by Kathleen Costa
This week we are reviewing the first in Gretchen Rue’s A Witches’ Brew Mystery series, and we have an interesting interview with Gretchen. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of the book, and a link to purchase it from Amazon.
Steeped to Death: A Witches’ Brew Mystery By Gretchen Rue
Review by Kathleen Costa
Introducing…Teas, Spells, & Murder!
Auntie Eudora Black was a tea connoisseur having traveled the world sampling blends from the every day to the exotic. After one such adventure, she returned to Raven Creek, Washington, and found her favorite used bookshop was closing. She jumped at the chance to rescue it, and after turning the large supply closet into a tearoom, The Earl’s Study opened. Now, with her passing, her niece, Phoebe Winchester, has inherited it along with Lane End House, a well-worn, three-centuries-old Victorian mansion many local children feared was either haunted or inhabited by a wicked witch. In Eudora’s last goodbye she comes clean about Phoebe’s ex never being good enough for her, hopes Phoebe will keep the bookshop/tearoom opened, hints that there’s much in the old house and shop for her to discover, suggests she explore the world when she can, and warns her niece to steer clear of Dierdre Miller, the “old cow is always up to no good.” So, with “Bob,” a well-fed ginger cat, as her roommate, Phoebe opens a new chapter in her life steeped in optimism, but it’s what she found in the basement and learns from “Honey” that has her reevaluating what she thought she knew of her aunt.
Steeped to Death Earns 5/5 Magical Tea Blends…Entertaining Cozy!
The Earl’s Study is set to open “under new management.” Phoebe sorted through a stack of mail, visually inventoried the shop’s readiness, and made arrangements to continue suppling treats from the Sugarplum Fairy bakery, but she’d hoped not to have another confrontation with Dierdre Miller. She’s already been accosted by the woman’s aggressive approach to purchase Lane End House and refusing to take “it’s not for sale” as an answer. This time she’s with someone, a bruiser of a man, and still she won’t take seriously Phoebe’s “I’d make it into a museum before I’d sell to you” retort.
The situation, however, gets complicated when a police officer arrives at Lane End House to inform Phoebe she’s needed at her shop immediately. There’s been a murder. “Is it Rich?” Rich Lofting?” She worries the victim might be the handsome, “old family friend” she learned is renting the apartment above the shop from Auntie Eudora. Relieved it isn’t, she’s still shocked to find a body police say was attempting to break in to the shop. But, it’s Dierdre’s bruiser. A shiver went down Phoebe’s spine as she considered Dierdre might be more dangerous than she originally thought. And, of course, overheard conversations, threats, and someone in the shadows puts Phoebe on high alert!
Tea-riffic! Gretchen Rue’s premier book in A Witches’ Brew Mystery starts out as a traditional cozy: small town community with diverse neighbors, youngish woman inherits her late relative’s estate including a unique business (love when it combines books and tea), a quirky animal as a roommate, reuniting with a childhood friend now a handsome adult, and using realistic amateur methods to solve an intriguing suspicious death. All the elements I love! However, it gets more riveting with the discovery that many of Auntie Eudora’s tea blends have another use…magic. This revelation creates a more mysterious blend of personal enlightenment, magical accidents, hint of romance, and a few perilous predicaments. With greed, jealousy, and personal gain, a victim with a past, several suspects, and scary encounters, it’s definitely my kind of cozy!
I love getting on the ground floor of a new series, and this one has great potential with just the right amount of magic (no juvenile hocus-pocus) to add to witch mythology, lots of foodie talk (scones!), and fascinating insights into tea (gotta try the fruit-infused blends). Gretchen Rue’s descriptive language painted the perfect visual of the small community, diverse people, and the various shops, buildings, and four-legged friends, and the banter effectively illustrated the various personalities and intense emotions. Phoebe is so real and enjoyable with a mid-thirties mindset, bruises from a failed marriage, and inquisitive nature, and…she snorts when she laughs. Reigniting long ago feelings? Ricky…Rich is the former cop turned PI connection that Phoebe’s amateur status, and maybe her heart, needs. Creative. Intriguing. I am looking forward to more!
