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Leaving Clues In Plain Sight by Andrea Penrose

One of the really fun parts about writing a mystery is creating the tantalizing little clues that challenge readers—along with my amateur sleuths, Lady Charlotte and Lord Wrexford—to piece together the puzzle and figure out who the villain is. So, I thought I’d give you an exclusive inside peek at one of the key clues in MURDER AT KENSINGTON PALACE!

The book is set in Regency England—it’s the era of Jane Austen, and in the fancy London neighborhood where Wrexford lives, it’s a world of fancy mansions and glittering ballrooms. The ladies are aswirl in gowns of sumptuous silk and satin, while the gentlemen are equally eye-catching in  their evening finery. And that sparked one of those wonderful writerly Aha! moments. In thinking about all the gorgeous fashions, I found myself inspired to use an item of clothing as a telltale clue of the cunning killer’s identity.

 

However, rather than use a lady’s handkerchief or fichu, I decided to pick something from the wardrobe of a fancy gentleman. Here’s another little secret—the gentlemen of the Regency were just as fashion-conscious as the ladies. Perhaps even more so! You think it’s modern hipsters who invented the skinny jean to show off their muscled legs? Ha! Regency cavalry officers were known to put on their leather riding breeches, then sit in a bath tub of hot water so that when they got out, the pants would dry and shrink to a skin-tight fit! Talk about fashionistas!

However, I didn’t choose leather pants. I chose a hat. (As you see in the fashionplates here, a hat was de rigueur for topping off a gentleman’s fancy outfit.) And like a lady’s bonnet, a gentleman’s hat came in a vast array of different styles. High, low, curly-brimmed, flat-brimmed, military shakos . . . the choices were endless.

So, how did I choose which style to use? I’ll get to that in a moment, but first, let’s take a sneak peek at a snippet from the scene where Lady Charlotte gets her first clue about the hat! (She’s taken two young urchin brothers named Hawk and Raven under her wing, and they now live with her. Clever and streetwise, the boys are helping her search for information to help solve a string of shocking murders. And in questioning the street people around the scenes of the crimes, they make an important discovery.)

“It’s you and your drawings I learned from, m’lady,” said Hawk in a rush. “Y’know, look for the little details—you’re always saying it’s the small bits and bobs that help piece together the truth.”

Charlotte sucked in a breath. She had used the aphorism to explain to the boys why gathering so much seemingly meaningless information was important for her work. Apparently, the boy had taken her words to heart.

She stared down at the grubby piece of paper, which was still clutched in his hand. “And you’ve found one of those bits and bobs?”

“Oiy. When Mary mentioned the cov wuz wearing a hat, Hawk thought to draw a sketch,” interjected Raven. “And Mary gabbled ‘nay’ and ‘yea’ until he got the shape right.”

Charlotte realized her heart had started to thump against her ribs. “May I see it?”

Hawk solemnly unfolded the paper and slid it across the desktop.

Unclenching her fingers, she drew it closer and took a long moment to study the penciled image.

The boy had a real knack for drawing. The lines were quick and simple, yet he had captured the curl of the sides and the jaunty dip of the brim at the back and front. Charlotte recognized the style—it had a name, though she couldn’t recall it—as being popular, but not at the pinnacle of fashion.

Distinctive, but not too distinctive.

“You think it might help in catching the killer?” asked Hawk.

“Yes,” replied Charlotte, still staring at the image. “I think it might help a great deal.”

Could the hat be the key the key to tracking down the killer? Charlotte is eager to show the sketch to Wrexford, and get his opinion.

Unclenching her hands, Charlotte looked down and started smoothing a crease from her skirts. As she did so, her fingers brushed up against paper. Hawk’s drawing, had slipped from the cushions to become tangled in the folds of sprigged muslin. Continue reading “Leaving Clues In Plain Sight by Andrea Penrose”

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Flavor of the Season by Alex Erickson

Fall is my favorite season. The weather is nice, the leaves change colors, and of course, my favorite holiday, Halloween, just so happens to occur during this time. I break out my favorite spooky music, enjoy a few scary shows that premiere during the fall, and do my best to relax and enjoy myself.

But there’s one thing that happens every fall that gets under my skin.

It becomes pumpkin spice season.

Yeah, I know, a lot of people love pumpkin spice. There are some people who live by it. I even wrote a book called Death by Pumpkin Spice¸ so even I haven’t completely avoided it. It’s everywhere. In coffee. In candy and deserts. And lately, in candles and air fresheners. Before long, we’re going to get pumpkin spice deodorant or pumpkin spice gasoline. Maybe we already have.

