Build A Tree

Last weekend I put up our family’s Christmas tree. An artificial tree. Some of you are now cringing, aren’t you?

My philosophy: With an artificial tree, I don’t have to trek to the local tree stand every December, agonize over which tree to pick, hand over a wad of my hard-earned money, and then struggle to get the tree into and out of my car and up to my living room. I just have to pull a box from the basement shelf and carry it upstairs.

Bare

We’ve always had a “fake” tree, with the exception of one Christmas in the early 1980’s. That year, we bought a live tree, set it up in the living room, and diligently watered it every day. I remember one thing about that tree: My father knocked it over Christmas Day, in the commotion of the arrival of his mother and sister. Dad nimbly righted the tree and made sure the lights, tinsel, and ornaments were in order. No damage was done and my mother never knew of the incident.

I enjoy putting up the tree. I can make an analogy of how placing each branch in its proper place so the tree isn’t lopsided is like writing a book, but not in this post. This post is about how the ornaments we hang make the tree, whether it be a tree bought from the Smith Family Tree Farm or Sears in 1989.

There are many decorations on our tree that evoke the spirits of loved ones long gone and times when life was simple and carefree. Handmade ornaments are “gifts that keep giving,” year after year stirring our memories and warming our hearts.

Pink & Red

The above ornaments were made by my paternal grandmother. We have ten of these beauties in green, blue, yellow, pink, and red. Using sequins, velvet, and ribbon, Grandma turned plain Styrofoam balls into treasures we place front and center on our tree.  I think of her every year when I place each on a branch and throughout the season when I admire the tree. I’m sure every member of my family has the same sentimental thoughts. It’s amazing how the ornaments, at least fifty years old, still look brand new.

 Angel

This angel is very dear to me. I remember the day I created her so clearly. It was December 8, the Immaculate Conception, a Holy Day, so we Catholic grammar school kids had the day off. I went with my friend Kathy and her mother to our local pizzeria, where we each had a Sicilian slice. We then went to Kathy’s house for what is now called a play date. We each made an angel, using a pink egg carton, pipe cleaners, and glitter, and then watched The Nutty Professor with Jerry Lewis. The angel’s crown may be a bit loose, and I had to give her a new wing a few years ago, but she still holds the power to bring back the memory of that day spent with one of my first friends.

Marilyn Ornament

The Christmas in the year my sister-in-law Marilyn joined our family, she mailed us a box of handmade ornaments, one for each of us. The above, made of pine needles and cones, is the ornament I was lucky enough to receive. Each year when I hang it on the tree, I think of Marilyn’s thoughtfulness and generosity, and of her enormous talent. This is my “real” tree hanging on the artificial tree. So really, I have the best of both worlds.

Banner

I made this ornament in my early years of Catholic school. The use of macaroni is classic, and the assembly simply, yet the message is powerful and reminds us all of the true reason for the season.

Joann

Mass-manufactured ornaments can also hold special meaning. The above two remind me of my friend Joann. We worked together for seventeen years, and for many of those years I helped Joann put together our department’s small tree. When we moved to an open-space environment this year and we had no place to put the tree, Joann asked if I would like to take the boxes of ornaments home. She didn’t have to ask twice. So now every time I hang these CVS-purchased decorations, I’ll think of Joann and our time shared in the corporate jungle.

So put it all together and voila…

2014 Tree

There’s one last thing I love about the tree. One year in my childhood, as I was helping my mother put everything away, she told me of a tradition she kept every year. While taking the ornaments off the tree, she would pray for each member of the family, asking that they would have a happy, healthy year, and that we would all be together the next Christmas. It’s a nice way to end the holy season.

What holiday decorations bring back fond memories for you? And do you go with a live tree every year, or do you love the fake as I do?

I hope you are all enjoying the season. And I want to wish a very happy Hanukkah to everyone whose celebration begins on Tuesday.

