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.

Monday, December 10, 2018

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--METALLIC BRAID ORNAMENT

Need a last minute gift for a holiday open house or Secret Santa? Nothing could be quicker than this Metallic Braid Ornament. Make several in a variety of colors and wrap them up in a festive holiday basket.

And don’t forget to check out Drop Dead Ornaments, the latest Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery. You’ll find lots more quick and easy ornaments to make.

Metallic Braid Ornament

Materials
Clear glass ball ornament*
5-yds. 5mm braided metallic cording (choose silver, gold, or 2-toned combination colors such as red/gold or black/silver)
9”-12” of 1/4”-1/2” wide satin or grosgrain ribbon in a complementary color

Note: If you can’t find 5mm braid, you can substitute a different diameter. You’ll need less braid for a thicker diameter and more for a thinner diameter braid. You can also substitute yarn, twine, thin braid, or a thin strip of fabric for the ribbon used for the hanging loop.

Carefully remove the metal cap from the glass ball. Feed the metallic braid through the opening into the ornament. Reattach the metal cap. Tie the ribbon through the loop for hanging.

* This is a great project to make with kids, but depending on their age, you might want to substitute clear plastic ball ornaments for the glass ball ornaments.

Drop Dead Ornaments
An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 7

Anastasia Pollack’s son Alex is dating Sophie Lambert, the new kid in town. For their community service project, the high school seniors have chosen to raise money for the county food bank. Anastasia taps her craft industry contacts to donate materials for the students to make Christmas ornaments they’ll sell at the town’s annual Holiday Crafts Fair.

At the fair Anastasia meets Sophie’s father, Shane Lambert, who strikes her as a man with secrets. She also notices a woman eavesdropping on their conversation. Later that evening when the woman turns up dead, Sophie’s father is arrested for her murder.

Alex and Sophie beg Anastasia to find the real killer, but Anastasia has had her fill of dead bodies. She’s also not convinced of Shane’s innocence. Besides, she’s promised younger son Nick she’ll stop risking her life. But how can she say no to Alex?

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Friday, December 7, 2018

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--AN INTERVIEW WITH OLIVER GOURDINE FROM AUTHOR BETTYE GRIFFIN'S EIGHTY-EIGHT, MISSISSIPPI SERIES

Today we sit down for a chat with Oliver Gourdine from author Bettye Griffin’s Eighty-Eight, Mississippi series.

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings?
I was, and still am, just a humble country lawyer from the quiet town of Eighty-Eight, Mississippi.

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself?
My sense of fair play and adherence to the law. I really should have been a judge. You should have seen me in action when local resident Courtney Mathis and outsider Jordan Thomas got into a nasty custody fight in Since I Fell For You. That situation was stickier than molasses, but I handled it. And I couldn’t be more pleased with how things turned out.

What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you?
In Weekend in Eighty-Eight she had lifelong Eighty-Eight resident Simone Degree come into my office and demand to know the identity of her biological mother. Apparently, my elderly daddy got a little confused one day when he saw her in the park and started blabbering at her like he was in the past, but came back to the present just in time to deny he knew anything. That was weird with a capital W. Poor Simone was desperate to know about her birth parents. As the only attorney in town, I thought I knew everybody’s secrets…but I sure didn’t know about that one.

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about?
I’d like to be the leading man in one of Bettye’s books, but I’m relegated to secondary character status. I guess romance lovers aren’t interested in reading about a gray-haired, overweight sixty-three-year-old man who’s been married for nearly forty years, even if he’s still madly in love with his wife. But Bettye accommodated me…in a way. Her next book in the series, as yet untitled, is centered around the fallout from a tell-all novel an anonymous author wrote that’s clearly based on events in the town, a fictitious story about a murder…and the murder victim is a small-town lawyer who knows a lot of secrets. In other words, the mystery is centered around a character who’s based on Yours Truly. I just wish I knew who wrote it…

What is your greatest fear?
That the residents of Eighty-Eight will learn just how wealthy I am. I might look like a humble country lawyer, but I’m really loaded, thanks to my investments.

What makes you happy?
Money, of course. And power. As the only attorney in town, I’ve got the scoop on everybody…and they know it. Plus (and I should caution that these answers aren’t in order of importance), I love my wife, my son, and my grandchildren. I just wish my son and his family lived closer.

