Category Archives: books

Favorite author bringing out book perfect for Anglophiles


You may remember me posting about author/illustrator Susan Branch and how much I have enjoyed her books, all hand-lettered and illustrated with her delightful watercolors and filled with poetry, quotes, memories, recipes and more. Just got this newsletter this morning and was thrilled to see she has a new book coming out–and it’s all about the English countryside! Scroll down in the newsletter to read about the experiences that lead to her writing A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside.

Enjoy Susan’s charming illustrations and photos and excerpts from the book, including the yummy-sounding recipe for Sticky Toffee Pudding (surely a true English desert)! There’s even a bit about Richard III in here!


HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE! How are you, Girlfriends? I’m good, but it’s been a long time — I’ve been hunkered down in my studio all winter painting and writing — Joe’s been throwing logs on the fire, surprising me with cups of chocolate coffee (he puts Hershey’s syrup in coffee and tops it with half and half; I will be paying for this later); freezing wind whistles outside our door, snow swirls off the barn, making the world very beautiful, keeping us happy and cozy inside. Bright red cardinals (nature’s Valentine), nuthatches, and chickadees are busy at the feeders outside the kitchen windows, vying for best spot at the perches. The squirrels entertain us with loop-de-loos from the wisteria branches, hanging upside-down to get at the sunflower seeds. Girl-Kitty sleeps in the crook of my knees every night; Jack drops red ponytail bands on my clogs whenever he wants to play (he is a funny bunny), we have Downton Abbey to look forward to every Sunday, so I have to say, life is very good in the house of creativity.

Time is going by so quickly, I can’t believe it’s already Valentine’s Day! Didn’t we just have Christmas? But I have news — just for this special day which is all about celebrating romance . . . so run, go get a cup of tea — I’ll wait . . .

Comfy? Good, here’s a little MUSICA . . .

Now I’m embarrassed. I hope I haven’t gotten you all excited — I’m just a little beside myself. Because, as lots of you already know, I’ve been writing a new book. I’m getting close to done. The pages are numbered! It has a name! It’s called A Fine Romance, and I just thought, with a name like that (which will make perfect sense when you read it), what better time to talk about it and show you the cover than Valentine’s Day? That’s all, no rocket ship to the moon. Except for me, because, getting a book done is totally rocket-ship-to-the-moon-time! (I love having “theme music” for a new book!)

Something else that’s new, I’ve never used a photo on the cover of any of my books before, usually they’re all watercolored, but this is a real travel book, and that’s a gorgeous road, and to me it just says, “England!” I know where we are too, we’re in the Yorkshire Dales, around the corner from the small market town of Middleham and the childhood castle of King Richard the III, the one whose remains they recently found when excavating a parking lot in England and miraculously (to me) identified from DNA from a seventeenth-generation descendent. Now that I’ve been there, I feel somewhat related to him! (The part about the castle is in the book, but not this about finding his remains, because it just happened!)

ENEEE WAY . . .It’s hard to believe it was only a year ago, almost to the day, when Joe and I were out to dinner and he said, “Why don’t we go to England in the spring?” There were plenty of reasons why we shouldn’t and couldn’t, but we stepped carefully over all that, and went anyway! In early May of last year we sailed across the ocean on the Queen Mary II to England where we rented a car and traveled hill and dale on back roads for two glorious months, through Kent, up to the Lake District, to York and the Cotswolds, to Beatrix Potter‘s House and Jane Austen’s house, through castles and pubs, gardens and tearooms; antique stores and book stalls, we loved learning the history of everywhere we visited. We were on a quest for inspiration and freedom-from-routine. And we definitely found it. The trip was like a two month dream, the longest dream I ever had in my life. As well it should be, so it can last a lifetime!

