I’m happy to welcome Melinda Curtis, author of A Very Merry Match, to the blog today to share her 2021 resolutions for readers! Who can relate to these??
2021 Resolutions for Readers by Melinda Curtis
I will do other things than read on weekends. Like watch movies and TV shows made from books, such as:
Bridgerton (Netflix) based on the Julia Quinn Bridgerton series
Virgin River (Netflix) based on the Robyn Carr Virgin River series
Love in Harmony Valley (Up TV) based on the book Dandelion Wishes
I will show up extra early for appointments in January. And finish reading all the holiday books I didn’t get to or may have missed, like…
Season of Joy by Annie Rains
A Very Merry Match by Melinda Curtis
A Christmas to Remember by Jenny Hale
I will trim off excess books weighing down my bookshelf. Of course, I’ll do a book exchange with a friend, sharing books I enjoyed and putting books she enjoyed on my TBR. (TBR piles don’t weigh down bookshelves if they aren’t mine.)
Can’t Hurry Love by Melinda Curtis for Starting Over at Blueberry Creek by Annie Rains
Second Chance on Cypress Lane by Reese Ryan for A Very Merry Match by Melinda Curtis
The Happily Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez for Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson
I will be adventurous and expand on the types of books I love to read. One of the things I enjoy about small town romance is the sense of community, which you can also get in other romances, such as medical romances, sports romances, or a “community” of sisters/girl friends.
The Single Dad’s Holiday Wish by Susan Carlisle (medical)
Just a Boyfriend by Sariah Wilson (football)
The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon (girl friends)
A Very Merry Match by Melinda Curtis Series: Sunshine Valley #2 Published by Forever on September 29, 2020 Add to Goodreads | Amazon
This holiday season, kindergarten teacher Mary Margaret Sneed never imagined she’d be unwrapping…herself. But a burlesque side gig is the young widow’s only hope of paying off her late husband’s substantial debt. With her reputation and career on the line, she performs in disguise, under the stage name Foxy Roxy. But her secret identity is threatened when Roxy’s biggest fan turns out to be Mary Margaret’s biggest crush — the handsome-as-sin mayor of Preston!
Newly divorced single dad Kevin Hadley is prepping to make the jump from mayor to state assemblyman. He knows he should be settling down with someone quiet and practical, someone like Mary Margaret Sneed. The last thing Kevin needs right now is a steamy scandal. But he just can’t stop thinking about Foxy Roxy…and if Preston’s matchmaking Widows Club has their way this Christmas, Kevin won’t have to…
Prior to writing romance, award-winning, USA Today Bestseller Melinda Curtis was a junior manager for a Fortune 500 company, which meant when she flew on the private jet she was relegated to the jump seat—otherwise known as the potty. After grabbing her pen (and a parachute) she made the jump to full-time writer. Between writing sweet romance and sweet romantic comedy, Melinda finds time to bond with her husband over home remodeling projects. She recently came to grips with the fact that she’s an empty nester and a grandma, concepts easier to grasp than jet-setting on a potty.
I’m so excited to have Annie Rains, author of the Sweetwater Springs novels, on the blog today to share with us how to make Christmas trees out of tomato cages!
‘Tis the season for Christmas trees of all shapes and sizes, colors and décor! In my new novel SEASON OF JOY, the hero Granger Fields is a down-on-his-luck Christmas tree farmer. Half his farm burned down in the spring and now he’s struggling to make ends meet while raising his two little girls. Enter my heroine Joy Benson, who agrees to help Granger care for his girls during the farm’s busiest season. She also comes up with an idea for a Christmas Tree Workshop to allow the folks of Sweetwater Springs to make their own special tree this year.
The tomato cage Christmas tree is so easy to make and the results are beautiful! Here’s how to make your own tree without having to head to Merry Mountain Farms in Sweetwater Springs to do so (although if you want to take a trip, you can find SEASON OF JOY on a shelf near you).
How to Make a Tomato Cage Christmas Tree:
– Wire tomato cage
– Decorations, accessories, lights
– Hot glue gun/glue sticks
– Wire or zip tie
– Optional: festive holiday music to get you in the Christmas mood.
Step one: Find a tomato cage. They’re easy to locate in the spring when gardeners are growing tomatoes. You can locate them on Amazon year-round as well. Tomato cages are just the wire contraptions that are placed around a growing plant.
Step two: Flip the tomato cage over and gather the loose wires at the top with a zip tie or another piece of pliable wire. This should give you the Christmas tree’s conical shape.
Step three: Use a hot glue gun to apply glue to the garland and adhere to the wire every few inches as you wrap, starting at the top and working your way toward the bottom.
Step four: Now for the fun part! Get creative and add ornaments, poinsettias, holly branches, strings of beads, velvet bows, or whatever festive items you have lying around in your boxes of decorations. Don’t forget the lights!
Voila! Now you have a tree that you can pull out every year to add to the merriment of your home. These make great gifts as well!
Wishing you all a merry holiday full of family, friends, & good books!
Season of Joy by Annie Rains Series: Sweetwater Springs #6 Published by Forever on October 13, 2020 Genre: Contemporary Romance — Christmas Add to Goodreads | Amazon
Tis the season for love
For single father Granger Fields, Christmas is his busiest and most profitable time of the year. But when a fire devastates the Merry Mountain Tree Farm, he fears the season won’t be holly or jolly unless he can convince free spirit Joy Benson to care for his two rambunctious daughters. Yet while Granger wants to focus on saving his business, Joy seems determined to shake up his family’s Christmas with her festive ideas and merry making.
Joy is counting down the days until she can open her own art gallery. Babysitting Abby and Willow will help her reach her goal, and when inspiration strikes, Joy convinces Granger that her craft classes can bring even more holiday cheer to the farm. As crowds return and Joy’s creative side flourishes, life with Granger and his girls begins to feel like home. But with Christmas coming nearer, can Joy convince Granger to open his heart again? Or will their newfound happiness be as fleeting as the newly fallen snow?
