featuring guest 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, April 29, 2016


Judge Debra H. Goldstein is the author of Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery and the 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue, a mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus. Her short stories and essays have been published in numerous periodicals and anthologies. Learn more about Debra and her books at her website. 

Book Club Friday as told by Heidi Shapiro to Debra H. Goldstein
Can we talk? I mean, after all, this is a Book Club Friday on Lois Winston’s blog, but here at Sunshine Village Retirement Center we talk about everything when we get together. We do that no matter whether it is Book Club Friday, Mah jongg day or you name it. Luckily, because we have a lot to say, Sunshine has daily activities thanks to the staff and our own Carolyn Holt.

Carolyn used to be the children’s librarian at the Wahoo, Alabama Library but since she moved into Sunshine Village, she’s become the place’s greatest cheerleader. She spurs all of us to participate in everything she creates. The staff and the residents love her.

I go to the Book Club meetings to pass time. I like them well enough, but my passion is my Thursday Mah jongg game. I’ve played Maj with the same group of women since we were newlyweds. Back then, we all had young children and owned houses on Diaper Row. Our houses got bigger, the kids grew up, and eventually we all moved into Sunshine Village. After having been in a weekly game for almost forty years, I figure I’ve eaten at least 400 slices of Karen Berger’s marble swirl pound cake. It’s delicious. Far better than the stuff I put out from the grocery store when I host the game.

That’s right. We take turns having the game every fifth week. I invite everyone to my apartment, but a couple of the players, who only have a room here at Sunshine Village, use the game room. I’m not wild about playing there because it always has a table of men playing poker and sometimes they get a bit loud.

Their noise and rudeness is one of the reasons I prefer my larger independent living apartment. The other reason is I haven’t felt completely safe since poor Charlotte Martin was murdered in Carolyn Holt’s room – just a few hours after Charlotte came back into her daughter’s life.

Charlotte was gone for twenty-six years before she showed up out of the blue at her daughter Carrie’s corporate legal office. According to Carrie, they talked and Charlotte left Carrie with a sealed envelope and the knowledge she once thought about killing Carrie’s father. How anyone would want to harm the former minister of the Oakwood Church is beyond me, but I’m getting off track because before Carrie could talk to her father, her mother died.

Carrie is at odds with the detective on the case. She doesn’t want me to know that he used to be her live-in lover, but there aren’t too many secrets in Wahoo and I’m good at getting to the bottom of those that do exist. That’s why I’m glad Carrie finally agreed to let me and the other Mah jongg players help her find out who killed her mother. Maybe, if we succeed, she’ll take an interest in my son. He’s not a doctor, but he is an excellent lawyer and sadly, an eligible thirty-year-old widower.

Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery
Carrie Martin's precarious balancing of her corporate law job and visiting her father at the Sunshine Village retirement home is upset when her mother appears, out of the blue, in Carrie's office twenty-six years after abandoning her family. Her mother leaves her with a sealed envelope and the confession she once considered killing Carrie's father. Carrie seeks answers about her past from her father prior to facing what is in the envelope. Before she can reach his room, she finds her mother murdered and the woman who helped raise her seriously injured.

Instructed to leave the sleuthing to the police, Carrie's continued efforts to discover why someone would target the two most important women in her life quickly put her at odds with her former lover--the detective assigned to her mother's case. As Carrie and her co-sleuths, the Sunshine Village Mah jongg players, attempt to unravel Wahoo, Alabama's past secrets in this fast paced cozy mystery, their efforts put Carrie in danger and show her that truth and integrity aren't always what she was taught to believe.

Thursday, April 28, 2016


Janet  Dawson has written two novels featuring Zephyrette Jill McLeod – Death Rides the Zephyr and the latest, Death Deals a Hand. She is also the author of twelve novels with Oakland PI Jeri Howard, most recently Cold Trail, a standalone suspense novel, What You Wish For, and numerous short stories. Learn more about Janet and her books at her website. 

Meet the Zephyrette

I’ve written two books in my historical mystery series featuring Jill McLeod, who is a Zephyrette.

I can see the puzzled look on your face. What’s a Zephyrette?

A Zephyrette is a train hostess, something like an airline stewardess, or flight attendant, as we call them now.

Many of the luxurious streamliner trains of the post-World War II era had such attendants, but only aboard the train called the California Zephyr were these young women called Zephyrettes.

The California Zephyr was jointly operated by three railroads, from 1949 to 1970. The trains ran daily between San Francisco and Chicago, through spectacular scenery in the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. The journey took two and a half days, and the Zephyrette was onboard for the whole trip.

My books are set in December 1952 and April 1953. Dwight Eisenhower had just been elected president. The Korean War was still raging. It had been less than eight years since the end of World War II. Rock ’n roll was in its early days. It’s the heyday of train travel, before everyone had one or two cars and the interstate highway system was built. Air travel wasn’t as common.

