Monday, January 31, 2011

Regan Hastings, Author of VISIONS OF MAGIC - Giveaway!

Although VISIONS OF MAGIC is the first book by Regan Hastings, it’s far from the author’s first book. Under another name, her contemporary romance novels number in the double digits, and she has been nominated six times for the prestigious RITA award from the Romance Writers of America. Her romance novels have appeared many times on the USA TODAY bestsellers list. She’s holding a contest for readers to guess her true identity for a chance to win a Federal Bureau of Witchcraft fleece jacket. Enter at The contest ends February 1, the release date of VISIONS OF MAGIC, so enter immediately!

Kate: I know who Regan is, but I'm not telling! I'll give you a hint, though. She's fabulous, and I love her and her books. Welcome to the lair, Regan Hastings!

Thank you for hosting me, Kate!

Modern Day Witches

Ten years before the start of my book, VISIONS OF MAGIC, the world discovered that witches are real. Reaction was volatile and violent. Women were imprisoned without trial if they were even suspected of witchcraft. Some – including the heroine’s aunt – were burned at a stake erected on a high-tech, gas-powered grid.

The truth is, I believe that magic is real, and witches do exist. But there’s no reason for paranoia because, like humans, witches can be good or bad.

I’ll give you a few examples.

Bad witch: Martha Stewart. Magical power: Making perfectly competent women feel like failures. Not only can Martha fashion the julienned strips of a butternut squash into an amazing centerpiece, she can win the public’s admiration by going to prison.

Good witch: Pink. Magical power: Levitation. Did you see this chick at the Grammy’s last year? First of all, only a witch would feel comfortable in an outfit made of masking tape. Then she rose above the crowd, belting out a song with her powerful voice, and performing Cirque d’Soleil acrobatics all the while.

Bad witch: Lindsay Lohan. Magical power: Destroying her own career (aka, wasting her talent). I keep pulling for Lindsay. Beneath all the addictions, she’s a very talented actress, and I truly want her to get clean and move us again to some emotion other than distaste.

Good witch: Ellen DeGeneres. Magical power: Opening minds, and making even the least coordinated of us get up and dance. Who can resist her joy for life? Portia is a very lucky woman.

Bad witch: Kathy Griffin. Magical power: I don’t know, but she is just plain mean. Wicked… and not in a good way.

Want to play? Name a modern day witch and her magical power. I'll give away a copy of VISIONS OF MAGIC to a random commenter.

Kate: Thanks for visiting with us today, Regan! What a fun post! Except ... Kathy Griffin makes me laugh. Does that mean I'm a bad witch, too? Or am I just under her power?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Breaking the Rules Launch and Delicious Desserts

by Tawny

We’re coming up on Valentine’s Day and I’m celebrating the launch of my 10th (OMGOMGOMG – TEN!!!) book release. So I do think it’s party time!


What do you get when you mix a military hero on a mission with an independent artist hell-bent on proving something? A battle that can only be won between the sheets.

Sophia Castillo is finally calling the shots in her life, and she’s determined to stay in charge. The last thing she needs is a babysitter. Not even a babysitter as sexy as US Army Sergeant First Class and EOD Squad Leader, Maximillian St. James. But when someone is sabotaging her art gallery, she turns to Max for help. When he proves to be a challenge to her independence, she lays down their relationship rules. Hot sex, good times and a lot of laughs are all good. Anything involving their hearts is strictly off limits. Before they catch the vandal, Max and Sophia both have to decide just which rules they are willing to break, and how high a price they are willing to pay.

So it’s time to party here in the Lair. And what better way to party than to have Sven man the bar, offering champagne, margaritas and chocolatinis. The cabana boys will be coming around with some special, romantic Valentines inspired desserts – because what better way to celebrate a February release than to tie it into the most romantic holiday of the year.

