Have you ever been to England? I studied abroad there more 12 years ago now, and it was such an amazing experience. One of my literature classes there focused on the concept of a "pilgrimage"
Pilgrimage (n.): "any long journey, especially one undertaken as a quest or for a votive purpose, as to pay homage"
Well, even at nineteen, I knew that I absolutely had to pay homage to Jane Austen, along with some of my other literary heroes. During the study abroad program, I also took the opportunity to visit sites from some of my favorite Jane Austen movies. I was able to visit Bath, which was Jane's home for some time, and run dramatically along the royal crescent, just as Anne did in the 2007 BBC Persuasion.
I also visited Chatsworth, which was Pemberly in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice (and which was also mentioned among the great houses visited by Lizzy and the Gardiners in the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice).
There are too many experiences to list here (I really packed those three months with all the literary meaning I could muster!!), but I'll finish on this one: A walk through the English countryside . . . in the rain. I wanted to be impulsive and romantic like Marianne Dashwood, but alas--no Colonel Brandon came to rescue me on horseback.
And I caught a cold. :(
I was a very silly young lady!
If you've visited good old England and have stories to tell, I'd love to hear about them in the comments below! Cheers, love! <3
P.S. I do know that Colonel Brandon's rescue of Marianne was only in the movies, not the book, but it really should have been! It fits his character perfectly and lends the perfect drama, doesn't it? BTW, I loooove Sense and Sensibility. The 2008 BBC adaptation is the BEST!
First off, a big THANK YOU to all my subscribers--I am so glad to have you here!
I may have been a writer for years, but I am still a total beginner when it comes to gardening. I have loved how forgiving the gorgeous, moist Midwest soil is for growing luscious crops on a very limited budget! (Anyone here living in the Midwest!? Raise your hands!)
I used what I learned from last year's garden (my first garden ever!) and more than doubled my harvest. This year we had zucchini, sugar snap peas, cherry and beefsteak tomatoes, green bell peppers, jalapenos, spaghetti squash, broccoli, okra, onions, and potatoes. Whew! Not all of them have yielded magnificent crops, but I have learned many lessons that I will definitely be using in next year's garden. Here are some of my favorites:
1. Weed suppression is your friend! I hate weeding and my gardening budget was MINISCULE. Solution: cardboard boxes. Save all those Amazon boxes, flatten them out, spread them across the ground, and top liberally with mulch, straw, grass clippings, and/or compost. Then cut holes in the cardboard where you plant your seeds/starters. That's it! It prevents (most) weeds from growing, the soil from eroding, and it keeps your glorious garden about 90% weed-free. :) If you don't have enough cardboard boxes, even newspaper works pretty well in a pinch!
2. Tomatoes, beans, and all other plants need so much more support than you think they will! This year I repurposed a fallen tree and an old wooden ladder as plant supports and they *mostly* worked, but could have been much better. I collected lots of branches from the last big thunderstorm and I plan to get even more creative with all-natural plant supports next year. I'm already excited to try again.
There is so much more joy in keeping plants alive and growing a garden than I ever would have guessed before starting. Are you going to have some crops fail? Of course. Are some of your house plants not going to make it? Sure. But there's nothing like having a bit of green around you during a long, dark winter to help you feel alive. Growing things is a magical feeling, has a much lower entry cost than most people think, and brings us to lesson 3:
3. JUST DO IT!! Be brave enough to try. Even if every single one of your seedlings fails (I have definitely had that happen! Ouch!) or if you kill your first potted plant within a month, it's always worth trying.
How on earth does this relate to writing?
In writing, as in gardening, the only seeds of yours that will grow are the ones that are planted. Writing can let you add vines, leaves, life, and branches to what may have begun as an errant thought, and someday your work may even bear fruit. Some projects die, of course, but the ones that don't make the entire process so very worthwhile. A cheesy thought, but it's true. So go out there and plant something new!
Happy growing, my friends. :) Thank you for coming along with me on my journey.
When I wrote A Stage for Harriet, I initially conceived it as a standalone novel, but then I started to wonder about some of the other characters' fates, and their loose ends started to really bother me! Stories began flowing, plots marrying themselves to characters in my mind, and Green as Grass was born. Green as Grass is the story of the poor, awkward, bird-loving Mr. Andrew Brougham, who courted Harriet disguised as Lady Virginia in A Stage for Harriet. He was largely ignored and then jilted at the end of the book. I began to wonder what his story was. Who had managed to captivate him, and if he were so captivated, why did he become engaged to Lady Virginia in the first place??
These were questions that needed answers, and all of these answers will be found in Green as Grass, which is scheduled to be published next spring by Cedar Fort, and they've been working to broaden their distribution, so that's exciting. I've always loved a good makeover story. (Clueless is one of my favorite Austen adaptations.) My Big Fat Greek Wedding, The Princess Diaries . . . FUN, right? I love makeovers. But I ALSO love George Bernard Shaw's riff on the classic Ovidian myth Pygmalion, because, truthfully, what reason does the newly created "fair lady" have to stay with their creator?
Green as Grass contains something of a makeover story gone awry, in which the fashionable young Miss Louisa Grenfeld, a brilliant protégé of Brummell himself, attempts to turn the awkward Mr. Andrew Brougham into the rage of the season. But when he catches the eye of one of the wealthiest and loveliest ladies in London, what will become of Louisa when she realizes, too late, what her beloved avian scholar means to her?
I'm including the first chapter of the current draft below. Enjoy!
September 30, 1813
Lady Norbury’s card party
“Miss Louisa! There you are. Do tell me what you think of my bespoke new fob! Isn’t it marvelous?” Beau asked.
Louisa looked up to see Mr. Brummell descending upon her in all his evening finery, and she could not reel in a smile. “Which one, sir?”
