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.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

FAVORITES, FAILURES & FRUSTRATIONS--GUEST AUTHOR KELLYE GARRETT

There's no place like home.
Kellye Garrett spent eight years working in Hollywood, including a stint writing for Cold Case. A former magazine editor, she now works for a leading media company and brainstorms ways to commit murder for her novels. Today she stops by to tell us about her favorite books. (We also think she should expand her love for mysteries with New Jersey settings to include the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries and the Empty Nest Mysteries šŸ˜€. Learn more about Kellye and her books at her website. 

Favorites, Failures & Frustrations: There’s No Place Like Home

People love books and movies because it lets them explore different places. Oz. Hogsmeade. A Galaxy Far, Far Away.

Although I love The Wizard of Oz, the Harry Potter series and the Star Wars movies just as much as the next person, some of my favorite books don’t show me a place I’ll never go. In actuality, nothing gets me more excited than when I recognize a place I’ve been in a book.

You see as a long time mystery lover, book characters are my version of rock stars. And since I can’t have a celeb sighting of Kinsey Millhone from the Sue Grafton series or Spenser from the Robert P. Parker novels, I settle for the next best thing: location sightings. There’s nothing like seeing a place in a book and going “I’ve been there, too!” It makes the characters feel even more real to me.

That’s probably why hometowns are often characters in a good mystery novel, whether it’s Spenser’s Boston or Kinsey’s Santa Teresa. It’s why I made a point to pack in as many real Los Angeles noticeable landmarks as I could in my debut mystery, Hollywood Homicide. You’ll find Melrose Avenue (it’s more than just a place), the ArcLight movie theater (it’s the one that looks like a golf ball smushed into the ground) and the Warner Bros. Studio (their water tower is iconic).

As much as I love Hollywood, I love New Jersey even more. I’m a loud and proud Jersey Girl, which for many people is known as that place people live because Manhattan is way too expensive. As you can imagine, I didn’t read a lot of mystery novels set in my neck of the woods. I can only think of two—and, no surprise, they’re two of my favorites.

The first is the Anthony Award winning Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben. Myron is a former-athlete-turned-agent who always ends up solving crimes for his clients. He also still lives in his parents’ basement in a town called Livingston, which is conveniently right next to where I grew up. He spends a lot of time on Route 10, which is suburbia at its best. Target. TGIFridays. Marshalls. You name it, it’s probably on Route 10 or being built on Route 10. (I even saw a Shake Shack is coming the last time I visited my mom.)

The second is the critically acclaimed Tamara Hayle Mystery series by Valerie Wilson-Wesley. Tamara is a black, female lone-wolf private investigator in Newark, which is where my Dad grew up and where I spent so much time as a child. Even today, I live about five minutes away and spend every weekend visiting family in the city. So we spend a lot of time in the same areas (East Orange! The Ironbound!) and traveling the same highways (Hello, Garden State Parkway!)

When I read these books, I’m not just getting amazing characters and great plots. I’m getting a sense of home. And like Dorothy said, there’s no place like it.

Hollywood Homicide
Actress Dayna Anderson’s Deadly New Role: Homicide Detective

Dayna Anderson doesn’t set out to solve a murder. All the semifamous, mega-broke actress wants is to help her parents keep their house. So after witnessing a deadly hit-and-run, she pursues the fifteen grand reward. But Dayna soon finds herself doing a full-on investigation, wanting more than just money—she wants justice for the victim. She chases down leads at paparazzi hot spots, celeb homes, and movie premieres, loving every second of it—until someone tries to kill her. And there are no second takes in real life.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR ALLIE BONIFACE'S BERRY TRIFLE

USA Today bestselling author Allie Boniface has written over a dozen romances, mostly set in small towns. She enjoys traveling with her husband when not teaching high school English or working on her next novel. Learn more about Allie and her books at her website.

What better way to celebrate the dog days of summer than with a small-town romance series filled with heat and suspense? Summer’s Song, Book 1 in my Pine Point series, re-released yesterday with Entangled Publishing, so I’m celebrating today with one of my favorite sweet treats. I’ve always loved writing about the quirky wonderfulness of small towns, probably because I grew up in one (and I also currently live in one). They’re charming, often picturesque, and filled with characters who know, love, hate, and have all kinds of juicy gossip about each other – some that goes back generations!

One of the best things about a small-town summer, in my opinion, is the classic backyard BBQ. Fire up the grill, set up some chairs and lawn games, and invite your friends over to eat, drink, and enjoy the long, warm days and nights. My classic go-to recipe, if I’m a guest at a summer party, is this Berry Trifle. I originally found it in a Cool Whip cookbook years ago, but I’ve tweaked it a bit since then. If you have a sweet tooth and love a colorful dessert that’s a little bit different from the norm, give this one a try!

