Wednesday, December 27, 2006

From Cheryl St.John: readers' favorite covers

Thought you might like to see readers' favorite historical covers of the year if you haven't already done so. This contest used to be held at AAR, but was moved to its own website this year.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Victoria Bylin: Christmas Romance

"A young reindeer with a flawed nose must prove himself to Santa and win the heart of Clarice, the young doe who's stolen his heart."

That’s a tagline for "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." I love that show! We watch it every year, and I always root for Rudolph and cheer when he and Clarice kiss at the very end.

My husband likes the action. Will Yukon Cornelius save the day? What about the Bumble? Will everyone escape from the Island of the Lost Toys? It’s a glorious moment when Rudolph lights up the night with his nose so bright and Santa delivers his load of toys.

The TV show debuted in 1964. It’s lasted more than forty years and is still going strong. Why? Because of “story.” Because it’s authentic. Because we all want Rudolph to triumph and live happily ever after with Clarice. That’s why the romance genre endures. It’s also why Christmas is such a joyous time of the year. It’s a chance to believe the best, hope for the best, give the best. May we all soar like Rudolph!

Best wishes for the most joyous of holidays!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Michelle Styles: MInce pies

Confession time: As a child growing up in California, I used to think -- how awful, why would anyone want to eat mincemeat -- meat made sweet. I avoided my mother's mincemeat pie like the plague, preferring pumpkin or apple. In fact anything but...
Then I spend my junior year of college at Lancaster University, Lancaster England and discovered English mince pies. During December, wherever you go, they always have mince pies. It is a big deal. Surely they couldn't be that bad. I tried one and discovered they are lovely.

Mincemeat has evolved (this happened sometime during the 19th century), and either contains beef suet (think beef lard) if traditional or else butter or margarine. No cut up chunks of meat either. Instead a delicious blend of dried fruits, brandy and sugar.

Mince pies are served in the UK as tiny individual pies, rather than as huge multi-sliced pies. This is why in the UK, it is traditional to always eat the mince pie up. And to make a wish on every mince pie you eat. In parts of the UK, it is traditional to eat a mince pie every day during the twelve days of Christmas. It is considered very bad form to refuse a mince pie if offered one -- so it is just as well that British mince pies are so very delicious.

I normally buy my mincemeat from the supermarket as they have a number of jars, and then simply spoon it into shortcrust pastry that I have made, and put on a lid using my star cookie cutter. When the pies come out of the oven, I sprinkle them with icing sugar( powder sugar). Mincemeat pies are fantastic hot from the oven. The children now do this on Christmas eve and we eat freshly made mince pies while watching the Carols from King's College Service on the telly, just after we have come back from the Village Crib service (the Navity or Chreche service)

In the UK, children leave out a mince pie and a glass of sherry for Father Christmas.

This is recipe I use if I am making pies for the Village carol service as it makes tons. Luckily, it also does keep.

2oz almonds chopped
4 oz candied peel (chopped)
1 lb cook apples, chopped but not peeled
8 oz suet (cut into small pies) or Melted butter or margarine (I use butter)
12 oz raisins
8 oz white raisins
8 oz currents
2 medium carrots
12 oz soft dark brown sugar
grated rind and juice of 2 lemons
grated rind and juice of 2 oranges
1 tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp allspice
pinch of salt
2 Tablespoons of treacle or honey (I use honey)
6 Tablespoons or to taste of brandy or rum

Keep one quart of fruit to one side. Put rest of fruit, carrots and nuts into food processor, pulse until minced. In a large mixing bowl place, mince fruit etc, the other fruit, and everything else except for brandy. Cover with clean cloth and leave in a cool place like a pantry or refrigerator for 48 hours.
Then place in a cool oven (250F) (I use the simmering oven of the Aga) for 3 hours. Remove and allow to completely cool. Add alcohol to taste. Pack into sterilised jars as you would jam.

Have a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.
Michelle Styles

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Kate Bridges: The History of Kissing Under the Mistletoe

The holiday season has always been a feast for the senses—the fragrance of pine, the rich taste of eggnog and cinnamon, velvet packages beneath the tree and pretty red bows attached to evergreen in our doorways. But has anything produced more smiles than two sweethearts lingering under the mistletoe, hoping for a kiss? Perhaps you’ve lingered there yourself.

For thousands of years, mistletoe has been considered a magical plant. Mistletoe is an evergreen and there are over 1300 varieties around the world. Kissing beneath it was first associated with Ancient Greek and Roman festivals, and later in primitive marriage rites.

Some say our modern-day custom of kissing under the mistletoe originated centuries ago in Scandinavia, where it arose from Norse mythology. Mistletoe was associated with the goddess of love. When her son was slain by a poisonous arrow of mistletoe, the goddess cried great tears of sorrow, which turned into the white berries of mistletoe and revived him. Thereafter, kissing someone beneath the mistletoe was considered great luck, love and goodwill.

The Druids in northern Europe used mistletoe to decorate the coming of winter and used the plant for healing powers against female infertility and poison ingestion, and as an aphrodisiac. Ancient Romans used it to treat tumors and cancers, something modern-day medical researchers are currently investigating. It was said that meeting an enemy in the forest beneath a sprig of mistletoe meant they had to lay down their arms and declare a truce. From that time forward, hanging mistletoe and kissing beneath it was a sign of peace and friendship.

In the 18th century, the English developed a kissing ball. It was made of many types of greenery and decorated with berries and ribbons. A young lady standing beneath it could not refuse a kiss. If she remained unkissed, she couldn’t expect to marry the following year. In France, the custom was reserved for New Year’s Day. Today, kisses beneath the mistletoe are exchanged anytime during the holiday season.

Kissing balls were also popular in the Wild West Frontier. They're simple to make. Start with a round potato as a base. Collect several types of greenery: pine, juniper, boxwood, holly, cedar, ivy and/or mistletoe. Soak the greenery in water over night to maintain freshness. The next day, insert the greenery into the potato until completely covered. Decorate with ribbons, berries, pine cones, and acorns. Insert a long wire to hang it off the doorway.

Happy holidays and all the best in the coming New Year,

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

At Mammaw's for Christmas

When I was a child, my family always went to Mammaw and Granddaddy’s house for Christmas. Both Mammaw, my mother’s mother, and Granddaddy, a pharmacist licenced in 1910, had grown up in hot, rural settings in Texas where it was customary to eat the big meal of the day at noon and, of course, have a little nap afterwards. In my memory they lived in a tiny town in east Texas—two hundred souls counting cats and dogs—and operated a combination drugstore/general store.

Mammaw had two jobs in life—cooking and sewing—and she did both marvelously. She cooked all morning, every morning, to be ready when Granddaddy came home from the drugstore. As soon as he hit the door each and every day, he would count every female in the house including the help and any girls down to one day old and shout, "What? Four women in this house can’t get dinner for one man?" He thought he was being funny.

Mammaw’s food was wonderful. Granddaddy ate well, and he knew it. Anything Mammaw wanted, all she had to do was ask. They had the kind of marriage all of us envy, helping one another through the vicissitudes of life and into old age with love and patience. Well, Mammaw had plenty of patience. They both had plenty of love.

