Monday, December 31, 2018

Goodbye 2018.....

The rest of that would, in my case, be...and don't let the door hit you in the arse! It's been no secret that 2018 continued my series of horrible, no good years after the debacle that was 2017. BUT -- as the year ends, I've been trying to concentrate on the happy and good things that happened or that I did this last year. You know, trying to get a sense of positivity in place before going into the new year tonight. So, I've decided to post some of my favorite places or experiences that I had this year... (with abject apologies for the placement of the photos!)

Ireland -- one of the very highest, most favorite places and times of this year and my life.  This year, we laughed like loons all the way through our visit. I needed that so much!

On the road from Cong to Leenane
Dun Aengus on Inis Mor
ALL the sweaters on Inis Mor
Driving the Gap of Dunloe in Killarney
Climbing Clogherhead - the Atlantic behind us!

 Chicago - we went along to babysit my granddaughter while my son and daughter-in-law attended the Pearl Jam concert. Chicago is one of my favorite cities...we took the architectural boat tour and enjoyed breakfast at so many great restaurants....and walked miles....

a WhiteSox game!
Iconic Wrigley Building
Yeah! Pearl Jam played here

The city from Lake Michigan

Hermit Week - each year I spend a week with 12 other writers in a house on the beach on Isle of Palms. It's a week of writing....and writing...and rejuvenation and relaxation among others of my kind....AND I get to meet with readers from a local library's romance group, too!

a panoramic view of the morning
Meeting with local readers and librarian!
Spectacular clouds over the ocean
Tumultuous clouds all week!

So, 2018 did find me in some rather amazing places....I'll just focus on those as I move into 2019. Resolutions? Nah....I'm just going to look...forward. Happy New Year to you all!

How about you? What good person, place, thing or event happened to you in 2018?

Terri did write (some) in 2018 -- her novella THE STORYTELLER, past of the GHOSTS OF CULLODEN MOOR, was released in September as an Amazon exclusive and is still available. More Harlequin Historical releases coming in 2019! Visit her website for more info or subscribe to her newsletter.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Ho Ho Ho Happy Holidays by Jenny Gardiner

Hey there!
This post probably catches you in the throes of the craziness of the holiday season, but I hope you've got a few minutes to read this funny little story that my family laughs about every year.
Here's wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Kwanza, and belated Happy Hanukkah, a Happy, healthy and safe New Year, and any other thing you might be celebrating, may it be full of love and laughter and family!

