HOME SWEET CHRISTMAS: Release day blog featuring Charlee James

Happy autumn, Tule Readers, 

Hugs to you all!

No matter what is going on in the world, books are always my go-to destresser, and I definitely needed them this year. 

With the holidays approaching, I’m excited to share my new release, HOME SWEET CHRISTMAS. In the town of Hollybrook, residents eagerly anticipate the grand finale of the Christmas Eve Spectacular at The Candy Manor. The Victorian mansion houses the Hunters’ gourmet chocolate and confection business. Even though Kayla Hunter lives in the city, she returns to her hometown each year to help her grandparents with the event preparations. This year is different, though. Not only have her grandparents decided to retire, but they’re leaving her and Dominick Rowe, a family friend and town lawyer, to oversee all of the arrangements. 

I loved writing these characters and enjoyed how their opposing personalities come together for one common goal. Kayla Hunter is so organized and structured that she sometimes misses out on the fun of spontaneity. As Hollybrook’s lawyer, Dominick Rowe is a business professional through and through, but there’s something magical about being in the moment and following your heart that makes things all come together uniquely. The scene below is from the beginning of the book when Kayla and Dominick begin turning The Candy Manor into a winter wonderland. 

 

Excerpt:

He found her in the next room, sitting among half a dozen boxes of décor, brows adorably drawn together just as he had imagined. She had a list at her feet. A really long, complicated-looking list. The bows were stacked in one corner, opposite a tangle of garlands. A trio of reindeer were positioned near her knees, and a Rubbermaid tote bursting with colorful ornaments sat behind her. 

“Kayla?” he said softly. She let out a shriek and dropped the pen she was holding. “Sorry. I was calling to you. I brought pizza. I know it’s still a bit early, but we can always warm it up.”

“That sounds amazing. Thanks.” She lowered the clipboard and tried to stand, but she had wedged herself in with bags and boxes. 

“Do you need me to dig you out of that avalanche of good cheer?” He’d kind of hoped she had embellished the amount of work that needed to be done, but there were a whole lot of decorations at her feet.

“Very funny. This is only six boxes of stuff.” She combed her fingers through her hair, pushing the strands away from her face. The honeyed strands caught the light, shimmering against the rich chestnut color as she moved. “I’d hoped to get so much more done, but we had a rush of shoppers right before closing.”

“There’s more than this?” How could someone accumulate so many decorations? 

She let out an amused hmph. “Yeah, there’s more.” She stood, brushed off her knees, and gestured toward the hall. “Let’s go up to the attic and figure out what we’re dealing with.”

For the next thirty minutes, they battled back cobwebs and crawled through tight spaces to bring the Christmas boxes down to the second floor from the attic. 

“Twenty-three boxes, to be exact,” Dominick said, as he handed Kayla the last container. He was impressed by the amount of seasonal décor packed in the attic—and slightly horrified. 

“Looks like Gram hit the end-of-season sales last winter.” Kayla held the large box to her chest and glanced around for a place to put it down. “Hard.”

“Hang on. I’ll get that.” He made his way down the fold-up stairs and took the box from her when he was within reach. 

“Thanks for helping me get these down. I’m going to have to sort through and devise a plan of attack. I think it’s pretty safe to say we won’t be doing much decorating tonight.” Her forehead creased, and he couldn’t help but want to make her laugh, so it disappeared. 

“Why not? We’ll take these down to the main floor and get started.” He was already moving, but she reached out and laid a hand on his arm. 

“I was making a list, sorting everything so we could decide where to put it all.” A predictable blush colored her cheeks, and she let her hand fall to her side. “It needs to be magical.” 

There was something so intriguing about a woman who seemed as practical as they came talking about creating magic for others. His parents had given him a gift or two around the holidays, but there was no time for trees, lights, or decorations. “Can’t we just, you know, wing it?” he asked. 

Her eyes widened. “I’d rather strategize. Make sure we’re doing it right the first time.”

“Or we can get creative.” He grinned, enjoying the back and forth. “The results might surprise you.”

“I’m not a big fan of surprises,” she muttered, and grabbed a four-foot-tall nutcracker from atop the boxes. 

“You don’t say.” He chuckled and was rewarded with a smile. “How about I start taking these boxes down and unpacking? You can do what you need to do with the list. Note things down while I take them out. Teamwork.” 

