New Year’s Day Release: An Inconceivable Deception

An Inconceivable Deception by Sydney Jane BailyAn Inconceivable Deception, Book Four in the Defiant Hearts series has just been released!

Now through February 14, the price is deeply discounted from its regular price of $4.99.

To purchase at Amazon, click here. (Only $2.99)

To purchase from Smashwords, click here. (50% Off, Only $2.50 with coupon code NS75J, not case-sensitive) Available in epub, mobi, lrf, pdb, pdf, and txt formats.

Synopsis:

High-spirited Boston society girl Rose Malloy has given her heart to no one. One day, one glance, one man changes all that. Climbing the rigging of the ship he’s building, and looking like a modern-day pirate, Finn Bennet spies the dark-haired beauty and pursues her.

Secretly wed yet abruptly losing the man of her dreams, Rose slips into private sorrow. That is, until British-born William Woodsom coaxes the light back into the sapphire blue eyes of the young woman who dazzled Boston’s elite before her inexplicable withdrawal three years earlier. He successfully captures her fragile heart.

When the past resurfaces, bringing intrigue and danger, Rose finds her world falling apart for the second time in her young life. Keeping secrets is no longer an amusing adventure. Can Rose prevent further heartache not only for herself but for the man she loves – or will her future be destroyed by an Inconceivable Deception?

Shen Yun Explained

Shen Yun program coverThe title of this post is what it is because I willingly bought tickets for Shen Yun based entirely on assumptions that turned out to be entirely false. Maybe you have these same assumptions. I had seen the advertisements, posters, and TV commercials for years, and wanted to take my kids. Shen Yun appears to be a well-crafted production showcasing the art of Chinese dance and, because of the dancers’ poses in the adverts, you may expect some acrobatics as well. Finally, I decided to take my now 18-year-old son and my 21-year-old daughter. First, we went for sushi (excellent and inexpensive at Fin’s on Boylston Street), and then a brisk, frigid dash to the Wang.

Shen Yun turned out to be a performance with the feel of the many, many dance recitals I went to over a long stretch of years to see my dancer daughter perform. Granted, my expectations were high. The fact that this performance is at the Wang lends it a level of gravity, credibility, authenticity, and other “ity’s” that are hard to live up to. Because it is, after all, the Wang!

First, it is costly. The cheapest seat was $80, plus $10 ticketing fee. We went for the $88, plus $10, but there were empty seats and so people moved around a little in order to get some breathing room. The seats are very tight in the balcony, like those on a two-engine, Delta commuter flight. My son was grateful for the aisle so he could sprawl at least one of his legs toward freedom, even allowing the man in front of him to unwittingly rest his elbow on my son’s shoe for about five minutes while leaning over to read the program by the light of the small aisle light. My son thought it would be rude to move his foot once the man had settled in. (Same son told me on the ride home, “I’m not gonna lie, playing with my beard was more fun.” And I had seen him twiddling his college-grown, freshman facial hair out of the corner of my eye throughout the entire performance, so he was not lying.)

shen yun dancerBasically, you are wowed by your surroundings no matter how many times you attend the Wang, and then you naturally want to be wowed by what’s on stage. We were, at some moments, brought to the utterance of “Wow,” but not in the right way. As it turns out, Shen Yun is a series of dances (recital-length), some featuring pretty costumes and the famous twirling sleeves. Yes, there are dances with tumbling and flips. Yes, there is a backdrop that changes with each dance and features cool technology in which the dancer can go to the back of the stage and step off while appearing to soar onto the screen as a pre-recorded image of the dancer takes over. It is a fun touch, though my techie son thought the graphics were a tad hokie (my words) and hadn’t been updated since 2006 (his words). The program informed us that this was a patented “system and method for integrating digital background with stage performance” (U.S. Patent No. 9,468,860). The program also wanted us to know that they have openings for orchestra players if anyone was interested, though presumably one wouldn’t be asked to jump into the orchestra pit that very night. It also told us about the choreographers and musicians, about a few of the dancers, and about how to donate to Shen Yun and to Fei Tian, the academy in N.Y. that trains the dancers.

