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.

Holiday Blog Hop Starting December 11th

Holiday Blog Hop

Blog Hop begins December 11th. Click on the graphic above for a schedule and list of giveaways, including a $60 Amazon gift card.

Friday, December 30, 2016

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR D.M. BARR

D.M. Barr writes psychological thrillers, mystery, humor, and romance. Today she joins us for an interview. Learn more about D.M. and her books at her website and blog.

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
I always loved novels (I was reading Honey Bunch from age 5, Nancy Drew from age 9 and gothic romances from age 11) and I’d write poems and parodies of different subjects (school, summer camp, etc.) but never dreamed of writing them. I was a nonfiction editor writer of magazine articles and corporate communications (sales letters, press releases, etc.) for many years and always figured my first book would be nonfiction. But when I was twenty and writing a nightlife column for a New York City throwaway called “Downtown Manhattan,” I took a two-week summer course at Hofstra for writing and somehow wandered into a fiction class by mistake. I was mesmerized by the idea of creating a world and sharing it with people.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
For fiction, a long, long time. I started writing the bare bones of this novel back in 2006 for an online class with Gotham Writers. I got about 5,000 words in, and most of what I’d written was a parody of Realtors doing over-the-top, outlandish things. None of the students got the jokes (which worried me more about my real estate industry than my writing!) In 2013, I joined a class at the Hudson Valley Writer’s Center and that forced me to hand in pages every week, a good habit. I got to about 28,000 words and handed it to two author/teacher friends to review. One loved it, one hated it, and I put it away for over two years. Then in 2015, I had the good fortune to have lunch with a NY Times bestselling author who asked me to send my pages to his editor. The editor liked them, made a few suggestions and that encouragement got me to rewrite the whole thing and finish. So to make a long story short—it took me around three-and-a-half months to write the whole thing once I got motivated. Then another fourteen months to pitch, get an agent, have her pitch, review terrible contracts from small presses (not her doing, mine) and self-publish.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
I’m actually a hybrid author. I have an erotic romance out with Loose Id under a different pseudonym, and then my novel is published through my company, Punctuated Publishing.

Where do you write?
Usually on the couch in my family room or at Starbucks in a big, comfy chair by the corner.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
Silence. But if it isn’t silent, my tunnel vision blocks out all noise anyway. If I’m working out a scene, my husband and kids can think they’ve had an entire conversation with me but I’ve actually never heard a word.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
In Expired Listing, Dana Black is a former travel writer who becomes a realtor. I’m a former travel writer who became a realtor. So all my travel writing and real estate pokes come from real life in theory but are way over the top. Dare is the combination of a few people I met while researching the S&M scene and the dungeon descriptions are authentic, from a club in NYC. Cassandra, the evil mother, is the embodiment of all the guilt I felt being a working mother while my kids were small, and all my resentment over my parents doing the same thing. So a lot of real life in there, but I don’t kill problem clients or play bondage bingo in empty listings.

Describe your process for naming your character?
Some are just fun—like Reid Wright, which I still can’t believe I got away with, but actually worked it into the story—that much of what he does is payback for the humiliation he felt as a kid when people mocked his name. My mother almost named me Dana so I used that for my main character. Eleanor Lawrence is a close approximation for the name of a therapist I worked with and who clued me into a lot of the psychology that went into the book. A lot of the other names are partial names of friends.

Real settings or fictional towns?
I live in Rockland County. The story is set in Rock Canyon. So yeah, entirely fictional. 😀 One funny story is that I made up a description of the Rock Canyon police station, a reconverted house and a friend was sure I had written about the South Nyack police station, which looks exactly the same. I’ve never seen that police station.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
 I love how Endicott describes things. When Dana is going out to seek help from friends in the “scene,” he describes them as The Kink Crew, The Libido Brigade, The Torture Troupe and Band of Bondage. He also describes the process of becoming a Realtor as evolution, only in reverse. I also like how Dare combines games of chance with games of torture in his S&M play.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?
I’m a terrible punster. Anything for a laugh. I’m also an author groupie.

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
Atlas Shrugged. I know it’s controversial but I am truly amazed how Ayn Rand could convey philosophy into novel form and the fact that she wrote it in English when her native language was Russian amazes me. It’s also a book that has changed so many lives.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
I wish I’d been a bigger risk taker when I was younger and cared less about what people thought.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
People who hurt animals and children.