Berry Trifle

Ingredients:
3 cups cold milk
2 packages (4 oz each) chocolate instant pudding/pie filling
1 tub (12 oz) whipped topping, thawed (or you can make your own by whipping heavy cream and adding confectioner’s sugar to taste)
1 9-inch pan of brownies, cooked, cooled, & cut into 1-inch squares
1 cup each of sliced strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries

Pour cold milk into bowl. Add pudding mixes & beat with wire whisk for 2 minutes. Stir in 2 cups of whipped topping.

Layer half the brownie cubes in the bottom of your serving dish (I like to use a glass trifle bowl, so you can see the colors). Top with half the pudding mixture, approximately one-third of the berries, and 2 cups whipped topping. Repeat layers and top with remaining berries and whipped topping.

Refrigerate if not serving immediately. Then enjoy!

In Summer’s Song, the heroine comes home to Pine Point after 10 long years away. She doesn’t have plans to stay, but that changes once she meets a local hunky handyman. But like almost every main character I seem to create, these two have secrets waiting for them. Each title in the Pine Point series is on sale for only $0.99 through August 27 so you can treat yourself to this entire collection for less than $4.00! Even better, I’ve joined with 7 other Entangled authors to create a Hot August Nights giveaway

Summer’s Song
Summer Thompson doesn’t remember the night her brother died, and she certainly doesn’t want to go back to Pine Point and face any memories that might be awoken there. But ten years after leaving her small hometown, she’s back to settle her estranged father’s estate and be rid of the half-renovated mansion she’s inherited. What she doesn’t expect is to find the house occupied by a hunky handyman reluctant to talk about his past.

Damian Knight has been helping his mother and sister hide from a brutal stalker, but now the peace and carefully guarded safety they’ve found in Pine Point is in danger. The refuge they live in is about to be sold out from under them by the lovely but haunted Summer, a woman who quickly finds her way through Damian’s defenses and steals his heart.

But in a small town full of powerful secrets, the past won’t remain buried. Summer has to face her memories and could lose the man she loves, and maybe even her life.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

HAPPY TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE DAY!

Happy Total (for those of you in the Path of Totality) Solar Eclipse Day!

Ever wonder how people depicted a solar eclipse before modern photography? The Princeton Art Museum is currently featuring an exhibit of paintings by Howard Russell Butler (1856-1934). Butler was a graduate of Princeton University’s first School of Science. He was also a portrait and landscape painter who founded the American Fine Arts Society.

Left Panel
In 1918 Butler, who had already established himself as a renowned painter of transient phenomena such as sunsets, was invited to accompany the United States Naval Observatory Eclipse Team to Salem, Oregon. At a time when photography was not yet sophisticated enough to capture the nuances of a solar eclipse, Butler’s painting, completed from memory and notes within hours of observing the eclipse, provided an account that astronomers heralded for its scientific accuracy.

Center panel with image of Bailey's Bead
In 1925 the American Museum of Natural History commissioned a triptych for an astronomy hall Butler had designed. The hall was never built, but the triptych was later mounted over the entrance to the Hayden Planetarium. The smaller version pictured above was given by Butler’s son to Princeton University in 1958. The left panel is the solar eclipse from the 1918 expedition. The middle panel is the 1923 solar eclipse in Lompoc, California, which captures what is known as a Bailey's Bead, a bead of sunlight that is glimpsed briefly amid the craggy topography of the moon. The panel on the right is the solar eclipse of 1925 in Connecticut.

Right panel

Friday, August 18, 2017

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR PATRICIA HALE

Patricia Hale writes mystery and suspense. Today she sits down with us for an interview. Learn more about her at her website. 

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
As a child, I wanted to write biographies. Then as an adolescent, I began writing poetry. I even sent one (handwritten in pencil) to the New Yorker. I received a very professional rejection letter. I was devastated and threw it away. Now, I wish I had framed it. When I had kids in my twenties, I wrote a few children’s stories, but I never sought-out publication. I didn’t try my hand at a novel until I was in my forties.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
After completing an MFA at the age of forty-two, I wrote two novels. I tried to get an agent, but never had any luck. They are both in the drawer of my desk. I read a lot of mysteries and decided I would give the genre a try. My first book, In the Shadow of Revenge, was published in 2013.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
I am traditionally published. In the Shadow of Revenge, was with Carina Press. The Cole and Callahan PI series is with Intrigue Publishing. The Church of the Holy Child is the first book of the series.

Where do you write?
I write at home in my office.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
Silence is golden while I write. But I do keep my windows open (whenever possible in New England). I like the everyday background noise; a breeze rustling the leaves, the birds at the feeder and the neighborhood dogs barking (usually my own).

