Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Downsizing... Sort Of

My July book is The Forbidden Brother!
I’d never make it in a tiny house.

I’m clearing out my home this month as I’m contemplating a move. I’ve got furniture for sale to thin down what I own, and I’m dragging boxes out of storage to get rid of everything I don’t need. It’s so much tougher than it sounds.

Last week, I assured one of my sons that I wanted to get rid of everything I had boxed up in the attic. I figured if I didn’t look at it, I couldn’t get sucked into nostalgia or into thinking I might need something again. I had a vague idea that the paperwork was all from former jobs before I started writing romance. There were graduate school papers up there too, work that I’m proud of but since I probably won’t re-enter the academic world, it’s nothing I’ll need. Yet I feared that if I started looking through the boxes, I’d find things I wanted to keep. Sentimental memories of trips taken, friends that I don’t see anymore, you know the drill. So I gave an executive order to toss it all.

A few hours later, my son came downstairs with a photo of his brother as a toddler, the cutest picture imaginable. He said, “Are you sure you don’t want to check in the boxes first?”

There went my resolve! I had to dig through the old things, fearing I might throw away something vital. Yes, it ended up taking hours of my time, but it was really fun to walk down memory lane. I found photos from graduate school and remembered fun classes I took with people I haven’t seen in eons. A photo of a bear that I apparently saw in person in the Smoky Mountains and have no memory of. How could I forget photographing a bear in a tree? On the back of the photo, I wrote in ink, “The infamous bear!” Well apparently he was only infamous briefly as I’d forgotten all about him.

Thankfully, I did end up throwing away most of the box. Brilliant essays gone forever! All my carefully archived press releases written for my first job. All my memories from the time as a TV promotions director—in the recycle bins now. It would be easier if I could tell myself that I’ll always have the memories in my head, but if the bear is any indication, I actually don’t have a good mental record of the past! Maybe I should be glad that my life has been so wonderfully full I simply can’t recall all of it.

Win the follow-up to
The Forbidden Brother
I learned that it pays to have a strong son to help my cleaning endeavors. Also, that executive orders aren’t always a good idea given my faulty memory. And, as I sit here with a file folder full of old photos, I have learned that I’d never be a candidate for life in a tiny house. Who knows, there might be a book waiting to burst out of these old images, after all. I don’t want to miss out.

*** Tell me whether or not you’d be game to try living the tiny house trend, and I’ll give one random poster a copy of my August release, Wild Wyoming Nights! Learn more about all the McNeill Magnates stories at my website, and while you're there, make sure to enter my monthly contest.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Lara Temple: The Magic and Romance of Summer’s Solstice

Today is summer solstice! This day plays a role in the current book I’m working on, a Regency Highland romance that is part of a four book continuity series with three other lovely historical romance authors.

When my heroine, the plain and penniless widow Jo Langdale, has to comfort her new charge, the widowed Duke of Lochmore’s son, she tells him the tale of the magical mice – how summer’s solstice is the one the day in the year when magic descends on cats and mice and they remember that once in the distant past, before a wizard cursed the animals, they were friends.

And it is on the day of the annual Highland ball held at Lochmore that my heroine and my hero Benneit, the handsome, widowed, single-father Duke of Lochmore have their own magical moment of transformation...

