Friday, September 27, 2013

BOOK CLUB WEEK: Golden Malicious by Sheila Connolly

Massachusetts is enjoying what everyone agrees is an incredible bumper crop of apples this year, and since I write about an apple orchard, I'm thrilled. What's more, when groups such as book clubs gather, there is always food.  There's something very basic about feeding your guests, and it's also a wonderful opportunity to introduce and sample new dishes. 

When I started writing the Orchard Mystery series, I knew what most people know about apples—I could recognize an apple tree (if it had apples on it) and I knew the names of what I saw in grocery stores, not that those names meant a lot to me.  So when I created my heroine, Meg, I made it clear that she didn't know much about apples either.  She's been learning a lot in the past couple of years (going on two years in the books).  That goes hand in hand with learning about the people in her new town, Granford, Massachusetts.

Of course, learning to manage an orchard doesn't leave Meg a lot of time or energy for cooking, but everybody has to eat.  And apples lend themselves well to so many dishes, both sweet and savory.

But book club members have to earn those tasty dishes (work before play, right?), so I have some questions for you to think about.

Golden Malicious, coming out next week, is the seventh in the Orchard Mystery series.  Meg's life has definitely changed since she arrived in Granford.  But since not all readers will have read all the books, I've combine some specific questions about Meg and her new community with more general questions about reading cozy series.

  • Do you find that using a single theme in a series, like a craft shop or a food producer or seller, is too confining? Do you find it believable that a woman like Meg would go from a bank job crunching numbers to managing an orchard? 

  • Do you enjoy learning about something new in books, or are you impatient and wish the author would just get on with the story? Meg keeps getting distracted by murders in Granford, even while she's trying to expand her orchard and harvest her crop. Do you ever wonder how she manages to juggle it all? 
  • Do you prefer to read about crafts or trades that you might actually practice in your life, or do you just enjoy imagining them? Do you harbor a secret desire to return to a simpler life on a farm? (Warning:  it's hard work!) 
  • Most cozies are set in small towns, and Granford is a typical New England town.  Does it bother you that bodies keep turning up there?  Or that the local police seem unable to solve murders without help from an amateur? 
  • Do you like reading about new places you've never been, or do you prefer places you recognize or even know? How much description of the place can the author include before you're distracted from the story? 
  • Do you as a reader find yourself as identifying with the protagonist when she decides to get involved in solving a crime?  At the beginning of the series, Meg is a newcomer in town, so why is she qualified to investigate crimes there? Because she's smart, or because she has something to lose if the crime isn't solved or if the wrong person is accused? 
  • Many cozies include romantic elements, and sometimes there may be two men vying for the attention of the protagonist as she tries to solve crimes.  Do you think that romance has a place in cozy mysteries? How much attention should it be given? 
        In Golden Malicious, Meg and Seth have known each other for well
        over a year.  Is their relationship moving too slowly, too fast, or just
        fine (given all the other things they face, like multiple murders)?

In honor of the Massachusetts apple crop, I'm including my favorite apple cake recipe, but I've modified it for serving a group (individual slices work but they can be messy).  This recipe is tasty, dependable, and easy to make (it appeared in the first Orchard Mystery, One Bad Apple, and also in a guest post here in 2010).


3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 eggs (mix one of them up and add half)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups shredded apples (do not peel -- the skin adds texture to the cake; the shredding disk of a food processor works very well, or you can use a hand-grater).  How many apples you will need will depend on their size.
1 tsp vanilla extract


2 Tbl butter
2 Tbl brown sugar
2 Tbl granulated sugar
2 Tbl heavy cream
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Butter and flour small cake tins (the flour is important to keep these from sticking!) This recipe makes a total of four cups of batter.  The pans I used held 1/4 cup for each mini-cake, so should make 16.  The recipe can easily be doubled.

From my ever-growing vintage cookware collection

Combine the oil and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Blend very well.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.  Sift these into the oil-egg mixture and combine thoroughly.  Add the vanilla. Then fold in the raw apples, mixing well with a large spoon or spatula.  Pour or spoon the batter into the little cake pans. Note: when filling, stop 1/4-1/2 inch from the top, because the batter does rise a bit.