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
I don’t get plots from my own life. (My life isn’t nearly that exciting.) I do sometimes play with something I see in the newspaper. And I pull from friends and family for character traits or quirks. Since I write in first person, I guess you could say that many of Britt Callahan’s opinions are my own.

Describe your process for naming your character?
It’s not very complex…. I sit quietly and think about the character, their looks and personality, and I almost always take the first name that comes to mind. I like to go with my gut.

Real settings or fictional towns?
I tend to use both. My series is set in Portland, Maine and since I lived in Maine for 20 years, I know the area. I enjoy reading a book that describes places I’m familiar with. I think others do, too.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
Britt Callahan smokes honeyberry cigars, a quirk I stole from a coworker.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?
Maybe my dogs… I tend to fawn over them with the best of everything. We never miss our walks and I can’t leave them for too long, even a weekend away makes me anxious. People say, “They’re just dogs.” But they’re so much more than that.

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
This might have to be a list instead of just one. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn comes to mind as does My Big Brother and We Have to Talk About Kevin, both by Lionel Shriver. The reason is the same for all three. The writing is excellent.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
I would have gone to college right out of high school instead of waiting twenty years. And I would have gone for a journalism degree instead of an MFA. More marketability.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
People who say, “Yeah, I’m gonna write a book someday.” Like it’s on their to-do list along with painting the kitchen and losing 10 pounds.

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
My dogs, my computer and books.

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
Packing strawberries. I stood on a cement floor with twenty other women for 8 hours a day with a half-hour break. I didn’t have a car at the time and rode my bike 10 miles each way. The ride in the morning wasn’t bad, but the ride home was killer. I only lasted two weeks.  

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
That’s like saying which of my children do I like the best? Impossible to answer, but here are a few that come to mind. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard, Plague Dogs, by Richard Adams, A Prayer for Owen Meaney, by John Irving and We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver

Ocean or mountains?
Definitely mountains. I have always lived on the coast, but travel to the woods and mountains as frequently as possible. It’s where I rejuvenate.

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
I’m a country girl, without a doubt. I visit the city and enjoy it while I’m there, but I can’t tolerate the noise and so many people for longer than a day or two.

What’s on the horizon for you?
I’m anxious to take the two novels I wrote ten years ago out of my desk drawer. I am committed to the stories and believe I can bring them both to fruition with some re-writing.

The Church of the Holy Child
A woman with a history of domestic abuse is missing. Her sister hires private investigators Cole and Callahan.
When the woman is found dead, her husband is charged, but when a second body appears showing the same wounds, questions arise and what looked like a slam-dunk becomes anyone’s guess. The case goes to John Stark, a veteran cop and close friend of Griff Cole.
The bodies are piling up, and one person knows where the killer is. Father Francis, a priest at The Church of the Holy Child, listens to the killer’s disturbed account of each murder and wrestles with the holy orders that bind him to secrecy.
The case takes an unexpected and personal turn when Cole’s ex-wife goes missing and a connection to his past points to the killer.

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

HELEN BENNETT DISCUSSES BODY IMAGE

Helen Bennett is a freelance writer previously employed in the healthcare sector for many years, with a varied career that took in many aspects of helping people, particularly in matters relating to diet, nutrition and fitness. She joins us today to discuss the positive influence of plus-size models.

Plus-Size Models: A Psychological Boost for Women

The rise in popularity of plus-size models has been the subject of much debate in the media of late. While many consumers of media and social media welcome the advent of a greater variety of body types and praise the positive effect they can have on young women, others have criticized the phenomenon. The most widely cited scandal involved 1980s supermodel Cheryl Tiegs, who indirectly stated that being full figured and being healthy, were mutually exclusive concepts.

Ashley Graham, arguably the world’s most famous full-figured model, noted that health was an individual matter that could not be judged from a photograph. The model has a 29-inch waist which is far from ‘dangerous’ according to experts on ‘metabolically healthy obesity’, who deem that in general, women with a high BMI but a waist size of no more than 35 inches, can be healthy, whenever their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels are within normal range, they have normal sensitivity to insulin and they enjoy good physical fitness. Experts at Harvard University note that genes also play an important role in how a person’s body and metabolism respond to weight – some may be genetically protected from becoming insulin resistant, which is good news in terms of keeping life-threatening illnesses at bay.

Although matters of physical health continue to be debated, one area that is clearly benefited from the curvy model phenomenon, is our psychological health. A new study by researchers at Florida State University has shown that women were more likely to pay attention to and recall average and plus-size models, in comparison to thin models. They also enjoyed a boost in their psychological health, as measured by psychophysiological responses, when they were exposed to these images.

