‘Tis the Season with Catriona McPherson

With Sparkle Abbey‘s Special Guest Catriona McPherson

Is HOP SCOT a seasonal romance? I’m going to say yes. Okay Lexy and Taylor are already engaged when they go to Scotland to let him meet the parents, the rest of the regular cast are all coupled up already, and there’s a mouldering semi-skeleton bricked up in the basement.


A. after writing about a Scot out of water in California for five books, this time I get to write a Christmas love letter to Scotland.

And B. there’s an actual romance. Honest. You just need to keep reading. I don’t think I meant it to happen but who doesn’t love a Christmas love story? I know I do and I even love some of my favourites the way you love an elderly flatulent cat, or your beloved aunt’s terrible cooking. Tell me what you think of my list and let me know what’s on yours.


White Christmas Movie photo with characters from the movie.


No bad cooking or feline flatulence here. In my opinion, this is the best Christmas film of any type and the best musical too. I watch it every year. When I was a wee girl, my sister Wendy and I thought Judy (Vera Ellen) was perfection, Betty (Rosemary Clooney) didn’t belong in a film because she looked like our mum, Phil (Danny Kaye) was weird, and Bob (Bing Crosby) was an old man. Now I think Judy needs a good meal, Betty is impossibly gorgeous because she looks like our mum, Phil is a poppet and Bob . . . yeah, he’s still an old man. And the plot is bonkers and Betty’s gloves in the nightclub scene look like she stole them from a welder. But it’s joyous for all that and I wouldn’t change a thing. Even the titles are beautiful.


Book cover for The Christmas Bookshop


Jenny Colgan’s romance about a misfit girl who goes to stay with her annoyingly perfect sister in Edinburgh and transforms the fortunes of a struggling bookshop in the Old Town might have been written especially for me. I adore Edinburgh and bookshop settings (Quiet Neighbors was mine) and, in case you haven’t guessed yet, I’m partial to Christmas too. The follow-up is just out. I’ve told Santa. Incidentally, the one-star reviews of this on Amazon.com are hilarious – mostly concerned with the shocking bad language. I really hope none of these disappointed readers ever goes to Scotland! They’re in for a rude (literally) awakening.


The Holiday movie with photos of Jude Law, Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jack Black.


This the first of my love it or hate it favourites. My mum and dad watch this film (in which KateWinslet (Iris) and Cameron Diaz (Amanda) house-swap between England and LA) like I watch White Christmas. When they persuaded me to join them one summer – that’s significant, I sat stony-faced throughout its run-time. Then I watched it again at the right time of year and found it absolutely charming. Jack Black is a riot, the London office is convincing even if the commute to the Cotswolds is nonsense so the LA film-industry stuff might be accurate too, Eli Wallach steals the whole film (from Jack Black!), the two little kids are among the least sickening screen moppets ever, and the rest of it is pretty people doing silly things. What’s wrong with that? At Christmas-time, nothing at all.


A Castle for Christmas photo of Cary Elwes and Brooke Shields


Now, if you can take THE HOLIDAY and not throw stuff at the telly, it’s time to move on to this instant classic, from 2021. Sophie (Brooke Shields) is a novelist, who has found success in a publishing world that bears not the slightest, glancing similarity to the real one. So she goes to Scotland to stay in a castle. Of course. The castle is owned by a duke (Cary Elwes) who is broke, grumpy and not interested in a new woman. Guess. What. Happens. But the thing is it doesn’t matter! It doesn’t matter, either, that the Christmas decorations at the castle would have bankrupted even a rich duke. It almost doesn’t matter that Cary Elwes’s Scottish accent is worse than Star Trek and his own, real accent is exactly what a Scottish duke would sound like. The village is cute. The knitting club that meets (every day, apparently) in the pub is adorable, and Sophie’s tartan Vivienne Westwood ballgown is every bit as gorgeous as Betty’s fur-trimmed dress at the end of White Christmas.


Single All the Way


And finally we find ourselves at the most-advanced level of seasonal disbelief suspension with this Hallmark-adjacent hokum squarely in the Guess. What. Happens. sub-genre. I am glad I put in the training and can love it without trying. Here’s the deal. Peter (Michael Urie (him off Ugly Betty)) and Nick (Philemon Chambers) are just friends, who share a flat in LA. Got that? They’re just friends. But Nick is tired of his loving family, back in New England (flannel alert), nagging him about being single, so they decide to pretend that they’ve got together as a couple and go east for Christmas. Guess. What. Happens. Ah, it’s lovely. Jennifer Coolidge and Kathy Najimy play the mum and aunt, the mayor’s wife from Schitt’s Creek is a sister and, speaking of Schitt’s Creek, the whole story takes place in a small town that’s homophobia-free. Nick’s a children’s writer in a publishing world that bears not the slightest . . . And so we have to think that being a florist/plant nursery specialist is probably tougher than it looks here too, but come on!