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Cozy Up For Christmas

Last December I wrote a post on several terrific mysteries to add to your, or a loved one’s, Christmas list. I thought this year I would write about a few cozy authors  whose work I enjoy and admire.  You may already read some of these series, though perhaps you will find one or two you would like to add to your wish list this season.

Nancy Atherton - I fell in love with Atherton’s Aunt Dimity series this year. Set in the beautiful English village of Finch, this paranormal series has American Lori Shepherd as its main protagonist. Lori and her family moved to the Cotswolds after Lori inherited a charming cottage from her mother’s friend, Dimity. Though Dimity is deceased, she can communicate with Lori via a book Lori keeps in the study. All Lori needs to do is open the book, speak her piece, and read as Aunt Dimity’s lovely penmanship fills the pages with wisdom and advice. I’ve read three books so far (Aunt Dimity and the Wishing Well is my favorite) and none have featured murder. Rather, the mysteries Lori and Aunt Dimity investigate involve thefts, treasure hunts, and riddles. I’m eager for more visits to the English countryside to accompany Lori on her adventures.

Cleo Coyle - The Village Blend is the quintessential Manhattan coffeehouse at the center of Coyle’s bestselling Coffeehouse Mystery series. When manager and barista Clare Cosi isn’t creating a new blend for her customers, she is tracking down murderers with help from her NYPD detective boyfriend, Mike Quinn. In each book, Coyle (a pen name for an author and her husband) takes readers to beautiful New York City locales that aren’t included in a typical tour while weaving in puzzling mysteries, romance, and a strong sense of family. I’m a tea drinker, but this series makes me long for a cup of joe. It’s not too late to add Once Upon A Grind, released this month, to your wish list.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Elizabeth Craig/Riley Adams - Yes, this is one woman writing three cozy series. I’m exhausted already. The Myrtle Clover Mystery Series, which Elizabeth publishes under her full name Elizabeth Spann Craig, is set in North Carolina and features octogenarian Myrtle Clover. Myrtle, a feisty sleuth, is the star of eight books. As Elizabeth Craig, the author publishes The Southern Quilting Mysteries. Also based in a quiet North Carolina town, this series (the fifth book comes out next summer) features Beatrice Coleman, a retired art museum curator. The Memphis Barbeque Series, published under Craig’s pen name Riley Adams, has such titles as Delicious and Suspicious and Finger Lickin’ Dead in a series that has restaurateur Lulu Taylor as its lead character. There is something for every mystery reader in this buffet, I’d say. If not, then a sleuth needs to be dispatched at once to investigate the matter.

Mary Daheim – Daheim is one of the queens of the cozy world. She pens two series, the Alpine series with Emma Lord and the Bed-and-Breakfast Mysteries. I’m working my way through the B&B books, of which Clam Wake is the latest installment. Judith Flynn is the proprietor of Seattle’s Hillside Manor and the sleuth who solves the murders of her guests and other assorted Seattle residents. She is assisted by her husband, Joe, a retired cop, and her quirky cousin, Renie. This is a wacky series; one book (A Streetcar Named Expire) features a runaway ostrich. Judith’s obstreperous mother, Gertrude, makes regular appearances; she lives in the converted shed in Judith and Joe’s backyard and is always ready to insult anyone who crosses her path. This series has me dreaming of a visit to Seattle, though I’d definitely stay somewhere other than Hillside Manor.

Rosie GenovaMurder and Marinara, the first in Genova’s Italian  Kitchen Mystery series, had me craving a plate of spaghetti and a visit to the Jersey shore. When mystery writer Victoria Rienzi (Vic) returns to her family’s New Jersey home, she is soon involved in a murder investigation when a patron of her family’s restaurant drops dead on the premises. Poisoning is the cause of death, and Vic hurries to solve the case and save her family’s business. The Wedding Soup Murder, the second in the series, is at the top of my To Read pile. A third book will be published next fall. Grab a cannoli and a cup of espresso and enjoy.