For the study, researchers gathered 49 college-aged women, all of whom had expressed the desire to be thinner. The women were shown various photographs of women of different sizes—thin, average and plus-size. The researchers recorded the participants’ psychophysiological responses; after image exposure, the women also answered questions about their level of satisfaction with their own bodies and the way they compared themselves to the models they had seen in the imagery. The results showed very different reactions to thin and plus-sized models, respectively.

When participants looked at thin models, they made more comparisons, paid less attention to the details of the photographs and remembered less about the models as a whole. They also reported lower body satisfaction, which can be harmful to mental health. However, when average and plus-sized women were seen in images, participants concentrated more on the images, made fewer comparisons with themselves and remembered the models more. They also reported feeling better about their own body image. The researchers concluded that portraying more realistic body types in the media can wield important advantages for women, primarily because it would help them feel more body positive.

Other research has shown that poor body image can be damaging to more than just a woman’s psychological wellbeing. One study carried out at the University of Mississippi Health showed that having negative feelings about one’s body can lead women to engage in riskier health behaviors, including substance abuse or unsafe sex. The researchers also stated that it was important for parents and those producing social media content, to help young women overcome these issues by avoiding the publication of unrealistic images.

Another study published by researchers at Chapman University found that both men and women can benefit greatly from feeling good about their bodies. "Our study shows that men's and women's feelings about their weight and appearance play a major role in how satisfied they are with their lives overall," stated the lead researcher.

Despite the known effects of poor body image, only 24 per cent of men and 20 per cent of women feel very or extremely satisfied with their weight and only 50 per cent feel somewhat to very satisfied. There is still an unrealistic expectation on women to be thin, and men to display a lean/athletic physique. In addition to unrealistic imagery published by the media, additional factors that are linked with lesser satisfaction with one’s appearance and weight include watching numerous hours of television a week, and having a fearful or dismissive attachment style.

While we still have a long way to go in terms of self-acceptance, the research universally shows that repeated exposure to unrealistic body images can influence our eating patterns and psychological wellbeing. The media has certainly come a long way in terms of diversity and acceptance.

photo credit: Charlotte Astrid <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/47526043@N04/4497292636">Body Image. The subjective concept of one's physical appearance based on self-observation and the reactions of others.</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">(license)</a>

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

FAMILY #CAMPING WITH AUTHOR MAGGIE TOUSSAINT

Southern author Maggie Toussaint writes mystery, suspense, and dystopian fiction. Her work won the Silver Falchion Award for best mystery, the Readers’ Choice Award, and the EPIC Award. Learn more about Maggie and her books at her website

Single Working Mom Blues
By Baxley Powell, amateur sleuth

Dear Diary,

I was so looking forward to this vacation getaway. I didn’t know I needed a vacation until my ten-year-old daughter Larissa suggested it. We couldn’t afford anything fancy, but everything lined up just right for a trip that fit our budget.

First, we asked my parents if they knew anyone who would let us borrow a camper, and my parents said they knew two families who would loan us campers – they wanted to come, too. My best friend in the whole wide world, Charlotte Ambrose, decided she wanted to come along once she heard about the trip. Better yet, Charlotte had a cousin with property in the north Georgia mountains that we could camp on.

With only a week of summer left before school started up again for fall term, we hit the road and motored to North Georgia. It was beautiful and breathtaking and awesome. In just one day at the campsite, I felt revitalized. Our day started out with fishing, but before you could say, “I love vacation” three times in a row, a murder occurred and I was tagged to investigate.

Each morning on vacation I had to say goodbye to my family and my daughter and go to work. The evidence trail went cold so I really dug in and things started happening on the case solving.

But the absolute best thing of all was my daughter. She didn’t resent my absence at all. When I tearfully hugged her and apologized on missing out on all the vacation fun, she told me I was right where I needed to be, doing what I needed to do.

How did I get so lucky to have a great kid like Larissa?

My parents are awesome, too. They take everything in stride, but they’ve been at the Dreamwalker stuff much longer than I have. There’s someone else I met on vacation. A guy. He knows what I do, and he gets it. Seriously, how many men on the planet would want someone they’re interest in talking to spirits and other paranormal entities? I get kind of dreamy thinking about him, but that’s a tale for another day.

Dadgummit, a Dreamwalker Mystery

Amateur sleuth Baxley Powell is on vacation at Stony Creek Lake in north Georgia. A young man’s body is found beside the lake, and there’s no apparent cause of death. The local police urge Baxley, an expert at closing unusual cases, to help and she agrees.

Her psychic sleuthing leads the police to a halfway house where someone is draining victims of their life force. Jonas, the only person standing in the house, escapes, taking the sheriff as a hostage. Deputy Sam Mayes, a Native American, leads the manhunt.