Annie Rains is a contemporary romance author who writes small town love stories set in fictional towns on the coast of North Carolina. Raised in one of America’s largest military communities, Annie often features heroes who fight for their countries, while also fighting for a place to call home and a good woman to love. When Annie isn’t writing, she’s spending time with her husband and 3 children, or reading a book by one of her favorite authors.
I’m so happy to have one of my dear friends, Andi, on the blog today to share some of her beautiful holiday card creations! Enter to win what she’s made at the end of the post!
I’m really excited to take part in Jana’s Bookish Little Christmas. For those of you that don’t know me I’m Andi from the book blog Andi’s ABCs. But besides book blogging I also make handmade cards and some other paper crafts. I sell them in my Etsy shop, Cards by Andrea S.. When I signed up for Jana’s Bookish Little Christmas I knew I was going to craft a few items starting with some gift card holders, my new favorite thing to make. I went to my supplies and pulled some stuff out.
I grabbed my new Glitter Paper from The Stamp Market and decided to work with that and with the Bag and Tag die set. The great thing about the Bag and Tag die set if you can make one bag that is the perfect size for gift card and another bag that can be whatever size you want. Once the base was decided I grabbed my favorite Altenew ink in Crimson and the candy cane stamp from the No Peeking stamp and die set.
Taking the glitter paper I die cut the bags and used double sided tape to hold seal the sides securely. When the bags were complete I set them aside and grabbed my Misti Stamping tool and stamped two candy canes. Using my mini die cutting machine and matching die I cut the candy canes into tags.
With the bags and candy canes done I searched my stash and found some red snowflakes I had previously cut. Grabbing two clothes pins, one with an embellishment, I simply attached the the two tags to the bags. Once again looking in my stash of previously made items I found two tags to include in the larger bag.
Then it was time to move to the cards:
I decided to keep the cards pretty simple by within the same theme. Using the Altenew ink I grabbed a small candy cane stamp set. I stamped the message in the corner and used one of the candy canes and created a pattern surrounding the sentiment. Creating a random pattern is the easiest way to make a simple card and I was able to quickly do this. And that is all there is to it.
And there you have it, two gift card holders, two tags, and two holiday cards. And what is the best parr about that? Well they are all up for grabs for you to win. One winner (US only) will receive all of the items I made and a code to save in my Etsy shop should you want to order something in the future.
Thank you so much Jana for having me! It was a lot of fun. I hope everyone has a Happy Bookish Little Christmas!
I’m so happy to have Lizzie Shane, author of The Twelve Dogs of Christmas, on the blog today to celebrate A Bookish Little Christmas with me! I have a major sweet tooth, so this was the perfect post for me. Who doesn’t love brownies?? Read more about Lizzie and her book below, and enter to win one of five copies of the book!
Tis the season for holiday treats! I love making special goodies for the holidays, but I’m also a big believer in simple, time-saving recipes that feel special while still being super easy. Enter Brownie Toppers.
In my new release, The Twelve Dogs of Christmas, town Scrooge Ben is overwhelmed by his Christmas obligations and isn’t much of a baker – but he’s still determined to make something special for his niece’s holiday bake sale. So, of course, our heroine Ally saves the day by helping him dress up some brownies so they become the hit of the holiday fair. (And then they fall madly in love, of course.)
In college I was addicted to the fancy brownies at a sweet shop in town (I still think back fondly on the M&M brownie…) and when I started playing at replicating them, they became one of my favorite holiday hacks.
S’mores Brownies, Peppermint Bark Brownies, “Dirt” Brownies, Salted Caramel Pretzel Brownies and more. Seriously, these are so easy.
Start with your favorite BROWNIE MIX – or you can make them from scratch if you’re fancy. I like Ghirardelli Double Chocolate mix (and I can get it in bulk at Costco!).
PREPARE the brownies like you usually would and let them cool completely. While they are cooling you can start assembling your toppings.
(photo by Lizzie Shane)
For the S’mores Brownies, you’ll want:
Marshmallow fluff (or lightly warmed/softened marshmallows to make your own – 10 seconds in the microwave and a quick stir usually does the trick)
Crumbled graham crackers
After the brownies have cooled, cut them into squares FIRST (otherwise you’ll never get them to cut cleanly because the marshmallow will be everywhere). Spread the marshmallow fluff on each brownie, then sprinkle graham cracker crumbles on top and set a single Hershey square in the center. Super fast. Super easy. Super delicious. (If you’re wrapping them individually, make sure you really cover the fluff with graham crumbles or it will stick to the saran wrap forever.)
For the Peppermint Bark Brownies, you’ll need:
White Chocolate Chips
Crumbled Candy Canes (or Peppermint Bark)
Shortening (or vegetable oil)
Peppermint Extract or Peppermint Schnapps (optional)
After the brownies have cooled, you can either cut them into squares if you want the white chocolate dripping down the sides (I like it that way) or leave them in the pan if you’d like a clean white chocolate layer on top of the brownies. In a microwave-safe dish, combine the white chocolate chips, shortening (for 1.5 cups chips, I add 1.5 tablespoons of shortening), and a splash of peppermint schnapps or ½ tsp of peppermint extract if you want extra minty-ness. Melt for 30 seconds in the microwave, stir, melt for another 30, another stir, and you should have smooth, liquid, pourable chocolate.
Pour the white chocolate on top of the fully cooled brownies and sprinkle crushed candy canes on top while the chocolate is still warm and soft. Let cool and harden completely. If the brownies are still in the pan, be sure to score the chocolate with a knife as it is cooling, otherwise the chocolate topping will crack when you try to cut your squares.
For “Dirt” Brownies, you’ll need:
Crumbled Oreos (optional)
Once the brownies have cooled, cut them into squares (since the gummy worms are very difficult to cut after the fact). You can cover the brownie squares with melted chocolate by replicating the steps above in the Peppermint Bark recipe, only with milk chocolate morsels instead of white chocolate, or you can simply cover them with a thin layer of frosting and a light dusting of Oreo crumbs before pressing the gummy worms on top. And then you’re done. Easy peasy.