He gestured to a small bird-shaped bronze medallion hanging from a blue ribbon at his hip. She smiled when she saw it. “I am quite partial to birds, sir,” she said. “So I am not a reliable judge, but I do like it.”
“I am aware, Miss Grenfeld. That is why I asked you in particular.” He gave her a small wink. “Now let us see. Whom do we have here this evening?”
Louisa turned and surveyed the elite assembly alongside her dear friend, Beau Brummell, that esteemed icon of fashion. They had become good friends the last season, and she was proud of herself for earning his approval.
“What do you think of that one, there?” Mr. Brummell asked her.
“Hmm?” She glanced in the direction he indicated. There, entering the drawing room, was a starry-eyed young man who had to have just returned from a tour. The look of overt interest in his eyes ran decidedly counter to the practiced expression of boredom worn by most of the pink of the ton.
Louisa giggled. “He’s come straight from a home tour, my dear Brummell. Can you not see? Far too sure of himself to be fresh from Oxford and practically bursting at the seams to tell everyone of all the beautiful countryside he’s seen in the Lake District. He may even recite a poem or two.”
Mr. Brummell chuckled lightly. “Whatever else he may be, he’s certainly green as grass, isn’t he?
“Indeed, but who knows—he may become all the rage once the season sets in. It’s dreadfully early for such predictions, you know.”
“If anyone were to know, it would be I. Or you, perhaps. You’re becoming quite the arbiter of fashion too, you know.”
She playfully slapped his wrist with her fan. “You flatter me, Brummell. I could never presume my opinion could carry as much weight as yours.”
“Hmm. Perhaps not. But I am fond of your opinions.”
Louisa rolled her eyes heavenward for an instant but smiled.
“Really, though,” Brummell continued. “What devilish awkward hands! Quite a decent coat. It looks like Weston's work. But that neckcloth! Looks as though he had his valet do it. Do you know who he is?”
Louisa shook her head. “No. I’m certain I can secure an introduction, however. Look there—he’s talking with Mrs. Clavendish.”
When Louisa turned back to Brummell there was a wicked glint in his eyes that she knew all too well. She smiled curiously. “What is it, Brummell? You’ve just had an awful idea.”
He smirked at her. “He looks green enough that I’d wager you could make him fall in love with you by the end of the evening.”
She flushed. “Nonsense! Not by the end of the evening, in any case. I’d need at least a few weeks to do that.”
“So you admit you could do it?”
He had been baiting her! She glanced back at the young man for a moment and stood her ground, pursing her lips. “Of course I could. But it doesn’t follow that I ought to.”
“Don’t be missish—it’s all in good fun. How about a little wager?” he said. “If he comes for a morning visit within the next two days, you win. If he doesn’t, I win. Is that fair?”
She shook her head and laughed. He would find anything to bet on. “I suppose. What is at stake, pray?”
Her heart pinched nervously. That was almost all of her pin-money for the entire quarter, and, although she was fairly confident she could win, Brummell shouldn’t be betting so heavily if he were in as much debt as the rumor mill claimed he was.
“No,” she said. “Just one pound.”
He pouted at the small stakes but nodded and they shook hands.
They were interrupted just then by Lady Stanfield, an older woman in a silver gown, jewels and feathers nestled in her graying hair, who latched herself to Mr. Brummell’s arm. “My dear Brummell, you must assist me! These young snips are tearing me to pieces at speculation, and Mrs. Hayes has utterly refused to partner with me again!”
Mr. Brummell smiled indulgently at Lady Stanfield and joined the table, but not before casting Louisa a meaningful glance toward the green young man.
Louisa closed her fan and allowed it to dangle casually from her wrist. She nodded at a gentleman her father’s age as she made her way to the young man’s vicinity.
As she walked toward that end of the room, she passed a large mirror on the wall and verified that she was just as pretty as she had been upon arriving at the party. Her auburn hair was piled high in a fashionable style of curls and braids, adorned with pearls. Tiny cream satin slippers peeped from beneath an impeccably cut dress of deep blue. Her lips were reliably plump and pink, her cheekbones high, and her eyes a dark, shining brown beneath perfectly arched brows. She walked toward the door, as if to leave, but paused meaningfully next to the conversing pair for a moment. Sure enough, her method worked.
“Oh, Miss Grenfeld!” Mrs. Clavendish said. “Do come here. I want to introduce you to Mr. Andrew Brougham. He’s recently returned from a grand tour of the north country!”
“It’s not really a grand tour, madam,” Mr. Brougham sounded mildly uncomfortable. “Travel to the continent is nearly impossible at the moment for those not enlisted.”
“This is Miss Louisa Grenfeld, Mr. Brougham.” Mrs. Clavendish barreled on heedlessly, “And I am certain you two will find much to speak of. Oh, Mr. Farnsworth! You must excuse me.” The lady hurried off after Mr. Farnsworth, leaving the pair alone.
“A tour of the northern country sounds fascinating!” Louisa said, carefully hiding her sarcasm. She’d listened to so many stories about such ‘tours’ lately that she was quite tired of them, but she also knew it would inevitably surface later in the conversation if she did not initially inquire. “Where did you visit, sir?” Louisa opened her fan again and peered from behind it in a way calculated to spark interest.
Sure enough, roses bloomed in the young man’s cheeks. “Oh, all the usual places, of course. The Lake District, and some of the more famous lochs and forests in Scotland. We made it as far as the Scottish highlands before we needed to return. Fascinating wildlife.”
Louisa raised an eyebrow. He hadn’t mentioned a single ruin, poem, or famous individual, unlike most others did. Was he really so dotingly fond of the outdoors?
“Do you hunt, sir?”
He laughed nervously “I’m a terrible shot, but I do enjoy being out on horseback, especially through wooded country. I tend to get distracted, however, so it is no longer easy for me to find hunting companions.” He smiled in such a cheerfully self-deprecating manner that Louisa found herself warming to him despite her original intentions.
