air for emphasis) consider the romance. Here are a few I absolutely loved so far this year:
No Offense by Meg Cabot. A librarian in the Florida Keys finds a baby in the bathroom, and ends up falling for the town sheriff. The Keys setting is so relaxing! I felt like I was there! Super cute, fun, and light reading. I need to get the entire series set in Lighthouse Key.
Well Met by Jen DeLuca. Holy cow! This adorable romance set in a small Maryland town with an annual renaissance fair was absolutely amazing. No spoilers but the pirate character is definitely Hook from Once Upon a Time and wow, hot. This book is so sweet that the one or two extremely hot sex scenes are kind of surprising. I didn’t mention it above but I don’t really care for sex in novels. I think it’s usually a distraction from the story. I don’t think this needed the sex but honestly? Hot. Can’t wait to read the next book.
Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson. Totally off the beaten path, this book includes an elderly matchmaking witch who lives in a Brooklyn brownstone, a Floridian girl who doesn’t know how to fix her life after a break-up, and a lot of ambiguity about what constitutes a relationship versus SexyTimes. Oh, and falling in love via text, one of my favorite tropes because Words! I mean, this book just goes off the genre rails and does whatever it wants, but the structure is there so you still know you’re getting that HEA.
I adored it and I was so impressed that Dawson followed it up with a Mature Relationship Romance between the main characters, which is tougher both to read and to write, but worth your time as well.
All in all I feel like reading and writing romance this year has been the absolute saving of my mental health, and I really encourage you to give it a try! If you’re afraid it’s going to be cheesy, it’s not, I can assure you. Romance is awesome. Take it from me, an extremely snooty lit fic reader! There is so much to love and learn from in this genre.
My latest novel is a romance, by the way: Sunset at Catoctin Creekis about a sweet, small-town girl who has devoted her life to rescuing horses, and the city boy who is her opposite in every way…and her perfect match. I loved writing it so much, I’m halfway through the follow-up.
So, have you been reading any romance this year? What can you recommend?
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Today is the release day for my newest novel, Sunset at Catoctin Creek, and I’m so excited to take you all there.
I spent all summer in Catoctin Creek, and I truly never want to leave! Every time I started editing this book, I found more reasons to rewrite instead of just letting it go to readers. Because once I’m done, I’m back out in the real world, and I don’t like it here!
But there’s more Catoctin Creek to come, as you’ll definitely realize whilst turning the pages. I hope that readers love this little town, this beautiful corner of Maryland, and these lovely people as much as I do. When you need a small town escape, consider Catoctin Creek. With sweet romance and beautiful vistas, it’s the kind of place that we’re all craving in 2020.
I’m looking forward to writing the follow-up, Snowfall at Catoctin Creek, very soon, and after that, Springtime at Catoctin Creek.
While all of these books will focus more on human relationships than the heavily-equestrian storylines of my other series, horses still play a role, and I’m excited about some of the interesting equine pursuits I have lined up for future volumes.
To read the first three chapters of Sunset at Catoctin Creek right here at my blog,just click here.