For Caramel Pretzel Brownies, you’ll need:
Sea Salt (optional)
Cut the cooled brownies into squares again (because like the marshmallow, the caramel does not cut cleanly). Melt the caramels in the microwave – I tend to do this ten seconds at a time, stirring as I check them, because the caramel burns easily. You can drizzle lightly on top, but I like to slather it on with a knife because I like a lot of caramel. Then, while the caramel is still warm, press the pretzels into the top. You can either crumble them into pieces or press them on whole. I also like to sprinkle a pinch of sea salt on top, for that extra salty kick. Then just let cool completely and enjoy!
That’s it! “Fancy” brownies with very little effort.
You can always mix and match your favorite toppings too. I love white chocolate with Oreo crumbs (like Cookies n Cream), or a dollop of peanut butter with a Hershey square, or marshmallow fluff with M&Ms.
These are all very sweet, but they are a perfect holiday sugar rush. And hopefully they make you as much the hit of the holidays as they did Ben and Ally. Happy baking and happy reading!
A delightful holiday romance about a small-town single dad and an animal rescue owner as they try to find forever homes for a dozen lovable pups before Christmas.
Pine Hollow has everything Ally Gilmore could wish for in a holiday break: gently falling snow in a charming small town and time with her family. Then she learns some Grinch has pulled the funding for her family’s rescue shelter, and now she has only four weeks to find new homes for a dozen dogs! But when she confronts her Scroogey councilman nemesis, Ally finds he’s far more reasonable — and handsome — than she ever expected.
As the guardian of his dog-obsessed ten-year-old niece, Ben West doesn’t have time to build a cuddly reputation. But he does feel guilty about the shelter closing. So he proposes a truce with Ally, agreeing to help her adopt out the pups. As the two spend more time together, the town’s gossip is spreading faster than Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve. And soon Ben is hoping he can convince Ally that Pine Hollow is her home for the holidays. . . and the whole year through.
About Lizzie Shane
Contemporary romance author Lizzie Shane was born in Alaska and still calls the frozen north home, though she can frequently be found indulging her travel addiction. Thankfully, her laptop travels with her and she has written her way through all fifty states and over fifty countries.
Lizzie has been honored to win the Golden Heart Award and HOLT Medallion, and has been named a finalist three times for Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA Award®, but her main claim to fame is that she lost on Jeopardy! For more about Lizzie and her books, please visit http://www.lizzieshane.com.
Today I have a Christmas treat for you! Gallery Books has given me an excerpt of Christina Lauren’s new Christmas book to share with you, plus they are sponsoring a giveaway of a copy of the book for A Bookish Little Christmas! I’m reading In a Holidaze right now, and it’s so much fun so far. Trust me, you’re going to want to win this!
In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren Published by Gallery Books on October 6, 2020 Genres: Contemporary Romance — Christmas Pages: 336
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One Christmas wish, two brothers, and a lifetime of hope are on the line for hapless Maelyn Jones in In a Holidaze, the quintessential holiday romantic novel by Christina Lauren, the New York Times bestselling author of The Unhoneymooners.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year…but not for Maelyn Jones. She’s living with her parents, hates her going-nowhere job, and has just made a romantic error of epic proportions.
But perhaps worst of all, this is the last Christmas Mae will be at her favorite place in the world—the snowy Utah cabin where she and her family have spent every holiday since she was born, along with two other beloved families. Mentally melting down as she drives away from the cabin for the final time, Mae throws out what she thinks is a simple plea to the universe: Please. Show me what will make me happy.
The next thing she knows, tires screech and metal collides, everything goes black. But when Mae gasps awake…she’s on an airplane bound for Utah, where she begins the same holiday all over again. With one hilarious disaster after another sending her back to the plane, Mae must figure out how to break free of the strange time loop—and finally get her true love under the mistletoe.
Jam-packed with yuletide cheer, an unforgettable cast of characters, and Christina Lauren’s trademark “downright hilarious” (Helen Hoang, author of The Bride Test) hijinks, this swoon-worthy romantic read will make you believe in the power of wishes and the magic of the holidays.
In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren Chapter 1 (Excerpt)
Call me harlot. Call me impulsive. Call me hungover.
No one ever has before, but someone absolutely should this morning. Last night was a disaster.
As quietly as I can, I slip out of the bottom bunk and tip- toe across the freezing floor to the stairs. My heart is beating so hard I wonder if it’s audible outside of my body. The last thing I want is to wake Theo and have to look him in the eye before my brain is warmed up and my thoughts are cohesive.
The second step from the bottom always creaks like something out of a haunted house; it’s been victimized by nearly three decades of us “kids” run-stomping our way up for meals and down for games and bed in the basement. I stretch to carefully put my foot on the one just above it, exhaling when I land with no sound. Not everyone is so lucky; that loose board has busted Theo sneaking in late—or early, depending on how you look at it—more times than I can count.
Once I’m in the kitchen, I worry less about stealth and go for speed. It’s still dark; the house is quiet, but Uncle Ricky will be up soon. This cabin is full of early risers. My window of opportunity to figure out how to fix this is narrowing quickly.
With a barrage of memories from last night rolling like a mortifying flip book through my head, I jog up the wide stairway to the second floor, ignore the mistletoe hanging above the landing, round the banister in my candy cane socks, sneak quietly down the hallway, and open the door to the narrower set of stairs leading to the attic. At the top, I nudge open Benny’s door.
“Benny,” I whisper into the chilly blackness. “Benny, wake up. It’s an emergency.”
A gravelly groan comes from across the room, and I warn him, “I’m turning on the light.”
“Yes.” I reach over, flicking the switch and illuminating the room. While we offspring have long been relegated to bunk beds in the basement, this attic is Benny’s bedroom every December, and I think it’s the best one in the house. It has pitched ceilings and a long stained-glass window at the far end that projects sunlight across the walls in brilliant stripes of blue, red, green, and orange. The narrow twin bed up here shares the space with the organized clutter of family heirlooms, boxes of decorations for various holidays, and a wardrobe full of Grandma and Grandpa Hollis’s old winter clothes, from back when buying a cabin in Park City wasn’t a laughable financial prospect for a high school principal from Salt Lake. Since none of the other families had girls when I was a kid, I would play dress-up all alone up here, or sometimes with Benny as my audience.