However, buried in a tiny paragraph under “Art with Spirituality” are the lines that “Shen Yun’s performers draw their spiritual inspiration from the meditation discipline and self-improvement practice called Falun Dafa. Also known as Falun Gong, it is rooted in China’s ancient spiritual traditions.” Nowhere in the program does it tell you that you are about to spend a couple hours being told about divine beings and how Heaven is closing soon so you better get your act together. Falun Gong (as my daughter read to us from her phone on the car ride home) “is a spiritual practice founded in China that blends meditation and physical exercise, inspired in part by Buddhism. After rapid growth and massive demonstrations by Falun Gong followers during the 1990s, the Chinese Communist Party began a suppression campaign, banning the practice and jailing, torturing and attempting to re-educate thousands of followers.” (http://www.startribune.com/shen-yun-politics-behind-the-performance/290985131/, February 6, 2015) A group of Falun Gong believers created Shen Yun in 2006 and have grown from one to six dance companies. And growing. It felt, and I said this to my kids, a little like we’d wandered into a cult’s annual performance for their followers.

shen yun dancerThe evening’s performance started with a dance “From Heaven to Save All” but that seemed like an ancient Chinese story being replicated on stage, not the theme of the evening. Yet after some more dances and twirling, etc., suddenly, we were hit with a modern-day setting and a dance called “Unprecedented Crime” based on “true events.” A young man is imprisoned and blinded on stage in front of our eyes. Later, after he’s released, some divine beings seem to float off the screen and restore his eyesight, in a metaphor for his “reawakened faith.” The audience around us started to murmur. Then a baritone came on and sang while the words were translated and projected on the screen behind him, and, suddenly, you felt as if you were in Sunday school, with the closing line sung three times, “But Heaven’s gates will not be open for long.” Yikes! More murmuring.

shen yun instruments

Intermission came next, and some people simply up and left. However, at the cost of our tickets, we were sticking it out. During intermission, the three of us stood around wondering when the Cirque du Soleil-type acrobatics were starting while sadly realizing they weren’t going to. Act II hit us with “A Celestial World” (self-explanatory) and then some more quaint dances with stories of devotion and buffoonery (great word) and archery(?). Then a musician came out to play the erhu (a two-stringed instrument of amazing complexity), and she was great, though my daughter wondered why the musician chose to appear for her big moment in what looked like a salmon-pink t-shirt. We were nearing the end for which I was more than ready. A soprano sang another lesson of faith with the words “Most everyone on earth comes from Heaven” (“most everyone”?) and “Many are misled by godlessness and evolution” (“misled by evolution“?).

D.F.

A note on the instrumental music that accompanied each and every dance: It was all by the same man, known only as D.F., the founder of Shen Yun. Guess who wrote all the words to the two operatic songs, as well? Yes, the same D.F. So the Shen Yun artistic and creative director, as well as chief costume designer and director of classical Chinese dance, who is also a distinguished professor at Fei Tian College, is all one and the same. See, even though he is probably a very nice man, that just screams cult leader to my brain. (Plus the sunglasses and the initials!)

Lastly, we were presented with the big finish of “The Divine Renaissance Begins” to which I admit I irreverently muttered “Teletubbies” when a godlike being came out of a bright yellow sun, with other Crayola-crayon colors of vivid green and blue on the screen. And all the dancers turned to him, hands pressed together in prayer. The program says “a new era of hope begins.” So, yes, a totally positive message, if you’re not one of those distracted by “Modern thought and ways” that “change us for the worse” (D.F.’s words). On the whole, this simply wasn’t what we thought we were in for.

calgon commercialI haven’t mentioned the couple who appeared on stage, speaking alternately in English and Chinese, cracking jokes, and behaving as master and mistress of ceremonies in between each act. They also, to my daughter’s annoyance, were drumming up business by telling us that there was new choreography each and every year, so even though we’d seen Shen Yun once, we hadn’t “seen it all.” After a while, every time the master of ceremonies mentioned “ancient Chinese” anything, in my brain, I said “Calgon, take me away,” which shows my age if you don’t know that famous and famously annoying commercial. (Plus, I was mixing up my Calgon commercials rather horrendously.) I’m sorry to say I found the couple a bit creepy, too smiley, too jokey, too polished and clean, and yes, reminiscent of my daughter’s dance teacher telling me what I was about to see before each dance when, if the dance is inspired, enlightening, and uplifting, one really doesn’t need a verbal intro.

shen yun gift shop

Shen Yun souvenirs

The elbow-rester from earlier approached me in the lobby when it was over to ask me what I thought. Still a little shell-shocked and unsure if I was among similar-minded friends or among Falun Gong devotees, I hedged with “It wasn’t exactly what I thought.” He told me he’d been to The White House (yes, THE White House) earlier in the year and had seen a group who practiced this religion protesting China’s treatment of them outside our president’s home. I’m not sure what he and his wife hoped to learn at the Wang, but they seemed satisfied by the performance. Many did not. Some people around us during the show, especially by the second act, were laughing. Two men behind us said they could easily be asleep (as I used to feel during a long dance recital). When we all wandered out to the lobby at the end, there was not the usual discussion and joie de vivre and camaraderie after a superb theatrical experience. People were subdued at best, mocking at worst.