As our hunky boys make their rounds, here’s what they’ll be offering…

Tawny’s Top Ten Sexy Valentines Desserts

1. Four Layer chocolate mousse cake with ganache

2. Whipped cream. Just, you know, all fluffy and inviting there in a bowl.

3. Strawberries dipped in chocolate. They can visit the whipped cream bowl if you’d like.

4. Éclairs. I imagine eating an éclair like Lady and the Tramp ate spaghetti *g* Nibbling toward the middle together!

5. Tiramisu. Rich, decadent, delicious!

6. Brownie ala mode. Hot chocolate and cold ice cream. Oh my!

7. Flambe Cherries Jubilee. Ohhh, talk about inspiring flaming passion!

8. Caramel Rum Fondue. Dippable, lickable, pourable. So many possibilities.

9. Crème Brulee. Simply delicious, with its crispy sugary crust.

10. Gourmet Chocolate Truffles. Bite sized bits of sexy deliciousness.

Is your mouth watering yet? Mine is! I love dessert anytime, but sexy romantic desserts just have an extra layer of irresistibility.

Which dessert will you be indulging in (remember, all desserts served in the Lair are calorie free!) Is there a dessert you consider romantic, or think of for Valentine’s Day, that isn’t included here? Just mention it and one of our sexy servers will make it happen for you!!!

To celebrate the release of BREAKING THE RULES, I’m giving away some Valentine’s treats to one lucky commenter today! A hand-crafted (by me) heart-shaped tin filled with candy, and a book of the winner’s choice from my backlist!

Be sure and check out my upcoming party!

Valentines Party!

I’m so excited that my tenth release, BREAKING THE RULES, is on shelves now! I loved writing this story, because it focuses on something near and dear to my heart – a Military Hero (my own hero-hubby was in the Army). Even more fun was making this a Valentine’s story, complete with hearts and flowers.

To celebrate, I’m having an invitation-only Valentine’s Day Party! Including:

* A downloadable short story written just for this party as a door prize for everyone who attends

* A sexy Top Ten to wind up my Top Ten tour: Ten Tips for a Hot Valentine’s Night

* One lucky person will win a Valentine’s Basket!

All you have to do to join the fun is go to the Breaking the Rules Valentines Party page on my website, and let me know you’d like an invitation!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Susan Snarks the Golden Globes

by Susan Sey

I realize this is no secret but I'll go ahead & confess: I'm a celebrity gossip junkie. Which means, of course, that my favorite season has just kicked off.

Awards season.

I don't know why I love awards shows so much. If there was ever a group of people who needed to congratulate themselves less, it's celebrities. These are fabulously gorgeous people who get professionally dressed up every stinkin' day. Do they really need to do it again on their night off?

Apparently so.

Of course, the Academy Awards are the big deal & I wouldn't miss it for the world. But my favorite, without question?

The Golden Globes.

Why the GGs? For one thing, it's the first major awards show of the season. We're all fresh & interested.

But second--and far more important--celebrities can drink at the Golden Globes. Considering the endless bottles of champagne at their tables, one might conclude they're practically encouraged to drink. And when celebrities drink, they give tipsy, ill-advised acceptance speeches.

I love the Golden Globes.

My husband, however, feels about the awards season the way I feel about the football season: Meh.

So I watch a great many of these shows alone. Which is not all bad. I'm probably as irritating as an armchair quarterback. In fact, I know I am. I have proof.

Here is a record of my brilliant & witty commentary on the whole thing, from the red carpet action straight through host Ricky Gervais' final acid-dipped salvo. You can ignore me any old time.

Hey, Christian Bale. Are you preparing to play Jesus next, or Barry Gibb?

Michelle William’s daisy dress. I dunno. Not working for me.

Is the sound cutting out, or are people really cursing that much?

This is the most gentle play-off/stop-talking music I’ve ever heard.

Ricky Gervais just introduced Bruce Willis as Ashton Kutcher’s dad. Hee.

Helen Mirrin is just hot. I’m sorry, she is.

And Chris Colfer is adorable. I want to put him in my pocket. I think he’d fit.

Am I alone in wondering if Lea Michele is really crying happy tears for Chris Colfer? Or is she just hogging camera time again?

