Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Music of You and Me Cover Reveal and First Chapter


Do you love the cover for my upcoming novella? The Music of You and Me will be included in the Authors of Main Street Christmas Box set. I love this story. You may not have noticed this, but not too long ago, I had a paradigm shift with my books (and life.) I decided I wanted to help people. And to do that, I started addressing real-life issues that I saw around me and created characters who have to deal (hopefully in healthy ways) with those issues. Does that mean I'll abandon paranormal elements? No, because I think life can be extremely "magical." Does that mean my books will be heavy rather than light? I hope not. That would be a drag to write let alone read.

But my hope is that more than one reader will relate in a profoundly personal way to a crisis one of my characters is facing...although, the book now brewing in my head involves a billionaire with amnesia. Of course, it's basically wish-fulfillment, but it will be super fun to write. But it will also include ridiculously over-protective brothers. If you have experience with ridiculous brothers, please let me know. I'd love to chat about it.

Here's the first chapter of the Music of You and Me. It will be in the released in the box set in November and I'll publish it in December.

Chapter 1

This is my future. Tara set her suitcase on the porch of her Uncle’s craftsman style home and gazed at the front door. Her feet froze on the bottom step. Her knees locked. She tried to coax herself forward, but remained rooted, frozen in place.
“Darling,” her Uncle Will called from inside the open doorway, “come on in! What’cha waiting for?”
After his urging, Tara planted a smile on her lips, picked up her suitcase, and pushed her way across the porch.
Uncle Will shuffled through the darkened foyer and opened the screen door to welcome her in. Reaching for her bag, he took it from her before giving her a one-armed hug.
Tara pulled away as soon as it was polite to do so. “Where’s Auntie Darrel?” Her nose wrinkled from the cooked cabbage smell coming from the kitchen.
“Still at the dad-burned school. Since they started rehearsals for the fall play, I hardly see hide nor hair of her.” He nodded sagely. “She’ll be right glad to see you.”
“I’m not really sure how much help I can be,” Tara said, apprehension fluttering in her belly at the thought. She had been home-schooled so a private ritzy school like Canterbury Academy both fascinated and terrified her.
Uncle Will squeezed her arm reassuringly. “You’ll be fine. It’s more about herding cats than teaching music.”
Tara nodded and tried to look buoyed up by his words. Uncle Will shared her disorder, so he should understand her concerns, but since he worked the farm for his living, his interaction with the outside world was very limited. Which was just the way he liked it.
And that was the just the way Tara planned on living, too. She followed Uncle Will up the stairs that led to the guest bedroom. He climbed slowly, his breath labored, making her wonder how long he’d be able to dedicate the long hours the farm demanded. Auntie Darrel worked at the school teaching music and acting as the nurse, but Tara didn’t know if that income alone could support her aunt and uncle. She felt a twinge of guilt and promised herself that she wouldn’t contribute to their financial burdens. She prayed that she’d be able to help, rather than hurt. But given her condition, she didn’t know if that was a prayer Heaven could answer. Especially since Heaven had ignored her prior pleas for help.
Uncle Will dropped her bag in the doorway of the guest bedroom and brushed his hands on his overalls. “Take all the time you need to settle in. I better get back to picking the apples. If I don’t, the deer will do it for me.”
“Thanks, Uncle Will, I’ll come and help you.” She looked longingly at the crazy quilt on the bed. “I don’t need to settle in.”
“Nope. I promised your aunt that I would get you behind the piano first thing. I’m under strict instructions that you’re not to be out in the yard…with me. You’re to learn the music pronto.” He turned to leave. “The score is on the dresser,” he said over his shoulder.
Tara picked up the music and flipped through it. Much like her aunt, the songs were predictable and bordered on boring.
Tara lugged her bag to the closet and pushed it inside. Her case wasn’t very big—not because she didn’t plan on staying very long—but because she didn’t own a lot of clothes. It didn’t take her long to hang up her four dresses, stow her three pairs of pants, five tops, and collection of underwear in the dresser. She placed a framed photo of her mom and her Bible on the nightstand. That done, she sat down on the bed, closed her eyes, and tucked her feet beneath her. As much as she wanted to, she didn’t allow herself to lie down. She breathed in through her nose, pushed away homesickness, and reminded herself of her plan.
Earn enough money working at her aunt’s school to buy her own laptop and then start teaching English to foreign students via the internet. She only hoped that the light from the computer wouldn’t trigger episodes.