But now I don’t need an audience, I need a kind ear and a cold, hard shot of advice because I am on the verge of hysteria.
“Benny. Wake up.”
He pushes up onto an elbow and, with his other hand, wipes the sleep from his eyes. His Aussie accent comes out hoarse: “What time is it?”
I look at the phone I have gripped in my clammy palm. “Five thirty.”
He stares at me with squinty, incredulous eyes. “Is somebody dead?”
“Mentally bleeding, yes.” I step deeper into the room, wrap myself up in an old afghan, and sit in a wicker chair that faces the bed. “Help.”
At fifty-five years old, Benny still has the same fluffy sandy-brown hair he’s sported my entire life. It reaches just past his chin, wavy like it was permed for years and at some point decided to stay that way. I used to imagine he was a roadie for some aging eighties rock band, or an adventurer who led rich tourists to their doom out in the bush. The reality—he’s a Portland locksmith—is less exciting, but his jangle of turquoise bracelets and beaded necklaces at least lets me pretend.
Right now that hair is mostly a tangled halo of chaos around his head.
With each of the twelve other bodies in this house, I’ve got deep history, but Benny is special. He’s a college friend of my parents—all of the grown-ups in this house attended the University of Utah together, except Kyle, who married into the group—but Benny has always been more friend than parent figure. He’s from Melbourne, even-tempered and open-minded. Benny is the eternal bachelor, the wise adviser, and the one person in my life I know I can count on to give me perspective when my own thoughts are swerving out of control.
When I was a kid, I would save up my gossip until I saw him over the Fourth of July weekend or Christmas break, and then unload everything the moment I had him to myself. Benny has a way of listening and giving the simplest, most judgment-free advice without lecturing. I’m just hoping his level head can save me now.
“Okay.” He clears some of the gravel out of his throat with a cough and brushes a few wayward strands of hair out of his face. “Let’s have it.”
“Right. So.” Despite my panic and the ticking clock, I decide it’s best to ease him in gently to this conversation. “Theo, Miles, Andrew, and I were playing board games last night in the basement,” I start.
A low “Mm-hm” rumbles out of him. “A standard night.”
“Clue,” I stall, tugging my dark hair over my shoulder.
“Okay.” Benny, as ever, is blissfully patient.
“Miles fell asleep on the floor,” I say. My younger brother is seventeen and, like most teenagers, can sleep on a pointy rock. “Andrew went out to the Boathouse.”
This “Mm-hm” is a chuckle because Benny still finds it hilarious that Andrew Hollis—Theo’s older brother— finally put his foot down with his father and found a way out of the infantilizing bunk bed situation: he moved into the Boathouse for the duration of the Christmas holiday. The Boathouse is a small, drafty old building about twenty yards from the main cabin. What cracks me up is that the Boathouse isn’t anywhere near a body of water. It’s most frequently used as an extension of the backyard in the summer and most assuredly not set up for overnight guests to the Rocky Mountains in December.
And as much as I hated not seeing Andrew Hollis in the top bunk across the room, I honestly can’t blame him.
No one sleeping in the basement is actually a kid anymore. It’s been well established that Theo can (ahem) sleep anywhere, my brother, Miles, idolizes Theo and will go wherever Theo is, and I put up with it because my mother would murder me barehanded if I ever complained about the Hollis family’s abundant hospitality. But Andrew, nearly thirty years old, was apparently done placating the parents, and took a camping cot and sleeping bag and strolled his way out of the cabin our first night here.
“We’d all had a couple drinks by then,” I say, then amend, “Well, not Miles, obviously, but the rest of us.”
Benny’s brows lift.
“Two.” I grimace. “Eggnog.”
I wonder if Benny knows where this is going. I am a notoriously wussy drinker and Theo is a notoriously horny one. Though, to be fair, Theo is just notoriously horny.
“Theo and I went upstairs to grab some water.” I lick my lips and swallow, suddenly parched. “Um, and then we were like, ‘Let’s drunkenly go for a walk in the snow!’ but instead . . .” I hold my breath, strangling my words. “We made out in the mudroom.”
Benny goes still, and then turns his suddenly-wide-awake hazel eyes on me. “You’re talking about Andrew, right? You and Andrew?”
And there it is. With that gentle question, Benny has hit the nail on the head. “No,” I say finally. “Not Andrew. Theo.”
I’m pleased to welcome to Karen Odden, author of A Dangerous Duet, to the blog today to talk about the next book in her Victorian Mystery series, A Trace of Deceit! I love art (I minored in art history during undergrad), so this entire post is just fascinating to me. Read more about Karen and A Trace of Deceit below, and enter to win a copy of your own!
Christie’s Auction House, Art, & A Trace of Deceit
by Karen Odden
On my 29th birthday, November 11, 1994, I was standing in the main sales room at Christie’s auction house in New York City. The elegant room was crowded for the rare book auction scheduled to begin at 10 o’clock. On an elevated stage at the front stood Stephen Massey, the head of the Rare Books department, behind a podium. I stood along one wall surveying the rows of chairs, filled with potential buyers and some gawkers. On the opposite wall was a bank of tables draped with black fabric, with phones for other Christie’s employees who’d be taking the bids of people calling in. The star of the auction that day was Leonardo Da Vinci’s Codex Hammer, one of his notebooks, 32 pages, written right to left, in his mirror handwriting, and featuring the famous image of the Vitruvian Man, among others.
People who attend Christie’s auctions are generally well behaved. They speak in soft tones, if they speak at all. No one shouts out or flaps their paddle around. But that day people could not stop murmuring. Rare manuscripts, signed copies and first editions sold as expected. But everyone was waiting for the Da Vinci notebook.
