Book Review – Lucy Checks In by Dee Ernst

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Title: Lucy Checks In

Author: Dee Ernst

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin

Format: Trade Paperback

Published On: Aug. 2022

After a devastating blow to her professional reputation, thanks to her ex-boyfriend running away with millions of dollars from the glamorous NYC hotel they worked at, Lucia is left alone to pick up the pieces of her life.

Lucy accepts the first good job opportunity in two years, and packs her bags for Hotel Paradis in France. Her dream job is brought back to reality, but then she sees the condition of the old hotel. Never one to back down from a challenge, she drafts an affordable renovation plan and gets everyone working.

Claudine, the owner has one goal: the re-opening of her family’s time-worn hotel. Her job begins with accessing the hotel structure and determining what damages there are from aging. She meets the gardener and the investors and long-term residents. Lucy has to play an active role in the renovations as there is limited funding. At the same time, she finds herself drawn to David Bingham, better known as “Bing” who is a children’s book author who lives at the hotel. Bing and Claudine have a son and continue to care about each other, but are no longer in a relationship.

Seven weeks into the upgrade they’ve cleaned the original chandelier, finished the lobby, created a guest office, Claudine sold her practice, a website was created, curtains sewn, mattresses placed and landscaping done, the patio/garden area is looking lovely. A phone call motivates a certain bus tour company to make the hotel a stop on a European tour.

As tired as they all are, the finishes touches and final plans have to be made before their personal lives can return to normal. But it’s all for a good cause. It also brings them closer together.

But as all of this is going on, Lucy still has to keep tabs on her family back in the U.S. Most importantly, her brother drinks to ease the loss of his wife. Lucy and their parents are very worried about the kids. that’s why the twins are living with her parents. But that can’t be forever.

What I loved about the book: that friends gave their all to help Claudine achieve her family responsibility. That they could take a shell of a building and bring it back to life. That a broken heart and a reputation can be repaired even when both seem so lost. That you actually can feel at home when you’re on the other side of the ocean. I loved the opportunity to see France through Lucy’s eyes. What I wonder about is how could Lucy have no idea that her ex was going to commit a crime? She lived with him and worked with him. He might have left a clue around somewhere. If there was no evidence that she was involved, why did the industry still not trust her?

Enjoyed reading this book and “Maggie Finds Her Muse,” as well.

three and a half hotel renovations out of five

Denise Fleischer

gottawritenetwork.wordpress.com

August 9, 2022

 

 

 

 

Book Review – How to Survive a Scandal by Samara Parish

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Title: How to Survive A Scandal

Author: Samara Parish

Publisher: Forever

Format: trade paperback

Published On: May 25, 2021

Benedict Asterly’s heroic act of rescuing Lady Amelia Crofton from her snow-covered carriage leads down the path of a possible scandal when he is caught with her in a longmans’ empty farmhouse.

Instead of being concerned for her well-being, as she nearly froze to death, they see her situation as a tainted reputation. Her fiancé, present with her father when they find her, no longer wishes to marry her. Her fiancé, Edward, duke of Wildeforde, simply wishes to step away from scandal. Honestly, he could have married her years ago. She is taken to Edward’s home to recover. After resting, she goes into Edward’s study where her father who is beyond disappointed tells her that she was the key to their family’s salvation and she ruined it all. He didn’t appear to care that she almost died.

As time passes, Edward continues to refuse to marry her. His belief is that being a duke he must live at a higher level of standards. It’s expected by society.

After the traditional Christmas sermon, Benedict and Amelia are wed. Neither the bride nor groom wished for this to actually happen. It didn’t appear that a celebration was in order and it will change their lives forever. Benedict’s passion and business is wrapped up in the production of a locomotive that he’s designed. Amelia only wishes to be a proper lady in society who manages a beautiful household. But when she arrives at his home, she can’t even get a gown off without a lady’s maid, the furniture was unacceptable, and the manor was in shambles. The only thing positive was his sister, Cassandra.

If things weren’t bad enough, Benedict insists she do her fair share in cleaning and cooking. Which she has never done. Apparently, the servants are old and he doesn’t have the heart to let them go. Then a newspaper article announces their marriage and questions the motive: was he using her standing to elevate himself? Had she been compromised?

When Amelia learns Benedict does have money, she’s determined to go to town to hire more staff and make purchases so their home would be more suited to that of his rank. She does this without his consent, which is unheard of during this era. When Benedict takes her to town to see where he works, she meets the people he works with and sees the train. She wanted to support his endeavor knowing how important it was to him.

