Book Notes, Reading List

Book Notes: Review of The Braxton Campus Mysteries by James J. Cudney (with author interview)

 

If you’ve been around here for long, you know I love my cozy mysteries!  Today I’m sharing a series that I discovered a few months back, along with an author chat.

 

BraxtonCampus

 

The Braxton Campus Mystery series, by James J. Cudney, is a three (soon to be four) book series centered around a man named Kellan, his family, and the community around Braxton — the town and the college.

You may remember I did a cover reveal for the third book a while back.  Now I’ve had a chance to read it, and wanted to share a bit more about the series as a whole!

Kellan Ayrwick is a 30-something single dad, who leaves his work and home in California, and with his daughter, returns to Braxton.  Upon coming home, he reunites with his family, finds a job teaching at Braxton College, and somehow keeps falling headfirst into strange circumstances and suspicious deaths.

In book one, Academic Curveball, we meet the Ayrwick family and quite a few people connected with Braxton College.  At this point, Kellan is coming home just for a visit, to attend his father’s retirement party.  Here’s a summary:

When Kellan Ayrwick returns home for his father’s retirement, he finds a body in Diamond Hall’s stairwell. Unfortunately, Kellan has a connection to the victim, and so do several members of his family.

Soon after, the college’s athletic program receives mysterious donations, a nasty blog denounces his father and someone attempts to change students’ grades.

Someone is playing games on campus, but none of the facts add up. With the help of his eccentric nana, Kellan tries to stay out of the sheriff’s way. But who is behind the murder?

 

Once that case is solved, and we’ve been introduced to new characters and some curious discoveries, it’s on to book two, Broken Heart Attack.  In this installment (slight spoiler alert!), Kellan has decided to make a go of staying in Braxton and is now working at the college.  But as before, things don’t exactly go according to plan:

When an extra ticket becomes available to see the dress rehearsal of King Lear, Kellan tags along with Nana D and her buddies. But when one of them dies of an apparent heart attack in the middle of second act, Nana D asks Kellan to investigate.

With family members suddenly in debt and a secret rendezvous between an unlikely pair, Kellan learns that the Paddingtons might not be as clean-cut as everyone thinks.

But can Kellan find the killer, or will he get caught up in his own stage fright?

 

Finally, it’s on to book three, Flower Power Trip.  In this book, Kellan is thrown headfirst into yet another Braxton mystery:

At a masquerade ball to raise money for renovations to Memorial Library, Kellan finds a dead body dressed in a Dr. Evil costume.

Did one of Maggie’s sisters kill the annoying guest who’d been staying at the Roarke and Daughters Inn, or does the victim have a closer connection to someone else at Braxton College?

As Kellan helps school president Ursula bury a secret from her past and discover the identity of her stalker, he unexpectedly encounters a missing member of his family. Everything seems to trace back to the Stoddards, a new family who recently moved in.

Between the murder, a special flower exhibit and strange postcards arriving each week, Kellan can’t decide which mystery in his life should take priority. But unfortunately, the biggest one of all has yet to be exposed – and when it is, Kellan won’t know what hit him.

 

This has been a very fun series to read.  As I’ve mentioned, it’s rare to find a cozy series with a male protagonist, so it’s brought a different perspective.  Kellan is a great dad and his little girl Emma is charming and precocious.  I think by far my favorite is Nana D, Kellan’s maternal grandmother.  She still lives on a farm in the Braxton area, is running for mayor, and still has plenty of time to meddle in everyone’s life, and to work hard at finding a suitable young lady for her grandson.

Kellan became single again when his wife was killed in an accident.  Through the series, though, he also learns her death didn’t happen exactly as it had appeared, and that many things about the incident were hidden from him… including some family mob ties!

It’s enjoyable that the mysteries are layered on top of one another… there is a case to be solved in each book that stands alone, but Kellan deals with other themes that run through the series as a whole: finding answers about his wife’s death, keeping Nana D in check, missing family members, and campus politics.  It makes for a deeper, more satisfying story.

I’d recommend this series to any cozy mystery lover.  It has well developed characters, interesting family dynamics, and entertaining cases to be solved.  And yikes… does Jay know how to write a twist!  Each installment has ended with a big “WOW” that has left me wanting more!

Catch up on the Braxton Campus Mysteries before the fourth book releases in June!

 

Book 1: Academic Curveball

Book 2: Broken Heart Attack

Book 3: Flower Power Trip

Book 4: Mistaken Identity Crisis (6/30)

 

By the way… these books are also on Kindle Unlimited! If you’re a member, add these books to your list!  Not a member of Kindle Unlimited, but interested in trying it out?  Click here to learn more!


 

Now… let’s learn a little more about the author!  James J. Cudney, who often goes by Jay, is a talented writer who published a few books before tackling this cozy mystery series.  He’s not just a writer, but also a prolific reader, a book blogger and Bookstagrammer, and more!  I “met” Jay on social media when I started blogging and have come to enjoy his books, and also value his recommendations!  I was fortunate enough to do a mini interview with him recently that I’m excited to share with you!

 

Jay

 

 

1.  This series is set on a college campus in a small town.  What made you choose to use that setting and to include a host of characters in higher education?  Did you draw inspiration from a real place?

I’m an avid cozy mystery reader and genealogist who loves the concept of a small town. It’s rich with history, drama, and strange connections among people. After getting my bachelor’s degree, I considered continuing on to obtain advanced degrees so that I could teach in the future, but I wasn’t ready to take on more debt and education.
I immediately went to work, which was great for developing a career, but… now I’m too lazy and too busy to go back to school. I miss it, and one way I thought to reconnect with it would be to write a series that took place on a campus. I went to Moravian College, and my alumni group had been in contact with me about one year ago when I started the first Braxton Campus Mystery.
It all came together, so I used my past life as the basis for Braxton. Moravian has two separate campuses (north and south), but there have never been any murders as far as I’m aware! Having a campus with multiple transitory visitors would lend an opportunity to use any and all plot lines and character types without being too odd.

