Hi friends! I thought microblogging might be a fun experiment to play around with. I’m a solid five and a half weeks into stay-at-home life, and my only record of this weird period of human history is my insane tweets. Why not do some insane blogs, too?
Today I am excited about my tree, which arrived by post yesterday from the idyllic-sounding Hacienda Heights, California. I know it’s in Los Angeles County and probably isn’t idyllic, but what a name, right? I love the breezy romanticism of early southern California Americans. The citrus trees, the terra-cotta tiles, the boundless optimism. Early 20th century Los Angeles is a beehive for me.
Anyway, my tree arrived and she was looking a little worse for wear at first, but now her leaves are uncurling and she seems quite spritely. I haven’t named her — I kind of got out of the habit of naming inanimate objects and I’m not sure if that’s going to come back or not — but I have already initiated pep talks so that she knows I am rooting for her (that’s a plant pun!) and want her to grow up big and strong.
My new tree and her horse friends
She’s an umbrella tree, by the way. I ordered this one from Amazon because the reviews were half-decent, the tree described was a good size, and I liked that it came with a pot, so I didn’t have to buy soil and a pot as well. I’m on a budget here!
I grew up with an umbrella tree in the house. When I was in elementary school we moved to Florida from Maryland, and the umbrella tree was eventually planted outside, by the front door. This happened to be where water poured down from the eaves during Florida rainstorms. Was this on purpose? I have no idea. But this tree grew and grew and grew into an umbrella giant during our time at this house. I was always so proud of it for doing so well outside.
So when it became clear most of my life would be working from home, not from a cafe or from the apartment complex workspace or by the pool (by the way, March and April are THE work-from-the-pool-deck months and I am sad to be missing this), a new corner of the living room was set aside for Natalie’s Office, and I declared the window sill to be Natalie’s Garden, and this is where my lovely little tree lives. There’s a succulent coming this week too, and I’ll show you that plant when it arrives!
Well, I’d better get on with the business of writing fiction now. Think of me and my tree sitting in our corner, enjoying the midday light, and know that new books are happening!
Do you have a plant? What kind, and why do you love it?
Has this pandemic turned your world upside-down? Sometimes it really feels that way for me. While I try to keep myself busy all day and into the night with writing, there’s times where I can’t escape the reality of how much things have changed… and how much uncertainty there is about the future.
Well, thank goodness for books. I’m craving horse books more than ever right now, because I’m cut off from riding and barn-time. A little virtual gallop is exactly what my soul is crying out for, and so horse books are the best escape of all.
I’ve recommended horse books on this blog before, of course, but this is a nice little list of eight horse books for under $5 — some of which are also free via Kindle Unlimited — which are all written by grown-up horse girls with a passion for ponies and the desire to share some horsey goodness with the rest of this shut-in world. You’ll see some familiar friends on this list, but you might spot something new… and there’s something for every age!
So click through if you see something you like, take advantage of some special offers, and read some horse books. You’ll feel better. Really!
First off, my most recent novel The Hidden Horses of New Yorkis on sale for $2.99 now through April 28, 2020. So don’t miss that if you haven’t read it yet!
Full of equine epiphanies, In the Reins is a love story sure to touch your inner cowgirl, capturing the struggle between letting life move forward and shying away from taking the reins with horses and in love.
I hope this list of horse books helps you find some reads to take you away and give you a much-needed escape. If you’re looking for more, check out these pages around my site:
It can be really hard to be productive during this current state of affairs. If you can, though, I really encourage you to disconnect from social media and current events for a few hours a day and do something nice for yourself.
Over at Loose Rein Collections, my website for sharing equestrian inspiration, I have started listing all of the free courses, webinars and live-streams I can find for horse owners and riders.
There are many offerings from universities, world-renowned trainers, and respected organizations available free for the taking!
If you can’t ride right now because of stay-at-home orders, this might be the perfect time to take a course on horsekeeping or biosecurity on farms.
If you are wondering how you’re going to shift your business in the post-lockdown economy, there are awesome courses on farm management and homesteading available.
Or maybe you have more time to ride because you’re not teaching or going to work and your horse is at home – now you can learn a lot and put it into practice right away by using free training videos from top trainers.
I’m adding a second book to my serial works-in-progress at Patreon!
