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

Friday, December 19, 2014

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR MAGGIE LE PAGE

Maggie Le Page lives in Christchurch, New Zealand with her partner and two children. Coming from a background in finance and education, writing wasn’t on her agenda until she made the fatal comment, “I could write something like that.” She is far less naïve about writing these days. Learn more about her and her books at her website.

In celebration of the release of The Trouble With Dying, Maggie is offering a  digital copy of the book to one lucky commenter. Tell us if you’ve ever had a near death or out-of-body experience, or a moment of clairvoyancy or premonition and what happened. But please leave your email address in your comment. Otherwise, we have no way of contacting you if you win.

I love this time of year.  The decorations, the preparations, the excitement in the air... For me, Christmas is synonymous with family—and a whole raft of traditions we’ve built up over the years.

But a couple of Christmases ago I looked around and wondered: what would it be like if I suddenly lost it all? What if I woke up and couldn’t remember my family, or our Christmas traditions, or even my own personality? It got me thinking. So, of course, I did what any self-respecting writer would do and forced a character into that situation, then waited to see what would happen.

What happened is The Trouble With Dying, which has just been released.

The Trouble With Dying starts when Faith Carson wakes up to find herself in a coma. Obviously I use the term ‘wakes up’ loosely. She doesn’t remember her past, doesn’t know her name, and she has way more problematic issues than getting ready for Christmas.

Issues like...how to wake up. How to remember what happened. How to make sure she doesn’t wind up dead. (Sorry, can’t give too much away. Oh, okay. I’ll give you a hint in the blurb below...)

While writing Faith’s story I spoke to a range of people who’d had near death and out-of-body experiences. And the one thing that stood out for me was that most of these people were able to tell me things they’d heard and seen while unconscious (even flatlining); things that were later confirmed as correct by medical staff. They were things that could not be explained away as guesswork or imagination.

Which was great news for me! It added credence to The Trouble With Dying’s premise.

My second piece of great news was learning that comas don’t necessarily follow a set pattern or timeframe to recovery. Comas are specific to each person’s circumstances. From a storytelling perspective, this was pure gold. The Trouble With Dying was on its way.

All it needed was a few of my favourite angles—love, conflict, clairvoyance, skulduggery, and the age-old life after death question—and I had a novel even my partner wanted to read! Possibly a bit heavier on suspense than your standard chick lit read, but sometimes the characters tell the writer how it needs to be written rather than the other way round. (Shrugs.) I’m okay with that.

And now The Trouble With Dying is out! It’s been released just in time for another Christmas, one where, thankfully, I remember everything that’s special to me and am grateful for it all.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope your mid-winter festivities (or mid-summer if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere like me) be relaxing and full of unforgettable memories.

The Trouble With Dying
When Faith Carson wakes up on a hospital ceiling looking down on her body in a coma, it’s a bad start to the week. A very bad start. She has no idea who she is or how she got there or why, and the biggest mystery of all is why she married the schmuck who wants her ventilator switched off.

As if that’s not enough, Faith has a dead gran haunting her, a young daughter missing her, and one devilishly delicious man making her wish she could have a second chance at life. And maybe she can, if she finds a way back into her body and wakes up by Friday. But if she doesn’t, this will be her last bad week—ever.

Nate Sutherland decided long ago he’d settle for friendship if he couldn’t have Faith’s heart. But now, as she nears death, he’s going to have to listen to his feelings in a whole new way—and act. Because if he doesn’t, this week will be the worst damn week of his life. He’ll lose everything he’s ever loved.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

#TRAVEL WITH SERENA--GUEST AUTHOR SALLY CARPENTER TALKS ABOUT CRUISING TO NASSAU, THE BAHAMAS

Nassau City Hall
Sally Carpenter is a mystery writer who has worked as an actress, freelance writer, college writing instructor, theater critic, jail chaplain, and tour guide/page for a major movie studio. She’s now employed at a community newspaper. Learn more about Sally and books at her blog.