That’s where I’ll end my summary. You have to read it to see where the story leads. You’ll be eager to find out if they actually fall in love. If Benedict’s invention is successful? If Amelia experiences happiness and succeeds in making the manor a home.

I enjoyed this book. It showed character growth, clashing of the classes, how gossip can be lethal to one’s reputation, that someone can step out of assigned rank in society to achieve their goals and care for others. Benedict respecting and working with a woman engineer, which was probably unheard of during that era, was wonderful to see. As well as Benedict not being a snob like the other wealthy men. There’s enough drama to keep everyone interested.

Four and a half locomotives out of five

Denise Fleischer

gottawritenetwork.wordpress.com

Aug. 6, 2022

(I received this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Gotta Eat!! – 4 Tips to Master the Grill

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(Family Features) The end result of perfectly cooked chicken is a mouthwatering meal that smells just as good as it tastes and beckons loved ones to the patio. To achieve that juicy, tender flavor that brings family and friends together, it’s important to keep a few safety and grilling tips in mind.

Fire up your grill, season poultry to perfection and serve a safely cooked meal at your next backyard barbecue with this advice from the experts at Perdue Farms.

Maximize Your Budget

For a flavorful meal without breaking the bank, consider less-expensive cuts of meat like bone-in thighs or drumsticks, or cook a whole chicken that can last for several meals. In addition to the savings at the grocery store, these cuts can also withstand hotter temperatures on the grill for juicy and tender results.

Save a Little Time

One easy way to maximize your time around the grill while cutting down on prep and mess is using a pre-cut option like Perdue Fresh Cuts Diced Chicken Breast, a perfect solution for kebabs. Recipe ready in an easy-peel package, the chickens are hatched in the United States and fed an all-vegetarian diet and no antibiotics, hormones or steroids.

Add Favorite Seasonings

Because seasonings can sometimes come off on the grill, try seasoning both before and after grilling for a better-tasting final result. If you’re planning to marinate, be careful to avoid over-marinating as acid-based marinades can start breaking down meat fibers. Remember before and while seasoning raw meat to keep proper safety practices in mind. Wash your hands, cutting boards, knives, scissors, the sink and all work surfaces for 20 seconds with hot, soapy water, and don’t allow raw meat or its juices to touch other foods.

Trust the Thermometer

Once your grill reaches the desired heat, put chicken on the grates with confidence by trusting a meat thermometer to measure doneness. This Easy Kona Pineapple Chicken Kebabs recipe, for example, calls for 10-12 minutes on the grill, but it’s important to check for an internal temperature of 165 F rather than simply relying on recommended cook times. Be sure to serve using a clean platter and utensils, never ones touched by raw meat. Refrigerate any leftover chicken immediately and use within 3-5 days.

For more grilling tips, visit perdue.com/how-to/grilling.

 Easy Kona Pineapple Chicken Kebabs

Prep time: 45 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Servings: 4

1 can (6 ounces) pineapple juice

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 lime, zest and juice only

1 tablespoon sugar

1 piece (1 inch) fresh ginger, grated

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 package Perdue Fresh Cuts Diced Chicken Breast

1/2 fresh pineapple, cut into 16 chunks

1 large red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 16 (1-inch) chunks

4 metal skewers or 8 wooden skewers (12 inches) soaked in water 30 minutes

In bowl, whisk pineapple juice, vegetable oil, lime juice and zest, sugar, ginger and red pepper flakes until sugar dissolves. Add diced chicken breast, cover and marinate in refrigerator 30 minutes.

Thread alternating pieces of chicken, pineapple and red bell pepper onto skewers. Discard remaining marinade.

Heat lightly greased grill or grill pan to medium-high heat. Grill kebabs 10-12 minutes, turning every 3-4 minutes until chicken feels firm to touch and a meat thermometer inserted in the center reaches 165 F.

Remove kebabs from grill, rest 2-3 minutes and serve.

Tip: If using wooden skewers, soak in water 30 minutes to keep skewers from burning on grill. If using metal skewers, remember chicken will cook faster because metal will conduct heat and cook chicken cubes from inside along with grill heat cooking chicken from outside.

So, How Do You Write a Talking Dog? By Jennifer Hawkins

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Sometimes, ideas come on a long walk. Sometimes they show up just as I’m about to fall asleep. Sometimes somebody says something and the gremlin in the back of my brain cries “That’s IT!”

Occasionally, however, an editor calls and asks, “Will you write this?”