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
A helicopter, a good-looking pilot, and a yacht (in case the helicopter malfunctions.) But barring that, tons of books, a makeshift stove/oven and my husband. As long as I were married to Chris Pine. Or Kevin Kline. Or Chris Pratt. Oh and a bunch of dogs. (I guess one of my other quirks is that I’m really bad at following rules.)

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
I’ve actually loved every job I’ve ever had but I’ve been very lucky to have had the opportunity to do what I love. There have been things I didn’t like at every job but no job that was terrible in itself. For example, I hate how real estate brings out the very worst in people and that they act illogically and let ego take over reason. But I don’t hate the job.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
Cruel question. I already mentioned Atlas Shrugged, so perhaps The Grapes of Wrath.

Ocean or mountains?
Ocean. With deep, white fluffy sand beach.

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
City girl who likes to vacation in the country.

What’s on the horizon for you?
I’m working on Slashing Mona Lisa, which will be contemporary women’s fiction/murder mystery. And then the sequel to Expired Listings. But I have a bunch of other ideas for books, even a few YAs.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
Perhaps the thing I’m proudest of in my life (other than my kids) is that I actually wrote and finishing a novel. I admire writers so and I’m very excited to count myself among them. They are an extraordinarily generous group of people who have shared with me and helped me and I hope to pay it forward.

Expired Listings
What if people were dying around you and you weren't absolutely sure you weren't their murderer? Someone is 'deactivating' the Realtors in Rock Canyon and almost no one seems to care. Not the surviving brokers, who consider the serial killings a competitive boon. Not the town's residents, who see the murders as a public service. In fact, the only person who's even somewhat alarmed is Dana Black, a kinky, sharp-witted yet emotionally skittish Realtor who has no alibi for the crimes because during each, she believes she was using her empty listings for games like Bondage Bingo with her sadistic lover, Dare. And yet, mysteriously, all clues are pointing her way.

Along with clearing her name and avoiding certain death at the hands of the 'Realtor Retaliator,' Dana has an even bigger problem: she's inadvertently become a person of interest in more ways than one to Aidan Cummings, the sexy albeit vanilla detective investigating the case. While his attentions are tempting, Dana is torn--does she continue her ironically 'safe' but sterile BDSM relationship with Dare, or risk real intimacy with Aidan?

Kink, Suspense and Satire--Expired Listings masterfully combines all three while exploring the universal need for validation and the toxic nature of revenge.

Buy Links

Thursday, December 29, 2016

#TRAVEL TO KEY WEST WITH AUTHOR LOIS WINSTON

Black Sheep and Prohibition in Key West
Every family has its black sheep. Mine was no exception. My grandfather was a well-known lawman in North Jersey back in the first half of the twentieth century. He was responsible for bringing many gangsters to justice. You might even recognize some of their names. But much to his embarrassment, one of his brothers was a bootlegger in Atlantic City during Prohibition. This great-uncle of mine was such a persona non grata in our family that I’m not even sure of his first name.

You may have watched Boardwalk Empire on HBO a few years ago. The character of Nucky Thompson, played by Steve Buscemi, was based on the real life of South Jersey crime boss Nucky Johnson. Since Nucky Johnson controlled all the bootlegging in and out of Atlantic City, I suspect Great-Uncle Black Sheep was one of his henchmen.

Because of my family history, I was fascinated by some history I stumbled upon during a trip to Key West. With the extension of the Florida East Coast railroad, tourists didn’t have to travel to Havana during Prohibition in order to drink. They could winter in Key West and avail themselves of the many illicit bars that dotted Duval Street and other parts of Monroe County, thanks to the rumrunners who routinely traveled the ninety miles between Cuba and Key West. Although they needed to stay vigilant to avoid capture by Prohibition agents, the Key West rumrunners knew local law-enforcement would look the other way.

One such rumrunner was Raul Vasquez who not only imported large quantities of Cuban liquor, he ran a “club” at 1117 Duval Street. Most businesses advertise to attract customers, but when you’re running an illegal business, you can’t take out ads in the local newspaper or put up billboards. Most operators would post a small notice reading “club in rear.” However, Raul came up with a rather ingenious way of promoting his drinking and gambling establishment without violating the law.

Many old frame structures in Key West were decorated with Victorian style gingerbread, especially enclosing porches and bordering outside staircases. Instead of the traditional gingerbread motifs carved into the spindles and railings, Raul commissioned decorative gingerbread depicting bottles as well as hearts, spades, diamonds, and clubs to advertise that liquor and gambling were available at his establishment.