Michelle Pfeiffer has a bangin’ body. Why, oh WHY would she wear saddle bags?

Wowza, Helena Bonham Carter. Still wearing your Bellatrix LeStrange hair?

I hope Tony Parker is at home gnashing his teeth because Eva Longoria is polished to a fine gleam.

What is it about Steve Buscemi’s wizened little self I find so appealing? He’s like a skinny little turtle inexplicably walking on his hind legs, and yet…I can’t look away.

Whoa, Jenny from the block. Not feeling the spangled poncho. You look like you’re wearing a harem girl’s skirt around your neck.

Justin Bieber is just snack sized, isn’t he?

I love it that Ricky Gervais just brings his drink out to the podium with him.

Anne Hathaway’s shoulder pads are like mini storage units.

Good lord, Al Pacino. Is Snooki doing your hair?

What is wrong with Dennis Quaid’s hair? It’s gone the way of Meg Ryan’s face.

On a side note, what the HELL is Tilda Swinton wearing? She looks like a nurse/nun as channeled by Maria from the Sound of Music. Maybe she made it herself out of old curtains?

Hey, dang, there’s Temple Grandin, hugging and kissing Claire Danes a little longer than Claire finds comfortable. Heh. And Jennifer Love Hewitt is looking like she’s already started drinking her disappointment away. Sorry, J Love.

I think Helena Bonham Carter has a crow trapped in her bosom. It looks sharp.

Ooooooh, Zac Efron cut his hair and packed on some muscle. When did that happen?

Hey, Aaron Sorkin. Boy, do I miss the West Wing. Did you know he has a degree in musical theatre? And occasionally dates Kristin Chenoweth? I wonder if he’s still occasionally dating cocaine?

Wow, Olivia Wilde went full out princess sparkly. I like it.

Blair Underwood….is that a leather jacket? A leather tuxedo jacket? Bold move, Mr. L A Law.

Melissa Leo just ended her speech with a heart-felt woohoo. Nice.

It would be tough to make a figure like January Jone’s look dumpy but damn, that dress made it happen.

Aw. They bleeped out the first few seconds of Paul Giamatti’s speech. I bet he cusses funny.

I don’t know how I feel about the sequined rose crowning Natalie Portman’s bosom. I think it’s pretty? Maybe if the dress weren’t such a blah color? A little awkward, though, when she announces her boyfriend totally wants to sleep with her, which is obvious because, hello, she’s preggers. Hmmm.

Poor Ricky Gervais is taking some jabs from the crowd tonight. Huh. It doesn’t seem like lighthearted fun, either. Would love to be a fly on the wall at the after parties tonight.

I like Sandra Bullock. I like her so much I want to kick Jesse James in the nuts myself. But oh, honey, those bangs are doing you no favors. Somewhere Kat Von D is smirking into her beer.

So how about you? Do watch the awards shows? Do you keep track of the awards or are you just in it for the fashion faux pas & the awkward moments? Will you watch the Oscars this year? What did you think of the Oscar nominees just announced? Exciting!

Cozy Booty!!

Thanks to everyone who made my friend Hannah Dennison feel so welcome earlier this week!

Here's what Hannah had to say ...

Wow! I've so enjoyed all your wonderful comments. I am looking forward to writing Vicky Hill's next adventure -- and Barbara's, too! You've all been very helpful.

The Winner .... Using this super cool random number generator (thanks Kate - I've never heard of it before) -- the winner of the yummy English toffees and a copy of THIEVES! is ...


Congratulations, Jennifer! Please email your address to me at

Thanks again Kate for inviting me!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Launching A Week Early

by Suzanne

As many of you know, next week, February 4th, my novel, THE SURRENDER OF LACY MORGAN, will be available as an e-book from Ellora's Cave, the very smart people who bought the rights to publish it!! YIPPEE!!

