Sunday, December 16, 2018

A Few Good Cookies


Some of our Christmas cookies from last year--my sons like to decorate them!


It's holiday time, and I'm sharing some recipes from favorite sites for some yummy cookies!
First up, Chai Tea Shortbread from Republic of Tea. I'll be trying a similar recipe from Sally's Cookie Addiction--and check out this great chocolate chip cookie recipe from her website. It's become my new go-to baking site. My other go-to site for all other recipes is Budget Bytes; here's a chocolate gingersnap recipe from her many recipes for budget-friendly, tasty recipes. Do you like to bake, or just enjoy sweet treats? If you're like me, you'll want a hot drink and a good book with those cookies! I've got two holiday reads on sale for 99cents this month--Awakening Love (a sweet contemporary romance) and Misunderstood (a Regency romance). Happy reading and hope you have a merry and healthy holiday and new year!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

My Favorite Scone Recipe



Tea Parties and Books

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to throw myself a little tea party, complete with tea, tea sandwiches, scones, and lemon curd. I shared the goodies later with a friend, but also had tea, just me and the book I was reading, The Library at the Edge of the World (loved the Irish setting, and the many characters). I also recently read The Baker's Daughter, by D.E. Stevenson, which was a delightful sweet read set in early twentieth century Scotland. So, in case you want to have a tea party, here's a good simple recipe for scones, adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks, Maryana Vollstedt's The Big Book of Breakfast (her recipes are reliable and tasty).

Rich Scones

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (or you can use all purpose)
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, cut into pieces
1 large egg
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup whipping cream (or use all whole milk)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In a medium bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add butter and cut in until it looks like coarse crumbs. 
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and milk/cream. Add to dry ingredients and stir until moistened. Form into a ball and place on a lightly floured surface. Knead a few times and form into an eight-inch circle. Cut into 8 wedges. Place wedges slightly apart on a baking sheet and bake about 12 minutes, until golden brown. Cool slightly on a wire rack. 
Delicious with butter, or jam, or honey, or fruit curd! 
My friend says these are even good the next day. 

Do you like tea parties? What are you reading lately? Here's to cozy times with a good book. 🍵

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Fool



Photo via Pexels, courtesy Pixabay 

I mean the dessert, though I had fun mentioning this food in my first book when the hero feels like he's acting a fool, all because of love. You can get the book, A Gentleman's Daughter: Her Choice (a sweet Regency romance), free for the next month (until August 26) if you subscribe to my newsletter! Click here for the Bookfunnel link (you'll have to enter your email address to download, which will be used only to subscribe you to my newsletter. You can opt out at any time.)
Fool as a dessert goes back hundreds of years, and is a perfect summer dessert in its cool simplicity. It's just crushed fruit, sugar, and whipped cream, really, depending on the recipe. Click here for a recipe from BBC Good Food. I like strawberry best, what about you?

Friday, June 1, 2018

Happy June and A Fun Summer Read!

Here's a song that always gets stuck in my head in June:

It's "June Is Bustin' Out All Over" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel. I love this version, but the 1993 London revival was a joy, and I also love the recording (1987) featuring one of my favorite singers, Samuel Ramey. Do you have any favorite summertime songs?



As for summer reading, I hope to keep getting through my to-read list (on Goodreads). For you, I'm leaving my Rancho Valle series ebook compilation on special this month for $3.99; after that the price will go up to $5.99 (if you buy all the books separately, it's around $10). It's a fun series of contemporary Jane Austen inspired novellas set in a small Sonoma County (CA) town where love finds the residents through second chances, mistaken impressions, and misguided matchmaking. Happy reading!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Ways to Celebrate the Royal Wedding--Guest Post!


Sonja Rouillard has kindly returned with five ways to celebrate the Royal Wedding. Enjoy!

Fairytale Wedding ~ Five Ways to Royally Celebrate
~ second in a three-part America’s Princess series

by Sonja Rouillard
author, Romance Readers Guide to Historic London

Even though the wedding is less than a week away, it’s not too late to plan something fun so that you can feel part of this unique moment in history. It’s not every day a new princess is made and this time she’s one of ours!