    I’m a sucker for the Christmas season. Always have been. Don’t know if it’s the deluded optimism the holiday thrusts upon us, or just a strange affinity for otherwise maudlin songs dressed up as cheerful seasonal chestnuts. I mean, let’s be honest, at any other time of year, who would actually listen wistfully to a yawner like “The Little Drummer Boy”?
    Whatever it is, I have always ensured that my family gets into the holiday spirit, starting with finding the perfect Christmas tree.
    When I was a kid, the search for the ultimate yuletide tree took us to the nearest gas station: hardly a romantic venue from which to choose the centerpiece of our holiday decor. We’d pile into the station wagon for the three-block drive to Buck’s Esso station, spill out onto the oil-slicked parking lot, mull over three or four already-netted spruce trees, and then dad would haggle down the price. End of story.
    Ah, so I was determined to rewrite that tradition with my own family. Early in my marriage, we decided the most festive tree-acquisition could only be achieved by cutting down our own (plus you get the added benefit of the needles actually staying onthe tree all month rather than littering the floor). Because we lived in citified Northern Virginia, the cachet of escaping to the “country”--i.e. the closest remaining patch of farmland untainted by greedy developers--only added to the allure.
    But one year, I found myself almost wishing for the chance to just pop down to the local gas station to buy a tree…
    That year, my husband and our three children, all under the age of four, trekked to the Clifton Christmas Tree Farm, where awaiting us were candy canes, hot chocolate, homemade wreaths and the typical abundance of forced holiday cheer that we craved.
    I had whipped my kids into a tree-chopping frenzy, and so they took their task quite seriously. For forty minutes, we foraged throughout the whopping half-acre “farm” until we found the perfect tree: seven feet of holiday splendor, as wide as it was tall, perfect to fill our cathedral-ceiling’ed living room and flood us with the Christmas spirit.
    The kids took turns on the ground with the saw while my husband supervised the chopping honors. Their excitement was palpable. We dragged the tree back to the cashier stand where the farmer’s son coiled the netting around our white pine. The kids stood by, sucking on candy canes, sipping hot cider and petting the farmer’s dog, who’d recently wandered over. I was just about to retrieve the car to load on the tree, when Fido lifted his leg.
    “No!” I shouted in what seemed like a frame-by-frame slow motion, as a steady stream was released onto our perfect tree.
    For a moment we stood stupefied, not knowing what to do. But we weren’t about to keep a tree covered in dog wee, so we grabbed the kids’ hands to head back into the wilds to hunt for a replacement one.
    Until our kids let us know in no uncertain terms, that this tree was the one, the only. They threw themselves on the ground, flailing and crying, thrashing and moaning, like something from a Greek tragedy. They wanted their special tree, and nothing else would suffice.
    Their wails did not subside until we relented, and agreed to load up the tainted tree.
    The farmer found a makeshift bucket, filled it from a nearby stream and doused the offending urine from the tree. We loaded it onto the roof of the car, and went home.
    I have to admit, I sort of detached emotionally from the tree that year. Couldn’t quite get over the psychological hurdle of having a tree the dog peed on in my living room. Somehow it clashed with the whole festive notion.
    But for my kids, the tree was just about perfect, despite its incumbent flaws. And maybe that’s exactly why I like the holidays so much: because at this time of year, we’re all a little more likely to forgive the small things in order to see the bigger picture.

Great news! I've got another free book for you to try! Falling for Mr. Wrong from the Falling for Mr. Wrong series is now free here:

Google Play

Also Red Hot Romeo is free! A hot Italian, a gorgeous supermodel, and fabulous wines…what’s not to love?!
You can check out the first book in the Royal Romeo series for free here:

Lastly, don't forget, book one of the It's Reigning Men series, Something in the Heir, is free here!

I hope you'll have a chance to check out my Royal Romeos series, which is a spin-off of my wildly popular It's Reigning Men series--please do check them out!

Skirt ChaserBoy Toy and Cabana Boy are available!

Happy reading!




Saturday, December 15, 2018

Discover the Origins of Christmas Traditions: Michelle Styles

Where do Christmas traditions come from? Some we can date to specific events such as the publication of Dr. Suess’s When the Grinch Stole Christmas or Dickens’s  A Christmas Carol. Other traditions have been acquired from other cultures or are lost in the mist of time. Some last a few years or even several generations but a special few stand the test of time, until sometimes the original meaning is long forgotten.
When I first started writing Sent as the Viking’s Bride (to published 18 December 2018), I deliberately set it during the Jul season which was roughly the same as our Christmas season. Jul lasted from November to 20 January. The Christmas season used to end on Candlemas, the presentation of Jesus at the temple  or 2 February (even though today it tends to be on Epiphany or 6 January or even on the 1st) so you can see why it was easy to roll the two into one.
  I knew in order to make it easier for people, they co-opted some of the Jul traditions into the Christmas festival. You can hear in  some of the names – yuletide or yule log. The tradition of having ham/pork also goes back to the Viking culture because the boar was a sacred animal, particularly for swearing oaths and Jul was a time of renewing oaths. In Scandinavia, marzipan pigs are still considered lucky at Christmas and many children find them in their stocking.
 Food and drink along with the festivities were important parts of the celebration (there are reasons why Cromwell banned Christmas celebrations as not being Christian!). In common with many Germanic people, the Vikings would sacrifice some of the Jul ale to the fruit trees. We still get this with the tradition of wassailing.
Wreaths of evergreen were fashioned and put a blaze to help bring the Sun Maiden. In Norse legend, every mid-winter, the Sun maiden is swallowed by Fenrir the Wolf and is rescued through the efforts of Thor. You can see how a festival of light and re-birth  lent itself easily to being refashioned.
The Scandinavian goat (not a reindeer) – the red and white figurine is because Thor’s chariot, the one he used to rescue the Sun Maiden was pulled by two goats. They still play a prominent part in many people’s Christmas celebrations in these countries.
The nisser or house-elf who ensures good fortune still has a part to play in  Scandinavian celebrations. In Norway people put out rice pudding or porridge on Christmas eve for the nisser to ensure they will get good luck. If you happen to have a gnome looking Santa, it is probably a nisser rather than a Santa.
The Vikings brought the concept to Britain and it is where we get the term elf, pixie or brownie from. And because I happen to like the idea of having a house-elf  very much,  I made sure they played an important part in my latest novel.
It was fabulous being able to learn about Jul and its traditions and how those traditions have been passed along.
You can read the first chapter of Sent as The Viking’s Bridefor free here.
Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance for Harlequin Historical in a wide range of time periods. Her next book Sent as the Viking’s Bride will be published on 18 December 2018 in the US, 27 December in the UK. Learn more about  Michelle and her books at

