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