That’s what happened with the Chatty Corgi Mysteries. My fabulous editor, Jess, called and asked would I be interested in writing a new cozy series? It would be set in Britain. The amateur sleuth would be opening a classic cake shop in a village. And she’d own a talking corgi.

My response: A talking dog? You want me to write a talking dog? In England? With cake?

Of course, I said yes.

I had a village in Cornwall in mind for the setting. I am a rabid fan of The Great British Baking Show, so I am all about classic British baked goods.

But then there was the talking dog.

Now, animal sidekicks are a big part of the cozy world, and I’d written cats. Dogs, however, are different, whether they talk or not. I definitely wanted Oliver to have a personality, and a prominent role helping solve the mysteries, but I didn’t want him to come across as just a human in a fur suit. I very much wanted him to be a dog.

But for the longest time, I didn’t know how to approach the challenge. I made several stabs at it, but I didn’t like the voice, I didn’t like the way he fit into the action.

So, I decided to draw on my past lives. Not literally. As far as I know I was never reincarnated as a dog. But, as a writer, I started out in science fiction. It occurred to me, I could approach writing my Chatty Corgi the same way I once approached writing aliens.

Which meant, first and foremost — research. When writing an alien, I always wanted to understand their environment and physiology. I had to get physical. Why not do the same with a dog? Once I decided that, I hit the books. The two I leaned hardest on are Inside of a Dog, by Alexandra Horowitz and The Other End of the Leash by Patricia B. McConnell. Inside of a Dog talks about canine neurochemistry and their senses — the way dogs perceive and react to the world. This gave me a blueprint on how Oliver would take in his surroundings, vital to know when creating a canine sleuth!

The Other End of the Leash talks about human-hound interaction, and spends a good chunk of time on how dogs understand and respond to body language, and language-language. This turned out to be really helpful, because when it comes to plotting, confusion and misdirection are two of a mystery author’s best tools. Emma and Oliver may be besties for all time, but they don’t always understand each other, and that human-canine communications barrier can interfere with smooth sleuthing. Which just happens to be great for the plot.

Then, of course, came the part where I watched corgi videos online. Lots and lots of corgi videos, to see how they moved, how they reacted to humans, and cats, and treats and…well, let’s face it, I watched them because watching corgis is always fun.

The result of all this high-and-low brow research was Oliver — opinionated, loving, loyal, ever-so-slightly snobby noble warrior corgi, Emma’s best friend and part time sleuthing sidekick. Or is she his?

About the author:

Jennifer Hawkins is a Michigan-based author of cozy mysteries. She’s also a mom, binge reader, corgi enthusiast, and a lover of All Things British. For tea, she prefers a second flush Darjeeling with milk. She also makes a killer (so to speak) lemon curd.

The Building of a Cozy Mystery Suspect, By Laura Bradford, author of A Perilous Pal

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When I started writing my new Friend for Hire Mysteries, I knew I would have a variety of options when it came to who might hire my protagonist, Emma Westlake, as a companion. The town pariah who wants to look like they have a friend… The son who wants his overbearing mother to think he has a date for a family event… The elderly single man who wants the object of his affection to think he’s in demand… And, yes, the career stay-at-home mom whose last bird has just flown the nest.

While I may only be able to guess at the feelings of the pariah, the son, and the elderly man, I well know that of the career stay-at-home mom as that was me. Yes, I had my writing career the entire time my kids were in school, but when they got home, I was ready for any and all cookie eating, chauffeuring, listening, study help, et cetera, that was needed.

In other words, outside my writing, my world was their world.

I have no regrets about that. They’re all squared away, successful adults. But when the last one flew the nest? Wow, talk about an earthquake under my feet. Suddenly, it was either sit there, ceaselessly wishing for a rewind button on my life, or start looking ahead, figuring out the new terrain.

Fortunately for me, I’m one who likes to keep busy and so I figured things out pretty quickly (including the fact I could still make cookies…but now I could actually get one. A win-win unless you consult the scale that’s seeing numbers I’ve never seen before). But for Kim Felder in my series’ just released second installment, A Perilous Pal, the adjustment after life as a stay-at-home mom isn’t going so well. Especially since her husband of thirty years has picked this exact same time to end their marriage.

Kim is lost. Period.

Wait. No period.

Kim is also angry. Really, really, really angry.

So when Emma suggests Kim create a bucket list of things she’d like to do for herself in life, Kim fills it with things like stuffing her husband (pinata style) and whacking him with a bat…messing with the brakes on his car…feeding him a poisonous cookie… You get the drift. Funny stuff that makes Emma laugh.