Sunset at Catoctin Creek is the first novel in my Catoctin Creek series. I’d been playing with the idea for a small-town romantic novel for a little while. On one of my barn days – I have a lot of time for thinking on barn days! – I came up with not just one, but three novels set in a fictional small Maryland town called Catoctin Creek.
The name and setting both have a lot of significance for me. My Keller family came to western Maryland in the early 1800s and settled there, along with many other German immigrants. Catoctin Creek is a stream that runs along the ridge of the Appalachian Mountains called the Catoctins. There’s an old Keller graveyard near Catoctin Creek, and not far away, my great-grandfather’s old farm.
So I came up with this idea, and promptly fell in love with my imaginary town of Catoctin Creek, and then set it to one side because work, and deadlines, and etc.
Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels
Now, though, I could use a little escape. I’m on Day 12 of Quarantine Life, and my long affinity for the fuss-free, smaller-footprint advantages of apartment life? Well, it’s being tested a little. Let’s just say I could really go for a front porch with a set of rockers, a babbling brook within earshot, and an old barn where my horses whinny for their suppers.
So I’m running away (in my mind) to Catoctin Creek, and I’m inviting you along with me. I’m posting the first chapters of this novel at my Patreon, free for everyone to read. Come meet Rosemary, who has lived at Notch Gap Farm her entire life, and seems largely content with her spinsterhood and her rescue horses. Come meet Stephen, who has come to Catoctin Creek to settle his father’s estate, make a little money, and head back home to Manhattan before he forgets how to order in dinner from Seamless. And meet Nikki, Rosemary’s best friend and no-nonsense proprietress of the Blue Plate Diner, and the Kelbaughs, Rosemary’s elderly neighbors and touchstones on lonely nights.
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels
Like I said, the first few chapters are free – no paywall. Eventually I’ll have to move them to subscriber-only, for copyright reasons, but I’d like to give everyone a shot to decide if they want to read it first.
And just as a reminder, subscriptions to read all of my work on Patreon are just $3 per month. I really want to keep it reasonable, while still getting a little income for the writing which takes up much of my day. I’m also posting new chapters of Runaway Alex for subscribers at this time, so you’re getting two books at a time. (Here’s the first chapter, no payment required.)
I hope that everyone who needs a little escape can find it in Catoctin Creek. And I hope that soon, we can all get back to our happy places, for real.
Last year I decided a prequel to The Head and Not The Heart was in order. Readers have been asking for one for years, and I kept pushing it away… then suddenly, it felt like the right moment. I had just finished The Hidden Horses of New York, and the bug to continue writing about my horse racing heroines was still strong.
After some false starts, (including one absolutely gorgeous intro paragraph which I re-read to myself, smiling triumphantly, until I realized that it was written in third person and the entire rest of the series is written in first) I finally have an intro chapter I’m ready to share.
Why share now, before the book is even remotely complete? I’ve been loving installment fiction at Patreon for over a year now, and I’ve shared all of my most recent stories there as works in progress since last year’s Forward. Sharing a chapter or three every week of my first draft has been an amazing experience for me – honestly, more writers should try it.
It’s really fun for me to share my ideas as I write them and get feedback right away from my most dedicated readers. And the response from readers tells me it’s fun for you, too!
So if you’re ready to give the introduction to Runaway Alex a read, hop over to my Patreon – no subscription required.
And if you like what you read, you might want to stick around and subscribe to read the complete first drafts of two unpublished novels: the equestrian amateur-owner misadventure Grabbing Mane, and the theme park drama You Must Be This Tall. They’re all available from just $3 per month!
It’s Saturday and I’ve been reading things on the Internet all week. I thought: why not share this nonsense with you, the readers who might also like the same things as me? Right? So here it is: everything from the past week for you to read!
Eventing Nation posted a list of “horse novels that don’t suck” which could have just as easily been a listing of old horse books plucked from a quick internet search as a series of actual recommendations, so lots of people are posting their faves in the comments – check them out for something you haven’t read yet: https://www.facebook.com/eventingnation/posts/3832017333483004
Barnes & Noble is about to undergo a renaissance which involves fewer toys and junk for sale at the cashwrap and more community-focused booksellers, and I am here for it:
I’ve known Laurie Berglie a long time. This equestrian author and I go back to my old days of blogging about off-track Thoroughbreds for my breakout blog Retired Racehorse, and when she published her first novel a few years ago, I was absolutely delighted. Where the Bluegrass Growsis a pleasure to read, a romance with plenty of equine co-stars and a lot of heart.
