Saturday, June 29, 2019

Cozy review & Guest Post: Death By Dissertation

 Death by Dissertation (Cassandra Sato)
Cozy Mystery
1st in Series
Setting – Nebraska
Emerald Prairie Press (April 17, 2019)
Paperback: 355 pages
ISBN-10: 1733742409
ISBN-13: 978-1733742405
Digital ASIN: B07PKRD658

Publisher's Blurb:
Ambitious Cassandra Sato traded her life in Hawai’i for a dream position as Student Affairs VP at Morton College in tiny Carson, 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.
My Review: 
Having nearly died my own death by dissertation (admittedly a long time ago, but I haven’t forgotten), when I saw this title I had to read the book! I’ve also spent my life in or on the edge of academia, so there was a certain familiarity to the setting and the issues Cassandra faces. Of course, small-town Nebraska is kind of out of my area (though I think the story is set not too far from where my family left back in 1904...), but it all added to the fun.

I expected a well-structured mystery, and I got it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book also took on issues of racism—our understanding of the deaf. These added layers more than compensated for any weaknesses in the mystery. I do think the mystery is well done, but I admit to finding myself a little lost at times in the motivations (or maybe, a little unwilling to believe in the scenario, especially given the strong need of the administrators to protect the school from any bad publicity). The unraveling at the end felt a bit abrupt, and left me a little confused—it might take two readings to get the whole story worked out.

Though I had a pretty good idea early on who did it, the author still managed some surprises for me. Maybe the most pleasant surprise was the depth of character development of the main character. If other characters remained a little less clearly defined, that felt right, as they are seen through Cassandra’s eyes, and she’s still getting to know most of them.

Romantic balance was right on, in my opinion—it was definitely present, but equally was definitely not the focus of the story. The greater distraction from the mystery was the serious story about change, adapting, and acceptance of others. I’ll take that distraction.

A cut above a beach read. I’d call it a solid mystery, and a series with promise. I’m pretty sure there will be more romance as the series goes on, but was glad to find no recipes, patterns, or talking cats, so I have hopes that the romance won’t ever dominate the story.

FTC Disclosure: I received an ARC of Death By Dissertation from Great Escapes Free Book Tours, and received nothing further from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."   

 Now for what you're really waiting for--author Kelly Brakenhoff has been kind enough to stop by and talk about the process of bringing the book from keyboard to publication--and what kind of rewards that calls for :)

Before we do that, let me introduce Kelly:

Kelly Brakenhoff is an American Sign Language Interpreter whose motivation for learning ASL began in high school when she wanted to converse with her deaf friends. As an American Sign Language Interpreter with more than twenty years of experience, Kelly’s worked in college classrooms for fifteen different majors. From traipsing across muddy farm fields to stomach-churning medical procedures, and stage interpreting for famous figures, Kelly’s community interpreting interactions number in the thousands. Unfortunately, once she’s stepped away from the job, she usually forgets 90% of what happened. Which helps her keep confidential information safe, but also makes it really hard to grocery shop for more than 5 items without a written list.

Kelly wants to live in a world filled with peace, love, and joy, where people who can hear learn enough sign language to include deaf people in everyday conversations and work. Where every deaf child has early access to language and books with characters like them, and dark chocolate is cheap and plentiful.

When she’s not interpreting or writing, you can find Kelly cheering for her favorite Husker teams or training for half-marathons because she really likes dessert.

Her first mystery, Death by Dissertation, released April 22, 2019.

Now, here's Kelly.

Like a good bottle of wine, writing a book takes time.

Whether your goal is losing weight, running your first 5K race, or writing a novel, how do you know when you deserve praise for a job well done? Is it when your scale says you hit the magic number, you crossed the finish line, or you hit the New York Times best seller list?

I dreamed of publishing a book for almost as long as I can remember. Granted, in the four plus years it's taken me to publish Death by Dissertation, the average vineyard has probably produced four or five vintages worth of wine. It took me nearly two months of writing 1,657 words a day just to get the 80,000 word first draft on paper. I did pause then and eat a special family dinner and drink a large glass of wine to celebrate.

About sixteen months ago, my friend and I took a girls' getaway trip to Napa Valley. Normally my husband and I are cheap wine people, but that weekend I splurged big on a bottle of 2015 Barnett Vineyards Merlot. I might have been influenced by the gorgeous view from their hillside vineyard.

I told myself I'd save that bottle for a special day. It sat in the wine rack with a little sticker so we wouldn't mistake it for a Trader Joe's everyday wine. Months and months passed. I rewrote the opening chapters twenty times, got comments from early readers, suggestions from my editor, and procrastinated like a champion.
No day seemed special enough to break open the good wine. Eventually I became more uncomfortable with not finishing the book, than my fear of whether the book launch would be successful. Isn’t that what holds us back from accomplishing our goals? What if I did the thing I’d dreamed of forever, and it was so bad that even my sainted mother hated it?

I had to find an internal motivation for finishing my dream, because a fancy glass of wine wasn’t enough incentive to get through my fear of failure. Letting go of the results and focusing on doing the work in small portions was the only approach that helped me stop procrastinating. I did a little bit each week until it was done. Works in losing weight, eating healthy, or running races. 

Finally, in January this year, I circled April 22nd on the calendar and wrote “Publication Day.” Working backward from that date, I hired a cover designer and took a crash course in launching a book. Even though I’ve studied and worked harder on this than practically anything else I’ve previously attempted, it has also been rewarding. Not because I hit the NYT bestseller list (because c’mon, very few authors do), but because I’m doing The Thing I Was Meant to Do.
Uncorking that Barnett Vineyards wine bottle on April 22nd was exhilarating. The wine was smooth, fruity, oak-y and delicious. I’m so glad we paused to celebrate that moment and looked back at how far I’ve come the last four years. I already have more dates circled on my calendar and plan to celebrate them, too.

I’d love to hear from you how you took a big project and broke it down into small enough chunks that you were able to accomplish your dream. What have you always wanted to do? And what do you do to motivate yourself if it’s not a fancy bottle of wine or a piece of chocolate cheesecake?
Thanks for sharing that, Kelly! As for me, I choose frequent chocolate rewards, and, um, yeah. I don't actually have to accomplish anything to get chocolate so I'll get back to you on that one!

Author Links
Website –
Amazon – Https://
Instagram –  @kellybrak

Purchase Link – Amazon  June 22 – 30 – Just $0.99!!

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June 21 – That’s What She’s Reading – GUEST POST
June 22 – Mallory Heart’s Cozies – REVIEW
June 22 – MJB Reviewers – AUTHOR INTERVIEW
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June 24 – StoreyBook Reviews – REVIEW
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June 25 – A Wytch’s Book Review Blog – REVIEW
June 25 – Ascroft, eh? – AUTHOR INTERVIEW
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June 27 – I’m All About Books – GUEST POST
June 28 – Baroness’ Book Trove – REVIEW
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June 30 – Cozy Up With Kathy – AUTHOR INTERVIEW


  1. Good review! This book certainly gets my attention. I love cozies and I enjoyed the theme of this one.

    1. Thanks! As I said in my review, I found the whole dissertation process to be a near-death experience at times, so the title definitely got my attention!

  2. Thanks Elizabeth! I hope you enjoy the book if you get a chance to read it. And yes Rebecca, I've heard from many people who said they felt like their dissertation would kill them! Glad you survived yours and have that behind you.

    1. When I saw the title, I immediately envisioned either a grad student who was worked to death, or a dissertation director with a laptop embedded in the skull... :o


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