Until, well, the guy is murdered.

And, Emma’s new client is the lone suspect.

Did she truly do it?

If she didn’t who did?

It’s up to Emma to find out.

***

About the book:

Entrepreneur Emma Westlake’s new business is booming until her latest client is arrested for murder in this new Friend for Hire Mystery by USA Today bestselling author Laura Bradford.

Emma Westlake, proprietor of A Friend for Hire, finds a heart-wrenching email from a prospective client in her inbox. The email is from Kim Felder, a woman struggling with empty-nest syndrome and an out of left field divorce. Determined to help get Kim in a better headspace, Emma suggests she draft a bucket list of things she has always wanted to do in life but has put off in favor of taking care of everyone else.

Together, they fill that list with fun baking classes, traveling, and dancing in the middle of the street for no reason. Kim also adds in some hilarious items about getting even with her ex. But all laughter ends when Kim’s ex winds up dead via one of the ideas Kim proposed. Now, Kim is Deputy Jack Riordan’s lone suspect in a murder Emma knows she did not commit. Emma will have to put her budding relationship with the deputy on the line to corner a cunning killer.

***

About the author:

While spending a rainy afternoon at a friend’s house as a child, Laura Bradford fell in love with writing over a stack of blank paper, a box of crayons, and a freshly sharpened number-two pencil. From that moment forward, she never wanted to do or be anything else.

Today, Laura is the USA Today bestselling author of several mystery series including the Amish Mysteries, the Emergency Dessert Squad Mysteries, the Tobi Tobias Mysteries, the Southern Sewing Circle Mysteries (written as Elizabeth Lynn Casey), and the new A Friend for Hire Mysteries. To learn more about Laura and/or her books, visit her website at  laurabradford.com.

How I Write A Mystery By Veronica Bond

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For all of you aspiring mystery writers out there, I’m sure many writers can offer you sophisticated tips to aid in plotting a mystery novel. I’m here to toss in my own two cents, but my process is not based on writing classes (I’m self-taught) or any sort of strictly organized approach. I am a bit of a haphazard writer, but, to quote Hamlet, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” And below you will see the steps of my “mad” method..

  1. The thinking process. This is the most important part of writing, and it can take days or months. I start with a nugget, an idea, that seems a likely premise for a mystery. But I have to mull this over, chew the metaphorical cud of possibilities. . If I’m pondering a certain character, or what seems a great characteristic for a detective, I have to determine how this trait will work in contrast with other characters. I might imagine some snippets of dialogue, for example. I love hearing characters speak to one another; it gives me a chance to establish their chemistry or, conversely, to realize that they have no spark and that I should try again with someone different. Note: this creative thinking time MUST be done in a state of relaxation. Good ideas are born of an unstressed mind.
  2. The title. Some writers choose a title only when they’ve finished a book (and it might be changed by a publisher, anyway). I like to think of my title from the start because it helps to remind me of the tone and direction of my writing. Choosing a title is its own creative endeavor, and not as easy as it seems.
  3. The case for linear thinking. While some writers write scenes out of sequence, I like to process through my novels as my main character will go through them: in linear order. Therefore, I begin with Chapter One and keep writing (over time) until I type “the end.” Occasionally, because I am looking forward to writing a certain scene that I’ve envisioned, I’m tempted to skip to that chapter and write the scene while it’s fresh in my mind. The problem is that, without taking my character through the necessary steps to get to that point, I’ve lost some context that could help to inform the scene.
  4. The Choice of distinct character names. Characters are easier for readers to remember if they are distinct from one another. I confess I broke my own rule in my current book, CASTLE DEADLY, CASTLE DEEP, by having too many names that start with D: Derek, Dorian, Dash. For some reason, I love men’s names that start with D, so I have to avoid this temptation. I also once wrote a book with characters named Sheryl and Beryl, and I never noticed the rhyme until a beta reader pointed it out.
  5. The real world informs the fictional world. Drama is fun, but when it seems utterly unrealistic it pulls the reader out of your story. If you wouldn’t go into a dark cemetery where a murder had been committed, and if you wouldn’t go there at midnight with only a dying flashlight, a dead cell phone, and a hunch, then why would your character do it?
  1. THE MOST IMPORTANT CONSIDERATION, aside from number one, is to have fun. Ultimately, you’re writing because you love it, and if you don’t enjoy yourself, it will transfer to the page.