Hittin’ the High Seas

Tired of winter’s cold and snow? Then it’s time for a sunny Caribbean cruise!

My new cozy mystery, The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper, was inspired by a trip I took in 1999. The ship’s layout and activities, as well as some things that happened to me, were incorporated into the story.

My trip was a special jaunt set up specifically for Monkees fans. We sailed for three days to Nassau in the Bahamas on board a regular Carnival cruise with activities reserved just for our group of about fifty women.

A cruise ship is a floating city with all the amenities of a resort. One could eat nonstop all day and night (and afterwards work it off in the gym or jogging track.) Besides the dining rooms with wait staff one could eat at the outdoor poolside buffet, in casual cafes, the midnight buffet or at the 24-hour pizza station.

The ship left Miami at 4 p.m. Friday. At the dock, porters attached ID tags to the luggage and hauled the bags directly to individual cabins. What a relief not having to carry my suitcases throughout the ship!

All the guests attended a mandatory lifeboat drill. We were instructed on how to wear a lifejacket and what to do in an emergency. With that note of confidence we set out to enjoy the cruise.

That evening our Monkees group had a cocktail reception in one of the lounges. We met the other fans from across the country as well as our guests of honor: Peter Tork; his then-girlfriend (who was very sweet to the fans); Peter’s long-time performing partner, James Lee Stanley, a fine musician in his own right; and James’ wife.

After the reception our group went to our reserved table in a dining room for supper. Some of us then saw a Vegas-style revue in the largest showroom.

Saturday morning the ship docked in Nassau. Tourism is the island’s largest income source along with banking (the Bahamas are home to those mysterious “off shore accounts.”) The wharf area was a tacky tourist trap full of shops hawking souvenirs. A steel drum band was playing. My friend and I sat in on the bongos for a verse!

One interesting business is hair braiding. The local women grabbed me, set me down on a bench and began making narrow beaded braids in my hair. I didn’t mind until I realized the ladies charged per braid. I stopped their braiding before I went bankrupt.

I set out on my own to explore the real city. Nassau is quaint, quiet, clean city. The city shows its British colonial roots—motorists drive on the left, English is the official language, and the buildings have a distinct British charm.

Here’s a photo of the Water Tower, a structure built to watch for smugglers approaching the mainland. An elevator leads to the top where one finds yet another souvenir shop. The balcony has spectacular views. The Water Tower is such a unique place I used it for a scene in my book.

I strolled over to the ultra-expensive and exclusive Atlantis Hotel on Paradise Island just off the coast. I viewed the indoor artwork and outdoor garden until a security guard chased me out because I wasn’t a paying guest. Really? I bet if I was losing money in the hotel’s casino, he would have let me stay.

BTW, the city’s casinos are only used by the tourists. The residents are too smart to risk their money.

By late afternoon I was back on the ship for the formal dinner. Here’s a picture of me in the dress I bought for the occasion—and still wearing the braids! One of the characters in my book has her hair braided on the island, too.

After dinner Peter and James gave a private concert for our Monkees group. When the concert ended, the fans gathered on the Lido Deck under the stars for some late night visiting.

On Sunday I went on the galley tour to see the food preparation area and learn about napkin folding. I also shopped at the shipboard stores that discounted the expensive merchandise on the last day to clear out the stock.

Since the cruise took place in late October, our Monkees group had a Halloween costume party. Before I left home, I’d found a Southern Belle dress at a local costume rental shop. The store added a row of fabric to make the dress long enough for me. The skirt hoops were made of plastic that I could bend and stuff into a suitcase.

My novel closes with a shipboard Halloween costume gala. I created costumes to fit the personalities of the various characters. During this party my hero reveals the identity of the killer.

On the trip the weather was not too hot or cold. The sky was mostly overcast. In fact, it was too cool for me to swim in the ship’s pool. I didn’t get seasick but I could feel the ship move beneath my feet.

