Elizabeth Harmon's Ramblings of a Writer-girl

Elizabeth Harmon's Ramblings of a Writer-girl

 I write and love to read romance novels with a dash of different!

Learn more about me and my books at

#RomanticIdeas This Summer at Rosedale Cottage


Summer and reading go together!

Blame it on the Bookmobile, which used to park a block from my house when I was a kid, but when the temperatures soar, that's my favorite time to read.

Though I'm grown-up and the Bookmobile is long gone, I even moved to a house with a reading-friendly front porch, that's just a short walk from the library.

To celebrate the best reading season of all, I'll be transforming my blog into a virtual summer cottage and welcoming some writer friends to share a little about their newest releases as well as a favorite #RomanticIdea to enjoy this summer.

I'll also share photos of a few of my favorite places to kick back with a cold drink and a hot romance...the perfect summer combo.

See you at the Cottage!

May #TBR Challenge- Something Different


Kick Start My Heart- Autumn Jones Lake



May’s reading didn’t go quite as planned. I had a different book in mind, but because I’m taking a class on novellas, and because that book wasn’t a novella, I had to switch things around.  I chose something from this anthology, which I’ve been using as a textbook of sorts for the class.

‘80s Mix Tape is definitely the most fun textbook ever! A collection of seven New Adult stories set during the 1980s, each uses an eighties song as its title. When I saw that one story was a motorcycle club romance, it was a perfect choice.  While the subgenre is hugely popular it’s not one I’ve read, so in the spirit of Something Different month, I decided to give it a try.

“Kick Start My Heart” turned out to be a mixed bag, but not for the reasons I expected.

In 1987 Los Angeles, Chaser, whose father heads an outlaw motorcycle club, is a guitarist in an up-and-coming metal band. Aspiring actress Mallory is hired to play the sexy girl in the band’s video, and Chaser catches her eye.

I’ll start with what I loved about this story: Chaser. He’s a decent, honorable guy from a rough and tumble environment, who’s left it behind, at least temporarily, to pursue his true passion, music. But he knows he’ll have to return to it someday, and doubts virginal Mallory—who doesn’t even realize her best girlfriend is a hooker, would ever fit in. Chaser has no clue that Mallory is really the on-the-run daughter of an imprisoned Russian mobster. No sooner was Papa sentenced, then Mallory emptied the family safe and headed for Hollywood.

For me, this is where things fell apart.

For a frightened girl trying to escape her old life, working as a highly-visible model on MTV seems like really a bad idea. When Mallory is inevitably found, Chaser has to intervene, but she offers no explanation who the baddie is, beyond admitting she knows him. Nor does Chaser ask. Instead, he takes her on a three-day ride to hide out with the motorcycle club. But Chaser’s dad knows all about the runaway Mafia Princess, and isn’t happy to have her under his roof.  After all, the club has spent “the last ten years” trying to avoid deals with the Russians.

While I could be wrong, the Russian mob seems much more of a 1990s/2000s thing. The eighties were still the Cold War, and unless the MC was selling military secrets or steroids for teenage gymnasts, I can’t imagine what Russian deals they were avoiding the previous ten years. Finally, the heroine’s name, Mallory, didn’t ring true for someone from her ultra-traditional Russian background.

I couldn’t shake the feeling I was reading a contemporary story retro-fitted to the 1980s. It wasn’t bad, but too many off-kilter details kept pulling me out. Still, I found a motorcycle romance with a hero I liked, so I may have to give another of Autumn Jones Lake’s books a try.


April #TBR Challenge- Contemporary


Party Lines/The Easy Part #3- Emma Barry

I’ve been saving the third book in Barry’s The Easy Part political series for just the right time. And what better time for a romance about two political aides working for competing presidential candidates, than primary election season?

While the primary in Party Lines is nowhere near as strange as the 2016 edition, I couldn’t help but substitute real-life players for the book’s candidates.  Republican Scott Stafford is a Jeb Bush-like moderate, whose main appeal is that he’s less crazy than the other GOP front runner.

Democrat James Randall is a charismatic governor with a reputation as a womanizer, and a politically savvy wife. No word on whether Mrs. Randall has presidential ambitions of her own.

But the real drama is behind the scenes, where political aides dig up dirt on opposing candidates, then stay up all night watching CNN and Fox as they wait for the scandal to break. 

Democrat Michael Picetti and Republican Lydia Reales meet while flying to Iowa for the January caucuses. The attraction is instant, and for Lydia, so is the hostility. Michael wrongly assumes the brainy young Latina is a fellow liberal, and though she’s socially moderate, Lydia is a true believer in the Republican hard-work-creates-opportunity ideal. Too bad her boss sees her only as the campaign’s token person of color, and overlooks her contributions.

