Wicked Wednesday: Celebrating Murder at the Mansion

Happy Wednesday readers! Liz here, and today we’re focused on celebrating Sheila Connolly’s newest, Murder at the Mansion, A Victorian Village Mystery. This is Sheila’s brand new series, and the book arrived yesterday. Here’s a sneak peek:

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From the cover:

Katherine Hamilton’s goal in high school was to escape from her dead-end hometown of Asheboro, Maryland. Fifteen years later she’s got a degree in hospitality management and a great job at a high-end boutique hotel in Baltimore. Until, that is, the hotel is acquired by a chain, and she’s laid off. When Kate’s high school best friend calls with a mysterious invitation to come talk with the town leaders of Asheboro, she agrees to make the trip, curious about where this new opportunity might lead.

Once Kate arrives, the town council members reveal that their town is on the verge of going bankrupt, and they’ve decided that Kate’s skills and knowledge make her the perfect person to cure all their ills. The town has used its last available funds to buy the huge Victorian mansion just outside of town, hoping to use it to attract some of the tourists who travel to visit the nearby Civil War battle sites. Kate has less-than-fond memories of the mansion, for personal reasons, but to make matters worse, the only person who has presented a possible alternate plan is Cordelia Walker―Kate’s high school nemesis.

But a few days later, while touring the mansion, Kate stumbles over a body―and it’s none other than Cordelia. Kate finds herself juggling the murder investigation and her growing fascination with the old house, which itself is full of long-hidden mysteries. Kate must clear her name and save her town―before she ends up in hot water.

Congratulations Sheila! Can’t wait to check out this new series! I know the rest of the Wickeds are psyched to read this too! Wickeds, would you move back to your hometown? What job would you want there if the town asked you to do something for them?

Edith: Yay, Sheila! I love seeing you start a new series, even with all your past and current successes under your virtual belt. Me, I would never move back to my hometown south of Pasadena, California. Sure, it’s lovely when the air is clean and you don’t have to venture forth onto the superslabs. But most of the time the air is not clean (Rose Parade day notwithstanding – although those are MY mountains that you see in the background) and there are way, way too many people who live in the sprawling LA megalopolis for my adopted New England tastes. Now, if someone offered me the job of paid busybody in my grad student town of Bloomington, Indiana? I might accept!

Jessie: Sheila, I wish you every good thing with the new series! My family moved around when I was a child and I don’t feel as though I have a hometown in the way most people mean. I can say that none of the places I lived as a child are places I would return to on purpose. I love my adult life and the places I spend time in now far too much to go back!

Barb: I’m in the same boat as Jessie. I don’t have a place I think of as my hometown. We moved from the northern New Jersey suburbs to the Philadelphia suburbs when I was in elementary school, then in the middle of seventh grade to northeastern Pennsylvania. I resented the move terribly and complained the whole time (which must have been delightful for my parents). I finally escaped early as an exchange student my senior year. So no, not going back there, even though my parents lived out their lives there and my brother and his wife live there still.

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Sherry: I love my hometown of Davenport, Iowa. There is so much to do there — an amazing art museum, library system, science museum, symphony, tons of parks, plays, a minor league baseball team that plays in a stadium right on the Mississippi, and so much more. BUT, the weather. I think that is the only thing that holds me back. It’s so hot in the summer and so cold in the winter. Way colder than it was when we lived in Massachusetts. So it’s unlikely, but not impossible that I would move back.

Readers, what about you? Would you move back to your hometown? What job would you want there if the town asked you to do something for them?

 

Memories of Malice 2018

Five of the Wickeds and two of our accomplices attended the 30th Malice Domestic conference last weekend. Malice celebrates the traditional mystery, and we celebrate alongside hundreds of mystery fans and authors (although we sorely missed Liz and Jane joining us). Here are some of our highlights.

Sheila:  Ann Cleeves and Brenda Blethyn. Need I say more? Delightful and talented women who were gracious to the adoring throngs of fans. I asked and was told that “pet” is a term that applies to both men and women and is regularly used by Geordies (those who live in Northumberland, I understand).

Apart from the miles of walking from one end of the convention hotel to the other, everything went smoothly, and I saw many happy faces, and talked to more people than I can count.

Edith: So many highlights!  The core Wickeds started off with dinner together, minus Liz, alas.

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Jessie and I found our Agatha-nominated books on the special table in the bookstore!

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The Sisters in Crime breakfast is always a wonderful gathering. Those of us present from the Sprint Club – which Ramona DeFelice Long runs every morning – got a group shot in, too.  The sprints get me writing every morning at seven and I am grateful.

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Sprint Leader Ramona DeFelice Long at far right.

