featuring guest mystery authors; crafting tips and projects; recipes from food editor and sleuthing sidekick Cloris McWerther; and decorating, travel, fashion, health, beauty, and finance tips from the rest of the American Woman editors.

Friday, October 31, 2014

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR KATHY BENNETT

Bestselling author Kathy Bennett served twenty-nine years with the Los Angeles Police Department – eight as a civilian employee and twenty-one years as a sworn police officer. While most of her career was spent in a patrol car, she’s also been a Firearms Instructor at the LAPD Academy, a crime analyst in the “War Room,” a Field Training Officer, a Senior Lead Officer, and worked undercover in various assignments. Kathy was honored to be named Officer of the Year in 1997. Law enforcement personnel laud Kathy's authentic stories of crime and suspense for 'getting it right.' Learn more about Kathy and her books at her website

You'd think with it being Halloween that I'd have some amazing craft item or horror story to share. But the truth of the matter is that while I love to do crafts, I haven't had time to do many projects in recent years—unless you want to count my books. My books aren't horror stories, but some of the situations the characters find themselves in certainly make their lives miserable.

Many of the characters I've created in my books are awfully crafty, but not in the paper mâché, or quilting kind of way. You might think of criminals as being crafty to get away with their crimes, but what about their victims, the good guys and gals? Can they be crafty, too?

They certainly can – especially if the circumstances are right. For example, in A Deadly Blessing, the first book in my Detective Maddie Divine suspense series, brainiac teenager Tiffany Truesdale, the daughter of the governor of California, wants to live the unmonitored and carefree life of her friends. Tiffany crafts a plan to have her attractive friends enlist the help of her bodyguards to find a fictitious dropped diamond ring. The ruse works; Tiffany is able to slip away from the bodyguards who constantly hover over her. Rejoining her friends at a wild party, Tiffany is kidnapped by a gangster pimp who turns young girls out to be prostitutes. Fortunately, her captor, Drejohn, doesn't follow politics and therefore doesn't realize he's got the 'first daughter' of California in his clutches.

Tiffany knows it's only a matter of time before she's made to have sex for money. She begins formulating a plan to get away. Her first big goal…find a phone. When she's left alone in a pool changing room, she goes through clothing, looking for a phone. She's discovered by Tank, one of Drejohn's most deadly cohorts. Tank is like an animal going after Tiffany who locks herself in a bathroom. By the end of the incident, thanks to some convincing self-inflicted injuries and a carefully crafted story made up by Tiffany, Drejohn is looking at his pal Tank as a possible traitor.

Later in the story, Tiffany needs to save one of her fellow abductees from being forced to put on a live sex show. With the clock ticking down, Tiffany makes her way secretly through the house, gathering items that she thinks might come in handy in a rescue mission of her friend. She later uses nail polish remover and discarded tabloid magazines to start a fire that not only gets her friend temporarily off the hook, but affords relief to some of the other captive girls as well.

When Tiffany realizes her kidnapping is breaking news in the media, she has to devise a way to disable the televisions in the compound. She doesn't want Drejohn to know he's holding the daughter of the governor. Enlisting the aid of her friend, the young helper is almost hanged while kicking over the compound's satellite dish, but the mission is accomplished. The small victory doesn't matter because the two girls are hustled into a car to go 'work' in Los Angeles. Luckily, the cops have a crafty plan of their own to rescue the girls.

Obviously, I don't want to give away how the story turns out, but you can see that being clever isn't limited to crooks. Victims and cops can also be crafty—when they have to be.

I didn't intend this blog post to be a Halloween horror story, but if you're the parent of a young daughter, beware…after peeking into Tiffany's adventure, you may have a nightmare or two tonight.

A Deadly Denial
Someone is killing cops in Los Angeles. Detective Maddie Divine is assigned to the elite Robbery Homicide Division to join the hunt for the cop killer. With officers being murdered every few days, the suspect list grows longer as secrets, deceit, and denials are uncovered. 