Our Christmas dinner never varied—turkey, cornbread dressing (not stuffing), apple and banana salad, green beans, ambrosia served in Mammaw’s best crystal, and candied sweet potatoes. I thought about that dressing all year. Didn’t care much for the sweet potatoes or the ambrosia, a combination of orange sections, banana slices, and fresh coconut. For dessert we had fresh coconut cake, or Big’s fruit cake. My parents actually liked the fruitcake.

For the whole visit there was plenty to snack on—chunks of coconut left over from the cake, fudge, and my favorite, "sugared pecans". The binder for these is almost like a coating of white praline holding together the pecans. When I was newly married, I wrote to Mammaw and asked for that recipe. I’ll give to you just as she wrote it.

"Honey, you asked for the recipe for sugared pecans. Here it is.

½ cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
2 cups pecans
Cook to soft ball, add vanilla, beat till thick.
Love, Mammaw"

I always knew it was the love that made them so good. Knowing Mammaw better than you do, I’ll give you a hint or two. Cook only the cream and sugar to a soft ball. Then add one teaspoon vanilla and a chunk of real butter and beat till thick. Then add the pecans and mix well. Turn out onto a greased plate.

Have a peaceful Yuletide and a blessed new year.
Patricia Frances Rowell

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Joanne Rock: Medieval christmas

The medieval celebration of Christmas was a lengthier affair than we recognize today. The twelve days of Christmas began the day after Christmas and ran until the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. The season was sometimes celebrated all the way to February 2nd when pagans celebrated Candlemas and Christians recognized the Presentation of the Infant Jesus in the Temple. Medieval Christmas traditions include an extended period of socializing and rejoicing in Christ’s gifts to humanity.

Speaking of gifts, this act of exchanging presents was not part of the medieval celebration although gifts were often exchanged at the New Year. Christmas Day was more apt to be marked by feasting, games and music. Later in the medieval period, the performance of mystery plays became popular at this time of year.

Medieval Christmas decorations incorporated holly, mistletoe and ivy or any other greenery available during the early days of winter. The burning of a Yule log is also an ancient tradition. A medieval lord might bring home a huge piece of wood to keep the tradition in the hope the same log would burn all through the day and night. This aspect of the Christmas season has roots in pagan recognition of the winter solstice and the celebration of the return of sun.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Pam Crooks - Frontier Christmas

We all know how fast time flies. And yet, there are some things that never change.

Christmas on the Frontier was remarkably similar to the celebrations of today. Women, no matter how poor or desolate, were credited with bringing beloved holiday memories from their childhoods in the East to their own families settled in the West.

Trees, if one could be found, were brought in on Christmas Eve and left up until Epiphany. They were decorated with bits of yarn or fringe, candles, paper or straw ornaments, and the like. Homes and churches were festive with evergreens and berries. Children believed in Santa who came on Christmas morning. Greeting cards were mailed when possible, turkeys were roasted, cookies, pies and cakes baked days beforehand.

One recipe still popular today as it was then is the traditional egg nog. Different than the paper carton variety we find in our grocery store dairy cases, the following recipe has endured from the Civil War, much to the dismay of temperance organizations at the time.

Egg Nog

4 egg yolks
4 Tbs. sugar
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup brandy
¼ cup wine
4 egg whites
Grated nutmeg

Beat the egg yolks until light; slowly beat in the sugar, cream, brandy and wine. Whip the egg whites separately, and then fold into the other ingredients. Sprinkle with nutmeg to serve.

Mmm. Tasty and timeless.

Merry Christmas!

Pam Crooks

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Victoria Bylin: Cookies!

As long as I can remember, someone in my family has made almond crescent cookies at Christmas. My grandmother started the tradition, probably back in the 1930s when she had small children of her own. She made cookies by the hundreds, maybe even the thousands, and gave them to friends as gifts.

Somewhere along the line, I picked up the tradition. I love to bake, but I don't make the cookies the same way my grandmother did. She used a hand-cranked meat grinder to turn the almonds into a coarse powder. I use a blender. She set the butter on the counter to soften. I soften it in the microwave, about 10 seconds on power 2.

The world has changed, but the cookies are still delicious!

Almond Crescents

1/2 lb. raw almonds (whole, unblanched)
1 lb. butter or margarine
1 c. granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
4 c. flour

Set the oven to 300 degrees. Soften the butter. If you do it in the microwave, go slow. If it turns to liquid, you have to start over with new butter. It should be creamy, not watery. Mix the butter and sugar. Add the vanilla and mix well. Next, grind up the almonds. I use an old blender. The goal is to turn the almonds into a coarse powder. Add the almonds and mix well. Add the flour and keep mixing. The dough will be thick. At some point, I give up on the spoon and squish it with my fingers. Shape the cookies into crescents. Mine are roughly the size of my index finger, maybe a bit bigger. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Let them cool, then roll in powdered sugar. Makes about 8 dozen

Santa knows all about these cookies. If you leave a few out on Christmas Eve, he'll appreciate it.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Nicola Cornick: Inspiration for Lord Greville's Captive

My seventeenth century historical, Lord Greville's Captive, is published this month by Harlequin Historicals and I thought that I would share the inspiration behind the writing of the book. First there was the inspiration of the lovely Dougray Scott, seen here in his role in the film To Kill A King. I had the picture beside me as I wrote! But the original idea started a long time ago...

Ten years ago I lived in a seventeenth century cottage in a village in Somerset. It was a fabulous place with a huge open fire, low beams and lots of little nooks and crannies. One evening as night was falling, I was reading in front of the fire and glanced up to see a figure crossing the courtyard in the twilight. He was tall and dark, and was dressed in a flowing white shirt and breeches, with a plumed hat on his head. He walked straight past the window and seemed to disappear through a blocked up doorway in the wall! As you might imagine, I sat there for a long time simply staring at where he had been and wondering whether I had imagined the whole thing! I never saw my cavalier again but I started to research the history of the village and discovered that a troop of cavalry had passed through on their way to the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685…

From that research came the idea for Lord Greville’s Captive. It’s set against the background of the English Civil War, when the forces of parliament, fighting for liberty and democracy, took on the increasingly autocratic personal rule of King Charles I. Like any civil war it was a time of intense personal suffering when men and women were forced to choose between conflicting loyalties, and the struggle could tear families apart and set father against son. On my website at there is a very moving letter from Sir William Waller to his friend Sir Ralph Hopton, both landowners in the West Country near Bath, that illustrates the anguish of men who had been comrades and close friends and were now in opposition:

"That great God, which is the searcher of my heart, knows with what a sad sense I go about this service, and with what a perfect hatred I detest this war without an enemie. The God of peace in his good time send us peace. In the meantime... we are upon this stage and must act those parts that are assigned to us in this tragedy. Let us do it with honour and without personal animosity. Whatever the outcome is I shall never willingly relinquish the title of
Your most affectionate friend
William Waller."

