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

Friday, August 17, 2018

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--AN INTERVIEW WITH MYSTERY P.I. LETTY VALDEZ

Today we sit down for a chat with Letty Valdez, PI from mystery author CJ Shane’s Letty Valdez Mysteries.

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings?
Shane doesn’t pull my strings. I took over almost immediately and she writes down what I think and say and what happens to me. Shane thinks she’s a medium. I think Shane is a little bit nuts. But maybe that’s the way artists are. Who knows? I’m a PI, not an artist.

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself?
I’m good at my investigative work and I make money from my work. That means I can provide some financial support for my brothers and sister and for my grandmother who still lives on the Tohono O’odham Reservation west of Tucson. I must mention, though, that other people have told me my best traits are my smarts and my courage.

What do you like least about yourself?
I don’t know how to deal with the terrible things that happened to me when I was a medic in Iraq. I still have these nightmares about the war. My uncle thinks that I have PTSD. I decided to suck it up and keep on going.

What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you?
The strangest thing is that I rescued a dog that had been dumped in the desert and then the dog, Millie, rescued my brother Will. Also, I never expected to be working with a Chinese cop sent to Tucson by Interpol.

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about?
I tend to be a little shy and too humble about my abilities. Shane likes me a lot. She writes down all the nice things that people say about me. I get embarrassed. Shane thinks I’m humble because I’m a six-feet-tall, dark-skinned Chicana-Native American who grew up poor and, as a consequence, I don’t realize how terrific I am. Whatever.

What is your greatest fear?
Having someone I love go into a war zone or having the bad guys go after someone I love are my greatest fears.

What makes you happy?
I like spending time with my friends. Hearing the laughter of those I love makes me happy, especially my goofy brother Will who is eighteen years old. I like my dogs Millie and Teddy. I like it that Teddy, my black lab, will find this man up in a tree in my next book, Dragon's Revenge. The man is really charming and good looking. I keep thinking about him.

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why?
I’ve come to the conclusion that it is what it is. We just have to deal with life the way it is and just do our best.

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why?
I don’t like the bad guys who try to push me around. They piss me off. I have a lot of martial arts training and I’m willing to use my skills. I’ll break their bones!

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?
Seri the librarian is the one I’d like to trade places with. She is around books and book readers all day. She deals with ideas, not greedy or mean people with guns. I think it would be really nice to work in a university library.

Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog?
My author, C.J. Shane, is a visual artist and a writer. When she was in the third grade, the school librarian gave her a Nancy Drew book to read. She’s been a mystery fan ever since. She’s worked as a newspaper journalist and a librarian like Seri. She’s traveled a lot and she’s lived and worked in China and Mexico. She’s written several nonfiction books. One day this idea came to here to write a mystery novel about a Mexican-American/Native-American private investigator working in the Borderlands. That’s me. Her website is: www.cjshane.com  

What's next for you?
In Dragon’s Revenge (coming in November 2018), Seri the librarian and I find a memoir that tells the story of two immigrants, one Chinese and one Italian, who fall in love with each other in Arizona Territory in the 1890s. The memoir has a big clue that will help me solve a murder mystery that happens in contemporary Tucson. Then there’s another book coming after that. It doesn't have a title yet, and Shane doesn't want me to talk about it.  I'll just say that is has something to do with a crime involving money and also that man in the tree I mentioned earlier.

Desert Jade
A Letty Valdez Mystery

Tucson private investigator and Iraq War veteran Letty Valdez joins forces with an unlikely ally, Chinese police Detective Inspector Zhou Liang Wei, in Desert Jade, a fast-paced mystery-suspense thriller set in the Sonoran Desert.

We meet a migrant lost and out of water in the desert, Chinese triad gangsters engaged in criminal activities on the U.S.-Mexico border, a woman murdered in her backyard, a husband who vanished with a large sum of money, and three abducted young women threatened with sex trafficking.

There's a touch of romance, too, when cop Zhou first meets one of Letty's friends. Don't forget Milagro (aka Millie), the runt-sized female pit bull who performs a heroic act and saves a life.

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Thursday, August 16, 2018

MYSTERY AUTHOR JP DAVID TRANSFORMS NEWPORT BEACH INTO KINGSTON BEACH

Today mystery author JP David stops by to talk about the southern California setting for Double Take, the first book in his planned detective series. Learn more about JP and his writing at his website. 

