I’ve just finished recording and editing the fourth episode of Palace of the Blue Butterfly. Two more episodes to go before I can launch! Well, I can launch after I figure out how to store the episodes and then deliver them to you, but I’ve sent out little SOS flares to PEOPLE WHO KNOW THESE THINGS. So, help is on the way.

Anyway, It’s snowing today. Dave has gone up to the Bay Area to work; the cat and I are left on our own, and — fiction addict that I am — I’ve just downloaded the first two books in Deanna Raybourn’s Gothic mystery series, Silent in the Grave and Silent on the Moor. I’m ready to settle down in front of the fire with a cup of tea and get completely lost in another time and place.

I got hooked on Deanna Raybourn’s book Dark Road to Darjeeling in Puerto Vallarta. The novel follows the adventures of Lady Julia Grey and her husband, private inquiry agent Nicholas Brisbane, as they try to solve a murder in the tea-growing region of India in, well, in Darjeeling.

For fans of the British mystery, this has it all. A fabulous cast of eccentric ex-pats — a stiff-upper lip, aristocratic spinster devoted to maintaining the standards of the realm, a dotty minister and his bohemian wife, a strange recluse who dabbles in the occult, two English sisters who’ve suddenly appeared and who have rented a rose-covered cottage — the emblem of all things English — but who may not be as innocent as they appear, men whose inheritances may be in jeopardy, and no shortage of others, all of whom may have cause to commit murder.

And of course, there is the intrepid Lady Julia and her strong-silent type husband Nicholas Brisbane who are at odds about how to solve the crime.

Here, I’ll let the book trailer pique your curiosity.

The novel stands on its own as far as I’m concerned, but if you’re one of those orderly, linear types, you may want to start at the beginning of the series.

Those novels require a proper cup of tea by the fire — the pot warmed first, and the tea steeped for four minutes, two lumps of sugar and a bit of cream.

But, Dark Road to Darjeeling wants something more exotic.

Here’s my recipe for my favorite cup of chai — the perfect accompaniment for the book and even for a snowy day by the fire like today.

Jane’s Ranch — Perfect for a Snowy Day — Chai Tea
(Makes two mugs)

3 cups of milk (I use 2%)
1 knob of fresh ginger peeled (about 1-2 inches)
1 cinnamon stick
4-6 cloves
1 star anise
Half a nutmeg clove
2 cardamom pods
6 black peppercorns
1 vanilla bean split in half
3 teaspoons of Darjeeling tea

Directions: Put milk and spices in a saucepan and bring to almost a boil, stirring constantly. Turn off heat. Add three teaspoons of Darjeeling tea, cover and steep for 4-6 minutes. Pour through a strainer into warmed mugs. Add sugar to taste. (Chai is generally on the sweet side, so I add two teaspoons per serving).

Next week, I’ll give you my friend Peggy’s recipe for a wonderfully moist coconut pound cake. If your book group is reading a novel with an Indian setting and it’s your turn to host, serving your guests my chai tea with Peggy’s coconut cake would be a big hit with the gals. (Guys, too!) Stay tuned.

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Before I left for Puerto Vallarta, where I knew I would be lying on a lounge chair, staring up at the palm trees, watching whales leap in the Bay of Banderas, drinking daiquiris and reading for total escape, I checked one of my favorite on-line book reviewers — January Magazine. No, I have no idea why they call it January Magazine, but they do. Whether I want literature, non-fiction, or just plain fun, their reviews never lead me astray. This time was no exception.

I’m pretty picky when it comes to my guilty reading pleasures. The author has to have a strong voice and sense of place, AND the plot has to be way more complicated than boy meets girl followed by 500 boring pages of misunderstandings all relayed through heavy-handed dialogue before they finally hook up.

Oy vey as we say up on the Ranch.

Well, a couple of writers — and Kelli Stanley was one — really helped make my vacation. Well, they, my iPad and Amazon one-click-shopping. (And yes, Amazon should pay state taxes. Talk about guilt. I feel bad every time I use them, but that’s another story.)

I was always one of those people who swore I’d never read a book off a screen. Folks, never say never. E-readers are the greatest things for traveling.

