A Book & A Bite

A Book & A Bite: Interview with Mystery Author Ellie Alexander and Hoppy Cupcakes

Happy Monday, puffs! Or should I say…Hoppy Monday! See what I did there? Yeah, I know…I will stop now. Today I am SO excited to be sharing my first ever author interview. I feel like we are starting this series off strong because if you don’t know who Ellie Alexander is, where have you been!? Ellie is a cozy mystery author, baker, and all-around badass. I will be linking all of her socials below so you can give her a follow. Also, be sure to check out my Instagram for the very awesome giveaway I have going on where one lucky winner will receive the grand prize of a signed copy of Beyond a Reasonable Stout, the latest addition to The Sloan Krause Mystery Series, as well as some other bookish swag! You can also pick up a copy of Beyond a Reasonable Stout at your local book retailer. It is also available in e-book format as well!

Interview with Ellie Alexander

Ellie, can you tell us what inspired you to start writing culinary mysteries? And how you “brewed” up the idea for a beer inspired series?

I have loved mysteries since I was little. In fact, I wrote my first mystery in second grade. I still have it, and I have to say that my handwriting was much, much better back then. It’s interesting that food and mystery pair so well, but I think it has something to do with the formula or recipe for both. It’s about piecing together clues to figure out whodunit in a culinary mystery and that blends beautifully (in my opinion) with sifting through perfect ingredients when baking or cooking. In terms of the beer series, I live in the Pacific Northwest, which is known for its craft beer culture. You can literally walk a block and find a brewpub on every corner. I thought that would be an interesting and unique setting for a mystery. Plus, my husband has been homebrewing for many years and I find that the process of brewing has a lot in common with baking. There are so many flavor profiles and combinations to get right when brewing and then of course there are lots of ways that a beer can go wrong, which makes for great fiction! 

When deciding on the setting of your latest series, did Leavenworth come to mind immediately?

 I had been toying around with the idea of setting a mystery in brewpub for a while. I knew I wanted my protagonist to be a woman, because I love exploring the idea of a character doing something that’s traditionally been viewed as a “man’s job”. I was visiting Leavenworth for Oktoberfest and suddenly I knew that I HAD to set the series there. It hits all the right notes for this style of mystery. It’s a gorgeous small Bavarian village nestled in the Northern Cascade Mountains with year-round festivals themed around beer. My husband and I were having a pint outside at Icicle Brewing and I read that one of the owners was a woman!  It was like the beer gods smiled upon me and said, “Here’s your perfect setting.” I went home and started sketching out ideas right away. Around the same time I read an article about the Pink Boots Society. It’s a group of women who work in every aspect of craft beer and have banded together to support one another. I love that concept of women supporting women, so Sloan, my brewer turned sometimes sleuth was born from there.

The characters in your novels seem so real, how do you keep them so true to life?

I try to pull upon all of my life experiences. The vast majority of my characters are based on people I know or have known.  Before I started writing, I worked as a speech therapist in an early intervention program. My caseload included a lot of foster kids and foster parents. Their stories and resolve stayed with me. When I was first trying to figure out who Sloan was (other than an incredible brewer) I thought it would give her some interesting depth if she had been part of the foster system. I always try to have a bigger story and growth arc for my characters and for Sloan that means figuring out how she defines family. Since that’s her ultimate quest, I hope that helps lend some realism to the stories.

Do you ever come up with recipes for your books that don’t end up making the cut?

YES, YES, and YES! You should see my office whiteboard. It is literally packed with so many recipes that haven’t made the final cut. In both my series there’s a lot of food writing. When I’m working on a new manuscript, often whatever comes to mind in the moment is what makes it onto the page. Once I finish a first draft and a few rounds of edits, I’ll take one final pass for the food and beer and really try to figure out which recipes I’m going to focus on. Sadly, that means that there are a plethora of loney recipes waiting to make it into a future book. I think at some point I’m going to have to write a cookbook. 

What started your interest in baking and the culinary world?

Like with reading, I started baking at a young age. Food was definitely a love language in our house. Many of my early memories are of being in the kitchen watching my mom kneading bread dough and my dad piping mocha buttercream onto a hazelnut apricot torte. There’s something so sensory and almost therapeutic about baking. I enjoy exploring that in my writing. You have to be present and in the moment when you’re in the kitchen. It’s a place of connection, and it can also be deadly! 

Do you have a set writing schedule or process? How long does it typically take you to write your mysteries? 

