featuring guest authors; crafting tips and projects; recipes from food editor and sleuthing sidekick Cloris McWerther; and decorating, travel, fashion, health, beauty, and finance tips from the rest of the American Woman editors.

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Tuesday, April 30, 2019


A Staged Home Office
Laura Bishop, from mystery author Grace Topping’s Laura Bishop Mysteries, stops by to introduce herself today.

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings?
Pretty boring. I worked as an Information Technology specialist, which paid well, but bored me to tears. Investigating a system problem and finding a bug in the system was about as exciting as my job or life got. Since I was a natural problem solver, I yearned for more interesting problems to solve.

After my husband was killed in an automotive accident, with his female passenger (long story), I decided to change careers and do something that made me happy instead of what others thought I should do. From a young age, I’d always had a knack for interior decorating—so strong that I had to control my instinct to give friends, and even total strangers, advice about their décor. I learned the hard way that people don’t always appreciate unsolicited opinions or advice.

But I was determined to go into a career that could draw on my talents. I began by helping friends “stage” their homes for sale (making them as appealing as possible to sell quickly and for a good price). To make a living doing staging, I realized I needed to get some training and accreditation as a professional home stager, which I did.

Little did I realize that when I nabbed my first staging job, I would be introduced to the world of murder and mayhem. I knew trying to stage a 19th century mansion that hadn’t been updated in decades could be murder. I just didn’t expect it to involve a body. Suddenly, my old boring life looked more appealing.

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself?
As I mentioned earlier, I’m a natural born problem solver, and I love a challenge. I also don’t give up easily—good instincts for someone trying find just the right paint color for a room. I’m also someone who follows through on my commitments, even when I would rather run away to a Florida beach and hide out.  

What do you like least about yourself?
Sometimes the best thing about a person can also be the worst thing. I have a hard time saying no to people, and once I make a commitment, I follow through, sometimes to my own detriment. When Mrs. Webster, the grandmother of a murder suspect, beseeches me to help him by finding the murderer, how can I say no? I tried explaining that my only experience in solving a mystery was finding those pesky system bugs and that I had no experience uncovering a murderer. But since she has such faith in me, I ended up agreeing to at least try. Now I’m stuck trying to find a cold-blooded murderer, and at the same time, deal with the awful flowered wallpaper in the mansion.

What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you?
Would you believe, she had me and my BFF, Nita Martino, go to a campground at night to investigate whether some men living there in a rickety camper could be the ones who committed the murder? First we had to cross a field to get there, which we discovered had been used to graze cows. You can imagine the stuff we ran (or stepped) into. She also dragged Mrs. Webster and me to the same campground searching for some members of Hell’s Angels who might have been involved with the murder. Mrs. Webster is one tough old bird—brave and determined. She probably should have conducted her own investigation.

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about?
Since I figured Grace knew what she was doing with my life, I didn’t argue with her. However, when I discovered that this was her first mystery, I realized that I should have spoken up. Who in their right minds would have a character taste a suspicious substance she discovered on the mansion’s kitchen floor. Sara Paretsky wouldn’t have done that to V. I. Warshawski.

What is your greatest fear?
On a professional level, disappointing a client/homeowner by not being able to complete a job. On a personal level, I fear I’ll never see my father again. When he and my mother separated when I was young, I saw him frequently, then less frequently, and then not at all. I don’t know whether he is alive or dead.

What makes you happy?
Doing a good job and pleasing people. Also, being able to provide employment to friends who need work with lots of flexibility.

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why?
Grace makes me out to be an extremely reluctant amateur sleuth—one who knows her limitations and is afraid of making a mess of things. She would like for me to help, but she knows I don’t have a clue how to identify a murderer. I would rather she portrayed me as a braver sleuth—one who would jump into an investigation with gusto.

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why?
That would have to be Nita, my BFF. We’ve been friends since second grade when her large and loving Italian-American family took me under their wing. My home life wasn’t the greatest, and Nita’s family filled in the cracks with love and good humor. The problem with Nita is that I frequently end up playing Ethel to her Lucy. She is always coming up with harebrained schemes that get us into trouble. Like the time she brought a psychic to the mansion to sweep the house of negativity. Or when she took us on that visit to the campground. It nearly got us arrested.