Such sentiments might have been expressed by some of my characters. In Lord Greville's Captive Simon Greville and his father are on different sides. Anne, the heroine of my book, was betrothed to Simon at seventeen but when the Civil War intervened their engagement was broken and Anne’s family now supports the King whilst Simon fights for the parliament. When the conflict brings Simon back to Anne’s home of Grafton Manor, he realises that the desire he has for Anne has never died. He holds her hostage and vows to possess her, body and soul. But fighting on different sides of the conflict, how can Anne and Simon ever find love and passion in each other’s arms?

I hope that you enjoy the story of Anne and Simon, passionate enemies and equally passionate lovers.

Nicola Cornick

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Pam Crooks - Ten Interesting Things

Any author who writes in a bygone era will be compelled to do hordes of research to bring her story to life. Literally hours can be spent on the Internet, at the public library or thumbing through reference books at home.

Unfortunately, because of sheer logistics, very little of the information found can make it in the story. Too much can drag an exciting story down to the level of a textbook.

Of course, while writing HER LONE PROTECTOR, released this month from Harlequin Historicals, the same thing happened to me. Here’s some interesting bits of trivia I learned:

1. The Brown Palace Hotel, the setting for the opening scene in HER LONE PROTECTOR, is still in existence today as a luxurious hotel in Denver. Each of the six tiers of balconies is surrounded with cast iron panels depicting dancing women. However, two panels were mistakenly installed upside down, making the ladies look like they’re standing on their heads.

2. After the loss of her second child, President McKinley’s wife, Ida, fell sickly and was often plagued with epileptic seizures. She kept a busy social schedule with her devoted husband, who took her affliction in stride. When a seizure appeared impending, he merely tossed a handkerchief over her face until the episode passed.

3. Moments after President McKinley was shot in the abdomen by anarchist Leon Czolgosz, chaos erupted. McKinley saved Czolgosz’ life by commanding to the frenzied mob, “Go easy on him, boys.” Czolgosz was later executed at Auburn Prison in New York.

4. After his assassination, President McKinley’s wife mourned him until her own death. Ida kept a picture of him sewn into her silk knitting bag. She crocheted 4,000 pairs of bedroom slippers to pass her days and donated them all to charities.

5. Immigrant laborers were ‘sweated’ in the garment industry of the 1890’s, meaning they were forced to squeeze out more work for less in squalid environments, usually crowded tenements, often a tiny room owned by a boss where his family lived. Hence the term ‘sweatshops.’

6. For example, an above-named laborer would sew linings into suit jackets and be paid five cents per dozen. At a rate of about a lining every five or six minutes, s/he could finish a dozen linings in an hour. S/He would work sixteen hours a day, 6 days a week, (a total of nearly one hundred hours!) and earn five dollars.

7. The squalid tenements would house an immigrant family of seven or more in an area only 325 square feet, with one bedroom, no toilet, no bath or shower, no running water.

8. President Abraham Lincoln created the United States Secret Service on April 14, 1865. Later that night, he was assassinated.

9. The Secret Service was originally formed to fight the nation’s counterfeiting woes. The agency did not start protecting the president until two more were assassinated (James Garfield and William McKinley.)

10. The Triangle Waist Company fire--the inspiration for HER LONE PROTECTOR--was the worst workplace disaster in New York history. In a matter of minutes, 146 people perished. 123 of them were women.

M&B Super H:Yuletide Weddings

Three fair maidens are about to join three lords in the blessed union of marriage…
The Wise Virgin by New York Times bestselling author Jo Beverley
A lord from a rival family steals the wrong lady to be his brother’s bride, and discovers he actually wants to keep the witty and wise captive maiden!
The Vagabond Knight by Margaret Moore
During a Christmas blizzard a knight for hire and a stern beauty teach each other how to live and love again.
Christmas at Wayfarer Inn by Shari Anton
A nobleman disguised as a troubadour falls for an innkeeper’s beautiful daughter just days before the festive celebrations.

Buy Yuletide Weddings
Having been sold out earilier, it is now back in stock!

M&B Super H December Release: Redemption by Carolyn Davidson

Jake McPherson needed a bride
His young son needed a mother’s love and guidance. Though Jake craved only solitude and the peace of his happy memories, his son’s wants were more important. And who better to marry than the town’s spinster schoolmarm? Alicia Merriweather had so much love to give
She came to warn Jake that his son was running wild. But she stayed because beneath his gruff exterior she saw Jake’s pain. Having borne the brunt of ridicule all her life, Alicia understood loneliness all too well. But could Jake ever learn to share his home and his heart?
‘Davidson wonderfully captures gentleness in the midst of heartwrenching challenges.’ – Publishers Weekly

Buy Redemption

M&B H December Release: An Improper Companion by Anne Herries

A scandalous beauty
Daniel, Earl of Cavendish, finds the frivolity of the ton dull after the adventures and hardship of the Peninsular War. Boredom rapidly disappears when he’s drawn into the mystery surrounding the abduction of gently bred girls. His investigation endangers his mother’s new companion, Miss Elizabeth Travers. Although she is tainted by scandal, her cool and collected response commands Daniel’s respect – while her beauty demands so much more.
The Hellfire Mysteries
Three daring gentlemen who’ll brave all for the sake of the women they love!
Buy An Improper Companion

M&B H December Release: The Vagabond Duchess

He’d promised to return
But Jack Bow was dead. And Temperance Challinor’s quietly respectable life was changed for ever.
Practical Temperance has no time to grieve for the irresistible rogue who gave her one night of comfort in a blazing city. She must protect her unborn child – by pretending to be Jack’s widow.
A foolproof plan. Until she arrives at Jack’s home…and the counterfeit widow of a vagabond becomes the real wife of a very much alive duke!

Buy The Vagabond Duchess

M&B H December Release: The Viscount by Lyn Stone

She is a vicar’s daughter – while he is the Devil Duquesne
The young man who appears late at night at Viscount Duquesne’s door is not all he seems. Dressed as a boy to escape the hellhole in which she has been imprisoned, Lady Lily Bradshaw must throw herself on the mercy of a ruthless rake.
Viscount Duquesne is not known for his charitable spirit.
Yet he finds himself intrigued, then captivated, by this bold lady. He can’t refuse her audacious request for a helping hand…in marriage!
London, 1859

Buy The Viscount

M&B December Release: A Season of the Heart

Rocky Mountain Christmas by Jillian Hart
Summoned on a snowy night to deal with two stowaways, Sheriff Mac McKaslin discovers a young widow and her baby. But will he send them out into the cold…or find a warm place for them in his heart?
The Christmas Gifts by Kate Bridges
When Sergeant James Fielder arrives with a baby on his sled, he turns to Maggie Greerson for help. Maggie is happy to fulfil her dream of having a child – and explore the attraction that has always drawn her to James…
The Christmas Charm by Mary Burton
Determined to prevent her sister from marrying the wrong man, widow Colleen Garland enlists the help of her one-time love, Keith Garrett. Will their rescue mission finally lead them on the road to true love?

