XOXO Connects: Blog Posts

XOXO Connects: Blog Posts

Welcome to XOXOConnects!

by the XOXO After Dark team

XOXOConnects featured imageWe’re so thrilled you’ve joined us for XOXOConnects, the all-day online readerfest you can attend in your pajamas! Are you in your pajamas? If you stick around, you may find out if we wore ours to the office today. We’re all book lovers, so of course we couldn’t leave the printed word out of our online readerfest! Visit this page frequently to see new posts from all sorts of authors, coming every half hour from 12-8pm EST. Wondering what’s coming up? Check our schedule for all the details.

Which VC Andrews’s Heroine Are You?

Take our quiz to find out!

Blogger True Confessions…

We asked some of the most popular book bloggers around to answer our XOXO After Darkcast “True Confessions” questions, and we’re sharing them out with you for today’s event! Here are some deep, dark secrets from Shh Moms Reading and Fangirlish:

Denise & Christine – Shh Moms Reading

Christine:

  1. Last book I read: Entranced by Jessica Sorensen
  2. Second chance romances are my favorite kind of relationships to read about
  3. turn on – great teeth/smile, abs (lol) turn off: bad body odor
  4. moist (ugh)
  5. movie: The Notebook, The Proposal

Denise:

  1. Last book you read? Reckless by Nicole Edwards
  2. Favorite ‘ship? One of my favorite relationships in a book is Drew and Kate in Tangled by Emma Chase
  3. Can you name on turn off and one turn on of yours? One major turn off in a book for me is cheating, one of the major turn on’s in a book is a male lead who goes after what he wants (which is sometimes a fine line as that author has to be sure not to make him too pushy or stalker-ish)
  4. What word would you ban from the English language? There are a few dirty words I just don’t love to read but for the sake of keeping in “G” I would ban amazeballs from the English Language

 

Erin – Fangirlish

  1. Last book you read?Nuts by Alice Clayton
  2. Favorite ‘ship? Hess – Always and forever Hessa
  3. Can you name on turn off and one turn on of yours? Turn off – If a guy chews with his mouth open I cringe. Turn On – Nothing is better than a guy who does the simple things – like listens, opens the door, texts you Good Morning and Good Night. These things are better than gifts.
  4. What word would you ban from the English language? Moist. That word is GROSS
  5. What’s your favorite romantic movie? Noting Hill (until After and Beautiful Bastard are made…)

All the foods with Rachel Goodman

Good food, like a great book, is all about a comprehensive sensory experience. A favored family recipe, just like that book you read over and over again, elicits deeper emotions and memories, and can be anything from comfort to celebration. With that in mind, I want to share some of my favorite go-to recipes with you!

Spiced Pear Martini

Perfect for when the weather turns crisp and the leaves begin to change color. Sweet pear juice combined with vanilla vodka, St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur, and warm spiced simple syrup conjures up the feelings of fall instantly.

Prep time:           5 min

Total time:         5 min

Serves:               2 martinis

Ingredients

  • 3 oz vanilla vodka
  • 5 oz St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur
  • 3 oz pear nectar, unsweetened
  • 2 Tbsp spiced simple syrup (recipe to follow)
  • 1 tsp freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • Cinnamon sugar (to rim glasses)
  • 1 sliced D’Anjouy pear
  • 2 star anise (optional)

Directions

Rim the edge of 2 chilled martini glasses with cinnamon sugar and set aside. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour in vanilla vodka, St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur, pear nectar, spiced simple syrup, lime juice, and Angostura bitters. Shake until the contents are chilled and strain into prepared glasses. Garnish with a slice of pear and a star anise, if desired.

 

Spiced Simple Syrup

This syrup is so delicious you will want to drink it straight from the container.

Prep time:           5 min

Cook time:          25 min

Total time:         30 min

Serves:                1⅓ cup

Ingredients

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup super fine sugar
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 2 whole all spice berries
  • ½ vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise, seeds scraped out and pod retained
  • ¼ tsp fresh grated nutmeg

 

Directions

In a medium size saucepan, combine water, sugar, and spices. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and cover for 25 minutes to allow the spices to steep and cool.

Remove and discard large spices (star anise, cinnamon stick, and vanilla bean pod) from saucepan. Pour syrup mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove any smaller spice particles (cloves and all spice berries). Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month or in the freezer for up to 4 months.

 

Champagne Risotto

Rich, hearty, and warming risotto is easy to make (albeit time consuming) and full of flavor possibilities. Whether it’s a hot summer evening or cold winter night, risotto is a perfect main course dish all year round.

My favorite way to prepare risotto is with champagne, peas, and mushrooms.