Photo of author Catriona McPherson with a Santa hat on.

Merry Christmas and, like I say, let me know what you’ve got on your list that I need to add to mine.

~ Catriona

Catriona McPherson (she/her) was born in Scotland and immigrated to the US in 2010. She writes preposterous 1930s private detective stories, realistic 1940s amateur sleuth stories, and contemporary psychological standalones. These are all set in Scotland with a lot of Scottish weather. She also writes  modern comedies about the Last Ditch Motel in a “fictional” college town in Northern California. HOP SCOT is number six in the series. Catriona’s books have won or been shortlisted for the Edgar, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Lefty, the Macavity, the Mary Higgins Clark award and the UK Ellery Queen Dagger. She is a proud lifetime member and former national president of Sisters in Crime.


We’d like to thank Catriona for visiting today. What a fun look at Christmas and some seasonal favorites! We love the Last Ditch series and have already ordered our copy of Hop Scot, but just in case you haven’t, stop by her website for more info: Catriona McPherson

And we’d like to add our own Happy Holidays to you all.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season with peace and good cheer as we head into the new year!

~ Mary Lee & Anita aka Sparkle Abbey

A Holiday Stories Submission Opportunity

by Paula Gail Benson

The Bethlehem Writers Group (BWG)—originally begun by writers based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, known as “Christmas City , USA,” and now having members across the country—is no stranger to holiday stories. Its 2009 anthology, A Christmas Sampler: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Holiday Tales, featured stories about a mall Santa who has forgotten a child’s name (Paul Weifknecht), a woman who believes despite contrary evidence that she is pregnant (Courtney Annicchiarico), a bachelor’s Christmas traditions (Headley Hauser), a small town lawyer resolving a mystery after Santa falls from her roof three weeks before Christmas (Carol L. Wright), a deceased man who refuses to leave his beloved alone for the holiday (Ralph Hieb), and a relationship where partners differ about being ready for marriage (Emily P.W. Murphy) [story descriptions paraphrased from Amazon Kindle listing and authors of the stories indicated in parentheses]. The anthology won the 2010 Next Generation Indie Book Awards for Best Short Fiction and Best Anthology.

Each year, the Bethlehem Writers Group has a short story contest. Here are the details about submitting for the 2024 contest:

“We are seeking never-published (including online or blog posts) short stories of 2,000 words or fewer on the theme: Holiday Tales. We define holiday stories as those that involve any holiday from US Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, or stories that reference those holidays. (There are many such holidays, so let your imagination fly.) While our theme is broadly interpreted, the holiday must be an important element in the story, not just referred to in passing. (DIE HARD would not be accepted!)”

This year’s celebrity judge is Marlo Berliner, the multi-award-winning, bestselling author of The Ghost Chronicles series.

Why not enjoy the 2009 BWG anthology while working on stories to submit for this year’s BWG’s contest?

Valentines, Shmalentines

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email that opened with this: “Not interested in Valentine’s content?” It continued, very sympathetically: We understand this time can be tough. If you would prefer not to receive Valentine’s Day emails this year, you can opt out by simply clicking below. With love, your Etsy friends.

The whole thing made me wonder. Are American consumers so delicate that we can’t deal with Valentine’s Day if we’re without a valentine of our own? Will retailers now follow suit and spare people who are sadly bereft of a mother from the onslaught of Mother’s Day marketing? Or offer non-holiday shoppers relief from the five months-long Christmas advertising blitz?

Valentine’s Day has murky origins. Apparently, there were three different men named Valentine who achieved sainthood. Their individual stories differ, and are not particularly romantic. However, regarding the celebration of love on February 14, there’s this: In the Middle Ages in England and France, that date was commonly believed to be the start of mating season for birds, and thus, a day for romance. Somewhere along the way, those sexy Greek and Roman gods, Eros and Cupid, added their classical spice to the mix.

The oldest known valentine still in existence is a poem written in 1415. I haven’t been able to find the original text, so it may or may or may have gone something like this: Roses are red, violets are blue, thou hast the face of an olde cockatoo.

Times have changed, and romantic love has taken a beating in the past few decades. While I understand the yearning for a knight in shining armor who gallops across the moat carrying a dozen perfect red roses and a two pound box of Godiva, most princesses have moved on toward the notion that true love comes in different flavors, and doesn’t always arrive in the form of a macho man on his high horse.

Houston Museum of Natural Science

More and more women are celebrating Galentine’s Day. Marketers have picked up on the vibe, offering “Cupid is Stupid” specials at taverns, restaurants, and entertainment halls. At least one establishment in town advertises a special axe-throwing night for women only. Makes me wonder what shape or form the axe’s target resembles. Also turns my imagination toward a great plot idea for a Rom-Com Crime story.