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?
That would have to be Josh Sheridan who owns Antiques and Other Stuff, an antique store with more other stuff than antiques. Josh stocks a large collection of used books and has plenty of time between customers to read to his heart’s content. If we traded places, I could read, and he could track down murderers. 

Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog?
Grace Topping is a former IT specialist, technical writer, and project manager, accustomed to writing lean, boring documents. Perhaps that’s why when set free, she let her imagination run wild and sent me on some questionable adventures. She did find her former IT work experience valuable when she created her own web site: www.gracetopping.com. She’s also on Facebook and Twitter, where she takes great delight in promoting her friends’ books and sharing helpful writing tips she’s discovered on other writers’ pages.

What's next for you?
Now that my first home staging commission was a huge success (the mansion sold quickly and for more money than anyone anticipated), I have a reputation as a home stager—one who can be relied on to do a good job. In our next adventure, Nita drags me into the world of artists and local art shows. Unfortunately, my nemesis from our school days is doing some underhanded things to hurt my burgeoning business. We’ll see about her. I’m no longer the meek student she used to badger.

Staging is Murder
A Laura Bishop Mystery

Laura Bishop just nabbed her first decorating commission—staging for sale a 19th-century mansion that hasn’t been updated for decades. But when a body falls from a laundry chute and lands at Laura’s feet, removing flowered wallpaper becomes the least of her duties. 

To clear her young assistant of the murder and save her fledgling business, Laura’s determined to find the killer. Turns out it’s not as easy as renovating a manor home, especially with two handsome men complicating her mission: the police detective assigned to the case and the real estate agent trying to save the manse from foreclosure.

Worse still, the meddling of a horoscope-guided friend, a determined grandmother, and the local funeral director could get them all killed before Laura props the first pillow.

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Sunday, April 28, 2019


Today at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers we’re going to the dogs. We’ve got a cute cross stitch doggy to stitch and a dog-centric mystery anthology for a good cause. 

Cross stitch design with two strands floss on 14-ct. fabric. Backstitch and French knot the dog with one strand black floss. Backstitch and French knot the words with one strand baby blue very dk.floss.

Summer Snoops Unleashed! 
Looking for cool cozies for hot summer days? Then you will love this purr-fectly paw-some cozy mystery box set from fourteen USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Amazon bestselling authors. Enjoy hours of fun sniffing out clues on sandy beaches, shimmering waterways, and at small-town celebrations in these fourteen brand-new furr-ocious mysteries and cozy crimes full of wily sleuths, cagey plots, and un-fur-gettable tails! Only .99 cents. Proceeds from the pre-orders of the anthology Summer Snoops Unleashed! will go toward charities that help senior dogs.

Titles include:
Werewolf in the Vineyard
An As the Grapes Turn Mystery
By Judith Lucci

Radical Regatta
Corsario Cove Cozy Mystery, Book 4
By Anna Celeste Burke

Fireworks, Forensics and Felonies
By Colleeen Mooney

A Kate Hamilton Mysteries Novella
By Fiona Quinn

Pies, Lies and a Last Goodbye
A Baker Girls Cozy Mystery, Book 4
By Maria Grazia Swan

You Can’t Judge a Crime by It’s Aura
A Piper Ashwell Psychic PI Novella
By Kelly Hashway

Yankee Doodle Deadly
A Trailer Park Princess Novella
By Kim Hunt Harris

Death in Mercy
By Susan Boles

Sharpe Pain: A Corpse in the Cabin
A Maycroft Mysteries Novella
By Lisa B. Thomas

Death and Taxes on a Cloud
A Career Crisis Café Mystery, Book 6
By Emily Selby

Ruff Justice
A Second Chance Adventure, Book 5
By Joanna Campbell Slan

High Heel Homicide
A Holly Woods Mystery Novella
By Ava Maloory

A Knead to Kill
An Apple Orchards Cozy Mystery, Book 1.5
By Chelsea Thomas

Spunky Bumpkin
By Sam Cheever

Pre-order now to help senior fur balls of all shapes and sizes.


