Let’s Talk with Lois Winston

By Lois Winston

I recently read a review from a national newspaper for a memoir that has received quite a bit of hype. The reviewer gave it only two stars, stating that the book left her frustrated because it didn’t live up to what it had been purported to be. Instead of “a dissection of life in a working-class industry populated by hard-nosed men sent off to live and work in solitude in the middle of the North Sea,” it was a about “an affair and a woman who is thinking about writing a book of substance but never actually does.” Ouch!

I’ve known some professional reviewers who have worked for major publications, either as staff reporters or freelancers. I know they’re paid to give their honest opinions of the books sent to them by publishers. These reviewers receive hundreds of advance-reading copies each year and must choose which ones they’ll devote time to. They don’t set out to read books they know they won’t like. They read with an open mind, hoping they’ll be blown away by the writing, the characters, and the story. However, sometimes they’re not, and the review is far from what the publisher and author had hoped to see.

As an author, I feel badly when another author receives a less than flattering review of her work. I know the blood, sweat, and tears that go into writing a book. We all crave praise for our babies. That’s why, no matter how much I dislike a book, I’ll rarely post a negative review. I can think of only one occasion where I posted a one-star review. That was for a novel about a child born with a genetic disorder. I know quite a bit about that disorder, having had an uncle born with it and a friend who gave birth to two children with it. Surprisingly, although the author’s lack of research was glaringly evident throughout the pages of the novel, the book sat on bestseller lists for more than a year!

Like professional reviewers, I never open a book expecting to dislike it. I choose books I hope to love. I post my reviews on BookBub, but only for books I’ve enjoyed. Unlike Amazon, BookBub encourages authors to post reviews, and it’s free of the drama often associated with Goodreads.

However, unlike professional reviewers, I won’t post reviews of books I haven’t enjoyed. Most of the books I review receive four or five stars. Occasionally, I’ll give a book a three-star review because, although there were things I disliked about the book, there were also things I liked about it. To me, three stars is equivalent to a C grade, enjoyable for a few hours of reading but not a book I’ll think about days, weeks, months, or years later and certainly not worthy of rereading in the future.

If you’d like to see some of my recommendations, check out my author page on BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/lois-winston.

What about you? Do you post reviews for every book you read or only for those that have really captivated you?

Let’s Talk with Nancy J Cohen

New Beginnings
by Nancy J. Cohen

January is a time of new beginnings. And so it is for me in writing my next book, #18 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries. I’m in the “Discovery” stage of writing. This involves choosing the setting, doing preliminary research, and then identifying the suspects. Since I’m more of a plotter than a pantser, I need to have all this figured out before I begin the story.

It’s not an easy task. For a while, I had a general idea of where the story would take place. But that wasn’t enough. I needed a group of people who knew each other, but why would they be in this place? I lacked the “setting within the setting” and ideas were eluding me. I was clueless.

Meanwhile, I started my preliminary research on the topics that interested me for this story. I knew it would include a battle reenactment, for example, but which battle? Who was fighting whom? I researched wars in Florida and reenactments that are held in our state. This led to other sites and more interesting material until I was in danger of going down the research rabbit hole.

This all stewed in my subconscious, which is why you can’t rush the process. Then one day it happened—the answer to the setting dilemma popped into my brain! It was perfect as a model for my location.

Now I could pinpoint the people who’d be present. Identifying these characters was only the first step. I had to figure out which one would become the victim and why. Meanwhile, what are the other suspects hiding? How do they interrelate to each other?

I’m in this stage now still working on the suspects. Until I get my “web of deceit” at least partially designed, I can’t begin writing. Of course, the story might change direction many times along the way, and I won’t really know these characters until they walk and talk on the page, but it’s a start. And new beginnings are all about a fresh start. Happy New Year!

What about you? Do you get started on research and keep going?

Our January contest is live and runs from Jan 1-18. Did you enter yet? Click HERE to enter to win a free book!  (print books mailed to U.S. addresses only.

Let’s Talk with Debra H Goldstein

by Debra H. Goldstein

The first time I came across the word pentimento was when I read Lillian Hellman’s book, Pentimento: A Book of Portraits, which were short autobiographical pieces. I thought the book was merely okay, but the word fascinated me. Pentimento, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “the reappearance in a painting of an original drawn or painted element which was eventually painted over by the artist.” The word is Italian for repentance and comes from the verb pentirsi which means to repent. In a painting, the hidden part of the work can be images, forms, or strokes the artist decided to hide.