Michael’s idealism has been crushed beneath the grind of running a campaign and mitigating routine disasters, such as when his candidate’s affair with a TV reporter goes public. His job is to put a Democrat in the White House, and he’s long since stopped caring whether Randall is the best man for the job.

With goals that couldn’t be more opposed, Michael and Lydia don’t see any possibility for a relationship. But an emotional bond grows between them, fueled by hot sex, and fiercely intelligent banter.  In a nice change-up from typical romance tropes, it’s sexy, sensitive Michael who finds himself longing for something deeper, while smart ambitious Lydia seems content to keep things casual.

Barry portrays both campaigns with an even hand, giving us sympathetic and unlikable characters on both sides. The nitty-gritty details of how a campaign works were fascinating, and I loved how she was able to create sizzling romance in such mundane settings as a hotel gym and an Applebee’s parking lot.

If you’re looking for a different kind of read that’s not only sexy, but gives a taste of what life is like on “the trail,” during “the cycle” don’t miss Party Lines.


4.5 Stars
March #TBRChallenge- Recommended


The Arrangement/Survivors Club #2- Mary Balogh


Yes, I know I’m two weeks late posting this, but it’s still March! At least in the part of the world I occupy…my apologies to any Aussies who are already playing April Fool’s Day pranks—if you do that down under.


But I digress. I’m here to talk about my March #TBRChallenge, which is a book or author that’s been recommended. Two of my CPs are big Mary Balogh fans and a couple of years ago; I met her at a conference. Lovely woman, and Tory and Susie have often said that her writing is lovely as well. So when I saw March’s challenge, I thought of reading Mary Balogh. When I discovered this book in my TBR pile…it was fate!


The Arrangement is the second book in her Survivors Club series, which centers on a group of friends who served in the British Army, and have all been wounded in some way. The Arrangement’s hero, Vincent, Viscount Darleigh, was blinded in battle. Back  home, he’s feeling smothered by his loving, but meddling family, who have decided that he needs a wife/caregiver.  After one more botched attempt by Vincent’s mother to find a suitable bride, the handsome young viscount and his valet escape to his country home.


Miss Sophia Fry, poor relation to a neighboring family, has scars of her own. She’s insecure about her looks, and about the scandalous demise of her baron father, a gambler who was killed in a duel. Sophie, an artist, sees herself as a mouse who watches from a corner as others live their lives. Honest to a fault, she foils her cousin’s plot to trick Vincent into marriage, and ends up cast out. Grateful to Sophie and feeling responsible for her predicament, Vincent marries her.


My friends told me that Balogh writes wonderful beta heroes, which she does. Not only is Vincent rich and handsome, he’s a kind, courageous man, who is determined to live a full life without sight. The gentle way he brings Sophie out of her shell, and the ways Sophie’s bright mind helps Vincent recover his independence, were my favorite parts of the book. There’s a wonderful chemistry between them which brought a smile many times. Balogh’s writing is beautiful, and the story unfolds at an unhurried pace. 


While the book can be read as a stand-alone, the scenes with all the members of the Survivors Club were a bit confusing, and it would have been nice to have a bit more background. But those scenes are not a large part of the story, and I found the rest easy to follow. There are no big dramatic moments in The Arrangement, just good people trying to find love, forgiveness and a place to belong.

Good call, Tory and Susie! Now I’ll be recommending Mary Balogh!

Strong? Not Always. And That’s Okay

The provocative headline caught my eye. Maybe it caught yours too.

An August, 2013 essay entitled “I Hate Strong Female Characters” got plenty of attention from women in the writing world.

Like many, I wondered if it was some anti-feminist rant advocating a return to distressed damsels tied to the tracks, waiting to be rescued? Of hapless, helpless love interests who stumble in their high heels as they try to flee the monsters?”

Then I read the article. And I found myself nodding. And agreeing.

First, it’s important to note that author Sophia Mcdougall doesn’t define strong as well-written, or essential to the story. Her point is not that female characters shouldn’t be strong in this sense.  In fact, she argues that more stories should demand it.  

For instance, why is the ratio of every action movie or TV show, three males to one female? Why is the female character frequently the love interest of the acknowledged (male) protagonist? Why does the male protagonist’s pivotal moment of doubt or pain often come after the female’s death, or capture?

Good questions, and as someone who grew up watching shows where the boys had adventures and the girls stayed home, I’m glad for more Strong Female Characters.

