featuring guest authors; crafting tips and projects; recipes from food editor and sleuthing sidekick Cloris McWerther; and decorating, travel, fashion, health, beauty, and finance tips from the rest of the American Woman editors.

Friday, January 20, 2017


Author Joni Sauer-Folger writes cozy mysteries and romantic suspense under her own name and urban fantasy and paranormal romance as J.G. Sauer. Today she sits down with us for an interview. Learn more about Joni and her books at her website.

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
Took me a while. My background is in theater, which to my mind is another form of telling stories – just someone else’s stories. We all play ‘pretend’ as children, and acting allowed me to continue that into adulthood, but writing is also a version of ‘pretend’ – just making up my own stories. I had a creative writing professor in college who was an avid theater fan. She told me one night after a performance that she loved watching me on stage but hoped that I never stopped writing, that I had an incredible gift. Those words meant a lot and have always stuck with me. It just took me a really long time to embrace the writing bug – sometimes life gets in the way.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
It took about eight years to get that first book deal once I started to really pursue the craft.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
My original contract was a 2-book deal through a traditional publisher for my cozy mysteries. I’ve since gotten my rights back for both books and am almost ready to re-release them independently. All of my other books are Indies. Indie publishing allows me the freedom to write the stories in my head in my own way without limitations.

Where do you write?
I have a corner of my family room set up as my office.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
Oh, definitely silence! I have author friends who set play lists for each novel they write, but I can’t concentrate with so much as music playing quietly in the background. I guess I need to hear my story unfold in my head. Even soft music would disrupt that for me.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
Most of my characters are derived—in part—from folks I know, behaviors I witness. I tell my friends, ‘Be careful what you say to me…you may end up in a book.’

Describe your process for naming your character?
Don’t know that I have a process for this. Although, I did take the first name and hometown of a friend to name the vineyard foreman in my cozy mystery series. My friend’s name is Neil, and he’s originally from Paige, TX. I named the foreman Neil Paige. My friend tagged me later and all the tag said was, ‘Seriously? Neil Paige???’  We had a good laugh about it.

Real settings or fictional towns?
I use both. However, fictional towns are easier—you have more freedom and can take more liberties. The town in my cozy mystery series is based on Bastrop, TX—where I lived for a time—but I named it Delphine so that I could take those liberties. When I close my eyes and envision Delphine, it’s Bastrop that I see. Conversely, I use real places in both my Immortal and Guardian series, here in the U.S. and abroad.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
Wow…that’s a hard one. Mostly because I don’t think of them as quirks, just more like behaviors…perhaps an odd sense of humor or interesting hobby. Elise, the sleuth in my cozy mystery series has a thing for shoes…and her cat (which is based on my sister’s 16 lb. Siamese) has a shoe fetish as well, but only takes one shoe of a pair at any given time.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?
Why…I don’t have any quirks, pal! LOL I suppose Elise got her shoe thing from me, as I LOVE me some fabulous shoes. And my characters are very real to me but just live in my head. Is that a quirk? Ha!

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
I have VERY eclectic tastes when it comes to the written word. Maybe the six books which make up the Cassandra Clare Immortal Instruments YA fantasy series? So intricate and fascinating. I would LOVE to see her office and how she kept all the details separate yet connected. Really amazing. Maybe Stephen King’s The Stand – love the way his mind works. The Flame and the Flower  by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. Those who write historical romance astound me…so much research to get it just right. Every book in the ‘In Death’ series by J.D. Robb – incredible world-building within a familiar societal frame…and the perfect alpha male. Oh man, so many more to choose from that it’s hard to pick just one.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
Oh, definitely that I would’ve embraced writing at an earlier age—it took me waaay too long to realize how much I love it and how it would change my life and my views of the world.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Hate-speak and the lack of compassion for others…

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
An endless supply of cold beer, an endless supply of books by my favorite authors…and Roarke from the JD Robb ‘In Death’ series—the perfect guy to spend an eternity with.