The Kensington signing and book giveaway on Saturday was very popular, with an entire box of my books going in under an hour. I had a delightful crew at my banquet table that night, including the Wickeds’ agent, John Talbot, and a bunch of avid fans, plus Map Your Mystery blogger Christine Gentes (standing at far left).

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Sunday was topped off by a fabulous interview between Catriona McPherson, Toastmaster, and Lori Rader-Day (who could do stand-up comedy if she wished), then the Agatha Tea. But I don’t want to monopolize the blog! Next?

Sherry: One of the highlights for me was introducing Dorothy Cannell and Marcia Adair at the Sisters in Crime Breakfast on Saturday morning. Every year a scholarship is given in Dorothy Cannell’s name to a member of the Guppy chapter of Sisters in Crime so that member can attend Malice Domestic. This year the winner was Marcia. I had a great time getting to know her during the conference. And as I said in my post yesterday it’s just about getting to hang out with members of the crime fiction community be they readers or writers.

Jessie: On Thursday I started out the weekend by spending the day with most of the Sleuths in Time for a plotting and chatting session. They are a fun group of women! Friday evening I had a great time at dinner with the Wickeds own Kim Gray and a host of other friends both old and new.  On Saturday I really loved signing books for some new readers at the Kensington book giveaway! I also had a wonderful time meeting some of the lovely ladies who have already read some of my work at the table I hosted for the Agatha banquet. They were a lively and fun group!

Barb: In the photo below I’m with two members of the Maine Crime Writers, Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett and Lea Wait/Cornelia Kidd. Bruce Robert Coffin and Maureen Milliken were also there, though I only saw Maureen once, passing in the long hallways.

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett, Lea Wait/Cornelia Kidd, Barbara Ross. No, we did not coordinate our outfits!

I had loads of fun on my panel Murder at the Improv, making up a mystery on the fly from audience suggestions with Sheila Connolly, Hank Phillippi Ryan and Parnell Hall.

Murder at the Improv with Barbara Ross, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Sheila Connolly and Parnell Hall.

Julie: I am still exhausted from Malice! Favorite parts? Seeing folks, even in passing.  My panel with Sherry, Shari, and Leslie that Sherry talked about yesterday.  Barb and I hosting a really fun table of folks we didn’t know at the banquet. Seeing Catriona McPherson shine as the toastmaster. Edith and Jessie’s excellent panel (with Rhys Bowen, moderated by Harriet Sackler). Breakfast with Jacki York, who we first met when we carried her on a stick a few Malices back. Seeing Annette and Ramona, the sisters de Felice. Meeting people, as always. But the best part? Laughing. What a great group of folks at Malice. SO much laughing!

Malice going friends, what was your favorite part of the weekend?

The Sound of Silence

by Sheila Connolly

Just back from a trip to West Cork in Ireland, where (in case you haven’t heard it seventeen times already) I own a small cottage, on a small plot of land. From anywhere on my quarter-acre property I can see a total of four houses, and one of those is a mile away. The ruined church up the hill where several generations of my ancestors married is almost exactly a mile, and I can see it out the back.

Coming back to “civilization” is hard after spending over two weeks in Ireland. The first thing you notice out in the country in Ireland is the absence of noise. It is quiet in my part of West Cork. By my rough estimate, based on agricultural reports, there are 542,000 people in County Cork, and 1,719,500 cattle. The cows don’t make noise at night. Most people don’t go gadding about at night because they’re exhausted from tending all those cattle.

Traffic past my cottage amounts to one or two vehicles per hour, including deliveries, milk and oil trucks, and school buses, as well as individual cars. There are no planes flying overhead. There are birds, of course, and when they squabble (most often various kinds of crows), their caws echo off the trees.

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The peace is lovely. You can feel your blood pressure dropping day by day.

Then there’s the darkness. Across the road in front of my cottage, at night I can’t see a single light anywhere. Turn off the interior lights during the dark of the moon and you can’t see your hand in front of your face. In contrast, during a full moon it seems almost as bright as day, although the light shifts across the sky faster. In winter you’re lucky to have eight hours of sun, dawn to dusk; in summer it’s more than sixteen hours. Those of us who live in suburban places have forgotten those rhythms.

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Silence and darkness seem to go together, It begins to make sense, why Simon and Garfunkel began their song, The Sound of Silence, with “hello darkness, my old friend.” Maybe they were depressed young men when they sang that, but that’s not true in Ireland. People have long memories, often stretching back generations. At the same time there’s a real curiosity about newcomers. Who are you? Where do you come from? And often, do you have people here? Their memory for recent events proves it: people I might have met once, a year or more earlier, remember my name and where I’m staying in Ireland. In some ways that’s unsettling, because it’s hard to be anonymous.

