by Kathleen Costa
This week we review 2 books by Jenny Kales from her Callie’s Kitchen Mystery series, and interview Jenny. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to an EBOOK copy of her latest book, Spiced and Iced, and a link to purchase it on Amazon.
I know it’s not recommended, but I am guilty of ‘judging a book by its cover.’ Bright, colorful graphics, clever puns, and unique fonts always catch my eye, as well as my interest. Callie’s Kitchen Mysteries have ‘eye catching’ covers, but it doesn’t end there…the stories are exciting, the characters entertaining, the mystery is engaging, and the Greek recipes are appetizing.
Calliope “Callie” Costas, owner of Callie’s Kitchen, provides her marvelous “Mediterranean-inspired meals-from-scratch with a Midwestern heart” to the residents of Crystal Bay, Wisconsin, but murder seems to have made its way onto the menu more frequently than she would like. From being a suspect to joining in on the interrogations, Callie is diligent in trying to solve the mystery and protect her friends and family. She is divorced with a 10-year old daughter, Olivia, a close-knit family of her father George and Grandmother Viv, friends and employees, Samantha and Max, and the hint of a romance. Everyone seems to have a role, welcomed or not, in Callie’s search for the truth.
I started with the newest adventure of Calliope Costas at Callie’s Kitchen…
Spiced and Iced earns 5/5 Kourabiethes, Greek Snowball Cookies!
Callie is delighted to be asked to furnish her delicious Greek Snowball cookies, aka kourabiethes, for the Dalton/Hawkins wedding shower. Natalie Underwood, the event planner for The English Country Inn, is a bit frazzled by the affair. The first shower ended in a disastrous family squabble, so this ‘redux’ must be a hit or Bridezilla will have her job… But, squabbles, are the least of the worries. How about the body floating in the freezing waters?
Shaken by having found the body face down in the waters, Callie still agrees to be an ‘unofficial spy’ for Emma Cayden, the owner of The English Country Inn. However, she finds herself preoccupied by the prospect of her ex-husband and his new wife moving to Crystal Bay, her father’s interest in a woman connected to her ex-husband, and juggling a relationship with the very handsome ex-Pat Detective Sands. Aunt “Sweetie” arrives from the ‘old country’ for a visit and with Callie’s Grandmother Viv, they try to help Callie undercover important evidence. All of this and a major winter storm could derail Callie’s sanity and safety.
I traveled back to learn how it all began for Callie Costas…
On the Chopping Block earns 5/5 Loukoumades, Greek Doughnuts!
Callie was eager about the home-cooked meal by her boyfriend Drew Staven, who had recently been named the winner of the “Taste of Crystal Bay” cooking contest and the $10,000 prize. He proved himself a great chef, and the prospect of enjoying the company of such a talented and handsome man was exciting. But, when she arrives and doorbells, knocks, and calling out his name went unanswered she decides to peek into the kitchen window. There on the floor is Drew…dead with a knife in his chest. Callie had been a participant and runner up in the local cooking contest, and now that she, by default, may earn the prize, the police are taking a very close look at her motive, opportunity, and means.
Finding a dead body is traumatic, let alone finding a dead body of someone with whom you are involved. Matters get worse when Callie is fingerprinted and her life as a suspect turns her world upside down. Detective Sands keeps the pressure on, and with the Kitchen suffering from the news reports connecting Callie to the murder, she decides to start her own covert investigation to save her reputation and her business and maybe find a murderer in the process. Discovering several ‘wrenches’ proves dangerous when another Garden Street business is on the rocks, the victim’s financials are revealed, a ‘not-such-a-fan’ chef from the bistro knows way too much gossip about Drew’s ladies and a mysterious investor, and someone is viciously attacked. Beyond the prospect of being arrested, Callie herself could be in real danger.