Buy the book

Saturday, December 02, 2006

December HH release: Lord Greville's Captive by Nicola Cornick

Years before, he had come to Grafton Manor to be betrothed to the innocent and beautiful Lady Anne—a promise that was broken with the onset of war….
Now Simon, Lord Greville, has returned as an enemy, besieging the manor and holding its lady hostage. Simon's devotion to his cause swayed by his desire for Anne, he will not settle for the manor house alone. He will have the lady—and her heart—into the bargain!
Yet Anne has a secret that must be kept from him at all costs….

Read Excerpt

Buy Lord Greville's Captive

December HH release: The Adventrous Bride by Miranda Jarrett

Lady Mary Farren is a sensible, practical country girl. But on her long-awaited Grand Tour, she's determined to find adventure. She's thrilled when the chance purchase of an unusual painting draws her into a mystery…and brings her to the attention of a handsome stranger!
Lord Fitzgerald thought she was just another pampered British miss—until he was confronted by her keen intelligence. Knowing full well that an impoverished Irish peer was no match for a duke's daughter, John still couldn't tear himself away from the ravishing Lady Mary…or the painting, said to hold clues to a fortune in gold.

Read excerpt

Buy The Adventurous Bride

December HH Release: Her Lone Protector by Pam Crooks

Hardened mercenary and fierce patriot Creed Sherman returns home, only to discover his childhood sweetheart married to his father! Hurt and betrayed, he means to leave America for good. Until he braves fire to save the life of Gina Briganti, an alluring Italian immigrant.
Captivated by her beauty, moved by her plight, he vows to protect Gina and bring her justice. But can this passionate man forget his past to give them both a bright new future?

Read excerpt

Buy Her Lone Protector

December HH Release: Moonlight and Mistletoe by Louise Allen

Guy Westrope, Earl of Buckland, was not a gentleman used to encountering opposition to his will.
But the quick-witted, stubborn and delectable Miss Hester Lattimer was proving to be more than a match for him….
Local ghost stories would not scare Hester from her new house—especially not at Christmas! Though her heart told her to trust the mysterious earl, she knew she had to be wary. Even if Guy was not behind the strange events, letting him get too close would inevitably reveal her scandalous past!

Read excerpt

Buy Moonlight and Mistletoe

December HH Release: The Earl and the Pickpocket by Helen Dickson

Heloise Edwina Marchant longs for the beauty and comfort of her former life, before she was forced to flee her family home. Coming to London in the guise of a boy, she has learned the hard way how to survive among the hovels and alleyways of St. Giles. There is shame in having to pick the pockets of unsuspecting passersby, and the inevitable happens—she is caught!
The gentleman who seizes hold of her is not angry for long. In fact, his firm kindness is almost her undoing. For he has come to St. Giles with a purpose—and she will help him if she doesn't want to be reported to the authorities. But how can she agree, when at any moment this good-looking man could find out that he is a she?

Read excerpt

Buy The Earl and the Pickpocket

December HH Release: Lady In Waiting by Anne Herries

On her way to being presented at court, Catherine Moor fights back with spirit when she is attacked in a teeming London street. Tales of Cat's adventure reach the queen, who—impressed with the young woman's lively mind—claims her as a lady of the bedchamber. Alert against plots that threaten to overthrow the crown, Cat realizes everyone is suspect. Even the flatteringly attentive Sir Nicholas Grantly, a seductive rogue, has secrets to hide beneath his charming exterior….

Read excerpt

Buy Lady in Waiting

Monday, November 27, 2006

Sharon Schulze: More Family Traditions

Our family has a number of traditions--for holidays and other occasions--as most families do. Some have been created more recently (those my hubby and I have established with our children), while others have been around for generations. One of the most enduring traditions in my family is playing games whenever we all get together.

I associate the game-playing tradition most strongly with my grandmother. Some of my earliest memories are of the multi-generational(as many as four generations!)gathering of family and friends around her table (often after Sunday dinner or a holiday feast), playing cards, dice, dominoes or board games. There was always a lot of laughter and good-natured teasing, fun and food. My grandmother was always ready to play, whether it was "Go Fish" or "Crazy Eights" with the young ones, or something like rummy or cribbage once we were old enough to move up to more complicated games. New games presented new challenges and were always welcome--and chances were, Grammy might very well beat you at the game you'd just taught her.

Along with learning to count, the logic of games, and how to win and lose (among other things), we learned lots about our family and got to know them as people, not just relatives to be visited for a few hours on holidays.

Gamesters of all ages need sustenance. Yummy finger foods work well, and a big favorite is our Holiday Cheese Spread:

Holiday Cheese Spread

2 5-oz. jars Kraft Roka Blue cheese
2 5-oz. jars Kraft Old English Cheddar cheese (you can find both cheeses in the grocery store refrigerator case)
2 8-oz. packages cream cheese
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 medium onion, finely chopped (or substitute reconstituted dried onions)
optional: walnut meats, finely chopped

Let cheeses soften to room temperature. Combine all cheeses, onion, and Worcestershire until well-blended (you may use a mixer). Pack into a small crock or decorative serving dish, top with chopped nuts, if desired. Chill until ready to serve. Serve with crackers, bread sticks or cut-up fresh vegetables.

This makes a large amount; recipe may be cut in half.

Enjoy, and may your holidays be happy!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Victoria Bylin: Family Traditions

My husband and I recently watched a show on the History Channel about Thanksgiving foods. Did you know that Green Bean Casserole, the one with French-style green beans, fried onions and mushroom soup, was created in the kitchens of the Campbell's Soup Company? Women newly graduated from college with degrees in Home Economics were asked to come up with something new for American families. It had to be different and it had to be easy.

That show got me thinking about our own Thanksgiving traditions. The turkey has to be the biggest in the store, and the gravy has to be made from scratch using my mom's flour-in-cold-water method. It works! No lumps! When it comes to the stuffing, though, I've hit a glitch. My mom always used Mrs. Cubison's. Mrs. Cubison's was the first stuffing-in-a-box. It's sold only on the west coast. After hunting high and low here in northern Virginia, I gave up. I use another brand now. It's good, but it's different.

This year we lost another tradition. I couldn't find brown-and-serve rolls. They aren't that good, but they're familiar. As a child, I remember being in charge of making sure they didn't burn in the last-minute chaos.

There's nothing like seeing a family tradition in jeopardy to make you appreciate the memories. With that thought in mind, here's the recipe for our favorite cheesecake. It came from a newspaper in the 1950s.


I buy the crumbs and follow the directions on the box for a 9" pie crust. Set aside 2 Tbsp. of crumbs for the topping.

9 oz. cream cheese (3 3 oz. squares if you can find them)
8 oz. carton of sour cream
1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Set the cream cheese out to soften. When you can smear it easily with a spoon, add the sour cream and mix well. In a separate bowl, scramble the two eggs. Add the sugar and vanilla. Mix well. Add the cream cheese/sour cream mix. Mix well. Pour filing into pie crust. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Let it cool.

