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.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

GUEST AUTHOR SALLY HANDLEY ON COZY MYSTERIES

Author of the Holly and Ivy cozy mystery series, Sally Handley is also an avid reader and gardener and writes a monthly blog entitled “On Writing, Reading and Retirement”. Learn more about Sally and her books at her website. 

A Cozy Christmas
The words cozy and Christmas just seem to go together like peaches and cream. Before I retired in 2015, every Christmas, I used to drive with my dog from New Jersey to South Carolina to spend the holidays with my family. I managed to stay wide awake for the twelve hour road trip by eating candy bars, drinking Coca-Cola and listening to audiobooks. I still remember my delight the Christmas I discovered Deck the Halls, a collaboration by Carol Higgins Clark and her mother, Mary Higgins Clark. Listening to that cozy mystery as I drifted southward through the Shenandoah Mountains, was just the best warm-up for the week ahead.

Book two of my Holly and Ivy mystery series, Frost on the Bloom, begins on Christmas Eve at the fictitious Skyview Manor, a really cozy setting. The irony is that when I started writing my first mystery, Second Bloom, I had never even heard the term cozy mystery. Oh, I’d read tons of mysteries, many of them cozies, but I’d never heard the term used to describe an entire genre until I attended my first International Women’sWriting Guild Conference back in 2013.

Registration for the conference included a “Meet the Agents” session. In reviewing the agent resumes and trying to decide which agents I wanted to sign up for, I came across one whose write-up specified, “No cozy mysteries, please.” Wait. What? As you can guess, I immediately went on line and googled “cozy mystery”.

The first listing I found was https://www.cozy-mystery.com/. That was my aha moment. As I read the home page introduction, I clicked off the major characteristics of the genre one by one. Amateur sleuths. All the characters lived in the same neighborhood. No blood and gore. Yes, indeed. I was writing a cozy mystery.

Once I was able to put that specific tag on what I was writing, people started providing me with lots of helpful information. I learned about Malice Domestic, an organization that holds an annual fan convention in Bethesda, MD every year and celebrates traditional mysteries. I still recall how I felt attending that first conference…I’d found my people.

I belong to two book clubs and we read some serious literature, but I have to admit, I’m happiest curled up inside a mystery--and not just any mystery--a cozy mystery.  As I wrote in one of my blog posts, “Especially when the world seems gray and gloomy, whether literally or figuratively, I know no better escape than reading about a plucky heroine who says and does all the things I can’t, a shero who conquers the bad guys and finds true love with some hunky hero.”

Before starting to write this post, I searched “Mary Higgins Clark” to find the title of the book I’d listened to several years ago and discovered she and her mother have written at least five Christmas cozies. Then I searched “Christmas Cozy Mysteries”.  I’m guessing “Christmas Cozies” will eventually become its own sub-genre. I have to close now and place my order for at least one or two in time to read this holiday season. If you’re looking for a cozy Christmas read, I hope you’ll consider Frost on the Bloom.

Frost on the Bloom
In this second book in the Holly and Ivy mystery series, one of Holly Donnelly’s former students, Becky Powell, asks the look-alike sisters for help when they all spend Christmas at Skyview Manor, and Becky becomes the prime suspect in the attempted murder of her manipulative grandmother, Lyla Powell. Once again the plucky sisters are reluctantly drawn into a murder investigation, convinced that Mrs. Powell’s duplicitous friends and greedy Powell family members have framed Becky for the crime. Holly’s involvement becomes a source of contention between her and Detective Nick Manelli, threatening their budding romance. Can their relationship continue to sizzle as the investigation heats up and the sister sleuths try to catch a cold-blooded killer?

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR JUDY PENZ SHELUK SHARES PEANUT BUTTER COOKIE RECIPE

With the holidays coming up we've allowed Cloris another spot this week to feature one more author who bakes. After all, you can never have too many Christmas cookies, right? 

Judy Penz Sheluk writes the Glass Dolphin Mysteries and the Marketville Mysteries, and her short crime fiction has appeared in several anthologies. Learn more about Judy and her books at her website/blog. 

Judy is offering a giveaway to a lucky reader. Click here to sign up for her newsletter before December 20th for a chance to win an Audible.com audiobook of either The Hanged Man’s Noose or Skeletons in the Attic (winner’s choice). 