Jenny Kales has written a delicious mystery series everyone will enjoy. Each mystery was clever, but not too quickly revealed offering a few plausible conclusions for the reader to ponder turning each page until the final, “Oh my!” The characters were so realistic that they could be family (over-protective fathers, worrisome exes, supportive grandmothers), friends (helpful co-workers, eager colleagues, a BFF that is an Ethel to your Lucy), or neighbors (an overzealous detective, shopkeepers, busy-body patrons). Descriptions from the fragrant spices permeating Callie’s Kitchen to the personal panic in Book 1 and the icy-cold storm in Book 2 made me hungry, cringe, and wrap up in a sweater. I was completely entertained and have become a big-time Jenny Kales fan!
It is hard not to channel my inner Zorba and holler out, “I love it!”
Both books provide the easy to follow recipes of the delicious Greek delicacies prominent in Callie’s Kitchen. These are a few that will become my family favorites and holiday traditions. In On the Chopping Block I love the “Loukoumades” (Greek Doughnuts), “Kota Kapama” (Callie’s Greek Chicken Stew), and George’s Spanakopita (Greek Spinach-Cheese Pie). In “Spiced and Iced” I have add to my Callie Cookbook “Paxemathia” (Spiced Greek Biscotti), “Kourabiethes” (Greek Snowball Cookies), Lazy “Spanakopita” (Sweetie’s Spinach Squares), and Spiced and Iced Gingerbread. My book club, family brunch, date-night will be very special with these recipes.
Our Guest…Jenny Kales, Author of the Callie’s Kitchen Mystery Series
KRL: It is great to have with us Jenny Kales, author of the Callie’s Kitchen Mystery series, celebrating her newest release. Book 2 Spiced and Iced is a wonderful story about Calliope “Callie” Costas, owner of Callie’s Kitchen, serving up Greek delicacies, Midwest flavors, and ice-cold murder…
Welcome, Jenny! How long have you been writing? Is there someone or some moment that encouraged you to write? What motivated you to become a writer?
Jenny: I feel like I’ve always been writing or wanted to write since I learned to read. I was one of those kids who sat and wrote stories for fun. In fact, one of my first, written at about 8 years old, was a mystery called “The Case of the Missing Brownies.” As I got older, my love of reading and writing intensified and that’s all I ever really wanted to do. It took me awhile to finally get to fiction, after freelance writing and working in the business world as a writer. I’ve been writing fiction for years, but got really serious about five years ago. I figured it was now or never! Plus, I felt like I had a good idea, and I got excited about executing it.
KRL: Is there a reason you chose to write in the cozy mystery genre? What is it about cozies that interested you?
Jenny: Cozies really captured me because the characters are all so relatable—you can place yourself in the situations and wonder, “What would I do?” I also absolutely love the small-town settings where people know and care about one another—the murder hits them all the harder and they want to set their world back in order. One of the first cozy mystery writers I picked up—I don’t even think the books were called “cozy” then—was Dianne Mott Davidson. I checked out Dying for Chocolate from my local library, and I was hooked. Unconsciously, that may have been the moment I decided to write cozy mysteries.
KRL: On the Chopping Block, published in May 2016, was the first book in this series. Can you give us some insights into how the series started? Tell us a little about Callie Costas and the residents of Crystal Bay, Wisconsin.
Jenny: Callie is a feisty, warm, and sometimes impulsive main character, and she is a blast to write. She’s relatively fearless, but also very concerned about her family and friends, so she does get herself into some tricky situations.
The town of Crystal Bay, Wisconsin is inspired by the real-life Geneva Lakes area of Wisconsin, and the town of Lake Geneva in particular. Since it’s so close to Chicago, I’ve visited often. It’s a small town with a lot of natural beauty, on the water, lots of tourism and tons of charm. Also, I attended University of Wisconsin, and I just love Wisconsin in general.
I decided to make Callie Costas a Greek-American because my husband is Greek-American, and we have found in our travels throughout the Midwest that many of the really good restaurants are run by Greek people who find a way to include Greek “flavor” on their menus. So I figured the Costas family would fit right into the setting and blend some of their culture with the Midwestern culture. It just seemed like a fun and unique set up for a culinary cozy.