About the book:

After a man dies during a performance at Castle Dark, Nora Blake learns just how hard it is to catch a killer, especially if every suspect is a trained actor, in this exciting new Dinner and a Murder Mystery.

Autumn has arrived at Castle Dark, and Nora Blake has settled into her role as an actor in Derek Corby’s castle murder-mystery troupe. She is troubled, however, by the setting of Derek’s fall mystery: the catacombs in the depths of the castle. Yes, these catacombs are part of a set, the skeletons and cobwebs mere props, but Nora feels uneasy in the shadowy passages beneath Castle Dark. When a man is killed during one of their first shows, the eerie catacombs become a place of terror.

Joined by her castle companions, Nora attempts to find the motive for killing a seemingly innocent victim. Some of those answers appear to lie with the local community theater, the members of which Nora has come to know because she has joined Derek’s latest town production. As Nora practices her lines at Wood Glen’s Blue Curtain Theater, she realizes that everyone around her is an actor, and all of her suspects are perfectly capable of convincing others of their innocence. Nora soon discovers that someone else is in danger and that she may also be in the sights of the killer. With the help of her handsome boyfriend, Detective John Dashiell, Nora will have to go off-script to prevent a murderous encore. . . .

About the Author:

Veronica Bond is the pseudonym of a beloved author who has taught high school English for twenty-nine years.

Book Review – The Nature of Fragile Things

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Title: The Nature of Fragile Things

Author: Susan Meissner

Publisher: Berkley

Format: hardcover, but I read an e-book

Berkley gave me a copy for an honest review

Published On: Feb. 2, 2021

Genre: Women’s Historical Fiction

Determined to live a better life then she could have in Ireland or in the tenement in New York, Sophie Whalen answers a newspaper ad placed by Martin Hocking of San Francisco. He was a widower and father of a 5-year-old girl named Katharine. He didn’t want a new wife from San Francisco or someone who needed pampering. He needed someone to care for his child.

After a long trip, Sophie steps off the dock and is greeted by Martin. Shortly after, they take a carriage to the courthouse to be married and then go to Mrs. Lewis’ boarding house to pick up Kat. Sophie notices two things immediately: that Mrs. Lewis truly cares for the child and that Kat doesn’t speak.

Martin purchases clothes for Sophie and his daughter and they enjoy a wonderful lunch in their new home. This might not be a marriage of love, but everything seems so much better for both Sophie and Kat.

Sophie’s next door neighbor, Libby, arrives at her doorstep. Not only is she interested in knowing why she doesn’t have a maid, she wants to learn everything about Sophie and her new husband. In any era, one would call her a gossip. She’s also a snob. What Sophie needed was a friend.

Soon after, Martin takes to the road on business, or so he says. She is never told where he works and he disappears for days. She wonders what he’s not telling her. Is he seeing another woman?

In the meantime, Sophie tries to provide as normal a life as she can for Kat and hopes that in time she will be able to speak with her.  When Martin returns, he doesn’t invite Sophie into his bed or show compassion for his child.

Then one day Belinda shows up at their front door when Martin is out of town. He had informed Sophie that Belinda, who looks like she’s going to give birth any day now, was his cousin. Belinda is looking for her husband who apparently lives at this address. That’s when the truth comes out and San Francisco experiences a powerful earthquake.

The Nature of Fragile Things was the best book I’ve read so far this year. It was good on so many levels. Sophie went from a bad marriage, to a terrible living arrangement  to a mysterious and dangerous second marriage. She was praying for a better life and walked right into the unthinkable. And yes, this can happen to women even today. Though total strangers, both women believed the other was telling the truth and against the odds of survival during the earthquake, Sophie tried to see that Belinda and her infant survived. As for Kat, she’s a child whose own mother is believed to be dead and she’s left with an emotionless father. There is still more, which I won’t reveal because you have to learn about it yourself. The author did a great job in presenting the devastation and emotional aspects of this natural disaster. She also captured the entitlement of the upper class even among the ruins.

five earthquakes out of five

Denise Fleischer

gottawritenetwork.wordpress.com

July 6, 2022

Book Review: Her Perfect Life by Hank Phillippi Ryan

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Title: Her Perfect Life

Author: Hank Phillippi Ryan

Publisher: Forge

Format: Hardcover, 325 pages

Published on: Sept. 14, 2021

 I was given this book for an honest review

Lily Atwood was seven when her 18-year-old sister, Cassie, vanished. Since that day, wherever she goes she wonders if Cassie is close by. Even as she stands at a podium, having won an Emmy for her investigative reporting, she thinks of Cassie and the danger her little victories put her in. Considering that people lose their jobs because of her.