I have a very set schedule for my writing. I write 2,000 words every day. Most mornings, I drop my son off at school and then I’m at my desk until I hit my word count. That translates to writing really fast first drafts. It takes me about six weeks to write a first draft. Once I have a completed draft, I print it and store it away for a few months. I think  you need space and distance from your writing in order to see what needs to be fixed and strengthened. I will come back to the first draft after I’ve given myself time away from it and work on edits. That process usually takes another month or two. So typically it takes about six or seven months in total. 

When did you realize you had a taste for murder and mysteries? 

LOL! For many, many years I wanted to write a book, but had no idea where to start. Let’s just say that I have STACKS of unfinished manuscripts that will never see the light of day. In hindsight, I think those early years of scribbling ideas that quickly died off were so helpful in my writing path. We have to experiment and fail to find our voice. I failed a lot! There’s one story that sticks in my head. My working title was One Dead Toe. That’s not a joke. The only scene that I could visualize is a hospital room with a patient who has frostbite and is losing their toe. Needless to say that story hasn’t ever developed into anything, but it did teach the importance of having a good initial hook (dead toe-dead body etc.) to get the reader excited about turning the page. 

Are there any authors that inspire your writing? 

How much time do we have? So many authors have inspired my writing. I read anything and everything I can get my hands on from mysteries to sci-fi and historical fiction. Some of my favorite authors include: Ursula Le Guin, Katherine Mansfield, Willa Cather, Jane Austen, P.D. James, and of course the great dame Agatha Christie. 

In your opinion, what is the hardest part of being an author?

That’s a great question. I think maybe the biggest challenge for me is trying to extinguish the myth that writing is somehow magical. Don’t get me wrong, there are days when it feels magical and I’m deeply grateful that I get to share stories for a living. However, it’s also work. I sit at my desk every day and don’t leave until I hit my word count. When I first started writing friends and family would assume that because I was writing at home it wasn’t really work. They were sort of put out that I said no to meeting for coffee or going for a walk in the middle of my writing time. I had to develop really firm boundaries around my writing. That process taught me so much about making a commitment to writing, and it’s one piece of advice that I always try to share with new writers–treat it like a job. It’s a super fun job, but it’s a job! 

Do you have anything for us to “nibble” on for the upcoming year of 2020? Will you be doing any traveling? 

Yes! The 4th book in the Sloan Krause Series, WITHOUT A BREW, is coming out in October. And, the 11th book in the Bakeshop Mysteries, NOTHING BUNDT TROUBLE, releases in June. I will be traveling quite a bit for both books as well as sharing some exciting promotions on social media. 

Okay, Ellie, just one more important question…what is your beer of choice? 

IPA! Always. It’s the PNW girl in me. The more hops the better! 

More about Ellie

Ellie Alexander (also known as Kate Dyer-Seeley) is a Pacific Northwest native. Her love for the Pacific Northwest runs deep. Hence why all of her books (whether she’s writing as Ellie or Kate) are set here. From the Shakespearean hamlet of Ashland, Oregon to the Bavarian village of Leavenworth, Washington to the hipster mecca of Portland, Oregon and a variety of other stunning outdoor locales, the Pacific Northwest is a backdrop for every book and almost becomes another character in each series.

When not writing, you can find her testing pastry recipes in her home kitchen or at one of the many famed coffeehouse or brewpubs nearby. You’ll also find her outside exploring hiking trails and trying to burn off calories consumed in the name of “research”.

Be sure to follow her for baking videos, giveaways, sneak peeks and more!

Website Facebook Instagram Twitter Youtube Pinterest

Hoppy Citrus IPA Cupcake Recipe

For the cupcake batter you will need:

  • 3/4 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2-1/2 cup flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tsps Mexican vanilla
  • One orange—grate peel into batter and squeeze in a tablespoon of juice and reserve remaining juice for
  • frosting
  • ½ cup citrus IPA (I used Tropi Cannon IPA by Heavy Seas Beer, it was perfect!)
  • ¼ cup sour cream

For the citrus cream cheese frosting you will need:

  • 12 oz cream cheese, cold
  • 6 tbsp butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp each freshly squeezed orange/lime juice
  • 1 tsp each orange/lime zest
  • 4 cups powdered sugar

Directions:

For the beer cupcakes:

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line 24 muffin tins with cupcake liners.
  • In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2-3
    minutes.
  • Add eggs, beating after each addition then add the vanilla and zest.
  • Combine sour cream and beer and alternatively add this mixture and the flour mixture to the
    butter/sugar mixture with the mixer on low speed, starting and ending with the flour.
  • Fill the cupcake liners 2/3 full and bake for 18 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean.
  • When cupcakes are done, poke holes in the tops of the cupcakes with toothpicks and brush some beer
    on each while still warm.

