Friday, November 30, 2018

Debs' UK Highlights

DEBORAH CROMBIE: As many of you know, I just spent almost a month in the UK, from mid-October to to mid-November. I was working, but it was good, productive (Yay!) work, and every day was full of big and small delights. I wanted to share a few of those.

1) Pret a Manger. I promise not every item on this list will be about food! But to start, I so looked forward to eating at Pret a Manger. This is a salad/sandwich/soup chain, takeaway, with some very basic eat-in tables. They are ubiquitous in the UK. There is a shop literally next door to the Earl's Court Tube Station, so that was my kitchen-away-from-kitchen. I had lunch many days (eat-in) and dinner a few (takeaway.) Their food is made fresh every day, healthy, and reasonably priced, and they are friendly and cheerful. Here's one of my favorites, a salad with falafel, beetroot (beets), edamame, avocado, and broccoli rabe, or "tender-stem broccoli" as they say in the UK. Yum. I wish I could have this every day at home.


2) Watching the hor4s. That's Fuller's (the brewery chain sponsor) Heads of the River 4s. Still Greek? It's the annual rowing race on the Thames between Chiswick (Chis-ick) and Putney, for quad sculls, coxless fours, and coxed fours. It's rowed the opposite direction from the Boat Race (Oxford vs. Cambridge) in the spring, but on the same course. My friend Kerry, who works at Leander Club, gave me the heads up on this and I made my way to Putney on that Saturday morning to watch the racing. It was a glorious day, cool but not uncomfortably cold, and bright. The river was gorgeous. I watched from Putney Reach, in front of the boat clubs, and from Putney Bridge, cheering every Leander boat. (They won most of their races, due to me, I'm sure...) Of all the things I've learned researching my books, rowing is one that I continue to love.

3) Portobello Market. Always. I have such a strong connection with the market, both personal and fictional. I never miss a Saturday when I'm in London. The first Saturday was bitterly cold, the second Saturday was 70 degrees and absolutely perfect, and the third Saturday the sky opened up and poured buckets. Such is the market. I particularly love walking back up Portobello Road as the market is closing and the vendors are breaking down the stalls.

It's such a magical time of day. And here's a shot of The Sun in Splendour, the pub at the very top of Portobello Road, on that perfect Saturday. I managed to get a bus going past in the photo!

4) The Cotswolds! Where to start? This trip I managed to actually tour The Cotswold Distillery (last time I only stopped in for a visit.) I don't know why I'm so fascinated by distilling, but this was geek heaven, an hour and a half very detailed, very informative tour. Don't you love these huge and gorgeous copper stills? (Those are for the gin. The whisky stills are not nearly as pretty.)

5) Driving. Much to my surprise, because I've always found driving in the UK fraught with tension. But I've found a car hire company that will bring the car to me, so that I don't have to manage in a big town, and the last few trips I've absolutely loved it. Here's my little Peugeot peeking from the car park at the second of my hotels.

6) The views in the Cotswolds. That is the bad thing about driving rather than being driven, trying to take in the stunning scenery while paying attention to the road and to the navigation. To take a photo, you have to find a layby (a place in the road where a vehicle can pull over.) Here's one shot from a morning of absolutely breathtaking views. I think this is in Warwickshire, near Long Compton.

But no photo can begin to convey the beauty of this countryside.

7) The autumn colors. I was visiting the Cotswolds later this year than I have before, and I loved the combination of bare trees with brilliant foliage. This is the River Eye, near Upper Slaughter, one of my favorite shots of the trip.

8) Back in London, a new favorite pub, The Scarsdale Arms in Earl's Court, just behind the Kensington Police Station. Here I am with my friend Kerry, and some unknown but very fancy lady.

9) Saving one of the very best for last. (I promised I would keep food to a minimum.) Dinner at the Slaughters Manor House in Lower Slaughter, Gloucestershire. Because of a scheduling issue, my original dinner reservation was canceled and the dining room was not open to guests. But Chef Nic Chappell had a table set up just for me in the Manor House Snug and he and his staff cooked me a fabulous dinner. Here's my table--don't you love the Sex Pistols poster in this very grand house?