Today Raul’s old speakeasy is a bed and breakfast, but part of its Prohibition history can still be seen in those upper story porch railings.

I’ve plumbed the depths of my family history to come up with plots for many of my mysteries and romantic suspense books. After learning about Raul, I have to wonder if he and Great-Uncle Black Sheep ever crossed paths. Did my bootlegging ancestor travel back and forth to Cuba from Key West? If so, did he occasionally imbibed at Raul's speakeasy?

I just may have to send Anastasia or Gracie to Key West in a future book to find out.

Sign up for my newsletter for  the latest news and a chance to win free books and other goodies.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

PINE NEEDLES FOR #COOKING, #CLEANING, #GARDENING & #BEAUTY

Before you drag your Christmas tree out to the curb this year, strip off some of the pine needles and repurpose them.

Make a disinfectant by combining half a cup of pine needles in a jar of white vinegar. Allow to stand for a few weeks, then remove the needles. You can use this eco-conscious solution to clean your countertops and other surfaces.

Or maybe you’d prefer to cook with a pine needle vinegar infusion. Place half a cup of pine needles in a mason jar. Fill the jar with apple cider vinegar, and let the solution stand for a month. Strain out the pine needles. Use the infusion in salad dressings, marinades, and sauces.

You can make a footbath by boiling a gallon of water with a cup of pine needles. Allow the mixture to steep and cool for twenty minutes, then  give your feet a good soak.

If you’re a gardener, pine needles also make great mulch because they’re less likely to blow away.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--SWEET POTATO CASSEROLE #RECIPE


Sweet potatoes are not just for Thanksgiving. This casserole will be a hit at a New Year’s Day open house or a Superbowl party. Or any other time.

Sweet Potato Casserole

Ingredients:
5-6 large sweet potatoes
1-1/2 cups brown sugar
1-1/2 sticks softened butter
1-1/2 teas. vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1 cup chopped pecans
1-1/2 cups dried cranberries
maple syrup (the real kind)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Scrub potatoes and boil or bake until tender. Allow to cool. Peel and mash.

Stir in 3/4 cup brown sugar, butter, vanilla, milk, and eggs, mixing well. Pour into greased 9” x 13” casserole dish.

Mix remaining brown sugar, nuts, cranberries, and butter together. Spread evenly over potato mixture. Drizzle with maple syrup.

Bake for approximately 30 minutes (until topping has browned.)

Monday, December 26, 2016

#MURDER & #MANUSCRIPTS--GRACIE ELLIOTT'S FORAY INTO THE WORLD OF #PUBLISHING

My Midlife Crisis
By Gracie Elliott

Have you ever lost a job? I suppose most people have at one time or another, but for me it was a new—and totally shocking—experience. I had worked for the same company my entire adult life until the morning I arrived at the office to find my career had been outsourced to a Third World nation.

I don’t work in customer service, billing, or tech support. I’m a textile designer. How could this happen? Who ever heard of outsourcing creativity? Did the Pope outsource The Sistine Chapel to a call center in India, handing them a paint-by-numbers cheat sheet from which to work? No, he hired one of Italy’s premier artists to create one of the world’s great masterpieces.

Then, as if losing my job weren’t enough, to add insult to injury, I learned I was also losing my pension, thanks to some underhanded financial skullduggery. Talk about a double-whammy!

What do you do when you’re middle-aged, out of work, and have two kids in college? After going through the five stages of grief—and also wondering why I had to fall in love with a college professor instead of a trust fund baby—I pulled up my big girl pants and set out to look for another job, only to learn no one was interested in hiring a forty-something fabric designer.

The only solution was to turn entrepreneurial and create a new career for myself. My first foray (documented in Definitely Dead by Lois Winston), was Relatively Speaking, a matchmaking service for senior citizens. However, what I really wanted to do was write romance novels. Relatively Speaking afforded me plenty of time to pen my future bestsellers because my clients needed several hours each morning to find their teeth, lube their creaky joints, and deal with GI necessities. They also always turned in shortly after the early bird specials each evening. What I didn’t anticipate was someone murdering Client Number Thirteen—and almost murdering me. So much for my fledgling business!

