We Are the World Blogfest

I know, it’s the first week in April and the #WATWB boat sailed last Friday. But better late than never, right?

This week I’m sharing another post filled with good news for the environment. lt’s the story of a man in Senegal who has spent the past ten years reforesting a mangrove swamp with the help of the Senegalese local coastal populations. They’ve managed to plant 152 MILLION mangrove trees to help reverse the devastation caused by clear-cutting practices of the late twentieth century. You can read the full story here.

Here’s how #WATWB works: On the last Friday of each month (ahem…) a number of bloggers participate in a worldwide blog hop in which each blogger highlights a story that spreads good news, happiness, and hope.

Your cohosts for this month are Shilpa Garg, Sylvia McGrath, Dan Antion, and Damyanti Biswas. And if you want to read more uplifting articles, please visit the WATWB Facebook page here or the Twitter home page here to find links to other stories.

Want to join? Click this link to sign up and help spread some happiness!

April 1st

A fun contest from Victoria Benchley!

Victoria Benchley

Ready to play?

Identify the location of the photo below.  Remember to register your answer by clicking on “Leave a comment” at the top of this page and then write your reply (I’ll approve comments at end of each day and reveal the locale in the following blog). 

Correct answer receives a point.  I’ll be posting a different photo, along with a hint, every day this month.  Whoever has the most points on April 30th will receive a prize (you’re not winning the lotto, dear people, but I will mail you a small gift which will include a modest Amazon card).  In the event of a tie, a randomly generated number will decide the winner.  So, be sure to check back here each day, and let’s see who can . . .

Name That Location!

Hint: This spot is considered one of the prettiest villages in this country. It’s…

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Chatting with Author Victoria Benchley

Today I welcome mystery and thriller author Victoria Benchley to Reade and Write. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read the post and get to know Victoria and learn more about her books. She’s here to discuss her most recent release, The Marsden Murder Club: Swiss Revenge. 

Welcome, Victoria! With all that’s going on in the world right now, an escape to Switzerland in the pages of a great book sounds perfect.

Give us an overview of your new release, The Marsden Murder Club: Swiss Revenge.

Abandoned by her father at a young age and sheltered by an overprotective mother, Charlie Swain developed a unique skill set to ensure her emotional survival.  As an adult, she’s given the opportunity to learn about her deceased dad in exchange for employing her unusual talents within a secretive organization. But facing a serial killer was never part of the bargain, and she’ll learn that sometimes, it’s kill or be killed.

For years, the Marsden Murder Club quietly solved cold case murders.  After the public becomes aware of their success, members begin to drop like flies.  Putting their faith in new recruits could be their salvation or their demise.  Set against the world-famous Montreux Jazz Festival and the Swiss Alps, The Marsden Murder Club is a gripping mystery suspense thriller that will keep you guessing until the end. Because when the hunters become the hunted, who can you trust?

 

Tell us about the inspiration for The Marsden Murder Club.

Years ago, I was traveling by train in Europe with my husband.  I observed the surrounding passengers during the journey and later revealed to my husband what the various people were about.  “That man who sat in front of us?  He’s having an affair on his wife.  That pair three seats up?  They’re professors.  Not married.”  As I gave him the rundown on the other passengers, Steve became gobsmacked.  I built the idea of analyzing or reading people (but at a much higher level) into this novel.

I’d also seen a news program over 20 years ago regarding a small group of laypeople who donated their time solving cold case murders.  Their leader was an older woman, and they’d experienced great success.  At the time, I thought it would be a great premise for a book.  Researching this series, I discovered a large real-life group of professionals who do the same thing, the Vidocq Society.  I give a nod to them later in the series.

 

As I understand it, you’ve written the next two books in the series.  Is that correct?  What are they called, and can you tell us about them?

