Visiting Disney’s Tri-Circle-D Ranch

Everyone knows I’m a fan of Disney horses. I love visiting the horses at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, where they keep the carriage and trolley horses, including the white ponies who pull Cinderella’s glass carriage. Last year, Disney opened a beautiful new barn and visitor’s area, but because of the pandemic, I didn’t get to visit.

Well, I finally got to pay a visit to the Happiest Horses on Earth, and I was not disappointed. The old barn was a rather dark center-aisle that was pretty much like every barn in Central Florida in the 80s and 90s. It looked almost exactly like the hunter barn where I learned to ride, and the boarding stable where I kept my first horse, and a dozen other barns I’ve been to in the Orlando area! The new one is lighter, airier, and has run-outs attached to each stall. It looks better for the horses and for the ranch-hands who take care of them.

And it’s great to visit! They built a special show barn at the front where visitors can see horses and take pictures, watch horses get groomed and bathed, see the pony-sized harness in a glass-fronted carriage room, explore Walt Disney’s love of horses and the equestrian heritage of the Walt Disney Company, and check out the incredible antique steam calliope which used to come out for holiday parades in the parks. (I haven’t seen this calliope in action since 2006, personally.)

Here’s a look at what I saw on my visit:

Ponies getting a bath

The first thing I spotted was an entire hitch – six white ponies – getting bathed for an evening wedding! You can walk right up to this big outdoor washrack and talk to the ranch hands doing the hard work of scrubbing and primping these ponies. They told me it takes two hours to wash and dry the ponies before a wedding. And you know how light-colored horses get dirty IMMEDIATELY, so that means every wedding gets this kind of salon treatment. A LOT of work, especially in the heat.

Tri Circle D Ranch Show Barn - Visitor Area

Visitors are only permitted in the special show barn at the front of the ranch. There are eight stalls, all facing out. We saw four horses inside: three Percherons, and a Clydesdale. Everyone was snoozing or finishing up their lunch hay. The stalls are spacious and very deeply bedded in pine shavings. While we were there, a ranch hand was dusting the railings – now that’s my kind of show barn!

The stalls are roped off to keep kid’s fingers from being eaten – pretty smart. The barrier actually makes them the perfect distance for selfies! This gorgeous gray Percheron is named Grady.

Just a beautiful Percheron taking a nice nap. The stalls are nice and deep, and really airy with all the open bars. Perfect for central Florida, where the prevailing breeze could be from the east, west, north, or south on any given day!

The pony rides at Fort Wilderness have always been really unique because instead of having a little corral to walk around, they have a long “track” type area. This one is new and quite sunny but hopefully the shade trees they’ve planted in the middle will grow up soon.

These ponies are waiting for pony ride custom. Surprise! The one in the center is Lilly, and she’s not taking rides. Just having a bit of grown-up time. Lilly is two years old and was made famous in this adorable photo when she was a wee filly:

Weirdly enough it was kind of easy to recognize her! I guess it’s that pink skin and the shape of her profile.

I am not a fan of pink-skinned horses but there’s no denying the charm of that photo. I just wonder how big poor Cinderella’s bruises were when they finally got the perfect shot. If you kneel in front of a foal you’re GOING to get stomped and pawed. That’s just what they do!

But as one of my readers on Facebook pointed out, a few bruises would be worth it for that photo.

The rest of the barn where the work is done is visible from the show barn, although this view is as close as visitors can get. I love the use of poles and light colored metal, and the translucent panels in the roof. I am guessing this barn was designed by someone back in Disney’s home base in California. I know they use a lot of metal poles in construction there, but I’ve never seen anything like it in Florida.

Tyson, Percheron at Tri-Circle-D Ranch

All in all, I spent a really happy half an hour or so enjoying the horses and chatting with the ranch hands at Tri-Circle D Ranch. They’ve done a stellar job and it’s a real showplace!

Afterwards, we enjoyed a delicious lunch of fried chicken and fixin’s alongside the beautiful expanse of Bay Lake, just a short walk away. Fort Wilderness also has ferry service to the Magic Kingdom, or you can walk around the campground, which has nature walks, some shopping, canoe rentals, and more. It’s a very peaceful and beautiful place. I really recommend a visit!

If you have a little one who wants a pony ride, even better!

You can read my (totally fictional) account of horses and theme parks in Horses in Wonderland, the second book in my Show Barn Blues series.