8 oz. sour cream
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Mix everything to together. Spread gently on the cheesecake with a spatula. Sprinkle with the leftover crumbs. Bake at 475 for 5 minutes or less.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Joanne Rock: A Medieval Holiday

Holiday meals during medieval times emphasized hearty portions and a wide array of food but cooks of the Middle Ages didn’t necessarily make specialty food items that were eaten only during the Christmas season. Rather, medieval cooks simply made large portions of many items in their repertoire to fill the lord’s table for the holiday period spanning from Christmas Day to the Epiphany.

One constant in the holiday menu, however, was a lack of fish since the Advent period marked a time of fasting. During the Advent time, as during Lent, cooks worked to find new ways of serving fish, culminating in a Christmas Eve feast that included a wide range of sea food. On Christmas Day, medieval people were ready for heartier fare and they indulged this hunger with many types of fowl, beef and boar’s meat. Boar’s head was carried into the great hall with ceremony, signifying the start of the feasting.

Authentic medieval recipes are difficult to come by since many recipes weren’t written down until the later Middle Ages and even then, there was an emphasis on preparation details instead of precise ingredients. Also, recreating medieval fare today can be challenging because the available spices were different from what we find on grocer’s shelves today. During the Christmas season, sugared fruits served in sauces played a large role. Ale breads and sweet breads were prominently featured. Mulled wine was a beverage staple. To learn more about historical cooking, visit where this recipe for marzipan appears.

Marchpane (marzipan)

from Rebecca A. C. Smith at

• 3/4 lb almond paste
• 1/4 cup powdered sugar
• 2 tbsp rose water
• 1/2 cup butter
• 1/3 cup sugar
• 1 egg, separated
• 1 1/4 cups flour
• 1 tbsp rose water
• 3 tbsp sugar
Mix almond paste and rosewater and set aside wrapped in plastic to keep from drying out. Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in egg yolk. Stir in flour a little at a time. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes. Roll dough on floured cookie sheet to about 9" in diameter. Trim edges and brush with egg white. Sprinkle a sheet of baker's parchment with 2 tsp of the powdered sugar. Pat out the almond paste and sprinkle with remaining powdered sugar. Top with another sheet of parchment and roll out to about 7-8" in diameter. Carefully remove top sheet of paper and turn the round over on top of the cookie base. Remove bottom sheet very carefully. Flute the outer edge of cookie base and bake at 375° F for 5 minutes, then lower to 325° F and bake 15 minutes more. Mix rose water and sugar, brush the top. Return to oven for 5 minutes then decorate.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Cheryl St.John: Grandma's Pumpkin Bread

Cheryl St.John :-)

Stir together:
4 c sugar
½ c canola oil
½ c extra light olive oil
1 large can pumpkin
Sift together and add:
5 c flour
4 tsp. soda
1 tsp. cloves
½ tsp. ginger
2 tsp. cinnamon
½-1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. salt (I use celtic sea salt in everything)
Nut meats, if desired

Pour into greased loaf pans.

3 large loaf pans-bake at 350 degrees for 1 hr 15 min
5 small loaf pans-bake at 350 degrees for approx. 1 hr

Loaves will keep for a long time if placed in plastic bags and stored in the refrigerator.

Serve warm with whipped cream. I especially love Extra Creamy Cool Whip on top.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Michelle Styles: A Dickens of A Christmas

The modern British Christmas was invented during the early Victorian period, and much of the rise in popularity is down to one man and his writing--Charles Dickens.
Prior to the mid 1830s when Dickens works were first being published, Christmas is a barely mentioned holiday. In 1824, for example The Gentleman's Magazine dismissed Christmas as being for the middling ranks. In 1833, the Charlton Club scheduled a regular committee meeting on December 25th. Only three attended. After such works as Sketches by Boz and A Christmas Carol, Christmas becomes much more widely celebrated. Christmas becomes fashionable, although certain thigns like trains run on Christmas day through out the period.
Uutil the 1830s, the vast majority of holiday celebrations took place on twelfth night or Epiphany with its Lord of Misrule and associated high jinks. With the advent of early Victorians and their emphasis on the family and charitable work, many Christmas traditions were begun and disseminated to a wider public.
Part of this may be due to Queen Victoria marrying Prince Albert, the German tradition was far more firmly focussed on Christmas Eve than twelfth night, but part was also a desire to bind the populace together and to bring about more of a community spirit. This drive for community spirit also led PrinceAlbert t be one of the main instigators of the Great Exhibition in 1851.
However, it is sometimes mistakenly assumed that Prince Albert introduced the Christmas tree to Britain. The first Christmas tree was recorded in 1789 with regard to the court of Queen Charlotte. There is silence for forty-two years, and then in 1831, a Swiss governess mentions a Christmas tree that her employers are setting in Durham. In Manchester around the same period, an observer wrote of pine tree tops being taken to market so that German merchants could decorate their homes. In 1845, the Illustrated London News takes the time to explain the custom to its readers. The Christmas tree really takes off in 1854, when Charles Dickens publishes a work where the Christmas tree, being adorned with packages has pride of place. His earlier work, A Christmas Carol has no such scene.
Christmas carols were also revived during this period. Both the early collectors of carols --David Gilbert and William Sandys thought carols survived in only a few remote areas such as Cornwall ,and needed to be preserved. Up to the 1850s, carols generally meant poems or the lyrics. Music was optional. Hence the reason Dickens could call his novella a carol. It is only with the advent of the piano in the 1850s that carol singing was truly revived and many of today's best loved carols were set to their traditional music. For example In the Bleak Mid-Winter is from 1851.
So what did inspire Dickens to write A Christmas Carol? Could have it been the Poor Law Board's instruction that workhouses ust not expect any work save housework by paupers in 1842? By 1847, the Board is allowing the workhouses to dole out extra food to inmates if they so desire. After the publication of A Christmas Carol, there is a big upsurge in the number of Christmas feasts provided by charities. But Father Christmas in his red bishop robes does not make an appearance until the 1880s. Before then he was mostly called Old Christmas and dresssed in green. This goes some way to explaing why the Ghost of Christmas Present is dressed the way he is.
The first Christmas cracker appears in 1847 as a fire-cracker sweet and the n a Bang of Expectations, invented by a confectioner named Tom Smith. The firm still exists -- making crackers complete with paper hats, trinkets and bad jokes.
The first commerically produced Christmas card happened in 1843, and its popularity was fuelled by the Penny post. By 1878 some 4.5 million cards went through the postal system, approximately the same as the number of Valentine Day's cards sent.

If you wish to know more about how the early Victorians shaped the modern British Christmas, Consuming Passions by Judith Flanders ISBN 0-00717295-8 is an excellent place to start.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Mistletoe Kisses and Holiday Traditions

Mistletoe Kisses by Elizabeth Rolls, Deborah Hale, and Diane Gaston.
A Regency Christmas Anthology in bookstores this month.

