Sunday, April 20, 2014

Christmas Newsletters, Love 'Em or Hate 'Em?

Gwen Babineaux

blogs for

The Domestic Diva Mysteries

by Krista Davis

Christmas is coming soon. It's my favorite time of year. Surprises and secrets and Santa! What fun. I'm just writing our Christmas letter. There are five of us, and do we have a lot of news. We moved into a historic house in Old Town Alexandria and renovated it. Just between us, it's gorgeous. We gutted the kitchen and started fresh. We even installed a movie room with a popcorn machine!

Even though we had so many exciting things happen, Christmas letters can be a bit of a drag sometimes. So we took a hint from our friend Peg Cochran, and we're adding one lie about each of us. Isn't that fun? Of course, we're telling our friends there are untruths in the letter but we're letting them guess which ones are the lies! I think we'll have the most popular newsletter of all our friends.

One or two people in our circle don't like Christmas newsletters. Can you imagine? They think they're too pompous. Well, I say bah humbug to that. We're all so busy that we can't get together as much as we'd like, not to mention all our old friends whom we never see anymore. I love to hear what's going on in their lives. And if they send a picture, I swoon! I swear I wouldn't recognize some of my old friends anymore. Some people age better than others. (We can just keep that between us, okay?)

So how do you feel about Christmas newsletters? Are they wonderful? Horrible? Or just a snore? Do you send them?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Authors are Crazy!

 Kari Lee Townsend

Hi there, it's me, Kalli Ballis. I'm back again. If you remember from when I was here last time, I told you that I work at my best friend Jazyln's, boutique Full Disclosure, and I design lingerie called Kalli's Originals.

Now, I  know ,many people have jobs that they are passionate about. Jaz is very dedicated to her store, and I am obsessed with getting my designs just right.

Well, let me tell you, my author Kari Lee Townsend is crazy!

At least when the average person is obsessed, it affects just them. Try being a main character in an author's book!

Authors are NOT average people, folks!

They are always working, even when they are not working, and their poor characters are dragged along, kicking and screaming, wherever these crazy authors take them.

They work all the time. At home, in their cars, even at their children's extracurricular activities, whatever they may be. I've listened to music, watched recitals, cheered on lacrosse teams...all while she made me do crazy things on the page.

Normally I don't mind, but freezing my butt off at the end of April while it's supposed to be spring is just crazy! There was snow on the field. SNOW! I've decided to take over my author's pen and write an epilogue because winter must die after what it put us through this year.

So tell me, what crazy thing has your author put you through lately?

Friday, April 18, 2014

My Opinion of People

by Lauren Vancouver, pet rescuer, whose adventures are memorialized in the Pet Rescue Mysteries by Linda O. Johnston

I've been in pet rescue for quite a while, and at times I really feel I love pets but dislike people.  Some people come to HotRescues, the no-kill shelter I run in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley, and bring their dog or cat along just to dump with me.  I can legally take in owner relinquishments and usually do because I feel so sorry for those pets whose people simply don't want them any more. 

Oh, sure, there are sometimes good reasons, like the owner was a relative who passed away.  Or the family needs to move because of dire financial reasons and the apartment they're moving into won't allow pets (although why not keep looking for one that does allow pets?).  I understand that circumstances can change, and at times people need to find new homes for their pets. 

But sometimes the people I see simply don't understand that their pets are family, too, and not just disposable objects that happen to be living with them.  It's much too sad to dump a dog at a shelter just because he's getting old.  I want to shake some sense into people like that.  Even more, I want to do all I can to make their pets' lives turn wonderful--even if there's only a short time left in their lives.

So, yes, at times I consider myself nearly a misanthrope--a hater of people.

And then there are those other times, when I see people going out of their way to save pets from horrible circumstances.   Like last-minute rescues from high-kill shelters to keep dogs or cats from being put down.  Or going into burning buildings to save not only people but their pets, too.  I even saw a viral video online of a bunch of people going out of their way, endangering themselves to  save the members of a pod of dolphins that had beached themselves. 

When I see something like that, I remind myself that I'm a person.  Not all people are sweet and kind and appreciate animals. 

But some do.  And those are the people I love. 



TEACUP TURBULENCE, the fifth Pet Rescue Mystery by Linda O. Johnston, was a January 2014 release from Berkley Prime Crime.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

White for Spring, White for Autumn...

by Willow Vanderling from NIGHT OF THE LIVING THREAD by Janet Bolin

In Threadville, we're thinking white these days, not only because of this week's snowfall...

Okay, I know, most of us don't want to think about or remember that sudden unseasonable storm, and besides, the weather's supposed to be nice again today, right?

And this white stuff that Tally-Ho is sniffing will be gone, won't it?

In Threadville, we're looking ahead to early October, and more white, but not the white of snow. We're looking forward to white thread and everything that can be created from it.

Edna, the owner of Threadville's notions shop, has scheduled her wedding. She loves the pure blue of mid-western afternoon skies in October.

Edna also likes every sort of bright and shiny embellishment that anyone might think of adding to a wedding gown. We've talked her out of many of them, and the dress she's making and decorating for herself will probably be restrained--for her, at least.