Bonus Magic! Enjoy these easy-to-follow recipes for marvelous treats in Steeped to Death: from Sugarplum Fairy bakery Amy’s Chocolate Hazelnut Latte, Auntie Eudora’s Famous Earl Grey Tea Shortbread, Parmesan and Black Pepper Sourdough Biscuits, and The Earl’s Study Avocado Toast. I’d love some official instructions on how to make my own tea concoctions; I can add the magic, though!
Be a Big Fan of Gretchen Rue!
Gretchen Rue is the pen name of author Sierra Dean.
Interview with Gretchen Rue:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Gretchen: I started writing my first book, a thriller, when I was 12 years old. That terrible monster will never see the light of day, but my first “real” finished book was 2009.
Gretchen: Actually, I have the rare luck of having the first book I ever finished be the first book I published. Something Secret This Way Comes was released in 2010 from the now-closed imprint Samhain. It’s under my other author name, Sierra Dean, and it’s an urban fantasy novel about a half-vampire/half-werewolf bounty hunter. That series is still ongoing and will finish next year with book 12.
KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense and if not, what else have you written?
Gretchen: I dabble in a bit of everything. I find the more of a genre I read the more inclined I am to want to write in it (except swords and sorcery fantasy, I love to read it but I don’t think I could write it). My first book was urban fantasy with a heavy dose of spice, I’ve also written contemporary romance, specifically sports romance, and I have written a thriller that isn’t yet published. But the mystery element has always appealed to me. In my urban fantasy books, I’ve always tried to pepper in a mystery element, so I feel very at home writing in the mystery genre, it’s my favourite to read.
KRL: That sounds like fun! What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Gretchen: I absolutely adore the Pacific Northwest and the whole west coast area from Vancouver, Canada (I’m a Canadian gal, after all), down to San Francisco. Absolutely no shade there to SoCal, but I love bold shifts in weather and lush greenery and misty fog. I love how magical Washington and Oregon feel, and that kind of magic was a natural fit to base a paranormal cozy series in. Raven Creek is not a real place, but the area surrounding it very much is. As for the characters I actually imagined the town first and then started to fill it with people. It was very important to me to create a diverse cast of characters that made that fictional environment feel more real, and like anyone who picked up the book would believe that they would be welcome living in Raven Creek.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to experience from your work?
Gretchen: For me, I just like to tell a story I want to read, and if others enjoy it as well, all the better. Writing books is a way for me to make a movie or TV show in my head where I get to be in charge of absolutely every element. And while that can be frustrating at times, and I almost never want to read my own work again when I’m done with it, it’s so fun to go through the process with my characters along the way. Though sometimes I do things to them they probably wouldn’t think are very fun.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just work whenever you can?
Gretchen: I really do try to be one of those writers with a schedule, and when I was writing full time I was pretty rigid with my time, where I absolutely had to write 3000 words a day no question. Now that I’m working more, it really is just fitting in 1000 words in the morning, 1000 in the evening, and as much as I can on weekends when my time is a bit freer.
KRL: What is your ideal time to write?
Gretchen: I’m most productive in the morning, which would shock my teenage self. But really, with a cup of coffee first thing I can usually get 2000 words done before lunch without really trying. The later in the day it gets the more likely I am to get distracted.
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?