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why?
That’s just it. I don’t get a story. I’m just a secondary character, a piece of the glue that holds this series together. Nobody wants to read about my love story with my wife, Gloria, which happened forty years and a hundred pounds ago (we’ve each put on some weight over the years and are no longer the svelte young couple we once were).

But I’m proud to have played a role in a couple of local romances, like that between schoolteacher Cornell Sebastian from DeSoto County and local kitchen designer Ajay Vincent in It Happened in Eighty-Eight. I handled the estate of Cornell’s great-uncle, who left her his house. She met Ajay when she decided to update the kitchen in preparation for selling it. That girl looked a little lost when I first met her, but I’m happy to say that she seems to have found her footing…and a happily-ever-after to boot.

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why?
It’s a tie: Senator Philip Reavis, because he’s a hypocrite…acts like a white supremacist to get votes when he’s known all along that his mama was of mixed race; and Leticia Sterling, because she’s a liar. That girl damn near ruined Ajay Vincent’s life and got him branded as a sex offender. Neither is the behavior of a good Christian.

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?
I’ve had such a good time, I’d love to be young again and do it over. Some of the folks who’ve fallen in love here in Eighty-Eight are in their 50s, like Simone Degree and that Yankee from Illinois whose grandfather was born and died here in Eighty-Eight…but others are younger, like Cornell and Ajay and the latest romance to blossom, between Shayla Sterling and that fabulous blues singer from Memphis, Luke Willis in Dream Come True. Gloria and I really dig his music. So why I wouldn’t really want to trade with anyone, I’d love to repeat my life. Law school, courting Gloria, raising our son, watching the so-called “new Mississippi” rise after the Civil Rights Movement…the whole nine yards. It’s truly been a wonderful life.

Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog?
Ah, Bettye. She works real hard to bring her readers interesting stories with unforgettable characters. She really should be better known than she is, but, as another memorable character (Hyman Roth from The Godfather, Part II) once said, [puffs out chest and lowers chin] “This is the business we’ve chosen.” Not that there are any gangsters here, but the concept fits. Every actor isn’t going to be Al Pacino; every actress won’t be Meryl Streep.

Here’s some good news: Bettye has lowered the price of the first book in the Eighty-Eight series, It Happened in Eighty-Eight, to just $1.49, through December 12th. You can learn more about Bettye at her website

What’s next for you?
Now that the gym I opened in partnership with a young fitness expert is open, Gloria and I are trying to lose weight. Gloria is my assistant, and she also handles the real estate transactions in town. Eighty-Eight has declared itself the healthiest city in Mississippi, and it doesn’t look good for its leading citizens to be carrying around an extra seventy-five pounds, but what can I say? I love me some fried bananas and sweet tea, and Gloria makes a mean fried chicken and biscuits.

Oh, and I’ve got to smooth some ruffled feathers. The whole town’s in an uproar over a new novel that was clearly inspired by events in the lives of our residents. I hear that even Senator Philip Reavis, who was born here in Bolivar County, is hot under the collar that a local rumor about his mama has now spread all over the country. Some old scandals have been brought back to life, plus some new secrets have been uncovered, and a lot of folks aren’t happy about it. The problem is, the book was written under a pseudonym, and nobody knows who wrote it. I feel sorry for the author if their identity is revealed. But Christmas is coming…it looks like forgiveness is the order of the day. (Note: Bettye had hoped to publish a Christmas story about all the things going on in Eighty-Eight, but her freelance editing services have been in demand lately, so that book has been postponed until the first quarter of 2019).

It Happened in Eighty-Eight
Eighty-Eight, Mississippi, Book 1

Eighty-Eight, Mississippi, a town that has more secrets than it has magnolia blossoms...

Schoolteacher Cornell Sebastian returns to the Mississippi town that had been her salvation after a traumatic experience ten years before when she was just fifteen. Her uncle has willed his house to her, which she plans to spruce up and sell. Living on her own for the first time bolsters her self-confidence, and she begins to think that maybe she can put her nightmare past behind her…but there’s just one thing she needs to do to accomplish that, and it’s not something she can do alone…

Kitchen and bath designer Ajay Vincent is enchanted by the new woman in town when she hires him to update her kitchen. As he gets to know Cornell, he suspects she has a troubled past, but his confidence that she will eventually confide in him turns to frustration as her issues stall their burgeoning relationship. When Cornell finally does share the details of her past with him, Ajay is left with a dilemma, for learning her secret makes it all but impossible for him to tell her his own…