Prep time:           20 min

Cook time:          35 min

Total time:         55 min

Serves:                4 people

Ingredients

  • 8 cups low sodium chicken stock or broth
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 ½ cups Arborio rice
  • 1 cup dry champagne or white wine
  • 8 oz crimini mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • ¾ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper for seasoning

Directions

In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a simmer and keep warm over very low heat.

Melt the butter in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil. Add the shallots to the pan and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped crimini mushrooms and minced garlic to the pan. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Sauté until the mushrooms are tender and the juices evaporate, about 5 minutes.

Add the Arborio rice and stir to coat in the butter, olive oil, and shallot/mushroom/garlic mixture. Continue toasting the rice, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes more. Add the champagne and simmer until the liquid has almost evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add ¾ cup of the simmering stock and stir until almost completely absorbed into the rice, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking the rice, adding the stock ¾ cup at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition of stock to absorb before adding the next, until the rice is tender but still firm to the bite and the mixture is creamy, about 25 minutes total. The rice will absorb 6 to 8 cups of stock. Stir in the peas. Mix in the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Season with more salt and pepper, to taste (if needed).

 

Chocolate Mousse Cake

My mother makes this chocolate mousse cake every year during the holidays and it is my absolute favorite dessert. Rich, creamy, and oh-so-decadent, this cake is perfect for the chocolate lover in your family.

*Taken from the Crème de Colorado Cookbook by The Junior League of Denver (http://www.amazon.com/Colorado-Cookbook-Junior-League-Denver/dp/B002BRK9VU)

 

Prep time:           45 min

Total time:         45 min (not including the 6 hours refrigeration time)

Serves:                16-20 people

Ingredients

Crust:

  • 1 8½-ounce box thin chocolate wafers, crushed
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted

Filling:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 16 oz semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 4 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 6 Tbsp powdered sugar

Directions

Mix crumbs with butter and press onto bottom and part way up sides of buttered 10-inch springform pan. Refrigerate 30 minutes.

In large mixing bowl, beat whole eggs into melted chocolate. Add 4 egg yolks and beat 4-5 minutes. In small mixing bowl, beat 4 egg whites until stiff. In another small mixing bowl, whip heavy cream with powdered sugar until stiff peaks form. Stir ¼ of egg whites and ¼ of whipped cream into chocolate mixture. Fold in remaining whites and whipped cream, blending thoroughly. Pour into crust. Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight. Can be made 3 days ahead. Freezes beautifully.


 

A Sense of Place with Sophie Littlefield

Years ago, I was asked to do a craft workshop on Setting, after all the other presenters nabbed the sexier topics like pace and dialog and tension. Setting can seem necessary but dull, the foundation that must be laid before the story moves on to the good stuff—the murders and love affairs and intrigue that drew us to the novel in the first place.

As I wondered how to inject life into the topic, I realized that over the course of writing a dozen or so books I was describing less and less of a book’s setting each time, leaving the reader to fill in the details herself. Less, I had decided, was more.

I sketched only cursory skeletons of my novels’ environs, be they small Midwestern towns, suburban McMansions, barren deserts. No one seemed to mind. Not once did I receive an editorial letter begging me to go into greater depth about the environment in which the action took place.

Still, I knew that a single evocative phrase can do more to evoke a place than many pages of description, and so I set about creating an exercise for my workshop students to more deeply experience their own environments. The more they noticed, I reasoned, the more they’d have to choose from when it came time to craft the story. We discussed the senses, physical surroundings, weather, and a handful of other factors that work together to create the characters’ experience of place, and I suggested that my students go to the place where their story was to take place, and  force themselves to write down everything they noticed for half an hour straight. This is hard to do, and I advised the class to keep the pencil moving at all times, a tried-and-true means of expanding one’s observations and experience.

The class went well. People liked the exercise. Only…I never actually tried it myself.

Until I found myself sitting in a foul-smelling rental car in the icy parking lot of a North Dakota WalMart, watching oil workers being pelted by sleet as they pushed loaded shopping carts through subzero twilight.

THE MISSING PLACE (2014) required the sort of boots-to-ground research I’d rarely done before. I sat in that car with my notebook and mechanical pencil, writing longhand and turning on the engine every ten minutes to warm up my fingers. To my amazement, I discovered things in that half hour that went far beyond what I’d initially noticed. Many of these details made it into the novel, and I know that THE MISSING PLACE would be a lesser book without them.

This year, my novel THE GUILTY ONE featured a less dramatic setting—a shabby old house in a beaten-down Oakland neighborhood—but because I was now committed to the practice I’d urged on others, I took the time to really experience the place I’d chosen to set my story. I’m pleased with the result; the details were gleaned from experience, not merely imagination. An imagination is a fine tool, of course, on its own it may not be up to the formidable task of engaging a reader.