While I don’t write the sort of books that contain cats, crafts or cookie recipes (my amateur sleuth mysteries have bit more of an edge), like me, my protagonists have a sweet tooth, at least when it comes to cookies. When I visited last December, I shared a recipe for my mom’s Almond Crescents, a to-die for shortbread that Arabella Carpenter of The Hanged Man’s Noose would surely appreciates. You can find that recipe here

In 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. Maybe it’s the childhood memory of baking with my mother, but I truly believe these are the best peanut butter cookies you’ll ever taste.

Anneliese’s Best Ever Peanut Butter Cookies

Ingredients:
2-1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup peanut butter (smooth or crunchy; I prefer smooth, but if you like bits of peanut in your cookies, the crunchy peanut butter works well)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla (real vanilla, not the imitation stuff) Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside. Beat butter, peanut butter and white and brown sugar with mixer until light and fluffy. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture, beating well after each addition.

Drop a tablespoon of cookie dough 2 inches apart onto baking sheets sprayed with cooking spray. Flatten each cookie in a crisscross pattern with the tines of a fork.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks. Allow to cool completely.

Skeletons in the Attic, a Marketville Mystery

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?

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR KATHY KREVAT

Kathy Krevat is the author of the Gourmet Cat Mystery series and the nationally bestselling Chocolate Covered Mystery series under the name Kathy Aarons. Learn more about Kathy and her books at her website.

Easy Quiche for Holiday Visitors
The holiday season in Southern California means that we can usually entice some friends and relatives to visit and enjoy the sunshine.

Even without visitors, the holidays mean lots of get-togethers. One of my favorite recipes for low key dinners and potlucks is the easy quiche recipe below. We’ll be serving them at our annual New Year’s Day Brunch. We make it more of an open house, so that people can stop in once they’ve recovered from their New Year’s Eve parties.

This recipe can be modified for more or less vegetables, additions of sausage or other meats, low calorie cheese, and even low carb. The one in the photo is crustless!

For this New Year’s Day, I’m going to make this recipe – some with and some without crusts – and one with imitation crab meat and grated Swiss cheese instead of the broccoli and cheddar. It goes very well with mimosas!

And as a side benefit, leftover quiche tastes even better the next day!

Ingredients:
Frozen deep-dish pie crust
4 eggs
1 c. milk
1 T. flour
½ lb. turkey bacon
½ med. onion, chopped
½ lb. cheddar (or other) cheese
½ cup broccoli

Preheat oven to 350oF

Thaw pie shell, prick bottom with fork and cook at 350 degrees until slightly golden brown, approximately 7 minutes. 

Cook bacon until crisp and break into little pieces. 

Sauté onion in margarine or butter until soft. 

Steam broccoli as desired. 

Mix eggs, milk and flour well. 

Place onions, bacon and vegetables in bottom of pie shell. Add half the cheese. Pour in egg mixture until almost full. Place remaining cheese on top. 

Cook on a cookie sheet for 35 minutes. Check to see if done by inserting fork in center. If it comes out dry, the quiche is done. If not, keep checking every 15 minutes until done.

The Trouble With Murder
Single mom and gourmet cat food entrepreneur Colbie Summers thought she’d escaped her tiny California hometown forever. But when her father needs her, she packs up her adolescent son, their finicky feline, Trouble, and her budding business. She knows change is tough—but she doesn’t expect it to be murder . . .

Between dealing with her newly rural life, her grumpy, sports-obsessed father, and preparing to showcase her products in the local Sunnyside Power Mom’s trade show, Colbie has more on her plate than she bargained for. Luckily, she has her official taste-tester, Trouble, by her side to vet her 
Meowio Batali Gourmet Cat Food line. Things look promising—until one of the Power Moms is found dead—with an engraved Meowio specialty knife buried in her chest. 

As the prime suspect, Colbie needs paws on the ground to smoke out who had means, motive, and opportunity among the networking mothers—including a husband-stealing Sofia Vergara lookalike. And the cat’s still not out of the bag when a second violent death rocks the bucolic community. Trouble may have nine lives, but Colbie’s only got one to clear her name and stop a killer from pulling off the purr-fect crime . . .

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Monday, December 11, 2017

AUTHOR LOIS WINSTON ON WINTER WONDERLAND HOLIDAY BLOG SHARE, MAKING LISTS & #GIVEAWAY

The holidays are coming. Are you ready? Need another gift for a book lover? Or maybe you need a break from all the holiday frenzy?