Was there some solid dance last night? Yes. Enough to carry two-and a half hours of a performance? Absolutely not. (My daughter swore it was four hours, but that was just her perception through a nasty head cold). Plus those uncomfortable seats certainly made it feel endless. Perhaps the true story of the persecution of Falun Dafa, or Falun Gong (presented for the theatre like a dancing version of The Crucible) would make an interesting show, and I can imagine tackling that script. However, this muddled show of lighthearted dance offering vignettes of Chinese history juxtaposed with violent scenes juxtaposed with religious messages doesn’t work. At least, not for me. And it certainly isn’t represented by the Shen Yun adverts.

*All images are from the official Shen Yun program, except the YouTube poster for the Calgon commercial.

Fall into Romance with an Apple Tart and Irish Whiskey

fall into romanceIt’s fall, the time when a young man’s fancy turns to … wait, that’s spring. Start over.

It’s fall, when we think of drinking apple cider, eating pumpkin and apple pies, wearing cable-knit sweaters, and, of course, romance. Ah, fall romance!

Rake leaves with your significant other and, in slow motion of course, toss them in the air before falling backward onto the ginormous pile. Kiss as you fondly wipe leaves off each other’s heads and shoulders. Afterward, settle in front of a cozy fire, drinking spiked cider or mulled red wine. Yes, it’s the perfect time for romance.

Autumn in New England is particularly lovely; it’s the colorful season before the starkness of the long winter. The heroes and heroines in some of my books bundle up for fall in Boston, the hometown of my fictional Malloy family. They particularly enjoy some Massachusetts delicacies to be had this time of year. On any given fall evening, Reed Malloy and his mother and sisters might enjoy warm crabs with pears preserved in maple syrup, a cup of steaming beef tea, and a tart of ground plums.

Below, I give you the Malloy family cook’s recipe for a delicious apple dessert, which she makes yearly in the kitchen of their Beacon Hill home on Mount Vernon Street.

Hailing from Ireland, their cook Maggie makes an apple tart, rather than an apple pie. It’s served with custard—thinner but similar to that which found its way into the original Boston Cream Pie created in 1856 at Boston’s Parker House (originally called the Parker House Chocolate Cream Pie, by the way). That recipe is a bit tricky. I know because I’ve made it myself.

So let’s stick to traditional fall apples and Maggie’s Irish tart. After the recipe, you can enter the Fall into Romance Grand Prize Rafflecopter Giveaway, a $75 Amazon gift card. And if you tell me your favorite fall food, I’ll enter you in my personal giveaway:  a digital copy of An Improper Situation, Book 1 of my Defiant Hearts series.

Note: When all four of the Malloy children had grown to be at least 16 years of age, Maggie added back in to her tart her country’s famed Irish single-malt whiskey, so I’ve included it in the recipe.

Some extra tips from Maggie, passed down to her from her “blessed ma,” are in italics.

Maggie’s Irish Apple Tart with Custard

(Use an eight-inch perforated pie tin so the bottom layer of pastry cooks thoroughly. Always bake until well-browned, no matter how long the recipe says, though a goodly filled apple pie should take about 50 minutes, and less time if you scrimp on the apples. If your pastry is made well, you won’t need to grease the tin as the lard and butter make their own grease and the pie should slip out for cooling on a plate.

For making fluffy pastry:

(Use a smooth wooden board and wooden rolling-pin with handles. Lard makes for a more flaky crust than butter, but butter adds better flavor. I use both!)

1 & 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup lard
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cold water as needed

  1. Wash the butter, pat, and form it in a circle.
  2. Mix the salt and flour, and work in lard with tips of your fingers or a regular table knife.
  3. Sprinkle with cold water until dough forms.
  4. Toss on wooden board scattered sparingly with flour, then pat and roll out.
  5. Fold in the butter, pat, and roll out. Fold so you’ve got three layers, turn half-way round, pat, and roll out; repeat.

(Use the pastry promptly or you’ll need to fold it in cheese-cloth, put it in a covered tin, and keep in a cold place. Have you got a cellar?)

For the filling:

Splash of Irish single-malt whiskey (maybe an ounce or two)
9 oz. muscovado (that’s fancy for Mrs. Malloy’s favorite brown) sugar
3 lbs. of cooking apples, peeled and cored (tart or sweet or mixture)
small pat of butter (a generous woman’s tablespoon)
1 cinnamon stick, very slightly crushed
few gratings of lemon rind and a tsp. of lemon juice
pinch of salt, pinch of nutmeg (depends how large your fingers are; Reed loves the nutmeg, but I know young Rose would prefer if I used cinnamon and you can, too, if you like)
1 egg beaten, with a splash of milk

  1. Peel and core the apples, then cut them into large chunks.
  2. Melt butter in a heavy-bottom pan. (Don’t burn it, for St. Patrick’s sake.)
  3. Toss the apples in the butter, then add half the sugar, the cinnamon stick, and a healthy splash of whiskey. (That wasn’t healthy enough—give it another splash Go on!)
  4. Cook the apples for about 4 minutes , then drain any excess juice.
  5. Add the lemon rind and juice, the salt and the nutmeg and give it a good stir.

