Wednesday, August 31, 2022

An Interview with Author Valerie Burns by E. B. Davis


In a brand-new culinary cozy series with a fresh edge and a delightful small-town setting, the acclaimed author introduces Maddy Montgomery, a social media expert who’s #StartingOver in small town Michigan after inheriting her great-aunt’s bakery and a 200-pound English Mastiff named Baby.

When Maddy Montgomery’s groom is a no-show to their livestream wedding, it’s a disaster that no amount of filtering can fix. But a surprise inheritance offers a chance to regroup and rebrand—as long as Maddy is willing to live in her late, great-aunt Octavia’s house in New Bison, Michigan, for a year, running her bakery and caring for a 250-pound English mastiff named Baby.
Maddy doesn’t bake, and her Louboutins aren’t made for walking giant dogs around Lake Michigan, but the locals are friendly and the scenery is beautiful. With help from her aunt’s loyal friends, aka the Baker Street Irregulars, Maddy feels ready to tackle any challenge, including Octavia’s award-winning cake recipes. That is, until New Bison’s mayor is fatally stabbed, and Maddy’s fingerprints are found on the knife . . .
Something strange is going on in New Bison. It seems Aunt Octavia had her suspicions, too. But Maddy’s going to need a whole lot more than a trending hashtag to save her reputation—and her life.


The first book in the Baker Street mystery series, Two Parts Sugar, One Part Murder, by Valerie Burns was released yesterday. I looked forward to reading it, but in the first chapter, I was dismayed. Main character Madison Montgomery wasn’t someone who I thought Valerie would create as a champion. 


First, Madison didn’t have a dog! I was shocked. Second, although Madison had conflicting character traits, she seemed like an entitled spoiled brat. The second chapter rectified almost all of my concerns, and the rest of the book took care of the rest. In fact, this series will be a favorite.  


Yes, in Chapter 2, Madison inherits a dog, no less, a 250-pound, slobbering English mastiff—Baby. Madison steps up to all of the challenges she faces, not only to Baby’s slobbering all over her car (it’s a rental, thank heaven!), but also to overzealous real estate agents, and murder.


Great Aunt Octavia may be dead, but her notes, videos (what’s a VHS tape?), and cold cash make her a wonderful character. And Baby provides character assessments as he greets or growls, as the case maybe.  

Valerie blogs with WWK as her time permits, but I’m okay with that as long as she keeps them coming!                                                                                  E. B. Davis  


Did Madison get on the plane from L.A.? New Bison is about as different from LA as it can get. Is it a real town or based on somewhere you’ve lived? Is New Bison located near to the University of Michigan? Madison was living in L.A. and she’d never heard of New Bison, Michigan either. Actually, New Bison Michigan is a fictional town based on the real town of New Buffalo, Michigan. New Buffalo is located 70 miles East of Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan and borders my home state of Indiana. New Buffalo is closer to Chicago than it is to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. While I have not lived in New Buffalo, it is about 30 minutes from cities where I lived in both Michigan and NW Indiana.


Even though Madison seems like a social media maven and a bit of an airhead, she actually graduated from Stanford, which has the lowest acceptance rate in the country. What was her major and why did she pick that major? Like Elle Woods from “Legally Blonde,” there’s more to Maddy than meets the eye. She majored in Art History with a minor in modern languages at Stanford. Low confidence made Maddy believe that her highest aspiration would be marrying a doctor. As a doctor’s wife, she might be asked to sit on the board of nonprofits like museums. So, understanding art would come in handy. As the daughter of a navy admiral, Maddy traveled the world and is fluent in multiple languages. So languages were an easy choice.


The reader can’t help but notice Madison’s daddy issues. According to Great Aunt Octavia, they aren’t all Madison’s fault. What’s the story? Admiral Jefferson Augustus Montgomery loved Maddy’s mother, Leah. When she died, leaving him with a two-year-old daughter to raise, he buried his grief and did his duty. He raised his daughter and worked hard to advance his career. The Admiral is the stereotypical example of a man who thinks his sole job in parenting is providing for his daughter’s physical needs. He indulged her by supplying money while ignoring her emotional needs.