Enough is enough!

I get it; I really do. People love their pumpkin. The problem for me is that I can’t stand the smell of it. It’s not just pumpkin either. The smell of beer makes my stomach churn. The same goes for cantaloupe and other melons. Walking around with everyone eating pumpkin spice cookies while drinking their pumpkin spice lattes and wearing pumpkin spice perfume means my stomach is in a constant state of distress. Continue reading “Flavor of the Season by Alex Erickson”

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Horsing Around Can Be Fun! by Arlene Kay

I’ve always loved horses, but the topic of equine rescue was a real eye-opener for me. Frankly I was immersed in the glamorous world of shows, polo matches and competitive racing and oblivious to the grisly fate suffered by far too many horses whose owners abdicate responsibility for them. I soon found that the Internet was awash with sad tales and dismal statistics. My fantasies about cherished creatures like Trigger, Silver and Buttermilk clashed markedly with reality. With the help of my best friend Babette Croy, I decided to do something about that.

My name is Perri Morgan. I lead a relatively dull existence in Grand Falls, Virginia, crafting custom leashes, collars, bridles and saddles for dogs and horses. “Rescues” touch a special place in my heart since after my parents’ death, I became the product of the foster care system. I know all too well what it means to long for acceptance and a forever home. In fact, my modest spread boasts two retired military dogs, one entitled feline and an ornery pygmy goat, all of whom were discarded and subsequently re-homed with me.

My community is an affluent one filled with Macmansions, lavish landscaping, and well-intentioned neighbors leading busy lives. Many of them enjoy polo, horse and dog shows and competitive riding. Some like Babette also have a big heart and genuinely care about less fortunate creatures. My pal is passionate. In fact, one might call Babette a social justice warrior willing to put herself and her pocketbook on the line to help animals.

Unfortunately, even good intentions can clash when property values and profits collide. Our town council suddenly proposed to rezone land and evict the Cavalry Farms Rescue facility. Tempers flared, expletives flew, and our normally tranquil community experienced a galloping case of NIMBY (not in my back yard) syndrome. With Babette leading the charge, several of us mobilized and formed a protest group, appropriately dubbed NEIGH. Nothing militant, just a band of concerned citizens with something to say.  Our ace in the hole was the public scrutiny provided by my romantic partner investigative hottie, Wing Pruett. Grand Falls prided itself on a liberal reputation and shunned any bad publicity. I was cautiously optimistic about our chances until disaster stuck: I came face to face with the bloodied corpse of Babette’s assistant, draped across her employer’s bed! Continue reading “Horsing Around Can Be Fun! by Arlene Kay”

Posted in Cooking, Home

Sweet Bougatsa Recipe From Donna Kauffman

 

Welcome to Moonbright!

Kate Angell, Allyson Charles, and I had such a wonderful time setting our stories in the magical seaside town of Moonbright, Maine. The stories center around Bellaluna’s Bakeshop, an Italian bakeshop owned by the heroine of my story, Abriana, and her grandmother, Sofia.

It was so much fun researching this story, not the least of which was trying out some Italian pastry recipes! And yes, the book comes with several yummy recipes for you to try!

Today, however, I want to talk about the other chef in my story. My Greek hero, Caleb Dimitriou. His entire extended family run a handful of Greek restaurants, scattered from Philadelphia, to Maine, and all the way to Greece!

My great-uncle was Greek, and my grandmother ran a family restaurant, so it was great fun to delve a bit into the family history and bring it to life in this fresh, fictional way. I only wish the story was longer so I could indulge in my love of Greek food as well as all those delicious Italian pastries.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t indulge in playing with a few family Greek recipes. The things I do for research! (Yes, the struggle is real. And delicious!) Continue reading “Sweet Bougatsa Recipe From Donna Kauffman”

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Why I Love Writing Cozy Mysteries by V.M. Burns

I’ve heard it said that cozy mysteries are constraining. These criticisms are then followed by a clarion call for authors to “push the boundaries” of the cozy mystery envelope to bring the subgenre into the twenty-first century. But, the things that some might consider constraining are probably the main reasons I like writing cozy mysteries. In order to understand the complaints, you must first understand what cozy mysteries are.

