Lois Winston's Blog

December 11, 2019


A former Spanish teacher, Marilyn Levinson writes mysteries, romantic suspense, and novels for kids. As Allison Brook she writes the Haunted Library mystery series. Other mysteries include the Golden Age of Mystery Book Club series and the Twin Lakes series. Learn more about Marilyn and her books at her website. 
In Read and Gone, it's mid-December in Clover Ridge, Connecticut, where my sleuth, Carrie Singleton, lives. The temperature is falling and the days are growing shorter, but Carrie doesn't mind. For the first time in as long as she can remember, her life is close to perfect. She's living in a charming cottage near the river, has a great job in the Clover Ridge Library as head of programs and events, and has a loving boyfriend.  And then in the early morning hours, after celebrating her thirtieth birthday, Carrie is awakened by her father, whom she hasn't seen in years.
Handsome, charming Jim Singleton is a thief by trade. Growing up, Carrie adored her father and missed his presence because even when he wasn't in prison, he usually stayed away from the home she shared with her mother and older brother. Jim has returned to the town where he grew up for a reason. He wants Carrie to help him retrieve his half of a heist that Benton Parr, the local jeweler and his partner-in-crime, has been holding. Carrie is both shocked and outraged and refuses to help her father. Jim takes off but calls Carrie a few days later. Parr has been murdered and Jim is Suspect Number One. Carrie doesn't approve of her father's life style, but of one thing she's certain—that Jim Singleton would never kill anyone—and she sets out to prove his innocence. 
When the police release Jim for lack of solid evidence, Carrie allows him to stay with her. She's surprised and secretly pleased when her father buys a Christmas tree and ornaments to celebrate the holiday, something he was never around to do when she was younger. But true to form, instead of trimming the tree as he promised, Jim leaves  on one of his "secret missions," which lands him in the hospital. Carrie is unaware that Jim is trying to find Parr's killer. Exasperated and disappointed, she refuses her father's overtures to mend their relationship. She insists on calling him "Jim" and not "Dad" as he wants her to. But over time he manages to prove that he really loves her. Moreover, he is willing to make huge changes in his lifestyle. In the true spirit of the holiday, Carrie allows her father into her life.
Read and GoneA Haunted Library Mystery, Book 2
Twenty million dollars' worth of missing gems bring Carrie Singleton's long-lost and larcenous dad back into her life and it's up to Carrie to clear his name.
A devoted dad is as precious as diamonds, but Carrie Singleton wouldn't know since her dad Jim's been on the lam most of her life. In an unusual family reunion, she finds Jim breaking into her cottage in the middle of the night. The fun really starts when he begs her to help him recover his half of a twenty-million-dollar gem heist he pulled off with the local jeweler, Benton Parr. When she refuses, Jim takes off again.
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Published on December 11, 2019 21:30

December 10, 2019


Heather Haven is a multi-award winning mystery author. Her work includes the Silicon Valley based Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, the NYC trail-blazing WWII lady shamus of The Persephone Cole Vintage Mysteries, a stand-alone mystery noir, and an anthology of stories. Her latest endeavor is Christmas Trifle, Book One of the Snow Lake Romantic Suspense Series. Learn more about Heather and her books at her website.
It’s uncanny how a set of circumstances can give birth to a series. The Persephone Cole Vintage Mysteries came about after years of research for my stand-alone circus noir mystery, Murder under the Big Top. I didn't want all of the knowledge I'd gleaned of the nineteen-forties, particularly in New York City, to go to waste. Plus, I’d been challenged to write a mystery with a protagonist who wasn't an ideal beauty, i.e. young, svelte, and beautiful.
So I came up with Persephone (Percy) Cole, a character living and working in New York City during the early nineteen-forties, and one of Manhattan’s first female private investigators. Percy is thirty-five years old, considered middle-aged at the time, five-foot eleven, and a full-figured gal who loves her pistachio nuts. 
I discovered because I created a character larger and stronger than many men of seventy plus years ago, I was free to have a typical shamus of the time, only female. But this detective uses her brains as well as her brawn. Percy Cole is one smart cookie. She fits into a man’s world at a time when few women did.
My redhead gumshoe has the same hard-boiled, take-no-prisoners attitude as Sam Spade, Lew Archer, and Phillip Marlowe, with the addition of a wicked sense of humor. I wanted to give the character some softness, too, show another side of this tough lady sleuth. So enter her eight-year-old son Oliver, a child who gives her life meaning. 
As the author, these character attributes give me tremendous latitude. All of it makes perfect sense to me now, but it was one step in front of the other during the creative process. Frankly, that’s a writer for you. We often don’t know what we’re writing until we’ve written it. 
Pounding the streets of Manhattan with one of its first female detectives keeps me on my toes. Sometimes what I find out about the time period is surprising. For instance, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has taken place every year since nineteen twenty-four. The only exception was nineteen forty-two, the year the United States entered the war. The parade was cancelled out of respect for the gravity of the situation. 
Somehow, I overlooked that fact and had a sentence in the first book where Percy mentions attending the parade. A reader emailed me of the error – bless you - and I corrected it. Ever since then I try even harder to get the details accurate. It’s not a hardship, because I love learning the history of the time. And readers seem to be enjoying the Percy Cole series. I love that even more.
So far, I’ve penned three books in the Persephone Cole Vintage series, The Dagger Before MeIced Diamonds, and the latest, The Chocolate Kiss-Off.
On a personal note, I only wish I had Percy Cole’s self-assuredness. She never asks permission to do what she does. Like Davy Crockett, her philosophy is “First be sure you’re right—then go ahead.” What a woman!
Iced DiamondsA Persephone Cole Vintage Mystery, Book 2
In late December 1942, Persephone (Percy) Cole, one of Manhattan’s first female PIs, has been hired to find out who killed a Santa Land elf and left his body in the storefront window of a swank 5th Avenue jewelry store. Was it the spoiled heiress whose big buck handbag was found on the scene? Or was it the rat who broke out of the big house to settle a score? Shortly after, the corpse of the Christmas Angel is discovered stuffed in Mrs. Santa’s workshop. Will Santa Claus be next? 
With a penchant for Marlene Dietrich suits, pistachio nuts, and fedora hats, this working mother finds diamonds to the left of her, diamonds to the right, and skullduggery aplenty. Armed with her noodle and a WWI German Mauser, Percy is determined to solve these crimes or it just might be the “kiss off” for Christmas.
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Published on December 10, 2019 21:30