However, during the short time that Relatively Speaking existed, I was able to work on my novel and eventually finished it. I entered a writing competition and took first place, winning the prestigious Cream of the Crop Award. Maybe I didn’t need to find another business venture after all. My dream of becoming a bestselling romance author was about to come true. So I set off for the Society of American Romance Writers’ annual conference, fully expecting a bevy of editors to vie for my book. I had visions of them lining up to toss offers at my feet.

Unfortunately, something other than book contracts landed at my feet—literally. Another dead body. And not just any dead body but the body of Lovinia Darling, the Queen of Romance. Find out how I deal with manuscripts and murder and get a behind-the-scenes look at the seamier side of the publishing world in Literally Dead, the second book in the Empty Nest Mystery series.

Buy Links

Friday, December 23, 2016

#GINGERBREAD HOUSES, PART 2

Yesterday I featured my two favorite gingerbread creations from a local competition. Here are some more. After the bruising election season, I loved the sentiment of this gingerbread White House. Note the sign on the right: "Santa for President."
 This was a family entry of a Candyland board made out of gingerbread.

 A girl scout troop created with gingerbread globe with a plea to save the earth.
 This was one of the individual entries. I have a feeling it was created by someone who does a lot of cake decorating.
 Another individual entry went with a pet theme. The dogs and cats are all sculpted out of fondant. If you've ever worked with fondant, you can appreciate the skill of the person who created this entry. The wishing well is all gingerbread.
Finally, we have a farm scene, complete with bales of hay, chicks, and a vegetable garden.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

#GINGERBREAD HOUSES, PART 1


One of my favorite things to do during the holiday season is to attend gingerbread house displays. Down the road from the headquarters of the magazine where I work is an arboretum. Each year they host a gingerbread competition. Entries are divided up into different categories: family, scout and school, and individuals. Attendees are asked to vote on their favorite. Today and tomorrow I’ll share with you some of the fabulous creations from this year’s competition.

My hands-down favorite was a family entry, "The Ugly Christmas Co." It features a display of ugly Christmas sweaters with gingerbread men salespeople. Have you ever seen anything so creative?
My second favorite display, also created by a family, was the rendition of Finding Nemo.

Check back tomorrow for more wonderful gingerbread creations.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

GIFT A LOT OF #ROMANCE, HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE--PART 6

Today’s gift-giving book suggestion is for all your family and friends who love a great romance—except in this case we’re talking ten great romances. Romance Super Bundle IV, 
Endless Love is a collection of ten romance novels by ten award-winning and bestselling authors. This ebook boxed set would make a great virtual stocking stuffer, and because it’s such a bargain—only .99 cents for all ten novels—you can treat as many friends and family as you like. While you’re at it, treat yourself. Take a break from all your holiday shopping, wrapping, cooking, and baking, and curl up on the couch with a cup of hot chocolate and a romance or ten.

Stories include:

SEALs OF HONOR: MASON, Dale Mayer—Kill or be Killed. Part of an elite SEAL team, Mason takes on the dangerous jobs no one else wants to do – or can do. When he's on a mission, he's focused and dedicated. When he's not, he plays as hard as he fights. Until he meets a woman he can't have but can't forget.

FINDING HOPE, Lois Winston (writing as Emma Carlyle)—When Hope lands her dream job, she doesn't expect to fall for her married boss and keeps her feelings to herself, even after his wife walks out on him and their triplets. Ben finds himself developing feelings for Hope he knows better than to act on, given past mistakes. But three very determined tykes are out to find everyone a happy ending.

NEVER LET ME GO, Donna Marie Rogers—Hannah Porter's had a crush on Sheriff Chase Lowell since she was a kid, which seems to be the problem—he thinks of her more as a little sister than a romantic interest. But something changes following a robbery at the diner where she works. When Chase makes her safety his personal mission, Hannah makes it her mission to get him to see her in a different light.

STRANDED WITH THE SEAL, Amy Gamet— Former Navy SEAL Trevor "Hawk" Hawkins is on an unsanctioned mission to take down the man who killed his teammate. But when his car careens into another on a snowy mountain road, he finds himself stranded with a beautiful woman who has no memory of her life. The storm outside worsens and passion flares between them, but the woman's true identity has the power to destroy them both.

AUTUMN WISH, Stacey Joy Netzel—secret baby with a twist...Confirmed bachelor Sam Mallin hasn't the first clue how to care for the baby girl dropped on his doorstep. When his beautiful neighbor Nikki offers to help, he finds himself falling for both females. Is it possible Nikki's falling for him, too, or is he just the convenient, ready-made family she so desperately wishes for?