 I hope you are enjoying this holiday season (make sure you take regular reading breaks)!

 

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Thanksgiving

cornucopia-full

It’s the time of year again for adding a leaf to the dining room table, advising any wild turkeys you might see on the road to go into hiding, and compiling a list of appropriate conversation topics to have with your relatives (Note to my family: I’d rather not discuss Notre Dame’s win-loss record. Thanks in advance).

It is also the time (though every day is a good day) for counting our blessings and giving thanks. Here are just a few of the things for which I am thankful.

I am thankful for my family and friends, good health, and job.

I am thankful for the men and women of the United States military who defend our country every day.

I am thankful to Five Star Publishing for their support of All Things Murder, and to the artists who designed its beautiful cover and book jacket. I look forward to working with the team again on Murder, By George.

I am thankful to Dru Ann, Lori, Kathy, and Yvonne. These ladies each gave me an opportunity to introduce myself and the book to their blogs’ readers. Thank you!

I am thankful to all who read All Things Murder. And my gratitude to the readers who emailed me to share their enthusiasm for the story. The gesture is very much appreciated!

I am thankful to have two terrific bosses (Hi Charles and Melissa!). Not only do they back me in my job every day, but they also have been great supporters of my book.

I am thankful for my wonderful co-workers. This has been a difficult year for us; our company has been re-structuring itself, a process that has led to layoffs. Several colleagues have left our department this year, some by choice and others because of decisions the company made. Saying goodbye to them has been a sad part of 2014. It will also be a part of 2015, as more layoffs are coming early next year. I wish all my buddies at the office the very best.

I am thankful to Patti, Eileen, Charles, and Laura for reading early drafts of Murder, By George and sharing their thoughts on Veronica’s next adventure.

Finally, I am thankful for you! I am grateful for your visits to All Things Cozy, and give thanks to everyone who follows the blog. If you don’t, why not click on the “Follow” button on the right side of the page?

I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy the time with your family and friends, the meal you will share with them, the parades, football games, and whatever kind of fun you make for yourselves.

 

 

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The Green Light

I have great news!

On Friday I received an email from my editor at Five Star, Tiffany Schofield, with an offer to publish the second Veronica Walsh Mystery, Murder, By George. I accepted immediately.

I’m thankful and excited that Five Star gave the green light for another Veronica adventure in Barton. I love writing the series, and deeply appreciate the readers who have told me they enjoyed All Things Murder and are looking forward to the next book. I can now officially say, “It’s coming!”

I’m eager to go through the publishing process again, and glad to know this time around what that process is. The first edit should come in a few weeks, with the second round due in early spring. I should get my first look at the cover around the time the class of 2015 receives their diplomas, and the advance copies sometime during the summer.

So, what is Murder, By George all about? The story begins a few months after All Things Murder ends, at Barton’s annual flea market. A young architect buys a vintage letter box and soon discovers a painting and love letter hidden in a locked drawer. The painting, a 1920’s view of Barton’s Orchard Street, was created by a renowned local artist and given to Eloise Griffin (mother to Ella and Madeline, Veronica’s canasta buddies) the night before her wedding. An argument ensues, with the Griffins, the man who sold the box, and the artist’s family all claiming rightful ownership of the valuable painting. Veronica is a witness to the debate, and soon plays amateur sleuth again when the architect is murdered.

I want to end by wishing a happy Veterans Day to all who have served our country, and would like to remember one particular veteran, Tom Brennan. Tom and I met in the dining hall during our freshman year at Notre Dame and he became one of the best friends I will ever have. Tom was a proud member of the Navy R.O.T.C. program and went on to serve with distinction in the U.S. Navy after our graduation. He spent nine months in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean region during the first Gulf War. After he was diagnosed with cancer, Tom was assigned land duty in Washington D.C. He fought the disease with great courage before passing on November 9, 1994. Tom is, and always will be, a warm and welcome presence in the hearts of all who loved him.