When she sent me a copy of her latest novel in her Equestrian Romance series, I dropped everything to read it. Taking Offis the story of Erin, who attentive readers will have met in Berglie’s second book, Kicking On. Erin is faced with a life change and when she takes it, you’re going to be cheering her onward… and maybe thinking about your own possibilities. I put it down utterly in love with Erin and ready to read more about her adventures, and I know I’m not alone!
Laurie Berglie’s Equestrian Romance Series
When Laurie isn’t writing fiction she’s living her best life with several lovely horses and a resident fox — which she helpfully documents for us with her impeccably curated Instagram, Maryland Equestrian. As a girl who grew up with a childhood split between Maryland and Florida, Laurie’s decidedly English equestrian lifestyle calls to the Marylander inside me! She’s also a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald, so, like, we just get each other. And if her doormat ever disappears, she’s going to know exactly who took it.
Laurie, when you first wrote for Retired Racehorse Blog (years ago!) I had no idea you were going to get into fiction. What made you decide to start writing equestrian romances?
Crazy, right? Me neither! I had always loved to write, and dabbled with fiction here and there, but nothing ever stuck. Then I started writing what eventually turned into Where the Bluegrass Grows, and it stuck. It probably took me 5+ years to finish the first draft, but I just kept coming back to it. I ended up really liking my characters and wanting to see what happened to them, where their story led, etc., so I just kept at it.
Your characters are intertwined just enough to keep the stories connected – did you always plan a series filled with friends and family?
I actually didn’t. When I wrote Where the Bluegrass Grows, I ended up really liking the character of Macy. She seemed to have this fun story all her own, so when I finished Bluegrass, I decided to focus on Macy and tell her story a bit, so to speak, and that became Kicking On. In that novel, Erin’s character ended up having a larger role than I initially thought she would, so I wanted to give her her own story as well. I think when I originally started out, I was going to write a few books about Molly, always having her be my main focus, but the other characters came to life in a way that I wanted them to have their books too and not to always be supporting characters. It’s interesting how things unintentionally take shape!
A quarter-life crisis seems to be a major theme for your main characters. They realize they’re on the wrong track or something else spurs them into making a massive life change. Any… uh… personal experience with this?
Hahaha good question! No quarter-life crisis here per se, but my characters do explore the paths in life I didn’t take, but possibly wanted to. Molly is living my dream life – to be a full-time writer of fiction. Macy, as an equine vet, is living a life that I didn’t pursue but thought seriously about for many years. I spent most of my mid-twenties debating about whether or not to go back to school to be a vet. I think had I gone to vet school immediately after undergrad, I would have done it, but ultimately, I decided that I wasn’t in the position to take out thousands of dollars in student loans to pursue that career. So I had Macy do it!
Of all my characters, I think I am most similar to Erin. She’s an attorney and I also considered law school for quite some time. With Erin, I also explore the whole not having kids thing – which is a decision I made years ago. While my husband is on board with the no kids lifestyle and I, thankfully, have not experienced a divorce the way Erin has, I went down the ‘what if’ path with her. What if my husband had wanted kids and I didn’t? Then – what if I truly hated my job and wanted to leave to follow my passion? And since Erin is rather bold, I knew she could answer those questions for me, and that turned into Taking Off.
I absolutely use characters to explore the paths I haven’t taken, so I am on your wavelength here! So, what have you learned as you wrote and launched your third book that you wished debut author Laurie had known?
I wish I wouldn’t have been so scared about – well, all of it. When I published my first book, I told almost no one. I think I wrote a blog post about it, shared a handful of times on social media, but that was it. I gave it life and then just let it die. With my second novel (and there were three years in between) – I had a plan for how to market it. I really leveraged my Instagram platform and sent lots of copies to influencers. (I don’t think “influencers” were really a thing when I published my first). And, unlike the first, I wasn’t afraid to reach out and ask for help with promotion… blogs, magazines, podcasts, etc. I realized that I couldn’t just wait for people to come to me. I had to reach out, introduce myself, and pitch my PR ideas. Some have worked out and some haven’t, but at least I put myself out there and made some great connections.