December 9, 2019


Nancy J. Cohen writes the Bad Hair Day Mysteries featuring South Florida hairstylist Marla Vail. Nancy’s books have won numerous awards, including her instructional guide, Writing the Cozy Mystery. Her latest title is A Bad Hair Day Cookbook: Recipes from Nancy J. Cohen’s Cozy Mystery Series. When not busy writing, Nancy enjoys cooking, fine dining, cruising, visiting Disney World, and shopping. Learn more about her and her books at her website and blog.
Fun and Fumbles in the KitchenI like to cook and experiment with recipes in the kitchen. Wanting to share my favorite dishes, I created A Bad Hair Day Cookbook: Recipes from Nancy J. Cohen’s Cozy Mystery Series. This is written from the viewpoint of my hairstylist sleuth, Marla Vail. Marla shares her comments and tips on each page. Her experiences in the kitchen mirror my own.
Trial and ErrorLike any trial and error experiment, not everything I tried turned out successfully. Let’s examine my mint recipes, for example. I wanted to use up a bottle of Vandermint in our liqueur cabinet, so I found recipes using this ingredient and put my own twist on them.
After cooking the lamb in the oven for the allotted time, the roast was still raw inside. I’d forgotten the advice to remove the lamb roast from the refrigerator an hour before cooking to let it warm to room temperature. Oops! I put it in our slow cooker for another two hours and it came out just right. 
For dessert, I thought the chocolate mint cake sounded tempting. I baked the cake as directed in a rectangular pan and turned it out onto a powdered-sugar dusted surface. Then I attempted to roll it up as instructed. The cake broke apart. Uh-oh. Maybe I should have let it cool more NOTE: Leave a comment below for a chance to win an ebook copy of A Bad Hair Day Cookbook.
Minted Roast LambServes 8
Ingredients:5 lb. boneless leg of lamb1/2 cup water1 cup Vandermint liqueur1/2 cup butter, melted2 Tbsp. lime juice3/4 oz. package fresh basil, trimmed and chopped1/2 cup dry white wine