So I went to the house where my story takes place. I sat on the edge of a grimy bathtub and inhaled its moldy, decaying scent. I ran a finger along a shelf where a rusting can of shaving cream had rested for what appeared to be years, leaving a perfect circle in the thick layer of dust. In the yard, I kicked at dead shrubs, noting the sounds of breaking branches, the glitter of glass shards among the windswept trash. I wrote it all down, the words and phrases placeholders for the scenes that would come later. I filled notebook pages. I forced myself to keep going when I thought I’d noticed every detail, and ended up noticing dozens more.

I regret taking shortcuts in the past. It’s exciting to realize there’s a whole wealth of material available to me that I never explored before. I remember reading Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and marveling at the way she managed to construct compelling prose of a series of observations about a patch of land in rural Virginia. I’m not there yet–that’s the work of a master—but I am, I hope, creating richer environments in which my stories can unfold.

As I get to work on my next novel, I’ve got a file full of character details and a broad-brush outline of what happens. Now I’m turning my attention to the setting, arming myself with pencil and notebook and setting out to observe the neighborhood where it takes place. I’ll drive the streets, lurk in the shops, breathe deep and listen hard and lay hands on what I can. Months from now, when I type “THE END” on the first draft, it will be a richer work for the effort.


 

Traveling Home with Kristin Harmel

The year was 2002, and I had been working for People magazine for two years when I got a call from my bureau chief one day. “You’ve maxed out your hours for this period,” he informed me. “You can’t work again until the last day of August, I’m afraid.”

It was the third week in April. I was twenty-two years old, still living in my college town (despite having graduated a year earlier), and had accumulated a relatively fat savings account thanks to the fact that I’d been earning decent pay while living on a college budget. (I paid $330 a month for an apartment I shared with a friend and cooked most meals at home, so my expenses were practically nonexistent!) I loved my job at People, but I’d been going a little stir crazy lately. I’d never really traveled on my own—except for quick trips in and out of town to cover things like the Super Bowl, the NBA All-Star game and the MTV Movie Awards for the magazine. So the next day, when I clicked over to online journalism community mediabistro.com, wondering what the heck I would do for the next four months, it seemed like fate when I stumbled across a posting from a girl named Lauren who was my age. Looking for another writer to share a furnished apartment a couple blocks from the Eiffel Tower in Paris, just beside the American Library, her listing read. She went on to explain that her would-be roommate had dropped out at the last minute and that she had three months available at $600 per month – including utilities – in a fifth-floor flat with a full view of the Eiffel Tower, beginning May 30.

My decision was instant. I had only been to Paris once – on a family vacation (Thanks, Mom!) – and I didn’t speak a lick of French, having minored in Spanish in college instead. But it seemed like fate, didn’t it? The three-month cost was insanely inexpensive considering the location, and the rental period would take me through the end of August, which was exactly the amount of time I needed to cover. I emailed Lauren immediately, my heart thudding, and said I’d take the rental spot if it was still available. She said it was, gave me instructions for sending a deposit, and said she’d see me in Paris on May 30. I stepped away from the computer in shock, wondering what I’d just gotten myself into.

It was the most spontaneous thing I’d ever done. Up until that point, if you knew me, you might have guessed that my middle name was Responsibility. I only made decisions based in logic, and I rarely took chances unless the end result was guaranteed. I was also a workaholic; I’d begun writing for magazines at the age of sixteen, and I hadn’t stopped since. When other people were partying in college, I was holed up in my dorm room at the age of nineteen, penning columns for American Baby magazine or health briefs for Men’s Health. I was flying all over the southeast as a reporter for People within weeks of turning twenty-one. I loved that life, but frankly, I was exhausted. And in all that hard work and corporate ladder-climbing, I had forgotten that my dream was to write novels one day. It was just that there was no time to do anything like that when I was working seventy-hour weeks and fretting about my next assignments. I had somehow lost myself on an endless climb up the ladder of journalistic competition.

And so I stepped off. And that break from the ladder – the reprieve from the rat race – was the best thing I’d ever done for myself. It changed me in ways I probably still can’t entirely enumerate. I spent those glorious three months traveling by train across Europe – to Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, England, and the Netherlands – and sitting with my little portable word processor in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower or along the Seine River, pounding out my first real attempt at a novel.

By the end of the summer, I had developed a friendship that would last a lifetime  – who still lives in Paris and is a novelist herself now too – is one of my dearest friends.), made it about halfway through a book that would never see the light of day (mostly because it was terrible, but it was that summer that I learned to outline, and a few months later, I began How to Sleep With a Movie Star, my first published novel), and expanded my world in a way that would change me forever.