For the citrus cream cheese frosting:

  • Cream together the cream cheese and butter in an electric mixer until smooth and creamy, about 2-3
    minutes.
  • Add the citrus juice and zest and gradually add the powdered sugar until well-combined. Beat until
    smooth for about 2 minutes.
  • Load frosting in a piping bag fit with a large star tip and pipe cupcake tops once cooled.
    Recipe yields 24 cupcakes.

And that is it, y’all! I hope you enjoyed this very special edition of A Book & A Bite. If you make these cupcakes please share a photo and tag both Ellie and me on social media! I can’t wait to see what you all come up with.

Always,

Alicia

Book Hauls

Barnes & Noble #BookHaul Blow-Out Sale Haul

Barnes and Noble Book Sale

Happy Monday, my fellow bookworms! I hope you all had a wonderful weekend. I caught up on some much needed R&R, this summer heat is just sucking the dang life out of me. I can’t wait for that colder weather! But other than getting some much needed rest I did pop over to my local Barnes & Noble for their epic #BookHaul Blow-Out Sale. If you haven’t heard the news yet the sale entailed a ton of amazing books being on sale for 50% OFF! So of course, I just had to go. I picked up way more than I had anticipated but who was I trying to fool? If you say “Book Sale”, you know I am going to be there making my wallet cry hahah! So here are the details on everything I picked up this past weekend!

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Goodreads Community Rating: 3.95 Stars Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance

Synopsis:

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic.

So…I am fully aware I am late to the game on this one. I have kept telling myself “I am going to read this next” but other books keep getting in the way. Next month I AM READING IT! I promise!

The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Goodreads Community Rating: 3.94 Stars Genre: Mystery, Fiction, Thriller

Synopsis:

Tonight, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed… again.

It is meant to be a celebration but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed.

But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot. 

The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath…

So this is one of those books that I have been seeing everywhere and I am going to say “Bookstagram made me buy it” and that is just a fact. The cover is super intriguing but also the synopsis just sounds amazing. I just love a good murder mystery!

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

Goodreads Community Rating: 4.55 Stars Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Synopsis:

Spensa’s world has been under attack for decades. Now pilots are the heroes of what’s left of the human race, and becoming one has always been Spensa’s dream. Since she was a little girl, she has imagined soaring skyward and proving her bravery. But her fate is intertwined with that of her father’s—a pilot himself who was killed years ago when he abruptly deserted his team, leaving Spensa the daughter of a coward, her chances of attending Flight School slim to none.

No one will let Spensa forget what her father did, yet fate works in mysterious ways. Flight school might be a long shot, but she is determined to fly. And an accidental discovery in a long-forgotten cavern might just provide her with a way to claim the stars.

I have been meaning to snag this book for quite some time as Brandon Sanderson is one of my favorite authors. He is able to create these highly immersive unique worlds that you just can’t get enough of. I have a feeling this book is going to be no different than his others as I have heard nothing but good things. I can’t wait to dive into this one!

The Witch’s Kind by Louisa Morgan

Goodreads Community Rating: 3.92 Stars Genre: Paranormal, Historical Fiction, Fantasy

Synopsis:

Barrie Anne Blythe and her aunt Charlotte have always known that the other residents of their small coastal community find them peculiar — two women living alone on the outskirts of town. It is the price of concealing their strange and dangerous family secret.

But two events threaten to upend their lives forever. The first is the arrival of a mysterious abandoned baby with a hint of power like their own. The second is the sudden reappearance of Barrie Anne’s long-lost husband — who is not quite the man she thought she married.

Together, Barrie Anne and Charlotte must decide how far they are willing to go to protect themselves — and the child they think of as their own — from suspicious neighbors, the government, and even their own family…

Can you tell I am so ready for fall with this pick? I just love a moody dark witchy read. The description reminded me ALOT of The Wicked Deep meets Practical Magic which is like…MY JAM! Okay…now I need a PSL and to watch some Halloween movies ASAP!

The Chef by James Patterson

Goodreads Community Rating: 3.58 Stars Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Fiction

Synopsis:

In the Carnival days leading up Mardi Gras, Detective Caleb Rooney comes under investigation for a murder he is accused of committing in the line of duty–as a Major Crimes detective for the New Orleans Police Department. Has his sideline at the Killer Chef food truck given him a taste for murder?

While fighting the charges against him, Rooney makes a pair of unthinkable discoveries. His beloved city is under threat of attack. And these would-be terrorists may be local. 

As crowds of revelers gather, Rooney follows a fearsome trail of clues, racing from outlying districts into city center. He has no idea what-or who-he’ll face in defense of his beloved hometown, only that innocent lives are at stake. 