The most obvious choice is holding a viewing party, but here’s the rub—the wedding takes place at 12:00 noon London time. For us Yanks, that’s 7 AM on the East Coast and 4 AM on the West Coast. Ouch! And you’ll want to start watching at least two hours earlier to see all those fancy people show up in their fancy garb. Coverage starts at 4:30 AM EST. Of course, you can always tape it and watch it the next day. So, the first thing you need to do is get together some friends and together decide whether to stay up all night or watch it taped the next day.

And, here are five ways you can celebrate along with the Royals:

I.          Royal Pampering! ~ The American princess is going to be quaffed, gussied, and powdered (well not powdered—wrong century). But Meghan will want to look her best. Wouldn’t you, if 80 million people (via tv or streamed live) were going to be staring at you? Even though we’ll be celebrating in private, there’s no reason we shouldn’t also look our best. So, grab a couple besties and go out on Friday to get a mani-pedi or pick up a funny hat to wear. Burlington Coat Factory is great for that. For an inexpensive tiara, a certain big box store (starts with a w), carries them for about $10 and they’re pretty. Here’s gorgeous tiara that belonged to eldest daughter of King Louis XVI, Marie-Thérèse, (circa 1819).



II.       Viewing Parties ~ Celebration activity number one, pampering—done. On to number two—how to watch the wedding in style?

Host an Afternoon Tea but in the middle of the night! There are tons of ideas online, but don’t forget to offer a prize for the best fascinator. Fancy it up with a request for Sunday-best attire and top hats, and invite your friends with beautiful wedding-style invitations. Or try a Cream Tea or High Tea. Since it’s the middle of the night, offer lighter fare with a Cream Tea (doesn’t mean cream in the drink, but rather just scones and desserts) or go for a full, beefy meal with a High Tea (which refers to the height of the table, not the royal-ness of the event). Or offer a traditional English Breakfast, especially apropos for the US east coast.

Next Day Parties yield lots of flexibility. You can do an Afternoon Tea that’s actually in the afternoon, a black-tie evening reception, or even just a pizza party (try making individual pizzas in the shape of crown).

A Princess Bachelorette Party would be perfect if there’s a friend getting married in the near future. You can do it as a RW watch party and or just go with the American Princess theme and give all the attendees a tiara (although in the UK, traditionally only married ladies can wear one).

Royally Romantic Night ~ You can make this an uberly romantic celebration with your special someone. Go to bed early, get up in the middle the night, and just lay in bed together watching the wedding. Do it up right and have your favorite fancy treats and champagne or, better yet, stay overnight in a nice hotel with a beautiful city or water view and watch from there. Why not? Usually, we waste our nice hotel stays…sleeping. We can do that back in our humdrum bedroom the next day.

III. Royal Fundraiser ~ Says Kensington Palace, the couple is “incredibly grateful for the goodwill shown to them since the announcement of their engagement and are keen that as many people as possible benefit from this generosity of spirit.” Prince Harry and future Princess Meghan have politely requested that well-wishers wanting to offer gifts, make a donation to one of their seven charities, which range from the Children’s HIV Association to one that empowers women in Mumbai’s slums. You can make donating a part of any event you host or do a bake-sale or other activity to raise monies. See the full charity list at https://www.today.com/news/prince-harry-meghan-markle-seek-charity-donations-not-wedding-gifts-t126708. When Kate and Wills married they did the same thing and $1.7 million was raised for charity.

