by Kathleen Costa
This week we have a review of Burned to a Crisp, the latest Cookies & Chance mystery by Catherine Bruns, along with a look at the previous books in the series, and an interview with Catherine. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win an ebook copy of Burned to a Crisp, and a link to purchase it from Amazon.
A Cookies & Chance Mystery series By Catherine Bruns
Review by Kathleen Costa
Catherine Bruns has served us ‘cozy-holics’ and cookie connoisseurs an entertaining ‘sugar and spice’ series. We join Sally Muccio (Mooch-EE-o) as she navigates her post-divorce life back in her hometown in upstate New York trying hard to make a success of her cookie shop, Sally’s Samples. We enjoy her very odd Italian family, best BFF one could ask for, two romantic entanglements, and of course, a few unsettling murders. We are even treated to several of the actual recipes for some of Sally’s samples and the Muccio family’s favorites.
Sally’s newest journey has arrived…
Book 3 Burned to a Crisp earns 5/5 Slices of Ricotta Cheesecake!
Everything is wonderful in Colwestern, New York, for Sally Muccio, her family, and her friends. The weather is warm and sunny, the cookie shop is a popular destination, and everyone is looking forward to the upcoming nuptials. Gianna, Sally’s younger sister, is now a public defender, and her first case was huge. Although, it ended in a mistrial, she is sure, if her client goes back in court, she does not want to continue representing him. Bernardo Napoli, characterized as a “total sleaze,” may have an eye for Gianna, but she is not amused.
Sally’s signature homemade fortune cookies have always been a big hit with the customers, but Sally has always been skeptical that the fortunes are often more cryptic than comical. At first, the fortune, Things will heat up for you tonight, brought a blush to Sally’s cheeks thinking of a late night rendezvous with her fiancé, but she soon finds out ’heat up’ has so many different possibilities: a fire at the bakery, a dead body in the ashes, her sister a ‘person of interest.’
We know official investigations have to run their course, but Gianna is no where to be found and actively sought by the police, a couple of seamy wise guys, and a not-so-distraught widow. Josie struggles with the new bakery location dealing with Sally’s quirky family, and another one of those worrisome fortunes appears. Your lover is keeping secrets, causes Sal’s brown eyes to turn green…what? They dated?
Catherine provided another exciting ‘page turner’ with a clever mystery, outlandish family dynamics, and once again ‘Lucy and Ethel’ antics. The story was engaging including a nice romance between Sally and Mike. And Sally’s father? Her mother? His fascination with funerals and the coffin in the front room, and her modeling ‘itsy bitsy’ thong bikinis for the statewide ‘Foxes Over Fifty’ contest is quite the comic relief. Recipes once again are keepers giving us cookies galore: Oatmeal Crème Pie Cookies, Mocha Cookies, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Sally’s Shortbread. These could become your family’s favorites.
Sally’s journey began here…
Book 1: Tastes Like Murder earns 5/5 Cryptic Fortune Cookies!
Do you remember those mean girls from high school? The girls who used their affluence and beauty to inflate their worth and subjugate others? What if Karma came to collect and your “mean girl” ended up poisoned and found on your front porch? Sally Muccio didn’t really want anything to happen to her high school ‘nemesis,’ but she still ended up dead, slumped in front of her little bakery, a cookie in hand.
After a difficult divorce, Sally “Sal” Muccio returns home to open Sally’s Samples, a bake shop featuring delectable cookies expertly created by her high school BFF and partner, Josie Sullivan. Sal’s high school “mean girl,” Amanda Gregorio, pops in for some of the delicious cookies offering a few jabs about her affluence and the affair she had with Sal’s ex-husband, and after enjoying one of the delectable treats, collapses in front of the bakery…dead! The dark cloud of suspicion hangs over the cookie shop forcing Sal and Josie to team together and investigate the murder mystery in order to save their budding business.
During their investigations, they run up against an old high school flame, Mike Donovan, who has his own history with the “mean girl,” Brian Jenkins, the handsome detective, who seems very interested in Sally’s cookies, a very quirky Italian family with their own level of disfunction, several disgruntled spa employees, and Charlotte, Amanda’s timid cousin. This makes for way too many suspects to count.
Catherine Bruns let me enjoy Karma’s bite providing a superior read with colorful characters, worrisome predicaments, curious fortune cookies, and exciting puzzles to unravel. The writing was engaging with realistic interactions and descriptions that you could almost hear, feel, and taste. Sal’s family is close knit and very nosy, and the pushy, albeit vicious, neighbor, Mrs. Gravelli, definitely needs a dose of Karma herself. We are treated to wonderful recipes straight from Sally’s Samples and the Muccio’s family: Fortune Cookies, the special treat offered to every patron of the cookie shop, Josie’s Genettis, Grandma Rosa’s Braciole, and Sally’s favorite dessert, Grandma Rosa’s Ricotta Cheesecake. Have you saved room for dessert?
Book 2: Baked to Death earns 5/5 Award Winning Cookies!