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
I don’t know that I’ve had any reeeaaally terrible jobs, but I did work at DQ for two weeks in high school. Two weeks was all it took for me to realize that it wasn’t for me. When I quit, the manager told me that I wasn’t ‘DQ material’.  And I thought, ‘You think???’ LOL

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
Nope…couldn’t EVEN choose! I do have a couple that I read again every couple of years, but the minute I say one, another pops into my head. Just too many to choose from…

Ocean or mountains?
Ocean…no question. I do love the mountains, but I was born by the ocean and it calls to something inside me. Always has… I am fortunate that I live in Oregon between the Coastal mountain range and the Pacific Ocean. Best of both worlds.

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
I was born in a small town on the Oregon coast just a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean and have lived in small towns around the country. So I guess I’m a country girl at heart. However, I’ve also lived in big cities: New York, L.A., Dallas. I love the frenetic energy of the big city. There was a time that it appealed to me like nothing else, but the older I get, the smaller I want. At this point in my life, I crave the quiet—a slower pace.

What’s on the horizon for you?
I’m just about to begin work on Sandman’s Lullaby—the second book in my urban fantasy Guardian series—which will release in summer 2017. I’ll follow that with an idea that’s been rattling around in my head for a few years. It’s a holiday romantic fantasy that I’ve wanted to put out for Christmas for the last 3-4 years and haven’t gotten to it. After that…the fourth book in my cozy mystery series. It seems, when you have voices in your head, the work never ends. Ha!

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
I’m very blessed. I live on a third of an acre outside a small town on the Oregon coast with my three very spoiled feline babies. (they give me such joy) My town has a very good community theater, so I get to indulge my love of the stage—both acting and directing—along with my writing. I’ll be directing another play in September 2017. All of that on top of working at a day job 40 hours a week. I know…crazy! Life is good…

Immortal Savior
Immortal Dory Winthrop hasn’t been the Chosen One for long, but she’s already discovered that the responsibility doesn’t come without its share of trials and triumphs. Now, she and her Warrior—the man she loves, face a new threat: someone is targeting Immortals, and they aren’t excluded from the list. Together, they must discover the motive behind the deaths and unmask the killer before the lethal plan spills over into the mortal world placing humanity at risk.

New Immortal, Warrior Kaden Crenshaw, is an ex-cop abruptly pulled into a compelling and mysterious world filled with limitless possibilities, a world he’s just beginning to explore.  But with this new threat on the horizon, there’s not much time to get up to speed. He’ll need to adapt quickly and lead his team with fierce determination, if he wants to protect the Chosen One and ensure the safety of all.

Buy Links

Thursday, January 19, 2017


USA Today bestselling author Stephanie Queen is a romantic at heart and a writer by nature. So of course she loves creating stories where the good guys always win. Although she's lost count of all the jobs she had before she settled on being a novelist, her favorite was selling cookies as a Keebler Elf. Learn more about Stephanie and her books at her website.  

The Top 10 Favorite Things I Did in 2016

Besides everything to do with books, I have quite a few favorite things that I do or that I did throughout the year in 2016. Maybe it’s because I’m getting to an age where I’m thinking of the bucket list, and the phrase “no time like the present” is particularly relevant. That someday I used to talk about is TODAY! Now I try to spend my time very wisely on what I love most.

So here are the Top 10 Favorite Things I did in 2016: (in no particular order)

Attended my grand-niece Rose’s Christening—the first baby girl in two generations!

I went with some college friends to Indianapolis to the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four to see my alma mater, UConn win their record-setting FOURTH STRAIGHT Championship!

I went to the Award Presentation for the New Hampshire Social Venture Innovation Challenge competition to see my son Tom win First Place!

I autographed books at my first Romance Writers of America Literacy Book Fair in San Diego

With my two sisters, I crocheted a baby blanket for my new grand-niece, Rose (she’s a cutie!)