Thirteen years later, I’ve written and published eight novels (including my latest, The Life Intended), and I’ve discovered that travel – stepping out of my comfort zone and exploring the world – is the key to all of it. Three of my novels, including The Sweetness of Forgetting (2012), are based largely in Europe, as is the novel I’m working on right now, which takes place partially in Germany and will be out next summer. Some of the most important moments of my life have taken place during my travels around the world, and in fact, as you read this now during the XOXOConnects Readerfest, I’m off in Italy, promoting Quando all’alba saremo vicini, the Italian version of The Life Intended. My novels have been published in dozens of countries around the world, and I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to many of them to meet readers, which has been a great joy. When I accepted Lauren’s online invitation to spend a summer in Paris all those years ago, I never guessed that I would be back one day promoting L’Heure indigo (the French translation of The Sweetness of Forgetting) or Les jours d’après (the French translation of The Life Intended), both of which would go on to become bestsellers in many of the countries I explored that fateful summer.

Two and a half years ago, 2002 intersected with the present when I was on a book tour in Europe. I had just come from stops in the UK and Spain, promoting the British and Spanish versions of The Sweetness of Forgetting, and I had decided to stop for 36 hours in Paris to visit Lauren. We had dinner on Rue Cler, a favorite street of mine in our old neighborhood, and then she asked if I wanted to take a walk by our old apartment on Rue du Général Camou, just for old time’s sake. I was exhausted and had just gotten over the flu, so at first I declined, but she insisted. “Please? It’s so beautiful at night,” she said. And of course she was right; the Eiffel Tower danced with light, casting a magical glow over our old street. I missed living there, and so when she persisted, I finally agreed, even though all I wanted to do was take a shower and fall into bed.

As we turned the corner from Avenue de la Bourdonnais onto Rue du Général Camou, I was deep in thought. I had used our old apartment there as Rose’s home in World War II-era Paris in The Sweetness of Forgetting, so I was thinking about what it would have been like there in Rose’s day, before the Nazis took over the city my character so loved. I was so deep in thought that it took me a moment to realize Lauren had stopped walking and was lingering across the street. Puzzled, I turned. “What are you doing?” I asked. She just smiled and looked to her left.

Slowly, I turned and saw Jason, my boyfriend at the time, walking toward me, the Eiffel Tower sparkling behind him. For several seconds, what I was seeing simply didn’t compute. Jason is back home in Florida. I just talked to him yesterday. Is my flu back? Am I hallucinating? But then he walked up to me, dropped down to one knee and removed a small jewelry box from his pocket. “As long as there are stars in the sky, I will love you,” he said – a line from The Sweetness of Forgetting. “Will you marry me?” (I should note that he also said a lot of other really sweet things, but I was in such a state of shock that I can’t remember any of them!)

Stunned, I said yes, and eleven months later, we were married (not in Paris, but at Disney World, where our evening ended with fireworks outside Epcot’s French pavilion, with the faux-Eiffel Tower looming behind us). Now, we’re expecting our first child this March, I’m hurriedly writing another novel (hoping to get it done before the baby arrives!), and my life is exactly as I once dreamed it, before I got carried away with trying desperately to squeeze extra hours into the day to compete with every other journalist on the planet.

I still write for magazines sometimes, and I love it. But I’ve found my life intended, my dream, my love. I sometimes wonder if things would have turned out like this if I didn’t take that leap into the unknown thirteen years ago, and I think the answer is “no.” I had to travel 4,500 miles across the ocean to find myself. And now that I’m found, I have the feeling that whenever I’m looking for answers – in my own life or in one of my novels – the further I travel, the closer I’ll find myself to home.


 

Roman Times, Not Times New Roman with Lisa Cach

Ever fantasize about living in a bygone era, just for a day? If you chose ancient Rome, you might not find things to be as different from today as you’d expect. Well, maybe a little different, especially when it comes to a visit to the ladies’ room…

Here’s how the Romans dealt with some aspects of daily life:

Laundry detergent: Urine was collected from the public latrines and turned into ammonia. How’s that for a fresh scent?

Soap for bathing: Olive oil was used on the skin, and then scraped off with a “strigil” along with whatever grime came with it. Given the current vogue for using coconut oil for skin cleansing, maybe they were onto something.

After the oil cleansing, you could go in the baths. Think of it like a hot spring spa in Japan, where you bathe before you get into the hot communal water.

Toilet paper: In the public latrines, there was a communal sea sponge on a stick that was rinsed out after each use and then set in a basin, waiting all innocent-like for the next person to use it. Bet no one ever caught anything nasty from doing that. Nope, never.

Birth control: Romans used a now-extinct plant called silphium, that grew in northern Africa. It was taken either orally or as a pessary (mixed with water, soaked up in a wad of wool, and put up inside the vagina) to bring on menstrual flow; AKA to abort a possible child. Several other common herbs are known to do this too, like pennyroyal, rue, or wild carrot.