And in case you haven’t heard . . . I kept a diary, every day I wrote what we were seeing. I sketched too, and we took hundreds of photos. And when we got home, I chose about 250 of those photos and put them into a hand-written diary that I’ve been working on since last July. The book starts with a chapter about the thing that made the trip possible, the story of how Joe and I met. The rest of it is filled with watercolors, stories, quotes and recipes and all kinds of ocean-liner-across-the-sea information; there are four maps of the different areas we visited, plus the nuts and bolts like places to stay, the car (driving on the wrong side of the road), money, and electricity. There are extras such as How to Make the Perfect Cup of Tea and the Charm of an English Cottage Garden; there’s a reading list, a movie list and a list of the Perfect Music to bring along, plus an interactive index that will coordinate with links you’ll find on my blog when the book arrives. I tried not to forget a thing! This book is meant to help you plan your own trip … but if you’re an armchair traveler, I did everything I could so you can smell the wildflower meadows and hear the bleating lambs while cuddled in your chair with your nap blankie.

Some of you have seen a few of the pages I’ve done so far . . .

So it will be about 250 pages of this.

I still have about thirty pages to paint before the book goes to the printer. Many of you have been asking me to have a “pre-sale” for the book. I wasn’t sure because it won’t arrive from the printer until maybe September, or even October. That seemed too long for anyone to wait.

But then, last year, we ran out of calendars for the first time — before Christmas! So I realized that I wanted my Willard and blog friends to have first dibs and no chance of running out. I spoke to my publisher about it; at this point they are just guessing on how many books to order; they have NO idea how the book will sell, and will have to decide on the final number by the end of March. (When Heart of the Home, my first book, came out, it was October, it sold out before Christmas and didn’t come back in until the following June!) So, I asked if I could do a pre-publication sale of the book in my web store to make sure those of you who want them will get your books FIRST, and they said that would be fine, in fact, it would help them know how many to order. The bottom line is, if the book sells out that will be wonderful, but best of all, it won’t be awful for us, because you will already have yours! It takes four months to get a reprint done, so if we ran out right away, we wouldn’t get any more until after Christmas and that would not be fun. So, here we go … as of today, A FINE ROMANCE  is for sale in our web store, at a pre-sale discounted price, and that’s the only place it will be for sale until it goes into stores next fall! We will ship the book the second they come in. If I am in California when they arrive, I will sign them before they go out — if not, then I will make sure to sign a book plate for each pre-ordered book. You will be needing a BOOKMARK, so I designed this one, in honor of Valentine’s Day. With love from me to you. Just click on it and you can print it out on card stock. If you are getting a book for someone else, be sure to make them a bookmark to tuck inside. And for those of you regular Girlfriends to my blog …. I can’t thank you enough for all of your support and kindness to me while I’ve been creating what is certainly “our” book. Book-writing can be quite a lonely business, but because of you, I never felt it this time! Your wonderful comments on the blog, keeping in touch the way you have, made it much easier. Each time I started a new page, I thought to myself, what would these girls like today? In a sense, it’s a giant love letter — that’s true about all my books, but this time, it was a two-way street and I can’t thank you enough. Now, there is one more thing. Sometime in June (I think it’s June, might be May, could be July) the printer will air mail (haven’t heard that term in a long time!) a few pre-publication copies to me. I am going to give one of those away to YOU, dear Girlfriends … it will be the very first book in “circulation,” three months before any of the others come in — you can sign up to be in that drawing on our blog, just leave a comment (at the bottom of any post where you see the tiny word “comments”) at, between now and February 20, and you will be entered for the drawing. Vanna will choose the name after the 20th, so we will all know our lucky winner long before the book arrives. Chills just went through me! OH BOY.

Next Fall, Joe and I will travel to bookstores across the USA where we hope to meet as many of you as possible. I have one book signing set up already in San Luis Obispo, California, November 9th and 10th at the Madonna Inn Expo Center for the Remnants of the Past Antique and Vintage Show. The show opens both days at 9am, and I think I’ll let everyone shop before I interrupt them, so I’ll probably come in around 2 ish. I’ll be sure to set up a schedule on my blog with more details as the time gets closer.

Has anyone noticed that it says, “A Fine Romance” on the February page of this year’s calendar? Are you wondering how I did that?