So, do you know what it's about? *Wink, wink.*

Oh, well, here's the back cover blurb:

When two steely-eyed, lean-hipped strangers ride into town, Lacy Morgan knows her past has caught up with her. What she doesn’t know is that the U.S. marshals will do whatever necessary to capture her stepfather and his gang of murdering thieves, including bringing her to her knees to serve their sexual needs.

Quinn and his blood brother Dakota are searching for the one key to finding the band of outlaws who murdered their adoptive father. When they confront the sultry stepdaughter of the gang’s leader, they discover she’s unaware of her natural submissiveness tendencies.

As they journey to the gang’s lair, each day the men draw Lacy further and further into a sensuality she’s never known and a trust she’d sworn never to surrender to again. Using her lusty body for their combined pleasure, they find themselves ensnared in the same tender trap.

Doesn't that sound delicious? Want to know more? Here's a little blurb from my website:

U.S. Marshal, Quinn Halliday, searches for a gang of outlaws responsible for the robbery of the
Bank of Cheyenne and the murder of three people—one of whom is his mentor, the man who raised him after his parents died. With his blood brother, Dakota, he’ll do whatever he has to in order to bring the murdering thieves to justice, even if that means bringing the leader’s daughter to her knees to serve their sexual needs.(This picture of Russell Crowe was my inspiration for Quinn.)

Lacy Morgan, unaware of her natural submissiveness, is the stepdaughter of the gang’s leader, Devil Morgan—a man who taught her the meaning of fear. Managing to escape her lecherous stepfather’s grasp, she’s hidden herself as the schoolmarm in a tiny hole-in-the-wall place where even her stepfather wouldn’t look for her.(You see the image of Lacy on the book cover.)
Dakota O’Keefe, a Marshal and horse whisperer, is the half-breed son of a white trapper and the daughter of a Sioux medicine man. An outcast in two worlds, he’ll follow his blood brother and partner into the bowels of hell to find the gang and avenge their mentor. A natural voyeur, he has shared many a bed with Quinn and his women, but even as he helps subdue this sultry redhead he realizes she is something more to his brother.(This picture of actor, Eric Schweig was my inspiration for Dakota.)

Don't they sound Yummy? Want to read more?'s an if you want the exerpts you'll have to go to and click on the cover or go to my website in the books page. OR better yet, why not buy the whole book next Friday!!

So, do you have any questions to ask me, Quinn, Lacy or Dakota?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

When the Stars Go Blue!

Thanks everyone who stopped by and talked books with me yesterday! I'm so excited to share this great book with

The winner of When the Stars Go Blue is....


I'm ready to bring you back into the YA fold, girl! I hope you love the book -- I know I did. Email me your addy so I can get it in the mail! inara.scott @

Thanks again everyone!!! Have a great night and good reading.

Welcome Hannah Dennison!

Posted By Kate

I'm thrilled to welcome mystery author Hannah Dennison to the Lair today! Hannah and I are book tour buddies and we have so much fun together, it's almost criminal! She's the author of the delightfully clever Vicky Hill mysteries and her latest book in the series, Thieves!, is out this month. Please welcome Hannah!

When Kate invited me to blog on Romance Bandits, I was thrilled. It’s not often I get the opportunity to write about romance, love and—hurrah—never sex. However my initial euphoria soon evaporated. Why would voracious readers of Romance be interested in a British author who writes quirky “cozy” mysteries and her twenty-three year old feisty heroine who is still pure and unsullied?

By definition, a “cozy mystery” is set in a small town with a recurring cast of characters. There is no graphic violence or naughty words—although I did get away with “Bollocks!” exclaimed Pete! in my first book, A Vicky Hill Exclusive! Steamy sex is strictly prohibited and should any cozy characters attempt to get past first base, he or she must be stopped at the crucial moment. Techniques for this can range from an unexpected tsunami—rare in Devon, England where my books are set—to an urgent phone call that personally, I’ve always felt a bit lame.

