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HOW TO PREPARE FOR THE HOLIDAYS (without losing your mind)
Vanessa Kelly

Easy, right? Shop for presents, plan holiday meals, decorate the house, more shopping (those big holiday meals don’t make themselves), squeeze in visits with friends, all while doing whatever else life demands—like work and family! Sound familiar? Yep, that was how I did it, too. By the time the holidays rolled around, I was often too wiped out to enjoy the celebrations.

So I decided to slow down and focus on a few things that particularly bring me joy, and to add more music into my life at this special time of year. I grew up in a family of music lovers, and that was especially true during the holidays. We listened to TONS of Christmas music, both classic and modern, and that tradition was a magic carpet ride straight to a festive holiday mood.

I’ve reinstituted that tradition in my household, going so far as to hunt down vintage CDs that are no longer available in stores or on-line, or aren’t even on Spotify (the horror). I’ve also added more recent music for a mix of old and new.

Here are a few of my favorites to get me in the proper holiday mood:

Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, Now is the Caroling Season: Decorating the Christmas tree is job one for me, and this is ALWAYS the first music I put on to set the mood for that most important of holiday tasks. Fred has some truly corny chestnuts on this album, complete with jangling sleigh bells, but the Pennsylvanians have spectacular voices that bring a sense of beauty and majesty to the more traditional carols. And the rendition of Christmas Was Meant For Children is incredibly sweet. It never fails to remind me of my parents, and how special the holidays were when I was a little kid. I love the album cover, too, which is hilariously earnest and old school.

Annie Lennox, A Christmas Cornucopia: I adore Annie Lennox, and this album of mostly traditional Christmas carols is spectacular. Many of the arrangements are unusual, using African drums, marimbas, pan pipes, electric guitars, and even a glockenspiel. It’s a crazy cornucopia that’s both beautiful and inspiring, and Annie’s voice soars. Universal Child, the final song on the CD and one written by Annie, usually generates a few tears, and makes me realize how lucky I am to spend the holidays with family and friends.

The Chieftains, The Bells of Dublin: This wonderful CD is a mix of classical and Celtic carols, and sort-of-holiday drinking songs. It also features guest performances by Elvis Costello, Jackson Browne, Marianne Faithfull, and the actor Burgess Meredith (the Penguin!). If you want to kick up your holiday music to another level, this is the CD to pick.

The Piano Guys, various: I love The Piano Guys, as do millions of fans around the world. They have an incredible talent for combining classically influenced music with pop hits, and producing amazing videos to showcase their work. For holiday music, they excel with unusual arrangements of traditional carols like I Saw Three Ships and Oh Holy Night. Even better, they post many of their gorgeously-produced videos on their website, so all can enjoy their virtuosity. Fun fact: some of their videos served as musical inspiration for my books, THE HIGHLANDER’S PRINCESS BRIDE and THE HIGHLANDER WHO PROTECTED ME. I listened to their version of Fight Song/Amazing Grace every day before I would work on PRINCESS BRIDE, and It’s Gonna be OKAY (with the fabulous Cliff Richard) served as inspiration for THE HIGHLANDER WHO PROTECTED ME. You can see both these amazing videos on The Piano Guys website (https://thepianoguys.com/pages/videos).

To all my friends and readers, I wish you a very joyful—and music-filled—holiday season!

Love, Vanessa



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Once A Scoundrel - Reviewed by Alex

If there is one author you can count on to give you an impeccably researched and action-packed read filled with heart every single time, it’s Mary Jo Putney. Is it silly that every year when her books come out, I undoubtedly provide my Staff Pick for them? Only as silly as the fact that every year, her books are showered with starred reviews, top picks, awards, and accolades. And it’s simply because Mary Jo is a legend in historical romance. ONCE A SCOUNDREL is her new book in the Rogues Redeemed series (spinning off from the Lost Lords series), and it’s one of her most adventurous stories yet. This book has everything—a swashbuckling hero, adventure on the high seas, a beautiful heroine who has no problem tackling the world on her own, and not one, but TWO romances!

Gabriel Hawkins is a former officer in the Royal Navy who has been disgraced and disowned, only to now captain his own ship—performing deeds both above and below board. He has a checkered past that he’s worked to come to terms with, and he’s established in his ways, until he is asked to rescue the headstrong Lady Aurora Lawrence from pirates along the Barbary coast. What follows is an adventure that takes readers from London to the Mediterranean to Constantinople on a rescue mission that becomes more and more layered as the story progresses.

Will they escape their captors? Will they escape their pasts? Can a disgraced captain and the daughter of an Earl survive to find happiness despite the constraints of Regency society? You’ll have to read the book to find your way to this well-earned HEA.



A Healing Justice - Reviewed by Michaela

What’s a cat lover like me doing, writing about a dog book? Actually, I love all animals. I’m proud to share my life with three beautiful and sweet-natured cats. But sometimes I have to wonder . . . should I adopt a dog too? 

Kristin von Kreisler’s novels make me realize how deep the bond between humans and canines can be.  Her new book, A Healing Justice, tells the story of police officer Andrea Brady and her K-9 partner, Justice. A violent incident leaves Justice fighting for his life – and Andrea on the brink of losing everything that is meaningful to her.  Both partners find strength they didn’t know they had as they help each other on a journey of healing that is sure to touch the hearts of animal-loving readers.
Fun facts: The dog on the cover of A Healing Justice is Kristin’s own dog, Bridget.  Kristin and “Bridgie” live on an island in the Puget Sound, much like the setting of this book. Kristin attended a civilian police academy training program there to learn about the challenges that police officers and their K-9 partners face every day.

One thing I know . . .If I ever get a dog, I’d want one like Justice.