How elegant is that?? I felt like the Queen. And the food was just exquisite. It was truly an evening to treasure and I can't thank Chef Nic and the staff at the Manor House enough.

10) Okay, one more thing. Just walking. I walked every day in London, often for hours after I finished work, and as much as I could in between driving stints in the Cotswolds. 

I don't think there is anything I love more than just wandering in London, discovering new places as well as soaking up familiar neighborhoods. This was the last photo I took, on my last afternoon in London, walking at dusk (4:30!) from Kensington High Street down Earl's Court Road, with the crescent moon just visible over Earl's Court Station.

I was so sad to be leaving. So until next time!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Toy Shop

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I've found myself thinking quite a bit about one of the unexpected little delights of my recent visit to England. I'd taken the train from London Paddington to the Cotswold market town of Moreton-in-Marsh, in Gloucestershire, arriving at lunchtime. Isn't it a lovely place, with all that golden Cotswold stone?

I had a fabulous lunch at Martha's Coffee Shop on the High Street, a place I'd discovered on my last visit. And, then, as I only had a small suitcase and no schedule to keep, I decided to explore a little. 

The first thing I saw was the window of the shop right next door to Martha's.

A toy shop!! THE TOY SHOP, as it turns out. I was so enchanted with the place that I took photos of the displays to send to my daughter. I wish now that I'd bought some of the little animals for my granddaughter--I'm sure she would have loved them. I loved them!

I wondered how long it had been since I'd seen an actual toy shop. This one, I learned, has been in business for almost fifty years and has NINE rooms! You can take a virtual tour on their website. Absolute heaven for a child--or a childlike grown-up.

And then the next day I went to Bourton-on-the-Water (don't you love the names?) another beautiful Cotswold town--

 where they have not only a super toy shop--

but a model railway shop, too.

Back in London, I managed to get to Regent Street, where I peeked in the windows of the toy shop to end all toy shops, Hamley's. This is a London institution, and a visit to Hamley's at Christmas is something for children to dream about all year.

This photo doesn't begin to do it justice--the windows are fantastic and the store is immense!

All this made me realize I missed the wonder of toy shops. Have the English held on to something Americans have lost? With the demise of Toys R Us (never all that appealing) about the best we can do around here is the toy aisle at Target.

REDS and readers, do you have toy shops where you live, or memories of wonderful toy shops?

And just for fun, while not a toy shop, this was my favorite magical Christmas window in London--Anthropologie in Regent Street. Isn't that just divine?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

2019 Summer writing workshop in Tuscany with Hallie

HALLIE EPHRON: I was so jealous (but so well behaved that I didn’t show it) when Rhys told us all about her amazing ten days as writer in residence teaching a writing workshop for Minerva Education in Tuscany. 

This summer, it’s my turn (May 29-June 27)! 

I'm calling my workshop
“From Inspiration to Book." It's being held at Hotel Colle Etrusco Salivolpi (a so-called agriturismo, a converted ancient farm house, remodeled with every modern comfort.) Its grounds go back to Etruscan times. The hotel is within walking distance from the center of town with its charming restaurants, churches, shops and services. And within easy striking distance of Florence, Siena, and Arezzo.

I’m so excited for two reasons… make that three.

1. First, I have several writing friends who’ve raved about their
experiences with Minerva Education and its leaders, the husband-and-wife team of Pier Raimondo Baldini (he grew up in Florence) and Cajsi Baldini, professors at Arizona State University. The hotel is reputedly fabulous, ditto the food.

2. The opportunity to work intensively for more than a few days with a small group of writers will be a rare luxury. Not just TEACHING but getting to work on the writing in the most collaborative way. Time to write. Time to REVISE! Time to share and learn what works best for that writer.

I want to use some of the time to explore something I heard Walter Mosley say: 
“Story is what happened; plot is the order in which it’s revealed to the reader.” 
I immediately wrote that down and have been thinking about it ever since. To me, this is directly related to character-driven plotting--the thing that separates workmanlike novels from memorable ones. And it speaks to the reasons why mystery novels, in particular, are so challenging to write. Can't wait to unravel it.