Monday morning the ship docked at Miami. After a final breakfast together the fans said goodbye and we waited (and waited and waited) on the Lido Deck to disembark.

I had a great time on my trip and would recommend a cruise as a fun vacation. While you’re waiting for your ship to come in, you can read a fun tale about a mystery at sea.

The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper 
38-year-old Sandy Fairfax is a former '70s teen idol and star of the TV show "Buddy Brave, Boy Sleuth." Now he's rebuilding his career with a series of concerts aboard the SS Zodiac bound for the Bahamas. He makes amends with his estranged sister, Celeste, who is blind and also a musician, so she will join his performances. But their cruise hits turbulent waters when Sandy finds a dead body in his onboard dressing room. He investigates the colorful cast of suspects while avoiding an old flame and trying to ignite something with his beautiful choreographer. When Sandy gets too nosy, the bad guys throw him overboard. Will he sleep with the fishes or escape and unmask the killer at the ship's Halloween costume gala?

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

HEALTHY LIVING WITH JANICE--TIP FOR A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP

photo by Juanedc
A good night’s sleep is so important for so many reasons. A recent TED talk discussed how scientists have discovered that while we sleep, the brain undergoes a natural cleansing system that keeps toxic proteins at bay.

Studies have also found links between insufficient sleep and serious health problems such as heart disease, heart attacks, diabetes, and obesity.

Other studies have shown that both chronic pain and acute pain from injury may be lessened by getting enough sleep, although it’s often hard to sleep when you’re in pain. There have also been links discovered between sleep loss and a lower pain threshold.

Getting enough sleep will also lower your risk of injury. Drowsiness is a prime factor in many workplace and driving accidents. When you’re overtired, you’re also much more likely to suffer a household accident such as tripping or cutting yourself during food preparation.

You also tend to be much less cranky and irritable when you’ve gotten enough sleep, and that helps regulate your emotions. You’re much less likely to suffer rollercoaster emotions or say something or type an email you later regret.

So now that you know all the benefits of getting a good night’s sleep, how do you get one if you’re not currently sleeping well at night? The trick might be as simple as checking your pillow thickness. If your pillow is as little as 1-inch too thick, it can disrupt your sleep.

How do you know if your pillow is the right thickness? Lie on your back with your head on your pillow. If your chin points even slightly toward your chest, your pillow is too thick. Choose a pillow that keeps your head from dipping up or down, and you’ll sleep better.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR TACE BAKER AND SHORTBREAD COOKIES

Edith Maxwell writes the Lauren Rousseau mysteries under the pseudonym Tace Baker; the Local Foods Mysteries, and the Country Store Mysteries, written as Maddie Day; and the historical Carriagetown Mysteries, as well as award-winning short stories. Learn more about her and her books at her website and blog.  

A New Quaker Mystery
Thanks so much for having me back on this fabulous blog. And who can go wrong with a regular Cooking column?

Wearing my Tace Baker hat, I write a traditional mystery series featuring Lauren Rousseau, a contemporary Quaker linguistics professor who lives in a small town on the coast north of Boston. She teaches at a fictional New England college, but in the second book in the series, Bluffing is Murder, she’s on summer vacation. Any thoughts of a relaxing stress-free time blow away on an ocean breeze when she finds her insurance agent, also one of the secretive Trustees of the Bluffs, dead on a bluff overlooking Holt Beach.

I’ve been a member of the Society of Friends for a long time, and I love the way being a Quaker informs Lauren’s behavior. She takes moments of silence to hold situations and people, including herself, in the Light, but doesn’t always find the answers she seeks, even in silent Sunday worship.

Lauren is a runner, but she’s not a cook, so these aren’t foodie mysteries and don’t include recipes. Her boyfriend Zac is a great home chef, but he’s off to visit family in Haiti for the summer, so she’s been eating at the pub and at a local restaurant and getting takeout more than usual. Lauren’s BFF Irene, though, runs a bakery in town and is always serving up delectable pastries.