As usual the auctioneer started the bidding below the presale estimate. Between buyers in the room and on the phones, the bid began to climb: 6 million, 6.5, 7, 7.5 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 20. Soon it became a duel between two bidders, one in the room and one on the phone, and the employee at the phone bank just kept raising her hand. Eventually the hammer came down at 28 million dollars to a phone bidder whose identity was kept confidential. Later, I heard one of the Christie’s employees say, “It went to someone named Cates.” His friend replied, “Not Cates, Gates. I think he does something with computers.” Back in 1994, Windows 95 was still months away, and Bill Gates wasn’t a household name yet.
That morning was the first time I felt down to my bones the way suspense and story could swirl around art.
I wasn’t at Christie’s because of my art expertise. I was a media buyer, purchasing print ad space to support sales of everything from paintings and photographs to silver, coins and Faberge eggs, Chinese and Latin American art, and antique furniture. I placed ads in publications such as the New York Times, New Yorker, Architectural Digest, Art and Auction, and ArtNews. Because I was buying ad space, I had to read these publications in order to know what art to advertise where, and for the first few weeks of my job, I sat in my cubicle and read magazines. It was fun. (My dad always said, you’re never going to find a job that pays you to read! Ha!)
So like many things in my life I came to art through reading. And while I enjoy art, it’s the stories around art that captivate me. The precious manuscripts smuggled out of Wartime Germany by an American soldier, only to be found by his grandchildren forty years later, after his death. The art heists and dramatic thefts out of museums. The Renaissance painting by Cimabue that a 90-year-old Frenchwoman had hung over her kitchen stove for years because she thought it was a knock off. The painter who fell in love with his subject and then couldn’t bring himself to sell the painting to her husband. So when it came time to write my third book, I had a whole backlog of interest in stories about art.
I write mysteries set in Victorian England, specifically the 1870s, largely because I wrote my dissertation at NYU on British literature from 1850-1890. It’s my happy time and place. (My son, who is called upon to help me with my iPhone teases me that I belong there.) But if I wanted to write another novel about a young woman in 1870s London, I needed to find a place for her to study. Fortunately, the Slade School, now world-renowned and part of the University College London, was opened in 1871, after a bequest by a very forward-thinking gentleman named Felix Slade, who wanted a school where men and women could study art together. This was met with resistance from the men. Still, women entered with the first class, and early students included Kate Greenaway who became famous for her exquisite illustrations for children’s books.
At the time I began to write, I was thinking a lot about memory—how memory isn’t static, like a painting. You can’t come back to it and see the exact same image. Memory changes with time; and sometimes we unconsciously suppress memories or alter them, depending on the kinds of stories we want to tell about ourselves or people we love or our lives. I also wanted to write about how talent or genius can sometimes be a burden, or even something that is put to use by parents of the gifted child.
With this, Annabel’s story started taking shape. She has an older brother named Edwin, an outrageously talented painter, and his father started to push him, hard, when Edwin was seven. As a result Edwin became a troublemaker and rebellious. He went to school at age 12, and when he returned he had deeply changed. Troubled and angry, he visited opium dens down by the Thames, forging paintings to support himself. He stumbled home more times than Annabel can remember, swearing he was going to do better. This cycle of what we would now call addiction and relapse recurred again and again, until he was arrested for forging and thrown in prison for a year.
As the book begins, Edwin has been out of prison for four months. He has sworn to Annabel that he is going to stay away from opium and to live within the law. When Annabel and Edwin meet, he appears on time; he’s clear eyed; he talks responsibly about his paintings and his work. Slowly Annabel begins to trust him. Besides, he is her only family, and she wants desperately to believe in him.
In the first chapter, Annabel is at her easel at the Slade. Her work finished for the day, she retrieves her umbrella from the stand and ventures out in the rain. At the terraced house where Edwin rented rooms, she climbs the stairs to the top floor, and sees the door open. That’s odd, she thinks. Odder still is the sight of two strange men riffling through Edwin’s paintings and papers. She bursts out, “What are you doing? Where’s Edwin?” They turn, and she sees the truncheon that one of them carries. She realizes they’re plainclothes detectives, and Annabel feels her heart sink, for she assumes that Edwin has fallen back into his old patterns. Unhappily, she sighs and asks, “What has Edwin done now?”
But in fact, Edwin has been murdered.
Within hours, Annabel discovers that a priceless painting of Madame de Pompadour, by the French master Francois Boucher, has gone missing from her brother’s studio. Edwin was cleaning it in preparation for an auction to take place in two weeks, at Bettridge’s, an up-and-coming house trying to compete with Christie’s and Sotheby’s, both of which were established in London in the eighteenth century. The painting I’ve described is fictional—but Boucher painted nearly a dozen of Madame de Pompadour, who was King Louis XV’s mistress from 1745-1751. In my novel, this Boucher painting is the star of the auction—like Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex—but then its true owner appears, claiming the original was destroyed a fire in 1874.
So the questions begin. Was the painting that Edwin was cleaning a forgery? Had Edwin made the forgery? Was he murdered because his past had caught up to him? But even more important than learning why Edwin was murdered, Annabel longs to discover the truth about who her brother was before he died. Was he lying to her about reforming, or sincere? She wants to fix his character in her mind, render it as something stable, the way she paints her portraits and small scenes, so she can find some closure and peace. But what complicates Annabel’s inquiry is that in the process of investigating Edwin’s past, she comes to recognize a general truth: that there is a trace of deceit in many of our memories, both our happiest ones and our most painful; and that memories are not like paintings. They shift and sideslip, depending on the stories we want to tell ourselves—and the ones we want to conceal. Annabel learns that her memories both enable and limit what she can know about Edwin. Indeed, the closure and peace she seeks won’t come through fixing her brother’s character as in a portrait, but in weaving together her brother’s story and her own, and accepting—and grieving—that there are pieces missing. But that perhaps a sincere effort to understand, founded in love, is enough.