Jill, the protagonist of Death Rides the Zephyr and Death Deals a Hand, is the only female member of the crew. Her job is to keep an eye on things during the journey, make announcements, and cater to the passengers’ needs, keeping them comfortable and happy. She walks through the train every few hours and observes what’s going on aboard the train, alert to any potential problems, ready to provide solutions.

Who would be better placed to do some amateur sleuthing? In the course of two books, Jill has done her share, wielding those problem-solving skills.

Want to send a telegram from the Western Union office at the next station? The Zephyrette would take care of that. Reservations in the dining car? Check. Apply first aid to that scrape on your kid’s knee after he takes a tumble off his seat? Check.

Want to find out who killed the passenger, and why? Jill does that, too.

How did someone like Jill become a Zephyrette? She was required to have a college degree or nurse’s training, have a good character and be unmarried. Jill is all of these. She’s a graduate of the University of California. She was planning to get married but those plans were derailed. She didn’t want to teach or work in her father’s office. Riding the rails on the California Zephyr looked like a good plan for Jill, until she decides what to do with the rest of her life.

Writing the books was great fun and involved roaming around on historic trains as well as taking the Amtrak version of the California Zephyr, which has a different route through California but the same route between Winnemucca, Nevada on to Chicago.

I can read about Ruby Canyon in Western Colorado, but there’s no substitute for seeing it from the train, with the setting sun turning the cliffs red. It’s wonderful to wind through Gore Canyon deep in the Colorado Rockies, with the nearly frozen Colorado River just below the tracks.

There’s also no substitute for primary sources, in this case two former Zephyrettes living in my vicinity. One of these ladies worked on the trains in the late sixties, the other in the early 1950s, the time period I was writing about. One evening I met these two ladies and sat with them as they talked over old times and memories of their travels aboard the California Zephyr. The material I got was invaluable, and I hope it rings true in the books.

So meet Jill McLeod, the Zephyrette. All aboard for adventure!

Death Deals a Hand
Zephyrette Jill McLeod is back on the rails, aboard the fabled train called the California Zephyr. Heading west from Chicago to the San Francisco Bay Area, Jill looks forward to reuniting with family members and the new man in her life. She’s learned to expect and deal with just about anything on the train, from troublesome passengers to long-lost relatives to high-stakes poker games. But the stakes just got even higher: Death has a seat at the table.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Today is National Pretzel Day. Yes, there truly is such a holiday, albeit an “unofficial” one. It began in 2003 when then Pennsylvania’s governor Ed Rendell declared April 26th as National Pretzel Day because pretzels have been such an important part of the state’s history and economy.

No one knows for sure the exact origin of the pretzel. There are several differing accounts, but most people attribute its creation to Christian monks. One claim is that in 610 AD an Italian Monk invented pretzels as a reward for children who learned their prayers. The strips of baked dough were folded to resemble arms crossed at the chest and called “pretiola,” which means little rewards.

Another source claims the pretzel hails from a monastery in southern France. A third claim says the looped pretzel was related to Greek Ring bread used for communion in monasteries a thousand years ago.  

Pretzels were introduced to North America in the 19th century by Pennsylvania Dutch immigrants (who were actually from Germany, the “Dutch” a corruption of “Deutsche,” which is German for German.) Many of these immigrants settled in Pennsylvania and began operating handmade pretzel bakeries. The pretzel’s popularity quickly spread.

In the 20th century soft pretzels became a staple sold on Philadelphia street corners. The average American eats about a pound and a half of pretzels a year, but the average Philadelphian eats twelve times that amount. Philadelphia even boasts a Pretzel Museum.

Although pretzel popularity quickly spread throughout the country in the 20th century, Pennsylvania remains the center of the $550 million dollar American pretzel industry, producing about 80% of the nation’s pretzels.

Fruity Chocolate Pretzel Clusters

1-1/2 cups dried apricots, cherries, or raspberries, chopped
1-1/2 cups chopped pistachios
2 cups broken-up pretzel sticks
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. In a medium size bowl, stir together dried fruit, pistachios, and pretzels.

Place chocolate in a medium sized microwave safe bowl, and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir. Microwave an additional 30 seconds. Continue stirring and microwaving for 15 seconds until chocolate is melted and smooth.

Add fruit/nut/pretzel mixture to chocolate, stirring to completely coat. Place heaping tablespoons of mixture onto baking sheet. Chill to set (about 15 minutes) before serving.

Monday, April 25, 2016


Design measures approximately 1-3/8" x 1-3/8" when stitched on 14-ct. fabric or on 28-ct. evenweave or linen worked over two threads. Suggested fabric colors: white, antique white, Fiddler's Cloth, coffee, beige, or your choice.