KRL: I personally love Callie’s Greek family and…the food! Are there any anecdotes to share about marrying into a Greek-American family?
Jenny: Oh, boy! Too many. But one of my favorites is how my husband’s grandmother, “yiayia,” would always share recipes with me whenever we visited my husband’s family. She was a legendary cook. She’d make ten loaves of this amazing Greek sweet bread at a time. I think I may have to put that recipe in a future Callie book. Sometimes I would sit at the kitchen table with her and have her dictate her recipes to me. We really bonded over food because I have always loved to cook and read about food.
KRL: I think your characters are very realistic; they could be our neighbors, shop owners, family. Do you have a personal connection to your characters? Are you like Callie? Did you write your characters by taking real-life people and “changing the names to…,” you get my drift?
Jenny: Thank you! I hope they’re realistic; they feel so real to me. As I write, real people are a definite inspiration, but I would have to say every character is a combination of people I know but also my own imagination. I hope I’m creating characters that others would like to know. I want to know them! I have a few things in common with Callie, but she is truly her own unique person and I think she’s a little braver than I am. If you read the books, you’ll know that she doesn’t back down from a physical challenge! Callie’s father is one of my favorite characters. He is a flawed but very loving and endearing human being, and I find him a lot of fun to write. Callie’s Yorkie, Koukla, is 100% inspired by my own 6-year-old Yorkshire Terrier, Tillie. She’s very happy to immortalized, lol.
KRL: On Amazon your bio and a book mentions “Author of Award Winning Blog The Nut-Free Mom.” Tell us about your blog and the book Caring for Your Child with a Peanut & Nut Allergy. What can fans find in this book?
Jenny: I decided to publish this guide in 2012 for parents in the same situation as I am, raising a child with a life-threatening nut allergy. I blogged about this topic for many years and because I had learned so much, I wanted to provide a resource for parents, grandparents, and caregivers. The book is a primer on how to go about dealing with and living with this diagnosis so that you and your child can have a happy, healthy life. If you or someone you know deals with this problem, you might find it helpful!
KRL: You definitely have provided a great deal of entertainment for your fans, but is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Jenny: Thank you! My favorite thing is when they tell me they couldn’t put the book down. I hope people take away that I’m also writing the story of a complex family and a community with real problems and obstacles, as well as a murder mystery puzzle to solve. Readers have told me they’ve learned a bit about the Greek culture and food from my books, and that’s a fun takeaway from this series.
KRL: I know the writing process is unique to each writer. Can you give us an idea about the “Jenny Kales Technique” for writing: writing schedule, specific writing technique or time of day, outlines…are there lots of Post-it notes on the wall?
Jenny: I LOVE Post-It notes on the wall! In fact, I have those gigantic ones that I use for planning the plots and also keeping my goals on track. I outline everything. I like to plan out each chapter before I begin. I learned that technique writing On the Chopping Block, and I recommend it! When I’m working on a book, I like to focus completely and that means getting out of the house—too many distractions, even if I’m home alone. The Quiet Room at my local library is my go-to for getting stuff done—it even has a fireplace!
KRL: How did you go about getting published? Do you have any anecdotes to share about getting your work published?
Jenny: I’m an indie author, so after researching my options, finding a cover designer, etc. I decided to put my work out there. However, I approached it very seriously and with a lot of planning, thought, and editing. I’m happy with the result and I hope readers are, too.
KRL: Did you receive any sage advice or encouragement that you might share with an aspiring or beginning writer?
Jenny: Everyone has their own unique voice —don’t be afraid to use yours. Don’t compare yourself to others, but allow yourself to be inspired by them. And always keep learning more about writing—it’s a lifelong process. Most of all enjoy what you’re writing. If you don’t love it, the reader won’t either.