Thursday, April 25, 2019


Award-winning author Martin Roy Hill writes the Linus Schag, NCIS, thrillers and the Peter Brandt thrillers. In addition, he’s the author of a sci-fi novella and a book of suspense and mystery stories that take place during and after the Cold War. Learn more about him and his books at his website.

Most of my plots are inspired by news events or historic facts. The plot for my thriller, The Butcher’s Bill, was no different.

A sequel to my first Linus Schag, NCIS novel, The Killing Depths, The Butcher's Bill revolves around one man's attempt to uncover the truth behind the real-world theft of nearly $9 billion in cash during the Iraq War. That theft was the biggest heist in history and it has never been adequately investigated.

What follows is the true story that inspired the fictional story in The Butcher's Bill.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Bush administration made a controversial decision. Billions of dollars belonging to Saddam Hussein and his government sat frozen in financial accounts in U.S. banks. After the fall of the Baghdad government, the White House decided to confiscate those funds and use them to pay for the rebuilding of Iraq.

That, itself, was not controversial. How the administration did it was.

Rather than place the Iraqi funds in a holding account and pay contractor bills as they came due, the Bush administration decided to convert the holdings into $40 billion in U.S. greenbacks and send it to Iraq by the planeload. Once in Iraq, the cash was handed out to contractors without much regard to receipts for work performed. Some witnesses claim the money was simply stuffed into duffle bags and handed over to contractors.

While the haphazard distribution of $31 billion was controversial enough, there was an even greater outrage. Nearly $9 billion in cash—$8.9 billion to be precise—simply disappeared, apparently stolen. Any attempt to investigate the theft was blocked at the highest levels of the government.

Graft and corruption plague every war, but the Iraqi conflict may have seen the most overt war profiteering in history. The Bush administration's excessive use of private contractors for everything from operating mess halls to building bases set the stage for widespread illegal activities. The president's granting of immunity from prosecution to all contractors for any questionable activity only exacerbated the problem.

Contractor-operated mess halls knowingly served rancid food to troops. Construction of facilities for both U.S. and pro-U.S. Iraqi troops was at best careless. Several American service members died when electrocuted by improperly wired barracks. Inadequately constructed plumbing poured raw sewage into newly built buildings, rendering them uninhabitable.

The widespread use of so-called "security contractors"—i.e., armed mercenaries—was the most controversial. These private military companies claimed their personnel were highly trained former military or law enforcement professionals. In fact, many of these security contractors had little or no military or law enforcement background. Many had criminal histories and some were known former members of Latin American death squads.

Security contractors were responsible for some of the most egregious acts. There were allegations of security contractors smuggling weapons into Iraq, possibly to sell to insurgents. Some were accused of smuggling drugs, which they sold to U.S. troops. Many security contractors were accused of wantonly killing Iraqi citizens without cause. Only when a group of security contractors machine-gunned more than 20 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007 were any of these people prosecuted.

These are the facts behind the plot of The Butcher's Bill. Now for the fiction.

NCIS Special Agent Bill Butcher found himself in the middle of this byzantine environment when posted to Iraq during the war. A former Navy SEAL, Butcher is a man of high moral standards, with a strong sense of right and wrong, especially when it involves the welfare of serving men and women.

Butcher was continually frustrated when Bush's immunity proclamation prevented him from investigating the myriad acts of profiteering and corruption he saw around him. When pulled off an investigation into the missing $9 billion in cash, Butcher refused to give up. He continued to probe the theft even after returning to the States. His obsession with the missing funds eventually cost him his NCIS job as well as his marriage. When Butcher discovered the truth behind the missing money, those responsible for the theft come after him.

Those who stole the money want Bill Butcher dead. The cops want him for murder. Butcher's only hope is his former NCIS colleague and closest friend, Linus Schag.

Torn between loyalties, Schag walks a thin line between doing his job and helping his friend. Working from opposite ends, Schag and Butcher peel back the layers of conspiracy, revealing a criminal enterprise reaching into the highest levels of government.

Taken straight from today's headlines, the plot of The Butcher's Bill ranges from the California mountains to the waters of the Pacific and I hope, keeps readers on edge until its final, explosive climax.