Lily’s almost obsessive concern is justified. There are numerous reasons why she exists in a constant state of alert. She’s worried about her daughter’s safety. She doesn’t want the public to see Rowe in promotional videos. She prefers to shield her from a public presence. Her second concern is having full custody of Rowe and making sure her father stays away from her.

Lily’s sister’s disappearance has caused her to be constantly suspicious and hyper-assessing of every social situation. Dealing with her source only elevates her anxiety. He begins to get a little too personal telling her that something is going to happen at her daughter’s school and then begins to call more.

Greer Whitfield is Lily’s producer. She learns about Cassie through Rowe and begins to research her disappearance. This is done without Lily knowing. It’s one thing to go behind her back, but now she’s putting her own life in danger.

Then comes the parallel story. This involves what really happened to Cassie. She’s an innocent young woman getting wrapped up in a moment in time where many lives are changed forever. Who was involved? Why? Who is lying? And what are they after now?

I had trouble putting the book down because I wanted to know if Cassie was still alive. I know that Lily had every reason to fear for her child’s life. Hey, it’s a crazy world out there and she made a lot of enemies. This type of book could only be written with multiple POV’s. Greer and Cassie’s POV were necessary to unravel the truth. There is one scene, though, that I question if Lily would have gone with a total stranger even if he identified himself. I think she would have checked him out first. All in all, loved this book and I’m giving it to my daughter to read next.

four out of five cold cases

Denise Fleischer

gottawritenetwork.wordpress.com

July 2, 2022

 

 

Renee Linnell Shares About Hard Lessons Learned

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Renee Linnell is the author of The Burn Zone, a memoir (2018). A serial entrepreneur, she has founded or co-founded five companies. She is currently starting a publishing company to give people from diverse walks of life an opportunity to tell their stories.

Why is it so difficult for people to “take the leap into a life that (they) love”?

Most people are afraid of the unknown. When we are children we are used to being uncomfortable because the whole world is unknown. But as we grow older we learn how to create “safe” environments and then we get stuck. The familiar feels “safe,” and we get so used to doing the same job and being with the same person in the same house that we begin to believe we don’t have the skill set to start a new career or think we don’t know how to be in the world alone. What we don’t realize is that the deep soul pain that comes with “being stuck” is much more painful that whatever we would experience if we jumped into the unknown.

You’re very candid about the hard lessons you learned from years of bad choices, bad breaks, and crushing blows.  What’s your definition of living happily every after?  Why were these experiences necessary to becoming the best you possible?

Tribal cultures have rights of passage into adulthood. These rites of passage show adolescents they have what they need inside of them to survive in this world on their own. Cultures without them are overrun with “kiddults” (entitled adults expecting others to do things for them, to save them, and to make them happy.) I consider what I went through my rites of passage. These experiences were necessary because they taught me that I can survive anything life throws at me—which is an incredibly powerful realization. My definition of living happily ever after is: being present, grateful, kind, and loving. When we are present in the moment we are able to notice the gifts in each moment; when we are always focused on the future we live in anxiety and fear wondering if what we want to happen will happen—telling ourselves we will be happy when some arbitrary event happens. The empowering realization that I can survive whatever life throws my way helps me relax into the present more often—and the present is where all the power and magic lies.

We live in highly polarized times on so many fronts.  Why do you say it’s pointless to continually try to get others to see the world from one’s point of view?

Other people can’t see from our point of view because they are not us. Quantum physics is finally confirming what saints and shamans have been saying for thousands of years: our thoughts create our reality. If there are 8 billion of us, each with our own unique thoughts, there are 8 billion different realities. When we try to shift someone’s point of view we are trying to alter their reality (which is how they make sense of this world)—and that really scares people—which is why they so vehemently cling to their perspective. Only people who are open to having their reality shifted are open to seeing from other points of view; most people are too afraid and are only able to see through a new point of view after life has come along and smashed them around a little. Words don’t teach, only life experience teaches. I love the quote by Ziad K Abdrinour, “For those who understand, no explanation is needed. For those who do not understand, no explanation is possible.” It is so much easier, kinder, and more efficient to allow people their point of view and to use our energy instead to be a living example of the ways we wish to teach.

Why do so many of us attract people who treat us badly?