Remove lamb from refrigerator one hour before cooking to bring to room temperature. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place lamb on rack in roasting pan. Pour water into bottom of pan. Roast uncovered for 1 hour. 
In a bowl, combine Vandermint liqueur, melted butter, lime juice, and chopped basil. Baste lamb with mixture. Roast for 1-1/2 hours more, basting occasionally. Meat thermometer should register 135 to 155 degrees F, depending on how well done you like the meat.
Transfer lamb to cutting board. Cover with foil and let rest for 15 minutes before slicing. Meanwhile, skim fat from pan juices. Add remaining basting liquid and 1/2 cup white wine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Pour into gravy boat. Serve on the side with lamb. Chocolate Mint Torte (pictured above)Serves 8-10
Ingredients:3/4 cup flour1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder1 tsp. baking powder1/4 tsp. salt3 eggs, beaten1 cup sugar1/3 cup Vandermint liqueurPowdered sugar
Filling8 oz. whipped topping2 Tbsp. Vandermint liqueur2 Tbsp. powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 10”x15” baking pan with wax paper. Coat with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.
Using an electric mixer, beat eggs in a large bowl until well blended. Gradually add 1 cup sugar. Mix in Vandermint liqueur. Stir in dry ingredients in batches until smooth.
Pour into baking pan and bake for 15 minutes. Invert cake onto towel sprinkled with powdered sugar and remove wax paper. Allow cake to rest. Meanwhile, blend whipped topping with 2 Tbsp. Vandermint liqueur and 2 Tbsp. powdered sugar. 
Cut cake into thirds cross-wise. Spread filling on top of first third. Place second cake piece on top. Cover with another layer of filling. Top with remaining third piece of cake. Sprinkle powdered sugar on top. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Slice and serve cold. 
A Bad Hair Day Cookbook: Recipes from Nancy J. Cohen’s Cozy Mystery Series 
Are you having a bad hair day? Whip out your whisk, snatch up your spoon, and prepare your palate. Inside the pages of this cookbook are recipes that will bring you good cheer.
Enjoy 160+ tasty recipes from Nancy J. Cohen's popular Bad Hair Day cozy mystery series. Included in this cookbook are excerpts, cooking tips, and anecdotes written by hairstylist and savvy sleuth Marla Vail. From appetizers to desserts, Marla offers cooking tips and tricks along with commentary about the dishes she prepares for her family. Whether you're a skilled cook or an eager novice, this cookbook will unravel the mystery of cooking. Put on your apron and plan to make some killer recipes! Bonuses Include:
*Meet the Sleuth*Introduction by Marla Vail*Cooking Tips*Excerpts from Series Titles*Themed Menu Suggestions*"A Sabbath Dinner" by Nancy's Mother
Recommended for Home Cooks, Food Lovers, Mystery Fans and Cookbook Collectors
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Published on December 09, 2019 21:30

December 8, 2019


Hannah Meredith loves to tell stories that examine the vagaries of the human heart. She writes primarily historical romance, although an occasional fantasy romance has been known to sneak in. She’s a social media dud, but would love to hear from you via her websiteToday she stops by to talk about making salt dough Christmas ornaments and a new multi-author Christmas anthology of Regency romance novellas.  
Cookie Christmas Ornaments Serve Up Family MemoriesThe year our son Rob turned six, my husband took a job in a small town in southern Virginia, and we bought an old house with large rooms and high ceilings. The corner of the den was the perfect place for a big Christmas tree. My imagination saw it there even though it was the middle of the summer when we moved in. 
Over the Thanksgiving weekend that first year, my husband and son went to a friend’s farm and cut the perfect tree. Great excitement abounded when we wrestled it from the bed of the pickup and with a lot of extra help, got it set into a bucket of water on the carport. It was then I realized this wasn’t just a big tree, it was massive. 
I lamented that we wouldn’t have enough ornaments to make such a tree even look like it was decorated. My neighbor disappeared into her house and returned with a bag of Christmas cookie cutters and a recipe card. “Salt dough cookie ornaments,” she said—and a tradition was born.
That year, Rob helped me make dozens of cookies, and every couple of years thereafter, we added new ones, our choices becoming more elaborate as Rob got older. Eventually, we made our own tracing paper patterns from pictures in coloring books or on Christmas cards. I’ve followed the same routine with all the grandkids, and our ornaments now adorn a variety of trees. For my own tree, still massive but now artificial and located in an old house with high ceilings in North Carolina, every time I hang one of the cookies, I have wonderful memories of creating it with someone I love.
A selection from the author’s cookie cutter collectionSalt Dough Cookie Ornaments
Ingredients:4 cups all-purpose flour1 cup table salt1 cup tap water (approximate)acrylic paintspaintbrushes1 spray can polyurethane
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
Mix flour and salt together with a fork or whisk until well blended. Add water a little at a time until the dough forms a ball.
Move the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes until the consistence is similar to pizza dough.
Roll out the dough to about 1/4" thickness. (See Note)
Cut out cookies with selected cutters. Make a hole at the top with anything from a toothpick to a straw so you have a place to insert some yarn or ribbon for a hanger.
Carefully transfer to a cookie sheet with a spatula, and bake for 30-45 minutes. You want the cookies very hard, but they need not be browned.
Let cool completely.
Paint the cookies with acrylic paint. The original recipe said poster paint, but I’ve found artist acrylics are less messy to use and have more vibrant colors.
After the paint dries completely, spray both sides with fast drying spray polyurethane, one side at a time, allowing sealer to dry before turning over.
If stored in tissue paper in a cardboard box, these ornaments will last for years. Many of mine are over 40 years old. Putting the box in either a damp basement or a hot attic is not particularly good, however. I have, alas, done both, and many of the older ornaments are now wavy rather than flat.
Note: The “best” thickness depends on what you’re cutting out. If you’re using a paper pattern from a picture and cutting the dough with a knife (such as the old-fashioned train engine in the picture), you’ll need to roll the dough to a thickness of about 1/8”. To get the dough this thin, roll it out on parchment paper sized to fit your cookie sheet. After cutting out the shapes, remove the excess dough, leaving the cookies where they are on the paper. Then transfer the paper to the cookie sheet and bake. Otherwise thin cookies are prone to become misshapen in the transfer process.
The thicker the cookie, the more likely it is to puff up. This sometimes looks cool for shapes like Santa faces or bells. The only problem is that you can’t control where they will “puff” so be prepared to throw away those that look peculiar.
Christmas Revels VICome Revel with four award-winning authors and discover Regency Christmas tales filled with laughter, tears, and love…
“Her Ladyship Orders a Christmas Tree” by Anna D. Allen – A pagan custom leads to an unexpected attraction. 
“The Play’s the Thing…” by Hannah Meredith – Going off script prompts a surprise ending. 
“Yuletide Treachery” by Kate Parker – Two lonely people find a traitor—and love. 
“A Perfectly Unexpected Christmas” by Louisa Cornell – An accident brings redemption and a homecoming. 
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Published on December 08, 2019 21:30