So I brought my mom along with me to the sale as she is also a big lover of books, her and my grandmother are the reason I am such a big bookworm, and I told her to go ahead and pick out a book that she would also enjoy reading so she could borrow it after she is done with her current read. This was her choice! She loves James Patterson (who doesn’t?) and we both agreed this one seemed so interesting!

Chocolate Creampie Murder by Joanne Fluke

Goodreads Community Rating: 3.59 Stars Genre: Cozy Mystery, Fiction

Synopsis:

When The Cookie Jar becomes the setting of a star-studded TV special about movies filmed in Minnesota, Hannah hopes to shine the spotlight on her bakery—not the unsavory scandal swirling around her personal life. But that’s practically impossible with a disturbing visit from the shifty character she once believed was her one and only love, a group of bodyguards following her every move, and a murder victim in her bedroom. Now, swapping the crime scene in her condo for her mother Delores’s penthouse, Hannah and an old flame team up to solve a case that’s messier than an upended chocolate cream pie. As suspects emerge and secrets hit close to home, Hannah must serve a hefty helping of justice to an unnamed killer prowling around Lake Eden . . . before someone takes a slice out of her!

Okay, so I am only on book #2 of this series (and this is #24!!!) but I just LOVE it so far. I can tell I won’t be able to get enough and when I had to opportunity to buy another book in this series I just had to! Plus it is an exclusive edition that is SIGNED BY THE AUTHOR show how could I pass this up!? I just had to snag it!

And that concludes my book haul! See anything you have read or want to read? Let me know in the comments below. I can’t wait to chat!

Always,

Alicia

Book Hauls

A Very Cozy Weekend Book Haul

Cozy Mystery Book Haul

Happy Monday, puffs! Did you have a great weekend? I had a surprisingly busy weekend but it was a lot of fun. On Saturday morning I met up with my good friend Julie (who is also a bookstagrammer/blogger) for coffee, donuts, and bargain book shopping. My favorite places in town to buy used books is my neighborhood goodwill and Sullivan’s Trade-A-Book. It is exactly what it sounds like, a lovely place where you can bring in your used books and get credit (or just straight up swap out!) for more books! When you walk in you are greeted with mountains and rows filled with stacks of books (which are very well organized) so basically it is a bibliophile’s dream! I wanted to load up on some cozies for the up coming fall seasons which you can see in the pile. The only book I didn’t purchase at Sullivan’s was The Enlightenment of Bees which was actually sent to me for a blog tour I will be doing coming up, I can’t wait to read it and will have more details to share soon! Here is a full list of what I picked up:

Have you read any of the books in my haul? If so please leave a comment below, I would love to hear your thoughts!

Always,

Alicia

A Book & A Bite

A Book & A Bite: Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder and Chocolate Chip Crunch Cookies

Happy Monday! I hope you all had a wonderful weekend and are about to have a lovely start to your week. Today I wanted to share with you all the first post of a new series I am starting here on the blog called “A Book & A Bite”, where I share a book with a recipe. Some of you may or may not know but I actually graduated from The International Culinary Center in New York City. While I do not actively work in that industry anymore (now I am just a desk nerd), you can often find me in my kitchen at home baking and cooking my butt off! So I thought I would tie my two loves together. If you have any suggestions please leave them in the comments below!

Today’s book is Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke and the bite is Chocolate Chip Crunch Cookies which are an actual recipe listed IN THE BOOK!

Chocolate Chip Crunch Cookies

You will need:

  • 1 Cup Butter (2 sticks melted)
  • 1 Cup White Sugar
  • 1 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 2 Teaspoons Baking Soda
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 2 Teaspoons Vanilla
  • 2 Beaten Eggs (you can just beat them with a fork)
  • 2 1/2 Cups Flour (not sifted)
  • 2 Cups Crushed Corn Flakes (you can just crush them with your hands)
  • 1 to 2 Cups Chocolate Chips

Preheat oven to 375° F and put your oven rack in the middle position.

Melt butter, add the sugars and stir. Add soda, salt, vanilla, and beaten eggs. Mix well. Then add flour and stir it in. Add crushed corn flakes and chocolate chips and mix it all thoroughly.

Form dough into walnut-sized balls with your fingers and place on a greased cookie sheet, 12 to a standard sheet. Press them down slightly with a floured or greased spatula.

Bake at 375 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes. Cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes, then move to a wire rack until they are completely cool. (The rack is important- it makes them crisp)

If these cookies spread out too much in the oven, reduce temp. to 350° F and do not flatten before baking.

Y’all, these cookies are so good! Especially with a cup of coffee, they are perfectly crispy for dipping in. If you decide to try this recipe out please share it with me!

Always,

Alicia