Friday, December 14, 2018

Christina Hollis: More Good News About Books!
Find out more at
“‘Twas two weeks before Christmas…” but I’m not only here to wish you a happy holiday season (though of course that takes pride of place!)

Today I can let you into a couple of  secrets I've been keeping for a while. 
The first is about my non-fiction book, Struggle and Suffrage—Women's Lives in Bristolwhich features true-life stories about women from the English port city of Bristol. My second snippet of news is about cut-price books—and you really can’t afford to miss that during the holiday season! 

First, news about my next title. Publishers Pen and Sword Books will be releasing Struggle and Suffrage—Women's Lives in Bristol on 28thFebruary, 2019. 

I've loved working on this project, and it’s got something for everyone. I was born half-way between Bristol and Bath, and Bristol was the city we visited most often as a child. I’d always considered it to be a great place, but I never realised it was such an incubator of female talent until I started my research. That was way back in 2016. I’ve discovered a new fascination for the place and its people.  From the woman who inspired transport genius Isambard Kingdom Brunel and the young women who took a road trip in the days when men were usually welded to every vehicle's driving seat, to a pioneer of premature-baby care, they all star in my book.  

Find out how the other half lived in dear old Bristol by ordering your copy of Women’s Lives in advance here.
Find out more at
My next bit of news is that the third romance in my Princes of Kharova series, Heart of a Hostageis on special offer right now. Princess Maia is fed up of being overshadowed by the lives of her two older brothers. She’s determined to make her mark. Find out how she exposes the secret hidden in her kidnapper’s hideout for the offer price of only $3.36 (£2.59 in the UK) That's a whole 70% off! But be quick—this offer won't last forever. Grab yourself bargain here!

As well as non-fiction, Christina Hollis writes contemporary fiction starring complex men and independent women. She has written more than twenty novels, sold nearly three million books, and her work has been translated into twenty different languages. When she isn’t writing, Christina is cooking, walking her dog, or gardening.

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

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Advent Calendar with Kate Walker

Do you have an Advent Calendar in your home? One that you hang on the wall and open a numbered door each day marking off the dates from the 1st of December  up to the 24th – and Christmas Eve – to countdown the  days until Christmas?

I always loved to choose one of these when my son was small and it really helped him wait more patiently for the big day to arrive. At  least he knew when it was getting nearer and that there were -  twenty – fifteen – ten days left before he could put out his stocking and  leave a mince pie for Father Christmas, together with a carrot for Rudolph the reindeer to eat when they visited.  (There was always just a few crumbs left on the mince pie plate and the end of the carrot – nibbled by strangely human shaped teeth!) Opening the day’s door on the calendar became a special little ceremony  just before he went off to bed  - to dream of Santa’s sleigh and the sound of reindeer hooves.