December 6, 2019


Welcome to a special weekend edition of Cooking with Cloris at Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers. Today we welcome romance author Caridad Pineiro. Caridad is a transplanted Long Island girl who has fallen in love with the Jersey Shore. A NY Times and USA Today bestselling author with over a million romance novels sold worldwide, Caridad is passionate about writing and helping others explore and develop their skills as writers. She is a founding member of the Liberty States Fiction Writers and has presented workshops at national and regional writing organizations throughout the country. Learn more about Caridad and her books at her website
I love to cook and to share my recipes with family and friends and in stories like my upcoming releases, Never a Bride (January 2020) and South Beach Love (June 2020).  Both of these stories feature chefs in one way or another, and I guarantee that both stories will not only leave you fulfilled emotionally, but hungry for something tasty as well.
In Never a Bride, the hero, Carlo da Costa, is a caterer and in love with a wedding planner who doesn’t believe that she can ever have her own happily-ever-after.  Carlo is an amazing chef and it was fun to show off some of his creations as well as his family’s Portuguese food traditions.  My Spanish grandparents grew up not far from Portugal and many of the foods are quite similar and often include fish since the two countries have lots of coast along the Atlantic.
In South Beach Love, the hero, Tony Sanchez, is a celebrity Cuban chef who returns home to Miami to help his niece have the most epic quinceañera, the Cuban equivalent of a Sweet Sixteen. What Tony doesn’t know is that he’s going to run into an old family friend, Sara Kelly, who has also become a chef and is helping out with her niece’s big event.  Soon Sara and Tony find themselves competing to create the most amazing food for the two competing events.  It was a blast to play around with the different recipes that each of the chefs prepare to outdo each other. I also found out a lot about the new field of molecular gastronomy and how you can do something like turn oil into a powder!
But for now, I want to leave you with an easy recipe for a vegetable you might not have tried before: plantains.  Many people find plantains confusing because they are often referred to as bananas and look like very big bananas, but they are actually a vegetable and you cannot eat them raw.  Cubans and other Latins eat plantains in various forms.  When the plantains are green, you can make them like potato chips by slicing them thinly and frying them.  You can also make a double-friend and flattened plantain known as a tostone or boil and mash them and top with bacon and fried onions.
As tasty as plantains are when green, they’re even better ripe because they get incredibly sweet.  How can you tell when a plantain is ripe?  It gets yellow and soft.  I even let it go further until it starts getting some black spots, making it even sweeter.
What can you do with a ripe plantain?  For many Latinos ripe plantains are usually fried or baked, but you can also make them like they do in Mexico, and today I’m sharing that recipe with you, and you may find it in South Beach Love.
Baked Plantains with Crema and Cotija Cheese
Ingredients:1 ripe plantain*1 cup Mexican crema** 1 cup grated cotija cheese*** 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Peel the plantain and slice on the diagonal into1/4” slices. If using the frozen ripe plantains, follow oven directions on the box.
Toss plantain slices with vegetable oil. Grease a baking tray and lay out the plantain slices.
Cook for about 15 minutes, then turn the slices.  Cook for another 10 minutes until brown.
Drizzle with the crema and cotija and heat for another 5 minutes.
Serve next to a nice steak or roast pork.
* If you can’t find plantains, look in the GOYA frozen food section for ripe plantains (also known as maduros)
** Or thin some sour cream with half-and-half
*** Or substitute grated feta cheese
I hope you’ll try out this recipe and also check out my new releases, especially if you love stories with chefs like I do!
For more of my recipes, please visit http://bit.ly/CooksTreat.
Never a BrideAt the Shore Series, Book 3
Emma never dreamed that the happily-ever-after would change her life. . .But as her two best friends find love, Emma worries about what her future will bring. She has seen all too often what happens once husbands and children arrive. She puts on a brave face because she wants her buddies to be happy, but as a wedding planner, she has seen one too many marriages go south. Not to mention her parents' bitter divorce which has soured her on the idea of marriage for herself. She can't imagine ever finding a man who can bring her a forever kind of romance.
He's been in love with her forever and can't understand why she can't see it. . .Carlo da Costa knows why Emma avoids relationships and yet he can't help but wonder how someone who puts such love and care into others' dreams can't allow herself to believe in the fairy tale. He sees the yearning on her face when she spends time with him and his big boisterous family and knows that deep inside, she wants the same thing. Carlo hopes that one day he can provide her with that because he's sure Emma holds the key to his heart in her hands.
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Published on December 06, 2019 21:30