3. TUSCANY! A few years ago I spent a week there and have wanted to get back for an even more extended visit. I remember vividly the rolling landscapes, fields and vineyards, roads lined with tall Cypress trees. Beautiful weather. Birds (we saw hoopoes!) Sublime food... Bruschetta that started most meals, toast topped with fresh tomato and basil. Fresh made pasta like nothing I’d ever eaten (I went home and bought a pasta maker). Cinghiale, Tuscan wild boar (photo: Wikimedia: Valentin Panzirsch) which we tried not to run into while walking in the woods but relished in rich a Bolognese-y pasta sauce. Wine: Brunello di Montalcino! Be still my beating heart!

Did I mention the cheeses? The gorgeous affordable leather goods? (I’ll bring an extra suitcase.) The town squares. The churches. The art and history. The panoramas…

I’m going back!
Join me! For the writing, for the WRITERs, for the food, wine, leather, and wild boar.

Do you have memories of Tuscany? Italy? Here are memories from MY memory book... we'll be making new ones to follow!

Hallie Ephron will be teaching a 2019 summer writing workshop in Tuscany.
She will be writer-in-residence offering a personalized, intensive writing workshop (“From Inspiration to Book”) 5/29-6/7/2019 near Castellini in Chianti. For writers who are just getting started as well as mid-level writers who are already experienced and accomplished. Register now and enjoy this incredible experience in Tuscany and propel your own writing to the next level. More information at or email Hallie at

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Please Send Mrs Patmore

DEBORAH CROMBIE: The Instant Pot is everywhere these days! 

But while I'm reading that this miraculous gadget can do anything and everything, I don't actually know anyone who has one, so I thought I would ask the REDS

Do I want one? Is it worth giving up an appliance that I love, say, my slow cooker, or heaven forbid, my Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker (which I absolutely could not live without) because the appliance space in my kitchen is limited and something would have to go. One friend who is a gourmet cook says the instant pots are only for people who don't cook, or don't know how to cook.

But nevertheless I am tempted by all the literature that says they can cook rice, make yogurt, steam, saute, and do a hundred other things. (Making yogurt is easy in the slow cooker, but fiddly, with constant checking of temperature, then leaving the slow cooker swaddled in a towel overnight.)

And the cookbooks! There are hundreds of Instant Pot cookbooks, for everything from Italian to Mexican to Indian to French--and that was the one that really tempted me. Ann Mah, author of the novel THE LOST VINTAGE, and of the wonderful memoir MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH EATING, has just come out with an Instant Pot cookbook, INSTANTLY FRENCH

This woman knows her cooking, especially French cooking, and the recipes sound fabulous. Would it be crazy to buy an appliance in order to try a cookbook?

REDS, has anyone tried the Instant Pot? If not, are you tempted?

JENN McKINLAY: I have a few friends who swear by them. I'm not sold yet mostly because I am fixated on getting a Roomba. Any appliance that comes into this house has to be able to suck up the ridonkulous amount of pet hair that seems to accumulate overnight -- every night. Anyone have a Roomba? How do you like it?

DEBS: Jenn, we had an older version, which we did not love. (LOTS of pet hair in this house!) I hear the Roombas are much smarter now, but I swear by my Dyson V6. I don't know how I ever lived without it. I use it every single day.

HALLIE EPHRON: I'm so behind the times, I don't even have a crockpot. I remember reading somewhere that despite the hype, the Instant Pot's not all it's cracked up to be. It's a pressure cooker/slow cooker, right? My counter space is limited so I'm unlikely to buy anything that needs a spot on the counter. The one kitchen gadget I bought this year was a digital instant read meat thermometer. I LOVE IT! And it takes up as much room as a paring knife. Win win. 

RHYS BOWEN: Please do not tell my husband about this! In our house we have the graveyard of dead appliances in a corner cupboard.. He has bought, over the years, a sausage maker, bread maker, meat slicer, veggie juicer, etc etc. So he'd just run out and buy an instant pot. I use the slow cooker occasionally. It does lamb shanks really well. But apart from my pressure cooker, I would rather just cook in regular pans. In fact, I've been so busy recently that I'd like to borrow Mrs. Patmore from Downton Abbey to do all my cooking for me!