It’s a seemingly ideal land of Wedgwood blue skies, puffy white clouds, and meticulously groomed beaches. But like the deep tans and blonde hair sported by many of the residents, what’s beneath the surface can be very different. It’s the perfect setting for Double Take, the first of the planned series of detective mysteries featuring Hank Hammond and Lori Reed.

I knew that particular southern California beach setting well because I’d grown up a few miles away, and even worked there for several years. The problem was that in the ensuing years I’d moved all over the country, and had somehow settled in the dry desert of another state. How could I write a novel set in that beach city, when I was now living in a place so different and more than five hundred miles away?

The answer came to me as I thought about one of my favorite authors. In Sue Grafton’s alphabet series, private detective Kinsey Millhone solves crimes in Santa Teresa, a town of the author’s own creation based on the real southern California town of Santa Barbara. I’d read that Sue (is it presumptuous of me to call her Sue? After reading all of her novels, I feel like I know her well enough) took delight in controlling the weather, moving real estate at will, changing the orientation of the streets, and not only being responsible for all the homicides in Santa Teresa, but also for solving all of those crimes. 

I also knew that she was following the lead of Ross Macdonald, another of my favorite authors, who had creatively manipulated Santa Barbara into his fictional town of Santa Teresa. I decided that if it was good enough for two of the greatest authors of detective fiction the world has ever known, it was definitely good enough for me. Plus, it was fun to do!

Suddenly Hank Hammond and Lori Reed, my investigative team of complete opposites, were immersed in Kingston Beach, my manipulated version of Newport Beach. La Cave, a very traditional steakhouse in Costa Mesa transformed itself into the too-trendy Totally Tofu. The Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club became the Captains’ Coast Marina. Most importantly, the J.W. Robinson’s department store (later Robinson May and Macy’s) where I had worked in Newport Beach, became Weisbach-Landers.  

A department store, especially a sprawling, three-story one like Weisbach-Landers, is in many ways like a city unto itself, another perfect setting for a crime. It has numerous neighborhoods (departments), each with its own residents (employees), HOA presidents (department managers), elected representatives (floor managers), and supposedly at the very top is the mayor (store manager). There are traffic problems (crowded escalators), climate issues (“the air conditioning is too damn cold”), health issues (a full service restaurant...don’t even ask!), politics (corporate policies vs. store priorities, trainees jockeying for promotion), and most importantly, crime. And, as Hank knows all too well, crime at Weisbach-Landers can be way more than mere shoplifting. He knows that because he used to be the store’s chief of police (loss prevention manager).

In that capacity, Hank led investigations, supervised a staff of store detectives, and apprehended criminals. After bringing down the biggest drug ring in the history of Kingston Beach—which happened to be operating within the store—Hank quit his job and opened a private detective agency consisting of Hank and, reluctantly, Lori.

In their first case, the disappearance and possible murder of a millionaire's grandson, he and Lori find themselves on a dangerous, but surprisingly humorous, adventure that takes them into an exclusive country club, a posh marina, a Dumpster (Hank only, thank goodness!), and Weisbach-Landers.

Double Take could only take place in the seemingly ideal oceanfront city of Kingston Beach, complete with its mix of wealth, glamour, and miscreants. And only within Weisbach-Landers, where Hank knows all the back alleys, suspicious characters, and dark secrets.

Double Take
ONE DEAD BODY? That's almost expected when you're in the private eye biz. But when a second one pops up in even more bizarre circumstances it's enough to make even Hank Hammond, P.I. do a DOUBLE-TAKE . . .

As the newest private investigator in Kingston Beach, Hank Hammond has all the signs of success that he could possibly ask for: the latest detective gear, a shiny red Corvette, an office within a successful attorney's building, and--most importantly--the professional services of Lori Reed, a brilliant and reluctant partner. 

If only Hank had a client.

Enter a cantankerous millionaire. And enter a collection of murderers, thieves, embezzlers, and other assailants including body-building twins and the local police department, all wanting a piece--or preferably pieces--of Hank.

Combining riveting suspense, quick wit, and relentless energy, J.P. David takes readers on a fast-moving combination of thriller, cozy, and hard-boiled through country clubs, yachts, mansions, and the occasional Dumpster . . . as Hank Hammond and his indispensable investigating partner Lori Reed face escalating danger and a ticking timeline.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

SWEET PICKINGS

Have you ever sunk your teeth into what you thought was going to be a juicy peach, only to discover it was under-ripe or mealy and not worth eating? Tasteless fruit is an affront to both the taste buds and the pocketbook.