“Indeed?” she laughed. “And what is it that so distracts you, sir?”
She blinked a few times. The proper response from a young lady of her social caliber was to laugh carelessly at this confession—birdwatching was far from a popular topic for the drawing room. But she couldn’t help herself.
“Is that so?” she asked. “And are you an avid avian scholar?”
Mr. Brougham smiled. “I do love birds, though I do not consider myself an expert. I have a pair of birds as pets here in town, but I prefer the ones in my dovecote or that live wild on my estate.”
Louisa’s eyebrows raised in interest. He had already come into his own estate? But he was so young. “Tell me of your dovecote. You keep doves and pigeons, I expect?”
“Mostly,” he admitted, “though I have encouraged a few wild varieties to roost as well. And I also enjoy training birds.”
He nodded. “Also pigeons, doves, and an African parrot. Enough about me though, Miss Grenfeld. I fear I am boring you. I would love to learn more about you.”
Louisa smiled at him. She was far more intrigued by him than she had bargained for, and more interested in birds than she was willing to let on to the rest of the ton. High society was not kind to bluestockings, and she had noticed that men did not like women to be too talented. Drawing a pretty bird or flower was all that was required. A perfectly accurate rendering seemed to only make gentlemen look at her strangely. She’d very quickly learned to hide her talent.
But this Mr. Brougham certainly did have nice eyes—of a soft gray-green hue. The color went nicely with the chestnut of his hair, which curled on the edges in a fashionable style that parted to the side and fell into his forehead.
“Oh, there is not too much interesting about me, I’m afraid,” she said dismissively. “Like all young ladies, I enjoy attending balls and parties and the theater, and I’m no more accomplished than most young ladies can boast.” She had learned, while still in her first season, that the more she encouraged others around her to speak instead of herself, the more attractive she would be, and the more gossip she would overhear.
Mr. Brougham nodded. “Are you musical?”
“A very little,” she said. “I sing, when pressed, and I play the piano only enough to accompany my song. My artistic talents lie in a more visual direction.”
Mr. Brougham raised his eyebrows. “Do tell me more. What do you most like to draw?”
Scientific drawings of birds, she thought. But she would never actually admit to that. She smiled innocently. “When did I say that I drew, sir?”
He was taken aback. “I beg your pardon! I only assumed . . . is it needlepoint? Do you cover screens?”
She laughed. “I was only quizzing you! Yes, I do enjoy drawing. And painting, too.”
“And what sorts of things do you draw?”
She cleared her throat and turned her attention for a moment to a passing gentleman. “Mr. Saunders, I did not know you would be here this evening!”
The man smiled. “I would not miss it, knowing you were likely to be here, Miss Grenfeld.” He bowed over her hand. “Perhaps you will join my table for a hand of cards as the evening continues?”
“I should be delighted to.”
As Mr. Saunders left, Louisa turned her attention back to Mr. Brougham. “Now, Mr. Brougham, you were telling me more of the sights you were able to see while in the north country.”
Mr. Brougham frowned curiously. “I believe I was asking you, Miss Grenfeld, about the sorts of things you enjoy drawing.”
Louisa’s jaw grew tense. He’d remembered! He was a far better listener than most young men she’d met.
She laughed lightly. “Indeed I was. How clever of you to remember, sir,” she said, embarrassed her attempted change in subject had not gone unnoticed.
Mr. Brougham smiled at the carpet. “I . . . don’t much like talking of myself.”
Louisa brightened at the opportunity. Flattery was one of her favorite talents. “But a gentleman of such address and consequence as yourself really ought to put himself forward!”
Mr. Brougham looked back into her eyes, and the warmth she saw there surprised her. “I would like to speak with you more, Miss Grenfeld, but I would hate to bore you at a party such as this when there are so many others who wish to claim your attention. Might I make a morning visit to your home during the course of the week?”
His sudden shyness was not unbecoming. “I would be disappointed if you didn’t,” she said encouragingly, unable to hide a genuine smile at the thought of winning her bet.
He smiled. “Excellent. Now . . . we are at a card party.” Mr. Brougham said. “I see Mr. Saunders is part of a new whist table being formed. May I escort you to the table?” He held out his arm.
“Of course! I should like that very much,” Louisa said, taking his arm.
They hardly spoke during the rest of the evening as they played cards at separate tables, and since Mr. Brummell left early, after demonstrating clear frustration at the low stakes offered at his table, she was not able to make a full report to him, either.
She passed an enjoyable evening feeling every bit the bright young socialite she was. And it only added to her delight that every few minutes she caught Mr. Brougham watching her curiously from across the room only to quickly glance away whenever he was caught.
Anything for You, my Lady now has a cover!
I decided to try my hand at making my own cover and was swiftly overwhelmed by the chasm between professional cover designers and myself, but I am still pleased, overall, with the results. I put the design up in a Facebook group, thinking I would get 3 or 4 ideas of how to improve it, and instead I got around 30 comments and MANY things that ought to be fixed! I fixed some of the most pressing, and for now, with my deadline rapidly encroaching and with more edits left to make, I am happy with it, and grateful that it will be self-published. That way, when I manage to fix the cover and get it *precisely* the way I want it, I will be able to upload a new cover.
Without further ado, here is the cover!
And without further ado, here's a little teaser to introduce the antagonist! As one (male) beta reader put it, "Harbottle is wonderfully creepy. His lines are exceptionally well-written. Do guys like him actually exist?"
“Mr. Thomas Harbottle.”
“Yes, of course. Mr. Harbottle. I do hope you are enjoying the party this evening.”
“Indeed I am,” he said. His cheeks were flushed and his forehead shimmered in the overly warm, humid room. “Delightful way to spend an evening.”