I’m happy to share these melt-in-your mouth shortbread cookies, a recipe passed down from my grandmother.

Shortbread Cookies
Ingredients:
1 cup butter, softened
2 cup unbleached flour
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 cup pecans or walnuts, finely chopped (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Mix all dry ingredients. Cut butter into dry ingredients until fine. Add vanilla and milk and stir with a fork until mixed. Form dough into a flat ball with your hands and chill for twenty minutes to a day.

Press or roll onto a rimmed cookie sheet. Bake for about fifteen minutes, watching closely for browning. While warm, sift powdered sugar over the top and cut into inch squares.

Bluffing is Murder
Summer promises to be anything but easy for Quaker linguistics professor Lauren Rousseau in Bluffing is Murder. Still reeling from an attack by her student’s murderer, Lauren decides to brush up on her karate and finds herself drawn to handsome sensei Dan Talbot. During a run near the sea bluffs, she discovers the corpse of her insurance agent, Charles Heard, who is also a Trustee for one of the oldest land trusts in the country. Earlier that day, Lauren had a public argument with Heard over her policy―and is now a suspect in the case.

Determined to clear her name, Lauren sets out to discover the real story behind the mismanaged land trust, the dead man’s volatile sister―and a possible link to her own father’s mysterious death more than a decade ago. But a near miss with a car, snippets of strange conversations in French and Farsi, slashed tires, and finding yet another attack victim on the beach make it clear that Lauren is also a target―and the killer is closing in. Can Lauren discover the killer before she becomes the next victim?

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Monday, December 15, 2014

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--GUEST AUTHOR AND CRAFTER TERRY SHAMES


Terry Shames writes the best-selling Samuel Craddock mystery series, set in the fictitious town of Jarrett Creek, Texas. Her first novel, A Killing at Cotton Hill won the Macavity Award for Best First Novel of 2013, and MysteryPeople named it one of the five top debut mysteries of 2013. Library Journal named The Last Death of Jack Harbin one of the top five mysteries of 2014. Her fourth book in the series will be available in April. Learn more about Terry and her books at her website. 

An Old Christmas Craft
One of the recurring characters in my Samuel Craddock series is Loretta Sims, a gossipy woman with a good heart—and someone who is constantly busy. She is always baking, cooking, and sewing for friends and family. My imagination is that at Christmas she pulls out all the stops, making Christmas gifts and decorating like mad. I expect that she makes fruitcake, and decorates a tree and the outside of her house with great delight. When her church has holiday events, she’s sure to show up to decorate with poinsettias and garlands of greenery. And she’s sure to bake cookies.

To top it off, I’ll bet she makes traditional gifts and decorations, such as the fragrant, decorative “clove orange” that I’m featuring today. You can use them to lend fragrance to your holiday, and they also make great gifts. There are plenty of recipes for these lovely little “ornaments” on the Internet, but there are a few things that some of the recipes don’t tell you. I’ll fill you in on a few.

First, you need a lot of cloves..
Don’t think that a half-full bottle of old cloves will do the job. Buy a whole bottle so you don’t have to skimp. If you’re starting out, you might want to consider buying a smallish orange. Then if you enjoy making these, you can always use bigger oranges next time

Now you have the cloves and the orange, and you need a nail. That’s right, a small nail with a sharp tip. Starting at one end of the orange, poke about a dozen holes in the orange close together. Then poke a clove into each hole.

When I first started making these balls years ago, no one said anything about a nail, and it was really hard poking the skin of the orange with the tip of the clove—making for a very sore thumb by the end. But if you use a nail to poke little holes in the orange, it makes placing the cloves much easier. Don’t make too many holes in advance of your work, because the holes tend to close up. Also, sometimes if you poke too deeply, juice will come out of the holes and you’ll have a mess if you’ve poked too many of them.