But we'd like Edna to have everything. She doesn't know that the rest of us are making her an giant hoopskirt she can wear over her wedding gown. We'll trim it with lace, flounces, sequins, crystals, embroidery, crochet, and even some quilting. With the help of this guy I really like, Clay Fraser, we'll wire it for lights and sound. Edna will either laugh at it or love it, and we hope she'll do both.

We're a little concerned about the date she chose for her wedding, however.

That's also the weekend we're hosting the Threadville Get Ready for Halloween Craft Fair, which means we'll have extra people in the village. And what she also didn't know was that a bunch of people had already booked the local inn for, of all things, a zombie convention, only they're calling it a Zombie Retreat. I'm not sure what zombies would need to retreat from.

Because of the craft fair and the wedding, many people in Threadville will be hosting houseguests. Maybe we'll be the ones needing a retreat...

"The more the merrier," says Edna.

I hope so.

Have you ever helped plan something that got completely out of control?

 - - -

Photo by Kelley Richardson

You can read about how Willow follows an undulating trail of glow-in-the-dark thread, unravels ancient Egyptian curses, and creeps through a haunted graveyard to unearth a killer in NIGHT OF THE LIVING THREAD, arriving in bookstores June 3 and available for pre-order at these booksellers. Read the first chapter here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Barbecue Man’s Style

What’s on Your Grill
Reagan Summerside here and Auntie KiKi’s frettin’ something fierce. She and Uncle Putter are having their annual spring barbecue and KiKi knows what’s coming and not one bit happy about it.

Barbecue Routine
1) KiKi buys the food, invites the guests, prays for sun.
2) KiKi sets the tables, makes the deviled eggs, pimento chess appetizers, sweet tea and mac and cheese, green beans with salt pork and a nice cocoanut cake.
3) KiKi prepares the meat for cooking, places it on a tray along with the necessary cooking utensils and sauces she’s conjured up, and takes it to Uncle Putter who is lounging beside the grill - beer in hand.
Here comes the important part:
More routine....
5) KiKi organizes the plates and cutlery and makes sure the guests have drinks and food.
6) KiKi comes out to tell Uncle Putter that the meat is burning. He thanks her and asks if she will bring another beer while he deals with the situation.
Important again:
More routine.....
8) KiKi prepares the plates, salad, bread, utensils, napkins, sauces and brings them to the table.
9) After eating, KiKi clears the table and does the dishes.
And most important of all:
10) Everyone PRAISES Uncle Putter for have such a fine party and THANKS HIM for his cooking efforts.
11) Uncle Putter tells good boy jokes and swills whiskey.
12) Uncle Putter asks KiKi how she enjoyed his party aAnd, upon seeing her annoyed reaction, concludes that there's just no pleasing some women....
I’m afraid this year Uncle Putter will wind up with his putter smashed right over his head.
What are barbecues like in your neck of the woods?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Canine Perspective

They’ve always called me Cicero, after the famous Roman orator.  Actually, I’m not a Roman nor an orator even though I do have a lot to say.  I guess my humans named me Cicero because I talk a lot. Well, at least I try, but no one can ever seem to understand what I’m trying to communicate. 

I worked hard for a long, long time to let them know what was really going on with my former human, but they just couldn’t hear me. If they had, some deaths and a near death could have been prevented in A Broth of Betrayal.  

My former master wasn’t a bad man. At least I didn’t think so at first. He was always kind to me, but I knew the things he had been up to. He didn’t exactly tell me face-to-face, so to speak, or maybe I should say face-to-snout, but he used to mutter and talk to himself a lot and I was able to figure it all out.  I realized what he had done and what he planned to do.  He had become a very twisted human. 
Everyone thought the sounds I was making were so clever. But I was just frustrated. I was doing my best with my (unusual) language skills to let everyone know what my former human was planning but I couldn’t get anyone to listen.  Well . . . if you’ve read A Broth of Betrayal, you’ll completely understand what I’m saying. You’ll already know the whole story, except for my part in it.  If they had only listened to me the whole mystery could have been wrapped up very quickly.

I own a new human now.  His name is Horace and I like him very much.  He adopted me after all the things that happened in Snowflake, Vermont and I finally have a wonderful and happy home.  You’ll see me every so often at the By the Spoonful Soup Shop when Horace brings me there.  I like to go to the soup shop because I always get a treat – chicken’s my favorite! 

I still talk a lot and all the humans still think it’s very clever. I don’t really need to tell them anything urgently anymore, but I guess I’m just in the habit of talking.  Maybe Cicero wasn’t such a bad name for me after all, even if I’m not a famous Roman orator.  

Connie Archer is the national bestselling author of the soup lover's mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime: A Spoonful of Murder, A Broth of Betrayal and just released A Roux of Revenge.