Went to the Jimmy Buffet concert and spent the day with fab friends tailgating in the sun and dancing to JB music.

Wrote Let It Snow a dark and edgy Christmas novella a little bit outside of my usual story.

I participated in a Christmas box set with some of the loveliest authors on the planet: Love, Christmas was a labor of love.

Took my mother to visit my aunt and cousin in Florida. My mother hadn’t seen her sister in several years (they’re both in their mid 80’s). Naturally, we went in January and enjoyed the warm weather since we live in the northeast.

Spent many Sunday afternoons with my family watching football

As a writer and book lover, I had to include book things because how could I not? But you know I could have made this list stretch to 20 or even 50 without too much trouble because I am a very lucky person and I’ve had many treasured moments throughout the year.

Only a couple of these things were bucket list type items (can you guess which two items?), but the rest were wonderful, some unplanned, unanticipated, and then some in the category of simple pleasures and no less wonderful for it.

What were some of your favorite things you did in 2016?

Let It Snow: Beachcomber Investigations Series Novella

An old friend sends a stranger to visit Dane to help wrestle him from his soul-crushing despair. His life of righting horrific wrongs has cost him a very high price, and worse, it cost someone he loved her life. But how can a stranger help when even Shana, his partner and lover, has failed. Can the stranger use a Christmas Eve snowstorm to create the ultimate test for Dane and Shana?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


When award-winning author Donis Casey stops by for a visit, I know she’ll bring with her interesting tidbits about the early 20th Century. Today she comes with with home remedies for the flu.

Donis writes the Alafair Tucker Mysteries, set in Oklahoma during the booming 1910s and featuring the sleuthing mother of ten children. The ninth book has recently been released. The first book in the series, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, is currently available as a free download on iTunes. Learn more about Donis and her books at her website.

Your Mother's Home Remedies for the Flu

When I was writing my latest Alafair Tucker novel, The Return of the Raven Mocker, which is set during the great influenza pandemic of 1918, I spent a great deal of research time gathering old flu remedies, as well as early 20th Century recipes for foods and drinks for the sick. At the time of the pandemic, there were a lot of weird remedies in circulation in America, and more than a few people died from being dosed with turpentine, coal oil, mercury, ox bile, chicken blood, and other unmentionable home remedies they were given by their well-meaning caretakers. Some of the deaths in the epidemic were probably caused by aspirin poisoning rather than the disease. Aspirin was relatively new on the market, and folks may have figured that if a little aspirin was good for fever and aches, then eating whole handfuls every hour was even better if you were really sick.

My mother used to give us kids 7Up when we got sick, and I dearly wished I could have included that suggestion in my book, but of course 7Up wasn’t available when Alafair’s kids were young, so she had to make do with ginger tea. She could have given her patients ginger ale, but knowing Alafair, she wouldn’t buy soda pop when she could make something just as effective at home.

Ginger tea is practically a cure for nausea. Boil a slice of fresh ginger in a cup of water until the water turns golden and sip it hot. I like to sweeten mine with honey. Our foremothers knew all about the medicinal qualities of food. In early 20th Century America, every housewife had her arsenal of remedies for common ailments, and many of them worked. In fact, some of what I learned has come in handy over the past winter.

Garlic really does have antibiotic properties and was used a lot as a treatment during the 1918 flu outbreak. I found a recipe for garlic soup in an early 20th Century cookbook that was guaranteed to cure the flu. It called for 24 cloves of garlic to be simmered for an hour in a quart of water. That will kill any germ that dares to try to infect you.

Dry burned toast is excellent for an upset stomach and diarrhea. Well-cooked, soft rice is easy to digest, and if you simmer one part raw rice in seven parts liquid for forty minutes to an hour, the rice ends up creamy and soft and practically pre-digested. 

