I knew that C.S. Lewis and I had more in common than our Christianity when he said, "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." Welcome to a celebration of faith, tea, and the written word. I'm always engaged in a book, and whether it's one I'm reading or one of the inspirational historical romances I write, there's always a cup of tea close by. Join me in a cup as we chat about faith, our favorite books and the exciting places our reading and writing adventures take us.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Ten Things with Davalynn Spencer...and a Giveaway!

Welcome Davalynn Spencer to Tea and a Good Book!

Wife and mother of professional rodeo bullfighters, Davalynn Spencer began her writing journey in the national rodeo market, winning awards in the process. Today she writes inspirational western romance – both historical and contemporary - and teaches writing at Pueblo Community College. She and her handsome cowboy have three children and four grandchildren and make their home on Colorado’s Front Range with a Queensland heeler named Blue. Connect with her online at www.davalynnspencer.com, www.Facebook.com/AuthorDavalynnSpencer.com and on Twitter @davalynnspencer.

1. If I could have a super power, it would be flight – as a bird on the wing or a horse on the run.

2. I wrote my first story in the sixth grade.

3. The second story I wrote (six years later) was about a cowboy come home to heal up after being injured at a rodeo. The next year I met him. Two years later, I married him.

4. Bacon makes everything better.

5. While vacationing in Southern California, I was on the Price is Right and took home the loser consolation prize of a suitcase, a carton of Jelly Belly Jelly Beans, and a blender that sounded like a tractor. I thought I did all right because the grand prize of the day was a vacation to Colorado. We live in Colorado.

6. Writing is a compulsion. I must find the words to show what I imagine or see or feel or smell … I must find just the right words to paint the message of God’s great love story.

7. I prefer shoes with no shoe strings.

8. My favorite ice cream is also Colorado’s favorite ice cream: Chocolate mint chip. I knew I loved this state for a reason.

9. When my husband was seriously injured during his rodeo bullfighter days, I dressed up in his baggy pants and carried on with the comedy acts between rodeo events. Didn’t fight bulls during the bull riding, though. Mama didn’t raise no fool.

10. I love storms. Maybe it’s because I’ve always lived near mountains and I’m awed by the power and intensity of a storm that rolls up against the Rocky Mountains and thunders down their rugged slopes. Or maybe it’s because storms remind me that I serve a God who wraps himself in light, makes the clouds his chariot, and rides on the wings of the wind (Psalm 104:2, 3).  
 
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Thank you, Davalynn! I love #3...and I'm curious about #9! That sounds like quite a story...oh my goodness!
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Davalynn has graciously offered to giveaway a copy of her newest release, Romancing the Widow, to one randomly-chosen commenter!
Romancing the Widow

Martha Stanton Isn't Looking for Love


The light went out of Martha's soul when her husband fell to a bullet in St. Louis. Now, back in her hometown of Cañon City, she's convinced she'll never know happiness again. Until she crosses paths with a darkly mysterious Colorado Ranger.

Haskell Jacobs has a mission. And the beautiful, flame-haired widow sure isn't it. But Martha is somehow mixed up in the crime that brought Haskell to the rough-and-tumble town…and soon, she's entangled in the lawman's heart. But the danger that lurks around them is all too real. Can they find strength and love in each other before it's too late?
 

To enter, please leave a comment with a way to contact you by 11:59 PDT Thursday, July 31, 2014. The winner will be announced here!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Tabbouleh from my Garden

One of the best things about summer is the produce that grows right in my very own yard.

This year we've had a bumper crop of plums, which has been fabulous. A few peaches, a few nectarines, both delicious, but the plums have been in their element.

I also grow tomatoes, parsley, and mint, which constitute a large portion of tabbouleh, one of my family's favorites hot weather meals.


It's healthy and delicious. Let me know if you try it!

Tabbouleh Salad


2/3 c. bulgur wheat
1 lg bunch parsley, chopped
Mint sprigs, to taste (I like a handful), chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 T. olive oil
Juice of 1 juicy lemon
few dashes allspice
1 t. minced garlic, optional

Optional add ins: garbanzo beans, cucumbers

Cook bulgur wheat according to package directions and let cool. Combine all ingredients with bulgur wheat and refrigerate until ready to serve.