Cross stitch with two strands floss. Backstitch and French knot with one strand black (DMC 310/Anchor 403).

Friday, April 22, 2016


Mari Manning is the author of several contemporary romances and three romantic suspense novels set in the Texas Hill Country. Stranger at My Door is the first in her A Murder in Texas series. The second, Stranger in My House, later this year. Learn more about Mari and her books at her website

How Tarot Cards Ended Up in My Latest Romance
 attended one of those old Catholic colleges located in the middle of a large Midwest city. For a restless suburban girl whose most traumatic experience was watching her Siamese cat murder the chick she’d just brought home from biology class, living in a down-at-its heels neighborhood on the edge of a major downtown was an adventure.

On a side street near the campus, I found a little occult shop one day. I was a good Catholic girl who did not subscribe to ghosts, Ebenezer Scrooge not withstanding. Still, I hesitated to poke my head inside although I was curious. So I walked past. A few days later I strolled by the shop again. I did not go in. The third time I approached, a beautiful girl came out. Tall and slender, jean shirt, paisley scarf tied in her long hair and college knapsack hanging from her shoulder.

I went in.

Lots of books, lots and lots of rocks, incense and tie-dye. Ordinary stuff, but I kept my arms at my sides and touched nothing. At one point, I had the urge to make the sign-of-the-cross, but restrained myself.

A girl with black hair and makeup and wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt stood at the counter.

“Can I help you?”

“Just looking.” That never sounded so stupid. I realized I wasn’t afraid of the stuff in the shop, I was afraid of connecting with the people in the shop. Magic was hocus-pocus. I knew it. Nevertheless, now that I had been discovered, I began to meander purposefully toward the door.

She held up a small red box. “Tarot cards,” she said. “Lots of fun at a party.” She cracked a smile. Literally.

“How much?” I was an impoverished student.


Was it those mysterious rocks or the patchouli-drenched air or her pale eyes peering at me through a thick circle of eye shadow? I don’t know. But I plunked down my beer money and bought them.

She was right. They were fun. But they were also revelatory. People open up when you guess at their lives. When you face them one-on-one and say, “Let’s talk about you,” it is universally agreeable.

Were the cards magic? Not in the way you might imagine. But, if you can sense a melancholy air, you might guess someone is sad or preoccupied. A man who is older than the other students and limps might be a veteran. A girl with a Polish accent might have had a rough journey. You hint at those possibilities, and they see a chance to explain themselves or share what they cannot say elsewhere. The cards establish an intimacy, and I’ve treasured all the stories I’ve heard while “reading” tarots.

After college, as I began to write, I found my muse returning to that box of cards and the lives it opened up for me. I gave some of my characters the same gift. Dinah Pittman in my recently released romantic suspense, Stranger at My Door, reads tarot cards. I have started a mystery series in which my sleuth, Lousann Linkous, is a tarot card reader who lives in an old house and has a neon sign in her front window. A character in my second romance, Angel Without Wings, is based on the veteran I met at a party in college.

I’ve never been back to the occult shop or entered another one. I never saw the beautiful girl again, although she must have gone to my college. I’ve passed other shops and always thought, No need to stop. I got what I wanted the first time.

Stranger at My Door
The only thing standing between Dinah Pittman and disaster is a man she can’t trust …

As far as Dinah Pittman is concerned, men can’t be trusted. Especially cops. Her own father was a cop and a convicted felon who stole a small fortune before dying in prison. The best part? No one knows where the money is…and someone is willing to kill off everyone who knows anything about it.

And Dinah is next.

Rafe Morales left the Dallas police force to settle down to a simpler life in the small Texas town of El Royo. Instead, he finds himself protecting an infuriating, tough-as-nails, oh-so-sexy victim—and driving himself crazy with a thoroughly unprofessional desire.

But as the body count rises, Rafe and Dinah must find a way to trust each other…before they both end up dead.

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Thursday, April 21, 2016


Not Endurance, but a street in a typical Midwest town
Susan Van Kirk is the author of the Endurance mysteries and also a memoir about teaching, The Education of a Teacher (Including Dirty Books and Pointed Looks.) Learn more about her and her books at her website/blog.
Endurance: A Small Town Setting

Thank you, Lois, for inviting me to write about the setting of my mysteries—the small town of Endurance. A common thread throughout the centuries of this small town’s history is its secrets.

As Grace Kimball, recently retired teacher, travels through her small town of Endurance, she sees former students—now adults—and remembers them as adolescents. For example, she notices Patrick Gilmore carrying a briefcase, and remembers he slipped out the back door during gym class and smoked pot. And sold it. Now he’s selling legal drugs for a big pharmaceutical company. Who says high school doesn’t get you ready for the real world?