Great Aunt Octavia’s store has done well. Her college major was chemistry. She owns a large home that fronts Lake Michigan. In a video, she tells Madison of the real estate developers who want her house and acreage—and that she won’t sell. I was surprised that Madison wasn’t more suspicious of her very first visitor, a real estate agent, who has clients who want her residential property. Why did Madison agree to go out to dinner with him? Maddy doesn’t see New Bison, Michigan as her forever home. When she meets Brad Ellison, she is still hopeful that she can sell (eventually) and return triumphantly to her old life. At this point, she doesn’t want to close the door on that possibility. Plus, she’s new to town. Brad Ellison is young and handsome. He fits the mold of the type of guy she’s dated before. He’s shallow and I think she sees herself reflected in him.


Madison mainly promotes herself on social media, but when she posts about the bakery and a knit shop in New Bison, and about Baby—they get a lot of attention. Is it always about new news? Or is she better at promoting others than herself? When Maddy arrives in New Bison, she wants to hide from the humiliation of getting dumped by her fiancĂ©. After she arrives, she takes a different tactic and posts on social media to show that she’s doing well. Her hashtags serve two purposes. It makes it easy to find her posts, but it also shows that she’s moving on. She’s not sitting at home crying her eyes out over her ex. Instead, she’s with #Realmen #MovingOn  #LovingtheSingleLife.


I was surprised to learn that few believed Great Aunt Octavia’s conspiracy theory. She was smart, successful, and knowledgeable. Why wouldn’t everyone believe her? “A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.” Mark 6:4. Sometimes it’s easier to accept ideas from strangers than it is from the people we know intimately. No matter how much you love and respect people, some ideas seem so farfetched, that we discount them. Great Aunt Octavia also has some biases that may have colored her views.


I didn’t realize that older Black women were insulted by the use of their first names, even if preceded by Miss. Why is that? I thought it was a sign of respect. But Madison asks to be called Maddy—I was confused. In the past, using a title was a sign of respect. In America’s past, Blacks were property and were denied that respect by Whites, even White children. Many older Black women are insulted when younger people refer to them by their first names. Most are not offended if the title is used with the first name (i.e. Miss Octavia, Miss Hannah). I was raised to ALWAYS use a title when referring to older Black women. For younger people, like Maddy, it’s okay to use the first name without a title. FWIW, my sister (4 years older than me) is insulted when younger people use endearments like, “honey,” “sweetheart,” and “dear,” but I don’t think that’s race-related.


Alpaca fibers are hypoallergenic and rarer than cashmere? YES! I didn’t know that either until I started my research. That’s when I learned that alpaca is hypoallergenic. I also assumed alpaca would be coarse and rougher than cashmere, but I was wrong. Who knew?


Madison has an expensive SUV rental and buys whatever she wants at the knit shop. Is she on Daddy’s dime? Yes, she is on daddy’s dime. Maddy struggles with making decisions, so it’s been easy to allow someone else to take care of the practical side of adulting. That’s one reason owning her own home and running a bakery will be a completely new experience for her. It’s also one reason Great Aunt Octavia wanted Maddy to live in New Bison where she will be forced to stand on her own two feet and make her own decisions around regular people.


Hannah is intriguing. She can be clear mentally, and then totally lose it. Is it emotional shock or tiredness that brings on her blank-slate mind? Are there different types of Alzheimer’s or dementia? There are different types of dementia with different symptoms and stages. There are a number of triggers, including tiredness, diet, depression, alcohol, etc. Alzheimer’s disease is one cause of dementia. Hannah is in the early stages, so she has good days and then bad moments. The bad moments will gradually grow more frequently and last longer. Generally, after resting, she’s usually okay.


Model-beautiful Sheriff April Johnson is a surprising character. Her beauty hasn’t given her much self-confidence, though. What is her background? April has beauty but doesn’t feel she’s smart because of her family and the fact that she didn’t graduate from college. Maddy is a talented and successful social media influencer, but she’s indecisive. The women in this book have a number of traits that many people THINK would make them happy, beauty, success, and money. Yet, like many of us, they find themselves focusing on what they lack rather than all of the wonderful things that they do have.


There is a character named Garrett Kelley. Does Kelley Garrett know? When I was looking for an idea for a new culinary cozy series, Kellye Garrett actually suggested some of the ideas that I incorporated into this book, including the social media aspect. So, yes she does know that I have a character named Garrett Kelley.