That's it! Enjoy.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Jane Austen's Potpourri

Ah, the sweet smell of historical romance. When I open a romance set in America or Europe of the past, the scents are easy to imagine: fresh air, scythed grass, naturally musky heroes, and rose-scented ladies. Except in real life, our characters might not have smelled so, er, pleasant.
Thanks to poor waste management and infrequent bathing and clothes washing, our romantic heroes and heroines (and ancestors) were not Zestfully Clean by today’s standards, and were no doubt familiar with strong odors of the body, animal, and garbage varieties.
Ladies being ladies, however, our foremothers did something about it.
George Dunlop Leslie's "Pot-pourri" circa 1874. Public Domain. The gown is gorgeous, isn't it?
Potpourri, the blending of herbs, oils, and leaves to create a pleasant fragrance, was popular in Europe since the 1600’s. Anyone with access to fragrant plants could blend them in a bowl and keep them on hand to improve the fragrance of their homes. By the mid to late 1700’s, when Jane Austen's parents were young, the wealthy could show off their nice-smelling stuff in gorgeous bowls and lidded vases produced by some of the finest craftsmen in Europe, which, as you can see from the above painting, were still in use during the Victorian period--and are highly collectable today.
Here are a few fancier pieces.
My (wealthy) Regency characters all boast Sèvres porcelain pieces from France in their rooms because such items were  found in English drawing rooms at the time, and I think they're lovely. The lidded potpourri vase below is on display at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles in California. It was crafted in a boat shape of paste porcelain about 1760 and painted pink and green with gilding.


Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program.

I love the pink color and the detail. See the holes for the good smells to permeate through? Only a dozen of these were made (but English craftsmen copied them in other colors through the next hundred years).

Here's another Sèvres piece from the Getty, one of a pair found in the bedroom of Madame de Pompadour, mistress of King Louis XV. 

Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program
This one is interesting to me because of the Chinese woodcut scene copied onto the side, and the unique structure of the vases. Divided into thirds, the vase's bottom housed flowering bulbs; the middle section held potpourri; and the pierced lid let the good smells escape.

For fans of the color blue, here is a pair of vases for you (also on display at the Getty). These came from the Vincennes Porcelain Factory in France, circa 1755.
Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program
The lapis color had only been invented a few years previously and was difficult to get right.

England's porcelain factories created pretty vases, too. The ones below were made by Minton & Co. of Stoke-on-Trent in 1855 (displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum).
File:Mintonvanda.jpg
VAwebteam
It's interesting to note that it was modeled on an earlier Sèvres piece, just as the boat-shaped vase at the top was copied in many colors as time went on.
Forgive the quality of the photo below, but I took it on my cell phone at the Huntington Library in Pasadena, California. This fancy pink piece was made by the Chelsea Porcelain Manufactory in England in the 18th century.

by Susanne Dietze
The painting on the side is so detailed. What a pretty piece!

Whether or not you have your own porcelain potpourri vase, you can still pretend to be Jane Austen and make your own potpourri. You can search out old recipes, but the one on display at the Huntington Library is pretty simple:

Combine alternating layers of fragrant plants and salt until the container is full. Cover and place container in the sun, stirring every other day, for a year before use. (Yes, a year! Some recipes apparently "brewed" for nine years!)

And just what plants to use? Try rose petals, lavender, marjoram, thyme, laurel, cloves, nutmeg, carnations--just to name a few.

As for me, I'll go the quick route and light a scented candle. At least today.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Murder at the Mikado--a Dashing Art Deco Murdery Mystery!


What makes a good mystery novel? A murder most foul, confusing clues, red herrings, danger and a seemingly impossible-to-solve puzzle unraveled by a likable sleuth (and his/her helpful assistants, of course). Julianna Deering's latest Drew Farthering Mystery, Murder at the Mikado, has all my criteria in spades, set on a grand estate in a charming English village during the swanky 1930's Art Deco period.

But before I get carried away, here's the blurb on the back of the book:

When a celebrated actor is found murdered in his dressing room, all signs point to Drew's old flame. But behind the curtains nothing is what it seems and this quickly becomes his most puzzling case yet.
Just as Drew Farthering thinks his life has calmed down some, Fleur Landis, a former girlfriend, reappears, in dire need of his help. She's married now, no longer an actress--but the lead actor in her former troupe's production of The Mikado has been murdered, and Fleur is the police's number one suspect.