TRUTH ABOUT LOVE & MURDER (Love & Murder Book 1), Edie Ramer—The truth is that life is uncertain. Meg Quinn is co-guardian of her dying best friend's son along with her friend's brother, a former Marine. As the couple search for a missing veteran, they find out the truth about life and love … and murder.

SPLIT DECISION, Wendy Ely— Sports reporter Grace Avery is up for a promotion, but only if she gets an interview with the notoriously private, heavy weight champion, Rally Brewer. Grace discovers who Rally is beyond the boxing ring. Little does anyone know, as Grace gets Rally to open up, a two-year-old secret is in jeopardy. Is revealing his secret worth gaining Grace's love?

LILY AND THE GAMBLER, Linda McLaughlin—Respectability is in the eye of the beholder, or so Lily hopes. After her lover's death she pretends to be his widow and travels to California to marry a mine owner. Then she meets King Callaway, a charming gambler. King knows he's found his Queen of Hearts. But can he convince her to take a chance on a foot-loose card sharp? Only Lady Luck knows for sure...

EDGE OF MIDNIGHT, Ava Bradley—A wounded cop, a frightened woman, a desperate race to save a child in danger….Two people adrift in their own personal tragedies join together to save an innocent child from a power-hungry geneticist intent on creating a superior race. A Golden Heart award winner.

DEATH ON THE OCEAN FLOOR, Georgina Lee—Tetra Martin finds her roommate dead in a cave accessible only at low tide…and learns she's the main suspect. Her only hope is David Haines, her sexy supervisor who keeps her at a distance. But as the tide rises, so does Tetra's desire for him. Along with the killer's intent to make Tetra the next victim. USA Today Bestselling author.

Buy Links
Nook 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR JUDY PENZ SHELUK AND ALMOND CRESCENT #COOKIES

Judy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose was published in July 2015. Skeletons in the Attic, is the first book in her Marketville Mystery Series. Her short crime fiction appears in several anthologies. Learn more about Judy and her books at her website/blog. 

I love cookies. There I’ve admitted it. I can pass up a piece of cake (okay, maybe not carrot cake with cream cheese icing, but surely that could be counted as a vegetable?), and I’ve been known to exhibit moderate willpower when it comes to pie. Potato chips? Yes, I can actually stop at one. But cookies…love them. I’ve even been known to eat an entire box of Girl Guide cookies over the course of a weekend.

My passion for cookies probably stems back to my childhood. My mom wasn’t much of a cook (a trait I have sadly inherited), but she did make the best peanut butter cookies I’ve ever tasted.

In my recent release, Skeletons in the Attic: A Marketville Mystery, my protagonist, Calamity (Callie) Barnstable, is searching for clues that might help her find out more about her mother—a woman who disappeared thirty years earlier, when Callie was just six-years-old. As Callie digs through a box of her mother’s belongings, she finds a peanut butter cookie recipe that bears a striking resemblance to the recipe my mom used.

But this is Christmas time, and it seemed only fitting to share a Christmas-y cookie recipe. For that, I went to The Hanged Man’s Noose: A Glass Dolphin Mystery, where Glass Dolphin antiques shop owner Arabella Carpenter is known for her love of Scottish shortbread. I also love shortbread, though my particular passion is for Almond Crescents. My mom used to make these every Christmas. She would let me twist the dough into crescent shapes, and if I was really, really good, she’d let me sprinkle powered sugar over them after they were freshly baked.

PS: if you really want the Peanut Butter Cookie recipe, email me at judy@judypenzsheluk.com and I’ll send you the PDF!

Anneliese’s Almond Crescents
Makes 45 cookies

Ingredients
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (the real deal, not the artificial kind)
2 teaspoons almond extract
2-1⁄3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup ground almonds (bulk food stores are a good place to find these)
1 cup powdered sugar (put in a sifter for best results)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cookie sheets (enough for 45 cookies.)

Mix together butter with sugar and beat with a mixer until light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract and almond extract. Continue beating until incorporated. Stir in the flour and almonds. Work flour mixture into a firm dough.

Working with 1 tablespoon of dough at a time, shape into logs. The log should be slightly thicker in the middle than at both ends. Bend into a crescent shape. Place on greased cookie sheets.

