Top 3 Beach Reads

Summer is the season of beach reading! Generally, I define a “beach read” as something I can throw in a bag and know that the pages will just fly by. Maybe that’s a trusted favorite book or something new, taking a chance on a new author. Beach reads draw us in quickly and they are all about escaping our regular reality.

Simply put, they add to our sense of vacation and escape. That’s my take on the genre anyway! I think the best beach reads are also paperbacks and under 300 pages – beach reading is not the time to lug around a heavy encyclopedia!

Whatever your preferences, there’s a great beach read option for everyone. Here are my top three this season! Don’t forget the sunscreen!

  • BIOGRAPHY
    • Sometimes the best beach read escapes are ventures into someone else’s flip flops. If your go-to beach read is biography, spend some time with Kunal Nayyar:
      • Yes, My Accent Is Real: and Some Other Things I Haven’t Told You by Kunal Nayyar
        • I loved this book! It’s funny, witty, and a great example of pursuing one’s dreams while also figuring out what those dreams are. Kunal is hilarious and the pages fly by. But it’s so much more than a comedic memoir, because there’s also a lot of wisdom in this book. For example, several life lessons about dealing with disappointment when fate has other plans like, “If it happens, good. If it doesn’t happen, very good.”
  • MYSTERY
    • Mysteries are great for beach reads, since they are usually page-turners as we try to guess the ending. If you love complicated characters, then spend some time this summer figuring out where Bernadette went:
      • Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
        • This is a very fun book, especially for anyone who likes a good contemporary mystery. The story is told via letters, emails, and regular chapters that cover multiple points of view from several characters. Each perspective is richly presented and has its own twists and turns. 
  • ROMANCE
    • If you’ve ever wanted to meet someone just like in the movies via a ‘meet cute,’ then read this to see if it’s possible to find true love by spilling a cup of coffee or taking a road trip with a stranger:
      • Would Like to Meet by Rachel Winters
        • This book is such fun! It’s about a woman who decides to test out movie ‘meet cutes’ to inspire a screenwriter she’s working with who needs to finish a romantic comedy. It’s fun to read about the protagonist trying to find love the way they do in the movies, starting with spilling a drink on a few guys in a coffee shop to a road trip with a stranger. Overall an entertaining read, especially for ‘rom com’ movie fans.

The First Chapter of 2021: Choosing Our Own Adventure

We have just opened up the first chapter of 2021, which is already exciting with that ‘new book’ smell and the crisp pages. Of course, it’s a ‘choose your own adventure’ book, where we know only some of the characters and nothing about the full plot or ending.

We’ll navigate our way through plot twists and turns, hoping we’ve made good choices. I always like to say with decisions, that I made the best decision based on the information available at the time. Of course, we all do that, don’t we?

Usually when we look back at things that didn’t go our way, we are also often thankful that they worked out as they did. Otherwise we wouldn’t have learned, or grown, or adjusted our sails to shift directions.

As the great Maya Angelou wrote, “Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now.” Of course 2020 was difficult, challenging, and a seemingly constant shift between anxiety, grief, and fear – yet it was also a year that we realized simply ‘still standing,’ was an achievement of resilience and that we grew in many ways.

I’m grateful that 2020 is behind us and cautiously hopeful that 2021 will be kinder and gentler. How I long for the movie night out in a packed theater or dinner with friends.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we must cherish our people. We need to keep reaching out even virtually, to those close to us and keep putting effort into maintaining relationships.

We also must protect the most vulnerable, whether we know them or not. Simply reaching out to a neighbor to check in on them or pick up groceries, has strengthened our communities and hopefully will be something we build on in 2021 after the dust settles and vaccines received.

I don’t want us to return to the exact “normal” that we left in 2019. I hope we grow into a “better normal” this year, where we are more mindful about looking after each other, more patient knowing that everyone is struggling with something, and overall more constructive in terms of practical help.

