So it's barely October, with the pumpkins newly orange and still growing on their vines, and the leaves more green than golden – summer warmth lingers in the air and Halloween is weeks away - and yet we’re talkin’ Christmas.
At least we are today, here at Word Wenches. We’ve got two newly released Christmas anthologies by some or all of the Wenches, and we’re pleased as holiday punch with sherbet rings to share them with you now!
Christmas Roses: Love Blooms in Winter - an anthology of novellas by Mary Jo Putney, Patricia Rice and Susan King, released in ebook by Millington House Publishing, with a gorgeous cover by Kim Killion.
Years ago, when I was a new author in perfect awe of Mary Jo Putney and Patricia Rice – who were especially nice to a nervous newbie – we were all writing historical romance for Penguin’s Topaz imprint, and we often crossed paths. Thanks to writers groups, luncheons, workshops and late nights in conference hotels, we became friends, lunch buddies, brainstorming buddies – and Wenches. Meanwhile, we were writing lots of novels and novellas.
Not long ago, we agreed it would be fun to e-publish some of our backlist novellas together. Mary Jo and I had breakfast with a local friend, Jim Lefter, who’s also an e-publisher, and we decided to give him a novella each, one from Pat as well: an anthology of friends.
Our stories were all holiday themed and each one had roses somewhere in the story – so this was one of the easiest titles we've ever had to think up ... Christmas Roses. We gave Kim a bit of cover art direction: uh, Christmas and, er, roses. She knew what we needed and came up with a gorgeous cover.
Our three historical romance novellas are collected together here for the first time in this exclusive eBook. “The Snow Rose,” “The Black Beast of Belleterre,” and “The Kissing Bough” weave tales of the joys of unexpected love at a special time of year. Discovery in the midst of a clash of clans; the hidden desires of an unexpected suitor; and a love once lost and found combine for a journey through history - by turns adventurous, romantic, poignant and fun. We’ve included new introductions -- and scrumptious recipes. In fact, we want to share our intros with you today as a sneak peek. . . .
PAT RICE, "The Kissing Bough"
"The Kissing Bough" first appeared in A Regency Christmas in 1989. At the time, I was mostly writing American westerns with my characters making an occasional sailing stop in London. Due to my fascination with English literature and my need to know more about the historical events in the books I was reading, I’d been studying English history for years. The thought of having one of my stories appear in an anthology with Mary Balogh and the late, great Edith Layton inspired my imagination.
I happily dug into obscure pamphlets on English Christmas traditions to research my story, but to my dismay, Christmas as we know it now was more Victorian than Regency. My soldier heroes wouldn’t be coming home to huge fir trees adorned with hand-made ornaments. But kissing boughs are steeped deep in medieval English tradition, when a small tree top was hung at the entrance as a symbol of the holy trinity. The practice became more elaborate over time—and thus Diana could decorate the drawing room with greenery to her heart’s content. And even with his one good arm, Jonathan could match her love and determination by hauling in the Yule log.
I hope my first Regency story inspires a lovely green Christmas of your own!
Lambs Wool Punch
This traditional Christmas punch has been served since the Middle Ages. The name probably refers to the fluffy white flesh revealed by the broken skin of the roasted apples which float on top of the bowl of ale.
4 eating apples
4 pints of ale or cider
6 cloves and 1 tablespoon of grated nutmeg. Half a teaspoon of ground ginger. Pinch of allspice. I cinnamon stick, 1 - 2 tablespoons dark soft brown sugar
Heat oven to 400. Place the apples in a baking dish with a little ale, cider or water and cook for 30 minutes until the apple flesh is "woolly" in texture.
Meanwhile, heat the ale or cider, spices and sugar to taste in a large pan over a low heat until very hot, but do not allow to boil. Strain into a large serving bowl. Scoop out the apple pulp with a spoon, discarding the core and the pips and pile on the hot ale. Serve hot with a scoop of apple flesh.
MARY JO PUTNEY, "The Black Beast of Belleterre"
“The Black Beast of Belleterre” was my miracle novella. In an excess of enthusiasm for writing Christmas stories, which I love, I committed to doing them for two different holiday anthologies the same year.
As always, things take longer than they take, and all of sudden I was up against a drop dead delivery date: my editor needed the story delivered in less that two weeks. In nine days I was booked for a conference in Savannah, and I hadn’t started the story.
So I did the only thing I could: sat down at my computer and started to work. Then came the miracle. Each day for the next eight days, I wrote ten pages. At the end, I had eighty pages and the story was done. I have never written with that kind of speed and regular pacing!
And the miracle didn’t end there. “The Black Beast of Belleterre” is one of my very favorite novellas. Well, it’s a beauty and the beast story, and that’s a surefire winner. Plus, it was a Victorian setting, which gave me fun elements to play with that wouldn’t fit into my usual Regency story.
But most of all, Ariel and Falconer were a gift. I loved writing about them, and when I reread this story for inclusion in this anthology, I loved them still. I hope you do also.