#
Liam Grant pulled his Ford 150 down his Gram’s bumpy drive. The scent of burning brush that always reminded him of this time of year hung in the air. He parked near the barn, shut off the engine and climbed out. The tinkling from a piano escaped the windows of the neighboring farmhouse. In the distance, a man in overalls pulling a wagon plucked apples from gnarled trees. Liam tried to place the music, it sounded like a familiar tune, but—like the trees—twisted somehow, as if the pianist had chosen a familiar tune and had decided to change it.
He closed the truck’s door and went to find his gram and her cat, Ragamuffin. A once white picket fence surrounded the gray-blue farmhouse and kept the daisies as well as the chickens in the yard. Ragamuffin perched on a branch of a maple tree and stared down her nose at him.
“You look fine to me,” Liam said. “What’s wrong with you now?”
Gram banged through the back door. “Don’t you be fooled by him,” she told Liam. “He might be acting all la-dee-da, but he’s not eating his kibble.”
Since Gram called him at least once a week to come out and check on Ragamuffin’s health, the cat’s lack of appetite didn’t worry Liam. He suspected that the frequent house calls had more to do with his gram’s loneliness than with the cat’s well-being.
A warm cinnamon smell wafted through the open door. Apple pie. If Liam wasn’t careful, Ragamuffin’s lack of appetite would make him fat.
Liam nodded at the neighbor’s house. “Sounds like a musician moved in.”
Gram huffed. “That racket has been going on day and night ever since that scrap of a girl got here.” She held the door open for Liam and he followed his gram through the mudroom to the kitchen. A pie sat on the counter. Steam escaped through the lattice crust. His stomach rumbled just from looking at it.
“Ragamuffin?” he asked in a strangled voice.
“He’ll come in when he’s done with his adventures,” Gram said. “We might as well enjoy ourselves until then.” She slid him a glance. “Do you want ice cream with your pie?”
Did she really need to ask? “Always. But here, let me get it.”
She pushed him aside before selecting a knife and slicing up the pie while Liam went to the freezer and pulled out a container. His shoulders screamed a complaint while he scooped up the ice cream.
Gram must have noticed, because she asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing much,” Liam said after he placed a scoop of ice cream in a bowl. “I helped deliver a colt this afternoon.” He had spent almost an hour with his arm inserted into the back-end of the mare and this hadn’t been pleasant for any of them. He flexed his hand, grateful it still worked.
“Where’s Teague today?” Gram asked as she took a seat in the ladderback kitchen chair and poised her spoon above the pie.
“With his mom.” Liam couldn’t help it, he moaned in pleasure as soon as the pie crossed his lips.
Gram made a noise that was a cross between a grunt and snort. “What about school?”
“He’s having a hard time,” Liam admitted. “Eva wants to send him to a private school, but—”
“And where would that be?” Gram huffed.
“Exactly,” Liam said. “I’m not willing to give up custody just so he can attend—”
The sound of drums interrupted his sentence.
“What in the tarnation?” Gram bounced to her feet and went to the window. She pulled back the lace curtain and stared through the window at the neighboring farmhouse. “I have had just about enough of this!” She rested her ample butt against the kitchen counter and pushed her hand through her gray curls. “All this noise has upset my girls.”
“The chickens,” Liam murmured.
“They’re so distraught, they’re molting! The yard looks like there’s been a pillow fight and the pillows lost.”
“All chickens molt in the fall. Are they still laying?”
“Yes, but…you should see that child. Pale, skinny as a broomstick with a shock of bright red-hair. She looks like a walking cherry tootsie pop!”
Liam continued eating his pie, amused by the thought of a tootsie pop playing the drums.
“Will you go and talk to her? Tell her she has to take it down a knot or two?”
“Why me?” His gram had never been shy.
“You know Darrel hates me.”
“Mrs. Poole hates everyone,” Liam said.
“But she especially hates me, and if I tried to suggest that her niece stop her infernal noise, I just know the woman would be urging the chit to ramp it up.”
“You’re being silly.” Liam licked his spoon, sad that he’d taken the last bite.
“No, I’m not. I need you to go over there and talk to her…the niece, not Darrel.”
Liam set down his spoon. “My visit had nothing to do with Ragamuffin, did it?”
Gram blushed. “Just go over there and speak to the girl. I’m sure she won’t be as difficult as her terrible aunt. Please ask her to close her windows when she practices.”
Liam rolled his eyes, but he didn’t dare say no. His endless supply of baked goods depended on his staying in his gram’s good graces.
An avocado orchard and a couple of split rail fences separated Gram’s property from the neighbor’s. The music stopped before Liam even got halfway through the trees.
He knocked on the door and peered through the window. The piano stood in a shaft of sunlight. He couldn’t see the drums. Maybe they were set up in the barn. Thinking that that was where he put a set of drums, he went in search of them and the girl that may or may not look like a cherry tootsie pop.
“Can I help you?” The man he’d spied earlier in apple trees stopped him and ran his gaze over him.
“I’m Doctor Grant.” Liam extended his hand and the man took it. His hands were calloused and his skin weather-beaten. His thin hair blew about in the breeze. “My grandmother sent me to ask if whoever is playing could turn down the volume, she and her chickens would really appreciate it.”