Praise for Mistletoe Kisses:

“A talented trio of authors brings together a triptych of heartwarming holiday stories perfect for the season. Though short stories, they are long on emotions and the true spirit of the season: redemption, forgiveness and love. When you need a pick-me-up from the holiday rush, grab one of these and you'll be rejuvenated and ready to celebrate the joy of family and friends.” – Romantic Times, 4 Stars

All good Regency Christmas Anthologies include Holiday Traditions of the the time period. Below the authors tell more about some of the traditions found in their novellas.

A Soldier's Tale by Elizabeth Rolls

Dominic, Viscount Alderley's family are looking to him to marry an heiress, but only his downtrodden, compassionate cousin Pippa seems able to ignore his scars….

"DH and I are greenies from way back. We've always loved having the biggest tree we can squeeze into the house - or get home for that matter! I once brought a seven foot tree home on my bicycle . . . As for the decorations; well, discretion may be the better part of valour, but it's got nothing to do with decorating a tree.

Two years ago when we moved to the country, DH and Small Boy #1 disappeared out to the back paddock after Sunday lunch just before Christmas, armed with a small saw. Small Boy was terribly excited to be going to cut down his very own Christmas tree. Half an hour later a yell of "Mummy! Come and see!" got me out onto the back porch. Well, as far as the doorway - the porch was full. Somehow we got the thing into the house and mounted in its stand. It touched the 12 foot ceiling and took up a quarter of our dining area. The kids thought it was fabulous. DH looked at in disbelief and muttered, "It looked a lot smaller in the paddock!"

Christmas trees of course were a European tradition, and not much used in England during the early part of the 19th century. They became popular after a photograph was published of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with all their numerous progeny crowded around one. After that everyone had one.
They are however part of the old pagan Mid-Winter festival, held at the Solstice to encourage the sun to return for another year. Anything green in the midst of the bleak, seeming-death of winter, such as holly, ivy, bay, rosemary and mistletoe, was considered a miracle promising fertility for the coming year. And the Yule log and the lighting of the fire symbolised the return of the sun and life as well.

When the Christian Church came along they subscribed to the if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em school of conversion, and simply planted the Christian Holy Days (holidays) on top of the old pagan celebrations, adding their own Christian symbolism to the prevailing traditions. The wonderful thing about a symbol is that it is very, very flexible. Just think of all those literary arguments about what books really "mean". The truth is a symbol can mean something slightly different for everyone, including the author. The promise of new life and renewal in the midst of death was just as appropriate to the Church as to the pagans.

I knew when I wrote "A Soldier's Tale" that Christmas trees were Out. But I was thinking of all this when Dominic's household decorated the Great Hall at Alderley - of all men he most needed that assurance of renewal and hope.


A Winter Night's Tale by Deborah Hale

This year's festivities for Christabel and her young son will be sparse and cold--or so she thinks. When the man she'd loved and lost returns, offering her warmth, comfort and a true family Christmas, she can't resist!

A Christmas tradition I included in A Winter Night's Tale is not unique to the Regency, but is one of the few that was part of the very earliest Christmas celebrations and still persists to the present -- music! I could live without a Christmas tree or gifts, perhaps even the turkey dinner more easily than I could a Christmas without its music. I remember so many Christmases as a child practicing special pieces for our junior choir to sing at our Candlelight service. One of my most special Christmas memories was of going carolling around my neighborhood with a group of friends on a snow Christmas Eve. For the past twenty years, my husband and I have often participated in "The Messiah from Scratch" where musicians from all over the city spend an evening rehearsing and singing the awe-inspiring music of Handel.

I have such a huge collection of Christmas CDs, I have to start playing them early in November. Not surprisingly, some of my favorites include music from the past that's been (nearly) forgotten. I highly recommend the two Carol Albums by The Taverner Consort. Another favorite is the a capella music of The King's Singers -- The Boar's Head Carol is one of my favorites. Here in Canada we have an amazing musical group Winterharp, who play such recreated medieval instruments as the Bass Psaltry, Organistrum and Nickelharpe, as well as the most beautiful harps. Here's a link to their website: Even closer to home, The Rankin Sisters released a wonderful Christmas album a few years ago, "Do You Hear What I Hear?" which includes a couple of Gaelic carols as well as a rollicking rendition of "Welcome Yule" and a touching one of "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree."

What is your favorite Christmas music? Is there a particular carol that brings back special memories? If you'd like to follow some other links to historical Christmas music or read Christmas scenes from some of my past novels, come visit my Historical Christmas page! Wishing all the HH readers a Happy Historical Holiday!


A Twelfth Night Tale by Diane Gaston

One impulsive night of love changed Elizabeth's life forever. Now, ten years later, Elizabeth and Zachary meet again. Will their second Twelfth Night together see their happiness reborn?

Learning more about the British customs, folklore, and legends of the holiday season was one of the joys of writing A Twelfth Night Tale. My heritage is mostly French/German (although I do have a Campbell for a great-great grandmother), so many of the British traditions were unfamiliar. I mean, I knew there was something called “wassail” from reading English Literature and Regencies and singing the Wassail Song, but I never knew exactly what wassail was (ale or wine spiced with roasted apples and sugar, yum).

One custom completely new to me was First-Footing. The legend has it that, in order to have good fortune all the year, an uninvited stranger--a dark man--should be the first to cross the threshold on New Years Day. He might carry symbolic gifts- salt (or a coin) for wealth; coal for warmth, a match for kindling, and bread for food. The householder might offer him food and drink. It was most desirable for this strange man to be tall, dark, and handsome. In some villages one tall, dark, and handsome fellow was selected to visit all the houses, receiving food and drink at each one. A tough job, but somebody had to do it!

First-Footing customs apparently stretched back to Greek culture. The hair color of the first-footer seemed to vary according to the area of Great Britain. Many sources indicated it was a very popular New Years tradition in Scotland and still is, in a varied form. Now friends visit friends and bring the traditional gifts and also share a wee dram of whisky.

Some places said the legend cautioned bad fortune to befall the house if a woman was first-footer, which I feel is sex discrimination! But then, equality for women didn’t occur to anyone for several centuries. Bad fortune would also ensue if the stranger, tall and handsome or not, was a fair man with blond hair. In other words, if he were a Norseman come to plunder and pillage.

I’m all for including this tradition in my household celebration this coming New Years Day. I’ll have refreshment ready, even though I’m So-Not-A-Cook. I’ve already decided who my tall, dark and handsome stranger can be---Gerard Butler!



Who would you like your First-Footer to be? We’ll be very liberal and not discriminate. Give yourself free rein!

What is your favorite Christmas song?

What are your favorite Christmas decorations?

Do you have any special traditions that you celebrate?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Margaret Moore: Christmas Giveaway!

I'm giving away ten copies of the USA Today bestselling Christmas anthology, THE BRIDES OF CHRISTMAS. This is a trade-size reissue (out in 2005) of an anthology first published in 1999. In addition to my story, "The Vagabond Knight," there are medieval tales by Jo Beverley and Deborah Simmons.

"The Wise Virgin" by Jo Beverley: A lord from a rival clan steals the wrong holiday bride for his brother, and discovers his own true love in the witty and wise captive maiden!