Bake 12-15 minutes or until light brown. While the cookies are still warm sift crescents with powdered sugar. Cool on racks.

Skeletons in the Attic
What goes on behind closed doors doesn’t always stay there…

Calamity (Callie) Barnstable isn’t surprised to learn she’s the sole beneficiary of her late father’s estate, though she is shocked to discover she has inherited a house in the town of Marketville—a house she didn’t know existed. However, there are conditions attached to Callie’s inheritance: she must move to Marketville, live in the house, and solve her mother’s murder.

Callie’s not keen on dredging up a thirty-year-old mystery, but if she doesn’t do it, there’s a scheming psychic named Misty Rivers who is more than happy to expose the Barnstable family secrets. Determined to thwart Misty and fulfill her father’s wishes, Callie accepts the challenge. But is she ready to face the skeletons hidden in the attic?

Buy Links

Monday, December 19, 2016

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--10 MINUTE CHRISTMAS STOCKINGS

If you’d like to make personalized Christmas stockings but don’t have the time, talent, or patience, you can make these in under ten minutes. All you need are a few supplies from your local crafts store. And as an added bonus, each of these stockings cost only a few dollars to make. This is a quick and easy way to make stockings for guests who will be arriving for Christmas.

Materials:
Pre-finished Christmas stocking
Flat photo-insert Christmas ornament
Photo
Fabric glue

Using the stock photo that comes with the photo ornament as a template, cut out photo of person for whom the stocking is meant. If you don’t want to cut up an actual photo or don’t have one the correct size, scan a photo and print it out in the desired size.

Insert photo into ornament.

Glue ornament to stocking, and you’re done. Just allow the glue to dry before hanging up the stocking.

Friday, December 16, 2016

A MIDWEST MYSTERY WITH LOTS OF LAUGHS--HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE, PART 7

Christmas is coming. Are you ready? Need another gift for a mystery lover? Or maybe you need a break from all the holiday frenzy? Heat up some hot cocoa, cuddle up on the couch, and treat yourself to a visit to Ten Commandments, Iowa where nothing is what it first seems. Come for the secrets. Stay for the laughs. And watch out for a killer on the loose.

Elementary, My Dear Gertie is the novella sequel to the award-winning Talk Gertie To Me but can be read and enjoyed on its own.

Two years have passed since the happily-ever-after that isn’t doing so well. Nori Stedworth has moved in with the love of her life, Mackenzie Randolph, much to her parents’ displeasure. They’re coping as best as parents from Ten Commandments, Iowa can. They want Mac to make an honest woman of their daughter, and that means nothing short of marriage. Mac is all for exchanging I do’s. He’s even bought the ring, but before he can pop the question, an explosion hurls him and Nori right into the middle of a murder investigation. Gertie, Nori's alter-ego, can't help but lend her acerbic wit to the twists and turns as the town is turned upside down in the search for a murderer and arsonist, and yet another scandal envelopes the not-so-pious residents of Ten Commandments.

Buy Links

Thursday, December 15, 2016

#CORNWALL WALKING PATHS WITH GUEST AUTHOR CAROLA DUNN

Carola Dunn is the author of twenty-six mysteries and thirty-two Regencies. She was born and grew up in England but has lived in the US for many years. When not writing, she enjoys gardening, reading, and walking the dog. She has two grandchildren and cannot believe one is a teenager. Where did the years go? Learn more about Carola and her books at her website

The Joy of Walking
One of the features of England that I miss most here in the US, at least in the West, is the public foot paths. They crisscross the countryside, paying no heed to boundaries, climbing over walls and fences with the aid of stiles, crossing farmers' fields as freely as woods, hills, and dales.

Many of the paths are of ancient origin, medieval at least. Legally they are rights of way and can't be closed by landowners. The Ramblers organization zealously guards the public's access.

Cornwall, like the rest of the country, has footpaths everywhere. The main character of my Cornish mysteries, Eleanor, loves walking with her Westie Teazle on the cliffs and moors. She enjoys it the more because she spent most of her adventurous life traveling the world, working for an international charity.

On retiring to Cornwall, Eleanor looks forward to tranquility. She settles in a small fishing port on the North Coast and opens a charity shop, a peaceful occupation. But human nature is the same the world over. When crime comes to Port Mabyn, Eleanor finds the skills learned in far off places are not forgotten and become useful once again.