The man didn’t respond but stared at Liam with cold eyes, one of which wasn’t looking directly at him. “Her chickens?”
“Yes. They don’t like the noise. They’re molting.”
“All chickens molt this time of year.”
“Could I speak to your niece?”
“No.” The man turned on his heel and strode away.
#
Tara trailed after her aunt through the school’s parking lot.
“This is a very prestigious academy,” Aunt Darrel said over her shoulder. “These girls are all from very wealthy families.”
“All of them?” Tara tried to swallow down her fears.
“Well, there are few here on scholarship,” Darrel admitted. “But my point is, our productions are always top-notch!” She sucked in a deep breath. “Or at least, they always were in the past.” She shook her head. “But now, we have a new English teacher.”
“You don’t like her?” Tara asked in a hushed tone.
“She’s just not cut out for the school! I honestly don’t know how she got this job!”
“If you don’t think she’s qualified, then what am I doing here?”
Aunt Darrel swiveled and pointed her finger at Tara’s thin chest. “You’re the finest pianist I know—and that’s saying a lot, because I know a lot of people! You don’t need a Ph.D. to accompany a children’s choir! You need musical talent and you have that in abundance. But—” Aunt Darrel hesitated.
“Yes?”
Aunt Darrel wrinkled her nose. “I heard what you were doing to the songs. I think it’s best to keep them simple, don’t you?”
“It’s Alice in Wonderland. I thought the score could use some…jazzing up?”
Aunt Darrel shook her head. “With these girls, it’s best to keep things uncomplicated.” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “Believe me, they don’t want to think too hard.”
“It doesn’t necessarily need to be harder, just more fun.”
“No.” Aunt Darrel pushed her way through the wide double doors of the building bearing a sign that read Humanities Hall.
Hundreds of lockers lined the walls. Tara peeked in the small windows of the classroom doors at the students sitting at the desks as she trotted after her aunt. Tara had finished high school at sixteen and college, via the internet, at twenty. So, she’d be older than the girls, but she guessed she would be smaller than most of them.
She reminded herself that her brusque aunt would be issuing the orders and keeping the girls inline. If Tara kept her head down, no one need know she was hiding behind the piano.
#
“That went as well as can be expected,” Aunt Darrel said at the end of the day.
Tara, still rooted behind the piano, felt the tension between her shoulders begin to ease as the last of the girls filed from the auditorium. She envied them their giggles and whispers. She’d had a few friends from church, her choir, neighbors—but most had left Simi Valley for college or careers.
Darrel gathered up the sheet music and placed it in a plastic crate on top of the piano. Tara added the score to the collection. She caught the whispers of the owner of the school, a stunning but middle-aged brunette, and the English teacher/play director, a tall, willowy blond coming from the orchestra pit. Darrel had introduced her to them earlier, but Tara had already forgotten their names.
As she followed her aunt down the now deserted hallway, her head swam with the music and the potential for change, even though Darrel had asked her not to modify or embellish it in any way, she couldn’t help herself. If the alterations were subtle, there was a good chance that Darrel wouldn’t even notice.
To get from Humanities Hall to the parking lot, they had to cross the quad. The fading sun hovered on the tops of the distant foothills. The giant oaks cast long shadows across their path. A man stepped out from behind a building. Even though he wore mud-caked jeans, boots, and corduroy jacket, something about him told her he wasn’t a laborer, but because of his casual, and filthy appearance, she also knew he wasn’t a faculty member. He was Cary Grant-handsome and when his brown eyes met her gaze, she flushed.
He smiled as if he knew her.
Tara hurried after her aunt and slipped into the Dodge Stratus. “Who was that man?” Tara whispered as soon as Darrel got into the car. It smelled faintly of over-ripe apples despite the fact that Darrel kept her car spotless and bare.
“What man?”
“That man—” She nodded in his direction, but he had disappeared. “Never mind,” she said out loud with a sigh, reminding herself of her vow.
Aunt Darrel cut her a sideways glance and put the car into gear.
“Auntie, how long after you met Uncle Will did he tell you about his epilepsy?”
Darrel pulled the car out of the school parking lot and headed for the road that led to the tiny town of Oak Hollow. “We grew up together. He didn’t have to tell me. I saw it for myself.”
“And it didn’t frighten you?”
“Of course, it did. It’s a terrifying thing.”
“But you still married him.”
Darrel rolled her eyes. “We’re all packages, girlie. Every one of us comes with good parts and bad. If I wanted the good parts of Will, I had to be okay with the parts that frighten me.”
“And you were okay with not having children?”
“I work with children all day long. It’s enough.”
“You’re special.” Tara knew that most people found her aunt difficult, but Tara’s heart warmed toward her.
“Someday, you’ll find someone special, too,” Darrel predicted.
“No,” Tara said with conviction. “I’m married to my music.” She smiled and echoed her aunt. “It’s enough.”
Darrel pinned Tara with a hard stare. “Now girlie—”
A large brown bear wandered on to the road.
Tara screamed.