Me Too! I designed the 2013 calendar in 2011, long before Joe and I decided to go away to England. But I wrote the story of my first date with Joe years ago — in my good handwriting, with the watercolor title of “A Fine Romance” — it’s never been published. When I went to design the February page for the 2013 calendar, I decided to use the title I’d painted for the story. After I turned in the art for the calendar, I pretty much forgot about it . . . we decided to go to England, I wrote this book, and I planned to show you the cover of it for Valentine’s Day, so when I turned over the calendar page, I was surprised! I had to laugh. Fate had it all figured out . . . she knew I was going to write this book before I did!

I thought, while we’re waiting for the book, you might like to have one of the recipes from A Fine Romance.

Ihis seems like it might be the national dessert in England — it was on almost every menu, everywhere we went — we managed to wait to taste it until we got to the Lake District where we were told this pudding originated. (It’s not really a pudding, they call almost every dessert a “pudding” — after dinner they will say, “Would you care for pudding?”) When Joe tasted it, his eyes got wide, his words were muffled, spoken through a big mouthful, but I could figure out what he was saying, “You have to put this in the book.” It was just delicious!

And here’s what else is new . . . You know I love lambs, I loved seeing them everywhere in England, and I’ve painted lots of them into the book. But what you didn’t know is that the last time I went antiquing across country with Joe, wherever we went, I looked for more of these planter/vases. I love mine so much, it’s such a harbinger of spring, I thought maybe some of you would like one too. The ones I found aren’t all exactly like this one … but they’re definitely all cute and waiting for you in our VINTAGE section right now. We sold out of this little paperweight iron lamb, the one that’s actually a bank — but more will be coming in by the middle of March, in case you are wondering. Perfect timing for Spring table decorations.

Look how adorable he is!

A brought this heavy cotton Union Jack Dishtowel back on the boat with me . . . I wished I’d gotten fifty more of them! So we found where they were made, and now we have them on our website. For the kitchen anglophile in all of us.

Another special little item. My new Birdhouse. I just got it; I’ve been keeping it in my studio for the time being — it could really stay in there forever — it’s such a cheerful little house to have around. When it stops snowing, it will hang in the tree in the garden. It has windows, and a little opening in the back so it can be cleaned out . . . it’s really quite perfect. I thought you might like one for your garden, so I got more!

And last but never ever least . . . we found a fairly large collection of Beatrix Potter figurines . . . I think whichever creature you’ve been looking for, we probably have now. Kellee adds them to the VINTAGE part of our web store whenever we can get them, but they get harder to find all the time. We just got lucky.

Big fat snowflakes are coming down right this very moment, blowing toward the house, sticking to my windows, and settling on the picket fence I can see from my art table. The furnace is humming, the fire is making little popping noises, Jack is asleep on the back of the sofa . . . this is what I call romance. It’s exactly how I dreamed life would be. The words “May the force be with you” just came to mind. I don’t know why, but it feels like it is. May the force be with you my friends. xoxo Now, the coup de grace, remember how I’ve written that I think there are elves living here on Martha’s Vineyard who run ahead setting up scenes and making everything adorable? Here’s our newest elfwork . . . I happen to know the elves that did this — Matt and Bridget Tobin . . . they own Eden, a darling farmstand and garden shop in Vineyard Haven which is not even open this time of year! But that doesn’t stop them. We came home from a dinner party on a cold rainy night, rounded the bend and saw this wonderful thing. We do love our magic elves and they clearly love us back.

And here are a few new things from my web store:

‘The Black Stallion.’ Well, two of them, actually.


I am currently watching a film that I can’t believe I have never watched before, 1979’s The Black Stallion.  Based on the first in a series of children’s books by Walter Farley, it was billed as a children’s/family film, which is not incorrect, but it’s more than that.

I’d call it a romantic film, a sort of love affair that takes place in the 1940s between a young boy who has lost his father in a terrible shipwreck, and a beautiful, wild black stallion. The boy and the horse, which had been captured and stabled on board the ship, are the Dover’s sole survivors.