We are always choosing our own adventure, every day. Let’s choose to be kind and compassionate, over judgmental and louder. None of us know how our choices throughout the year will structure the plot we experience in 2021, nor do we know what plot twists we’ll experience. That said, what we do know is that our resilience as humans relies upon helping each other.

My hope for this year is that we build on the challenging lessons learned in 2020, to construct a new plot line where we are all able to find joy, provide comfort to those who need it, and to forgive ourselves and others for not being perfect. Deep breaths, friends, as we turn the page into this brand new adventure. Courage!

Holiday Romance Book Giveaway – Making Spirits Bright!

To spread some holiday cheer, I’m offering a holiday romance Kindle giveaway via Goodreads to give several lucky readers a chance to win 1 of 100 free copies of my award-winning Christmas at Maplemont Manor novel – a sweet holiday romance sure to warm your heart! Christmas at Maplemont Manor was awarded the Bronze Medal Award in Romance in the 2020 Independent Publisher (IPPY) Book Awards.

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Here’s to Autumn!

During this autumn, I wish for you, and the world, a calm and cozy peace to enjoy crisp air while warmed by a soft sweater and hot cup of cider. Take the time to enjoy the beauty of the falling leaves (or, if you are really lucky, the start of ski season).

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Stopping to Smell the Pastries

I haven’t blogged in a while because…well 2020, right? Like everyone else, I’ve been home and only venturing out for exercise or groceries. Channeling the baker protagonist in my most recent novel, Christmas at Maplemont Manor, I’ve also been baking up a storm.

The fresh-baked smell of cardamom rolls, cinnamon rolls, banana walnut bread, pumpkin spice cupcakes, lemon blueberry bread, and honey wheat sandwich bread wafted frequently in my house every few days. Fortunately, I’ve also learned to freeze such beautiful creations to be able to balance out the exercise to carb ratio. (FYI – you can freeze most bread for up to a month – wrap it up in aluminium foil to freeze and then pop it in the oven at about 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes to reheat – You’re welcome.).

Mostly the recipes have turned out pretty good, however, my attempt at a simple pound cake with my substitutions resulted in disaster and required me to clean the oven. I also attempted some shortbread cookies that turned out like concrete, making me worry I would chip a tooth.

What I’ve learned is that I can pretty much bake any type of bread, but once any recipe gets too close to “cake” or “cookie” territory, then it’s a disaster. It’s an odd superpower to discover somewhat late in life, the bread-making ability, but life often surprises us.

I’ve also started learning Swedish which has been pretty entertaining and providing me with some sense of structure and progress. Perhaps the most fun phrase I can say in Swedish now is: “It’s raining men.” Ha ha!

What I haven’t been doing is…writing. And, that’s OK. I’ve written myself my own permission slip for that. It’s in the form of a cinnamon roll. 🙂

However you are getting through this time as an artist and human is awesome. If you’re able to turn this time into something more creative than carbohydrates, then I’m absolutely cheering you on. If you’re just happy to have checked the mail, I’m also absolutely cheering you on as well!

As for me, I’ve managed a blog article today which is very exciting. However this reaches you, please know that I’m sending you light and comfort – that feeling we all get when consuming the most perfect of cardamom rolls or blueberry lemon bread.

Please take care of yourselves and others. There’s no “right” way to get through this. In case you need to hear it – you’re doing a great job. Hang in there. And remember, you can freeze the bread, cupcakes, and rolls – they’ll all keep. 🙂

Finding Joy in 2020

While it hardly feels like 2019 ‘is so last year’ yet, we have indeed embarked on a new decade and a new year. Usually the new year brings along ideas of resolutions or simply goals for what things should fall into the ‘out with the old,’ and what we should add ‘in with the new.’ Maybe it’s more gym time or finally taking that trip, or learning a new language. Whatever you’ve settled on, I wish you godspeed in 2020.

Last year, my resolution was to publish a new novel – and, I’m happy to report that I did so and it was great fun to share Christmas at Maplemont Manor with the world! For those who have read it, I do hope that you enjoyed the holiday splendor and joy of the season that I had aimed to share. Writing it (especially the pun-filled chapter titles) brought me such joy – it really was terrific fun. As a self-published author, I write for the simple joy of it!