The Vicky Hill Mysteries are set in the fictional world of Gipping-on-Plym and chronicle the adventures of aspiring investigative reporter Vicky Hill at the Gipping Gazette. Vicky’s experiences are based on my own stint as an obituary writer for a small West Country newspaper in my early twenties. Unlike Vicky’s parents, mine are not criminals wanted by Interpol nor have I ever been involved in a murder case. But as for the rest—we’re remarkably similar. Like Vicky Hill, I was a late starter in the love department as well as a hopeless romantic.

Naturally, I blame it on my mother. As a former member of the Camp Sunshine Nudist Colony, she was determined that no daughter of hers would ever have any sexual hang-ups. She actively encouraged me to “get it over with.” You could say I rebelled. The more I was encouraged to “lie back and think of England” and “it gets better in your forties,” the more I was determined to prove her wrong. My grand seduction would be unbelievably special. I knew what I wanted. A full moon and starry sky featured quite strongly, as did Dom Perignon champagne, Charbonnel and Walker chocolates and Pratesi sheets. I would look like a supermodel and the man in question would be a cross between Colin Firth playing Mr. Darcy and Johnny Depp as Roux in Chocolat.

Unfortunately, reality stepped in and that special moment when I “became a woman” passed all too quickly in a haze of Bacardi and coke with a welder called Keith. My mother was right.

It would seem that Vicky Hill’s real chances of finding her Mr. Right in a small town awash with middle-aged farmers is a bit bleak too. True, she has admirers—the plump paramedic whose kisses may be electric but leave her face covered in a rash. The hedge jumping fanatic whose passion for potent local cider far outweigh his passion for Vicky. A handsome naval officer who turns out to be a miser with unusually strong ties to his aging aunt’s apron strings. And sadly, there’s Detective Sergeant Probes—a man Vicky quite fancies, but with her family background, how could she ever be happy with a policeman?

So it’s hardly surprising that when a band of gypsies show up in Gipping-on-Plym with their lovely horses and beautifully painted wagons, Vicky is swept off her feet. The fact that one bears an uncanny resemblance to Johnny Depp seems to seal her fate. Will he be the lucky man?

It’s not only Vicky’s heart that’s set aflutter. In Thieves! we discover that romance isn’t just for the young at heart. The reappearance of an old flame threatens to upset the newfound happiness of Barbara, one of Vicky’s favorite co-workers, sending the entire town into a flurry of speculation and gossip. Even a spate of silver thefts and the discovery of a dead body seem to take a backseat to scandal.

Cozy mysteries may tackle murder and mayhem but the underlying universal need for love and romance are always there.

What would you advise Vicky’s friend Barbara, the age sixty-plus receptionist? Should she close the door on the past or give him a second chance? And what about Vicky? Should she pursue her love for the policeman and risk her father’s disapproval?

I’ll be giving away a copy of Thieves! (Berkley Prime Crime January 2011) along with a souvenir postbox tin of English toffees to a random reader comment.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hero Booty!

Thanks to everyone who commented on my heroes! I loved all the hunky men you all came up with. (Oh look, there's another one!)

So ... my official random number generator has chosen the winner of a $20 Amazon gift card -- and the winner is ...


Congratulations, Gannon!! Please send an email to me at and I'll send that goodie right out to you!

Stages of Reading

by Kirsten (Inara) Scott

Lately, I've been thinking about the stages of reading. No, not those kind of stages. LOL. I mean the kind of stages where you will only read ONE KIND of book and nothing else. You gorge on your chosen genre, reading every book you can get your hands on. And then…miraculously…you realize you’re done. You go to the bookstore and find yourself picking up other kinds of titles. You realize you brain will explode if you read one more Regency romance/contemp romance/YA paranormal/women’s fiction/chick lit/WWII memoir/cozy mystery. You move on to a new stage.

For me, stages began in high school. At the time, I was a historical romance reader. Not necessarily Regency; I’d read anything historical. Extra bonus points were awarded to books about pirates, and books in which horrible, terrible, awful things happened to the heroine. Preferrably at the hands of the hero. Who would then feel horrible, terrible, and awful about the way he’d treated her! I don't know why I loved such horrible, terrible, awful things, but I did. One book I remember incredibly well: Tears of Gold, by Laurie McBain.