In the fourth book in the series, Buried in the Country, Eleanor’s talent for diplomacy is called upon by a friend from the past, a government official. He is holding a secret conference at a hotel on the cliffs near Tintagel, and he wants Eleanor to smooth relations between the antagonistic participants.
Megan's niece, Detective Sergeant Megan Pencarrow, is helping with security for the conference, although she's already on another case, the disappearance of a local solicitor. When two strangers turn up at the hotel, she can see they're villains. What she can't guess is whether they're a threat to the conference, connected somehow with the lawyer's disappearance, or contemplating some other nefarious business.

Now Eleanor's enjoyment of walking becomes vital to the story. Her description of the view of King Arthur's legendary castle ruins from the cliff top paths inspires enthusiasm in the young people. Their insistence on going for a walk, whatever the risk of being seen, leads to the revelation of what the two London villains are up to.

Caught in the act, the villains flee with hostages. The ensuing car chase takes them to fog-bound Bodmin Moor at dusk. Eleanor's familiarity with the rural byways helps Megan to follow and to rendezvous with her colleagues. They end up on Bodmin Moor, where the murderers disappear into the fog.

Night is falling. It seems they'll escape. But Eleanor often walks here. She knows the lay of the land and all the hazards: bogs, old mine shafts, precipitous quarry walls. She describes it for the searchers, and when she's denied a part in the search, she goes off hunting on her own.

Using every scrap of her local knowledge, combined with her talent at diplomacy and a few tricks she's learned in foreign parts, Eleanor emerges from the fog triumphant: She has captured one of the villains and he's spilled the beans.

Walking the footpaths of England, you are not at all likely to meet a murderer, of course. Nor will you meet a bear, a cougar, a skunk, a porcupine, or a rattlesnake; you won't even encounter poison oak or poison ivy!

Buried in the Country
After many years working around the world for an international charity in the late 1960s, Eleanor Trewynn has retired to the relative quiet of a small town in Cornwall. But her quiet life is short-lived when, due to her experience, the Commonwealth Relations Office reaches out to her to assist in a secret conference that is to take place in a small hotel outside the historical village of Tintagel.

Meanwhile, her niece, Detective Sargent Megan Pencarrow, is investigating the disappearance of a local solicitor when she is assigned to help provide security for the conference. Two African students, refugees from Ian Smith’s Rhodesia, arrive for the conference, escorted by Megan’s bête noire from Scotland Yard. They are followed by two mysterious and sinister Londoners, whose allegiances and connections to the conference and the missing solicitor are unclear. With a raging storm having trapped everyone in the hotel, the stage is set for murder, and it’s up to Eleanor and Megan to uncover the truth before more lives are lost.

Buy Links

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

#DECORATING WITH GUEST AUTHOR KAREN PULLEN

Karen Pullen is the author of the Stella Lavender Mystery series as well as numerous award-winning short stories. She also runs a bed & breakfast in Pittsboro, North Carolina. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

Fern’s Old House

My new book, Cold Heart, finds Stella Lavender, State Bureau of Investigation Special Agent, continuing to work nights, buying drugs from paranoid drug dealers. But the physical danger and necessary betrayals are getting to her. When she sees a chance to work homicide, she’ll always take it. One afternoon she gives a hitchhiking teenager a ride to her babysitting job and together they find a gruesome murder scene. Stella joins the investigation, of course. But that’s as much as I’ll reveal, since this post is meant to have a decorating theme. Let’s put the “mystery” story aside and give you a peek into a subplot.

Stella’s grandmother Fern needs help. Fern’s house is falling down.

Small white farmhouses with tin roofs dot the North Carolina countryside wherever remorseless development hasn’t yet razed, paved, and commercialized. Functional, never showy, they’re often dilapidated, with a sagging porch and rusty roof. Such is the house that Stella was raised in by Fern, a free-spirited artist with male admirers wrapped around every one of her paint-stained fingers. Fern did her best. But fine art doesn’t command high prices in central North Carolina, and so Stella grew up in poverty, and she still can’t afford the expensive repairs Fern’s house needs.

Stella knows Fern’s porch steps are soft and the balusters rickety. Indoors, she sees the strategically placed buckets. But it takes a plumber who’s helping with a collapsed sewer line to insist something needs to be done, pronto.