Although it is not exactly the same, nature has its own way of fulfilling the definition of pentimento. To me, each season is a changed painting where subliminal images are either hidden by full foliage, allowed to appear as the leaves change colors and fall, or are seen in all their stark nakedness. The best example of this that I can share with you is the view from my window that I’ve talked about before:

As you can see, the tree that I find comfort looking at is usually front and center, but what nature hides most of the year is an entire street of homes.

Writers also use a form of pentimento in their writing. What is in a first draft often is hidden or changed in revision because like the artist, the writer decides to cover up an original image or character. For a chance to win a print or e-book copy of Four Cuts Too Many (U.S. only), can you describe a pentimento situation in your life, whether caused by you or by nature?

psst! Our January contest is live and runs from Jan 1-18. Did you enter yet? Click HERE to enter to win a free book! (print books mailed to U.S. addresses)

Let’s Talk about Resolutions

Our Resolutions

Every year when New Year’s rolls around, we are faced with the resolution question. Do we once again set a sky high goal and then let it slide as we get busy? Or do we take up the standard and seek something MORE for ourselves? What’s a person to do with all this pressure?

The authors of Booklover’s Bench are sharing their thoughts and resolutions. We hope your goals for 2022 are attainable!

Debra H Goldstein: I would love the joy of becoming a grandmother twice over in 2022 – to a baby from each of my twins. The baby pictured with this post was born to my daughter in 2019 and a sibling is due in April, so my son, who married in September 2021, has some catching up to do to fulfill my resolution.

Lois Winston: My resolution for 2022 is more a goal than a resolution. I’m hoping to make it back to New York to spend a few days visiting friends and taking in as many Broadway and off-Broadway shows and trips to my favorite museums as possible. Those are my happy places, and I really miss them since moving to the Nashville area this past summer. Tennessee is beautiful and has much to offer, including having two of my grandkids nearby, but unless you’re into country music, entertainment options are limited. 

Maggie Toussaint: I resolve to fly to Oregon to visit my family. It’s been a very long time since I’ve flown, so this will be a big step for me. Thank you, pandemic, for embedding new fears in my operating manual.

Nancy J Cohen: Next year, I hope to get back to cruising. I really miss our Caribbean cruises, although now that we’ve moved away from Port Everglades, it won’t be as easy to hop on a ship. We have a cruise booked to the Southern Caribbean in March but nothing beyond that one. It still seems a hassle to go anywhere with Covid requirements, but our lives have been put on hold long enough. It’s time to set sail and enjoy the high seas once again. 

Terry Ambrose: Now that we’re the owners of an electric vehicle, I find myself actually enjoying driving again. The car is so comfortable to drive that it makes me want to get out and explore some back roads. We’re even talking about a road trip up Highway 1 along the California coast. Highway 1 is an incredible drive, full of twists, turns, and awesome views. Who knows? This could be our next grand adventure, so my resolution is to get out there and explore those backroads more in 2022.

Diane A.S Stuckart: I quit making New Year’s resolutions long ago, given that I never managed to shed the usual twenty pounds or learned to speak another language. But I do try to set a couple of goals for each new year—one a fun one, and the other a practical one. And so, for 2022, I want to finally learn to play my ukuleles (yes, I have more than one). And for practical, my goal is to clear out my home office so that I have room to move around, maybe enough to do a bit of yoga (and so I don’t always have to put up a picture background on my Zoom meetings!). 

Cheryl Hollon: I resolve to make more time for exercise. I’ve been walking more than two miles most days, but I need to add strength training this year.

So, friends and readers, what’s your take on resolutions? Do you have one for 2022?

Authors on the Bench

December’s Question

Any traveling “detours” that drive your companions crazy? Do they ever end up in your books?

Diane A.S. Stuckart: I much prefer to travel by car than any other way, and I love those ubiquitous roadside markers that commemorate births and deaths and battles and so on. If it were up to me, I’d stop at every single one along the trip route. My husband, on the other hand, hates those markers with a passion, mostly because his dad had that same compulsion as me and insisted on stopping at every one they passed during family road trips. And so, we compromise – I get to stop at one or two markers a day, as long as we’re making good time, but we bypass the others. Sigh!

Maggie Toussaint: I love the ticky-tacky souvenir shops in every tourist destination. For many years I collected refrigerator magnets from places we’d been. Later I switched to coffee mugs, as I didn’t need one more magnet. Coffee mugs are great for beverages, of course, but also for pens, short flowers, toothbrushes, loose change, and so on. I’ve also been known to try on hats in the souvenir shops.