Baxley’s paranormal talent of dreamwalking, which she uses to traverse the veil of life, draws the unwanted attention of beings believed to be Cherokee folklore. They prevail upon her to get it back from Jonas.

With the body count rising, Baxley and Mayes are up against an entity who appears to be invincible. Can they subdue an energy vampire, turn the tide of evil, and save the day?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR MIN EDWARDS WHIPS UP BLACKBERRY/JALEPEƑO SAUCE

Min Edwards wears many hats... author, book designer, archaeologist, and citizen of the most eastern town in the U.S... the edge of America. As a reader, she doesn’t chain herself to only one genre. She loves, almost equally, romance, suspense, thrillers, and sci-fi. If a book takes her someplace she’s never been with a story that makes her heart beat with excitement, then she considers that an excellent book. She strives for the same excellence in her own stories. Learn more about Min and her books at her website/blog. 

Summer in Maine

I’m a transplanted Texan. I lived for thirty years in a golf course community on a lake just west of Austin, Texas. When I arrived there in 1981, it had a population of 1500 people. When I left thirty years later the population was over 10,000, the Austin metropolitan area was close to 2 million, and traffic was a nightmare. In my community, we had two upscale malls, several supermarkets including a Whole Foods, a new hospital, and enough restaurants to please anyone’s palate. Gosh, I miss it.

But, in 2011 after years of excruciating summer temperatures and rising taxes, I moved to my small bay-front farm just outside the most eastern town in the US—Lubec, Maine. And what a change, both personally and culturally! For one thing, winters are awful but beautiful, autumn is spectacular, spring is called Mud Season for a good reason, but summer... oh my, it’s like heaven (with huge mosquitoes and mean horseflies). And everything is green. Our flowers grow bigger than anywhere else. Even the wildflowers are spectacular. Texas may have their bluebonnets, but we have lupines in colors from white up through pink and onward to deep purple. And they’re three feet tall. It’s like alien bluebonnets!

There are drawbacks, of course. For one thing, I now live almost 100 miles away from everything... no hospital, few doctors and no specialists, no shopping except in the summer months and all but one of our cafes and restaurants are closed from October through April.

Of course, there are the excellent things about living up here; the best is the summer. We have a short growing season, but the vegetables and flowers don’t let that hold them back. Every Saturday at our Farmers Market down on Water Street—aptly named as it’s next to the water! —farmers bring in the current weekly bounty of produce and fruit and of course, baked goods from the hands of lovely little ladies who’ve kept the church dinners, potlucks, and their family kitchens humming for years with delicious, Down East delicacies.

I’ve got to tell you, I’m not much of a cook myself. So, I enjoy Saturdays buying the ever-changing abundance of fresh produce and already-prepared entrees set out before me.

My small farm, though, and it’s a farm in title only... nine plus acres of mostly woods, wild apple trees, berry bushes, and wildflowers... is beautiful no matter the season. But summer is the best. Oh, and I have more than six hundred feet of wild Maine beach all to myself. It’s not a sandy beach, but made up of small stones rolled and smoothed by the waves. We call this kind of beach a shingle beach, and it sings when the tide is coming in rough. Yes, we’re the people who cope with forty-foot tides, which is another story entirely.

I must say that I don’t take the time to pick much of the fruit, which grows wild on my land, but I do love the blackberries. What I like about them is their versatility. I can drop them in a blender with vanilla Greek yogurt, a little milk, a smidgeon of sugar, and a banana, and out pops a fabulous smoothie. Actually, I normally cook the blackberries first and run them through a fine-mesh sieve. I hate the seeds... it makes my smoothies crunchy. Then again if I have a hankerin’ for dessert, I cook them down, add sugar, sieve out the seeds, add just a bit of cornstarch to thicken, if necessary, and drop that into one of those ready-to-bake puff pastry shells—baked first (talk about versatile) and add a dollop of fresh whipped cream.

But my favorite blackberry recipe is my Blackberry/JalapeƱo Sauce. This is good year-round. Since I’m still such a Texas girl I even add JalapeƱos to my cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving!

Blackberry/JalapeƱo Sauce

Ingredients:
1 cup of fresh blackberries (or frozen)
1/2 cup 100% cranberry juice
3 T. sugar
3 or more slices JalapeƱo pepper (without seeds unless you want the heat; I use jarred sliced peppers)
1/4 teas. lime juice
1/4 teas. Raye’s Winter Garden Mustard (hey, I’m shopping local, and Raye’s is made right across the bay from my property)

Cook the blackberries in cranberry juice until they’re soft. Cool slightly and sieve over a bowl to remove the seeds. You’ll leave a lot of stuff besides the seeds behind, but you’ll get a nice smooth slightly thickened juice to work with.