About Karen Odden
After writing her PhD dissertation on Victorian railway disasters, Karen became trapped in the era. (Her teenage son, who helps her with tech, teases that she belongs there.) Before turning to fiction, Karen taught at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and her essays on literature have appeared in numerous academic journals and books. Her three novels, set in 1870s London, feature young women who solve mysteries with personal stakes. Her first, A Lady in the Smoke, was a USA Today bestseller; A Dangerous Duet won best Historical Fiction at the New Mexico/Arizona book awards; and A Trace of Deceit (Harper Collins) was published in December. She lives in Arizona with her family and beagle-muse Rosy. Visit www.karenodden.com, or find her on twitter: @karen_odden and instagram: @karen_m_odden.
A Trace of Deceit by Karen Odden Series: Victorian Mystery #2 Other books in the series:A Dangerous Duet (#1) Publisher: William Morrow Genres: Adult Fiction — Historical, Mystery
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A young painter digs beneath the veneer of Victorian London’s art world to learn the truth behind her brother’s murder…
Edwin is dead. That’s what Inspector Matthew Hallam of Scotland Yard tells Annabel Rowe when she discovers him searching her brother’s flat for clues. While the news is shocking, Annabel can’t say it’s wholly unexpected, given Edwin’s past as a dissolute risk-taker and art forger, although he swore he’d reformed. After years spent blaming his reckless behavior for their parents’ deaths, Annabel is now faced with the question of who murdered him—because Edwin’s death was both violent and deliberate. A valuable French painting he’d been restoring for an auction house is missing from his studio: find the painting, find the murderer. But the owner of the artwork claims it was destroyed in a warehouse fire years ago.
As a painter at the prestigious Slade School of Art and as Edwin’s closest relative, Annabel makes the case that she is crucial to Matthew’s investigation. But in their search for the painting, Matthew and Annabel trace a path of deceit and viciousness that reaches far beyond the elegant rooms of the auction house, into an underworld of politics, corruption, and secrets someone will kill to keep.
I’m happy to welcome my friend, author Tracey Garvis-Graves to the blog today to share a special guest post about spending her last Christmas in her home before moving to a new one. Read more about her newest release, The Girl He Use to Know, and enter to win a signed copy!
New Traditions for a Beloved Holiday
As I’ve mentioned in my past Bookish Little Christmas posts, Christmas is one of my favorite holidays. A white Christmas is even more exciting, and because it’s already snowed twice in October, the odds are good that we’ll have a nice layer of fresh powder on the ground for the holidays this year. Whether or not we’ll have snow is the only unknown; all of our other traditions will remain the same. The baking! The decorating! The family gathered around the table for our annual surf-and-turf Christmas Eve dinner. But there is one thing that’s changing and it will add a bittersweet element because this is the last year we will celebrate Christmas in this house.
It seems like just yesterday that the kids were babies, and now our son is 20 and our daughter is 17. I guess it’s true what they say because I blinked once and then somehow, twenty years had gone by.
No one can deny that the nest is emptying. Our son has already moved into his first home, and in less than two years our daughter will be off to college. I have pined for an urban neighborhood ever since I wrote Heart-Shaped Hack and immersed myself in Minneapolis’s St. Anthony Main neighborhood. That was back in 2015 and at the time, I’d never actually contemplated leaving my suburban environment. The kids were still too young. It wasn’t time yet.
Fast forward almost five years, and the new urban empty-nest condo is under construction with a tentative move-in date of late August 2020. Next year, Christmas will be spent in a space that is half as big as what we’re used to. I find this both exciting and panic-inducing! How will I ever put out all of my decorations? The answer is that I won’t be able to. I will be forced to keep only what I love and want to take with me. From now until late August it’s going to be all Marie Kondo, all the time up in here. I’ve been applying those principles to my closets for the last couple of years, and I’m already on board. If an item no longer sparks joy, out it goes!
I did have a couple of non-negotiables when purchasing the new condo. For one, there had to be a dining space large enough for the new table that will seat all of us. I also wanted a kitchen big enough for us to cook together, the way we do every year on Christmas Eve. I’m happy to say that these items were checked off with ease. And next year, we’ll have the added bonus of a wonderful view of the downtown skyline when it’s all lit up. Maybe we’ll start a new tradition and go for a walk after dinner so we can enjoy the holiday lights.
Things definitely change when the birds start leaving the nest. A suburban home with its large backyard is no longer necessary. This two-story house with all of its stairs is more of a headache than anything. And, of course, there’s the lawn care in the summer and the snow that must be shoveled in the winter. Downtown Des Moines has so much more to offer for this stage of my life and I can’t wait to be part of an urban neighborhood. Next year, we will kick off a fresh cycle of new traditions and I find that very exciting.
But this year, things will go on as they have for the last fourteen years, and I will take great joy in sticking to the traditions we’ve been adhering to since the kids were six and two, respectively. Home is where the heart is and this year, I believe that more than ever.
The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves Published by St. Martin’s Press on April 2, 2019 Amazon • Add to Goodreads
What if you had a second chance at first love?
Annika Rose likes being alone.
She feels lost in social situations, saying the wrong thing or acting the wrong way. She just can’t read people. She prefers the quiet solitude of books or playing chess to being around others. Apart from Jonathan. She liked being around him, but she hasn’t seen him for ten years. Until now that is. And she’s not sure he’ll want to see her again after what happened all those years ago.
Annika Rose likes being alone.
Except that, actually, she doesn’t like being alone at all.
About Tracey Garvis Graves
Tracey Garvis Graves is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary fiction. Her debut novel, On the Island, spent 9 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, has been translated into thirty-one languages, and is in development with MGM and Temple Hill Productions for a feature film. She is also the author of Uncharted, Covet, Every Time I Think of You,Cherish, Heart-Shaped Hack, White-Hot Hack, and The Girl He Used to Know. She is hard at work on her next book.
I’m happy to welcome Sara Richardson to the blog today to share Darla’s holiday party planning guide! Darla is the heroine in Sara’s recent Christmas release, A Cowboy for Christmas, and she loves to throw a good party! Read more about the book and enter to win it (and the other books in the Rocky Mountain Riders series) below!