Somehow (read the book!) Fern comes up with the money for repairs. Stella and Fern hire a contractor (a high school crush of Stella’s) who turns the old farmhouse into a beautiful place:

… my car rolled smoothly down Fern’s long lane, now evenly graded and covered with a layer of gravel. Someone had whacked down the brambly blackberry bushes but left the azaleas, blooming profusely in every hue of scarlet, pink, and purple. The lane curved around a stand of black walnut trees. And there was the new porch. Gone were the two-by-four barricades blocking off rotted steps, the buckets to catch leaks. The once-sagging floor was level and painted dark green. The porch rail and balusters gleamed shiny white, and two fans swirled lazily from a sky-blue ceiling, pushing a breeze down onto white rocking chairs. Pots of red geraniums decorated the steps. The scene lacked only a dog and a pitcher of lemonade, and I had brought the dog.

The lemonade was inside on a new red countertop. Fern spun with open arms. “Ta da!” She’d sewn herself a sundress in the same apple green as the kitchen walls. Tied round her waist was a black and white scarf in a checkerboard pattern matching the new vinyl floor. But the most amazing sight was the new stove, an ordinary four-burner gas stove. I felt like kneeling and kissing the little glass rectangle in the oven door, caressing its knobs, fondling each burner.

“I know, I know,” Fern said. “You like the stove.”

“I want to marry that stove.” I gave her a long hug, ignoring the complaints from my aching rib… “Show me the rest,” I said.

I oohed and aahed over the smooth, golden boards of the refinished pine floor in the living room, admired the gas-log fireplace. Fern pointed out the floor vents that would carry cool air into the room come July. “Of all the changes, that’s my favorite,” she said. “No more noisy window units!”

The second-floor bedroom used to be mine. I’d spent my childhood there, dreaming, dozing, peeling away layers of floral wallpaper. At fourteen, in a decorating frenzy, I’d painted over the entire mess in bubblegum pink, found a remnant of black carpet for the floor, and tacked an Indian bedspread to the ceiling to hide water stains. Pink, black, and batik.

Now, I couldn’t believe it was the same room. The walls were smooth and pale blue, with creamy white paint on the trim and beaded-board ceiling. Sunshine poured through newly glazed windows. Above the bed hung Fern’s painting of my old toys.

... Money can buy happiness. The improvements had entirely changed my perspective on Fern’s living out here by herself. No longer would I worry about Old Ironsides blowing up, or an AC window unit frying the knob-and-tube wiring, or food poisoning from egg salad stored in the old refrigerator that shuddered at the end of each cooling cycle. Fern wouldn’t step through a rotten porch floorboard and snap her ankle. She would be warm in the winter and cool in the summer. For a few moments I forgot about my case and savored a rare peace of mind, purchased for only twenty-eight thousand dollars.
Rosemary House Bed & Breakfast

I love the idea of renovation, modernizing an old home, restoring it to beauty and comfort yet keeping its original features. My love for old houses was one of the primary reasons I bought an old house in Pittsboro, NC and turned it into a five-room bed & breakfast. Some of the problems with Fern’s house were exactly those my B&B house had: blocked sewer line, space heaters and window units; rotten porch floor; leaks in the roof. Repairing those problems didn’t make it pretty, but they had to be fixed before we painted and decorated.

As Stella’s creator, I wanted to give her problems like those we all have–money, family, relationships. So, writing what I know, I created a falling-down farmhouse and worries about her grandmother, but then, taking pity, I gave her and Fern the resources to improve their lives. You’ll have to tell me whether it’s a satisfactory home reno! How about the color scheme? What’s your favorite part?

Giveaway: A randomly selected commenter will receive a signed proof of Cold Heart. Be sure to check back next Wednesday night to see if you won, as I will need contact information.

Cold Heart
Stella Lavender returns in a darkly delightful page-turner. As an undercover drug agent, Stella works nights, buying drugs from paranoid drug dealers. But the physical danger and necessary betrayals are getting to her. When she sees a chance to work homicide, she'll always take it.

One afternoon Stella gives a hitchhiking teenager a ride to her babysitting job in a wealthy neighborhood. Horror awaits them—the father lies dead in a pool of blood, and his toddler is missing. The puzzle quickly grows when a dizzying array of suspects provides more questions than answers.

Cold Heart draws the reader into Stella's dangerous world as she rummages through every strata of society in her relentless and sometimes unconventional pursuit of a cold-hearted murderer who won’t stop at just one victim.