(Sometimes, I put about a quarter pound of raisins in a pan with more a couple ounces of whiskey and add 1 tsp of sugar. I’ll simmer it and put it aside. But not if Sophie is going to eat the apple tart, as she despises raisins.)

Putting it all together:

  1. Roll two-thirds of the pastry to the thickness of a fairly flat biscuit. (We love to have lemon biscuits around the house for the Malloys’ teatime.)
  2. Prick pastry with a fork, then bake in a moderately hot oven for around 10 minutes. Brush with beaten egg/milk mixture, then return to the oven for 5 more minutes. Repeat this once more, cooking for another 5 minutes.
  3. Leave the pastry to cool, then add the apple (and if Sophie’s not around the raisin mixture).
  4. Roll the tart’s topper using the remaining pastry and carefully lay it over the apples. Use a little of the beaten egg to make the top stick to the bottom around the edges.
  5. Prick the top to release steam, use more of the egg mixture on the top of the pastry (you can use a pastry brush or your fingers) and sprinkle with the remaining half of the muscovado sugar.
  6. Put the tart in a very hot oven and cook for 20 minutes until the tart’s topper is golden.

For the custard

6 large egg yolks
1/3 cup of white sugar
1 & 1/2 cups of milk (make sure the farmer hasn’t skimmed the cream; we want fatty milk)

(You know, as my sainted da used to say, it never hurts to add a little whiskey to the custard, too.)

  1. Put the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and whisk until a lovely pale yellow color, 2-3 minutes.
  2. Pour the milk in a pan and bring it just to a boil.
  3. Slowly whisk the hot milk into the egg/sugar mixture.
  4. Return the mixture to the pan and stir until custard thickens (don’t have your stove too hot), about 4 minutes. (Custard should be thick enough to coat the back of a serving spoon. Lick it off!)

(Of course, serve it warm over the apple tart, just like my blessed ma used to do.)

And now for the Fall into Romance giveaway. Grand Prize: a $75 Amazon Gift Card!
But before you go to the Rafflecopter site and enter to win, tell me your favorite fall dish in the comments below to enter to win a digital copy of An Improper Situation, Book 1 in my Defiant Hearts series.

An Improper Situation by Sydney Jane Baily

Excerpt:

“And where did you learn to dance, Mr. Malloy?”
“I picked it up, here and there. And it’s time to be Reed and Charlotte now, don’t you think?”
She nodded. The intimacy of first names in public sent another shiver down her spine. What would Eliza think of that?
“Tomorrow,” he added, looking around them at the other dancers, “we need to talk.”
“Tomorrow,” she repeated, and his blue eyes met hers. But tonight, she thought, there was no need for words. The next tune picked up the tempo, and Charlotte was soon whirling around the dance floor.
“Everyone is so fine-looking,” she observed as he drew her in close, “like freshly picked flowers, don’t you think?”
Reed shook his head.
“You have no idea that you’re the most radiant woman here.”
She stopped still for a moment, looking up at his handsome face, now grown dear to her. He tightened his hold on her hand and led her off the dance floor, stopping at a quiet spot, next to one of the empty stalls.
“There’s something so vibrant about you, Charlotte, so different from anyone I’ve ever known. I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to keep company with you at home. In Boston, I mean.”
He cocked his head at her, and daringly, she rested her palm on his chest, feeling his heart beating fast from the dancing. “Would you become just the same as all the women I’ve known in the endless drawing rooms of Boston?”
She shrugged, unwilling to break his lighthearted musings and at a loss as to how those other women behaved.
He continued, “I doubt that any environment could change the honest reactions of one Charlotte Sanborn. You could never be other than a head full of strong opinions, with the intelligence to garner respect, and the beauty that encourages men’s admiration and women’s envy.”
“Oh, my,” she laughed. “I sound like a paragon, indeed.” If he was trying to persuade her, he was nearly succeeding. She was just about ready to pack her trunks.
“Not too much of a paragon, I hope,” he said softly, changing the mood. His gaze dropped to her full lips for a moment, then to her own hungry glance, making her want desperately to be kissed.
“What are you thinking?” he asked her, leaning his head even closer. She didn’t care that they were only against the rough wooden wall in Drake’s—with every person she’d ever known only feet away. She didn’t care that he’d put his hand on her waist in public or that his leg was close amongst her skirts. She wanted desperately for him to kiss her right then.

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Happy Fall!