Once I’d made my choices for vacation reading, I clicked on Amazon. A split second later, one of the book covers about the size of a Scrabble tile appeared. Next to it, a bar started filling up with a blue line…10%, then 40% and so on.

I had to admit, as I watched the contents of the book being sucked up through what looked like a tiny straw, I felt a little like an addict who’d just rolled up a dollar bill and was snorting fiction through it like white powder — well, in this case $9.99 worth of dollar bills. (The e-books really should be a little cheaper, but if I want Amazon to pay state taxes, I guess I’ll have to spend even more. On the other hand, a clean conscience is worth a lot!)

Once at our time-share in Vallarta, I staked out my lounge chair, clicked on the iPad, and started in with Kelli Stanley’s City of Dragons.

Set in San Francisco in the late Thirties, City of Dragons PI Miranda Corbie witnesses the murder of a young Japanese man in Chinatown during the Rice Bowl Festival. The police want to shove the murder under the rug, but Miranda — for reasons of her own — pursues the case. You can practically feel the cold fog rolling in under the Golden Gate Bridge in this novel, hear the mournful fog horns, and feel yourself being jostled by the crowds in Chinatown with the strange sounds of Mandarin and Cantonese all around you. Miranda is a tough-talking broad, chain-smoking and bourbon-drinking. She gives Sam Spade a run for his money.

City of Dragons carried me back to a time in my life in the early Seventies when I lived on the top floor of a Basque Hotel in North Beach. The cable car clanged under my windows, and I had a view of the San Francisco Bay.

The rooms on that floor were all filled with women who wanted TO WRITE; typewriters clicked contstantly behind closed doors. Well, there were two strippers from a couple of the Broadway clubs who lived in two of the rooms, but that was all part of the atmosphere. On the floor below us lived the Basque sheepherders, and on the floor below that was Elu’s Basque restaurant. Anyone remember the Hotel du Midi?

Kelli Stanley’s San Francisco reminded me of all the foggy nights I spent drinking Irish coffees at Vesuvio with friends after browsing the shelves on the lower floor of City Lights Bookstore. It reminded me of standing in the alley listening to Miles Davis when he played at Keystone Korner, reminded me of dinners with friends at the US Restaurant where the waitress punched your monthly meal ticket with a hole puncher after she gave you the daily special and a glass of wine, reminded me how different San Francisco was back then from any other place in the country. Maybe the world.

I’ll tell you about my other guilty reading pleasure next time. It was totally different and just as much fun.

How’s my own writing project going? Well, Dave and I spent all day Valentine’s Day trying to figure out how to compress my files into Mp3s in iTunes and get them up on Libsyn. I’m almost there, but not quite. I don’t know whether to put the files in Libsyn’s drop box or some other place. Do any of you? By the end of the day, we were pretty much ready for a couple of Old-Fashioneds (EACH!) Still, it was romantic of Dave to offer to help. Some girls want flowers; I want to figure out how to store my files on Libsyn. Each to her own.

Going from an image in my head, to pages in a box, to words on garage band, and then into iTunes, Libsyn and out to you using Podpress or Blubrry isn’t easy.

But I’m getting there. I’m getting the hang of it. Really. I swear.

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Jude Deveraux and a Girls’ Pamper-Week in Puerto Vallarta

Posted by admin on Thursday Feb 10, 2011 Under Uncategorized

Ladies, I’m hanging out the girls’ equivalent
of a gone-fishin’ sign on this blog.

Puerto Vallarta

When you read this, the sister-in-law and I will be at the beach. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to be specific.

Palms trees, tropical breezes, sound of waves crashing against the rocks. Adios winter.

I’ve got the swimsuit packed, the pareo, the hat, the sandals, the sunscreen. Also, I’m throwing in a super-expensive bottle of La Mer Body lotion I picked up at the Duty Free Shops at SFO on the last trip to Mexico and three bottles of Jo Malone scent— my own personal combo— Pomegranate Noir, Amber Lavender, and #154. Okay, so I do have a couple of nice outfits for dining at Trio and Café des Artistes, and a couple of Capri pants and tee-shirts for the more serious shopping expeditions. But mostly, I intend to slather myself with various beauty products, soak up the sun and read the equivalent of literary boxes of bon-bons.