December 5, 2019


Jacqueline Seewald, has taught creative, expository, and technical writing at Rutgers University as well as high school English. She also worked as both an academic librarian and an educational media specialist. Twenty of her books of fiction have been published including books for adults, teens, and children. Her short stories, poems, essays, reviews, and articles have appeared in hundreds of diverse publications. Learn more about Jacqueline and her books at her website
Romance and ResearchYou’ll notice that a lot of romance writers set their novels in places they either live in or have lived in. This may seem provincial, but in fact, it makes for good writing. If writers know a place well, they can create a realistic setting, an intriguing background for their novels. Setting is one of the important components of any piece of fiction.
But what about writing historical romance, writing about times and people long ago?
The answer here is that writers need to do extensive research. The fact is every novel requires a certain amount of research, some more than others. I believe the best novels combine elements of what we actually know with research into what we need to find out. I’m no fan of info dumping in fiction, but writers need to read and discover a lot more information than they will actually use in their novels before they begin writing. 
In my latest historical romance, Sinful Seduction, I’ve tried to seamlessly incorporate the culture and history of the turbulent, passionate period of American Revolutionary War history into my novel. The characters represent the viewpoints and prejudices of those times. 
A good way to find out about a particular period in time is to find available reference books at the local library on the period. Reference librarians can provide helpful input. We examine time lines first. What important events were happening in the world, in that particular country and in the geographic area, historical as well as political? How did people dress? What did they eat? What were their general beliefs?  How were women treated? The library catalog also allows readers and writers to locate appropriate books that can be borrowed. 
One historical novel author suggests writing the book first and then researching the areas that need filling in. But I prefer immersing myself in an historical period and setting before starting to write. It’s true there will always be some essential information that requires further research. However, that should be part of the revision process.
In Sinful Seduction, I wrote about people in New Jersey because I was born, raised, and have lived my life in this state. I am fascinated by NJ history during the American Revolution, since my state has been described as the cockpit of the Revolution.
Finally, there’s a lot of satisfaction in both reading and writing well-researched historical fiction.
Sinful SeductionAnne McIntyre, a schoolmistress in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey at the outset of the American Revolution, is serious-minded, intelligent, and patriotic. Anne supports her sister in her marital problems and helps the ironmaster’s widow manage a difficult situation with her daughter.
Peter Kensington should have been an earl, but thanks to the duplicity of his younger brother and his own reckless nature, he has ended up an officer in the colonial war. Spying is alien to his gentlemanly code. Yet he must do exactly that. Anne is suspicious of him from the first but as passionately attracted to him as he is to her.
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Published on December 05, 2019 21:30