Silphium went extinct because it was all gobbled up by lusty Romans, though there is speculation that the heart shape we all draw to denote love was based on the shape of the silphium seed pod.

Menstruation: There are hints that Roman women used wool formed into tampons, or made their own pads, but there’s no real evidence; if they did use tampons, they may have been for contraceptive use, not for containing blood. It’s even been suggested that women in the past used nothing at all, since they were probably pregnant or breastfeeding for much of their adult life. Some researchers think that women just let it flow, so to speak, right onto the floor or into their clothes. (I kind of doubt that women would put up with that, especially if they had a limited wardrobe.)

Body hair removal: Women got rid of everything except the hair on their heads. Shaving, plucking, scrubbing it all off with a pumice stone, or ripping it all out with resin or wax… It all sounds familiar, except for the pumice stone bit, although you’d obviously get some nice exfoliation with that.

Pain killer: Poppy juice, of course; also known as opium, which is where heroin, codeine, and morphine come from, and that substance we read about in historical novels, laudanum. Use of opium poppies goes back to the Neolithic, so there’s nothing new here.

And speaking of pain killers:

Wine: Sometimes lead was added to wine, to sweeten it. Yum! The wine had such a high alcohol content, that Pliny commented that one variety would catch fire if a candle was too near. Except for the dissolute, no one drank this firewater straight: they diluted it with water or seawater. Spices and herbs were also added, and sometimes it was aged in a smoke chamber to give a smokey taste.

Top-shelf wine was white, but only the upper classes could afford that. They also got the wine made from the first press of the red grapes. Slaves got wine made from the third press of wrung-out grape skins. Soldiers and the common people got something in between.

Beer: for barbarians only.

Hair dye: If you were rich, why bother with dye when you could have wigs? It was even popular to have two colors of hair intertwined in your elaborate fake updo, especially if some of that hair was blond and taken off the head of a conquered northern barbarian.

If dye was what you wanted to cover up those greys, lead was once again your friend, this time mixed with lime (calcium hydroxide). Repeated applications would darken the hair. Apparently, this is how modern Grecian Formula works, too. Endless other recipes for darkening hair survive, including one that involves leeches rotting in red wine for 40 days.

To go blond, you could use a mixture of tallow and wood ash to create lye, which probably had a fair chance of scorching your scalp and ruining your hair if left on too long. There were dyes made from saffron, too, but if you were really rich you powdered your hair with gold dust. Blonds apparently were having more fun, as originally prostitutes were required to bleach their hair. The trend eventually spread to the rest of society, however; perhaps this is why blonds have a reputation to this day for being a bit on the wild side.

For red, there was the favorite of the natural crowd, both now and then: henna. Or you could bleach your dark hair just enough to turn it orangey.

The one thing you did not do was leave your hair flowing loose and natural. Like beer, that type of thing was for barbarians only.

Cosmetics: The aim was to look natural, as too much makeup meant you were a hussy on the prowl. Just like today, women put all manner of muck on their faces for a beautiful complexion, only back then it included lanolin, placenta, urine, sulfur, excrement, onions….

When they were through with all that, they might powder their noses with anything from chalk to white lead. And yes, they knew the lead was poisonous. They also made a foundation from animal fat, starch, and, in Britain at least, tin oxide. Elsewhere they likely used lead, once again.

Blush could be made of anything from wine to rose petals to crocodile dung, but the best was red ochre imported from Belgium, which may also have been used on lips.

Eye makeup was mostly kohl. The Romans were big on eyebrows, so women would darken and extend them inward, until they almost met over the nose. Unibrows: It’s time to bring them back.

Eyeshadow made from saffron or green malachite (toxic) might be used, too. I imagine it’s hard not to look like a hussy with poisonous green malachite eyelids.

Food: While the common people would be eating an emmer wheat and lard porridge, sometimes with vegetables, the well-to-do would be laying out three course dinners for guests including such tasty tidbits as farmed oysters, snails, and dormice. Pork was common (and pork sausages), but beef was not. Mostly they ate fish and poultry for their protein. If you really wanted to impress your guests, you served them a peacock.

They had breads and porridges, and made cheeses from the milk of sheep, goats, and cows.

They had olives and grapes, of course, as well as figs, pears, plums, quinces, and eventually these exotic things from Persia called lemons. Never any oranges, though. They had nuts, and also plenty of green things from the garden like cabbage, artichokes, asparagus, onions, carrots, and turnips.

One the favorite foods of ancient Romans was a fermented fish sauce, called garum, that was made from the salted blood and guts of fish, plus whatever small garbage fish were around, like anchovies. It was used both as a condiment and as an ingredient.