Strangely enough, after college, I lost all interest in fiction. II didn't understand it myself, but I discovered an incredibly narrow subgenre – memoirs of women from the west – and loved it. I wish I could remember all the wonderful writers I discovered during this stage, because I remember that their words inspired me to be strong and independent. I do remember two of my absolute favorites: Gretel Ehrlich and Terry Tempest Williams. Of course, you don't have to be in a Western-women-memoir stage to read these. They are incredible books that stand the test of time. (Not sure I can say the same for Tears of Gold, unfortunately!)

Once I started law school, I stopped reading for pleasure; all my time was spent studying or researching obscure topics for law review articles. I got pregnant during my third year of law school, which catapulted me into the “what to expect” books for pregnant women, and then the “how to raise my child” books. Now THAT was a stage. Whew.

Then, in a hotel in Anchorage, Alaska, I rediscovered romance. Julie Garwood, Mary Balogh, Johanna Lindsey, Julia Quinn…I went back to my old love. And interestingly enough, that's what started me writing. I remembered the joy of the happily ever after, the impossibly beautiful women and unbelievably manly men, and I wanted to have them in my head ALL THE TIME.

Since then, I’ve gone through stages of Regency romance and then contemporary romance. Now, judging from my Goodreads shelf, I’m in what may be the most diverse stage of my life. Or maybe the stages are just shorter. I go from women’s fiction to paranormal YA to non-fiction. And I’m enjoying the heck out of it.

What stages have you been through? Are there any genres you WON’T read? Do you have a stand-by you always return to (Regency romance for me!)?

One commenter will win a recent favorite from my bookshelf: When the Stars Go Blue, by fantastic YA/romance writer Caridad Ferrar.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I Need a Hero!

By Kate

I’m thinking about heroes today. MY heroes, to be exact. I mean, the ones I write about in my books. Specifically, my three Harlequin Desire heroes, the Duke brothers: Adam, Cameron and Brandon.

I love these men!

All three of them were adopted by Sally Duke when they were eight years old. They had all suffered through rough early childhoods, but in different ways. Once they were together, though, they bonded in a way that might be considered even stronger than true brotherhood. That’s because they each had a powerful need for an unbreakable connection. And while they're considered brothers in the eyes of the law, naturally, their strong need for family is what makes them true brothers by choice.

It was so much fun to write their stories and explore what was inside each man’s heart. And I loved finding the perfect heroine for each of them. But it was just as exciting to describe them physically, because each of them are simply gorgeous, of course!

Here’s a short excerpt from SWEET SURRENDER, BABY SURPRISE, where Cameron’s heroine, Julia, first meets and describes the three Duke men.

Brandon thrust his hand toward Julia. “Hi, I’m Brandon, Cam’s much smarter and more handsome brother.”

Julia shook Brandon’s large hand. He was as big as a bear and, like his brothers, one of the most handsome men she’d ever seen. He had shoulders as wide as the refrigerator and wavy, light brown hair an inch too long. He pushed his hair back, but several thick strands flopped onto his forehead, giving him an irresistible, bad boy look. Brandon looked powerful enough to snap a man in two with his bare hands, but he couldn’t have been more gentle with baby Jake.

Adam stepped forward. “Hello, Julia. I’m Adam Duke.”

She shook hands with the tallest and most serious of the three brothers. Adam was dark-haired and sophisticated, with a strong jaw and piercing blue eyes that focused completely on her. Julia’s first thought as she shook his hand was that Trish was a very lucky woman indeed.

“Adam’s frightening the womenfolk again,” Brandon said, and picked up his beer. “Listen, Julia, if you get scared and need a hug, I’m your man.”

Julia laughed and Trish rolled her eyes in amusement.

“Nobody’s hugging her but me,” Cameron muttered as he handed Julia a glass of crisp white wine. She smiled her thanks as his two brothers ribbed him.