Virginia gave a tight smile. It was a terrible way to spend an evening, in her opinion. But she remained as pleasant as she could. “Thank you very much for coming,” she said. “I hope that you enjoy yourself.” She curtsied again and began to walk away, only to hear him mutter something under his breath.
“Too high in the instep to do the pretty for a guest.”
Her cheeks flushed and she turned back toward him, stung by his words. “Did you need something, sir? Can I help you find some suitable entertainment?”
He lifted his chin. “I had hoped that you might provide me with a bit of entertainment, as you are easily the prettiest young lady in the room.”
She blinked a couple of times at his bald request. “I am no court jester, sir.”
He laughed aloud. “Go on,” he said. “Don’t you ever like to get yourself into a bit of trouble now and then?”
She almost smiled at how accurate his assessment was, though clearly not for the reasons he seemed to think. “Trouble? No,” she said. “But I do precisely as I please.” Her heart pounded at this little falsehood, but her bold rendezvous with Mr. Clifton that morning had granted her more courage than she usually felt.
“Oh, the mouse has grown some claws, has she?” the dandy said with a smirk.
She took an involuntary step backward and made contact with someone’s shoulder in the crowded room. “I do beg your pardon!” she told the lady, before stepping to the side to maintain her distance from the impertinent Mr. Harbottle.
“Mr. Harbottle, I am not certain what you are attempting to goad me into doing, but it will not work, whatever it is,” she said.
Far from seeming put out, the fire in his eyes only seemed to glow brighter. “Such spirit,” he said. “I do like a young lady who puts up a bit of resistance. Makes the reward at the end of the chase that much more delightful.”
Virginia could not hide her grimace. “I beg your pardon, sir. I am afraid I must be elsewhere.”
She turned and hurried away, looking about for her mother. He would never dare provoke her in such a manner with her mother in hearing distance.
“Oh, there you are, Virginia,” her mother said. “I see you were talking with young Mr. Harbottle over there. I am very pleased! I have just been speaking with his mother, Mrs. Harbottle.”
An older blonde woman wearing bright pink silk bobbed a polite greeting to Virginia and Virginia responded with a curtsy and a tight-lipped smile.
“We were just speaking of arranging a visit together,” Mrs. Harbottle said. “Perhaps for a walk near the water, if you would like? I am sure my son would love to provide an escort for you.”
Virginia’s smile stiffened further. “How very . . . lovely,” she said.
Excited for this book to be released NEXT WEEK, and again--it will be available to read for free! I hope you enjoy reading it!
Heyer is the grandmother of Regency romance, the inventor of the genre, and the queen of period-accurate research to pepper her books with the charming minutiae of the time period. I was introduced to her work by a college roommate who loaned me a copy of The Grand Sophy, and once I managed to slog through the first few chapters of period-accurate prose (no one ever said her books were light, easy reads for people in our day!) I was HOOKED. She crafts delightful characters that spring off the page and pull you into their immersive historic world. I don't know a single Regency author who doesn't have intense respect for Georgette Heyer.
I admit I borrowed heavily from Georgette Heyer's dictionary of charming Regency slang when writing the companion to A Stage for Harriet that will be published next. Green as Grass tells the story of a fashionable London socialite, and its drama is far quieter and more realistic than my first book's, with no villains beyond those everyday sorts of people who make steam come out of our nostrils.
This is one of my favorite little scenes of witty banter between our charming heroine and a (non-romantic!) friend of hers in Green as Grass, my next book from Cedar Fort (Release date TBD):
Thinking of Lady Margaret for even a moment was enough to sour her expression, so when she went to the punch table, Robert Dalton greeted her by saying, “Well, good evening, Miss Grenfeld—who’s set up your bristles?”
Louisa laughed lightly. Robert Dalton was a delightfully ineligible young bachelor of eight-and-twenty who gambled heavily, flirted freely, and made easy friends wherever he went. “It is as good to see you as ever, Mr. Dalton. Whatever leads you to believe I’m angry?”
Robert gave her such a skeptical expression she almost had to laugh again. “Tell me, then, Miss Louisa. Who is responsible for that look on your face? Need I call someone out?”
She giggled once more. “Call out a widow? I should think not!”
“Is she a wealthy, young widow? Because I just might pay her a call. None too plump in the pocket at the moment, you know.” He winked.
Her eyes sparkled with her smile. “You never seem to be, Mr. Dalton.”
He accepted the rub with a grin. “What is the latest on-dit, then, Madam? From what little I’ve heard, that Brougham newcomer seems set to make you an offer already!”
She could feel her cheeks flush, but only smiled. “I don’t know about that.” She glanced about to be sure she wouldn’t be overheard before saying, “His mother asked that I introduce him to some more eligible young ladies, and even suggested that I set my cap at her nephew, Alfred Stanley.”
His mouth fell open and he shook his head. “You cannot be serious,” he said.
“I’m afraid I am serious, Mr. Dalton,” Louisa said, taking a sip of punch.
“Alfred Stanley? Does she know who you are?”
Louisa flushed with pleasure at the implied compliment. “Far too respectable for the likes of Mr. Stanley?” she said hopefully.
“I should say so! You are a diamond of the first water! He’s a . . . a loose screw too short on blunt for the petticoat line!”
One or two older ladies looked over at him when he made this exclamation, clearly scandalized. He nodded a brief apology to them before shaking his head at Louisa. “I should lower my voice, but ‘tis a shocking outrage. What did you say to the woman?”
Louisa looked heavenward. “What could I say, Mr. Dalton? I am a young, unattached woman of no consequence in her mind, and she the widowed daughter of an earl who refuses to recognize me as a respectable young lady, let alone as someone to be emulated. It would’ve been useless to contradict her.”
Mr. Dalton shook his head. “You didn’t answer my question, though, Miss Grenfeld. Are you setting your cap at that Brougham fellow? He’s said to be full of juice and very well-born, but I’ve never seen him at Watier’s! You never really know a man until you play a game of Faro at his side.”
