Kelly Brakenhoff reveals her new novel Dead of Winter Break


Welcome to author Kelly Brakenhoff! 

Her novels sound like such a fun ride I can't wait to dig into one!


KELLY BRAKENHOFF writes the Cassandra Sato Mystery series including DEATH BY DISSERTATION, a 2020 RONE Award Mystery Finalist, DEAD WEEK, “a diverting whodunit,” (Publishers Weekly), and DEAD OF WINTER BREAK, a holiday whodunit new for 2020. Kelly is an American Sign Language Interpreter whose motivation for learning ASL began in high school when she wanted to converse with her deaf friends. NEVER MIND and FARTS MAKE NOISE, are her children’s picture books featuring Duke the Deaf Dog. The mother of four young adults and a German Wirehair Pointer, Kelly and her husband call Nebraska home.

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Tell us about your life outside of writing.

In my day job, I’m an American Sign Language Interpreter and most of the time I work in college classrooms with Deaf students or faculty. I’ve interpreted for classes in over fifteen different majors over the years. I’d be great at trivia games if only I could remember more of those lectures. Unfortunately, I can’t even shop for groceries without a list.

My husband and I live in Nebraska and we have four grown children, two grandkids, and one more coming in January. (So exciting!) We have a German Wirehair Pointer named Duke who loves hunting birds and is an expert napper. My hobbies are running, reading, and hanging out with family.

Do you have a work in progress?

My newest book, Dead of Winter Break, released in November. In the first two books of the series, Cassandra’s predicament as a fish out of water helped readers relate to her difficulties moving from Hawai’i to her new home in Nebraska. Now that she’s settled in a bit, for Dead of Winter Break, I threw in a few obstacles to disrupt her plan for a quiet, restful winter break between semesters at Morton College.

Winter in the Midwest isn’t for wimps and Cassandra quickly learns what it feels like to shovel snow off her driveway. She has a new dog, Murphy—her first pet ever—and she’s learning some ASL so she can chat with her Deaf students and colleague, Dr. Bryant. All of these changes push Cassandra to her limits.

By the end of the holidays, Cassandra has to decide the depths of her commitment to her long-term career goals and balancing those with a healthier home life. Can an orphaned dog worm his way into her heart?

What was the most difficult section/piece you ever wrote? What made it difficult?

In Dead Week, there’s a whole subplot about a group of Deaf students and activists who protest in the Morton College student center. Among their demands is more access to emergency alerts in a timely manner. Even though I wrote the book in 2019, this has been a timely topic in 2020. You might have noticed more ASL interpreters at press conferences and pandemic updates around the country.

Some of the students and faculty in my book were quite outspoken about their rights. Although I wanted the characters and dialogue to educate readers about this topic, I didn’t want them to come off as jerks or alienate anyone.

I asked several Deaf friends to read a few chapters of the book ahead of time to make sure they felt I represented their viewpoints accurately. I was surprised by their vehement support of including their stories in the book. Some even gave permission for me to use their own experiences. Those scenes turned out to be the readers’ favorite parts of the book.

What sort of research do you do for your work?

Since I’m an extrovert, I like to interview local experts about background information I might need. For Dead of Winter Break, I talked to my brother-in-law who works for a farmers’ cooperative, a global studies college professor who knows about food shortages around the world, and another friend who is Deaf and a pilot because I had some questions about aviation practices in small airports. Talking to someone face to face (or on zoom) is better than simple internet searches because those people give me real stories or a flavor for how it feels to do their job. I think those authentic experiences make their way into the book and make the overall story better.

Which books and authors do you read for pleasure? Is there an author who inspires you?

There are so many I can’t name them all! My all-time favorite mystery series are Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, and Sue Grafton’s alphabet series. I also love John Grisham, David Baldacci, John Gilstrap, and Hank Phillippi Ryan. Through Sisters in Crime, I’ve met lots of mystery authors who inspire me with their generosity and work ethic.

Was there a person who encouraged you to write?

From the time in elementary school when my younger sister and I wrote and illustrated homemade comic books about a dog and a cat, I’ve always wanted to be an author. I wrote the words, and she did the illustrations. Think Garfield meets Snoopy. They were pretty bad. Our parents told us someday I’d be a writer and she’d be an artist.

Well, my sister is an artist, graphic designer, and interior designer. I got a later start on my dreams. In 2019, I also published the first in a children’s picture book series whose adorable main character is Duke the Deaf Dog. Duke’s stories share important messages about Deaf Culture and American Sign Language that are dear to my heart. Ironically, the illustrator is my sister, Theresa Murray, proving that life does come full circle if you wait long enough.

Cassandra Sato Mystery Book 3

It's beginning to look a lot like murder . . .

And Cassandra is knee deep in . . .


Her boss is dead, and the police are calling it burglary gone wrong. But when the killer comes after her, it's going to take more than a pair of furry boots to keep the smart, witty Morton College administrator, Cassandra Sato, out of the deep. . .


Her first Christmas in Nebraska could be her last unless her friends help unravel the mystery and housebreak her dog.

Buy now for a fast-paced, holiday themed whodunit.

Dead of Winter Break is the third book in Kelly Brakenhoff's popular Cassandra Sato Mystery Series.

Buy link for ebooks:

Paperbacks: Dead of Winter Break


Special December $10 paperbacks for Death by Dissertation and Dead Week:

Amazon author page:


DEATH BY DISSERTATION: A Cassandra Sato Mystery Book 1


Goodbye Hawai'i, hello dream job . . . in Nebraska??

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. 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.

DEAD WEEK:  A Cassandra Sato Mystery Book 2

Will Dead Week kill Cassandra’s career?

VP of Student Affairs Cassandra Sato has a desk full of problems and it’s not even Thanksgiving break.

A student’s injury and a deaf advocacy project brings national media attention to underfunded Morton College. Cassandra's new boss talks to her dead husband. Cassandra’s mentor thinks he’s a superhero in a senior citizen’s body. And Cassandra, recently moved from Hawai'i, can't crack the code of what to wear during November in Nebraska.

If you like academic cozy mysteries with funny BFFs, hilarious student shenanigans, and small-town drama, you'll like this series. Get Dead Week now!

Publishers Weekly called Dead Week, "a diverting whodunit."


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