Your Instagram presence is amazing! Is Instagram your main brand presence, and was this on purpose or just how your audience developed?
Thank you! Yes Instagram is my main brand presence – I don’t really keep up my blog or Facebook page anymore. Everything just got too time-consuming and sometimes something has to give. My Instagram all happened by accident. I started it in 2014 as my personal account. I kept it public (also by accident), but then I noticed random people starting to follow me. I figured, oh I guess there are some people out there who like seeing horse pictures, so I kept it public and started playing with it… sometimes I posted personal things, sometimes I shared nice curated content, and it went from there. This was back in Instagram’s glory days before the horrible algorithm, so I think it was easier to build an account. Now it’s SO hard to gain new followers and growth has definitely slowed. But – I really like the little community I’ve built! Everyone loves horses and books – lots of common ground – so it’s fun to chat with my “friends.” 🙂
Hey – no quotation marks necessary! You never know when your Insta friends are going to bump into you – like when we were hanging out at the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes a few years ago! Thanks for being on the blog, Laurie!
Now it’s your turn, readers. You can find Laurie Berglie’s equestrian romance novels in Kindle and paperback formats at Amazon (and look at these covers! Gorgeous!). Click the covers to read more and get your copy!
I am already a few books deep into 2020 and have started reading my first horse book of the year! It feels so good to dip into an equestrian story… and I super love that it’s set in Maryland Horse Country, since I spent some time as a teenager eventing in Maryland. I love Ocala, Lex is divine, Saratoga is heaven itself, but maybe Hunt Valley deserves a little more literary love, huh?
I love setting up my TBR list for the year with some must-reads (I leave plenty of room for sudden finds at the library and the bookstore, believe me) so I’m sticking some horse books I absolutely don’t want to miss in 2020.
Most of these books have already come out and I’m just catching up with them. So I have no doubt this post will get longer as equestrian authors start releasing 2020 titles. The more the merrier!
*This post contains affiliate links from Amazon, but buy your books wherever it makes you happy! I’ve included publisher direct links when available.*
TBR: Horse Books I’m Reading in 2020
Taking Off, by Laurie Berglie
This is the third book in Laurie Berglie’s Equestrian Romance series and I’m so excited for it. Berglie writes with such a light hand and a clear eye, effortlessly sucking us into the lives, loves, and worries of her characters. Ever since her first lovely novel, Where the Bluegrass Grows, came out (way back in 2016!) I’ve been rooting for Berglie to continue writing her stories about contemporary horsewomen who find themselves before they settle for the wrong life.
Diane Crump: A Horse-Racing Pioneer’s Life in the Saddle, by Mark Shrager
Every year a lot of great horse racing biographies come out, about both horses and riders. Every year I mean to read some and don’t. What can I say, I’m a fiction girl! But I’m definitely intrigued by Diane Crump, who somehow manages not to be a famous figure in today’s female-first equestrian world despite her big, bold decision in the late 1960s to become a jockey. And not just any jockey, but a successful winning rider who went on to compete in the Kentucky Derby just a year after her debut at Gulfstream Park. This book releases in May 2020, so add it to your alerts or pre-order your copy!
I’ve been meaning to read Hazel Beecroft’s eventing books forever. Her covers are lovely, her titles are clever, and I just know when I finally dig in, I’m going to treat myself to a story by someone who really knows her topic. Plus, she’s British and I love English prose — not to mention how fun their eventing scene looks! So I’m promising myself Down the Centre Line, which has a very straight-into-the-action beginning with the inner thoughts of Andrew, who wins every event and sleeps with every girl on the circuit and still isn’t satisfied. Andrew, you naughty thing. Tell me more.
I confess, this book has been everywhere for the past year and I just haven’t had any interest in it. Then I listened to Conley’s interview with Carly Kade on The Equestrian Author Spotlight podcast and wow, interest piqued! I just really enjoyed Conley’s speaking and the way she framed her thoughts. I’m not much on the “horses healing humans” genre for myself, but Conley seems to approach the therapeutic side of horses from a purely scientific and experiential background, which fascinates me. Plus, she started riding for the first time in her life in her 40s. In Ireland. I have to know all about that experience. It’s on the list!
