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16 free romantic suspense books

Looking to try some new-to-you authors risk free?

Thriller author Mark Dawson has launched a new free ebook site called The Book Locker and I was lucky enough to get Blind Fury showcased during its very first week.

The Book Locker lets you search free books by genre, and new books are featured each week. Blind Fury—along with fifteen other freebies—is listed under romantic suspense, but you can click the Genres button at the top of The Book Locker page for great reads in just about any genre you can imagine.

Book Locker RS pageI hope you find some gems!

A winter without snow (finally)

dog in snowFor the first time in six years (minus the year in Alabama, where we did actually get a dusting), I’m not anticipating any snow for winter. Nor any below-zero, ice-particle-blowing, freeze-your-face-windy, shovel-till-you-can’t-lift-a-mug-of-tea days.

winter collage

I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty excited about it.

I prefer to visit the snow on my terms, and if I get the urge, Tahoe is only a few hours, some tire chains, and about 6000 vertical feet away. Yosemite, Shasta, and Mammoth are all fairly close too.

As much as I (yes, still) want to live closer to the coast, Sacramento’s location in the upper Central Valley is great because it has four distinct, but relatively mild, seasons. Summer gets pretty blazing hot without lasting too long, fall brings plenty of glorious, tree-turning color, and we can enjoy frosty nights and cool days in winter without having to turn out in twenty pounds of gear to stay warm.

And while the multitudes of deciduous trees are busy dropping their leaves, the fall and winter rains turn the wild grass emerald green.

red tree

No rush, but I’m looking forward to seeing everything blooming and unfurling in spring, even as the grasses fade to summer gold again.

Of the two countries, nine States, and 14 metro areas I’ve lived in, everyone of them has had a perfect time of year. What’s your favorite season where you are?

A day in Berkeley

Oxford St
Oxford Street across from the Berkeley campus

As a writer who works from home full time, it’s easy to let inertia set in and never leave my house except to fill my cupboards. But I’m an explorer at heart—as is my husband—so we made a commitment to spend at least one day a month sightseeing or hiking somewhere within a few hours’ drive of our house.

Last weekend, we chose Berkeley. A few years ago, when I was visiting to give a workshop to the San Francisco Romance Writers, I ran along the water to the Berkeley Marina—and had lunch and dinner…somewhere—but I hadn’t been downtown since I was seventeen.

It was definitely time to go back. The decision was helped by the relatively short drive—about 75 minutes when the traffic is good, which it happily was earlyish on a Saturday.

I’m certain there’s lots more to do in this fun, pretty college town, but we started and ended with food—there are plenty of options for plant-based eaters like us (we chose Saturn Cafe and Flaco’s)—and spent the time in between visiting UC (Cal) Berkeley’s pretty campus, and exploring Tilden Regional Park, which borders the campus up the hill along the east side.

The park’s botanical gardens have native plants representing California’s wide variety of climates, and lots of quiet, green spaces to wander.

These are a few of my favorite shots from that day.

eucalyptus trees
I love the colors on the peeling trunks of the eucalyptus trees! Blue and gold are especially fitting since they’re the University of California colors.
Sather tower
Sather Tower is hard to miss
view of SF
View of the East Bay and San Francisco (across the bay on the right) from Grizzly Peak in Tilden Regional Park
view of san pablo bay
View of San Pablo Bay from Grizzly Peak (facing NNW)
Gwen at botanical gardens
At the Regional Parks Botanic Garden
redwoods
Redwoods in the botanic garden
Found this guy hiding in the ferns at the botanic garden
Found this guy hiding in the ferns at the botanic garden

What are some of your favorite places to visit near you? (Or me, for that matter. I’m always looking for gems. 😉 )

Check out this page for more travel/road trip posts. Also, many of my small trips end up on social media instead, especially Instagram.

Oh, Montana (and Wyoming)

mountain pond
Pond above the resort as the sun crests the mountain

Oh, Montana. On Sunday, my husband and I—empty nesters that we now are—traveled to southwestern Montana to meet up with old friends, some of whom we haven’t seen since before the turn of the century. (I’ve been waiting for an excuse to use that phrase…)

Catching up was great, and doing it in a wild and beautiful place like Montana and northern Wyoming made it fabulous.

Here are a few of my favorite memories from our trip.

Stars

I don’t think I’ve seen so many stars since my parents drove us into the mountains in Utah at night and we lay in the back of our little pickup truck on the side of the road.

Out in isolated Chico Hot Springs (about an hour’s drive southeast of Bozeman, and maybe thirty minutes from the northern entrance to Yellowstone at Gardiner), there is little light to interfere with the view.