Darrel returned her attention to the road and slammed on her brakes. The car skittered to the gravel shoulder and went into a tailspin. The bear yelped as the front bumper connected with him and sent him flying.

#FoodFiction Sugar-free Chocolates From Stealing Mercy

Sugar-free Chocolates

Prep Time 5 minutes
 Cook Time 15 minutes
 Total Time 20 minutes
 Servings 8 servings
 Calories 170 kcal
Ingredients
3/4 cocoa butter
1 cup unsweetened cocoa I used Ghirardelli (start with 1/2 cup and add additional if needed)
1/2 teaspoon stevia concentrated powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions
Melt cocoa butter in a chocolate melter or double boiler.
Stir in cocoa powder and sweetener(s).
Keep on heat until dry ingredients have been fully incorporated.
Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.

Pour into chocolate bar molds.


CHAPTER 16

Melt with butter over low heat. Take care, if overheated, chocolate can develop a grainy texture.
From The Recipes of Mercy Faye

A thick, sensuous aroma filled the kitchen. It had a heady odor that Mercy had never before encountered. By mixing cocoa, butter, sugar and cider, she’d created something that had seemed to conjure every stray animal in Seattle. Dogs and cats lined the alley behind the shop. They stood shoulder to shoulder, each jostling for position outside the open the door.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Cassie said, wiping her forehead with the end of her apron before returning to the pie crust.
Mercy shook her head at the gathered menagerie. “Do animals like chocolate?”
“They certainly seem to think so,” Hilda said, scooping out a cup of sugar and adding it to the vat of lard.
“I can’t imagine that it’s good for them,” Mercy said, wiping her hands on her skirt before brushing her damp hair off her forehead.
“That doesn’t mean that they don’t like it,” Cassie said considering the animals. “There’s plenty of pleasurable poisons.”
“Like that scoundrel Drake,” Hilda said, as she stirred a long handled wooden spoon through the concoction bubbling in the pot on the stove. An uncomfortable silence filled the room as each of the girls seemed to remember where they’d been and how they’d gotten there.
He was the one thing all the girls had agreed upon. Drake Wallace had been their poison. None of them had seen Rita or recognized a description of Steele, but they’d all been intoxicated by Drake Wallace, the cleft-chinned man whom she’d first met on the ship.
“I wonder if he likes chocolate,” Cassie said, her hands on her hips.
Hilda stopped the flour cup mid-air. “What are you thinking?”
STEALING MERCY IS FREE IN THE KINDLE UNLIMITED PROGRAM

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

#FOODFFICTION Fruit Clafouti and The Castle Blues Quake



Pepper’s parents are chefs and she loves to cook with them. Here’s one of their favorite desserts, a custard-like crustless pie—easy to make and great with summer berries.
Fruit Clafouti

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
12 ounces fresh fruit, such as cherries, berries, or stone fruit
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon fine salt
Powdered sugar, for serving (optional)
Instructions:
1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400°F. Coat a 10-inch cast iron or other oven-proof skillet with the butter and set aside.
2. Remove stems and pits from the fruit. Cherries and all berries can remain whole, except halve strawberries. Thinly slice stone fruit. Set aside.
3. Combine the milk, sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment and process until the batter is smooth, about 20 seconds.
4. Add the flour, zest, and salt and pulse until just incorporated, 5 to 7 pulses.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Top evenly with the fruit.
6. Bake until set, puffed, and light golden brown around the edges, about 50 minutes.
7. Place the skillet on a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes (the clafouti will deflate). Dust with powdered sugar if using, cut into wedges or scoop to serve.
Recipe courtesy of https://www.thekitchn.com/





The Castle Blues Quake

12-year-old Pepper moves from New York City to Santa Cruz, CA into a spooky Victorian house and discovers a boy, Corey, hiding in the backyard shed. Without realizing he’s a ghost, she agrees to help him find his grandfather. Earthquakes, haunted house rides, crystal ball readings, and time travel propel Pepper toward the shocking end of her search as she learns about the give and take, the heartache and joy, of true friendship.