Drew would rather focus on his fiancée, Madeline Parker, and their upcoming wedding, but he can't leave Fleur and her family in the lurch--even if she did break his heart once. As Drew, Nick, and Madeline begin investigating, they discover more going on behind the scenes of the theater troupe than could ever have been imagined. It seems nearly everyone had a motive, and alibis are few and far between.

Both the murder case and the presence of the beautiful, exotic Fleur put a heavy strain on Drew and Madeline's relationship. Will their still-young romance survive the pressure?

***

After reading the previous two Drew Farthering Mysteries, I expected Drew to be up for more investigating. I should have known this next investigation might cost him dearly. When the fabulously-named Fleur Landis shows up begging ex-flame Drew's help clearing her name, something about her raised my hackles (as it were)--and those of Drew's sweet fiancée, Madeleine. It's not pretty.

Neither is the murder, nor the ones that follow (should that have been a spoiler alert? One sort of expects more than one dead body in a murder mystery, doesn't one?).

Drew and Madeleine's relationship is put to the test. However, Drew is compelled to continue the investigation, despite the damage it's causing his relationship with Madeleine.

One of the threads in the novel's tapestry is the Gilbert & Sullivan productions put on by the theatre company, including musical comedy The Mikado.
File:The Story of the Mikado - Cover.png

There's nothing comic about the murder of the troupe's lead actor, however, nor in the secrets Drew uncovers as he investigates. There's a lot on the line, and not just for Drew and Madeleine. Drew, Madeleine, and Drew's faithful friend Nick struggle to solve the case, set to the tunes of Gilbert & Sullivan.

One of the things I loved most about this book is the growth of the characters. They aren't flat, two-dimensional sketches, but evolving, conflicted people with scars, flaws, and hard choices. The main characters rely on their Christian faith, which I appreciate.

Meanwhile, the plot is twisty and tricky, the setting fun, and the murders gruesome and in need of justice. Just what I look for in a good murder mystery--and just what Deering delivers yet again.

***

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Bethany House, in exchange for my honest review. A positive review was neither expected nor promised.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ten Things with Lisa Belcastro...and a Giveaway!

Image of Lisa Belcastro

Lisa Belcastro lives with her family on island of Martha’s Vineyard. She writes inspirational romances set on the Island and the surrounding waters.  She loves chocolate, reading, writing, running, working in her gardens, including weeding, and almost all outdoor activities -- as long as the temperature is above sixty degrees! Being on or near the water is pure joy for her, and she is so happy the warmer weather has arrived.

When she’s not at her desk working on her next novel or writing the cuisine column for Vineyard Style Magazine, Lisa is volunteering at her daughter’s school, serving in her church community, gardening, training for her first 50-mile road race, or walking the beach looking for sea glass.
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Thanks for inviting me to stop by on the release day of Shenandoah Dreams. I’m thrilled to be here! Now let me see if I can think of ten “interesting” things to share with you and your readers.
 