Here is an excerpt from the Summer Solstice Ball…

Jo felt the guests staring as Benneit drew her onto the dance floor and her gaze fell to his shoes and her slippers, somehow moving to the lovely music. She did not recognize it – it was light and dream-like, as if the composer had crawled inside her head and listened to a long lost dream of hers as she had watched Benneit lead Bella and a dozen other beautiful women onto the dance floors of London, their hands in his, earning his smile and his charm and eventually his love.
It made little sense that he was dancing with her now, his hand warm on hers through her glove, his fingers shifting slightly on her waist as he guided her.
‘Are you counting your steps? You don’t need to, you dance beautifully.’ He said and there was laughter in his voice and something else she could not read. Was she embarrassing him? She looked up and smiled.
‘I’m sorry. I was listening to the music. It is so lovely. There is something so…wistful about waltzes. Sometimes I think they should be danced with eyes closed.’
‘If everyone did that it might wreak havoc on the dancefloor.’
‘That is a very practical consideration but not at all relevant to daydreams.’
‘Ah, this is day-dreaming Jo. What tale would unfold behind your lowered lids? Wizards and magical mice again?’
She shook her head, embarrassed to have even said as much, but he continued.
‘You could do that now – close your eyes and dream away.’ His voice sank, and there was heat in it but also a raw edge that brought with it the memory of that brief, wild embrace on the cliff path; the aftermath of fear and fury and the grasping at life.
She didn’t tell him that this time she did not want to close her eyes. That there was no daydream that could outdo this moment. It was a dream come real but with the bitter twist of all such dreams – it was still out of reach and all the more vicious for that chasm. She did not want the moment ruined by bitterness so she kept her smile and forced herself to look up from her contemplation of orange and blue pattern of his kilt.
It was a mistake. She had been warm before but the look she surprised in his eyes seared her skin. In this civilized setting the stark desire in his eyes reached out and grabbed her like a dog sinking its fangs into a rabbit.
‘Jo.’ His voice was so low she felt rather than heard the word, it reached her through his hands on her and the air around them. She could hardly feel her feet on the floor. Had no idea if she was dancing or suspended in his arms like a rag doll. All she could do was feel him; that she was already part of him.
Then the music slowed and the world returned – noisy, colorful, buzzing with chatter and laughter and the scuffing of shoes on the floor. It sounded strange, unrelated to her.
When his hands left her she made her way towards where the butler stood overseeing his small army of footmen. She wanted to be useful. Useful was where she was safe.

Author Contact Links
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Twitter: @laratemple1
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Wild Lords Series:
#1: Lord Hunter’s Cinderella Heiress:
#2: Lord Ravenscar’s Inconvenient Betrothal:
#3: Lord Stanton’s Last Mistress:

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Dani Collins: His Blushing Bride - Free!

I've been in a small fluster lately. My parents moved in with us back around Mother's Day.

Coincidentally, that was my husband's birthday this year. That's pretty much what every fifty-something man asks for his birthday, isn't it? That is mother-in-law move in with him? Actually, Mom has been doing a lot of the cooking, so he's genuinely quite happy. (I do next to zero, so...)

And it's not a health issue that caused this, so we're all grateful for that.

No, it was flooding. My parents came to us one night as a precaution. My dad was angry with himself that he didn't 'stay and fight it,' but that turned out to be a good thing. Those who stayed were evacuated in the middle of the night, some of them sound asleep and unaware that their bedrooms had an inch of water on the floor until they stood up.

My parents' house was surrounded by water for about twelve days. No injuries, no fatalities in the entire area, so that's another win! But my parents have a few more steps before they're approved to go back in. It's proceeding, slow but sure. As disasters go, this has all been fairly manageable. We keep focusing on the bright side and today I have another one.

I get to offer you a free eBook!

His Blushing Bride is a sweet and sexy romance between a playboy nerd and a virgin school teacher.

Piper and Bastian think they can have a no strings affair and promptly trip into love. I have a lot of favourite scenes in this one, but one of them is when Piper tries to lock Bastian out of the bathroom. I adore when a confirmed bachelor realizes he's an idiot. Don't you?

His Blushing Bride is free on all platforms for a limited time. Here are all the quick links:

US | CA | UK | AUS | Nook | iBooks | GooglePlay | Kobo  

His Blushing Bride is Book Four in my Love In Montana series. If you like to read in order, they go like this:

1) Hometown Hero
2) Blame the Mistletoe
3) The Bachelor's Baby
4) His Blushing Bride
4.5) Scorch*
5) His Christmas Miracle

*Scorch takes place in Glacier Creek, not Marietta, but Piper and Bastian come for a visit. 

Read more about this series here and enjoy!

Dani Collins is a USA Today Bestselling author of forty titles for Harlequin Presents, Tule's Montana Born, and herself. She lives in Canada with her husband and parents. So much for empty-nesting, but she's making the most of it! 