Many recipes will tell you to make a straight line or other pattern. This is totally unnecessary. Once you’ve covered the whole orange, you can go back and fill in spaces. You do have a decision to make about how many cloves you’re going to put into the orange. I’ve seen oranges with a bare minimum of cloves, which is okay, but you have to be aware that the orange may start to rot if you don’t have enough cloves in it to act as a preservative. I prefer to fill in all the space, like this:
Now you can decorate the ball as you wish. I always like to put pretty ribbon around it, leaving a nice bow so you can hang it somewhere. You can be creative and use whatever you like to decorate, but I guarantee what you’ll have is a wonderful scent in the vicinity of the orange as well as a pretty decoration. If you keep the orange for next year, you can refresh it by dusting it with a combination of powdered cloves and cinnamon.

One of the tips they don’t tell you is that if you use bare hands, your fingertips and under your fingernails will have a clove scent and dark residue for a couple of days, not matter how hard you wash your hands.

Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek
With Jarrett Creek bankrupt and the police department in disarray, Samuel Craddock becomes temporary chief of police by default. Faced with a murder investigation, Craddock discovers that the town’s financial woes had nothing to do with incompetence and that murder is only one of the crimes he has to solve.

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Friday, December 12, 2014

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR LINDA ANDREWS

Linda Andrews is a scientist who writes horror, science fiction, contemporary romance, fantasy romance, and historical romance. Today she joins us to discuss one of her historical romances, set during World War I. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

Linda is offering an e-copy of The Christmas Ship to one of our readers. To enter simply post a comment about a handmade gift you've received. Don't forget to include your email so we can contact you if you've won.

Unless you've live under a rock, you've probably heard the saying, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." Belgians and many citizens in northern France would have loved to have lemons, instead they received help from Spain, the Netherlands, and the United States in the form of the largest international aid organization the world had ever seen, The Commission for Relief in Belgium, established in 1914.

Although headed by Herbert Hoover and neutral diplomats, the men and women working on the ground and overseeing the handoff of foodstuffs to the Comité National de Secours et d'Alimentation for disbursement to the people were mostly young American college graduates. These were the faces the Belgian and French people saw who could act with some degree of freedom while they suffered under the German occupation.

And it was to these American delegates that many handed their words of thanks for the food they received, the clothes and blankets they had, and the knowledge that the world had not forgotten them. With so much being requisitioned by the Kaiser's Army, the Belgians and French had little to give, but the children wrote notes of thanks, the citizens doffed their hats when they saw the American flag, and the women offered handicrafts with the American flag as decorations, many stitched on the very flour sacks that fed them. 

While not many examples of these gifts remain, I think they are an amazing snapshot of an extraordinary time with a message for the ages.

In my book, The Christmas Ship, the heroine receives just such a gift from a woman receiving meals in a soup kitchen and uses it to cover her earlier receipt of a forbidden letter to a Belgian soldier.

The Christmas Ship
American businessman Jacob Kerrigan works behind enemy lines to help feed seven million starving Belgians and bring Christmas to the children. The Commission for Relief in Belgium asks only one thing of its delegates: remain neutral in a war-torn country.

Roselle Perrine works in soup kitchens and her family farm by day, and spies for the Belgian resistance at night. She uses her position in society to convince Jacob to stay in her chateau, hoping the relief delegates presence will cover her nocturnal activities.

But the Kaisers Army is watching. When Roselles spying is discovered, will Jacob remain neutral or fight for love?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

LOIS WINSTON ON A MAKEOVER OF A DIFFERENT KIND

Like most women, every so often I get the urge for a makeover. Usually this results in a new hairstyle or color. (We won’t talk about the disastrous perm from the late 1980’s! Suffice to say, I let it grow out as quickly as possible!)

However, lately, that urge has taken the form of new covers for some of my books. I’ve recently begun to release my Emma Carlyle ebooks and my previously out-of-print backlist romances in print as trade paperbacks. So, I though, what better time to give them a makeover?