Thursday, December 6, 2018

AUTHOR JUDITH COPEK SETS A MYSTERY AT BURNING MAN

According to author Judith Copek, she’s most likely the only person you will ever meet who was born in Montana. A former English major and Information Systems nerd, she
Enjoys putting a literary spin on technology, and showing technology’s humor and quirkiness along with its scary aspects. When not writing, cooking or digging in the garden, you’ll find her on a Baltic beach or at Burning Man in the Nevada desert researching her next novel. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

Sometimes I take a vacation that inspires a novel. World of Mirrors came about from a visit to the Baltic Island of Ruegen. Festival Madness arrived after a couple of trips to the Burning Man Festival. Setting is paramount in my fiction, up there with characters and plot. When I know I’m going to write about a place, my camera is my best friend. There’s no pressure to take a wonderful photo. I just need to record an image.

The Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert is a writer’s dream, with a hostile but scenic environment, (the Black Rock Desert), thousands of people, art, music, drugs, booze, fire, and total craziness. And isolation. It’s in the middle of nowhere, and you are nearly one hundred miles from civilization. There is one road in, two-lane and dusty. A perfect setting.

Anything can and does happen at Burning Man!
Everything is dusty: your vehicle, your luggage, yourself. Radical self-reliance is the watch phrase. You bring in what you need including food and water and carry away everything. Every speck of trash There’s always a dust storm. Rain turns the playa to gooey mud. Black Rock City becomes a vast chaotic circle of “camps” consisting of tents, campers, trucks, and people. The people are mostly in costumes, the more bizarre the better. Some of them are naked. Men wear dresses with ease. They are living their fantasies. The “Man” is the best place to do this because there is a pleasant anonymity. A more-perfect setting.

The desert is called the Playa, Spanish for beach, and it stretches forever, surrounded by bare mountains including the Black Rock. Somewhere there is always a techno beat. The statue of the Man looms over the Playa. The Temple does, too. Both are ultimately burnt to the ground. Art cars belch fire. A band marches by in women’s underwear. Beyond the city is the art. Stunning is the best word for this desert museum. You can get drunk on the art. I mostly ignored the drugs and the booze because I had a mission: to capture this compelling setting for my novel.

Weird stuff happens. Pilots at the airport offer rides so Burners can join the Mile-High Club. The women have a bare-breasted bicycle ride. Thousands of naked-to-the-waist women on bikes. With attitude. The “Critical Tits Ride.” There are parades. At dusk, the Lamplighters light lanterns throughout the city because most of the burners are on bikes and they need to see. Headlamps are everywhere, as is glowstick jewelry. Bad stuff can happen in the dark. Yes!

And the Burn? Saturday night everyone forms a huge circle around the statue of the Man. There is drumming and fire dancers and all the art cars (mutant vehicles) gather round with belching flames and the throbbing, pulsing, techno beat. You cannot help but dance. Fireworks explode, and the man starts to burn. He raises his arms. The flames burn higher. Everyone is shouting and dancing and drinking and drugging and screaming as the man burns. Enough drama for a half-dozen settings.

Sunday night the temple burns and the celebrants make their way off the playa through the dust. The drive is long, slow. and hot. Next year will be more of the same, but different. It’s addictive. A most-perfect setting.


Festival Madness
The Burning Man Festival, two murders and high-tech hi-jinx equal Festival Madness for a troubled cyber-sleuth. Boston-based computer security consultant Emma Lee Devens leaves her top-secret project in disarray and jeopardizes her marriage when she races to find her missing friend and colleague. Emma’s search takes her to the Black Rock Desert of northern Nevada and the Burning Man Festival where a unique experience of survival, ceremonial fire, danger, and transcendence awaits. Anything can happen at Burning Man. Even murder.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

MYSTERY AUTHOR HEATHER HAVEN DECORATES A CHRISTMAS MEMORY TREE

Heather Haven is a multi-award winning mystery author. Her work includes the Silicon Valley based Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, NYC trail-blazing WWII lady shamus of The Persephone Cole Vintage Mysteries, Death of a Clown, a Ringling Brothers’ Circus stand-alone mystery noir, and anthology, Corliss and Other Award-Winning Stories. Today she stops by to share a Christmas memory with us. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

A Christmas Memory Tree
Twenty years ago during the Christmas season, I was visiting a dear friend and noticed a small, jewel-like tree glittering on her hallway table. When I asked her where she got it, she told me she had made it for her mother using ornaments, broken jewelry, and so forth from her family’s life. Now that her mother passed, she had the tree and would someday leave it to her own daughter.