I’m not going to argue whether the silence of the countryside or the noise of civilization is better. I enjoy the energy of cities, at least in small doses. I’d seize the opportunity to visit a city I’ve never seen (especially if there’s a group of writers there!). But sometimes I need quiet, and a slower pace, as do most of us, I’m guessing. Would I go stir-crazy if I stayed in Ireland for good? I really can’t say, but it bears thinking about.

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There’s another quotation that keeps running through my head, and it fits too: “The World Is Too Much with Us,” a sonnet by William Wordsworth written in 1802. In it Wordsworth criticizes the world of the First Industrial Revolution for being absorbed in materialism and distancing itself from nature. It’s all the more true these days, and living pretty close to nature for the past couple of weeks has been eye-opening for me.

How about you? Does fresh air, sunlight and quiet drive you crazy? Or do you crave a dose of tranquility?

BTW, the sixth book of the County Cork Series, Many a Twist, will be released in January 2018, but things are not exactly quiet in the book. Plus the paperback edition of Cruel Winter will be out in a week, if you’re thinking of a nice holiday gift . . .

 

Happy Cruel Winter Book Birthday!

Happy Book Birthday to Sheila Connolly. Her fifth County Cork Mystery, Cruel Winter, is cruelwinterout!

Snow is a rarity in Maura Donovan’s small village in County Cork, Ireland, so she wasn’t sure what to expect when a major snowstorm rolled in around Sullivan’s pub. But now she’s stranded in a bar full of patrons–and a suspected killer in a long-ago murder. Over the next few hours, the informal court in Sullivan’s reviews the facts and theories about the case–and comes to some surprising conclusions. But is it enough to convince the police to take a new look at an old case?

To celebrate, I (Edith) decided to make one of Sheila’s many Irish recipes from her other group blog, Mystery Lover’s Kitchen. She’s over there most Fridays sharing dishes, both savory and sweet, that she has concocted. I’ve adapted the following recipe slightly, but what follows isn’t too far from her Feb 7 post of three years ago. As you can see, I didn’t have Irish whiskey, but figured I couldn’t go too far wrong with using bourbon, instead.

Irish Chicken and Cabbage

Ingredients

1/2 cup flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 bone-in chicken breast halves, with skin on
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic,  minced
2 carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
1 medium onion, thickly sliced
1 T dried rosemary leaves, crumbled
2 cups shredded cabbage
1-1/2 cups chicken stock (homemade/canned/from a bouillon cube)
Sheila’s twist—a tablespoon or two of Irish whiskey (Edith’s substitution—an equal amount of bourbon)

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Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Mix the flour, salt and pepper in a shallow bowl or pie pan and dredge the chicken pieces in it, shaking off the excess.

In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken pieces and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes per side, until lightly browned. Tuck the garlic cloves, carrots, onions and rosemary around and between the chicken pieces. Lay the cabbage in an even layer on top and season with salt and pepper.

Mix the whiskey into the broth and pour the liquid over the chicken and vegetables. Cover the contents of the Dutch oven with its oven-proof lid, or with foil (press it against the contents to make a fairly close seal), then place the pot in the oven and cook for 75 (remember, the heat is low). Peek once or twice and baste the top with the pan juices.

irishchickTo serve, place a piece of chicken on the plate and spoon the vegetables and sauce over it. I urge you to check Sheila’s original recipe for pix of the entire process and for the few ingredients I left out (because, oops, I didn’t have them in the house).

I wanted to serve the dish with new potatoes steamed and then lightly sauteed in olive oil and herbs – except somebody in my house used the last potato and didn’t put them them on the shopping list. So instead I made quick whole-wheat soda biscuits. Which went almost better with the dish than the potatoes would have.

Readers: Who has read the County Cork series up to now and can’t wait to get your hands on this one?  [Me! Me!] Anybody been to Ireland and, if so, what was your favorite meal? Your favorite Irish pub near where you live?

The Promise of An Orchard

By Sherry. It feels like apple picking weather here in Northern Virginia

Today we continue to celebrate the release of Seeds of Deception by Sheila Connolly, the tenth book in her wonderful Orchard Mystery series. Here’s a little about the book: The New York Times bestselling author of A Gala Event returns with newlyweds Meg and Seth Chapin who should be worried about writing thank you notes, not taking a juicy bite out of crime…

seedsofdeceptionWith the bushels of time they spent organizing their wedding, Meg and Seth didn’t have a chance to plan a honeymoon. But now that winter has arrived, there’s not much to do at the orchard. So with their shared love of history and all things apple, they pick Thomas Jefferson’s orchards at Monticello as the perfect getaway.

While they enjoy the beautiful sights, there’s a rotten addition to the agenda when Meg’s parents discover their handyman dead in the backyard. With a bitter police chief eyeing Meg’s father as a suspect, Meg and Seth have to cut their honeymoon short to find the root of the problem.

Orchards are wondrous places full of change, new beginnings, and falls full of fruit. Wickeds, have you visited any orchards? Do you have a favorite memory from one?