I started with my three romantic suspense titles. Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception was originally published in 2007. 
original mass-market paperback cover
2012 ebook cover
You can see the new trade paperback and ebook cover below. Quite a difference, right? I think it much better represents the story and tone of the book, which Booklist called a “surprisingly dark and serious romance.”

Branding has become an essential part of marketing for authors. Although my three romantic suspense books are not connected as a series, I wanted them to tie together in some way because the tone and voice of all three books are similar—and quite different from my humorous amateur sleuth mysteries. Therefore, I kept the cityscape background and figures in the foreground for each of the books.

Someone to Watch Over Me had previously gone through a cover makeover. I kept the figures and added a Philadelphia cityscape as a backdrop. Lost in Manhattan originally had a New York City background and a figure in the foreground, but I changed those up to tie in better with the other cover makeovers.

Next up, my backlist and ebook romances. Stay tuned!

Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception
Life has delivered one sucker punch after another to Emma Wadsworth. As a matter of fact, you could say the poor little rich girl is the ultimate poster child for Money Can’t Buy Happiness — even if she is no longer a child.

Billionaire real estate stud Logan Crawford is as famous for his less-than-platinum reputation as he is his business empire. In thirty-eight years he’s never fallen in love, and that’s just fine with him—until he meets Emma.

But Emma’s not buying into Logan’s seductive ways. Well, maybe just a little, but she’s definitely going into the affair with her eyes wide open. She’s no fool. At least not any more. Her deceased husband saw to that. Besides, she knows Logan will catch the first jet out of Philadelphia once he learns her secrets.

Except things don’t go exactly as Emma has predicted, and when Philadelphia’s most beloved citizen become the city’s most notorious criminal, she needs to do a lot more than clear her name if she wants to save her budding romance with the billionaire hunk someone is willing to kill for.

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Someone to Watch Over Me
Dori Johnson is in hiding from the Russian Mafia. Six years ago she committed a series of felonies in order to create new identities for herself and her younger brother and sister. They’ve kept a low profile, living in fear of their lives ever since.

When Niles York, Dori’s boss, offers her the opportunity of a lifetime, she turns down the job, not wanting to risk discovery. However, her brother and sister convince her that after six years, she’s unrecognizable, and she can’t pass up such an opportunity. Reluctantly, Dori agrees to become the face and spokesperson for York’s new retail venture.

Jake Prentiss suspects Dori is hiding a secret, and he’s not going to let her jeopardize his friend’s business. As a former government operative, he calls in  some favors and starts digging into Dori’s past. What he finds has him convinced she’s out to sabotage York Enterprises. Too bad he’s falling for her.

Dori is falling in love with Jake, but she doesn’t trust him. He works for the government, and she’s a criminal. But then her life is threatened, and she has to make a decision that could either get her killed or put her behind bars for a very long time.

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Lost in Manhattan
One by one members of the Montgomery family have died in tragic accidents. Photographer Sarah Montgomery is the last surviving member of the aeronautics dynasty. After the death of her beloved grandfather, she accepts the fact that her husband never loved her and initiates divorce proceeding. On the way home from the lawyer’s office, Sarah is hit by a cab. Days later she awakens in the hospital and has no idea who she is.

Industrialist Trent Caldwell harbors guilt over his wife’s death. A passenger in the cab that struck Sarah, he now feels responsible for her injuries. When no one steps forth to identify the woman in the hospital, he arranges for Mrs. Kearn, his housekeeper, to care for her in his home. Seeing in Sarah someone who just might draw Trent out of the darkness he’s succumbed to since his wife’s death, Mrs. Kearn sets about playing matchmaker.

But the Montgomery family deaths weren’t accidents. Someone harbors a deadly secret and using skills perfected as a youthful IRA operative, has systematically eliminated the family out of a need for revenge. Realizing Sarah’s true identity, the assassin now has one more kill to make in order to fulfill a promise made long ago.

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