She blew out a breath, gusting up a piece of her hair. Would it feel soft between his fingers if he brushed it away? They stood in the quiet hall of the manor, her butterscotch eyes locked on his. Her expression softened, and he could hear his heartbeat drumming in his ears. He lifted his hand and smoothed some attic cobwebs from her hair. She made a little noise, a sharp intake of breath, and for a moment, time seemed to hang in the balance. They could’ve been outside, wind and snow whipping at their skin, or on the sidewalk of a busy street. It wouldn’t have mattered. All he could see was her. 

 

Decorating for the holidays always makes me very nostalgic (I usually end up a blubbering mess). If we were decorating for the holidays together, I’d probably show you my favorite ornament, a gold heart with a picture of our childhood dog, Taffy. It’s a tear-jerker for sure, but it brings back great memories of skating on the frozen pond behind our house, Taffy bounding through the snow behind us with her favorite yellow ball clutched in her teeth. On Christmas morning, she’d snort around the discarded wrapping paper looking for treats.

GIVEAWAY CLOSED 11/9/20
For a chance to win a signed copy of HOME SWEET CHRISTMAS and a $15 Amazon gift card, tell me about your favorite holiday decoration in the comments. Winner will be selected on Monday, November 9th (US only). 

 

All of my love and warm holiday wishes, 

Charlee   









MUCH ADO ABOUT A SCOT: Release day blog featuring author Gerri Russell & Scottish scones!

For the Love of Scones

In celebration of my latest release, Much Ado About a Scot, book five in the All the King’s Men series, I wanted to take you all on a little journey as I reminisce about a trip I took to Scotland. My goal was two-fold: to do research and to find the perfect scone. Is there such a thing as the perfect scone—that fluffy goodness you can top with honey or jam, lemon curd or clotted cream? Come with me and find out…

I started my search in Glasgow at The Willow Tea Rooms. After walking around Glasgow all day, I was pretty hungry and ended up eating two finger sandwiches before I remembered to take a picture of the three-tiered cake stand. But here’s what remained of the first sampling of traditional scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream. The scone was delicious, fluffy, and buttery. That became the baseline for the rest of my trip.

Another stop was in Ardnamurchan, northwest of Fort William, at a gem of a tea room next door to the post office, which was handy since I had some books I wanted to send home—after all, this was a research trip too. Scones at Acharacle were an added bonus. 

I tried a cheese scone this time for variety. And while it was lovely, and just about anything tastes great covered in butter and more cheese, it wasn’t my favorite. I guess I prefer sweet scones to savory ones. 

The next tasting came at the Castle of Mey, the Queen Mother’s residence in Caithness, in their tea room. 

After touring the castle, it was nice to sit and have a refreshing pot of tea. I’ve always been a tea drinker, and I prefer my tea black, no milk or sugar. Except when it comes to Scottish tea which is really strong…sometimes you need a splash of milk! 

This time I tried fruit scones—with sultanas/currents. They were served with both butter and clotted cream. I, of course, chose the cream and jam. I can get butter at home. Clotted cream is a little harder to come by. And while the scones were delicious, I was still undecided about which was the best scone in Scotland. 

The last place I looked for scones was in John O’Groats. It was a tiny town on the northeastern tip of Scotland that felt very much like the edge of the world as the cliffs fall off into the sea. 

And here at The Old School House tea room, I found it! The perfect scone. It was light and fluffy, with golden currents. Covered in raspberry jam and clotted cream—it was a little slice of heaven. 

I tasted a lot more than four scones during my three-week trip, but these four were the most memorable. And the scones in John O’Groats really were the best! Now, I know most you will not travel to John O’Groats to find that perfect scone, so I brought back a recipe similar to the one I loved and adapted it to American measurements. These scones are light and fluffy and make only a small batch that is perfect for afternoon tea.

Scottish Scones

1 C. flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 stick butter
2 T. sugar
pinch of salt
1 beaten egg
2 T. cream
1/2 C. dried or fresh fruit (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Shred or dice butter into small cubes. Add dry ingredients. With a wooden spoon mix together. Add egg, cream, and optional fruit. Mix until dough is stiff. Turn dough out on a cutting board covered with parchment paper. Form dough into a small circle and cut into four wedges or circles, whichever you prefer. Sprinkle with demerara sugar. Transfer parchment paper and scones to a cookie sheet and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until tops brown. Cool for a few minutes before serving with butter and jam.

Here’s a picture of the recipe above that I made without the fruit. 

Now go make yourself a pot of tea and a batch of scones, then grab a good book and enjoy. Slàinte!