Onion is antibiotic as well. My great-grandmother swore that placing a bowl of raw onions in a sick room would absorb the ill humors that were floating around. (She also liked to put raw eggs in the corners to soak up bad juju.) Here is a story that was told to me by the man to whom it happened:  when he was a young boy, he developed such a severe case of pneumonia that the doctor told his mother that he was not going to survive. In an act of desperation, his mother sliced up a raw onion and bound it to the bottoms of his feet with strips of sheet, then put cotton socks on him. In the morning, his fever had broken, his lungs had cleared, and the onion poultice had turned black. Is that what saved him? I don’t know. But that didn’t keep me from using the idea in my novel.

In fact, I found a number of remedies that called for binding something to the feet. An 1879 cookbook that I've owned for years recommends taking a large horseradish leaf, placing it on a hot shovel to soften if, then folding it and fastening it to the hollow of the foot with a cloth bandage. I also found foot-poultice recipes that used burdock leaves, cabbage, and mullein leaves. All the above are guaranteed to “alleviate pain and promote perspiration”.

Chicken soup really, really does help. Your mother says so, and so does science.

The Return of the Raven Mocker
An Alafair Tucker Mystery
Raven Mocker is a Cherokee legend, an evil spirit who takes the form of a raven and takes wing at night to possess the sick and elderly and torment them until they die. When the Raven Mocker returns to Boynton, Oklahoma in the fall of 1918, he brings with him the great influenza pandemic that claimed fifty million lives all over the world. World War I is still raging in Europe, but Alafair Tucker is fighting her own war as the epidemic sweeps through like wildfire. What a perfect time for someone to commit murder. Who’s going to notice?

Buy Links

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


Shrimp Cocktail still served at the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino
Janet Elizabeth Lynn and Will Zeilinger had been writing individually until they got together to write the Skylar Drake Murder Mystery series, hard-boiled tales based in Hollywood in 1955. Learn more about them at their individual websites.

Desert Ice is the third hard-boiled Skylar Drake Murder Mystery. A murder in L.A. takes Drake to Las Vegas in search of answers. Since much of mid-1950s Las Vegas was demolished and reclaimed for more modern building, it was obvious we needed to go there to research Sin City ourselves.

At that time, the mob was alive and well. The locals welcomed the gangsters to the open city. This allowed them to enter the city and do what they did best, operate gambling and prostitution establishments— legally. They may have been criminals in other parts of the country but the minute they set foot in Nevada, they became legitimate and very successful businessmen.

While there, we had the opportunity to interview several professors at UNLV as well as researchers of old Las Vegas.  Among the people we spoke to who lived in Las Vegas during the 1950s were the daughter of a mobster and a dancer. The subjects that kept cropping up during our interviews were the Mob and (believe it not) Shrimp Cocktail.

We learned that Shrimp Cocktail was introduced to Las Vegas by Italo Ghelfi, a restaurant/bar owner from San Francisco. He and his partners were lured to Las Vegas to buy the Western Hotel then owned by Emilio "Gomba" Giorgetti. Giorgetti controlled illegal slot operations, liquor sales and a number of powerful politicians. When this reputed mob boss was subpoenaed to appear before the Kefauver Committee on organized crime, he decided to leave town—fast.  Giorgetti sold the hotel to the partnership.

Two years later the Western was sold, and the partnership opened the Golden Gate Casino on the main floor of the Sal Sagev Hotel and Casino (Las Vegas spelled backwards). To attract gamblers he introduced and sold the "Original Shrimp Cocktail” for fifty cents. It was small salad shrimp with cocktail sauce served in a tulip glass. Tourists and locals couldn't get enough of it. Successful? Ghelfi managed the casino for forty years.

Keep in mind Ghelfi not only displaced a mobster from Las Vegas, he also began the shrimp cocktail tradition that still thrives.

With this in mind, we had to include it in our story. Skylar Drake, along with an FBI agent and three female Pinkerton detectives, enjoy the appetizer as the mystery begins to intensify in Las Vegas. The Pinkerton detectives are from other parts of the country, so the idea of shrimp in a tulip glass with delicious sauce does tend to preoccupy them when off duty— so to speak.