Stranded on a tiny desert island together, the boy, Alec, determines to make friends with the magnificent, skittish creature he calls “The Black.”


Alex woos the stallion by talking “horse”  and presenting him with a large shell full of greens. Soon he has the animal eating from his hand and frolicking with him in the surf.

There is very little dialogue in the  island scenes and there doesn’t need to be. The gorgeous cinematography (the film was shot in Sardinia, Canada and at Cinecitta in Rome), the minimalist score, and fine acting by both Kelly Reno as Alec and, yes, that lovely and spirited equine, speaks for itself.

lina-black-stallion-2BLACK STALLION REARING

Alec and The Black are eventually rescued by some fishermen and returned to his hometown, where he and The Black are celebrated as local heroes. The stallion is frightened by garbage collectors one morning and dashes out of the fenced-in backyard, leading Alec on a not-so-merry chase.

As a result, the boy meets a former horse trainer, played by Mickey Rooney, who has taken the wandering stallion into his own stable. You know where the movie is going from here–a fast horse, a trainer looking for a comeback and a little boy with a lot of spunk. It makes the ride no less enjoyable.  Good performances all ’round, including Rooney, who has been known to ham it up a bit too much for my personal taste.


Kelly Reno in an autographed photo. Images courtesy of

Watching this beautiful, proud, regal animal rearing up, tossing his flowing mane and stamping his feet, sniffing and snorting–well, it led me to think of someone else . . . can you guess who?


GIFS-click on the pretty henchman.


Oh, those manly sniffs!


My internet was down for several hours so I am behind in responding to comments. Time for me to take a walk, pick up the mail, and come back and wash this dirty mane of mine. Meeting with my writing partner tomorrow afternoon; hopefully having lunch with hubby beforehand.  Reading up on Children’s Literature for Dummies on my Kindle along with Heyer’s These Old Shades, a bargain e-book. See you later!


A poem by Francesco Marciuliano (author of  “I Could Pee on This & Other Poems by Cats”).  I dedicate this post to Leigh and Lucky, aka the Pirate King and to all the feline lovers out there. If only I had this much energy!


GET THE (deleted) OUT OF HERE, THIS STRING IS GREAT!Cute-Kitten-kittens-16096139-1280-800

SON OF A (removed), I CAN RUN SO FAST!




WELL (forbidden) ME, I’M CAUGHT IN A JAR.









Because it’s so funny and so true.

OT: I love this “Logic”


 I don’t think I am quite out of estrogen yet, but I can empathize with the big kitty’s emotions.

I have always had favorite artists/illustrators. Many of the books I loved the most as a child were those that matched wonderful stories with evocative illustrations that captured my fancy.

A very talented lady named Jane Seabrook, who hails from Auckland, New Zealand, has a series of books I find completely delightful. Filled with whimsical and witty quotes paired with amazing watercolor paintings of animals, Jane’s Furry Logic books make a great gift idea.  There’s the original Furry Logic, and additional titles with themes revolving around love, parenthood, wildlife wisdom, laughter and more. They are the sort of thing perfect as a treat for yourself, too (if you haven’t spent it all on Hobbit merchandise, of course).

Purry Logic is a particular favorite of mine–as you might expect, it features our feline friends.  I ran across the book again the other day and proceeded to read it aloud to my husband, showing him the accompanying illustrations. He had a huge smile on his face.  Seemed he could relate . . .

Seabrook,  an independent designer and illustrator, shares her home with a husband, two children and a menagerie of critters, including three Birmans (a breed of long-haired cat with Siamese-type markings and blue eyes I dream of owning). She obviously has an affinity for the animal kingdom and human nature that shines through in her artwork, along with a great sense of humor. My kind of gal.

Most of Seabrook’s titles are available through Amazon. New copies of these wonderful little books are available for $10 to $12 and used, for much less. Perfect stocking stuffers, guaranteed to bring smiles.