Today marks the start of the Winter Wonderland Holiday Blog Share. In the spirit of the season I’m joining with authors Catherine Green, Stanalei Fletcher, Doree Anderson, Kathryn E. Jones, Karl Beckstrand, Marie Higgins, and Mary Martinez, to spread a bit of holiday cheer.

The tour lasts through December 18th. Stop by, leave a comment at each blog, and enter the Rafflecopter. You could win a $60 Amazon gift card, an early holiday present for yourself or a bit of help with your gift list. In addition, many of the authors, myself included, are giving away copies of our books.

Author Mary Martinez came up with idea for the Winter Wonderland Holiday Blog Share. She asked that we answer one or all of the following questions:

1. What is your favorite tradition from your childhood?
2. Do you still keep the same tradition with your family? Or have you started a new one for your family?
3. What is your favorite holiday dish?

Hmm…you might think these are easy questions to answer. Not for someone with a rather non-traditional childhood, noted mostly for its lack of any family traditions. And the traditions established with my own children have changed over the years as they’ve grown older and close friends and relatives have moved away. As for my favorite holiday dish? It’s hard to choose just one.

So instead, I’m going to discuss the biggest holiday tradition of all—list-making.

As everyone knows, this is the time of year for lists:
Gift lists.
Shopping lists.
Christmas card lists.
To-Do lists.

One by one we check off or cross out the items or names or chores until all are taken care of—hopefully well before ChristmaChanuKwanzaFestidan has come and gone.

Whatever you celebrate, this is a busy time of year. I don’t know about you, but I’d be lost without my lists. Even with them I often find myself running out at the last minute because I forgot to put an item or a person or a necessary ingredient on one of my many lists. A list, after all, is only as good as the list maker’s organizational skills. Good thing Santa doesn’t rely on me. He’s the most organized list maker the world has ever seen. Not only does he make a list, he checks it twice. And manages to accomplish his tasks all in one night. I envy Santa. I wish I could be that organized.

Along with the aforementioned lists, it's also that time of year for a host of other lists. I'm sure you've seen them in newspapers and magazines as well as on TV and the Internet. But did you know there's even a website of Top 10 Lists? Imagine that, a List of Lists! So along with finding out the Top 10 Grossing Movies of the Year or the Top 10 Searched Internet Sites or the Top 10 Gadgets of the Year, you can also find everything from the Top 10 Strangest LEGO Creations to the Top 10 Most Fascinating Urinals. (Really! Even I couldn't make that one up!)

So since everyone seems compelled around this time of year to come up with a Top 10 list of something, I thought I'd share one of mine:

Lois Winston's Top 10 Holiday List (in no particular order)
10. Favorite Christmas Beverage: John's egg nog
  9. Favorite Christmas Cookie: Rose's shortbread with chocolate frosting
  8. Favorite Christmas Carol: "Angels We Have Heard On High"
  7. Favorite Christmas Song (non-carol): "White Christmas"
  6. Favorite Christmas Movie: White Christmas
  5. Favorite Christmas TV Special: A Charlie Brown Christmas
  4. Favorite Christmas Book: A Christmas Story
  3. Favorite Christmas Activity: decorating the tree
  2. Favorite Christmas Present: a Shirley Temple doll
  1. Favorite Christmas Memory: watching my son perform in Amahl and the Night Visitors

Now it's your turn. What are some of your holiday favorites? Post a comment on today's blog for a chance to win a Kindle version of Elementary, My Dear Gertie, the novella sequel to my award-winning Talk Gertie To Me. (Note: Elementary, My Dear Gertie can be read and enjoyed without first having read Talk Gertie To Me.) The winner will be announced in the comment section of this blog at the end of the blog share. So make sure you check back after Dec. 18th to see if you've won and how to get your copy.

And don’t forget to hop over to these other blogs for more chances to win other books and enter the Rafflecopter drawing.

December 11th—Lois Winston
December 12thCatherine Green
December 13thStanalei Fletcher
December 14thDoree Anderson
December 15thKathryn E. Jones
December 16thKarl Beckstrand
December 17thMarie Higgins
December 18thMary Martinez

Click here to enter the Rafflecopter drawing for a $60 Amazon gift card. 


Elementary, My Dear Gertie
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.

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.