The Butcher’s Bill
Meet William Butcher, aka The Butcher, former Navy SEAL, now a disgraced ex-NCIS agent.

Those who stole $9 billion in cash from Iraq want him dead.

The cops want him for murder.

Butcher's only hope is his former NCIS colleague and closest friend, Linus Schag.

Together Schag and Butcher tear away the veil of conspiracy, uncovering a criminal enterprise reaching into the highest levels of government.

Ripped from today's headlines, this sequel to Martin Roy Hill's highly praised The Killing Depths takes the reader from the California mountains to the coastal waters of the Pacific into the dangerous world of war-profiteers and international mercenaries, and is guaranteed to keep readers on edge until its final, explosive climax.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2019


The author in her historically accurate costume
Beverley Oakley is both an historical costume maker and the author of Regency, Georgian and Victorian-set romance laced with mystery and intrigue. Today she joins us to discuss fashion in the Georgian era. Learn more about Beverley and her books at her website.

How Did a Lady of the Georgian Era Prepare For a Day Out?
“Serendipity” – meaning the discovery of something interesting or fortunate by chance – is one of my favourite words as it pretty much encapsulates my life.

It was serendipitous that I discovered my husband around a campfire in Botswana twenty-five years ago. Not just because he turned out to be an excellent husband, but because of his encouragement and the exciting life he’s given me. Without that, I’d not have lived and worked in twelve countries and published twenty-five historical romances.

It was serendipitous, also, when I stumbled upon a pair of russet silk curtains for only $1.99 in a Melbourne op-shop (or charity shop). With ten metres of beautiful fabric in a colour fashionable during the Georgian period, it fired up my dormant enthusiasm for costuming, serendipitously sparking a whole new platform from which to publicise my historical novels.

Historical Costume Talks
Many years ago, I’d studied costume design at the London School of Fashion. I’d always been fascinated by the Georgian era and the beautiful quality fabric gave me license to embark upon an ambitious project at very little cost.

I immediately sought out the Janet Arnold pattern book I’d been given for my eighteenth birthday on the even of my departure to the UK.

At first the project of making a 1780s polonaise was just for the fun of it. I envisioned my latest novel’s beautiful heroine, Celeste, wearing it as she secretly slips through the trees at Vauxhall Gardens for an assignation with the dissolute – but redeemable – rake, Lord Peregrine, in Wicked Wager.

However, I soon realised I couldn’t wear the gown unless I had the proper underpinnings. I needed 1780s stays (the precursor of the corset), to create the barrel-shaped torso and to push up the breasts, referred to at the time as ‘rising moons’. I also needed panniers and a ‘bum-roll’ to push the skirt out at the sides and back to create the right silhouette.  As I researched the layers required by the lady of fashion, I gained a better understanding of the mind-set of the day.

Here’s how the Georgian lady would go about dressing.

The author made these 1780's
stays and the chemise using
historically accurate patterns
and cutting instructions and
apologizes for the daringness
of the cut.
First she’d put on her chemise (which was cut with no wastage from good quality, hardwearing linen). The chemise, or shift, was worn against the skin and would be frequently laundered in an age when bathing was infrequent and the garment would absorb the body’s natural oils.

From an authentic pattern of 1780 I made half boned stays or a ‘pair of bodies’ as they were sometimes referred to. Working women often wore leather stays until they disintegrated but there are some beautiful extant luxury examples.

Panniers and Corset
By the time I’d finished the panniers, I’d hit upon the idea of staging a costume display accompanied by a talk. Calling it ‘History through Costume – From Georgian splendour to Regency Simplicity’, I shopped it around and was delighted by how many libraries and community groups booked me for an hour-long talk with questions on the social and political events of the period 1750-1820. This was the impetus for finishing the costume and selecting the information I’d relate.

Finding the right shoes was a mission. I’d planned to make a pair until another op-shop hunt yielded a pair of gems. As an aside, ladies would put on their shoes and stockings before being laced into their stays. Believe me, it’s incredibly difficult to bend down and put them on afterwards – just as it is driving for an hour on the freeway with lots of twists and bends when you’re confined by a 1780s polonaise, which allows little shoulder movement. (I had to strip down to my chemise in order to drive home after my first talk, having made the mistake of going in costume since I wasn’t’ sure I’d find someone at the library who could lace me up.)