Lois Winston: I’m a sucker for cupcake bakeries. Wherever I go, I look for them. If I find one, of course, I buy a dozen. Filled cupcakes are the best. Anastasia has an incurable sweet tooth, which is often satisfied by her coworker, food editor Cloris McWerther, who is also her best friend and sometimes plays Watson to Anastasia’s Sherlock. FYI, the most delicious cupcakes ever can be found at House of Cupcakes in Princeton, NJ. 😉

Terry Ambrose: On a trip, I need bathroom breaks. That usually equates to a stop at a Starbucks for coffee. While my wife doesn’t mind a stop at Starbies, she usually draws the line at places with porta-potties. Her usual comment is, “That’s easy for you.” Hey, I get it. Biology is biology. There are no two ways around that!

Nancy J. Cohen: If there’s a country store selling unique local items or a historical house that offers tours, I would stop. A winery might be worth a detour if it’s nearby. Everything becomes fodder for research.

Debra H. Goldstein: Most of my traveling companions are exercise nuts. Consequently, when I look for a building’s elevator, they all roll their eyes. In my books, Sarah Blair is like me in that she finds the kitchen more frightening than murder, but she doesn’t shy away from walking up a flight of stairs.

Cheryl Hollon: My husband and I love to track down unusual neon signs when we’re on a road trip. We’ve been to the Neon Museum in Las Vegas several times and have recently discovered another one in Cincinnati. Ferg’s Sports Bar and Grill, a treasured local watering hole in our hometown of St. Petersburg, has saved quite a few from demolition and used them to lure customers into taking Instagram photos. It’s a clever marketing strategy.

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN:  Any traveling “detours” that drive your companions crazy?

Happy Holidays To You

Holiday Cheer from All of Us

We’re delighted you enjoy visiting with the authors of Booklover’s Bench. Nancy J. Cohen, Maggie Toussaint, Diane A.S Stuckart, Cheryl Hollon, Debra H. Goldstein, Terry Ambrose, and Lois Winston wish everyone a joyful holiday season. This year we’re each sharing our favorite holiday beverage. Cheers to all!

Let’s hear it for eggnog! Each year we wait in anticipation for this holiday fav to appear on the store shelves. We spike it occasionally, but sometimes it just makes for a nice little after-dinner treat during the holidays. Spiked or not, it’s always got to have a healthy dose of nutmeg on top. Then, it’s time to sip and savor the taste of the holidays!Terry Ambrose

For the last twenty years, we’ve been gathering at my eldest son’s house on the water. One of the absolute staples is my daughter-in-law’s wonderfully spiced hot apple cider. She serves it in a crockpot with a small bottle of rum nearby for a warm glow. It’s glorious!Cheryl Hollon

I would say coffee is my favorite holiday beverage. I like it with cream only, no sugar and no flavors added. This is my wake-up morning hot drink. In the afternoon, I prefer tea, especially in colder weather. Again, this is unsweetened. I’ll do green tea, pumpkin spice tea, or whatever else I have in stock. I’m not a fan of flavored lattes or other beverages that come loaded with sugar. As for eggnog, I like it but avoid it also due to the carbs and calories. As for the coffee, I’m a Starbucks dark roast fan.Nancy J Cohen

Unlike my co-bloggers, I’m not a specific holiday beverage person. Other than an occasional glass of eggnog, the drink that gets me through the holidays is a refreshing sugar-high glass of Coca-Cola.Debra H Goldstein

I’m a big fan of mulled cider, not only during the holidays but throughout the winter. I love the way the mulling spices envelope the house in a cozy, welcoming aroma that reminds me of a warm hug. But for the holidays, it’s always best when spiked with rum.Lois Winston

In recent years I discovered that I adore peppermint milkshakes. They weren’t even on my radar for most of my life, though I knew that one could only buy peppermint ice cream around the Christmas holidays. Before the pandemic I enjoyed December peppermint milkshakes at Chick-Fil-A. Now that it seems we’re getting a handle on the pandemic (please let that statement still be true by the time this airs!), I might venture out to buy one this year—or make my own! Here’s a recipe: Add 2 c. vanilla ice cream, ½ c. whole milk, ¼ c crushed cane pieces, and 1 tsp peppermint extract to a blender. Mix until well combined. Pour into glass and top with whipped cream and candy cane pieces. Makes 2 shakes. Freeze any leftovers for later.Maggie Toussaint

I’ve always considered Champagne to be the most festive of beverages. What else do you toast with at weddings and New Year’s Eve parties—and, of course, Christmas Eve dinner—besides bubbly? But what to do come Christmas morning with that partial bottle of Champagne left over from the night before? Pouring it down the sink feels sacrilegious, especially when you ponied up big bucks for the good stuff. When my husband and I first faced that conundrum many years ago, our solution was to make mimosas…which, in turn, made our Christmas morning quite merry. And now, we deliberately save a half bottle of Champagne after any holiday celebration, just so we can add a generous splash of sparkling wine to our breakfast OJ the next day. Cheers!Diane A.S Stuckart