And of course, this post isn’t completely off-topic. Mr. Armitage did spend quite a lot of time in Jane’s beautiful native land making a certain movie we all seem to eagerly anticipate . . .

OT: The Charms of Susan Branch


I got my latest e-newsletter from author/illustrator Susan Branch today (the link to her blog is above).  I love her books. The beautiful writing you see inside them is not a computer font but Branch’s actual handwriting and all the illustrations are largely self-taught artist Branch’s own charming watercolors.

Branch has written a variety of books and calendars over the past 20-plus years celebrating holidays, seasons, friendships and girlfriends. I  am happy to say that I own a number of them.

She has a lot of great recipes, but, as an editorial review on Amazon says, “the true theme of the books is family, love, friends and the celebration of life.”

Author/illustrator Susan Branch, a personal favorite. (photo courtesy of

When did my cat Thumper pose for Susan?

A page from one of Branch’s delightful calendars.

This book makes a great gift idea for best buddies and sisters. It’s a lot of fun.

Branch’s website also offers a variety of notecards,  kitchen  and household items and personal accessories for purchase. But you can enjoy all the goodness of her website and e-newsletters without spending a dime.  That’s a bargain!

Have you ordered your annual yet?


The new movie tie-in book, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Annual 2013, is now out. And you are going to want a copy!

If you order from Amazon using the link buttons on the home page at our dear friend Ali will make sure a portion of the sale goes to charity. only has the books available through their marketplace, but I ordered mine today. After all, my birthday is only a few weeks away, right?  Dearly hoping it arrives well before the middle of October!

The One Ring Net also has an article and artwork from the book, including an amazing portrait of actor Lee Pace as Elven King Thranduil that you can enlarge to see all the intricate details of his costume.

Here’s a taste of the beautiful artwork to be found within the new book:

Thorin and his nephews Kili and Fili. Who says dwarfs aren’t hot?? Courtesy of TORn/RAFrenzy

So, is it December yet??

Have Orcrist, will battle. I’d follow this dude anywhere.

Lucas & the Rifles That Never Fired


Until a couple of hours or so ago, this was one of my down days (after falling asleep sometime after 5 a.m. this morning).  No new posts, no responding to comments or visiting other blogs, no new artwork, no writing, just—rest.  And thinking about aspects of my novel.

I am continuing to enjoy reading Wired for Story on my Kindle—so much excellent advice and food for thought for someone writing fiction.

As a fiction writer, you want to give your reader a sense of place and time. In the case of my novel, that is England, and to a lesser extent, France in the mid-18th century.

I do wrestle with things such how much detail to inject into certain scenes. What to put in and what to leave out.  How much information does the reader need about this particular character, this bedchamber, this locale at this point in the story?

This particular quote from Wired for Writing really struck me tonight:

~Each thing you add to your story is like a drop of paint falling into a bowl of clear water. It spreads and colors everything.

As with life, new information causes us to reevaluate the meaning and emotional weight of all that preceded it, and to see the future with fresh eyes.  In a story, it influences how we interpret every single thing that happens—how we read every nuance—and in so doing raises specific expectations about what might occur in the future . . .

Chekov once said in a note to S. Shchukin, “If you say in the first chapter a rifle is hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”~

Excellent advice, methinks. And this leads me to think of some of the metaphorical rifles that have been hung on the walls but have never truly, properly gone off for an Armitage character.

Specifically, MI-5 agent Lucas North.

Lucas. Such a fascinating and enigmatic character.  So much that piqued my curiosity from the moment he came stumbling out of that car boot.. Those Russian prison tattoos. His affection for William Blake. The failed marriage to a woman he obviously still cared for deeply.

Our first glimpse of Lucas–disheveled, thin, with haunted eyes. I fell in love right then and there.

The damage done by all the torture and deprivation experienced during those eight years in prison—surely a case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?–and how he coped with it.

We got glimpses into those horrific times, brief references to his earlier years.

Unfortunately, almost everything that had been established about Lucas by the writers of series 7 and to a lesser extent, series 8, was completely thrown out the window by the writers of series 9.  He literally became a different person.