Darla’s Holiday Party Planning Guide
Hi everyone, and welcome to my party planning blog! Since I’m known as the social diva in Topaz Falls (an official title), I’ve gotten a ton of requests to outline my party planning secrets in order to host a successful holiday shindig this Christmas season. I’ve hosted every kind of party, from a Great Gatsby themed birthday party to a last-minute meet the fake future in-laws party (long story, you’ll have to read the book!), and now I’ve sharing all my secrets for how to plan a fun, stress-free event, no matter what your theme or your budget.
Fist, invitations set the tone for any event! Are you keeping it casual? Go with a simple text or email. If you want to jazz things up with a special theme or a fancier evening, you can custom design an invitation to fit your event online. These days most people actually don’t want more paper. Of course, if you happen to live in Topaz Falls, you can simply tell Ginny Eckles you’re having a party and she’ll get the word out for you.
Ambiance and Décor
The wonderful thing about having a party during the holidays is that you don’t have to do much in the way of decorating. Hopefully you’ve already put up a few Christmas decorations. At the wine bar I own, I always keep it simple but elegant with fresh greenery, some white lights to provide the mood lighting, and pops of color in big red velvet bows and oversized ornaments hanging from the ceiling. And if you need a little bling, there’s always silver or gold tinsel. Just make sure you keep it away from open flames!
Yes, we’re covering the drinks before we’re covering the food, and that’s not just because I own a wine bar! In my humble opinion, the drinks are one of the most important elements of a successful party, especially during the holidays. While you can go simple with the decorations, this is an area you don’t want to skimp on! Nothing kills a festive vibe like bad wine. I always select the wines for a party first, and then take great care in pairing them with the food. I’ll have to write another post on that later (or maybe a book). Of course, for those friends and family who aren’t wine drinkers, or for anyone underage, it’s important to have some other options. I always include a few local beers in my offerings, as well as fruit-infused water and different types of soda. If children are coming to the party, I highly recommend a hot chocolate bar—I promise the kids will love you forever.
After you’ve selected your drink menu, it’s time to plan the food. If you know me at all, you know I always start with dessert. There is no better treat than good-quality chocolate. I make my own chocolate truffles from scratch and specifically formulate them to pair with certain wines. (If you’re interested in ordering a few boxes, feel free to contact me.) Other than dessert, I highly recommend keeping the food offering simple and customizable, with appetizers like a charcuterie board, allowing people to select different meats, cheeses, crackers, nuts and fruits. Limiting food to appetizers keeps everyone mingling, and it also means less preparation and clean up.
Entertainment If you live in Topaz Falls, the cowboys provide all the entertainment you need. Trust me, ladies! Inviting a few cowboys to your party can really liven things up…just don’t expect them to wear anything except their jeans and boots. If you’re not lucky enough to have a town full of cowboys, you can always hire some. Kidding! You don’t have to have shirtless cowboys there in order to have a successful party. (Though I highly recommend it. ) Aside from cowboys, music is the most important aspect of entertainment at any party. That’s why I recommend you make some time to create a playlist that helps to build a progression through the party. Starting with more mellow songs at the beginning is always good as people are mingling and getting to know each other. Then you want to move more into the lively songs that are better for dancing. What’s a party without dancing, am I right? Personally, I recommend going with a country western playlist that includes a few holiday hits in with a couple of line dancing classics. Nothing gets a party going like the Boot Scootin’ Boogie!
I hope you all find these ideas helpful as you prepare for you Christmas parties! I would love to hear your ideas too! Leave a comment with a party-planning idea or bit of party planning advice and you’ll be entered into our giveaway!
A Cowboy for Christmas by Sara Richardson Series: Rocky Mountain Riders #6 Published by Forever on October 26, 2019 Amazon • Add to Goodreads
Come home to Topaz Falls, Colorado, where the best way to spend Christmas is in the arms of a cowboy!
When the beloved Farm Café in Topaz Falls burns to the ground, widow Darla Michaels comes up with the perfect plan to help her friends rebuild — a Cowboy Christmas Festival complete with a sexy bachelor auction and a benefit rodeo. But to pull it off, she has to pretend to be engaged to Ty Forrester, the irresistible bull rider who keeps testing her keep-things-casual policy.
A fake fiancée wasn’t on Ty’s Christmas list this year, but it’s the only way to get his family to visit over the holidays so his NFL-star brother can draw more tourists to the festival. The engagement wouldn’t be such a problem if Ty wasn’t starting to have real feelings for Darla. Knowing he can’t go on pretending, Ty prepares to tell his family the truth–but then he and Darla discover a precious little Christmas surprise that just might help them embrace a whole new life together.
About Sara Richardson
Contemporary romance author Sara Richardson has been a communications manager, copy writer, magazine editor, and whitewater rafting guide. The day after graduating with a master’s degree in journalism, Sara realized she was too empathetic to be a journalist and starting writing her first novel instead. A lifelong fascination with true love quickly led her to the romance genre.
Her Heart of the Rockies series was published by Grand Central Forever in 2015. In 2016, her debut novel, No Better Man, was nominated for a RITA in the best first book category. Sara is passionate about writing stories that inspire people to believe in love and always enjoys connecting with readers. Learn more at www.sararichardson.com.
In honor of Melinda Curtis’s recent release, The Christmas Wish (which has a puppy-loving heroine), Melinda is here to share her 5 pet-friendly gift-giving ideas with us! Read more about her book and enter to win an awesome Forever Books prize pack.
Melinda Curtis’s 5 Pet-Friendly Gift-Giving Ideas
When you think pets and the holidays, you might only think of buying for your pets. Well, think again! Gifts for pet and animal lovers are a wonderful way to solve the dilemma of what to get for that person who has everything.
1. Gift Cards. You can give them a gift card from your local pet store or an IOU certificate to pet-sit the next time they go out of town. There is nothing as comforting as the feeling of having your pet stay at home while you’re away.
(Meet Melinda’s dog, Duke, in his cute bed!)