IV. Hotel and Restaurant Parties ~ From pubs to fancy hotels, there are ready-made parties around the world where you can celebrate with other royal wedding fans. Here’s just a few:

London’s exclusive Devonshire Club is allowing non-members to attend their Afternoon Tea complete with a mini Royal Wedding Cake (£32). https://www.devonshireclub.com/member-events/royal-wedding-garden-party

Boston’s Fairmont Copley offers an RW Viewing Party ($75-$750). https://www.eventbrite.com/e/royal-wedding-viewing-party-at-fairmont-copley-plaza-tickets-44452960000

In Chicago check out this RW Reception at The Drake Hotel, featuring the “Queen of Cabaret” singer Denise Tomasello and her 17-piece orchestra. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/royal-wedding-reception-gala-featuring-denise-tomasello-tickets-43773064414

Or near Atlanta in Marietta, the British-American Business Council is holding a fancy-dress Indian Hills Country Club RW Watch Party ($55 members; $65 non-members). https://www.babcga.org/event-2805939

In San Francisco, check out this fancy rebroadcast party by Crown & Crumpet at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel ($95-125pp)—fancy dress and fascinators encouraged! https://www.eventbrite.com/e/an-afternoon-tea-to-celebrate-the-royal-wedding-on-19th-may-2018-tickets-44390690751

Live in Meghan’s old stomping ground in LA? You can go to a Royal Slumber Party at the Cat and Fiddle pub ($25pp). https://www.eventbrite.com/e/royal-slumber-party-the-royal-wedding-hosted-by-cat-and-fiddle-brits-in-la-tickets-45542743572

I bet just about every British Pub in the U.S. will be open for business, so you might find the perfect party in your neck of the woods.

V.    And, lastly, my favorite (admittedly self-serving) suggestion for celebrating is to join our Royal Wedding Facebook Hop and celebrate along with 25 best-selling historical romance authors who’ll be giving away prizes all weekend. There will even be live posts from Windsor Castle the week before, author-made insider videos of the castle and the church, and live author chats during the wedding. https://www.facebook.com/groups/RWHop



Whatever you choose, it’s going to be a fun weekend. And, if you want to know more about the places that are important to Meghan and Harry, such as Kensington Palace or Windsor Castle, consider getting yourself a copy of my Romance Readers Guide to Historic London, and you can read my previous article at RomanceReadersGuides.com, “American Royalty — 5 Americans Who’ve Married Up” for more information on Meghan and Harry’s relationship.

~ Sonja

Photos in the public domain.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Series Sale and a Preorder!

The California Fairy Tales series is on sale!
These sweet modern takes on classic fairy tales feature quirky supporting characters, and feisty heroines and dedicated heroes finding love. All three books are on sale for 99 cents until May 14.
A Cinderella Tale | Amazon | Kobo | Apple

A Beauty and the Beast Tale
Amazon | Kobo | Apple

A Sleeping Beauty Tale
 Preorder: Amazon | Kobo | Apple

Monday, April 16, 2018

American Royalty, Part Two

Welcome! Here's part two of an article about royal weddings and Meghan Markle, America's Princess (in case you missed it, click here for Part One). Thanks to Sonja Rouillard, author of Romance Reader's Guide to Historic London, for sharing; happy reading!


American Royalty — 5 Americans Who’ve Married Up: Part Two

     ~ first in a four-part America’s Princess series

by Sonja Rouillard, author of the Romance Readers Guide to Historic London



IV. A recent royaling-up is Her Royal Highness Princess Sarah Zeid, formerly Sarah Butler of Texas. While not poor, neither was she uber-rich as are most of the living American princesses. She is, however, a highly-educated career woman, which makes her choice of Middle Eastern noble unusual. But said royal is not your average stand-behind-me and wear-a-hijab kind of guy. All accounts indicate it was a love match when, in 2000, she married Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, member of the Jordanian House of Hashemite and Crown Prince of Iraq. They live in New York with their three children, and what’s wonderful about this couple is that the focus of their lives is doing good for people worldwide. Princess Sarah works as an advocate for women’s rights and maternal/newborn healthcare, and he serves as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

V. Which leads nicely into the fairytale romance of Harry and the soon to be HRH Princess Henry of Wales for they are also a couple who have pledged their lives to doing good. Meghan’s unique among the marrying-up Americans because she’s bi-racial (African-American mom, whose ancestors were slaves in Georgia, and Caucasian dad). And, she’s a divorcee.