Exes can be a frustrating part of one’s life, but the hope it would truly be at an end when the ties are legally cut doesn’t come true in Sally Muccio’s case. Then the love of your life is placed in handcuffs, and your hear those dreaded words ringing in your ears: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say may be used…” Ex is dead, and your boyfriend is arrested for murder. Yeah, this can’t be good.
Sally’s cookie shop, Sally’s Samples, is doing quite well, and the news that she and Josie (BFF, partner, cookie chef extraordinaire) have been selected as contestants in the Cookie Crusades, a Food Network reality baking competition, sends them into sweet nirvana. But, excitement is replaced by exasperation when Sally’s ex-husband, Colin Brown, shows up, definitely looking worse for wear, and threatens to take away half of her successful business. Of course, he suggests a compromise; he will drop any claims if paid $20,000. Neither Sally is willing to do. When he ends up dead and her boyfriend, Mike Donovan, is taken into custody, she sets upon her own investigation.
Sally tries to overcome, but sadly is confronted with a long list of lies and secrets told by her ex in order to bilk several people out of their money. She is shocked by former girlfriends, delusional ex in-laws, suspicious characters, very competitive competitors, and more than a few avenues of interest. And then there’s the ring…oh my, the ring!
Catherine Bruns takes us on another enjoyable ride. Sally’s difficulties with the death of her ex and dealing with her former in-laws were written so well, I really felt bad for her…Where’s Karma hiding from book 1? The drama at the baking competition was exactly how I thought it would be since I am a Food Network fan: behind-the-scenes, Sally and Josie partnership, and the drama among the other competitors. We are again treated to wonderful recipes, not just Catherine’s favorites, but actual recipes connected to the story. You might also find these as your favorites: Spice Cookies with Pumpkin Frosting which are the perfect holiday treat, along with the Cookie Crusades entries for Josie’s Jelly Cookies, Coconut Macaroons, and Brownie Biscotti.
Interview with Catherine Bruns, Author of the Cookies & Chance Mystery Series:
KRL: It is great to have with us Catherine Bruns, author of the Cookies & Chance Mystery series, celebrating the recent release of book 3, Burned to a Crisp. What motivated you to become a writer? How long have you been writing? Is there someone or some moment that encouraged you to write?
Catherine: Since the age of eight, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I’ve always written, but in different fields. Back in college I wrote and directed a murder mystery for my senior project that was presented to the public. After that, I wrote press releases and then worked as a reporter for a local newspaper. After that, it was a very long time until I actually had the courage to write a book. Procrastination was my middle name for several years. One day I decided I had wasted enough time and began a novel. I haven’t stopped since.
KRL: Can you tell us a little about how your first book got started? Is there a reason you chose to write in the ‘cozy mystery’ genre?
Catherine: It’s funny, because when I wrote my first book I didn’t even know that it was a cozy until I started querying agents and publishers and one of them told me!
KRL: Have you always written cozy mystery books? Have you written in another genre style?
Catherine: I did write a romantic novella once. Let’s just say I should stick to mysteries in the future, lol.
KRL: What is the story behind the Cookies & Chance Mystery series? Tell us a little about the Sally Muccio. I personally love the idea of giving away a fortune cookie to each patron. Why fortune cookies?
Catherine: When I was querying the book, someone suggested that I should have a certain “hook” for it. There are tons of bakery-themed cozies out there, and I agreed that I needed an angle to make the story more original and unusual. Thus the fortune cookie idea was born.
Sally Muccio is a recent divorcee who has returned to her hometown in Colwestern, NY, after catching her husband cheating on her. She formerly worked as a barista at Starbucks and has always dreamed of starting her own business. Her best friend Josie is a culinary whiz, so together they join forces and open a novelty cookie shop. Whenever patrons make a purchase, they get a free homemade fortune cookie. Over time the messages start to make Sal nervous because they always seem to come true in some shape or form. Even though she does grow to dislike them, one actually does end up saving her life later on, so she’s hesitant to discontinue them. Plus, the customers love them.
KRL: You contributed a short story in the Killer Beach Reads collection. Can you tell us about this extra Sally Muccio story?
Catherine: “A Spot of Murder” is the prelude to book 1 in the series, Tastes Like Murder. In this short story we meet Sally for the first time, right after she has received her divorce papers. She’s back in her hometown, trying to get her business started. The building for the bakery was formerly a Chinese restaurant, which of course leads Sal to the notion of fortune cookies. Her great Aunt Luisa, Grandma Rosa’s sister, died a few weeks earlier, and her grandmother is convinced that the death was not accidental, so she asks Sally to investigate. A valuable teapot of Aunt Luisa’s is missing as well.
KRL: I love the Cindy York Mystery series, too: Book 1 Killer Transaction and Book 2 Priced to Kill. How did this series come about? Tell us about your Cindy York character. Why the real estate industry?