So, what is a cozy mystery? Cozies are mysteries that almost always feature an amateur sleuth in a small community. They also do not have excessive violence, no explicit sex and no bad language. Let’s start with the amateur sleuth. Not being a member of law enforcement, I find using an amateur sleuth to be a major benefit. I don’t have to understand police procedures since an amateur isn’t bound by any of those rules. My amateur sleuth can (and usually does) make mistakes and gets into situations that can create interesting problems. Setting cozies in small communities helps to limit the pool of suspects, which is another positive. Readers can focus on the main characters in the story rather than several million possible entities that can be a factor in larger areas.  No excessive violence is another plus in my opinion. Even though, I write murder mysteries, I will admit to being a bit squeamish when it comes to the reality of murder. I much rather gloss over the gory details and get straight down to finding clues and figuring out whodunit. No bad language is probably one of the most fun “constraints” in cozy mysteries. Rather than spewing out expletives commonly used by sailors, I view this as an opportunity for creativity. It forces me to look for creative ways for my characters to voice their frustrations. Some of my solutions are quite humorous. And, no sex? Well, there’s nothing in the cozy mystery rulebook that says cozy characters can’t have sex. We just can’t write the scene.

As a cozy mystery reader as well as a writer, I feel the guidelines help set reader expectations. Readers know what to expect when they pick up a cozy mystery, and as a reader I appreciate not being surprised with graphic descriptions of violent crime scenes that will give me nightmares and keep me awake all night. I’ve received letters from readers ranging from ten to well into their nineties. It definitely makes me happy to share my love of mysteries with people from different age groups.

 

Lilly Echosby just witnessed a murder on a pet cam. Or did she?

When a last-minute opportunity arises to accompany her boss to an art auction in Atlanta, Lilly throws some money at the problem of where to board her toy poodle Aggie (short for Agatha Christie). Posh Pet Haven offers the most luxurious canine accommodations in all of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The place even provides pet cams so anxious owners can check in on their pampered pooches.

But when Lilly tries to take a peek at her poodle, she gets a terrible shock—she witnesses what she’s sure is a murder. She thinks the victim may be the wealthy co-owner of Pet Haven. The police follow her lead but find no body, no evidence of a crime, and no video record. Starting to feel like the dog owner who cried wolf, Lilly decides to go undercover to catch a killer who may be hiding in plain sight . . .

Posted in Cooking, Creativity, Home

The Taste of Fall by Allyson Charles

When I was invited to contribute a story to The Bakeshop at Pumpkin and Spice, I was very excited. Not only because the stories centered around Halloween, one of the best holidays of the year, but because it allowed me to write about my favorite season. When I think of fall, I think of cozy cardigans, spiced lattes, and apple pie. Crisp fallen leaves and reading before the fire. In short, I think of hygge.

If you haven’t read Hygge: The Danish Art of Happiness or The Little Book of Hygge, you might not have heard of hygge. It’s a Danish and Norwegian word meaning a mood of coziness and a feeling of well-being through enjoying the simple things in life. In 2016, the Collins English dictionary named hygge as runner-up for word of the year.

So what are some ways to practice hygge? When autumn rolls around, I pull out the quilt I’ve been working on—for years now—and snuggle up on the sofa and sew away. I think I’ve given up hope of ever actually completing it, but the act of stitching the pieces together is an act of zen for me, the end product not nearly as important as the journey.

Or I pull on a pair of reading socks and a soft sweater and find a reading nook to lose myself in a book for the afternoon.

Or bake a delicious apple pie or chocolate-chip scones which I may or may not share, depending on whether I want to spread the hygge, or keep it all to myself. Continue reading “The Taste of Fall by Allyson Charles”

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My Quilt by Elizabeth Hardinger

My maternal grandmother, Lizzie Frans (1900-1993), was an artist with a needle. She crocheted, tatted, appliqued, embroidered, quilted, and, of course, mended. She had four daughters and eighteen grandchildren, and she made baby quilts and wedding quilts for all of us, for our children, and for many others besides. I have no idea how many quilts she made altogether – hundreds, at least.

For my twelfth birthday, she made me a 1961 Kansas Centennial quilt, a wonderful keepsake. Entirely of her own design, it features outline-embroidered motifs of historical and current (1961) people, events, and objects.

The quilt top has a center panel of nine squares, each containing a centered image embroidered on unbleached muslin: a buffalo; the official “Midway USA” image of the centennial (a perfectly perfect example of Mid-Century Modern meets modest Midwestern boosterism); a meadowlark (the offical state bird) perched on a sunflower (the state flower); another sunflower; another wheat stalk paired with another sunflower; a tipi; a Native man in chief regalia standing next to a cowboy on horseback; and a covered wagon with two oxen hitched up. I don’t know where she got these images. She probably drew some of them and took others from coloring books, a favorite source of hers. Continue reading “My Quilt by Elizabeth Hardinger”

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Cover Reveal!