The doorbell rang and his mother Sally ran out to see who it was.

“That’ll be room service,” Cameron said in a low voice behind her. “I hope you don’t mind, but I invited everyone to stay for dinner.”

“I don’t mind a bit,” she said, turning to smile at him. “Your family is wonderful. You’re so lucky.”

“I like to think so,” he said, staring at her intently.

“I should help get things together,” she said, feeling her cheeks burning. Cameron was the only man who could make her blush simply by looking at her.

As she gathered utensils, plates and napkins, she sized up the three Duke men. Cameron’s brothers were both gorgeous, but Cameron eclipsed them both with his tall, leanly muscular body, clear green eyes and beautiful smile. And that adorable dimple in his cheek was like the cherry on top. No wonder she was always blushing when he was around.

So … there's a brief sketch of my three Duke brothers! Now I’m wondering what actors I should cast to play them in the TV Miniseries. Hey, a girl can dream!

What do you think? Ryan Reynolds, anyone? Brad Pitt? Ooh, how about a young Robert Redford? Pierce? The Rock? Or maybe the fabulous Hugh Jackman?

I’m giving away a $20 Amazon gift card to one random commenter today! So let the casting couch sessions begin!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My Heroes Wear Black and Gold

by KJ Howe

I have been a Pittsburgh Steelers fan since I was a little girl. When the leaves started to change, my excitement builds. The sound of cracking pads and the sight of colorful uniforms infused me with energy and enthusiasm. It came as naturally to me as reading. While I may have gotten my love of reading from my mother, my love of football came from the men in my life. My father played, one of my brothers played, and my husband played and coached for the majority of his life. So, while the traditional heroes may have worn white hats, mine wore black helmets.

The overlap between sports and literature has a long and well-known history. Sports, and the uniquely North American Football League, is an obvious metaphor for the elements of powerful fiction. Games are filled with heroes and villains (referees?) struggling to impose their will on each other. There is a clear beginning, middle, and end, and a clear resolution to all issues by the time the game is over.

Above all, there are larger-than-life characters. Every sports team has its fair share of unique individuals, but the Steelers have had more than their fair share. "Mean" Joe Green who would savagely kick and punch his opponents but is best remembered for a touching moment where he was portrayed with a young boy in a Coke commercial. The "Blonde Bomber" Terry Bradshaw who took a franchise that had never won a championship and won four Superbowls after critics had all told him he was "too dumb" to succeed in the NFL. Even the birth of the Steelers franchise is surrounded in legend and mystery. And there are the "unsung heroes," AKA the offensive linemen, who sacrifice their bodies in anonymity so that others can score touchdowns and see their faces on highlight reels. Sound like the cast of a good book?

And football, like good literature, has always reflected the society around it in a profound and symbolic way. This was recently explored in a fantastic book about the rivalry between the Steelers and Dallas Cowboys in the 70's. As the economy in Pittsburgh sputtered and steel workers and miners found themselves losing their jobs, new money and industry was turning Dallas into an economic success story. The Dallas Cowboys were as brash and flashy as the exciting new city was, and the Steelers were a dark and angry reflection of a steel town in crisis. The flashy uniforms and confident attitude of the Cowboys reflected a city flush and excited with new success, and players like "Hollywood" Henderson picked up on the culture and brought it to their playing style. But, like in any well-crafted story, the hard working underdogs won four Superbowls and won the "struggle for the soul of America."

As the football season comes to its culmination, take a few minutes to think about the intersection between sports and literature. If you can learn to think about this great game of ours as something more than a black hole that sucks men in for on most Sundays, and consider it as a metaphor for character, culture, struggle, and above all, passion, you can see why it inspires and entrances tens of millions every weekend.

In the spirit of the upcoming Superbowl, we'd love for you to share your sports passion. Do you shed a tear at the conclusion of Hoosiers? Do you live and die with your local baseball or hockey team? Do you take the day off work when the the Wallabies play the All Blacks or the Springboks? Or do you just love Troy Polamalou's hair?