  1. I keep my books, CDs, and DVDs in alphabetical order.  There, I’ve said it. I’m a bit of neat freak.  BUT, I do not impose this on anyone else. My family has yet to appreciate this wonderful trait, and I merely look the other way when walking by their rooms.  J
  2. In my humble opinion, no movie is complete without popcorn. If I’m going to the movies in the afternoon, I skip lunch and eat popcorn for lunch. If we’re going at night, I skip dinner and then order a large popcorn lightly buttered and a bottle of water. One of my favorite treats. Please don’t ask me to share my bucket of popcorn, unless we order the extra large.
  3. I love walking the beach looking for sea glass. This is not a causal endeavor, though it is more relaxing than anything else I do. I walk slowly, often bent over to see the smaller pieces better. I have jars, bottles and dishes filled with sea glass. Each piece reminds me how God takes the broken and jagged pieces of my life and refines them into something smooth and beautiful.
  4. I love chocolate! Who doesn’t, right? But my big confession is that I eat chocolate every day. Life is too short to skimp on the good stuff, and I do run every morning and burn a fair bit, if not all, of those chocolate calories. This year I gave up chocolate for Lent. Forty-plus days without one taste of nirvana. I will not lie and tell you it got easier as time went on. It didn’t! I was counting the days until I could pop a Cadbury Mini Egg into my mouth. J
  5.  Who else watches their favorite movies multiple times? I have watched Something’s Gotta Give, Notting Hill, Love Actually, and Ever After well over two hundred times.  Admittedly, there have been nights when I’ve plunked the DVD into the player and watched only ten to fifteen minutes of a favorite scene to fill my heart and mind with happily ever after before heading up to bed. I’m a hopeful romantic who loves setting the stage for sweet dreams. 
  6. Is there anyone out there who enjoys waiting in lines? Long lines, say three people or more, used to drive me crazy. I would plan my shopping and errands around the slower times of the day. About fifteen years ago I realized I was too busy and too worried about getting everything done. And, it was too complicated trying to coordinate the least busy time at the post office with the least busy time at the grocery store with the flow of traffic on the roads. I had to change my outlook. I needed something distracting but enjoyable to do while I waited. So, I began playing the “life story” game as I stood in lines. I would pick one person or a couple or a family, and write a chapter in their lives. Waiting became entertaining, and I often find myself chuckling or sighing at the novellas I am writing in my mind while I wait in the check out line.
  7. One day, if I win Lotto, I’d love to own a classic Shelby Mustang. 
  8. I am a member of TEAM 413, a group of athletes who spread the love of Christ while competing in the sport of his or her choice. Fortunately, this does not require me to preach to anyone, especially while I’m running a road race. All TEAM 413 members wear TEAM 413 tech shirts that have Philippians 4:13 on the back – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” As we’re running or competing, fellow competitors often comment on the shirt. Some people say a quick hello and keep going, but many run along side for a while and want to chat. The message on the shirt, and hopefully our smiling faces, invites others to share whatever burdens are on their hearts or ask questions about God and Jesus. I run a couple dozen races a year, and I haven’t run one yet where at least one person hadn’t wanted to talk for a bit. Such a blessing.
  9. Now for a quirky confession, or perhaps a wimpy one: I live on a beautiful island off the coast of Massachusetts. The water is cold . . . all the time according to my body temperature. And, there are fish and other slimy things in the water. I love being near the water. I love being on the water. I love the sound of the water washing over the shore. But I do not go in the water above my knees. Total wimp, I know, but I okay with that!
  10. The one habit I have that all the girls hate is my love of weeding. I thoroughly enjoy any time I spend in my gardens, and weeding is no exception. Though time consuming, pulling out the unwanted plants gives me plenty of thinking time. For years, weeding was on the chore list and everyone was required to help at some point during the week. I won’t bore you with the many complaints I’ve heard. Last summer I got smart. I removed the task from their list of chores and now we all enjoy my time in the garden.
 
If you won the lottery, what would you buy or do?

One commenter will win a copy of Shenandoah Dreams. Be sure to leave your comment by Thursday, July 3, 11:59 PDT. The winner will be randomly selected and announced here on Friday, July 4!

***

Thanks for sharing with us on your release day, Lisa! Congratulations!

Here's a link to buy Shenandoah Dreams.



Monday, June 23, 2014

Ten Things with Author Mary Ellis--and a Giveaway!

Welcome to Mary Ellis!

 Mary Ellis
Mary grew up close to the eastern Ohio Amish community, Geauga County, where her parents often took her to farmer’s markets and woodworking fairs. She loved their peaceful, agrarian lifestyle, their respect for the land, and their strong sense of Christian community. She met her husband in college and they married six days after graduation. She, her husband, dog and cat now live close to the largest population of Amish in the country—a four-county area in central Ohio. They often take weekend trips to purchase produce, research for her best-selling books, and enjoy a simpler way of life. Mary enjoys reading, traveling, gardening, bicycling and swimming. Before “retiring” to write full-time, Mary taught Middle School in Sheffield Lake, Ohio and worked as a sales rep for Hershey Chocolate for twenty years—a job with amazingly sweet fringe benefits.
 
Mary has generously offered to giveaway a copy of her most recent Amish release, A Plain Man--so don't forget to leave a comment to enter the drawing!
 

Ten Things about Mary:

 
1) As a child I fully intended to marry a Amish famer when I grew up. As an adult, once I realized how hard Amish wives work, I decided to write about their simple culture instead.
 
2) I used to jump off the high-diving board and find a quarter on the pool bottom in 20 ft. of water. Now I can barely hold my breath a minute.
 