Do you have a favorite holiday beverage?

ps…Remember that our December book giveaway entry period ends on December 18. Click over to enter! CLICK HERE


Let’s Talk with Terry Ambrose

Perfect holiday moments

by Terry Ambrose

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and I’m glad we’re fully into the holiday season now. Christmas is my favorite holiday Unfortunately, I’m one of those people who remembers very little about my childhood. So even though we lived in Connecticut when I was really young, I don’t know if I ever experienced a white Christmas. I’m sure my mother, who passed away about a decade ago, is probably looking down right now and is really, really irritated with me. I can just hear her saying, “You don’t remember that, either?”

Full Moon photo for Let s Talk December 2021 pexels brett sayles 1936752It’s possible I love Christmas movies so much because I don’t remember the ones from when I was a kid. In the movies, I get to see happy people frolicking in the snow, standing with their faces turned toward the sky, snowflakes kissing their cheeks, merry melodies playing in the background…what could be more perfect? Okay, I admit it, I’ve probably seen one too many Hallmark movies.

We actually have a running joke in our house about some of those perfect Hallmark moments. It all started with the full moons directors seem to be so fond of. My wife started calling it a Hallmark Moon. Next came the Hallmark dogs. Then it was Hallmark kids. Now she’s talking about wanting a Hallmark husband…sorry, honey, but after 40+ years, I’m non returnable.

I’ll admit I indulge myself with a few of those ‘perfect moments’ when I write. In the Trouble in Paradise mysteries, it’s usually a sunset or a walk on the beach. In the Seaside Cove Bed & Breakfast mysteries, it might be a tender moment between Alex and Marquetta or her dad. True to my feelings about my favorite holiday, both series have a Christmas mystery. The Killer Christmas Sweater Club is the third Seaside Cove book and came about when I was a guest at a December mystery readers event. All the group members were wearing ‘ugly Christmas sweaters.’ My first reaction when I saw all those sweaters was, what if an ugly sweater was the motive for a murder? The idea was a hit with the group, so a book was born.

The Killer Christmas Sweater Club 800x1200Leave a comment to win!

For this holiday season, will you get to indulge yourself in a few perfect moments? Leave a comment to let me know your favorites, past or present. Contest is closed and winner selected.

Happy Holidays to you all!

ps While you’re here, enter our December book giveaway. It runs from December 1-18, with the winner selecting the book of their choice (print books available to those with US addies only) from the seven books in the contest image. Click here to enter!

Let’s Talk with Cheryl Hollon

The perfect decoration for the Holidays!
By Cheryl Hollon

This is the first holiday season after my beloved mother passed. It is a bittersweet joy to hang this treasured banner on my wall to celebrate the twelve days of Christmas.

It’s a fascination we shared from my childhood. One year, my mom’s sister-in-law gifted her with a kit to make this simple green felt banner.

It took Mom about a month to cut out, stitch, and decorate each figure with sequins, glitter, pearls, and rhinestones.

She also left me the pattern! I’ve started to make tree ornaments for family presents, starting with the partridge and the pear tree. Of course, I’ll make a dozen of each.

I love the way the banner looks perfectly at home in my little condo. It has its perfect place next to my bird lamp. Mom and I also share a deep love for birdsong in the mornings.

The banner now joins my Twelve Days of Christmas dessert plates, cookie cutters, napkins, tablecloths, and very soon, ornaments.

What family heirlooms come out for display during your holidays?

My Paint & Shine Mysteries are set in the Daniel Boone National Forest. My parents were born, raised, and now rest in the Adams Family Cemetery in Wolfe County, Kentucky. The characters spend a lot of time preparing traditional southern meals along with creating moonshine cocktails. Please consider buying local. Independent bookstores need your help during this challenging time.

While you’re here, enter our Booklover’s Bench contest. We’re collecting entries for a book giveaway from our vault by all seven Booklover’s Bench authors. It runs from December 1-18. Click here to enter!

Let’s Talk with Maggie Toussaint

Things I’m Thankful For
By Maggie Toussaint

Every year when Thanksgiving rolls around, I wish I’d done a “thankful” jar all year long, tucking little slips of paper inside when good news occurred.

So here’s my list from memory.

Vaccines. I am very thankful for the covid vaccines. They give me hope that we can one day get back to normal instead of feeling like each excursion is a mission to Death Row.

