The Mourning Coffee

Have You Met the Mourning Cloak Butterfly?

You may recall that I mentioned my best friend, Mary, back in my March newsletter. We have been friends for many years and it has only been recently that I learned that she is an avid butterfly and moth watcher. I’ve received many photos from her of these sometimes-extraordinary insects clinging to the side of her cabin.

One butterfly that really caught my eye, though, is called the Mourning Cloak Butterfly. I mean, what Victorian-era writer wouldn’t like learning about that?

Mary told me that this unique butterfly is large, with a wingspan of up to 4 inches, and can live up to 12 months—one of the longest lifespans of any butterfly.  It is also the state insect of Montana!  The underside of the wing is coarse, brown, and resembles a chip of bark. But once this butterfly opens it wings, you see why it is also called the Grand Surprise or Camberwell Beauty.

Mourning Cloak butterflies are distributed broadly around the northern hemisphere. They are commonly found throughout all of North America and northern Eurasia, with colder winter climates.

They can usually be found in hardwood forests, although they have been found in virtually all habitats – except for where they were first discovered!

In 1748, the first Mourning Cloak Butterfly was found in London, England, by L. Hugh Newman, a British Entomologist. He likened the butterfly’s pattern to a girl who, disliking having to be in mourning, defiantly let a few inches of a bright dress show below her mourning dress.

Interestingly, although the Mourning Cloak was discovered in London, it is not found in London natively. After their discovery, Newman raised thousands for release at his farm in Bexley, but none were seen the following spring. However, specimens in his freezer did survive. It is thought that mild, wet winters prevented them from surviving there.

In a book Newman authored, he said that the Mourning Cloaks caught in England were suspiciously concentrated around London, Hull and Harwich, all being ports in the timber trade with Scandinavia. He theorized that they had hibernated in stacks of timber, which were then shipped to England. But since the Mourning Cloak had not traveled to London naturally, it could not adapt to the warmer winters, causing its demise. Perhaps its name is even more fitting after learning the story of its discovery!

What I find positively amazing is how closely the butterfly’s wings match the Florence Nightingale gown I had made for myself. If only I had a little peep of yellow peeking out beneath!

Are you a butterfly watcher? How do you think the Mourning Cloak compares to other butterflies you have seen?

Until next month, I remain—
Warmly Yours,


Let’s Talk about Cats instead of COVID

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found the past few months to be, in a word, exhausting.

Who would have guessed three months ago what our country would look like today? So much distressing news and stressful events in our daily lives as we have all negotiated our way around this pandemic crisis.

I hope you have been faring well and are looking toward a brighter and happier future.

Meanwhile, let’s just have fun with cats, shall we?

As you likely know if you are my Facebook follower, I love cats. My favorite cat of all time has to be little Cicero, whom I adopted in September 2019. I saw his picture on an adoption web site and just fell in love with his sweet face and fluffy tail.

I call him Flurfy because he’s just so darned cute and…flurfy!

The sweet girl who was fostering him promised me on the phone that he was a very affectionate cat. Boy, did that turn out to be true. Another nickname I have for him is Cuddlebug, because he loves cuddles. He will happily lay on his back in my arms and let me snuggle his fuzzy face.

Cicero has just two negative points (and of course I am willing to forgive him anything). First, he likes to jump from the window ledge above my bed onto me. Around 2:30am. Landing squarely on my stomach. There’s no terror quite like waking up to 10 pounds of fur dive-bombing onto you.

Second, he is a bit of a pig about food. You can hardly get the cat food open before he’s pawing at it and trying to take it from you. More than once have I ended up flipping a can upside down. Either Cicero or I end up wearing kitty food gravy.

But other than that, Cicero is adorable and has been great company for me during COVID.

Now, for you dog lovers out there, never fear. The book I’m currently writing features a Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Lindbergh. Yes, after the famous pilot. His name is relevant to the plot. And that’s all I’m saying for now!

Do you have a sweet or fun nickname for your pet(s)? I’d love to know what it is. Do you kiss your pet’s forehead? I do so all the time, but I know some people are really against the practice. I guess I can’t help myself.

Hope you enjoyed this dose of overwhelming cuteness and flurfiness.

Of Ducks and Men

You may recall that in a recent newsletter I told you about the passing of my dear sister-in-law, Lori, as a result of breast cancer.

Time has a way of marching on, of course, even in a time of Coronavirus, and so I have continued to work through grief. My brother has especially had to work through his grief, and sometimes grief can bring us to some strange places.

Lori was very much a farm/nature girl at heart. On their two acres, she had all kinds of things going on: raised vegetable beds, hulga kultur beds, aquaponics, chickens, ducks, grape vines, fruit trees…the list goes on!