Too many of us were treated badly as children by overworked, overstressed, unhappy parents. We were loved and showered with attention when they felt good and had time, but neglected and verbally or emotionally abused when they did not. We were told we were too loud or in the way, or too energetic, or not enough and so we believed this about ourselves. As adults we gravitate toward love patterns that are similar. Don Miguel Ruiz says in The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom that we learn to judge and abuse ourselves the way our parents did, and that we put up with people who treat us as badly as we treat ourselves—if they treat us just a little bit worse, we won’t tolerate it and will remove that person from our life, but if they treat us as badly or a little less, we will stay in the relationship.

What’s the best way to get the “good love” that we deserve?

Self-love. The more we love and nurture ourselves, the less we will allow others to treat us badly. Self-love is so subtle: it’s making healthy, self-loving, self-nurturing choices in every moment. It’s as subtle as leaving 15 minutes early so we’re not stressed and angry in traffic, or checking in with our body when it’s time to choose food to see what our body really wants as nourishment. It’s not criticizing inside our mind: when we look in the mirror, when we make a mistake. Self-love takes constant vigilance and practice. It’s treating the child inside of us the way we wish a parent, friend, co-worker, the world, or a lover would treat her/him. Once we are this loving to ourselves all the time, we will notice we effortlessly attract in loving people.

Are we supposed to be happy all the time?  How should we handle the lows or painful moments in our lives?

No, we are not supposed to be happy all the time. (1) It’s impossible. (2) It would make life less enjoyable if we didn’t experience the opposites. In order to know pleasure we must know pain. And those of us who have experienced the most pain are often those of us who experience the most pleasure. As above, so below. When we can learn to be in awe of the human experience, we can learn to be in awe of our pain—to notice our mind state changing radically even when life circumstances have not shifted. Or, when life circumstances shift radically we can notice we have moments of joy and peace during the despair. If we could see lows and painful moments of our lives as necessary parts of our Divine Plan, we could surrender into them and allow the pain to cut through us, hollowing out more space to eventually hold more light. Remembering that this too shall pass.

You say it’s healthy and makes sense to believe in magic, miracles and divine intervention, yet so many people live with doubt and disbelief.  How can we open ourselves to the belief of something larger than ourselves?

It starts with being present. When we pay attention to what is unfolding in front of us in each moment, we don’t miss the rainbow or the butterfly or the string of green traffic lights just when we need them most. We notice the lyrics that we most need to hear in the song playing in the store we just entered. We notice the stranger arriving just in time to give us directions when we are lost or to open a door when we are loaded down with packages. And then we have to stop explaining away the “coincidences.” The more we notice, the more they will appear—the same way when we decide to buy a certain car or pair of shoes we start to see them everywhere.

Sex can be wonderful, yet our culture often labels it as taboo if experienced outside of certain rigid conditions.  Why is it important to reclaim our autonomy regarding sex?  How does sex work wonders for the body and soul?

Sexual energy is a very powerful, creative energy—so powerful that it creates new life. Our second chakra is our generative chakra (genitalia), so when we unite with another sexually, we create more of what is. When we unite sexually in love, joy, fun, play, and romance, we create more love, joy, fun, play, and romance—we send that vibration out into the world. In orgasm our mind quiets, even if just for a second, and we become fully present. This is mediation. And it is union with the Divine. Organized religions labeled sex taboo because if we can unite with the Divine on our own, we don’t need them as much and they hold less power. Properly flowing energy in the body flows from the root chakra at the base of the spine upwards through all the other chakras and out the crown of the head. When we shut down our sexual energy, we block this flow—and blocked energy in the body creates stagnation, pain, illness, and disease.

Western medicine and Big Pharma have fueled our national epidemic of body issues. What can we do in order to allow our thoughts and emotions to have the power to heal and protect us from disease?

Conventional Agriculture sprays and injects our food with chemicals, creating disease in our bodies when we ingest these chemicals. Mass Media bombards us with messaging to eat processed non-foods, which also creates disease in the body. Big Pharma then makes a fortune “treating” these diseases. And Western Medicine leans too heavily on treating the symptoms rather than the cause, and convincing us we cannot be healthy without it. So, the first thing we have to do is pay attention to what we are putting in our bodies. The more we love ourselves, the less we will be able to tolerate ingesting poisons and the less we will be able to make excuses for not getting proper sleep and exercise or living lives that don’t bring us joy. Our bodies are miraculous self-healing machines when treated properly and they constantly give us feedback when something is out of balance. When we make the conscious choice to fill our body with food and drink that is full of life force energy, and to not ingest poisons, we will notice it return to the well-being that is it’s natural resting state. And we will notice when we start to feel run down that our body is warning us we are getting out of balance in some way. If we rebalance immediately, we won’t get sick—and the rare times we do get sick we will honor that our body needs to purge toxins and rebalance through rest and we will allow it to, rather than taking drugs to mask the symptoms and continuing on with our bad habits.