This year, my focus is 100% on spending more time on things that bring me joy. For me, that list includes downhill skiing, cooking awesome food, spending time with friends, reading interesting books, and traveling someplace new.

Since it’s still (happily) winter, my favorite of the seasons, I’ve started with the goal of downhill skiing every week while the snow lasts! I basically grew up on skis, in a little mountain town where we lived minutes from a ski hill. I started skiing about the same time that I learned to walk. That said, I’m not an Olympian skier, however, there’s something about skiing that brings me joy.

It’s that same spark of joy that I experience from opening the oven to smell fresh cardamom rolls that I’ve made from scratch, which is now something I do most weeks. I think our jobs as humans is to find these experiences that bring us joy and then incorporate them into our lives as much as possible.

Sometimes we tend to go overboard with the idea of ‘joy’ – like it should be something big that others notice, that it must be pursued in some dramatic fashion, or that it’s fleeting. I think that joy is around all the time, but we do need to take a breath to notice it and enjoy the moments. Today, for example, one of my moments of joy was making the perfect cup of coffee in my new french press.

My hope for all of us in 2020 is that we find and celebrate those moments and we embrace the things and people that bring us joy. Life short – find your joy! It’s most likely right in front of you!

Holiday Ebook Giveaway!

If you enjoy Hallmark Christmas movies, you’ll be delighted by this holiday kindle book giveaway! To spread some holiday cheer, I’m offering a holiday Kindle ebook giveaway via Goodreads to give readers a chance to win 1 of 100 free copies of Christmas at Maplemont Manor – a sweet holiday romance sure to warm your heart!

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Enjoying the Magic

Recently I embarked on an Icelandic adventure to primarily see the northern lights. For the sake of transparency, the above gorgeous image from the free library is not the amazing photo that I took.

My photo turned out like this:

I took this photo using an app on my phone. For any borealis enthusiasts out there, when people tell you to bring a tripod for your camera and test out the photo application before you go out, the above is why. 🙂

I took two arguably sad, yet magical photos, and then put my camera away so that I could solely enjoy the moment and not worry about documenting it further. To paint the full picture, the lights appeared about two hours after my tour bus arrived at a remote location in the middle of Iceland and it was about eleven o’clock at night.

We’d been standing out in 15 degrees (fahrenheit) / -9 (celsius) for long enough that my “clever” idea of essentially wearing every item of clothing that I had packed in my carry-on for warmth seemed foolhardy. It was freezing cold and pretty boring just standing there in a field, looking up at the sky with a bunch of strangers. To add insult to injury, it was my second night of freezing in a field with strangers since the previous night I had gone out and not seen the lights at all.

As I started questioning my life choices and returned to the bus for some warmth, someone said that magical words: “The lights are here!” Everyone rushed toward the best spot to view them and we sort of mobbed into the same spot.

Looking up at the northern lights dancing in the night sky made me catch my breath with a child-like wonder and I no longer noticed the cold or the tourists crowding around me posing with their phones. Simply put, it was magical and epic – basically indescribable (even for a novelist like myself)!

Whatever you get up to during this holiday season, I hope you find a similarly well-earned moment of magic. Maybe it will be five minutes at the holiday dinner table when everyone is sharing a laugh, seeing twinkly lights draped across a downtown street, or venturing out to see the northern lights for yourself.

As Eden Philpotts said, “The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.”

In my latest novel, Christmas at Maplemont Manor, there are several lovely holiday scenes that have a sense of magic to them – but there is one scene with reindeer that to me is the most magical of the novel. I won’t spoil it for readers, but let’s just say if you were hoping to find a little child-like wonder this holiday season from the comfort of your sofa, then there is a charming and warm holiday novel waiting for you!

Whatever this December brings to you, I do hope you stop to enjoy and dwell in the moments – because magical things are waiting for you to notice them. 🙂 Happy holidays!