Famously, in 1937, King Edward VIII married a divorcee too, the humble-roots, twice-divorced Wallace Simpson, but he had to abdicate the throne in order to marry the American. It had even caused an uproar when he brought her to the palace to meet mum (the queen), because divorcees weren’t allowed at court. So, while she might have been the first to catch a British HRH, the only family jewels she got to handle weren’t of the crystal kind.

So, Meghan should thank her lucky diamonds (the ones in her wedding tiara) that times have changed, because apparently the House of Windsor is welcoming her with open arms. I like to think it’s due, in part, to the changes in Harry since he started dating Meghan. Was it just a few years ago that the wild child was caught on camera naked, playing strip billiards in Las Vegas? Not anymore. Now he’s polished and polite, sporting tailored suits and looking happy. And something tells me that the newly mature prince wouldn’t have settled for anything less than his family’s full acceptance of his bride. Harry’s doing his duty now in every way and he’s chosen the helpmate he wants at his side.

File:Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.jpg
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, via Wiki Commons, Mark Jones

What I really like about their story is that Meghan appears to deserve her fairytale. She worked hard in college at Northwestern, becoming the first in her family to earn a degree. Then went on to pursue an acting career, eventually landing a lead role in the successful TV show Suits (a favorite of mine; start with the pilot—it’s one of the best episodes).

But here’s the good-karma, deserving part: Once she hit stardom, Meghan used her newfound power for good, working as global ambassador for major children and youth charities and as an advocate to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. Had she instead gone for the Hollywood lifestyle of fancy cars and endless parties, she might never have met Harry, and it seems like their shared interest in African charity work helped them bond. Their third date even consisted of a five-day camping trip in Africa, described by Harry as the two of them in a tent in “the middle of nowhere.” Going forward, Meghan plans to work supporting Harry in his charity efforts.

The big day is May 19th and millions will be tuned in for the making of Princess Meghan when she weds her prince in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. And, yes, I know she won’t be styled like that, but did you know that Princess Diana couldn’t officially be called that either. The honorific was added by the people. So, this people—me—is adding it to Meghan and calling her Our American Princess.

And, heck, she gets to wear the royal jewels! What more does one need?

Says royal historian Marlene Koenig, “Her rank would be a princess by marriage of the United Kingdom, Great Britain, and Northern Ireland” (Town & Country, 11/27/17). Add to that, when she’s with her new hubby, the royal-blood Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie will be required to curtsey to her. If she’s not with Harry, then she bends the knee to them. Yeah, I know, it’s complicated over there in royal land.

But one thing I’m very hopeful of, and fairly confident about too, is that Meghan will represent American womanhood with brilliant grace, poise, and style, making us all proud to call her one of ours.

Next up in my America’s Princess series is “Take a Walk in Meghan’s Footsteps” and later, how commoners—like you and me—can party along with the happy couple.

Sonja Rouillard
Author, Romance Readers Guide to Historic London

Resources:
St. Joseph’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, their current abode at Kensington Palace, Cliveden House, the Astors, and more, are described in Romance Readers Guide to Historic London.


Hope you can join us on Facebook for the Royal Wedding Hop! ~Reina

Friday, April 13, 2018

America's Princess & Royal Weddings

Starting off a celebration (and coming Facebook Hop! Friend me on Facebook to be part of the fun.) of the Royal Wedding in May, I'm excited to bring you a series of articles by Sonja Rouillard, author of Romance Readers Guide to Historic London. The first article is a two-parter; look for Part II next week. Happy reading!




American Royalty — 5 Americans Who’ve Married Up: Part One
     ~ first in a four-part America’s Princess series

by Sonja Rouillard, author of the Romance Readers Guide to Historic London

(Public Domain)


I love historical romances and my favorites are about commoners “marrying up.” Even better, if they feature an upstart American. So, you can guess that I’m over the freakin’ moon about the upcoming royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. This is a once-in-a-lifetime event since the House of Windsor is now fresh out of eligible bachelors, and the likelihood of boy George growing up to fall in love with another Yank is about as likely as me winning the lottery. So, I hope you’ll join me in celebrating this modern Cinderella story.