Maddie Divine – Maddie's keeping a secret and if her co-workers knew, they'd put her in a padded cell and give her a rubber gun. Meanwhile, her former partner, Cash McCool, has some explaining to do. But will she accept his justification for his actions? 

Cash McCool – He and Maddie were on the brink of a relationship. What drove him away, and how does he react when he and Maddie are assigned to track the cop killer together? 

Rex Rango – Why can't this newlywed cop say no to a female deputy chief and stay out of her bed? He thinks he's gotten away with his betrayal, but he's wrong. 

Jill Rango – Two months after her wedding, personal and professional scandals have Jill fighting to hang on to her husband and her badge. When one of her secrets is exposed, she's suddenly on the short-list for a murder rap. 

Holly Banks – Married to an older man, Holly has manipulated men all her life. As her list of lies increase, the LAPD's suspicions grow that Holly is involved in something a lot more serious than artful string-pulling. Holly says she's innocent…but is she telling the truth? 

Edison Watts – The early-morning radio 'shock-jock' fans the flames of alleged police corruption, while protecting his reputation, king-sized ego, and secrets of his own. Will his whole empire be lost as a result of one drunken mistake? 

Jacqueline Girrard – After turning in a key piece of incriminating evidence in a murder investigation, the statuesque stunner sets her sights on Maddie's partner. Will the easy-going detective jeopardize the investigation by falling victim to Jacqueline's charms? 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

BEAUTY WITH NICOLE--PUFFY EYE REMEDY

Photo by Deiter Paas
Do you suffer from puffy eyes? There are many serums available for those who suffer from this malady, but they can be quite expensive. Before spending a fortune, first try this natural remedy:

Soak cold potato slices in cold green tea. Apply to eyes for ten minutes.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

DECORATING WITH JEANIE--HALLOWEEN HOMES

Did you decorate your home for Halloween this year? Americans now spend more money on Halloween than any other holiday except Christmas. The National Retail Federation has estimated that Americans will spend $7.4 billion on Halloween this year. Yes, that's BILLION--with a B! And that includes $350 million on costumes for petsThis is a fairly recent phenomenon. Twenty or thirty years ago you’d rarely see the exterior of a home covered in orange cobwebs or giant glitter spiders, ghouls, and ghosts. Today they abound, along with witches, tombstones, orange lights, and pumpkins of all shapes and sizes.

The other day I took a walk through my neighborhood and was somewhat astonished by the minimalist bent this year’s Halloween decorating had taken. I’m used to my neighbors going all out, competing with one another for the most over-the-top extreme Halloween house on the block. Not this year.

During my one-hour walk I came across only one lawn cemetery. Understatement seems to be the theme this year with some homes only wrapping porch columns in cornstalks and others only tying a scarecrow to a light post. However, the most minimalist décor I came across was the house with two lone mini-pumpkins perched on the stair railing columns. You may have to squint to see them. I have to wonder why they even bothered.


What about you? Do you decorate for Halloween? Do you prefer to put up more generic autumn decorations such as wreaths made of red and gold leaves? Or do you just wait until after Thanksgiving and decorate for Christmas?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

COOKING WITH CLORIS--COCONUT CREAM PIE WITH GUEST AUTHOR IRENE PETERSON

photo by Stacy Spensley
Irene Peterson is a true Jersey Girl who loves going down the shore, Godzilla and her family, not necessarily in that order. Writing isn't something she wants to do, it is something she has to do. You can read more about her on her blog and website.

It’s autumn, my favorite season. Born in autumn, married in autumn, first kid in autumn…Halloween in autumn. Auspiciously wonderful time of year for me.

My new novella, Dead Meat, takes place in Charleston, SC in the end of October. They really celebrate the holiday well in Charleston and it was the perfect time for my hero Jim Ryan to go there to vanquish the vampire that has been causing death and horror in the city. He’s been called by the Reverend Jenkins who suspects evil-doing but really doesn’t believe in vampires…not completely. The Rev does get to change his mind, but only after his wife Abertha actually comes into contact with the undead.