2.  Most cozy mysteries have a female protagonist, but your books feature a 30-something guy as the main character and amateur sleuth.  What’s one thing you really want your readers to understand about Kellan?  Did you base him at all off yourself, or do you share any characteristics?

Kellan is such an awesome character. I must be honest, he thinks similarly to me. We’re both a little sarcastic and obsessed with food. On the flip side, I’m not nosy and I don’t have a daughter. I started there, but then I added in tons of new characteristics to make him different but interesting.
When I decided to write a cozy, I wanted to turn the sub-genre upside down… hence why I went with a younger male protagonist. I hadn’t written in 1st person POV yet, so I decided to take that route. I must admit, it’s quite difficult given the parameters I’m trying to observe. The narrator is Kellan, and he must think and act like a 32-year-old man… I have to be careful with certain descriptions, details, and emotions in order for it to be believable. I want him to come across as sexy but it has to always be through actions and other character dialog. Also, I have to explain why he’d know details about women’s clothing or why he’d be so observant in describing a person he’s meeting. Some of it readers will easily overlook, but not always!

3.  You’ve only been writing full time for a few years.  Have you always been a writer?  What was it like making the leap to writing as a career?

I’ve written ever since I was a child, but it was only short stories or poems. I took creative and fiction writing courses in college, but I never expected to turn it into a career. For 15 years, I focused on technology and business operation in my career… hardly ever writing again. When I left my company and decided to take a year off before jumping back into the intensity of my previous career, I created a blog to keep me from being too idle. Then I wrote my first novel, eventually finding a online writing group to share it with. After 6 months, I had a finished product and started looking for a publisher.
I still can’t believe I’ve published 6 books in 18 months, but it’s been such a whirlwind experience, I’m addicted now. I used to get stressed at work all the time, and it was important for me not to feel that again in my next job. I am stressed now, but it’s a different type of impact. I love writing and interacting with readers, so it’s always worth it. Rather than a boss and a few executives yelling at me, or worrying whether 20K guests at a sports game or concert are happy (former job), now I freak out when reviews come in!

4.  You’re not only a novel writer… you’re also an avid reader and book blogger!  (Note: We’re in the second half of April and James has already read *70* books this year!)  How do you carve out that much time to read, and how do you balance it with everything else?

That one year leave of absence of work turned into three years. I take small part-time or short-term consulting jobs for income now, but I look at writing and reading as my full-time job.
I read a book from different genres and authors roughly every 2 days to build connections around the world. Some books are for pleasure, others are part of my ‘work.’ Ultimately, I spend 8 hours per day writing, editing, and marketing, then 2 to 3 hours reading. It keeps me focused about half my day on the publishing world and leaves me time for other stuff like the gym, hobbies, friends, family, etc.

5.  The fourth book in the Braxton Campus Mysteries is coming out in June.  Can you give us a hint or two about what’s in store?

Yes, absolutely! The main plot is based on a string of jewelry thefts that have hit Wharton County… only they are matching a similar series of events from 8 years ago. Coincidence? Copycat? Repeat thief? If that’s not enough, the timing of the robberies aligns with Gabriel’s disappearances from Braxton.
Using a few sub-plots, the main mystery tackles a whole bunch of things happening on campus like the cable car redesign project, Nana D’s mayoral election, and Kellan’s interaction with the mafia as a result of his wife’s past. Weaving in a special calling card being left behind, sorority hazing practices, and a bizarre murder, the whole campus is buzzing with fear. And that’s just the beginning… I haven’t even touched on Kellan’s new courses and students, his developing relationship with a woman, Nana D’s 75th birthday party, and the double wedding involving someone in his family.
There will also be 3 or 4 surprise mini-cliffhangers at the end, leading us into book 5 for the October time frame. The only hint I’ll give is consider the month and a certain holiday!

6.  Finally… other than your book coming out, of course, what are you really looking forward to this summer?

Oh… that’s a tough one! I’ve got trips to Seattle, Vancouver, Hudson, and Louisiana planned. I need those mental breaks, but I’ll be creating ideas based on each of those locations too. My puppy, Baxter, will have been with me for 1 year, so we’ll have to celebrate that bundle of joy (ha). Gardening on the terrace is a big item on the to-do list. Other than that… writing, reading, and maybe even outlining a brand new series I plan to release in early 2020.

Well, I for one can’t wait to see what that new series entails, but first I’m looking forward to the fourth book (and hopefully more?) in the Braxton Campus series.  Many thanks to Jay for taking time out to share with us… visit him at his website, where you can find book information, as well as social media links if you’d like to give him a follow!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little detour into Braxton… look for more cozy mystery talk in the coming weeks, as well as spotlights on some of summer’s biggest books.

Happy reading!

 


 

This post contains affiliate links, which allow me the opportunity to earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you.  Please see my policies for further information.

This is my Review of the Month for the review collection on LovelyAudiobooks.info

 

 

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8 thoughts on “Book Notes: Review of The Braxton Campus Mysteries by James J. Cudney (with author interview)”

  1. Cris,

    Our interview turned out beautifully. Your introduction was very generous, and I love the progression in your story about this book series. I’m truly grateful for your support and kindness. I’ll be sharing this all week long!

    Jay

    Liked by 1 person

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