Read an excerpt here

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Saturday, December 9, 2017

COVER OF THE MONTH AWARD--ROUND 2

Anastasia and the gang are super-excited to announce that Scrapbook of Murder, the latest Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, has made it to the second round of voting for the coveted Cover of the Month Award at All Author. Once again your help is needed for us to advance to the next round. Cast your vote here(Once on the page, click on the orange box next to the cover to vote.) Thanks for your support!

Friday, December 8, 2017

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--CHRISTMAS BABIES ROMANCE BOX SET

The ebook box set has become a great marketing tool for authors and a way for readers to discover new favorite authors. Today Jill James shares the evolution of the Authors of Main Street, a group of romance writers who have come together to produce themed box sets. Learn more about the Authors of Main Street and their other books at their website/blog

Christmas Babies on Main Street
Christmas Babies on Main Street by the Authors of Main Street is our boxed set of 9 novellas for the 2017 Holiday season. Back when we formed in December of 2011 I never imagined we would not only still be doing boxed sets but have all become great friends and fellow writers. With our sixth set we are still going strong.

Our original group formed on the Indie Romance Ink Yahoo group. That group helped us find like writers and brought us together into subgenre groups. We decided to find our niche with contemporary romance in the cool-to-warm heat level of romance and start our own website and do joint projects. The original Authors of Main Street members were E. Ayers, Bella Street, Kelly Rae, Kristy Tate, Tori Scott, Susan R. Hughes, Leigh Morgan, Joan Reeves, Stephanie Queen, Carol DeVaney, Mona Risk, Pepper Phillips, and myself.

Over the years, we’ve lost members to life changes, different writing genres and heat levels, and to death in the case of Pepper Phillips, who was our organizing force and a wonderful lady and writer. We’ve also added members as we invite others to join the Authors of Main Street.

The boxed sets grew out of our wish to do a project together. We decide on a theme for the sets, one of us does the cover, another does the formatting, and together we market our sets.

This year’s set went with the theme of babies at Christmas. Not all our babies have plump fingers and cuddly toes; one has a tail and mane and four shiny hooves. Christmas doesn’t have to take place in December, either. Magic and miracles and true love happen all the time. But all the stories are contemporary romance in the cool-to-warm range and have a happily-ever-after.

Our latest set, Christmas Babies on Main Street includes the following novellas:

Baby Blue Christmas by Kristy Tate
As Christmas nears, Sophie and Luke’s love for baby Jamison draws them together, causing them to rethink their plans for the future and redefine their ideal family.

The Christmas Stocking by Carol DeVaney
While caring for an injured, recent widower and his two motherless children, Ellie discovers more than she bargained for. Does she dare dream of them becoming a family?
Baby Steps and Snowflakes by Jill James
After years of fostering, Krista dreams of being a forever mom to baby Max. When the father of the child shows up will he destroy her dreams or give her new ones?

A Sister’s Christmas Gift by E. Ayers
Brandy loved her fast-track life and her steady beau, but when her nonconformist twin sister dies, she leaves behind more than a box full of memories.

Once Upon a Vet School 7, Lena Takes a Foal by Lizzi Tremayne
She was a veterinary student.  He was a resident at her school. She needed help—he needed to stay away.

A Family Christmas by Jude Knight
She's hiding out. He's heading home. It'll be storms for Christmas.

Small Town Christmas Baby by Stephanie Queen
She was pregnant. He was patient. But their mothers-in-laws were impossible...

Christmas in Eastport by Susan R. Hughes
A holiday visit to her hometown brings Carly face to face with Mitch, the boy she loved and lost when they were seventeen. Can they make it work this time, or does Mitch have a secret that will tear them apart?

Christmas in July by Leigh Morgan
For Drew Selleck, Maddy’s return to Door County, Wisconsin, in July, after being away for twenty-five years, was just the Christmas present he needed.

Christmas Babies on Main Street
This year, The Authors of Main Street have combined their talent to bring you stories about love, the holidays, and babies from around the world. From the small hamlet of Eastport in Canada, to the gorgeous landscapes of New Zealand, to Main Street, USA... you'll find the Christmas spirit and warm love stories on every page. And not all of our babies have pudgy little fingers and adorable toes... one of them has hooves and a mane!