All you need is a small fake tree, a charming container to hold it, plaster of Paris, lights, ornaments, costume jewelry, and a glue gun. I ran, not walked, to my local craft store and bought a small one-and-a-half foot tall tree, a bag of plaster of Paris, and an attractive round plant holder.

Day One: fill that charming little container about 3/4 of the way up with plaster of Paris (follow the directions on the box). Pull the little tree out of the base it came on, stick the tree into the wet plaster of Paris, hold the tree straight for a minute or two until the plaster begins to set, then go about your business for the rest of the day so it can dry thoroughly.

Day Two: Starting at the top, take the center of each wire branch and bend the branch back into itself. This keep it from looking scraggly. Next, wrap the string of lights around the tree, pushing the lights into the tree. Be sure the cord plug is at the bottom of the tree with enough length for plugging into an extension cord or the wall. Even on a small tree, you can use a 500-light or a 1000-light string. The more lights, the more glitter.

 Any balls and decoration that are slightly broken but too important or sentimental to have thrown away go on the tree first and in a place of prominence. With the hot glue gun, dab some glue on one side of the ornament near the metal loop that hooks it on to the tree. You don’t want all of that metal distracting from your jewels. Keep gluing, then sticking ornaments and jewelry wherever you want them to go, hold in place for a few seconds and voila! It’s like magic. Leonardo da Vinci couldn’t do better.

After I added a beautiful angel Mom had kept through the years to the treetop, I lovingly packed the gift in bubble wrap and shipped it off to my mother who lived three-thousand miles away. Until the end of her life, every year my mother took the tree out from the back of the closet and put it on a table, reveling in all the holidays and memories the tree represented. I was happy knowing that even though we were separated by miles, that little tree brought us closer with our shared memories.

Happy Holidays!

Iced Diamonds
In late December 1942, Persephone (Percy) Cole, one of Manhattan's first female PIs, has been hired to find out who killed a Santa Land elf and left the body in the storefront window of a swank 5th Avenue jewelry store. Was it the spoiled heiress whose big buck handbag was found on the scene? Or was it the rat who broke out of the big house to settle a score? Shortly after, the corpse of the Christmas Angel is discovered stuffed in Mrs. Santa's workshop. Will Santa Claus be next? With a penchant for Marlene Dietrich suits, pistachio nuts and fedora hats, this working mother finds diamonds to the left of her, diamonds to the right, and skullduggery aplenty. Armed with her noodle and a WWI German Mauser, Percy is determined to solve these crimes or it just might be the 'kiss off' for Christmas.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--SLEUTH CARRIE SINGLETON BAKES DOUBLE CHOCOLATE BROWNIES

Today we’re joined by Carrie Singleton from mystery author Allison Brook’s Haunted Library series.

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings?
It was a total mess. After college I stayed in one town for a while—never more than a year—then would move on to another. I felt I had no roots, no family or purpose.

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself?
I'm resilient. When I was made Head of Programs and Events of the Clover Ridge Library, I proved to be a capable and responsible worker.

What do you like least about yourself?
I can easily lose my sense of security.

What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you?
I wasn't happy when Allison sent me to search a cabin in the woods a good hour's drive from Clover Ridge to see if my father's partner-in-crime had hidden the jewels there.

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about?
The only time we argue is when she does something completely unexpected—like having my father break into my cottage at three in the morning, asking me to contact his partner-in-crime so he can recover his share of a heist.

What is your greatest fear?
That my new life in Clover Ridge will suddenly evaporate. Or I will wake up and it will all be a dream.

What makes you happy?
Spending time with Dylan, my boyfriend; girls' night out with my best friend, Angela; having dinner at my great-aunt and uncle's home across the Green from the library; and, of course arranging programs and events that the library patrons will enjoy.

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why?
I would give me a happy childhood and not let my brother Jordan die in a car accident in his twenties. Jordan was my protector and the one person I could depend on when I was growing up. He and Dylan were good friends when we were little and spent our summers on the Singleton farm. Jordan would be happy to see that Dylan and I are now a couple.

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why?
Dorothy Hawkins, the reference librarian. She has the most miserable disposition and got it into her head that she should have been given my position. Soon as I started my new job, she pulled all kinds of dirty tricks until I managed to put a stop to it.