Join her newsletter and you'll receive a link for Cruel Summer, a short ebook she wrote for you, Dear Reader. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

A literary pilgrimage to Abbotsford by Michelle Styles

Over the years, I have enjoyed visiting houses where famous authors created their stories and found inspiration. Literary pilgrimages if you will. Recently  I took a literary  pilgrimage and visited Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott. While he can be a bit overlooked today, Sir Walter Scott was the first successful commercial novelist so it felt appropriate to visit his house. In his day and for decades afterwards, he was the world’s most popular novelist. In doing so, I was retracing the steps of other writers such Nathaniel Hawthorne and  Charlotte Bronte who had also come to see where the man wrote his books.
Abbotsford from the walled garden
Sir Walter Scott purchased the farmhouse and set out about refashioning it into a Scottish baron’s castle.  At the time, he was  the world’s most popular novelist. The main train station in Edinburgh — Waverley — is named after the novel which made his name, rather than the opposite.

A grandfather clock belonging to Scott
More than anyone else, he did much to popularize certain beliefs about Scotland and Scottish history. He loved Scotland and wanted others to love it to.  His novel Ivanhoe popularized the medieval period as a world populated by  brave knights and maidens who needed rescuing. i It also gave the world the image of Robin Hood as the Earl of Locksley. If you like romances set in the Highlands, again Scott is the writer ultimately responsible for popularizing this area and inspiring generations of writers.

Sir Walter Scott's marriage lines
He was such a Scottish patriot that he obtained permission from George IV to search for the Scottish crown jewels and then actually discovered them in a box in Edinburgh castle where they had been put a 100  years before when the Act of Union happened. Partly as a reward for the discovering the missing jewels, Sir Walter Scott became the mastermind behind George IV’s visit to Edinburgh which among other things resulted in  tartans and whiskey being legalized.
Unfortunately for Scott, shortly after his great triumph with George IV’s visit, his publisher went bankrupt. Because of how it worked back then, Scott also become bankrupt and had to go back to writing (as well as selling his Edinburgh property) to pay off the debts. 
He worked so hard that his health was damaged and he died  in the dining room in 1832.
An outfit belonging to Sir Walter Scott
Shortly afterwards, the family decided to open the house to visitors. They only showed the main public rooms, including Scott’s  wood paneled study while living in the rest of the house. Scott was a great collector of stuff — old armor, arms, books on the occult, locks of Robert Burns and Nelson’s hair etc. The library remains just as it was in  Scott’s day when they used to use it for entertaining.   There are  no bedrooms or backstairs areas open but they have significantly altered since Scott’s day. The main purpose of a visit to the house is to worship the genius of storytelling that was Sir Walter Scott.
He also landscaped the grounds and walled garden. On the day I visited there was a group of artists (including one in full artist regalia – beret and smock) painting in the garden. The grounds also host a number of adventure play areas for children and walks along the Tweed and through the woods Scott planted.
There is also a newish tea room (the food is good and reasonably priced)  above a small museum where items associated with Scott can be found, including his marriage lines to his wife. I will admit to never really having seen the proper document before. It is no wonder they went to simple licenses.  They also have a gift shop where  Scott’s books and inevitable Scottish shortbread is sold.
Apparently weddings are often held in the grounds and the former private area of the house has now become accommodation for guests. There is a
The house is quite close to Melrose Abbey where Robert the Bruce’s heart was buried. The name Abbotsford harkens back to the abbey. It is a forgotten corner of Scotland in many ways but well worth a trip.
In  Other News
My 27th historical romance  Sent as The Viking’s Bride has been accepted and will be published in January 2019. As it is set on the Scottish Islands of Jura and Colonsay, I feel grateful that Scott first popularized such things all those years ago.

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance set in a wide range of time periods, most recently Viking. You can read more about Michelle's books on 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Christina Hollis—Radio Gaga?

I've always assumed most readers of Tote Bags 'n' Blogs are American, and probably living in a built-up area, rather than the countryside. As I'm English and live in the middle of a bluebell wood, thinking of what to blog about on here is sometimes tricky.  