Garum sounds foul at first, but on the other hand we use fish sauce in Asian dishes, and like soy sauce garum had a lot of natural monosodium glutamate, which would have added a lovely umami flavor to food.

Eager for a taste of old Rome? Here’s a recipe based on one by Apicius, for Milk-Fed Snails. I found it in “A Taste of History” by Brears, Black, Corbishley, Renfrew, and Stead.

Milk-Fed Snails

6 edible snails per person

2 pints milk

salt

1 tsp anchovy essence

1 T wine

Clean the snails with a sponge and remove the membranes so that they can come out of their shells. Put in a vessel with half the milk and salt for one day, then in a fresh vessel with the remaining milk for 1 more day, cleaning away the excrement every hour. When the snails are fattened to the point that they cannot return to their shells, fry them in oil. Serve with a dressing of anchovy essence and wine.

So fry up some snails, paint on your unibrow, and pluck your private bits, and you too can be a Roman for a day. Just… please, keep that toilet sponge to yourself.


 

From An Ounce of Hope, an open letter to Max:

Max O’Hare can’t seem to let go of his past: his drug habit, the end of his relationship with Lizzie Jordan, the woman he knows he’ll never get over, and the loss of their unborn son. From the fanfic phenom whose debut A Pound of Flesh had over 4.5 million reads, this sequel, An Ounce of Hope, tells the passionate love story of Carter’s best friend, Max.

What is it they say, hindsight is only 20/20?

Yeah. I agree with that shit.

With hindsight I’d have told my dad I loved him more often before he died, and I wouldn’t have behaved like such a selfish idiot and made his short life hell. In hindsight I would have allowed people to help me instead of losing myself to drugs in order to express my grief after he died, and I’d have turned away from the beautiful blonde girl who walked into my life and knocked me on my twenty year old ass before we eventually broke each other to pieces.

Yeah. Hindsight is most definitely 20/20. 

Yet, knowing all of that, knowing the pain, the struggles, the scars I bear inside and out, I wouldn’t change any of it. Not a damned thing. 

You see, the path I’ve travelled may be a dark one, a fucked up, and lonely one, but it led me to where I am today, standing for the first time in my adult life with real honest to God hope in my heart.

Because this path, hindsight or not, led me to her.

To Grace.

My name is Max O’Hare and this is my story.


 

Classics Talkin’ Classics

New York Times bestselling authors Jude Deveraux and Karen Robards face off about their ultimate favorite classic novels. Will they see eye-to-eye? Keep reading to find out!

Karen: Talk about your good genes! And no, I’m not referring to Levi’s 501s. Emily and Charlotte Bronte have to be the greatest sister act in writing history. Jude loves Charlotte, but for me nobody tops Emily Bronte and her book WUTHERING HEIGHTS. I first read this when I was around eleven years old. I was at my grandparents’ house in the country for a month, there was nothing to do, my grandmother had a bookcase, and this book was in it. Thumbing through the books, I was hooked by the opening line: “1801- I have just returned from a visit to my landlord- the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with.” I carried the book off to the barn, hid in the hayloft, and fell deep into one of my favorite books of all time.

Our hero, Heathcliff, is an orphan adopted as a child by the wealthy Earnshaw family. He and Cathy, the daughter of the family, grow up together, running wild on the Yorkshire moors. Inevitably, they fall in love. But dark, handsome, brooding Heathcliff is a servant, totally unsuitable as a husband for the rich and beautiful Cathy.

“Whatever souls are made of, his and mine are the same…” Cathy says of Heathcliff. But despite her feelings for Heathcliff she marries wealthy neighbor Edgar Linton, and epic tragedy as well as deathless romance ensue. I’m not going to tell you the rest of the plot, but I will say that this book is one of the greatest classic romances of all time and I love it to this day.

Emily Bronte rules!

Jude: Karen, I read Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre when I was very young, also about 11. My mother bought the book for me. It was in a beautiful dark green slip cover, something I’d never seen before. As I started reading the book, I identified with it, a girl who was misunderstood and falsely accused. But she was saved by going away to a moody, dark house and meeting a man who was strange and mysterious. They fell in love, but something pulled them apart. In the end, they got back together and lived happily ever after.

I read that book over and over, loving the story of escaping. Jane Eyre is the plot of every book I’ve written since then. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if my mother had handed me an Agatha Christie novel or Dracula. What would I be writing today?

Karen: Jude, I know I’m not alone in being glad your mother gave you Jane Eyre to read! As a reader as well as a writer, I would have hated to miss out on all your wonderful romances.