The Best Books I Read Spring 2021

Back in January, I posted All The Books I Read in January 2021 and while it was fun, it ended up being too much heavy lifting for a monthly blog post. My blog post time is very limited! So I decided to wait and do one to sum up spring.

It’s only a week into May, but here in Florida it’s almost summer, so now is the time for my spring books post! I’ll do another one in September, for summer books.

Here are my favorite books from Spring 2021.

Eventer’s Dream – A Hoof in the Door – Ticket to Ride, by Caroline Akrill

Eventer's Dream Caroline Akrill

Holy cow, do I love these books. The Eventing Trilogy by Caroline Akrill is a smart, funny British farce through the world of Three-Day Eventing and fox hunting, back in 1970s? 80s? Great Britain.

I laughed, nodded, and gasped my way through these books. I truly should have read them much sooner, but I held off because the title made it sound like a starry-eyed pony story – when it fact it’s totally tongue-in-cheek.

The horses in this book are truly awesome characters, too, and they only get better as the series continues.

I enjoyed them on Kindle Unlimited, but they’re going to be paperback editions on my shelves soon enough, because they’re worth owning to read again and again. I can’t recommend these books enough to anyone who enjoys British humor, horses, or just really quality escape reads.

Check them out on Amazon!

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, by Dawnie Walton

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev

I had the pleasure of reading this book on NetGalley this year. If you enjoyed the music journalism style of Daisy Jones and the Six, and the musical sensibilities of High Fidelity, this is a really smart book which takes on modern issues through the lens of the seventies music industry. There’s a great back-and-forth between personal narrative (by the journalist, who is herself related to the classic rock(?) duo Opal & Nev, and the articles about the band. The blurb from the publisher says it better than I can:

“Opal is a fiercely independent young woman pushing against the grain in her style and attitude, Afro-punk before that term existed. Coming of age in Detroit, she can’t imagine settling for a 9-to-5 job—despite her unusual looks, Opal believes she can be a star. So when the aspiring British singer/songwriter Neville Charles discovers her at a bar’s amateur night, she takes him up on his offer to make rock music together for the fledgling Rivington Records.

“In early seventies New York City, just as she’s finding her niche as part of a flamboyant and funky creative scene, a rival band signed to her label brandishes a Confederate flag at a promotional concert. Opal’s bold protest and the violence that ensues set off a chain of events that will not only change the lives of those she loves, but also be a deadly reminder that repercussions are always harsher for women, especially black women, who dare to speak their truth.”

I really enjoyed this and recommend it!

Amazon: The Final Revival of Opal & Nev

Love Songs for Skeptics, by Christina Pishiris

Love Songs for Skeptics

I love the sweet spot where chick lit meets romantic comedy, and this one ticks all the boxes. Add in some sweet twists: the music journalist (another one, how funny!) narrator, her Greek heritage and London upbringing, the struggle between the return of the boy next door and dealing with an aggressive publicist who is determined to take her career down – there’s so much happening, and I was invested in all of it.

As a writer who has been dabbling in romance but not necessarily falling in love with the process, Love Songs for Skeptics gave me a lot to think about, just in terms of the potential fluidity of the genre and ways to step outside of the write-to-market box. This is another one I’d like to have in paperback on my shelf.

Highly recommended for a good dose of London life, music sensibility, and will they/won’t they romance!

Amazon: Love Songs for Skeptics

Blue Highways, by William Least Heat-Moon

Blue Highways

This is a book I used to shelve constantly when I worked at Barnes & Noble – it’s one of those titles that is perpetually available, that sells a steady three to five copies per month, per store, and yet I never picked it up. I wondered at the title, I wondered at the author’s name – and it turns out both of them have really good reasons for existing.

Blue Highways as a concept exists among a certain generation of road trippers and travelers, but the phrase was new to me. Now I’m obsessed with it. I absolutely love the road trip narrative, and more than that, I love the American small town narrative, and even deeper than that, I love the changing 20th-century narrative. One author who ticks these boxes for me is Jonathan Raban, whose travels through backwoods and middle-America through the 70s and 80s are endlessly fascinating to me. Now I can add this classic by Heat-Moon, and I plan to read his other books, as well.

With his life in shambles, unsure what to do next, Heat-Moon decided to drive around the country on the back roads and old highways that were outlined in blue on road atlases. Are they still? I don’t actually know. But he went to amazing places, stumbled upon amazing people, and told some of their incredible stories. This book is a revelation. Everyone should read it. Everyone!

Travel books are even better now, in my opinion, because you can read them with your phone at your side and effortlessly pull up places on the map for a better look at what existed then and what still exists now.