3) I love lima beans, broccoli, Brussell sprouts and anything green.
 
4) I prefer maps over my GPS.
 
5) I studied Spanish in high school, college, and night school. Yet when I visited Mexico, my accent was so appalling, locals didn't recognize their language.
 
6) One summer I was a volunteer snake handler at the Cleveland Zoo giving programs to summer camps and daycares.
 
7) My ideal vacation always includes a beach.
 
8) I have been swimming with giant tortoises, dolphins, sand sharks and unfortunately, sea urchins.
 
9) I have worked at least 10 jobs during my lifetime, but being an author is my all-time favorite.
 
10) My latest release, took me back to Winesburg and Shreve, Ohio, where I began my Amish release 7 years ago.
 
You can visit Mary's website, www.maryellis.net.

A Plain Man:
 
Though Caleb Beachy lived in the Englisch world for some years, he is a Plain man at heart. When he decides to return to the Amish lifestyle, he moves back home and goes to work for his father. Soon these two strong-willed men find themselves at odds. Caleb discovers there's more to embracing his faith and reconnecting with the community than merely driving a horse and buggy and giving up Levis.
 
Josie Yoder was just a girl when he left. All grown up now, she gives Caleb hope for the future. She soothes his frayed temper and is determined to remind him that while his faith may have wavered, God never left his side. Caleb is tempted to return Josie's feelings, but the choices he made while away are a heavy burden on his conscience. Will past mistakes end up destroying their fledgling romance? Or will she be able to break through the wall around his heart?
 
A Plain Man is more than just a sweet romance centered in Amish beliefs. It's the ever-fresh story of a wounded heart finding joy, health, and healing in God's infinite grace.

Don't forget to leave a comment by 11:59 pm PDT Thursday, June 12, to be entered into the drawing for A Plain Man. The winner will be announced Friday, June 13!
 
 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Ten Things with Author Brenda Taylor--and a Giveaway!

Welcome Brenda Taylor!

The desire to write historical fiction has long been a passion with Brenda B. Taylor. Since elementary school, she has written stories in her spare time. Brenda earned three degrees: a BSE from Henderson State University, Arkadelphia, Arkansas; a MEd from Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas; and an EdD from Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas; then worked as a teacher and administrator in the Texas Public School system. Only after retirement could she fulfill the dream of publication.

Brenda and her husband make their home in beautiful East Texas where they enjoy spending time with family and friends, traveling, and working in Bethabara Faith Ministry, Inc. She crafts stories about the extraordinary lives of ordinary people in her favorite place overlooking bird feeders, bird houses, and a variety of blooming trees and flowers. She sincerely thanks all who purchase and read her books. Her desire is that the message in each book will touch the heart of the reader as it did hers in the writing.
 
Barbara has graciously offered to give a free ebook of her novel, Through the Storm. Be sure to leave a comment to enter the drawing!

Ten Things About Brenda:
 
Ten Things About Brenda:
1.      Having a desire to write since childhood, I finally put pen to paper and wrote an inspirational historical novel after retirement.
2.      I retired from the position of elementary school principal after serving as a teacher and school administrator in the Texas public schools.
3.      My interest in all things Scottish was stirred when I discovered an ancestor emigrated from Scotland to North Carolina in the early 1800’s. We have no record of where he lived in Scotland, only that he was born there.
4.      My ancestral clan is Clan Munro. My husband and I are traveling to Scotland this summer and attending a Clan Munro gathering. This is my third visit to Scotland.
5.      Scotland is one of my favorite places to visit because I am researching a series of Scottish historical novels. The first, A Highland Pearl, will be released in August.
6.      Texas A&M University maroon is my favorite color.
7.      I favor Texas winters over summer. A cozy fire on the hearth and a cup of hot chocolate with a love story on television are some of my favorite things.
8.      The activity I enjoy most, other than writing, is playing the organ for my church.
9.      My husband and I have traveled throughout the United States and Canada in our RV.
10.  Through the years I have discovered—life is what you make it. Life can be interesting and challenging or boring and uneventful. All depends on the choices you make and your attitude.


To buy Brenda's books, visit here:

 
Don't forget to leave a comment by 11:59 PDT Thursday, June 19. A winner will be announced here Friday, June 20.