Las Vegas made Shrimp Cocktail popular in the western states in the 1950s. People who visited Sin City would return home wanting the tasty shrimp.

Shrimp Cocktail
for the shrimp:
8 cups water
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 medium lemon, thinly sliced
3 fresh Italian parsley sprigs
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 pounds (21/25-count) shrimp, peeled except for the tails and deveined

for the cocktail sauce:
1-1/2 cups ketchup
1/4 cup prepared horseradish
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco

Combine all the ingredients for the shrimp except the shrimp in a 4-quart pot over high heat and bring to a boil.

Add the shrimp, stir, and remove the pan from the heat. Cover with a tight fitting lid and let sit until the shrimp are opaque and just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with paper towels and set it aside.

Drain the shrimp in a strainer and transfer them to the baking sheet, arranging in a single layer. Be sure to remove and discard any solids from the poaching liquid that have stuck to the shrimp (discard the contents in the strainer as well). Let sit until cooled to room temperature, about 10 minutes.

Transfer the shrimp to a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour and up to 1 day. Meanwhile, make the cocktail sauce:

Stir all the ingredients together in a medium bowl. Taste and season with more pepper as needed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill until ready to serve. Serve the shrimp with the sauce for dipping.

Desert Ice
In 1955, a missing Marine and stolen diamonds lead Private Eye Skylar Drake to Sin City, where the women are beautiful and almost everything is legal—except murder.

The FBI and a Las Vegas crime boss force him to choose between the right and wrong side of the law. All the while, government secrets, sordid lies and trickery block his efforts to solve the case.

Common sense tells him to go back to L.A. but his gut tells him to find his fellow Marine.

Buy Links

Monday, January 16, 2017


(Anastasia is in bed with a really bad cold. This craft project first appeared on the blog six years ago.)

Scarves have been a huge fashion accessory for several years now. Women (and many men) wear them year round, even in the heat of summer. However, this time of year we wear them not so much as a fashion statement but to keep our necks warm. It’s cold out there, people!

Because knitting has also seen a resurgence in popularity over the last few years, there are many fashion-inspired yarns on the market and not just in the swanky, expensive knitting shops. You can find them in any craft store and even some big box stores.

Scarves are an easy beginner project for the novice knitter. You don’t need to worry about exacting measurements or following complex instructions. You can make it as wide or narrow, as long or short as you want, and if you choose a bulky yarn and large knitting needles, you can whip up a simple scarf in an evening.

This scarf is made with glitter fringe yarn, but you can choose any bulky yarn that catches your eye. Adjust your width and length as desired and buy additional skeins if you want a wider or longer scarf.

Note: Some yarns contain dye lots. If there is a dye lot on the label, always buy skeins with the same dye lot number.

Glitter Fringe Scarf

3 skeins 40 gram Glitter Fringe Yarn
#11 knitting needles

Cast on 15 stitches. Knit 4 rows.
Next row (wrong side): Knit 3, purl 9, knit 3.
Next row: Knit.
Repeat last two rows until scarf measures 48” in length, ending with a wrong side row.
Knit 4 rows.
Caste off.

Friday, January 13, 2017


Casey Hagen is a contemporary romance author who believes in doing things her way, no matter what. A born-and-raised Vermont native, she claims to have Ben & Jerry’s in her heart and real Vermont maple syrup pumping through her veins. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

Picture it: November 30, 2014, 8:34PM. A writer sitting in a cozy living room, watching the snow fall, and exhausted, having just finished NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)…and her first novel.

Here I had written this book, a book I had been reworking for fifteen years…the book of my heart.

I’d enlisted eight beta readers to review. Armed with their comments and a good dose of stubborn, I reworked it. I’d polished it as much as I could and then I’d run it through four rounds of edits with four different editors. I had reread it at least thirty times, so many times I wanted to set it on fire. Then I shook in my slippers at the thought of putting it out there for the entire world to see.