Over time, she had hatched several groups of ducks and chickens. Eventually she got rid of all the chickens, but she always kept ducks. With a particular group of hatched ducklings, one of them imprinted on Lori and started following her around the property. Naturally, that duck became a bit of a pet, and was named Princess Tiger Lily (from Peter Pan).

Tiger Lily believed herself to be much more than a mere duck. She generally refused to hang around the rest of the flock and instead would perch herself at the back door, waiting for Lori to come and spend time with her. Lori was able to pick Tiger Lily up and pet her.

If you know anything about ducks, you know that they are very nervous, excitable creatures and do not typically welcome being touched by humans.

When Lori got sick and knew she wasn’t going to make it, she asked my brother what he was going to do with the ducks. He promised her that as long as Princess Tiger Lily was alive, he would keep all of them.
After Lori died, though, he found the work of keeping up with the ducks to be too much for him to manage on top of everything else he had to do with his beloved wife gone. Tony had nearby friends who lived on a river with a plethora of their own animals and they were willing to take his ducks. He decided that it was a better environment for the animals, especially since his friends were on a river and he only had a crudely-constructed water feature for them.

Thus, one day I helped my brother crate up all of the ducks to take to their new home. What an operation that was! As I mentioned, ducks don’t like being touched. You can imagine the hysteria that resulted when we gathered them up for the short journey to their new home.

Once they got there, however, the ducks went crazy with joy. Immediately they ran into the river and began diving up and down, shaking their feathers and quacking in delight. My brother was relieved that it was the right decision.

He picked up Tiger Lily—who had since imprinted on Tony and was willing to be held by him—for a final goodbye hug and then she ran to get in the water. Pictured: My brother and Princess Tiger Lily at her new waterfront home.

Tony and Princess Tiger Lily

I wish this story had a totally happy ending. Alas, two days after we took the ducks to their new home, Princess Tiger Lily simply laid down and died. Ducks do that—they don’t always give you warning if they are ill. The new owners were mortified that it had happened. They kept her little feathery body so that my brother could pick her up and take her back to his house for burial. He buried her beneath the window from where Lori used to watch her all the time.

The other ducks continue to be overjoyed with their new home and I tell my brother it was still the right decision to take them there.

It’s hard, though, isn’t it, second-guessing some of your decisions? I like to think that Lori would have whole-heartedly approved of the ducks having a river to paddle on every day.

Best Friends are the Best Things in Life

Do you have a best friend? Someone who has been through many of life’s trials with you? I know I do. Her name is Mary. Mary and I met the day before she got married, as I was invited by a friend of a friend of a friend to attend a pre-wedding celebration for Mary. Mary and I didn’t become close until sometime later, but when we realized how much we had in common, we became BFFs for life.

Our chief joy together is home decorating. You wouldn’t believe the hundreds of hours we have spent together in places like Macy’s, Home Goods, Bed Bath & Beyond, and so many other places, poring over dishes, furniture, bedding, pictures, curtains…well, you get the idea.

“It’s Saturday, let’s go shopping,” was our favorite refrain for years.

But, of course, a friendship is about more than shopping, isn’t it? Over the years, we have experienced death, divorce, job losses, disappointments, and frustrations, as well as great successes and accomplishments together.

We went through college together—taking classes at nights and on weekends—and graduated together. I’ll never forget leaning over to her during some sort of writing class and asking her if she still had my crock pot that she had borrowed. The instructor yelled at me for talking in class and I was quite mortified. It was years ago and we still talk about it today because it was so embarrassing.
We also share a love of pets, although Mary likes dogs and I am, of course, a cat person (but don’t say I’m a crazy cat lady!).

Mary has moved to another state four hours away from me, so it’s not as easy to see one another these days, but we make a valiant effort to keep up with one another. Having smart phones that enable us to text is very helpful.

I like to make sure my characters have best friends, too. Violet Harper’s best friend is named Mary, although ironically, she’s not named for my own friend but for someone who won a naming contest I held several years ago. In my previous historical, THE QUEEN’S DOLLMAKER, Claudette was besties with Beatrice, although that has tragic consequences. In A ROYAL LIKENESS, Marguerite becomes the apprentice to—and great friends with—Madame Tussaud, the famed waxworker.

Florence Nightingale relies heavily on her friendship with another Mary—Mary Clarke. Mary Clarke is a historic figure, so again not named for my own best friend!

What about you? Do you have a best friend? Does your best friend go back to childhood or is it someone who entered your life much later? What is it that makes you so close?

Without the blessing of best friends, life would not be as fun and colorful, would it?

A New Galley!