Have a great week, everyone.

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A Message To My Friends, The Feds

I’ve been doing research on the Internet for my next cozy mystery, reading up on deadly poisons, vehicular homicide, and strangulation as I work out who is the victim and who the murderer. I’ve paused more than once, imagining how I would explain my online searches if law enforcement and/or government officials (because you know they’re watching!) come a-calling. So I’ve composed the following letter of explanation.

Dear Uncle Sam,

You may have noticed my recent Internet searches lean toward the deadly. I want to assure you my interest in arsenic, cyanide, and strychnine is strictly professional. I want to know how to obtain these killer poisons solely in order to know how a person with sinister motives could get their hands on them. I have no interest in growing hemlock, mistletoe, or nightshade, but I do need to know how ingestion of these plants causes death, and how quickly.

Please don’t give a second’s thought to my online research on using a letter opener as a murder weapon. Or how much damage a car would sustain after hitting a pedestrian. And if you’re still checking library records, pay no attention to that book of poisons I borrowed yesterday. Again, all for research purposes.

You see, dear Uncle, my queries are for fictional purposes only. I have no desire to try them out in a non-fiction setting. I’m a mystery writer. I make stuff up and write it down until there are enough words to call it a book. If you need proof, my debut cozy, All Things Murder, is available in hardcover, paperback large print, and e-book. You’d like the story; it will take your mind off your problems for a while.

If you need further proof of my harmlessness, there are plenty of people who will attest to the fact that I am a good Catholic girl, a wimp, honest to a fault, a diligent payer of taxes, a tea drinker, and a slow driver.

Thank you for your understanding, Uncle. You are truly the best.

Your favorite niece,

Jeanne

P.S. I hope you don’t think I’m a jinx because I picked an all-bird World Series, Cardinals vs. Orioles. I was wrong. Go Royals. And Giants.

Have a great week, everyone. And a fun, spooky Halloween!

 

 

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All Things Stats

Numbers have always been attracted to me. My work in my professional life has always tended more toward numeric than alpha. Sales figures, advertising expenditures, the cost of printing a book. Who sold the most? Who charges the least? I have compiled many lists of top spenders, lowest cost suppliers, top five sellers.

So it’s natural for me to look for meaning in this blog’s statistics. I noticed the other day that residents of seventeen countries have visited the site. I know that some have stumbled across the blog while doing a Google search on “hyphens,” “freshman,” and “EKG.” But still, seventeen! Much more than I expected when I wrote my first post in July, 2013. Back then, I expected my only readers would be family and friends. The vast majority (+1500) of visitors are from the United States. Canada follows with just over forty. Being of Irish descent, I’m always pleased to see someone from Ireland has checked out All Things Cozy. Thirty-four residents from the “Old Sod” have stopped by for a look, as well as fifteen from the United Kingdom. Australians round out the top five, visiting nine times.

The blog’s home page has been looked over more than eight hundred times. I am delighted that the most-viewed single post is the piece I wrote in memory of my aunt, Marguerite, a few days after her passing. Thirty-four people have read about her inspiring, impressive life. More than twenty have taken a look at the guest post by author Liesa Malik (her second Daisy Arthur mystery will be out next year!), my thoughts on hyphens (I guess other people are afraid of them, too), the interview I did with author Lisa Haselton, and my Father’s Day post celebrating my dad and a few fictional fathers.

For those who have found All Things Cozy via search engines, Google and Yahoo were of course the top referrers. That’s appropriate, since I have googled and yahooed hundreds of times. My Facebook page for All Things Murder directed readers here eighty-eight times. I am grateful for that, despite my ambivalence toward, and slight fear of, Facebook. I love viewing the photos my family and friends post on their pages and reading the latest goings on in their lives. But I’m not one for posting about my own doings, and except for a couple of photos of my mother (faraway cousins want to see their beloved aunt), I only post photographs of trees, birds, and deer. I’m a listener, not a talker. I hope you understand, my Facebook friends.