With a taboo hero and heroine who had been high school teacher/student carrying on an affair the summer after graduation and then reuniting eight years later, I knew it would be a hard sell to a traditional publisher. A writer friend, both traditionally and indie published, offered to read my first fifty pages. Sure enough, she came back and said, “We should get together and brainstorm a safer back-story.”

But, but, but…I don’t wanna. It’s mine and you can’t make me. After raging a bit, stomping my foot in frustration hundreds of times, I put on my big girl pants and thought it through. Okay, she was probably thinking in terms of traditional publishing. So that meant I needed to go indie, right? I mean, that had to be my only option.

Here’s the thing…I like to buck the system. I like challenging the norms. I like leaving an impression, and what better way to shake things up? So, when the Romance Writers of America 2015 conference rolled around, I signed up to pitch my book to editors and agents. What’s the worst they could do? Say no and I’m out nothing.

On pitch day, I arrived at 8AM and didn’t leave until 5PM. I picked up five additional cancellations. I pitched seven times and had six requests for full manuscripts.

We won’t talk about pitch #7. I might have fought with the editor…a little bit, but she made someone cry so…she deserved it.

I was rejected six times, but I did not receive a single form letter rejection. Every editor/agent had scanned my profile/page on Facebook, checked my Twitter, and scoured my website. So, although I had been rejected, they had been interested.

Every last one thought I had something, but every last one also knew their publishing house wouldn’t allow it or in the case of the agents, they would have a hard time placing it with a publisher. They all advised me to keep doing what I’m doing. Keep building my following. Take my story and go indie.

Riding high on their praise, I did just that. The book sold okay. In all fairness, probably my fault. Marketing is the Devil! Then, a well-known author opened a publishing house and put out a call for submissions. The book could already be indie published. My eyes slid to a copy of my book baby, Sunset at Lake Crane. I queried the editor and received a request for the book. Then, I got an email telling me the book is good, but it could be great.

I was sent a list of changes they wanted. The biggest: instead of my heroine depending on her own bravery by making the choice to return to her hometown, consequences be damned, I was to make it so she was tricked into returning home. Basically I needed to turn my brave, smart heroine into a blind idiot.

I made most of the changes, but they were minor. I did not change my heroine. Some things just aren’t to be compromised. I sent my revisions with an explanation as to why I would not change her circumstances.

I got the inevitable, “Thank you, but no thank you.”

I was back to doubts and insecurity. Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I decided to enter the book in a contest. I dropped off the books at the post office, went to my car, then went back into the post office and asked if I could have the package back. They said no. Pesky federal regulations and such.

I wound up making the finals against two traditionally published books. Color me shocked…and terrified. But validated. And in October, I won that contest! Moral of the story: Never give anyone the power to make you question your story as I questioned mine. Write fearless. Go forth and be awesome.

Falling in Angels Falls
Alexa Dayne shocked everyone by refusing to join the family bakery business. She’s worked hard to prove that owning her own salon in upscale San Francisco is more than just a dream; it’s her passion. After years of round-the-clock work, Alexa craves both an escape and a new challenge. She’s determined to find both—in the wilds of Venezuela at Angels Falls, the largest waterfall in the world.

Ben Marx is running from brutal memories. A career soldier turned entrepreneur, Ben has slaved to make Steel Force Adventures a reality. On the cusp of success, he’s approached by a long-legged vixen seeking a guide through the Venezuelan jungle to Angels Falls. Her fearless determination is proof enough she’ll make the dangerous trek alone if he refuses.

The Angels Falls journey is one of renewal for Alexa and Ben. But when passions flare and hidden motives are revealed, the flames of heart-wrenching pain forge bonds between them—bonds destined to be tested by life’s harsh realities . . . after Angels Falls.

