Review: H Is for Hawk

Image of large hawk on branch

I wanted to do a belated review of a memoir I bought last summer and finished late last year, Helen Macdonald’s H Is for Hawk (Grove, currently $4.96 on Kindle).

Hard to write a short review of this gorgeous book. I’ll say that what I got out of it most were not the reflections on Helen Macdonald‘s dead father, a London journalist, which were sometimes poignant but a bit fragmented, and not the protracted musings on the strange, unconventional author of The Once and Future King, T.H. White, though I loved them, but the amazing descriptions of the author, a young academic, training her goshawk, Mabel, in the Cambridgeshire countryside.

She can contemplate Mabel tearing into a partridge or rabbit, and it’s gripping. She runs underneath through golden stubbled fields as Mabel soars above, and most of the time she’s anxious about Mabel or sure she’s doing it wrong, but there is such a beautiful dynamism to these descriptions of what is left of the English countryside (quite a lot, as it turns out). I absolutely loved that part. I felt connected to the wildness and the archaic, obsessive absurdity of what Helen was doing.

After patient months of training, I learned, the goal is to fly the hawk free, with the understanding (though not the certainty!) that it will come back to you:

Flying a hawk free is always scary. It is where you test these lines. And it’s not a thing that’s easy to do when you’ve lost trust in the world, and your heart is turned to dust.

The hawk was a fire that burned my hurts away. There could be no regret or mourning in her. No past or future. She lived in the present only, and that was my refuge.

As she writes provocatively, “Hunting with the hawk took me to the very edge of being a human. Then it took me past that place to somewhere I wasn’t human at all.”

I liked the steady care that she conveyed for Mabel, as opposed to the unhealthy power games that White played with his hawk, Gos, who finally abandoned him one stormy night. Helen, to be honest, seemed at times a somewhat miserable and neurotic person (although maybe less of an outsider than she portrays herself as), but nature has a way of bringing out the most authentic and, ultimately, powerful sides of us.

The book did take a while to read. Once I got into its rhythm, though, I was motivated to finish. I’m looking forward to reading more of Macdonald’s work.

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New Book Out Now: Cover Reveal

Hope everyone is having a Happy New Year, or as close as we can get in these bleak times.

I wanted to give blog readers a look at the cover of my new MM romance novel, Once You Are Mine, out NOW.

It has been decidedly odd, writing during a pandemic, and especially finishing a book in December… just before Christmas. Usually I find that when I write I’m able to block the outside world out to a large degree. This time, I incorporated the pandemic into my story, setting it close to home in rural West Marin, and hope that the topical nature of the story makes the characters’ relationship and anxieties more real to people. We are all under strain this year, after all. I like writing about people under strain—it doesn’t interest me to write about billionaires, for example.

The book is a snapshot of the tense, troubled summer of 2020, when cases were rising steadily on the West Coast, but hadn’t reached the crisis proportions that they are at now. And it’s also a budding romance between two unlikely men who find refuge in each other at a time when forming a relationship requires immense trust.

Smashwords asked me to choose a logline for the book. I came up with this:

Released during a pandemic, Alex has nowhere to go. Will Terry’s love be enough reason to stay?

Find Once You Are Mine on Amazon here

On Google Play

On Apple


and Barnes and Noble.

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In these dark days…

In “times of trouble,” as Paul McCartney put it once, we all need a little Beatles reminiscing. Here’s Paul looking back on his friendship with John and George.

And… Smashwords started its End of Year sale early this time! The ebook sale is on now and runs through January 1. All my novels plus Connecting the Dots are 50% off. You can find them here. Scroll down to see the books.

You’ll also get a sneak peak at my new novel, Once You Are Mine, currently on pre-order, which is releasing on Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo January 5! Look for it on Amazon and Google Play around January 4, 2021. Yes, folks, there will be a 2021!

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Happy Thanksgiving 2020

It’s a quiet, chilly, blustery day here. While the Covid news is obviously very bad, I’m trying to find good signs amid the bad ones.

So here’s a good one: Claire the Scottish Deerhound won the top prize at the National Dog Show! So much better than a pampered poodle. Claire is a happy, healthy, magnificent-looking animal, whose ancestors, I assume, were bred to race after deer in medieval forests. Only 600 dogs were entered in the show this time, and there were no spectators. Maybe this influenced the judges to make a more organic pick.