But you know what? Too often, those Strong Female Characters look nothing like me.

Take Katniss Everdeen. An admirable heroine, Katniss is a brave hunter who wields a mean bow and arrow. She enters the Hunger Games to protect her weak younger sister, a healer.  Once in the arena, she protects kind, nurturing (and weaker) Peeta, who is eventually captured and must be rescued.

What conclusion can we draw from this? That being a hunter and knowing how to shoot makes one strong and heroic, while knowing how to heal illness or nurture others doesn’t?

In a 2011 New York Times Magazine essay, Carina Chocano wrote that strength in female characters is often communicated by displaying their masculine traits. “Strength…is the 21st equivalent of “virtue.” And what we think of as “virtuous” … is the ability to play down qualities that have traditionally been considered feminine and play up the qualities that have traditionally considered masculine. Strong female characters are just female characters with the gendered behavior taken out.”

Allowing female characters only to be “strong” also limits their depth. A hero can be strong, but also show weakness, doubt, fear and sadness. He can love fully, and foolishly. He can be neurotic and indecisive. He isn’t always the best, toughest, or smartest. He’s allowed to grow and change as a result of his adventure. In other words, he’s allowed to be human.

Shouldn’t our heroines be allowed the same opportunity?

Insisting every heroine be infallibly strong creates a cultural norm as unattainable and confining as insisting every heroine look like Kate Upton. Chocano writes, “The problem is not that there aren’t enough strong female characters…it’s that there aren’t enough realistically weak ones. What’s better than…a propulsion engineer with a sideline in avionics whose maternal instincts and belief in herself allow her to take apart an airborne plane and discover a terrorist plot? A girl who reminds you of you.”

As writers, readers and feminists, we can create and support more nuanced portrayals of women, who are not only strong and admirable, but also relatable.

It doesn’t mean a return to outdated, pre-feminist stereotypes. It simply means allowing our heroines to exhibit real flaws and weaknesses, and end their adventures better than when they started. It means that instead of condemning them as doormats, we celebrate their courage and growth. Because that’s where true strength is found.



This article originally appeared in the Feb. 2016 RWA ChicagoNorth chapter newsletter. Thanks to our editor Kit Kilroy for letting me repost it here.

Chicago-area Romance the date!

Saturday March 12! Join me and the members of the Windy City and Chicago North-RWA chapters for a special screening of Love Beneath the Covers, followed by a book-signing featuring some of your favorite authors. Meet Sonali Dev, Simone Elkeles, Beth Kery, Erica O'Rourke, Robyn Bachar, Vanessa Knight, Nicole Leiren, Beverly Long, Susanne Lord, Mari Manning, Allie Pleiter, Barb Valentin, and more...including me!
Movie tickets are free, schedule your seat through the link below:

February #TBRChallenge Series You Fell Behind On

Finding Center- District Ballet Company Katherine Locke



Loving romances that are different from the usual, I was drawn to this series in which both the heroine and the hero are ballet dancers. Or at least they were dancers, whose careers were on the rise until a car accident cost Zed his leg and caused Alyona to miscarry. Book One of the series was the story of Zed and Aly finding their way back to one another and dealing with the pain of all they lost.

In Book Two, Aly discovers she’s pregnant. How does this change impact her relationship with Zed, her fragile emotions, and her career as a ballerina?

I have to say, that while I enjoyed the first book, I loved the second book. There was more of an external focus to the story as Zed and Aly cope with the upheaval a pregnancy brings to their lives.  While Aly is still angst-ridden, she’s less caught up in herself and equally concerned for Zed, her family and fellow dancers.  And Zed is wonderful, a loving, steady, caring partner, who knows and accepts Aly’s flaws and gives her the support she needs.

Zed also sets out to regain something important that he lost, and these scenes were among my favorites in the book. The ending was big, and unapologetically romantic. I also enjoyed the supporting cast, which included members of the District Ballet Company, some sympathetic, some not.

Katherine Locke’s writing is beautiful. She’s a very lyrical writer with poetic turns of phrase that capture her sensitive, artistic dancer characters.

Valentine's Day-- Romance's Favorite Holiday

It's mid-February-- time for major publications and TV news to do their annual stories on romance novels and the women who read them. Having been a reader for a long time and a writer for not quite as long, I've seen my share of silly, condescending articles about the strange appeal of bodice rippers-- as we all have. 

But I'm not going to talk about those. 