Finally, search terms! I discovered this list in my WordPress stat section today. The top search terms involve my name, of course. There are a few that made me giggle.

Is ‘all things good’ hyphenated. I don’t think so. Neither is All Things Murder.

Words from Cardinal Dolan to a woman immodestly dressed. It wasn’t me.

Preposition song that the nuns taught us. I learned that preposition song in my Catholic grammar school, but a lay teacher taught my class. To the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy. About above across after…

Spooky freshman reading. What does that mean? Is there nothing scary about sophomore, junior, and senior reading? Is that freshman reading for high school or college?

I’d like to end on a completely unrelated note. The Nobel committee got it right with their awarding of the Peace Prize to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai. Congratulations, Mr. Satyarthi and Miss Yousafzai. You inspire us all.

Have a great week, everyone!

 

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It’s Good To Be #2

As in Derek Jeter, the New York Yankee shortstop who has worn the number two on his pinstriped uniform for the last twenty years. The baseball superstar retires today after a spectacular career.

The baseball and sports universe has celebrated Jeter throughout this season, with opposing teams presenting him with cool gifts, fans giving him standing ovations, and reporters lauding him in print articles and television specials. Earlier this month, the Yankees held a ceremony at Yankee Stadium before a Sunday afternoon game; several of Jeter’s former teammates and his longtime manager Joe Torre were there to honor him, along with Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. and basketball legend Michael Jordan.

The praise has been universal and well deserved. Jeter’s calm demeanor in high-pressure situations, steely mental strength, impeccable behavior, sportsmanship, unfaltering leadership, and generosity have been the character traits mentioned repeatedly. The work of the charity he founded, Turn 2 Foundation, which has helped many youngsters achieve their goals and lead healthy lives, has also received worthy attention for its tremendous accomplishments.

These qualities are the reason Jeter is an excellent role model for kids, but they also have made him an inspiration to adults. He has spurred us to strive for excellence: in our work, our charity, as parents, and as friends. In a time of less-than-admirable behavior from athletes and celebrities, it is remarkable that Derek Jeter never once in his long career did anything to embarrass himself, his family, his teammates, his employer, or his profession.

A great amount of the credit goes to his parents, Charles and Dorothy. Fans know that when Jeter was a kid, his parents made him and his sister sign a yearly contract outlining appropriate and inappropriate behavior. To play baseball, Jeter had to maintain certain academic grades and avoid drugs and alcohol. His mother did not allow him to use the word “can’t.” Dr. and Mrs. Jeter kept their son’s focus on his goal, to be the Yankees’ shortstop, guiding him with their wisdom and love.

Yankee fans will miss Derek Jeter, the baseball player, very much. We’ll miss his clutch hitting (he’s number six on the all-time hits list) and trademark fielding as shortstop. But we will miss Derek Jeter, the person, so much more. We need him to remind us of what we can be when we choose to be kind, to persevere in times of challenge, to put the team before the self.

Thank you, Derek.

I’ll end with a World Series prediction. Since the Yankees are out of the race, I’m going with an all-bird final (what can I say, I love birds): the Saint Louis Cardinals vs. the Baltimore Orioles. What do you think?
Have a great week, everyone!

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In The News

It’s been a quiet week. I have one bit of news: All Things Murder will be released in a large print format on October 22, with Amazon fulfilling orders starting November 12. We all know someone whose eyesight isn’t terrific. Large print material, as well as audio books, are blessings to readers who can no longer enjoy a good book due to poor vision.
Here is some more news from the past week that caught my interest…

I’ve never seen the face of Jesus on my toast, but this morning I swear I saw a dog’s face, complete with floppy ears and lolling tongue, in my blueberry muffin.

Derek Jeter has a lot of thank you notes to write.

I’m going to suggest this at work tomorrow. Wish me luck.

Yet more proof that reading is a great habit. Something to do on the aforementioned seventeen-minute work break.