LUCY BURDETTE: Let's all share Mrs. Patmore this month! No instant pot for me either. I have on the counters two toasters, coffee pot, large crockpot, Cuisinart, and Kitchenaid mixer. We had to put the ice cream maker in storage that I bought a couple of years ago after your post here Debs:). There's just no room! Although the Ann Mah is very tempting. Could the recipes be made in a slow cooker?

DEBS: LOL, Lucy, the ice cream maker lives in our hall closet, which is just fine. No room at the kitchen inn! Maybe we should do a post on what we keep out on our kitchen counters... Eeek!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: What's a instant pot? But I could not live without my meat thermometer--my meal-saving go-to forever. My favorite thing recently? Silly, but an apple corer. It's just a sharp cylinder that you jab through the apple. It is PERFECT.  P.S. Please send Patmore.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Rhys, I started laughing at "sausage maker" and haven't stopped. Does John actually USE any of those gadgets? or does he get them as "labor saving" devices for you?

No Instant Pot for me. At this stage in my life, an appliance has to do many things well, or one thing that I need every day. So for instance, I have on my counter a well-loved toaster oven (several things), a toaster (everyday), an instant kettle (everyday, and necessary because I've burned out THREE (3) teakettle bottoms on the stove over the years), a Sony under-cabinet radio/cd player (daily NPR fix) and Alexa. I LOVE YOU, ALEXA.

I also have a slow cooker, which is the best thing ever, and it lives inside a cabinet.

But maybe I need a sausage maker?

DEBS: Wah! No one else is even tempted? Does this mean I have to be the one to put an Instant Pot on my Christmas wish list so that I can share the results? 

Or maybe I'll just ask for Mrs. Patmore...

What about you, readers? Anyone tempted by the gadget that does everything? (Except write books...)

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Gift of a Week

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  When Thanksgiving falls late in the calendar it seems like we are thrown headlong into the holiday melee. But this year we have a WHOLE WEEK (eight days, to be exact) between Thanksgiving and the first of December. For me, this brings a huge sigh of relief. We are still very autumnal here in north Texas, as you can see.We had unusually heavy rains in October, so we have much more color in the trees than we usually see, even so late in the season.

View across Debs' patio

And as I missed almost a month of autumn at home when I was in the UK, I'm loving having a week longer to enjoy the turning leaves and crisp golden days, to dream of soups and stews and apple pies rather than Christmas shopping.

We actually put up our Christmas lights on the day after Thanksgiving, because it was warm, and because my hubs is a stickler for tradition on that. But our tree (because we get a real one) won't go up until at least the end of the first week in December, and I am only vaguely entertaining thoughts of Christmas presents and decorating. I want to enjoy the end of autumn before it is Christmas and then winter and then the year is gone... Doesn't it seem like we are always being pushed too fast into the next season, the next holiday, without having the chance to savor the moment?

Dear Reds, what are you all doing with your extra week? I am writing writing writing madly towards the end--finally--of my book, so for me this extra week is a huge blessing.

JENN McKINLAY: Cleaning. All of my deadlines got rolled back this year, so the book that was due on Nov 1 was suddenly due Sept 1 to accomodate the book originally due Feb 1 that was moved to Nov 1. Crazy, right? Needless to say, life became a blur and my house, the frat house, is a disaster. So, I am taking this week to clean because come Dec 1, I have to start working on the book that is now due Feb 1 because I thought I should wedge in another book since I suddenly had a window of time. I need therapy!

HALLIE EPHRON: Errands. A gazillion of them, starting with taking my car in for a recall (deadly airbags). And I confess I got a head start on my Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving online and a quick trip to my favorite store, Marshalls. Oh, and a trip to the mall (for exercise. Really.)

I've turned in my novel again and now I have time to focus on a short story I agreed to write when it seemed like I had all the time in the world to write it. If only I had an idea...

RHYS BOWEN: I'm afraid this week is all planned out. Monday is our wedding anniversary, Tuesday is John's birthday, Wednesday is packing up and cleaning, Thursday is driving as far as Pasadena, Friday is driving the rest of the way home to Marin, Saturday is attending a Christmas fundraiser. Life has been rather crazy for a while. We have made an offer on a house in Phoenix but just found out the inspection has turned up lots of things we don't like.. so not sure how this will go. Oh, and I'm writing my next stand-alone in my spare time! As for Christmas cards, I haven't even started yet.