In Three May Keep a Secret, the first mystery, it’s summer. (Ben Franklin wrote: “Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.”) The schools just let out, Gimbles Paint and Wallpaper Store has a “huge extravaganza sale” in progress, flower pots are overflowing in front of the businesses, and the first cafĂ© of the summer is about to start. Grace is having lunch with her friends, Jill and Deb. Joining them is TJ Sweeney, former student of Grace’s and now detective. Little do they know on this beautiful blue-skied day, that in the next few weeks two murders will occur, and even Grace’s life will be put in danger. A terrifying event from her past may come back to haunt her.

Each of my four stories about Endurance, Illinois, (population 15,000), occurs as the Midwest seasons change. The second book, Marry in Haste, will be published this November, and it spans the winter months, a time when readers wonder why anyone would want to live in the bitter cold and snow of the Midwest.

But first I slipped in an e-book novella, launched a week ago, and called The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney. My biracial, 39-year-old detective has a cold case on her hands from the 1940s. Endurance’s history plays a key part since the victim was last seen at the Roof Garden, a popular dance venue on the roof of a four-story office building in downtown Endurance. The big band era, the jitterbug, and romance in the air were the last images the victim saw. Now TJ Sweeney must comb through a dark chapter in the town’s history to identify the victim and killer.

I went back to a second Ben Franklin proverb for my title, Marry in Haste (Repent at Leisure.)  This setting was so much fun to explore because one plot takes place in 1893. Grace’s love interest, Jeff Maitlin, has bought a huge Victorian home. In renovating and restoring the house, he and Grace find the diary of Olivia Lockwood, a young wife who lived there in the 1890s. I had such fun drawing a new map for the town with stores that might have been there in 1893—milliners, dressmakers, dry goods, public halls, gunsmiths, livery stables, tailors, and reading rooms.

Murders occur—one victim is a high profile, current-day banker whose lineage goes back to the early 1900s—and a second murder victim is a judge in the 1890s plot. They’re tied together in a unique way. Once again, Grace and TJ investigate the twists and turns of their little town’s history—in the past through a diary, and in the present through family secrets.

The third mystery, Death Takes No Bribes, will be out next year, and it treats the reader to the culture of Endurance High School, Grace’s old workplace. Again, the winter months prevail, but spring isn’t far off. Unfortunately for the town, their principal dies prematurely—well, with a bit of help. [My apologies here to all those principals for whom I have worked.] The building itself is full of nooks, crannies, hiding places, dark corners, and secrets. And before the story is over, past history and current school atmosphere will come out of the shadows and provide TJ with the killer’s motive. Grace, of course, has to jump into this investigation since her former colleagues are living in fear.

The town has a huge role in this mystery also. As Grace waits for a fellow teacher at The Coffee Bean on the Square, she looks out into the dark night and sees the warm glow of three creamy, round globes on the top of each lamppost, their radiance reflecting on the Square. The Endurance Public Library, a light burning over the entrance, reminds her of the hours she spent there with her three children after the early death of her husband. Gimble’s Paint and Wallpaper Store is also on the Square, and Grace laughs as she recalls Mandy Thompson answering the phone with, “This is Mandy. How may I help you color your world?” Only in Endurance.

It’s a small, Midwestern town with light and life and friends and history, but beneath the laughter and comforts of home lie secrets and a past that twists and turns through each of my Endurance mysteries.

The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney
The Big Band Era—Dancing on the Rooftop—Romance in the Air—And Murder in the Shadows.

A decades-old murder becomes Detective TJ Sweeney’s most personal and tragic case. Good and evil, tolerance and bigotry lie at the bottom of TJ Sweeney’s latest case in the small town of Endurance.

After solving a double homicide in the hot Midwest summer, Endurance police detective TJ Sweeney isn’t given long to rest. A construction crew has found human bones while digging a building foundation on the outskirts of town.
Sweeney’s investigation soon concludes this was a murder victim, but from many decades earlier. Trying to identify the remains and put a name on the killer takes the detective through a maze of dead ends and openings, twists and turns.

And then it becomes personal …

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


Photo by Onderwijsgek
Baby powder has fallen out of use for most parents. However, even if you no longer sprinkle it on infant bottoms, baby powder has a multitude of uses. One of them is something I know will benefit many of our readers.

Those of you who read this blog because you’re fans of genre fiction probably have bookcases filled with your “keeper” books, those books that you’ve read over and over again throughout the years and can’t possibly part with because they’re your favorites. The problem with books, though, is that after a few years they begin to smell musty, especially if you live in certain climates. And if you have allergies, that musty smell is probably preventing you from enjoying that favorite read.

Baby powder to the rescue!

To rid your books of that mustiness, sprinkle baby powder on the pages. Place the book in a plastic bag, and let it sit for a week. Then shake or brush out the powder. The musty smell will be gone, and you’ll once again be able to spend time losing yourself with your favorite characters.