EXCERPT:
A circle of light slid across the wall. I froze, thinking it might be my dad with a flashlight. I dropped the harmonica, ready to hide. Then the light disappeared, and a cry from another harmonica pierced my ears. Coming from the neighbor, I figured. The sound grew louder, higher, and then twisted into a crescendo, into a wail full of such sorrow it pulled at my insides. The music sang about loneliness, about leaving friends behind, about losing those friends forever. The sound rolled back to a soft whine, and then stopped. Wiping tears from my eyes, I turned toward the door. Corey stood there. A net of misty fog covered his black hair.
I swiped my cheeks. “Where were you?”
Corey shrugged. So what else was new. He squatted on the can next to me and peered at my face, into my eyes. “You been crying?”
My nose was stuffy with leftover tears, and I forced myself not to sniffle. “No, I—” And then, maybe because the neighbor’s song had reminded me of how much I missed Chrissie and how much I wanted a friend, I said, “I guess so. I was thinking about my best friend in New York. It’s just, sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever see her again.”
“I know what you mean.”
Of course. His parents and missing grandfather. I felt so stupid. “I’m sorry. You’ve had it a lot worse than I have.”
“If you only knew.” He started to laugh, but it sounded more like a splinter was stuck in his throat.
“You’re right. Geez, what have I got to complain about? I know there’s no way I can really understand what you’ve gone through, what you are going through. But, I promise, I’ll help you the best I can.”
“Thanks.” The corners of his mouth went up, but the smile never made it to his eyes.
I wished I could really make him laugh. Wouldn’t it be cool, I thought, if everything was normal, if Corey didn’t have to hide, if we could go inside and hang out? I’d make some popcorn, and we’d find something to watch on TV…
The popcorn reminded me of the sandwiches. “I have a surprise for you. I brought you something to eat.” I unwrapped the sandwiches. With a flourish, I placed the paper towel on his lap like a waiter in a fancy restaurant, and presented him with his sandwich. “Sir, for your dining pleasure this evening, we have for you Pepper Connelly’s super select primo deluxe sandwich of all sandwiches—ta da—Marshmallow Cream and Bananas enhanced with a delightful layer of peanut butter.”
And this time he did laugh. His face softened around its hard edges, and a light came into his eyes, turning them from hard black ice to warm sweet cocoa. It made me feel so happy—like my insides were floating—to hear him laugh.



Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Trudy’s Tasty Tapioca Pudding and a Serving of Marilyn Monroe! #FOOD FICTION


CHERISHED RECIPES FROM THE KITCHEN OF TRUDY VANDERHOOVEN

At the request of readers, a selection of Midwestern recipes appears in My Friend Marilyn. They were used by Penny Parker’s landlady, Trudy Vanderhooven. While Trudy is a work of fiction, the recipes are time-tested treasures from St. Olaf’s Church Ladies Association’s cookbook.

Trudy’s Tasty Tapioca Pudding
3 cups whole milk
1/3 cup small-pearl tapioca (not instant)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved
1/8 teaspoon fine salt

Place 1 cup of the milk and the tapioca pearls in a medium saucepan and stir to combine. Let the pearls soak uncovered at room temperature for 1 hour. Add the remaining 2 cups of milk, sugar, egg yolks, vanilla seeds and salt. Stir to combine. Place the pan over medium heat and cook. Whisk frequently, until the mixture just comes to a simmer, about 10 minutes (do not let the mixture boil). Reduce the heat to low and cook. Whisk frequently, until the mixture thickens and the tapioca pearls are softened and translucent, about 15 minutes. Serve warm (the pudding will thicken as it cools) or chill in the refrigerator.







What follows is from the recently released historical-fiction novel My Friend Marilyn. After being named Marilyn Monroe's assistant, a big-and-bold dime-store cashier is surrounded by show-biz temptations and hidden dangers during the filming of SOME LIKE IT HOT in 1958 at Hotel del Coronado. Get Your Copy Here!