Abertha is a lovely preacher’s wife who can really, really cook. She feeds Jim, the lignarius(fixer in Latin)some home cooking that makes him wonder how the South lost the war if their women could cook like this. While she makes a wicked coconut cake, I don’t know how to make a coconut cake, but I have in my possession a treasured old family recipe for coconut cream pie that has long been a carefully guarded secret.

When I told my husband that I was going to give it up to Lois and her readers, he, well, let’s just say he wasn’t happy about it. So if you make this pie, please give full credit not to me, but to Great Aunt Lee Shaw in heaven…a wonderful cook and baker who is probably upset with me now for publishing this. (The spelling of coconut is hers.)

Aunt Lee’s Cocoanut Cream Pie
1 baked, cooled pie shell
1 small package cocoanut—toast in medium oven, mixing occasionally
1 tablespoon gelatin
1-1/2 cups milk
3 eggs (separated)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup heavy cream, whipped

Soften gelatin in 1/4 cup cold milk. Heat rest of milk to scalding over boiling water. Beat egg yolks and salt, then slowly add milk, stirring constantly. Return to double boiler and cook until mixture coats spoon. Stir gelatin in until it dissolves. Chill until it begins to congeal. Beat egg whites until stiff, adding sugar gradually. Beat in milk mixture and flavoring. Fold in whipped cream, pour into pie shell, cover with cocoanut. Chill 2 hours before serving.

Dead Meat
Seen any vampires lately?  No?  That's because Jim Ryan, the lignarius, is on the job. He's been doing just fine, dispatching the undead all over the country, until...well, until he falls in love. Now the concentration necessary for his job is compromised by daydreams of the very alive twin sister of his last adventure in Dead Dreams. If he doesn't snap out of it, he'll be Dead Meat.



Monday, October 27, 2014

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--GUEST AUTHOR AND NEEDLEPOINTER VICKI BATMAN

Like some of her characters, award-winning author Vicki Batman has worked a wide variety of jobs—everything from a lifeguard to a ride attendant at an amusement part to store clerk to administrative assistant in an international real estate firm to general “do anything gal” at a financial services firm. These jobs have given her plenty of material for her writing. Most days begin with her hands set to the keyboard and thinking “What if?” Learn more about Vicki and her writing at her blog.

I Can do That!
Several years ago, my mom and I were perusing the clearance rack at Hobby Lobby and found needlepoint Stitch and Zip eyeglass cases. Despite having never stitched needlepoint in my life, I bought two with the thought, I can do that!

I did those cases in the basic stitch and when my girlfriend wanted to try advanced classes, I learned fancy stitching. However, I’ve stuck with painted canvases in the basic stitch, sorta like a paint by numbers thingy.

For my new daughter-in-law, I needlepointed this stocking:

For myself, I made the handbag shown at the top of this blog post.

Like most writers, some real life creeps into my writing. My heroine from Temporarily Employed, Hattie Cooks, carries handbags, and I love handbags. She drives a Wrangler, and I’ve owned many a Jeep. When Hattie checks out Allan Wellborn’s apartment, what does she find? Here’s a sneak peek:

A. Wellborn’s apartment appeared to be the same as other guys' with great emphasis on the television. His had evolved into a huge, 3D flat screen. His media equipment had been stored on a store-bought shelving unit, instead of crammed onto a cinder block and plank shelf or tottering precariously on a microwave rolling cart.

I assessed the other areas and noticed a dark chocolate leather couch, end tables which matched a coffee table, ceramic lamps, remotes, et cetera. Most likely, his mom had assisted in picking the furniture as his stuff looked too coordinated. And my suspicions were confirmed when I found the needlepoint pillows she’d crafted laying about.

No visible stains or smells were anywhere. No underwear tossed about. The kitchen looked clean with wooden barstools pushed to the peninsula. His computer desk, placed in the dining area, looked well organized. Books and papers were piled in neat stacks. Gratefully, I didn’t see his gun lying around, which led me to the relieving conclusion he had no plans to shoot me tonight.

Yep, there’s needlepoint. LOL. Surely, there’s something you like to make—cooking, sewing, papier maché. So are you crafty?