One of the most thrilling days of an author’s life is when a galley copy of an upcoming book arrives in the mail. Galleys are also called ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies). Publishers use galleys to solicit advance reviews. A galley is almost like a real copy of the book, except that:

  • It typically has a shiny cover (even if the final book cover will be matte).
  • There is a publication date printed on the cover.
  • The back contains promotional information about the release, such as marketing activities being undertaken by the publishing house.
  • It almost always states “Advance Reader’s Copy—Not for Sale” on it.

Also, a galley copy is printed at the stage of a book’s development that is just before proofreading is done…so there are usually still some mistakes inside the manuscripts. However, professional reviewers are used to that and don’t count it in their reviews.

The publisher sends galleys to various reputable review sources that specialize in the particular genre in which the book is written. Once the reviews start to be published online—and the author holds his or breath hoping it is favorable—the publisher can begin to snag snippets of them to use in further promotional activities.

So, here is the brand-new galley copy of THE DEADLY HOURS that arrived in my mailbox recently. I propped it up next to a hand-decorated wine glass given to me by the Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookshop in Mechanicsburg, PA. Around the base it says, “We know where the bodies are buried.” A very fun glass for sipping wine from while reading a mystery.

Thank you for being such a faithful reader. I hope you will consider pre-ordering the book from your favorite bookseller, and I also hope you will consider Violet Harper’s new story to be worth the wait.

THE DEADLY HOURS releases on September 1, 2020.

Getting Back to Writing…

As you know, the death of my sister-in-law, Lori, hit me very hard. I feel as though I am emerging from a very dark period where there was always daytime but never sunlight.

As part of my re-emergence into the real world,  I have picked up the keyboard once more and am starting to write again.

I confess, it feels good to be back at it again. I have resumed work on a book I had started last year. It is a piece of women’s fiction that takes place in my home state of Maryland.  It’s a romance, it’s a mystery, it’s historically-based.  My agent is very excited about the project and is in a flurry of phone calls to editors. As a faithful newsletter subscriber, you will be the first to know if and when it sells.

New Book Cover Reveal – The Deadly Hours

I am delighted to share with you the cover for my next novel, THE DEADLY HOURS, releasing September 1, 2020.

This book is a favorite project of mine. It is my first collaborative effort with other authors and I would happily work with any or all of them again. Susanna Kearsley writes some of the most lush, moving historical time slip novels I’ve ever read. They stay with you for weeks afterward. C.S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr series is a regency delight, as we follow the dark and brooding aristocrat through twists and turns in his own personal journey through 14 books (#15 is coming in April 2020).

Anna Lee Huber authors three different historical mystery series, but my favorite will always be the Lady Darby historical mystery series. I am personally very gratified that my own story within THE DEADLY HOURS connects directly to hers. The idea to write a multi-authored book was hers.

Eager to know the story of THE DEADLY HOURS? From the publisher:

A stellar line-up of historical mystery novelists weaves the tale of a priceless and cursed gold watch as it passes through time wreaking havoc from one owner to another. The characters are irrevocably linked by fate, each playing a key role in breaking the curse and destroying the watch once and for all.
From 1733 Italy to Edinburgh in 1831 to a series of chilling murders in 1870 London, and a lethal game of revenge decades later, the watch touches lives with misfortune, until it comes into the reach of one young woman who might be able to stop it for good.

Susanna’s story is set in 1733 Italy, Anna’s in 1831 Edinburgh, and mine in 1870 London. Yes, Violet Harper is on the scene! C.S. Harris wraps up the book with a compelling story set during World War II.

Early reviews are in:

“Charming… Four interconnected visits to a world of danger, wit, beauty and genuine romance. Treat yourself!”―ANNE PERRY, internationally bestselling author

“A fantastic read.”―Tasha Alexander, New York Times bestselling author

“What a treat!”―Victoria Thompson, USA Today bestselling author

The book is available for pre-order from your favorite online bookseller:
Barnes & Noble

I hope you enjoy Violet’s next adventure, discovering the secrets of a cursed gold watch traveling through the centuries.

Introducing…Cicero the New Kitten!

I recently adopted Cicero, the cutest little Maine Coon-mix you have ever seen in your life. I found Cicero through a local pet adoption web site. I fell completely in love with his picture and had to have him! Turns out that he and several littermates were dropped off as very young kittens. One kitten died quickly, and then Cicero began to fade. His foster mother hand fed him every two hours for days to rescue him.

I’m so glad she did, because now he is just a sweet and adorable little cuddle bug. He loves to be held and will nudge your hand with his head to make you pet him.

All of his surviving siblings have also been adopted.

He is particularly attached to Felix. I think it’s because they are both obsessed with food and can tag team begging for it!