LUCY BURDETTE: I love the idea of an extra week in November and I have high hopes for this time, beginning with 1000 words a day (channeling Rhys and Jenn here...) And get the decorations up, get the Christmas cards out, start packing gifts for the kids on the other side of the country. However, as I write this, I am desperately craving a nap. Maybe that would get things jump started??

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  There's an extra week? Huh. No matter..everything is all stacked up so much that I'm like--what's due TOMORROW? and that's what I do. But the last of the copy edits went in Sunday. Crossing fingers. I need to make a few new book  proposals. La de dah. I have about a week to do that. NO problem. (that was sarcastic.)  I have a book event every day but Friday!  All good, all fun, all crazy.   Book cover reveal next week. And then who knows. Holiday cards. Oh, good idea. xoxoxo But the kids were fabulous over Thanksgiving, and best turkey ever. So I am spending my "extra week" if you say so, happy!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Writing, writing, writing. I spent days before Thanksgiving cleaning, shopping and cooking and didn't get ANY writing done, despite the fact I told my editor I'd have the ms done by the end of November. Yeah, not so much. I'm still shooting for early December, though, which means I'm delighted to have breather between Turkey day and the day when we start traditionally getting ready for Christmas - the first Sunday of Advent.

It's December 2nd this year, and although I technically don't have to do any decorating at the usual time, one thing going solo has taught me is stick to the schedule! I waited to bring the 2 cords of seasoned wood into the wood room until "after Thanksgiving," thinking I could have some help from the kids while they were around... and instead we got eight inches of snow and freezing rain the week before the holiday. Now I have two cords buried beneath a shroud of snow (don't worry, they're well-covered in tarps.) Am I going to worry about it now? Hell no. It's nothing but writing for me until next Sunday.

DEBS: Rhys, happy anniversary to you and John!!! Happy birthday to John!! And good luck with driving and your house adventures!

Hallie and Lucy, enjoy a bit of a break.

Hank, if anyone needs a few extra days, it's you, xoxo!

Jenn, your deadlines are insane!! Now, if Julia and I can just channel some Jenn, we'll get those books finished in no time...

And Julia, so nice to know that someone else is in exactly the same boat. We will row together!

Readers, are you enjoying a little lull between the Thanksgiving and Christmas madness? Tell us what you're up to this week!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

After the Storm by Susan Cerulean

LUCY BURDETTE: You might remember my sister, Susan Cerulean, from her post about standing with the people of Standing Rock two years ago. She is a talented writer and a tireless and fierce advocate for the natural world and its creatures. October 10, she and her husband and millions of North Florida residents hunkered down through the harrowing winds of Hurricane Michael, and have been reeling from the damage. (The link is to her article in Sierra Magazine about this experience.) I thought this would be a good time to invite her back...

SUSAN CERULEAN: On November 13, Rhys Bowen mused on this blog about escaping to special places she loves, in these troubled times. Places that might be safer. Places untouched by violence and wildfire and climate change.

Part of me wants to escape, too.  But what happens when even your beloved place of solace is hurt or destroyed by fire, wind, storm or violence?

Hurricane Michael, a Class 4 hurricane with wind speeds topping 150 miles per hour, buzz-sawed through North Florida four weeks ago.  My special place, a coastal barrier island with wide beaches, enormous sand dunes and green pine forests, was slammed by the eastern bands of that storm.  The island, a national wildlife refuge, didn’t receive the attention of nearby, hard-hit communities of Panama City, Mexico Beach and Port Saint Joe, because no people live there. 

But a week after the storm, my husband and I kayaked over to the island, and were shocked at the loss of miles of tall, 800-year-old sand dunes, the island's first line of defense.  Nor could we account for the hundreds of brown pelicans, black skimmers, gulls and terns that had made their homes--the places where they nest and rest and raise their young--on the island.
I knew I couldn’t bring back the birds or the dunes, or stop hurricanes or the sea level from rising, but I knew what I could do: pick up trash left behind by the storm.