Put the juice back on the stove and slowly simmer while you add the sugar, pepper slices (chopped fine), the lime juice, and mustard.

Feel free to adjust the ingredients; more sugar if you like a sweeter sauce, more peppers or less, a different mustard, lemon juice if you prefer that to lime.

Trust me, this is great particularly on pork or chicken... or even as a topping-with-a-kick on vanilla ice cream.

Precious Stone, a High Tide Romantic Suspense, Book 4

A gift of thanks to a young girl from the Tsar more than 100 years ago... and now the Russians want it back.

Collee McCullough, the owner of The Bakery in Stone Bay, Maine, has a perfect life until early one morning men in suits come calling. She has something someone dangerous wants. Something that her Russian great-grandmother Natasha took when she fled Russia in 1913. Too bad great-gran never told her family what she had or where she left it.

Jake Elsmore, visiting Stone Bay to sell his mother’s house, walks into The Bakery for a cup of Earl Grey tea, but gets more. There she is. A sprite in a flour-dusted apron, stepping out from behind a big burly policeman; a lovely, fiery-haired fairy toting a shotgun while two men are laying insensate on the floor of her shop. Looks like that tea will have to wait.

Monday, August 14, 2017

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--DIY HOME MAKEOVER CRAFT PROJECTS

Danielle Hegedus stops by today with some DIY ideas for sprucing up your home.

Integrating Crafty DIY Projects to Upgrade Your Home Aesthetics
By: Danielle Hegedus

Are you due for a home interior makeover? Maybe you’ve just moved into a new place so you have a blank canvas, but you’re on a budget. Or perhaps you’re ready to let your inner artist loose as you fashion your home to reflect your unique style. We here at Modernize are passionate about helping homeowners create the living spaces of their dreams, regardless of budget or style. And some simple DIY craft projects are the perfect choice for customizing your home without spending lots of money. With a minimal investment in supplies—including some things you can salvage or repurpose—and a little elbow grease, you can have a big impact on the appearance of your home—not to mention how you feel when you are in it!

Create a Unique Interior Space with a Versatile Chalkboard Wall
Adding design elements to your home can be pricey, especially when it comes to professionally framing pictures or purchasing artwork to personalize your space. And depending on your budget, if you’re purchasing items from a chain store, you’re likely to see that vase or print that you thought was so unique show up in five of your friends’ homes, too. Where’s the fun in that?

Ever think about creating your own artwork? If you’re not ready to commit to one image, use chalkboard paint and let your creative impulses run wild. It’s affordable and easily erasable, so whether you have a grand vision for a mural, want to have fun with some doodles, or just want to display your favorite inspiring quotes, here’s your opportunity.

Chalkboard paint is also a great option for a kitchen wall, since it helps organize your grocery list and plan your meals. It can replace a sterile whiteboard in a home office, while still helping you work through projects on a larger scale than pen and paper. And it’s a great option if you have little ones who, let’s face it, are probably inclined to draw on the walls anyway!

Bring the Outside Indoors with Fun, Unexpected Houseplants
Most people enjoy fresh flowers, but a good houseplant improves the look of your home while lasting longer and usually costing less money. Plus, a number of houseplants have been proven to improve the quality of the air in your home, removing harmful toxins found in cleaning products, carpets, and paints to help you breathe easier. Plus, plant pots are a perfect opportunity to repurpose an unexpected item for an interesting design feature in your home. As long as you can create some holes for water drainage (and that’s not even necessary for all plants, bamboo for instance), let your imagination run wild. Give items that might otherwise be headed to the landfill (or just cluttering up your home) a second-life, like old-fashioned tea and cookie tins, plastic bottles, retired kids’ toys, or gift baskets. If you have pots already, refresh their look with a coat of metallic spray paint, or maybe use some leftover bathroom tile or even glass coasters to try your hand at a mosaic. The possibilities are endless.

Take Repurposing to a New Level by Building Your Own Furniture
Whenever I see a wooden palette, I see possibilities. Set it up flat against a wall and you have a great structure for an herb or small vegetable garden. Orienting it vertically enables  you to create a garden in any small space—from an apartment balcony to a small nook by a sunny window. If you have a yard, if you’re an active cyclist, or if you have kids who love to ride bikes, consider using a palette as a bike rack that is attractive and keeps you from backing over one in your car!