Another enjoyable moment this morning was getting the New York Times‘s Morning newsletter and seeing the selection of six-word gratitude memoirs they printed (in themed chunks). Here’s the top chunk:

The crinkling eye above the mask.
A furtive hug with a friend.
The backyard haircuts are getting better.
My choir still meets on Zoom.
Friends who give me streaming passwords.
Family reunion in January, before Covid.
Miss family, but safer for them.
Saved a lot of lipstick money.
More homemade pasta, no more jeans.
No shame in elastic-waist pants.
Braless at home? No one cares.
Mom, 87, rocking pretty, pandemic ponytail.
Teenage son still likes to snuggle.
My parents live two blocks away.
No better excuse to avoid in-laws.
This stinking year is nearly over.

I’m still getting used to WordPress’s new block editor, so forgive any stylistic eccentricities in these posts! Happy Thanksgiving! We seem to have saved democracy this year, and it was certainly a group effort. I am looking forward to the Biden/Harris administration so much.

And because Thanksgiving is always all about bargains too, here’s my contribution: You can find my LGBT medieval romance A Knight’s Tale: Kenilworth for 99 cents (reg: $2.99) over at Smashwords for the next couple days, with its follow-up discounted as well.

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Fall News

Almost Halloween… and I plan to go get my hair cut and colored tomorrow for the first time in a year, which is even scarier! I hope everyone is hanging in there. This election is nearly over. Everyone wants it to be quick. But will it? Sadly, probably not.

Writing news: I am writing a new book! The tentative title is Once You Are Mine and the theme is an MM pandemic love story set in Northern California. I am not sure when it will be out. My original plan was November 30, but I may try to submit it to an LGBT-friendly press to see if they like it. I have loved the freedom of being indie, so I’m rather torn about this. We shall see!

Special deal: You can find A Knight’s Tale: Kenilworth for 99 cents (reg: $2.99) over at Smashwords for the next month. The Smashwords home page is looking rather fun at the moment. Check it out.

What’s next on the blog? A review of an amazing biography: Douglas Botting’s towering life of eccentric, conflicted queer naturalist Gavin Maxwell, first published in 1993 but now available on Kindle. I have read nothing by Maxwell—although Ring of Bright Water was on the family bookshelves growing up—but now I want to read it all.

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Big Fires Everywhere…

map“Extremely dense & tall smoke plumes from numerous large wildfires, some of which have been generating nocturnal pyrocumulonimbus clouds (fire thunderstorms), are almost completely blocking out the sun across some portions of Northern California this morning.” –Climate Scientist Daniel Swain on Twitter (@Weather_West)

So, I woke up to an eerie orange glow outside at 9:30 in the morning. The room looked dark. My first impulse was to laugh at the absurdity of it all. Our toilet also chose this moment to clog up and take hours to fix, so there was the apocalypse and then there was the short-term practical crisis to attend to. I wonder what parents are saying to their kids today.

The whole Bay Area has been impacted. And yesterday I traced the line of fires on an Air map all the way from California through Oregon and Washington up to British Columbia.

We are in deep shit, folks! It’s notable that no one knows what to do. Gavin Newsom’s response yesterday was to shoulder cheerfully on. (He changed his tune later in the week and was photographed amid the devastation, saying, “We’re in a climate damn emergency!”)

We shall see what happens. After thirty years in the States, I didn’t expect to end up a climate refugee, but in the end, we all will be, and California is always ahead of the rest. So, here we are.

The air is still breathable. It’s full of fine ash and not great, but it’s not technically unhealthy or hazardous at this point. Small mercies.

UPDATE 9/12: We are now stuck firmly in the scarlet-red of unhealthy air quality (177 as of this writing). Here’s an article from the SF Chronicle showing pics of San Francisco under the orange glow.

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The Grace of Letting Things End by Mary Sharratt

I met the novelist Mary Sharratt in the Bay Area in 2000, if I recall right; we were in a small writing group together which had become more of a “women’s group,” for better or worse. Skilled at adapting to wherever she lives, Mary has had quite an odyssey over the years, as this personal essay on the Feminism and Religion blog describes. I never imagined she and her husband would leave England because of Brexit—but it makes total sense. As she writes, a lesson that’s been personally hard for me: “A special grace comes from knowing when things have reached their end—some things *must* end so something new can be born.”

Ms. Boo, aka Queen Boudicca, in the heart of Pendle Witch Country.

