by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of Mocha, She Wrote, along with an interesting interview with Ellie. Details at the end of the post on how to enter to win a copy of the book and a link to order it from Amazon and from an indie bookstore.
Mocha, She Wrote: A Bakeshop Mystery by Ellie Alexander
Review by Cynthia Chow
After leaving her life, marriage, and career as a pastry chef for a luxurious cruise ship, Juliet Capshaw has found her true happiness back in her hometown of Ashland, Oregon. Now the owner of Torte Bakeshop and it’s smaller offshoot Scoops, Jules has also become the part-owner of the winery Uva with her estranged husband Carlos. They are actually not-so-estranged anymore, as to Jules’s surprise Carlos seems to revel in their low-key life in Ashland, where the healing powers of the water and the celebration of all things Shakespeare seem to inspire and challenge him. Jules is just as proud of her young staff at Torte, and she is thrilled when her barista Andy is announced as being a contestant in the West Coast Barista Cup. Not only would winning advance him closer to the World Barista Cup, it comes with a bonus prize of $10,000 and a ton of publicity for Torte. The televised competition attracts its share of egos, though, with the biggest owned by the head “sensory judge” Benson Vargas. The cutthroat levels to which baristas will go to is quickly made apparent when Andy’s entry is sabotaged, causing him to barely make the cut to the next stage. Unfortunately, it was Benson who had the misfortune to taste the oversalted beverage, and it’s even worse for Torte’s barista when the judge is later found dead holding Andy’s cup in an Uber.
Since inquisitiveness is in her blood – it’s true, her late father had himself also once helped to solve a murder – Jules is not about to allow a Torte family member be railroaded into prison. Her new father-in-law and childhood bestie may be the investigating detectives, but they still have to obey the rules and follow the evidence. Nudging Jules along in her inquiries is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s artistic director Land Rousseau, who without a current project is more than willing to use his charisma and lack of personal boundaries to uncover the secrets of the coffee competition participants. A former food critic who destroyed reputations and businesses, Benson’s greed and arrogance generates a growing list of suspects for Jules and her friends to investigate. For once bakery – and now ice cream selling – rival and nemesis Richard Lord is barely on Jules’s radar as they dodge threats, interrogate hosts, and still cheer on Andy as he moves closer to winning the trophy.
This lucky thirteenth in the series continues to hit high marks as it celebrates the fascinated, if fussy, world of specialty coffee. As someone who has seen every single episode of Top Chef, the depiction of the coffee competition and behind-the-scenes glimpses into the processes of the judges and contestants are irresistible. Even without recipes, the mouth-watering and very detailed descriptions of Jules’s and Andy’s creations place readers right in the middle of their kitchens and wishing they could taste them as well. As enviable as the pastry, pasta, and coffee confections are the friendships and bonds between Jules’s expanding Ashland family. Hints are laid out for a new adventure involving Shakespeare and a museum display, teasing the next installment in this charming, food-celebrating series. Romance abounds as well, and as romantic partners pair up there is even more to enjoy in this evolving and expanding mystery world.
Interview with Ellie Alexander:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Ellie: I wrote my first mystery when I was in second grade. I still have a copy of it. It’s fun to see how the bones of mystery writing were already evident in that very early attempt. My plotting has improved since the second grade, but my handwriting – not so much. Prior to writing novels, I spent many years freelancing for newspapers and magazines which was great experience in learning how to meet deadlines, work with a variety of editors and editing styles, and find the heart of a story.
KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?
Ellie: My first published mystery, Scene of the Climb, came out in 2014 under the name Kate Dyer-Seeley. It features a very young bumbling journalist who wants to be a serious reporter but can’t get a job, so she claims to be an adventure enthusiast in order to land a gig writing for an outdoor magazine, when in reality she doesn’t have an athletic bone in her body.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense and if not, what else have you written?
Ellie: My first book was a memoir about losing my mom to young onset Alzheimer’s, while becoming a mom. It’s very different than my mysteries, but probably the one that I’m most proud of. Before I began writing I would hear authors speak and many of them would share that they had a story within them that they had to tell. I felt that way about this book. The process of doing a deep dive into my childhood and family dynamics was healing and helped piece memories back together that otherwise might have been lost forever.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Ellie: My Bakeshop Mysteries are set in the charming hamlet of Ashland, Oregon which is a real place. In fact, I live here. I know I’m biased, but I think Ashland is the quintessential setting for a cozy mystery. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival draws theater lovers and artists of all types to this corner of Southern Oregon nestled in the Siskiyou Mountains. The series has touches of Shakespeare. My main character, Juliet Montague Capshaw, is a romantic pastry chef who has returned home to heal her broken heart and help run her family bakeshop Torte.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Ellie: When I made the shift from writing non-fiction and much more serious work like the memoir, I really struggled with the idea of writing something lighter. Then one day I was walking with a friend who was spending her days at the hospital with her mother, who was going through cancer treatment. She reminded me that during times of struggle having a light escape is essential. I’ve made that my mantra for writing. I hope that my books bring readers even a moment of reprieve. I also try to capture the depth of connection through the community, relationships, and food in my writing. The murder might be fictional, but everything else is grounded in reality.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just work whenever you can?