“Is that your husband?” Marilyn pointed to the sepia-colored photo of a uniformed man above the hearth.
“Yes, that’s my Vernon. I came here from Minnesota to be with him. Left everything. And everyone. And the ice and the moose and the mosquitoes. For him. And I’d do it again. In a heartbeat. Yes, in a heartbeat.”
“Sounds like quite a guy.”
“Yes, he was. You could make a movie about what he went through, and what we shared. He was no saint, though. But he was mine. And living with him—and loving him—taught me something everyone should know and not have to discover the hard way.”
“What’s that?”
“Give me a second to get this straight in my head so it comes out right.” Trudy blinked a few times. “We came to love not by finding the perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person, perfectly.”
“That’s so true. I’m going to remember it.” Marilyn continued, “Mind if I use it in the future? You’re so smart!”
“I’m not smart at all. But sometimes I guess I do amaze myself. Then I’ll do something stupid, like putting the laundry in the oven. Nobody’s perfect, that’s what I always say.”
I came down the stairs into the living room. “Didn’t interrupt anything, did I?”
“Not a thing, honey. Feel more like yourself now?”
“Yep, just Penny from the five and dime.” I looked over at my broken shoe. “I even had my fairytale moment. But I’m not sure a broken heel really counts.”
“How about some tapioca? Won’t take but a minute to dish it up?”
“Sounds wonderful.” It did sound wonderful. “I didn’t get a bite of dinner. We ordered, but then my lady parts ordered me to the ladies’ room. And now me—and my parts—are here. Thanks to Marilyn, a real crisis was averted.” I stopped to laugh. “Oh my gosh. You should have seen us. Imagine me. In a bathroom stall. Bleeding. In my dream dress. And Marilyn dressed in that get up helping me deal with it all.”
Marilyn confessed, “I’ve been in some memorable situations. That was one…well, I’ll always remember it.”
“Hard to believe, right? Me and Marilyn having an adventure in the ladies’ room. And now we’re here with you. Say, are there any leftovers from dinner?”
“Sure. Miss Monroe, are you sure you won’t have something to eat?”
I eyed Marilyn and winked that it was okay.
“Sure. I’d love whatever you have. This is Penny’s night. And please call me Marilyn.”
“Come with me then. You don’t mind being in the kitchen, do you?”
“Of course not. I love being in my kitchen, but I’m never home.”
I chimed in, “I hate it when I go in the kitchen looking for food and all I find are ingredients.” I poked at my stiff hairdo with a pencil from on the counter. “That’s why I love living with Trudy. Well, one of the reasons.”
“You two can eat in the dining room.” Trudy’s head was in the refrigerator.
“Nonsense. The kitchen table will be fine.” Marilyn pulled out a chair. Before she sat, she asked, “Is there something I can do to help?”
“Nothing at all,” Trudy replied. “This lady-boss of yours is not what I expected, Penny.”
“No, she’s not. Thank goodness.” I sat on the chair next to Marilyn’s. “Say, how’s about we start with the soup of the day: whiskey with ice croutons?”
Trudy revealed her face from around the refrigerator door. Her eyes were sharply aimed at me.
I grinned in return. “That was meant to be a joke.”
“I’m a Midwestern cook. I know my way around a kitchen. Potatoes. Ketchup. Butter. That’s all I need.” Trudy pulled out a casserole dish. She lifted the tin foil that acted as a lid. “I call this Desperation Hot Dish. Look good?”
“Delicious.” Marilyn’s eyes sparkled.
“Serve it up.” I couldn’t wait. “I’ll even eat it cold.”
“Nonsense.” Trudy turned on the stove and placed the dish on the burner. “Just so you know, there’s macaroni, hamburger, corn, kidney beans and a can of tomato soup in it. All we do back home is stir it up and let it bubble and bake in the oven. Some shredded cheese on top and voila.”
Trudy went back to the refrigerator and pulled out a cut-glass salad bowl. “How about some Ginger Ale Jello Salad to go with your hot dish?”
Marilyn and I smiled at each other.
“Please don’t go to any trouble.”
“No trouble at all, Marilyn. I do this for a living at the dime store. I don’t know if Penny told you I run the lunch counter…for people who appreciate a nice meal and a nice conversation. And for those who gobble and go. Human wood chippers, that’s what they are. Anyway, I make a mean grilled-cheese sandwich.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