Rather than dwelling on victimhood, you encourage others to “triumph after tragedy and…turn pain to purpose.” How were you able to do it?  What did you have to realize in order to accomplish this mindset?

I had to get to suicidal depression. Once I was ready to give up I had the thought, if I am going to leave, what would I miss? And the answers came quickly: I would miss calling my brother on the phone, strong coffee in my favorite mug, sunrise, sunset, clean sheets, babies, puppies, surfing, snowboarding, etc. I decided the next day to luxuriate in all the little things I would miss. That morning cup of coffee, thinking it may be my last, was the best cup of coffee I had ever had. The sunrise was so beautiful I couldn’t stop crying. Babies and puppies that day brought joy beyond imagining. Two hours into my day I never wanted to leave. I wanted to stay. And I had changed completely. From this joyful, grateful mindset I suddenly saw that I had been missing all of it—all of life. I had been so focused on crap that didn’t matter. And I suddenly saw how it took being so completely broken to arrive here—in this fresh new infant-like state of wonder. I saw how everything that happened to me happened for me, in order to break me apart so I could grow. And I realized how much of a badass I am to have walked through hell fire and come out laughing and loving and grateful on the other side.

What Cater-Waitering For Martha Stewart Taught Me by Ellen Byron

The first image I had of Martha Stewart is forever emblazoned on my brain. Having landed a freelance gig as a cater-waiter for her catering company, I took the train from Manhattan to Martha’s base in Westport, Connecticut to help prep for an event. A cab dropped me off at her historic home on Turkey Hill Road. I stepped inside the house and looked to my right. In an elegant, antique-filled living room, a blonde woman was laser-focused on assembling a gingerbread townhouse with a crème brulee torch.

I’m not being facetious when I say cater-waitering for Martha is probably the most interesting thing about me. Yes, I’ve been a sitcom writer-producer and mystery author. But how many people can say they stuffed snow peas and worked an omelet station next to the legendary lifestyle and entertaining queen? And who would have known that stuffing and serving those snow peas would have such an impact on my life? Lessons I learned working with Martha resonate decades later, both in life and in my mystery novels.

For party appetizers, we would cut and scoop new potatoes, then pack them with a filling. I used this technique for a recipe in one of my Cajun Country Mysteries. When Mia, the event planner protagonist in my Catering Hall Mysteries, has to run an offsite event, I dug deep into my memory bank to recall how we transported supplies from Turkey Hill to parties and galas in the tristate area. I know Martha would love my new Vintage Cookbook Mysteries. I can imagine her thumbing through the cookbooks for recipes to adapt and include in Bayou Book Thief  like I did, finding inspiration from past culinary and entertaining trends.

Martha also taught me to give a thousand percent. No one worked harder or with more commitment than she did. I remind myself of the high bar she set whenever I feel like bailing on a goal. Would Martha let herself off the hook if she didn’t hit her word count? Would she take the easy way out on plotting? Never. Recalling her work ethic often gives me the motivation to power through writing roadblocks or moments of pure laziness.

And working with Martha taught me to be “authentic.” The word is overused now but it might as well have been invented to describe her. The world you see in Martha’s books, magazines, and TV shows is her world. My Vintage Cookbook Mystery series is inspired by my own personal collection of these cookbooks. The passion I feel for the culinary and sociological history they represent is truly “authentic,” and I’ve shared that authenticity with my protagonist Ricki James-Diaz.

During the entire time I worked for Martha, a photographer followed us around snapping pictures. I was stunned when one day a gorgeous coffee table cookbook arrived at my apartment with a thank-you note from her. The book was titled Entertaining. If you have an early edition of this publishing juggernaut, you’ll find me posing next to Martha in the Cooper-Hewitt kitchen on page 29.

I hope to see Martha Stewart again someday and share the impact that my stint as one of her cater-waiters has had on my life. With every mystery I write, there are moments when I ask myself, “WWMD? What Would Martha Do?”

About the author:

Ellen Byron is the Agatha Award–winning and USA Today bestselling author of the Cajun Country Mysteries. As Maria DiRico, she also writes the Catering Hall Mysteries.