Instead, I'm going to celebrate that our beloved genre is slowly but surely receiving some positive attention. These reviews by Bobbi Dumas, published in the New York Times, Bobbi's NPR reviews, Sarah MacLean's Washington Post column, and more, demonstrate that romance is getting a little more respect these days. It may be a while before those old images of Fabio completely disappear, but it's nice to see romance getting some love.

After all, it is Valentine's Day.

Grease LIVE more than a nostalgia trip

As a big fan of the 1978 movie, I was skeptical of the Grease Live TV broadcast. It was hard for me to imagine Sandy and Danny played by anyone other than Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta.


But “Grease” is one of those cultural touchstones that reach across generations. It was ripe for a remake, and really, why not Julianne Hough, and some guy from Broadway I've never heard of?


After watching, I have to say that Julianne Hough and Aaron Tveit were a memorable Sandy and Danny, who put their own stamp on the classic roles. Vanessa Hudgens was an awesome Rizzo. It was great to see people of color at Rydell High and that the greasers were willing to listen to a nerd with a good idea. And while the production mirrored the film in many ways, most noticeably with costumes, it was a fresh interpretation that captured what I loved about the original, while lessening something I really didn't.


See, it always bugged me that Sandy and Danny's path to Happily Ever After required Sandy to completely change who she was-- and not necessarily for the better. Was Sandy's future as a chain-smoking greaser chick an improvement over the one she likely would have had as a clean-cut good girl? Danny changed too...sort of, but once Sandy slithered out in skintight pants, the letter he earned in track was tossed away.


What the final scene seemed to say was this: to find love, a girl must change, even if it means giving up the good things about herself.


As my then ten-year-old son commented the first time he saw the movie, "That's not a good message."


In the updated version, Sandy is given a character arc and a conflict about being afraid to take a chance and try something new. Her makeover is framed as a response to that-- not as an antidote to being a wholesome good girl. It also felt less like a permanent change, and more like Sandy letting her hair down a bit, something most of us do in high school. Likewise, Danny's track letter is more than just a guise to win Sandy. He's proud of it, and tells the T-birds that while he likes to be with them, he likes doing other things too. Love helped him discover a new side of himself and change as well.


The latest take on Sandy and Danny gave us the characters we know and love, who not only change, but change for the better. Just like the movie.



Trope Time! Which Are Your Favorites?

Last night, my critique partners and I were talking tropes, those we liked, and those we weren't as fond of. For various reasons, lately, we've all found ourselves challenged to read outside our comfort zone.


For those not familiar with the term, a trope is simply a plot device against which the romance plays out. A trope differs from the broader category of genre, such as contemporary, suspense or historical, because the trope can be used in almost any genre. A Secret Baby or Marriage of Convenience storyline will look different in a contemporary romance novel then it would in historical romance, but the conventions of the plot will be similar.


I recently ran across this great post by author Mindy Klasky with an exhaustive list of Romance Tropes, which got me thinking about my favorites.


As a writer, I think my favorite trope is "Fish Out Of Water," as I've used it to some extent in each of my books.


In Pairing Off, it's a sunny Southern belle figure skater transplanted to Moscow.  In Turning It On, it's a shy, self-conscious book nerd dropped into the middle of a sexy reality show.  In my new book Getting It Back, the fish is the book's hero, a once-great figure skater stranded in small-town USA (briefly, anyway!)


What I love is seeing the "fish" (usually the heroine) make her way in an  unfamiliar and sometimes, hostile world. Often, she's helped by someone much more at home in this world and by the end of the story, they've fallen in love. But will she stay in the new unfamiliar world or return to where she came from.


As a reader, I thought back to some of the books I've read recently. While 2015 wasn't my biggest reading year ever, here are a few of my favorites along with the trope they best represent:


Performer- Second Position by Katherine Locke (hero and heroine are ballet dancers)

Stranded- Heroes Are My Weakness by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (tiny island, snowstorm)

Politics- Special Interests by Emma Barry (hero and heroine work in Washington DC)

Forbidden Love- At His Command by Ruth Kaufman (medieval, in which heroine loves a knight but must marry another man for political reasons. This one could also fit into the Politics trope too.)

Military- Midnight Clear by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner. Not a trope I usually read, but this prequel to their new series set during the Space Race grabbed my attention. Plus, I  loved another of Emma's books, AND it was a free download. How could I pass it up?

Redemption- The Best Man by Kristin Higgins. Higgins is a wonderful storyteller, and this book made me want to move to upstate New York wine country.


Huh...maybe I read more  last year than I thought!  Check out Mindy Klasky's trope list and post a few of your favorite recent reads with their tropes.


Sexy Figure Skaters...On Sale!