For your second selection, I know you chose Cold Comfort Farm, a classic from the 1930s. I’m going to counter with another. Has there ever been a romance more beloved than Gone With The Wind? What is there to say? Rhett. Scarlett. Ashley. Melanie. Tara. The Civil War. And – Rhett. Another dark, brooding anti-hero to die for. The strength of his love for the beautiful, headstrong, and maddeningly obtuse Scarlet is what makes this book the enduring classic that it is. I read this as a child, and I’ve re-read it so often that I can quote whole passages from it. Who among us has not heard its famous last line: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” and felt their heart break? And, no, the movie is not as good as the book.

Jude: Karen, I know you like the deep drama of Gone With the Wind, but I love the lighthearted comedy of Cold Comfort Farm. The novel is a parody of romance novels and at the same time it’s a pure romance novel. Stella Gibbons puts a sane young woman in a setting that is out of every romantic book we’ve read. Brooding heroes, women with dark secrets, men filled with anger. All of the romance world is in there and Robert Poste’s child fixes them all. I have read the book and seen the movie many, many times, but it never fails to make me laugh. Sometimes when I’m working and my own heroine gets into a tight corner, I ask myself what Flora Poste would do. She’d be sane and sensible in the midst of lots of emotional drama and she’d fix it all.

 

Jennifer Probst cover reveal!

New cover AND new series alert! Jennifer Probst’s brand new sexy romance series features red-hot contractor siblings who give the Property Brothers a run for their money, and it’s coming to you in May 2016! The first installment in the series, Everywhere and Every Way, check out the gorgeous cover below!

EverywhereAndEveryWayCover

 

 

Beach Off With Mary Alice Monroe and Mariah Stewart!

Welcome to our favorite island life!

Mary Alice: Follow SC-Highway 703 to Sullivan’s Island. The roadway begins at the base of the Ravenel Bridge, cluttered with office buildings, small restaurants and low-height shopping centers. But soon the busyness gives way to the beauty of tidal creeks.

Just ahead, the old Ben Sawyer Bridge–the gateway to a quintessential seaside town. Better not be in a hurry because if a sailboat meanders past all traffic stops as the bridge swings open to let it pass. It’s all part of the “slowdown you’re on island time” mentality.

When the tide is low, you can smell the salt marsh before you see it. The rich pungent smell of pluff mud is the perfume of home. Green and golden spartina cord grass flank both sides of the road. At low tide you will see egrets feasting on the mud flats, oyster beds with the razor sharp points, and countless fiddler crabs.

Once across, a grey modest town sign welcomes you to Sullivan’s Island. Palms line the boulevard and lead you directly to the heart of Middle Street, an eclectic mix of great eateries and local shops that’s popular among residents and tourists alike. Let your desire to explore take over. It won’t steer you wrong on this barrier island; a place steeped in war history and home to Fort Moultrie, a military Bastian since the Revolutionary war. Homes here are a mix of past and present–historic beach cottages, like the Sea Breeze in my Lowcountry Summer novels– sit next door to new mansions. Sullivan’s Island is rich with historic relics and even a castle.

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Your journey down a beach access path toward the roaring Atlantic shore feels otherworldly. Gone is the noise of daily life. In its place, the sound of chattering birds and humming insects camouflaged in dense patches of maritime forest. Brightly colored wildflowers decorate the path. It may be primrose and firewheels or seaside goldenrod and morning glory. Ahead, sea oats sway on tops of dunes where the path opens up to the beach.

At last you can sit in the warm soft sand and wait to spot bottlenose dolphins cavorting in the breaking waves. Watch small, plump sanderlings in their endless wave-chasing habits, probing the wet sand for food with their beaks. Above you, black skimmers, American oystercatchers and pelicans fly in search of their next catch, while seagulls surround you ready to snap up anything you toss their way. But that’s not the only wildlife! On a windy day you’ll see kite boarders skimming the ocean, their colorful kites filling the air like plumed birds. Or if the waves are good the surfers are out hanging ten.

This stretch of the Atlantic Ocean at Sullivan’s Island and neighboring Isle of Palms is home to a plenitude of wildlife, including my beloved loggerhead sea turtle. Every summer, instinct calls these ancient mariners back to the beach of their birth to lay eggs in the sand and never return to her nest again. My Beach House series tells the tale of these animals and the turtle ladies that take care of them.

It is here, by the sea and marsh, among the array of wildlife where I feel most at home. My life is entwined with the nature that surrounds me. It sustains me.

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Research confirms what we always knew– being near the sea is good for our well-being. I liken looking out at the vast ocean to pushing a delete button in my mind. All my worries, my cares, my fears dissipate. My shoulders lower and my heart rates slows. I am living in the moment. I see the small shells littering the beach. Perhaps spot a shrimp boat in the distance, or hear the piercing cry of the osprey and pause to stop and search the sky. I slip off my shoes and feel…

Ah yes–this is island time.