#FallingInLove – Author Elizabeth Johns – $25 Giveaway

#FallingInLove – Author Elizabeth Johns – $25 Giveaway 


Through the Fire: A Traditional Regency Romance by Elizabeth Johns
When two people have walked through fire, can love bring the healing and help they need?
Spurned by love, Lady Margaux Winslow, daughter of the Marquess of Ashbury, has no use for the other eligible gentlemen of London. Despite her beauty, her sharp tongue soon earns her a reputation as a dragon. Convincing her parents to let her retreat to their Scottish estate, a home for abandoned young women, Margaux feels she can do something meaningful with her life. At their wits’ end, her parents believe a few months in seclusion will teach her to appreciate her privileged existence, and accept the next gentleman of worth who offers for her. Margaux has no plans to yield. But neither she nor her parents bargain for the proximity of the gorgeous, blue-eyed Scotsman on the neighbouring estate.
Gavin Craig, content with his life as a country doctor, is unexpectedly thrust into the world of aristocratic society after the accidental deaths of his brother and nephews. With all the duties his new title entails, and his adoption of three orphans, Gavin desperately needs a wife. She should preferably a lady, trained since birth to manage a noble house, servants and family. His former disdain for a marriage of convenience has been rapidly overcome by the colossal task of learning to run a large Scottish barony. One lovely candidate is right next door … except that she’s inexplicably determined to be a spinster…
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Gavin looked at the letter in his hand in utter disbelief. His heart was tearing in two. His brother, wife, and children had been killed when their carriage had slipped down the side of a cliff.
“This canna be true.” He shook his head and fought back tears.
“I am afraid it is, my lord.”
“My lord? No. I doona wish for it. I’m a simple country doctor. I have a humble life and practice here.”
“I am terribly sorry for your loss, my lord. But you are, in fact, the eleventh Baron Craig now, and thus have some rather large holdings that are your responsibility.”
“This was not supposed to happen. Iain had three strapping young lads!”
The solicitor looked grave. “Perhaps, my lord, it would be best for you to return to Castle Craig and see for yourself.”
The solicitor was met with a blank stare from a set of startling blue eyes; a look that was common to those who had been met with grievous news, but who had not yet assimilated the ensuing change in circumstances.
“Verra well. I will join you there as soon as I have made arrangements.”
Gavin went through the motions of closing up his house and seeing his practice into the capable hands of his apprentice, a graduate of Lord Easton’s school. Of late, Gavin had taken many trips into England to the school in Sussex and had toyed with joining it as an instructor on a full-time basis, but he had never been able to cut ties with Scotland. How would he practice medicine as Lord Craig? He would have to find a way, while at the same time doing his best to carry on with his brother’s works in Parliament.
Gavin had seen more death than most, but he had not been prepared for the loss of his brother, or of Iain’s wife and children. They had been the last family he’d had left. He had never before given a thought to running the large Castle Craig estate, and hoped desperately that his brother had appointed a trustworthy steward.
His carriage was loaded with immediate necessities. His servants would send the rest of his belongings with those of his staff who wished to join him at the new residence. He had one final stop before setting off to bury his brother and begin his new life.
~*~
“What are you pondering, mon chere?” Margaux heard her mother ask.
“Very little, Maman,” she remarked, as they sat darning socks for some of the children. Her parents had remained with her, hopeful to change her mind.
“We are having a guest for dinner tonight. Someone interested in contributing to the orphans.”
“Très bien,” she said absent-mindedly. Guests were a normal occurrence with her parents.
“You should wear the emerald satin—bring some colour to your face, non?”
“If you wish, Maman.” Margaux cared little for what she wore these days.
“Allons y.” Lady Ashbury stood and directed her daughter to do the same. “I will see you at dinner.”
Lady Margaux went through the motions of dressing. Her maid arranged her hair in a manner worthy of a ball, she noticed. She had to admit she had been experiencing a mild case of the dismals. Once she established a routine here she would come out of it, she was certain. She had never been one to sulk, but she needed to find something useful to occupy her time. No, she corrected her thoughts. To make a new life.
She made her way downstairs, determined to be more cheerful. If she could only convince her parents she was happy here, then they would be satisfied she was content.
“Ah, there she is now, Lord Craig,” Lord Ashbury said as he saw her.
“Dr. Craig?” Margaux said, stunned as she met the eyes of the handsome doctor who had been enamoured of Lady Beatrice.
“Johns’ wonderful, well-crafted characters come alive in this engaging series… These characters are well written and lovable and will keep readers turning the pages.” ~Library Journal
“Elizabeth Johns is now one of my top 5 authors! Her style of writing is easy to follow and keeps you hanging on.” ~Lavender24
“Great googily moogily. Scotsmen in kilts… This is a good one.” ~The Doctor’s Companion