However, Meghan isn’t the first American to marry up. By my unofficial count there have been at least 35. But while all of the women were commoners—as in not of royal blood—most were not your average Joe…sephine, either.

Take socialite Betsy of Baltimore, who married Napoleon Bonaparte’s youngest brother in 1803. Sadly, her love match did not end well and she never become Queen of Westphalia (Google it). Or philanthropist Mary, who became the Countess von Waldersee in 1874. Born with the proverbial silver spoon, these and others like them were never really one of us, having started out life already in possession of the glass slipper.

But Meghan’s upward mobility is the real-deal, a fairytale love story that also represents our cherished belief in “The American Dream”— get an education, work hard, and you can move up in the world. Here are five Americans of mostly humble-ish birth who found their glass slipper:

I. Lesser-known is gold-digging Peggy, Duchesse de Nemours and Duchesse de Vendome et d’Alencon. Born in 1899, she actually had some noble ancestry but no wealth, her family even rumored to have run a boarding house for a while. In her twenties, she lived in the fringes of New York society, attempting to hook a wealthy husband, including a Vanderbilt. The press dubbed her “Golden Peggy.” Eventually, she scored, big-time: Prince Charles Philippe d’Orleans (for fans of the fabulous Versailles on the tele, yes, he is a descendant of that Philippe). However, the French royal family did not approve, giving them a small allowance and forbidding her the titles; she prevailed in a court battle. With love but not wealth, it’s reported they had to resort to sheep farming in Morocco at one point. Peggy must have loved him dearly, for she stayed with Philippe throughout her sometimes-difficult life. But it was only after her death in 1993 that was she was accepted by the in-laws, being interred next to him in the Royal Chapel of Dreux in the Loir Valley where the duchess rests alongside many of the august relations who had snubbed her in life.

Grace Kelly (Public Domain)


II. Perhaps most famous is Princess Grace Kelly, an Academy Award winning actress who married His Serene Highness Rainier III, Prince of Monaco. However, their marriage wasn’t quite the “love affair” that was lauded in the press. She met him while attending at the Cannes Film Festival in 1955, but then she returned to the U.S. Supposedly, they became pen pals, and when Rainier came to America eight months later he visited her. Talk about a short romance, after only three days he proposed, but it’s doubtful it was love on third sight. As in many romance plots, the prince was required to marry—either produce an heir or the Kingdom of Monaco would revert to France! They married in a glamourous royal wedding four months later, and, voilà, we have the legendary story of Princess Grace and her tragic death at 55.

Lady Astor (Public Domain)


III. Then there’s the rise of Viscountess Astor, who started life as Nancy Langhorne in a modest home in Danville, Virginia. Divorced after a bad marriage, she moved to England at age 26. In a time when many Americans were snagging nobles, she was supposedly asked, “Have you come to get our husbands?” She was known for charm and wit, and responded, “If you knew the trouble I had getting rid of mine...” She did “get” an Englishman—however, one born in the U.S before his dad, William Waldorf Astor, one of the wealthiest men in the world, moved the family to Britain. Dad’s extraordinary generosity to English charities earned him baron and viscount titles, which passed to his son in 1919, making Nancy a viscountess. What appeals to me about Nancy is her indomitable American spirit, if not always her politics. She broke an English glass ceiling, becoming the first woman to win and take a seat as a Member of Parliament.

Lord and Lady Astor lived an aristocratic life. You can play Lady of the Manor too by staying in Cliveden House (for a hefty fee)—their palatial estate is now a hotel. While you take tea, envision Queen Victoria joining you as she was fond of the place. Later, one of England’s biggest sex/spy scandals got its start there, the Profumo Affair, but that’s another story. [Season Two of The Crown gets into that scandal a bit--anyone else watch? ~RMW]

Thanks, Sonja, for the fun tales of royal marriages! Come back next week for more.