Edith: I’ve gone apple picking every fall for years. Lately I only have to go a mile away toimg_2778 the fabulous Cider Hill Orchard, where I stopped in yesterday for fresh eggs and cider, and where I take my young friends on our days together. I used to live across the street from Long Hill Orchards in West Newbury, and they had a img_1056late fall apple to die for. The variety is Spartan, and the flavor is so rich and winey, the texture perfectly crisp and not too watery – but alas they don’t pick them any more! I’ve searched for that apple at other orchards with no luck. So I might have to plant one.

Liz: Love orchards. I worked at one in college – Mann Orchards in Methuen, Mass. There was just something about the atmosphere in there that made fall come alive, from the smell of the apple pies to watching the bakers make the homemade apple crisp. I have some great fall memories from working there.

Sherry: My grandfather had a wonderful orchard on top of a hill at his farm in Novinger, Missouri. I loved walking through it and climbing the trees. It was ever changing bare branches, bud, blooms, tiny apples, trees laden with apples. My grandfather would graft branches from one tree to another to create new varieties. Their back porch was always full of bushel baskets of apples. It was a magical place.

Jessie: A neighboring town to mine, across the border into Maine, has many orchards. My favorite of these is Kelly Orchards where for many years my family has purchased  a crate of apples with which to make cider. We have an antique cider mill and invite friends and family for a potluck event every year at which we turn the 14 bushel of apples into gallons and gallons of cider. It is one of my favorite things to do each October. Everyone helps to grind, press or bottle and everyone takes home fresh, sweet cider.  That being said, my very favorite orchard of all has to be Old Orchard Beach, Maine!

violaapplepickingBarb: When they were young, we always took our kids apple picking. Our favorite spot was Tougas Family Farm in Northboro, MA. There was a lot of good-natured arguing, and cautioning, and carrying a tired child up from the bottom of the orchard–along with the apples. But it remains one my happiest fall memories. My son and daughter-in-law have continued the tradition with our grandchild. Last weekend they went apple-picking and did a corn maze and a hayride, and best of all–made an apple pie afterward.

Julie: OK, I wasn’t sure if I should admit this or not. The closest I’ve ever come to apple picking are stopping by a farm stand on the North Shore, getting a bag of apples and some cider donuts. Pitiful, I know. (I write about a town called Orchard for heaven’s sake.) Working on changing that this fall, though I’ve heard the drought has been tough on the apple crop.

Readers: Have you been to an orchard? Apple or some other fruit or nut?

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A Delicious New Book by Sheila Connolly

seedsofdeceptionBy Sherry — I’ve been baking in Northern Virginia but not because it’s hot out!

Happy Book Birthday, Sheila! Today we are celebrating the TENTH book in Sheila’s fabulous Orchard Mystery series, Seeds of Deception! To celebrate I decided to try making a couple of recipes from Sheila’s earlier books. Since I’m not the greatest cook in the world, I decided I’d share the good, bad, and ugly of the whole process.

The first recipe I made was the Toffee Crunch Blondies from A Gala Event, the ninth book in the series. After reading the recipe and seeing ingredients like chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, and toffee bits, I decided I had to try this one!

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What better way to keep the book open than to use a couple of Granny Smith apples? This recipe was easy to follow. Of course I forgot to set the butter out so I put it in the microwave for 15 seconds. It might have needed a bit more.

I mixed it all up and stuck it in the oven for the recommended twenty-five minutes. The house smelled like heaven!

Sheila says in the instructions for the book: Try not to eat them all at once. My husband couldn’t even wait for them to cool completely. But there were some left at the end of the evening — perhaps because I made a pie too.

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img_1082img_1086Next I decided to make Apple Cream Pie from Picked To Die, the eighth book in the Orchard Mysteries. My husband is chief pie maker at our house, but I wanted to do it myself. That meant a store bought crust instead of homemade. And yes, I forgot to take the pie crust out to get to room temperature so it was back to the microwave. This recipe is also really easy — the most time intensive part is peeling the apples. (I’m guessing Sheila has one of those cool apple peeler/corer devices.) I used my vegetable peeler.

The recipe says to: Prepare your apples and pile them into the shell. I may have been a little over enthused with the piling part of the instructions. My pile turned out to be a small hill.

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I think because my pile was so high that the top apples got a little browner on top than they might normally. But the pie tastes delicious, a fabulous combination of tart and sweet! I know what I’m having for breakfast tomorrow!

Read A Gala Event and Picked to Die to find the recipes. I can’t wait to read Seeds of Deception and see what happens to newlyweds Meg and Seth (they are on their honeymoon in Western Massachusetts) and to get more recipes!

Readers: Have you ever made a recipe from the books you read? How did it turn out?