“Let us hope, for the sake of his fortune, that he is never seen at Watier’s,” Louisa said with a smile, her mind flashing to their friend Mr. Brummell’s embarrassing gaming debts.
Robert narrowed his eyes at her. “Fine then, Miss. You keep your secrets, and I’ll keep mine.”
She laughed at this. “When have you ever kept a secret, sir?”
He wiggled his eyebrows. “If I told you, it’d never be a secret now, would it?”
Click below to purchase a beautiful paperback copy of A Stage for Harriet for only $4.99!
Surprise! (Well, not a big surprise if you've interacted with me in the last month or so) I have a novella coming out this summer! It's in the hands of some amazing beta readers right now and I can't wait to dive in and turn that sweet little baby rough draft into a polished novella ready to brighten a reader's day.
I've been playing around with the idea of making my own cover in Canva. This is my first attempt, and I can assure you it won't be the last! If I can't make it better than this, I will invest in a professional cover designer, never fear. ;)
Without further ado, I give you the first (unedited, and therefore subject to change) chapter of this sweet little story. Cheers!
June 1, 1813
Virginia made sure her mother was not looking at her and then took and buttered a second scone for breakfast. She was not exactly in danger of losing her girlish figure, but her mother would’ve criticized her had she noticed. As she ate, she stared out the window and ignored her mother’s never ending monologue recounting all of the juicy society gossip she was supposed to crave.
But she found she craved only scones and freedom.
“And Lady Fitzgibbon’s granddaughter is getting married to a tradesman!” her mother, the Duchess of Dorset, said with relish.
Virginia blinked a couple times. Her mother was looking at her expectantly now, waiting for a response. “Really?” she managed.
“Yes, I know! We never thought she of all people would stoop so low, but everyone knows her father was a bit too speculative and lost half their fortune on some harebrained scheme or other. One cannot be too surprised that she has had to forego respectability in favor of a fortune. But I could never bear to shake hands with a tradesman, let alone marry one.”
“Then it is fortunate that you are already married, Mother,” Virginia said.
“What was that?” her mother snapped.
“Nothing,” she said quickly. Her mother never let a flippant remark go unpunished.
Her mother squinted at Virginia before nodding approvingly at her respectful silence. She set down the paper she had been reading, and Virginia set her scone down--her appetite was gone.
“Virginia, have your maid set your hair to rights. It looks a bit untidy. Then let us go out walking. Everyone of import will be out on the promenade at this hour. Must you wear that horribly plain blue morning gown? At least put on a necklace. Five minutes, darling!”
Virginia obediently stood and walked upstairs to her room. As she opened the door, she heard a slight shuffle in the corner.
“Oh, it’s only you, milady,” her maid said with relief. She had a biscuit in one hand and a novel in the other. “I came up here to clean your fireplace.” She took another bite of her biscuit. “And have a bit of breakfast,” she said with her mouth full.
Virginia smiled. “You’re welcome to escape here as often as you feel you need to, Mandie. You know that.”
Mandie grinned and finished the rest of the biscuit in a hurry, standing from her chair. “Sit,” she said, her mouth still full of crumbs.
Virginia obediently sat before her dressing table and Mandie dusted off her hands before unpinning the messy bits of Virginia’s coiffure, combing them, and neatly repinning them. Too soon, the duchess was calling up the stairs for Virginia and Virginia rose to her feet.
“Chin up, milady,” Mandie reminded her. “You never know but you might meet a handsome new beau out along the promenade!”
Mandie gave a wink and Virginia could not help but smile. She wished she could remain at home with Mandie all day, but when she first came out into society four years ago she had become an unwilling extension of her mother. The duchess had been eager to parade her daughter before the haut ton and revel in their approval of her. Virginia had hated every moment of it.
Her first season she had been determined to enjoy herself, but her nerves had made her giggle a bit too loudly once and made her the subject of ridicule. She had misstepped while dancing and had been teased for weeks afterward. Two or three suitors had initially caught her interest before she realized they were only fortune hunters who found her a dead bore. It had seemed that all of the young ladies in society were eager to feign friendship with her, due to her father’s rank, but even those she befriended inevitably spread vicious gossip about her.
It had now been over a year since she had willingly gone out in society without being commanded or coerced. She had been blessed with beauty and a wealthy, titled family, but it had been far more of a curse than a blessing to her. It seemed that others around her were always either determined to tear her down or to tolerate her presence only to profit from her in some way. She had learned not to trust anyone but Mandie.
As she was about to walk out the door to meet her mother, Virginia paused. “Come with us, Mandie,” she begged. “Please. Then perhaps we can go off on our own for a spell.”
Mandie smiled. “You don’t need to ask me twice!” Mandie hurried out of her apron and into a light spencer well suited to the brisk late spring weather and followed Virginia out the door.
The duchess did not mind having Virginia’s maid accompany them. After all, who else would carry their purchases should they find something lovely in a shop window?
As her mother prattled on beside her, Virginia turned to Mandie and made a face. Mandie snorted with laughter and the duchess frowned disapprovingly at her, which made Virginia swallow a laugh too.
“Oh!” Virginia said. “Look there, Mother. I see your friend Lady Stanfield. Would you not like to visit with her while Mandie and I walk along the marina just over there?”
The duchess hardly listened. “All right, Virginia. Lady Stanfield! Have you heard the latest news?”
Virginia hurried away with Mandie’s arm in hers. “Come, Mandie! If we hurry she will not be able to keep up with us.”
“Where are we going?”
“Anywhere she isn’t,” Virginia muttered, determined to get a bit of breathing room from her mother before playing her favorite game of make-believe. Once they were out of sight and in the midst of the main bustling market crowd at the marina, Virginia let out a sigh.