Yay! A new season of The Good Wife starts tonight. I love this show and am looking forward to watching one of my favorite actors, David Hyde Pierce, who will appear in a recurring role.

To all unemployed dogs looking for work, there’s a job opening in College Station. You just have to impress a 12-member selection committee. Happy retirement, Reveille.

 

Enjoy the last day of Summer and have a great week!

 

 

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Goodreads, Literary Matchmaker

Do you know Goodreads? The site’s home page poses a terrific invitation: “Meet your next favorite book.” Goodreads, perhaps the world’s largest book club, is a wonderful place for readers to meet, discover authors and books, and discuss their love of literature.

Want to know what others thought of a book before you decide to read it? Goodreads stores reviews of thousands of books. Would you like to discuss the latest cozy mysteries, science fiction novels, or women’s fiction? Goodreads has a group for you to do just that! Interested in reading a novel by your favorite author before it’s released? At any given moment, advance copies of books are offered for giveaway on Goodreads.

Goodreads is also a wonderful site for authors. It has provided me with a platform to introduce All Things Murder and promote the book in the months’ since its release. Two months before the book’s debut, I ran a giveaway of four advance copies. More than 1,300 readers entered the contest, and several hundred added the book to their To Read bookshelf.

Goodreads helps authors reach readers through advertising. Authors can choose their own budget for an ad and direct the ad to readers of specific genres or the fans of specific authors. An ad I placed has been viewed thousands of times and has prompted more than one hundred readers to mark the book for reading.

Goodreads introduced a new feature recently: Ask the Author. Readers can post questions for participating authors to answers. It is yet another way for authors and readers to interact. I’ve answered a few of the “starter” questions Goodreads provided.

I’ve been a Goodreads member for a year now and am very happy to be a part of the site. I have discovered a few authors and their terrific books and have met very nice people in the cozy groups I have joined. Why not pay a visit to Goodreads yourself and check out all it has to offer?

Have a great week, everyone!

 

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Summer Reading Book Report

A few weeks ago I posted a list of a few of the books on my summer reading list. I have not yet read two of the five-The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin and Peter Mayle’s The Corsican Caper-but summer isn’t officially over until the twenty-third, right?

I highly recommend the three books that completed my list. If you are looking for a thought-provoking story, try The Arsonist by Sue Miller. Miller is known for setting a contemplative mood. In The Arsonist, the theme she examines is Belonging. Many of the characters, both main and minor, struggle, or have struggled, with a search for that place where they can make their home: physically, emotionally, and professionally. Home also includes family, whether formed by blood or shared experience. The search is not always easy, in real life or Miller’s fiction.

Tracy Weber’s Murder Strikes A Pose is a terrific start to the new Downward Dog Mystery series. Seattle yoga instructor and studio owner Kate befriends George, a homeless man, and his German shepherd, Bella. When George is murdered, Kate becomes Bella’s “foster-mother.” Weber cleverly combines Kate’s quest to find Bella a new home with her search for George’s killer. Murder Strikes A Pose has great charm and humor, and takes the reader on a visit to the beautiful city of Seattle. A bonus: in one scene, Kate directs students to imagine they are lying on a beach, soaking up the sun. I tried that one night at bedtime and had a wonderful dream that I was on a beach in Hawaii. Give it a try!

Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty by Diane Keaton was also an enjoyable read. I expected this short book to be a discussion on physical looks and aging and how they are treated in Hollywood. Keaton does touch on the pair, but also ruminates on other forms of beauty-architecture, the Southern California landscape, and the inner beauty of family and friends. I appreciated Keaton’s insight and the many glimpses she gave of her life with her children. There is a bit of rambling in Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty, but that’s one of the things we love about Keaton, isn’t it? It’s quite evident this book was not ghostwritten; I could hear Keaton’s voice speaking every word I read. It’s worth your time to read the musings of one of our best actresses.

Have a great week, everyone!

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