KRL: Yummmy! You include so many mouthwatering recipes from Callie’s Kitchen. Are you a cook or a budding chef? Do you have a signature dish? Or like me, do you just indulge in the final result? For me, I am curious. Is there a reason why ‘Baklava’ isn’t one of the recipes you highlight?
Jenny: I’m a passionate home cook. I truly love making food for people to enjoy! I have a lot of specialties that I like to make: Greek meatloaf (from husband’s grandmother’s recipe), my homemade Bolognese sauce, and also my chicken pot pie and risotto. On the baking end of things, people love all of my cakes, cookies, and bars. A family fave is my coffee cake which is included in On the Chopping Block.
The baklava question: One reason I haven’t included it is that I feel that many people already know about it, and I wanted to share some more unusual or different Greek recipes that I’ve gotten to know and love. The other reason is that my oldest daughter has a life-threatening allergy to nuts. For safety reasons, I can’t recipe-test traditional baklava in my house—we keep it clear of certain foods so that there are no accidental mix-ups at home. However, I’m sure I know people willing to offer their own “test kitchens” for future recipes.
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?
Jenny: I read SO MUCH, and I read everything, though mysteries are always a go-to for me. Cozy authors like Dianne Mott Davidson (who I mentioned before) and Leslie Meier are an inspiration—their cozy mysteries have depth and humor. Of course, Agatha Christie is right up there; she’s always thoroughly entertaining and witty. I love the Outlander books; the scale of those books and research involved is massive! I love suspense/psychological thriller writers like Ruth Rendell, Ann Cleeves, and Peter Robinson. Liane Moriarty (Big Little Lies) is really good. I have so many personal heroes in my writing journey, but two of my “angels” are cozy mystery author Linda Reilly and women’s fiction author Loretta Nyhan. Those two ladies have encouraged me and helped me every step of the way.
KRL: So many authors speak of connecting with their fans. Do you participate in any special online events, bookstores, or conventions?
Jenny: Before publishing, I attended conferences and classes, but as an aspiring author. I have participated in several online cozy mystery author events. I absolutely love connecting with the fans I’ve met there. Everyone has been incredibly welcoming and enthusiastic—I hope to do many more of these. I’ll keep everyone posted, so follow my Facebook and such for info. I’d love to attend a conference, this time wearing my “author” hat, so hopefully that will happen soon, too!
KRL: What can we expect from you in the future? Will we be joining Callie on another adventure? Do you have any plans to write a different series or in another genre?
Jenny: I have a third Callie’s Kitchen mystery in the works right now with a tentative release date for the summer. I’m really excited about this one. I’ve been holding onto the plot for a while. I’m also working on an entirely separate mystery—traditional, but with cozy elements. I have a women’s fiction novel idea as well. So many ideas, but Callie is definitely continuing her adventures in Crystal Bay.
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?
Jenny: I have two teens involved in lots of activities—bless them—so they keep me pretty busy when I’m not writing. However, I do enjoy some mystery TV bingeing. I love Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and am an unabashed Midsomer Murders fan. On the slightly darker side, I love Vera and Shetland (both based on books by Ann Cleeves who I mentioned before). I absolutely love the new cozy adaptations on Hallmark—I watch them all. Since I love to cook, I also enjoy shows like The Great British Bakeoff and Chopped. I love art museums, libraries, movies, traveling and most of all, spending time with my wonderful husband. He likes a lot of the same stuff I do!
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Jenny: I am nearly 6 feet tall in my stocking feet—not something you can tell about me from Facebook photos.
KRL: This has been fun. We’ve covered so many topics. Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Jenny: I would like to thank all my readers and many wonderful bloggers for taking a chance on me as a new author, for welcoming me onto your Kindles and for writing such great reviews of my books. Please feel free to interact with me on social media and on my website. I love connecting with readers! And thank you, Kathleen and King’s River Life, for inviting me to do this interview! It’s been a lot of fun.
Thank you, Jenny, for joining us and sharing a little about yourself and your books.
To enter to win an EBOOK copy of Iced and Spiced, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “spiced,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 28, 2017. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
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