Catherine: Killer Transaction was actually the first book I ever wrote. I wanted to write a story/series about a modern day woman juggling career, family, and perhaps a couple of dead bodies as well, lol. I’m a former real estate agent myself, so that industry seemed like a natural choice. Cindy is always looking for that one sale which will put her on ‘Easy Street,’ but it never seems to work out for her ? maybe someday.
KRL: Are you like Sally or Cindy?
Catherine: I would say I’m more like Cindy but hopefully not as neurotic, lol.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Catherine: Writing is a passion for me, but I also hope to entertain. Real life can be unpredictable and chaotic, so I’d like to think that my books can provide a nice escape for a few hours. As an author, there is no greater satisfaction for me than knowing a reader has enjoyed my book.
KRL: I know the writing process is unique to each writer, so do you follow a writing schedule or use a specific writing technique or time of day?
Catherine: Writing usually occurs after dinner, and during most of the day on weekends. I try to write every day, but it can be difficult at times when real life interferes. If I am working on a new book, I try to log at least a thousand words a day, but very often I end up surpassing that goal.
KRL: Do you outline or have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Catherine: I’m a very impatient writer. I do outline but usually not enough. There’s always that one point in the middle of the story where I’m like, “Okay, where do I go from here?” In time, I manage to figure it out. During the actual writing process my mind will very often lead me in a different direction than what I had originally planned.
KRL: It is fun reading about Sally’s Italian family and all the mouth watering baked goods and Italian dishes. What kind of research did you do?
Catherine: Since I am Italian, some of these recipes do come from family, and others from talented friends.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning? Do you have a great rejection, critique, or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Catherine: I’ve had my share of rejections but can’t say that any of them were great, lol! Rejections always hurt. A couple of years ago, after I received a particular crushing one, I discovered Gemma Halliday’s Publishing Company and knew that was where I wanted to be. I sent her an email and asked if she was currently accepting cozy mysteries, as I had two ready to go. She invited me to send them and within a couple of months she got back to me with some suggested revisions ? the rest is history. Part of what makes Gemma a fantastic publisher is she is an author herself, and understands the entire process.
KRL: Did you receive any ‘sage’ advice that you can share with aspiring or beginning writers?
Catherine: Gemma gives me useful information all of the time. I was fortunate to meet Sue Grafton once. She’s a lovely lady who told me how to deal with writer’s block, which I thought I was suffering from back then. Her advice included not giving up on an idea, even when it seems hopeless. Work through it.
KRL: Your Cookies & Chance Mystery includes such wonderful recipes: fortune cookies, entrees, macaroons, shortbread cookies. Are you a baker? Or like me, do you just indulge in the eating?
Catherine: I do some baking from time to time, but most of my recipes come from talented friends.
KRL: We know you write, but what do you read? Is there another author who inspires you or one you might consider a professional or personal ‘hero’?
Catherine: I’ve always read mysteries since I was a child, starting with Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie, then progressing over time to Sue Grafton and Janet Evanovich. I even had the nerve to write Janet once, asking if she would give me a cover quote…and she personally responded! Unfortunately she said no, but I thought it was wonderful that she took the time to answer my email.
KRL: So many authors speak of connecting with their fans. Do you have a story to share about an interesting book signing or event?
Catherine: I love hearing from readers! Right after Baked to Death released, a reader got in touch to tell me how the book struck close to home because it was similar to her life in many respects. I was touched to hear how moved she was by it.
KRL: What can we expect from you in the future? I know you are involved in the Aloha Lagoon Mysteries from Gemma Halliday Publishing. Anything more for Sally and the gang?
Catherine: Yes! Sally will be back in Book 4 Frosted With Revenge that releases in May 2017, and I just signed a contract for Book 5 which is scheduled for January 2018. My next book release is this coming January 17. It’s the first in my Aloha Lagoon series. Death of the Big Kahuna features waitress Carrie Jorgenson who has just relocated from Vermont to Hawaii. Someone will be serving up murder in the form of Carrie’s boss, and she’s at the top of the suspect list!
KRL: So many authors say writing is all encompassing, but do you have any favorite movies you like to watch? Any television bingeing? What about music you enjoy or hobbies that take up what free time you may have?
Catherine: I don’t have much time for television these days, but I am one of those people who will watch the same movie over and over if I truly enjoy it. While some people have comfort foods, I have comfort movies. This drives my husband crazy because he will only watch a movie once, no matter how much he liked it the first time. The Devil Wears Prada, Shawshank Redemption, Fried Green Tomatoes, and The Help are a few of my all-time favorites. When it comes to music, I’m definitely a 70s girl, but sometimes when I’m writing, I wear headphones to block out background noises in my house.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Catherine: I have a full time day job as an auditor in addition to my writing career.
KRL: This has been fun. Is there anything you would like to add?
Catherine: Thank you so much for having me. Remember, life is short so eat the cookie!
Thank you, Catherine, for joining us and sharing a little about yourself and your books.
To enter to win an e-book copy of Burned to a Crisp, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “crisp,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen December 12, 2016. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
You can use this link to purchase this book from Amazon. If you have ad blocker on you may not see the link:
Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.