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?
Right now I'm happy to be me, but I'd love to trade places with Julia, my cousin's wife, for a short while. As I see it, Julia has the perfect life—a husband she loves, two wonderful children, a beautiful house she decorated herself, and a career. I envy her calm and imagine she must have had a happy childhood.

Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog?
Allison Brook is the pen name of author Marilyn Levinson, who has been writing mysteries, romantic suspense, and novels for kids for many years. Before that, she was a Spanish teacher and enjoys conversing in Spanish when the opportunity arises. She loves to travel, read, knit, watch foreign films, dine out with her significant other, and visit her two grandkids. She lives on Long Island and has a red cat named Sammy. Readers can learn more about her and her books at her website. http://www.marilynlevinson.com 

What's next for you?
Book #3 in the Haunted Library series will be out in the fall. Alas, a member of the library staff has been murdered and I'll be investigating—along with the police.

Double Chocolate Brownies
(Perfect for the holidays and other family occasions)

Yield: 12-16 brownies

Ingredients:
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup melted butter
3/4 –1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line 8” square pan with parchment paper.

Stir together eggs sugar, vanilla and butter.

Mix together flour, baking powder, cocoa powder, and salt. Stir into egg mixture. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts. (Note: if you like, you can melt the chocolate chips before adding them to the mixture.)

Spread mixture evenly in pan. Bake 20-25 minutes. Test with toothpick. Brownies done when toothpick comes out slightly moist.

Allow to cool before cutting into squares.

Read and Gone
Twenty million dollars’ worth of missing gems bring Carrie Singleton’s long-lost and larcenous dad back into her life and it’s up to Carrie to clear his name.

A devoted dad is as precious as diamonds, but Carrie Singleton wouldn’t know since her dad Jim’s been on the lam most of her life. In an unusual family reunion, she finds Jim breaking into her cottage in the middle of the night. The fun really starts when he begs her to help him recover his half of a twenty-million-dollar gem heist he pulled off with the local jeweler, Benton Parr. When she refuses, Jim takes off again. 

Carrie finds her father again behind bars for the recent murder of Benton Parr. Who made the connection? Unbeknownst to her, Carrie’s boyfriend Dylan, an insurance investigator, has been searching for the gems. Determined to find the jewels herself, she starts examining every facet of Parr’s life. She turns up a treasure trove of suspects, one of whom bashes her on the head as she’s searching the victim’s country cabin. 

Retreating to the quiet confines of the library where she works, Carrie watches as Smokey Joe, the resident cat, paws at a hole in the wall. Is he after the library’s ghost Evelyn, or something shinier?

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Monday, December 3, 2018

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--MYSTERY AUTHOR ELLEN BYRON'S BOOK COVER #CHRISTMAS ORNAMENTS

Award-winning playwright and author Ellen Byron writes the Cajun Country Mystery series. She’s also written for various TV shows, include Wings, Just Shoot Me, and Fairly Odd Parents and has had more than 200 articles published in national magazines. In addition, Ellen has also worked as a cater-waiter for the legendary Martha Stewart, a credit she never tires of sharing. Learn more about her and her books at her website.

From Book Cover to Ornament
I have a passion for Christmas ornaments that I’ve nurtured since childhood. When I was in middle school, my mother announced we’d no longer have a Christmas tree. It was a rough year and she didn’t feel much like celebrating anything. But the thought of not having a beautiful tree so horrified me that I volunteered to take over tree trimming and de-trimming duties. Mom signed off on this, so I became the Keeper of the Ornaments. When I married, I incorporated some of my husband’s family ornaments into the tradition. In total years, our decorations span almost a hundred years, with the oldest ornament dating back to 1928.
But not only do I love collecting ornaments, I love making them, too. I can’t let a year go by without making something for our tree. I have over a dozen gorgeous needlepoint and cross-stitch ornaments, but those get expense to make and finish. I’m madly in love with my book covers, so I debated an affordable way to turn them into ornaments and landed on an old hobby of mine – decoupage.

I always have stickers of my book covers made by Moo as either a giveaway or a way to decorate notepads for swag. With the artwork handled, translating the covers into ornaments was easy. I bought plain round ornaments from Michael’s Crafts, painted them, added a coating of Mod Podge to each, affixed the stickers, then added another coating of Mod Podge. Once the ornaments dried, I decorated each with an assortment of bling. Cute, huh?
I haven’t turned my most recent book, Mardi Gras Murder, into an ornament yet, but this post has inspired me. I’ll definitely use the iconic Mardi Gras color palette of purple, green, and gold. I’ll also add as much shimmer and shine as the ornament can support. Because, yes, the ornament will decorate a Christmas tree. But it also celebrates a second holiday. As the tongue-in-cheek New Orleans saying goes, “Happy Almost Mardi Gras!”