I am guessing Cicero is part Maine Coon, primarily because he has tufted ears, fur on the underside of his paws, and his tail is so bushy it looks like it belongs on a raccoon. He is only seven months old and already his paws are larger than any of the other cats’ paws, so I’m wondering how big he will end up being!

As adorable as he is, Cicero does have one bad habit: he likes to destroy paper towel rolls. I’m thinking I may have to hide them in the cabinet. What am I going to do if he discovers the toilet paper holder???

Who’s Ready for the Downton Abbey Movie?

downton abbey

Am I the only one beside herself over the release of this movie on September 20th? Here’s my preparation checklist that you might find handy:

  •  Re-watch the sixth season of Downton Abbey to re-familiarize yourself.
  •  Check into fan events going on across the country.
  •  Buy theater tickets online (don’t want to get to the theater and be disappointed that they are sold out!).
  •  Remember to wear your favorite piece of Edwardian costume jewelry to the theater.

For the musically inclined, did you know that you can purchase a Downton Abbey songbook?

And for those who just want to be transported back 100 years via their headphones, there’s always the Downton Abbey soundtrack.

If you’re like me, you can’t wait to see what Dowager Countess Violet Crawley is going to say next. She shares Violet Harper’s name, so that makes her extra-special to me. Here are some of her best quotes about Americans:

“Why does every day involve a fight with an American?”

Cora: “I might send her over to visit my aunt. She could get to know New York.”
Violet: “Oh, I don’t think things are quite that desperate.”

[To Cora] “I’m so looking forward to seeing your mother again. When I’m with her, I’m reminded of the virtues of the English.”

Cora: “I hope I don’t hear sounds of a disagreement.”
Violet: “Is that what they call discussion in New York?”

“Try not to let those Yankees drive you mad.”

I’m sure most fans know that you can tour Highclere Castle, the actual home where parts of Downton Abbey are filmed. Here’s a fascinating 3-minute video on the castle, produced by Viking River Cruises.
It is my dream to be able to visit this magnificent place one day. Have you been to Highclere Castle? I’d love to know whether it is everything I imagine it to be!


Christine at Murder as You Like it!

On August 10, 2019, I attended the Murder as You Like it conference in Mechanicsburg, PA, sponsored by the Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookshop. I last went three years ago and it was even better this time! Deb Beamer is a delightful bookseller. She and her staff do an extraordinary amount of work to put on this one-day event.

I sat on a panel entitled “There’s Something for Everyone” in which we discussed the wide variety of sub-genres in mystery. Moderator Robert Walton writes thrillers, Sheryl C.D. Ickes writes cozies (and has an interesting background as a truck driver!), while Rich Kisielewski authors hard-boiled novels and of course yours truly writes historical mysteries.

After lunch I participated in “Read Dating,” a version of speed dating in which authors went from table to table of attendees and discussed their books.

While at the conference, I browsed the bookstore and found this utter gem, entitled WRITERS GONE WILD. The author, Bill Peschel, was the toastmaster for the day’s events. The book takes an irreverent trip through the lives of some famous authors—Edgar Allan Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain, and Voltaire, to name a few—and describes some of their wackiest deeds. They were usually fueled by anger, jealousy (personal or professional), liquor, or a misguided need for revenge.

It’s a fun, light read and I highly recommend it.

I also met historical novelist Greer McAllister, who was totally delightful. She has three books out, GIRL IN DISGUISE, about the first female Pinkerton agent; WOMAN 99, a historical novel about a group of women in an insane asylum—which Greer insists is *not* a depressing read; and THE MAGICIAN’S LIE, the story of a turn-of-the-20th-century female illusionist who solves a crime. I could hardly decide among the three titles because they also sounded so fascinating, but I finally settled on THE MAGICIAN’S LIE, which is Greer’s first book. I can’t wait to dig into this one.

My thanks to readers who came out to meet me. Can’t wait to see you again at a future event!

Conference Highlights

Author Group Shot

Here are all of the authors who participated in the full day of panels, signings, and “read dating.”


Here I am with the ever-delightful Deb Beamer. Her bookstore is a staunch supporter of my books and I am so grateful to her for it.

Christine Trent and Nancy Hughes

With author Nancy Hughes, who is the nicest lady ever.

Distributing chapter booklets

Hard at work during “read dating,” handing out chapter booklets to entice readers to learn more about Violet and Florence!

Panel Audience Photo

Enjoying my panel time with Robert, Sheryl, and Rich, while toastmaster Bill Peschel makes announcements.


I enjoyed getting to know (l-r) Rich Kisielewski, Sheryl C.D. Ickes, and Robert Walton.