A Perfect Cup of Tea

by Donna MacMeans

The high today is to reach all the way up to 18 degrees farenheit. Brrrrrr..... That high is lower than our average low for this time of year.

So I'm sitting here sipping a nice, hot cup of tea.

Now those that know me know my preferred beverage comes in a chilled aluminum can with a pull tab. I love the pop and sizzle when the can is opened, then the bubbling effervence as the carbonation fizzles on the back of the tongue before slipping down the throat in a smooth sweet surge. About the only way I drink tea is in a tall glass with
ice, a sugar substitute and a thick slice of lemon.

So why tea now? My daughter purchased a class for the both of us last Sunday at the Blue Turtle Tea & Spice Co. on how to make a perfect
cup of tea. I'd taken a similar class at a
culinary store a year or two ago. That class covered the proper preparation of tea (i.e. one should heat the tea kettle before adding hot water - never from the tap). This class concentrated on the different varieties and quality of the tea itself.

I found the class particularly informative. For example, did you know that all teas - black, green and white - all
come from the same bush, even the same
leaves? I had assumed
they came from different strains of
tea plants. Wrong. The difference lies in the amount of oxidation the tea leaves receive after picking. If the leaves are bruised and allowed to fully darken with oxidation before being
heated and dried, they produce black tea. This is also the tea with the most caffeine which is a result of the oxidation. Even with the higher caffeine content, a cup of tea made with black tea contains only 20-30 percent of the caffeine in coffee.

We brewed some Ceylon tea which is a popular type of black tea. I instantly recognized that familiar flavor from countless glasses of iced tea. At this point I'm still preferring
my can of Diet Dr. Pepper.

Next we brewed some green tea. I'm sure you've heard of all the health benefits of green tea. Green tea is made from the same leaves as black, but it's given a shorter oxidation time. It's more delicate so it takes a shorter brewing time.
We tried a green tea called Gunpowder (the name comes
from its shape - not its taste). This tea I liked. Perhaps it reminded me of the traditional Asian wedding cake made with green tea that I had several years ago. Hey - anything that reminds one of cake can't be a bad thing!

Oolong tea, a variation of green tea, is a hybrid between black and white. We brewed Pu-ergh tea that comes in little pressed conical bundles (see the picture to the right). I wasn't fond of the musty flavored tea, but to each their own.

We brewed a white tea which is the least processed of all the teas. We tried White Peony which is very light and velvety, I prefer the Gunpowder.

Amanda, the instuctor and owner of the shop, brewed a popular herbal tea, Berry-berry. Tasted like cough syrup to me, but the rest of the class seemed to enjoy it.

Finally, we made Provence, a rooibos tea(also known as red tea) that is made from the dried leaves of trees grown only in the Cedarburg district in South Africa. Finally, I found the tea I loved. Who knew? I have a number of pretty tea I might get to use them.

According to Amanda, tea has medicinal abilities that can prevent or decrease a number of ailments. Everything from a tea to help fight belly fat (bikini blend) and assist weight loss
to a tea to help cure insomnia (sandman). We even tried a flowering tea, tea that is hand-tied to flower blossoms. Very pretty.

I bought Pure Energy, a green tea to help with a needed mid-afternoon boost. We also bought a chocolate chai, a vanilla chai, and a Georgia Peach (roobios). We passed on a smoky tea called Lapsang Souchong which seriously smells like pine smoke. Immediately it had me thinking of a campfire and s'mores. My daughter picked up Cloud Forest
Rainbow (because it looked so pretty) and Blueberry Superfruit Green.

So how about you? Are you a tea or coffee drinker - and what does that say about you (grin)? Or are you, like me, partial to carbonated drinks? (I'm trying to cut back - I really am). Are you partial to pretty tea cups even if you don't care for a hot beverage? Pour yourself a cup of your favorite brew and settle in for a chat.

If you'd like to try any of the mentioned teas, or consult Amanda's expertise, the website for the Blue Turtle is Gotta love the internet!