My younger brother though, has taken my love of palettes to a whole new level. His entire apartment—bed, coffee table, and bookshelves—are fashioned out of palettes that he either found or asked a small business if he could take off their hands. Usually the businesses are happy to part with palettes, as it saves them money on trash removal, but make sure you ask! If you want to be just as ambitious with your palette projects, you may need some baseline carpentry skills, but there are loads of DIY articles on the internet to help you along the way. Plus, if you make a big mistake, the risk is low because the supplies usually don’t cost you anything and would otherwise be headed to the landfill anyway. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR ERIC REED

Eric Reed is the pen name of the historical mystery team of Mary Reed and Eric Mayer. Their Grace Baxter World War II series is set in rural Shropshire, and their Lord Chamberlain series is set in and around the sixth century court of Emperor Justinian I in Constantinople. They also write as M.E. Mayer for the British editions of their Lord Chamberlain series. Today they sit down with us for an interview. Learn more about Mary and Eric at their website and blog.            

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
It was not a sit down and consider the idea decision. Rather the notion crept up on us gradually. Our original co-written fiction was in the form of short stories with various protagonists, and after several featuring John were published, it suddenly occurred to us it might be an idea to write a full-length adventure about him. So we did and the result was One For Sorrow, the first entry in the Lord Chamberlain series.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
Not long, as far as novels go. We sold One For Sorrow to Poisoned Pen Press within a year of finishing it. We were very, very lucky. On the other hand we had both spent a lifetime writing, and selling, first nonfiction of various sorts and then short fiction. So we weren't exactly overnight successes or child prodigies.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
Traditionally.

Where do you write?
In an upstairs room we share as an office and general living quarters. Fortunately we get along quite well despite the cramped space. Also the knives are all downstairs in the kitchen.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
We usually don't listen to music when writing fiction. For his part Eric has a hard time pushing music into the background. It engages his attention and takes his mind off the writing. However, we often play music when we're researching, or tossing ideas around, or jotting down ideas. We listen to just about everything but grand opera and rap, unless you consider Twenty-One Pilots rap. So one day it might be Frederick Delius, the next Lady Gaga or Phil Ochs. Lately we've been
playing brand new albums from Blondie and former members of the Kinks Ray and Dave Davies.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
Ruined Stones is set in an area of Newcastle close to the one in which Mary grew up -- close enough in fact to be able to take a detour when walking to school to visit the scanty ruins of the Roman temple playing a large part in the plot. So a great deal of the background of the novel, including dialect, societal norms, and locations, is based upon her memories of living in the city as a youngster.

The local inhabitants are not based on real persons but rather on the sort of personalities found in all large industrial cities. As local minister Mr. Elliott puts it when talking to Grace, who hails from a rural area of Wiltshire, "...I think you’ll be impressed how my parishioners help out neighbours in need without being asked. You’ll find they have rough tongues and tend to be judgmental, but when misfortune strikes, they’re around unasked with kind words, bringing food and offering help in any fashion they can, from loaning baptismal gowns for the new baby to laying out the dead.”

Describe your process for naming your character?
For our Byzantine novels we consult lists of Roman names that were popular during the sixth century, drawn from histories, literary texts, inscriptions, and miscellaneous written sources. Some of the names for characters in the Lord Chamberlain mystery we are currently writing, set in Rome, come from inscriptions recorded in a late Victorian book about the catacombs.

To avoid confusion we try not to use too many names starting with the same letter, or which sound similar. It's amazing how many Roman names ended in "us" or "a".

For the same reason we mostly avoid the Romans' complicated three part naming system and just identify characters by one of their names.  By the sixth century this system was, in fact, beginning to break down and many Christian names familiar to us today were in use. We prefer shorter to longer ones, although we might give minor characters one of the alphabet soup type just for historical flavor.

For our books set in Newcastle Mary avoided names of people she knew.

Real settings or fictional towns?
The Lord Chamberlain novels are based upon research into sixth century Constantinople plus a dash of imagination for the locations and descriptions of various buildings required for the plot, both on and off the large area occupied by the court. Some structures from that time such as the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom) are still to be seen so are easy to integrate.

Mary grew up in Newcastle and Eric spent four years going to school in New York so we are both familiar with the ambience of big cities. The dangerous dark alleys of Constantinople down which John ventures are not unlike the dim, deserted corridors of the Port Authority Eric passed through during his time in New York.

In the case of Ruined Stones, some of the novel takes place in real locations in the city, but the two streets of terraced houses in which much of the action takes place are inventions of our own, albeit based upon the housing in which Mary's family lived. The reason for this is explained in our afterword: easily accessible census records list everyone in every house in every area, and by placing our characters in an actual location there was a chance we would press-gang real city residents into service on the fictional ship Ruined Stones.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
Helias, maker and repairer of water clocks, appears in Seven For A Secret. He also offers a good line in sundials, but is afraid of shadows. Thus his emporium is underground and as far as possible he avoids being outside because, as he tells John, shadows "... trip you up. Nasty things, they are. They move fast." Helias is so afraid of shadows that one scene depicts his agonized attempt to cross a sunny courtyard by walking backwards with his eyes shut.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?
We're both extremely private people who don't like to discuss things like our quirkiest quirks. :)

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
EM: This is a puzzler. The obvious, crass, answer is that I'd love to have written this or that bestseller because then we'd be free to do whatever we wanted.  The slightly less crass answer is that it would be great to have written some classic of
literature because, hey, being hailed as a literary genius must be pretty neat.