Amazon: Blue Highways

Moose Springs, Alaska: The Tourist Attraction, Mistletoe and Mr. Right, Enjoy the View – by Sarah Morgenthaler

The Tourist Attraction

This trio of Alaskan romantic comedies was a really fun escape! Most of the characters are introduced in the first book, The Tourist Attraction, which is a great way to write a small-town series. You get attached to everyone so easily, after all.

The Tourist Attraction is probably the funniest of the three, if only because the main characters lend themselves to comedy. A tourist who has come to Moose Springs with her wealthy friend, in hopes of living out her dream Alaska vacation, manages to fail at just about every item on her itinerary. Meanwhile, she’s getting close to the crabby owner of The Tourist Trap, a dive diner which attracts tourists despite the owner’s evident hatred of them. Enabled by her wealthy friend to try everything, she ends up, well, trying everything, and hilarity ensues.

Of these three, Enjoy the View surprised me the most. It’s a deceptively endearing story set against the dangerous pastime (hobby? sport?) of mountain climbing. There was more emotion and introspection in those pages than I’d bargained for. Really good stuff.

The town is beautifully realized, and the characters are fun, as well. I loved this series.


The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, by Jennifer Ryan

The Chilbury Ladies Choir

I liked this tale of village intrigue, set during the opening days of World War II, so much that I almost bought another of Ms. Ryan’s books while at the bookstore just yesterday. The Spies of Shilling Lane also sounds good, but maybe with a little too much mystery for my taste, so I’m holding off. I really don’t like mysteries. Like, really don’t like them.

But The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is kind enough to let you in on most of its secrets, so that you can take turns gasping for each of the ladies in question as you read their chapters and watch them try to keep everyone else from finding out.

Its epistolary style isn’t the best example of the type: the chapters are either presented as letters or diary entries, but I think the only one that’s really successful is the diary entries by the teenage daughter of the big house. The letters are far too effusive and descriptive to really sound like letters. It might as well have been fashioned as a narrative by each character. BUT ignore that little bug and the book is really great! I bought it in paperback and I’m glad I did, because it’s a re-read for sure.

Amazon: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

All The Little Things and All Good Things, by Linda Shantz

All Good Things

I admit I am lucky – I get to read Linda Shantz’s wonderful tales of the track before (almost) anyone else, because I have been her formatter. As far as author services go, it’s probably the most technical and involves almost as much cursing as the actual writing process. (Is that everyone’s writing process or just mine?) But it’s fun to make such excellent books ready to go into people’s happy little hands.

All The Little Things sits in between Shantz’s award-finalist novel Good Things Come, and hinges on a romance between two not-so-horse-people who are nonetheless thrust into the racing life from time to time by their friends and family. If you read Good Things Come, you know these characters, and their story adds interesting insights into the drama between Liz and Nate.

All Good Things is the true follow-up to Good Things Come and continues Liz and Nate’s story, as well as that of Chique, the cheeky filly star of the first book. Together, the three books include the Canadian Triple Crown and a score of other races, from Woodbine to Gulfstream to Santa Anita. Ready to know more about the racing life? Shantz is happy to oblige.


Teach Me How To Rage Correctly, by Mary Pagones

Teach Me How To Rage Correctly

The seventh book in Pagones’ sensational Fortune’s Fool series is a little different from the preceding ones. This one returns the focus to Simon, and his narrative is the sole POV in the book. Simon, in turn, has returned his focus to Eventing – he’s not gallivanting off to Mongolia this time around. He has the horses, he has the farm, he has the drive. But does he have the team?

Simon’s support network is failing him in this outing, and that goes for everyone we’ve associated with him in the past: students, trainers, partners, friends. He forges an unlikely alliance in Teach Me How to Rage Correctly while he loses the affection of some others in the eventing game, which reminds me that often, a horseman’s best friend is a non-equestrian who can offer some balance and levity to a sport which encourages passion over practicality.

If you haven’t yet read Fortune’s Fool, it’s a truly unique journey into the life of a truly unique character. If you have, well, then, it’s time to catch up with this installment!

Amazon: Teach Me How To Rage Correctly

The Summer Before the War, Helen Simonson

The Summer Before the War

This is a re-read, which honestly is my highest praise for a book. I love Helen Simonson’s books so much that I’ll buy another book off her enthusiastic blurb on the cover, even though I know half the time authors haven’t even read the books they’re blurbing. I just really respect her storytelling style and her depth of understanding of human nature. She gets it, whatever it is.