Gretchen: I rarely outline, but I find my process can change book to book. Most of the time I have a strong idea of my opening scene and I know how the book will end, and just about everything else in the middle is a surprise. I’ll usually have a rough idea of the main arcs of the book, but the scene-by-scene progress is organic. However, I have written books with complete outlines, and I’ve written books where I had an outline and then completely changed it part way through. I think 99% of the time I write my book completely in order, save for a scene or two I might mark with “Insert dream sequence here” or “Add fight scene later” but with my thriller I took a totally different approach and wrote all the scenes I wanted to write on index cards, and then picked cards as my urge to write them inspired me and wrote almost the whole book out of order. It worked surprisingly well, though I haven’t attempted that again since.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Gretchen: My first finished book did get published but it wasn’t an easy path. I got so much rejection both from agents and publishers that it was starting to feel like I was making a terrible mistake. That said I truly believe that the agony of that process is worth it when you finally get that “we want your book” email in your inbox.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Gretchen: During the query process for my first book I followed Stephen King’s advice and kept all my rejection letters nailed to a wall where I could see them. I don’t do that anymore. Instead, I have two things hanging in my office. One is the email from my very first editor, Sasha Knight, offering me a contract on my first book. In retrospect she really must have seen potential and not polish because that book was rough, but I’ve learned so much since then. The other thing I have is a letter from Chuck Palahniuk, who I wrote to a million years ago and he sent me back an astonishingly generous box of gifts, but the letter was the real winner, in which he gave me advice on getting published and how it’s one rock at a time that builds a fortress (I’m paraphrasing, he’s much more eloquent than I am). I think both of those things remind me over and over that the rejection is necessary to get to the happy ending.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Gretchen: I think my favourite memory was going to RT Booklovers convention one year and a woman had made a custom shirt with all her favourite authors’ names on it. Mine was on there, and that really felt like such an incredible moment of having arrived, that someone cared enough about my writing to do that.
KRL: What are your future writing goals?
Gretchen: Short term: another cozy series and wrapping up my Secret McQueen series as Sierra Dean. I’m also slowly writing a screenplay, which is more just an experiment than anything else, but it has been a fun challenge. I’ll also admit, because I’m a believer in manifestation, that I’d love to get nominated for an Agatha Award next year.
KRL: Who are your writing heroes?
Gretchen: Though we’re stylistically very different, Chuck Palahniuk for sure. Agatha Christie, no question. I don’t think you can write cozies and not have a stack of Christies, though they certainly show their age in a lot of problematic ways. Jane Austen is a boring answer but I read Pride and Prejudice every two years or so. And Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who just knocked my socks off with what she did with Fleabag.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Gretchen: I make good use of my library card, I’m a prolific Googler, and I also like to talk to real people whenever I can. I got to interview the then head athletic trainer of the Los Angeles Dodgers for a romance novel I wrote once upon a time. She was a great sport. And since my cozies are very tea and food based, the best kind of research is making food and buying a million kinds of tea blends to drink.
KRL: What do you like to read?
Gretchen: My tastes are all over the place. I hated non-fiction as a kid, but now I can’t get enough. I read young adult, a ton of horror, mysteries and thrillers obviously, and classics like Christie and Austen. The influencers over on BookTok have me making new book orders every other week for titles I’ve never heard of. I usually go into most books almost totally blind just based on one-line recommendations. I don’t even read the cover blurbs. Recent favourites have been the Heartstopper graphic novels, Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, Beach Read by Emily Henry, and Psalm for the Wild Built by Becky Chambers.
KRL: What are your favorite TV shows or movies?
Gretchen: Favourite movie of all time is Mad Max Fury Road, fave rom-com is While You Were Sleeping. I’m obviously breathing and have Netflix, so I watch Stranger Things, but my go-to is Never Have I Ever, and my comfort comedies are Parks and Rec, Mindy Project, and New Girl.
KRL: Have you any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Gretchen: Finish. A terrible first draft that’s finished is 10,000x better than a great idea you never put on paper. A finished draft can be edited, it can be improved on. Don’t stop to re-read your work, just keep moving ahead, or you give yourself too much room to doubt.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Gretchen: I have a podcast where I review and discuss terrible baseball movies. It’s called Who’s On Worst.
KRL: Love it! Do you have any pets?
Gretchen: Yes, four cats: Nutmeg, Dottie, Margot, and Frankie. Nutmeg was the cover model for Steeped to Death and the book is also dedicated to him.
KRL: Is there anything you would like to add?
Gretchen: I had so much fun with this, thank you! I hope everyone who likes a little magic with their mystery will pick up the book or request it from their library, and that if anyone tries the recipes in it, they send my pictures.
KRL: Thank you for chatting with us! Website? Twitter? Facebook? Instagram?
Gretchen: All my social is tied to my Sierra Dean author name. You can find me a gretchenrue.com or on social at @sierradean on Twitter, sierradeanauthor on Insta, and SierraDeanAuthor on FB.
To enter to win a copy of Steeped to Death, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “steeped,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen October 1, 2022. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If entering via email please include your mailing address in case you win–we will delete it after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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