The Bum Roll
Panniers and the ‘bum-roll’ achieved the fashionable silhouette. Ladies’ drawers made their appearance in 1806 but only ‘fast’ women wore them.

Russet Petticoat with Both Front and Back Ties
While to us a petticoat is an undergarment, during the Georgian period the petticoat referred to the actual skirt. The fabric was pleated onto ties that went first around the front and was tied at the back, and then around the back (tying at the front.) It was quite versatile as it allowed for expanding girths so could be used by different family members or during pregnancy. A pair of separately constructed pockets would have been tied around the waist first, enabling the wearer to place her hands through the side slits of the voluminous skirts, into the large pockets. The slim, high-waisted silhouette of Regency fashion put an end to pockets and heralded the introduction of the reticule or ‘ridicule’ as it was also known.

Finally, the gown would complete the ensemble. (The cosmetics, adornments and high hairstyles of the times – ranging in height from 1 to 1-1/2 times the length of the face – are a topic for another time; though I will mention that while trying to authenticate the powdered look during one race against time to get to a show, I found myself about to spray a can of white enamel paint over my elaborate hairstyle instead of coloured hair spray).

So, there’s a glimpse into the dressing routine of a Georgian lady. I’m always finding new facts to include in my talks, which some schools are now interested in, and which have been aired on radio.

Oh yes, and if you don’t know how the lady of 200 years ago answered the call of nature during long and riveting church sermons, and you can’t get to one of my shows, the answer is that she might well have discreetly used a bourdeloue, an elegant vessel made of porcelain or pewter and shaped like a gravy boat which her maid would have emptied into the garden or church yard.

My latest novel, Wicked Wager, is set in 1780 when the polonaise was the height of fashion. Wicked Wager was previously published by Harlequin Escape under the name Beverley Eikli and has since been revised. The ebook is on sale for .99 cents through the end of April.

Wicked Wager
Can innocence survive the machinations of a malevolent society beauty and a charismatic rake?

Two weeks before her nuptials to her cold, harsh cousin, virtuous Celeste Rosington finds herself in the arms of notorious libertine, Lord Peregrine.

The unexpected encounter is, at first, shocking, but as his charm weaves its magic, becomes a welcome distraction from her troubles. Isn’t she already the subject of whispers due to her involvement in the mysterious disappearance of a wealthy plantation magnate - a role, orchestrated by her demanding husband-to-be?

A role in which Celeste failed spectacularly.

Nevertheless, Celeste has no intention of sacrificing all of her scruples for a man she knows is only toying with her. One kiss from handsome, charismatic Viscount Peregrine will surely be enough to give her the strength to fulfil her marital obligations?

But what if one kiss is not enough?

With her reputation in the balance, Celeste soon finds herself navigating the treacherous waters of envy, intrigue and deadly secrets, unaware she’s a pawn in a wicked wager between a ruthless society beauty and delicious, dissolute Lord Peregrine.

Could Peregrine really be a party to such perfidious plans? Will his reckless charm be the final undoing of a young woman once respected for her virtue and piety?

Or will Peregrine discover that true love is more powerful than greed and ambition in time to save Celeste from the terrible fate that otherwise awaits her?

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Tuesday, April 23, 2019


Today we sit down for a chat with mystery and romance author. L. A. Keller. Learn more about her at her website and blog.

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
I’ve written short stories since I was twelve and always dreamed of writing a novel. As the years went by I put writing aside to focus on my career as a project manager and technical writer. My goal was always dancing just out of reach due to my other commitments. My first book was written mostly after eleven pm on weekends but now I set aside time to write.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
It took me two years to write and publish the first book. I wrote a first draft of the novel, threw it out and started completely from scratch. During the re-write I sought a large publishing house but after much research opted to create my own publishing company.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
I am indie published.