December 4, 2019


Today we welcome back award-winning author Debbie De Louise, who also works as a reference librarian at a public library on Long Island. Debbie is the author of seven novels, including the four books of her Cobble Cove cozy mystery series. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 
Holiday Reading: So Many Choices, so Little TimeAs most of you know, the holiday season is upon us. It started way before Thanksgiving. Black Friday featured sales and free offers for all types of gifts, including books. For those who like to read holiday stories to get in the mood for Christmas, Chanukah, or whatever special day(s) you celebrate in December, there are an abundance of choices. How does one choose reading material during such a busy time? One solution is to treat yourself to some holiday stories. These quick reads won’t take up too much of the time you need to spend buying and wrapping gifts, cooking, attending parties, etc.
How do you find holiday stories? Many of your favorite authors who write books also write holiday stories. These might be found in collections or as standalone eBooks. If you are a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, you have your choice of free holiday stories. If not, you can still read them on any of your devices with the free Kindle app. for less than the cost of a vending machine snack. 
One way to locate holiday stories on Amazon.com is to search the Kindle store. You’ll also probably see plenty of recommendations on Facebook, twitter, author and book blogs, and anything you subscribe to. You can also check out this video from my publisher about their holiday stories, including two of mine. 
If you like cozy mysteries and/or have read any of my Cobble Cove books, you might enjoy my holiday story, Sneaky’s Christmas Mystery.
Sneaky’s Christmas MysteryAnother death has occurred in Cobble Cove near the holidays. This time, it’s the owner of the new pet store in town who was felled by a case of cat food that crushed his skull. Was it an accident, or murder? While the townspeople including the sheriff are divided in their opinions, Sneaky and Kittykai, the library and inn cats, sniff out the truth.
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Published on December 04, 2019 21:30

December 3, 2019


Courtney J. Hall writes contemporary romance. Her novel A Holiday Wish is the first in the Silver Bells series of sweet Christmas romances. Today she joins us to talk about one of her favorite holiday traditions. Find out more about Courtney and her books at her website. 
Christmas is the one time of year where no matter how old you are, no matter where or how you live, chances are good that you have traditions. Maybe it’s a Secret Santa at work or a White Elephant Gift exchange with your friends. Maybe it’s dinner at a nice restaurant with out-of-town relatives come to visit, or a small house party with your nearest and dearest. No matter what it is, nine times out of ten, it will involve food. Which brings me to one of my favorite holiday traditions…
Cookie DayCookie Day usually falls on the Sunday before Christmas. In the weeks leading up to it, my sister and I pore over recipes from previous years and search Pinterest for new recipes. While we usually stick with the tried-and-true, those traditional cookies, which never fail to please—like chocolate chip and oatmeal—we also like to branch out and go a little more adventurous to keep it interesting. She adds bourbon and toffee to her chocolate chip cookies, while I like trying different variations on the cookie version of gooey butter cake. Almond is always a big hit, but gingerbread has gotten the most rave reviews. 
And for a pop of color on our cookie trays, I love making batches of cherry gems with green and red candied cherries, while my sister’s claim to fame is raspberry almond shortbread thumbprint cookies. If we’re feeling really brave, we’ll even attempt candy—mint, raspberry, or orange truffles for me, and slow-cooked candied pecans for her. 
The day begins with me packing a giant bag with my supplies and heading over to her house, where we inevitably forget to coordinate oven temperatures and wind up trying to bake one recipe that needs 325 and one that needs 375 at the same time. 
With a Christmas playlist going in the background, we sample each other’s recipes, trying not to eat more than one—four at the most—and drink wine out of the Christmas wine glasses we only break out on Cookie Day. 
My sister actually doesn’t like baking all that much, so typically after a few hours she’s bored so we break for a quick dinner. Then, after cleaning up, I pack my cookies into the tins I’ve brought and cart them home, where they’ll sit until I divide them into smaller tins for my neighbors and hide the rest from my husband so I have something to serve as dessert when I host Christmas dinner.
We can all agree that the holiday season has become commercialized to the point where its original meaning is almost unrecognizable, but it’s still a time of year to do fun things with the ones you love.
A Holiday WishSilver Bells, Volume 1
Noelle Silver has been a wedding planner for six years, and in all that time, the only bride she’s failed to get down the aisle is herself. Abandoned by her fiancé and disillusioned with love, Noelle is ready to pack it in and leave town when Brooke St. John, orphaned heiress, offers her a staggering amount of money to organize Brooke’s Christmas Eve wedding to a much older man.
Noelle is reluctant at first, but the payment Brooke offers is more than enough for Noelle to start a new life. It’s also an opportunity for Noelle to prove to herself—and her former fiancé—that despite her broken heart, she still has what it takes to pull off a wedding worthy of an heiress in the two months Brooke has given her. 
But the best man, Brooke’s older brother Everett, is dead-set on stopping the nuptials. Will he succeed, driving the final nail into the coffin of Noelle’s career as a wedding planner—and shattering what’s left of her expectations of love?
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Published on December 03, 2019 21:30