Curbside grocery pickup. This has been a boon for me during the pandemic. I thought I’d especially miss picking out the fruit and veggies from my order, but what I get this way isn’t bad.

Family. During mid-summer when viral infection rates were the lowest of the year, our kids and their families traveled to visit us, both coming from great distances away. We hadn’t been able to see them since Nov 2019, so this was a special treat.

Zoom. I must confess a love/hate relationship with video meetings. I’d never heard of Zoom before the pandemic and now it’s The Thing. Sometimes the audio gets messed up on this but for the most part, it seems to be part of our lives now.

More family. This fall brought several outdoor family gatherings, and that bit of normalcy brought smiles to everyone’s faces. We needed this. Oh, how we needed this.
No surgeries in 2021. After a 2020 chock full of surgeries for either my sister, husband or myself, we have had a reprieve in 2021. Our forays into the medical arena have all been in the nature of wellness checkups this year.

Killer Nashville. I went to an in-person mystery conference this summer. We wore masks. We social distanced. We survived. It was super.

Streamed church services. It nearly crushed my spirit when church got canceled due to the pandemic. We started 2021 online but by summer had transitioned to in-person services again. Then the Delta variant of the virus hit and we trimmed back to live streaming church again. We’ve just recently started up in-person worship again, thank goodness.

No hurricanes. Somehow, some way we escaped having hurricanes strike our area of the coast. In past years we’ve been visited by hurricanes and it is scary. All I had to do this year was check the expiration dates on my “hurricane food” and replace some of it.

Community of writers and readers. I am very thankful for all my writer friends as well as readers. It hasn’t been easy to keep writing during the pandemic, but it is always lovely to hear from writing friends and readers. Keep those reviews coming!

I’d love to hear what you’re thankful for in 2021. Comment for a chance to win a print (US mailing addy only) or ebook of SHRIMPLY DEAD. Winner will be announced on December 2.

Characters on the Bench

November’s Question

Fancy footwork: what shoes would we find on you/your protagonist’s feet, and what footwear would you/they never be caught dead wearing?

 Maggie Toussaint: While my catering sleuth tends toward practicality in her everyday footwear, River Holloway Merrick loves black stilettos. I’ve never been able to successfully walk in high heels of any height, preferring instead flats or a modest wedge-shaped heel.

Lois Winston: Anastasia Pollack, my reluctant amateur sleuth from the eponymous Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, is far too practical to wear heels most of the time, but she will slip into a pair for special occasions. However, Gracie Elliott, who sleuths her way through my Empty Nest Mysteries, is a sucker for sexy designer heels. As for me, ever since I had foot surgery a few years ago, I’ve become a Skechers girl—comfort all the way! Neither Anastasia, Gracie, nor I will ever be caught dead or alive in Crocs!

Terry Ambrose: Well, if we’re talking about McKenna in the Trouble in Paradise Mysteries, they’re set in Hawaii, so his usual footwear would be slippahs, which are the same thing as what the rest of the world call flip-flops. I’m pretty sure McKenna would never be caught wearing high heels. Let’s face it, an old man in heels? Eek!

Nancy J. Cohen: Marla, my hairstylist sleuth, stands on her feet all day so her shoes are practical choices for comfort. She’ll wear low-heeled pumps or strappy sandals but leaves the stilettoes for other women. Now that she has a ten-month old son at home, easy footwear is imperative.

Debra H. Goldstein: Sarah Blair is practical and pragmatic. She, like me, wears sneakers or low heels. Neither of us would ever be caught dead wearing Jimmy Choo stilettos.

Cheryl Hollon: Miranda Trent owns a cultural touring business in eastern Kentucky smack dab in the middle of the Daniel Boone National Forest. Her events include trail hiking to sandstone arches, where she teaches Plein air painting. She mostly wears sturdy hiking boots and then changes into cute flats for entertaining her clients at a southern meal paired with moonshine cocktails. She owns a pair of black swede kitten heels to go with her little black dress. Miranda would never wear a pair of four-inch stilettos.

Diane A.S. Stuckart: I’m a shoe-free kind of gal, so I’m barefoot the minute I walk in my front door, though I’ll throw on a pair of Crocs to work in the yard. Out in the world, unless I’m hiking somewhere, I prefer boat shoes or else clogs. No way will you ever find me in mile-high heels, though sometimes in the winter I’ll pull on a pair of ankle boots. My B&B proprietor in my Georgia B&B Mysteries, Nina Fleet, is on her feet a lot, so she prefers sneakers during the day. But she’s not opposed to a nice pair of heels (not too high!) for a night out.