Where do you write?
I have an office in my home in which I do much of my writing. However, there are days when I prefer to sit at the kitchen table or on the sofa with the television playing a reality show.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
I generally write without any distraction, mostly because I write early in the morning when others in my household are asleep. If I am listening to music, it is old school country because that is what my character loves the most.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
Since I write murder mysteries, my plots are not drawn from real life but my characters are. I once created a character based on a woman I stood in line behind at Office Max because her outfit was so colorful she made me want to write her into a story. Anyone I come in contact with may wind up as a character or some element of that person may be incorporated into a character. Events that make me laugh in my own life frequently appear in my work. Watch for a scene in the next book where my character accidentally loses her press-on fingernail in a dish she serves to a guest.

Describe your process for naming your character?
This is one of the most difficult tasks for me. I do lengthy research on character names to understand the meaning of names. It’s important to me to not have characters with similar names in the same book because, as a reader, I find that can be confusing. I also want to feel some connection to a name if the character is recurring. My main character, Jayne, is named after my mom but I changed the spelling.

Real settings or fictional towns?
I base my books on the real town of Cave Creek, Arizona but change the names of streets and businesses. In Cocktails at Sunset, I created a fictional assisted living facility and drew a floorplan so that I could map my character’s movements accurately. I drive to a spot I want to include in a scene and take photos for my reference.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
Jayne has a unique memory for whatever one of her restaurant guests has ordered. I based this on a friend who actually does have this strange ability.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?
I carry on long conversations with my cats. They don’t answer me, but I’m sure they understand every single word.

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
Take Me With You by Catherine Ryan Hyde - I love all of her books but this one touches my heart more than others. Her characters are so real and her story so poignant you are sad when you reach the last page.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
I wish I had gone to college immediately after high school rather than taking years to complete my degree.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Shopping carts not returned to their place! I know that is completely unrelated to writing but it makes me crazy.

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves? Sunscreen, water and a satellite phone.

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
I was a hotel housekeeper for two weeks. It gave me an appreciation for how hard they work and how inconsiderate some guests can be. I always leave a tip when I check out.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
Gone with the Wind because it is an epic love story.

Ocean or mountains?
Definitely, mountains. I live in the desert and hike as much as I can. However, a beach vacation is always at the top of my list.

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
I’m a city girl who grew up in the country with chickens, cows and horses.

What’s on the horizon for you?
I’m excited to finish the third book in the series and start on a different writing path. I enjoy writing romance as short stories on my blog and hope to create a new series in that genre. I will also be doing some speaking engagements later in the year.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
I hope reading my books brings the reader some joy and suspense. Ultimately my goal is to carry the reader away from the day to day stress and struggle. On the more personal side, I’m a breast cancer survivor. My sister-in-law is a two time breast cancer survivor, and my sister is now a two time survivor. I am a strong proponent of performing self-exams and patient advocacy.

Menu for Murder
A Jayne Stanford Mystery, Book 1

A tete-a-tete with the wait staff wasn’t listed on the menu, but that never stopped Mayor Franklin McArthur from ordering ala carte. Jayne Stanford is just one of the many desserts he’s tried to sample. When he turns up dead, after a private party Jayne worked, all the evidence points to Jayne as the murderer. Her life begins to unravel faster than you can say “Order up”.

As clumsy as a cowboy on a three-day drunk, Jayne has never been the perfect waitress. But her knack for remembering quirky details about the guests she serves has kept her a few tips away from the unemployment line. Now she has to put those skills to use or wind up spending her days waiting tables in prison.

As Jayne embarks on a hunt for the person who set her up she must rely on her best friend, Bailey, to painstakingly piece together the clues. Who was in the black Hummer? Why would someone want to kill a lecherous old fool like the Mayor? What does the key open? Should Jayne take a chance with her heart and trust, Jonas? The closer she gets to the truth, the more determined the killer is to make Jayne the “Catch of the Day.”

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Monday, April 22, 2019


Debut mystery author Kelly Brakenhoff is an American Sign Language interpreter, scone baker, half-marathon runner, chocolate lover, Hufflepuff, wife & mom, dog petter, and Husker fan. Learn more about her and her books at her website.