December 2, 2019


Hogmanay in StonehavenRegan Walker is an award-winning, bestselling author of Regency, Georgian and Medieval romances. Each of her novels includes real history and real historical figures as characters. And, of course, adventure and love, sometimes on the high seas! Learn more about her and her books at her website.
Scottish Christmas TraditionsIt may surprise you to know that Christmas was not celebrated as a festival in Scotland for about four hundred years. This dates back to the Protestant Reformation when the Scottish Kirk proclaimed Christmas a Catholic feast. While the actual prohibition, passed by Scotland’s Parliament in 1640, didn’t last long, the Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian, discouraged Yule celebrations beginning as early as 1583. This continued into the 1950s. Many Scots celebrated only the Winter Solstice at the New Year, which came to be known as Hogmanay. Today, it’s celebrated with much fanfare and balls of fire. (See photo above.)
It is believed that many of the traditional Hogmanay celebrations were originally brought to Scotland by the invading Vikings in the early 8th and 9th centuries. These Norsemen, or men from an even more northerly latitude than Scotland, paid particular attention to the arrival of the Winter Solstice, the shortest day, and fully intended to celebrate its passing.
In the late 18th century, Georgian hostesses entertained in grand style. For those who celebrated Christmas, possibly in secret as my characters do, greenery of holly, hawthorn and Scots pine (gathered from the woods) would decorate the house. And there would be a giant Yule log to burn in the fireplace.
Instead of the usual two large courses of food at dinner, wealthy families in Scotland offered guests several smaller courses including soup, fish, game, roast meat, pudding and dessert. Food was richer with more complicated recipes and there was a greater emphasis on cream and sugar in desserts.
In the late 18th century and into the Regency, it became sort of a fad for high-born Englishmen and women, particularly in the literary establishment, to travel to Scotland and write travel books. There are dozens of such examples including Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland by Dorothy Wordsworth (sister of the more famous brother). However, none is better known than the 1773 trip undertaken by friends Samuel Johnson and James Boswell. 
Johnson published his travel book A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland in 1775, and Boswell waited until 1785 with his Tour to the Hebrides of the same trip. From Boswell’s description of breakfast in 1773: 
“They set down dried haddocks, broiled, along with our tea.”
“… as good chocolate as I ever tasted, tea, bread and butter, marmalade and jelly… very good scones, or cakes of flour baked with butter. There was a plate of butter and curds mixed, which they call “gruitheam” (Gaelic)... and cheese… it often smells very strong.”  [Note: gruitheam is a mix of curds and butter]
They also ate “barley bread and cheese” as well as “… milk, cheese, eggs, bread and butter.”
And for other meals, he wrote:
“…all of the people have little boats and catch fish. There is plenty of potatoes here. There are blackcock in extraordinary abundance, moor-fowl, plovers, wild pigeons.
“There is a great deal of fish: rock cod, haddocks, etc., and fresh water trout...a place where one may live in plenty, and even in luxury.”
The Scottish kitchen would turn out an abundance of soups and broths including Cock-a-Leekie (chicken and leek soup), Scotch Broth (barley enriched soup) and Cullen Skink (a stew/soup from Cullen on the shores of the Moray Firth usually made with Finnan Haddock and brose, a simple soup with kale, with a handful of oatmeal).
For the Hogmanay feast, there would be Haggis with tatties, steak pie, Cock-a-Leekie soup and, if you were on the sea, salmon. Haggis, which I have tried, never appealed. It starts with the large stomach bag of a sheep, into which goes the pluck (including heart, lungs and liver) beef suet, pin-head oatmeal, onions, black pepper and salt. I’ll stick with salmon, kale and soup. Clootie DumplingFor dessert, you might have a clootie dumpling. The clootie dumpling is a traditional Scottish pudding closely associated with Christmas and Hogmanay. It’s like an English Christmas pudding only not as rich. Although flour, suet, dried fruit and spices always feature, the precise ingredients vary from region to region and family to family. The cloth, however, is constant – a reminder of the days before ovens, when family meals were boiled in a pot.
There would be Scottish shortbread, of course, as legendary as oatcakes. But no celebration would be complete in my mind without Cranachan, a dessert that incorporates some of Scotland’s most famous ingredients: raspberries, oats and whisky. You can see the recipe on my website. CranachanWhat to drink? While distillation of whisky had been going on for a long time by the Regency era, most of the distilleries were illicit. The invention of the column still by Scotsman Robert Stein in 1828 revolutionized whisky making in Scotland. Then in 1831, Aeneas Coffey invented the Coffey or Patent Still, which enabled a continuous process of distillation leading to the production of grain whisky, a less intense spirit than the malt whisky produced in the copper pot stills.
In the early days, Scotch whisky was mostly considered the equivalent of moonshine—a drink enjoyed by unrefined Highlanders, aged in sheep bladders and filtered through tartan. Men like those in A Secret Scottish Christmas would be drinking the finest European wines, along with sherry, port, brandy and cognac.
And, of course, on New Year’s they would sing Auld Lang Syne. A version of the song existed decades before Robert Burns wrote it down. It’s said an old man dictated the words to him. Before Burns wrote it down, the ancient song had been passed on by word of mouth. The melody we know today that accompanies the lyrics didn’t appear until after Burns’ death in 1796.
The phrase “Auld Lang Syne” means “old long ago”, which can be translated as “days gone by” or “back in the day”. Thomas Keith, a Burns scholar, says the song symbolizes reunion, not parting, as some mistakenly believe. The song looks back over happy days from the past, a separation and then coming back together.
Once Upon a Christmas PastAn Historical Romance Holiday Collection
A Secret Scottish Christmas by Regan Walker Spies, Scots, and Shipmasters celebrate a very secret Christmas in Scotland as identical twins, Robbie and Nash Powell, spies for the Crown, compete for the love of the daughter of an Aberdeen shipbuilder.
A Highlander for Christmas by Paula Quinn As the bard of the MacGregor clan, Finlay Grant is a natural-born charmer. He can easily win the heart of any lass . . . but somehow, the right words to express his love for stunning Leslie Harrison have eluded him. Yet as Christmastide approaches, Finn knows he must find a way to propose to the raven-haired beauty who has stolen his heart.
A Knight’s Redemption by Catherine Kean Six Christmases ago, after refusing his kiss, Lady Mary Westbrook was locked in the dungeon by Lord Holden Kendall, a squire at Branton Keep. When an attempted child abduction days before Christmas brings Holden back to the castle, Mary must confront again what happened between them. Now a grown warrior, Holden resolves to not only make matters right with Mary but finally win her kiss. Yet, as peril ensues, Mary must risk far more than a chance at true love.
Christmas in Camelot by Brenda Jernigan Sir Nicholas the Dragon’s orders are clear. He is to fend off the enemy besieging Noelle’s castle and bring the lady safely back to Camelot for her wedding to Sir Gavin. But spending time with the proud beauty awakens an irresistible hunger in Nicholas. Now, as desire does battle with duty, Nicholas has only two choices — to surrender the woman he loves to another man or fight to the end to make her his own.
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Published on December 02, 2019 21:30

