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Gentle readers, be gentle with yourselves

How are you?

That’s a question we often ask one another as a polite conversation starter.

Now, in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, such a simple question feels so much weightier, so much more serious.

Here in Ohio, we’re under mandatory stay-at-home orders. I give high marks to Governor DeWine and Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton.

Emotionally, I feel like my head is filled with ping-pong balls. Each ball is labeled with an emotion: shock, fear, hope, anger, and on and on. The ping pong balls bounce around and every five minutes, a new emotion pops to the top.

So, I’ve decided to pull on the wisdom of meditation practice (though, I confess, I’m really sporadic and not great at meditating!) and pause long enough to acknowledge each emotion as it pops up—yep, there’s THAT feeling again—and then move on with whatever action I was in the middle of: baking, writing, organizing everything in our house…

It means I’m moving at half-rate, and getting things done much more slowly, but you know what? I’ve decided that’s OK. I’ve decided to be gentle and non-judgmental with myself.

I hope you’re being gentle with yourselves, too!

Speaking, though, of getting things done… I *DID* complete a decent (I hope!) draft of the third novel in The Kinship Mystery series. It’s off with my editor and agent. Hurrah!

Since all of my events are cancelled or postponed for the spring, including book club meetings, I recorded a “Frequently Asked Questions for Book Clubs.”

And I’m trying to share, on my Jess page and Jess Montgomery Book Friends group, uplifting bits. Here’s a link to Colorado Symphony’s Digital Ode to Joy that I recently shared.

This issue also includes a recipe (of course), other tidbits, and (read to the end) an enewsletter exclusive giveaway.



Tell us More About Maude Collins!

My protagonist, Lily Ross, is inspired by Ohio’s true first female sheriff in 1925, Maude Collins. In real life, Maude’s husband, Fletcher, was killed in the line of duty as sheriff of Vinton County, Ohio. Maude worked as his jail matron. After his non-mysterious but tragic death, she was packing up her household goods and their children to move back home to West Virginia when a county commissioner came by and asked if she’d serve out Fletcher’s term. She did, and a year later ran for sheriff in her own right and won.

This is the true story that inspired my character Lily Ross—the difference being that Lily, unlike Maude, has no idea who would have killed her husband or why.

But there is so much more to Maude’s story, which is itself fascinating. I explored Maude’s story in a detailed piece for CrimeReads. You can read the piece and learn all about this fascinating lady here.

A Very Flexible Muffin Recipe

Yes, I usually share pie recipes. But this month, I’m sharing my favorite Basic Quick Bread/Muffin recipe. 

Of course, there’s a story behind this. I share the whole story (and the recipe) on my blog, here

Part of the story is this: “I love this muffin recipe, from one of my favorite cookbooks, “Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind The Craft of Everyday Cooking,” by Michael Ruhlman, because it is so incredibly flexible. Flexibility is something we also need now—in our schedules, our work lives, how we connect, and in our patience with ourselves.

Sooner or later, we’ll get back to regular things like pie. For now… muffins.”

And here is the recipe:


  • 8 ounces flour
  • 4 ounces sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt (I use ½ teaspoon)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 8 ounces milk
  • 4 ounces eggs (2 large eggs)
  • 4 ounces butter (1 stick), melted


  1. Preheat oven to 350-degrees.
  2. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl.
  3. In another bowl, combine the wet ingredients.
  4. Whisk the dry into the wet, just enough to combine.
  5. If you’re adding chocolate chips or blueberries, do so now. (Stir in about a cup of any add-in you like.)
  6. Pour the batter into greased muffin tins, or a loaf pan. Bake for about 30 minutes for muffins, 50 minutes for a loaf. (Test by inserting a paring knife in center of loaf or muffin and checking that it comes out clean.)

Other favorite variations:

  • Apple-Cinnamon: brown sugar instead of white, a teaspoon of cinnamon, and a cup of diced Granny Smith apple.
  • Banana muffins: brown the butter (or use brown sugar instead of white), reduce milk to 6 ounces, and add a cup of mashed bananas—about 2 bananas. This is what I made, and in half I also added chocolate chips; to the other half, walnuts.
  • Corn muffins: replace ¾ of the flour with cornmeal. You can also add in up to a cup of drained corn, some diced jalapenos, and/or some shredded cheddar cheese.
  • Lemon poppy seed: add lemon juice and zest of one lemon, and a tablespoon or so of poppy seeds.
  • Cranberry orange: add dry cranberries, and replace ¼ of the milk with orange juice. If your juice is from an orange (rather than from a jar), zest the orange and add that in, too!

NOTE: I like to bake with volume measurements for more precise results, but for reference, 4 ounces is about a half cup, and 8 ounces is about a cup.

New Reviews… Please share Yours!

I’m so delighted to share some additional reviews for THE HOLLOWS:

    “… a finely crafted, exciting page-turner…”
    —Historical Novel Society Review (read more)

    “This character-based mystery has a strong and intriguing plot, a well written narrative with vivid characters that are authentic to its time and place.”
    ―Fresh Fiction (read more)

    But YOUR reader reviews matter a great deal, too. Actually, probably more than you realize. Readers often base their next book choice on other readers’ reviews.

    So if you’ve had a chance to read either THE WIDOWS or THE HOLLOWS and care to leave a rating or review, thank you so much. You can do so on Amazon, Goodreads, or another site. It truly helps, and I’m most appreciative.

    Are You and/or Your Book Club Reading

    As I shared in my opening note, I have a Book Club FAQ that readers might enjoy—a video chat with my daughter of questions I’m most often asked at book clubs.

      My website book club page also has reader guides, information on how to receive autographed bookplate(s), and how to receive book club goodie bags.

      I’m also open to ‘meeting’ with your club via Zoom. Just email me at

      If so, then you might enjoy these terrific reader discussion guides, created by my publisher, Minotaur Books.

        April eNewsletter Exclusive Giveaway
        (It's SPRING!)

        Thank you to all who participated in the February eNewsletter survey and giveaway.

        Favorite books from childhood were:

        • The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Clearly
        • The Blue Bird, Retold from an Old French Fairy Tale
        • A Wrinkle in Time (two votes)
        • Little Women
        • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
        • Bambi
        • Nancy Drew books (several votes)
        • The Hardy Boys books, as well as the Dick and Jane primers
        • Little House books (several votes)

        Congratulations Anne from Ohio, who listed “The Blue Bird” as her favorite childhood book, and commented that her special reason for loving this childhood book was, “It taught me about patience, that when bad happens, it may take a long time for good to win.”


        Anne sent her response before COVID19 was upon us, and I drew her name by random, but I think her comment about her favorite childhood book definitely fits our times!

        Thank you for being a faithful reader. Here’s a quick survey about spring flowers! Share your answer for a chance to win one of these treats (winner’s choice).

          Click here to participate

          And hang in there. Good will win.

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          Jess Montgomery

          6077 Far Hills Ave Suite 156, Centerville
          OH 45459-1923 United States

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