Book two in the series, The Gallery of Ghosts, is currently available to preorder from Amazon.   Two years after Switzerland, the Club takes up another cold case, closer to home.  The son of a wealthy family from the Hudson River Valley is the victim of an unsolved murder.  But when the dead speak, you listen.  Again, one of my real-life experiences inspired this novel.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so let’s just say many of the characters return to find out less separates them from the here and now and the hereafter than they supposed.

Book three, Friends & Killers, is undergoing final edits and will be released soon.  This time, the Club decamps to New Hampshire to solve a case involving one of their own.  But, as some already know, your friends can kill you, and putting your faith in the wrong person can spell your demise.

You also write the Duncan Dewar Mysteries.  What made you switch from cozy-style mysteries to thrillers?

Picking a genre is always a tough thing for me.  I’d authored seven Dewar Mysteries and a related short story.  I guess I was ready for a change.  The Marsden Murder Club had been rolling around in my head for a while.  I’ve stayed true to myself which means the new series is clean, free of cursing, and devoid of unnecessary gore.

Do you prefer to write one style of mystery over the other, or would that be like comparing apples and oranges?

I seem to prefer whatever I’m currently working on.  Right now, that’s mystery thriller suspense.  Again, it’s easy for me to slip between the lines separating the different genres.  It’s something I struggle with.

 

Have you visited Switzerland?  If yes, would you tell us a little about it?  Switzerland is near the top of my Bucket List.  If no, what made you decide to set your new novel there?

Yes!  I’ve been to Switzerland twice (in the summer & the fall) and traveled through its various regions.  I went to Zermatt, near the base of the Matterhorn, because my grandmother had been there shortly after WWII and said it was her favorite spot in all of Europe.  This charming village allows no cars, so you must take a cog train to get there.  It’s gorgeous.  But do go prepared to spend! All of Switzerland is expensive.  Even McDonald’s is pricey compared to the States!

I’ve also been to the Jungfrau area, the country’s major cities, and various stunning alpine villages and beautiful lakes.  Most of the photos I use to promote the book on Twitter are my own.  Lausanne, where this novel takes place, is a fascinating city full of history that I’ve visited twice.  Several towns line the shore of lovely Lake Geneva in this area, including Montreux.  Nearby in Veytaux, you can tour Chillon Castle (featured in this book).  Chillon remains one of the most-visited castles in Europe.

Despite all the natural beauty, one must stay alert in Switzerland’s larger cities, including Lausanne. I have to say, one of the few places where I felt a bit unsafe in Switzerland at night was charming Lucerne.  It had a creepy feeling, and after that visit, I learned that it was a major drug capitol where one could observe used hypodermic needles between the cobblestones!  The Alps are often socked in with weather, so take appropriate clothing no matter the time of year.  We experienced snow in July and my son even went skiing!

 

Will you continue to write the Duncan Dewar Mysteries in addition to the Marsden Murder Club Mysteries?

I believe I have at least one more Duncan Dewar novel in me.  The plot is already rattling around in my head.  I’ve spent the last three years writing The Marsden Murder Club Series, so I’m not quite ready to tackle another at this time.

What’s next for you?

A writer friend suggested we team up and do a series of sweet romances.  About four years ago, I wrote a three-book sweet romance series under the pen name Violet Sparks, and something light sounds pretty good right now!  So, we’ll see if that gets off the ground.

 

Describe yourself in three words.

Funny (at least that’s what people say), empathetic (if someone’s crying, I usually cry with them), and Christian.

 

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I love to do creative things.  I quilt, cook (I just wish I had a sous chef!), and paint.  Music has a role in our lives, as my husband is a former tympanist and jazz musician.  I enjoy watching sports, and I cannot get enough of a good book.  Spending time with family and friends also tops the list. I’ll admit that certain reality television programs remain a guilty pleasure.  I recently discovered Instagram and I find it a treasure trove of artistic inspiration.  We enjoy visiting our national parks, and any time I can travel, I count it a blessing.

 

What do you like to read?

I was raised on the classics, but my tastes run the gamut.  I love history, biographies, true crime, and atmospheric mysteries.  Almost anything.

 

Where can readers find your books?