Temporarily Employed
New Job. New Love. And Murder.
Hattie Cook's dream job is down the toilet and her new SUV violated. Desperate for cash to cover the basic necessities of rent and food, she takes a temporary job at Buy Rite Insurance Company where she uncovers an embezzling scam tied to the death of a former employee--the very one she replaced. The last thing she wants is to clash with By-the-Book Detective Wellborn, no matter how much he makes her heart pound.


Detective Allan Charles Wellborn has secretly adored Hattie all his life. When the police determine there's more to the death of a former Buy Rite employee, he steps in to lead the investigation. Overly dedicated, always perfect, he puts his job first, even if doing so ultimately hurts the one he loves. Can the killer be found before Hattie's time is up?

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Friday, October 24, 2014

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR HEATHER BOYD

Bestselling, Australian author Heather Boyd spends her days (and spare hours of the night) conjuring up new ways to get her characters into mischief. She writes sizzling Regency historical romances, publishing over twenty novels and shorter works. Learn more about Heather at her website. Today she sits down with us for an interview.

Tell us about yourself.
Greetings. I’m Heather Boyd, a regency historical romance author, indie published, and sole female in a testosterone fueled household. (Even the cat is male.) I love old books, old furniture and houses and research -- Regency era, of course.

Do you have any phobias?
Spiders and snakes, which is stupid considering I live in Australia where you can’t step out your front door without being attacked by one. Just kidding. They wait until the second step.

Which mythological creature are you most like?
I wasn’t sure what to say for this but my eldest son just shouted out, “Dragon.” I’m concerned. No one disagreed with him.

What is the story of your first kiss?
Married twenty-two years, two kids, and I’ve never been kissed. OK, I can see you’re not buying that one. I also think writing sizzling Regency romance might have also been a bit of a giveaway that I’m not that innocent. OK, here we go…. Back in the mists of time I adored this amazing boy, and I fell head over heels. We were only ten but I just knew he was the oneso, dear reader, I ended up married to him. True story.

What inspires you to write?
The better question would be what doesn’t. I’m very lucky so far. Story ideas are plentiful (and equally distracting.) I had a new one over the weekend, actually, when I should have been taking a writing break. That’s sort of how it goes for me. I stop working and a new idea springs up. Since I’ve already got several stories on the go now, it’s going into the “when I have time” folder.

Keepsake
I’ve got a story to tell youThe Marquess of Taverham married young and fast with his eye firmly on his bride’s dowry as the means to repair the family fortunes for the next generation. Too late he discovered his new wife wasn’t going to make achieving all of his dreams that easy. What happens when the bride comes back in Keepsake, Book 5 in the Distinguished Rogues series?



Thursday, October 23, 2014

BEAUTY WITH NICOLE--DIY BEAUTY PRODUCTS WITH GUEST AUTHOR MAIA CHANCE

Maia Chance writes historical mysteries that are rife with absurd predicaments and romantic adventure. She’s the author of the Fairy Tale Fatal and The Discreet Retrieval Agency series. Her first mystery, Snow White Red-Handed, will be released in November. Learn more about Maia and her books at her website. 

The Craftiest of Them All

“Never wash your hair with anything you'd hesitate to eat or drink.”—Miss Piggy

I am so excited to be guest-posting here, and one of the reasons is the craft element of Lois’s wonderful books and blog.

Ophelia Flax, the heroine in my first mystery release, Snow White Red-Handed, is a Victorian-era variety actress who knows her way around a theatrical case. And since the story revolves around the fairy tale Snow White, beauty is a constant motif. In researching this book, I got to indulge my fascination with bygone beauty practices, and I’d like to share some you can make—craftily, if you will—today. (Yes, your kitchen will look traumatized. But in a FUN way.)

Lips
Most lip salves from the nineteenth century included spermaceti, which comes from a sperm whale’s head (yep: Moby Dick lip balm). But I did find one recipe that you could make at home, if your Chap-Stick gets lost. This is from Florence Hartley’s 1872 The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette:

“A dessert spoonful of salad oil in a saucer, hold it over a candle, and drop melted wax over it till the oil is thinly covered, when they are incorporated, pour it into boxes.”