When Cassandra Sato, the main character in Death by Dissertation, moves from big city Hawai'i to rural Nebraska, she expects the food to taste foreign. After all, growing up on an island, she was used to fresh seafood, sushi, and Spam— the comfort food in a can. The only fish she's likely to find in Nebraska comes from a stream or the freezer.

One of the first unusual meals she encounters is a German concoction called a Bierock. They're meat and cabbage stuffed in yeast bread hand-pies. Cassandra is surprised to discover there's a Midwest-famous restaurant chain with a devoted fan base of Bierock-loving Nebraskans called Runza. (Definitely stop there if you're ever driving I-80 through Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, or Colorado.) Cassandra's hesitant at first, but soon grows to like them, especially when she realizes one can double as a hand-warmer during chilly fall football Saturdays.

If you're not from the Midwest, likely you've never heard of Bierocks either, but I promise they are delicious. They also freeze well and make for easy picnic or potluck food. No fork required.

When my family didn’t live in Nebraska, our first stop after arriving at the airport was always the Runza restaurant drive-thru for a hometown meal of delicious, hot Runza and Frings (a genius combination of fries and onion rings).

Occasionally, we hosted a football watch party or got a craving for them when we couldn't buy the real thing. Over the years, I’ve tried many different Bierock recipes. This one incorporates whole-wheat flour and Greek yogurt to make a quick, healthy breaded crust for a traditional, Nebraska Bierock. My favorite are the Swiss Mushroom Bierocks, but you can change up the cheese if you want a different twist using American, Provolone & peppers for a Philly Bierock, or Pepperjack for a more southwest flavor.

Quick & Healthy Bierocks (homemade Nebraska Runzas)
Featuring a whole-wheat, no-yeast dough, these Swiss Mushroom Bierocks take less than an hour start to finish. They are great for football tailgate parties, potlucks, or Husker ex-pats who miss eating our beloved Runzas.

Serves 8

3 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups plain Greek yogurt
1-1/2 T. baking powder
1-1/2 tsp. salt

1 lb. ground beef
1 med. onion, chopped
1 bag coleslaw mix
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. seasoned salt
8 slices Swiss cheese (optional)
8 small baby Portobello mushrooms, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 375. Prepare a large baking sheet with foil and cooking spray or parchment paper. (Less clean-up later, you’re welcome.)

Brown the hamburger and onions in the largest frying pan you own. You might need 2 medium pans if you don’t have one large enough. If you decide to add the mushrooms, throw them in with the meat and onions.

In a large mixing bowl, add flour, baking powder and salt, and mix well. Add the yogurt and mix until all of the flour is incorporated into a batter. Knead the dough until it’s dry and elastic (this will take about 1 minute—if it’s super-sticky, you can always add some extra flour). Then, divide the dough into 8 equal size balls. Using your hands or a rolling pin, spread the dough rounds into 6”x4” rectangles. 

Once the meet is browned and the onions and mushrooms are soft, add Worcestershire, oregano, seasoned salt, and pepper to taste. Now add the whole package of cabbage to the skillet. It might not all fit at once, but stir the bottom bits to the top frequently until the whole thing is lightly stir-fried. Do not overcook the cabbage. 

Place one slice of Swiss cheese on each of the rolled dough pieces. Some people like American, Provolone, or Pepper Jack cheese instead. Spoon 2 generous spoonfuls of meat on each dough. Roll up the longer sides of the rectangle and pinch them together, then gather the short sides and pinch together. Flip the pinched seams to the bottom. The finished Bierocks should be fairly large and rectangle shaped. 

Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool for about 5 minutes before serving. They are good plain or with ketchup.

Death By Dissertation
Ambitious Cassandra Sato traded her life in Hawai’i for a dream position at Morton College in rural Nebraska. She expected the Midwestern church casseroles, land-locked cornfields, and face-freezing winters would be her biggest challenges, but it’s her job that’s rapidly becoming a nightmare.

A deaf student is dead and the investigation reveals a complicated trail of connections between campus food service, a local farmer’s beef, and the science lab’s cancer research. Together with her few allies, Cassandra must protect the students caught up in the entanglement.

Dealing with homesickness, vandalism, and a stalker, Cassandra is trapped in a public relations disaster that could cost her job, or more. No one said college was easy.

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