I cleared about a mile of the beach of plastic, enough it seemed, to fill a Walmart.  Four enormous trash cans, watering cans and golf tees, fishing poles and buckets, chairs and children’s toys, and even the signs that had marked off the nesting bird areas.

It was a cool beautiful day, and somehow, in all those hours of schlepping and hauling trash, I found some happiness.  When the birds do come back, they won’t find their refuge choked with storm debris.  And perhaps, I thought, the beaches, now doubled or tripled in width, would offer attractive nesting to sea turtle nesting next year.

What do you turn to when the problems of the world feel overwhelming?

Writer and naturalist Susan Cerulean divides her time between Indian Pass and Tallahassee, Florida. Her most recent book, Coming to Pass, Florida's Coastal Islands in a Gulf of Change, won a gold medal from the Florida Book Awards in 2016. The book is now available as a paperback from the University of Georgia Press.

You can read more about Susan on her blog


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Jane Willan on Murderous Pastors

LUCY BURDETTE: At my publisher's (Crooked Lane Books) cocktail party in Toronto, I met debut author Jane Willan. She had laryngitis, so could hardly croak loudly enough to be heard over the music in the bar. But I could tell she was delightful--a pastor with a second career writing murder mysteries set in Wales--what's not to like? Today I'm delighted to introduce her to you...JANE WILLAN: The worship service had just ended, and I grabbed a much-needed cup of coffee in the church fellowship hall. Having just preached a rousing sermon, concluded the yearly pledge drive, and told turkey jokes to the Sunday School children, I was experiencing my usual post-worship-service-fatigue. As I stood contemplating the platters of homemade cookies spread out for the congregation’s social hour, a church member approached me. “Well, Pastor,” he said. “I’ve read both of your books now.”

I waited the prescribed ten seconds for a possible compliment, and when it didn’t arrive, I smiled and said, “Oh good. Did you enjoy them?”

“I did,” he said. “You made me feel as if I was right in Wales the whole time I was reading.”

I inwardly beamed. I had labored over my descriptions of the Welsh countryside where I have set my mystery series, and I am always glad to hear that I’ve done at least a decent job of depicting it.

“How long did you live in Wales?” he asked, selecting a cookie from the table.

“Oh, I’ve never lived in Wales,” I told him taking a cautious sip of coffee. Church coffee is characteristically lukewarm, weak, and in a paper cup. But after leading worship for an hour, it hits the spot.


“No. I wrote the whole book without ever having been there.” I have always thought my accomplishment was a great testimony to Google.

“Oh,” he said with a slight frown. “How disappointing.”

“It is? Why?” I suddenly really needed a cookie to go with my coffee. This discussion of my books seemed to be turning into a conversation that called for major carbs. With frosting.

“That means you made it all up,” he said and walked off.

Well, true! I did make it all up. I thought that was why we called it fiction. Perhaps my church member thought my books were going to be like my sermons—factual (at least for the most part). What I didn’t tell him is that I really enjoy the making-it-all-up part of the writing process. Every day when I sit at my keyboard, I enter my private world of Father Selwyn and Sister Agatha. I step through the doors of Gwenafwy Abbey built during the Norman Invasion and nestled in the rolling green hills of North Wales. I experience a place where a round of tea and cakes can solve everything—even murder. I loved building a world entirely of my choosing—in other words, making it all up. Maybe in the eyes of the congregation, pastors aren’t supposed to “make it all up.” But then I am a pastor who writes about murder. I have to make up at least some of it.

Sometimes people ask me, how can a pastor write about murder? The answer is an easy one-- there is no better place to set a mystery than in a church. Nor is there anyone more qualified to solve it, than a member of the clergy. Just ask Father Brown or Clare Ferguson or Brother Cadfael. Clergy are natural sleuths because we are always sifting through questions of right and wrong, order and chaos, good and evil. In the same way that a detective confronts the dark side of humanity, so does a pastor---although my clerical detectives seem to chase down good and evil much more effectively than I ever have in real life.

However, it isn't just good and evil that pastors confront. The melodrama within a church community can also be an excellent source of victims and suspects. I have a lot of experience with ecclesial drama (which can sometimes overtake an otherwise respectable congregation) and believe me—it is the perfect setting for murder.