"The Vagabond Knight" by Margaret Moore: Two wounded souls, a roguish mercenary and a stern beauty, teach each other how to live and love again during a yuletide blizzard...

"The Unexpected Guest" by Deborah Simmons: The head of the mighty de Burgh family finds his quiet reserve shattered by the seductive young wido who stays at his keep for the twelve days of Christmas!

If you'd like to get one of ten copies autographed by me, please send me an email at with "Brides" in the subject line. The cost of postage is my Christmas present.

I've got a book due at the end of November (THE NOTORIOUS KNIGHT, coming from HQN Books in August, 2007, the sequel to MY LORD'S DESIRE, HQN Books, February, 2007), so I probably won't be getting to the post office before the first week of December. Just FYI. :-)

Later that same day: Ten people have already responded. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Christine Merrill: Paper, paper, paper

One of the great things about writing any book, and historicals in particular, is all the interesting things you get to learn, while researching.

While working on The Inconvenient Duchess, I spent some time researching the history of paper, looking for a way to make my heroine’s family letters easily traceable. Distinctive watermarks seemed to be the way to go.

It’s always a relief to find the thing you need has been invented before the Regency. Watermarks have been around since the 1200’s, but I found a source of watermark information much closer to my period.

W. Green Son & Waite Ltd began as a wire drawing and weaving company in the mid 1700’s, and have a lovely site on the history of watermarks. Early paper was made a sheet at a time and dried on a wire mesh frame. If a raised design was woven into the mesh, it created the thinner spots on the paper that appear as watermarks when you hold the paper up to the light.

A watermark will lead you back to the manufacturer of the paper, since most papermakers had their own watermark. It might lead you to the owner of the paper, or tell you what the paper was used for, since stamps, money and legal documents sometimes have distinctive watermarks to guarantee authenticity. And if you ever read about a character using foolscap, this is referring to paper that is 8½ × 13½, which often had a cap and bells watermark.

And, in keeping with my interest in distinctive correspondence, I made sure that my hero, Marcus had a signet ring, which would have had his family coat of arms engraved on it. The poor man must have thought his new wife was a bit daft to want to wear it, since she should have known he’d need it back to seal the wax on his letters.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Victoria Bylin: Happy Endings

A post over on the Romantic Times message board got me thinking about endings. My all-time favorite book is THE OUTSIDER by Penelope Williamson. I love everything about that story, but it's the ending that most stands out. No spoilers here, but the last few chapters are both gut-wrenching and poetic.

Endings don't come easily to me as writer. I wander in circles until something clicks. I know the hero and heroine will end up together, and I know they'll have a crisis. It's getting the pieces to fit, in a way that's both surprising and inevitable, that I find challenging.

Talking out loud helps. Before my youngest son left for college, he'd brainstorm with me while we ran errands. His favorite question was, "So mom, who are you going to kill this time?" He thinks I have a murderous soul! I don't, it's just that the bad guy has to get it in the end.

Maybe that's the key to an ending that stretches beyond the story. It's about justice as much as it's about love.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Cheryl St.John: Why Romance?

I write romance for the same reason I’ve read romance for years: I love the genre. I love losing myself in the challenges and trials of two characters who are destined to be together.
I guess I want to believe that there’s somebody for everyone, and that under just the right circumstances and with a bit of that magic we call romance, happily-ever-afters are within our reach. Before you scoff and call me a Pollyanna, I assure you I’m enough in tune with reality to lock my doors and warn my children of strangers. I watch the news and I see the state of our world. But what do we have if we don’t have hope?

Romance is all about hope.

Several years ago I received the most memorable letter I’ve ever received from a reader. She told me how much she’d enjoyed my book, how she identified with the characters and how she’d cried for the heroine. Like the character in my story, she’d been stalked and beaten by someone who should have loved her. Unlike my character however, the reader has permanent nerve damage to her arm. Her story touched me so deeply that it made me cry. Her true story forced me to consider what I was doing.

I sat at my desk thinking how shallow my work is. I mean, I make all this stuff up! I order peoples’ lives about and manipulate them to suit my plots -- but it’s all fiction. While I sit in my comfortable office with every convenience at my fingertips, sipping cup after cup of coffee and tea and munching M&Ms, out there in the world people are experiencing devastating hurts and losses and traumas. What I do seemed so inconsequential in that light.

That thinking lasted about, oh, ten minutes. And then I realized why this young reader had been touched so profoundly by my story. She said she hoped that some day she would meet a man like my hero, a man who would love her that same way. She had hope. And romance is about what? Hope.

We invest our time in the characters in these stories because we know that no matter what dilemmas befall them, no matter what obstacles they face or which conflicts arise, in the end love will conquer all; good will win over evil; and a happily-ever-after will prevail. Each of us hopes there is a special someone out there, a special man or woman who will love us unconditionally and fill that place created in our heart just for them. Romance brings our hopes to life. Through these stories of love and commitment, we experience the fulfillment of the human dream.
What better reason do we need to love romance?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Sharon Schulze: Paranormals, Anyone?

We've just left the season of creepy crawlies . . . ghosts and ghouls and creatures who live their lives (if they are alive :-)) beneath the cover of night. Because of Halloween there have been a slew of paranormal-themed movies and TV shows on the tube lately, nearly enough of a selection to match up with the current explosion of paranormal romances in book stores.

There are all kinds of paranormals on the shelves--contemporary, historical, futuristic. You don't like vampires? We've got a nice shape shifter in this book over here. If you enjoy paranormal romances, you're in luck. There seems to be a paranormal for any taste.

I like paranormals. Not every one, obviously, or every kind, but the fact that there are paranormal elements in a book wouldn't keep me from buying it. In fact, given my mood at the time I'm perusing the shelves, that may be a big incentive for me to buy it. In all honesty I don't care where they're set, or when. I've read some form or another of paranormals almost as long as I've been reading, starting with Gothics and moving on from there. If the story interests me, I'll give it a try. I used paranormal elements in one of my medievals--I didn't set out to do so, but the characters and story demanded it. It was fun to write, and readers seemed to enjoy it, too.

There has been some discussion lately on one of my email loops about paranormal elements in historicals. Are they historicals, or paranormals? Does it matter to you as a reader if they're both? Would the presence of paranormal elements (of any kind) in a historical keep you from reading it, if it sounded like a good story? Or if you usually read contemporary paranormal romances, would the fact that a book was a historical paranormal bother you?

I'm curious (of course I am, I'm a writer :-)). What do you think?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Michelle Styles: Bonfire Night

Remember, Remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot,
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should e'er be forgot.
--traditional nusery rhyme

On 5 November 1605 Guy Fawkes or Guido Fawkes as he is sometimes known was arrested for attmpting (and very nearly succeeding) in blowing the Houses of Parliament during the state opening. The act was supposed to be the prelude of a Catholic uprising. In fact, it became the pretext for fierce supress of the Roman Catholic faith..
Guy Fawkes was an unlikely terrorist -- born of protestant parents in York in 1570, he converted to Catholicism sometime in his late teens/early 20s.
The plot was discovered when one of co-conspirators, Francis Tresham, wrote to his brother-in-law, Lord Monteagle warning him not to attend. There was speculation that the government allowed the plot to continue to ensure the maximum amount of public humiliation.