 


 

Mariah Stewart: I love St. Dennis, MD – what’s not to love about a town on the Chesapeake where some very cool people live? There’s so much to see and do there! Want a quick tour around town? Great! I’ll be your guide…

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We’ll start at the Inn at Sinclair’s Point – a centuries old place that has been in the Sinclair family since it was built. Now run by Dan Sinclair, who’s expanded the inn and turned it into a destination location on the Easter Shore.

From the Inn, we’ll head into the center of town on the main drag, Charles Street. Let’s start on the right, where Vanessa Shields opened her trendy women’s boutique, Bling. Everyone who’s everyone shops at Bling – from 70-something year old Grace Sinclair (mother of Dan, also Lucy and Ford) to fifteen year olds like Dan’s daughter, Diana, and Paige Wyler, step-daughter of Dallas MacGregor – yes, that Dallas MacGregor, Hollywood A-lister.

A few doors down from Bling is Book ‘Em, a fabulous independent book store owned by Barbara Noonan, lifelong resident of St. Dennis. Barb knows books and is particularly fond of writers (well, her daughter is one, but that’s another story). She carries best sellers as well as promising debut authors, literary and genre fiction, and a huge selection of children’s books.

A little further down the block you’ll find a pretty little shop with a pink awning over the window where the name – Cupcake – is painted in fancy pink letters. Inside, the owner/baker, Brooke Madison Enright, spends her days dreaming up the most heavenly cupcakes you’ll ever taste. She does a mean blueberry muffin, too, and during the holidays, you can order specialties like yule logs and gingerbread houses. Yum!

Across the street from Book ‘Em is Lola’s Café, fine dining at its best. Lola may be in her nineties but she’s still a pretty hot ticket. This is the place for special celebrations, like engagements and anniversaries and new babies.

Next to Lola’s is Cuppachino, a St. Dennis landmark. The owner, Carlo, boasts that he serves the best coffee in town, a claim that remains undisputed (he also sells spectacular muffins from Cupcake). On any given morning, you’ll find the owners of many of the town’s shops gathered here for coffee and gossip. If you want to take the pulse of St. Dennis, spend a morning here.

Petals and Posies, the florist shop where you can buy a small bouquet or order your wedding flowers, is next to Cuppachino, and right there on the corner of Charles Street and Kelly’s Point Road.

A trip down Kelly’s Point brings you past the municipal building, which houses not only the mayor’s office but the police department as well. Chief Gabriel Beck is a St. Dennis boy who works hard to keep the town safe; he’s married to  former FBI agent Mia Shields, sister of Grady Shields, Vanessa’s husband. Yes, it’s a tightly knit town!

A long old-fashioned wooden boardwalk runs both right and left at the Bay. To the right is the marina, and Captain Walt’s, the seafood restaurant that helped put St. Dennis on the map. For an authentic St. Dennis experience – from classic Bay dishes to live music on Friday nights – you can’t beat the Captain. Oh, and while you’re there, make sure you sample the local beer from MadMac Brews.

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To the left is One Scoop or Two – just Scoop to those in the know – owned by Steffie Wyler MacGregor, who makes all her own ice creams from scratch. This little gem of a shop – it’s housed in what once was an old crabber’s shack (Steffie’s uncle was the old crabber) – is on every visitor’s MUST SEE list. Once you’ve tried her specialty ice creams, you’ll join the many who return to St. Dennis over and over to see what Steffie has concocted. Flavors like Chocolate Midnight Madness – Peach Pecan Deliciousness – Honey Lavender – Pineapple Macadamia Fudge Ripple – and everyone’s Halloween favorite, Chocolate Monster Mash – have helped put Scoop on the Best of Bay list several years running.

There’s so much more to see in St. Dennis, so many yummy restaurants and tourist attractions, and in most of the shops you can buy souvenirs bearing the town motto, Discover St. Dennis. Maybe on your next visit you’ll head to the historic district that starts on Old St. Mary’s Church Road. You can begin at the Historic Society where you can pick up brochures and see photos of early St. Dennis. At the end of the road is the old Enright mansion, now a cultural and art center. Don’t miss the art gallery in the carriage house to see works by current and former St. Dennis residents, including the newly discovered early twentieth century works of Carolina Ellis, and contemporary artist Shirley Hinson Wyler (why, yes, she is Steffie’s mother). From the historic district, it’s a short drive to River Road, where you can grab a bite at Blossoms (breakfast and lunch only, so don’t bother after two p.m.). A little further down the road you’ll see the old warehouses that Dallas MacGregor bought to house her production studio and film company.

As I said – much to see and do in this little town. You’ll need to make more than one trip, so plan on coming back.

 

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