My novels are all available on Amazon.  You can find links to them on my webpage at www.victoriabenchley.com.

 

Where can readers learn more about you?

Readers can sign up for my mailing list on my website at www.victoriabenchley.com by clicking the big green button.  My preferred reader group hears the latest news and receives special perks from time to time.  I recently sent Swiss chocolate to a few lucky members!  Those interested can also see my bio on the webpage and can take a look at my past blogs on taking tea at www.victoriabenchley.com/blog/.

In addition, my author central page on Amazon stays up to date with my books and blog posts.  You can follow me there at https://www.amazon.com/author/victoriabenchley.

I tweet about my books & those of other authors @vbenchley on Twitter. I haven’t had much time for Facebook lately, but you can also find me there at https://www.facebook.com/vbenchleyauthor/ where I’ve posted stunning pictures of Scotland.

 

Rapid Fire:

Tea or coffee?  Tea, with coffee a close second.  Have you experienced Nespresso?

Cats or dogs?  I love both cats & dogs

Sweet or salty? Sweet!

Beach or mountains?  Beach

Printed book or eBook?   eBooks are so convenient and take no space, but there’s still nothing like holding a real book in your hands. It’s a toss-up.

 

Thanks for visiting, Victoria! Before I sign off, I’d like to let readers know that I’ve had the pleasure of reading and reviewing The Marsden Murder Club: Swiss Revenge. I gave it five bright stars on Amazon. Click here to read the review. 

Until next time,

Amy

Fun Facts About St. Patrick’s Day

Having learned in the last few years that I am of Irish extraction, I’ve found a renewed interest in St. Patrick’s Day. For this week’s blog post I did a little digging and discovered some things about St. Patrick’s Day that I hadn’t known.

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The real Saint Patrick wasn’t Irish! He was British, born to an aristocratic family around the year 390. He didn’t even practice Christianity until, having been kidnapped and sent to Ireland to live as a shepherd, he experienced a religious conversion, escaped to return to Britain, and was told in a dream to return to Ireland.

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The real Saint Patrick wasn’t even a saint! He was never canonized by a Pope.

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It is said that St. Patrick taught people about the Holy Trinity by using the three leaves of the common clover (or shamrock) to represent the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

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Your odds of finding a four-leaf clover are 1 in 10,000.

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The first St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the United States was held in Boston in 1737.

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On St. Patrick’s Day, there are over 13 million pints of Guinness sold around the world. Another fun fact: I don’t like Guinness.

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There are 34.7 million Irish-Americans. This is more than seven times the population of Ireland.

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The world’s shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade is held in the Irish village of Dripsey. It is only 100 yards long and stretches between the village’s two pubs.

Not Dripsey.

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Legend has it that wearing green makes a person invisible to leprechauns.

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There are no snakes slithering through the countryside of Ireland and there never were. When we hear that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland, perhaps this is what is meant:

From Shoeboxblog.com

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! How do you celebrate?

Until next time,

Amy

First Tuesday Recipes for March

I hope I’m not speaking prematurely, but spring seems to be in the air! As I write this it’s supposed to be almost 60 degrees this afternoon and it’s beautiful and sunny out.

My thoughts are turning to spring meals. I’ve got two desserts and a decadent soup for you this month—and they feature lemons, strawberries, and asparagus. It doesn’t get much more spring-y than that!

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Asparagus Soup with Parmesan Custards

For the custards:

2 1/2 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated

1 c. heavy cream

1/2 c. milk

1/2 c. whole large eggs

2 lg. egg yolks

1/8 t. salt

pepper

For the soup:

1 lg. leek, white and pale green parts only, finely chopped

1/2 c. shallot, finely chopped

1/2 t. salt

pepper

1 t. unsalted butter

2 1/2 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-in. pieces

3 1/2 c. low-sodium chicken broth

1 1/2 c. water

1/4 c. heavy cream

For this recipe, you’ll need 6 2-inch ramekins. If you don’t have them, you can order them from Amazon here. I have a set of them and I use them often for dips, garnishes at the table, etc.