Though I was born and raised in Minnesota, I have wandered the world as an expat writer nearly my entire adult life, living in Belgium, Austria, and Germany, before moving to Pendle Witch country in northern England in 2002. I fell in love with the beautiful, rugged moorland, haunted by its history of the Pendle Witches, who cast their everlasting spell on the land. This was the landscape that inspired my 2010 novel,Daughters of the Witching Hill, which casts the Pendle Witches in their historical context as cunning women and healers. Indeed I was inspired enough to write seven out of my eight published novels in Lancashire. The mythic name for that part of Northern England is Brigantia–simultaneously the name of the Celtic Goddess of the land, the tribe of people who made their home there…

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Time of Grace Featured on BookBub

It’s time for another BookBub promotion! (This time during a pandemic…)

Time of Grace2BookBub will feature my lesbian historical novel Time of Grace, which will be available for 99 cents or its equivalent in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and India via Amazon in ebook format, and also discounted on Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Google Play. The promo officially starts Tuesday, July 28, but if you check your favorite platform, it may be on sale already!

I was reminded of Time of Grace when Red City Review announced it was closing recently. That Philly-based site gave the novel a rave review back in 2014, and even named Time of Grace its Book of the Month. I have never had such luck with another book—I think it happened to hit on the right reader there. (But it’s true that Time of Grace is quite a polished read, as it was edited by a trade press in Ireland prior to its initial paperback publication way back in 2001. In fact, if they had kept my original title, it would have been called The Time of Green…!)

I’ve subsequently revised it for ebook publication—and you can also now find the audiobook on Audible and Apple, narrated by P.J. Morgan!

Since Time of Grace was my first BookBub acceptance, back in February 2018, I’m thrilled that they have given it another whirl. Click here for links to the different ebook sites.

And here is the Red City Review write-up:

Time of Grace by Gabriella West

Best Book of the Month – February 2014

Set in early twentieth-century Ireland, Gabriella West crafts an exquisite and heart-wrenching tale in her debut novel ‘Time of Grace.’ The story follows Caroline, an English girl who is traveling to Ireland in the year 1916 to become a governess at Lady Wilcox’s household. Shy and reserved, Caroline takes the position because it is one of the few opportunities available for a woman like herself. At the estate, she quickly comes to know Grace, a beautiful young maid servant whose lust for life is both enticing and surprising to Caroline, who has never before been enthralled in such a way with another woman before. It isn’t long before their friendship blossoms into romance, a strict taboo not only because they are both women, but because they also come from separate social classes. Caroline cannot help herself from falling in love with Grace however, even as she watches her become impassioned with the idea of Ireland gaining its freedom. The novel builds itself up towards the Easter Rising, an important moment in Ireland’s history, which serves as the climax of the narrative, forcing the reader to wonder not only if Caroline and Grace will be able to continue their relationship, but if Ireland will be able to persevere as well.

This novel is both moving and thought provoking, as the narrative succeeds at placing a story about a same-sex relationship in the distant past during a turbulent time in history with relative ease. Caroline and Grace are both fully imagined and realized characters upon the page that any reader will be able to relate with, as their desires and passions are described in such rich detail. West has a great ability of weaving in historical facts into her story, placing her characters right in the thick of a real-life event. The juxtaposition across gender roles, class status, and sexuality causes nice boundaries for the conflicts that occur throughout the story. The novel balances the facts, fiction and romantic elements in a superb fashion. Although the book is relatively short, coming in at just around 260 pages, it is full of tantalizing plot lines and moments that will stay with the reader for a long time to come.


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Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale

As Pride Month ends without the parades, and as the country (and world) reel from Covid, at least one noble annual tradition continues: the Smashwords Summer/Winter sale, which runs July 1-31, 2020.

Most of my ebooks are 50% off, and A Knight’s Tale: Kenilworth is free, with the follow-up, A Knight’s Tale: Montargis, priced at $2 (regularly $3.99!). These are m/m historical romances set in medieval England at the time of the Second Barons’ War. A reviewer called Book 1 “a crisp, incisive study of growing up and navigating the treacherous waters of love, sex, friendship, and jealousy.”

I hope you enjoy this monthlong sale, which is chock-full of bargains and a good way to try out the work of independent authors.



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I don’t post enough literary advice/inspiration, but now that I am submitting pieces a bit more again, here is some brilliant advice about putting yourself out there, from a new writer connection on Twitter. It jumped out at me today. I’m not sure that I have found this to be true myself, but I know that my “knocking” has always been very erratic. And sporadic 🙂

one thing i’ve experienced with my baby career in writing is that the doors i thought would open with ease stayed firmly closed while those i didn’t knock on too hard (because i thought—these are not the doors to let me in) opened in welcome. knock on all the doors.

Naheed Patel, author of the debut novel The Lotus Eaters (2021)

You can find Naheed at @bookwalee.

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