This year, the Houston Museum of Natural Science invited its members to contemplate the mutual attraction of our Earth and Moon (above). They also encouraged those of us among the Valentine- or Galentine-perplexed to “Take a Bite out of Love” by giving our special someone this: a cockroach that can be cherished, or squished like a bug, according to your heart’s desire.

Houston Museum of Natural Science

Valentine’s and Galentine’s Days have another sibling. It’s called Palentine’s Day and it gives us all a chance to tell our best buddies that we love and appreciate them. I like this choice the best.

So today, I wish everyone—my readers, friends, family, and colleagues alike—a very Happy Palentine’s Day!

What’s your favorite thing to do on February 14th?

Gay Yellen is the award-winning author of the Samantha Newman Mystery Series, including The Body Business, The Body Next Door, and the upcoming Body in the News!


Clicking Our Heels – Shopping for Christmas, Chanukah or Kwanza

Clicking Our Heels – Shopping for Christmas, Chanukah, or Kwanza 

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, or nothing, it is the shopping season of the year. Some of us are last minute shoppers, some shop all year round. Today, we explore our shopping styles and what, if we could tell someone special what we wanted this year, what it would be (hint, hint).

Debra Sennefelder– I start shopping for Christmas during the week of Thanksgiving. But I’m always thinking about gifts for family and friends all year long. I’d love to receive a cross pendant necklace in silver.

Lois Winston – I usually start thinking about holiday gifts at Thanksgiving. If I see something I know will be perfect for someone on my list, I’ll buy it when I see it. I don’t like being pressured at the last minute and would rather enjoy the holidays without having to shop ‘til I drop. As for what I want this year, how about world peace and an end to the climate crisis?

Dru Ann Love – Most of my family are adults so I tend to gift them something they need when they need it. If I want something, I tend to get it myself because chances are no one can afford to give it to me.

Kathryn Lane – It depends. I’m not a shopper so gift shopping can be difficult. If I see a perfect gift for someone, I’ll get it even if the holidays are months away. In other cases, I’m up against the deadline. For this holiday, I’d like a chip implant that would help my brain retain what I read!

Debra H. Goldstein – I’m a last minute shopper (gift cards and checks are me). My first thought for a gift is world peace, but I’d also like a) personal peace, b) a book contract on a silver platter, c) a month at the beach with family and friends dropping in.

MaryLee Salsbury Woods – Over the years, I’ve unfortunately become less prepared for the holiday so I tend to shop late. Thankfully the grandchildren are very good at creating wish lists so I have good options to choose from when I do get busy shopping. As far as what’s on my wish list, my family knows that what I value most is time together and one year they went together and planned a small getaway. Both sons and families, my husband, and I and a long weekend. It was just the best gift ever. So, I pick another one of those!

Donnell Ann Bell – I wait until December. With six grandchildren who are growing rapidly, I want to make sure their sizes are correct.

T.K. Thorne – I am always a last minute shopper and really hate the whole thing (except when I find something perfect!). So the rule now is only the kids get presents.  Takes some pressure off.  // What would I want?  The most precious gift is time, so I would ask for time with my husband having an adventure together somewhere beautiful.

Shari Randall/Meri Allen – I like a deadline, so I’m a late shopper. Shopping online has taken a bit of the fun out of shopping and if I shop online I promptly forget what I’ve purchased and end up with too much or too little. I’ve learned to relax and enjoy shopping close to the holiday, so I can enjoy the decorations and music. As far as what I want this year, it’s the same as always – I love books and things that smell good!

Lynn McPherson – I love Christmas shopping. I have very few people to buy for (my kids, husband, and two secret Santa gifts for extended family) so for me I enjoy the hustle and bustle of the lights, the sales, and the excitement.

Saralyn Richard – I’m not a great shopper. If I happen to see something that I think someone would like at any time during the year, I’ll buy it and put it away for the holiday. So many people on my list prefer gift cards to gifts these days. I understand their thinking, but (sigh) personally feel it takes some of the fun out of gift-giving and receiving. My favorite gifts are things that people I love have selected for me, and I can look at them and celebrate our relationship.

Barbara J. Eikmeier – I shop early then lose track of what I got for everyone and make a frantic last minute shopping trip only to discover I have bought duplicates! The one thing I always ask for but haven’t gotten (yet) is a complete detailing of my car including cleaning the dirt off the inside bottom of the doors.

Linda Rodriguez – Normally, I like to take care of my holiday gift shopping early, but I have noticed that during the pandemic I have been caught short and had to resort to emergency measures for my gift shopping, the kind I used to make fun of my brothers for doing.