I know that Spooks was an ensemble show and that storylines couldn’t solely focus on one character, and I understand that.

But a huge chunk of S9 was devoted to the downfall of Lucas, Plenty of time was spent deconstructing the character that might have otherwise been utilized to create a “Lucas breaks down” storyline that was more plausible but still compelling.  I never thought Lucas was free of flaws or demons; I just didn’t see him as a greedy, mass-murdering immature git.

Now, I know there are those of you who believe the entire John Bateman story was simply “classic Spooks” and perfectly acceptable in the context of this particular production.

I am not going to try to change your mind, any more than you would be able to change my own.

However, in terms of crafting a good story that showed continuity in terms of what had been previously established, I have to say it was a major failure.

S9  displayed outlandish potboiler writing more suited to a soap opera than an “intelligent and stylish” production.  Richard’s performance was amazing, kudos for him from keeping this series from being a total farce. However, as a writer, I thought the material stank to high heaven, frankly.

And dammit, they didn’t give Lucas that “elegant death” that RA had hoped for. Just a long, sad, cowardly dive off a tall building to an ignominious demise.

I don’t think I will ever quite forgive them for that.  I kept wanting Ros to show up, alive and kicking (arse)  and say: “Get a grip, people! This isn’t Lucas, just some dodgy imitation. Where have you hidden him? And where’s the hidden camera, because this is all obviously a really bad joke . . .”

An awful lot of rifles were hanging on that wall that just didn’t get fired, y’all.

Ah, the good old days. The dynamic duo.


I always thought Maeve looked like a lady I’d enjoy sitting down with for a cup of coffee or tea and nice chat.

Maeve Binchy passed away today at 72. Binchy was a bestselling author from Ireland. Before she became a short story author and novelist, she was a teacher and later, a journalist and columnist. I could relate to her personal history and I enjoyed her writing, which combined humor with poignancy and humanity.  Her first novel, Light a Penny Candle, was rejected five ties before it was published.  When it was published, it became a bestseller and her books went on to sell more than 40 million copies worldwide.

And she just looked like a sweetheart.

Rest in peace, Maeve. You were an all together grand storyteller and you’ll be missed.

RIP, Maeve

It was inevitable, I suppose.

Cash Cows

Cash Cows (Photo credit: chickenscrawl)

But I’ll just stick with reading some of the excellent fanfiction served with some steamy on the side that is provided by our talented folks–and save my money.

That cash cow known as 50 Shades of Grey  has got to run out of milk at some point, surely ?

BTW, I am absolutely loving the brilliant send-up tweets by #fiftyshedsofgrey at Twitter. And the suggestions for worst 50 Shades of Grey audio book readers is great, too. However, I do think the gal who actually recorded the books for is pretty awful, unless you like hearing sadomasochistic prose read by a vapid Valley Girl.

An American artist & a British actor . . .

N.C. Wyeth in his studio with a cowboy model

N.C. Wyeth in his studio with a cowboy model (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: "One more step, Mr. Hands,"...

N.C. Wyeth: Book cover for The White Company

N.C. Wyeth: Book cover for The White Company (Photo credit: deflam)

Playing with images of RA (and specifically Guy) as a pirate reminded me of the wonderful pictures created by artist/illustrator N.C. Wyeth. An American artist who worked in the first half of the 20th century, Wyeth illustrated many, many classic tales from British and American literature–stories with brave knights, fair ladies, fierce dragons, bloodthirsty pirates and great ships with billowing sails–and chronicled the American West of yesteryear.

 Wyeth’s son, Andrew and his grandson, Jamie, carried on the artistic heritage passed down to them.   I don’t know if Richard is familiar with Wyeth’s work, but I can imagine him pouring over the artist’s vivid and detailed illustrations with pleasure as he read a favorite adventure tale . . .

I can imagine a young Richard Armitage daydreaming about the great adventures in the story books he loved–including that of a brave warrior dwarf . . .