But how do you tell if your fruit is ripe before cut into it or take a bite? Here are a few tips for choosing summer fruits that won’t disappoint:

Blueberries
Choose berries that are firm, dry, and blue with a white sheen. Avoid red or green berries. Check the bottom of the berry basket to make sure there are no crushed or moldy berries hiding there.

Cantaloupes
A ripe cantaloupe with be fragrant and cream or golden in color. Avoid green cantaloupes and ones with soft spots other than the end opposite the stem, which is another indication of ripeness.

Cherries
Choose cherries that are shiny, dark, and plump with intact stems.

Grapes
Grapes should be firm, plump, heavy for their size, and firmly attached to the stems. A white sheen is normal. Avoid grapes that are wrinkled or have brown spots.

Honeydews
Avoid melons with a green tinge. Look for ones that are a whitish -yellow or golden in color. Shake the melon. If you hear seeds rattling, it’s ripe. The blossom end should yield slightly when pressed. If you run your fingers across the skin, you should feel fine ridges. Unripe melons are smoother.

Mangoes
A ripe mango will be slightly soft to the touch and fragrant near the stem end.

Peaches
Look for ones that are deeply colored and not green. A ripe peach will be fragrant and firm but slightly soft to the touch.

Plums
Look for plums that are deeply colored, shiny, with a white or gray sheen, and firm but not hard as a rock.

Strawberries
Choose strawberries that are very fragrant and uniformly red. Avoid ones that are yellow, green, or white. The tops should be shiny. Check the bottom of the basket to make sure there are no crushed or moldy berries.

Watermelons
Thump a watermelon. It should sound hollow. They should also be firm and heavy and a dark green with a yellow spot on one side where the melon sat on the ground. If the spot is white, the watermelon probably isn’t ripe.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--TRADITIONAL ITALIAN MARINARA SAUCE FROM AUTHOR JOAN LEOTTA


Joan Leotta is a writer and story performer who presents one-women shows specializes in strong women and folklore. Learn more about her and her books at her blog. 

An appetite for reading and writing? While it has become quite fashionable to include recipes in books over the past few years, the combination of literary and culinary arts has been around for much longer. Many famous books, poems, and even plays, focus on a family meal or a single food.

In my case, being Italian, I’m sure no one is surprised that my books are permeated with the aroma of tomato sauce cooking on the back of the stove and that much of my poetry and many of my short stories were instigated by favorite foods or recipes.

My Legacy of Honor Series is an example of that. Meals are mentioned in each book of the series. While writing them, I remembered the strong women of my own childhood who put tasty meals on the table while conquering other worlds at the same time—education, war efforts, journalistic pursuits, careers, and family crises.

Giulia Goes to War, the first book in the series takes on the issue of honoring tradition while breaking out into modern life. The book takes place during World War II. Giula leaves home to work for the war effort, thwarts spies and falls in love with a young man who is not Italian-American.

In the late 1960s my own time to break with tradition came. Unlike Giulia, my move was not due to war or over education or about a boy. My father simply said, in response to my request that he go apartment hunting with me, that once I had finished college, even after I had a job, I would be living at home. I had already lived in Europe during college and attended college in another state. Still, my father maintained that a good girl, in the same city as her parents, lives at home. I moved my job search to another city.

Food and traditional holiday celebrations are one way I maintained my ethnic pride and identity while in that “other” city, a place where there were few Italian Americans—Washington, DC. People were excited to receive invitations to my house for dinner—hoping I would make pasta with red sauce or braciole or lasagna or …any one of my grandmother’s recipes. 

When Giulia marries her non-Italian sweetheart, I imagine this sort of culinary attachment to her culture. The core recipe of all of this is the Sunday Sauce—a tomato sauce served over pasta on Sunday and probably at least one other day during the week.

For the purpose of this blog, I’ve included the quick sauce—no meat—only needs to cook twenty minutes—easy to make. Leaves you without excuse when facing those jars of sugared chemical-filled sauces on the grocery shelves. If you want to add meat, cook meatballs and other meats first, double the sauce recipe, add the meat and cook for two-three hours minimum. Enough for two meals.

Family Marinara Sauce
This is the sauce you can smell on the pages of my books

Ingredients:
One pound of your favorite dry pasta
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 can water
1 clove garlic, sliced in half
2 T olive oil
2 T fresh flat Italian parsley or 1T dried parsley
2 basil leaves or 1T dried basil
Salt and pepper to taste
grated pecorino romano cheese (optional)

Brown the garlic in hot oil. Be careful not to let it burn. Remove garlic after it’s browned. Add tomatoes, one can of water, herbs and salt. Stir. Cook on medium heat for 30 minutes, more if you want the sauce to be thicker.