 

Make the custards:

Butter ramekins and set aside.

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, bring cheese, cream, and milk just to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and steep for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Pour steeped cream through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, pressing lightly on the cheese solids. Discard cheese solids. Whisk together eggs, egg yolks, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Add steeped cream in a thin stream, whisking until smooth. Divide among ramekins.

Place ramekins in a baking dish and fill dish with a hot water bath about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. I use a kettle to boil the water while the cream steeps so the water is hot and ready to pour into the baking dish when the ramekins go in.

Bake in center of oven for 40-45 minutes or until centers of custards are completely set. Transfer ramekins with tongs to a cooling rack and cool for five minutes. Do not cool longer than five minutes. Run a knife around the ramekin to loosen the custard, place a soup bowl over the ramekin, and invert so the custard is in the soup bowl.

While the cream steeps and the custards bake, make the soup:

Wash the chopped leeks in a bowl of cold water and drain well. Pat dry. Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Add leeks, shallots, salt, and pepper; cook until leeks are softened, about 3 minutes. Add asparagus, broth, and water; simmer, covered, until asparagus is just tender, about 10-12 minutes. After 2-4 minutes, remove 6 asparagus tips, cut each in half, and reserve for garnish.

Use an immersion blender to purée soup or purée in batches using a blender. Transfer soup to a large bowl and wipe out saucepan. Pour soup through a sieve into the saucepan; discard any solids. Stir in cream, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook over medium-low heat until hot.

Ladle soup over custards, garnish with reserved asparagus tips and extra shaved cheese, if desired. Serve hot.

 

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Lemon Chiffon Crunch

1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs

1/3 c. light brown sugar

1/2 t. cinnamon

1/3 c. melted butter

1 3-oz. pkg. lemon Jell-O

3/4 c. boiling water

1/2 c. sugar

Juice and peel of one lemon peel, zested and chopped

12 oz. evaporated milk

 

Combine first four ingredients; mix until crumbly. Reserve 3 T. crumb mixture; press remaining crumb mixture into the bottom of a buttered 9-inch square pan; chill.

Dissolve Jell-O in boiling water; add sugar, lemon juice, and peel. Chill to consistency of unbeaten egg whites. Ten minutes later, pour evaporated milk into a freezer tray and freeze until ice crystals form around the edges. Turn into chilled bowl; whip until stiff. Fold whipped evaporated milk into Jell-O mixture. Spoon into pan on top of crumb layer. Sprinkle top with reserved crumbs. Chill until set.

 

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Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

Crust:

3 c. flour

2 1/2 t. sugar

3/4 t. salt

2/3 c. chilled shortening, cut into pieces

1 1/4 sticks chilled butter, cut into pieces

10 T. ice water

Filling:

3 1/2 c. rhubarb, trimmed and sliced 1/2-inch thick

16 oz. strawberries, hulled and halved (for very large berries, cut into quarters)

1/2 c. light brown sugar, packed

1/2 c. sugar

1/4 c. cornstarch

1 t. ground cinnamon

1/4 t. salt

Egg wash:

1 lg. egg yolk

1 t. water

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Add shortening and butter and mix with a fork or pastry knife until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add ice water, 1 T. at a time, until dough comes together in a ball. Divide dough into two disks and chill. When chilled, roll out disks into two circles. Place one circle into the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate.

Mix filling ingredients in a large bowl. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes. Spoon filling into pie crust. Roll out second disk of dough and place on top of the pie. Trim edges. Whisk egg yolk and water; brush over top of pie.

Place pie on baking sheet and cook in 400-degree oven for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, lower oven temperature to 350 degrees and cook pie for another hour and 25 minutes. Cover crust with foil if it is browning too fast.

 

Remember that readers are always invited to share recipes. Just email them to me at amymreadeauthor[at]gmail[dot]com and I’ll put them in a future post.

Enjoy!

 

Until next time,

Amy