December 2017


   Friends and readers, I send season’s greetings from a fairyland of light. My front door sports a huge and gorgeous wreath made by one of my granddaughters, along with a lighted swag of greens over the door. The fence near it is illuminated with tiny white lights, and the deck is draped with loops of multi-colored lights. A beautiful wreath, made by a neighbor, hangs on the back door. And the pièce de la résistance is a bank of tiny green lights that seems to hang in space outside the French doors to the patio. In technology I don’t understand, they are projected by a small gizmo on the half-wall just outside the door. At night, the whole thing is spectacular. My daughter did all this when I was away for Thanksgiving and made it a welcome-home surprise. If anything speaks of the light of love, my fairyland does.

I hope it’s been a good year for you in all ways—personal and professional, a year rich in friendship and blessed by the absence of illness or money worries. For me, it’s been rough—my hip surgery, followed by a five-day stay in the hospital due to an out-of-whack heart, and now a wayward implanted lens in one eye. I will have eye surgery in early January, but I figure bad things come in threes, and I’ve now had mine. I’m ready to come roaring back.

   My novella, The Color of Fear, garnered some nice reviews and attention and did well as part of Sleuthing Women II: Ten Mystery Novellas—a real bargain if you like cozy mysteries. One reader called The Color of Fear, “a concise and subtle synopsis of the development of the previous Kelly O’Connell books,” and another one wrote, “slim though it may be, it packages a tightly woven cozy mystery.”

  Pigface and the Perfect Dog, the book I had such high hopes for, hasn’t done as well as I expected, although it too has gotten strong reviews. A reader wrote on Goodreads, “I’m always on the lookout for new series with feisty female protagonists. Ms. Alter’s Oak Grove Series definitely fits that description. And even more delightful—it’s an academic cozy!” If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I decided the title was wrong—some people object to the derogatory nickname, and I am now more sensitive to that; others thought it was a kids book. But despite that, a reader wrote, “How could I not read a cozy mystery with a title such as this? The description sounded worth finding out who Pigface is (and I’m not tellin’!)”

   If you haven’t read Pigface, I urge you to try it and leave your comments on Amazon or Goodreads. I’m curious if you think the title is a problem and, of course, if you like the book and want to see more of Susan and Jake.

   Meantime, the fourth Blue Plate Café Mystery, almost for sure titled Murder at the Bus Depot, is out to a beta reader for a second pass. The book is scheduled for publication in May or June. And I’m working on the eighth (I find that hard to believe!) Kelly O’Connell Mystery. No title yet, but I may bill it as “ripped from the headlines”. Just as Pigface dealt with the current issue of open-carry, this new Kelly novel will involve racism and racial supremacy—both issues indeed taken from current headlines. But then, there may be some cooking in it too.

  I hope you’re looking forward to reading these forthcoming titles and will go back and investigate some you may have missed.

Books make great Christmas gifts—here are a few I recommend

  • The Aurora Teagarden Series, by Charlaine Harris – I got hooked on this series and read one after another. It’s proof to me that characters captivate readers, because I am captivated by Aurora—she’s witty, self-deprecating, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. But there’s always a serious and scary mystery involved.
  • Tell Me No Lies, by Lynn Chandler Willis, a psychological drama that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
  • Proof of Life, by J. A. Jance – J P Beaumont may be remarried and retired, but he can’t stay away from crime. As always, he’s a charming rebel on the side of law and order. Reading this novel is like welcoming an old friend.
  • Song of the Lion, by Anne Hillerman. Tony Hillerman’s daughter does an excellent job of carrying on her father’s novels about the Navajo detectives, Leaphorn and Chee. In this one, we see more of Chee’s new wife, Bernadette Manuelito.
  • Treble at the Jam Festival, by Leslie Budewitz. Budewitz does small-town cozy with a foodie element to perfection. Delicious light reading (which segues nicely into the next title).
  • Delicious, by Ruth Reichl. The restaurant and food critic’s first foray into fiction is a different and ultimately satisfying novel. A touch of mystery, but it’s much more than the category novel. Slow start but definitely worth sticking with it.

  And always, I recommend cookbooks for general reading. My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life, by Ruth Reichl, is the writer’s chronicle of her first year after Gourmet Magazine was abruptly discontinued while she was editor. The kitchen, she says, saved her sanity. Lots of recipes in a chatty, informal style rather than the traditional format, and the whole thing is in distinctive handwriting. A real treat if you love to cook or even just read about food.

A rich and elegant recipe for your holiday meals

Cream of Mushroom Soup


No, this isn’t my picture. But gosh-darn, doesn’t it look delicious?!


You could probably halve this, depending on how many you’re serving.


  • 1/2 c Tuscan olive oil (more or less)
  • 2 pounds Cremini mushrooms, sliced (or you can use a blend of your choice)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Four medium shallots, chopped
  • One large leek, halved, light green and white part only, sliced
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • One large Vidalia onion, chopped fine
  • Four cloves garlic, chopped fine
  • 1/3 c dry white wine
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 5 c chicken broth (or beef, if you prefer)
  • 2 c cream
  • 1 1/2 c milk
  • 5 sprigs fresh Thyme

  In a large heavy pot over medium heat, sauté mushrooms in 1/4 cup of olive oil and 2 Tbsp. butter (add more olive oil as needed). Toss the mushrooms until they are nicely browned. Season with salt pepper and set aside.

   In the same pot over medium heat with more olive oil and butter, cook the shallots, leeks, garlic, and onion until vegetables are soft and lightly colored. Add the wine and cook until liquid is evaporated.

   Stir in flour and cook until vegetables are coated. Whisk in stock, cream, and milk, and bring just to a boil. Add thyme and mushrooms, and simmer uncovered until soup thickens (25-35 minutes). Remove thyme and season with salt and pepper. (You might use an immersion blender at this point, just a few pulses!)

   Serve the soup with toasted buttered breadcrumbs.

   With thanks for this recipe to my friend and neighbor, Mary Dulle, who got this from friends who had two different versions. This is a wonderful composite of the best.

And my holiday wishes for you . . .

   May the light from my fairyland shine on each of you and bring you happy holidays and fine 2018. And may the light from each of us shine with intensity on our country and bring it the peace and unity for which it was founded.

   God bless us all!


Me, all smiles and happily homebound after the aforementioned hospital stay!


P.S.I’d love to hear from you. Please email me with questions, comments, and suggestions at or comment on my blog, Judy’s Stew. You can also find me on Facebook or on my Facebook author page. I also have a Twitter account and a promotional website.


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