Snuggle up with your favorite blanket, grab a cup of hot chocolate, and let the Authors of Main Street help you celebrate the holiday season.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

SANTA CLAUS (AKA AUTHOR BRADLEY HARPER) VISITS KILLER CRAFTS & CRAFTY KILLERS

Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus at Busch Gardens, Williamsburg
Bradley Harper is an emerging author who began his writing career at the tender age of sixty-two after almost four decades of active duty in the army, first as an Infantry officer, then as a physician. His career spanned three continents and four commands. He now writes historical fiction/mystery novels for nine months of the year, serves as a volunteer one month in Spain along the Camino to Santiago de Compostela, and two months with his wife as Santa and Mrs. Claus at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia. He likes cookies year-round. Learn more about Bradley and his upcoming book at his website. 

What Santa has taught me
After I retired from the Army, (37 years, 4 months, and 9 days, and yes, someone WAS counting!) I grew a beard because, hey, I could! It came out white, which at my age, was no surprise. My wife began hinting that I should try being a Santa. I was very unsure about that suggestion, but over time decided that when she was eight she decided she wanted to marry Santa Claus. So if she was to become Mrs Claus … you get the idea.

I auditioned for a local park, and to my surprise, and more than a small amount of panic, I got one of the slots. Now I was in for it. I began walking through the toy section of stores. I memorized “The Night Before Christmas.” I speak various languages to differing degrees of proficiency, so I memorized how to say, “What would you like for Christmas?” in Spanish, French, Italian, and German, (the park gets a fair number of international visitors.) I didn’t have to understand the reply. A smile and knowing wink is universal.

Day three on the throne. I got this! It’s kinda fun. As long as I don’t promise more than “I’ll look into it,” I’m golden.

Then life, as it is known to do, threw me a curve ball. One of the young ladies serving as an elf came up to me and said, “Santa, you’re about to see three kids. They’ve been orphans for the past year. The foster parents keeping them have just been approved to adopt them, and they want YOU to tell them!”

I took about one deep breath, and there they were. No pressure, right? The girl was the oldest. Around twelve, she was obviously a non-believer by now, but playing along for her younger brothers. The ten-year-old was unsure. That phase where they don’t really think you’re real, but don’t want to blow their chances, just in case. The eight-year-old still had the faith, his eyes large, brown, and round.

Unsure what to say at the moment, I fell back on the old stand-by, “What would you like for Christmas?” They said something, but honestly I didn’t hear a word, thinking to myself, “What can I say? What CAN I say?”

Then it came to me. I took another deep breath and said, “Those are great ideas. I’ll look into it, but I have something for you today.”

“What’s that, Santa?” the oldest asked, obviously the spokesman for the group.
“A family,” I said.

They looked puzzled, but when I explained they would not have to leave the foster family, that they could stay together, well, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Yeah, I teared up just now, again, though it was three years ago.

So what did I learn? In the Hero’s Journey, the Hero comes back changed by his Quest. Though I didn’t leave my throne, I had just been on quite a ride.

I learned that I wanted to be Santa Claus more than anything else in the world. I fully embraced the role after that. Santa has made me a kinder, more patient man. With my beard, I stand out anywhere I go. I have to be careful what I say and how I act. I never know where or when a child might see me. I have to be in tune with “the better angels of my nature,” whenever I am in Public. (OK, I can’t eat ribs in public anymore. But it’s worth it!)

So Santa has made me a better person. When I put on my super hero costume and go forth to fight for happiness, I never promise a toy, but I always offer a hug.

I have a photo of my backside as I am hugging an elderly black man. His name was Walter, and I met him at a gift exchange at an Alzheimer’s day care center. Every patient got a gift bag selected for them by the staff. I handed them out and hugged each one. Walter’s face was beaming, and a trick of the lighting perhaps, but there was a small halo around his head.

I got the photo from his daughter who tracked me down. She said her dad had been an orphan and had never had a visit from Santa his entire life.

The next year I was told that Walter had passed. His daughter told the director of the daycare center the photo of me hugging him had become his favorite, and at his funeral his daughter had that picture blown up and placed on an easel beside his open coffin.

That taught me how powerful even one moment can be in another person’s life. Don’t hold back. This moment may never come again.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said that a man can never cross a river twice, for each time both he and the river will have changed. Every time I assume the role, it may be the first time for whomever I come into contact with. I may define Santa for the rest of their life.

No pressure, right? But here’s the thing. Just like Dumbo and his magic feather, the magic is not in the robe. It was inside me all the time. I just needed the license the costume gave me to tap into it.

You may not wear a red suit, but I hereby deputize you to share love and joy, wherever you go. You can do it. Find that better angel that has been inside you all along, and let them breathe. You, and all those around you, will be the better for it.