Although there is not a lot of mystery and mayhem in my own parish, First Congregational Church of Paxton (at least not most days), my parishioners are extraordinarily supportive of my writing. The ladies of the church hosted a fabulous launch party for the release of each book. The book launch parties were complete with gouda cheese (the murder weapon in The Shadow of Death), Welsh cakes, and Welsh Brew tea which they served in quaint, antique-looking teapots and teacups. The centerpiece on each table was a diorama of a scene from the book. In the second book, The Hour of Death, Sister Agatha wears a red jumper and a blue wooly hat. The ladies in our church knitting circle made a replica sweater and hat! Not only is their involvement a lot of fun—it is a beautiful statement of their support for my writing.

A pastor who writes about murder? It makes perfect sense to me.

About The Hour of Death: As Yuletide settles upon Gwenafwy Abbey, the rural Welsh convent’s peace is shattered when Tiffany Reese, president of the Village Art Society, is found dead on the floor of the parish hall. Sister Agatha, whose interests lie more with reading and writing mystery stories than with making the abbey’s world-renowned organic gouda, is not shy about inserting herself into the case. With the not-entirely-eager assistance of Father Selwyn, she begins her investigation.

You can follow Jane on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for her newsletter here.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Black Friday Books

LUCY BURDETTE: Reds, what are you doing today?? Anyone braving the Black Friday shopping crowds? I won’t be out there, unless it’s a bookstore. Speaking of books as gifts, how about sharing one recommendation for a book to give for the holidays?

Here's mine: For kids of all ages, I can't rave enough about Bolivar by Sean Rubin, about a little girl living in New York City who discovers a dinosaur living next door. The illustrations are flat out stunning and the story is terrific, too.

HALLIE EPHRON: I'm with my own "little girl living in NYC"... my 5-year-old granddaughter who is a pip. And her baby brother who climbs and jumps off things all day long. Bolivar sounds like a book they'd like. They have the Knuffle Bunny books which are set practically in their neighborhood in Brooklyn. I'm reading a book for our times, POST-TRUTH by Lee McIntyre, a slender volume written by a philosopher (who also writes crime novels).

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  LOVED Post Truth. It's brilliant. (in fact, I gave it as birthday gifts to the adult kids over the last year!)  For kids, I just saw Ada Twist, Scientist, by Andrea Beaty, which celebrates girl power and women scientists, and it looks amazing. I always give the Edward Eager books to older kids--9 -ish--they are  wonderful classics, about family and magic and curiosity and sibling power.

For adults, hmm. I haven't read it, but Michelle's book (;-) ) looks pretty irresistible. (And I am deep into book judging, so more I cannot say.) And it's the opposite of festive, but The Radium Girls by Kate Moore is chilling and important--about the women who pointed the  radium dials on watches, and what happened to them, and what happened to occupational health and safety laws as a result.

And no, I would not set ONE TOE into a store on Black Friday. Forget about it.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Oooh, I love these suggestions. I'm definitely going to check out Bolivar for Wren. I will have to have a good prowl through a bookstore in the next couple of weeks for my gift ideas. I would recommend Ann Mah's THE LOST VINTAGE. It was one of my favorite reads of the year. It's such a good mix of contemporary France, history, mystery, and romance.

No Black Friday shopping for me!!! Although I do want to do more in local stores this year, and resist the lure of on

RHYS BOWEN: No Black Friday for me either. John and I went once to a big electronics store and found amazing bargains... then we saw the line to check out went all the way around the store. No thank you. No bargain is worth that much of my time! I have resorted to Amazon gift cards when I can't come up with anything else. One son-in-law loves to read but he will probably have read all the recently released mysteries/thrillers. Debs I must get THE LOST VINTAGE. I love books set in France.

The book I would love to give as a gift is the WONKY DONKEY. Such a fun book! Alas I have no little children on my list any longer. I'll have to give it to myself and read it out loud. I'm just reading the new Kate Morton and I have to say I'm having a hard time getting into it. So many narrators and time periods and it seems that one of them is a ghost...I was so looking forward to this too. I may put it down and start on Louise Penny's latest. Always a big treat.

How about you Red readers? Black Friday shopping? A holiday book recommendation?