Not this month! This weekend, I took a challenge and I'd be interested in your reaction to it. 

When I'm not writing, I've usually got the radio on. This Saturday, I listened to Shadowbahn (a dramatisation of Steve Erickson's 2017 novel) while I had a baking session. With the Twin Towers materialising in Dakota as part of a dystopian vision of the (dis)United States in 2021, the play was part of BBC Radio 4's Dangerous Visions season of science fiction.

I've got wide-ranging tastes, but initially Shadowbahn didn't appeal to me at all. I only listened to it because my instinctive reaction was to wonder how anyone could take the tragedy of the Twin Towers and weave it into science fiction. It felt jaw-droppingly insensitive—but then, the only reason my husband didn't die in 2001 is because 11th September is our wedding anniversary. He rescheduled a business meeting and stayed at home in England, so we could spend the day together. If he hadn't, he'd have been at the heart of what became Ground Zero. 

A Shadow Presley
My first impressions of Shadowbahn were terrible, because of the way I listen to radio. I was popping in and out of the kitchen to fetch fruit or other ingredients, concentrating on scaling up measurements, or calculating cooking times. As a result, I couldn't make head nor tail of the play. In fact, I hated it so much, I decided to give it a second chance. 

This morning, I stuck a "do not disturb" sign on my office door, called up the podcast and settled down to concentrate. After a straight run of 56 minutes with no interruptions (which must be a record in this house) my feelings about this play have changed. First, the good news. This production showcases radio at its best. The use of music and sound effects really does create better "pictures" than staring at a television screen. It encourages listeners to use their imagination. I loved the choice of music, and a world where water is contraband and vigilantes roam the streets is only too believable. 

A Real President
I still didn't care for the story itself, though. It may well be a work of genius, but I don't have enough background knowledge to decide. I've never been to America. Everything I know about the country's popular culture could be written on the back of an Amex card, and still leave room for the Gettysburg Address. I love M*A*S*H, The Big Bang Theory, The Goldbergs and Young Sheldon, but there are always a few references in each of those shows which go straight over my head. 

The problem I had with Shadowbahn is that almost the whole play was beyond my comprehension.  It was like presenting Minnie Mouse with a dissertation on plant pathology. The references to various states, politicians, historical events  and geography meant nothing to me. As a result, I didn't know how much of the story was invention. I really didn't like that. For example, I know next to nothing about Elvis Presley, but I thought he idolised his mother. To think she might have screamed at him in the same way she belittled poor Jesse in Shadowbahn for being the surviving twin disturbed me. 

This is where you come in. Have you read Shadowbahn, or listened to the play? You can try it here. If you live in the US or know the country well, what did you think of it?

Christina Hollis writes contemporary fiction starring complex men and independent women. She has written eighteen contemporary novels, sold nearly three million books, and her books have been translated into twenty different languages. When she isn’t writing, Christina is cooking, walking her dog, or beekeeping.

You can catch up with her at, on Twitter, Facebook, and see a full list of her published books at

Her current release, Heart Of A Hostage, is published by The Wild Rose Press and available at  worldwide.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Something New....

I was talking to someone about the publishing industry and said, "It's changing so fast." 

It is.  But then again, there's that old adage that says the only constant is change.

So I try to be open to trying new things.  My buddy, Susan Gable, and I are doing just that...trying something new.  We were on a road trip to Syracuse to do an all day workshop and taped parts of our conversation.  We called it Trippin' With Holly and Susan. Take a look...

We thought it was a fun way to introduce ourselves to new readers and to hang out with reading friends. It's new and we hope fun.

Something else new I'm trying? Radish.  It's serialized fiction. That's not exactly new for me. I had books serialized in Japan years back. I thought it was cool then...and I think it's cool now.  So I put up The Moments there! If you're using Radish, check it out. If you're not...uh, check it out! LOL

More new things... I started ceramics classes last fall and I'm loving them. I have a new one class fall.  But in the meantime, I've been playing with acrylic paint, seeing what I can do. I'm no expert, but I'm so enjoying it!