And, sure, I've often finished a book and immediately thought, wow, I wish I'd written that. But what I really meant was that I wish I possessed the level of skill to write that because then I could apply that skill to writing my own book, that no one else could have written but me.

MR:  A difficult question! Today I would say Ethel Lina White's Wax, in which the waxworks plays an unexpected part and which features one of the most ironic endings I've read in recent years.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
We are agreed it might have been a good idea to adopt Eric Reed as our pen name first time out, although in that case we would have to choose a different name for the Grace Baxter series. Which might have been difficult as Mary Mayer suggests a different kind of fiction -- although there's a certain ring to it.

Eric wishes we had chosen a more popular era for our mysteries.  We both find the early Byzantine period fascinating but it doesn't catch the public imagination the way many other historical settings do.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Eric claims to have a whole menagerie of peeves. And they escape and run wild too often.  Better just to leave them alone.

For Mary it's people who are unkind.

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
MR: a solar-driven desalination machine, the Oxford English Dictionary for reading matter, and a large box of tinned food with a tin opener.

EM: Mary, Mary, and Mary.

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
Mary recalls her first job with less than affection. She was in a typing pool and confesses she was really glad to climb out of it when promoted to secretary in another office.

Eric worked for thirteen years as an editor/writer for a large legal publisher, which shall go unnamed. The atmosphere was poisonous enough to corrode a person's soul and it often did. The place was run by backbiters, all trying to scramble over each other to the top. It was a branch of the corporate flow chart of Dante's Inferno. Being caught in a downsizing and cast out into the freelance world was the best thing that ever happened to me.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
MR: The title will naturally vary from day to day but currently it's Mary Roberts Rinehart's Locked Doors. The denouement is startling and yet it fits as to why children are locked in their bedroom at night, the reason all the carpets and most of the furniture in the house have been removed, what led to all the servants being dismissed, and more.

EM: Each book is unique so there's no real way to compare them to say which is the "best." If I were forced to choose I would pick J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. It's an epic that I first read as a teenager and loved just as much when I re-read it last year a lifetime later.

Ocean or mountains?
MR: If I must choose, it would be the ocean. It's been years since I saw the sea. When I still lived in Newcastle we used to take the train to go down to the coast on sunny Sundays. And what memories of those trips! Brisk breezes off the North Sea, gathering shells and seaweed from rock pools, paper cones of winkles eaten with pins, older relatives paddling in the water with their skirts hitched up or trousers rolled up to the knees, etc.

EM: If Mary insists on living by the sea what choice do I have?

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
MR: City girl originally, now a country girl undergoing a crash course in such rural arcana as septic systems and wells.

EM: I grew up in the suburbs so I'm neither here nor there. There was still a scrubby little undeveloped patch of trees my friends and I grandiloquently called "the woods" which would probably count as country these days. My family eventually moved farther out to a house at the base of a wooded mountain and I loved hiking around alone with my own thoughts except for an occasional passing fox. On the other hand, I loved the excitement of the city when I lived in New York. There was something new around every corner. But I hated the noise that went with the excitement even then and it would probably kill me now.

What’s on the horizon for you?
We have just begun writing the next Lord Chamberlain novel, set in a besieged and largely deserted Rome, although there are still enough villains to go around, both inside and outside what remains of its walls. Thus the horizon is still a bit hazy as to details but hopefully it'll clear up soon!

Ruined Stones

In 1941 policeman's daughter Grace Baxter, now a member of the Women's Auxiliary Police Corps, moves from her home village in Shropshire to Newcastle-on-Tyne, northeast England.

Grace is eager to explore city life. And she's turned professional with an official job in the city's constabulary. The war means women can find work, even if most men on the job discount if not actively resent her.

Grace's arrival coincides with the discovery of the body of a young woman, curiously difficult to identify, at the scanty ruins of a Roman temple situated across from a church. The bone-numbing cold, the fogs, and enemy bombing, not to mention the peculiar behavior of some of the citizens, test Grace's resolve to be an effective officer. There are many potential leads, and much suspicious behavior to sort through. What role do ancient rituals play in the murder and what follows? What current misbehavior or crimes is someone desperate to cover up? The investigation, carried out through fog and blackout and fear as well as the hostility of her colleagues, tests Grace's resolve to be an effective officer. Will it also endanger her life?

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