December 1, 2019


It’s December. Have you started your Christmas crafting? Need some quick and easy projects to decorate your home and give as gifts? Drop Dead Ornamentsand Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide, books 7 and 8 in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series, offer projects even the most novice and cash-strapped crafter can create with professional looking results. 
In Drop Dead Ornaments you’ll find ideas for creating pricey glass ball ornaments for pennies. The crafts in Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide utilize all those Christmas cards you’ve kept stashed away in a box for years because they’re too pretty to toss in the recycling bucket.
And in-between crafting, shopping, and baking Christmas cookies, you can grab a cup of coffee or tea, settle into your favorite reading chair, and see what sorts of trouble author Lois Winston has gotten me into in the two latest books about me. 

Plus, as a holiday gift to our readers, for a limited time the ebook edition of Drop Dead Ornaments is on sale for only .99 cents!
Drop Dead OrnamentsAn Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 7
Anastasia Pollack’s son Alex is dating Sophie Lambert, the new kid in town. For their community service project, the high school seniors have chosen to raise money for the county food bank. Anastasia taps her craft industry contacts to donate materials for the students to make Christmas ornaments they’ll sell at the town’s annual Holiday Crafts Fair.
At the fair Anastasia meets Sophie’s father, Shane Lambert, who strikes her as a man with secrets. She also notices a woman eavesdropping on their conversation. Later that evening when the woman turns up dead, Sophie’s father is arrested for her murder.
Alex and Sophie beg Anastasia to find the real killer, but Anastasia has had her fill of dead bodies. She’s also not convinced of Shane’s innocence. Besides, she’s promised younger son Nick she’ll stop risking her life. But how can she say no to Alex?
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Two and a half weeks ago magazine crafts editor Anastasia Pollack arrived home to find Ira Pollack, her half-brother-in-law, had blinged out her home with enough Christmas lights to rival Rockefeller Center. Now he’s crammed her small yard with enormous cavorting inflatable characters. She and photojournalist boyfriend and possible spy Zack Barnes pack up the unwanted lawn decorations to return to Ira. They arrive to find his yard the scene of an over-the-top Christmas extravaganza. His neighbors are not happy with the animatronics, laser light show, and blaring music creating traffic jams on their normally quiet street. One of them expresses his displeasure with his fists before running off.
In the excitement, the deflated lawn ornaments are never returned to Ira. The next morning Anastasia once again heads to his house before work to drop them off. When she arrives, she discovers Ira’s attacker dead in Santa’s sleigh. Ira becomes the prime suspect in the man’s murder and begs Anastasia to help clear his name. But Anastasia has promised her sons she’ll keep her nose out of police business. What’s a reluctant amateur sleuth to do?
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Published on December 01, 2019 21:30