Thursday, January 12, 2017


Today we’re joined by award-winning debut author Micki Browning, who has set her new mystery series in Key Largo. Micki is an FBI National Academy graduate who worked in law enforcement for more than two decades and retired as a division commander.  Learn more about her and her book at her website. 

Paradise Found—In the Florida Keys

South of the Florida mainland, the Florida Keys dot the ocean like the spine of a massive sea dragon. Home to an eclectic mix of adventurers, families, and pirates, the archipelago stretches 135 miles from the tip of Key Largo to the southernmost point of Key West.

Each of the many keys has developed its own identity. Key Largo proclaims itself The Dive Capital of the Nation, while Key West invites the weird to go pro. In between are Key deer refuges, fishing meccas, resorts, mangroves, palm trees, and tiki huts. 

Best of all? This paradise doesn’t require a passport.

I set my debut mystery, Adrift, in Key Largo, the first and largest island in the chain. The only problem visitors encounter upon arrival is what to do first. Here’s an insider’s view.

While the view of the ocean is beautiful from a waterside tiki bar—and those are numerous—it’s what’s beneath the surface that will take your breath away. Want it back? Strap on a tank. The third largest barrier reef runs the length of the Keys and it is the only place in the nation to have coral reefs.

Key Largo is such a beautiful place to dive that in 1963 John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was established as the first undersea park in the United States. The park is home to 40 of the 52 species of coral found in the Atlantic Reef System—providing shelter to more than 600 varieties of fish and a 2-ton statue Christ of the Abyss (A little advice: don’t touch the statue. It’s covered in fire coral—imagine poison oak that burns.). The park runs glass-bottom boat tours, and snorkel and scuba trips for the more adventurous. The park also rents kayaks for leisurely paddles through the mangroves. There are even trails for those who don’t want to get their feet wet.

Enjoy the wildlife
No, I’m not talking about the club scene. Instead, consider a dip with dolphins at Dolphin Cove or get up close and personal with some tropical birds at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Refuge (bonus, it’s free!). Hike the trails at Dagney Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, and enjoy the habitat of many endangered species of mammals, butterflies, and birds.

Eat (and drink) like a local
Alabama Jack’s on Card Sound Road is a perennial favorite where the eclectic clientele can eat heavenly conch fritters and catch the occasional glimpse of a crocodile in the canal. Yes, you read that correct. The Keys have both alligators and crocodiles.

If you want to dress up a bit (which in the Keys means breaking out the sparkly flip flops), try The Fish House. Order the grand piano for dessert. It’s a white chocolate baby grand filled with chocolate mouse.

Speaking of chocolates… visit Key Largo Chocolates and Ice Cream for homemade confections that won’t last long!

Locals are split on breakfast and favor either Harriette’s Restaurant or Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen. Throw in the Conch House and you’ve got a triumvirate of good choices. Try the coconut muffin at Harriette’s. You’ll thank me.

The best of the Keys is often found outdoors, but sometimes you just want to take a bit of paradise back home. Two words: Shell World.  This sprawling mecca offers everything from tchotchkes to tasteful home design, artisan jewelry to the ubiquitous t-shirts for the grandchildren.
Savor the sunsets
You’re on vacation. Take a breath. Relax. Nothing reduces stress quite like taking in the sunset as it dips below the Florida Bay. It’s even better when shared with the one you love.

Every place you visit in Key Largo will have a bit of quirk, a lot of attitude, and natural beauty. One thing’s certain. Key Largo offers the perfect place to spin a yarn–especially if it involves the gin-clear waters off the coast, a fish-out-of-water character, and a mystery.

A Mer Cavallo Mystery

Marine scientist Meredith Cavallo thought adjusting to a laid-back life in the Florida Keys would be a breeze after life in the Arctic, but when a ghost-hunting documentary leader vanishes during a midnight dive, she’s caught in a storm of supernatural intrigue.  Determined to debunk paranormal explanations and salvage her reputation, Mer launches her own investigation. When someone tries to kill her, she knows the truth is about to surface. Maybe dead men do tell tales.