Very excited to get a shout-out from Smart Bitches Trashy Books for my debut novel Pairing Off, Red Hot Russians #1, which is best described as "The Cutting Edge" with a Russian twist. "Toe...pick!" rules, and I hope SB Amanda enjoys Carrie and Anton's story.


Though the U.S. Figure Skating Nationals might be over, if a #FigureSkatingRomance novel with a sexy Russian figure skater hero sounds like just the thing to feed your skating fix, Pairing Off  is on sale at Amazon and elsewhere for $1.99!

Reblogged from Elizabeth Harmon's Ramblings of a Writer-girl
Sexy Figure Skaters...On Sale!

Very excited to get a shout-out from Smart Bitches Trashy Books for my debut novel Pairing Off, Red Hot Russians #1, which is best described as "The Cutting Edge" with a Russian twist. "Toe...pick!" rules, and I hope SB Amanda enjoys Carrie and Anton's story.


Though the U.S. Figure Skating Nationals might be over, if a #FigureSkatingRomance novel with a sexy Russian figure skater hero sounds like just the thing to feed your skating fix, Pairing Off  is on sale at Amazon and elsewhere for $1.99!

More "Best Of" Round-ups

Nice shout out here from All About Romance to one of my chapter-mates, Blythe Gifford. AAR reviewer Lynn Spencer named Blythe's "Whispers at Court" one of her top books for 2015, and praised as a historical romance that feels historical. Blythe puts amazing detail into her books and writes stories set in the medieval period. If you're in the mood for something a bit different from the familiar Regency, check out this one.

We Got The Beat...Dissecting "The Martian" According To Save The Cat

Like the author of this post I'm a nerd for both Save The Cat, (the best writing book I've read this year) and this movie. After watching The Martian last week, not only is the song "Waterloo" running through my head, but I keep thinking about how well the story worked.  Studying the beats helped me understand why, but I think it's more than a appreciation for a well told story.


While science fiction and survival tales aren't my go-to, this one offered a sense of warmth, and hope. Watching the stranded astronaut solve problem after problem was inspiring. Just as inspiring was seeing how those on the ground, (not only within NASA, but internationally) set aside their differences and agendas, and worked together to bring him home.


The phrase "triumph of the human spirit" may sound a little cheesy, but The Martian puts it on full display, and doesn't apologize for its upbeat message or ending.   After recently watching another popular movie in which the main character dismisses happy endings as not real life, this story has stuck with me in a good way. "Waterloo" and all.

Sharin' Some Love for Vlad the Bad

Being selected as one of Nelle’s Night Stand’s Favorite New Authors of 2015 made my week, especially knowing that she loved Turning It On, and it’s hero, ice dancer turned male stripper Vlad Shustov, better known as Vlad the Bad.


Turning It On gave me the chance to imagine life on a sexy reality show from the point of view of an unlikely contestant– a self-conscious book editor who doesn’t consider herself sexy at all.  Hannah finds an unlikely ally in Vlad, who encourages her to see herself in a different way, just as she sees that he’s more a stripper with a hot body.


One of the things I enjoy most about romance, is seeing a character transformed by the love of a special person who sees something in them no one else ever has.  A love story between a wallflower and kind-hearted stripper was like catnip for me, and I’m so glad that Nelle enjoyed it just as much.

4 Stars
January TBR Challenge- Short and Sweet

This novella is the third book in the "Ice" figure skating series, which follows pairs skaters Courtney and Josh. In book one, they fell in love as members of rival pair skating teams, in book two, they endured problems on and off the ice, and now in the trilogy's final book, are on the cusp of an Olympic season and about to become engaged.

Most of the conflict in this book focuses on whether Courtney and Josh will overcome their on-ice issues to make the U.S. Olympic team. While the two still clash with Josh's awful family, the couple's relationship is solid and they're very much in love.  Josh is gentle and kind-hearted, Courtney is the more vocal half of the couple and in previous books, has shown no qualms about speaking her mind, especially to Josh's mom. In this book, she's still quite outspoken, but has a moment of conscience that reflects a new maturity. Comeaux effectively shows how Courtney has grown up, softening a rough edge, while not taking away from her personality.

I appreciated that Comeaux simply allowed them to be happy, and to focus the story on their skating. As a figure skating fan and author, I am in awe of the way this woman writes skating scenes! She captures the couple's program's beautifully, and her knowledge of the sport shines through.

Readers looking for a sports romance that's a little different, and not only features a female figure skater, but a male skater as well, should check out the Ice and the earlier Edge series.

I look forward to seeing what Comeaux has in store next!