The stars. Were. Incredible.

Billions and billions of them filled the sky and the Milky Way looked like a band of gauzy clouds. We sat outside in the growing chill for hours, following the path of anonymous satellites and catching sight of shooting stars.

Absolutely breathtaking.

Mountains

I adore the mountains and ocean in almost equal measure, and one of my regrets is that Sacramento doesn’t have either the low mountains that cling to California’s coastline or the tall peaks that hug its eastern border.

In Southwestern Montana, on the other hand, the mountains roll in seemingly endless waves across the land. Some soft and green with pine trees, some brown with long grass, others barren or snow-covered with gray rock jutting toward the clouds like blades of a knife.

Chico Hot Springs Resort, Montana
Chico Hot Springs Resort, Montana

Yellowstone

I haven’t been to Yellowstone since I was eight. Pretty much the only thing I remember is Old Faithful and bears. On this trip, we hiked into northern Yellowstone—crossing into Wyoming after entering the park—to visit Hellroaring Creek, a clear, rock-strewn flow that feeds into the Yellowstone River.

The Yellowstone River from a suspension bridge on the Hellroaring Creek trail
The Yellowstone River from a suspension bridge on the Hellroaring Creek trail
Hellroaring Creek
Hellroaring Creek

Here there be bears. Luckily—though some in my party might have disagreed—we only saw paw prints. And a bison!

wybearprint

wybisontrail

Afterwards, we returned to Mammoth Hot Springs near the park entrance and walked around the mounds built up over the years by the (literally) steaming springs. The landscape is like something you’d find deep in a cave or on some imagined, hostile planet.

A mound at Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming
A mound at Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming
Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming
Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming

We ended our day trip watching elk eat, bugle, and even lock antlers, both at Mammoth Hot Springs and in the town of Gardiner, just outside the park’s Roosevelt gate.

Elk hanging out in Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming
Elk hanging out in Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming

Writing

I try not to worry too much about work when I’m on vacation, but my goal is to look at my story for at least a few minutes every day so I don’t lose my momentum. With Scrivener for iOS and a new hard-case bluetooth keyboard for my iPad, I managed to stay immersed in my manuscript while sitting on the lodge porch in the cool morning air, sipping hot tea, and soaking up the view of the turning trees.

View from the lodge porch at Chico Hot Springs Resort, Montana
View from the lodge porch at Chico Hot Springs Resort, Montana

Honestly, that’s not even work. That’s the dream.

Oh, Montana.


What are some cool things you’ve seen on vacation? Where would you like to visit next?

Letting go, again (or, fluffing my empty nest)

boys hanging from swing set
It’s their time to fly

Last weekend, I helped my youngest son move into the dorms.

Our nest is empty.

My husband and I have been looking forward to this new freedom, anticipating it as our kids grew, making goals for Life After Children. Not because we don’t enjoy having them around, but because we wanted to have a solid relationship that could stand on its own when they were both out of the house.

I believe we accomplished that, but there’s definitely an adjustment period where I have to learn to let go of my baby, let go of knowing what’s happening in his life day to day, let go of missing the random conversations at odd moments that I treasure most.

Two years ago, I wrote the post below when my oldest son moved out. Now that my youngest is away at school too, I can’t explain my feelings any better than I did last time.

Letting go, 8/27/14

My oldest son left home for college last week. It was both easier and harder than I expected.

He’s been working toward this moment for years, and it feels like we’ve been planning, visiting schools, and talking about test scores, grades, and financial aid forever. I was ready. He’s a solid, responsible, mature kid. This has always been our dream/plan for him, and he got into his first-choice university. I was ready.

But then as we said goodbye and walked away from his dorm on Saturday I realized that he was truly out of the house. Out. Gone. An adult who would come visit on breaks and during the summer, but with whom we’d no longer share the daily routine of home, the spontaneous conversations, dinners out on the weekend.

Yes, we are connected via text messages, email, phone calls, FaceTime, and airplanes. Yes, he’ll be back when school’s out next summer. But it’s not the same.

Maybe I wasn’t ready. Maybe I’ll never be.

That old cliché that “they grow up so fast” is a cliché for a reason. I can’t believe my eight-pound baby boy is now a freshman in college, making his own way in the world, (mostly) without us.

I’m happy for him, proud of him, and happy for us. I’m excited for him because he’s exactly where he wants to be, doing what he wants to do.

I’m also sad.

Letting go was easy because I trust him and believe in him. It’s also the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

image of boxes in basement

A graduation, a retirement, and a(nother) move

image of graduation ceremony

If it seems like I’ve been a bit distracted lately, I have. Life’s been busy at Casa de Hernandez, pretty much for the last year.