Visit Connie at, and Twitter @SnowflakeVT


Monday, April 14, 2014

It's Greek to Me

by Rita Lucero
from the Piece of Cake mysteries
by Jacklyn Brady

Photo by Stholen Moments Photography
Moving to a new location can be fun and exciting. I love learning about different cultures, trying new foods, and seeing new scenery. But there are downsides to starting over in a new place and one of those is losing things that were familiar. A visit to the market can take longer since you may not find the brands you know and a new doctor and dentist you're comfortable with can also take a while.

When I moved from New Mexico to New Orleans I left behind a lot, including some of my favorite places to grab a meal. Luckily, I love to cook and I don't mind experimenting until I find a way to create my own version of a long-lost favorite. One of my favorite comfort foods was the chicken gyro from a local Greek restaurant. I've searched for a suitable replacement, and while I've found a lot of really good versions in my new area, I haven't yet found one that tastes exactly like the one I crave.

That craving has been growing more and more intense, so I decided to stop looking and just make it for myself. While clicking around on the Internet one day I found this recipe for Chicken Soulvaki on a site called Cooking Classy. The chicken turned out exactly like the version I'd been craving.

Serve with thick-cut fries and you have one of my favorite treats.

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours
Yield: About 6 servings
    Chicken Soulvaki
  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3 Tbsp plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup chopped red onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • For serving
  • 6 - 8 Greek Pita Flatbread, homemade or store-bought (recipe follows)
  • Tzatziki sauce, homemade or store-bought (recipe follows) (if you're opting for store-bought, Dannon Oikos Cucumber Dill dip works great)
  • Diced Roma tomatoes, peeled and diced cucumbers, chopped Romaine lettuce, diced red onions, feta cheese, cilantro and Kalamata olives (olives optional)
  • In a mixing bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, Greek yogurt, red wine vinegar, chopped red onion, garlic, oregano, thyme, coriander and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Place chicken in a gallon ziploc bag, pour marinade over chicken, seal bag while pressing out excess air and transfer to refrigerator to marinate 2 - 4 hours. Remove chicken during the last 30 minutes of marinating to rest at room temperature before grilling (leave in marinade).
  • Brush grill grates lightly with oil and preheat grill over moderately high heat. Once hot, add chicken and grill until cooked through (internal temperature should register 165 degrees on an instant read thermometer), rotating once halfway through cooking. Remove from grill transfer to plate and brush chicken lightly with olive oil then cover with foil and allow to rest 10 minutes. Dice into strips.
  • To assemble gyros:
  • Layer chicken in a row along center of pita, top with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, Kalamata olives, red onion, feta, cilantro and tzatziki sauce. Wrap and serve.

Tzatziki Sauce
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped into chunks
  • 1 tsp salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt (I used fat free)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh dill (or 1 tsp dried)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Place diced cucumber in a mesh strainer or colander and sprinkle with salt, toss to evenly coat then allow to rest 30 minutes at room temperature.
  • Rinse cucumbers and place over several layers of paper towels. Squeeze some of the liquid from cucumbers (almost as if wringing moisture from a cloth). Place cucumbers in food processor and pulse to chop to desired size. Add in Greek yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, red wine vinegar, parlsey, and dill and season with salt and pepper to taste. Plus to blend (or if you want it chunky you can simply stir the other ingredients in using a bowl and spoon so the cucumbers are chopped up more). Store in refrigerator in an airtight container up to 3 days.
  • *I just peeled the cucumber, sliced in half lengthwise, then used a spoon to scoop the seeds out and diced into chunks.
Greek Pita Flatbread
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes
  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup warm water, 110 degrees
  • 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp milk, heated to 110 degrees
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for bowl
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 cups bread flour (can add up to 1/4 cup more flour as needed)
  • In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, whisk together yeast, sugar and warm water until yeast has dissolved then let rest 5 minutes. Add in warm milk, olive oil, salt and 1 1/2 cups bread flour and fit mixer with whisk attachment and blend mixture until well combined. Switch attachment to hook attachment, add in remaining 1 1/2 cups flour and knead mixture on low speed until blended, then increase to medium-low and allow to knead about 5 minutes longer until smooth an elastic (dough should not stick to sides of the bowl, so add more flour if necessary). Transfer dough to bowl lightly coated with oil, cover with a damp towel and allow to rest in a warm place until double in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
  • Press dough down and divide dough into 6 - 8 equal portions. Working with one piece at a time, roll dough out into a round (I made 6 large 8-inch pitas) on a lightly floured surface. Heat a large non-stick skillet slightly over medium heat. Once hot, add flatbread and cook until bubbles begin to appear on surface and bottom is golden brown, then flip and cook opposite side until golden brown. Transfer to a large plate, cover with foil leaving a small opening for excess moisture to escape. Repeat process with remaining flatbread. Store in an airtight container (best served day prepared. I'd rewarm mine wrapped in damp paper towels in the microwave).


Jacklyn Brady lives on the Gulf Coast and writes the Piece of Cake Mystery series which is set in New Orleans and features cake artist and trained pastry chef, Rita Lucero.

Rebel Without a Cake, book #5 in the Piece of Cake Mystery Series, is available for pre-order now! Jacklyn loves to hear from readers. Connect with her on the web: Website | Facebook | Twitter