Mandie tried to pull her arm out of Virginia’s but Virginia held tight. “Milady?” Mandie asked.
“Mandie, call me Virginia,” Virginia said.
“What? Last time I did that the cook heard me doing that she threatened to box my ears.”
“Well, the cook isn’t here, is she? Please?”
Mandie shook her head. “What has gotten into you, my la--er, Virginia?”
Virginia smiled. “Do you ever dream of being ordinary, Mandie? If we were not lady and maid but simply friends?”
Mandie chuckled. “We are already friends, Virginia. We have been for quite some time.”
“I know that, but sometimes I like to play pretend that my mother runs a boarding house and my father sells fish.”
Mandie shook her head. “And most little girls dream of being a princess in a tower like you.”
Virginia wrinkled her nose. “That’s only because they don’t know how miserable it is.”
Mandie smiled and patted Virginia’s hand comfortingly. “There, there. At least you have me. You could have ended up with someone far less interesting than I.”
“In truth, I don’t know what I would do without you, Mandie!”
“Nor do I,” her maid answered cheekily. “Oh, don’t look now, but there’s a handsome stranger giving you a look. Just over there to your right. Wait a moment. Don’t look. Wait. There! Did you see him?”
Virginia laughed and shook her head. “What are you talking about, Mandie?” she asked. Virginia cast her eyes about to see who Mandie could’ve been talking about and saw that a tall, handsome man with dark hair was smiling a crooked grin at her. She looked away from his face, her cheeks pink from his obvious admiration, and noticed that he was favoring one leg and used a crutch. She frowned when she saw the crutch. Was he a cripple, begging? She reached into her pocket to see if she carried any coins and found she only had a spare shilling or two. But perhaps it would help him.
“What are you doing?” Mandie hissed as Virginia began walking toward him. “You haven’t been introduced!” she teased.
Virginia cleared her throat as they drew nearer to the young man. When there were only a few feet between them, Virginia stopped. He carried no container for spare coins, and looked quite clean and well-kept upon closer inspection. He was quite obviously not a beggar. Her face flamed as she realized her mistake, but it was already too late.
“Hello there, Miss. I’m afraid we’re unacquainted, but I’d love to remedy that,” the man said.
Virginia smiled shyly. There was a certain gentleness in his tone that put her at ease despite the natural awkwardness of the situation. “My name is Virginia,” she said. “Virginia . . . Sowell. And this is my friend Mandie Heron.”
Mandie shot her a look briefly, but nodded politely to the young man.
“Ralph Clifton,” the man said. “It is very nice to meet you, Miss Sowell. Miss Heron.”
“It is nice to meet you too!” Virginia said with a smile. And it was. It certainly wasn’t every day she was able to meet a handsome stranger without the burden of his first knowing her father, title, and lineage.
He surveyed her curiously. “Can I help you?” he asked.
Virginia’s cheeks flushed as she remembered her mistake. “I . . . I saw your crutch,” she admitted. “And I was going to ask you the same.”
He looked mildly ruffled, but after a moment he laughed. “It serves me right,” he said. “I injured myself a few weeks ago and the navy doesn’t want me at the moment. I’ve been out of commission for a spell now. I am begging, after a fashion, but for honest work, not coins. I ought to be able to walk on it again soon without the aid of this blasted thing,” he said, gesturing to the crutch, “but for now I must seem pathetic, for no one has hired me.”
“Pathetic! No,” Virginia insisted. “Never pathetic.”
He smiled at her in a way that made her feel warm to her toes, but she told herself it was only the June sunshine.
“We were just out walking,” Mandie said. “If you would care to join us, Mr. Clifton?”
Virginia shot her a look, but Ralph agreed quickly and walked alongside Virginia. “You haven’t happened to hear of any work for a man like me, have you?” he asked.
Virginia shook her head. “No, I can’t say that I have. But if I hear of something I will be certain to let you know.”
Mr. Clifton’s answering smile was filled with mischief. “Oh, you’ll be letting me know, will you? And how will you be finding me again, exactly?”
Virginia felt a sudden shock of courage and a smile crept onto her face. “You’re going to tell us your direction, of course!” she said.
“My lady,” he said, formally, “is that proper?”
The best writers are the best readers, or so they say. I know I could stand to be a much better reader! I am so impressed by those Instagram arrays of a dozen books or so that an individual reads in a month. They are inspirational, but I'm lucky to get through four books a month between parenting my rambunctious kiddos, running my household, and getting sucked into a death-scrolling time trap on Facebook or Instagram or Imgur. (Please tell me I'm not the only one!)
I try to read the way I eat ice cream: slowly, with my full attention, savoring each morsel. Although while I try to do this I am more often than not trying to read while breastfeeding an absurdly cute child who refuses to sit still or keep her hands to herself.
I will try to post reviews monthly, and now that you have that in writing, feel free to hold me accountable! Without further ado, here are the last several clean, wholesome romances I've read:
1. The Captain's Confidant, a sweet Regency romance by Ashtyn Newbold.
Synopsis: For as long as Bridget Northcott can remember, she has loved her brother's closest friend, Colin Foster. When she finally sees Colin again a few years later, he has changed. Once carefree, he is now cold, hard, and distant. Determined to unravel the mysteries of Captain Foster, Bridget writes her thoughts in a note she never meant to send. As a hesitant friendship grows between them through their letters, Bridget determines to keep her heart uninvolved. But when faced with a choice between loyalty and selfishness, love and letting go, Bridget must find the strength to confide her own feelings in Captain Foster before the man she loved is lost forever.
This book was a lot of fun once it got going!
By the time the hero and heroine were really getting to know one another I was really enjoying it. There were some times when it felt a bit heavy and serious for my tastes--I like a few more jokes and silly moments easing tension and lightening the mood--but it was very well done. The emotions of the characters were well-developed and the pain felt by the heroine and hero were real and tangible. The whole book was relatable and it ended so very happily!