Ellie: I write 2,000 words every day when I’m working on a new manuscript. That gets me a very rough draft in about six weeks. I let the draft set for at least a month or two to give myself distance from it and then I come back to it with fresh eyes and start editing and layering in the food and baking.
KRL: What is your ideal time to write?
Ellie: I’m a morning person. I go for an early long walk every day, make myself a coffee, and start in on my word count by 8:30 or 9:00. I don’t leave my office until I hit my goal of 2,000 words, which usually takes at least three or four hours.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you 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?
Ellie: I sketch out the plot for the book on paper in pencil. Over the years of writing mysteries, I’ve created plotting worksheets that I use for every book. I always start with the crime and work my way backwards from there. I know the victim and killer and have an idea about each of the suspects and what they’re hiding before I start writing, but I also give myself permission to stay open because sometimes new revelations appear once I’m actually writing.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Ellie: I feel very grateful for my publishing journey. I was fortunate to have multiple offers from agents and to have my first book sell in just a few weeks. I think there were a few reasons for that. First, I had done a ton of work and research. It took me three years to write my first mystery. I attended workshops and classes and spent hours and hours writing and re-writing the story. Some of it was also timing. My first book was set in Portland, Oregon and featured a new angle in the mystery genre which I think helped it sell quickly.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Ellie: One agent offered me representation right away but wanted me to take out any and ALL food references in the book. He said food wouldn’t sell in a cozy, which is ironic because I have an entire series set in a bakeshop. It was a good lesson in trusting my instinct and in doing my research. I had read dozens and dozens of culinary mysteries, so I knew there was precedent for pairing a delicious food with a side of murder!
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Ellie: I’ve always created themed launch parties around each book. For example, when Caught Bread Handed came out, I partnered with local bakeries and we hosted a bread market. Readers got to taste yummy samples and buy beautiful loaves of bread along with their book. For A Crime of Passionfruit I recreated a cruise. Readers sipped pineapple drinks and ate summer fruit tarts while “cruising” through a mock-up of the ship.
KRL: What are your future writing goals?
Ellie: I want to continue writing the Bakeshop series for as long as readers want to read it. I have some new series in the works, as well as a couple standalone novels – non-mysteries.
KRL: Who are your writing heroes?
Ellie: PD James, Katherine Mansfield, Mary Oliver, Louisa May Alcott, Maud Hart Lovelace, Ursula le Guin. I could go on and on!
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Ellie: I’ve been lucky to get to spend many hours in real pastry kitchens shadowing pastry chefs and baristas. I want to make sure that I get that piece right in my books, so that readers feel as though they’re stepping into an authentic commercial kitchen. I’m always so amazed at the incredible talent of the chefs I get to meet. Not only do they make the most delectable pastries and cakes, but they’re also true artists. I try to capture that in my writing, but definitely cannot re-create pastries at the level in my home kitchen!
KRL: What do you like to read?
Ellie: Everything I can get my hands on. I’m a big historical fiction fan, but I also love sci-fi, rom coms, non-fiction, obviously mysteries, and anything set in a bookshop.
KRL: What are your favorite TV shows or movies?
Ellie: This is another hard one. I have so many! Currently I’m loving Ted Lasso, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, pretty much any BBC mystery. I loved The Queens of Mystery, Agatha Raisin, Midsummer Murders, Miss Fisher, and Death in Paradise.
KRL: Great shows! Have you any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Ellie: Write! Write every day! Don’t worry about it being perfect, or even good. Start building your writer muscles. The only way you can do that is through practice. Once you’ve put in those practice hours, take your writing to the next level by reading books on the craft, taking workshops, classes, or finding a mentor teacher and critique group.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Ellie: I cannot sing to save my life. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE to sing, but you would not love to listen to my off-keying singing.
Ellie: I have one cat, Emmy, who is obsessed with Zoom. Anytime she hears me on a call, she races into my office so that she can be the star of the screen.
KRL: LOL Is there anything you would like to add?
Ellie: Thanks so much for having me!
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
To enter to win a copy of Mocha, She Wrote, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “mocha,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen July 31, 2021. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If entering via email and you want a print copy please include your mailing address. BE AWARE THAT IT STILL MAY TAKE LONGER THAN USUAL FOR THE BOOK TO ARRIVE. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Be sure to check out our new mystery podcast too with mystery short stories, and first chapters read by local actors. A new episode goes up next week.
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