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Drain. Place in bowl. Toss with sauce and top with grated cheese if desired.

Giulia Goes to War
Wartime works draws Giulia DeBartolo out of her close Western Pennsylvania family into a world of intrigue, spies, and new friends in Wilmington, North Carolina’s shipyard building Liberty ships.

Giulia soon discovers supporting the war effort can include fun evenings like dancing with young servicemen at the local USO. It is at one of these dances she meets John O’Shea, an unsuitable suitor according to her old-fashioned parents.

As they grapple with the problems of their own budding relationship, John and Giulia encounter a Nazi spy tasked with blowing up part of the Wilmington shipyard. Saving the shipyard from the spy may prove easier than convincing her parents to let her marry John. Giulia must decide what it means to be a good daughter while still following her own heart.

Giulia Goes to War is currently out of print, but the author has copies for sale. If you’re interested in purchasing this book, contact her through Facebook

Monday, August 13, 2018

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--CHRISTMAS IN AUGUST

One of the complaints I often hear from readers is how they wish they had some crafting talent. The truth is, many crafts require little or no creative talent to execute and still produce results people will admire. It all depends on the craft. Too often would-be crafters start out by choosing projects meant for experienced crafters. Of course, they’re going to be disappointed with the results. You wouldn’t expect to sit down at the piano for the first time and play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, would you?

Drop Dead Ornaments, the seventh full-length novel in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, will be released in October. In this book Anastasia’s son Alex and his fellow high school seniors need to come up with a project to fulfill their community service obligation before graduation. They decide to make Christmas ornaments to sell at the annual town Christmas Bazaar to raise money for the local food bank. Anastasia teaches the students how to make sophisticated glass ornaments with basic craft supplies—no talent required.

The photo above is one of those ornaments. All you need is a clear glass ball ornament, crinkle paper or excelsior (the stuff used as filler in gift baskets), and a piece of ribbon to use for hanging. All the items are readily available at any craft store.

Carefully remove the metal cap from the ornament. Stuff the ornament with the crinkle paper or excelsior, replace the cap, and tie on the ribbon to hang. It’s as simple as that!

You’ll find more ideas for easy Christmas ornaments in Drop Dead Ornaments. Check back next month for pre-order information or sign up for author Lois Winston’s newsletter for an early preview and giveaways.

Friday, August 10, 2018

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--AUTHOR M.A. LEE'S CONSTABLE SHARES HIS CORRESPONDENCE

M.A. Lee writes romantic suspense and historical murder mysteries.  Her Hearts in Hazard series is set in the Regency era of Great Britain.  Today her protagonist, Constable Hector Evans, shares with us a letter he wrote to the London Magistrate regarding a case he’s working on. Learn more about M.A. and her books at her website

To Magistrate William Sampson, Bow Street, London
From Constable Hector Evans, Chalmsley Court

I write to report a series of three murders, with the same modus operandi and a curious lack of evidence and witnesses.

My current theory of the murder is that debutantes should snare fiancés, not murder them.

That wasn’t my first theory of the crime when Lord Chalmsley reported the murder of one of his guests.  I expected a shooting disguised as a hunting accident.  But William Kennington, a young man in good health, died in his bed.  Nor was that my first thought when we found another guest with his blood staining the sheets and soaking into the mattress.  Barrington Pierpont died in the same manner as had Kennington.  Now we have found Edmund Tretheway killed in the same manner.  And the little bit of evidence that I do have points to one of the women, either a guest or a member of the family.  The three men have in common that all were recently betrothed, two of them to young ladies associated with Chalmsley Court.  And one of those ladies is Bee Seddars, the woman I love.

As you know, sir, Chalmsley Court is the typical English manor of a typical English peer.  Lord Chalmsley keeps as tight a finger on the estate as he does on his family.  While the Court does not often host parties, people are eager to visit, and the house has several families as guests in celebration of recent engagements.  The expansive gardens and well-run stables are known throughout the district.  Servants rush to perform the family’s bidding.  The house even has a mad woman in the attic, Mad Aunt Beth as she is known, an aunt of Lady Chalmsley who has lived on the fringes of the family for years.

I know all this because I spent my formative years at the great house.  I can still walk the garden paths with my eyes shut.  I know without thinking the number of minutes needed to walk to the stables and kennels far beyond the kitchen garden.  The house rises above a meandering river.  Every time I see it I remember the hours that I dallied with Beatrice Seddars—until his lordship sent me to London to work with you and your Bow Street Runners, chasing criminals on London’s sooty streets.