Mardi Gras Murder
A Cajun Country Mystery, Book 4

The resilient citizens of Pelican aren’t about to let some hundred-year flood ruin their Mardi Gras festivities, which include Courirs de Mardi Gras – Mardi Gras Runs – a gumbo cook-off, and the Miss Pelican Mardi Gras Gumbo Queen pageant contest.  But when a body of a stranger washes up in the bayou behind Crozat Plantation B&B, and a pageant judge is shot, Maggie Crozat is convinced that the deaths are connected. Does someone want the pageant queen crown bad enough to kill for it? Or are the deaths somehow related to the Orphan Train, which delivered its last charges to Cajun Country in 1929?

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Friday, November 30, 2018

A #CHRISTMAS TRADITION FROM MYSTERY AUTHOR TERRY AMBROSE

Once upon a time, in a life he’d rather forget, Terry Ambrose tracked down deadbeats for a living. He also hired big guys with tow trucks to steal cars—but only when negotiations failed. Those years of chasing deadbeats taught him many valuable life lessons such as—always keep your car in the garage. He now spends his time writing mysteries, including the Trouble in Paradise McKenna Mysteries, the Seaside Cove Bed & Breakfast Mysteries, and the License to Lie thriller series. Learn more about Terry and his books at his website. 

A Christmas Tradition
When I was a child, we had a family tradition of putting out a nativity set each year at Christmas. The set had been in our family for as long as I can remember. I have no idea where my parents bought it, but each year we diligently unpacked each piece, arranged the figurines, then repacked everything after the holidays.

My mother and father moved to Santa Barbara in the 70s. They lived in the same two-bedroom apartment for more than thirty years. But when my father passed away in 2006, my mother knew the strokes she had suffered would make in impossible for her to live alone. And that meant we needed to move her. During the move we discovered how much stuff two people could accumulate over the course of thirty years.

With the move approaching, we tackled the job of packing each item my mother intended to keep. It was a daunting job. Every item in the apartment, from clothing to art supplies to kitchen appliances had to be reviewed and categorized. We created multiple piles for donations, which I loaded into my car and took to a charity. There was another pile for throwaways—and believe me, there were plenty. And finally, the smallest pile of all included the items to be moved.

The move from a two-bedroom apartment with about 1,200 square feet to a 400-square-foot studio was quite a shock for my mom, but she was an independent woman. She needed no assistance for walking, so walk she did, all over the streets of Santa Barbara. Although she had a great deal of space outside, she felt cramped in her little studio. But she had her possessions, including some of the family Christmas decorations, stored in boxes in her closet.

It wasn’t until she passed in 2011, that we discovered the manger was still there. The figurines that went with the set, however, had apparently been lost during the move-in. After storing the manger in our garage for a couple of years, my wife and I decided we should find figurines to go with it. That turned out to be much harder than we’d expected!

We searched for appropriately sized figurines and eventually found some that were only slightly larger than the originals. This Christmas, we’ll continue the tradition of setting up the manger and figurines just as we did when I was young. I wish we hadn’t lost the original figurines, but we still have the manger, and can still relish the joy of a family tradition.

The Killer Christmas Sweater Club
All ten-year-old Alexandra Atwood wants for Christmas is to get her dad and the B&B’s cook Marquetta under the mistletoe. After all, how can they get married if they don’t kiss first?

When murder strikes in Seaside Cove, bed-and-breakfast owner Rick Atwood is asked to help find the killer. But this will not be an easy case to crack. Not only did the killer contaminate the crime scene, but there are suspects all over town. And they all received the same Christmas sweater from the victim.

Alex hears rumors about the murder and decides that since she’s on Christmas break, she has time for a little multitasking. She launches her own investigation even as she continues her efforts to get her dad and Marquetta together.

Just when Rick thinks he’s identified all the suspects, he discovers a new one—his estranged wife. With the days until Christmas ticking down, Rick feels pressured from all sides. He needs to solve the case. He needs to send his wife back to New York. But the one thing he doesn’t need is for his daughter to be one step ahead of him and the cops.

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