It's totally clean and appropriate, but there was this one amazing kiss (if you've read it, you know the one I mean!) that totally took my breath away and gave me the giggles and swoons. Exceptionally well-crafted. :)
If you're ever having a crappy day and you want a book that relates to your pain and helps vicariously lift you out of it, this would be a great one for you to pick up.
I was sent a free ebook to review but a positive review was not required.
2. Dear Clara, a sweet Regency romance, by Shelly E. Powell
Synopsis: For the first time in her life, Clara Everton has done something truly improper. She has written to a gentleman she hardly knows, simply to avoid an unwanted marriage proposal and perhaps to prove to herself that her first London season was not such a disappointment after all. As one letter grows into many and her feelings for James Thayne deepen, Clara begins to wonder whether a letter is as innocent a thing as she once thought. Meeting Mr. Thayne in person shakes her hopes, and she must reconcile herself to the unexpected truth. Yet, as circumstances continue to bring them together, Clara can't help but question whether opening her heart to Mr. Thayne is riskier than protecting it.
Dear Clara has that magical je ne sais quoi that makes you feel like you're the only one in the world who knows these characters. There is a strange and delightful intimacy to the read, and I was unprepared for how deeply I would relate to the super embarrassing moment she undergoes midway through the book. (I don't want to spoil it for you!)
She obviously takes some time to recover, and as Mr. Thayne buckles down and tries his best to win her heart, he becomes an utterly delicious hero! I loved him. He was charming and sweet and sensitive and reading about his devotion to the darling, relatable heroine was as pleasant and comforting as a nice hot bath. *Ahhh*
I didn't want to book to end, but of course I had to stay up late to read it as quickly as possible in order to discover what happened. So if you live for that sort of frustration, this book is perfect for you!
3. Engaging Sir Isaac, a sweet Regency romance by Sally Britton
Synopsis: Millicent Wedgwood will never obtain her rightful place in Society, because of her sister's scandalous elopement. But if she can win the trust of the baronet who insulted Lady Olivia and betray him, Lady Olivia will sponsor her return to high society. Sir Isaac Fox returned from war with one less arm and a weight upon his soul. Where once he easily charmed Society, he now prefers to remain quietly alone at home. When Millie realizes her game of winning over Sir Isaac has put her own heart in jeopardy, she risks losing everything she has so desperately sought to replace in her life.
This book took a little while to really get going (and I got distracted by life, so take that with a grain of salt . . .), but I did love the awkward early meeting between Millicent and Sir Isaac! Their first impressions were sweet to read. There is some tension toward the beginning of the book where Sir Isaac has a clear aversion to Millie, but when he turns his feelings around, he turns ALL the way around! I love that he is an impulsive, passionate, decisive person--to a foolish extent sometimes. Impulsive romance is rarely punished in novels, so I loved that his behavior had some repercussions!
I love the minefield of social dangers Millie needs to walk through, and all the ways the war-weary Sir Isaac cheers her through her own battles and tries to lend a hand where he can. I also loved that Lord Neil's character was introduced in a more positive light. It made me excited to read his story, too, which I haven't had the chance to read yet!
I wanted the resolution at the end to come even quicker, but when the two perfectly suited main characters ended up together I was as contented as two snuggly ducklings in a nest.
4. A Fall from Grace, a sweet Regency romance by Jennie Goutet
Synopsis: Selena Lockhart comes with neither fortune nor connections after her father gambled away his fortune, causing Selena’s betrothed to break off the engagement. It comes as no surprise that her new neighbor, Sir Lucius, treats her with disdain. He is not married, but he may as well be, considering he is expected to escort his widowed mother to watering holes, round out the numbers at his married sister’s dinners, and come to the aid of his scapegrace younger siblings. It doesn’t help that single women and matchmaking mamas jostle each other for his face, fortune, and title so that he’s left without a moment’s peace. When Selena shows up at Lucius’s doorstep looking for help, he is sure it’s another ploy aimed at cutting up his prized bachelor existence. Although his prejudice does not last long, Lucius fears his first reaction might have ruined his chances with her. How can he save her from Society’s teeth when she continues to hold him at arm’s length?
Okay, I'll be completely honest: I read this one some time ago, and I'm having a hard time remembering specifics about it! But what I do remember about this one, even months later, is that it was a solid, dependable, enjoyable read.
I love the romance trope of a man thinking a woman is trying to entrap him when she's not. That's oddly specific, I know, but it's been done so well by so many authors! It reminded me of Georgette Heyer's Arabella. I found Sir Lucius endearing, and I felt frustrated along with Selena. She was so powerless in her situation as a companion for a cranky older woman, and I know we've all felt like that at one point or another! I love reading awkward, painful situations when I am not going through them myself. The catharsis of reading about a heroine who overcomes an awkward situation like that is wonderful.
I won't spoil the ending, but I also enjoy the occasional story that emphasizes that forgiveness is easier to come by than permission! A little bit of scandal to follow both one's heart and conscience is always easy for me to forgive. ;)
5. Engaging Mr. Darcy, an Austen-inspired romantic comedy by Rachel John
Synopsis: After a standoff in the pizza parlor, Elsie Bennet has decided Fitzwilliam “I-Throw-Fitz” Darcy is the worst customer she’s ever encountered. Also the best looking, but that’s beside the point. She’s horrified to discover Will is not just passing through her small town, he’s her new neighbor. Will Darcy has all the money and time he could ask for, and yet life never seems to meet his expectations. When his best friend, Charlie, starts dating Jane Bennet, Will becomes their unhappy third-wheel. The solution? Bring along Jane’s sister, Elsie, a girl who challenges him, makes him laugh, plagues his thoughts, and hates his guts. Will might control a lot of things, but he won’t control her. Elsie’s already been warned away by her new friend, Jeff Wickham, who found out the hard way that Will is not someone to be crossed. Things would be so much simpler if she was attracted to Jeff. But she’s not. She’s attracted to Will, and the tug-o-war between her mind and her heart is going to drive her mad.