Ready to bake

Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick tester comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and let them cool while you prepare the glaze.

Glaze: Melt the butter, sugars, and heavy cream mixed with vanilla in a heavy pan.  Boil for 1 minute without stirring, then remove from heat.

A word of warning about the glaze: it’s addictive.  At my house we usually double the recipe, and fight over who gets to lick the pan.  My daughter pours it over ice cream, and she adds chopped nuts and coconut.  And sometimes we just skip the cake and eat it right out of the pan.  Yum!

Remove the cakes from the pans and drizzle the glaze over them while they are still warm.

GOLDEN MALICIOUS           (Orchard Mystery #7)

Coming October 1st!


  1. Sheila, I picked apples yesterday, so the timing of this recipe is perfect. I've ordered Golden Malicious . . . can't wait to read it. Your orchard series is one of my favorites!

  2. Wow, Miss Sheila, so many questions!!! I love to read cosies and find that I pick them up (initially) because the protagonist is involved in a craft that I do, like cooking or knitting/crocheting or quilting. Although, after I find an author I enjoy I will read any of his/her other books. I do not think that a single theme in a series is too limiting. I enjoy the books set in a small town....probably because I live in a suburb of Washington, DC. Small towns seem so intimate. I must say that I enjoy Krista's books set in Old Town Alexandria, since it's in my neck of the woods. I am such a coward that I do not identify with the protagonist at all; but I do admire her ability to keep on investigating - although in some of the books I have read lately, I think that some of the 'questioning' she does is unrealistic. Just my 2 cents worth. Thanks for the opportunity.

    1. Hi Sharon, just wanted to say, boy, you've put your finger on the hardest part of writing about an amateur sleuth. How realistic is it that any of OUR characters would be solving crimes? Not at all! LOL! I think we all count on our readers to suspend their disbelief when it comes to that...

    2. Oh oh. I did not mean my comment to read as a criticism of Krista's books... I love her books. I probably should have added a paragraph. The charm of the cosies is the likeability and how normal the main characters are. I just can't see myself as having the nerve to question their suspects like some do. I read for escape and pleasure and can totally lose myself in the story. Actually, I don't want to suspend my disbelief - I want to believe it could actually happen as written....just not to me. LOL

    3. No worries, Sharon. I'm delighted that you like my books. I'm not as brave as Sophie is, either, but if I made her more like me, well, it would be a big yawn. She would call the cops and peer out from behind the curtains and assume all would be well. : )

      I do find it interesting that you want to believe these things could actually happen to you. That's my favorite thing about cozies. I love writing about people who could be our neighbors or relatives. Sometimes I find it more difficult to relate to a story in which the protagonist is a six-foot-tall model with cascading hair, a Ferrari, knows karate, and has no trouble at all running in 4-inch heels. I have much more fun with average people!


  3. Mmmm. Malicious and delicious! Thanks for the recipe. We love apple cake. Love your series too.

  4. Sheila, that glaze is almost exactly like the microwave caramel sauce recipe I love so much. It *is* yummy! No wonder you fight over it. Love this cake. What a beautiful dessert to serve at a book club meeting!


  5. Wonderful post, Sheila: tasty food and food for thought (in those adorable little apple cakes and your smart reading group quesitons). Our local NY apples are in the markets now with pick-your-own orchards just a short drive away--perfect timing for a book club reading of Golden Malicious. Cheers and have a lovely weekend.~ Cleo

  6. This looks absolutely delicious. When I was a kid I used to eat so many apples that my parents joked they ought to plant an apple tree in the backyard. Still love them...especially when backed into a cake!

  7. Ahem, that should have been "baked" in my post not "backed."

  8. How I wish there really was a Granby, MA and that I could take a few hours off to dash up to the Berkshires to get some of Meg's apples. We love apple cake in our family and have many and varied recipes. I love to make the baked apple puffed pancakes too. That Baked Apple Pancake is a breakfast that I would never pass up even if I had eaten two hours before!!!!

    Love your series, Sheila. Can't wait to read Golden Malicious.

    Have a great "fruitful" weekend. :)

  9. Sheila, lovely post and love the apple cakes. What a pretty shape for each of them! Yum! Great book club questions, too!

    Daryl / Avery