Mm-kay. Seems like it could work. Just remember to let the flaming wax/oil cool before anointing yourself.

Pimples
We STILL haven’t cured the Common Pimple. Sigh.

In 1899’s The Woman Beautiful: A Practical Treatise, Ella Adelia Fletcher warns that “a too-vivid imagination, the reading of unhealthful books, anything that encourages unnatural flushing or excitement, —all these things may cause pimples.”

Just to clarify, pimples are NOT caused by the mercury, hydrochloric acid, and Borax that are included in Fletcher’s pimple ointment recipes; pimples are caused by unwholesome books. Guess I’m due for a breakout.

Lola Montez, a famous courtesan and actress, wrote The Arts of Beauty in 1858. It’s probably my very favorite nineteenth century beauty manual. It even has hints for gentlemen, including advising them to smack their lips while eating! Montez includes this complexion-wash receipt you can try at home:

“…the most remarkable wash for the face which I have ever known, and which is said to have been known to the beauties of the court of Charles II. . . . take a small piece of the gum benzoin and boil it in spirits of wine till it becomes a rich tincture. . . . it will render the skin clear and brilliant. It is also an excellent remedy for spots, freckles, pimples, and eruptions.”

Now, before you say this can’t be whipped up at home: you CAN buy chunks of gum benzoin on Etsy! It’s a fragrant resin from trees. Benzoin reportedly makes your lips nice and rosy, too.

Nails
Mrs. Ellet’s recipe for whitening the nails includes “diluted sulphuric acid” and “tincture of myrrh”, ingredients that may alarm and/or mystify beauty-seekers nowadays. (The New Cyclopaedia of Domestic Economy by Mrs. E.F. Ellet, 1872.)

But what about that passage in Madame Bovary, in which Emma spends “fourteen francs in one month on lemons with which to bleach her fingernails”? Do-able, right?

Hair
Not advisable: Mrs. Ellet, provides this concoction for strengthening and thickening the hair: “Skim the fat from the top of calves’ feet while boiling; mix with a teaspoon of rum, shake together. Apply night and morning.”

All together now: Ewwwwwwww.

Advisable: According to Victoria Sherrow’s Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History (2006), it has long been thought that rosemary is beneficial for the scalp and for hair growth. Here’s what to do:

Bring 5 sprigs of fresh rosemary in 4 cups of water to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. When it’s cool, remove the sprigs and use it as your final hair rinse.

Easy!

What’s fascinating is that the creepy chemicals and toxins we complain about in our beauty potions nowadays are nothing new. The American or European lady on the mid-to-late nineteenth century had a prettiness arsenal that was just as noxious, and in the case of mercury, arsenic, and lead, arguably worse. The major difference was that women mixed up their own concoctions with ingredients purchased at an apothecary’s shop and borrowed from the kitchen pantry.

So much for that tired old cliché about women’s beauty being all about cunning and deception. It’s craftiness, people.

Snow White Red-Handed, a Fairy Tale Fatal Mystery
Miss Ophelia Flax is a Victorian actress who knows all about making quick changes and even quicker exits. But to solve a fairy-tale crime in the haunted Black Forest, she’ll need more than a bit of charm…

1867: After being fired from her latest variety hall engagement, Ophelia acts her way into a lady’s maid position for a crass American millionaire. But when her new job whisks her off to a foreboding castle straight out of a Grimm tale, she begins to wonder if her fast-talking ways might have been too hasty. The vast grounds contain the suspected remains of Snow White’s cottage, along with a disturbing dwarf skeleton. And when her millionaire boss turns up dead—poisoned by an apple—the fantastic setting turns into a once upon a crime scene.

To keep from rising to the top of the suspect list, Ophelia fights through a bramble of elegant lies, sinister folklore, and priceless treasure, with only a dashing but mysterious scholar as her ally. And as the clock ticks towards midnight, she’ll have to break a cunning killer’s spell before her own time runs out…

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