Trying something new is imperative not only in writing, but in life in general. We have a pond at the's spring fed and there's always new water feeding into it. It's beautiful.  Unlike the stagnant hole filled with water just a bit down the way from it. Other than the rain, nothing new feeds it. It smells wonky.  I'd rather be like the pond. LOL


Polished Off: Maid in LA #5

Maid in LA 1-4
PS One more new thing...the fifth Maid in LA book came out yesterday!!

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Come visit a tropical paradise! - Kandy Shepherd

One thing I love about the Harlequin Romance series line I write for—apart from the lovely emotion and the happy-ever-after ending!—is the fact that these books often spirit me away to an aspirational and sometimes exotic destination.

As an author, we are often told to write what we know. I find it difficult to actually bring a place to life if I haven’t actually been there. Fortunately, I have travelled a bit and stayed at the destinations where my books are set. 

 My July release Best Man and the Runaway Bride is set on the beautiful small island of Nusa Lembongan in Indonesia, off the east coast of the much larger and better known island of Bali. I was fortunate enough to visit Lembongan last year and actually wrote some of the story while I was on location.

This month I thought I’d share with you some of the events in the novel, that actually happened to me on the the trip.

We stayed on a beautiful resort similar to the fictional Big Blue resort in the book. Our lumbung was right on the sea and it was absolutely heavenly! (With mod cons like our own bathroom and airconditioning.)

The lumbung where we stayed

View from our room - bliss to wake up to

 There’s a pivotal scene in the book where the hero Max and heroine Nikki dine at a restaurant with their feet in the sand and witness one of the awesome sunsets the area is famous for. We did that too!

This is the meal that inspired Nikki and Max's in the book - love that Indonesian food!

 Nikki and Max go snorkelling on the reef surrounding the island, in a small traditional fishing boat known as a jukung. We bravely set out and snorkelled and it was an utterly wonderful experience.

This little boat transported us to a beautiful reef where we snorkelled and saw the most beautiful fish and coral

Just remembering the experience is making me want to go back there as soon as I can—or perhaps to another wonderful destination that will inspire a story! And of course I'm hoping while my readers are flicking through the pages of my book, I'll transport them for a few hours to an exotic, tropical island!

Is there a “dream destination” you’ve always wanted to visit? Do you have a favorite setting for a romance novel?

Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you! If you want to be in the draw to win a signed paperback copy of Best Man and the Runaway Bride, also include your email address.

Kandy Shepherd’s Best Man and the Runaway Bride is a July 2018 release from Harlequin Romance in North America; Mills & Boon True Love in the UK; and Mills & Boon Forever Romance in Australia and New Zealand. 

Kandy Shepherd is a multi-published, award-winning author of contemporary romance and women’s fiction. She lives on a small farm in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia, with her family and a menagerie of four-legged friends.

Visit Kandy at her website

Connect with Kandy on FacebookTwitterPinterest and Instagram

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Blogging From Alabama!! Susan Sands

Dear Friends,

Happy Summer!! I'm thrilled to finally be able to say those words and really mean them. My daughter graduated from high school last week and we are free and clear. We've had a good run, Georgia public high schools, but we're done here.

I'm in my hotel room writing this post from Huntsville, Alabama in anticipation of the RWA Heart of
Dixie luncheon. I'm so looking forward to meeting the readers my table and sharing my hand-made gifts! I wanted to capture the essence of the South. How did I do? They turned out pretty cute, despite the blue paint under my nails and splinters in my fingers.

My mom and I drove here through the pouring rain from Atlanta and had to stop a couple times because the rain was so heavy we couldn't see the road. Thankfully, it was clear (and later than planned) by the time we arrived.

Great news! My second Alabama-set novel, Love, Alabama has a free BookBub ad scheduled for June 2nd. Download a copy if you missed it!

I so appreciate the hard work my publisher does to help get these ads that allow my books to reach more readers! If you've never read one of my Southern romantic women's fiction stories, now's a great time to start!

Have a fantastic weekend!