Distant Skies: An American Journey on Horseback, by Melissa A. Priblo Chapman
One read of the blurb for this upcoming release from equestrian publisher Trafalgar Square Books, and I was hooked.
“Melissa Chapman was 23 years old and part of a happy, healthy, loving family. She had a decent job, a boyfriend she cared about, and friends she enjoyed. Yet on the first of May in 1982, she said good-bye to all of it. Carrying a puppy named Gypsy, she climbed aboard a horse and rode away from everything, heading west.”
MELISSA, tell me everything! I absolutely adore middle/rural America travelogues. Truly, one of the best books I read last year was The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey, which features a modern-day trip across what’s left and accessible of The Oregon Trail. And I go back to Bad Land and Old Glory: A Journey Down the Mississippiby Jonathan Raban quite frequently. I love it when writers go wandering the countryside. So this is absolutely in my wheelhouse. Can’t wait for this April 2020 release!
Everyone’s been telling me to read Laurie Twizel’s eventing novels for the past two years, and for some reason I just haven’t yet. I’m fixing that this year. And maybe it was a good thing I waited, because now there are three books in the Hearts & Horse Trials Series! When I look over the Amazon reviews, I see five stars from some of my regular readers, so I know there’s something good happening inside these pages. Romance and eventing: the perfect combination.
I’ve been idly flipping through Goodreads reviews for THE STARLESS SEA because I loved it so much and I was curious about how others felt. Loved it or hated it, there is no in between!
If you’re not familiar with the title, THE STARLESS SEA is the new release by Erin Morgenstern, author of THE NIGHT CIRCUS. If you’ve read that one, you know that her writing is incomparably lyrical, her descriptions whimsical and overflowing like a fountain, her pacing… of her own choice.
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Naturally writing like that has its detractors (many) but THE NIGHT CIRCUS got a pass from so many because it’s also an absolutely gorgeous, haunting love story, and the desire to see the guy get the girl propels many a page-turn when someone might have tossed the book aside otherwise. How else to explain some of the exceedingly bad romance novels out there (mine might be included, depending on how you feel about them)?
THE STARLESS SEA has a love story, but it’s not the only story… and it doesn’t show up until deep within the book. This is a story about stories, and it is all the more charming and delicious for readers who find the references and love notes to the stories which have come before, both within and without its pages. This is a librarian romance.
And it’s an absolutely polarizing read, apparently!
Here are some of my favorite lines from GoodReads:
-THE DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR!
The writing is so abstract that I couldn’t take it anymore!
-This is a masterpiece. This is flawless. This is the kind of book that comes along once in a decade. This cracks the foundations.
-dnf around 30%
Ugh what a chore
-It’s difficult to sum up a novel that has made a home in your heart and mind and will reside there for a lifetime.
And then this is the one which actually sums up the way I’m feeling right now:
“It’s a profoundly strange thing—to feel as though you are wading through mildly entertaining novels that pass through you like falling smoke, always searching for the one that reaches into the back alleys of your soul and settles to the bottom of you like fallen leaves.
And then there it is, like a faint spark bobbing on a dark sea, calling you, beckoning.”
I’ve been reading tons of good work all year, really good work, but I’ve also been reading what feels like a lot of fluff compared to the sheer magnitude of imagination and world-building and realized dreams that is THE STARLESS SEA. Finding this book, for me, was like finally reaching Cair Paravel. It felt like reaching a golden city on a hill after decades of reading works leading up to this point. It felt like this what stories were reaching for, striving for, during all of these years of modern fantasy. An ode to what makes imagination great.
And a lot of people hated it!
Which tells you absolutely everything you need to know about books, writing, novels, reviews, and art in general.
Books are subjective. Books are like people. You love some of them, you don’t get some of them but you’d sure like to figure them out, you absolutely hate some of them, you turn away from some of them and never think about them again. Every single emotion you can have about a human relationship, you can have about a book.
Not every book you read will be a soulmate, some will be good chums and some will be enemies, but for someone else… that book will be a soulmate.
So hey… go love what you love, and shout about it! Worry a little less about the relationships that don’t work out. We all want to know what made you happy, not what made you crazy.
And if THE STARLESS SEA changes your life in profound ways… hey, I get it. Wow, do I ever get it.