Breaking the theme a bit here and going for a contemporary romance, but it is *inspired* by the mother of all Regency romance, Miss Austen herself. This is one of my FAVORITE Austen adaptations. I mean, better than Clueless, you guys. Okay, maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. I love Clueless. But it's seriously on par with Clueless! I was impressed by the creative ways she found to transfer all the pain and awkwardness and annoyance and--yes, pride and prejudice--of the original work into the modern day.
I loved how industrious Elsie was, and how she was always the one to bail out her reckless sisters. I especially loved the SUPER AWKWARD but also swoony first date between Will and Elsie at his house with Caroline hovering over everything. Ooh, isn't that a character you just love to hate? I know I do.
I loved the way Lydia was both endangered and rescued, and Will is a true, modern Mr. Darcy--quietly heroic, despite not giving an amazing first impression. Excellent! Highly recommend! Haven't read all her other adaptations, but I know her Sense and Sensibility remake is on sale at the moment!
That's all for now, folks! I'll try to make another book review post soon. If you'd like me to review your book, please reach out to me on any of my platforms or via email! I'd be happy to do so, especially if you can send a review copy to my low-budgeted self. :)
I work with youth at church and we've been talking over a few fun get-to-know-you-questions, so I thought I would answer just a few of them:
What is your favorite dessert?
CAKE. Always cake. Lemon cake and pound cake and chocolate cake and cheap grocery store cake and buttery Texas sheet cake and pineapple upside-down cake and just CAKE. I love cake. It makes any day you eat it feel like a celebration, whether or not it is, and it just makes me so happy. Makes me feel a bit like this:
What would you do to pass the time stuck in an elevator for hours?
I would love to say that I would just spontaneously feel driven to read or write some epic literary thing, but that is just probably not the case. It would depend. Is there another person in there with me? I would talk to them. A lot. And tell them my whole life story and ask them all kinds of awkward questions about their love life. If I'm alone, do I have access to the internet? I would probably end up looking at memes, or social media posts. If I do not have access to the internet, I would read a book. Just being completely honest. I do my best reading and writing in my bed, not stressed out and stuck in an elevator.
Are you related even distantly to someone famous?
No. Seriously no one. I have ancestors from the Mayflower, The American Revolution, England, Sweden, Poland, and you probably have never heard of a single. one. of. them. But I'm perfectly okay with that. The only thing I mildly dislike about none of them being particularly noteworthy is that it can be harder to find good records for them when attempting to do genealogy work!
Where would you like to go someday?
The pandemic cancelled a planned trip to return to Italy with my husband and my parents. I haven't been there in 10 years and that is far too long. I have also *always* wanted to travel to India and never have. I've had a bit of a crush on Indian culture, religion, history, cuisine, etc. for many years.
Where would you like to live when your older?
The Pacific Northwest is where my husband is from, and seeing him happy and spending more time in the misty, gloriously forested mountains, smelling the salty breeze of the ocean, spending time with family, and eating delicious crab and salmon is well worth the lack of sunshine, in my opinion!
Well, that's it for now. Thanks for tuning in!
I just checked on Amazon and my book is FREE right now! It probably won't be for too much longer, so grab it while it's listed here. If you do manage to read it, reviews are highly, *highly* appreciated, especially because, as of this writing, I haven't gotten a single review yet, and I can't exactly review it myself.
This link leads to my book. Go ahead and download the book for later, and someday you can curl up when you want an exciting emotional read in a historical setting--happy ending guaranteed.
Anyway, here's MY review. I'm not allowed to write one, obviously, but if I were, it might go something like this:
I love this book. They tell you to write the book you want to read, and I wanted to read THIS. Is it perfect? No. (Very few books are.) But is it a solid, good read? Yes! I love the characters, the world, the tingly feelings I get during those delightful love scenes, the happy ending . . . It's a thoroughly rewarding read, and if you are looking for a reprieve from your difficult, stressful life, this will make a wonderful one.
Cheers, everyone! Take care, and happy reading!
P.S. For anyone remotely interested, rest assured that I have already started in on my revisions for the second book, which will be about Mr. Brougham. ;)
I am excited to finally share the cover with you guys!! I can just imagine Harriet's apprehension as she comes up those stairs and out into the bright stage lights.
BUT WAIT--I know what some of you Regency purists are thinking. That cover is so far from historically accurate it's insane! And you'd be right. But I've fallen in love with this cover because I see it symbolically. Obviously a young Regency socialite would never be un-gloved with hair down at any occasion formal enough for a train (and how would she dance??), but I don't see this as a scene directly from the book. I see it as a representation of Harriet's inner feelings throughout her dramatic adventure.
The red satin pooling down the steps is like a luxurious stage curtain. The stairs represent both social elevation and the limelight that Harriet is thrust into during act two. Her hands aren't gloved, her hair is down: she is herself when no one is around. In the image she is unaccompanied, showing her just as alone as she often feels on her often awkward adventure. Her "audience" is obscured from view by mystery, but her overall outlook of the future is bright, so although her tense hands show some apprehension, her bearing is proud and she is ready to carry herself to new heights.
I hope that you can learn to love this book (and it's cover!) as I have, and that it can help brighten your day, as it has brightened many of mine. I'm excited for you to be able to read it!
P.S. I think her little tush is quite fetching, too. Don't you? :)
who am I?
My name is Mary-Celeste, but my friends call me M.C. I am a writer, wife, mother, amateur gardener, sourdough bread baker, n00b video gamer, Austen enthusiast, tabletop gamer, Trekkie, and generally cheerful human being. I write Regency romances and I post about it here (among other things). Thanks for stopping by!