Author Elizabeth Johns
National bestselling author Elizabeth Johns was first an avid reader, though she was a reluctant convert. It was Jane Austen’s clever wit and unique turn of phrase that hooked Johns when she was “forced” to read Pride and Prejudice for a school assignment. She began writing when she ran out of her favorite author’s books and decided to try her hand at crafting a Regency romance novel. Her journey into publishing began with the release of Surrender the Past, book one of the Loring-Abbott Series. Johns makes no pretensions to Austen’s wit but hopes readers will perhaps laugh and find some enjoyment in her writing.
Johns attributes much of her inspiration to her mother, a retired English teacher. During their last summer together, Johns would sit on the porch swing and read her stories to her mother, who encouraged her to continue writing. Busy with multiple careers, including a professional job in the medical field, author and mother of small children, Johns squeezes in time for reading whenever possible.

   
   



Giveaway Details
Ends 10/1/18
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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Food Fiction: SMOOTHIES! and The Gladiator and the Guard


The Gladiator and the Guard by Annie Douglass Lima is book 2 in a speculative fiction trilogy set in a world where slavery is legal. In this scene, Ellie, a little girl adopted from a life of slavery, is trying to help her dad, an athletic trainer, find a way to free her teenage brother Bensin. Accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Bensin was sentenced to the dangerous life and early death of a gladiator.


Ellie woke up earlier than Dad on Sunday, and she had to wait a long time before he finally got up. But at last he walked into the living room, yawning, and she looked up from her cartoons. “Hi, Dad. You know what I think we should do today?”
“G’morning. You’re up early for a weekend. Yeah, I think I should go jogging and then we should have smoothies, then I’ll take a shower, and after that I’ll make us some oatmeal for the rest of our breakfast.”
“Okay, but after the normal Sunday morning stuff.” Ellie turned off the TV so he would know what she was about to say was important. “I thought of a awesome idea!” One she should have thought of a lot sooner.
“Oh yeah?” Dad went into the kitchen and took out the blender.
“Yeah. I think we should go find Ricky and invite him to come over, like Bensin used to always do on Sundays.”
“Oh. Sure, that’s a good idea.” Dad opened the fridge and pulled out a box of strawberries and a bag of kale. He began to wash the berries at the sink. “I bet Ricky’d like to have lunch at our house. But he might not be quite as eager to hang out here the whole day if it’s just you and me. We’re not going to be as good company for him as Bensin was.”
“But it’s not just to hang out. It’s to have a important meeting.”
“Another meeting?” Plucking stems off, Dad dropped strawberries into the blender one by one. “What kind of important meeting?”
“To decide how to help Bensin escape.” He looked up at her over the counter, but she hurried on before he could say anything. “Bensin is Ricky’s best friend. He’s not going to tell on us to anyone. And Ricky always knows everything about stuff like that, and if he doesn’t know, he knows people he can talk to who do. He’s the one who helped Bensin figure out how to escape with me those three times we tried.”
“And maybe you recall that none of those times turned out well.” Dad washed a few kale leaves, tore them apart, and dropped them into the blender too. “If I recall the story correctly, the first couple of times the two of you got caught by the Watch and Bensin was lashed. The third time, you were kidnapped by a criminal, and Bensin and I barely managed to rescue you from being sold on the black market.” He broke a couple of bananas off the bunch sitting on the counter and began to peel them.
Ellie could still remember how it felt to have duct tape plastered over her mouth and wrapped around her wrists and ankles. That warehouse had been so dark, so scary. She hadn’t been brave and strong back then. “Yeah, but none of that was Ricky’s fault. He can help us make a plan. I know he can!”
Dad broke the bananas in half and dropped them into the blender. “Well, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to ask if he has any suggestions.” He took the package of chia seeds out of the cupboard and spooned some into the blender as well, before adding coconut water from the bottle in the fridge. “After breakfast we can see about going to find him.” He blended everything up in a bubbling mass of pink froth, poured the smoothie into two cups, and set them in the fridge. “I’m going jogging now. Lock the door behind me, remember.” He disappeared out the front door. But before Ellie could get up to lock it, he stuck his head back in. “I reserve the right to veto any ideas that don’t seem safe.”

Annie Douglass Lima spent most of her childhood in Kenya and later graduated from Biola University in Southern California. She and her husband Floyd currently live in Taiwan, where she teaches fifth grade at Morrison Academy. She has been writing poetry, short stories, and novels since her childhood, and to date has published eighteen books in a wide variety of genres (science fiction, fantasy, YA action and adventure novels, a puppet script, anthologies of her students’ poetry, and a Bible verse coloring and activity book). Besides writing, her hobbies include reading (especially fantasy and science fiction), scrapbooking, and international travel.