2. Pet Beds. No matter what kind of pet they have, there’s probably a pet bed available. I have pet beds in nearly every room of the house, and one is always in need of replacing.
3. Breed-Specific Items. From calendars to magnets to ornaments to coffee mugs to mouse pads, you can find pet-themed merchandise on just about anything nowadays. Just don’t wait to the last minute to find a Hamster-themed calendar!
4. Pet Toys. Is their pet a toy lover? Does their dog have strong ball-drive? Or perhaps their cat can’t resist catnip-filled toys? These are simple items that can be used every day.
5. Donations. If they have an animal cause near and dear to their heart, make a donation in their name. What better way to fulfill the reason for the holiday season?
The Christmas Wish by Melinda Curtis Series: Sunshine Valley #0.5 Published by Forever on November 26, 2019 Amazon • Add to Goodreads
It’s beginning to look a lot like a Christmas in thisSunshine Valley novella from USA Today bestselling authorMelinda Curtis that will appeal to fans of RaeAnne Thayne and Sheila Roberts.
Everyone in Sunshine Valley, Colorado, is in the Christmas spirit except forEverett Bollinger, the new town manager. With money tighter than ever, Everet thas had to make some tough decisions about the local holiday celebration. And taking the blame has put him in a very un-festive mood.
Rosalie Reyes has big plans to open her new pet shop during the Christmas parade. But it seems like Everett is determined to sabotage the parade and her business too. With the help of the local matchmakers and a rambunctious SaintBernard named Remy, Rosalie is about to unleash the town’s holiday cheer and make it a paws-itively amazing Christmas for all. Including a certain town manager who’s about to discover the reason for the season…is love.
About Melinda Curtis
Melinda Curtis is the USA Today bestselling author of light‐hearted contemporary romance. In addition to her Sunshine Valley series from Forever, she’s published independently and with Harlequin Heartwarming, including her book Dandelion Wishes, which is currently being made into a TV movie. She lives in California’s hot central valley with her hot husband – her basketball-playing college sweetheart. While raising three kids, the couple did the soccer thing, the karate thing, the dance thing, the Little League thing and, of course, the basketball thing. Between books, Melinda spends time with her husband remodeling their home by swinging a hammer, grouting tile, and wielding a paintbrush with other family members.
I’m so happy to have Annie Rains on the blog today to share Alex Baker’s letter to Santa. Alex is the Chief of Police and hero of Annie’s latest book, Snowfall On Cedar Trail. Read more about the book and enter to win copies of the first three Sweetwater Springs books (the 4th comes out in February 2020)!
I stopped believing in you a long time ago. Sorry about that, but you stopped delivering on what I needed most.
After my father died ten years ago, all I wanted was to have him back. Yeah, I know that even Santa can’t bring back the people we’ve lost. A new pair of boots or tie isn’t going to lift my spirits anymore though—not when I’ve lost the most important person in my life. And if I can’t have Dad back, can I at least find the person who left him dying in the snow? Justice for the man who taught me everything. Is that too much to ask?
I also need to find a good home for this little puppy I’m fostering. We’re calling this naughty pup Officer Chew around the station because the little guy is teething on everything at his level. So Santa, if you’re listening, a few chew toys would be welcome at the Sweetwater Springs Police Station. And a good home if you know one. Officer Chew needs someone gentle and caring. He’s been through a lot, as you know, and deserves some TLC.
So does Halona Locklear, whether she’s willing to admit it or not. Santa, Halona is the most giving person I know. She gives her son, Theo, everything, and she never takes time for herself. I’m not sure you can give Halona what she needs this year either. I suspect it’s a lot more than a piece of jewelry or some chocolates. She’s so strong on the outside, but everyone needs someone to lean on every now and then. If I’m honest (and you’d know if I tried to lie, right?), I want to be that person for her. I’ve always wanted to be that guy. She’s my best friend’s little sister though… but over the past month, I’ve felt a buzz in the air between us. I look in her eyes and I know she feels something too. She makes my heart beat a little faster, a little harder. And she makes these cold days in the mountain valley seem so much warmer.
So Santa, if you’re real and if I’m not too far down on your naughty list, can I have a chance with Halona? She has been through a lot as well. All I want to do is to make her smile and laugh. I want to make her days warmer and brighter too—just like she does for me.
There you have it. All I want for Christmas this year is to solve my Dad’s cold case, find a home for this loveable, albeit naughty puppy, and to win Halona’s heart forever. It’s a tall order, but if you can deliver on that, I’ll start believing in the magic of Christmas again.
Your long-lost believer,
Chief of Police Alex Baker
Snowfall On Cedar Trail by Annie Rains Series: Sweetwater Springs #3 Published by Forever on October 8, 2019 Genres: Adult Fiction — Contemporary, Romance, Holiday – Christmas Amazon • Add to Goodreads
Last Christmas was tough for Halona Locklear and her seven-year-old son Theo, who hasn’t spoken a word since his father’s death. This year, Halona wants nothing more than to give him a good holiday and to hear his sweet voice again. Enrolling him in the Mentor Match program might help, but when Theo gets matched with Sweetwater Springs Chief of Police, Alex Baker, Halona realizes that the handsome hero might know secrets about her past that she is determined to keep buried.
Chief of Police, Alex Baker, re-opens his father’s hit-and-run cold case every December, hoping to finally solve it. This year, his plate is full with being a Mentor Match to a young seven-year-old boy as well. His biggest obstacle, however, is fighting his attraction to the boy’s mother, Halona. As Alex gets close to solving his father’s cold case, he learns that those closest to him may be in danger — including Halona. Alex has already lost one of the most important people in his life; he isn’t about to lose her too, even if it means walking away to keep her safe.
About Annie Rains
Annie Rains is a contemporary romance author who writes small town love stories set in fictional towns on the coast of North Carolina. Raised in one of America’s largest military communities, Annie often features heroes who fight for their countries, while also fighting for a place to call home and a good woman to love. When Annie isn’t writing, she’s spending time with her husband and 3 children, or reading a book by one of her favorite authors.