In March of 2015, my husband was preparing for a September deployment to Afghanistan for six months when the Air Force said, “Never mind, we need you in Florida in three weeks instead.” Cue the scramble, and the complete upending of all of our summer travel plans. And, of course, a small celebration that he’d be staying Stateside (though I’m pretty sure some part of him was disappointed at the location change).

We’re good at adjusting course on short notice, finding adventure in the unexpected. Some people are adrenaline junkies who find their joy by jumping out of planes, climbing Meru, or surfing 30-foot waves. We like to travel and explore, and move. (Good thing, right?)

image of boxes in basement

And, while it’s been fun letting the Air Force pick where we go, exploring places we might never otherwise get to know, we’re finally in a position to choose for ourselves.

This month, our youngest graduated from high school and my husband retired from the military. So, we’re off to California. Sacramento, for now, while my husband goes back to school, with an eye toward moving to the coast in a few years.

image of moving boxes in living room

Yes, I’m still working on my next two Scrivener courses. Yes, I’m still working on Men of Steele #3. All are coming along slower than I’d planned, but the classes will be live by the end of summer, and I intend to have MoS3 out before the end of the year.

For the next few weeks, though, I’ll be filling up my Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook pages with pictures from our cross-country trip and some new adventures. Feel free to follow along and share your own.

Got any fun plans for summer?

Minute Man statue

The study of Mass (Cape Ann, Cape Cod, Concord)

 

Rockport, MA (Cape Ann)
Rockport, MA (Cape Ann)

I’m an explorer at heart, so living in such a history- and beauty-rich place as Massachusetts has been fabulous. But now that I only have five weeks (!) until we hit the road for our post-Air Force adventure in California, I’ve been trying to visit a few more places on my must-see list before we leave.

Last weekend my husband and I jogged around Cape Ann (part of our training for an upcoming half marathon) through Gloucester and Rockport. I loved the seaside views, the inviting and walkable main streets, and the beautiful homes. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a lot of pictures because I didn’t want to stop every three minutes (because running) and it was drizzling most of the time.

house with buoys
Gloucester, MA
Rockport beach access
Rockport beach access
lobster traps on restaurant roof
Lobster traps on the roof are a thing on seafood restaurants around here…

On Sunday hubby and my youngest son took me to Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod for Mother’s Day. So much fabulous ocean time in one weekend! And New England—parts of it anyway—is just so darn quaint. That’s one thing I’ll definitely miss.

buoys for sale in Ptown
Provincetown
door in Ptown
Provincetown
Pilgrim monument in P-Town
Pilgrim monument in P-Town
buoys on pier
Are you sensing a theme yet? Pier in P-Town.
beach in Ptown
Provincetown
Gwen at Herring Cove Beach
At Herring Cove Beach
Cape Cod National Seashore
Cape Cod National Seashore

Another example of a nice downtown is Concord. On Tuesday, my writer friend Maura Troy came up from Connecticut for the day and we walked the town. Since I’ve already been to the Thoreau and Alcott homes and Walden Pond, we toured Old Manse (Ralph Waldo Emerson’s family home) and the Old North Bridge battle area where “the shot heard ’round the world” marked the first victory for the colonists on the opening day of the Revolutionary War. (The “shot heard ’round the world” was coined by Ralph Waldo Emerson in the Concord Hymn, a poem that’s engraved on the statue “Minute Man” at Old North Bridge, which was in his family’s backyard.)

Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife Sophia rented Old Manse for three years early in their marriage, and literally left their mark on the place. Sophia liked to record interesting moments by inscribing them into the glass window panes with her diamond wedding ring. Seems kind of rude to me—especially for a renter—but it’s cool from a historical perspective. Hawthorne was inspired to write Mosses from an Old Manse here, which inspired the home’s name.

emerson's desk
Emerson’s desk, which he often took outside to write
Hawthorne's desk facing the wall. It ratchets up and down to change height.
Hawthorne’s desk facing the wall. It ratchets up and down to adjust the height and angle.
writing on the window
Sophia Hawthorne’s writing on the window
fire buckets
Every family had to have their own fire buckets and respond to a neighbor’s fire or risk a fine
Old North Bridge looking west across the Concord River
Old North Bridge looking west across the Concord River, and the Battle of Concord monument
Concord river view
View across the Concord River from the backyard of Old Manse
Minute Man statue
Statue “Minute Man” by Daniel Chester French (sculptor of Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial in D.C.)

Up next before we move: Whale Watching! And a few other adventures.

Are there any places near where you live that you want to/really should visit? Make a plan to do it this summer!