It Was Meant To Save Humanity
Not Destroy It

Storm Freeman gave the world a miracle. She designed The Gatherer to draw electromagnetic energy from the air and disperse free and infinite electricity to rural and underprivileged communities. Her invention helped people but devalued power industries. Some revered Storm as a deity. Others saw her as an eco-terrorist.

Then the miracle became a curse. The Gatherer unleashed a plague that damaged the human electrical system, bringing pain, suffering—and eventual death—to anyone continually exposed to the technology. Stricken herself, Storm goes into exile, desperate to find a cure—and destroy her invention.

But there are people in the government and in the corporation that funded The Gatherer who refuse to publicly acknowledge the connection between the device and the spreading plague. And they will stop at nothing to find Storm and use her genius for military applications . . .

“Menacing and memorable. Winter’s evocative prose takes readers on an unforgettable journey into the wilderness, delving into our unhealthy dependence on energy. Be careful what you wish for—the coveted cure might actually be a lethal poison. Can the inventor contain her invention? No hero needs to save these two female warriors in The Gatherer. Loved this book.“  –K.J. Howe, International Bestselling Author of Skyjack

The Gatherer by Colleen Winter is my favorite kind of Crichton-esque thriller: smart, compelling, and beautifully written; a fascinating story in which a talented scientist has to save the world from the Frankenstein monster she herself created before falling victim to the power she has inadvertently unleashed. Convincingly realistic and endlessly surprising, readers won’t be able to stop turning the pages!” – Karen Dionne, #1 internationally bestselling author of The Marsh King’s Daughter

 

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Betwixt and Between by Elizabeth Hardinger

 

I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s about halfway between Hutchinson and Nickerson, Kansas, in a half Cape Cod house built by two brothers in 1929 for their country home. The brothers, lifelong bachelors, had carved out five acres of farmland to go with the house. We – Mother, Daddy, two older sisters, me, and our younger brother – were surrounded on all sides by fields, mostly grain crops, dotted with the occasional barn, outbuilding, livestock operation, and prairie gothic farmhouse. Our neighbors – farmers on tractors – in turn plowed, disced, springtoothed, planted, fertilized, harvested, and burned stubble, season after season, year after year.

A dirt road went by our house, and our address was RFD 3, just like the families living around us for miles and miles. Mail was delivered according to the name painted on your mailbox.

Daddy had a white-collar job in town, and Mother worked at home. She wanted our house to look like a house in a magazine about beautiful houses, and it did.

When I was in my late twenties I told a social worker that my childhood had been pure bliss, and in a way that was true. For one thing, as a child I loved dirt. I would lie on my back in a plowed field, dust billowing all around me, and I would gaze at the sky and be moved to tears, it was so beautiful and everything smelled so good, and the dirt on the backs of my arms and legs felt pillowy and real in a way that made me believe I would live forever. We kids raised fat lambs and chickens for 4-H projects. Mother always planted a big garden, and in the July and August heat we canned green beans and made sweet bread-and-butter pickles and spicy-sweet lime pickles. Mother had strawberry and asparagus beds. I remember the year she made ketchup, which none of us would eat, and apple butter, which I used to sneak out of the jar using my index finger. (The same with unsweetened Kool-Aid powder. It seemed as if my pointer finger was always purple.) Continue reading “Betwixt and Between by Elizabeth Hardinger”

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Cover Reveal!

The Society for Single Ladies is a crime-solving club founded by the wealthiest woman in London. Yet even Miss Angela Childers’ charming detectives are not immune to the forces of love . . .

Dorothea Rowland attends a country house party to investigate a long-lost heir—not to find a husband. But when the dashing American claimant discovers her prowling for clues, she is startled—and then seduced—by his provocative kiss. It’s all Dorothea can do to remember her mission. Especially when a series of accidents adds up to something far more dangerous…

Benedict only meant to silence lovely Dorothea—not find himself enamored. What’s a gentleman to do but join forces—and propose to the clever beauty? Yet as Ben and Dorothea pursue the truth about his inheritance, their faux betrothal threatens to become the real thing. Soon Ben’s plan to return to his life in America is upended—not only by his deepening bond with his bride, but by someone who wants his fortune badly enough to jeopardize his future—even end it. And Dorothea can’t let that happen. Not for the title, but for Ben…

“Lynne Connolly writes Georgian romances with a deft touch. Her characters amuse, entertain and reach into your heart.” —USA Today bestselling author Desiree Holt

“With plots, deviousness and passion galore, Temptation Has Green Eyes by Lynne Connolly is a truly enjoyable read.” –Fresh Fiction

 

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