When I arrived here at the Court to investigate the murder, I thought I knew all the secrets of the house.  I have discovered that I do not know any of the recent secrets.  Mad Aunt Beth with her riddling snippets of ballads hints at recent troubles.  And Lord Chalmsley doesn’t accept that I can find no murder weapon or no evidence and that I have too many suspects to solve this case quickly.
Sir, I must admit that one of my chief problems with the suspects is that one of them is Bee.  I still love her, and I doubt my objectivity around her.  The third man dead was Bee’s fiancé, and she is a little too cool about his death.  I remind myself that she admitted she did not love him.  I worry that her coolness is because she murdered him.

Who had a reason to kill all three men?  To find that answer I will need a key to the secrets of Chalmsley Court.  I admit that I want to trust what Bee tells me.  Yet she could be diverting my attention from her guilt.  What do Mad Aunt Beth’s clues mean?  Is she helping me, or is she just insane?  Who had a reason to kill three men?

The evidence is here, sir.  I must find it.  When I do so, you may trust that I will see the culprit gaoled.  Nor matter who she is.

Sincerely,
Hector Evans, Constable

The Key to Secrets
Hearts in Hazard series, Book 7

Debutantes should snare fiancés, not murder them.

When Constable Hector Evans returns to Chalmsley Court, he doesn’t expect the violent crime to be the murder of one of Lord Chalmsley’s guests. His lordship wants a quick resolution, before gossip about the crime’s salacious nature and trap-like killing becomes widespread. With no murder weapon, no identifiable clues, and no eyewitnesses, Hector has little to build a case, but he has plenty of suspects, even when he realizes the murderer must be a woman.

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Thursday, August 9, 2018

VISIT AUTHOR RAEGAN TELLER'S FICTITIOUS TOWN OF MADDEN, SC

Glitter Lake Inn
Raegan Teller is an award-winning mystery author. Her debut novel, Murder in Madden, received Honorable Mention in the 2017 Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. Her second novel in the series is The Last Sale. Both were inspired by actual cold cases. Learn more about Raegan and her books at her website.

I’m Raegan Teller, mystery author of the Enid Blackwell series. Both Murder in Madden and The Last Sale are set in and around a fictitious town: Madden, South Carolina. It’s about a 30-minute drive from the capitol city of Columbia, at least in my mind.

Why a fictitious setting? As a fiction author, I didn’t want to be constricted by reality. There are a number of small town around me, each of which is charming and quirky in its own way. But none had all of the characteristics I needed. Just as fictional characters are typically a composite of several actual people, Madden is a composite of several small towns in South Carolina: Blythewood, Ridgeway, Camden, Chapin, and Winnsboro. I plucked a thing or two from each.

In my first book, Murder in Madden, some of the pivotal scenes take place at the Glitter Lake Inn, just outside of town. The inn is a century-old mansion, handed down from generation to generation. The current owner plays a key role in the story. When I was writing this book, I had no idea readers would be so attracted to the setting—both Madden and the inn. Yet, when I attend book club meetings to discuss the book, the setting is always a significant and lively part of the discussion. People assume the inn is real, but, sadly, it isn’t. It, too, is a composite of the many wonderful inns we’ve stayed in. I created it to be the perfect place to get away from it all, a place where tea and civility can solve all problems. In doing so, I created a setting that has become a character itself in these books.

 But if you think Murder in Madden and The Last Sale are typical cozies, be forewarned. They are not. By the publishing industry’s definition, a cozy mystery is one where the protagonist is an amateur sleuth. Enid Blackwell is a journalist, so technically my series fits the description. And food and an old inn are featured, both of which are often included in cozies. But that’s where the similarities to the genre end.

I invite you to come to Madden through my stories. But remember—small towns aren’t always what they seem, and family secrets and decade-old lies can have deadly consequences. Like Enid, you may be forced to ask yourself, how much would I risk to learn the truth?

Murder in Madden
Enid Blackwell thinks she has discovered the perfect story to revive her journalism career. Her husband's cousin, Rose Marie Garrett, was brutally murdered 10 years ago in a small town in South Carolina, and the killer was never found.  Everyone in the family seems eager to forget Rosie because of her “bad girl” reputation, but Enid is determined to tell the story of the young girl’s tragic life. But bringing the truth to light may cost Enid more than she bargained for. When Rosie’s killer targets Enid, she knows the only way to save herself is to bring Rosie’s killer to justice. 


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