Hasta la Vista Amigas

To complete the total package, I’ve downloaded a Romance novel onto the old i pad—Jude Deveraux, whom I’ve never read. But hey, this one— The Scent of Jasmine— is set in Charleston and Florida and involves a handsome Scottish outlaw. Perfect. Just what I need for lying in a chaise lounge with one of those little drinky-thingys with the tiny paper umbrellas by my side. I’ll let you know what I think of it when I get back.

Don’t feel TOO sorry for us!

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The whole story broke when I was in Mexico, and since everyone else seems to have weighed in on Amy Chua’s childrearing practices, I’m thinking why not me?

My room in the Villa Condesa

As we all know by now I’m a terrible insomniac, so when I woke up at two or so in the morning in a room not unlike the one my character Lili in Palace of the Blue Butterfly would also wake up in, I grabbed my i pad and clicked on the New York Times. Well, not first thing. First, I lay there listening to the sounds of the city around me, feeling the winter cold in the high-ceilinged 19th century building. After I was pretty sure I’d gotten the setting right in my book, after I’d sort of experienced the veracity, shall we say, of my words, THEN I turned on my computer and checked the Times. There it was —all the brouhaha about Amy Chua.

Anyone in the United States not in a complete coma knows about this book, so you don’t need me to spill any more ink on the subject. Since— like everyone else it turned out—I was absolutely horrified by this story, I started to read the comments, wanting to make sure I was not alone. I wasn’t, and boy, were there comments! My personal favorite: “They don’t have Child Protective Services at Yale?”

There is a great review of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Elizabeth Kolbert in this week’s New Yorker. I’m glad to see that a staff writer for the New Yorker is the same kind of Tiger Mother I was. Basically, the Tiger Cat kind of mother—you know the tabby variety with the stripes? And like such a creature, I was capable of withering looks when things were done I didn’t approve of, but that was about it. Okay, okay, so I strongly encouraged my daughter to go to Wesleyan instead of a theater conservatory, where, in spite of the fact that I had never threatened to burn her stuffed animals, had never locked her out of the house when she was barefoot and freezing (well, it doesn’t freeze in Berkeley, so that was never an option) she managed to get straight As.

But I learned a couple of cool things by following the comment threads on the Tiger Mother book.

One: There is an institute at the University of California at Berkeley—The Greater Good Science Center— that studies what makes people happy. Like scientifically studies. Seems that psychology has previously focused mostly on pathology—what was wrong and how to fix it. These folks at Berkeley now study what is right with some people and how to reproduce those results in others, especially in children.

Two: Guess what they’ve found out. Happiness doesn’t come from large amounts of money or great achievements. Happiness— and with it resilience, emotional intelligence, and optimism, all traits that may help you succeed—is fostered by gratitude, sense of community, and altruism.

The cool part is they’ve learned how to develop these qualities in people (like Amy Chua, I assume) in whom they are deficient.

Some things that work: Practicing gratitude, helping others, meditating.

Funny, that list sort of looks like my New Year’s Resolution list.

My Meditation Room

So how am I doing on that list anyway? Well . . . turns out I needed privacy, wasn’t Zen-like enough to meditate when I could hear Dave rattling around in the kitchen, so now I trot up the hill in the morning to the pool cabana. It has wonderful south facing doors that look out on a splendid vista. Plus, it’s warm in there from the sun.

The Greater Good Science Center has a blog called Half Full you might want to check out. Also, for all you mothers and grandmothers out there, I should mention a good childrearing book by Christine Carter, one of the research sociologists at the Greater Good Science Center. It’s called Raising Happiness, and it is a huge relief from the Tiger Mother, Helicopter Mother models we’re seeing. Shows you how you can develop all those good qualities like compassion, optimism, and resilience in your young ones. Sorry Amy. Kids don’t get medals for those things, so maybe you won’t be interested. For the rest of us—take a look.

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Mexico Trilogy Graphic Link