Although Mr. Russell is Great Aunt Octavia’s lawyer, Madison spots valuable antiques in his office, and then he shows up driving a McLaren Spider, worth at least 300 thousand dollars. Should we be wary of him? Chris Russell is an attorney in a small town. He’s single with no children. Rather than investing in the stock market, or squirreling away money in banks, he prefers to invest in art and cars.


What are the requirements in Michigan to run for the position of Sheriff? The minimum criteria in the state of Michigan to become sheriff is: 1) US citizen, 2) at least 18 years old, 3) residency in the county for 1 year, 4) GED or high school diploma, 5) physically and mentally fit. New Buffalo (the city New Bison is based on) is in Berrien County and has additional criteria. Most areas prefer someone with law enforcement experience.


Why were the Baker Street Irregulars, comprised of April, Leroy, Hannah, Michael Portman, who is Hannah’s grandson, and Tyler Lawrence, formed? Aunt Octavia was a fan of mysteries and specifically, Sherlock Holmes. After April Johnson was elected sheriff, Aunt Octavia started the Baker Street Irregulars to help her with any challenges. Most of the crimes in the sleepy resort town of New Bison are simple. However, April lacks confidence, so when there were tough cases, she would bring those cases to the Irregulars. Talking through the cases with the group helped to boost April’s confidence, but it was also a good social gathering.


Dr. Michael Portman, a veterinarian, who was in the Army, gets into a debate of Army vs. Navy with Madison. Is learning Morse code a military mandate? Is Tap code different than Morse code? Morse code is no longer a military mandate. However, it’s still taught to certain troops (i.e. radio intercept troops). Tap code is similar to Morse code, but it is not the same. Tap code is a true (2 part) code, while Morse code is a ternary (3 part) code.


Crimes against Native American Women are fifty percent higher than crimes against other women. Is this because legal enforcement is up to Federal authorities in Native American communities? Crime on tribal lands is complicated. If the perpetrator is non-Indian and the victim is an enrolled tribal member, then only a federal agent can make an arrest. If both parties are tribal members, then the Tribal Officer can make the arrest, but tribal courts cannot sentence those convicted to more than three years in prison.


Madison recognizes that she’s actually a lot like real estate agent Bradley Ellison. Why doesn’t she like that thought? Brad Ellison is self-centered and selfish. Maddy recognizes those same traits in herself. She’s never had to think of anyone other than herself. After only a small amount of time in New Bison, she’s forced to focus on more than clothes, shoes, and her own best interest. Now, she’s taking care of Baby. She’s running a business and helping to find a killer.


What’s next for Madison and the Baker Street Irregulars? In the second book in the series, it’s spring and New Bison is getting ready for the annual Spring Baking Festival. Feeling pressure to continue her Great Aunt Octavia’s legacy and bring home the top prize, Maddy’s also working hard to transform Baby Cakes into Southwestern Michigan’s must visit bakery. As if that wasn’t enough to worry about, a second bakery is opening under the ownership of a shrewd investor, CJ Davenport. Davenport is found murdered with a Baby Cakes’ knife in his back. Maddy and the Baker Street Irregulars must figure out whodunit or Maddy’s goose will be #cooked. The second book in the series, Murder is a Piece of Cake, will release in July 2023.



  1. Best of luck with your newest venture!

  2. Another winner! Congratulations and greetings from my standard poodles, Jazz and Louie.

  3. The new book has been getting fabulous buzz - and well deserved! Congratulations, Valerie.

  4. I've just started reading this--stayed up too late last night--but two things that I think are genius are the use of social media tags and Baby, who's a pure delight. Wish I could put everything else aside and spend the day with Maddy and Baby.

  5. I had a beloved English mastiff (named Xena, & she only weighed 205 lbs) who was a rescue.

    Best of luck with the new series. It sounds great.

  6. It's such a fun book to read--so go read it everyone. Don't you just love the covers. How could you not read The Puppy Who Knew Too Much!

    Thanks for the interview, Valerie. This is a winner series.

  7. I was so excited to see the review in the NYTimes! Very happy for you, Valerie! #congratulations!

  8. I got a real chuckle out of your mastiff. Besides writing, I've been stitching for fifty years. In my shop, I have dog jackets I made, some for miniature horses. This spring a woman came in with this blue mastiff, needed a blanket for him because it was cold. With a slight belt alteration, he went out with a miniature pony coat! His name was Cupcake!