So in the past I have tried to plan a book Advent Calendar to share  with friends and readers who visit my web site, my blog page, my Facebook page.  I   had planned to do this again this year but  several things got in the way. It has been a difficult week with sad news reminding me that not everyone will be celebrating a happy and joyful occasion just because it’s Christmas.

As a result, my planned posting of the Advent Calendar giveaway got shortened into a 12 Days of Christmas giveaway instead. And I’ll be hoping to post the 12 Days giveaway  for each day (or at least every couple of days) from now on.  But  because I’m well aware of the fact that not everyone is enjoying the  lead up to Christmas  and for some it is a very difficult and even sad time, I want my first 12 Days of Christmas post to be a traditional one that I’ve posted in the past and been able to bring just a little bit of brightness into someone’s life.   So this is what I’m going to do today.

What happens is this – you can nominate someone you know and care about who needs a little treat to bring some light into their days right now. Let me know who you would like to send an extra little gift to – a giveaway of a book that I’ll donate in your name. And I’ll include an extra little Christmas gift in the parcel to hopefully bring some lightness into their day as well.

So – in the comments-  post the name of someone you’d like to treat – and add the reasons why you have chosen this person – and I will get Charlie the Maine Coon (who  has his own Advent Calendar to open with treats in the pockets ) – to pick out a winner or two to send them a book from you – and from me.

I have a selection of books that  I have sorted out from my backlist stocks to share with  readers and friends over the next 12 days.

And I hope that you are all looking forward to Christmas and will have your family round you as you prepare for the event.

You can read more about me and my books on my web site and my blog -  and catch up with me too on my Facebook page

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Merry Christmas to all! - Kandy Shepherd

Wherever you are in the world, I’d like to wish Tote Bags ’n’ Blogs readers a very Merry Christmas and for those who don’t celebrate a very happy holiday season.

I haven’t got my tree up yet, or even thought about the festive menu, but I know I’ll get it done as I do every year with the help of my family! (My kitties do their best to “help” with the tree, too.)

I have a new book out in February 2019. Second Chance with the Single Dad is a friends-to- lovers reunion story, with an adorable baby girl in a supporting role. Oh, and a cat and a few horses too in this emotional, feel-good story from Harlequin Romance! 

 Christmas is a time of sunshine and outdoor living in Australia where I live. Whether summer or winter,  I hope you’re having good weather to get into the festive season!

Thank you to everyone who has read my posts throughout the year and a big thank you to Lee for having me as a contributor. 

Second Chance with the Single Dad is a February 2019 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

Sunday, December 02, 2018

An Odd Thing Happened on the Way Home...Susan Sands

I left early this morning to drive two hours to Milledgeville, Ga to attend my daughter's sorority tea.
We visited with her "sisters" and their moms for a couple hours, and I hopped back in the car for the drive home. This is one of the many excuses I'll give for being late with my blog post today.

As I drove on I-20 headed back into Atlanta, pushing eighty miles an hour, a car with two large men in the front passed on my left. The passenger was unapologetically snorting what I assumed was cocaine. I tried not to look, but I was obviously surprised by the sight. As they continued around me, I noticed a very large and sparkly pageant crown displayed in the place of honor in the back window. Not a tiara, a full-out CROWN, like Miss America or Miss USA might wear. Or any small-town peanut, pecan, or fruit festival first-place winner in the South. Have you seen the size of those crowns?

Anyway, I digress. All I could think was, "Is there a body in the trunk?" I know that's macabre, and a large stretch, but the writer in me goes nuts when I see something the least bit interesting during a boring drive and it gets my imagination revved up for a good storytelling.

Too bad I don't write suspense--yet. LOL!

Readers always ask where we get our ideas from. I get mine everywhere! Today I got one on I-20 headed west.

I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving and is looking forward to more fun and festivities with family throughout the holiday season.

Merry Everything, y'all!

Susan Sands