The Summer Before the War isn’t just about that last charming summer before the Great War sweeps over England, it’s about the first year of war, too. But the set-up for the stories that take place: the new teacher in town, desperate to find independence after the death of her father; the warring factions between the grand ladies of the southern England village; the two handsome nephews and their ambitions that seem destined to be thwarted by war, and the absolutely delicious, slow, spine-tingling romance — that all takes place in the summer before the war.

I think it’s a stupendous beach read, something you can just read chapters and chapters of, getting lost in the story and the beautiful places described.

I also highly recommend Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand from the same author!


Those are my standouts! I’d love to know yours! Feel free to drop them in the comments!

Preview Now: Prospect, Book 6 of The Eventing Series

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!

Click here to visit StoryOrigin and download your special preview of Prospect (The Eventing Series: Book 6) now!

Every Book I Read in January 2021

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!

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.

Amazon: The Night Watchman

Christmasland, Anne-Marie Meyer

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!

Amazon: Christmasland

The Four Winds, Kristin Hannah

I read this as an ARC from NetGalley. The Four Winds is coming out later this year. If you’ve read The Great Alone or 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 Alone again — 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.

Amazon: The Four Winds

Coming Home to the Loch, Hannah Ellis

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.

Amazon: Coming Home to the Loch

Starting Over in Maple Bay, Brittney Joy

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.

Amazon: Starting Over in Maple Bay

Rise and Shine, Anna Quindlen

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.

Amazon: Rise and Shine

How to Judge a Book By Its Lover, Jessica Jiji

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.

Amazon: How to Judge a Book By Its Lover

Comet in Summer, Grace Wilkinson

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!

Amazon: Comet in Summer

Bridal Boot Camp, Meg Cabot

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 Offense and No Judgments are 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!

Another Award for Hidden Horses

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 Hidden Horses of New York wins award

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.

If you missed it, I have an interview with the EQUUS Film & Arts Fest here.

The Hidden Horses of New York is still a Kindle Deal through January 31, 2021. Get your copy here.

New Covers for Catoctin Creek

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.

The pretty house was taken right out of the western Maryland setting – but the cover just isn’t timely for the book’s genre.

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!

Snowfall at Catoctin Creek
The dog in Snowfall at Catoctin Creek only exists because a cover designer sent me this image and I loved the dog so much! But this wasn’t the right cover, either.

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.

Read the first chapters of the Catoctin Creek books here: Escape with Catoctin Creek: A Small Town Romance Series

Recipes from Snowfall at Catoctin Creek

This is a delicious post!

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…

woman kneading dough in kitchen
Photo by Katerina Holmes on

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

Photo: Cooking Classy Sweet Potato 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

Photo: Whiskey-Glazed Carrots by The Pioneer Woman

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

Photo: Heartbeet Kitchen

File this one under recipes I’ve never made but wow, they sound so good! I was just looking for a twist on sprouts, and when I found this one I knew it was perfect. Get Heartbeet Kitchen’s recipe for Orange-Glazed Brussel Sprouts and Butternut Squash here.

Gruyere and Caramelized Onion Mashed Potatoes

Photo: Happy Veggie Kitchen

Like the sprouts, this is a wish-list recipe. I just looked up interesting mashed potato variations until I found this one. It’s from Happy Veggie Kitchen.

All of these recipes would be amazing for additions to a family celebration or a holiday dinner. If you try any, comment and let me know how it went!

And if you haven’t yet read Snowfall at Catoctin Creek, give it a look! You can read the first chapters right here, or get the book from Amazon.

New Interview for EQUUS Film & Arts Fest

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!

I always love talking about this novel, which was such an intensely personal project to write. If you haven’t yet read The Hidden Horses of New York, you can find it in Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, and print at Amazon, or in print from my favorite independent bookseller, Taborton Equine Books.

Runaway Alex: Read the First Three Chapters Now

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.

Runaway Alex is available for pre-order now and will be available in Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, and paperback on December 22, 2020. Click here to pre-order your copy or bookmark it for December 22!

From the blurb:

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!

Get my preview ebook.

Preorder Runaway Alex.

How Romance Saved My 2020 Reading Life (And Then Some)

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.

Well Met by Jen DeLuca, plus coffee and a bagel.
Romance saved 2020. Also everything bagels and cold brew coffee.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 Creek is 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.

Quote from Sunset at Catoctin Creek:

So, have you been reading any romance this year? What can you recommend?

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