Bonfire night or Guy Fawkes night combines the memory of the act with the fire festivals that have been popular at this time of year since time immemorial. Communiites up and down Britain have a bonfire, complete with an effigy or Guy (formerly the pope or another unpopular political figure) and set off fireworks. It is a time of raucous drunkenous, and there are regular warnings about the hazards of fireworks. The good part is that due to the darkness coming early, the bonfires are lit about 6 o'clock, and the fireworks light the sky from about 7, making it much easier if you have small children.

Last night I attend the bonfire in Hexham, which was set ablaze on a hill overlooking the 6th century abbey. The effigy was a woman on top of a Roman temple so I am not entirely sure what the representation was. About 17,000 good natured revellers turned out to watch the fireworks and money was raised for local charity. But as I watched the sparks disappear up into the night sky, I reflected how bonfires had been lit in this place for hundreds of years, probably thousands of years. In Fourstones village where I used to live, the bonfire for the 50th anniversary of VE day in 1995 was lit on top of Warden Hill, where a Neolithic site stands. You could see the blaze for miles -- think Lord of the Rings when they light the beacons and you will get the idea. Whenever I go to these things, I am reminded of my small part in the human continum.

Friday, November 03, 2006

M&B H November Release: The Devil's Waltz by Anne Stuart

When you dance with the devil, you hold hands with temptation… Christian Montcalm was a disarming rogue. Finding himself in financial difficulties, he brazenly set out to seduce and wed an heiress. But there was a most intriguing obstacle to his success…
Miss Annelise Kempton was determined to stand between her young charge and this unrepentant rake. Montcalm’s plans would fail – she would personally see to it. All that stood in her way was a man whose glittering charm could tempt a saint to sin, or consign a confirmed spinster to sleepless nights of longing. But she was strong enough to resist him…wasn’t she?
“Brilliant characterisations and a suitably moody ambience drive this dark tale of unlikely love.” – Publishers Weekly starred review of Black Ice

Buy the book

M&B H November Release: Talk of the Ton by Mary Nichols

Rumours were flying
Her name was on everyone’s lips. They were agog to find out what Miss Elizabeth Harley had been doing down at the East India Docks. And in such shocking apparel! Why, her uncle’s generosity at giving her a London Season had been thrown back in his face.
Elizabeth had not meant to sully her good name. All she’d craved was a chance to travel. Andrew Melhurst had come to her rescue when she needed him most, but should she consider marrying him to save her reputation?

Buy the book

M&B H November Release: The Drifter by Lisa Plumley

A proper lady should never give her heart to a driftin’ man!
– Miss Julia’s Behaviour Book
Mistress of decorum, Julia Bennett wrote the book on etiquette. Three volumes, in fact! So the arrival of Graham Corley, rakish adventurer, should not have given her such decidedly improper ideas.
Bounty hunter, rogue, drifter, and now fiancĂ© for hire to the most tantalising woman in the Territories, Graham Corley’s life was always interesting. And being partner to Julia’s outrageous scheme to secure her inheritance made it downright fascinating! More than enough to give a travellin’ man dreams about staying put… Arizona Territory, 1887

Buy the book

M&B H November release: The Norman's Bride by Terri Brisbin

She had no past…
Recalling nothing of her own identity, Isabel was certain her rescuer, Royce, had once been a knight. Every fibre of his being expressed a chivalry that his simple way of life could not hide.
He could offer her no future…
William Royce de Severin could not quell his desire for this intriguing woman. Battered by her experiences, but unbroken in spirit, she made him hunger for the impossible – a life free of dark secrets, with Isabel by his side.

Buy the book

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

November HH Release: Mistletoe Kisses

Mistletoe Kisses
A Soldier's Tale by Elizabeth Rolls
Dominic, Viscount Alderley's family are looking to him to marry an heiress, but only his downtrodden, compassionate cousin Pippa seems able to ignore his scars….
A Winter Night's Tale by Deborah Hale
This year's festivities for Christabel and her young son will be sparse and cold—or so she thinks. When the man she'd loved and lost returns, offering her warmth, comfort and a true family Christmas, she can't resist!
A Twelfth Night Tale by Diane Gaston
One impulsive night of love changed Elizabeth's life forever. Now, ten years later, Elizabeth and Zachary meet again. Will their second Twelfth Night together see their happiness reborn?

Read excerpt

Mistletoe Kisses

November Release: Indiscretions by Gail Ranstrom

Daphne had sacrificed everything to remain unknown in her tropical paradise. But if Lord Lockwood recognized the woman who had fled England with a crime on her conscience, nothing could keep her safe….
Even the thought of future punishment could not dampen present desire. Lockwood's lips reawakened the passionate woman she had once been. What harm, Daphne reasoned, could come from one stolen kiss? Still, she could not allow her feelings to overpower her sense—it was too dangerous. She'd denied herself for five years. Surely she could deny Lockwood for a few weeks?

Read excerpt


November HH Release: The Rascal by Lisa Plumley

The Rascal
Grace Crabtree has no need of a man. Except Morrow Creek's reprobate saloon keeper, Jack Murphy, keeps getting in her way. She's bewildered as to why she can't stop thinking about his infuriatingly handsome face. So Grace will use her feminine charms to reform him—once she works out exactly what feminine charms are!
Jack's determined to find Grace a husband who'll keep her under control. But looking around the town, no man seems quite worthy of this spiky, tempting, glorious woman. So maybe he'll just have to settle her hash himself….

Read excerpt

The Rascal

November HH Release: The Defiant Mistress by Claire Thornton

The Defiant Mistress
For eight years Gabriel Vaughan, Marquis of Halross, has believed he was duped by a clever, money-grabbing harlot. He has tried to forget the beauty who left him at the altar, and then an accidental meeting in Venice places her entirely at his mercy!
Although Athena Frances Fairchild claims to be innocent, maybe this is just another of her deceptions. It's time to exact a little revenge. So when Athena needs a safe passage back to England, Gabriel sees his chance. Years ago he would have been proud to have Athena accompany him as his wife. Now Gabriel will insist she travel…as his mistress!

Read excerpt

The Defiant Mistress

November HH Release: Marrying Miss Hemingford by Mary Nichols

Marrying Miss Hemingford
Independently wealthy, Miss Anne Hemingford acts upon her generous grandfather's final wish that she should go out into Society and make a proper life for herself. Accompanying her aunt to Brighton for the summer, Anne is frustrated by the lack of purpose in those around her. The exception is Dr. Justin Tremayne.
He is a man Anne can truly admire for his commitment to helping the poor. Apparently Justin is unsuitable marriage material, but at twenty-seven, she is prepared to ignore Society and go with her heart. Her hopes are sadly dashed by the arrival of Mrs. Sophie Tremayne, Justin's sister-in-law. There is some mystery surrounding her—and it intimately involves the man Anne has come to love….

Read excerpt

Marrying Miss Hemingford