This is my own version of a traditional Portuguese peasant soup. It’s robust and full of flavor. This makes a very large batch—at least 16 servings, and requires a very large pot. You may prefer to halve ingredients. It helps to have a food processor for chopping the onions and garlic, and slicing the potatoes. Saves a lot of time.
1 pound hot Italian sausage, either bulk or squeezed from casings, browned, and drained. (Chorizo sausage can be used if you prefer—it’s more authentic, but I like the bite of the Italian sausage. If you like sausage, you can use more.)
2 large onions, chopped
12 cloves of garlic, peeled and mashed
2 T. olive oil
3 to 4 quarts chicken stock
4 pounds of potatoes, sliced. (If you use young, thin-skinned potatoes like Yukon Gold, they don’t need to be peeled. If old and tough, peel them.)
1 to 1 1/2 pounds of kale, approximately, washed, cleaned, and shredded. (Collard or mustard greens can be used, I’m told.) Or—use a one lb. package of loose leaf frozen kale, or two 10 oz packages of frozen chopped kale. Thaw, drain, and mix in. Almost as good, and a lot less work.)
Salt and pepper to taste (For this quantity, I use about a tablespoon of salt and a half teaspoon of freshly ground pepper).
Sautee onions and garlic in olive oil until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Place all ingredients except the kale in a large soup pot, bring to a boil, then simmer until potatoes are tender and have started to break down. If you’re using fresh kale, you can use the simmering time to wash the kale, strip out the tough stems, and send it through the slicer on the food processor. When potatoes are tender and crumbling a bit, stir the chopped kale in and simmer for about 5 minutes more. Adjust seasoning and serve. Tastes good with corn bread, which is the traditional Portuguese way. Freezes well.
SUSAN KING, "The Snow Rose"
Writing this little story is one of my happiest creative experiences, and I’m delighted to be able to share it with readers again. “The Snow Rose” was my first novella, a spinoff of my second novel, The Raven’s Wish, and it first appeared in A Stockingful of Joy. The related stories are both set within the ongoing feud between the Frasers and the MacDonalds in 16th century Scotland. I love clan legends, and I’m part Fraser, so now and again I write something about the historical Frasers to stir some fictional mischief for them.
“The Snow Rose” is the story of Kenneth Fraser, one of the many cousins of Elspeth Fraser in The Raven’s Wish (among eighty Fraser cousins all born within the same year, Elspeth is the only girl—it’s based on a legend of Clan Fraser). I loved Kenneth, with his dry wit, his long, braided dark hair and his sexy Highlander demeanor, and I wanted him to have a truly special romance of his own. His soulmate turned out to be Catriona MacDonald, who desperately needs help one snowy New Year’s Eve—or Hogmanay, as this is Scotland.
Kenneth is the “first foot” arriving at Catriona’s snowbound cottage one New Year’s Eve—that is, first to set foot on the threshold after midnight. A dark-haired handsome man is a good omen, and these two bring luck to each other in the midst of a clan feud—but their New Year’s beginning is a bit calamitous. A collapsed roof, a cow and a horse inside the cottage, a cat named Dog, a lost and valuable brooch, and, of course, the MacBaddies after our hero and heroine, who are getting to know each other even while the snow falls through a hole in the roof and a cow tumbles head over heels for the hero.
Here’s a lovely wee recipe for a whiskey brose that’s straight from the story, and just right for your own Hogmanay or New Year’s Eve. Best wishes of the New Year to you!
Oatmeal Brose (aka Atholl Brose):
Measure out about ½ cup of oatmeal and twice that in boiling water; soak the oats in the water until you can extract the liquid, or the brose (oat broth). In the hot brose, dissolve 1 tablespoon honey (preferably heather honey!), and add 4 tablespoons heavy cream and 6 tablespoons or so of your favorite Scottish whiskey. Blend together, chill, pour into glasses, sprinkle with some cinnamon and nutmeg, and enjoy!
Jo Beverley, Mary Jo Putney, Patricia Rice, Joanna Bourne, Anne Gracie, Nicola Cornick, Cara Elliott and Susan King
“Confections that charm and delight, like the holidays themselves!” – RT Book Reviews
You may remember that last year the Wenches got together to write new stories for a Christmas romance anthology published in trade paperback by Kensington Books – the first author blog to publish a collection together! This year, Kensington is bringing the anthology back, complete with a wonderful new cover, in mass market paperback. If you didn’t catch M&M by WW the first time, or if you’d like to give some copies as gifts this year, check out the new paperback (available in e-book too). Kensington just created a beautiful postcard for Mischief and Mistletoe - here it is!
So there you go, a bit of Christmas in October. What do you think of our new covers?
Do Christmas and holiday stories always seem to find their way to your TBR pile?
Do you have a shelf dedicated to them, as I do? (Christmas children's books too - we've got boxes of them at our house!) And just how early do the holidays start for you - before or after Halloween?
We've got a giveaway for you - a chance to win an ebook copy of Christmas Roses! - if you'll take a moment to leave a comment below.